VACATION  FROM  VIRTUAL  REALITY - a vocabulary development story for struggling readers

Mark raced forward trying to gain enough speed to leap across a dangerous ravine 

along the Royal Arch Trail. As he pushed off from the trail and sailed through the air,
he heard his mother frantically calling to him. Her voice was booming from behind him, distracting him from his task and robbing him of the energy needed for a successful jump. His body fell short of its intended target, crashed into the rocky cliff opposite him, and slid two hundred feet down the jagged rock, landing with a splash in the churning waters of the river below him.

 

“Mark! Turn that computer off now!” Mrs. Johnson shouted.

 

“But Mom,” Mark whined in response. He had become obsessive about Hiking USA, an online computer game where players attempt to complete obstacle courses in a virtual reality version of the great outdoors. Mark had a ravenous desire to be the top scorer of the game. With diligence, he had succeeded in getting his name listed among the top ten players, but that wasn’t enough to suit him. He wanted to be the best.

 

 “Stop whining!” Mrs. Johnson demanded. “If you don’t stop spending all your time playing computer games, you’ll end up being illiterate. If you don’t like classic novels, you could at least try to read travel guides. You need to get out and glean some information about the real world!”

 

Mrs. Johnson continued ranting, but Mark tuned her out. He had heard her speeches before and knew they never lasted more than six minutes. After precisely five minutes and twenty-three seconds a pamphlet sailed through the air and landed in his lap. Mark always knew his mother missed her calling to be a pitcher in the major leagues. As Mrs. Johnson walked away, Mark heard her say that they would be leaving next week. Leaving? For where? Mark realized that this time he should have listened more carefully to what she was saying. He picked up the colorful, glossy pamphlet and read the title: “Experience Nature at Slither River Ranch.” Photos of old men fishing on a peaceful pond, pitching tents, and sitting by a campfire were evidently meant to be appealing, but they made Mark feel morose. Clearly, there was no excitement to be had at Slither River Ranch.

 

Tossing the brochure aside, Mark turned back to his computer game, but before his fingers could touch the keyboard, the electricity went out. His computer monitor turned black. In the hallway, Mrs. Johnson tried to stifle her guffawing by covering her mouth with her hand. No doubt Mr. Johnson was in the basement strategically pushing levers on the electric switch box. Mark did his best to tolerate his parent’s connivance to cut his computer game short, but he also vowed to pack his laptop for the trip.

 

A week later, when the Johnson’s arrived at Slither River Ranch, Mark discovered how the vacation spot got its name. The place was so desolate that Mark was certain that neither online satellite photos nor MapQuest directions existed for it. No electric power lines traversed the landscape to ruin the beauty of the wilderness; consequently, when Mark’s laptop battery died, there was no way to recharge it. He was left with no other option than to, egad, explore reality!

 

Early in the morning, Mark slipped quietly away and set out alone to explore the woods. Four trails led off into the wilderness that surrounded the Johnson’s bivouac. Just like Robert Frost, Mark chose the one less traveled, and it made all the difference.

 

Thirty minutes later Mrs. Johnson woke up and found the note Mark had left for his parents. “Oh dear! George! Come quick! Mark snuck out to go hiking!”

 

“Honey. Calm down. He’ll be fine. I’m sure he won’t go far. He’ll call us if he needs us. Besides, after today computer games will seem boring to him.” A sly smile emerged on Mr. Johnson’s face.

 

“I guess you’re right,” Mrs. Johnson sighed. "If you start a campfire, I’ll cook up some eggs. He’ll probably be hungry when he gets back.”

 

By lunchtime, there was still no sign of Mark. An ominous feeling overcame Mrs. Johnson, “George, something is wrong. I just know it! We’ve got to call for help!”

 

Mr. Johnson stared at her silently. Mrs. Johnson’s eyes grew wide with panic as she read her husband’s mind. Cellphone service was unavailable. “George! Mark can’t use his cellphone! Oh, how could I have been so stupid! You drive to the ranger station and get help. I’ll stay here in case he comes back. HURRY!”

