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Coming Home: My Response to Billybuc's Photo Challenge

John is a poet and short fiction writer who enjoys collaborating on stories with other writers, and partaking in challenges.

Time goes by: Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

Time goes by: Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

Bill Holland's (billybuc) Challenge

Cutting a long story short, Bill was asked by fellow hubber and friend Shauna Bowling (Bravewarrior) if he would bring back the photo prompt challenges that he used to provide other creative writers from time to time.

Bill can't say "no" to a lady, and therefore did the gentlemanly thing and did exactly what asked. Bill provided the photos, and the instructions were basically this:

"The pictures must be used in the order that they appear, from top to bottom.

Each story must be a minimum of 1000 words in length.

Each scene must be described, in some way, in your story, and, as mentioned earlier, they must be used in the order they appear."

The story that follows called "Coming Home" is my response to the challenge. It is 1028 words. I had to rework it a bit to reach the required word count but pleased I did as I think it improved it. I hope you enjoy my story.

Small Private Graveyard

Small Private Graveyard

Coming Home

A wooden sign read “BROYLES CEMETERY.”

The small private graveyard felt strangely welcoming. The forest just seemed to open into a lovely clearing. It was a little unkempt but this made it feel less morbid and more like a field as beautiful wildflowers poked their pretty heads above the long grass.

A couple of graves were simply marked by small plaques with the names “Samuel A Broyles”, and “David John Broyles” and the dates born and died. These seemed rather basic tributes to the life and death of those now rotting beneath them, and were easily missed on first entering the graveyard. Why were these two of my ancestors less worthy than the person buried beneath the solitary large headstone that had immediately caught my eye?

I pushed these thoughts aside as I approached the large headstone and read the inscription:



Born July 3 1828

Died Feb 18 1910

This was, however, the grave I had specifically come here to see. This was where my great great grandmother lay. She was by all accounts the true matriarch of the family. Perhaps that explains the extra significance seemingly bestowed on her in death. In my 67 years this was the first time I had been here. In fact I didn’t even know this graveyard existed until I had begun to research my family history some six months ago.

Gravel Road

Gravel Road

Since that discovery, I had been overcome by a pressing urge to visit this place and see where my ancestors (at least on the Broyles’ side) lived and died, first hand. I say “lived” because the cemetery was connected by a short gravel road to a farm that the family-owned and called home as they worked the land.

Leaving the graveyard I drove slowly along the lonely road shaded by a beautiful canopy of trees. Though gravel, the road was in surprisingly good order and I wondered if the farmhouse and buildings would have been maintained as well. I’m not even supposed to be driving but what’s the worst that could happen, they arrest me or take my licence? I don’t even have one, I chuckle to myself.

Now, once again in open countryside I soon passed the old barn with its rusted roof, the machinery shed, and the silo used for storing whatever grain crop that was harvested here and that provided a living for the families who worked this land. I wondered if they ran cattle, sheep or some other type of farm animal, and Imagined what a wonderful place it would have been for children growing up.

Barn, Machinery Shed and Silo

Barn, Machinery Shed and Silo

My grandmother actually spent her childhood here before her father died in a tractor accident and there was no one left to successfully run the farm. Her mother was left to raise three small children on her own. The eldest two could help with the odd chore around the house, but none were old enough to effectively help with the rigors of farm work.

Reluctantly, the farm was sold and the family subsequently moved into town to be closer to other relatives and to make life easier. What happened to the property from that time on I don’t know. Possibly, it changed hands more than once over the years, but now it was abandoned and had recently been listed “FOR SALE.” This was another reason for me coming here.

I soon arrived at the old weatherboard farmhouse, which was also in a state of some disrepair, though still standing and appearing not beyond restoration. Stepping out of the car I made my way to the front door, using the key I had obtained from the Real Estate Agent to open it.

Old Weatherboard Farmhouse

Old Weatherboard Farmhouse

My eyes roamed around the entry room. The house still contained most of the furniture. Original? Probably not, but old and possibly antique all the same. As was the case with most abandoned buildings countless spiders had made themselves a home, and webs and dust covered most of the interior.

