©Peter Barnett 2018
The girl looked out over the swift flowing river, as raindrops tumbled out of the sky, creating crowns of glory, as they crashed into the water. Mayflies, hit by the sudden downpour, plunged into the water, only to be gobbled up by the ravenous school of trout, delighted at the unexpected windfall.
She surveyed the old tumbledown station behind her and the forlorn space, where once, twin tracks of freedom and travel lay, bringing monsters of metal, surrounded by steam and smoke and their greasy drivers. Cracked and worn platforms beneath her feet, where once upon a time, happy holiday makers, full of excitement and laughter, had once disembarked for their summer holidays.
No hustle and bustle today, even the birds had fallen silent, hiding amongst the larger leaves attempting to keep their feathers dry, until the storm passed over. The girl’s large brimmed hat dripped water in a circle around her feet, before running down the cracks and over the platform edge. The faintest blodges of white paint remained, long past the time when pristine lines once warned passengers not to get too close.
The rain turned into hail and Kathy moved back under a canopy that was growing over her head. The hailstones became larger and larger but now in a narrow band along the disused track and the edge of the platform. The noise level increased as the hailstones turned to granite, hammering into the thin area in front of the platform, becoming the full ballast that would be needed for the track. The noise of the falling stones stopped, to be replaced by the heavy crunch of sleeper logs dropping into place, one by one as they slammed into the ballast. Metal on metal clanking reached Kathy’s ears as two rods of steel approached, hammered into the sleepers and screwed down. Shiny rods of rail track stopped past the end of the platform and huge buffers with new shiny red paint, solidified at the terminus of the line. A gantry with green signals appeared on the far corner of the track and at a road crossing an old car was stopped from crossing.
“Are you waiting for the train?” asked a rumbling voice from behind her.
She spun around to find a concerned gentleman, holding up a brightly coloured umbrella to protect his perfect station masters uniform. A peaked cap with a red band, navy blue coat with bright buttons in two rows down the front. Kathy could see that the station was now far from the dilapidated building she had found when she first arrived. A row of lamps, now lit because of the dark thunderstorm; pretty green doors and perfect white writing on all the signs. Waiting Room, Ticket Office, Exit, Ladies and Gents, proclaimed the signs. A new clock proclaiming the time of 6.31, ticked loudly for the first time.
“I’d have to wait for a long time, wouldn’t I?” said Kathy.
“Sadly yes. Beecham and the car have certainly spoilt the romance of travelling,” said the stationmaster. “George by the way.”
“Kathy. Nice to meet you,” said Kathy. “Writers made the most of unexpected meetings of strangers on long journeys, leading to romance or maybe just lustful encounters.”
“There are lots of love stories set on trains it’s true,” said George. “But think how many murder stories were set on train journeys, especially Agatha’s novels.”
“Well I suppose she had many journeys on the trains to and from Devon.”
Talking of which, a whistle in the far distance heralded the arrival of the 2.45 from Paddington. The station and its surrounds were now fully restored, complete with colourful flower beds and new posters welcoming guests to the mini Riviera of England.
“Not a touch on Torquay of course,” said George.
“But close enough,” responded Kathy. “Will it be on time?”
“Always is,” he replied.
Above the glorious tree line, now bathed in brilliant sunshine, puffs of smoke and steam rose, heralding the approach of the train. Around the corner a black and green metal monster appeared huffing and puffing away. Now that the rain had dried from the warmth of the sunshine, the hail on the edges of the platform had melted and turned into a brilliant white as if newly painted.
“Will he stop in time?” asked Kathy, as the train hurtled towards them. “He seems to be going awfully fast today.”
“Always does,” said George.
At last the engine driver applied the brakes and steel on steel screeching, filled the air. Sparks flew in all directions and there was a shuddering along the platform threatening to shake down all the newly revived buildings.
The carriages swung and swayed with the force of the abrupt halt throwing passengers into disarray. The engine stopped exactly at Kathy’s feet and the driver leapt out.
“Do you have to stop so suddenly Fred?” asked Kathy.
“Wouldn’t be getting their monies worth,” he said. “Besides they expect it, wouldn’t be an express without screeching stops.”
“Well be that as it may, we need to check our guests.”
Kathy looked into the first-class carriage, well apart from the dining car and guards van, there was only one carriage. The passengers were all heaped at the front covered by small trunks, hat boxes and loose-leaf papers. They were laughing as usual.
One called out “Good one Fred.” before they picked themselves up.
“Gather my manuscript,” said an elderly lady. “I spent hours writing it, so don’t get it out of order.”
“Welcome to ‘Bolsloe Writer’s Retreat’ everyone,” said Kathy, leading them down the path through the overhanging branches of the flowering rhododendrons, to the mansion, overlooking the river estuary.
The guests formed a disorderly queue at the desk all clamouring for their voices to be heard, the excitement of their week ahead getting to them like little children, all hopeful of sorting out their writers’ blocks.
“Patience everyone, I’ve sorted all your favourite rooms, no need to rush,” said Kathy. “Your cases will be delivered to your rooms, as soon as George and Fred have sorted them out.”
