Dictionary Stories

Very short stories composed entirely of example sentences from the dictionary.

Young Monarchs

She parted the ferns and looked between them. She had completely forgotten how tired and hungry she was. Her robe, beaver wool, trailed along the ground. Running away was not in keeping with her character. She signaled Charlotte to be silent—she trailed behind, whimpering at intervals.

The whole town was heavily fortified: A fast-moving river, a dark, impenetrable forest, a wall of silence. The gates were guarded by uniformed soldiers. A line of watchfires stretched away into the night. The eastern boundary of the wilderness.

They arranged to meet at eleven o’clock. There was still no sign of her. The wind had shifted to the east. There must be something wrong.

The distress call had given the ship’s position: The fishermen were steering a direct course for Kodiak. He held onto the back of a chair. His old fears came flooding back. He was not a strong swimmer. 

Instructions for Assembly

1. Take a square of sandpaper, rough side out.
2. Sand the rusty areas until you expose bare metal.
3. You can’t hold yourself responsible for what happened.
4. Smooth over with a cloth, applying even pressure.
5. Drill holes through the tiles for the masonry pins.
6. The inquiry blamed the engineer for the accident.
7. Screw the hinge to your new door.
8. Ensure that the baseboard is straight and plumb.
9. It was his fault she had died.
10. Nail the edge framing to the wall.

What Frank Did

How can he sleep soundly at night? A lot of people in the media have asked me that question. The truthful answer is that I don’t know. It would be unwise of me to comment. Frank was free to do whatever he wanted. He saw his family once every two weeks. He ate little and drank less. They said he stole a small boy’s bicycle. When I arrived, one of the vehicles was still burning. The church was in ruins. Army officers said the situation was under control. The Bible says that we have all sinned. People should wait and judge the film when they see it for themselves.


She drove along the winding lane, the baby deer nestled in her arms. She was wearing a dark suit, a laboratory coat, an ID card. Her eyes were swollen with crying. The cut was bleeding steadily. It was beginning to snow.

She joined the department last year, a tenured faculty member. Her mind sheered away from images she didn’t want to dwell on. Field observations. A yellow-beaked alpine chough. A stagnant ditch. A hairline crack down the middle of the glass. A pool of blood.

Sleep still eluded her.

The dismal weather made the late afternoon seem like evening. The rising wind bent the long grass. A beam of light flashed in front of her. Smoke appeared on the horizon. She suddenly went cold with a dreadful certainty. A sob escaped her lips. She tried to compose herself. She wouldn’t put it past him to lay a trap for her.

Noir II: Femme(ish) Fatale

Sunset Boulevard, drenched in a harsh white neon light. My feet were sore and my head ached. I shouldered my way to the bar. Ernie was making out with Bernice. I caught Rhoda’s eye and gave her a friendly wave. She’s got class—she looks like a princess. I always was a sucker for a good fairy tale.

I was to meet him at 6:30. When we first met, he was a pistol, full of ideals and a natural leader. He was the hot young piano prospect in jazz. Later, at the club, he got tight on brandy, a shot rang out—he claims he was framed. As soon as he got put under pressure, he sang like a canary. Somehow I managed to get the job done: He was paroled after serving nine months of a two-year sentence.

He arrived late. He winked at Nicole as he passed. High-heeled shoes, a platinum wig. The dress didn’t suit him. 

“I might have known it was you.”

“I’m quite a good actress, I suppose. Here’s the money I promised you.”

Say, did you notice any blood?”

“What an unfeeling little brute you are.”


Rachel shouted, beside herself with fury, the fury of a gathering storm. She felt the ground give way beneath her, an unexpected clenching sensation in the region of her heart. Her skin was deadly pale.



Hamlet is the classic example of a tragedy: Beginning at Act One, Scene One—a car chase—the story goes that he’s fallen out with his friends. He had gone to the board of directors with his new robot design and cut a deal, he was accused of murdering his wife’s lover, he’s mixed up in a $10 million insurance swindle. Once a vital member of the community, he is now lost to the world. He makes a wish: “For the love of God, get me out of here!”. The play is hilariously funny. I gave it five out of ten.


