Recently I began reading Stephen King’s book “On Writing”, as an other way of improving my own crafting of stories. And even though it deals mostly with his becoming an author, it does feature the following exercise meant to help you write unplotted fiction in the spur of the moment. This is how it turned out.
The caregiver, surrounded by ten kids or so, is waiting in front of the daycare center for the parents to come pick them up. One by one they run towards their parents’ cars.
Michael pulls off and begins scrutinizing the little crowd until he sees her. Little Nell, with her light brown princess locks falling over her sky blue dress, round cute face. He gets out of the car and as soon as she sees him, she begins running with her arms open “Daddy!”
He scoops her up, salutes the old lady which has come to be very accustomed to him, and then they get in the car. On the way, Nell asks “Do we visit mom today?” There is such innocence in her eyes and voice, that Michael would be moved, were it about anyone else other than Alice. Her happiness begins to fade as well when Michael reminds her this is not possible as she will spend the weekend at Aunt Marie’s house, for her cousins’ Birthday. Aunt Marie will be there to pick her up from the station where the bus will leave her. They hug for a minute and he promises to come pick her up on Sunday and spend the rest of the day with her. When the bus leaves, he drives off.
It is hard being the single dad of a little girl, but they just have to do. It’s good enough he didn’t become a nut job like her mother. She often asks about her, seeing the other kids picked up by their moms. But how do you explain to your almost four year old child that you think their mom is a complete paranoid control freak who wrecked your marriage out of jealousy? How do you explain why you got a divorce, what it is like to be stalked and fear for your child’s safety, and what a restraining order is? And after that incident six months ago, when she jumped in front of the car, just as they were getting back from the park… How do you make your child forget such a scene? Her mother all over the car’s windshield, rushed to the hospital and as if it wasn’t enough, then diagnosed with schizophrenia and checked into a mental institution ever since?
Having arrived at home, he pulls the car into the driveway, still thinking about Nell. She has been asking to visit mom a lot recently, and he always has to come up with a good excuse. It is exhausting.
He gets out of the car and into the house. Just before closing the door, a strange feeling creeps up on him. It’s like his wife’s presence is nagging at the back of his mind, but not as she usually does. Today the feeling is much stronger and discomforting. “Must be all this thinking and Nellie’s request” he tells himself.
He goes into the kitchen and boils some water, to make himself a coffee. It’s only 2p.m., but he has so much paperwork to finish, and afterwards the entire house to clean up. And the laundry to wash. He has been trying to sell the house as it is too big for just the two of them, and thinking about moving to his brother’s for a while and looking for a smaller place, easier to keep. But no luck has showed up yet.
Pouring half the water onto the coffee and taking his cup with him, he goes into the living room, and sits on the couch, a big pile of documents and bills on the coffee table in front of him. Before starting, he allows himself a couple minutes of rest and turns on the TV. It’s on the news channel he was watching last night, after tucking Nell into bed. At first he ignores the news clerk, staring right through him, mind wandering. But as the pictures of three women appear on screen, his heart freezes.
“One of the three women has been found and is safely back into the hospital, but the other two are still missing. Authorities are contacting their families, and a special unit will be sent to the their former homes, as the doctors consider their families to be the first people they will try to come into contact with. If you see the women, please try not to engage them in any way as their condition can make them become violent easily, and contact the number shown on the screen.”
The clerk moves on to the next subject, but Michael is frozen in place. What is to be done? Could she be near? Could she be going after Nell? “No, she will probably try to get me, after what happened. She did believe I run her over intentionally to get her away from Nellie. The things her mind can come up with now!” Suddenly, he realizes what it was that made him uncomfortable earlier. It’s something so small, he didn’t even realize it. Only Alice used to lock the door twice. He cannot remember doing it, since she left. Yet he had to turn the key two times to unlock. Somehow, his subconscious picked this clue up, thus the strange feeling of familiarity. Realizing this, he feels his heart rate quickening. “Thank God Nell’s away!”
He urges himself to get up and believes he might have caught a stuffed creaking sound coming from the hallway. The top step of the stairs is sometimes creaking, if you step right next to the wall. If you try to sneak around.
Is this really happening?! Michael gets up all at once, the adrenaline helping him overcome the shock and frozen state he was in. He goes towards the hallway, but stopping and taking cover on this side of the wall. Remembering it is best to avoid conflicts with mental patients, he decides to try the persuading card.
“Alice? I know it’s you, honey. Have you come to visit me? How nice of you!”
“Don’t you dare call me nice, after what you did to me, you piece of shit!” she snarls, now at the bottom of the stairs.
“Please, listen. I didn’t even see you until you jumped in front of the car! How could you believe I would do such a thing?”
“To take Nellie from me, you moron! You couldn’t be content with ruining me! You had to take Nell, just to show me that you can!”. She is facing the door towards the living room. Could step in any moment now.
“Let’s talk about it, ok? I’ll make coffee for both of us. Let’s sit and talk.”
“Fuck you and your coffee! I came after Nell! Where is she?”
“She’s not coming here, Alice. You’re not going to see her today.”
After a brief pause, things seem to have calmed down. Just as Michael considers getting out and meeting her, she comes into the living room, screaming from the top of her lungs. Totally enraged, she does not see him in time, so he passes behind her and gets out the way she came in, running towards the kitchen. He goes straight for the telephone on the wall, the screams following closely behind. Picking it up, he notices that the wire has been severed, and the scissors lying nearby. Alice catches up, clawing his back and kicking around chaotically. He is faster and gets away from her, but is now cornered. She stops screaming, watching him carefully from across the kitchen table. Her eyes aren’t hers anymore, but those of a rabid animal.
“You miserable fuck!… Are you hiding her from me?! Is that how you want to play?!”
“You think I’m playing?! With my daughter’s safety?!”
“YOUR daughter?!” she snarls, angrier than before. She desperately looks around. Seeing the knives holder, she reaches it before he can react. While she picks one up, he darts out into the hallway again. He hears glass shattering behind him, a knife falling on the floor. Then another noise. Her body stumbling over the stove. An agonizing scream. The boiled water dripping to the floor. He stops for a moment, her scream causing him pain. He wants to help her. But how?! And how could he calm her anyway?
Just as he questions going back, several cars are approaching, tires creaking as they pull in front of the house. People are getting out and approaching the house. Great! Help is here. He opens the door, just as Alice enters the hallway at the other end and throws another knife. This one flies directly past him, slightly scratching his left arm before sticking itself into one of the medics’ shoulder.
Michael falls hands first on the grass, Alice’s screams following him outside. He turns towards the house again, as police and the unit sent by the mental hospital surround it.
Other: Google (unfortunately couldn’t track it
to a deviant account or something like that)