*Hello, readers! This is a flash fiction piece that I wrote for the Young Writer's Workshop Community Writing Contest: Hope! While it did not win, I am grateful for the experience and even more excited to now share it with you!*
London, May 1944
Darkness seeps from the walls of the train station.
I’m fifteen years old. I shouldn’t fear the dark.
But I do.
Ash filters through the ceiling of the tube station and showers us all. I brush it away. My elbow strikes a shoulder. “Ow!”
“Sorry,” I mumble. All of London must have taken refuge tonight. The thin blanket someone’s grandmother wrapped around me does nothing to fend off the chill from the stone platform.
I scuff my shoe against the stone platform. The train has stopped. Passengers push, shove, and prod. A dingy clock a few feet away assures me it will remain that way for five more minutes.
I stare out the through the smoke that fills the room. I wish for a window, then change my mind. I don’t want to see. I cough into my ash-stained sleeve.
No one’s come to see me off to America. I have only a slip of paper. An address that promises I’ll find someone waiting for me when I disembark.
I don’t see Mum or Dad. They made it. They had to. They taught me year after year, “At the first sound of the sirens, run for the tube station, no matter what. We’ll meet there.”
When we emerge in the morning, I’ll find them waiting for me.
But I hadn’t. Found them waiting for me, that is.
“All aboard!” the conductor hollers. I gather my two suitcases. I don’t really need two. I could have carried my belongings in one.
I walk the streets alone. Streets I’ve played hopscotch on. Streets I’ve dashed up the first day of every school holiday. Streets I’ve traveled to the store and back again every Friday. I turn the corner.
Nothing but ashes.
I scurry aboard just before the door closes. I choose a seat all the way in the back and stow my luggage above. The latch on my suitcase pops loose and rattles in protest. I try to jiggle it into submission.
A small Book slips out, the cover black as soot.
The pages still smolder. I pick it up anyway. Blow off the ashes.
I give my suitcase one last yank. It works.
The whistle screeches. The train lurches forward. I lose my balance and fold into a seat. I clutch the Book tighter as London vanishes before my window.
A splash of color arrests my eye. A handkerchief amidst the crowd of well-wishers? A mangled playbill torn by the wind? An abandoned suitcase kicked aside?
A butterfly flits about my ears. I swat it away.
The butterfly hops about the ashes and charcoal. She lays down her brilliant violet wings for but a moment. A wisp of smoke hides her from view. I slump back in my seat.
Her wings spring up and she soars through the smoke. She sails away, over the roof of the station.
I lay the Book in my lap and prop my chin on my hand.
I jump. I hadn’t even seen the boy slide in the seat across from me. He, too, holds a Book.
He drums his foot against the floor. “Don’t you think?”
“I’m Kit. Short for Christopher. What’s your name?” He holds out a hand.
I take it. “Hope.”
(C) Rachel Judith Leitch