Extenuating circumstances

by | Jul 29, 2012 | Fiction, Flash fiction | 10 comments

Here’s the next episode in the connected flash fiction project. Once I reach what I can reasonably call a conclusion to this series, I plan to use the episodes as a starting point for a longer story or maybe even a novella. What do you think?

Extenuating Circumstances
By Laura McHale Holland

He walks away, one hand in a side pocket of his crisp new jeans, the other clutching a cheap vinyl bag. His toes, tucked into white crew socks, rub the sides of sneakers a half size too small. He could have waited five or ten minutes for the guard to fetch the right size, but he could already see the sunshine through the window of the heavy metal door, the road winding in the distance, an oak tree standing majestically at the corner.

Photo by Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

He breaks into a trot, brick walls, barbed wire, guard towers at his back. After only five years in prison for kidnapping a girl he’d known vaguely in high school, along with her baby daughter, he is a free man. And his victim, Carly, is the reason he is now gulping fresh air and feeling the winds of new possibilities on his face.

He was a drug-addled youth at the time of his crime, and his public defender disdained him as much as he loathed himself. He had no defense. But then Carly enlisted competent lawyers to work on an appeal. “You were hired to kill me and my baby, and you didn’t go through with it. I will always appreciate that. And I think there must have been extenuating circumstances,” she wrote him when she hired his legal team.

A bus pulls up just as he reaches the oak. He pats the tough bark of the trunk, then boards. He smiles at the sound of change clinking in the fare box as he shuffles down the aisle. He takes a window seat near the back, opens the window and leans his head back as the bus chugs forward. He relishes the views: rolling hills, acres of crops, farm houses, truck, small towns, children racing on bikes, couples tending flower beds, dogs lazing on porches.

Hours later, the bus is just outside his hometown. He pulls two scraps of paper from the pocket of his jeans, unfolds them, studies them. One contains Carly’s address; she has a good job waiting for him. The other holds the phone number of a former cellmate; he has a good job waiting for him, too. He folks one note and puts it back in his pocket. He crumples the other, throws it on the floor of the bus and waits for the driver to call out his stop.


All of the episodes in this series in the order in which they were posted follow:

Back pocket wishes

Cascading to the sea

Right through the heart

Away today?

A dime a dozen

She doesn’t know them

On the seat

A pillar of the community

He needs a friend

Double rainbow

The one he always wants to hear

Give it some time

It gives my life meaning


Extenuating circumstances

 The four of us

Share this:

The Kiminee Dream: Now Available!

My new novel is coming soon. Mark your calendar!

Influenced by folklore and magical realism, The Kiminee Dream is a lyrical story with characters equally charmed and challenged while living where the ordinary and miraculous coexist seamlessly. If you like depth as well as whimsy, arresting twists, and details that rouse your senses, you’ll love what is both an eloquent exploration of acceptance and a tender tribute to the people of Illinois.


  1. Eve Trout

    Thanks for your comment, Eve. I wonder which job he’ll be taking? Carly’s or the cell mate? Is Carly making a mistake by having him set free? Can’t wait for the next installment. Excellent Laura.

  2. admin

    I wonder, too. I hope it wasn’t a mistake for Carly to help him, but it might make a more interesting story if he messes up. We’ll see.

  3. Nancy LaTurner

    “He smiles at the sound of change clinking in the fare box…” — what a marvelous phrase! As always, I savored every word of the whole piece, but found this tidbit especially delicious. In a dozen words you bring the scene to life and show us his state of mind.

    I’m eager to see the separate stories woven into a novella. I have a feeling the whole will be greater than the parts.

  4. Barbara Toboni

    I vote for a novella. Can’t wait to see what the kidnapper decides. Trouble with writing it this way is you forget kidnapper’s name by the time you read the next installment, but I think that is the only drawback in writing a story this way. You can always reread the older posts.

  5. admin

    Thanks, Barbara. I think writing this way is stretching me, and that’s a good thing. I never gave the kidnapper a name, but I think when I begin revising, he’ll get one.

  6. admin

    Thanks for the appreciation, Nancy. I enjoyed when his smiling at the sound of the clinking change came to mind. And I’m now sporting a very contented smile, knowing you like that phrase. :o)

  7. Anthony Pires

    I vote for a novella

  8. admin

    Thanks, Anthony. I’ve never written a novella; it would be a challenge. I think I’m heading in that direction with this.

  9. Wordwranglingwoman

    Laura, I’m hooked. Notes nice touch. Www

  10. admin

    Thank you, Www! How’s your writing going these days?


  1. Smiles - [...] Extenuating circumstances [...]
  2. The one he always wants to hear - [...] Extenuating circumstances [...]
  3. On the seat - [...] Extenuating circumstances [...]
  4. The four of us - [...] Extenuating circumstances Filed Under: Fiction, Flash fiction Tagged With: family, fiction, flash fiction, forgiveness, love, marriage, relationships, reunion [...]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up here to receive your free copy of Just In Case

Subscribe to Laura McHale Holland’s newsletter

Thank you! Watch your inbox, your welcome email should arrive soon.