Short Story Exercise: Light a Match

(using the book Playful Way to Serious Writing, set the timer for ten minutes and wrote a short story relating to the phrase, “light a match,” lightly edited)

Carol swiped the paper book of matches from the ash tray on the table. Smiling slyly at the handsome man seated next to her, she tore off a match and hit it against the striker on the back. The paper match folded in half, unlit. The man, fresh cigarette waiting between his lips, winked at her.

Carol tossed the wasted match to the floor, flipped her hair over her shoulder (she’d read that men love that), and grabbed another match. Unfortunately when she tore it she managed to leave most of the match in the packet. With a nervous giggle she doggedly pulled yet another match from the pack.

The man leaned forward, presenting his unlit cigarette. Carol smiled then tapped the gray match head on the striker. It did not light. She tapped it again. Then again. She tried holding the match sideways, then tried sawing the match back and forth. She smelled burning and brought the match to her eyes. The head was black and dull. She blushed and shrugged at the man. He leaned back in his chair and began searching his pockets for his lighter.

Quickly Carol ripped three more matches out of the pack. She bunched the heads together between her fingers and forcefully pushed them across the back. They lit! And the bright flame immediately burned her finger tips. Carol cried out and threw the lit matches onto the table. Chuckling, the man quickly pinched out the small flames, lit his cigarette with the Zippo from his pocket, and excused himself.

Carol glared down at the book of matches on the table. The bar’s logo was printed on the flap in tacky gold lettering. The Bar Room,” she muttered. “Stupid name for a stupid bar.”

A few minutes later the man returned to her table, smiling and carrying two pints of beer. He placed a glass in front of Carol and resumed his seat. She was elated…until he casually pulled a match from the book and lit it with his thumb nail.

Short Story Exercise: Have a Drink

(using the book The Playful Way to Serious Writing, set the timer for ten minutes and wrote a short story relating to the phrase “have a drink,” edited a bit)

Jarys was pleased with his disguise. He wore carefully inked Chuck Taylor shoes, stone washed blue jeans, a shiny silk T shirt, and two gold chains. His curly silver hair was gelled into the exact same shape as that popular boy’s from the TV show. On each wrist, he wore the biggest gold watch he could find. He completed the look with skull rings on his pinkies.

And so it was that Jarys, an adventurous creature from a planet somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy, strolled into a biker bar in South Dakota. The bar patrons quieted as Jarys sauntered through the bar. A few snickers sounded from the pool table and the bar fly raised her eyebrows at him.

Jarys was confused. These people looked bizarre with their black leather, tattoos, and wrinkled skin. And no one on his TV screen wore bandannas on top of their head. But Jarys reasoned that he had only watched the one channel. Perhaps these people were on another frequency. So he gamely waved at everyone staring at him and smiled, baring his pointed cerulean teeth.

“What’ll you have?” the bartender said, unfazed.

“I will have a beer.” Jarys said, then slapped his hand on the bar for effect.

The bartender popped the cap off a Budweiser and placed it on a napkin. Jarys ceremoniously handed the man a one hundred pound note. Then he raised the bottle to his lips and drained it.

No one could have predicted what happened next.

A high pitched, abrasive shriek ruptured the eardrums of everyone still in the bar. Jarys fell to the floor, his legs kicking the air as he continued to scream. And before anyone knew what was happening Jarys’s abdomen exploded, drenching everyone with his acidic, black innards.

Short Story Exercise: Swim Laps

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

Lester kicked off the wall to begin his third lap. As the cool water flowed over him, the stress from his day melted away. Joining the YMCA near his office was probably the best thing he had done for himself in years. In the evenings, the pool was deserted. The loiterers and the screaming children had all gone home, allowing Lester to exercise in peace. 

At the end of his eighth lap he rested his arms on the edge and peered through the dark windows as he bobbed up and down in the water. What few stars he could see twinkled at him, and the pine trees in the parking lot swayed in a gentle breeze.

Lester rolled back and leisurely swam to the other side of the pool. Using a variation of playful strokes he made his way back towards the window, anxious to gaze at the stars a little longer. But when he got to the other side, he forgot all about the stars. Two shadowy figures were standing on the other side of the glass. Just then, the parking lot lights blinked out.

