October 16, 2000, Category: Writing

Stephen King Exercise


In his book, “On Writing,” Stephen King gives a writing exercise. This story is the result of that exercise. It’s the first story I wrote (and finished) since High School and helped get me moving again! It’s poorly written and full of errors but I decided to keep it like that. Hopefully you see improvement. By the way, I loved the book!

* * *

Pat looked at his watch, 5:15.

“Damnit,” he said. “She’s always late. Just want I want to do; spend Friday night sitting in McDonalds waiting for her to show up.”

“Relax…it’s ok,” Jill said from across the table. He looked up into her eyes. It was ok. He smiled. She took his hand and traced the edges of his fingers with her long fingernails. “At least we’re together.”

“I’ll go get some hamburgers,” Pat said. “I’m too hungry to wait.”

Moments later, Pat brought food back to the table. They ate and continued to talk for over an hour before Pat realized it was getting dark. He looked at his watch again, “My God, its 6:30.” He looked at Jill for an explanation.

She shrugged, “Maybe they got caught in traffic.”

“Traffic my ass,” Pat muttered and reached for his cell phone. “She complained I never spent time with the twins when we were married, now she does everything she can to keep me from them.” With the phone to his ear, he looked again into Jill’s eyes.

He knew she cared. He knew she sympathized with his frustration. He smiled, “I love you.” She turned her head down slightly keeping eye contact. Then, she flashed a half smile and blew him a kiss.

Two calls later, Pat clipped the phone back on his belt. “I guess we’ll get to see your movie after all,” he said while standing up with the food tray. She stood and they walked towards the exit. He dumped the trash and left the tray on the counter. She took his hand and they walked out the door.

The movie was a nice distraction, but he was making calls again before the credits started rolling. Three calls; three angry swear words. He looked at Jill. Her eyes reflected the words rolling on the movie screen, but her face was dark. From the silhouette he heard, “well, we could drive by and take a look.”

An hour later, they drove through the dark and quiet neighborhood to his home of ten years. It stood unchanged. For a minute he imagined he was driving home from work, moments away from hugs and cries of, “Daddy’s home!”

“It looks empty.” Jill said, putting an end to his daydream. He pulled to a stop on the street in front of the house. The house was completely dark but his old 4Runner was parked in the driveway. He sat staring at the house for several minutes.

“You gonna knock on the door?” she asked. Once again she brought him out of his thoughts.

He opened the car door. “Might as well. We drove all the way out here.” He stepped out and began walking across the lawn. He stopped. He turned around and looked back. Jill was talking on her phone. Strangely, he felt like running. Not back to his car, not in to the house, but straight down the road. Something wasn’t right. He continued to stare at Jill until she noticed. She didn’t move, but he knew she was staring back and no longer talking on her cel. She seemed to be waiting for him. He thought about the dark house behind him and the dark car in front of him. Then, he looked down the street away from both of them.

“Damn,” he muttered. He turned around and walked up to the front door.

He rang the doorbell three times before looking through the window. He saw his Grandmothers organ sitting in the far back corner of the living room. She ended up with all his stuff; he hadn’t even put up a fight. Maybe he should have. He pulled out his keys and unlocked the front door. He opened it slightly, stuck his face inside, and yelled.


The house was quiet.

He pulled his head out of the house and stood straight. He turned back and looked at Jill. She still sat motionless in the car. He shrugged his shoulders to her and, shaking his head, turned around and walked into the house.

“Anyone here?” he yelled.

He flipped the light switch but the darkness stayed. He tried the porch light, but still, no light. “Why is the power off?” he yelled down the hall.

He stood in the darkness facing the darkened hallway with the open door behind him. Pat yelled out again, “Where is everyone?” He walked into entryway, opened the closet, and felt along the shelf for a flashlight. A year ago, he would have found a flashlight on this shelf. No flashlight tonight.

He paused for a moment before turning and walking towards the open door. A loud muffled thump from down the hall stopped him. He spun around and froze. The slight anxiety from moments ago had morphed to panic. His chest pounded. His mind raced. He thought about running out the open door, but two smiling little faces from the back of his mind kept him locked in place; staring down the dark hallway.

“Sam, Toby?” he yelled. “Who’s here?”

