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9D7A2263Esther Newton

Has been working as a freelance writer for fifteen years, regularly writing articles and short stories for magazines and newspapers such as Freelance Market News, Writers’ Forum, The New Writer, The Guardian, Best of British, The Cat, Woman’s Weekly, The People’s Friend and My Weekly to name a few, she has also won a number of short story competitions. These have been published in a collection, The Siege and Other Award Winning Stories, available from Amazon and all other on-line stores, in paperback and e-book format. A publisher has recently taken on Esther’s children’s book series; the first book will be coming out later this year.

Esther loves writing and enjoys helping other writers, which she achieves in her role as tutor for The Writers Bureau. In addition to tutoring, Esther has also started a blog, designed to provide writers with support, market information and advice. You can check out Esther Newton’s latest books here:

https://esthernewtonblog.wordpress.com/my-latest-book/

and her blog here

https://esthernewtonblog.wordpress.com

You can get a hint of Esther’s upcoming children’s book The Secret Dragon here.

Thank you Esther for agreeing to review our monthly challenge and for providing such encouraging insights into our stories!

The January Challenge

The new year kicked off with a slightly different approach to our challenges. We gave our members a choice of three prompts from which they could pick one, or more, challenges and weave a story around it in under 2000 words.

Here are the prompts:

The Room
One day as you were cleaning you noticed air being sucked towards the base of the wall near the cupboard. Perplexed you went closer to investigate. The air was going in, slightly yet in. You hold your breath and gingerly peel away at the wallpaper until a huge wrought iron door stands before you. Where…

Harold the Armchair
Write a story from the perspective of Harold the Armchair. What does he think about all day? Does he like being sat on? Do his parents approve of him being an armchair?

Abandoned hospital
Two people meet in an abandoned hospital, unaware that the other has been visiting too. Both have lost someone important in one of these rooms, and neither has been able to move on.

And here are the stories in no particular order.

The Room

By Glen Stansfield

How strange, I’ve never noticed that before. What on earth would cause that?

As a shaft of sunlight illuminates the tiny dust particles tripping off the end of my brush, each minute speck, a flickering star shining in its own tiny universe, is being drawn inexorably towards a metaphorical black hole at the base of the wall, a slow drift at first before accelerating to be devoured by the insatiable darkness. Perhaps not metaphorical, who knows how black holes work?

Professor Stephen Hawking does of course, maybe he could help out, but who am I trying to kid? Even his simplest of terms are often beyond me. The world and the universe happen, I don’t need any more of an explanation. In any case, I don’t move in those circles, not yet.

The chances of you catching me cleaning and having the sun shine on the same day are quite remote. This part of Scotland isn’t known for bright blue skies; combined with a total lack of interest in the more domestic chores and winning the lottery becomes a more likely prospect. That reminds me, it’s a rollover tomorrow: I better get a ticket.

The house has been mine for just over two years, yet it seems like only yesterday since Tanya and I separated. We could have worked harder at the relationship; I know that now, but I don’t think either of us did then, not until too late. So I moved away to concentrate on being a full time author and to hide my pain. I’m a romantic cliché in one of my own novels. God, I miss her.

Every author must dream of finding a remote cottage somewhere, sipping cups of exotic coffee, staring dreamily out of the window and waiting for a flash of inspiration to pop into your head, then bang away at the keys of an old typewriter until the latest best seller is ready to be snapped up by a publisher.

The reality is trying to peer through the rain before tapping away on a word processor in the hope something will make sense. Intersperse this with weekly visits to the nearest supermarket, fifteen miles away, to buy yet another jar of Nescafe instant, and you understand the real life of an author. Still, dreams cost nothing, and who knows, it might happen one day.

At least I’d managed to get the cottage part right, and I was published. Not properly published some would say. Self-publishing doesn’t count apparently. I’m selling books, what more do I need? And I retain full control. Master of my own destiny. ‘Aye, that’ll be right,’ as they would say around here.

One of the strips of wallpaper is curling up in the corner, right where the dust disappears. To be honest, most of the strips of wallpaper in this cottage are peeling in the corners. Perhaps something to do with the humidity, Glen Shiel Forest, only a stone’s throw away, sports the dubious title of being the wettest place in the United Kingdom. They should rename this the Wet Coast of Scotland; it doesn’t need a compass direction, everyone would still be able to find their way here – head for the dark clouds, you can’t go wrong. I wouldn’t swap though, not now, not even for all the fancy coffee in Harrods. The stunning view along Loch Duich is to die for, when you can see through the rain. Hard to believe palm trees grow in Plockton, only twelve miles away as the crow flies. Mind you, not being a crow, that would be more like twenty in my Land Rover.

I might be a little unfair when I say it always rains here, there are some gorgeous days. I think we had one last June. The locals say there are only two seasons, this winter and the last one.

They’re always pulling my leg, me being a Sassenach and all. I always thought it meant an English person, but they tell me it means anyone from the south, even Scottish lowlanders. It’s all in good fun, and they are so helpful and hospitable. Lovely people, a much overused phrase, but really quite appropriate in the circumstances. Of course, they think I’m as mad as a box of frogs; a writer no less. The world is my oyster and I choose this spot. I don’t think they truly appreciate what a pearl of a place they live in.

Apart from the amazing views there’s a strange smell in the atmosphere I find mildly intoxicating, something I never noticed down south, I think they call it freshness. No way I could go back to London now, not after living here.

Oh dear, I’m digressing again. No wonder it takes me a year to bang out one novel. Thank goodness I make enough to keep me fed and clothed. Keeping a roof over my head isn’t a problem. The proceeds from the sale of my tiny flat in London could buy me an entire estate up here, so paying cash for the cottage was a no brainer. And there is plenty to fall back on if my sales dry up, which at the moment they are showing no signs of doing, thank goodness.

I suppose I could always go back to teaching creative writing again, though I’m not sure how ‘failed author’ would look on my CV.

Right, brain, pay attention and stop wandering off into the wilderness. I wonder what’s underneath here. Maybe it hides a secret passage; the air is going somewhere. How fantastic would that be, my very own secret chamber? The cottage dates back to the early eighteenth century and Glen Shiel did see a battle between the Jacobites and the British Government forces. The whole area was in upheaval at some time or other. Perhaps this is the Scottish equivalent of a Priest Hole, but I’m not going to know unless I do something, am I?

