Requiem: a short story for a conservatory 

Note: any resemblance to real places and people is probably not coincidental. 😉 Enjoy!
                              Requiem



“Are the rumors true? Are they?” Trent, by far the youngest of the ghosts that inhabited Rowell Hall, rushed through a closed door and into the conservatory’s storage attic. His eyes were translucent yet pleading as they looked about the room for answers.

“Rumors?” the phantom of a tall man in a tuxedo, coat tails and all, stepped out from behind a moth-eaten curtain. Mr. Marvin, prior to becoming the eldest of the conservatory ghosts, had first been the eldest faculty member, ruling his orchestra with a baton of iron and a kind heart. “What rumors?”

“Don’t you know?” asked his late wife, Marie, peaking her nose through a cardboard castle from in a long-forgotten production of Camelot. “They are finally giving us that new building we asked for- I don’t know- fifty years ago. Or, at least, they’re giving it to the current students and faculty.”

“Yes! And that’s not all!” Trent all but shouted. “They’re set to demolish this building-”

“Next week,” cut in a smooth voice. The reigning concert mistress of the late 1970s floated in, her slight figure moving as gracefully in death as her bow strokes had in life. “About time, too. Finally the university cares enough to build a new music conservatory. When I went here it was already out-dated. Now- well-” she made a face of disgust “well, it’s practically demolished anyway.”

“Now you stop right there!” cried Mr. Marvin. “An attitude like that never flew in my orchestra and you know that quite well, Miss Nora! And for your information, they are constructing a new building, not a new conservatory. We were and always will be the foundation stones of the conservatory. We, the daring artists who have worked and studied here, are the conservatory; we created its legacy and remain its pillars.”

“Yes,” agreed his sweet wife, flicking away a tear which evaporated into the air. “It’s not the building; it’s the people.”

Another ghost had ascended from the stage below as the orchestra conductor was speaking. She let out a soft “harrumph” of disagreement as she rose from the floorboards. Trent started at the sound, still adjusting to the haunt life of having people appear where least expected.

“What?” he asked upon seeing the disagreement written on the newcomer’s face.

“Well,” began the ghost, a girl in a dark dress that, had she not been translucent, would have been black, “all that you two were saying is nice, but in case you haven’t noticed, we are all still here. In this place. When we could have been anywhere else. If it’s really just about the people, we wouldn’t be here again.”

“But could we really be anywhere else?” countered another ghost, who had been sitting quietly beneath a shelf in the corner. He emerged and stretched to his full height. In his hand, he clung to the score of the symphony he had died composing. He floated to the center of the room and continued his speech.

“Complain as we might have about the cramped practice rooms, the rats in the forgotten attic, the creaky stage, the overbooked performance hall, the drafty doorways…were was I? Oh yes. Complain as we might, this place has a hold on all of us. It shaped us. Sure, it’s small, but it brought us together. It’s old, but it connected the generations. It’s quirky, but it matches its residents. We worked and studied and performed here, but even more than that, we lived here and- even now- still do, in a way. We met our best friends here. We had fights here. We laughed and cried and danced and napped here. We suffered heartbreak and fell in love, all in this very building! All in this old, creaky, run-down, over-crowded building. Perhaps even because of it.”

“We are the legacy of this place, but it’s bricks built us,” whispered Marie Marvin in agreement.

The harrumphing ghost stared at the floor and, after a moment, gave a little nod. “I wore black nearly every day I was a student here, but it wasn’t because I was unhappy. I was just an accompanist.” She rolled her eyes humorously.

“Come to think of it, I was happy here. Busy, but happy… Anyway, do you think the pianos will be alright when they tear down the rest of the place?”

“I wouldn’t worry about the pianos, dear,” said Marie, her hand hovering over the accompanist’s arm to console her. “They can move them without any trouble. The organ, however…”

“What about the organ?” bellowed a voice that surrounded them. It might have been coming from below on the stage or above in the forgotten attic or the too-thin walls on all sides. But only Trent was surprised, for everyone else knew where the speaker’s ghost was hidden: inside the sixteen-foot principal pipe that sat nestled behind the stage among its dusty ranks. The organ itself had not been played since its former professor (now resident) had passed away, three decades prior.

“What about my pipe organ?” demanded the spirit of Dr. Humphrey again.

“W-well, sir,” stammered Trent when nobody else had the heart to answer. “They’re getting a new building, you see…so this one’s got to go and- well- it’s hard to move a full pipe organ and nobody really plays anymore so-”

“So the organ has to go down with the building like a captain with his ship. I suppose it’s fitting.” Resignation resonated in every word that Dr. Humphrey spoke. It was as if he had seen this coming long ago and ceased fighting, instead content to surrender with dignity to the loss of his building, instrument, and the era that they represented.

“A captain with his ship,” he repeated once more. The organist was not heard from again and the gathered ghosts knew that he had retreated deeper into his instrument, loyal to the end.

A thick silence fell over the room. Trent, in the habit of a lifelong brass player and percussionist, found himself counting rests as if afraid he might miss an entrance.

“Missed your cue!” shouted a short ghost with an impressive mustache, popping out behind poor Trent.

“Snap!” Trent flitted across the room in surprise. “Mr. Keller, you can’t do that!”

“What’s the fun of being a ghost, then?” chuckled Mr. Keller. He hovered crosslegged over a crate of old, probably-rotten stage makeup.

“How can you joke at a time like this?” The accompanist was biting back tears.

“How can you not?” he retaliated. “A good laugh and a long sleep make everything better. At least, according to the old Irish Proverb they do.”

“Long sleep,” laughed the composer. “As if anyone in this building has ever had a long sleep.”

The others laughed, but the tension settled quickly once more.

“So when do we go down?” asked Mr. Keller.

The concert mistress shot him a look of annoyance, bother by his tactless question. “You mean: ‘when does the building go down?’”

“Either way works, for I imagine we and the building are rather a packaged deal,” Mr. Marvin said. “And you yourself answered when.”

“Next week,” whispered the concert mistress. “That’s not long for the living, but for us- that’s scarcely the blink of an eye!”

The accompanist looked as though she could no longer support herself, despite being weightless, and somehow, she had turned a shade paler.

The violinist was right. Before any of them could process what was soon to happen- before a lament could be sung, an ethereal violin played, or a single, sorrowful note composed- the day arrived.

