The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for June, 2011

A friend of mine saw an oddity today, and posted a challenge on facebook to come up with a fun backstory to it.  I might have gotten a little carried away, I don’t know.  This is still pretty raw, but thought I’d throw it out there…



Ann climbed the concrete slope under the bridge one more time, making sure her little girl still was safely tucked in blankets and cardboard, and then ventured out with her present. She had finished sorting through the bag of clothes donated to the women’s’ shelter and given to her, finding what fit, what didn’t fit – and what she could not wear. Much of what she had received had been usable in some way. But there were a few articles that made no sense – a man’s pair of jeans, a coat that could have fit two of her, 3 dresses that didn’t fit at all and probably were beyond wearing by anyone.


And a pair of fabulous shoes.


The shoes fit perfectly. It was almost as if they had been made for her. But bright red, with 4” heels – she had put them on, dreamed with them, walked a few awkward steps in them – but they were not her. She could not wear something so out of place with her situation in life. She set them in the “donations” pile hesitantly, wishing and dreaming. But these shoes did not fit into her life.


The “donations” pile was a pile she always made each time she got a box. She would take the articles in that pile, and put them in places where people who needed just that sort of article would be most likely to find them. She had earlier taken the jeans and coat to the opposite corner of the onramp, across the onramp’s road and placed them lightly on the fence that kept animals – and people – from accidentally wandering onto the busy freeway above. She knew there were men there that would find them.


The dresses she set another block away, behind a tree where another woman would probably pass, walking through the park there where she frequently patrolled. And then Ann returned to her bridge, laid her little girl down to sleep in the nooks formed by the bridge girders, and looked again at the shoes, thinking hard.



Charlotte twitched with the eager energy of someone absolutely bored to tears, anxious to do something, anything, ready for a good excuse for something crazy. She had never been especially good at long-term relationships, because of this boredom of hers. It had landed her in hot water with the law occasionally, but her reputation as a scientist had gotten her out of anything serious. People would often say, “oh, that’s just Charlotte”, and try to pretend nothing serious had ever happened. Brilliance in her profession had excused things before, but had never explained them. And explanation was all she had ever wanted. She could not understand why she could not stick with anyone, why everything in her near-celebrity life made her so restless, why she sought for something new constantly. And it sometimes hurt. It hurt to know people didn’t understand. It hurt to know there was something wrong inside. But it did not hurt nearly as bad to leave a relationship as it did to stay in it.


On this morning, a brutal fog made her glad she had a driver. She often felt silly, having a car come for her that was not hers, and a chauffeur open the door for her. It made her feel even more isolated, and something unreal always lurked inside the gaping maw of the open limousine door. But on this day she was glad not to be the one at the controls. She stared intently at the passing road, trying to guess if she was able to see further than the driver. But it was the road, precisely, that she watched, and not the traffic. Suddenly, out of nowhere she yelled, “Stop the car!” The driver’s sudden lurch to the shoulder only helped the door open faster.

When the idea first hit Ann’s mind, she nearly clapped with glee at the though of the scene that would unfold. It was almost a wicked thought, and she checked herself. It was an unchristian thought, she told herself, to tap into the vanity of the privileged ones, and tempered her image into a kinder way of thinking of it. And then she stole away from her sleeping child, on a mission of joy only she would ever understand.

She had waited until the wee hours, because being out where she could be seen was too risky. She furtively dashed up the onramp until she reached the top, and measured herself up against the “Merging Traffic” sign before counting off 20 paces beyond it. And there, 20 diminutive paces beyond the 82nd street onramp “Merging Traffic” sign, she delivered her payload. Two minutes later she lay beside her daughter, snickering in her mind at the vain but happy discovery some rich lady would have the next morning, one pair of bright red fabulous pumps found on the side of the freeway, free for the taking. The sound of an early morning motorcycle accelerating onto the freeway more than covered the quiet laughter.


Charlotte was already back up the freeway before the car completely stopped. The chauffeur tumbled out as fast as he safely could, already knowing the only thing he could do is follow and hope for the best. He caught up with Charlotte 200 yards up the freeway. She was holding a red pair of shoes, and repeating over and over, “This is so weird! This is so weird”, twirling around as if she expected a fairy godmother to pop into existence at any moment.


