Home » Flash fiction » Ficlet: “Smokestack”

Ficlet: “Smokestack”

I asked a friend for a one word prompt for a drabble and a ficlet came out. A ficlet that took last year’s NaNoWriMo novel characters and plonked them firmly in an early 1900s/steampunk-ish setting. I liked it enough to force it upon the world.

Without further ado then…

***

The train pulled into the station, expelling a large quantity of black smoke as it let out a final hiss. The noise and the crowds milling about filled the boy with excitement and joy. He’d grown up out in the country and never seen quite so many people at one time.

He could hear Miss Cass call out to him as he jumped out of the carriage into the mass of people waiting on relatives and friends to emerge from the train. Everywhere was life and sound, so completely unlike the life he’d left behind. Oy found himself pulled along with the crowd leaving the platform and entering the large train station, forgotten for a moment was the simple life he’d led up until now, the quiet of the forest and the hills, the whisper of the wind in the grass and leaves. He could feel the creature within stir, but he knew instinctively that this was not the place for it. This was not the kind of life for it.

Now he was inside the station, with its tall vaulted ceilings, stretching higher than the highest trees he’d seen and here there were people everywhere as well. Hitting him like a wall was the sound of fabric rubbing against fabric, heels against the fine stone floors and the tantalizing smells of all sorts of food items being sold off carts and little shops lining the walls. A boy, not much older than him was selling newspapers, crying out the headlines of the day. He was dressed in a suit much finer than what Oy was wearing and for the first time he experienced the feeling of comparing oneself to someone else and finding that you are lacking. Now everywhere he looked he saw reminders how inferior he must seem to everyone else, this was not the kind of place for one as he to belong. Oy hugged himself tightly, biting his lip hard.

With that sadness came the yearning to see a familiar face and not until now did he notice that he had no idea where Miss Cass was. He fought back against the current of people, to get back out on the platform, but nowhere did he see the familiar face, with her messed up hair and olive hued skin. Panic began to rise in him, spreading through his body like silver snakes wriggling their way through his blood and bones. What if he had lost her forever? He returned inside, panic gripping him tight as if held in a vice. Where could he go for help, who would help a silly country boy such as himself? Everywhere he looked he saw faces filled with judgment and resentment, as if they saw not only the silly boy without, but the thing he carried within. Some of the pretty ladies with their nice dresses and fancy hats even wrinkled their noses at him, as if he was nothing but a nasty smell that could be waved away. Eventually he gave up and slumped to the ground in a secluded corner near the public restrooms. Wrapping his arms around his “knobbly knees”, as Miss Cass fondly called them, he burrowed his face in the folds of his arms. And silently he wept.

Occasionally he heard someone pass by him on the way to the restrooms, but no one stopped. Perhaps that was why he started when a familiar voice suddenly addressed him and a hand was placed on his head.

“So this is where you ran off to…”

Oy looked up and hidden in a rather decent looking suit, though showing the tell-tale signs of wear, the cravat was particularly sad looking, was the familiar form of Zouriel. His queer looking eye glowed slightly, but compared to all the other looks he’d received, this gaze was the warmest he’d received since his arrival.

“Uncle Zourie”, he heard himself squeak out as he flew at the older man, wrapping his arms around him. The man was stood stiffly at attention, but Oy could feel his composure soften and soon his hand found its way to Oy’s messy hair again.

“You fool of a boy”, Zouriel said. “Of course you had to run off like that…Cass was worried sick.”

“’m sorry”, Oy said, slowly letting go, his arms hanging limply by his sides, his head hanging low in shame. “There was just so much…So much new stuff…”

“Well, you’ve seen plenty of it now”, Zouriel said, making a sad attempt at straightening his cravat. A lingering ray of sunlight glinting off exposed metal where his left glove had slid down slightly.

There were a few moments of silence and then Zouriel started to walk, gesturing for him to follow. Oy wasn’t sure who was more surprised when he grabbed a hold of Zouriel’s right hand, Oy himself or Zouriel. Still, it was a comfort to know he’d not get lost in the crowd again. Zouriel seemed to have read his mind.

“Just stay close to me and you’ll be fine”, he said. “Keep an eye on the coffee shop up ahead, that’s where I left Cass with the bags. She’ll be rearing to give you an earful for running off, I’m sure.”

Though that made him feel a bit anxious, he was also very relieved to see her waiting there. Her hat, nowhere near as fine as the others he’d seen, barely staying put on the unruly curls of her hair, face flushed with emotion.

She did yell at him some, but it was fine. Because he knew it just meant she cared and after she was done yelling, she plopped him on a chair next to him and fed him hot cocoa and sweet buns until he was stuffed full and content.

He knew she was just as nervous as he was about this new life they were starting together, but hopefully they’d make it, as long as they stayed together. Not just him and Cass, but Zouriel too. They were all a bit weird, with knobbly knees and messy hair and strange eyes, but that just meant they belonged together.

As he sat there on the stool, sipping on the last dregs of his cocoa he silently wondered if this was what a family was like. He smiled in such a way that Cass asked him about it, eyebrow raised pointedly, but he wasn’t entirely sure what to tell her. So he just reached over and gave her a hug.   

The sound of a train whistle made him peer outside the window. Another train was chugging into the station, belching its smoke, hissing and screeching. This new life might seem scary, but it was also so very full of wonder. He’d just have to make sure to keep his family close by before he explored it any further…

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