Gathered once again in the storage attic, the spirits of Rowell Hall reached for each other. Their hands, all yearning for the touch of their instruments, to take comfort in keys and strings beneath their fingers, settled for the cold fingers of their fellow phantoms. Silent, they swayed to the memory of a requiem they had all performed during their various times at the conservatory. They watched as the ceiling crumbled beneath them, revealing the splintering stage below. A small gasp rose from the bending organ pipes before the building, once so full of scales and songs, was consumed by the awful, cracking, screeching noise of its own destruction. It drowned out all else. All except the silent, fading requiem of the silent, fading conservatory ghosts.

Reflections on Writing a Novel Draft

During my journey home from Italy, I was super bored and, thus, my brain went crazy and came up with a novel idea that I am ridiculously excited about. Thankfully, I hit 50,000 words on my other novel draft, so I was able to set that one aside without too much guilt to begin this next project. While I am writing like mad to make sure I don’t forget my initial ideas, I have been trying to write more mindfully as well, meaning that I am writing with intentionality and observation. Basically, I am noting the quirks and tendencies I have as a writer, along with the surprises and mistakes.

For instance…

I have a knack for writing characters like me. This sounds like a bad thing, but it is not! Yes, I have written characters who resemble me in their appearance, fashion taste, sense of humor, hobbies, etc. and I need to steer clear of doing this too often or risk becoming predictable as an author. However, I have found that I also write characters who teach me about myself. For example, a cynical and morbid actor may not sound like me, but this particular character revealed to me some darker aspects of my own mind. (Don’t be scared; he’s not a bad guy.) Characters who I have tried to make unlike me have ended up like me in ways I did not intend, displaying through their traits and stories parts of myself that I did not even realize existed: apathy, romance, ambition, etc. all revealed themselves to me in my characters.

Continuing on, I have discovered that my life bleeds over into my fictional writing. I cannot control it. A barista from a coffee shop, a quirky house, a childhood friend, an overheard sentence, have all ended up in various stories of mine. I’m sorry if you read of a character that resembles you closely someday; I can’t really help it. I’ve found that I “collect” real-life characters and place them in fictional stories. As Sherlock Holmes once said, “life is infinitely stranger than anything the mind of man could invent.” I believe using aspects and people from the real world creates greater detail and intrigue in the fictional realm. 

The advice given by numerous authors to “write the book you want to read” is 150% valid. (please don’t attribute that quote to a single author; I’m pretty sure literally every successful writer has said something along those lines.) You know why assigned essays are not usually fun? Because 9 times out of 10, nobody wants to read your five paragraph essay on your three favorite foods. Actually, make that 10 times out of 10. Nobody cares. BUT, if you think of an idea that you wish to read about, why not write it yourself? When I find a book that fascinates me, I can’t stop reading. When I’ve thought of a story idea that fascinates me, the same principle is in place: I can’t stop writing. 

Despite being the author, I don’t know where every part of the story will go and I am as surprised by its twists and turns as I hope readers will be one day. It’s frustrating when plot points won’t connect or the timeline does not line up or characters decide to be fundamentally unlikeable. However, all of the struggles are forgotten the moment a character develops naturally or a plot twist generates itself or even when a particularly good bit of imagery paints itself. Writing is a constant adventure.

That about wraps up my reflections for now…oh wait! I have a couple more little tidbits that I have discovered over the past few days of writing:

  1. Writing time is like Narnia time in reverse; one minute of writing might actually be three hours of regular time. This can get out of hand very quickly.
  2. I feel guilty but a little bit cool every time I write a swear word, even if it is an edgy character saying it and not me. We’ll see if I let those stay in later drafts
  3. I have a morbid mind. Don’t ask. If this book makes it through publishing, you’ll see what I mean.
  4. It is possible to have a crush on your own character. The problem is if that character is based off a real person. (Not this time, though.)
  5. Netflix and writing go surprisingly well together. I managed to re-watch a season of Parks and Recreation and write 10,000 words in the same day. (Blame jet-lag for my laziness…)
  6. I get so enthusiastic about my ideas that I fear it borders on annoying. Sorry, everyone I’ve talked to in the past three days. If this ever gets published, you can have a free copy to read or burn depending on how obnoxious you found me.
  7. Coffee is writer fuel. One shot of espresso generates roughly 2,000 words. I’m open to donations of coffee money. The more coffee, the sooner this draft is finished.
  8. I write because I have to. I mean, I have no idea if anyone actually reads my blog posts regularly but I cannot help writing them. Words just build up inside my brain and if I don’t string them together into written sentences, I go crazy.

That’s all for now! If you read all the way to the end of this, do me a favor and like or comment or send me an appreciative message via carrier pigeon since I’d like to get an estimate as to how many people/who actually read(s) to the end of my articles. (See extra realization number 8) Thanks!

Okay bye for reals! Back to frantically typing my draft!

Writing Victories

Just had to brag a little bit:

Today marks the two-year birthday of my baby novel. On this day in 2014, I was inspired to write a book about a quirky little town that I stumbled upon and, to my delight, today I reached the word count required for my manuscript to qualify as a legitimate novel! And, to make matters even better (though admittedly a little bittersweet), I wrote my first death scene! This is quite a milestone in my life as a writer, so I thought I would write a little tribute here and publish one of my favorite scenes just to celebrate the occasion. Read on, if you’d like, to discover one chapter of Cobbly Nob.

 

Warning: the following chapter will be slightly confusing without any context, but nobody will probably read this far into this blog post anyway. (Let’s be honest.)

The Tea Scandal

Paige awoke to a light tapping on her bedroom door.

“Paige? You awake, honey?”

“Yes,” Paige croaked. She cleared her throat. “Yes, Mrs. Ellis!”

“We’re about to open for brunch; you’ve slept the morning away!”

“Oh!” Paige glanced at her phone. It was indeed past 10 o’clock. But if she had slept so long, why was her head pounding so mercilessly against her skull? Waking from a nightmare at the witching hour and banging her head on the ceiling had probably not done her any favors, but what she wanted more than anything was a strong cup of coffee.

“We saved you some breakfast, if you’d like!” continued Mrs. Ellis.

“And tea!” shouted Miss Linda from down the stairs in the kitchen.

“I’m up!” Paige sprung up, careful to mind her head, and promptly sat back down as the blood rushed from her head and her vision faded.

She threw on some clothes, tossed her hair up, and swiped some mascara on her pale lashes with the mechanical efficiency she had mastered during her senior year of high school during which she had had to get up at 5 o’clock and be at school within half an hour in order to take all of her electives.