There was knocking on the glass, each blow louder than the last. It took Lester a moment to realize these people were not knocking; they were trying to break through.

Panicked, he started for the other side of the pool, the side closer to the locker rooms. But it was too late. The glass splintered, and with a final blow it shattered.

Two men in ski masks pushed their way through, dragging a large black bag behind them.

Who would rob a YMCA? Lester wondered as he tried to maneuver himself into the center of the pool where he was confident he would be safe. They won’t jump in, he reasoned. Not to rob a man in his swim trunks.

In fact, the men paid him no attention. They pulled the bag to the far edge of the pool, unzipped it and slowly tipped it over the water. Lester couldn’t be sure, but he thought he could hear them chanting. Curiosity took over and he watched with wonder as hundreds of furry brown balls dropped into the water. The second the balls touched the liquid they erupted into foamy, hissing bubbles.

Lester, understandably alarmed by the foaming balls in the pool, resumed his escape plan.

Short Story Exercise: Give Birth

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

Henry stared at Callie. Callie stared back and grimaced. A small plop echoed through the chamber.

“How many does that make?” Henry asked.

“You expect me to count, too?” she growled back.

Henry shrugged and brought his foot to his mouth. After carefully sniffing it, he bit at one of his claws then began to lick the pads.

“Pay attention to me!” Callie hissed. Another plop.

He looked at her coolly. “You know the more of those you squeeze out, the more food I have to find.”

“Shoulda thought of that before you ate their daddy! Unh.” Plop.

Henry listened to the sounds of the tiny, squirming, hairless bodies beneath them. One squeaked pitifully. Already they were hungry. With one paw, he casually traced circles over his oblong belly, slid his tongue over his teeth, and sighed.

Plop.

“Henry,” Cassie warned, “I’ll give you the damn afterbirth but you are not eating the babes. Not again.”

He smirked. “Like you’d miss ’em.”

Cassie frowned and adjusted her bulk over the birthing stool. Gingerly she poked at her womb. Empty, finally. She raised herself up and looked into the pot. “Seventeen, eighteen…twenty two, twenty three…”

“One for you, one for me…” Henry muttered.

Cassie swung her hips towards him and with a grunt dumped the afterbirth into Henry’s lap. Then she covered the pot with her cape and rolled it to the back of the cave where she wouldn’t be able to hear him eat.

Short Story Exercise: Draw

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

It was high noon and the hot sun beat down on the quiet town of Burrville. At the south end of Main Street, Brawn McTuffest stood stock still, his hand poised over the six-shooter hanging from his hip. Facing him, roughly thirty yards away, was Tiny O’Smallhans. Tiny hastily wiped the sweat from his forehead then waved his right hand over the old Colt he’d shoved into his belt not twenty minutes before.

On the far side of the dusty road, women and children and mischievous old men waited for one of the gunslingers to make their move. The old men whispered back and forth as they placed their bets. The bored children kicked their feet in the dirt. And the women, careworn and hard-nosed alike, looked from one man to the other, and finally they looked across the street at Honey Flower.

“This is all that Honey’s doing,” the women whispered, clucking their tongues.

Brawn took a confident step forward.

Tiny shook in his boots and wiggled his fingers some more.

Honey, meanwhile, alone on her side of the street, considered her two heroes. Each had certain attractions to counter their flaws. She smiled across the street at the townsfolk who were plainly bothered by this display. Honey blew a kiss to the small group of young boys and then returned to her work.

Putting pencil to paper Honey continued with her drawing. She colored in Brawn’s dark hat and added droplets of sweat to Tiny’s face. She was just starting to sketch in the crowd when a gunshot rang out. Honey screamed when she saw Brawn drop to one knee. But the townsfolk erupted in laughter once they realized he’d shot himself in the leg.

Short Story Exercise: Fly a Plane

(using this book, set timer for 10 minutes and wrote a story using the phrase “fly a plane”; lightly edited)

This was the first time Janet was able to sit in the cockpit.

She’d read all of the manuals, she’d attended lectures, and she’d watched a flight happen from the control tower. But today it was her turn to sit in the copilot’s seat. She wasn’t supposed to touch anything, and that was fine with her. Janet wasn’t in any hurry to crash her first plane.

