Returning – A Short Story


This was a story I wrote based on the following prompt:

Write a story from the viewpoint of a pre-existing fictional character without revealing, until the end, exactly who it is. [Source]

Three things: This was fun; I swear I intended to write something happy; Do you know how difficult it is to write a story without using a name?

Oh, and I tried my hardest, but even as an Anglophile there is only so much I can do to make this story as British as possible. If it sounds odd and not at all British, sorry.

Well, without further ado:

    Returning
    Emily Harris

    It was rather macabre, George thought, marking the anniversary of The Accident this way. His wife sat beside him, face pale and lips drawn tight. Her hands were laced together in her lap, locked as if carved in stone.

    It was madness, this – a coach would have been just as good. Harry had a motorcar they could even have used. But no, after a year of avoiding trains altogether, his grieving wife had gotten it in her head that she was going to make this trip and she was going to take a train to do it.

    She was breathing more easily now that they had passed the scene of The Accident. Again, another of his wife’s morbid choices. He didn’t see why she had insisted on this route: it was roundabout and unnecessary. They had to change trains twice. When he tried to reason with her, his logic had fallen on deaf ears.

    The unspoken What If that had fluttered between both their minds as the trains rounded that fateful corner went unsaid, but the couple had held their breath until the nonexistent danger had passed. At their audible exhale, the passengers across from them had eyed them curiously, but George and his pretty young wife hadn’t noticed.

    She was disappointed, George realized. They passed the tangible sight of the tragedy that had so changed her life, and nothing had happened. It was as if… no, his wife was sad, depressed even, but he didn’t think she wished for death.

    He grabbed her hand and held it close. She gave him a small smile and seemed to relax as she leaned against him to better see out the train’s window. The English countryside dwindled past.

      She hadn’t been completely truthful with her husband about her plan for today. They had discussed the need to observe the anniversary in the days before, but George had thought of visiting the cemetery with a nice wreath or perhaps donating some money to a charity for orphans and war veterans. All decent and proper ways to pay tribute, she supposed, but not for her.

      Indeed, how did one observe the death of an entire family? Parents, brothers, sister, cousin, and friends so close they were family – a wreath was too little, a charity too impersonal.

      It was the letter she had found stashed away in a drawer that had given her the idea for this trip. She hadn’t read the letter since she received it, not more than a day before The Accident. It was straightforward and bold, just like the brother who had written it. She felt slightly ashamed that she had misplaced it. It was the last contact she had with her family before they were gone.

      Then again, perhaps she wasn’t ready for what the letter said until now.

        George Knight had always lived in Town. Born and raised, he was a Londoner through and through. He had an aunt in Devon he once visited as a small child, but he had hated the quiet and calm of the country. It wasn’t until he marched the hills of France and Germany that he had learned to appreciate it.

        Of course by then the grass was stained red, the trees riddled with bullets and splintered beneath the mud-caked boots of thousands of soldiers.

        He shook himself, desperate to rid his mind of the images that had burned their way into his soul. He tightened his hold on his wife to remind him that the war was over.

        George tried not to think that a war he couldn’t fight was raging in his wife’s heart.

          “I think I understand why you no longer believe,” the letter said. “Why it must be hard for you to remember. This world is dangerous, but even worse than that— it’s a lonely place, too.

          “You’ve felt alone and abandoned. We all have. The difference is that you chose to accept it as fact. You’re wrong, sis.”

            The train pulled into the station and they disembarked. It was late, after six, and George began to head in the direction of the village, hoping there might be a room available for the night. His wife had other plans.

            “They won’t let us in,” he warned her.

            She was already heading up the steep and muddy path. “They will,” she told him. “For me.”

            “And what makes you so special?”

            “I used to live here.”

            That surprised him. “When?”

            “During the war.” She paused for breath and looked back down at him. “Are you coming or not?”

            George followed her. “Because of the Blitz?” he asked.

            “Yes.”

            “Were you here for long?”

            She waited for him at the top of the hill. He joined her and she smiled faintly. “Not long enough,” she said.