She was greeted with “Good mornings” from Mrs. Ellis and Miss Linda, who she had taken to calling “the Hens” in her mind, as they fluttered about the kitchen. A plate of waffles waited at the counter for her, but she could hardly enjoy them in all of their syrupy, buttery goodness for the throbbing of her head.

“More tea, honey?” asked Miss Linda. Paige was not sure whether she was asking if she would like honey with her tea or whether the stiff “Grey Hen” was warming up to her enough to use a pet name.

“Yes, thank you.” Miss Linda poured her yet another – it was her third that morning alone- generous cup of tea and then allowed a thick stream of fresh honey to drip into it from the honeypot. So much for terms of endearment, thought Paige, sipping her tea and scalding her tongue.

Her head ached worse than it had only moments ago. Each morning at breakfast, one of the Hens would set a hearty plate of waffles or pancakes with bacon (or, more commonly in accordance with Southern hospitality and love of good vittles, both) and, with it, a steaming cup of tea. And Paige never seemed able to escape the humid kitchen, with its many delicious smells weaving together in a tapestry of scent she could feel on her skin, without having to swallow a second helping of some dish and at least two additional cups of tea. She suspected the Hens were trying to fatten her up, having overheard Mrs. Ellis worry that their guest was “as thin as a rail” although, despite being tall and lanky, she was quite average sized.

Despite these overwhelming servings of the best home-cooked meals she had ever eaten (she felt a bit like Scarlett O’Hara, enjoying the plenty of the Antebellum days), her head continued to throb with a pounding that crescendoed every moment. Four cups of tea and she was forced to recognize one undeniable truth: she needed coffee and only coffee. Strong, thick, black coffee bitter enough to jolt her awake and cure the throbbing.

“Coffee?” said Miss Linda when Paige mentioned it. Her angular face adopted an insulted look. “I’m afraid we do not have any.” She whisked away with her teapot with the same air of disappointment that Miss Dinah had displayed when she spoke of dog-people. Apparently to Miss Linda, coffee-drinkers were in the same category of offenders.

After that, Paige learned her lesson and for three more mornings did her best to savor the sweet tartness of the tea at breakfast and ignore the sharp ache in her skull throughout the rest of the day. She spent the afternoons of two of these days at the Blue Bookstore with Aunt Mary. However, sorting through the stuffy and poorly-lit aisles, filled with the wonder of books though they were, did nothing to help her plight. It was not until the fourth day- her fifth full day in Cobbly Nob- that Paige remembered the coffee shop, the Sock Monkey Cafe and Modern Art Gallery, that she had seen downtown. Henceforth it became her sole mission in life to visit that hallowed cafe and suddenly the cartoonish image of the Sock Monkey on the sign no longer seemed tacky but a sainted portrait.

“Morning! More tea?” a cheerful voice greeted her. Paige looked up from her book, Wuthering Heights, and was relieved to see Mrs. Ellis’s motherly face beaming down at her. How she was so energetic without coffee, Paige did not know, but she was glad at least that Miss Linda was not the one serving her breakfast this time, for it meant she could probably get away with only two cups of tea without upsetting her hosts.

She downed a plate of scrambled eggs so fluffy they were like pillows for the ham that nestled among them, flipped her book closed and tossed it into her messenger bag, and walked briskly out the door and down the road before the second kettle of tea could whistle at her to drink it.

Every two steps seemed to beat in time with her thoughts: “Cof-fee. Cof-fee.”

And then, there it was, in front of her, the cheesy red smile of the Sock Monkey on the sign. She pushed the door and prayed that it was open. It was. As she crossed the threshold, the dry, nutty scent of coffee grounds greeted her. She inhaled deeply- Oh, bliss! – and then marched up to the counter.

“A coffee please,” she said decisively, not even glancing at the menu and barely glancing at the barista. “Black.”

“Well you certainly know what you want,” laughed the employee behind the counter. He was the same young man who had said hello on her first day there, the day of her trip to Kat Kingdom. “You sure you don’t want some cream? Maybe make it a frappe?”

“No,” said Paige, annoyed. Honestly, just because she was a teenage girl did not mean she liked those frilly milkshakes wannabes. “Black.”

“Coming right up.” He did not dare laugh again, but Paige saw a twinkle in his eyes- which she also noticed were exceptionally brown…The color of a macchiato, she thought- as he took her money and handed her her fifteen cents change. She took a seat at the bar and withdrew Wuthering Heights from her bag.

“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same,” declared Catherine from the pages of the gothic novel. Paige, headache lulled to a dull groaning by the coffee-scented air, was captured by the passionate scene unfolding in the words of Emily Bronte. The decorations and sounds of the coffee shop, a quirky combination of Mardi-Gras and hipster chic, were forgotten.

“He does not know what being in love is?” wondered the hysterical heroine.

“No, he does not,” murmured Paige with a cynical smile. The love affair of Heathcliff and Catherine had never seemed to her as authentic as that of Anne and Gilbert, Elizabeth and Darcy, or even- reluctant as she was to admit it- Rhett and Scarlett. It was too…dramatic.

“Who does not what?” asked a tenor voice. She looked up and blinked, eyes adjusting from the black and white of the page to the reds and greens, golds and blues of the cafe. The boy from behind the counter slid a large mug, the face of the Sock Monkey printed on its side, under her nose.

“One moment,” she said. She lifted the mug to her lips and gulped at the coffee, wincing as she scalded her mouth, but swallowing anyway and sighing in satisfaction. “Bless coffee.”

The boy smiled at her, a silly half-grin that made his macchiato eyes light up. She was reminded of the twinkle lights she had seen him hanging the day before. “Who does not what?”

“Oh, sorry,” she looked down at her book. “I was talking to my book- I mean- myself.”

“What book?” Without waiting for her answer, he lifted the cover from the counter and scanned the title. He nodded. “Emily Bronte. Good choice.”

“You’ve read it?” she looked back up at him, more seriously now. After all, meeting someone who likes one of your favorite books is having a book recommend a person.

The boy nodded. “Literature course, senior year.”

“Nice,” Paige said. She took a more cautious sip of coffee and turned back to her novel.

“So who doesn’t what?” asked the young man.

“What?”

“You never answered my question except to say it was about your book.”

“Oh,” said Paige. “Heathcliff. He does not know how to love. His affair with Catherine is not love, but a futile passion as he projects his ideals of the perfect other onto her.”

“You sound just like my literature teacher.” The laughter was in his eyes again and Paige could not help watching it- it was so…she could not think of the word…refreshing? No. That wasn’t quite it. He noticed her gaze and she blinked, blushed, and tried once more to return to her book.

