Extreme Writing Challenge #57: “Of Gin and Bravery”

I swear, the first and last sentences of a story are the WORST to write.  To make matters worse, I put off writing the last sentence of today’s story until returning home from running a 10K–plus walking two or three extra miles.  My brain is a little unhappy with me.

Today’s challenge is that one word in every sentence contains two sets of double letters, and none of these words are duplicated.

Now, did someone say “nap time”?


Tom tried desperately not to embarrass his new lover. He saw himself as another of her dazzling accessories. A man of success, Tom was as well-dressed as the president and didn’t look a day over 40. Yet his thirst for gin appalled even the thirstiest of the town’s drunks.

Tom’s motto was, “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy gin.” Raised in Tennessee by two redneck uncles, Tom believed the answers to any of life’s questions rested at the bottom of a gin and tonic. He and his uncles would drink until one of them passed out in a wheelbarrow in the middle of singing a television jingle.

Lucky for Tom, Melinda had no access to the details of Tom’s past. His uncles were both long dead, one from cancer and the other from a woodchipper incident. As long as he controlled his sloppiness, Melinda saw him only as a businessman who unwound at the end of the day with a few drinks.

Tom was thankful that the pizzazz of their lifestyle served as the perfect distraction. He accommodated Melinda’s every desire, from their monthly cruises to their reserved seats at the opera. Tom pitied the penniless drunks who couldn’t compensate for their nature. Before Melinda, he was plagued by aggression and self-loathing. He could snap like a frightened raccoon, mope like a disappointed toddler. He was on his way to becoming his own assassin, before Melinda.

As they lie on his four thousand dollar mattress, looking out over the mountains, Tom feared it was only a matter of time before Melinda opened her eyes. He sipped at his homemade cappuccino and stroked her hair as she slept. The moment was bittersweet.

Tom had always assumed it was the gin that made him bulletproof. Now the blurriness of reality was sharpening, and he knew it was not the liquor, but Melinda. In the stillness of the morning, he whispered for the first time that he loved her. A buffoon he was, for she didn’t hear it, and he would drive her away before he was brave enough to say it again.


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.

Extreme Writing Challenge #35: “Kristina”

Source: funcatpictures.com

Let me set the scene right now:  troops of raindrops marching across the roof, homemade pizza in the oven, and an “it’s-almost-Friday” electricity in the air.  It’s also worth mentioning that my pizza is topped with some of the bacon cheddar cheese I recently purchased at the Trader Joe’s that just opened up in my city.  Top this off with the fact that a new episode of The Big Bang Theory is on tonight, and you have one crazy happy woman right here.  (Minus the big, fat spider my cats just found.  Nothing happy about that.)

Okay, let’s dive into this story business.  You’ll find the challenge at the end of the post!


Kristina was pretty, but not the kind of pretty like on the covers of the magazines she got when she went into town.  The warm, fetid smell of cow dung clung to her skin like a parasite, and her nose was always just a shade lighter than the fresh-picked red apples her mom served for dessert.  Yet it surprised no one when I admitted I’d fallen hard for her.

I met Kristina purely by accident, but not the kind of accident like the both of us grabbing the same eggplant at the grocery store and my walking away with her phone number.  It was May and I was on my way to talk to Barry Bowers, who was selling a 1962 Chevrolet Corvette.  On a sprawl of farmland that grew a meter for every inch I advanced into it, none of the dwellings was marked with an address.  Barry had told me he was two miles past the Blacksmith Ranch.  By now I was sure I’d gone two miles or more, so I pulled over at a split-level with a tattered American flag softly swaying on a short pole next to the front window.

In the front yard, Kristina was hunched over a muscular black lab, clutching his collar in one hand and a garden hose in the other.  The dog began to whine as I drew closer.  Kristina tossed the hose into the grass and rose halfway, still holding the dog back.  Her bangs were matted to her face and a smudge of dirt sat on the very center of her chin.  She was plump, but not the kind of plump that suggests she didn’t care for herself.

“Howdy,” I called.  “Is this where I can find Barry Bowers?”

“Stay,” she told the dog.  Drawing closer, she dabbed her palms with her shirt.  “He’s still, oh, half a mile down that way.”  She waved her hand to the north.  For the first time since I’d exited my car, Kristina glanced at my face rather than some abstract spot below my neck.  The enlargement of her eyes told me she knew exactly who I was.  She didn’t say that she did, but she knew.

Behind me, a bird whistled a disarranged song.  I willed my eyes to part from hers, but they resisted.  Her small eyes–no mascara and no eye shadow—were just chocolate gems as pure as a newborn’s.  It was love at first sight, but not the kind of love that hits so hard and so fast it crashes and burns.

“I…have to go,” I muttered, somehow knowing this wasn’t the last involvement I’d have with her.

We eloped in Vegas ten months later. Kristina was stunning, baring her slightly yellowed smile and her clusters of freckles. I sent the photos to a celebrity columnist for The Los Angeles Times.  They all expected my wife to be thin.  Tan.  Blonde.  Dazzling.  Kristina was nothing like that, and that’s why I loved her.

