Happenstance

The train whistle blasted as Geoff and his insufferably adventurous brother Colin barreled aboard the last carriage. They hurried past rows occupied by people, goats and baskets of fruit to the last benches.

Colin slid onto a bench on the side farthest from the platform, panting through a grin at Geoff who took the bench across the aisle. “Too bad you don’t have photographic evidence of this,” he said with a snort. “Nobody at home will ever believe you’d do anything amazing like this! The craziest thing anybody thinks you’d do is visit a public library during peaks hours! What a waste!”

Photographic evidence. Geoff scoffed. “So I can incriminate myself?” Yes, Colin. Brilliant. 

Proudly a law abiding citizen all of his life, Geoff had started out that morning with an unlawful act. He had broken his younger brother out of a village jail to avoid execution for ignorantly committing a criminal act—which would not have been deemed a crime in their own country—after which they proceeded to evade tribal authorities, resulting in their arrival at Mount Althea Station. At this point Geoff’s nerves ran raw and patience thin. And Colin’s naked glee throughout the entire ordeal only compounded these effects.

Prepared to depart, the train surged forward for an instant for before jerking to a dead stop, eliciting groans from passengers. This train, which served the mountain villages, was an aged machine notorious for breakdowns and unbelievable tardiness, a fact few outsiders accepted until riding it at least three times.

Colin nodded casually for his brother to turn and look out the window. “Check it out.”

Bright uniforms had flooded the station. Soldiers with dark beards, tall boots and lances directed porters and civilians. The ranking officer, a captain, readily distinguished by the a saber on his hip, signaled to station authorities to grant his men access to the carriages straightaway.

We didn’t get away. Geoff’s heart hammered. If Colin’s caught–What do I do, what do I do… He mentally sorted through dozens of backup escape routes for a way to save his irresponsible brother.

Outside his own window, Colin spied a humble farmer’s wagon drawn by a demure mule—and a chance. Wasting no time he unlatched the window and pushed it open, throwing out his messenger bag and wriggling shoulders out, sat on the sill briefly, then pulled one leg through at a time.

Wait, these aren’t local authorities. Geoff’s panic subsided minutely. They’re the national police. He forced a smile despite the painful knot in his stomach. “It’s gonna be okay,” he said over his shoulder. “National police are required by law to turn over detained foreigners to the office of the embassy which prohibits the use of lethal—how did you get out there?”

Looking in from outside, Colin offered a rueful smirk through the thick, scratched pane of the latched window. “Thanks, Geoff,” he said. “You’re the best.”

Colin jumped down out of sight an instant before soldiers burst onto the carriage. Outside on the road, which ran alongside the tracks for a short distance, Colin raced up behind the cart, threw up the tarp protecting the farmer’s goods and rolled under it, covering himself up. For the space of a breath Geoff felt nothing and time held no immediate meaning. An odd, alarming sensation. In that moment he merely existed as a man on a bench.

The captain’s quick eye spotted the foreigner among grumbling passengers and strode down the aisle directly to investigate. Without prompting Geoff surrendered his passport, numbly.

Good afternoon, Captain,” he said in the officer’s tongue.

Surprised, the captain looked from him to the documents, and back to him. “Are you traveling with anyone today?” He returned the passport. “What is your purpose for being in Althea today?”

“You are looking for an escaped criminal and a second man who helped that criminal escape, correct?” said Geoff. “I am the second man.” 

The captain stared with a peculiar expression; the soldiers who had crowded in the aisle behind him exchanged stunned looks, several men glanced down at modest wrist watches, before indulging in congratulatory handshakes and boisterous backslaps, gazing upon their captain with bright faces. They spoke too quickly for Geoff to understand.

Unable to resist a chuckle himself, the captain explained to the foreigner, “Your arrest is swiftest apprehension in the history of the national police department, from the time of warrant to time of arrest. A new record.”

Geoff cordially gave congratulations and rose to be arrested. One of the soldiers announced to glaring passengers that the train would depart without delay and, according to station operators, arrive ahead of schedule at Hargrove Station. A rousing cheer erupted as astonished men, women and children clapped and hugged one another and total strangers, as though it were a year’s end holiday or the end of a drawn out war.

Down that dusty road leading away from the station, Colin laid on his back in the rear of a farmer’s wagon under a tarp, knees propped, using a bag of rice like a pillow with chin pressed to his breast, where he fondly reviewed previous entries in a leather travel diary and added a few notes.

The captain led a parade of soldiers and their prisoner through the heart of Mount Althea Station among a sparse sea of curious onlookers. With wrists bound behind his back, Geoff didn’t mind the law’s hands gripping him firmly by either elbow; in fact, he preferred it to sitting alone on that train.

 


Prompts (by Pages of Fiction):

(1) Write a story where a weakness becomes a strength (Geoff’s nerdiness for enjoying books and learning [about other cultures and languages], and his obsessively thorough nature made it possible for him to both grow up ridiculed and also save his brother’s life);

(2) Write a story where a strength becomes a weakness (Colin’s encouraged and celebrated bold, daring nature fractures his relationship with his by-the-book brother; breaks Geoff’s heart)

  • My reasonings are a bit of a stretch, I know. But I like it.

(3) Write a story where everyone has a happy ending except the main character. (Geoff…)


NOTE – This is a continuation of the scene “Jolly Jailbreak.”

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