He turned the brights on, and we drove along the dirt road. A flash of lightning illuminated the house. The lights dimmed and the curtains parted. A misty out-of-focus silhouette. A fiend in human shape.

     The guest house was erected in the eighteenth century. A large white house falling into gentle ruin. The door was wide open. The wind howled about the building. He felt around for the matches. All at once the noise stopped. A profound loneliness, an oppressive emptiness. The creak of a floorboard broke the silence.

     "The time is approaching when you will be destroyed. He sleeps beneath the silver birches. He sleeps beneath the silver birches. He sleeps beneath the silver birch—"

Snake Oil

My friends, let me introduce myself. My name is John. First of all, let me ask you something: Have you heard the news? This astounding piece of good fortune that has befallen me? If I was to tell you, you’d think I was crazy! Promise you won’t tell?

By the year 2000 management as we know it will not exist. There’s nothing we can do about it. I put my heart and soul into it and then got fired. I never saw any signs, but then again, maybe I wasn’t looking. It is not easy to visualize the future. The roof collapsed on top of me. Accusations of bribery. False imprisonment. In the end I completely lost it—I was screaming at them, my friends and loved ones. I did psychotherapy for years—I wanted to find myself.

Realization dawned suddenly. I developed an interest in law, the geometry of spiders’ webs, shrines to nature spirits, psychic powers. The simple truth? I know what I’m doing. I have publicity photographs on my person at all times. I wear this crystal under my costume for luck. If anyone wants out, there’s the door.

Think of being paid a salary to hunt big game! Career opportunities in our New York headquarters! The purchase price is paid in installments. I have it on good authority that there is a waiting list of up to five weeks. My name is Parsons, John Parsons, lord of the sea. Follow me, if you please.

An Extraordinary Woman

He began as a drummer. She studied biology and botany.
He was a man of few words. She was widely read.
He was younger than her. She longed for a little more excitement.
He was warm and tender toward her. She thought he’d mistaken her for someone else.
He walked her home to her door. She matched her steps to his.
He drew a map. She bent her head to study the plans.
He put one hand over her shoulder and one around her waist. She liked the shape of his nose.
They wed a week after meeting.
He worked like a demon. She gave birth to a son.
He was a model husband and father. She strove to be the perfect wife.
He waltzed her around the table. She was forever pushing her hair out of her eyes.
The rest, as they say, is history.
He went out to the store. 
She passed away peacefully in her sleep.
He reached out a hand and touched her forehead.
She was the love of his life.
He went downstairs, holding tight to the banisters.
What an extraordinary woman she was, to be sure.

Portrait of the Artist

I’ve had an argument with my father. He can be a cantankerous old fossil at times—a stout man with a florid face, polishing the furniture and making everything just so.

At my suggestion, the museum held an exhibition of his work: a collection of sculpture, his mature graphic work. His photomontages are powerful antiwar images. I do not believe he gave the industry a fair shake. He was livid at being left out. There was a heated exchange. “I can manage alone, thanks all the same.”

Great art is concerned with moral imperfections. We announce our failures by warring against ourselves and others. Ultimately he has only himself to blame. He is drinking far too much these days. Even Lawrence finally lost patience with him. At his age, I guess he doesn’t frighten any more.

I went for a long walk. Maybe I won’t go back. The park is beautiful at this time of year.


My father was a great one for buying gadgets. A tall man with widely spaced eyes. A cheerful pipe-smoking man of ruddy complexion.

He was born in Seattle. At the age of sixteen he left home, a kid with no more idea of what to do than the man in the moon. He spent a year in the wilds of Canada. He dined outdoors, comforted by the crackling sounds of the fire.

He had a phobia about being under water. A phobia of germs. A snake phobia.

One of my earliest memories is of sitting on his knee, bouncing up and down on the mattress.

(Okay, that’s it, you’ve cried long enough. Come on, silly.)

He was lavish with his hospitality. He was very giving and supportive. He fathered three children. He wrote almost every day. He spoke fluent Spanish. He was a model husband and father, a tenacious local legend.

His bicycle was found close to the start of a forest trail.

I thought the world of my father. You don’t get men like him anymore. We’re in sore need of him.

I would write to him if I knew his address.

Underlined words are those responsible for each example sentence.