              “It was more than a children’s game,” her brother’s voice was so clearly preserved in his careful handwriting. “It was a saving grace. It still can be, if you’d let it.”

                When the house came into view, George whistled in appreciation. His wife smiled.

                “Many happy memories can be found in there,” she told him.

                “Just in there?” he asked. “Don’t you carry them around with you?”

                “I haven’t done for awhile,” she acknowledged. “That’s why we’re here.”

                “Oh is it, now? I thought you just wanted to see an old house.”

                “You knew it was more than that,” she smiled. He grinned at her. Her hand tightened around his, and for a second, he wondered if she was going to let him in on her secret. She seemed to be thinking about it, and then with a shake of her head, she led him around the house to the kitchens.

                  The old housekeeper hadn’t changed. In fact, to the young woman who now called herself a Knight instead of a queen, the disdainful face that greeted her at the kitchen door still had the power to evoke a certain form of dread within her. How sad that Mrs. Knight’s allies were now sleeping beneath the London ground.

                  At least the old woman let them in. Of course, the request for a visit had arrived two days before by telegram – again, something the wife hadn’t told her husband. The housekeeper might be rude and cold, but she acknowledged the younger woman’s loss. She didn’t bat an eyelash when it was announced that the couple would tour the house unsupervised, just let them go after a cup of tea, biscuits, and chilly conversation.

                  Sure enough, the wife led the way up the back stairs. Why those children and her previous employer held such fascination with that room had never made any sense to her. Mrs. Macready washed her hands of the matter and hoped the couple didn’t expect more than tea.

                    They past room after room without a second glance, his wife on a mission that took them further into the house than most guests saw.

                    “Really, I don’t think we should be up here-“ he said, digging his heels in a bit.

                    “You can stay here,” she retorted. She paused and struggled for a second with what to say. “You don’t have to come with me, George, but –“ She relented and admitted, “I really wish you would.”

                    George didn’t understand, but then he didn’t expect to. “Lead on, my mysterious lady, lead on.”

                    She picked up the pace, passing the servants’ quarters and spare rooms and attics, until suddenly she stopped.

                    The room was remarkable in the sense that it was wholly unremarkable. It was almost empty with one dusty window and a large sheeted shape at the end of it. George stood in the doorway as his wife entered. She pulled the sheet away to reveal a marvelously carved wardrobe. With her fingertips, she traced the shapes engraved on the dark wood before grasping at the handles.

                    With a squeak, the doors opened to show a few forgotten fur coats and hangers. The pungent smell of mothballs filled the air.

                    Susan stepped into the wardrobe, feeling her way forward, her eyes closed. Behind her, George gave a brief cry of surprise. Her fingers touched wood again, and she pounded a fist against the back of the wardrobe.

                    George reached in and grabbed his wife by the waist. She struggled against him, but he pulled her out, stumbling. The two fell to the dusty floor in a heap.

                    Susan was crying.

                    “I thought maybe I could get back in this way,” she said. George stared at her. “I thought if I was sorry, just sorry enough, then maybe—“

                    She broke off and clasped her hands to her face.

                      “I don’t think you can get into Narnia on your own,” Edmund wrote. “I think it takes faith more than determination. More than remorse. Aslan once told Lucy and me that he was here, too, in this world. It took me awhile to find him, but I did.

                      “There’s always hope, Su. I don’t think you’ve lost your chance. Someday you and I will discuss this and other deep matters at Cair Paravel, just like we did lifetimes ago. Of that, I am certain.

                      “I only worry that you might have to go through hell to get there, because life without Aslan is hell.

                      “Don’t wait too long to start looking for him, Su.”

                        It was sometime before Susan Knight, the last of the Pevensies, truly understood what her brother Edmund had meant.

                        But that’s a story for another time.

                      “The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there’s plenty of time for her to mend and perhaps she will get to Aslan’s country in the end… in her own way.”

                      C.S. Lewis, Letters to Children: Martin, 22 January 1957

                      Whatever Happened To Susan Pevensie? Matthew Alderman

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                      3 thoughts on “Returning – A Short Story

                      1. Pingback: WanderLust: Short Story « Emily Is A Geek

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