I was coming home from work the other day when I happened to pass a woman driving an old station wagon. What you would take away from that momentary observation is probably much different than what I did. For her sake and yours, I hope so. For the storyteller, inspiration is everywhere. If you find your creative processes stalled, forget the outline and the mechanics, and take a look around you!
The Old Station Wagon
The woman driving the old Ford station wagon―that’s right, a station wagon, not an SUV, mini-van, or crossover―the kind with the simulated―not faux, because nobody said “faux” back in 1972―wood panels, looked drawn, worn thin by life but determined, her vulnerability tenuously protected by the shell of the vehicle. She was not especially pretty, but may have been once. Something or someone had taken that from her. Now her hair was a little too dark to be natural, her face too old for her age, her features once soft were angular and cynical. Her blouse, with its simple check pattern, was well worn, but not frayed, and her collar lifted and fell in the warm breeze from the open window. Both the driver-side and passenger-side windows were open. No air conditioning on a blistering hot Florida day. It was the kind of day that no one would venture into without purpose.
The back seat that might have once held children―Sit quiet, kids. Look for the signs for South of the Border―was now filled with her entire world. Clothes, shoes, photographs, Jesus, everything that was of any value to her she had crammed into the back of the old station wagon and fled. Everything in there was from yesterday, and if she could have, if it had been practicable, she would have walked out naked, taking nothing with her but her own bones and flesh, leaving even the memories. But she couldn’t do that. One had to be practical. She had nothing more than a little gas money and clothes are expensive.
So are memories.
So she filled the station wagon with what she could and left the rest. And she supposed that when he awoke, with the pain of daylight cleaving his addled brain, that the reality of her leaving, of her complete divorcement would generate an anger so great that it would explode the walls of that terrible place. She had thought about it for a long time. All those wasted years hoping that somehow things would change, that Jesus was real and he would deliver her, but in the end she was on her own.
All on her own.
And it took a long time for her gather all that gasoline, to rig up the igniter, to be sure it would work. When he fought the ropes that bound him, she hoped he would smell the gasoline, that he would hear the click and whoosh of ignition, that he would know that he was trapped in his personal version of hell.
Periodically she checked the rearview mirror for a column of black smoke, but thought that by know the distance might be too great. She was gone and so was he. Really gone, finally gone. Everything was gone except for his screams. He was certainly the one screaming now, someone no one would come to rescue. When she had screamed no one had come. When she had cried for help no one had answered her. She had somehow survived, but not this time. He had never heard her screams, not him or the neighbors or Jesus, but she heard him. He was screaming as the flames ate his flesh, screaming as his eyeballs boiled in their sockets, screaming as he cursed her name. Her mind filled with his screams, screams that added to her own as the old station wagon drifted through the grassy median and into the southbound lanes.
The driver of the Peterbilt, the one with a full load of concrete conduit, following the accident, swore that he had never seen anything like it. The station wagon seemed to actually speed up before it hit his truck head-on. The force of the impact instantly killed the driver and splayed the contents of the old station wagon along half a mile of the interstate. The state police reported that the driver must have fallen asleep at the wheel. But there was a more terrible truth that they might have discerned had they been listening. Had they been listening, they might have heard the screams.
So what is your inspiration? Could you turn this chance encounter into a story with an entirely different tack? What’s more, could it inspire more than a short story, a novel? Have you had a similar inspiring encounter?
Do you write based on serendipitous inspiration or are you the type of writer that needs more structure―an outline, a conclusion to write to, a carefully defined genre, and full market analysis?
There’s nothing wrong with either approach as long as it works for you.