“Worse Than War” by Naomi Johnston

Ninja Writers Reads: "Worse Than War" by Naomi Johnston. Come read this clever, heartbreaking short story by Naomi Johnston.

(Editor’s note: When I read Naomi’s story, it took my breath away. It is so clever and so sad. I know you’re going to love it as much as I do. Let’s show her some love and share the link to her story far and wide! Also, comment below to give her some feedback.  –S.)


To Whom it May Concern:

My name is Naomi Johnston, though I often use the pseudonym of Mara Allan. The reason? Pure, bitter irony. In the Bible, in the Book of Ruth, Naomi (meaning pleasantness) changed her name to Mara (meaning bitterness) after her husband and two sons passed away. When I decided, once and for all, that writing was for me, I knew that I had to reflect the core event that triggered it all.

That event is the story I have attached for your reading pleasure.

This story does not have a happy ending. The boy doesn’t get the girl. Life doesn’t go on, at least not willingly.

Despite how the story starts, it is all true. This isn’t a fictional story. It was my life. Read all the way until the end. You’ll understand then.

The start of my writing career would spring up from the ashes that this tale, but until many years after the end.

I now invite you into my life, when I still believed in faith, trust, and pixie dust. Enjoy, or don’t, so long as you pull something from the ashes, just as I did.

~Naomi Michaela Johnston


Mara Faith Allan

PS: When you’re done, I suggest you read the first part again, though play a small game with the proper names. Omission, substitution, and rearrangement were all factors in creating those names. They aren’t random. Nothing ever is.

“Worse Than War”

by Naomi Johnston

They were losing the war.

The people of Danitta were falling one by one to the invaders from the land of Cercan.

At first, the Danittans held their own, even going so far as to drive the Cercanians back until victory was within their sight. Then, tragedy struck. The Danittans were ambushed by hiding Cercanians, cutting the army off from much-needed supplies before they were slaughtered like cattle.

After that, things only got worse, an ever-downward spiral of deterioration. The Cercanians went so far as to raze the land they conquered, leaving nothing but death and decay in their wake.

Yet, despite all the destruction, death, and mayhem, the capital of Danitta, at the very heart of the country, was full of hope, happiness, and peace.

They held numerous parties, festivals, and games, determined to celebrate until their last moments were up, before the Cercanians took over. The Danittans even managed to sneak a few high ranking members of the Nanomian government back and forth over the border to participate in such festivities.

Now, the people of Nanomia had barely survived a Cercanian attack a few years prior, so when they learned that their sister country had been attacked, the Nanomians did anything and everything they could to help. This included sneaking over tea for parties, food for soldiers, and toys for children.

The children were frightened, of course. Their homes were disappearing, the possibility of seeing another tomorrow was growing ever smaller, and they were no longer sure who was friendly and who wasn’t. Nevertheless, they didn’t show any signs of weakness. With brave hearts, the children played and laughed and squealed with joy.

It wasn’t something the Cercanians were expecting, eventually slowing down in their attack.

But they didn’t stop.

They didn’t stop until the whole of Danitta was dead.

Yet, just weeks before the death of the country was complete, the Danittan government handed over their most prized possession to the Nanomians, trusting them with its care. The Nanomians, stubborn in their ways, traded back an item that was similar, though not as great in importance. The Danittans, flattered, swore that they would carry it with them to the final grave.

None of them knew how soon that truly was.

* * * * *

Amy shut her phone, tears sliding down her cheeks. The phone call had resounded deep within her, reminding her of the bullet that had barely missed her just three years ago.

Her thoughts drifted to the toddler down the hall, probably sucking on his thumb in his sleep like he always did, slowly but surely creating the dreaded buckteeth.

They then traversed downstairs, where her husband was probably asleep on the couch, a western movie playing softly on the TV in front of him.

Lastly, they went to the little girl in the room just next to hers, who was cuddling with her doll and dreaming of nothing but happy thoughts.

Amy didn’t want to share what she just learned, but she knew she must.

I gotta tell her.

She pushed herself off the bed, passing through the doorframe and into the dark hall. Matt’s door was shut at the end, but the girl’s room to the left was cracked like always. The doorknob was constantly jamming open, which suited their orange tabby just fine. It meant he could always be in at least one bedroom for the night.

