Short Story Exercise: Escaping the Farm

(rolled a D12, took that number of random Rory’s Story Cubes, shook ’em up, dropped on table, arranged in order they fell top-to-bottom, wrote short story)

When Brandon came home from the bank, he walked straight past Daisy in the kitchen and entered his bedroom. There he emptied the envelope’s contents onto his old comforter and started counting. The teller had counted it, too, but he wanted to see it stacked, wanted to feel each piece of money in his hands. He formed a pile of twenties, a small pile of ones, then arranged the coins in descending stacks.

“So that’s what a summer of mowing lawns gets you,” Daisy said from the doorway, smiling and shaking her head in that sisterly condescending way.

Brandon crossed the room and shut the door in her face. She didn’t understand. Daisy had never had a problem taking money from their parents or their grandparents. But to Brandon, every cent he took hurt like a bruise, a mark of weakness and greed. He gazed at the money on his bed. He had earned every last cent himself, and no one could take that from him.

After a moment’s hesitation he toppled the neat stacks and swirled the money into a large pile. He pushed his fingers through it, squeezing an odd bunch of coins, crumpling a few bills together. He scooped it into his hands and rained it down onto the bed with a laugh. Satisfied, he gathered up his bounty and stashed it in the piggy bank hidden in his closet.

***

Brandon rose with the sun the next morning. There were chores to do before he left for school and the farm house was already humming with activity. Dancing around his siblings in the kitchen, Brandon managed to gulp down a mug of coffee and put a square of toast in his mouth before going outside. The older girls took care of the cow and the chickens and his little brother was on hog duty. Brandon was in charge of the sheep and horses. Their father was already in the fields riding the old John Deere and their mother, once breakfast was cleaned up, would tend to the dogs and the cats.

By the time his work was finished, Brandon barely had time to clean himself up and catch the bus. But he still rode to school with a smile on his face. This was the first day of his last year. One more school year, then he was free to leave.

After school he met up with two of his friends. They took turns riding a dirt bike until one of them managed to wreck it, dislocating his shoulder in the process. Brandon made it home in time for dinner, and then it was up to his room to count the money he’d been saving for years once again.

But when he pulled the giant plastic Coke bottle out of his closet, it was no longer full of money. In the poor light Brandon couldn’t tell exactly what was in the bank, but he knew his cash was gone…and he had an idea who took it. He hoisted the bottle over his shoulder and strode to Daisy’s room.

She was sitting on her bed painting her toenails with Katy Perry blasting from her stereo. 

“Give it back,” Brandon said, snapping the stereo off.

Daisy shrieked when she saw the Coke bottle. “No, don’t! I’m sorry, okay?! I thought it would be funny. Please don’t dump that in here!”

Still not knowing what was in the bottle, Brandon tipped it over her bed and said, “Give it back. Now. Or else.” He gave the bottle a little shake and a dead cockroach dropped onto her bedspread.

Daisy screamed and kicked, dumping nail polish onto the carpet. Brandon stared wide-eyed at the piggy bank. Now he could see the little legs, the brown masses, and he roared with laughter. Daisy tried to run out of the room, but Brandon blocked the exit, pointing the bank at her like a weapon. “Where’s my money?” he demanded.

“I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry!!!!” She yanked open her closet door and dug through piles of clothes, shoes, costume jewelry and old Barbies. Finally, she dragged out one of her tall boots and upended it. Coins and wads of cash fell onto the floor.

“Where did you even get this many dead cockroaches?” Brandon asked, curious.

“My boyfriend. He got them. And filled the bottle up,” she said, red faced.

“You have a…boyfriend?” Brandon’s voice dropped an octave. “What’s his name, and where is he right now?”

Daisy made an exasperated noise. “You’re so stupid! I can have a boyfriend if I want. I’m old enough.”

Brandon put the Coke bottle on her dresser and calmly picked up his money. What wouldn’t fit in his pockets he could carry in his hands. He stood and said, “I’ll give you one more chance. What’s his name, and where is he?”

Daisy stuck out her tongue.

