Time to be a Good Employee – an ISG Writing Exercise

On 2 March 2016, these three words were chosen:

  • Bottle
  • Paisley
  • Giftcard

And these blurbs were written within five minutes….Enjoy!



I really should go help him. It’s my job. I know this. Customer service rep. That’s my title. It says so on my name tag. But it’s just so much more fun to watch him struggle.

The middle aged man is standing in the middle of the aisle, one hand holding a bottle and the other a women’s paisley dress. He lifts the bottle, squints to read the label, peers at the shelf as if to check the price again, shakes his head, then raises the dress in his other hand, holding it up at shoulder height so that the flowing length sweeps the floor. He examines the dress critically, squinting again as he studies the price tag attached to the collar. He lowers the clothing with a sigh, and the hand with the wine bottle goes back up again.

He looks like a machine, arms going mechanically up and down. He’s been standing there like this for at least five minutes, and I can hear the debate in his mind.

Fine. Time to be a good employee.

I walk over to him, face bright with a smile that’s helpful and friendly but not too overwhelming.

“Can I help you?” I ask, my voice chipper but not sickly sweet.

He glances at me, face creased in confusion.

“I can’t decide,” he whimpers.

I hold up the gift card where he can see it. “Perhaps she’d rather choose something herself?”

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My black and gray paisley silk dress fit this dance party like a blue sky at a rally against happiness. All around me were half dressed girls including my dear friend Malie and the boys, well, they were wearing clothes almost tighter than the girls. I hadn’t gotten out much but I couldn’t help be appalled that the men should wear clothes such as this. What happened to lace lined shirts and coats with tails. I was not in my element. I hoisted my bottle of ale, can’t even get a proper mug here, and went toward a table in the corner. As I passed a table a lady called out offering “gift cards” for sale. My glance at the brochures on the table told me she was promoting the restaurant portion of the club and I quickly shook my head. This place was awful.

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“No,” Jackie said firmly.

“What? What’s wrong with this shirt?” Lance asked, pouting. “It’s 100% silk!”

“It’s paisley,”she replied flatly. “No.”

Lance hung the shirt back on the rack, but Jackie saw him trail his hands down the fabric one last time. Good grief she thought. Was he color blind? The shirt looked like an iguana had thrown up on it. She shuddered.

Walking through the men’s section of the store, Jackie tapped the gift card against her thigh in thought. Lance had a date that night and had asked her to help him pick out something to wear. She had agreed, but only if she could “hold the dough” so to speak. No telling what he’d sneak off and buy if he had half a chance.

“Hey Jackie!” Lance called out. “Check out these bottles. Wouldn’t this one look great in my apartment?” He held up a garishly painted gold thing that Jackie supposed could be…no, she stopped the thought firmly before it could get any further. She shook her head and sighed and moved further in to the store.

“Excuse me, miss? Could I ask your opinion on something?”

Jackie turned and met the most startling hazel eyes. Oh boy, she thought. Maybe this shopping trip won’t be so bad.

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Paisley looked at the bottle in his hand. He still wasn’t sure how it got there and he didn’t want to know what the red liquid inside it was. He cautiously placed the bottle on the floor of his bedroom nervous that its contents may spill and started to look for anything that would jog his memory about the last twenty-four hours. Paisley emptied his pockets and, aside from a gift card to the mall and some lint, nothing. He stared at his reflection in the mirror trying to force himself to remember something, anything. That’s when a murky image appeared in the mirror beckoning him to come closer. His brain shouted at him to run, but his legs seemed to move with a life of their own bringing him closer.

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Melly walked into the old shop and was immediately overcome with a fit of sneezing. Cleaning up her watering eyes and running nose, Melly peering into the dim, dusty corners of the shop. She pulled the giftcard out of her purse and checked the address again. Yes, she was in the right place. It was an odd store, bigger on the inside, and messier as well.

Melly walked back though the random shelves and piles of stuff, searching for the sales attendant. The store was empty. At least that was what she thought until she rounded the corner and ran into an old man with wild white hair and halfway vacant eyes.

“Can I help you?” he asked, peering at her, and she thought he must have lost his glasses.

“No, thank you,” Melly said. “I’m just looking.”

“See anything you like?” he asked as he turned back to the shelf and began cleaning an odd vase with a rag that was dirtier than the vase. “No, I… ” Something caught Melly’s eye.

On the next shelf, in the middle, sitting on a folded paisley something, was a bottle. At first glance, there was nothing particularly spectacular about this particular item, but the closer Melly looked, the harder she found it to look away. “What is that?” she asked, her eyes fixed on it. The man didn’t look up from his work.

“Don’t know. I just work here.”

Melly reached out to touch it. There was a bright flash, and the store disappeared.

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John put his bottle of Heineken down onto the hood of the light green Gremlin that he and Margorie were sitting on, and stroked it while he tried to think of a way to start a discussion going. They were out here on a back road, staring at the stars and smoking primo weed, scot free and without worries. Time travel had it’s perks. One of which is that genetic engineering hadn’t sorta-kinda accidentally turned pot into a deadly poison yet, and another was that his money went WAY FAR here. Not that he could start spending much of it yet. He wasn’t supposed to raise too much attention. But pot and cars and a nice polyester shirt in a nauseating shade of yellow, he could get.

“So, what are you getting for your birthday?”

“I don’t know, my mom always gets me a dress from the Sears catalog. Paisley.” She said it like an insult.

“Yeah, at least she tries. My mom always just gets me gift cards.”

“What?” Marjorie leaned, glassy eyed. “Like a Hallmark card?”

“Y-yeah.” he answered, realizing his mistake.

“That’s so uptight, man.” Marjorie’s slang struck him as odd. His first thought was lame, or whack. But those words didn’t exist yet, and they weren’t even cool anymore in his time anyway. He was nearly 30 after all. Well, negative 30 here.

While John tried to work on what to say to Marjorie, she decided to climb on him and start kissing him. His hormones raged while he vaguely hoped it wasn’t against the time guild’s rules to have a girlfriend. They hadn’t really explained the rules well enough before shipping him off, so that made it their fault if they didn’t like it. They weren’t going to be fond of the drug habit, either. Oh well.  That’s what you get when you draft someone against their will.


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1 Comment

Filed under Creative Writing, Writers Group, Writing, Writing Exercise

One response to “Time to be a Good Employee – an ISG Writing Exercise

  1. Pingback: Writing Exercise: His brain shouted at him to run… – Alanna Cormier

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