The Road to St. Ives – A Flash Fiction Piece
After several weeks of RL-inflicted silence, I return thanks to an irresistible Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge.
You shouldn’t need me to tell you which of the twenty conflict scenarios I wrote about. Hope you enjoy!
The Road to St Ives
“It says here that the Apocalypse has been predicted.”
Mavis Merryweather glanced at her husband, his grey comb-over just about visible behind the top of the newspaper held aloft before his eyes.
“That’s nice, dear.”
“The honest-to-God Apocalypse, it says.”
Mavis nodded. “Which apocalypse is it this time? The Global Warming Apocalypse? Nuclear Winter Apocalypse? Obama Healthcare Apocalypse?” She clucked her tongue in frustration. “Not another of those Gay-People-Destroy-Society Apocalypses, is it? You know I hate those.”
“No, I think it’s real this time.” Despite his words, there was no edge of excitement in Albert Merryweather’s voice. Forty years ago, the thought of an Apocalypse would have had him hoarding tins of beans and rushing for the musty old WWII bomb shelter. But he’d raised four children in the last forty years, three of them daughters. That had been an Apocalypse in itself.
“Fire and brimstone and the four horsemen,” Albert continued. “It says there’ll be floods and earthquakes and famines, too.”
“Oh, a general all-purpose Apocalypse, then,” Mavis replied. “Who’s predicting this one?”
“Reverend Simon Pomfret. He’s the minister of a church in Aberdeen. He says he’s received a vision from God that the world is going to be cleansed of sinners!”
“A religious Apocalypse, eh?” Mavis scoffed. It seemed there was one of those practically every other day, what with everything that was happening in the middle east.
“We should have emigrated to America two years ago, Mave. You know the Yanks have the best stockpiles of weapons.”
“And just what would you do with a gun, Albert Merryweather? You’ve never even so much as fired a water pistol before.”
The melodic chime of the doorbell interrupted Albert before he could speak. Mavis put down her freshly brewed cup of tea and shuffled out into the hallway. Opening the front door, she was met by a very odd sight indeed. A man was standing on the doorstep wearing the most ridiculous of costumes. Shiny breast-plate, thick leather trousers, spurred boots and a metal helmet covering his head, leaving only his face free.
“Can I help you?” Mavis asked, because even though the man was dressed outlandishly, she believed in good manners.
“I’m very sorry to disturb you,” he said, scratching awkwardly at a short greying beard, “but I was wondering if I might trouble you for a bucket of water.”
“What on earth do you want a bucket of water for?”
The man stepped aside, revealing a large chestnut horse tethered to the gate at the bottom of the garden path. The saddle and reigns looked heavy and old, ornately patterned. Not at all modern.
“I’ve been riding for hours, and Bertha’s very thirsty,” the man explained. Then he lowered his voice and leant forward, towering over Mavis. “She’s not as young as she used to be.”
“Oh. Well.” Flustered as she was by the looming stranger, she’d never been able to ignore an animal in need. Albert called her a softie, which had earned him one or two thumps on the arm over the years; proof that she wasn’t really soft at all. “Certainly. I’m sure Albert has a bucket in the shed that we can fill for you. Please come in, Mr…?”
“Barry. Just Barry,” he said, shaking Mavis’ proffered hand with a tight grip. “Thank you very much.”
She took Barry through the hall and into the kitchen, introduced him to her husband, and the men then set about hunting in Albert’s bomb-shelter-cum-garden-shed for a bucket. It didn’t take them long to find one, and fill it with the garden hose.
“Would you like a cup of tea whilst your horse is drinking, Barry?” Mavis offered.
“Thank you, I’d love one. I’m parched.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, where are you riding to?” Albert asked, as Mavis handed a delicate china cup to the huge armoured man. “And in such odd clothes? You look like you’ve come from one of those mock joust things they sometimes do for the kids.”
Barry smiled and removed a sheathed sword from across his back before sitting down on an empty chair. When he noted the eyes of the Merryweathers lingering on the sword, which he’d propped against the table, he quickly shook his head.
“Don’t worry, it’s just a prop. Part of the outfit. Nobody uses swords these days. It’s all guns and chemical weapons. No class.”
“I see,” Albert said. “And you’re going where, exactly?”
“St. Ives. I’m meeting up with some old friends, and we’re having a bit of a ride out.”
“But St. Ives is over seventy miles away!” Mavis replied. “Why don’t you just drive there? If you take the motorway, you can be there in an hour.”
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly drive a car!” Barry said. He looked shocked by the very suggestion. “Horses are traditional. I’ve had my Bertha for what feels like forever, and she doesn’t get to ride out as often as she used to. By the way, Mr Merryweather, I was very impressed with your bomb shelter. I don’t think I’ve seen so many tinned goods outside of a supermarket before.”
Albert’s chest puffed up with pride. “A man has to take care of his family.”
“Indeed. Could I make a suggestion, though?” A pause whilst Albert nodded. “Bottled water. It’s going to be a life-saver.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Good.” Barry smiled, and downed the last of his tea, gently placing the delicate cup on the china saucer. “Thank you very much for the brew, Mrs Merryweather. I’m sure Bertha will be done now, and I don’t want to keep my friends waiting.”
The elderly couple escorted Barry to the front door, and watched as he strapped his sword back on, then hauled his bulk into the saddle. A few minutes later the chestnut horse had disappeared from sight, its hooves making a clip-clop noise as it trotted down the quiet road.
“What a nice man,” said Mavis.
“Hmm.” Albert’s reply came absently as he patted his pockets, and pulled out his car keys. “I’ll be back in twenty minutes, Mave.”
“Where are you going, Albert?”
“I’m just going to nip down to the grocery store. I want to buy some bottled water.”