After strolling through the downstairs rooms I felt a little faint and gripped the banister to steady myself before slowly making my way up the rickety staircase to check out the upper bedrooms. This effort took a lot out of me so I eased myself down into an inviting old rocking chair situated in what appeared to be the main bedroom.

Even though in today’s age of increased longevity I wouldn’t normally be considered “old” I lack the energy I once had. Cancer is a fickle fiend who cares not about age or circumstance. I have always hated the word, “terminal,” unless it is to do with cabs or buses. I smiled at my own little piece of humour. Believe me I have already spent enough time feeling sorry for myself, so now I was trying to see the funny side of life.. and the alternative.

A lake, clear, beautiful, and serene

A lake, clear, beautiful, and serene

As I relax here, rocking gently, I am reflecting on many things and, taking out my journal, I write what you are reading now.

My name is Nancy Jane Stanton (maiden name Broyles.) I was married to a fine man Frederick John Stanton for 35 years but am now widowed. As you would have now guessed I was named after my great great grandmother. Coincidentally or not, today, February 18, 2010 is exactly 100 years since my dear ancestor passed from this life.

I jangle the keys to my house, the one I had just purchased. Happy memories and pleasant scenes are invading my mind as I recline. Closing my eyes for a moment I see a lake, clear, beautiful and serene. Somewhere I’d been before and loved - maybe as a child. My thoughts are becoming jumbled and vague - blending into each other.

I have a daughter..what’s her name? Sarah, yes, that’s it. I hope she likes this farm. It will be a good place to bring up kids, I think…

…I’ve finally come home… to die.

© 2020 John Hansen


Ann Carr from SW England on February 05, 2020:

Phew! Thanks, that's all right then!


John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on February 05, 2020:

No, Ann, not alt all. I certainly don’t think you “pinched” my ideas. I often find writers come up with similar storyline’s, especially if photo prompts are involved. Shauna’s and mine also had similarities and we both published them at virtually the same time. Yours was great. Thanks for revisiting though.

Ann Carr from SW England on February 05, 2020:

I've just come back to this, John, and I now realise how close to this my own response is! It was totally unintentional as I'd forgotten that I'd read yours. I hope you don't think I 'pinched' your ideas! Maybe something hung around in my head....

Funny how some of us choose a similar path with these challenges but I suppose the photos conjure up ideas along a certain theme.

I enjoyed re-reading this and reiterate my original comments; your word-crafting is great.


John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 30, 2020:

Thank you Brenda. I enjoyed writing this story.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on January 30, 2020:


This story is very heart touching.

I love how she has purchased the place finally coming home.

It feels so right for her to be there at the end of her journey in life.

Great write. You lived up to Bill's photo prompt challenge.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 29, 2020:

Thank you so much for the generous comment, Nikki. I tried to make my character likeable and believable and glad the story worked.

Nikki Khan from London on January 29, 2020:

John, I can see the memories of past lodging in her mind. I can feel the joy and happiness of her while recollecting her past. Your characters are so lively and can be visualised as they move on.

You have done this very nicely. And it is indeed a great feeling of coming home to die.


John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 22, 2020:

Ann, that comment means a lot coming from such an accomplished writer as yourself. I am glad it gave you the sense of “being there,” I seem to have been writing a little more short fiction recently and enjoy it every time I do, but find I usually need a prompt to start it. Thank you.

Ann Carr from SW England on January 22, 2020:

The progression in this is brilliant, John, both through the photos and through the life story. It's a gentle tale but told with depth and poignancy. You pick exactly the right moment to hint at the purpose of the visit and also to point at a continued future for the family.

This is so well crafted and it made a thoroughly enjoyable read. I was right there in each location.


John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 21, 2020:

Haha Ms Dora, you know what else Is funny? Shauna and I were also born in the same year. I am glad you enjoyed the story and yes, let’s hear it for life and health!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 21, 2020:

Your story and Shauna's suggest that you two are related. Interesting and a little humorous! Yes, your story is enjoyable. You led us gently into the topic of death; and for me, coming home to die is quite relatable. So grateful for life and health right now. Thanks for a good read.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 21, 2020:

Nell, thank you for taking the time to read this story. I am glad you enjoyed it.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 21, 2020:

Hi Eric, good to see you. Return reads are most welcome. Your comment is greatly appreciated. Cheers.