 

By afternoon, a search party had been organized.  Just as everyone was setting out to find Mark, he emerged from the trail in a daze. Unable to walk straight, he listed to the left and to the right as if drunk. “Mom! Dad!” Mark shouted

 

“He’s hurt!” Mrs. Johnson shouted to her husband as she ran toward her son. Mark’s left leg was red and swollen. Looking closely, Mrs. Johnson could see two small puncture wounds. “Snake bite!

 

A ranger rushed to examine the wound. “What did the snake look like?” the ranger asked with concern.

 

“Big!”

 

Mark rambled on about the escapades that lead to his injury. “It was awesome! I found a path that lead past a waterfall to the top of the mountain. I could see clear into the next state, but I didn’t notice the snake at my feet. I accidentally stepped on him. That’s when he bit me. He wouldn’t let go! I had to pry his teeth away from my leg. The thing had to be at least eight feet long. Just wait until my friends hear about it!”

 

“Was it black and gray and shiny?” the ranger asked, trying once more to get some useful information out of Mark.

 

“Yes! Is it poisonous?” Mark asked the ranger as his parents stood by, fearing the worst.

 

“It looks like a glossy snake bite. They’re big but harmless. You’ll be okay, but let’s get you to the doctor to clean out that bite.”

 

“Oh, thank God!” Mrs. Johnson dropped to her knees by her son’s side. “Mark, from now on you can play computer games as often as you like!”

A Vacation from Virtual Reality 

Mark raced forward trying to gain enough speed to leap across a dangerous ravine
along the Royal Arch Trail. As he pushed
off from the trail and sailed through the air,
he heard his mother frantically calling to him. Her voice was booming from behind him, distracting him from his task and robbing him of the energy needed for a successful jump. His body fell short of its intended target, crashed into the rocky cliff opposite him, and slid two hundred feet down the jagged rock, landing with a splash in the churning waters of the river below him.

 

“Mark! Turn that computer off now!” Mrs. Johnson shouted.

 

“But Mom,” Mark whined in response. He had become obsessive about Hiking USA, an online computer game where players attempt to complete obstacle courses in a virtual reality version of the great outdoors. Mark had a ravenous desire to be the top scorer of the game. With diligence, he had succeeded in getting his name listed among the top ten players, but that wasn’t enough to suit him. He wanted to be the best.

 

 “Stop whining!” Mrs. Johnson demanded. “If you don’t stop spending all your time playing computer games, you’ll end up being illiterate. If you don’t like classic novels, you could at least try to read travel guides. You need to get out and glean some information about the real world!”

 

Mrs. Johnson continued ranting, but Mark tuned her out. He had heard her speeches before and knew they never lasted more than six minutes. After precisely five minutes and twenty-three seconds a pamphlet sailed through the air and landed in his lap. Mark always knew his mother missed her calling to be a pitcher in the major leagues. As Mrs. Johnson walked away, Mark heard her say that they would be leaving next week. Leaving? For where? Mark realized that this time he should have listened more carefully to what she was saying. He picked up the colorful, glossy pamphlet and read the title: “Experience Nature at Slither River Ranch.” Photos of old men fishing on a peaceful pond, pitching tents, and sitting by a campfire were evidently meant to be appealing, but they made Mark feel morose. Clearly, there was no excitement to be had at Slither River Ranch. 

Tossing the brochure aside, Mark turned back to his computer game, but before his fingers could touch the keyboard, the electricity went out. His computer monitor turned black. In the hallway, Mrs. Johnson tried to stifle her guffawing by covering her mouth with her hand. No doubt Mr. Johnson was in the basement strategically pushing levers on the electric switch box. Mark did his best to tolerate his parent’s connivance to cut his computer game short, but he also vowed to pack his laptop for the trip.