He stared down the dark hallway and listened. Not a sound. With one hand on the wall for guidance, he crept down the hallway, pausing to listen with each step. His hand brushed over the frame of the bathroom door. He expected to find the door closed, but instead his hand plunged forward into dark open space. It startled him and he jumped past the door and stood with his back against the wall; head turned back towards the bathroom. Looking back up the hallway, he could see the faint blue glow of moonlight in the entryway. Only ten feet away yet it seemed like miles. He was halfway down the hall.

He stood for a moment waiting for something…anything. A sound, a light…an idea, but nothing happened. He turned, rested his hand on the wall, paused, and then took another step. Another muffled thump. He froze again. Something was in the bedroom. He moved slowly, wishing he wouldn’t have yelled out earlier. He took the final few steps and crouched in front of the door. He put his hand on the knob. Holding his breath, he turned it slowly. It clicked and seemed to echo throughout the house. He paused, breathing quick and shallow, and pushed the door slightly open.

Blue light from the bedroom window outlined the edges of the door. He moved his face closer. With his cheek against the wood, he peered through the opening. The window on the other side of the room was open. The translucent curtains danced lightly. Moonlight entered the window and illuminated the room in pale blue light. He pushed again on the door, harder this time, and it swung open.

Forward and to the right, a large king-sized bed dominated the small room. The bed was made, but something was under blankets. He stared; as if maybe somehow looking hard and long enough would grant him X-ray vision. The lump, long and narrow, didn’t move in the slightest.

A loud thump from the wall to his left broke his concentration. His eyes darted from the bed to the bathroom opening farther into the room. At the back of the room, the wall to his left opened into the bath and closet area. Whatever made the noise came from the closet. He looked back at the bed and slowly walked with his back against the wall towards the bath area. His hand glided against the wall in front of him. When he felt the wall end and corner into the opening, he stopped. The covers still had not moved.

Another dull thud from the closet. With his back pressed against the wall, fingers curled around the corner, and eyes glued to the bed, he stood frozen. He searched for an explanation and course of action. Randomized, his thoughts kept him frozen and unable to move. He closed his eyes. “Relax,” he told himself. He took a few deep breaths and he pictured two smiling little boys. His heart rate dropped slightly, he calmed a bit, and then he opened his eyes.

The lump in the bed was gone. Pat stood frozen against the wall. His breathing raced as his eyes darted to the right, down the darkened hallway. The entry way at the end of the hall still glowed in the moonlight.

In a sudden and spontaneous move, Pat dropped to the floor and looked under the bed. He saw nothing. He jumped back up, hitting his arm and back against the wall behind him, making a dull thud. The muffled scream of a child reacted to the thud. He recognized Sam’s voice. He sprinted around the corner and threw open the closet door. From the darkness inside, his boys screamed hysterically in the darkness of the closet.

“No daddy….no, don’t hurt us! Leave us alone! We don’t want Mommy to die…”

Pat, stared into the darkness.

“Sam….Toby, it’s ok. It’s me. You are safe, it’s ok…”

He stepped into the dark closet. The terrified frenzied reaction of his sons forced him back. He froze. Something was terribly wrong. He took a step back and out of the closet. His boys continued to scream, petrified of him, as he stared into the darkness. Something moved to his right. He turned to see a dark figure moving quickly towards him from the bathroom door. There was a crack, a flash of light, and Pat dropped to the floor.

Pat awoke on a bed. He started to open his eyes but the light stung then and he closed them again. He squinted and cracked them open. The florescent lights above him were off. A window to his right let in sunlight. As his eyes adjusted, he looked around. A tube ran from his arm up and above him.

He paused, confused, and the memory returned. His pulse quickened and he tried to sit up but a sharp pain shot through his head and he fell back down and closed his eyes. He took a few deep breaths and opened his eyes again. The door suddenly clicked and swung open.

He watched a male nurse walk briskly to the sink and begin to wash his hands. The nurse turned around and their eyes locked. Both started silently and the nurse mumbled, “Uh…stay here,” and hustled out of the room. Several minutes passed, and he heard several sets of footsteps running down the hall. The door swung wide open and Jill, a policeman, and a female Doctor entered.