Nell Rose from England on January 21, 2020:

Lovely story John, and a great addition to the challenge. Very poignant piece.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 21, 2020:

Yes a delay in comment as I had to return and read again. Really good style. Nice flow. And the sentiment is perfect. Thanks.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 20, 2020:

Hi Li-Jen, I received a notification that you had left a comment here but when I checked there was nothing...weird. So, thank you for returning and commenting on my descriptions making the story "feel real." That is what I aim to do so I really appreciate it. it is good that the ending was a surprise too.

Li-Jen Hew on January 20, 2020:

Hi Jodah. Your story was amazing and well written. I like the bonus descriptions that you put in like driving through a canopy and you made the story feel real, as if we were there or we were the narrator. I did not expect the ending. Thanks for sharing. Haha, I think my previous comment went missing.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 20, 2020:

Thank you Venkatachari. I am happy you enjoyed the story. I thought it would take me longer to come up with one than it did. I look forward to reading yours but Bill said there is no time limit.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on January 20, 2020:

Very beautiful story, John. You have met the challenge very nicely with this wonderful one. I was also thinking of some similar story for these 2 days, but not yet crafted it. Enjoyed your story very much.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 20, 2020:

Thank you very much, Verlie. It is good to take a break from poetry and write a short story now and then. A photo prompt challenge is always a good way to inspire that. Glad you enjoyed my tale.

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on January 20, 2020:

John, your 'Coming Home' story is an inspired write full of lovely details, humour, pathos, and a great twist at the end. Good work on the challenge.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 19, 2020:

I greatly appreciate that comment, Flourish. It means a lot. I don't want to be seen as just a poet.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 19, 2020:

Thank you, Alicia. Yes, I originally had a different idea but the story changed as I went along. We can't always have happy endings.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 19, 2020:

Emotional without being sappy, this is well crafted and shows how you are not only a good poet but also a fine short storyteller as well.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 19, 2020:

This is a very moving story, John. It has a sad theme, but it's a great response to Bill's challenge.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 19, 2020:

Lora, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I have to agree with you that it is often the home where we spent most time growing up that seems to retain the most significance. Yes, you could say there is almost a touch of reincarnation in the story or at least a psychic link of some sort between between Nancy and her great great grandmother. I appreciate you reading this and leaving such a wonderful comment.

Lora Hollings on January 19, 2020:

A beautiful story, John. I really liked the story's central theme of returning home to die. It seems no matter where I live, my heart and soul will always belong to the place that I grew up in. It is the only place that I feel is my home. The years I spent growing up were not without turbulence but a far deeper imprint was left on my heart and even now when I return to visit that house that I spent the majority of my youth in and the old neighborhood, memories flood back of days where I felt so connected to everything around me and even what happened before. I can retrace every step that I took to school and recount events with such detail from my youth. Your story had a suggestion for me of almost reincarnation where the great great grandmother’s soul was reborn in her great granddaughter. I wrote a story touching on this theme which has always intrigued me about our ancestors' spirits reliving through our our own lives. There are genes there that no one can deny. It is fascinating how our lives can intertwine with our ancestors and who are with us in spirit if not in actual reality. If I were dying, I would choose to go back to my home too and wish to be buried there. I loved your story! Great job with this prompt.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 19, 2020:

Thank you Ruby. I am glad the outcome of the story surprised you, though dying of cancer is not a pleasant thing to write about. Reality doesn’t always lead too a happy ending unfortunately. I am glad you enjoyed it however.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on January 19, 2020:

This is a great story, all except the cancer. I really thought it was going to be about someone returning to an old homestead to check things out. I was totally surprised when she purchased the property, and more surprised that she came home to die. Superb story. I really loved it!

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 19, 2020:

Shauna, sometimes there’s seems to be more than coincidence involved doesn’t there. There were a few things in our stories that were so similar or coincided. Yes, I used a magnifying glass to check the tombstone but I could quite make out the date she died so I guessed 1910..you had the same date. The cemetery sign I just couldn’t for the life of me quite make out so just went for “Broyles’ Cemetery.”