Oh, the paper’s peeling away quite easily. It can’t be stuck down very well. This is too big to be a Priest Hole. They were tiny cramped places, well hidden. This is a whacking great iron door. Hard to hide one of them, without wallpaper anyway, and I’m not sure they papered the walls in those days, or did they? I must look it up sometime. You never know when a snippet like that could come in handy for a story, or a pub quiz.

I can’t see where it could go. There’s nothing behind there, only the bedroom, and I don’t remember seeing anything that might be a door in there. Damn, it’s locked. I’ll have a look for it on the other side.

No, the wall is solid in here. That can’t be right, why would anyone put a door in a wall and not have a hole on the other side? Now just a minute, why did I not notice that before? The bedroom feels to be shorter than it should. Could there be another room, maybe a storage cupboard? But why a wrought-iron door, and why cover it? Storage is severely lacking in this place. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to hide a cupboard.

We can settle that once and for all. Where did I put the tape measure? Man drawer: bound to be one in there.

Okay, ten feet, six inches, and the living room is fifteen feet, three inches. That’s twenty five feet, nine. It doesn’t add up. The passageway is twenty nine feet; I’m missing just over three feet. It has to be a cupboard. If only I had the key.

Oooh, now there’s a thought. I saw a bunch of rusty old keys hanging from the rafters in the outbuildings, when I moved the woodworking equipment in, maybe it’s one of those. I’ll bring the WD40 while I’m at it. A bit of lubing never goes amiss.

Why is it always the last key? Never, ever, do I get it right the first time. Another shot of WD and I reckon that will open. Ah, perhaps I should have sprayed the hinges too. That’s better.

Oh God, I can see another door, and it’s opening.

“Tanya? What the…?”

“What…I mean…how…I don’t know what I mean. What are you doing in there?”

“I live here, and I might ask you the same question.”

“You live in my wardrobe? How did you get in my apartment? Are you stalking me?”

“Tanya, please trust me. I’m as confused as you are but just come through here.”

Now the two of us are standing in my cottage, each looking as bewildered as the other. I don’t think even Stephen Hawking can explain this.

“John…I…”

“Me too.”

With our arms wrapped around each other, the day seems to have brightened considerably.

The universe must have known, even if we hadn’t at the time, and who am I to argue?

– End –

Harold Remembers

By Rohini Sunderam

I really should be dubbed Sir Harold, despite the moans from Father and Mother. They weren’t Armchairs. They came from “Superior Furniture” of a French persuasion. Mother could date her ancestry to Louis XIII all oak, walnut and austere perfection. Father had the more elegant and flamboyant Regency pedigree. I must have inherited my languor from him. Even so, he was more cabinets and escritoires and no one less than Charles Cressent is said to have designed a cabinet on his father’s side.

Then there’s me. An armchair. An upholstered armchair! The knots in their woodwork turned into horrified eyes overnight. If they’d had arms like me they’d have thrown theirs up in despair. What’s worse, I am now a La-Z-Boy. The ‘Z’ is pronounced Zee. So you can understand their despair. One more confession, I crossed the pond and came to Virginia in the Americas in 1935.

My parents and I have been incommunicado ever since.

I have had adventures, and a life far more exciting than theirs. They’re probably still locked away in Lord Stodge’s country manor in Boringhamshire. They’re happy I suppose if disappointed in their once promising offspring. I mean I have enough oak in me for the connection to them but, honey (I love American expressions), beyond that I’m as different from them as a pallet from a chest.

I came to Virginia with Arabella, a rich American heiress who married Lord Stodge’s cousin James, once removed on his mother’s side. Arabella’s family were tobacco planters and James was expected to and surprisingly did, work! The fresh Virginia air and the robust diet fired him up and he was up early and out on horseback for most of the day.

Arabella was left to her own devices. In her day she was the sauciest most piquant young woman in Virginia. She changed me from a stuffed armchair into a recliner in 1936. My parents probably heard of the conversion when she wrote to the Stodges. She was in my arms when she wrote the missive in her long flowing copperplate hand. Her writing tablet was balanced on her perfect knees, she had removed her stockings and her bare feet stroked the upper part of my lap most sensuously. Arabella and I have had some good laughs.

The furniture-makers said I didn’t have enough oak so my inner clever mechanisms are a combination of springs and inferior more pliable woods. I don’t care. Heritage is of no great importance. It’s what you do with your life that matters. When I was done, she sat down and rang for Cook.

“Do bring some cakes and tea, Cookie, I want to celebrate my new armchair!”

“Now you be watchin’ what you eat, Miz Arabella, can’t have y’all gettin’ fat.”

“Oh, Cookie, I’m not a little girl anymore! Besides, I’m married now.” She stretched out my footrest, eased my back down and wriggled with pleasure.

I’ve held some interesting people and had some extremely titillating experiences. In my arms Arabella became a contortionist, especially when entertaining certain gentlemen. The first time was when James went for a week to Richmond. Arabella entertained the neighbours with a luncheon. Along came a handsome young man from the Carolinas, Mr. Andrew Kirkland. He was tall, dark haired, had a waist almost as narrow as Arabella’s and sinuous, powerful hands. He was an artist of some kind.

That afternoon, after the guests and servants left and as the afternoon sun slanted over the horizon, he reclined, tilted up my footrest, and in no time, with that gritty voice of his, invited her to sit across his lap, her legs on either side of his narrow waist as his artist’s hands painted imaginary patterns on her thighs. Oh the sighs and the cries! After that first foray into this delicious affair Arabella couldn’t wait to try other excitements in my lap.

On James’ return, still flush from the thrill of Andrew Kirkland’s artistry, she persuaded her husband to experiment on me. But it didn’t quite work out. In his heightened state of ardour he pulled the lever and my footrest collapsed. I was flung off balance and lurched forward on my rockers. The resultant momentum forced the two of them off the seat. James heaved forward, throwing Arabella onto the floor as he fell across her, his arms and legs splayed in an ungainly heap. Arabella burst into a fit of giggles. James, mortified, jumped up, pulled up his trousers and ran up to the bedroom in a huff, his wife screaming in hysterical laughter behind him.

“Oh, Harry,” she murmured; she gave me the nickname that I bear to this day, “James is in essence a Stodge.” I was her confidant in all matters, especially those of the heart. “I must have Andrew Kirkland again, here!” she declared, after the misadventure with James.

So, whenever James went away for a few days, she contrived to call Mr Kirkland and always managed to make him stay for tea in the lounge. Cook would serve it with dainty cakes and retire to her quarters.