“What, precisely, is so weird?” came a man’s voice that was not any of the ones she expected.

She looked around her, and realized it was not the chauffeur who had spoken. Both she and the chauffeur realized with a shock that raised the hair on their necks that the voice was from a very large biker crouched next to his machine, shrouded in the fog on the onramp. His motorcycle sat silent, and he had a screwdriver in his hand, still held up to the bike. He spoke into his machine, as if the question were not intended for her. But since neither the bike nor Charlotte responded, he repeated his question, this time looking over his shoulder, his hands still held to the machine, “What, I said, is so weird about standing on the side of this freeway in the fog in what I can only refer to as your Sunday best?” The question had a slight sense of irritation to it, as if she’d interrupted him from a meditation. In a way she had, but she did not know this about him yet. All she knew was that the leather jacket tossed over the seat could have clothed her, the chauffeur, her best friend Kim and possibly a large dog, all at the same time. She had to stop herself from the fleeting question of whether it was one cow’s hide that clothed many such men, or many cows who clothed this one. It was one of those types of questions that came to her in times of stress, and one of those that had gotten her in trouble more than once for asking out loud. To her own surprise, she actually answered the question.


“These shoes. They were sitting here on the freeway.”


“Yes. I see a fair number of shoes on the freeway”, said the biker, in a way that made her think this moment beside his bike was one he was very familiar with. “It’s not as weird as you might think”


“But these shoes are mine”, she wheedled, as if talking to her mother explaining her way out of possession of the neighbor’s pie plate. The act fell flat, and she was suddenly brought back to the reason she was standing, in the fog, on the freeway in early morning traffic, with an anxious chauffeur and a really big, broken down biker. The gravity of the situation dawned on her in a way the chauffeur had thought about 50 yards ago. She took a step towards the chauffeur, which was conveniently a step further away from the biker. It occurred to her that a good explanation might protect her. “These shoes – I saw them as we went past. They are mine! Well, they were mine, until I gave them away last week. And then I changed my mind, but I went to the donation center and they were already gone and…” her words were gushing out so fast they crashed into one another, and it was evident that the sound of them disturbed his meditation.


The biker rose slowly, and turned in a way that can only have the proper effect in a fog. She stopped talking, feeling suddenly like a little girl nattering about her tea yesterday with Ms. Matilda, the doll in the corner, and all the news that dolls like Ms. Matilda’s were prone to have, cares about the state of the stuffed animals, and worrying about whether Darjeeling was really any better than Earl Grey on a day like this and didn’t she think the curtains would be better served trying to match with a different bed cover…

He carefully set his tools down inside the roll unfolded on the tank, picked up the rag laying next to it, and began meticulously wiping his hands, looking at her with his head turned just a little aside, as if listening to a curiousity at the county fair. It made her feel uncomfortable, as if she were about to be examined for broken parts as well, and she decided to stop sounding like something broken. She stepped a little to one side, then back clutching and glancing at the bizarre discovery in her hands, unsure whether the next gesture from him would be helpful or dangerous.

His face was a cross between the Ghost of Christmas Present and Captain Ahab. Sun, wind, and miles had done a lot of work to create lines on his face, but they had formed in laughter, and he bore the look of an old man smiling regardless of what he wanted to look like. She decided perhaps he was trying to look serious now, and without him actually asking the question, she held the shoes aloft as evidence.

“Interesting”, he intoned, and looked back down the onramp as if a thought had stuck its head out from around the corner, beckoning. He sniffed the air, and thought hard for a moment, as if in a trance, and neither of the two people before him thought to interrupt him. A minute passed and his thinking was clearly of something or someone so entirely different than them that Charlotte began to feel as if she were intruding just to be standing there.

He stirred, began to say something, changed suddenly and addressed the chauffeur instead, “Who, precisely, are you?”


“Jeffrey, Sir”, the chauffeur responded stiffly. “ I am Ms. Charlotte’s driver, and am here at her service”, the last part aimed at nudging her to recall the car, the destination, and perhaps a thought for their mutual safety. Charlotte blithely ignored all three. The biker looked the driver up and down, glancing twice at Charlotte and back again, apparently assessing his worthiness for such service.


“How long have you been here?” she asked, holding the shoes up at him again as if the question was supposed to answer more than a quantity of time.


