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Flash Fiction: Woman in the Black Trench Coat

Updated on July 5, 2019
MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers has been a professional writer/editor for all of her adult life. Before that, she was just a little girl storyteller.

Story Began as a Writing Exercise

This actually started out as a writing exercise. Our writer and teacher friend, 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.

Strange Circumstances

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 Little Rock Police Station were located at one end of the street, and a mile away, the other end passed the Salvation Army headquarters and dead-ended at the Amtrak 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, were 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. Maybe she was lost.

Officer Dunbar pulls up to talk to the woman in the black trench coat.
Officer Dunbar pulls up to talk to the woman in the black trench coat. | Source

Checking Her Out

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 smiled and answered "I hope so." 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 Amtrak Station in Little Rock on a gloomy day.
The Amtrak Station in Little Rock on a gloomy day. | Source

Phone Call from Her Brother

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 in the central part of the city. During their telephone conversation, George asked her to come live with him. He said that, after all, the house was now half hers.

Officer Delivers Sad News

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?” Her face brightened.

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?”

“He was shot in a holdup at the convenience 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?”

One of my all-time favorites

Named for 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.

© 2016 Doris James MizBejabbers

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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 months ago

      I know the feeling. When I attempt to write a novel I tend to top out at about 25K words.

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 months ago from Beautiful South

      Not a screenplay, Robert, a stage play. The problem is that it is too long for a one act, and not long enough for a three act. I'm not not familiar with a two-act, but will have to research it.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 months ago

      Do you think the story you're thinking of would be more suitable for a screenplay?

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 months ago from Beautiful South

      Robert, Woman in the Black Trench Coat isn't the story I'm thinking about putting into a play. This one would require too many scenery changes, I think.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 months ago

      It seems this story could work as a play. It seems college or a local theater would be a good in, should you want to go that route.

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 months ago from Beautiful South

      Robert, I used to have connections to the theater. I was heavily into local theaters in New Mexico and Arkansas when I was young. But after my divorce I gave it up to raise my elementary-school-age children. It isn't too difficult to reestablish connections, especially since I have no desire to act anymore. They are always looking for backstage workers, and that's a quick in with them. But I haven't written for stage or film in so many years that I've actually thought about taking some refresher classes in college again. In my state, people 60 and over can go to the university and state colleges free. That's an end in itself. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 months ago from Beautiful South

      Paula, you give me too much credit, my friend. I was thinking more of an ordinary but fulfilling life and keeping Janice kind of low-key. She is a senior citizen recovering from a bad marriage and going through a PTSD-causing episode. After all, her family were just an ordinary Little Rock middle-class family. You know, salt-of-the-earth type of people. I'm not much of a Jackie Collins writer. In fact, I never liked reading about that class of people. Maybe I'm just too common to appreciate their lives. Hope I don't disappoint you. I've already got her a companion in mind. Now that I've got some personal alligators out of the way, I can start back to writing again. Thanks for the suggestions. I'll keep them in mind. Have a great 4th, Milady!

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 months ago

      Giving both the sequel and the stage play a go seems a great idea. Do you have any connections with theater people?

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 

      3 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Wonderful idea. I do believe you should go for it. I have faith you'll make it a success. Go forward from this Part I in a series and give Ms. Janice an exciting life filled with mystery, magic, mind-blowing scenarios & perhaps a millionaire man-friend?? Hey girl, there's no limit to where you can take this. I'll wait for Part II. Take your time! Peace, Paula

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 months ago from Beautiful South

      Thank you so much, dear girlfriend. And yes, you are correct. A twist was my aim. I would love to be able to author a twist each time like Edgar Allen Poe did. He was my favorite writer back in Lit class.

      "..since being alone, burdened, hungry, broke & stranded, is one of my worst nightmares!"

      Been there, done that, and if it hadn't been for two sets of wonderful parents, his and mine, the kids and I would have been homeless. To quote the great Scarlette: "I'll nevah go hungry again!" So at least I gave Janice a home to go to.

      But things are going to be looking up. I've had several requests for a sequel, so I've decided to go ahead and make her a series. What do you think, my favorite lady hubber? It's already rolling around in my head.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 

      3 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Mz B. Oh dear, poor Janice. As if one death was not enough! You did a great job on this story.....especially considering it was one of Bill's challenges. I never expected the ending, which, if I'm not mistaken, is a writer's aim..correct?

      I must tell you that I had a huge amount of empathy for Janice, since being alone, burdened, hungry, broke & stranded, is one of my worst nightmares!

      Thank goodness the police officer acted on his gut. Good job, Mz B!

