Chuck’s challenge this week was pretty simple, at least on the surface. Write the customary 1000 word story, but this time add scope, by adding chapters. 10 of them to be precise. A rather impossible thing, I thought friday afternoon when I read the assignment here. But then a title appeared to me out of the blue… or out of nowhere as it were, and the story almost wrote itself.
Dividing the story into 10 parts was both easy and hard. There were fewer details to worry about and a greater sense of completion, because I could finish off small sections at a time, which is a great motivator. Writing was faster and more straight foreward + Editing has never been this easy.
But lets face it, an average of 100 words is not much to set a scene, drive the story forward, write engaging dialogue and show character growth. Keeping to the word limit took some serious self-discipline and records shows I am sorely lacking in that department.
But here it is. My 10-chapter, 1002 word story.
The Out-of-Nowhere Man
By Trine Toft Schmidt
The man appears out of nowhere, next to a dumpster. Without ceremony he reaches inside and pulls out a crying bundle. A little girl, skin the color of malted chocolate, barely a day old. He wraps his scarf around her, tugs her against his shoulder under his black woollen coat. She stops crying, looks at him with big brown eyes, immediately calm. She doesn’t start crying again until he puts her carefully down on the hospital steps, swathed in his coat.
“Don’t you worry, little thing. I’ll keep you safe.” He strokes her tiny cheek and then disappears again.
Henrietta clumsily kicks out and, by sheer luck, her little foot connects soundly with the red ball. It flies out into the street, bouncing off a parked car.
“Uh oh.” She sings to herself. “Gotta catch the ball or Daddy will be mad.” She runs between two cars and stretches out her hands toward the ball.
“Hey there little thing.” A man in a black coat squats down in front of her, barring her way.
“My ball.” She points to the ball and he nods.
“And what a nice ball. Stay here and I’ll get it for you sweetie.”
“Come on Henrietta, live a little.” Maggie and Leo wave at her from the car. Henrietta is torn. They’ve been drinking and Leo’s definitely been smoking his mom’s pot stash. But it is friday night and mum’s at work. And besides, they are just driving down to The Burger Joint. It’s not even a mile. She grins and runs down the steps to the car.
The siren blasts behind them just as they turn right onto Howard.
“Shit.” Leo wails.
“I told you to slow down, you idiot.” Henrietta screams from the back seat, bathed in blue flashing light. “Pull over.” She punches Leo’s shoulder and Maggie moans.
An officer steps up to the car. Bends down and looks inside. Even though she’s never had dealings with cops before, he looks familiar. Henrietta leans forward between the front seats and looks at him.
“Hey! You’re the Out-of-Nowhere Man.”
An old movie is playing. Black and white. Ancient. A man is singing about some girl coming from out of nowhere. Henrietta giggles at the tv-screen and takes another sip of the rum and coke.
“The Out-of-Nowhere Man. He’s singing about the Out-of-Nowhere Man.” She says over her shoulder.
Mike, her on-and-off boyfriend, shakes his head and light up the crack pipe in his hand.
“You’re one crazy bitch.” is all he says.
The phone rings and Henrietta stumble out of the sofa and picks it up.
“Henrietta.” The voice is like a thick woollen blanket wrapped around her in the cold.
“Out-of-Nowhere Man.” Henrietta looks around. Opens the door to the hallway. It is empty. “Where are you?”
“I am not here. Some things only you can yourself from, little thing.”
There’s knock on the door.
“Come in.” Henrietta stops pacing and turns toward it. It opens and all her butterflies settle and the nausea dissipates.
“You.” She smiles at him, then looks around, alarmed. He senses her sudden apprehension and holds out his hands.
“Don’t worry, little thing. Today is a happy day. I just came to congratulate you.” He smiles and she picks up the skirt of her white satin dress in her hands and run to him. He steps back, out into the corridor, avoiding her hug.
“No. Don’t leave. Please stay.”
He shakes his head and gives her a last smile before he disappears again.
“Mrs Gonzales. These just came for you.” The nurse carries a bouquet of cornflowers and poppies in her hand, already in a vase. She hands Henrietta the card and puts the vase on the nightstand. Then bends down and gurgle funny sounds at the small boy lying in the crib.
“Oh he’s such a doll.”
Henrietta reads the card.
If you should go back to your nowhere
Leaving me with the memory
I’ll always wait for your return out of nowhere
Hoping you’ll bring your love to me
She smiles. Even in her happiest moment he looks over her.
All is well.
Henrietta looks down on the streets below her. People mill about like ants, all alive and with lives to live. She leans forward, hopes the wind will take her.
“This is not the solution, little thing.” A familiar voice says behind her. She turns and there he is. Looking not a day older than on her wedding day. She holds out the picture in her hand.
“A mother isn’t supposed to outlive her child.”
The man shakes his head.
“I know, Henrietta.” He sits down next to her, smooths out the crumpled picture of her boy. “Tell me about him.”
Tears rise, finally breaks through the core of ice that was once her heart.
She hands the small shovel back to the pastor. Walks back to the chair. She looks up into the sun, tries to stop the tears that have spilled for days now. A movement catches her eyes. There, by the sycamore tree. He is leaning against it. Watching her. He sends her a small sad smile and for a brief moment the pain lifts from her heart. Even though it feels like she will die now, it is not her time yet.
“No more saving me, Out-of-Nowhere man.” Henrietta smiles at the man sitting next to her bed. A clock is ticking on the nightstand.
He smiles and shakes his head.
“No, little thing. Now it is time.
“Has been many times before.” Henrietta closes her eyes. She is ready. As ready as she will ever be for the ever-dark to take her. She draws a deep breath and lets herself sink into the darkness. A snatch of a song sends her off. Ella Fitzgerald. Singing about her Out-of-Nowhere Man.