Fiction Improv 4.0 – Fern & Gideon

August 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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All righty, here’s what you gave me for Fiction Improv. 4.0:

2 Names: Gideon and Fern
Occupation: Soldier
Situation: Stuck in a Louisiana swamp
Five Random Words (I’ll use at least 3): Brilliant, sizzle, poop, telekinesis, and splash.

Min word count 500, max 1,000.

*    *    *    *    *

 Fern & Gideon

Brilliant! I remembered everything I needed for a quiet day of fishing in the Atchafalaya Basin. Boat. Rods. Bait. Food. Water. Sunscreen.

Only forgot one thing.


Fern listened to the water slapping gently against the bottom of her little fishing boat. Aside from the cicadas’ chirping and an occasional splash from a fish, the swamp was quiet. Even though she hadn’t caught anything, she had actually enjoyed the day, although the July sun made the aluminum boat sizzling hot at times.

When the afternoon shadows began to lengthen, Fern decided it was time to get back home to Gideon. He’d be missing her.

She tugged on the starter and the little motor burped.

She pulled again, and again the engine belched.

Strange. It’s always started with one pull.

She grabbed the handle and jerked the starting cord a third time. And a fourth. And a fifth.

The outboard motor blew raspberries back at her.

It was only after her arm and shoulder began to ache that she decided to check the gas tank. It was dry.

Of course. Why didn’t I think of that sooner? Just a little gas in the tank and I’ll be on my way.

But when she reached for the gas can, she felt a sinking sensation in her stomach. There was no gas can. How could she have forgotten it?

Now as twilight settled over the swamp Fern faced the prospect of spending a night out there. Fears multiplied like evil rabbits. Would she survive? Would one of the alligators she’d seen earlier attack her boat and devour her? Would they gang up on her and divide her among them? Fern moved to the middle of the boat, hopefully out of reach of any hungry gators.

It wasn’t long before she heard the buzzing in her ears. She looked above her and saw the dark cloud swirling and hovering. It was then she understood that she would not be devoured by gators. Mosquitoes would get her long before that. They would suck every drop of blood from her and when they found her—if anybody ever did find her—all they would find would be a dried, bloodless husk of a woman.

But Fern wasn’t worried about herself. It was Gideon she felt sorry for.

How would he live without her?

She hadn’t even said goodbye. She was mad at him when she left that morning. The worst part was that it was all so trivial.

Now I’ll never have the chance to apologize.

As she looked into the darkening sky, a smattering of stars now visible, she wondered what Gideon was doing. Was he worried?

She swatted at the mosquitoes, trying to drive them away. That was one more thing she’d forgotten. Bug repellant.

As darkness overtook the swamp, Fern resigned herself to her fate. She lay down in the boat and waited for sleep, and then death, to take her.

A single tear rolled down her cheek.

I’m sorry, Gideon.

And all went black.

*   *   *

“Ma’am? Ma’am, are you all right?” The voice of a young man broke through her mental fog.

Fern blinked her eyes and squinted in the bright morning light. She shielded her eyes from the glare coming off the water?

A strong-looking, handsome young man had pulled his boat alongside hers.

I must look atrocious. Her hand went to her hair. A matted mess, of course. And she was covered in red welts from the mosquito bites. At least she wasn’t sunburned. And the gators hadn’t gotten her.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Now that you’re here,” she added with a coquettish smile. Then she blushed and pointed to the outboard motor. “I ran out of gas.”

“Not a problem,” the muscular young man replied. “I have extra.” He handed her a red, plastic gas container.

Trying to sound casual as she filled her tank, Fern asked, “So, what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a soldier, Ma’am. I’m stationed at Fort Polk.”

A chill went through her. She’d always wanted to date a soldier.

Fern handed the gas can back to him and blinked her eyes. “My name is Fern.” When he didn’t respond with more than a nod, she added, “And you are?”

“Johnson, Ma’am. Private Timothy Johnson.”

As he took the can, she noticed the wedding ring on his finger.

Why are the handsome ones always taken?

It was at that moment, she remembered Gideon.

“I’ve got to get home!” she said.

After a few pulls, the motor started and Fern was on her way.

She loaded her boat onto her trailer and as she drove home she kept mumbling the words, “I’m sorry, Gideon,” as if they were a mantra. Forty minutes later she pulled into her driveway.

Fern didn’t even bother unpacking.

She rushed to her front door, key in hand. “I’m sorry, Gideon. I’m sorry, Gideon. I’m sorry, Gideon.”

She threw the door open, and called out, “Gideon, I’m home!”

A scruffy, little Yorkie tore across the room and leapt into her arms. Fern stood there, hugging the little dog as it licked her face. Finally she put the dog down and closed the front door behind her.

Then she sniffed. The aroma was unmistakable. Fern frowned at the little dog and walked into the dining room.

Fern put her hands on her hips. “Gideon, you pooped on the floor. Again!”

Gideon looked up and wagged his tail as if to say, “What’s a dog to do when his owner stays out all night partying?”







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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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