Thursday 28 September 2006

The Reaper's Coleslaw, Part One

The Reaper's Coleslaw is a short story of three chapters, posted over three week days -- by me, your wartime host, Cheeseburger Brown.

Eat Snacky Smores.

And now, we begin our tale:


In the spring Sarah came home from school.

North of Huntsville the trees became shorter and the train slowed down, a collective cue for the passengers to begin gathering their kipple and pulling their jackets from the overhead bins. Sarah jammed a dog-eared paperback into her knapsack and put her shoes back on.

Because they were bored or anxious or just herdish the passengers queued up in the aisle even before the train had stopped. Sarah remained in her seat until she became too annoyed by being clipped by the bags of the careless as they milled, then stood up and wormed her way into the line, leaning impatiently first on one leg and then the other.

In her long fingers she fondled the claim check for her electronics: a Motorola music player telephone and a Casio composer with wireless earbuds.

She looked at her name on the check, mentally obscuring her maiden surname and imagining it already transformed. In less than an hour she would be telling everyone the news: on Mike's last leave they had ducked out to city hall in Toronto and, without pomp or fanfare, she had officially become Mrs. Cuthburtson.

Mom was going to shit.

Sarah stepped out of the car and on to ground which felt faintly as if it were moving. She lugged her knapsack while she used one thumb to tab through her text messages, squinting and tilting her phone away from the glare as she stepped out of the train's shadow.

Like all public spaces, the station was both charmed and eerie by the notably missing demographic of those overseas. They said conscription applied to both sexes equally, but it was the men who seemed to have born the brunt of the vanishing. Or maybe their absence just stood out more.

The crowd was all kids, women, seniors. And students.

Students were still safe.


Moksha Gren said...

Nice opening. I've always been partial to rail travel, so the setting caught me pretty quick.

I'll also say that your previous concerns about snagging interest early doesn't seem to apply here. Chapter 1 and conflict has already developed.

And finally, it this OUR Mike that Sarah has married. I seem to remember you saying that we'd get to see him all grown up.

Sash said...

I love trains, too and was also drawn in by the name of your main character - not that I'm egotistical enough to think that you chose MY name, but hey, it made me smile.

Anyway, Chapter 1 is well written. You've managed to set the scene, give basic character background and introduce a conflict in a very natural manner. It doesn't feel like you've crammed in a bunch of info when we read - it flows effortlessly.

Teddy said...

I think the stories we have read so far have taken place in the same universe. Cherry Nuk-Nuk was mentioned in Bad Traffic, and yeah, I think this is Mike the Ninja now. I wonder what war they are being conscripted for?


Mark said...

Very nice. I always like reading about people not afraid to do what they want instead of what others expect. For a long time, I was constantly doing the latter (but never "doing" the ladder -- that's just wrong).

Now, I only do it most of the time.

I'm digging your illustrations with your latest stories, by the way.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

Thanks for troubling to comment!

Yes, the "Mike" mentioned is indeed Mike Zhang Cuthburtson, whom we know to have snuck into a nightclub when he was not quite eleven years old.

If you want to imagine a rough timeline, Night Flight Mike took place in the year 2000. Therefore, this story must take place in the near future (writing from my perspective in 2006).

I also love trains, although one has to shudder to imagine that if passengers aren't allowed to bring personal electronics on board there must have been at least one more commuter train terrorist attack (or attempt) between now and then.

As Teddy notes, these recent stories do take place in the same universe. One of the elements tying the previous ones together was the girl Dalia, who first appeared in Victor's Mom's Car.

Illustrations are tricky: there are instances when I don't want to reveal too much in the picture -- either a plot point or just a face I'd rather get imagined than dictated. I still have no idea what I'll draw for Sandy is a Spider. Oh well...I still have a few days to figure it out.

Cheeseburger Brown