That’s when we discovered my lady’s flexibility. Andrew Kirkland could get her to sit on his lap, my footrest up, my back at just such an angle and Arabella’s long, lissom legs up around his neck, down by his waist, or swung all the way around my back, her ankles locked while Kirkland’s artistic and athletic abilities were tested to their limit. Oh the thrills! But, my rockers were sorely tried.

One morning in February 1937, about a year after my conversion, Arabella came down rather late for her morning tea. “Oh dear, oh dear, Harry,” she moaned. “I’m going to have a baby and I am so, so sick.” She kept a bucket next to her and frequently emptied the contents of her meal into it. Poor dear. There was nothing I could do other than allow my upholstered seat to accept her growing weight. She was sick the entire time.

It was the middle of September when James, preening like a peacock, called his friends and associates into the lounge. And there, sitting on me, Harold, his wife’s armchair, he distributed cigars to those present as he announced the birth of his son. His son! My footrest nearly kicked up of its own accord. But I kept it in control.

When the baby came, she brought him to me. “I wish I could call him Harry,” she said! I wished she could. He was after all, in a way, our baby. “I hope he ends up looking at least a little like James,” she whispered as she kissed and nursed him comfortably ensconced in my ample lap.

Baby James was the loveliest little infant you ever saw, and he dropped off to sleep in minutes, when Arabella rocked him in my arms. However, by the time he turned four it was difficult to get him to behave. He’d jump on my seat. Rock back and forth till my springs groaned. There was nothing for it. I decided he had to learn to rock gently. Yes, I admit, I leaned forward and tossed him onto the floor. He did rather bang his little head and yowl loud enough to bring Arabella and three maids rushing into the room.

“Oh! Jamie, poor darling baby!” they cried in one voice. No one thought about my poor rockers or me and my groaning springs. But the imp never rocked me that hard again.

Then there was that day in 1942, when my poor dear mistress sat weeping silently in my arms as she read the letter sent by Andrew; he was off to fight with the British in the war. “What is an artist going to do in the war?” she cried. “Dare I tell him that James is his?” One dainty handkerchief after another was wept into, blown into and the next we heard was that Arabella was sick in her room and delirious. A few days later they transported me from my place in the lounge to her bedroom.

What a delightful room! Pinewood and local oak made the room comfortable and elegant at once. The servants placed me near Arabella’s bed almost nudging a dainty oak bedside table. She belonged rather distantly to my father’s family. Dorothea pursed her table-top lip when she saw what they’d done to me. “An armchair! Harry, how dreadful. With all kinds of people sitting on you. I hope your parents don’t know.”

“I love being an armchair; I’m more use, more comfort and more service than you’ll ever be.” I didn’t say a word about Arabella and our shenanigans. I didn’t have to. Later that year, James declared that he was off to fight in the war.

“How will I manage without you?” Arabella wept. Quite genuine tears they were too.

“Oh, darling! Don’t worry, I’ve asked that nice gentleman in Blackberry Hill to look in every week.”

Mr. Skinner was our next fling. Arabella showed him what to do while delicately seated in my lap. He was nervous at first and when he protested, she pursed her lips, “James said you were to take care of my every need.” She kissed him gently on his forehead.

Dorothea was aghast. “Next they’ll be on the bed!” They were.

All went well until an official letter arrived announcing that James was a hero in the war and decorated… posthumously. For weeks Arabella lay in my arms weeping and wouldn’t go down. “What are we going to do? How will we manage?”

Cook came up one day. “Miz Arabella,” she said, quite firm. “Life must go on. Mister James is dead, but you ain’t.”

A few more tears and Arabella dried her eyes, went down and had me reinstated in the lounge. She returned to my arms with an armload of books. Ten days straight she read one book after another.

Cook brought all her meals there. “Now, Miz Arabella, don’t you go givin’ you’self no headache.”

I shall run the plantation!” she declared, “that Mr Skinner has been getting a lot more than I’d planned.”

When he came in the next day, Arabella invited him into the lounge. “Sit,” she smiled heaving her bosom and closing the door.

“Here?” he looked nervous and excited all at once. She pushed him into my lap, leaned forward and grabbed his necktie, “Skinny, dear, I’ve been looking at the books. And,” she tightened it so he couldn’t breathe, “you’ve been skimming quite a bit. From tomorrow, we don’t need you.”

“You couldn’t manage without me, you strumpet!” he squawked.

She dragged him to the door. “I can! And you’ll not do anything to cross me. I have your signatures on the books and I shall take you to the courts. Now leave.”

She changed overnight. Up early. On the horses, inspecting the plantation. She sold off a small portion on which they’d started the cotton. Every night she’d retire into my arms with a mint julep and her books. The plantation prospered.

James junior turned eighteen and had begun to help his mother when in December 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. A week later a small group of local blacks went on a rampage.

Arabella was doing her books when she heard shouting and looked out. “Cookie!” she screamed.

Cook, the maids, and several of our men, rushed in.

“They’s lost their heads, Miz,” Cook said. “Jus’ changin’ times. Madness.”

“Put Harold under the doorknob and switch off the lights.”

The rioters threw stones, pushed at the door. I held tight and strong.

A gunshot rang out from an upper window. James shouted, “Get back or I will shoot!”

One more push on the door.

My back cracked, but I held on.

James fired again. The rioters turned back.

Arabella keeps me in her bedroom now.

She has a new recliner in the lounge.

– End –

Harold meets a stranger

By Nilanjana Bose

Hey! What are you doing that for? Who are you anyways? Hey, hey hey, gently, gently, these legs are not to be manhandled. Not so rough, buddy. My name’s Harold, by the way. What’s yours? Yeah, I know I don’t look my age. But it’s true – I was made when wood-plastic-carbon-fibre composites were still at the cutting edge of material engineering. My parents were gutted at the supposed dilution of the pedigree of our hard woodline; the wood part of my make-up comes from high-end forest-grown mahogany you see, but that’s just old fashioned resistance. My generation had no time for all the fear and hesitation, we embraced the changes. If people kept up with using purebred mahogany the way they did in the 20th, 21st centuries, then there would have been no woodline left at all by now.

But what years they were! Several new exoplanets had been discovered. The Third World War was finally over, the Terrorist of all terrorists had been sentenced to exile on Xysenion. The Peace Pact had come into force. The Third Intergalactic Super-Spaceway was under construction. Such exciting times! I know you guys take these things as commonplace, this to-ing and fro-ing between planets and galaxies, with your particulars packed into a device no larger than a toothbrush head. And now they are thinking of an Andromedian Galactic Bypass I hear, because of the traffic snarls on the First Intergalactic, ha!