We lived happily ever after, but not the kind of happily ever after I have to describe.  All that matters is that it happened, and it happened with Kristina.


The challenge for this story was:  There are no words containing two or more consecutive vowels.

Hope everyone has a great Friday and an even greater weekend!

Extreme Writing Challenge #19: Up All Night

If you noticed my slightly-longer-than-usual absence, a recent business trip is to blame.  However, during my trip I made an impromptu visit to Hollywood (my first time), and I have never had such prime seating for people-watching.  Holy inspiration, Batman!

Anywhooo……here is a new story.  This challenge might be easy for some of you to identify.  Happy reading, and I’ll reveal the challenge at the end!


Drained of motivation after a rough night, Edith tried to smooth the flyaway hairs of her frizzy mane.  The old Russian stylist who lived down the hall would tell Edith it was time for a new look.  Though Edith never gave it serious thought, she always promised that nosy Elena she’d consider some highlights.

Even with an early start, Edith arrived late to brunch.  Her mother, father, and sister were seated at a table against the wall and, as if they knew she had been up crying half the night, they had already ordered coffee for Edith.  Her mother pulled out the empty chair so Edith could sit, and her big, baby-like eyes were so full of zeal that Edith dreaded delivering the news.

As Edith removed her coat, her sister said, “Well don’t take all day, Edith, give us the good news!”

Edith swallowed a hard lump of shame as she realized this wouldn’t be as easy as she had hoped.  They stared at her together, their expectant expressions identical, and Edith’s confidence began to fall apart.  She said, “We were wrong; right after I arrived, he broke up with me.”

None of them spoke, but they all began to stir their coffee as if extra creamer had magically materialized inside of their cups.  Edith carried on and browsed the menu, hoping to ward off an awkward interrogation.

At last, her father set down his spoon and stared at Edith until she looked up and locked eyes with him.  “I know you loved him,” he told his daughter, “but I don’t have to hide it any longer:  I hated that man.”

Edith and her father were close, but they’d always kept the topic of love distant from their conversations.  When the subject did sneak its way in during their discussions, they tossed them right back out.

“I was the first to say it wouldn’t last,” he continued.

Edith thought it best not to tell him that she had actually been the first to say it—after all, the end of her relationship wasn’t the worst thing her father was going to hear that morning.


Didja get it?  Didja?  If you didn’t (or if you did and you just want to confirm your awesomeness), the challenge was:  Every sentence contains a pair of opposites.  For example:  rough/smooth, close/distant, best/worst.  For some extra fun, read it again and see if you can pick out all the pairs.  😀

Extreme Writing Challenge #6: “Warmth”

My first post was a story that consisted entirely of one-syllable words and contained no e‘s.  This time, I did the same thing, except instead of e, I eliminated all o‘s.


I sat in her truck bed with a gray cat named Zeus and a mesh bag filled with cash.  She said her name was Beth, which may have been true, but I lied and said my name was Star.

I leaned back and let the warm breeze pet my skin.  Zeus curled up by my face and purred; he knew things had changed.

At the state line, I paid Beth and thanked her, and I walked the last mile with Zeus in my arms.

Ma was in the yard with shears and a trash can.  She trimmed each bush with grace, as if it was an art.

“Hi Ma,” I called as I walked up the drive.

She set her shears in the grass and dabbed at her sweat with her sleeve.  I laid Zeus in the grass and hugged Ma.  Her squeeze was like a snake’s but it made me feel safe.  Zeus sniffed the grass and pawed at a bee.  I felt peace as I watched him act like a real cat.

“Did he put up a fight?” Ma asked.

“Nah.  He laughed ‘til his gut burst.  He threw a wrench at me.”

We knelt in the grass and played with Zeus.  “He’ll have a nice life here,” Ma said.  She raised him up and rubbed his fur with her cheek.

“As will I,” I said.  “As will I.”

Ma brewed tea and we sat in lawn chairs in the sun.  I felt it burn, yet I stayed where I was.  My place was in the light, in the warmth.

Ma smiled, but she sat hunched with fear.  She stared at my bruised neck while she bit her lip.

“Ma, I’ll be fine,” I said.  “I’m safe here.”

“He’ll burn in hell,” she cried.

“Yes, he will.”

When the sun set, we linked arms and went in.  The air smelled like pie.  Ma gave Zeus milk, and when he’d lapped it all up, we curled up in the spare bed with fresh sheets.  I knew I’d have the best dreams I’d had in ten years.

Extreme Writing Challenge #4: “Forgiveness”

In this story, every sentence is exactly seven words in length.  It was harder than I expected it would be.  😯


We vowed not to say one word.  The spot we chose was quiet, private.  We didn’t even bother pitching a tent.  A wordless, peaceful night under the stars.  Our only food was fruit and bagels.  No talking, no cooking, no other people.  We’d discussed the plan a dozen times.  Escape:  it was just what we needed.

