Tag Archives: stories

Extreme Writing Challenge #59: “www [dot] com”

One quick word before we get into today’s challenge and story:  please take a second to check out my recently-launched author website, www.hopemccain.com.  I have an additional blog there I will use for all of my non-challenge posts–meaning Impossible Words will now strictly be my stories and challenges, and all other writing/reading-related content will be posted on my other site.  🙂

Today’s challenge is tied in to the theme of the story:  Every sentence contains at least three W‘s, and the story contains at least ten unique words beginning with com


Wendy was sure she couldn’t handle one more day of teaching old geezers how to use the computers their kids forced them to purchase. Admittedly, it was comical to watch their bony fingers hover over the keyboard while they searched for the letters they needed. Greta was the worst, scanning the keys once for twenty minutes looking for one labeled Enter.

Every day Wendy heard a new complaint she could add to her ever-growing list. These windows are too small, these keys aren’t wide enough, the click of the mouse is too loud. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for her to show up at work dressed for combat. These old wrinklies were whinier than a room full of toddlers.

And yet, all Wendy had to do was say the magic word. She’d tell them, “Now I’m going to demonstrate what you can do when you log on to the internet.” The complexities of technology that so far baffled them were nothing compared to the World Wide Web. Wendy opened a website, always a different one, and chuckled at the reactions. Jaws dropped and eyes widened during the ooh-ing and ahh-ing from a titillated crowd. They might as well be witnessing Halley’s Comet, they were so awestruck.

The web always stirred up the room until it felt ready to explode with commotion. The women wanted to shop and the men checked sports statistics and read the news and then griped about it. Wendy was proud to awaken them, no longer comatose in their dusty recliners and shouting numbers at the television while watching The Price is Right.

That’s why Wendy kept coming back when she longed to run for the hills. To share with these seniors the best part of life they’d been missing—where else would she find such satisfaction? With the few years they had left on the earth, they deserved the chance to enjoy the magical, wonderful internet.

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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 #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.

__________

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.

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 #45: “Memoir”

I’m having one of those Saturday mornings in which I was sure I’d had a million things I wanted to accomplish before my husband and stepson get out of bed, but now I can’t remember a single one.  So instead, I wrote a story.  As I was writing, I had that TV show  Lottery Changed My Life on in the background.  It featured a man who won the lottery and held on to all of his winnings so he could buy suits and spoil all of his cats rotten.  At first, I wondered how you could win millions and not at least treat yourself to a mansion or a few nice cars…and that curiosity was immediately followed by my imagining what I would buy for my cats if I were to win the lottery.

Don’t tell my husband I said that.  Please.

No, this isn’t how I’d use my lottery winnings. Okay, maybe a little. (Source: http://www.wallpaperspoints.com)

Here’s a new story for you.  The challenge, as usual, follows the story at the bottom.  Happy Saturday!

__________

Chip took the shuttle from the hotel to the airport, wearing a rumpled suit and a cracked pair of sunglasses. His luggage still sat on his hotel bed. In his hand was a half-eaten breakfast burrito he’d swiped from the continental breakfast room. The bus driver laughed and said to Chip, “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?” Chip thought she sounded like a cartoon villain. He liked that.

The trip had been more of a splurge than Chip could afford. He’d find it all funnier if it hadn’t ended exactly as he had feared. The predictability of it all caused Chip to shudder. Things would have been so simple if Dixon-Waite had just agreed to publish his memoir. Chip had flown across the country, sucking his bank account dry, and those fuckers called security to escort him out of the building. It was borderline abusive, Chip thought. They’d tugged on his shirt collar—he could have choked! Okay, maybe he’d been a little grouchy with the receptionist. And yes, he’d pushed his way through the double doors that led to Mr. Waite’s office, interrupting an important meeting. He only wanted to ask why. Why not give the man at the bottom a chance.

Chip had seen something like this once in a movie. He’d studied every hand movement and every intonation of the protagonist. He had it in the bag, Chip did. The trouble was, this was not a movie and Mr. Waite was not entertained by Chip’s character. Security dragged Chip out of the building, reminding Chip of his younger days of getting tossed from a club by a burly bouncer. It was all in his memoir, if Mr. Waite would bother to read it.

A smart man would have taken a hint. But Chip was an amateur. He threw a weak punch at the security guard, a blunder that landed Chip in a headlock with his arm twisted like a licorice rope. The encounter grew from a meek scuffle to a full-on brawl that ended with the security guard calling the police.

Chip took off running for the hotel. The security guard was hot on his feet. Once in the hotel lobby, Chip was sure he’d lost him, until he saw the guard approach the front desk. My name, Chip thought, Mr. Waite knows my name. He took a detour through the breakfast room and slipped out a side door of the hotel, hopping on the shuttle that was just pulling away. His flight was hours away. Maybe he could make a round trip and sneak up for his luggage. He patted his wallet, secured in his chest pocket, to be sure he had it on him. Just in case.

On the bright side, Chip had a great new story to add to his memoir.

__________

The challenge was:  The story contains at least 25 seven-letter words that contain the letter U.

 

Extreme Writing Challenge #41: “Invasion”

The story I wrote for today’s post involves bugs.  Lots of them.  I’m not a big fan of bugs, but I can tolerate them.  The exception is spiders.  Just an image of a spider will give me an anxiety attack.

