The Good Gold
“The pirate leapt from the burning crow’s nest to the seas below,” John read as a hint of a smile found its way to his lips. “As the ocean rose up to meet him, his final vision was his beloved. Her arm out stretched in vain to save him. Tears stained her face as the last words he heard her speak was…”
John started to read the next page, as he always did, hoping against all hope that the end of this chapter would magically appear. That the adventure of the Sea Pirate Caspian would come to a conclusion, any conclusion, and he could finally put to rest the fate of this heroic rogue.
John cast his eyes to the next page, as he always did. As one would do. And as his gaze would instinctively drift to the top of the next page. He would be disappointed, as he always was, to always find the last pages ripped out. It would always make him a little sad, but out of his tiny library, this story was his favorite, and so the absence of a conclusion wasn’t as disappointing as never having read it at all.
It’s been years since John found that little suitcase filled with books. This was after The Great Cultural Revolution, of course. The early days of the “High Chancellor”.
John was younger at that time. The Revolution did not come without its fair share of casualties. He remembers the soot in his nose that came from towering pyres of burning books. He remembers the pleas of journalists and intellectuals and teachers before they were rounded up, never to be heard from again.
He remembers the days being so much brighter.
John found the suitcase of books in the ruins of an old train station. It was on a day when the sound of tanks and angry voices weren’t as loud. He wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. He was wishing for gold, or cash. But when he opened it, he suddenly realized someone’s entire life had been stashed inside a suitcase. The person who packed it desperately wanted to leave. As soon as the reality of that person never leaving the station alive hit him, he made it his personal responsibility to read every one of these books daily. He thought it the best way to keep the spirit of a person he’d never met alive.
The gray morning light barely illuminates his tiny apartment. Any moment now, the central PA system will blare their announcements; lifted curfew, filtered news, and the permission to go to work. John carefully stows the book back in its case, locks it, and places it back into its hiding place beneath the floorboards.
On the street, the same people with the same dour expression trudge their way through their empty lives to their pointless jobs.
No one reads a paper, all information is given to them through announcements given three times daily.
No one walks into cafes, gathering of three or more people is punishable by reprogramming. Nobody knows what that means. Some people return an emptier shell than when they were brought in.
Some people don’t come back at all.
“The last words he heard her speak was…” John muttered to himself. The last pages still fresh in his mind. His grandfather would always caution him about thinking, talking, singing or whistling out loud, “If you speak your mind, it’s over,” he would say, but it was always followed with, “but first, they must catch you.”
In certain private moments, like now, he would imagine his own end to the story. Yes, the risk is there to think out loud, but like his grandfather said, they can’t catch us all.
“Last words…last words… what would her last words be?”
“Last words to what?” John felt a chill in his spine as the question floated over his shoulder. It didn’t sound like the “Thought Squad“. It was a female voice. Not to say government enforcers weren’t always male, but it was rare.
John was held in fear as he thought of his books. That fear dissipated when he noticed the woman wasn’t wearing a government uniform. Another fear replaced it at the notion of actually talking to another human being.
It has been too long. Contact with another human.
“I apologize,” was the first thing that came out of his mouth. “I don’t normally talk out loud, and it was about nothing in particular.” John said, desperately trying to hide his guilt and shame just in case she is the authorities.
The young lady slowly approached. “Oh, I find that hard to believe,” she whispered. A hint of a smile in her voice. “Among this sad sea of faces that litter this platform everyday, yours seemed to have just a hint of life.” Although she was a few inches shorter than John, everything about her was long; hair the color of a murder of crows that drifted well past her shoulders of her long black coat. Her fingers that clutched her attache were boney and elegant. Her eyes as big and as blue as the sky from his childhood.
“What do you mean?” John asked the stranger, defensively.
“I mean, that out of every soul here you appear to be the only one with something on his mind. Talking to yourself was a dead giveaway.” She noticed his concern. “Don’t worry, it’s Thursday. Thought Squad doesn’t patrol this part of town until Monday, and believe me, I’m not eager to see them either. So, what about these words?”
