YA Fiction - Serial Novels - The Sunshine Time
The Sunshine Time Season 1 Episode 2
Surviving the Kirzheik Liberation Front's attempt to derail the train and rescuing Lieutenant Shaughnessy from the unwanted advances of a female soldier, Lea Chantry finds her train journey taking on unexpectedly romantic hues.
When I woke up next, it was still night and the train had stopped moving. There were voices outside and the sounds of dogs barking. A yellow light was streaming in and the Lieutenant, up and dressed, was just going out of the compartment. I sat up and saw a lighted, semi-deserted platform outside, with people moving about. A painted sign to the right of the window said ‘Larebie’. There was a digital sign above it that gave our train name and the time. It was 4 am. I got up and quietly, so as not to wake Mack and the other two sleepers, went to wash up and dress in the toilet. I returned my case to the compartment, picked up the still sleeping Mack and his makeshift leash, and went towards the open train doorway.
Two military policemen with a large Askalan shepherd dog were coming down the corridor ahead, pausing to knock on the compartment two doors down and look in. As I approached, the dog sniffed the air, growled, and then suddenly lunged at me, barking savagely. The dog handler was yanked forward and his companion shouted and swung his gun up. I flattened back against the wall, and Mack, wide awake now, scrambled up in my arms and started barking back with a matching ferocity. Compartment doors flew open up and down the corridor and heads poked out. The dog handler started laughing as he got his dog in order, as if there was something actually funny about the whole incident.
“Don’t let your puppy eat mine!” he said.
“Then bloody well keep him under control!” I said, angrily. “He could have bitten me just now.”
“He only bites bad people,” said the dog handler. “You’re not one, are you? Where did you get this yapping thing? Oi, puppy, shut up!”
“You shut up yourself!”
“What compartment are you in?” interrupted the other fellow.
“With us here,” called Yossi, from behind. “What’s going on? Why have we stopped?”
It turned out that there had been a sabotage attempt, the railway track ahead had been blown up, and the whole train was being searched to make certain there were no explosives on board. That startled me, but nobody else looked unduly worried or bothered. It was a ‘regular thing’ after all. Derailing trains carrying troops was a favorite tactic with the Kirzheik Liberation Front (KLF), and never mind if a lot of innocent people died too. I will never get over it, I thought. You heard these things in the news, you never expected to be in the middle of them yourself, and then you didn’t expect everything to be so, well, matter-of-fact and devoid of excitement.
I had to go back to my compartment with the MPs so that their vile dog could sniff at my luggage and try to get at Mack’s food pellets. Mack, outraged, upped the barking ante, and the dog handler grinned and barked back at him. He really was a most stupid fellow.
“You have a terr-rrible dog!” he told me.
“Yours is horr-rrible,” I said. “Watch him before he sabotages that rucksack. The Lieutenant won’t thank you.”
“Lieutenant Shaughnessy from the Mitrione,” Irina told them. “Arlen Shaughnessy.”
She showed no sign of embarrassment about last night; in fact, she spoke in a sort of star-struck awe. It made me want to cringe. Arlen Shaughnessy, though? It just didn’t go with his personality.
“Mitrione, huh?” said the other fellow, and nodded to the dog handler to get on to the next compartment. “You may go,” he said to me.
“Arf, arf, arf!” said the dog handler to Mack.
Really annoyed, I stepped down on the platform and walked to the end of the train and down the ramp to let Mack down on the gravel. He was quite upset too and just wouldn’t shit for the longest time, despite my exhortations.
“But I don’t want to, Mommy!” called someone, amidst chuckles, and I saw that a group of soldiers had wandered over to the edge of the platform.
Mack decided an audience was just what he wanted and took position and the idiots hooted appreciatively. It was embarrassing. I picked up Mack as soon as I was able to and went up the ramp and past them, ignoring their grins and offers of toilet paper or water, not to mention laxatives for next time. Mack started barking at them, and they followed us, making yapping sounds.
