Break Time–or, a Story Called “Cat Nap”

Tonight’s writing challenge is…

Actually, there isn’t a challenge for tonight’s story.  As much fun as my extreme writing challenges are, sometimes a girl just wants to write with no constraints.

I’ve been asked before why I torture myself with my restricting challenges.  I always give those people the spiel about how they teach me about the flexibility of the English language and help me to convey single ideas in an endless number of ways.  But the truth is, most of the writing I do isn’t constrained like it is in my stories here.  I want to share a story I would write without any limitations.  So, enjoy.  Next post will be business as usual.  ;)

__________

There is no better napping place than Her stomach. Especially on the days she wears those wool sweaters. Nothing beats the moment she grabs a book and sits on the seat built into the window. The sun hits her just perfectly and I’ll lie on her stomach from the first page to the last.

It’s always been this way. The day she brought me home, she set me on her abdomen and introduced me to a warmth I’d never known. It was a drug I never gave up. Even when I grew and I could only lie on her stomach with my paws on her chest, reaching for her face.

Things changed, though. At first I couldn’t complain that her stomach was warmer than usual. Extra heat, yes please!

When my favorite napping place began to morph into a mound not fit for comfortable sleep, I grew a little worried. Was it a punishment? Did I eat one too many leaves off of the fern in the front window? Had I left paw print evidence of my midnight adventures on the kitchen counter?

Before long, her stomach was so big and round it wasn’t only uncomfortable, but it was impossible to lie upon it. When I tried, I either rolled right off or the lump in her shirt would kick me. I resorted to sleeping in the fresh laundry, no matter how much she scolded me. Fair is fair.

I barely noticed when her belly returned to normal. The return of my napping refuge came at the price of a new creature invading my territory. It was my size and kept low to the ground like I do, but it smelled suspiciously like a bath and elicited screeches that could break a deaf cat’s ears. The creature was almost permanently affixed to the warm belly I once napped upon. I was left to perch myself on the back of the sofa and look down upon the squealing thief in my spot.

For several years I endured the inconveniences of the creature’s presence. It stole my mousie toys and for a brief period even helped itself to my food. Only after it was locked in its bedroom was I free to curl up in my usual spot on her stomach, and only if I could catch her on the sofa before she found something to scrub or sweep or dust.

I accepted this new lifestyle eventually—against my will, of course. The creature began to grow, and the larger it became, the more belly time I seemed to procure.

On a winter night, she was cooking in the kitchen and the creature sat calmly in front of the television. Approaching with caution, I surveyed the creature as I cursed the cold air that had seeped in from the outside. The creature’s stomach looked almost big enough to lie upon. It was a risk, but it was one worth taking.

There is no better napping place than Her stomach. But in a pinch, the creature is just as happy to have me on his.

Extreme Writing Challenge #56: “Noise Complaint”

When I sat down to write tonight’s story, I wavered between a few different challenges.  I have a little handwritten list that I add to whenever an idea hits.  It usually comes in handy, but when it gets long (like it is currently), it’s really hard to decide which one I want to do!  It’s like standing in a donut shop.  Impossible.

I finally made up my mind and tonight’s challenge is that every other sentence contains exactly five words.

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Ted asked his neighbors five fucking times to quiet it down. It wasn’t an unreasonable request. Eleven o’clock at night was a really stupid time to set off bottle rockets while blaring Grateful Dead at full blast. Neighbors of the fucking year.

Ted called in a noise complaint, but the cops had serious things to worry about. Drunk drivers, rapists, car thieves. Never mind the people who need to fucking sleep and be productive members of society in the morning. At midnight, Ted lost it. He threw a robe over his boxers and marched into the backyard with steam coming out of his ears.

Were his other neighbors deaf? Between the music, the firecrackers, the hooting and hollering, and the three dogs barking at the booms and pops, there was no way anyone else was fucking asleep.

Ted kicked the wood fence. “It’s the sixth fucking time I’ve asked you to shut up!” he screamed. The response was hysterical laughter. A bottle rocket soared into the sky as a man shouted in a prepubescent cry, “And it’s the sixth time we’re ignoring you, asswipe!”

Lousy neighbors they were, anyhow. They never mowed their grass, always left trash on the walkway, and they painted their mailbox to look like that squeaky little robot from Star Wars. Worthless as legless fucking horses.