“So you agree with the teachers that Heathcliff was not really in love with Catherine?” he pressed.

“Yes,” she said, not allowing herself to look up again, her cheeks still hot, though she could not tell why exactly. Perhaps it was the coffee.

“Okay then…” he exaggerated a shrug and turned away. “Let me know if you need anything.”

Paige nodded, sipped her coffee, and reached blindly into her bag for a pen to highlight Catherine’s impassioned speech. Her fingers knew where to look: she always kept her favorite purple pen in the smallest inside pouch that was meant for a cell phone, but was rarely used for this purpose. Where was her phone anyway? Oh well. She’d find it later. Her hand found the pocket, stretched out from use, but it did not find the pen. She carefully lay the book face down with its covers splayed so her spot would not be lost, wincing as she did so at the crackling of its poor contorted spine. She looked in her bag. No pen.

“Stink it,” she muttered.

“Come again?” The boy looked up from where he was scribbling in a notepad the order of another customer.

“Nothing…actually, could I borrow a pen?” Paige asked, noticing the neat row of exactly eleven pens in his apron pocket.

“I’m afraid I don’t have an extra, but I can grab one from the kitchen.”

“Um…” said Paige, quirking an eyebrow at the collection neatly clipped into his apron.

“Oh these pens?” Mark followed her gaze. “These are mine, but I suppose I could lend one to you…”

“If you don’t mind terribly,” replied Paige with some sarcasm.

“Well I do mind, but not terribly I suppose.” He ran his finger along the tops of the pens, hovered over one in particular that to Paige was identical to the others, and carefully withdrew it without messing up the regimented lines of the others. He handed it to her and watched from across the counter as she drew a straight line underneath Catherine’s speech.

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

“Thanks,” he said as she handed back the pen after drawing a large, bold question mark beside the passage. “Why the question mark?”

“Because I don’t understand it. That’s the point of a question mark, isn’t it?”

“What don’t you understand?” he asked, ignoring her sarcasm.

“This quote, but I’ll figure it out if I keep reading.”

“Read this book before?”

“Once.”

“Depressing choice for a reread, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I like it,” Paige said, tilting her nose a tad higher and meeting his eyes.

“I didn’t say it wasn’t good,” the boy’s eyes stared back into hers and seemed to laugh at her. “Just so…Gothic.”

Paige blinked. “It isn’t as Gothic as Frankenstein.”

“It has all the elements.”

“Meh,” said Paige.

“He knows the elements of gothic literature? Who even is this guy?” she thought. “And does he look a bit like Josh Groban…focus, Paige.” She imagined Scarlett O’Hara rolling her eyes and forced herself to focus.

“The ghost?” continued the boy.

“A dream,” said Paige, bored.

“The castle?”

“Not actually a castle.”

“Alright then. I’ll agree that Frankenstein is more Gothic, and add that it is a better study than Emily Bronte’s replica.”

“Replica!” Paige nearly spit out her coffee and closed the book.

“Yeah,” he said, casually flicking away the dripped coffee with a rag. “Emily’s writing is almost indistinguishable from her sister’s. Slip a chapter of Jane Eyre into Wuthering Heights and I wouldn’t even notice the difference. The female authors of that era tend to be so…the same. Poorly-worded statement, perhaps, but I think I am justified in saying that Mary Shelley broke the standard, especially considering her writing predates the identical Bronte triplets…er…sisters.” He grinned mischievously and Paige could tell he was relishing annoying her. Well, she relished a debate too.

“There may a family resemblance between the writing styles. So what? They lived and wrote at the same time, in the same family! Emily, however, was a one-hit wonder and Wuthering Heights is far more profound than Jane Eyre.” (Sorry Jane, thought Paige, wincing as a beloved character blinked back imaginary tears in her mind.)

“Oh is it?”

“Yes. The resolution for Jane Eyre was too neat. Sure, Rochester lost an arm, but everything was too happy, too unrealistic. On the other hand, Emily’s novel ends ambiguously, which offers a much richer study on not only its story but the world beyond its covers.”

“Interesting, but I believe we were talking about Frankenstein-”

“Oh don’t even get me started on that book, with Victor’s trembling and fevers always ruining the action. The only character development was a worsening of nerves. Mrs. Bennet of Pride and Prejudice might as well have played the role.”

“Let’s not drag poor Mrs. Bennet into this,” laughed the boy. “You really have no mercy on her poor nerves.” He said this in his best imitation of the nagging woman. And then Paige found herself laughing too.

“Sorry, I get a little intense about books,” she said, taking a sip of her coffee and nearly choking again as she laughed.

“Clearly,” said the boy, but he was smiling. He held out a hand. “Mark Turner.”

“Paige O’Connor.”

“Paige,” he repeated. “Fitting name for a bookworm.”

“Indeed.” He was still holding her hand. Blushing, she pulled it away and they both turned to their tasks: her to her book and him to his cleaning. She was quickly immersed in the chapter again and when she finished her coffee and looked away from the page, Mark was gone, but beside her was a single pen resting on a napkin, which bore a note in cramped writing:

For your annotations. I’d like to hear what insights you come up with. Also, not all love (in literature) is fake; you just have to find it. -Mark.

Paige bit her lip in thought, but also to keep from smiling, and slipped the napkin and pen into her bag. When she reached the Wild Plum, her smile had not yet faded as she replayed the conversation with Mark in her mind. Why did she feel so silly? It was ridiculous, but she could see Scarlett smiling slyly in her mind… 

Her smile faded upon entering the tea house.

“You!” said Miss Linda, in what could only be considered an angry squawk. “Where were you? Is that…” she inhaled deeply “coffee that I smell?”

“Oh, yeah…” Paige said. “I stopped by the Sock Monkey for a cup.”

“Well I suppose you won’t be wanting any of the tea I just brewed then.” It was not a question, so Paige just stared back apologetically until Miss Linda clucked sorrowfully and retreated to the kitchen.

The next morning at breakfast, no tea was offered. Rather, Miss Linda, without a word, set down a tin cup of room-temperature water. Paige fought the urge to laugh and looked toward Mrs. Ellis, always such a cheerful sight in the morning as she fried bacon and picked lovingly on her husband’s manners, but caught herself at the equally serious expression on the “Red Hen’s” face. Suddenly her plans to return to the Sock Monkey, both with the purpose of finding coffee and meeting Mark again, were dismissed from her mind as impossible.

