Sisters

Yesterday, my family held a surprise party for my Mum’s sister, Josy. It is her 70th birthday, so we all decided a party was in order. Mum was one of ten children—seven girls and three boys—and I’ve heard so many stories about their childhood. Although their parents had very little money, in many ways I would have loved to be one of them. They were always (and still are) very close, and their childhood sounds like it was idyllic. Josy is the second-youngest, but my dear Auntie Gwenda (who was the youngest) died in 2008, so Josy is the youngest living. She’s had a hard life, all in all, but she’s the most generous and giving person I’ve ever met. She genuinely would give you her very last pound if you asked her for it. She’s just a lovely lady.

The story I want to share today is based only very loosely on reality. It’s the kernel of an event, taken and changed into a short story. I’ve changed the names of all the sisters, but I can tell you that, in this story, Henrietta is Josy. I hope you enjoy it. (In the photo, Josy is second from the left. Mum is the one in the wheelchair at the front.

 

Sisters

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“Henrietta Joyce, outside. Now!” Edie grabbed her sister’s wrist and yanked her from the chair. The rest of the siblings trotted behind.

“What have I done now?” Henrietta asked, huffing as she struggled to keep up.

Ten children tumbled outside, and were met with a thick blanket of humidity. This whole summer had been hot and sticky. Hannah and Cherry lay a blanket on the grass, whilst Gillian produced the boxing gloves; the Carmichael children’s most revered playthings.

“Seriously? The gloves? What am I supposed to have done?” Henrietta looked from sister to sister, none of them meeting her eyes.

“You took my floral jacket without asking and left it at the dance hall. Now, I challenge you to a fight.”

Henrietta shifted feet. “Come on, Edie. You never wear it now you’re going steady with Charlie. You only have eyes for the leather jacket he bought you. I think it’s because you love hi—”

“Shut up, Henrietta! I do not love him. What do you know about love, anyway? You’re nothing but a silly, little girl.”

Henrietta sighed. “Hannah, hand me the gloves.”

“Ha! I knew I’d get you.” Edie beamed as she stretched in preparation. “Best of three. Loser carries the other’s school books every day for a month. They do all their chores, and that includes Little Gran’s shopping.”

“I hope you’ve got a free calendar, Edie.” Henrietta turned to her sisters and whispered those words that were a red rag to a bull: “She’s too chicken to do this.”

Edie flew at Henrietta, but the younger sister was more nimble. She ducked and dodged Edie’s gloves, finally delivering a sucker punch that knocked her sister to the floor. Pauline counted to five, and the first round was over.

Henrietta bounced from side to side; throwing fake punches. “Round Two,” said Pauline, throwing her arms dramatically in the air.

As the two girls fought over the floral jacket they all knew Edie didn’t even want, the rest of the sisters knew better than to pick sides. Seven neatly-ribboned heads watched the punches fall.

There was never any question who the winner would be. Bespectacled Edie was at a disadvantage the second her glasses fell to the floor. Cherry leaned over to Hannah and whispered in her ear, “Edie’s crazy, I swear. She was never going to beat Hetty, was she?”

“I know,” Hannah replied. “But that doesn’t matter. Edie had to fight as a point of honour. You know how it works, Cherry.”

Shaking her head, she sat back in time to see her older sibling crumple to the floor. Caroline (always the saviour!) rushed a glass of water to her side.

Peering through narrowed eyes, Edie glared at her sister. “I hate you, Hetty. Why are you so good at this?”

“I’m not good. You’re rubbish.” Henrietta laughed and skipped back inside.

“I hate her,” said Edie to the rest of her sisters as she felt in the grass for her broken spectacles.

The Ghost Train of St. Louis

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The Ghost Train of St. Louis

Janis pulled the old Ford Taurus off the main highway. “This is it,” she whispered, her breath puffing out in front of her in a cloud of cold air.

Wrinkling her nose, Keira peered through the windscreen. “Are you sure? It looks like the back end of nowhere to me.”

With a sigh, Janis handed Keira an information leaflet. “Look at the picture. It’s right here. Come on. Let’s go.”

