I am attending ThrillerFest in NYC and yesterday had the pleasure of attending a MasterCraft session with Heather Graham. What a wonderful lady and prolific and talented author.

During our afternoon session, we were given a writing exercise. Write up to 1000 words that must include the following:

  1. First sentence must begin exactly the same
  2. Must include a nun, a stripper, a cowboy cop, bald, peg-legged, rugged

Imagine my mirth when, after writing the following short story, I found a container of hand-sanitizer in by bag of goodies at the registration table.

Here’s what I wrote:

The blood dripped slowly to the floor from the tube that was once plugged into the arm of a man sitting across from me. I can’t quite erase the eeriness of his blue face just before he fell to the floor, dislodging the needle that was inserted for blood collection. Normally those things don’t drip, do they? It must be broken. Oh God, what was wrong with him? I swallow the bile that surges up my throat. That would be a medical nightmare, spewing germs everywhere. I raise my handkerchief again to cover my mouth and grab the towel I brought along then throw it over the drips. I have no idea what germs are in that man’s blood but we sure as hell don’t need to share them.

The broken tube of the collection vial continues to drip on the towel and the nuns that work the clinic traipse past, unconcerned. I should leave. I should take my haze-infused brain out of here and come back when there aren’t all these germ-infested—people around.

You’re in a medical facility, silly. There will always be germ-infested people here.

A particularly pudgy and stern nurse approaches, her gaze boring into me with distaste.

What? Am I not sick enough to be here?

Her mouth parts into a plastic smile and I relax. “Please fill out all the information at the top, just above the dotted line. It won’t be long.”

My leg throbs. The bandage begins to seep a ruby to pink fading color. I lower the handkerchief and take the clipboard she thrusts toward me.  What to do? I brought the towel for such emergencies, intending to grasp anything here with it. Now, I’ve completely screwed up. I stare at the edges of the clipboard. How many germ-ridden hands have touched this before me? Were they contagious?

Did they live?

I shake my head. Don’t be ridiculous. This is just a clinic, not an ER. Still, there’s a bottle of hand-sanitizer on the nurse’s desk, just to my right. I rise on my good leg, and do a peg-legged shuffle to the counter. With the bottle in hand I squeeze a fair amount of sanitizer into my palm then smear it over the edges of the clipboard, ending with the silver clip. I squeeze a second dab into my hands and rub them together. There. It’s cleaner and shinier than a bald man after a scalp wax.

A walk back toward my chair where my bag sits in the empty chair beside. It’s taken. Where did she come from? Bleached hair with silver-black roots lies in thick spikes off the head of a woman with a dress that appears to be a slip pulled up over her boobs. She has more wobbly bits than I do, not a pretty sight in less than half the fabric of my own sundress. And she’s in my seat! Oh, lord—she’s bleeding too. I look back for the hand sanitizer, wishing it were in a spray can. It’s empty.

I stumble back to the chair, my leg throbbing like the boom of a cannon, grab my bag, then seek out another seat. There are none.

A door eases open in a squeaky slide and a stocky man in a green golf shirt steps into the room and calls out, his voice a rugged growl amongst the sterile waiting room music. “Leah Mahoney?”

I raise the clipboard with the partially complete form and the papers flap in my face, “That’s me.”

“Please follow me.” The man turns to retreat back through the door he’d entered.

My head spins, the leg no longer throbs—it’s completely numb. I can’t feel it at all. I can’t actually feel anything. The room begins to darken. I try to step toward the male nurse and follow his instructions but my body refuses.

I fall toward the floor, trying to regain balance but it’s not happening. Everything goes black.

When I open my eyes again, I’m staring at a series of gold pins spread over the collar and breast pocket of a cop. Glancing up at the hat on his head, I realize he’s not the normal city cop I’m used to. Nope, leave it to me to pass out into the lap of the local cowboy cop of this one-cop town. Oh Lord, how many drunken germ-infested bums have made contact with this same chest that now has me pinned into a fireman’s hold?

If this gash on my leg doesn’t kill me, the germs in this awful clinic surely will.

“You’re all set now, ma’am. Stitched right up.” The male nurse’s voice cut through my fogged brain.

“What? I haven’t even entered the doctor’s room yet.”

The cop and nurse exchanged glances. “Well, you passed out and we took care of it all right here. Stitched up the cut, bandaged it, and everything. You can go home as soon as you’re able to stand.”

My leg is re-bandaged in a clean white gauze wrap. “Please tell me you sterilized everything before you did all that.” I point at the wrap. I can’t imagine how nasty this floor is and what has touched it. Not even close to an optimal environment for medical work.

“Ma’am, we’re in a clinic with over a hundred people waiting to be treated from the fire across the street. This is as sterile as you’ll get for the moment.”

The cowboy lifts me to my feet, and sends me out the door with a pat on the rump. I turn and glare.


Yes, it’s pretty rough but I enjoyed the writing and laughed when I found the small bottle of hand-sanitizer in my goodie bag.

Thanks ITW!