 

A Bigfoot Story

I’m currently on vacation in Montana with my family, staying in a charming cabin near Glacier National Park. The cabin has a guestbook in which visitors are asked to record the highlights of their stay. In flipping through it I became bored immediately. Most people wrote things like this: 

“Ate pizza and went skiing. Fun times! Lovely cabin. Thanks!”

“Met some fellow Canadians while in the hot tub. The weather was excellent.”

“Went hiking with some goats. Ice cream shop in town was good.”

“Thought we saw a bear. False alarm. Lol.”

 
Dull, right?! Well, being a writer and, admittedly, a Bigfoot enthusiast, I had to do something to break up this pattern of lameness… It is with great pride and no small amount of humor that I present to you my vacation log. It is my hope that it will entertain and frighten guests long after I depart this place. 😈





Hopefully the owners don’t mind that I took up so many pages in their book… But if they are annoyed, they can email me at PrincessBigfoot42@gmail.com, which is indeed a real email. 😎

The Shop

“Okay, what quirky place inspired this story?” asked my editor upon reading the following tale. “It’s too random not to be based on reality.”

My editor (who may or may not also be my mother, but she was an English teacher/professor so it’s kosher) was right. This story sparked to life in an antique mall in Pasadena, but from there, it was out of my control. I honestly had no clue where it was going until suddenly I had been transported back in time, forward again, and to a conclusion I had not envisioned. I hope you enjoy my newest short story: “The Shop.”

 

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The Shop

“PLEASE CHECK ALL BAGS AT THE DOOR”

Alice paused upon reading this sign, but only for a moment. She then gave a tiny shrug (“Unladylike!” she imagined her Aunt Cordelia remarking with a sniff) and shifted her beaded handbag under her arm, allowing the fringe of her dress to fall over it.

This fringed dress also would have shocked poor Aunt Cordelia, but that was part of why Alice chose not only to wear it but to flaunt it. She had the figure for it, so why not? Her narrow, almost boyish silhouette would never have looked right in a corseted dress made for an old-fashioned matron like her aunt. No, she had decided- or rather modern couture had decided for her- it was better to stick to what society deemed the most appealing. Besides, it was 1926; even her aunt could not deny that styles were changing.

After all, just that morning hadn’t some young man complimented her? At the very least he had called out, “Hey doll! Nice gams you got there; looking swell!” as she had walked past on her way to meet Helen for coffee. She had smiled back at the time, but now upon recalling the man’s slang, she felt herself blush. Had it been indecent? She shrugged again. Who cared? She was a free and attractive woman and should be proud of such attention. At least, that’s what the magazines said.

Alice pushed open the door to the store. A bell rang and a clerk appeared looking starched and pressed behind a gleaming counter.

“Welcome, miss,” he said, a toothy smile plastered on his face like an advertisement.

Alice nodded but could not spare him more than a glance as her eyes stretched wide, trying and failing to take everything in at once. Helen had not been exaggerating when she had said that this new store was a wonder. Granted, it was not a Macy’s or Bloomingdales in size, but those were department stores for housewives. This was different. It was smaller, yet more exciting for this fact- more “nifty” as Helen had put it. It was a chain store: modern, trendy, and, according to the ads, affordable. It was the real-life version of the mail order catalogue that she and Helen had nicknamed the “Bible” and poured over ravenously while pouring java down their throats. They were convinced that the goods in the catalogue and now in this chain store were necessary to their thriving in the new era, just as they were convinced that the coffee they drank was necessary to combat the effects of a night spent dancing and testing the reality of Prohibition.

“Miss?” said the clerk, still through his poster-perfect teeth.

“Yes?” Alice blinked a few times to clear the haze of desire that had settled over her vision like cigarette smoke.

“I’m going to have to ask you to check your bag at the desk before you proceed any further.”

“Oh,” Alice started and glanced down at her partly-hidden bag as if just noticing it. She did not have anything particularly valuable in it- a comb, some loose change, and a few cigarettes she had picked up who knew where- but was reluctant to let the bag go for fear of feeling obligated to make a purchase. Not that she didn’t want anything. It was the opposite; she wanted a great deal too many things to be able to limit herself to just one and thus was hesitant to buy anything at all.

“My bag?” she said, blinking again. “It’s just a little purse…I really couldn’t take anything if I tried!” She forced a laugh and tried to toss her hair flirtatiously, but, forgetting that it had been bobbed, her fingers met only with air.

The clerk’s smile turned cold.

Alice sighed and surrendered her purse, hurrying away from the counter to explore the miniature wonderland in which she was not trapped until she bought something.

But where to begin… She stopped to consider, biting her lip.

Clothing? A mannequin beckoned, boasting of all the latest styles. Electronics? Her family had a telephone, but what she wouldn’t give for her own radio…nobody could force her to listen to broadcasted sermons or classical trash; she could listen to all the jazz and soaps she wanted. Or maybe cosmetics? She knew her aunt would have a fit if she showed up with rouge on her cheeks and, as devilishly fun as it had been to shock her with a skimpy dress and bobbed hair, Alice was not sure if she was daring enough for makeup yet. But perhaps perfume? Even women her aunt considered decent wore that. Or jewelry? Costume jewelry might be a nice addition. Or shoes? Her current pair had been worn through from nights of the Charleston. Or…or…or…the possibilities were endless and her purse sadly finite.

All of a sudden, she was nauseous. Not just the store, but her whole world seemed to be spinning around her mind in frantic swing steps. The catalogue Bible, her hair, the chill of a draught on her bare shoulders, the swish of her dress, her blistered feet, the pounding of her ears from the night’s band (not to mention the pounding in her head as the coffee wore off), her aunt’s disapproving sniffs, her own blush of shame at recalling the man’s comment…but, most of all, her desire.

The whole dizzying world was open to her- well, the catalogs and movies and radio programs claimed it was so- and she wanted it all. Then and there she knew; it was not shame or guilt that she felt, but a desperate yearning to no longer be afraid of disapproval or even of her own antiquated sense of morality. She yearned not to be left behind in the tidal wave of the changing era, to be the bold, independent woman that the world demanded she be.

And to do that, she would need everything. Absolutely everything. She would need to say yes to every item she considered. It was only reasonable. 

Yes to the clothes; hers were rags already.

Yes to the radio; how else to keep up with the times?

Yes to the makeup; to Halifax with ridiculous reservations.