“Pat!” Jill cried and ran to his side. He looked up at her. Her eyes were full of tears and she took his hand. “I’ve been so worried…”

The doctor took his other hand to check his pulse and began to examine him.

“What happened?” Pat asked.

Jill looked nervously at the policeman for a moment and then back at Pat. “It’s a complicated long story.”

Pats eyes widened. “What….what happened? Are the boys ok? Did they…”

“The boys are fine, Pat. But Dianne is dead.”

Pat stared at her. “What?”

“She’s dead. I….I shot her.”

Pat tried to make sense of her words. “You…” he paused. “You what?”

Jill squeezed his hand.

“Pat, you were in there forever. I was worried and scared. I went inside and heard the boys screaming from the bedroom. I walked in the bedroom and heard a gunshot and saw you fall. Dianne didn’t realize I was there. She was standing over you. She had a gun and you were bleeding.”

Jill spoke in a mechanical passionless voice as she stared blankly at the wall.

“I…I screamed and she looked at me. She pointed the gun at me and told me to get out. I didn’t know what to do. She kept walking towards me…and I told her to put down the gun. When she got close to me, I grabbed the barrel and pushed it away. We fought and…well, the gun fired and she fell.”

She looked at Pat.

“I called 911 and tried to save you both.”

The room was quiet. Pat stared into Jill’s eyes for a minute before looking away.

“Mr. Hansen,” the policeman interrupted. “I have some questions…is he ok Doc?”

Pat turned and looked at the Doctor.

“Yes, go ahead,” she replied.

“Mrs. Jones, could you wait outside?”

Jill looked nervously at the policemen and then back at Pat. They locked eyes and she starred intently at him for a moment, squeezed his hand, then turned and walked out. The policeman closed the door behind her.

“I just have a few questions. We think we know what happened, but we need to hear your version. Do you mind?”

“No, of course not” Pat responded.

“Ok. Good. Tell me what happened.”

Pat recounted the events. How Dianne had missed the appointment and he had gone looking for the kids. He told about his boys in the closet, the figure, and the flash of light.

He finished and looked at the policeman. “That’s about it,” he said. “That’s all I remember. I don’t know what happened after that.”

The policeman cleared his throat and looked at Pat.

“Jill saved your life. She walked in…like she said, and shot Dianne. Your boys are with your mother…and have been for the past two weeks. Apparently, Dianne had been on the edge for some time. She had the boys terrified of you. She told them you were going to kill her and kidnap them…they were scared to death of you.”

They looked intently at each other.

“I don’t,” Pat started and looked away before he continued. “I don’t understand. Why would she do that?”

“Take some time. We have more questions, but the evidence is pretty clear on this one. It looks like you were set up. The boys would have gotten quite a nice life insurance payout had you died. Dianne had plenty of reasons to kill you.”

He paused and looked away for a moment.

“You can just be glad that Jill came in when she did.”

The policeman walked back to the door and opened it. Jill walked in. She looked at the policeman.

“It’s ok,” the policeman said. “We’ll have some paperwork to wrap things up, but I think the investigation is about over.”

Jill smiled and shook his hand. The doctor and the policeman walked out of the room. She walked and sat by the bed.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Pat said. “I can’t see Dianne doing this. What would have driven her to this?”

Jill looked into his eyes and caressed his hand. “It’s ok, it’s over now. She’s out of your life. We’ll get the boys and the house…its over.”

Pat stared at her.

“Well, she’s been a real thorn in our relationship. You can’t blame me for being happy about this. I won’t miss her.”

His stared at her fearfully. Coldness crept up his spine as he lay helpless in bed. He looked back at her and laughed uncomfortably. “Yea, I think I see your point.”

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2 thoughts on “Stephen King Exercise

  • By Peter Hansen - Reply

    Hi there. Probably an odd question, but when you submitted your story on King’s site back in those days, did a thank you from King pop up or was mailed to you? I’m a researcher of King’s work and this little piece/note is very difficult to track down and some of the other participants (and winners) of the writing exercise do remember vaguely the note by King, but never saved it or printed it out. Any help would be very appreciated.

    • By Warren - Reply

      I never heard back but I did read the book a while after it was released. I figured mine was a late submission and past the time where he was actively looking over submissions. But then, my submission is poorly written too and if he did look at it he wouldn’t have made it far 😉

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