Brandon shrugged, called out, “OOPS,” and hit the Coke bottle with his elbow. When it hit the ground, the lid broke off spilling hundreds of dead cockroaches onto the carpet. Daisy screamed louder than Brandon could laugh, but at least he had his money back.

***

The following spring, Brandon was ready to go. He’d graduated from high school and had packed the few things he wanted to keep in a single sturdy suitcase. He said goodbye to his sisters and spent an extra few minutes with his kid brother to give him a “you’re man of the house now” pep talk. His mother was crying and his dad, well, he gave him a gruff “See ya later, kid,” before passing him a sweaty twenty dollar bill. Brandon’s gut ached at the idea of taking the money from his father, but he swallowed his disgust and thanked him. With a final nod to his siblings, Brandon stepped onto the green and gray striped bus that would take him far from the farm, all the way to another planet.

***

Eight months later, Daisy got a package in the mail. When she realized it had shipped from New Venus, she squealed and ran to her mother who was in the backyard hanging laundry on the clothesline.

“Mama! It’s from Brandon!”

Mother gasped and hollered for the other kids to come and see what Brandon had sent. To date they had only received signed postcards and the occasional money order, always with a promise that he would send more when he could.

Once everyone was gathered around, Daisy opened the envelope taped to the box. Brandon wrote, “Daisy, here’s something I picked up for you that reminds me of home. Love, Brandon.” There was also a money order, made out to his mother, and another promise that more was on the way.

Daisy handed the papers to her mother then tore into the box. Inside she found chocolate brown tissue paper, folded and closed with a fancy foil sticker that read, “Dark Chocolate Confections.”

“Oh my gosh, yum!” Daisy ripped apart the paper…then screamed at the sight of a dozen eight-inch Venusian cockroaches, dipped in chocolate and covered with sprinkles.

rory-escaping-the-farm

Short Story Exercise: The Bugs on New Venus

(using the original set of Rory’s Story Cubes, I shook ’em up and dropped them on the table, arranged them in the order they fell top to bottom, and wrote a short story)

If there was one thing New Venus was famous for, it was the bugs. The insects that thrived on the blisteringly hot jungle planet were large, colorful, aggressive, and surprisingly tasty. In fact, the first successful locally owned business was Cho’s Chewy Blatts! Six-ounce bags of the sweet and salty treats disappeared from store shelves and were even highly sought after back on Earth. Other food companies have since descended on the planet, and now every conceivable type of food is made using Venusian insects and sold at high prices throughout the galaxy.

This consumption of insects was borne from necessity. There are indigenous stock animals on New Venus, like sheep and goats and something that resembles a pig. But they are smaller and more intelligent than their Earthly counterparts which makes them tough to catch, let alone domesticate. And so the immigrants survive by eating indigenous plants, insects, and food stuffs delivered from other planets. No one is hungry, but very few are satisfied with their new diet.

Carrie had refused to eat bugs from day one. She would raise her chin and loudly insist that all the bugs should be exterminated.

“Technically, the bugs are being killed…to feed us,” Aidan replied calmly.

Carrie hated his relaxed attitude. She hated the way he would try every new thing that was offered to him. She hated that he had taken a job on New Venus without even asking her first. And when he, calmly, told her that she didn’t have to go with him, she had burst into tears. And now she was living in this ugly dormitory with only freeze dried beef stew and ramen noodles to eat.

When she complained about that, Aidan would remind her that she could eat the local vegetables. But plants on New Venus were chock full of waxy fats to withstand the planet’s heat and humidity. Vegetarians on New Venus notoriously gained twenty pounds within their first month. Carrie wasn’t about to let that happen to her figure.

Before Aidan left for work that night, he kissed Carrie on the forehead and said, “You know, if you hate it here so much, you should just go home. It’s not like we’re married.”

“You want me to leave?” she sniffed.

He shrugged. “I think you should be happy.”