Yes to the perfume, to hiding the smell of smoke and drink; to the jewelry, to faking the wealth she was losing; to the shoes, to dancing when she ought to be sleeping. Yes to it all, to being swept forward in the surge of the Roaring Twenties.

Alice could barely reach for one item before another, brighter one caught her glistening eye. At first, she was dashing to and fro from shelf to shelf, rack to rack, like a rabbit searching for the security of its hole. But, after a while- she had no way of knowing how long it actually was since the pocket watches all ticked different times in their case- Alice ceased her race against herself and froze. She was a girl in a trance, standing with a dress in one hand, shoes in the other. Samples of rouge were dabbed on her face so that she really did look like a “doll.” A necklace hung from one finger and a scarf from the crook of her elbow. In her desire, she had forgotten herself; how was she ever to pay for it all? One scarf perhaps, or maybe the rouge, but all this? She thought in terror of the few coins in her purse, insufficient funds for creating the ideal woman described in the catalogue Bible: a material masterpiece. 

What was she to do? Alice continued to stand frozen in horror at herself. Her head started to pound even harder. She let out a small moan in pain. Why had she drank more than she could handle the night before? And had she eaten since then? Maybe more coffee… Her thoughts blurred together in an indistinct cloud and then all went dark. The cloud burst and the pounding stopped as her head struck against the tile floor with a sharp crack.

“PLEASE CHECK ALL BAGS AT THE DOOR”

Jess shrugged and handed over her messenger bag to the smiling clerk, but not before slipping her iPhone into the pocket of her skinny jeans. Pulling her beanie farther down over her hair and pushing her thick-framed glasses up her nose, she pressed past the dusty counter and into the antique shop.

It was a fascinating place: a vintage wonderland where, had she not been a broke college student, she could easily have spent every penny to her name. There were old radios and typewriters, makeup compacts and faux-pearl necklaces, even faded magazines and a thick catalogue bearing the fashions of a long-gone decade. Jess paused to flip through its pages, noting that the trends it portrayed were certainly not the eclectic styles of 2016 that she was accustomed to wearing.

As Jess delved deeper into the store, she felt that she was traveling back in time. She liked it. She began to long for all things “vintage.” Despite the iPhone in her pocket, she managed to convince herself that the past was better for what she saw as its simplicity and dignity before she even reached the back wall of the shop. 

She wandered on, coming to the clothing section. In its center was a mannequin, eerily lifelike, dressed in a fringed dress and holding a beaded handbag. It even had a bobbed haircut and shoes that looked well-worn.

“That’s a swell dress,” said Jess to herself, trying out the slang of the 1920s. “I’d like to wear it, even if it is out of date.”

She lingered a few moments more by the mannequin, thinking of how she could go about bringing the past trends back with her into her too-modern era. Where to begin? Her vision blurred. She wiped her glasses, but the haze was not from grime. Rather, it was from the growing desire to live differently, boldly in a revived style. She could not move for this desire and stood rooted in place as its grip tightened on her heart. Her mind whirled as visions of her life and the present world in which she lived blended with her idealized imaginings of Roaring Twenties. Her head started to ache with this whirling. She became dizzy. Her legs were wobbly all of a sudden. And then everything- both the antique shop and the modern world outside- went dark.

That afternoon, the clerk rose to begin his daily inspection and inventory tour. Upon reaching the clothing section, he, still smiling his pasted smile, added another mannequin- this one adorned in a beanie and glasses rather than a dress and dancing shoes- to his once chain store, now antique shop.

 

Organ Removal: A Statement and a Story

I often find that the most effective way of communicating a potentially controversial opinion is through storytelling. That said, I will let the following short story speak for me rather than explaining at length my views. Please let me know what you take away from this as I would like to know if my statement-through-story approach was successful.

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Organ Failure

A deep groaning resonated throughout the sanctuary of the church, seeming to shake its stone foundations, established nearly a century earlier. Then, as suddenly as it had started, the groaning stopped, cut short and replaced by a metallic creaking.

This noise was answered by a short sequence of musical notes, played by a grand piano, apparently of its own accord for no pianist sat at its bench. In instrumental dialect, this simple melody translated to, “Are you okay?”

The piano, named Boston according to its make and model, was resting at the front of the sanctuary beside a metal pulpit. This pulpit, machine-made and modern in design, was at odds with the traditional rows of wooden pews assembled before it and the towering pipes of the organ, both of which had been installed along with the stone foundations of nearly a century ago. It was from this instrument that the groaning and creaking emanated and it was to this instrument that the piano addressed his question.

“Are you okay?” Boston repeated. He was answered only by a weak clunk, as if a pipe had come loose. 

“I’m sorry,” he played in minor tones. “You just have not been yourself since they disconnected your console. I understand.”

A toneless whistle came from somewhere among the organ’s principle pipes.

“It sure will be lonely without you,” Boston continued, his chords growing softer and more forlorn. “If it’s any consolation, I probably haven’t much time left either.”

A sigh escaped from a reed pipe but was interrupted as a scuffling arose at the entrance of the sanctuary. The doors swung open and two men, directed by a woman, shuffled down the aisle, each holding an end of a black rectangular object. As they drew nearer, the piano  noticed a cord dragging behind it like a tail and realized with horror what it was: an electronic keyboard.

The woman pointed to a skeleton stand and the men set their burden down on top of it. The grand piano gave a slight shudder as the woman plugged it in and a blue screen glowed on its face.

“Well, give it a try,” said one of the men.

Obligingly, the woman struck a a few chords that made Boston grit his keys in annoyance, having been made to play the same basic progression over and over under the pretense of slightly altered lyrics making it different songs. With some satisfaction, the piano heard that the voice of the keyboard, who he supposed would be named after its maker, Casio, was tinny and lifeless. It was not to be compared to his own rich tones.

The woman’s cell phone rang. She stopped plunking out chords to answer it.

“Hello? Now? Okay, coming.”

The woman beckoned to the men and they hastened to keep up with her quick stride as she left, forgetting in their rush to unplug the keyboard. The piano considered it for a moment. The organ emitted another feeble whistle as if inquiring what had happened.

“They’ve brought in a keyboard,” explained Boston in few notes.

The organ made a croak, the meaning of which Boston was able to understand, having known the other instrument for so long.

“Yes it has weighted keys,” the piano admitted grudgingly.

Another choked noise.

“Talk to it?”- Boston let out a chord like a bitter laugh – “I could, but I doubt it would understand our music.”

“I understand. Understand,” said the robotic voice of the keyboard.

“Oh,” the piano hit a dissonant interval in surprise. “Hello there.”