“Oh, I don’t know. Tune-ups are less a matter of time and more a matter of sound” he said slowly, as if all three were standing in a brick garage somewhere safe and sheltered from the elements, and a philosophical discourse on harmony with one’s machine was the most pertinent topic available. He started to disengage, to return to the work at hand.


“And you just come here on the freeway to tune up your bike?” she asked incredulously, completely forgetting the shoes.


“Well…” he said, pondering, “I want the bike to smell where it’s going, to be in the mood it will be in while on the highway” He said, and at first she thought he was serious, until she caught the tail end of his eyes rolling as he was turning away, chuckling silently.


“wait!” She cried, losing her sense of intimidation. “Did you see anyone while you were here?”


“Did I see someone stop by, and drop off a pair of shoes for you? No!” he said, mildly amused. “They said they were for a miss Amelia Earhart, and if I were to see her, would I please see to it that she notices and receives them.” “But…” and he paused himself, almost getting caught in another thought again, “…I have only seen one person today, and she was down there” he nudged his head back down the onramp. “I wouldn’t expect her to have anything to do with those shoes though. I think she was homeless, she’d have picked them up if she knew about them, I expect.” And with that he reached back in to his bike’s mechanicals. Charlotte was already gone, running down the onramp. Jeffrey stood, watching her disappear, watching the biker return to his work, and wondered if he shouldn’t just return to the car for all the good he seemed to be doing.


Ann’s sleep had been more disturbed than even usual this morning. Amongst the various highway sounds that always kept her sleep light, something else she couldn’t quite finger gnawed at her efforts at unconsciousness. Something was thinking about her. It made her uneasy – she had felt this feeling before, in fact, it was a recurrent thought that formed the main reason she was living under this bridge. She knew, in her head, that it was just the paranoia, that nothing was really there. But that sense in her heart that Something knew about her, and wanted to know more – was after her – kept her on the run. She had moved from house to house, from man to man, until eventually she had given up on houses, and given up on men, because the Something always found her, always came sniffing around, never showing itself, just thinking…just seeking her, and driving her insane.  She had a child to think about now, and didn’t want the insanity to return.  But now, in this early morning, she felt it again. Something wasn’t quite as it was usually. And she felt afraid.


Daylight was driving back the shadows, and Ann knew it was time to move on to the shelter for something to eat. Her young daughter stirred, and woke, and that made it necessary to move on with her day. She gathered the two bags she allowed herself, and her daughter, checked for cars so no one would see her descend, and began to shuffle down the slope to the sidewalk. Her kind thoughts of secret generosity had disappeared, and she was on the run again. As she reached the bottom, a woman’s voice startled her from behind.


“Excuse me!”, called the woman. Ann wanted to run back up to the girders, but she knew it was useless. She heard the woman’s running and turned, ready to be ashamed. The woman had stopped running, and now stood with mouth agape, staring. Ann’s gaze hung near the ground, heavy with expectation.

Charlotte rounded the corner of the offramp, and saw a mother furtively descending from the girders of the bridge. She flailed the shoes towards the woman, and bounded towards her, hoping to catch up before the woman reached the bottom. They arrived at the same time, and she called to the woman twice, “excuse me…EXCUSE ME!” As the woman stopped and turned, whatever Charlotte was going to say fled her mind, as yet another shock sprung itself upon her.

The woman was exactly the same height as Charlotte. Her stance was not so upright, and her face was worn with cares and fears Charlotte could not imagine. But it was Charlotte’s own face. Her stance bore the same underlying strength, her face, beneath the lines of worry bore the same radiance and intelligence. They looked more than just sisters. They looked like the same person. Charlottes shocked stare lasted long enough for Ann to look up and return the gaze.


“Ann?” Was the only word spoken. It had been so long since Ann had heard that name used that it took a moment to sink in and process, an another moment to sink in that this person knew her name. She looked again, squinting to get a clearer view of this unknown Someone that knew her name. The eighteen years since their last meeting had been a lot longer for her than for Charlotte, and it took a lot longer for her mind to traverse that span of time before she could comprehend what was happening. But when she did, she dropped her two bags, nearly dropped her child, and dropped herself to her knees, caught only at the last minute by her twin sister.  The red shoes, still held in Charlotte’s hand, were soon stained with tears of joy shared between them on the fog-dampened sidewalk.