Her instructor, Randy, took the controls. He pointed out the dials and the switches and gave his pet names for the various instruments. Janet did her best to absorb everything he said, blending what she’d read with what she was seeing in front of her.

The engines started, clearance was given from the tower, and the plane lurched forward. Janet obediently held the co-pilot controls, but her gaze was focused on Randy and everything he did. He seemed to operate on instinct rather than actual skill, as though the plane was just an extension of his arm.

The speed picked up and Janet was pushed back into her seat. She felt every bump in the runway through the stick and her stomach tingled nervously. Finally, they achieved lift and soared into the golden blue sky of dawn. Janet laughed in spite of herself. This was a feeling she could get used to.

Randy expertly banked the plane pointing out the flat farmlands spread like a quilt beneath them. They then climbed higher and higher until they hit cruising altitude.

“Janet,” Randy said casually. “You’re flying this plane.”

“What?” Janet laughed. She looked over and saw Randy’s hands folded neatly in his lap, his feet tucked under the seat. Janet screamed and jerked in her seat, and the plane immediately responded.

The nose pointed straight down and they were picking up speed. Janet, still screaming, could hear Randy chuckling in her headset. “YOU ASSHOLE!” Janet yelled.

Right before they reached the point of no return Randy took hold of the controls, rolled the plane on its side, and pointed the nose back up.

“And that,” he howled, “is why every wannabe pilot should spend his first year in a crop duster!”

Meanwhile Janet, her hands clamped to her seat, heart in her throat, started crying, which only egged him on. He made loopty-loops and repeatedly dive bombed towards the ground. When they finally landed, Randy obligingly stuck out his chin to her. Taking the cue, Janet slapped him as hard as she could.

Short Story Exercise: Cross a Street

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

John stepped out of the Grand Hotel and looked at The Oriental across the street. It was mid-afternoon, but the saloon was already bustling. The wind, hot and dusty, pushed against his face and tugged at the brim of his hat. His guts churned and his palms were sweaty. His left eye was still swollen from the swing Curly Bill had landed the night before. If John didn’t show his face in The Oriental tonight, he might as well get on out of town and that right soon.

John crossed the narrow porch and descended the wooden steps. He held his chin high as a group of men on horses trotted past, eyeing him curiously. John forced his shoulders back and stepped onto the dirt.

Measuring his pace as he crossed the road, he met the eyes of each man lounging on The Oriental’s porch in front of him. He brought up one corner of his mouth and gave a small nod to Mrs. Jensen peeking through the curtains of the general store. She pursed her lips and shook her head at him.

John casually glanced over his shoulder and saw the coach racing towards him. The horses looked bound and determined to trample him. But John remembered his audience and maintained his pace.

The driver shouted. Mrs. Jensen pounded on her window. John stepped onto the boards of the sidewalk just before the coach lumbered past.  He waved to Mrs. Jensen and tipped his hat to the dumbstruck men on the porch.

Short Story Exercise: Catch a Mouse

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

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” the store manager said.

“No, you don’t understand,” Susann pleaded. “It’s his birthday and I promised him a mouse!”

“Ma’am, that is inhumane and disgusting. I need you to leave these premises and not come back.”

Susann, realizing that the man would never see it her way, said, “Fine, ya old twat!” And with that, she turned and stomped out of the pet store.

She paced through the mall for nearly an hour trying to decide what to do. There was another pet store on the other side of town, but they didn’t carry mice. Susann never would have guessed that finding a mouse would be so difficult. Growing up on the farm, you couldn’t cross the kitchen floor without one dancing around your feet.

Accepting defeat, Susann headed to the grocery store with her shoulders slumped. She’d simply have to figure out something else, something other than a mouse.

But as she walked through the store, she was struck by another idea. Quickly she gathered some stinky cheese, a cardboard shipping box, and a hairnet.

After purchasing her items she walked around to the back of the store and started digging around the empty wooden pallets until she finally found what she was looking for in a corner near the loading dock. Mouse droppings!

