Flash Fiction: In Need by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write about a chance encounter. Today’s tale comes to you (a day late) from (the very frazzled) Val Muller, author of the Corgi Capers mystery series, who is currently teaching full time from home, while also writing, and watching her young kids, and corgis.

In Need

By Val Muller

They. Just. Needed. To. Nap.

Why was that so much to ask? An hour or two a day or silence, without unending questions from a preschooler, without a million consecutive “no’s” from a toddler. Social distancing requirements said nothing about taking a drive, and that’s just what she did.

Why was the universe punishing her for it?

The car ride had been amazing at first. The two of them conked out in about twelve minutes, and Hannah sped through the country roads, enjoying the spring foliage and rolling farms. She cracked her window to let the fresh air wash over her, when suddenly the car was overwrought with stench.

Was it the baby? Had he soiled himself?

Or was it manure from the farm nearby?

There was no way to tell. She slowed a bit and opened the back windows, just enough to let the car air out. They’d be past this particular farm in about thirty seconds, so if it was manure, it would wash out of the car. If it was the baby, well…

The rushing wind did not wake the kids, and she drove a bit longer with the windows open. It was nice. Refreshing. Symbolic. Washing all the stress of the international closures, the pandemic, away. Nature had that habit—of making everything seem fine, normal.

Except that nature had a sense of humor, too. The wind curled the corner of the sleeping child’s favorite blanket and picked it up with just enough force that it overcame her gentle clasp and sent it sailing, like a kite, out the window.

Hellen slowed, but of course—of course—there were two cars behind her. She could not slow or stop on such a narrow road. The two of them saw the blanket fly out—they had to have—but they did not stop. The driver of the sedan directly behind her wore a mask and kept the windows up. The woman—at least Hellen thought it was a woman, wrapped up in gear like that—simply shook her head and kept driving. The truck behind the sedan slowed for a moment, as if pondering what to do, but ultimately decided to plod on.

Normally a blanket is just a blanket, but this particular blanket was a custom job, a quilt made of scraps of Halloween blankets, the girl’s favorite holiday. What’s more, it had her name embroidered using scraps from the household, and each one now had a unique meaning and a unique physical feel for the child. She often lulled herself to sleep running her fingers over the familiar stitching.

To say she would be devastated was an understatement.

There were no side roads and no driveways. Hellen kept going, wondering when she could slow or turn around, and where the blanket would be by that time. Finally, she came to a side road. It was dirt, and narrow, and rutted. Her minivan would never be able to turn around on it. Forget a three-point turn; she would be lucky to complete one in twenty.

So she simply stopped, put her flashers on, and gazed down the road as an unbelievably high number of cars rushed by on both sides. Wasn’t this a deserted road? In the middle of a pandemic? The road she had pulled down was situated at the top of a hill along a blind curve. Backing onto the road would be an invitation for an accident. How was she supposed to turn around?

Her only hope would be to drive down the rutted road and hope for a better place to turn. But how far down this rabbit hole was she willing to go? She glanced in the rearview mirror and imagined telling her daughter about the blanket.

It would not go well. She got out of the car and craned her neck down the road, hoping for a miracle. Couldn’t a gust of wind bring the blanket back to her?

Even if she were able to turn around, there was no telling where the blanket had gone. She hadn’t seen it land.

“Please!” she screamed.

Almost in answer, a deep hoooonk startled her.

Along the main road, a huge truck was coming to a stop. A man in a hat got out and waved. He was not wearing a mask.

“Need help? Broken down? Flat tire?”

Hellen shook her head. “Worse. My daughter’s blanket flew out the window, and when she wakes up, things are never gonna be the same.”

The man’s concerned face cracked into a smile. “Hold on.”

He hurried to his truck and returned, the blanket in his hand.

“This literally hit my windshield while I was driving. I was able to grab it before it flew away. I don’t know why I kept it in my cab. Something told me to.”

Hellen shook her head. “Even with the threat of the virus?”

He nodded.

She took the blanket and hurriedly reached back to cover her daughter. By the time she was finished, the truck driver was already in his cab, waving at her to back up onto the road. She got in the minivan and backed out, heading towards home. She waved a quick goodbye before realizing she never got to thank him, never got to know his name. But he was already gone, down the other side of the narrow road, followed by a line of cars, on his way to deliver more needed goods to more people in need.

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/


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