As she flicked on the interior light and straightened her hair, Keira tutted and muttered under her breath, “It’s not like we’re gonna see anything, no matter where we go.”

Pretending not to hear, Janis climbed out of the car and took a deep breath. “You smell that, K?” she said, with a wink.

“Whatever. Geez, it’s freezing out here,” she said, her teeth chattering on cue. “Let’s get this over with. Which way do we go? Where is the ghost train of St. Louis supposed to haunt?”

“Ugh!” Janis knew it was a mistake to ask her little sister along for the ride. It’s not like she didn’t have friends who would have loved the road trip from Saskatoon. As she tried to remember the instructions in the leaflet, she realised there were none. Simply, park up and follow the gravel path some time around the midnight hour. “This way,” she said, making her voice as authoritative as possible.

The pair followed the path, kicking up gravel as they walked. Just as they reached the end of the path and the start of a much coarser, grassy track, a large orb of white light almost blinded them. “Shit! Is that it?” asked Keira, her voice five octaves higher than when they left the car.

“I’m gonna go out on a limb and say yes. Of course it is!”

The girls froze, except for Keira’s hand, which reached out to hold her sister’s. The light seemed to be heading straight for them. If they didn’t move, it would hit them; knock them over. Closer and closer it grew. But there was no sound and no sense of movement in the air. The trees on either side of them stood motionless, without even the slightest breeze.

When she glanced at her little sister, Janis saw something she had never witnessed in her before: fear. Nothing frightened Keira normally. She loved nothing more than to watch horror and supernatural films, and she never batted an eyelid. When she thought about it, her sister’s fear should have made her wary. Instead, it made her even more determined to investigate. “Come on,” she said, dragging Keira behind her.

As they walked straight toward the light, it grew and started moving from side to side. Next to the big, white circle, sat a small, red dot. “The headless conductor.” Janis stopped walking. “Remember? I told you about the old conductor who was decapitated one night when he was checking his engine, didn’t I? Well, sometimes the red light of his lamp can be seen with the train’s lights. This is so exciting!”

Swallowing hard, Keira nodded her head. Her face looked pale in the beam of light that grew ever closer. “It’s . . . gonna . . . hit . . . us,” was all she could say.

When Janis looked ahead, she saw her sister was right. She yanked Keira’s arm and they jumped out of the way, landing in a ditch that ran alongside the path of the old tracks. And just like that, the lights had gone. Both of them.

Climbing out of the ditch and back onto the old tracks, the girls dusted themselves off. “What happened?” Keira’s eyes were wide and her hair had come loose, covering her face in a dark veil.

“The ghost train. I believe we just witnessed it.” Janis laughed, but it was more from relief than amusement. “Okay. I’m happy now, let’s go home.”

“That’s the most sense you’ve made all—“

From behind, the giant orb of bright white careened toward them. They shot each other confused looks and moved aside. Just as the time before, the train grew closer, until they thought it would hit them, then vanished, leaving no trace it had been there.

This time, though, before it disappeared, a high pitched whistle travelled through the cold night air, sending shivers down both girls’ spines. “Okay. Time to go now,” said Janis.

Without the bright train light leading the way, Janis pulled her flashlight from her pocket. The girls walked in silence, until Keira grabbed her sister’s arm and said, “What the hell is that?”

Looking to where her sister pointed, Janis gasped. “What the . . . ?” There, in the middle of the tracks, lay three pieces of coal, smouldering and sending out tiny smoke clouds. “That’s not possible.” As she reached to pick up a piece, she yelped and recoiled. “It’s red hot, K.”

“Shit. Oh, shit shit shit. We gotta go, Jan. Now.”

By the time the girls reached their car, they were out of breath from running faster than they ever ran in their life. As she fumbled with the ignition key, Janis turned to her sister and said, “I don’t wanna talk about this ever again. I’m gonna have nightmares, like, forever.”

Shaking her head, Keira replied, “No way. This was your idea. I’m telling everyone.”

As they sat in the car squabbling, neither of them noticed the enormous, white light heading toward their car. Until it was too late.