Hey guys! I can’t share my story over at the forum because it’s gone to hell, so I figured I’d share it here! This is © Meg Kimball, 2020. My assignment was to write a 1,000-word story taking place at a newsstand with the genre of historical fiction and the inclusion of a parking meter. (Because there have been so many parking meters throughout history, am I right?) MAJOR shout-out to my beta readers again!! You guys are great!! All of your comments helped turn an unclear story into a more cohesive one!
Out of Her Hands
Jeanne jerked upright in bed with a gasp. She’d had her recurring nightmare, the one where her beloved proposed to her and then died on their wedding day. But it wasn’t just a bad dream. It was real, and it was her fault. If only she’d never met him… he would’ve been elsewhere. The car wreck wouldn’t have happened.
But this morning’s nightmare was worse… something about letting go and falling… falling…
Peter. Are you there? Over the past five years, Jeanne often sensed him lingering in the spaces between her waking life and her dreamscapes.
“Top of the morning, princess.” Lamar exited their bathroom with shaving cream on his face. “Sure you want to spend your day off with me?”
She loved Lamar for different reasons but often feared he’d die, too. At least they weren’t engaged. She nodded, stretched, and forced a smile.
Lamar owned a newsstand. Jeanne worked for a realty firm, but she only had minor appointments that day, which she’d delegated to colleagues.
The early morning rush kept Jeanne busy. Lamar appreciated the help since his employee was having surgery. After 8:00, the morning crowd thinned.
“Hey, Jeanne, do we have any more of the Times?” Lamar pointed to a box in the corner.
Jeanne opened the box and saw a startling message taped to the pile: Jeanne, Will You Marry Me? Below it was a photo of her and Lamar. She turned and took in his dumb grin, his lopsided hat, his eager hope for a positive response.
Insensitive brute. She raced up the sidewalk. He signed his own death warrant, and I’m supposed to be happy about it. Dammit!
Opening her flip phone, she dialed her best friend Ruthie’s office landline.
“Jeanne? What’s up?”
“He proposed, the brute. He freakin’ went there.”
“Yay! Oh, that’s wonderful news. Congratulations!”
“It’s a mess. I shouldn’t have flipped out, but…” Jeanne slowed her stride. “I should go back, right?”
“You left? Oh! He loves you. He’ll under—”
BOOM. The earth shook. Jeanne bumped into a parking meter. “Ruthie? What happened? Are you okay? We had an earthquake…?”
Jeanne heard ongoing screaming through the phone.
“Oh my God! The other tower… hit. We can see it… window,” Ruthie shouted over the din. “Someone… an airplane.”
“What?!” Jeanne turned toward the World Trade Center. Heavy black smoke hugged one tower in a claustrophobic death grip.
“Oh my God, people… up high… going to jump,” Ruthie yelled. “Don’t jump!”
“Get out!” Jeanne rushed toward the towers. “Get out of the building now.”
“No, no, the other… hit, not mine. I’m fine…. are more jumpers.”
“Dammit! Get out of that building right now! Just do it.”
Jeanne stopped speed-walking and took several breaths. Faster action might’ve saved Peter after his accident. Jeanne needed to catch her breath and fix this. “Ruthie? Talk to me.”
“Yeah… here. No one… what to do. It’s—it’s crazy.”
“I’m telling you: hang up the damn phone and get the hell out of there. Now.”
“Uh, sure, okay. Love…!” Click.
Jeanne continued the trek toward the towers. Several blocks nearer, she shut her eyes and prayed to a God she no longer admired. Spare Ruthie, and I’ll return to You. I promise. Just get her out of there.
She opened her eyes in time to see a plane fly into Ruthie’s tower. BOOM. Part of the plane went all the way through and kept going.
Her phone rang, displaying Lamar’s name onscreen. “Lamar?”
“Jeanne? What’s happening? Everyone’s saying—”
“I have to find Ruthie.”
She slammed her phone shut.
She neared the towers. People were leaping to their deaths, and rescue workers were rushing around in a helpless dance. This wasn’t happening, couldn’t be happening. Peter, I need you.
She scanned the chaos. Wasn’t that Ruthie’s coworker? Jeanne broke into a run, passing the towers and continuing to a nearby café. She raced inside. “Rafael,” she panted, sitting across from him. “Where’s Ruthie?”
He stared past her. “I don’t know. Lost her. Said she had to grab something off her desk, I think?” His expression went vacant, unseeing.
Jeanne shoved his words from her mind. It didn’t matter if Ruthie grabbed something. It mattered if she got out.
She tuned out the people rushing around outside. Peter, you have to save Ruthie from her own stupidity. Please don’t let me down.
I’m here, Peter whispered. I’ve got eyes on Ruthie. Believe in me, love. I’m always with you.
For well over half an hour, she scanned the outside area for any sign of Ruthie. No luck.
She thought hard. Ruthie would probably go to the newsstand. Jeanne had to get back there. Her phone rang. It was Lamar again.
“Have you seen Ruthie?” she asked immediately.
“What? No. Where is she?”
“I don’t know. I begged her to leave the building. She wouldn’t listen.”
“I’ll look out for her.”
“I’m coming back. Bye.” Jeanne left the café and ran. Suddenly, the earth roared and moaned, opening itself up to swallow an entire building. Jeanne grabbed ahold of a parking meter. Dirt. Debris. Tiny scrapes on her skin. She opened her eyes. The world had been powdered. She coughed and kicked her way through dry slush. White papers flew through the air, untainted confetti of the innocent dead. The silence was an inviolate sanctity.
Jeanne put one foot in front of the other and quieted her mind. She didn’t let herself picture the best-friends paperweight on Ruthie’s desk. If that’s what Ruthie had gone back for… No, surely, she’d gone back for her purse. But…
In a flash, Jeanne intuited that Peter’s death wasn’t her fault. Life followed an unpredictable pattern that wasn’t her burden to bear. It was God’s. Sobs overtook her. She turned a corner. Almost there.
I love you, Peter—always and forever, Jeanne said silently. If Ruthie joins you, take care of her. She staggered toward the newsstand, ready to embrace her own salvation.