Nanowrimo is a compelling challenge to write 50,000 words during November: that’s an average of 1667 words per day. My plan is to write a set of 30 short stories each 1667 words long instead. Each story comes from a prompt, a lot from fellow bloggers.
This prompt comes courtesy of Willow over at Willowdot21
The Joy of Steam
‘I don’t think you realise the difficulties.’
‘I do not accept ‘can’t’.’
‘That’s easy to say and not so easy to do…’
Geraldine, ‘Gerry’ Sassy rose to her full four foot eleven and glared. ‘I employed you to build our railway, not spout platitudinous clichés.’
Terrance ‘Terry’ Tantrick let his shoulders slump. ‘You employed me because I was both available and probably the only person willing to undertake this challenge.’
‘Don’t flatter yourself. There are plenty of other perfectly competent people….’
‘…. None of whom volunteered.’
‘Really. Well I will happily step down. Can you pass the sugar, please?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
Terry studied his wife as he stirred his tea. ‘I’ll be late tonight. Board meeting. Will you be out?’ He knew this to be otiose; his wife was always out – the Parish Council, the WI, the Town Women’s Guild, or something to do with some charity or school where she volunteered.
‘The Players. We’ve to decide on the theme of the Christmas Panto. Mallory wants Mamma Mia for pity’s sakes.’
‘You can’t possibly be involved in the panto as well as all your other commitments.’
‘Phooey. Anyway if they need me, it’s not for me to deny them my contribution. I’ll leave you a plate to reheat. And don’t give it to Daffy again please. His stools have been both translucent and tacky. I do not need that vet woman ticking me off about his anal glands again. Mortifying. Kissy.’
Terry studied his wife’s rosebud lips, puckered distractedly in his direction as she read some briefing note. For all her ego trips and grandiose projects she was his one love and, just then he found her indescribably sexy.
‘Terry!’ She slapped his hand away from her breast. ‘Alice will be down any moment.’
‘No chance of a quickie in the pantry then?’
Gerry snickered. ‘Well, if you can afford to miss your train…’
‘Eww, gross mum.’ Alice Tantrick entered the kitchen scratching her scalp and yawning. ‘If you have to check for lumps can’t you do it in the bathroom?’
‘That is both distasteful and…’
‘Whatever. Any chance of toast? I’m going for a shower. Bye dad.’ She reached up and kissed his cheek. ‘No offence but your breath smells of sewage. Try gum.’
Alice’s parents watched their daughter disappear into the downstairs shower room. Her head reappeared. ‘I’m out tonight. Jane’s doing my nails. I’ll be home at 10.’
Terry collected his briefcase and sighed. ‘She’s a one, isn’t she? I thought we said 9.30 on school nights?’
‘We did but since neither of us are about to enforce it, she’ll get away with it. Are you worried about the railway? Really? Because this is important to me.’
Terry kissed his wife. ‘It’ll be fine. And my breath?’
‘She’s right. Gum.’
Terry sat in his usual seat, smoothing out the Guardian.
‘Hey, Terry. Fancy seeing you.’
Terry’s heart sank. Harold Mottram was a pompous oaf; he could make Gerry appear the epitome of moderation. ‘Morning Harold. Not your usual train.’
Harold squeezed into the space between Terry and a woman holding tight to a dark green leather bag. ‘Bloody quack wants to check the jolly old prostate, doesn’t he? Good god, you’d think they’d have a decent test by now, wouldn’t you?’ Harold’s voice had a touch of the megaphone about it. ‘It’s either the false positive, negative, positive of the PSA or some teenager sticks a rigid digit up the old rectitude and tickles yer fancy like I’m back in the dorm.’
Terry slid behind the paper, willing the seat monster to swallow Harold whole.
‘Glad I caught you. Gerry and this train set thingy?’
‘Is it going to work?’
‘I’m pretty sure it will be fine. Not easy but we will get there.’
‘Thing is, old fellow and I say this in all kindness, but I don’t think I can allow it. Health and Safety you know. What if someone was hurt? Has she thought it through?’
Terry pulled the paper close to his face and grimaced. Well, well. So there was to be a battle after all. ‘Are you really about to stop this? You do know it’s history repeating itself.’
‘My grandfather was slandered by hers.’
‘What do you want Harold?’
‘What’s right. Now, how’s that lovely daughter of yours?’
‘Alice is a challenge. We still don’t know where she ended up last night. I’ve no doubt Gerry will find out.’
