Flash Fiction: Woman in the black trench coat

My best friend

My childhood best friend’s name was Janice, and, like me, she had a vivid imagination. We used to sit and make up stories by the hour, and sometimes we would write them down. Then we would burn them before anyone read them. She died in 1985. I named the woman in my story “Janice” in her memory.

What began as a writing exercise

This actually started out as a writing exercise. Our writer friend and teacher, Bill Holland has suggested that we do writing exercises for both practice and inspiration. He suggested that we pick out someone on the street or at a public event and observe them. Then we were to picture that person and let our imaginations run.

Up until now, I had not taken his suggestion because I spend my workday correcting other people’s work, including rewriting some of their most creative sentences. That in itself comprises daily writing exercises. I will admit that is not very inspiring, but I have never really felt the need for writing exercises. I got enough of that in college.

But then one day while driving to work, I spied a woman who piqued my curiosity. She seemed out of place and I simply could not put my finger on where she belonged. She did not look like a businesswoman, neither did she look like a homeless person. She was not a housewife running an errand. What was she? I started speculating and decided it would be fun to do a writing exercise on her. Then my muse took over. You know, the one who looks like Johnny Depp and talks like Keith Richards? One of these days I'm going to have to tell you about my muse, but not today. Back to business. The writing exercise morphed into flash fiction.

This is a very simplistic story, and I will let it tell itself.

The Amtrak station on a gloomy day


Officer Lanny Dunbar spotted the woman pulling her load down the sidewalk. There was not anything suspicious about her, but a little voice in his head told him to stop and inquire. On this street business professionals and the homeless passed wordlessly by. Very few others had business here. City hall and the police station were located at one end of the street, and a mile away, the other end passed the Salvation Army and dead-ended at the train station. The woman in the black trench coat looked neither homeless nor professional. There were no houses in this part of town, only businesses. What was she doing here?

Her gray hair had been neatly combed that morning but now was windblown, She had a warm scarf tied around her neck and comfortable walking shoes on her feet. Her luggage, if one could call it that, was too large for computer storage, but too small for conventional suitcases. She had two black fabric bags stacked one atop the other on the little wheeled rack. Nah, she couldn’t be a terrorist, he thought, but his mind still nagged at him.

The officer shot a U in the middle of the block and pulled up in front of her, no lights or siren, and got out of the police car. “Excuse me, ma’m, could I help you with something?” he said friendly like, but still approached her cautiously.

When she looked at him, a flicker of relief crossed her blue eyes. She answered "maybe." She told him that she was Janice Davis from Chicago. She explained that she had gotten off the train in the middle of the night, and her brother was to have picked her up at the train station. He didn’t show, and a little worried, she had spent the night on a bench at the station. However, George had a night job, and she expected that he could not get off work and would be there when morning came.

The previous morning, Janice’s brother, George, had called her with the news that their 92-year-old mother had died suddenly and she must come home. She had packed her small wardrobe and everything of value she owned in the two cases and turned her dingy apartment back to the landlord. Then after using most of her money to buy the train ticket, she had tucked what little was left from her Social Security check into her bag. When George failed to arrive that morning, she discovered it was not enough for a meal and a cab. Then the nice ticket agent suggested that she have breakfast at the Salvation Army just up the block, which she gratefully did.

After breakfast, and still not hearing from George, she was becoming very worried. This was not like him. She struck out on her own, hoping someone could tell her which buses would take her to the modest home that her mother had shared with her brother. During their telephone conversation, George asked her to come live with him. He said that, after all, the house was now half hers.

Officer Dunbar nodded pleasantly. “Yes ma’m,” he said sympathetically. “But may I please see some ID.”

She handed him her drivers license from an old red leather wallet that had once been stylish. He looked at the name, Janice Fillmore Davis, and something sounded familiar. “Mrs. Davis, would your brother be George Malcom Fillmore?” he asked.

“Yes, do you know George,” she replied hopefully.

He looked at her sympathetically. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Davis, I’m afraid I have some bad news. George Fillmore died last night.

Janice went numb. “How did he die?” She mumbled.

“He was shot in a holdup at the store where he worked. He died on the way to the hospital. I'm so sorry. We are holding his body pending notification of next of kin. Can you come down to the station and claim his body?”

Little Rock Squad Car

One of my all-time favorites

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Comments 27 comments

Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 10 months ago

MizB, you sure did pluck my heart strings, poor Janice to get hit with such a double whammy. It seems like some people have all the misfortune and some have good fortune.

Wonderful writing exercise and I loved Roy Orbison and still love his music.

Blessings and hugs ss

always exploring profile image

always exploring 10 months ago from Southern Illinois

Wow, talk about bad luck, that poor woman had her share and then some. The twist at the end was perfect for a flash fiction. Well done!! I dearly love Roy Orbison...Thank you...

