Fiction Improvisation 3.0

July 27, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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Fiction Improv 3.0

Okay, Peeps, Here’s what you gave me:

2 Names: Beulah and Harvey

Occupation: Environmentalist

5 Words (I’ll use at least 3): Verbose, superfluous, ambiguous, fun, and onomatopoeia.

Situation (I put out an extra call for this item and two people responded at almost exactly the same time. Since I don’t know which one was first, I’ll accept both.): (1)Getting wisdom teeth out and (2)Waiting in a crowd for a bus

All righty, this one is definitely going to be interesting. Time to let the elements cook a bit. I’ll post a short-short story or a scene by Sunday night. Max word count is 1,000. Minimum 500. 

The story turned out to be 787 words.


photo credit: Hipster via photopin (license)

photo credit: Hipster via photopin (license)

The Green Battery?

So this is what it feels like to have your jaws crushed under a steamroller.

Even though the city bus was only going about ten miles per hour, every time it hit a bump or rolled over a pothole, Harvey felt a fresh surge of pain. And it wasn’t just coming from the four empty sockets that once held his wisdom teeth. His whole body ached in sympathy.

What he wanted—needed—was quiet. But that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

First, the bus, for which he had waited nearly an hour, was stuck in rush-hour traffic.

Second, the woman behind him was apparently trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest unbroken stream-of-consciousness cell phone conversation.

Of course, it could hardly qualify as a conversation. The verbose woman never paused long enough for the person on the other end to get a word in. All Harvey knew was that the other person was named Beulah, and the only reason he knew that was that the woman apparently felt a pressing need to insert her friend’s name in every other sentence.

“Well, Beulah, you know I think what she was wearing yesterday was just atrocious, don’t you, I mean, really, how could she possibly wear black to a wedding rehearsal dinner doesn’t she know she has practically cursed the poor couple before they ever start on the road of life together, of course, Beulah, she might as well have cursed them because I don’t give that marriage six months, if they make it seven then, Beulah, you can say I told you so and by the way, did you see what the preacher’s wife was wearing…”

Harvey looked at his watch. It had been going on for two solid hours.

photo credit: Brno via photopin (license)

photo credit: Brno via photopin (license)

At the bus stop, she stood behind him—talking.

He’d have moved but the crowd was pressed so tight, he couldn’t get away.

On the bus, he hoped to place some distance between them.

She sat on the seat behind him—still talking.

And the longer she talked, the more his head throbbed.

He had to do something, but what?

Move? Not possible. No empty seats.

He could turn around and give her a dirty look.

That wouldn’t work. Besides, he’d already done that several times. The woman was clueless.

Grab her phone and stomp on it?

He’d get arrested.

But maybe, just maybe…

It hurt to even move, but Harvey stood up and reached inside his coat. As he stepped into the aisle, he put on his most stern expression, pulled out his I.D. and flashed it at her.

“Ma’am, pleashh hang upff. I neeth thoo thalk thoo shyou.”

She gazed at him, a blank look on her face.

At least she stopped talking.

“What did you say?”

Harvey realized that with a mouth packed full of cotton, he probably made Brando’s Godfather sound eloquent. He had to keep this brief. Every superfluous word he spoke only added to his pain.

He pointed at his I.D. badge and struggled to make each word clear. “I…needth…thoo…thalk…thoo…yoo.”

“Beulah, I’ll call you right back.” The woman broke the connection and then said, “Now what is it? You interrupted a very important conversation.”

Harvey pointed at his I.D.

The woman squinted. “Environmental Protection Agency?”

Harvey nodded.

“What do you want with me?”

Harvey pointed at her phone. “Ish…thath…phone’s…bathry…green?”

“Green? What in the world are you talking about.”

Harvey shook his head and pointed at his I.D. again.


photo credit: DSCN3642.JPG via photopin (license)

photo credit: DSCN3642.JPG via photopin (license)

The woman’s face flushed. “I—I don’t know.”

“I…thoughth…ash…mush.” He held out his hand. “I’ll…haff…thoo…sheck…ith.”

“But, but you can’t do that!”

Harvey pointed at his I.D. and held out his hand.

The woman looked around at the other passengers. “Do you see what he’s trying to do? Somebody tell him he can’t do this.”

Most of the other passengers ignored her. A few shrugged and gave her a “What can we do?” look.

“You can’t do this!”

Harvey held out his hand. “Doo…yoo…wanth…me…thoo…arresth…yoo?”

The woman’s face was so red, she looked like she might explode. “Oh, all right.”  She slapped the phone into his hand.

Harvey popped the back of the phone off and took out the battery. He turned it this way and that, scrutinizing it and shaking his head.

“Shorry. Goth…too…confishgathe…ith. ”

“My phone?”

Harvey shook his head. “No. Jush…the…batthry. E.P.A. regulashion…35491…dansherous…bathries.” He handed her phone back to her. “Go…buy…a…green…one.”

He stepped back to his seat and sat down.