However, back then, there were only a few daily spaceflights. And certainly no Podular personal transportation to the outer galaxies, all humans and cargo packed into space vehicles like sardines in a tin with simulated graduated gravity controls. Have you ever seen sardines packed into a tin? Hmm, I thought not. But I digress, what I meant to say is – things were fresh and new still at the beginning of the fourth millennium. There was a sense of wonder, of stepping into new, absolutely unknown worlds, exploration and excitement. None of this blasé been-there-done-that about those times.

And I was fresh and new, too. Yeah, yeah, you can snigger all you like. I might look like an antique to you, and it’s true that the prototype design goes right back to the 19th century. A simple, elegant armchair that could be folded up and carried from place to place, the Director’s Chair it was called. But by the time I was created, a whole raft of new features had been cunningly incorporated into the basic design. A marvel of modern engineering, that’s what I am. The Rexysper Recliner the design team called me, but the guy who used me just called me Harold. We both prefer simpler names.

Yes, of course my basic function remains the same – to seat people. But I can do so much more. To understand all that, you must know why I was made in the first place. You see, Rexysper had been discovered, predicted to be a rather Earth-like planet, part of the Alpha Centauri star system, and the Second Intergalactic made it possible to send a delegation up there. Apparently, the spectral analysis showed that plain wood would not last too long in the Rexysperic atmosphere. So the team created this special composite – mahogany, carbon fibre, and biodegradable engineering plastic. Then they tucked in these little oxygen cylinders – feel them here? Those, with a retractable mask. And they added a reclinable back and convertible, climate-controlled hood and padded, extendable seating, so what have you got? A complete Campule. You could land on Rexysper, sit for some time admiring the view or whatever, and then convert the seat into your own independent bed-cum-tent, with its very own heating and oxygen supply. Nifty, or what? And you thought I was just an ordinary armchair.

Let me tell you, there was nothing ordinary about that first flight out to Rexysper, or the man who used me there, or the things I saw.

First off, the flight out was a disaster. No really, it was. The astronavigator went wrong, or maybe it was the human navigator, who knows? Spaceway-rage was not a recognised phenomenon then, traffic density of course was nowhere near the same, but still. We were stuck behind a slow craft making its way to Xysenion from Merlivon for a long time, and who can say what that did to the astropilot? The end of it was that he took the wrong exit off the Second Intergalactic and ended up in Konstrantion instead of Rexysper.

The scientists spent a megaweek arguing amongst themselves, because of course none of the particulars matched, the atmospheric soup, soil compositions, the climate, the topography, nothing. They kept beaming back stuff to the Control-and-Command on Earth, and the C-n-C would send back terse messages like “values off by 50%, stop. Are you crazy, stop. Recheck instruments, recalibrate and resend data, over and out.”

They did all that, and still the readings refused to budge, and everyone spent an unconscionable amount of time bickering about things like Selenium content, and Vanadium values, and the Psi-index of the atmosphere. This went on till some radio guy in the C-n-C spotted the transmissions coming from the wrong co-ordinates, from the opposite end of the Alpha Centauri and pointed that out. So everyone decamped pretty sharpish with red faces.   Fortunately, the Konstrantion atmosphere is quite rich in oxygen, and all the breathing apparatus could be topped up before we took off again.  And though they had some minor issues with finding the right refuelling station back on the Second Intergalactic, it was only a blip and we got to Rexysper finally, only a megaweek late.

My guy, by whom I mean the one who used me, was the coolest head of them all. Not one word in argument the whole megaweek, not one instance of raised voice, or head-scratching in dismay. That was because he was not a scientist and did not care a jot for the readings whichever way the errors went, plus or minus. He was called Benjamin Otembo, and his official designation was Chief Divinopathist. His main job was to examine the cultural potential of the exoplanets, their favourability index for settlement, and their propensity for inspiring art, architecture, design, poetry, pottery or even business models.

He sat out a large part of the megaweek taking photographs of the changing Konstrantion sky and making copious notes on his tablet.

“Ah, an apple green sunrise. Rather, Centaurise. How lovely! I wonder if it’s Picasso I am thinking about? Or was it Van Gogh?”

At other times, he would go off marching and come back with bits and bobs that looked like rocks and dried mud, fossils of strange looking lifeforms, incredibly delicate and geometric. Held up to the chiffony pink light, which is the daylight in Konstrantion, they would gleam like blown-up snowflakes, translucent and beautiful.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Harold, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” He slapped my armrest with a satisfied thump and a cackle of laughter. “This is one unendingly interesting planet, full of cultural possibilities, really intriguing.”

He found some matted reed like stuff too, and came back all excited and sat quivering for a long time before he made the entries into his log. “Water body visited, turbid, milky-reddish, but can be purified to be potable. Papyrus type plant on edges, possibilities in paper making, building materials. Medicinal applications to be explored. ”

“Can you imagine, Harold?” he whispered in a hushed voice, “You could have a community settled here in a jiffy. Locally sourced building materials, potable water, agriculture, and of course where art is concerned, the sky’s the limit.”

And then of course the ghastly error in coordinates came to light and he packed up his samples and his logs, folded me up with my legs tucked under, and re-boarded the spacecraft for Rexysper, not in the least bit put out. “The more the merrier, Harold, the more the merrier.”

I tell you, I just liked Benjamin Otembo’s attitude.

But as life often turns out, Rexysper was not really merrier. As soon as we landed, (after triple-checking the coordinates) it was clear the stay was going to be well, in one word, fraught. The soil on Rexysper, which was like grits of aquamarine, was plastic-repellent. Something no-one at the C-n-C had predicted. Earth-like, my front left foot! And since every item on board, from forks to the landing module had some plastic composite or other, this meant things kept jigging up and down, grinding deeper, or falling over sideways, sometimes all three together, all of the time. Getting soil samples was out of the question, the little blue grains shuddered away from each scoop, each instrument. Further frenzied bickering broke out among the astroscientists.

Benjamin Otembo was coolly unperturbed, however. “Ah, blue sand,” he muttered as he set up camp, “a bit pretty-pretty, maybe? Cultural minefield potential. Soil should be earthy, all this jewel-toned stuff is best kept out of the surface. Plastic repellent? Hmm hmm…”

He whipped out four large red silk handkerchiefs and wrapped them deftly round my feet and then opened my legs and set me down. The aquamarine sand stayed unmoving under the silk.