Amy quickly went towards her son’s room, though only to turn the hallway light on before retracing her steps to her daughter’s room. Amy could hear her stirring, the light slowly dragging her back into reality.

With a ragged sigh, Amy pushed open the door.

“Naomi? Sweetie, are you awake?” Amy called out softly, praying that the girl stayed asleep. It would be so much better for her that way.

“Mommy?” came the groggy voice, and Amy saw two blue eyes peering back at her from under the covers on the other side of the room. “What’s wrong?”

Amy winced. Her trembling voice had obviously given her away. Gulping, she crossed the room swiftly at sat on the edge of the bed, laying one shaking hand on her daughter’s head.

“Naomi, Danielle passed away a few minutes ago.” Amy’s heart dropped out of her as she felt the girl stiffen before her, curling tighter around the doll.

Images of the two girls passed before Amy’s eyes. The tea parties, the playdates, the constant smiles on both their faces. Even though one was in a wheelchair. And completely bald.

She remembered just a few weeks ago that Naomi had asked to give Danielle a Madeline doll. Her reasoning was simple but powerful. It was the same reason Naomi had that doll herself.

“Now she has a doll with the same scar we do! Though Madeline got hers because of her appendix, not her kidney.” The girl had stated matter-of-factly.

But Danielle, sweet Danielle, had given Naomi a Danielle doll, to remember her by, so that Naomi would always have a piece of her.

Amy wished that Naomi had more than just a doll, that she had the whole person instead.

She curled around her daughter, holding her close as the girl wept for the one friend who understood her and what she had gone through.

Amy couldn’t help but think of the bitter irony of it all. When she was young, she had lost her friend Paige to cancer. Naomi, however, lost her best friend to the very same cancer that she had defeated just a few short years earlier.

Silent tears rolled down her cheek, splashing onto the wavy brown hair of her daughter, thanking the Lord above that she still had her, while also cursing him for taking away so much happiness.

And so they laid there, Mother, Daughter, Doll, locked in a silent embrace, crying until the sun rose over the gray town in northern Indiana.

(Editor’s Note: Remember the PS . . .)



You can keep up with Naomi and read more of her work at Deviant Art.

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    1. It was a touching scene, but I didn’t understand its connection to the first part: the introduction, or why it emphasized the exchange of “most prized possessions.” I guess my qt. is about exposition. Can you explain the significance and how the two relate within the course of the story?

  1. Naomi this is a powerful story. You did a very good job of pulling the reader into it.

  2. What a raw, emotional, beautiful story. It truly touched my heart. I love the beginning. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

  3. Dear Naomi,
    Thank you for sharing your Deviant Art short story. Your story has a great structure and sequence and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the snapshot of love between Mother and Daughter, with important consequences! Love is always a fresh topic.

    I thought about a true story of a journalist who interviewed women who suffered terribly throughout WWII in Europe. The journalist wanted to know what things they missed the most while hiding out from the Nazis. The women said they missed ordinary things–lipstick was the first they named. It made them feel feminine, and reminded them of the sweetness of life. What a surprise!

    For this reason, I loved the doll in your story. Might you develop its importance just a bit more? I felt the need for a touch more balance in the sadness of death. But I’m just a beginner, and one who admires your courage of sharing your true story. You are not afraid to be vulnerable.

    Write on, please.

  4. Your work is so.pignant. i am a fellow writer who has a very set of very similar losses. Kudos for writing about it so directly. I liked the names and the metaphor. Tjey wete so right on. Thank you for sharing such raw stuff.

  5. Life is much more tragic than what is shown in books, movies and plays. Life is never fair to anyone irrespective of caste, creed or race. It demands and derives its pound of flesh based on your previous birth “karma”. I loved the way you made a comparison with victory and defeat playing a hide and seek with Danittans by Cercanians and Danielle losing it out to cancer. There is a saying that the oil wick of the lamp glows brightest before it finally gets extinguished. I see a similarity of hope triumphing over defeat in your writing. “Impressed” is the least of the words I can use for the way you have taken the story on the curves of our (reader’s) mind. God bless you in your struggles in life and in your this wonderful venture of writing!!!

  6. Bravely written. I envy no one the job of telling another that someone they love is gone, no matter what the reason. Children are our strongest, most resilient selves and they are the most fragile when we least expect it. You delivered this reminder to us well. I look forward to much more from your pen.

    Thank you.