Ellie's Head: A micro-novel
Ellie's Head was originally written back in 2009 as part of a contest to write a 'Facebook Fictionette' back in the days when posts on Facebook were limited to 420 characters and spaces. The contest rules were that each participant had to write a piece of a story that would fit within that limit each day for 14 consecutive days, and that by the end of the 14 days, it had to be a complete short story.
I decided to up the ante on myself as a challenge. I forced myself to write each day's piece as a standalone chapter, a complete moment in a scene with all the elements of a scene (dialogue, characterization, action, rising tension, etc.). As a bit of a precision writing and editing practice, I determined each chapter would not just fit within the 420 character/space limitation -- each would be exactly 420 characters/spaces.
And so that how I wrote Ellie's Head in 14 days, one micro-chapter at a time. It was a fun exercise and a fun contest among writer friends on Facebook, and I stumbled across it the other day and gave it another read for the first time in years, and I still like it. So I decided I'd just share it here and hope enjoy!
ELLIE'S HEAD By: ROBB GRINDSTAFF
Ya see, we was just hanging out under the bridge, looking for someplace warm. Not causing any trouble. Not looking for any. Last thing we needed was trouble. Ellie had passed out in her tent with some guy. No one any of us knew. He gave me the creeps, but when Ellie's got her mind set on a bit of lovin', ain't no talking her out of it. Didn't occur to me she might not wake up. He was long gone. Never got a good look.
Cops was all over the place, asking us questions we didn't know no answers to. "Didn't you hear nothing suspicious? Didn't she scream?" "She always screamed," Jake said. "Ellie was a screamer." A young officer over by her tent puked. "Ain't you never seen a headless torso before, rookie?" "It's not that, Captain," the rookie replied, wiping his chin. "It's the smell." Seems when a head is cut loose, the bowels do too.
"Can we tell Ellie goodbye?" Jake asked the captain as the coroner's team loaded a black body bag into the van. "Sure." The cop spit on the ground and waited a beat. "Did you want to speak to her body or her head?" "Her head," I replied. "We should tell her we're sorry to her face." "Okay. As soon as we find it, we'll be sure and let you know. Apparently her lover wanted a souvenir." "Or maybe a little head," Jake said.
"The cops ain't a-lookin' for no homeless hooker's head," Jake said the next day. "Why don't we look for it?" "Where you gonna look? And if'n you find it, they gonna think you the one that hid it to start with." The last thing we needed now was to find Ellie's head. We was better off if it stayed hid. Or if the fool that took it got caught, or tried to sell it on eBay or somethin'. It'd be worth more'n Jake's, anyway.
Jake would walk up and down the riverbank, checkin' dumps ever'where, determined to find Ellie's head. He wouldn't talk to me, just come back every evenin' all glum. Third day, however, he comes runnin' outta breath. "I seen it. I seen it." I refused to go with him. He comes back half hour later looking glum again. "So it wasn't a head?" "It was a head all right." "Well, where is it?" "Weren't Ellie, so I thro'd it back."
"What'd you do that for?" Jake never did have no sense. He kicked the dirt with his worn out Converses, duct tape holding the soles to the uppers. "But you said if'n I found Ellie, them cops would think I'd done it. If I found a different head, they'd really suspect me, don't you think?" I guess he had a point, and he didn't have those very often. "Jake," I said, "seems we got us a serial decapitator living amongst us."
I tried to think of some plan to catch the killer, or at least make sure Jake and I weren't nicked for it. But it's hard to think when you're deep into the Mad Dog and Jake is hummin' old show tunes, a particularly irritating habit. "If the cops find that head, could they get my fingerprints off it?" "You tossed it in the river?" "Yeah, but it'll wash ashore again." "S'okay. Fish probably nibbled your prints off by now."
"Jake Camden, you in there?" The captain's voice busted into my tent and split my head in half. "Wrong house. Cardboard box, over there." Crunching boots faded across the gravel while Jake waited in his boxers and black socks. "Don't talk without no lawyer," I yelled. "Mind your own bid'ness. He's not under arrest. We just wanna talk." Jake pulled on clothes and sat in the back of the cruiser lookin' guilty of something.
I fretted over Jake most of the day. Boy was so simple, he'd admit to murder if they promised him ice cream. He'd confess to being homosexual if they threatened to take it away. He'd go down for Ellie's head even if he han't nothin' to do with it. Boy was too meek to kill a spider. Always take a stick to brush it away so's not to hurt it. Then, there he was in front of me, grinnin' like they let him eat the ice cream.
"Well, what did they say?" The tape had come off one of his shoes, so it flapped like a cartoon dog mouth and scooped up gravel when he kicked the ground. "They ask a lot a stuff that make no sense." Weren't much that would make sense to Jake. "Like what?" "If Ellie had anyone who would want her dead. And they asked about you two, if you had a thang." "What did you say?" He grinned. "I had to remind 'em you's both girls."
A week passed with no more heads lost or found. Cops didn't come round no more. They'd moved on to more important crimes and Ellie was long forgot. Not many in the world ever knew she existed, so can't rightly say they'd forgot. Jake stapled his shoes back together as we sat on the riverbank, said he's movin' to the shelter when it gets below freezin'. "I suspect that'll be by tonight, so you better git." "You cryin'?"
Two months had passed, the air gone bitter, when the rookie cop stopped by. "You the one who goes by Mike?" he asked. "Why you hasslin' me? I'm two weeks clean so I can see my kid at Christmas." "I got news. Ellie's head and body have been reunited." "Won't help to sew it back on." "No, just in the same freezer drawer. Captain said you might want to say your goodbyes before they close the case and dispose of the remains."
The clean smell of death in the morgue made my legs rubber. "This is her drawer," Rookie said, "but you don't want to look. She'd want you to remember her the way she was." She was a heroin-addicted whore living under a bridge. Not sure that's how she wanted to be remembered, either. I rested my hand on the vault and left it closed. "I'm sorry you're dead, Ellie. Hope you're someplace safe and warm. Well, not too warm."
"We're still trying to find her kin. She has the initials 'M.A.' tattooed on her buttocks. Any idea who that is?" "No, 'fraid I don't, Officer, uh …" "Dill." Officer Dill led me out of the morgue and into the gray metal cold outside, where death didn't smell so clean. "Mike, if you need anything, anything at all, let me know. And call me Tommie." He held out his hand. He had a firm but soft grip. "Mikayla. Mikayla Adams."
"Ellie's Head" was published in the short story anthology Summer's Edge by Elephant's Bookshelf Press in 2013.