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Issue number ten




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Which Way North? by Lucy A.E. Ward

I don't want to lose you on the way. Take my hand," Je said.

He took it, becoming aware of the sweat coating his fingers as their skin met. "Is it far?"

"Far is not relevant," Je said. She opened the small wooden door of the woodshed and pulled him inside, where to his surprise he was confronted by a tunnel leading off into a snowscape. It smelt of turpentine and dust by the door, but the familiar scents were soon deadened by the freezing wind spiralling towards them. "You didn't say it would be cold."

"It won't be," she said and stooped to peel a layer of white fur away from the snow. "Here, put this on."

Wrapped inside the wide strip of downy hide, he no longer noticed the air. His eyes were now focused on a huge scaly silhouette beating snow clouds with its wings on the horizon. "Uh, what's that?" he asked.

They exited the tunnel. The landscape widened out and he noticed several black and grey smudges coiling in the clouds around them. A red door stood lonely and isolated, stark red on white, without the justification of a building or excuse of structure. "That's it. Open it," said Je.

"You want me to open it?" he said and rubbed his hands together. The round brass handle was icy and slippery, so he wrapped his hands inside his sleeves and wrenched it round. The hinges creaked and an explosion of brilliant white light shot out, turned blue and faded. "Is it safe?"

Je nodded and ran inside. Cautiously, he stood and brushed the snow off his jeans, then peered beyond the door. A wall of water shimmered like a mercury curtain, contained by the chiselled frame. He touched it. Warm. Diving into it, he felt himself rise and was surprised to discover a herd of tiny green seahorses gripping him with the curly ends of their tails. They snorted pearls, broke the surface and released him.

Flushed by the sudden fluctuation of temperature, he waded to the shore where Je's tiny footprints trailed up the sand and towards the broken-down body of a steam locomotive. It was hot and only a round flat sun broke the pink skim of sky above. He peeled off the wet hide and discarded it. Thick turquoise claws poked through the sand and dragged it down as he climbed up into the driver's car of the locomotive.

"Told you it wouldn't be cold," Je said, kicking her heels and sitting in the driver's seat. "Are we all aboard?"

He nodded and pulled a chain, making the whistle scream. The locomotive's wheels began a slow grind along the beach, throwing up sand behind them and sending startled turtles flapping towards the surf. "Where are we going, Je?" he asked her.

"Have you forgotten so soon?" she said and pointed at the ruby windshield. As he looked through the gem window he could see the train's vast black track converging without reaching a destination. When he leaned out the car he only saw pink sky and the sea beneath them--no track at all. Whales rolled in huge waves, sinking their shadows beyond his vision.

"I thought you were driving," he said, but when he glanced at her again, Je had disappeared, replaced by a single Venus flytrap.

He seized the wheel and thoughtfully stood her in a patch of light.

"Onwards," he declared.

Former resident of Spain and The Netherlands, Lucy A.E. Ward is currently living in England. A long-time student of ancient cultures, archaeology and modern astronomy, she describes her work as "often haunt[ing] contemplative foci somewhere in-between." She has a website: www.littlebehemoth.com. Her short-short, "Bored of Dying," appeared in Issue #6 of The Cafe Irreal.

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