“I’ve called the cops, you know,” Ted growled. His threat was maddeningly ignored. Ted stomped back inside and tore apart his bathroom until he found an old pair of earplugs crusted in year-old earwax. They were little orange failures. The spongy pellets in Ted’s ears were no match for the ludicrous shenanigans of the world’s worst fucking neighbors.

Ted, a grown man, sobbed. He cried embarrassing tears for his doomed sales pitch in the morning. That’s when poor Ted snapped.

His old aluminum baseball bat was still in excellent shape. A shiny, metallic, reliable beast. Ted was anything but calm as he cradle carried the bat like a rifle and invited himself into his neighbors’ backyard.

Yeah, this was fucking war.

“Hey man, did you decide to join us?” asked the dickhead next to the cardboard box of bottle rockets.

“Kill…the…music,” Ted snarled.

When the response was a bottle rocket launched directly at Ted, he swung the bat at an empty lawn chair. “Don’t ignore me,” he warned. He swung again, cracking the white plastic arm. At this, the neighbors cheered.

Ted began swinging like balls were coming from every direction. He smashed the barbecue grill. He demolished the ceramic frog figurines that lined the flower garden. Oh yes, and the fireworks. Ted annihilated the box of dreadful fucking bottle rockets.

The stereo was up next. Ted raised the bat, giddy with excitement as he prepared to smash it to smithereens.

Then he saw the lights. The flashing red and blue lights, lighting up the street like some sort of rave.

Then he remembered the cops. The cops he’d called to lay down the law.

Ted finally slept that night. For half an hour, in the back of the cop car that transported him to the county jail.

Comma: A Memoir of Believing in the Promise of Every Moment

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I am so excited to announce the release of my memoir!  There’s really not much more for me to say than, I hope some of you indulge and enjoy this inspirational and moving story.  Paperback and Kindle versions are both available on Amazon.

Synopsis:
At six years old, Hope McCain learned how to make Kool-Aid—-not because she liked to drink it, but because it might one day save her father’s life. Her father was a type 1 diabetic with kidney failure, and from an early age she made it her duty to do whatever it took to hold on to him.

Now Hope reflects on the 25 years since her father became ill, and how even the simplest moments with him have shaped her life. She has watched her father endure type 1 diabetes, end-stage renal failure, a double-organ transplant, cancer, and organ rejection. His determination that has helped him to live more than 15 years beyond one doctor’s promise that he’d never see his only daughter graduate from high school, has given Hope a unique appreciation for the idea of never giving up.

Inspired by the Gracie Allen quote, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma,” Comma: A Memoir of Believing in the Promise of Every Moment embraces that life is incredible because there is no telling what the next moment will bring. For anyone enduring a battle with illness or for those looking for hope and encouragement during a time of perpetual worry, Comma is a reminder that every second contains a glimmer of promise.

 

Prompts for September 8

Your weekly dose of pen-spiration.  :)  Have your own writing prompt to share?  Leave it in the comments and help contribute to the end of writer’s block!  Also, if you’re on Pinterest, please feel free to follow my Pen-spiration board for writing quotes and exercises!

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Extreme Writing Challenge #55: “Swamp Water”

For tonight’s story, the challenge was to use at least 20 unique words beginning with “sw.”  And you know, I severely overestimated the number of these words in the English language.  Sure, there were quite a few on the list that didn’t get incorporated into this story.  But I wrote this sober and I think using the words swastika, Swahili, swagger, switchblade, and swashbuckler in a flash fiction story requires at least two decently-sized cocktails.

So, enjoy this not-as-weird-as-it-could-have-been story.

__________

“This is a swamp,” I declare.

“It’s a pond,” Keith contests.

I’ve been swindled. Lured here by a dolt who doesn’t know the difference between a swan and a duck or a swamp and a pond. I turn my head away and mouth a string of swear words. When I turn back, Keith is swatting at the bugs dancing around his head like confetti.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” he asks. “You look disappointed.”

I swallow my words before they have a chance to escape my mouth. At least he’s trying. My sister told me I should remind myself of that every time I start to swell up with defeat.

For the truthful half of my response I say, “Just a little uncomfortable.” For the dishonest half, I tell him, “Sweaty and a bit sticky, is all.” The summer heat, sweltering as it is, bothers me very little.

Keith nods his head toward the swamp. “A swim will fix that,” he chuckles.

Beside us, a swarm of mosquitos floats through the trees, swerving around the old, fissured trunks. They come to a steady swirl around my face, creating a veil that softens the anger in my eyes. I try to remember the old Keith. I yearn for the days before the switch was flipped and our marriage faded to black.