Venkatachari M profile image

Venkatachari M 10 months ago from Hyderabad, India

Very interesting and thrilling story with a sudden twist at the end. I feel very sorry for Janice who lost both her mother and brother also. The suspense woven around her movements as observed by the Officer on duty made it perfectly superb and interesting till the end.

MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 10 months ago Author

Thanks, Shyron. It does seem like some people get all the luck, whether it's good or bad. I've been in love with Roy Orbison since the first time I ever heard him. His death, like Prince's, was untimely. I appreciate your comment.

MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 10 months ago Author

Ruby, thank you for the great comment. As usual, I have a longer version tucked away for my short stories. Roy Orbison was one of my first loves, musical, of course. I wish I could have met him.

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MizBejabbers 10 months ago Author

Venkatachari, I love comments like yours and the previous two that tell me I'm doing something right. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 10 months ago from Olympia, WA

You, my friend, are a writer. I love that you saw a woman and fashioned a story around that sighting...and a very good story at that. Thanks for the mention....excellent response to my challenge....such fine writing, MizB!

MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 10 months ago Author

Oh, thank you, Bill. For some reason I just wasn't up to the challenge when you first issued it. I think it was because my health at that time didn't permit me to be up to much of anything. So, hopefully I'm back with a vengeance, LOL. Thanks again for the great compliment.

MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 10 months ago Author

Bill, I meant to add that coming from a writer like you, that means a lot. Thanks again.

phoenix2327 profile image

phoenix2327 10 months ago from United Kingdom

You did a nice job creating not just a character, but a world for her to live in. Poor thing. Imagine getting hit with more bad news before you've had a chance to process the first hit. I do hope she'll be all right.

MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 10 months ago Author

Phoenix, it was out of my usual genre, but thank you. I have expanded it into a short story for my collection that I hope someday to publish. She will be all right.

phoenix2327 profile image

phoenix2327 10 months ago from United Kingdom

Don't you love writing.? It starts off with an idea; perhaps nothing more than a writing exercise. Then next thing you know you've got a story on your hands.

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 10 months ago from USA

She sure did have a double heartbreak. I like that you got creative based on someone you saw.

MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 10 months ago Author

I do love writing. It is so much fun that I wish I could do it full-time.

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MizBejabbers 10 months ago Author

Flourish, thanks. Yes, she was a little different looking. I wonder what she would think if she knew someone had written a story based upon her appearance.

lawrence01 profile image

lawrence01 10 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

A beautiful but tragic story, and really well told. I thoroughly feel for 'Janice'


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 10 months ago Author

Yes, one tragedy is enough, but two? Sometimes we wonder about the fickle finger of fate. Thank you, Lawrence, for reading and commenting.

bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 9 months ago from Central Florida

MizB, you are a fine writer. I love that you shared the inspiration for this story with us. And the story itself - well, it's touching, heartbreaking, and well-written. I love the cliff hangar. It leaves so many unanswered questions and a quick flash into Janice's future. Will she stay in her mother's home and begin a new life? Will she sell it and go someplace new?

I can't help but think about the woman you saw who became a character in this story. I wonder what her story is??

MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 9 months ago Author

Brave, I wonder, too. I really think that she probably was a businesswoman who works in a more casual office, but it was an inspiration for a "what if". Thank you for reading and your mighty fine comment.

manatita44 profile image

manatita44 9 months ago from london

That was a great one, Miz. I did not see this ending coming at all. Excellent work!

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MizBejabbers 9 months ago Author

Thank you for reading and commenting, Manitita. Funny, I didn't see the ending coming either while I was writing it. It just came. Love to you.

ladyguitarpicker profile image

ladyguitarpicker 7 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

She really had some bad news. Great story, very sad and a real heartbreaker. Good job! Stella

Nadine May profile image

Nadine May 6 months ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

What a captivated story. Not a happy ending but at least the reader can carry one with the story in their minds.

MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 6 months ago Author

Stella, this is my 3rd or 4th attempt to reply to your comment. I've tried for days to reply, but something has been technically wrong and I haven't been able to get in. I also notice that some previous comments don't seem to be here. I have another hub with the same problem, but it was moved to a niche site. Anyway, I'll try again, and I'm so glad that you read my story and commented. Thank you.

MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 6 months ago Author

Nadine, thanks so much for reading and commenting. It's another one of those "what ifs?".

johnmariow profile image

johnmariow 6 months ago from Connecticut

Two tragedies add up to a sad story. Well written and an enjoyable read. The characterization was excellent. The story left me wanting to read more.

MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 6 months ago Author

Thank you, John. I've gotten such good comments that I have cooking around a continuation of this story, like a serial or a novella, depending on the length.

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