He sat down with a thump and whipped out his tablet. “Thought so! You see, Harold, plastic-free is the way forward. On Rexysper at least. Vast potential for natural fibres, paper, cotton, silk, even pure metals perhaps. And aquamarine sands will send the poets into transports of joy, possibly. Not bad, not bad at all, Harold!” and he slapped my armrest in the exact same triumphant way he had done on Konstrantion. “We’ll have this twerking sorted out in no time!”

He then proceeded to wrap everything with cotton, silk and leather wherever he could find an extra shirt or shoe, even using up almost the entire supply of loo paper to wrap the instruments and the feet of the landing module. “No shit, folks.”

They got their soil samples. Thankfully, it did not need a megaweek on Rexysper to figure the settlement potential index, so there was enough toilet paper still left. The problem was: there was no surface water to be seen. The chaps at the C-in-C refused to accept this, though; it contradicted some fancy new hydrosensor that could apparently detect a drop of water across gazillions of light years. “Recheck, resend,” they kept messaging in that terse way they had. More bickering among the scientists – why had no one packed a copy of that new hydrosensor?

Benjamin Otembo just dismantled the long telescopic legs of the landing module, joined two of them to form a long probe, and went poking the blue sand here and there. The sands of course shivered away from the legs, and so he managed to drill quite a long way below the surface. On the third attempt, he sent a second probe down after the first, with a cloth cap tied to its end. The cap, when he withdrew it, was full of a steaming liquid, silvery pale in the midday light.

“Easy-peasy drilling boreholes here,” he called out to the team, “here’s your water, underground I’m afraid, and superheated, free of cost.”

As he packed me up and untied the handkerchiefs, he said, “No question this is high on the settlement indices. But the other had those fossils. That apple green sky. Way more fascinating. The accidental stops turn out much better than the planned destinations in my experience.”

Well, that’s years ago now. You know how that ended – Konstrantion has been settled for decades. I’ve been on other intergalactic expeditions, but nothing like those first ones. Pardon me? Benjamin Otembo is leading a trip to another new exoplanet soon? And he wants his old Harold? Ah, that’ll be good seeing him again. That will indeed be grand.

– End –

The Habit

By Noor AlNoaimi

 

The premise was bleak, she thought as she stepped into the once cheerful reception area. The Town Hospital had a once modern aesthetic; the nurses wore yellow as opposed to the typical white uniforms of the main hospitals in the area. She had once believed in yellow, everyone believed it was the best for poor old grandmother. The expensive services, the Ivy League educated doctors…yeah, they all thought she’d live forever here.

Sadly, Gran pulled the break on life a bit too soon.

“God, I miss you,” she whispered as she sat across the now dusty bed; the same bed where a granddaughter used to come to visit, 4pm sharp, wearing her comfiest sweater to warm the chair next to the old woman that had sired her father.

“Papa does too,” she went on, speaking to the empty space as if it was alive. The decaying walls did not answer; the bed stayed the same, while the corridors remained empty. No more nurses telling her it was all right, natural causes, and other such nonsense. Humans have an expiry date, they were not gods upon the earth, nor were they as her old Jaipur born nanny phrased “Little gods”. She had never contemplated death before she had seen her grandmother’s small, frail body breathe its last breath…no words uttered, no goodbyes.

She simply left, taken away from her. “Nadia…”It was a whisper, an unmistakable voice. His voice. Nobody ever called her Nadia anymore; she was named after the very same person she mourned; yet her mother had quickly edited it with the excuse of it being ’outdated’. Naya, turned around and in the blur- had she been crying? – saw his hand holding a snowy handkerchief.

“I don’t want your damned pity,” she whispered. Dr Faulkner called her by that name often; she guessed it was because Gran used to talk to him about her. Her amazing granddaughter, off to save the world with a mere backpack, Naya thought sarcastically. Education! Education! She had been so passionate about that once; now she stayed at home, keeping to herself with static TV as a companion. Faulkner had books from here on to the roof and he still couldn’t recount saving a woman from old age. Nothing saved people from old age, cancer, or fatal car accidents. Human life was malleable, and everything seemed worthless when thinking about that eventual end.

“You shouldn’t keep coming here,” he said to her turned back. He obviously knew of her odd habit. “The building is to be demolished soon.”

“Then why are you here?” she asked, her hand in a fist. As if he was the god that chose to take away her sun and joy.

“I am here to say goodbye,” he replied, coming to sit across from her by the bed. He took off his spectacles for a moment, something was caught in his eye, but his old withered face remained impassive as he continued. “I have lost a few patients here, some chose to live their last days in our care and some did not. I, however grieve for those that did not have the required awareness to make that decision in their final hours…like our dear Nadia.”

“Mother didn’t want her home. She said old people clashed with her wallpaper,” she commented, unmistakable abhorrence in her voice.

“It is common for many to feel disheartened. I fear for our world, Nadia…That many of us quickly dislodge from a person as soon as they pass, or as soon as we know they are unrecoverable. To your dear grandmother, that was never the case…you were beside her. While I passed lonely patients in their final hours, you were there…praying for her while her eyes closed on our world. You believed…you still believe,“ he said, taking her closed fist in his withered hands.

She had never looked into his eyes before; his faded blue orbs were wet under his white brows, as if he too had a story to tell. “She is gone…I believe that,” she replied, her voice caught in her throat.

“Yet you come here, “ he said shaking his head, as if he thought she was wasting her time. “Your grandmother was more than these walls…this bed.” He said nodding to the empty space next to them. “She was more than doctor visits, and medication…you must understand,” he said while she shook to her fingertips.

“I know, “ she whispered, not trusting her voice to make a bolder statement.

She felt lost, adrift without her compass. Her hand soon relaxed in his grasp, and she let him hold her until he left her to reconstruct her thoughts. As he walked towards the faded doors, with the dim ‘Exit’ sign right above it, she called him back. He stopped and turned to. Naya had never seen him looking so fragile before. It was then she recalled his words:

Many of us quickly dislodge from a person as soon as they pass, or as soon as we know they are unrecoverable. To your dear grandmother, that was never the case…you were beside her. While I passed lonely patients in their final hours, you were there…praying for her while her eyes closed to our world. You believed…you still believe.

 We have family dinners on Tuesdays, I would like it if you joined us then.”

He seemed a bit surprised by her invitation, for he suddenly smiled, his hand on his heart. “I shall do my utmost to make it, “ he replied.