I’d begged him for a trip to Sweden. I swore to myself if Sweden didn’t happen, neither would the rest of our lives together. For the weeks leading up to our anniversary, he was a gentleman. Sweeter than I’d ever known. He took me ballroom dancing. I’d always wanted to go, to entwine our bodies and sway, carefree, through the openness together.

What I thought would be Sweden turned out to be a cabin at Swordfish Pond. For our 25th wedding anniversary, we’re trapped in a net of insects next to a swamp.

Keith sweeps a strange blue fly off of my tank top. It’s the tank top I spent hours choosing. I spent an entire afternoon at the mall. Finding it was like winning a sweepstakes. It was a prize. It was perfect for this day.

“I think I’d like to lie down for a while. You know, relax,” I tell Keith. He doesn’t follow me to the cabin; he knows better. As I rest my head on a thin, musty pillow, I wonder if Keith is actually the same old Keith, and I’ve simply forgotten the old me.

Weekly Prompts for September 1

Here we are–September.  SEPTEMBER.  Can someone please tell me what happened to August, or even the first seven months of the year?

September is going to be a big month for me.  About a zillion people I know are getting married (just a rough estimate, don’t quote me on that number).  My puppy is getting spayed.  Oh, and my new book is going to become available.  [Insert ear-piercing squeal here.]  This will be my second book and it is absolutely nothing like my first; while my first was based on this here blog you’re reading, the one coming out this month is a memoir.  I’ll save all the dirty details for a blog post when the book hits the shelves, but I had to take a moment to document the reality of it.  Eeeeee!

Annnnywho.  I hope many of you are enjoying this extra day off of work.  Working or not, here’s this week’s set of prompts to get your creative juices flowing.

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Extreme Writing Challenge #54: “Admission”

Happy Tuesday!  We’re one day closer to the weekend, which is always great news.

The challenge for today’s story is that each sentence contains at least five instances of the letter that ended the previous sentence.  I’m feeling quite thankful there are no common words that end in Q!

__________

I walk up onto the stage and I’m prepared to admit everything. Mr. Green gives me a pat on the shoulder as the whole school nervously giggles at the word etched in Sharpie on my forehead. To say I’ve dreaded this day is an understatement. It’s worse than the incident with the super glue, far more humiliating than prom night, and dumber than the prank I pulled on the school security officer.

The students’ faces disappear under the barrage of overhead lights. I know they are all still there from the hiss of their whispers. If they think this scribble on my skin is bad, they’ll be shocked to hear why it is there.

I can’t tell them anything unless I look down at my feet. Even though the lights have blurred their faces together, my dignity pulls my head downward. “Yesterday I did something bad…like, really bad,” I begin.

Now I close my eyes and pretend my friends aren’t out there watching me. “I can guarantee I won’t be allowed to come back to this school. It’s all good, because most of you treat me like a real loser anyhow.”

It’s weird that this whole time, I got to know only a few of the kids at Whitmore High. The faces hiding in the lights belong to the most familiar strangers I’ve ever known. Now I’m confessing to them as though they matter—as if I can salvage any of the twisted life I’ve spent with them.

“So, um, many of you might have seen the stories on the news about Mrs. Mulligan’s horses.” The whispers grow like a soft breeze that morphs into a sudden gust of wind. The stories had spread like wildfire and everyone was dying to know which student was so sinister. It won’t be long now that I’m on this stage with this ink on my face.

“The police think the kid that did it was messed up on drugs or drunk or something. But I’ve never done drugs and the only thing I drank that night was Gatorade, so they were wrong about that.”

The whispers erupt into gasps that shake the room. My admission blows them away, but it explains the word “MURDERER” my father made me write on my own forehead.

“Yeah, I did it, but do you know why I did it?” The students have traded their whispers for full, hearty cries of protest and disgust. To them I’m the same monster I was to the detectives when they found me out.

As loudly as I can I shout, “I was dared by some punks at this school who threatened to beat me to a pulp if I didn’t kill Mrs. Mulligan’s horses.”

Voices fall silent, one by one, until the room is still enough to hear each breath, each blink, each slight shuffle of a foot on the floor. I step back from the microphone and cover up the accusation on my forehead with my left hand. I suffered the hatred, the disrespect, and the loneliness, and now I am nothing more than a murderer.