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Live or Leap, My Response to Bill Holland's Challange #4

Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

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Author's Note

Bill Holland has challenged us to take this one photo, the one at the top of this hub, and write a story of no more than 500 words...unless we just can't control ourselves and decide to write 2,000 words. Here is my response in 475 words.

Live or Leap

Floyd watched the landscape roll by telegraph pole after telegraph pole. He'd have to give up this life someday. Although, outside the train cars on which he served as a Pullman porter, he didn't have much of a life.

When he wasn't working, Floyd rented a room in a boarding house at the end of the line. He took his meals with the other tenants but otherwise kept to himself. He just bided his time until he worked again.

When he considered retirement, his mind went to two places. The first was the expanse of land across the west that was available to homesteaders. He had saved money and would probably be able to stake a homestead claim. If he could build a cabin and raise his food, maybe he'd be okay.

But Floyd was a melancholic man who leaned heavily toward depression when he wasn't working on the train. As long as he had passengers to care for, beds to make up in the luxury car, and luggage to carry, life was bearable.

That's why he so dreaded the thought of retirement. But he was getting old, and his superiors recognized that he was slowing down.

The second place Floyd's mind went when he considered life without his railroad job was any one of the many trestles that carried trains across ravines and river valleys. Could he walk out along that expanse to the place that was highest above the valley floor? Could he then play God?

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The train pulled into the depot. Floyd had the next five days off, so he gathered his belongings and headed for the office to pick up his pay. His supervisor was already walking his way, holding an envelope and a piece of paper. Floyd stopped and let the grim-faced man come to him.

The supervisor handed Floyd the envelope with his pay and the letter of termination. He couldn't even make eye contact but just turned on his heel and walked away.

Floyd crossed the street to the livery, where he kept a buckboard and an old mare. While hitching the horse to the wagon, he thought of the trestle a couple of miles to the south. The last building on the way out of town was the Regional Land Office.

An hour later, he stood in the middle of a half-mile long engineering marvel that joined the high ground on either side of the valley. The railroad had given him a life. Could he now use the railroad to end it?

#

In the late afternoon, Floyd walked out of the Land Office, holding several pieces of paper. The most important thing written on them was that he could occupy his property immediately and in five years, the government would send him the deed for his wooded land beside a creek in Colorado.

In the meantime, he would live and let God be God.

© 2020 Chris Mills

Comments

RoadMonkey on March 14, 2020:

Great, I am glad he made that choice. Time to move on.You certainly packed a story into under 500 words!

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on March 03, 2020:

A nice ending, Chris. I was regretting that he would consider a leap. But, was able to push back to rest those negative thoughts and decide to live. A nice twist.

helpedbutterfly on March 03, 2020:

Cool

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 02, 2020:

This is an interesting story. The moment when we don't know for certain what Floyd is going to do is gripping. You've made great use of Bill's photo, Chris.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 02, 2020:

And you are a good friend who will not let me sit back on my laurels. In fact, you insist I find my strengths and focus. What more can I ask of a friend?

Manatita, do not stop searching for that folder. The only work of fiction I wrote as a youth...a seventh grader...is lost. I didn't save it, and I have no hope my mother did. If there is hope to find it, then do so. My heart would overflow if I found mine.

manatita44 from london on March 02, 2020:

I used to write Flash Fiction a lot when I was just ten or eleven. We didn't call it that then. I joined the Royal Grenada Police Force at 18 and continued to write, focusing on crime thrillers and science fiction. I came to England with my writing folder, but I can't seem to find it. Great work lost.