An instant later, the rest of the passengers erupted in applause.

Harvey smiled. That was fun.

Of course, there was no E.P.A. regulation 35491. He’d have to give the lady back her battery.

And he would.

Just as soon as she got off the bus.

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Fiction Improv 2: Golden Anniversary

July 20, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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FICTION IMPROV 2.0: Golden Anniversary

Note: After I receive random words, names, occupations, and situation from my Facebook Peeps for a fiction improv, I let the mix stew for a few days. The words often will suggest the mood or tone for the piece. In this case, the piece took on a decidedly dark tone. (I am a suspense/thriller writer, after all.) Because of the darkness of the piece, and for personal reasons, I changed one of the names.

The last piece was a short-short story. This one unfolded more like a scene that would open a longer story or even a novel. Who knows? Maybe Max and Betty’s story will wind up part of a larger tale someday.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments.


2 Names: Max and Betty
1 Occupation: Nurse practitioner
1 Situation: Golden wedding anniversary
5 Random Words (I have to use at least 3): kangaroo, post-apocalyptic, shoelace, flying, and vibrio. (I had to look up vibrio. It’s a type of bacteria associated with foodborne infection, usually from eating undercooked seafood).

*     *     *

“Hard to believe it’s been fifty years, Betty.” Max set the champagne bottle into his makeshift ice bucket. Just an old Styrofoam cooler, really. “Gotta make do with what we’ve got now.”

He pulled a handkerchief from his overalls and wiped his face; then he eased down into a nearby folding chair.

August in Texas never seemed hotter.

“Crazy time for a picnic, huh?” he said.

Hot wind blew through the tall dry Johnson grass. Max could tell from the rustling sound that a single match could start a fire that would wipe out everything for twenty miles.

Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Max leaned over and tied his shoelace. “Good thing I saw that,” he said. “Sure enough that thing would have tripped me and sent me flying.”

He smiled at Betty. “That wouldn’t do, would it?”

Max carefully opened the picnic basket—a laundry basket with a towel thrown over the top—and pulled out two plastic tumblers. “Ain’t exactly wine goblets, but it’s the best I could find.”

He took the champagne bottle and winced in pain as his arthritic fingers worked the cork loose. When it finally popped off, a warm spray washed over his face. Max filled both tumblers.

He reached into the basket again and brought out a bouquet of withered roses, wrapped in plastic WalMart bags. “Not very pretty, but they’re the best I could find. Not much grows around here anymore.”

Max put the roses in Betty’s arms, and smiled.

“Fifty years,” he said. “Not many couples make it that long, Old Girl. What is it they call it? Our golden wedding anniversary.”

He drained the tumbler of champagne and blinked back tears.

It had all happened so fast.

Vibrio, they called it. But there was another name, too. A new name they’d given it. He couldn’t remember that one. News people said it mutated, became a plague. He didn’t rightly understand it. All he knew was that it started down at the Gulf coast. You were only supposed to catch it by eating undercooked seafood, but something changed.

Whatever it was started spreading and people started dying.

And they never stopped.

The nurse practitioner hadn’t been by to check on Betty in a couple of months. She was probably gone like the rest of them.

“What is it the young people call it? Post-apocalyptic? I guess that’s where we are now, my love. In a post-apocalyptic world.”

Max drained the second tumbler, and winced. He hated warm Champagne.

“Guess I’d better get back to work.”

Max looked down into the shallow grave.

“Fifty years. We almost made it fifty years.”

Power grid went down a week ago. He had enough gas to keep the generator running a couple more days. Didn’t know what he’d do after that.

Max gently tossed the first shovelful of dirt into Betty’s grave.

A burning August breeze blew once more through tinder-dry Johnson grass.

Max’s chin quivered. “Happy anniversary, my love.”



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Fiction Improvisation: Mrs Sweeny

July 12, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

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Greetings, readers!

A few weeks back I asked my followers to help me with a fiction improvisation exercise. I asked for two names, an occupation, a situation, and three random words. I promised to improvise a short fiction piece based on as many of these elements as possible.

The following short, short (1,000 word) story is what I came up with.

Just FYI, I did this in one sitting, and did no revisions or edits. If I were planning to market the story, of course, I would take it through multiple edits and rewrites. But my purpose here was just to see what I could come up with quickly.


Fiction Improv 1: MRS SWEENY

NAMES: Emily and Tyler
OCCUPATION: Chimney sweep
SITUATION: Forgetting to pick up someone at the airport
3 WORDS (ACTUALLY I ACCEPTED 5): Cat, zipline, catastasis, overcome, drumbeat. (Note: I didn’t use catastasis or drumbeat.)

Emily’s cell phone chirped for the third time. She knew she couldn’t ignore Tyler’s calls forever. The only way to do that would be to turn off the phone—or throw it in the river.

She glanced at the digital clock on her dashboard.

12:15 p.m.

Maybe he’ll give up.

She kept driving. She was still a fair distance from the airport.

