Friday, July 16, 2010

It was dark that night. And stormy, too.

Every year, I look forward to the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. You've never heard of it? It's a competition for writers who are challenged to compose the worst imaginable first line of a novel. (The contest is named after Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel "Paul Clifford" began with the iconic sentence, "It was a dark and stormy night.")

The winner of this year's contest was Molly Ringle of Seattle. She wrote: "For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss - a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he was the world's thirstiest gerbil."

My friend Julie and I have taken this contest's concept one step further. We create "tandem stories", where one of us will write the first paragraph of a short story, and then hand it off to the other person. We keep writing paragraphs and handing it back and forth, and the fun is twisting the story in directions the other person wasn't expecting and seeing what they do with it.

Here's a tandem story from the "vaults" -- started almost 10 years ago. We didn't get very far. Does anyone want to jump in and write the next paragraph? Feel free to do so in the "comments" section. Let's see where Elliot, Martha, and Jeff end up!

In a Pickle
Elliot and Martha Rothchild were in a pickle. And later, in separate interrogation rooms at the Adamsville Hamlet police station, they would blame each other for their embarrassing predicament. It had begun hours earlier, when the duo pulled their RV into the parking lot of “Lefty’s Kwik Mart.” Elliot and Martha quickly picked up the provisions they needed and made their way to the checkout. “That’ll be $12.89, folks,” burped the cashier as she wrapped the remains of her salami hero in a piece of greasy wax paper and tossed it into the overflowing bin under the counter. “Oh darn,” said Elliot, turning and giving a knowing wink to his wife. “My wallet’s in the truck. Would you be a lamb and go fetch it?” Martha nodded and made her way to the parking lot. When she returned, she carried a small package wrapped in brown paper and placed it gently on the counter.

Martha’s hand had shaken badly when she set the package down and she fixed her eyes to the grimy linoleum for what seemed like hours.  When she finally looked at Elliot, she noticed deep red splotches spreading along the loose chicken-skin of his neck.  Beads of sweat began to collect on his forehead and glisten within the reddish bristles of his quivering mustache.  She seemed to see him for the very first time.  “What a repugnant little man,” she said out loud, surprising everyone.  The package lay there on the counter, untouched by all three.  Elliot stared, dumbfounded, at Martha, the one person he thought he could count on no matter what.  Martha stared, disgusted, at Elliot, wondering how in the world she had ever had sex with him.  The cashier stared at the package, then at Martha, then at Elliot.  Finally, she poked the package with a greasy fingertip and said, “That don’t look like no wallet to me.”

Jeff Grandacre carefully backed his Yugo into the handicapped parking space in front of Lefty’s Kwik Mart. His parents had surprised him with the Yugo, complete with a hitch for the trailer for his motorized wheelchair, for his birthday luau just last week. Since then, Jeff had put nearly 800 miles on the tiny car, shuttling his friends back and forth to school, the local shopping mall, and racing from one end of the Adamsville Hamlet Scotty H. Icarus Tramway to the other. Jeff cut the motor, grabbed his 96-ounce coffee mug (“49 cent refills with every $10.00 purchase!”), and slowly limped around the Rothchild’s RV to the entrance of Lefty’s. As soon as he entered the store, Jeff knew something was amiss – in fact, he could smell trouble in the air. Suddenly, a burst of commotion erupted at the cash register. “Help!” screamed the tubby cashier. “Help me, please!”

OK, it's your turn! Please continue the story in the "Comments" section.


  1. Grandacre???? Ha ha. I don't remember this one. I can't wait to see what happens to Eliot and Martha (and their pickle)! I hope someone writes another chapter so we can find out....

  2. Here it goes...this was too fun by the way!!

    Jeff’s ear drums erupted with familiar screeching sound of Marge’s voice. Even though Marge was twice his age he adored how she enjoyed a greasy hoagie almost any time of day. He loved Marge though he would never say to his friends or family for fear they might taint his perfect affair with the purveyor of by-product cheeses and year old slushy mix. Her cry for help nearly broke Jeff’s heart. Nearly. Although his attraction to her was undeniable he pondered on just what that attraction was worth. Jeff disliked confrontation and most of all hero work. He thought strongly about going back out to his car and heading north to the ‘Lefty’s Kwik Mart Dose’ at least he knew there they had handicap railings and hot dogs with real beef. Not mechanically separated chicken. As Jeff started shuffling his feet to gain momentum towards the door a whiff of delicious nachos grabbed at him to come forward, teasing him with their rich ingredients and promises of fingers to be licked clean. He wanted nachos now more than anything. “I’ll do it for you nachos.” He whispered under his breath. Jeff had watched enough Law and Order to know that walking like a crab against the nearest solid thing was the best way to be stealth. He set his refillable cup on the yellowish tile, zipped up his stained beige Member’s Only jacket and waddled carefully to the nearest aisle. He noted quickly that his legs were giving out. Cooked spaghetti noodles, as his mother would say. At that very moment he knew he wasn’t going to get any nachos without his motorized scooter.

  3. "Martha? Marthie-Warthie? Why are you being so mean to me?", Eliot sniveled, reaching across the Slim Jim dispenser for his beloved's hand as tears streamed down his ruddy cheeks. "You know I don't like it when you talk mean to me." Martha slapped his hand away and clamped her own over the cashier's greasy lips. "Shut your pie hole check-out gal," she growled, "and take the package into the back to Lefty. Do it now!" Marge tasted salami-tinged bile in her throat as she gently lifted the package with two fingers and turned toward the back room. Just as she was about to lose her optimism (and the hero sandwich), she saw the familiar stains of Jeff Grandacre's jacket approaching the counter. Maybe Ol' Marge will get out of this after all she thought.

  4. Lefty’s voice boomed from the speaker next to the cash register. “Marge! What’s all the fuss out there? Everything OK?” Lefty’s voice startled her, and Marge burped loudly. “Well, excuuuuuse me,” she whispered, stifling a giggle. She stole a sideways glance at Jeff, who was slowly crab-walking his way up Aisle 2. He stopped to rest next to the Hydrox cookie display, panting softly, and put his forefinger to his lips. “Quiet”, he mouthed to Marge. “I said take that package to Lefty,” growled Elliot, “and tell him we need an answer, pronto. We don’t got all day, sister.” Marge froze, unsure whether to continue on to the back room and deliver the package as ordered, or wait for her young lover to make his move. Somewhere in the distance, a coyote howled.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...