Back to you. You are a very good writer. Sure I'm hard on you, but I have always said that you are a great writer. Some of your past pieces were so beautiful!! 'Nuff. Bed time. 01:38. Good night.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 02, 2020:

Shauna, no problem at all. But you learned something about my writing. I am a voracious researcher. I won't say I never miss a detail. I'm certain I do. I have no one fact checking my stories. I do have readers, but not a person who checks things like historical accuracy. A well researched story is a believable story.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on March 02, 2020:

My bad. I hated history in school, so much of what I learned has flown my coop!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 02, 2020:

Ruby, I enjoy being unpredictable with my stories. I do tend to go to the dark side a lot. Occasionally, I write a happy ending. Floyd could have taken that leap. It would have been sad for the reader. But for a poor, lonely, depressed soul, it might be freedom. I don't mean to condone or reject suicide. I just see it as a way some choose and wanted to use it in this story.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 02, 2020:

Shauna, I'm not sure if you missed the chronology. The hints in the story would my mention of telegraph poles in the first sentence. I also mentioned homesteading out west. Finally, I used the term, Pullman porter. Telegraph was developed in the 1830s and 40s, then used for decades following. Homesteading began with the Homestead Act of 1862, so the story's actual time is narrowed. Finally, Pullman (sleeping) cars were used by the railroads beginning in 1867. So the latest date of 1867 is the earliest date for this story. It could have been slightly later.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 02, 2020:

Manatita, I have come to the same conclusion. My best work is under 1500 words. I enjoy being able to develop a longer story and characters, but I have to admit, the quality suffers. I want to defend that just a bit. The lower the word count, the more difficult it is to communicate a complete story. So I am happy I have found a difficult format that I can write well. I hope that doesn't come across as boasting. I am surrounded by accomplished writers that I look up to.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on March 02, 2020:

I'm glad that Floyd decided to give life another chance. Life can be good when you age if you find what makes you happy. I really thought he was going to make that long leap, with your flash fiction, I never know, that's what makes your stories so good.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on March 02, 2020:

Chris, did I miss the chronology? I don't see where the current year is mentioned or when Floyd was born.

manatita44 from london on March 02, 2020:

Bill is right. I used the word 'sweet' here, to mean awesome! Brilliant, a really fine piece of craftmanship!

You come over, to me, as infinitely better at the shorter ones. 'Flow' means you took my advice. Lol

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 02, 2020:

Shauna, Let's consider our man, Floyd. If he was born in 1800, his life expectancy would have been 33 years. If somehow he lived to be 50, which is his age in the story, his could expect to live to be 65. So, in the story, he is an older man. He would have to travel to Colorado, a sparesly populated place at the time. He would need to fell trees and somehow, with probably no help, use them to build a place to live as well as several outbuildings. He has a tough retirement ahead. In many ways, it sounds like my own, except I have two sons who will help me build the house.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 02, 2020:

Bill, I am tempted to introduce you as the master of BS, but I know you are sincere in your encouraging words. Manatita has been trying to get you to tell me I think too much. Do I think too much? You have already advised me along those lines, and I listened. This story flowed, so I didn't have to struggle. Thanks for the challenge and the visit.

Donna Rayne from Sparks, Nevada on March 02, 2020:

Chris, this story was awesome, I hung on to every word and it was a long journey for Floyd. What awaits him now? Great story, I enjoyed it!

Have a great day!

Donna Rayne

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 02, 2020:

I liked this story and I am glad Floyd changed his mind. Colorado land sounds like a win-win to me. Good writing, Chris.

manatita44 from london on March 02, 2020:

Knowing you,

I thought I saw suicide in the first line. You are improving, Bro. You're looking up, like me. Haha.

A 'sweet' and orderly piece of writing. Kudos to you.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on March 02, 2020:

I'm glad Floyd came to his senses, Chris. Hopefully, once he's out in Colorado he'll busy himself with projects around the property and pull himself out of his depression. Since he likes serving people, perhaps he can volunteer at a local shelter.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 02, 2020:

The Master of Flash Fiction has done it again, folks! Well done my friend. Thanks for taking part in the challenge and for showing us how to do it with style.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 01, 2020:

John, When I retire, I'll be living off grid. There is a lot of work to do living that lifestyle. I won't be bored. I look forward to it. Floyd will figure it out, I think.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on March 01, 2020:

MizB, I am thrilled to know you didn't know which way I would go. Thanks for reading.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on March 01, 2020:

I'm glad Floyd made the decision to live and enjoy his new piece of land. Some people don't know how to live a life outside work, many don't last long after they retire. Very sad.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on March 01, 2020:

Great flash fiction, Chris. I love the ending, but you did have me wondering, by the way.