The phone chirped again, and she knew it was no use. She had to answer it.

“What is it, Tyler?”

“I need your help. Now.”

“Mother’s flight gets in at two,” Emily said. “You know what she’s like when she has to wait.”

“I really, really need your help.”

Emily could hear the strain in his reply.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m over at Mrs. Sweeny’s. Fluffy got out and she’s up a tree.”

Emily sighed. “Again?”

“Can you come?”

“Is it the tree with the zip line?”


“Can’t you get her down?”

“You know I can’t.” His voice was thin, embarrassed.

“Why?” Emily knew the answer, but this was her price, her pound of flesh.

“I’m afraid of heights.”


“I’m afraid of the cat.”

Emily looked at the clock again. It would be tight, but the house was on the way. She should be able to corral Fluffy and still pick up Mother.

“I’ll be there in a few minutes,” she said.

*     *     *

Tyler gazed up into the tree as if he were trying to will Fluffy back down. He knew it was no use. That was the most stubborn cat on the planet. She was also the fastest.

And he was scared to death of her. The cat was huge, and he was sure she had it in for him.

He’d just finished cleaning Mrs. Sweeny’s chimney, had gathered his brushes and was heading out the door when Fluffy shot out ahead of him. She was in the back yard and up the tallest tree before he knew it.

Now all he saw ahead of him was the unemployment line.


If Mrs. Sweeny gets home and finds her $15,000 Savannah up a tree, I’m toast.

He hated bothering Emily with this, but he had no choice. But, if you can’t count on your wife, who can you count on? Besides, it was either that or 911. And he didn’t even want to think about what would happen if Mrs. Sweeny came home and found the fire department at her house.

If the truth be told, he was more afraid of Mrs. Sweeny than a thousand cats. Tall and forbidding in appearance, she reminded him of his seventh grade teacher, a woman who could be described in one word: imperious.

A horn beeped twice—that horn always reminded him of Road Runner cartoons—and he saw Emily’s little white Prius turn into the long driveway.

The cavalry had arrived.

Emily climbed out of the car and came into the back yard. Even from a hundred feet away, Tyler could tell she was not happy.

“Where is she?” Emily asked.

Tyler pointed to the forty-foot live oak near the back of the spacious back yard.

Fluffy, a twenty-pound Savannah that was anything but fluffy—she looked more like a leopard than a cat—was contentedly lounging on a large branch about fifteen feet from the ground.

Emily flashed her husband an exasperated look. Then her expression softened and she walked over to Tyler and kissed him on the cheek. “I love you, but this is the last time I’m doing this.”

Without another word, she climbed the ladder attached to the tree and coaxed the big cat down. After Fluffy was safely on the ground, she was tempted climb back up and ride down the zip line Mrs. Sweeny had installed for her grandchildren.

Instead, she strolled over to Tyler, took him by the hand, and led him over to a large garden swing. “We need to talk,” she said.

“Tyler, this isn’t working.”

Tyler felt his face flush. “I’ve got to do something. I’ll never make a living as a freelance writer.”

“But a chimney sweep can’t be afraid of heights.”

“I’ll overcome it. You’ll see.”

“You don’t need to,” said Emily. “I make enough to support us both. I want you to quit this crazy job and do what you love—write.”

She leaned over and kissed him.

He put his arm around her and they sat together, enjoying the blooming crepe myrtles that surrounded the garden.

And time stood still.

*   *   *

A taxi horn’s blaring startled both of them awake.

Tyler’s face blanched.

“Mrs. Sweeny!” he said, jumping to his feet.

“Mother!” said Emily. “I forgot to pick her up.”

They both rushed through the yard, toward the driveway.

Tyler stopped dead in his tracks.

Mrs. Sweeny—the imperious Mrs. Sweeny—stood beside the Yellow Cab. Her steel gray hair was piled up on top her head and her face cast in a frown that could wither fresh flowers. She motioned to the cabbie to carry her luggage to the house, then strode over to Tyler and Emily.

“Is the job done?” she said, looking directly at Tyler.

“Yes, Mrs. Sweeney,” he replied.

“Anything go wrong?” she asked.

“No ma’am,” he said with a sidelong glance at Emily.

She nodded curtly. “Good.”

“I’ll just pack my equipment and be on my way,” Tyler said, glad for the chance to escape.

Emily and Mrs. Sweeny watched him as he walked away from them toward the house.

Mrs. Sweeny turned to Emily. “And where were you? My plane got in an hour ago.”

“I’m sorry, Mother,” Emily said. “Tyler needed my help and time got away from us.”

“Hmph,” said Mrs. Sweeny looking down at Emily. Then she cracked a tiny grin and raised an eyebrow. “Don’t let it happen again.”

Arm in arm, Emily and her mother followed Tyler into the mansion. Mrs. Sweeny nudged her and said, “Do you think he’ll ever call me Mother?”


 So, how did I do? Add your thoughts in the comments below. 












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