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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