Adventure Fiction

Traveling first-class seemed like a good idea when I booked the ticket.

I just got a raise, my boss gave me with a corner office, the coffee tasted better, and the chairs had lumbar support. And as a further bonus, my boss wanted me to go to Winton for additional training. 

But now I huddled in my assigned seat, hands gripping the complimentary blanket while I stared at the fish through the windows.

I thought first-class was exclusive. Like, you didn’t have to socialize with anyone. But when I refocused my eyes to see the glass’s reflection, there he sat: a stranger.

Of course he had to be the confident and attractive type, complete with amazing hair and a dazzling smile. Luckily he couldn’t see my outdated blue dress because he…ugh, it should be illegal to look that good in jeans and a t-shirt.

I should’ve picked third-class. They didn’t have windows or food and the cold dampness would’ve leeched the joy out of me, but I’d take those over painful small talk and being side-eyed by a passing octopus. Urban girls might get raises, but we did not ride first-class, and we didn’t eat—I glanced at the menu—prime cuts and fondant potatoes.

“First time?”

I snapped my head round to my neighbor and lifted the blanket to my chin. “Maybe.”

The guy smiled and waved the attendant over. “MacAllin, neat, and she’ll have…?” he looked at me expectantly. 

“H-hot chocolate,” I managed to eke out. They had that, right?

The attendant left before I could change my order.

“I’m Jack.” My neighbor had the good graces not to intrude on my blanket wall by holding out his hand.

“Alice,” I said. Could I hide under my blanket until we got there?

“Where are you going?” he asked, offering me my cup of cocoa when the attendant returned.

My hand edged around the blanket and took the carved wooden cup. The dark wood showed an etching of ancient ships cresting tall waves. When was the last time anyone sailed on top of the ocean? I wondered. Sipping the cocoa, I looked over the cup’s rim and into Jack’s eyes. Oh. Right. “I’m going to Winton for my job,” I said.

“So am I,” he swirled his drink around the cup.

Thank you for traveling with Aqua Tide, the right way to explore. Please take your seats. The train will depart in one minute.” The automated voice made me jump a little and I carefully set the cup in the holder to my left.

I’d been on several sea trains but never over this distance. You could get halfway around the world in a couple hours. I planned to use my extra waking hours on rereading the manual for the new computers my company ordered. I had to be at the same level as everyone else.

The train’s motion started with the smallest of jolts and in moments we’d reached cruising speed. The water outside grew darker and as we sped through the ocean, lights on the outer tube flickered to life to illuminate the water. One fleeting glimpse of what might have been a shark had me grabbing my cocoa.

C’mon, Alice. You can do this. Ask Jack a question.

I took a deep breath and glanced at Jack before I said, “So, what kind of work do you do?”

Jack glanced up from his book—an actual paperback—and seemed startled that I’d spoken. He closed his book, but kept a finger in his place. “I’m an investment banker.”

“Oh. That’s, um, nice.” I took another sip. What’s a follow-up question? “How are the stocks?”

Jack laughed and drained his drink. “I’m joking. I actually own a whiskey distillery. But I hear the stocks are experiencing a rebound.”

“Oh. Good one. Haha,” I chuckled like a complete idiot. Stocks and whiskey. Throw in gyms and we’d have the trifecta of things I knew nothing about. “Is the distillery close to Winton?”

“Yeah, just north of it. I always spend a day in Winton before carrying on. It makes the time adjustment easier. Will you have time to experience the city?” He slid a bookmark into his paperback.

“I hope so. But tomorrow my training starts and I can’t miss any of it.” I thought back to my last minute research on Winton: the Dillon Fountain, the Emerald Library, tours of the abandoned Royal Docks, and bright and bustling arcades filled with boutique shops and trendy restaurants. There had to be time to see some of it.

“Why not explore when we get there? Lots of places stay open well beyond midnight; so many travelers arrive late now. I could show you around if you’d like.” He said it very casually but my heart perked up and not-so-politely knocked on my ribs.

“That’s generous of you, but I don’t want to bother you,” I smoothed a wrinkle in my blanket.

“I’d like the company. Besides, it’s not often I get to show off my knowledge,” he stroked his chin and tried to look scholarly.

I smiled brightly. The manual could wait. “Okay Mr. Professor, what would you recommend?”

~ ~ ~

The warmth surprised me. It was winter back home, but here the last breath of summer could be felt and the trees still rustled with unshed leaves, though small flurries of leaves swirled on the sidewalk as we exited the station.

A news column flashed with bold headlines like “North Avenue remains flooded,” “Senator Rogers strikes down opposers of umbrella ban,” and “Sales of raincoats reach torrential strength.” I stared, almost hypnotized by the bright colors and sleek transitions between articles. I should find out who made it.

Jack tapped my shoulder and I moved forward along the real cobblestones.

I’m here, in Winton, with a hot guy, and the whole night ahead of me.

I grinned up at Jack and asked, “What’s first?”

He pointed to the corner ahead of us. “That stall sells the best butter rolls and ham. You hungry?”

“Yes please.” Hot chocolate only got a girl so far. I unbuttoned my jacket and draped it over my arm while he completed the transaction. Checking to make sure my dress wasn’t bunching weird, I stared out at this new world.

We stood at a large intersection, the sidewalks and streets all cobbled and clean. Tall, sedate buildings made of white stone rose across from us and columns supported their pointed roofs. Wrought iron fences boxed-in each individual building and small bushy trees stood on almost every corner and lined every street. This represented an older era—one of stone, brick, iron, wood, stained glass and living trees. No shiny cubes or endless concrete here.

“D’you like it?” Jack handed me the food.

“I love it,” I said, biting into the soft roll. Even the food tasted better.

“The gardens are this way,” he headed down the sidewalk and I mutely followed, still struck by the dreamlike beauty of it.

A thick hedge encompassed the whole garden and a wooden gate barred the entrance. Jack slipped a few credits in the payment box and pushed the gate open for me. I slowly descended the stone steps.

White lights shone up at the trees, flickered amongst the leaves and winked off the surfaces of ponds and fountains. I walked under an arbor covered in climbing plants and before me stood a statue of a knight in armor, his horse’s legs almost consumed by a flowering vine.

Our trip through the garden wandered by secluded benches, flowers I’d never seen, other awestruck travelers, blooming rose bushes that gently perfumed the air with their citrus scent, and near the exit, a weeping willow, its roots reaching into a quiet pond. I ducked under the trailing limbs and ran a hand across the unblemished trunk.

“Was this always here?” I asked once we left. I’d consulted the paper map he’d taken from the station and eventually located our position: a few blocks from the start of Region, the hub of Winton’s financial sector.

“We had to fight to keep it. The council wanted to level it and expand the Harbinger Plant,” Jack waved to the right. “But we won and now that it brings in tourists, they’ll keep it.” Jack sounded disgusted.

“We? