Short Story Exercise: Fix a Flat Tire

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

Hugh sang out his window as he sped down the highway. “And I can’t fight this feeling anymooooooooore…”


The Subaru made a sharp turn to the right. Hugh nonchalantly brought his left hand inside and put it on the wheel, lifted his foot from the gas pedal, and guided the injured car onto the shoulder. He set the emergency brake and killed the engine.

Humming to himself, Hugh stepped onto the pavement and sauntered to the back to get his jack and the spare. He’d driven these lonesome straight desert highways enough to know a flat tire when he got one.

The sun roasted his neck as he pumped the jack to raise the wagon. It was mid afternoon, prime sunburn time, but Hugh removed his shirt anyway. Without a breeze it was far too hot to work fully clothed.

He had just pulled the flat tire off, a pair of scissors firmly planted in the tread, when he heard another car coming up the road behind him. Its engine made a terrible noise, and when the car pulled in behind him, Hugh stood to greet his would-be rescuer. There on the shoulder was an ancient red Volkswagen bug.

He wondered if it had just happened to break down in the same spot.

The woman who got out of the bug was all smiles. “Howdy,” she called out. Her eyes widened as she took in his lean, sweaty torso. “Want some help?”

“Thanks, I got it.”

Looking unsure, the woman said, “Do you want some water, or maybe some sunblock?”

“Really, I’m fine,” Hugh said. “Be back on the road in a minute.”

“Okay. Take care!” The woman waved then dropped back into her car and roared away.

Hugh stared after her, the flat tire forgotten. He rubbed his eyes and blinked. He could have sworn that woman only had three fingers on her hand.

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)


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.”

Short Story Exercise: Ride a Bus

(using this book, set timer for ten minutes and wrote a short story relating to the phrase “ride a bus” [and it’s Keanu Reeves’ birthday so why not], lightly edited)

Sandy sat on the bus in her usual seat. The normal stink of the bus had an added layer of ozone and mildew today. And there were more people riding than usual, probably because of the rain. It sounded like every last one of them had the plague. The snorts and hacking coughs made Sandy’s stomach turn.  

The tires splashed in the puddles as the bus lurched through downtown. Sandy had at least twenty minutes before her next stop, and then she would get to wait for another bus to take her to the restaurant where she worked. She hoped her car would be fixed soon. How long can a busted head gasket really take to fix?

The doors opened and a new group climbed aboard, but most of them had to remain standing. When the bus rolled back into traffic, a man sat in the empty seat next to Sandy. He smelled delicious, like toasted coconuts. He looked a little bit like Keanu Reeves, too. Laughing to herself, Sandy wondered if there was a bomb on the bus and she’d have to drive.

The man looked at her, a questioning smile on his face.

“Oh, sorry.” Sandy giggled. “You just, I mean, you look like that guy. In that movie? With the bus? You know the one?”

Frowning, the man stood and moved to the back of the bus. Sandy bonked her head against the glass. Damn, she thought. Talking to a strange, attractive man on the bus. Don’t do that.

The rain was still pouring when Sandy’s stop finally came. She hustled to the plexiglass shelter and hoped her next bus would be on time. The Keanu look-alike followed her into the covered bus stop and startled Sandy when he sat on the bench next to her. She trained her eyes on the newsstand across the street.

He said, “I hear relationships that start in stressful circumstances don’t last.”

Sandy quickly glanced at him and was relieved to see his smile. “Okay,” she replied. “We’ll have to base it on sex then.”

He laughed and extended his hand. “I’m Ted Theodore Logan. What’s your name?”

Short Story Exercise: Tell a Story

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

“I lost them in the womb,” Susann said, making her voice barely audible over the thump-thump music in the bar.

The cowboy seated next to her lifted a brow and took another drink from his beer, then his glassy eyes returned to her misshapen hands.

“Yeah,” Susann continued. “You see, I had a twin. She got my extra fingers! Doctor said they looked like flippers, if you can imagine. Seven fingers per hand, she had, and here I only got three.” Susann wiggled the fingers of her left hand under the man’s nose before taking a dainty sip of her daiquiri.

The cowboy took another look at her hands then pulled his beer from the bar and, shaking his head, wandered away. Susann, accustomed to people making their exit as soon as they got the story of her missing ring and pinkie fingers, swayed her body back and forth, out of time with the music, and scoped the bar for the next man she could catch staring.

She spotted him at the end of the bar. He was a little rough around the edges, but Susann was bored so she picked up her drink and sauntered towards him. “Mind if I join you?” she purred, making a demonstration of her deformed hand by gesturing towards the empty stool.

The man, eyes wide, motioned for her to sit. “That’s some hand you got there, honey!” he drawled.

Oh a southerner! Susann thought with excitement. “You like it?”

“What happened to you, darlin’?”

“Well,” she leaned towards him conspiratorially, doing her best impression of a southern belle, “I was but five years old. My pappy’s farm had this old well, you see. And my job was to bring up the bucket every mornin’, right?”

He nodded somberly.

“So this one mornin’, I’m a-haulin’ the bucket up and wouldn’t you know my brother’s mean old hound dog ran up behind me barkin’ and snarlin’ and I was so scared I lost my grip on the rope. The bucket starts fallin’ so I grabbed at the rope, but it just wound round the last two fingers on each hand, and snap! The rope yanked ’em clean off!”

“Why you poor precious thing,” he soothed. “I hope your brother got a whoopin’ for that dog of his scaring you like that.”

“Worse than that,” Susann said, leaning closer. “Pa made him eat the meat off my old fingers. Raw.”

Short Story Exercise: Hum a Tune

(using this book, i set timer for ten minutes and wrote a short story relating to the phrase “hum a tune”)

I breathed deeply. It always stank like burnt peanut butter here, and the more air I moved through my nose the faster I would stop noticing the smell. I inhaled again, closing my eyes. When I opened them I noticed the man in the next line was staring at me, seemingly shocked at my behavior. There was no point trying to explain my logic to him. So I smiled, closed my eyes, and took another deep breath.

My line inched forward. The woman in front of me was rocking side to side from foot to foot, her shoes so worn they were even more worthless than mine. Peeking at my own feet, I wiggled my big toe through the hole in the leather. Dirt was caked under the thick, yellow nail. No one had had any socks in years. Maybe these hundreds of bare, unwashed feet in old dirty shoes was the source of that burnt peanut butter smell.

The woman in front of me begin to sob and across the room I could hear someone sniffling. I glanced to the man next to me. He was staring at his own shoes, frowning.

I started to hum a tune. If I’d remembered the words to the song I would have sang out loud, but I didn’t so I hummed. Signs were posted everywhere saying we weren’t allowed to sit or push, shout or swear, but not one mentioned humming.

After I managed a few notes without punishment, I felt bolder and hummed louder. I looked towards the station but none of the guards seemed to notice me. So I took another deep breath and continued to hum.

The woman in front of me stopped her rocking and raised her head, and then I heard her voice join mine. Someone behind me picked up the tune as well, and soon a dozen of us were humming and swaying until finally the man next to me yelled out, “Whoaaa whoa wah-oh sweet child of mii-iiiine!”