All alone and miserable, Carrie paced the apartment. She longed to go home, but she couldn’t bear the thought of never seeing Aidan again, or worse, seeing pictures online of Aidan with another woman. By midnight she was out the door and headed for the square. In an effort to avoid slashing and burning a large area, the company had arranged for the dormitories to be situated around a square. In it were the shops, offices, and  entertainment venues for the residents. The square was always open and always crowded. Carrie, stomach growling and drenched in sweat, marched across the square to the small shack in the northwest corner. There was only one sign on the door, a drawing of an eye.

Madame Serena had no other customers and listened patiently while Carrie described the ridiculous predicament she’d gotten herself into. When the girl finally stopped talking, Madame Serena patted her hand and said, “The fates tell me that you belong to Manhattan. A large, wealthy man waits for you there.”

“No!” Carrie wailed.

Madame Serena considered the girl, shrugged, and then waved her hands dramatically over the crystal ball on the table between them.

“Oh, look!” Madame Serena whispered. “There is another path you must take first.”

“Tell me!” Carrie cried.

“You will go on a journey,” Madame Serena said mysteriously. “You will cross a river, but do not let your feet touch the water. Then you must run, quickly, south, along the river bank. And when you cannot take another step, your heart’s desire will appear before you.”

Carrie stared at the old woman in horror. Run? Outside?

“Ah, our time is up,” Madame Serena said with a smile when the overhead light blinked on. “Good luck to you, child.”

Carrie regretted the seventy credits she had given the fortune teller. She trudged into the humid square with slumped shoulders. She didn’t even know if there were any rivers on New Venus, but the last thing she wanted to do was try to cross one. She wandered through the square, shying away from the endless vendors selling fried insects on sticks and congealed insects in cones and blended insect smoothies. She paid little attention as the path rose and fell signaling that she had, in fact, just crossed a bridge over a stream without getting her feet wet.

A flying orange earwig buzzed in her face. Carrie shrieked and swatted it away. Then she saw a crazed black billy goat running towards her from the thicket of palms. Panicked, Carrie turned south and ran through the crowd. Her fashionable stiletto heels prevented her from getting very far before she had to drop onto a bench, panting and sobbing.

Suddenly people were running around, pointing to the sky and shouting. Carrie looked up to see a man frantically waving and kicking as he descended on a torn parachute directly above her. The last thing Carrie heard was a man shouting, “Watch out!”

Paramedics rushed Carrie to the army field hospital where Aidan was called. When the doctor explained to him that Carrie’s head injury was too severe to treat on New Venus, Aidan signed the release forms to have her frozen and sent home to Manhattan.

rory-bugs-new-venus

Short Story Exercise: Swat Flies

(using this book, set timer for ten minutes and wrote a short story relating to the phrase “swat flies,” lightly edited)

THWACK!

Dallas pulled his hand from his neck to examine his kill. “That’s number eight,” he muttered, smearing the green goo, antennae, wings and legs that now covered his fingers. If there was one thing Dallas hated about being deployed to New Venus, it was all the damn flies. They had the high pitched whine of mosquitoes, bit like horse flies, and looked like a cross between a potato bug and a dragon fly. Doc said they were great for seasoning steak if you dried ’em out and ground them to a fine powder. Dallas reminded himself to never eat one of Doc’s steaks.

He slogged through mud around a rubber tree, swatting another gargantuan insect away from his face. In front of him Tallahassee was whistling a tune, sounded like The Clash. Tally’s pack held all of Dallas’s favorite things: the radio, the Slim Jims, and at least eight sticks of gelignite.

As Dallas fantasized about strapping an explosive to some of the larger insects inhabiting New Venus, one of those bzzzzzing flies began swirling around Tally’s pack, probably after the greasy meat sticks. Dallas waved his hand toward the bastard, but it ignored him.

Tally, seeing the motion behind him, stopped and said, “What now, Dallas?”

Snatching with his left hand, Dallas caught the bug before it could fly into Tally’s face. He gave it a squeeze, enjoying the squirming sensation followed by the gloppy pop. “Swattin’ flies, man.”

Tallahassee opened Dallas’s hand to look at the insect’s innards. Then he grabbed a few of the legs and dropped them onto his tongue. He groaned with satisfaction and said, “Tastes just like old number seven.”