The organ attempted speech but once more could not produce more than a ghostly gasp without connection to its console.

“What was that? That? That?” asked the newcomer, exercising its reverb setting.

“That, that, that,” mimicked Boston in disdain, “is the church’s pipe organ.”

“Pipe organ? I believe I have a pipe organ setting.” The keyboard’s voice adopted a tone vaguely like that of a theater organ. “Found it. Listen.”

“Indeed?” replied the piano. “Was that it? You’re not much of a pipe organ then. If you could just hear this organ play, feel its power and sound down to your strings- er- circuits, then you would know what an organ really sounds like. Then you would understand.”

“I told you that I understand,” beeped the keyboard.

“I doubt you do or ever will,” plinked Boston, more to himself than to Casio the keyboard.

“Then maybe the organ should play so that I can,” suggested Casio.

“Well you won’t because he can’t!” snapped Boston with an accent that would have shocked any acoustic instrument but did not even register with this digital imposter.

“He can’t play?”

“No,” replied the piano, struggling to maintain a calmer dynamic. “He can barely make a sound any more, now that the dismantling process has begun.”

“Sorry. That is too bad.”

“Don’t pretend to sympathize!” Boston snapped again. “Don’t you get it? You’re his replacement. You’re my replacement too, I daresay. Probably not for a while since the contemporary musicians still find me somewhat useful, but I don’t expect to be kept here more than another year or two. Once the old pulpit was replaced I knew the end was coming for us. First it was the shiny new pulpit; who cares that the pastor can’t pound his fists as nicely on this metal one as he could on the sturdy wood one? It’s more ‘fashionable.’ Now its the organ that has to go and next it will be the pews. You just watch; before the year is over, the young crowd will tear out these pews and put in movie theater seats in the name of comfort. Then it will only be a matter of time before they decide I’m out of date too and they donate me to some school or nursing home or, more likely than not, sell me to fund the purchase of a fog machine or some other monstrosity.”

“Oh,” said the keyboard. “That is-”

But Boston was not to be interrupted as the tidal wave of his thoughts, locked inside him all these months, burst forth in an agonized rhapsody.

“But let’s not even think about the future,” he wailed. “Just think of the present, of the organ, being torn from the foundations of this church under the pretense of being too expensive to maintain and the church having no organist. The reality is that they, the contemporary crowd, find him stuffy and antiquated, a grandfather instrument who is not cool enough, who won’t attract visitors or inspire members to return. I wonder, will they regret it? Will they find out how wrong they are?

“To remove this mighty instrument is to rip a vital piece of the body of this church out of its socket. His music has been a pillar to this church since its foundation; he presided over weddings and funerals, baptisms and communions, Christmases and Easters and all holidays in between. His music represents the universal call to fear and tremble, to surrender and be saved, to have courage and strength. Hymns, marches, preludes, offertories… when he is removed, these are stolen from the congregation. In removing him and me, the church members are at last completely robbing themselves of this music, the songs that represented beautiful and glorious redemption stories, and replacing them with repetitive choruses of little substance set to the same four chords. But I suppose it was inevitable, seeing as the hymnals were disposed of long ago.”

The piano paused for a moment before the crescendo of his ranting fell again to a sorrowful melody like that of a requiem.

“The pipe organ was once hailed as the king of instruments, his music said to represent the very voice of God…but no longer. His voice has been silenced. The king of instruments, a living, breathing, evolving cornerstone of worship and art, has been dethroned and replaced by you, an electronic box with only as much resonance as amps will allow you.”

No sound came from the dismembered organ as the impassioned speech of the piano faded. A haunting silence ensued.

“This is not the end,” said the keyboard, his voice crackling through the still air. “I have an organ setting, remember?” Casio, after a few clicks, switched on its demo setting and a two-dimensional rendition of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor leaked through its speakers. It had reached the end of the piece and was beginning all over again when the door opened once more and the woman hurried down the aisle.

“Yes, I’ll be there in a minute,” she said into her cell phone. “The keyboard? Yeah it came to day. Mm-hm, it’s nice, thanks.”

She mounted the steps to the loft where a choir had once sung every Sunday but now only gathered on holidays to please the elderly crowd. Then, in one jerk, she yanked the keyboard’s plug from its socket, killing its blue face and imitation organ performance. Not even an echo remained.

The woman marched back down the aisle and out the door. As she let it slam behind her like the lid on a coffin, a thin stream of air wheezed its way through the organ’s pipes, the final breath of a dying era.

On the Platform

hebden-bridge-station-02

“Are you waiting for someone, miss?”

      “Yes.”

      “Would you prefer to sit in the waiting room?”

      “No thank you.”

      She had been sitting there for quite some time and the train station master was beginning to wonder if she was really waiting for anyone at all. She certainly appeared to be expecting someone, though. Her hair was immaculate despite the journey and several curls were pinned back in a simple yet fetching style. Her blouse and skirt were smoothly-pressed and not a stain in sight, as was her coat. Her pearl necklace and brooch were rather at odds with the costume-jewelry trends of modern fashion, but they became her and leant an attractive grace to her as she sat with head held high (but not to the point of being too high and thus prideful) and shoulders back. The only part of her appearance that did not seem to be well-groomed were her shoes. They must once have been as proper and pretty as the rest of her, but were now were scuffed and muddy as though she had marched through treacherous woodland trails rather than taken a train to London. But she paid no mind. Perhaps she had been through a difficult journey, but she had kept the rest of her personage neat and respectable and now she was waiting.

      And waiting.

      And waiting.

      Another hour passed and she had barely moved a muscle. The station master was beginning to be impatient for her and wondered how anyone could have the strength to sit so still for so long without so much as a word of complaint. His stomach growled and he checked his watch. It was lunchtime, but he could not leave her unattended. The rest of the passengers had vacated the platform long ago. If she would just go sit in the waiting room instead, he could go get a bite at the pub across the street. He could smell the aroma of frying fish and chips through the mixture of train steam and cheap coffee.  

      “Miss?” he asked.

      “Yes?” she turned to face him with a soft smile that almost concealed the wariness of her soul. So there was a weakness, he thought with surprise. His heart softened and he adopted a gentler tone.

      “It seems that whoever you are waiting for is late, so if you would care to follow me to-”

      “No, he isn’t,” she interrupted.

      “Pardon?”

      “He is not late. It simply appears that I am early.”

      “Early for what?”

      “An important meeting. You might say the most important meeting of my life and hopefully of his.” Her lips twitched in a humorous little grin before melting once more into her soft, vague smile.