 

A week later, when the Johnson’s arrived at Slither River Ranch, Mark discovered how the vacation spot got its name. The place was so desolate that Mark was certain that neither online satellite photos nor MapQuest directions existed for it. No electric power lines traversed the landscape to ruin the beauty of the wilderness; consequently, when Mark’s laptop battery died, there was no way to recharge it. He was left with no other option than to, egad, explore reality!

Early in the morning, Mark slipped quietly away and set out alone to explore the woods. Four trails led off into the wilderness that surrounded the Johnson’s bivouac. Just like Robert Frost, Mark chose the one less traveled, and it made all the difference. 

 

Thirty minutes later Mrs. Johnson woke up and found the note Mark had left for his parents. “Oh dear! George! Come quick! Mark snuck out to go hiking!”

“Honey. Calm down. He’ll be fine. I’m sure he won’t go far. He’ll call us if he needs us. Besides, after today computer games will seem boring to him.” A sly smile emerged on Mr. Johnson’s face. 

“I guess you’re right,” Mrs. Johnson sighed. "If you start a campfire, I’ll cook up some eggs. He’ll probably be hungry when he gets back.” 

By lunchtime, there was still no sign of Mark. An ominous feeling overcame Mrs. Johnson, “George, something is wrong. I just know it! We’ve got to call for help!” 

Mr. Johnson stared at her silently. Mrs. Johnson’s eyes grew wide with panic as she read her husband’s mind. Cellphone service was unavailable. “George! Mark can’t use his cellphone! Oh, how could I have been so stupid! You drive to the ranger station and get help. I’ll stay here in case he comes back. HURRY!”

By afternoon, a search party had been organized.  Just as everyone was setting out to find Mark, he emerged from the trail in a daze. Unable to walk straight, he listed to the left and to the right as if drunk. “Mom! Dad!” Mark shouted

 

“He’s hurt!” Mrs. Johnson shouted to her husband as she ran toward her son. Mark’s left leg was red and swollen. Looking closely, Mrs. Johnson could see two small puncture wounds. “Snake bite! 

 

A ranger rushed to examine the wound. “What did the snake look like?” the ranger asked with concern. 

 

“Big!” 

Mark rambled on about the escapades that lead to his injury. “It was awesome! I found a path that lead past a waterfall to the top of the mountain. I could see clear into the next state, but I didn’t notice the snake at my feet. I accidentally stepped on him. That’s when he bit me. He wouldn’t let go! I had to pry his teeth away from my leg. The thing had to be at least eight feet long. Just wait until my friends hear about it!”

“Was it black and gray and shiny?” the ranger asked, trying once more to get some useful information out of Mark.

“Yes! Is it poisonous?” Mark asked the ranger as his parents stood by, fearing the worst.

“It looks like a glossy snake bite. They’re big but harmless. You’ll be okay, but let’s get you to the doctor to clean out that bite.” 

 

“Oh, thank God!” Mrs. Johnson dropped to her knees by her son’s side. “Mark, from now on you can play computer games as often as you like!”

The audio-enhanced version 
of this story and 
supplemental materials 
may be purchased online. 

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Flatirons of Boulder, Colorado
Reading teachers are familiar with "high interest low level" stories designed for use with middle school and high school students who are struggling readers. Vacation From Virtual Reality belongs to a new genre of short stories known as "short stories with big words." Stories within this genre are flash fiction composed of approximately 1000 words. Students with attention deficit  disorder should have no trouble reading these stories as they can often be read within ten minutes. Despite the short length, these stories are beneficial for building vocabulary because they contain a high concentration of advanced vocabulary words. When used with the supplemental materials, students should be able to build their vocabulary quickly, which in turn will help improve their reading comprehension. Additionally, the downloadable version of the story, which is available on the Teacherspayteachers.com website, included embedded audio so that a student with dyslexia may hear the story read aloud. The free version of Adobe Acrobat reader is all that is needed to use the downloadable stories, which a affordably priced. Check them out!