“Obviously it’s something.”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Look,” John huffed. “I’m breaking about seven different violations right now, and I still don’t know if you’re one of the High Chancellor’s Agents. I am not looking for trouble, so if you don’t mind.”
“I apologize,” the young woman said. “It was rude of me. Forget I said anything.”
A light breeze and the distant drone of a PA system briefly disrupted the silence.
The young lady shivered as it played with the hem of her coat. “Blasted wind,” she said to no one in particular. “I’ve always hated the way the cold air funnels through these platforms on days like this.”
“Please, Miss. Someone might hear.”
“Come to think of it,” she continued, ignoring him. “The last time it felt this bitter was when I was a little girl.” John pinched the bridge of his nose. There was no stopping her.
“It was after the Revolution. I remember it was in Central Station. After The Great Purge. Everybody fleeing town with whatever they could carry on their backs.”
“I remember,” John said. “You seem a little young to remember that.”
“I was six. Our family was starving, and there was a time when we would scavenge all we could.” her cold blue eyes stare off into the distance. “Food was scarce, we needed clothing. Things were uncertain at that time, we didn’t know if we would survive.”
“I guess we all have the ‘High Chancellor’ to thank for that,” John added. He cast an eye over his shoulder to make sure nobody else heard him. “Whatever that’s worth. I was a teenager at the time. I had no idea what I was going to do either.” He felt he could trust her a little more. “You seemed to have survived well.”
“We had our moments. There was this one time where I found a doll. Poor thing left behind, I smuggled her home, and gave her a new life in secret. I called her Mindy. Oh!” A memory suddenly came back to her. “There was this one time where I found… what do they call it… a book?”
John’s ears perked up.
“Well, it was most of one, anyway. I couldn’t read yet. My father was so happy to find something left of our old life, and so every night, he read half a story to me. He told me that his mother used to read to him every night and he didn’t want me to grow up not knowing what that was like. I’m glad he did.”
The breeze carried the silence along the platform.
“I’m curious,” John finally said. “What did your father read to you?”
The young woman smiled as she looked at him with robin’s egg eyes. “I can’t remember all the details, but there was this woman on a boat, and it was on fire for some reason. And she was crying. I remember she was crying because there was someone she lost. I remember the name of the ship was ‘The Good Gold’. I remember because the name tied into the story. There was this line in the story that said, ‘the best gold isn’t found in the ground, but in the souls of others.’ or something. I liked it, what there was of it. I never did get the name of the man that woman was crying about.”
“Caspian,” John muttered.
“I’m sorry?” she asked.
“His name is Roger Caspian. He was the captain of the Good Gold.” John said gazing back at her.
John felt elegant, boney fingers wrap around his own. “It’s funny,” John laughed. “At the beginning of the book, they couldn’t stand each other.”
“That is funny,” she smiled as they drew each other closer.
It’s been too long. Contact with another human. So lost were they in the moment, they ignored the thunder of boots and the clamor of rifles getting louder.
On one hand, finishing just shy of 1600 words after I trimmed several paragraphs away felt like had a handle on “killing my darlings” and getting rid of what was unnecessary. On the other hand, it’s about six hundred words too long for the challenge presented to me. And even then, things were left unsaid. Scenes left unexplored.
I think I may have a problem when it comes to hitting a word goal. If it’s something like NaNo, and the goal is 50,000, based on previous experience, I tend to get to the halfway point and call it good before time runs out.
If its something like a weekly Chuck Wending Flash Fiction Challenge, where the goal is a mere 1000 words in 7 days, I’ve noticed I blow right passed that mark and keep on going. I think my Goldilocks Zone is somewhere in the Novella range. I’m okay with that…for now.
This week is the “Random Flickr Photo Challenge” where we would write 1000 word fiction piece on a Flickr photo filed under the “Interestingness” category. The picture I chose is titled “Bagaglio a mano” by Carla Massimetti (ciao, bella!) I would normally show the picture I landed on, however copyright stipulates that I cannot.
I can, however provide a link to the photo here so that you know what this story is based on. Thank you for reading. Feedback is always welcome, and it doesn’t hurt to share.
©2015 AA Payson