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 months ago from Beautiful South

      It's already written in my head. All I have to do is transfer it to the computer. Since you mention the evolution of sequels, over 10 years ago I wrote a short story that I've never published. One reason is that it would make a good play in the style of James Thurber. I've been considering rewriting it as a play. Thanks, Robert.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 months ago

      Go for it. I am a bit warry of writing sequels. My concern is getting tied to one story line. In two of my short stories on HubPages a commenter asked for a sequel so I complied. One of the advantages to sequels to short stories is it could evolve into a book or a stage/screenplay. Do you have an idea about the story arc for a sequel?

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 months ago from Beautiful South

      Thank you for the compliment, Robert. Glad you enjoyed it. I'm thinking about a sequel. Do you think that's a good idea?

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 months ago

      A shocking and unexpected ending. Great imagination, great gong.

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      22 months ago from Beautiful South

      Thank you, Ann. That's very kind of you.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      22 months ago from SW England

      Glad you're ok. That can cause stress in lots of ways even without injuries. Hope all continues to go well.

      Ann

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      22 months ago from Beautiful South

      Thanks again, Ann. Haven't found that thumb drive yet. Sorry I didn't get back to you. Life gets in the way. Just as I was starting to enjoy my retirement, we were in a auto accident. Minor injuries, but major headaches with getting my Prius repaired. Now I'm back, at least I hope.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Great. Now I'm looking forward to reading that sequel.

      Hope you find that thumb drive!

      Ann

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      2 years ago from Beautiful South

      Thanks, Ann, I love your answer. I don't blame you for deleting the question. I admire anyone who takes the time for the care and feeding of questions and forums. I just don't have the patience. BTW I started a hub on muses about a year ago, but my computer died and I don't know if I have a copy of it saved on a thumb drive anywhere. Everyone seems to place such an importance on their muses, so I wanted to add a little levity with mine. Of course you know where I got the idea of the Johnny/Keith scenario. Muses can be such nags, so I wanted one with a sword.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Great story! You have a great turn of phrase and I like how you found your inspiration from the woman in the street.

      Love your muse - 'the one who looks like Johnny Depp and talks like Keith Richards'! Do give us a sequel to this intriguing lady!

      By the way, thanks for commenting on my question. I got so confused with it all that I decided I didn't really care and gave up, so, though I did answer your comment, I've now deleted it and in fact deleted the question. It seemed to be turning into a little bit of contention (not you, elsewhere!) and that bothers me! So I appreciate you answering and I don't want you to think I'm being rude and that I haven't taken any notice of your response. That was a bit long-winded but I hope you understand. I think I'll give up asking questions!

      Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this on a grey Saturday early afternoon. Thank you.

      Ann

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      2 years ago from Beautiful South

      Thanks, Vlad. The wheels are turning. As soon as I find time, I think I'll continue it.

    • ValKaras profile image

      Vladimir Karas 

      2 years ago from Canada

      MizBejabbers---I am certainly joining their request for more, and I am sure your muse will inspire you to give us a series, now that our appetite is turning into a craving.

      But, like you say---work first.

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      2 years ago from Beautiful South

      Vlad, thank you for your nice comment. Truthfully, I actually have two more episodes rambling around in my head, and I really don't know whether to write them or leave the sad situation as is. I've had some other comments wanting more, so I may pull a Billybuc and make this into a series. That would be after my deadlines are all met at work, that is.

    • ValKaras profile image

      Vladimir Karas 

      2 years ago from Canada

      MizBejabbers---What a sad story, and so well told. Somehow I wanted it to continue, and say maybe something nice that happened to that poor woman---a week, a month, a year after.

      But then, maybe it's better this way, because---who knows---maybe another misfortune was about to befall her. Some folks are just not lucky.

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 years ago from Beautiful South

      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.

    • profile image

      johnmariow 

      3 years ago

      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 imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 years ago from Beautiful South

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

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 years ago from Beautiful South

      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.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 

      3 years 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.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

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

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 years ago from Beautiful South

      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.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      3 years ago from london

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

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 years ago from Beautiful South

      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.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      3 years 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 imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 years ago from Beautiful South

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

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

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

      Lawrence

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 years ago from Beautiful South

      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.

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 years ago from Beautiful South

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

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      3 years ago from USA

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

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      3 years 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.

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 years ago from Beautiful South

      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

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      3 years 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 imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 years ago from Beautiful South

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

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 years ago from Beautiful South

      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.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years 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 imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 years ago from Beautiful South

      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.

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 years ago from Beautiful South

      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.

    • MizBejabbers profile imageAUTHOR

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      3 years ago from Beautiful South

      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.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      3 years 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.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      3 years 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...

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      3 years ago from Texas

      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

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