‘I always assumed it would be easier with boys but it’s all on a need to know basis. I think the little toad is stealing some of my… erm things too. Lancelot is more interested in his games that socialising. Mallory has fixed him up in the shed; we don’t hear the incessant sound of gunfire.’ Harold closed his eyes. ‘A free run at local councillor.’
Terry sat at his desk. He would have to tell Gerry soon but he’d leave it for a few days in the hope he could find a way round what could become rather bloody. The last thing he needed was something like this reopening old wounds. And Gerry would never give in to blackmail.
The Passmount to Oswelton narrow gauge model railway had originally been the brainchild of Gerry’s grandfather, Reg, on his return from Germany. He built the tracks and the rolling stock in his shed. He envisaged a line in a loop of just over a quarter of a mile giving fun rides to visitors to the Abbey grounds in the summer. Unfortunately Harold’s grandfather, Bert had the critical piece of land and, at the last minute refused to allow the track to cross it. Reg said Bert had agreed; Bert denied it was so. Accusations of bad faith rocked the two villages for years. Reg’s problem was he had not factored in a return trip so his train could no more reverse than turnabout. As a result after each trip the train plus carriages had to be pushed back to the start. The delays reduced the enjoyment and gradually few people wanted a go; Reg packed away the train and carriages, pulled up the track and boxed it all in his shed.
Wind the clock on and the feud, it seemed had been long forgotten. Or had it? In the run up to the Queen’s Golden Jubilee the linked villages, now, with infill housing developments the one indistinguishable from the other, wanted something to recognise this momentous achievement as well as draw in the tourists. The Joint Parish Council, with Gerry chair of Oswelton and Harold of Passmont met to determine the arrangements. The usual bouncy castles and themed pageants around the Abbey were mooted but everyone was agreed: they needed a spectacular. So Gerry said, ‘Let’s build grandfather’s railway.’
Initially a pleasing consensus reigned. Even the landowners over whose land the railway would travel (all except Harold being unaware of the history) agreed to the temporary installation of track and signals. Harold, too, was seen to nod when asked if his land could be used.
Gerry didn’t seem surprised but Terry, aware of the family history did wonder. He knew Harold had an ulterior motive. He doodled a train with Harold’s beaky nose exploding while he tried to work out what to do.
‘You have to talk to Alice. And don’t say ‘why me’? I’m the one who always has the bad press.’
‘What’s she done?’
‘I don’t know, do I? She said she went to Jane’s but Jane’s mother told me at Pilates that Jane has chickenpox and hasn’t seen anyone for about a week.’
‘Did you ask Alice what…?’
‘Of course I asked. What did I get? That stupid ‘L’ sign on her forehead.’
‘I KNOW WHAT IT IS, THANK YOU.’
‘Ok, ok. But why would she tell me?’
‘Just do something useful, can’t you?’
Terry picked up his coffee. ‘I’ll be in the shed. Working on YOUR railway.’ He didn’t wait for a reply. But as he tinkered, happy with the progress he was making, he thought about his 16 year old daughter. On the one hand he trusted her implicitly. On the other, he had no clue about the mores and mind set of the modern teenager. A noise made him sit up. The backdoor opened and closed, Alice paused and looked right at his shed but she couldn’t see him. She slipped down the garden and out the back gate.
Terry gave her a start and followed. Maybe he understood teenagers after all.
It didn’t take long. A couple of left turns, a quick dash across the main road and they were in Passmount. Terry watched. He blinked. Well, well. Still he had better check.
But he was right. Alice climbed a fence and, rather than head for the house, crossed the grass to a small shed. Terry counted to 100 hundred and followed suit. He stretched up and looked in through the dusty window. Two young people lay on a blanket, kissing.
Terry grinned and opened the door.
‘Alice, Lance. This is cosy.’
Alice looked furious. ‘Did you follow me? Christ…’
Terry sat down. He looked at the neatly rolled joint and at Lance’s horrified expression. ‘You both could be in a lot of trouble. Especially having this.’ He grinned. ‘But believe it or not I smoked my first at your age and, as for having a snog… well I think I was fourteen.’
‘You’ll not tell my parents, Mr Tantrick?’
‘No Lance I’ll not say a word. Nor will I tell your mother, Alice. On two conditions.’
‘Of course.’ This from Lance. ‘What?’ This from Alice.
‘Well, you’d better not be having sex…’
‘… without precautions. Right Lance?’
‘Yes sir. I mean, I’m not sir. I wouldn’t.’
‘And two, there’s some help I need with your father. Is this grass his?’
‘How did you know?’
‘Lucky guess. Now, here’s the thing, Lance….’