I’m not sure where the inspiration for today’s story came from.  Maybe Spring is to blame, what with its delivery of an influx of bugs ranging from crumb-sized to walnut-sized.  Or possibly it is this video I stumbled upon that shows some of the 50,000 spiders “raining” down on Brazil.  (Also known as “hell.”)

“WTF” doesn’t quite cut it here.  (Source: http://www.iflscience.com)

Disclaimer:  I didn’t watch the whole video.  At 20 seconds I was covering my eyes, shrieking, and trying not to vomit.

So…I wrote a story about bugs.  Blech.

__________

Mallory used an old hairbrush as a broom to sweep up the dead beetles on the floor. The real broom stood out on the front stoop, its aged bristles full of black and brown carcasses that wouldn’t shake out. Mallory glanced at the clock every ten minutes. Samuel would be home for lunch at noon. He would know what to do.

Mallory avoided the living room as she tidied up the remainder of the house. Once every surface had been dusted and every speck of lint lifted off the hardwood, she settled in with a book at the kitchen table. There would be no lounging on the sofa today.

It was hard for Mallory to get comfortable, dressed in tight-fitted clothing and Samuel’s clunky hunting boots. The first time she was tickled by a beetle that was crawling up her back under her shirt, she tore right through the wool. She leaned against the wall, panting, in only her bra.

She’d researched ways to bug-proof a house. Samuel installed screens on all of the doors and the windows. They covered the vents with mesh, removed the shrubs that bordered the old home. The beetles continued to flood the living room. A crunchy carpet on the oak floor. Mallory couldn’t look at them at first. Samuel scooped them into a bucket and drove them down the road, where he dumped them in a field. Soon they reappeared, but with reinforcements.

Mallory thought about calling the school and asking Samuel to come home early. The crinkling sound of the beetles scuttling across the floor caused her nerves to come loose. She took half of a Xanax still left over from a past life. It was a darker life, and they’d moved here to escape it. Some good that did.

Mallory wondered what kept bringing the beetles back. She couldn’t be cooped up here with them, day in and day out. Yet again, she would have to choose between reality and sanity.

Her hands shook as she picked up the phone. Mallory carried it into the living room and began counting the beetles. If there were more than 20, she would call Samuel. There were 31.

Ms. Boone, the secretary, answered the phone. Mallory asked for Samuel. “Tell him it’s an emergency,” she said.

“Hi, love,” Samuel cooed. “What’s the matter? Everything okay?”

“They’re back,” Mallory sobbed. “It’s like they never left. I can’t take it anymore!”

Mallory heaved onto the floor, hardly hearing what her husband had to say. By now the beetles had doubled. Sweating, she leaned against the cool wall and wondered, was it really just the bugs she couldn’t take anymore?

__________

If only Mallory knew, it could be worse.  She could live in Brazil.

Today’s challenge was:  A story less than 500 words in length contains at least 20 unique words with a double O.

Behind the Scenes

When I post a story on my blog, what you see is the final product: sparkly clean and fine-tuned to linguistic perfection. What I don’t show you is what kind of effort goes into writing a mere 500-word story. So, I thought some of you might be interested in a little “behind the scenes” look at Impossible Words.

The first thing I do is pick a challenge. I keep a list and add to it whenever an idea comes to mind. Okay, scratch that—I keep several lists. One in my wallet, one on my computer, one on a sheet of paper in a drawer in the house…you never know where you’ll be when inspiration strikes. 😉

Once I’ve decided on a challenge, I have quite a bit of prep work before I can begin writing. To give you an idea of what that entails, I’ll use my latest story to demonstrate.

My last challenge was to use at least 25 unique words whose third letter is P, in a story less than 500 words in length.   The first step is to start writing down every word I can think of that has a P as the third letter.

In this instance, I wasn’t at home when I made the list. I’m often not—but if I am, I’ll usually type them into Excel rather than write them out by hand. (More on that later…) If I’m having a hard time coming up with a decent collection of words to fit my criteria, I’ll turn to Google. For this challenge, I didn’t need to take it that far.

IMG_0303

Once I feel my list is a fairly good size, I analyze the words to see if there’s a “theme” that seems to encompass a handful of the words. Sometimes it helps, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a nice place to start when you have a blank canvas, but it’s not critical to cranking out a story.

The first sentence is always the easiest. I write a lot of “first sentences” that never go any further than that. Sometimes I’ll write the first one, study my list of words, and realize I need a change of direction. Luckily, it doesn’t happen every time.  🙂

Then things start to get a little tricky. Not only do I have to make sure I use a certain number of words from my list, but I have to keep track of the ones I’ve used (since I can’t count the same word twice!). To do this, I make a tally mark every time I use a word, and I also put a check mark next to the word so I know I’ve already used it. (If I list my words in Excel, I highlight the cells instead.)

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excel

(From a story using words ending in “-ion”)

Once I’m finished, if I wrote the story by hand, I’ll type it into Microsoft Word. If I’m writing a story that, for instance, doesn’t contain any E’s, I’ll do a search of the doc for “E.” Yes, I do find slip-ups after I’ve finished, and it’s a pain in the butt to fix them!

And that’s how an IW story is born. A lot of work for a one-page story, but no one ever said challenging yourself is a quick effort!