“I should think so,” said Enid.
“I assume you’ve all labelled your bags.”
A couple of guests looked a bit sheepish. “I’m sure they can work it out,” said Kenneth.
“Now don’t forget early morning writing exercise and then your one-on-one sessions start at 11, after morning tea.”
“Get on with it Kathy, we need to freshen up,” said Lewis.
“Agatha you’re in our mystical room of course.”
Agatha gathered her bags and manuscript and took herself off up the stairs.
“Enid, you’re the room overlooking the beach.” Enid took her bag, bucket and spade off to her room.
“Arthur, I’ve given you the room overlooking the estuary.”
“Lewis, I given you the room next to the garden, so you can walk right out.”
“Kenneth, you are in the lodge in the woods, next to the stream.”
“Alan I hope you don’t mind, but you’re in the double rooms, with the children’s toys.”
“I hate that room.”
“I’m sorry, but you were a late booking.”
“I hope they are not as much trouble as last year,” said Jane, appearing out of the kitchen, followed by the delicious smells of dinner, wafting in behind her.
“Don’t worry, we’ll sort them out,” said Kathy, confidently.
The next morning after a raucous and slightly drunken evening, recounting their frustrations and successes with their books, followed by the more subdued morning exercise, it was time to help sorting their respective challenges out.
Kathy was sitting with Agatha, “So what’s the problem?”
“I’m stuck with names for my new detective.”
“Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Agatha handed her a piece of paper with words ‘Toriop the detective, eating his favourite Belgian chocolate.
“Doesn’t sound very glamorous does it, nor mysterious for that matter.”
Kathy picked up the slip of paper which twirled it as it passed through a shaft of sunlight.
“Can you see what I see?” asked Kathy.
“Read it backwards.”
“Oh. said Agatha. “So, Poirot, the Belgian, eating his chocolate.”
“How clever. Thanks Kath,” said Agatha, as she rushed back to her room. “I knew you would be able to help.”
“So how are you doing Arthur?” asked Jane.
“I’m stuck,” he said. “I want to write for children but can’t quite put my finger on the story.”
They were sitting outside his room, overlooking the lake. Spring swallows were flitting to and fro across the water picking off flies with practised ease.
“It looks just like the Amazon,” said Jane. “All the trees and overgrown foliage.”
“Very peaceful, but no inspiration yet,” said Arthur.
“Oh look, it’s the children’s dingy race,” she said, seeing the happy children take to the water and spinning around, waiting for the starters gun.
“I think you may have cracked it,” said Arthur.
Jane looked over his shoulder as he typed a title page. ‘Swallows and Amazons’
“Who have you got next, Kath.”
“Lewis Carrol, no idea who he is. Another wannabe writer with no idea where to start,” said Kath.
Kath came around to the garden table where Lewis was playing patience.
“Not writing yet then?”
“No sit down, we’ll have a couple or rounds of whist and see what happens.”
Lewis shuffled the cards and started to deal them out, when a sharp wind came in from the sea and started to swirl the cards around and around in the alcove, lifting them higher and higher. The wind calmed down as quickly as it started and the cards floated down, face up on the table with the queen of hearts on top. “That’s it.” he said.
“What seems to be the problem Enid?” asked Jane, when she found her in her room, looking out over the coast.
“I have the story sorted but it has something missing, especially the title, not catchy enough.”
“The Fabulous Four, it doesn’t ring true and it seems they are all pairing up and there’s no real interaction or conflict.”
“What compared to that group out there,” said Jane, pointing to a group of five children, digging for treasure in the sand.”
“And why would five make me famous. Oh, I see what you mean,” said Enid, leaping up and giving Jane a hug.
Kathy made her way out to the lodge in the wood to find Kenneth with his head in his hands.
“What’s wrong. How can I help?” asked Kath. “Why don’t we go for a short walk, it always helps me.”
The wind that had disturbed Lewis, now tore through the willow tree in front of them, bending its fronds as they reached towards the stream. A water vole scuttled across the water and into the undergrowth, as badger snuffled through the vegetation, searching for tasty worms. More scrambling between the fronds of ferns, as a rat stood up on it’s hind legs and sniffed the air.
“I think you may have stumbled on something here,” said Kenneth, striding back to his room.
Jane found Alan walking up the path to the small bridge over the stream and watched new leaves float past under the bridge. Jane picked up a couple of sticks, “Here, I’ll race you.”
They both dropped their sticks and raced to the other side to see which one appeared first.
“I win,” said Jane.
“Anyway, why are you out here?” asked Jane. “I thought you were writing.”
“It’s all the stuffed animals in the children’s room, it’s like they’re mocking me because I have no ideas,” said Alan.
“Why not get your own back and put them in the story.”
Alan stared at her for a second. “Forgive me Kathy, I have to get back.”
Two days later Jane and Kathy waved goodbye to their guests, all feverishly writing on their tables, as the train pulled out of the station.
“Do you think we’ve sorted out all their problems?”
“We’ll see when their books come out,” said Jane. “Now, who’s down next week?