Naya lingered by the bed; it was dark when she finally patted the dusty bedspread. “Granny, you heartbreaker.” She chuckled, making her own deductions about the man that had just left and her dearly departed.

Perhaps there was a story there, indeed.

  • – END-
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3585354

Robert Cubitt

…is our reviewer for the October-November 2015 Challenge, the last challenge of the year.

Bob retired from the Royal Air Force after 23 years of service, travelling the world and visiting places like Oman (a small island by the name of Masirah), Cyprus, Malta, Holland, Germany and various parts of the UK. After he retired from the RAF, Bob worked for the Royal Mail as part of their logistics team and stayed with them until 2009.

With time to spare Bob returned to writing with a passion and produced two works of fiction in rapid succession. These had been “works in progress” while he had still been in full time employment and just needed finishing off. Since publishing these books on Amazon he has focused on new projects and now has a total of four fiction and three non-fiction works published, with more in the pipeline.

You may read about Robert Cubitt’s books here:

We had two entries for the challenge and while one is being worked on for publication, the other one is here for your reading pleasure. Well done both Nilanjana Bose and Gerard Bracken! And thank you for participating.

THE CHALLENGE

For the first time we had a visual challenge. Our entrants had to develop a story in 2000 words or less, based on this pictureroxanacrivat2

Thrown Off-track 

by Nilanjana Bose

From Payradanga the tracks run a gentle South-West towards Naihati and then onto Sealdah, straightening at some point almost due South. If Shankar boarded early enough he got a window seat. He climbed into the car now, swinging himself with practised ease over the gap between the platform and the footboard, and went straight to the back end. The seat was empty and he settled down, his sense of mini-triumph failing to spark today.

The train snaked through paddies already alive with the field workers at their sowing. A woman at a communal manmade lake slapped a twisted saree on a flat stone to get the dirt out, a dozen sarees washed already, flapped on a line like giant flags. The line was tied to four slim long branches held together in two unequal Xs, itself holding them together and being held in place by them in turn. Much of his life felt like that unequal X sometimes, tied together with the presence of various strings, each anchoring the other, all at the mercy of the winds. Anything could come undone anytime.

The tracks connect more than the suburbs to the throbbing heart of the metropolis, they crisscross between paddies and orchards and factories and brick kilns, cutting up the land into neat little portions, urban, suburban, semirural, rural, backward. They cut through and classify things in myriad insidious ways, tie and unravel many unequal Xs many times over.

The train drew into Naihati junction, there was much hubbub as passengers got on and off. A gaggle of vendors boarded, there was some on-going altercation at the entrance between one of them and a commuter, but before it could be satisfactorily resolved, the EMU local blared its horn and pulled out in long drawn, smooth bursts of acceleration, like a telescope unfolding. Shankar leaned back and closed his eyes, aloof from it all. The events of yesterday still clouded his morning.

***

When the tracks were laid more than a century ago, the banyan sapling must have been a good distance away from the sleepers.   But now it had unfurled a monumental canopy overhead, its aerial roots touched the ground, formed woody twined trunks and the whole grove almost bordered the raised embankment. Shankar’s hideaway inside it had been devised in teenage, he and a few close friends had claimed it. A few miles from the station, well out of sight and earshot of home. In time they finished school and Manu, Ratan, and Tipu had moved away to the city and beyond. No-one came to the banyan except Shankar now.

He was the only one who stayed back, doggedly commuting every day to a job in the city. There was an ailing grandmother, a younger sister, a widowed mother knitting up cardigans for her small clientele on a second-hand knitting-machine. Moving out was not an option. He still came to the old haunt for some lazy trainspotting in the weekends sometimes; on an early evening after work for some downtime. Over the years he had got to know this home stretch of the track well, the silence and the heat haze on them in a summer afternoon, the sound of them when they hummed with the approach of a train. He could pinpoint the times the locals passed without having to look at his watch.

The other three visited on the major holidays in autumn, they met in the public marquees for the Goddesses – Durga, and Lakshmi and later Kali; the evenings raucous with the new music releases on the loudspeakers, lit with fairy lights. Their lives in the cities seemed characterised by an acute shortage of time, all was change at a fast clip – people moved, jobs changed, buildings came up, every year they had a new set of neighbours. By contrast, the only people that had moved into Payradanga in all this time was the new postmaster, the older one had retired just a month ago.

When Shankar pointed this out to the group on the day of Kalipuja, it turned out that Ratan – who no longer called the festival by its local name, instead said Diwali like any northerner now – knew the family. But apart from them there were no new faces, most families had been around for years, settled into their respective grooves, only the young people steadily crumbled away from the homesteads in search of livelihoods.

***

Shankar spotted the girl on a day off, just weeks before Holi. He had come to the banyan with a rug, a few snacks, and a new book. He looked up between two pages, and she was running between the tracks, her movement fluid, her toes touching down unerringly on the wooden sleepers each time without breaking stride, quite unaware of her surroundings. The train was due, he knew that vaguely from where the sun was in the sky, in fact he could hear a train at the platform, a long honk a few miles away, sounds carried far in still mornings over the fields. He sat motionless, paralysed with unease and indecision for a split second, and then he was out of the grove and running towards her with all the speed he could muster, shouting at the top of his lungs.

“Move out, move out, train’s coming.”

She did not stop and kept running, the same measured pace, touching down light footed. Shankar could hear the lines humming now, the girl was still out ahead of him, unaware or maybe uncaring. He stopped shouting, channelled every bit of energy into drawing alongside her, the gap between them narrowed now, but so also the distance between them and the roaring monster behind. His heart felt as if it would explode inside him if he had to take one more stride, the train honked angrily again, too close now for comfort, the noise too loud in his ears, the sound of the wheels harsh, the rushing column of wind that signalled its arrival, all felt like inches away. With one last extraordinary effort he leaped and drew abreast, unceremoniously yanked her off the tracks. They both tumbled onto the embankment in a heap of flailing limbs and kept rolling over endlessly while the Ranaghat Up passed with a deafening burst of noise above them.

Shankar found his feet unsteadily, shaking with the reaction, “Are you crazy, girl?”

He had seen her around the place, strangers stuck out for miles here, though their paths were unlikely to cross. She was the daughter of the new postmaster. He noticed that her jamun-dark eyes were fixed somewhere near his chin. Involuntarily he rubbed his nose, ran a hand over his jaw, “Can’t you hear or what?”