Honestly, just after I hit “publish” I received an email notification that you had written a response to Bill’s challenge and went right over to read your great tale. Thank you for your kind words also’ my friend.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on January 19, 2020:

John, I find it amazing that as we were writing, our muses claimed kin to the woman underneath the tombstone. You said you posted about the same time as I did, so neither one of us had read each other's response to Bill's challenge. It seems you and I are both related to the late Nancy Boyles! (Did you take a magnifying glass to the tombstone as did I?)

Your ending is bittersweet. Coming home to die is sad, but resurrecting the homestead to pass down to the upcoming generations is a beautiful thing.

Wonderful story, John! You're as adept at fiction as you are poetry. You're very talented, my friend!

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 19, 2020:

I am happy that the story was successfully rendered, Peggy, and it evoked sense of hope for the future. Thank you for continuing to read my work.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 19, 2020:

“A master story teller” Linda? those are big shoes to fill. But I thank you dearly. So does my muse.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 19, 2020:

Thank you Clive. Cheers.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 19, 2020:

Thank you for reading this story, Devika. Yes, without the photos as prompts there would be no story.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 19, 2020:

This short story was beautifully rendered and left one to hope that Nancy's heirs would appreciate the old farmstead and the life it could still provide its occupants. What a great job you did with Bill's photo prompts!

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on January 19, 2020:

John, your Muse served you well on this one but honestly I can't recall if she has ever let you down. You are a master story teller.

Clive Williams from Jamaica on January 19, 2020:

very nice and interesting.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 19, 2020:

Hi John a lovely story and you are up for his challenge I see what you have in mind here, memories and lots to take in from this story. I like the effect of the photos.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 19, 2020:

Hi Bill. This wasn’t exactly what I first had in mind when I sat down to write a story for your challenge, but I guess my muse just didn’t like my original idea. Anyway, this story formed instead. I am glad you enjoyed it. Thanks again for the challenge, it’s often what I need to prompt me to try my hand at short fiction.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 19, 2020:

Chris, thank you for reading and providing such an insightful comment. There is so much of my own ancestors’ past that I don’t know any further back than my grandparents. I think it is about time I looked into it. I appreciate your taking the time to check this out.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 19, 2020:

Going full circle with Nancy....lovely story of connection and memories....this is my kind of story, John, and I love it. Thank you for taking part in the challenge.

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on January 19, 2020:

John, It seems as though generations of families come and go without holding onto the connections with our history. Nancy has bridged several generations and passed that knowledge on to her daughter. The farther we march into the future, the more we long for memories and stories of the past. Thanks for sharing this moving story with us.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 19, 2020:

Thank you, Liz. Much appreciated.

Liz Westwood from UK on January 19, 2020:

Great story, John. You have used the photos to good effect and woven a poignant tale around them.

manatita44 from london on January 19, 2020:

What can I say? With me you get me, but you have taken up the mantle and carried it with honour. This in itself deserves commendation.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 19, 2020:

Lol manatita bro. Thanks.

manatita44 from london on January 19, 2020:

A decent attempt Bro. Well done!

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 19, 2020:

Thank you, Pamela. It was an interesting challenge and the end result was completely different from what I first intended. I was quite happy with how it turned out though and I am glad you could relate to the genealogy aspect.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 19, 2020:

This is such a sweet story about homecoming and what it means. I related to the story as a fellow genealogist. It is special to learn about your family history. You certainly met Bill's directions for this story.

John Hansen (author) from Gondwana Land on January 19, 2020:

Lorna, I really love writing short stories but I can rarely come up with what I consider to be a good/different storyline than many I have read before and so seldom attempt them other than a flash fiction now and then. If however someone issues a challenge like this or gives some form of prompt I take advantage of it and try my best.

I am so glad that you enjoyed this, it brought back memories, and left you wanting more. Thank you.

Lorna Lamon on January 19, 2020:

I've never been good at writing stories John and so I read this one with pleasure. I was raised on a farm and the little family cemetery still exists. I was caught up in the history, the humour and the poignancy of the tale which I could clearly see in my mind. The John Denver video is perfect for the piece and I think you certainly rose to the challenge. A great story which left me wanting more.

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