      “Alright…” the station master’s stomach rumbled again. “Well, if you wouldn’t mind moving indoors, I need to clear the platform…”

      “You can go to lunch. I won’t do anything dreadful and I am quite safe here under this light.”

      It was as if she had read his mind. Or perhaps she had just heard the continued gurgling of his stomach. Was she hungry too? He wondered, but the lure of food pushed the thought from his mind.

      “Alright, well…I’ll be back soon.” He left with reluctance, hoping his manager would not realize his absence and her presence. He glanced back at her, but she was sitting facing forward as usual, focused on watching for whomever it was she was meeting.

      An hour later, the station master returned, but he had not been able to eat as much as he had expected. An inexplicable concern for the woman on the platform had dulled his appetite. He clutched a doggy bag in one hand.

      “Miss?”

      She turned to him once more, the soft smile seemed a little slow in coming to her mouth. Her eyes looked tired. Were those tears? Surely not. Just a trick of the light. “Yes?” There was a waver to her voice. Perhaps they were tears.

      “I thought perhaps you were hungry,” he said, offering the bag. He was baffled at himself for saying that. He had not intended to bring her food and it was only his leftovers that he held out to her.

      “Thank you,” she said. He thought he saw her eyes brighten a bit. “I was actually rather hungry.” She opened the bag and took a few dainty bites of the fish and chips, thanking him again.

      “No trouble at all,” he muttered, scooching back toward his post.

      “Would you like to sit?” she offered before he had made it far. She gestured to the empty space beside her, as hospitable as a queen in her palace though just a young woman at a train station.

      “Oh, sure,” he said with a shrug. He was not sure why he felt compelled to join her, just as he had not understood why he had given her the food, but he sat down as if automatically and mirrored her perfect posture.

      “I’m Leah,” she said, extending a hand.

      “Jake,” he said, taking it carefully. Her grip was unexpectedly firm as they shook hands and she looked him in the eye as she spoke. So there was a confidence beneath her soft appearance, he thought. Interesting.

      “So, Leah,” he said. He liked the way her name felt as he said it. It was like a breath of ocean air, fresh. As much at odds with their grimy and common surroundings as she was. “Who are you waiting for?”

      “I don’t know his name,” she said.

      “Oh,” he said, caught off guard. “What does he look like? I can at least keep an eye out for him.”

      “I don’t know that either, but I would like to think that he has kind eyes.” She glanced into his eyes and her cheeks blushed pastel as she returned to scanning the platform as another train zoomed to a halt and passengers gushed from its doors.

      “Kind eyes…that helps,” he said, thinking perhaps the woman did not have her wits completely about her.

      “I’m sorry,” she said. “I wish there was more I knew that I could tell you. I wish there was more I knew that I could tell myself.”

      “You know nothing of this man?”

      “I didn’t say that,” she said, starting and turning to face him once more. “I said I did not know his name or what he looked like, but I know about him. I know that he is strong and caring and smart and hard-working and hopefully has something of a sense of humor. And I know that eventually I will meet him. I just thought perhaps it would be here and perhaps it would be today. Maybe I was wrong about the time but I was not wrong about him. Wherever he is, he is all of those things and our journeys will reach their common end.”

      “Where did you come from?” the station master asked, ignoring the woman’s talk. He was not sure he understood it anyway. “You’re sitting at a train station, but-”

      “My shoes?” she finished. “Yes, they’re filthy and worn, but I had not the heart to change them. I felt I should be presentable with the rest of my appearance, but these shoes have been with me since the beginning of my journey here and I did not have the courage to change them and continue this path in different shoes since I did not know for certain if today would really be the end.”

      “Interesting,” he said. His mind was working to make sense of her statements, but while he did not grasp the full significance of her situation, he understood the sentiment behind it. After all, he’d been wearing the same shoes for years and they’d been second hand to begin with, but they had become part of his life of walking up and down the platform day after day. To change them would be to change that.

      Jake sat with Leah a few moments more as the crowd from the newly-arrived train thinned out. Then, saying he’d better get back to work, he returned to his post and pretended to look over some train schedules and ticket sales reports. But he could not stop himself from glancing up once in a while to check on that unusual woman who continued to sit and wait and wait and sit.

      The sun sank behind the buildings and then behind the horizon. Jake shivered, donning his coat and pulling it tight about him. Even in the summer, London nights were chilly and it had been a drizzling, gray kind of day to begin with. Across the platform, the small shoulders of Leah moved slightly. Was that a shudder? Did she have a coat? A few feet from his post, the coffee vendor began to pack up his cart. Jake set his papers aside and rushed over.

      “Two cappuccinos please, grande.”

     

Leah shivered again. She must have been wrong. What was she thinking? She mentally berated herself for being so silly. She had been waiting so long; what made her think today would be the day? And why here of all places? Stupid girl, she thought. She gathered her bag and stood to leave, sighing aloud in resignation. Trains to a new place had brought her no more luck than walking throughout the old. Besides, she thought with a glimmer of hope, she would be easier to find if she stayed put rather than speeding across the country.  But would she be found? Probably not, she realized with a sorrow beyond even a sigh. She was being absolutely ridiculous. Back to her house, back to her job, back to waiting in the old place. That was the sensible thing to do, after all.

      Her straight shoulders slumped for the first time. A curl fell free of its pins, limp in the drizzle that mirrored her mood. Sensible had grown so dull, so “stale and unprofitable” as she had heard said once in a play, but what else was there to do? She turned to go inside where it was warmer and where she could buy a ticket to return to her sensible life of waiting.

      “Miss?” It was Jake, that nice young stationmaster with the hair that needed a trim, the shirt that could use a running over with an iron, and the…kind eyes. She blinked.  He held out a steaming coffee cup and smiled gently. She shyly accepted the cup and murmured her thanks, looking down at the ground and their shoes. She noticed then that his were even muddier and more worn than hers and felt a strange urge to laugh, but instead she shivered.

      “Oh, here!” Jake spilled some of his cappuccino as he wiggled free of his jacket and clumsily tried to wrap it around her shoulders. He laughed, embarrassed and shrugged helplessly.

      “Thank you,” she said, laughing as the coat and heat of the coffee cup took away the sting of the cold.

      “Would you like to go inside? To the waiting room? I can take you there,” Jake said. He looked at her with concern in his eyes.

      “I would like to go inside, thank you,” replied Leah. “But I do not need the waiting room anymore.”