Carefully Susann assembled the box leaving the top open, placed it on its side a few feet away from the poo, and then crumbled up in the cheese inside.  She glanced around and didn’t see anyone, so she moved a few feet away and crouched down, hairnet ready.  It wasn’t quite dark yet and these feral mice were sure to be wary of humans. Susann knew she needed to hold perfectly still.

Some time later, after the sun had set and the security lights blinked on, Susann heard a few squeaks. Then she heard movement, followed by more squeaking. She thought she saw a dark shape moving towards her and hoped against hope it was a mouse and not a rat.

When she finally heard the tell tale scraping sounds of claws against cardboard she leaped forward, tossed the hairnet inside, and closed up the box.

She’d caught something alright! It screamed and ran around in the box, clawing at the corners.

“Sorry darlin’,” Susann purred. “But my kitty Cullen is six years old today and I promised him a fresh mouse.”

Short Story Exercise: Declined Invitation

(from page 143 in this book, set timer for ten minutes and wrote a story beginning with the phrase “After Eric declined the lady wrestler’s invitation…”, lightly edited)

After Eric declined the lady wrestler’s invitation, he raced to his car. The rain poured down so hard he could barely keep his eyes open. Ever grateful for the keyless entry, he slammed the Mercedes door and started the engine. Snapping his seat belt he looked back to the freight door, but she was no longer there. The light had been turned off.

He sped out of the parking lot and hardly looked as he merged into traffic. Ignoring the honking horns, he pulled the phone out of his pocket and worked to make the thing call his wife. He had to hurry.

He didn’t see the red light. He did hear the squealing tires and blaring horns, but without the sound of crunching metal, Eric continued on his way. He rammed the gas pedal and steered onto the highway, still trying to make the stupid phone call Maggie. No signal. He cussed and punched the steering wheel. Finally he threw the thing to the floor and goosed the engine again.

Fortunately traffic on the highway was light, probably due to the rain. The wipers whipped as fast as they could, but the oncoming headlights still blurred across the windshield. Despite the downpour, Eric passed cars and changed lanes like a professional driver.

He managed to take the correct exit, and barely slowed down to make the turn onto Maple Drive. Fast food restaurants crowded the sidewalks, in turn crowding the street with traffic. Eric was forced to slow to a crawl, each lane change only serving to delay him further.

He made a left turn. Then another. He watched his rearview mirror. She couldn’t have beaten him home, he assured himself.

He entered the subdivision and was shocked at the darkness. The street lights were all out and the houses were dark. Sure it was raining, but there hadn’t been any lightning. Eric gunned the engine through the suburban maze and finally skidded to a stop in front of the last house on the right.

The motor still running, Eric flung the car door open and sprinted to the front steps. He pounded on the door.

“Maggie!! Maggie!!”

Silence.

He ran back to the car to get his keys. As he turned back, Eric slipped on the curb and dropped hard onto his hip.

The last thing he saw was a spangled red leather boot rushing towards his face.

Short Story Exercise: Call a Friend

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

“Call a friend? Balls!” Susann blew a raspberry at the computer screen then turned to her favorite cat, Muffy. “Every single time it’s call a friend or ask a friend for help…” 

The cat walked away. 

Susann sighed and considered her current problem. She was bored and lonely, and she wanted to make friends and be more active in her community. But whenever she searched for local events, the activities were always situations where it would look weird if she showed up alone.

She had asked the computer for cures to loneliness, and it suggested she call a friend.

Whenever Susann read magazines for advice on picking clothes to suit her body type, or found DIY’s about how to create cosplay costumes, or looked up information about servicing her car herself, everything insisted that she needed to ask a friend for help.

But Susann didn’t have friends. She’d tried to make friends at school, and again at work, but apparently nobody wants to be friends with the six-fingered woman.

Susann had been born without the ring and pinkie fingers on either hand. She was able to live a normal life, but nobody else seemed able to live with it. People would crack jokes or stare, ask her questions about gloves and typing. Susann amused herself by giving a different answer every time, just to keep things fresh, but she was yet to find anyone else who appreciated her lightheartedness.

No, calling a friend wasn’t an option for Susann. Instead she would just call the pizza delivery boy again. He was always willing to make an extra buck.