The first two hours were the hardest.  It was like he wasn’t even there.  He drew pictures in the soft mud.  I read a book by the campfire.  Occasionally, we glanced up at each other.  But no talking, that was the rule.  I reminded myself why we were here.  We were tired of all the fighting.  Siblings fight, but we’d gone too far.  I told him to go kill himself.  My brother, depressed and going through divorce.  I’d told him I wished he’d die.

The silent camping trip was his idea.  To learn to be close without talking.  Without words, maybe we could cease fire.  I wondered what he was thinking about.  The time we made butterscotch cookies together?  The nights we swapped corny ghost stories?  The pillow forts we’d spend hours constructing?  I became lost in these surreal memories.

I read, he drew, we said nothing.  After awhile he put his head down.  I thought he was ill, or bored.  But he was crying, heavy, painful sobs.  He threw something deep into the trees.  The stick he’d been using to draw.  As he cried, I studied his pictures.  His emotions, carved delicately into the mud.  A broken heart, a dagger, a tombstone.  I knelt beside him, cried with him.  I began stomping intensely on his drawings.  I stomped until they were gone.  It was soil again, absent of heartbreak.

By the fire, we hugged each other.  It was our first hug in years.  It meant more than a million words.

Extreme Writing Challenge #3: “A Way to Conquer”

In this story, every sentence contains at least one q.  As an extra challenge, I made myself use a new word containing q in each sentence.


I couldn’t convince her to try the squid.

We’d been quarreling more than usual.  We talked less, and sometimes the house would fall so quiet I’d be spooked by a sudden crumple of paper or a toilet flushing in another room.  The words we did exchange were quick and emotionless:  “We’re out of paper towels,” or “The bathroom sink is clogged, so don’t use it.”

The breaking point came on a night when her parents invited us to dinner at a new restaurant called The Square Moon.  It was a fancy enough place that she wore her black dress with the sequin straps.  I put on a nice shirt and my best slacks, and she still found reason to squawk at me:  “Honey, you look like you’re going to the office!”

I quizzically cocked my head and responded, “I don’t follow you.”  She squeezed her feet into a pair of shoes that were at least a size too small and said, “You need to wear a tie.”

The only tie I owned was green, which clashed with my peach-colored shirt, and it was decorated with golf balls and cute little squirrels.  Quinn, my niece, had picked it out for me when I visited once, back before I’d met Karen.

We squabbled about the tie for several minutes before she finally surrendered.  She squirmed uncomfortably the entire car ride to the restaurant.  When we arrived, her parents greeted me coldly and I knew that Karen had adequately complained to them about our problems.

We ordered drinks—tequila for Karen and her father, wine for her mother and me—and tried to have a conversation like those we had when we’d been dating.  We talked about springtime, gardens, dogs, and antiques.  But none of it equated to real conversation because our minds had been elsewhere.

It came time to order, and I considered the quail but decided on the squid.  When Karen questioned my choice, I offered her a bite.  She refused to try it and we began to bicker, and by the time we finished arguing about it her whole body was quivering as she struggled not to cry in front of her parents.

I took her home and wrapped her in her favorite quilt and made her some tea.  I confessed she was quite beautiful when she was angry and she smiled at me for the first time in weeks.

It was the beginning of the end; love had found a way to conquer.

Extreme Writing Challenge #1: “Bliss”

The first challenge I gave myself was to write a story consisting solely of one-syllable words and, at the same time, using zero “e”s.  This is what I came up with:


I sit at a bus stop with a sack of books in my lap.  A bus pulls up and I climb in.  An old man winks as I pass him and I look down, find a spot to sit.  I scan part of a book, a book on war, as a young man and his son board.  This small boy naps and his dad runs his hands through his child’s hair.  I watch.  I wait.  I don’t think, just watch.

At my stop, Roth Road, I go to Gil’s Bar.  I inch down my skirt as I walk in.  I think of what I will say, how I will say it.  How I will, at last, put a stop to it all.

Mitch sits on a bar stool, swigs from a mug of Coors.  I walk up to him but I don’t sit.  I ask for a shot of rum but I don’t drink it.  I will wait; I’ll drink it as Mitch walks out for good.

Mitch says, “So what’s up?  Do you know what you want?”  His mouth turns down in a frown.

I do know what I want, but it’s hard to say it.  Mitch was my man for so long.  It hurts to know I will walk out of Gil’s with just my sack of books.  That I will go to my mom’s and stay in my old room.  That I will hand my ring to Mitch and say, “You can’t fix things.”  I won’t cry, but I will hurt.

Mitch drains his Coors, asks for a shot.  A shot of rum.  Asks if I want to toast.

“To what?” I ask.

“To us.”


“Why not?”

My gut churns as Mitch holds up his shot glass with such faith in us.

“Mitch,” I gulp, “I can’t.  You and I can’t.”

Mitch picks up a book from my sack.  Bad Days.  This is a bad day.  Mitch knows it now.

I don’t mind that Mitch throws my book at a wall.  I’m just glad to watch him go.   I gulp down my shot, and his too.

On my own.  Bliss.  At last.