Lieutenant Shaughnessy was watching from a tea-stall nearby, a bit hunched against the cold, his cap pulled down over his head, and warming his hands about an earthen tea cup. I stopped beside him and he looked from me to the soldiers and they stopped being such smart-asses.
“Nice doggy, huh, sir,” said one of them, and they took themselves off.
“Assholes!” I said to him. “The way these people behave, anyone would think only the unrefined dregs get to join the army.”
He arched an eyebrow slightly, but said nothing. He had retreated into being cool and aloof, I could see. No doubt because of his own experience with the dreg in our compartment last night. He looked tired, like he hadn’t at all slept well, and very vulnerable.
“Ahm, I’ll have a tea, please,” I said to the vendor, and, as he placed a cup on the counter, I felt about in my pockets for my purse and remembered I’d stuffed it into my rucksack last night. The Lieutenant reached into his coat, placed a five kronie coin on the counter, and handed me the cup.
“Oh, thank you,” I said. “I’ll pay you back on the train.”
He nodded and sipped his tea.
“You missed such a lot of excitement,” I said. “They searched our compartment with a rabid dog, do you know? He dribbled all over your rucksack.”
He said nothing.
“Well,” I said. “The militants blew up the track ahead, and I guess we’re going to be here until it’s repaired, isn’t that awful? That means it’ll probably be nightfall by the time we reach Alsalem. I must call and tell Mum. She’ll be up by now, you know. She always gets up early to write. I think I’m going to too, from now on. I mean, I didn’t use to wake up until seven before – not before nine on weekends – but they forced us to wake up early on the trek and now it’s become a habit. I think I should stick with it, don’t you? I could get a lot of work done. It’s nice and peaceful at this hour, isn’t it?”
“It was,” he said.
I paused, then saw the glimmer of a smile in his eyes. I grinned at him and he looked away, downing his tea.
“Nine sounds better,” he said. “If you start chirping from four everyday, it’ll wear you out.”
“No, it won’t. I only need a cup of tea to bolster me up, and I drink tea all day. This tastes so nice, doesn’t it? I expect it’s the earthen cup. Ahm, can I have yours?” I asked, as he started to toss it into the bin.
“What?” he said, pausing.
“Your cup,” I said. “I’m collecting those. I’ve a whole sackful back in the compartment. I’m going to use them to store seeds in and maybe I’ll drill a hole in a few of them and use them to start seedlings. That’s what my grandfather does.” I paused and got annoyed with myself for stumbling over ‘my grandfather’. Alright, so Granna had spit in his direction. It was the wrong thing to do, but it was in the past. I didn’t need to keep getting embarrassed about that forever and act as though I was ashamed of my own grandfather. I was not ashamed of Granna, whatever he did. He always had his reasons for whatever he did and sometimes he was right. “He likes to reuse and repurpose things as much as possible, and these earthen cups are wonderful for gardening use.”
He looked at the cup, shrugged, handed it over, and turned on his heel. I swallowed my tea quickly and hurried after him, falling in step.
“I don’t know why they don’t have earthen cups everywhere in Great Alsalem. They should, shouldn’t they? I mean, instead of all the Styrofoam ones. Think how much less pollution we would have. That’s really hit home after this trek. We went to clean up after other people, you know. Totally disgusting the way they trash everything up. Sometimes I think people should be banned from going on holidays. This is why I’m never going to be a travel writer. I could never, in good conscience, write about pristine places that everyone can then go and mess up. Oh no, never!”
He stopped and looked at me. “Why are you following me?”
“What? I’m not following you. I’m walking with you.”
“Alright. Why are you walking with me?”
“Because I’m talking to you, of course.”
He gazed me and his mouth definitely twitched.
“C’mon, let it out,” I said.
“Let what out?” he said.
“That smile,” I said. “You ought to air it now and then. Smile first thing in the morning and it’s the dawn of a great, beautiful day. I read that on a greeting card once. The one next to it said ‘Grin like a Baboon, and you’ll get bananas’. I got that for my brother Tavi. He was so thrilled. More thrilled than I was when he gave me the one about the Talking Myna that missed all the mulberries... Ah, that’s better. You really do look pretty when you smile, do you know?”