For an answer, she dealt him a resounding slap and walked off across the fields. Shankar was too non-plussed to protest. He stood gaping, rooted to the spot. When he came back, the book refused to settle him, his nerves jangled and would not be soothed. He rolled up the rug and with a sense of great anti-climax started off home. The whole day had somehow been completely ruined.

***

Shankar strolled into the banyan grove after work, the moon was a few slivers away from being full, enough light to see clearly by. There was a white patch on the ground beneath a pile of darker things. It was a face-towel, topped by a scrap of paper, weighed down by a pack of coconut laddus carefully sat into a terracotta dish, nested into another of water to keep ants away. Shankar opened the pack, sniffed – they were quite fresh, the ghee had soaked into the paper liner in a large smear; he ate one and looked at the note by the light of a match.

“Sorry! And thank you – Joba” was scrawled on it in great looping letters, generous and forceful. Shankar smiled and struck a match again. He wrote a reply on the other side, and arranged it back again exactly the same, weighted with the dish of water. He waited as long as he could, but no-one turned up. The cigarette burnt to a stub, there was no further pretext to linger. He left, taking the laddus with him.

He got through his evening distractedly poking around. Maybe she was not expecting a reply, maybe he was reading too much into a simple gesture, it was perhaps only an apology not an overture. Maybe some animal would move the dish, spill the water and smudge the words, why had he not thought of emptying it out? Maybe the winds would blow away the scrap before she came back, had he chosen the words right? It would be Holi in a few days, maybe he would see her out with the colours, take a chance on splashing some on her too. Ratan should be home for the festival surely, Shankar would cadge an introduction somehow.

But Ratan did not come. Shankar heard that work would keep him away till the end of spring. He could not quite bring himself to ask about Joba over the phone, it just felt too weird. As with the note, he did not have words the right size. Meanwhile, he checked on the banyan every day. The dish soon dried, then overturned and cracked, and the scrap of paper blotched with dirt before it was blown away. Shankar never knew if his rejoinder found the recipient.

The post office remained closed on the day of Holi; Shankar saw no-one from the postmasters’ family. He went out with Tipu and Manu like he did every year. The whole street was a mass of colours, the abeer and rainbow jets of water staining the tarmac and whitewash and white clothes in merry splashes, the powder thrown up in clouds colouring the very air they breathed. Shankar kept an eye out, but did not chance upon her anywhere.

Manu and Tipu left in a couple of days, and Shankar could not find the right conversational slot to mention Joba to them. And what was there to talk about anyway? A sudden accident averted, a slap for his pains, a pack of sweets and a cryptic apology – how could one explain them and their sudden impact on him without sounding cheesy? It niggled at Shankar – why had she run like that towards certain death? why the slap and the note? and why should the whole thing shift his priorities one infinitesimal bit even?

He saw her a few days later, across the carriage in the train returning from Sealdah. She stood alone near the door, a stray lock of hair fluttering across her face. He smiled tentatively, she returned his greeting. He walked alongside her as they left the platform.

“Can we walk to the banyan?”

Her eyes were still fixed at chin level, she would not lift them up to make eye contact with him. Her answer was indistinct, delivered in a flat monotone, “I take a rickshaw home.”

The rickshaw stand was not more than a minute’s walk, so he would have to make it quick. He said everything in one long rushed breath, keeping his face lowered, his gaze fixed on the paving. They reached in no time, she interrupted him with a non-committal smile, got into a rickshaw which pulled away smoothly.

Shankar finally brought it up with Ratan, worked Joba’s name into the conversation one morning over phone, clumsy and circuitous. Immediately Ratan’s voice cackled in his ears, “Why, dude? Are you thinking of sending a proposal or what?”

“Oh, come on, Rottu! Can’t a guy –”

Ratan broke in without paying the least attention, “Well, she is a lovely girl, unattached from what little I know. Pretty brilliant at sports and all that. You’ll have to learn sign language though. She’s deaf, lost her hearing when she was a child. Meningitis or something. But she lip-reads so well you’d never make out.”

~~~~

Glossary

Payradanga, Naihati, Ranaghat – towns/villages in the Greater Kolkata area

Sealdah – a railway station in Central Kolkata

Laddus – a type of Indian sweet

Abeer – powdered colour used for Holi

Holi – a spring festival where colours, dry and liquid, are splashed on friends and neighbours

Durga, Kali – goddesses signifying Shakti, the female form of Divine energy. The worship of Durga during autumn is the major festival in Kolkata and its surroundings

The Iron Road

by Gerard Bracken

Annie could feel the tightness grasp her lungs as she willed her legs to keep moving at a pace to match the railway ballast gaps between the shining frosted rail sleepers while she compensated for the unevenness of the stone surface. All around her was shrouded in the drapes of the early morning icy mist.

The lone rail marker post ahead indicated one mile and uphill gradient to Mary field railway station, she ran past familiar landmarks, all was quiet along the rail track this cold winter morning with most of the town’s people congregated at the station.

Barry was in single line with all the young army recruits, there was an air of youthful eagerness and enthusiasm about the adventure that lay before them. As the column halted in front of the station house, he could see his father and mother in the crowd among a sea of red waving flags and hands.

He picked out his father’s face, a mix of pride and dread, pride that his sons volunteered and dread at what lay ahead in the old country, Europe. He wished he was young enough to be there to share their fears, to climb up that trench ladder into the fiery abyss, to console them when they lost their comrades and lay with them in their last moments should it come to pass.

His mother eyes were red and glazed with tears, for years she had seen off her husband and sons to the mine at the start of each shift and feared that its dark dank interior would steal them away forever, entomb them in a sarcophagus of coal, now the talons of war had reached their small town and would sweep up its men into a maelstrom of death and destruction. She had brought them into the world in the sharp physical pain and soothing love of birth, she did not want to bear the pain of their loss.

For all of Annie’s best efforts to run along the ladder like track, the rail marker posts were not coming up fast enough and she calculated she would not make it to the station in time. She was coming up on the footpath to Breeches junction, she decided to take a short cut and make for the old disused timber water tower by the over grown mine rail siding.

The Iron Road with its four-foot-eight-and-a half-inch Stephenson standard gauge track followed the meandering river path along the valley floor; the twin tracks meant many things to many people over the years. Everyone who was born, lived and died in the town was connected to those two long steel lines that ran through generation after generation as it did along each bend and curve of its snake like path. Annie and Barry were two young people whose lives were divided by and joined by the track.

The main employer in the town of Tocher was the coal mine, which ran deep into the sides of the valley with tilting seams of coal excavated by men and for a time young boys on their backs in 10-hour shifts. This was the town’s main source of employment and income. In the great tradition of coal mining towns, the Iron Road divided the town physically, economically and socially.

On one side of the divide was a mining family called the Dixons, originally from a North England coal town, they could proudly trace back their descendants 5 generations to coal miners. They lived in the shadow of the mine on the Broadlands estate which was originally built by the mining company.

Barry Dixon was the next in line to join the mine, his father and two brothers all worked there, they were miners through and through: brave, hardworking and hard living men. Barry was different, he was quiet, gentle and an avid book worm who spent all his spare hours at the back wall looking at the trains and waving to drivers and passengers alike. He was in the top five at the local school. Railways and trains was his passion and he wanted to be a rail Engineer. His father, Big John, had shovel sized hands and was built like a bear, he wanted Barry to follow in his footsteps and be a miner, his mother, Julia knew better, this son was destined for a different path to his father and brothers.

On the other side of the Iron Road and 2 miles away, in the better area of Saint Chalfont, was a spacious three story, detached Victorian house with lush ornate gardens also backed on to the track. Here lived the Clarendon’s who were of middle class stock from Scotland, whose lineage was that of doctors and solicitors. Arnold Clarendon, head of the family ran a busy medical practise in Bury Street for select patients, he had great plans for his two daughters. Annie Clarendon was the oldest, a keen academic, athletic and was destined to study medicine and eventually take over family practise. She was set for her departure at the end of summer to medical school.

Barry started to hang out at the railway station and stock yards in his early teens and after time got to know the rail hands. The yard chief turned a blind eye to company rules and regulations and encouraged him to ride on the foot plate and assist the drivers. Barry’s enthusiasm would spill over at family meal times and slowly his father could see that this son was not destined for the mines.

Barry’s family couldn’t fund a university education for Barry, the fees and lodgings were not within their reach. The yard chief had gone to the same school as Barry’s father and they frequented the same public house at the weekends. The topic of Barry’s love of trains came up in conversation and the yard chief mentioned the annual rail company scholarship.

Big John was a family man and wanted his sons close by in the mines but mining was hard, physical and dangerous work which, over the years, was etched into their bodies, he knew his wife constantly worried about them and he could see the relief in her face on their return after each shift. The ominous clouds of closure hung periodically over the mine and so, after much soul searching and discussion with Julia, they encouraged Barry to sit the scholarship exam and interview.

Barry scored high in the exam and won over the interview board with his working knowledge of the rail yard and was awarded the scholarship, he would leave for university in September.

Annie Clarendon’s family were of the Humanist tradition and were conscience of their privileged status in life. It was therefore important that they return this good fortune to the less fortunate.

The hospital set up by the mine company was in poor condition, under resourced and under staffed. Every Saturday, Annie’s father held a free clinic at the hospital for anyone who needed medical attention, at an early age; Annie would assist her father at these clinics each summer.

Barry got some paid work at the rail yard, while assisting the yard men shunting coal trucks, Barry’s hand got caught in the track switch handle, resulting in a cut and badly bruised hand, the yard chief sent Barry to the hospital.

When Barry’s name was called, he was seen by Arnold Clarendon, who after much pocking and prodding, deduced that no bones had been broken and once cleaned, the hand needed to be bandaged. The cleaning and bandaging was gently and expertly carried out by Annie, Barry sat there his heartbeat pounding in his ears as his mind waded through a river of words trying to string a meaning introduction sentence. In the end, he was afraid to say anything in case he sounded stupid. Annie, on the other hand blended medical speak, with comforting words and small talk as she went about her task.

After an awkward thanks and good-bye he headed home. They met each other at the clinic for the next four Saturdays to check the healing of his hand and apply fresh bandages. Barry savoured every moment in her company. Annie broke the silence, by picking a book she had read and recited its plot to Barry. Barry then followed suit. They agreed to read a different book each week and compare their understanding of its story line and characters. After the four weeks, knowing it was now or never, he bucked up the courage to ask her to meet him for walks along the tracks.

It was 1914, the Victorian era of separation of the sexes and class still lingered and two young teenagers from different upbringings meeting alone for walks would not have been tolerated in a small town with so many prying eyes.

During their trackside walks, they built a bridge of trust and understanding with stories of childhood, family, friends, books and interests, although they were breaking with the strictly tiered class hierarchy, they were conscience of their respective families’ positions within the towns separated communities, and not wanting to cause any more hurt should they be caught, kept their meetings as close friends and nothing else.

Barry would talk lyrically about the history of the track, the names given to the track sections and the bends, the train engines, their operating pressures, their individual mechanical quirks and dislikes and how the drivers could coax the best out of engine and truck wagons.

Annie described her privileged upbringing with nannies, a maid, a butler, holidays and her distant mother, who mixed with the town’s circle of socialites. She explained some of the basic medical procedures her father would let her assist him with and the odd behaviour of the more eccentric patients at her father’s Bury Street clinic.

Their plans were cut short by the news of war in Europe, Britain’s entry into the war was followed by Canada’s automatic entry, and there was unanimity across the country, in every city, town and village and across the class spectrum. The Canadian Prime Minister called for a national supreme effort offering assistance to Britain. Canada’s army and navy was woefully under prepared for the task ahead, yet in weeks, 32,000 men had signed up for the Canadian Expeditionary force, among them Barry and his brothers. Annie also signed up to the Canadian Army Medical Corps nicknamed ‘Bluebirds’ after the blue uniforms and white veils.

Barry received his departure orders like all the other town volunteers to board a special charted train for Valcartier Camp near Quebec City. With heavy hearts, Barry and Annie met for what could be their last walk along the same tracks that should have taken them to university and not to the battlefields of Europe.

They talked about their futures after what the newspapers headlined this short and glorious war, they spoke of love, careers and marriage, they had a plan. It was fitting that they should carve out their future by the tracks. The tracks had always been a metaphor for hope and uncertain future for so many people over the years as they stretched into horizon.

Barry settled into a window seat, his suitcase stored overhead, his brothers sat opposite grinning at him, he thought he should feel sadness and fear, but he did not, he had his bothers to protect him and he to protect them and a reason to live.

In his heart he knew that Annie would be by the track, as the train pulled away to a fanfare of cheers and band music, he could see all the yard men waving as the engines blasted their whistles. As the train picked up speed heading to Breeches junction, he looked for the old water tower and saw Annie for a split second and smiled.

Wherever the Iron Road took him; he had the love of family and Annie.

September 2017
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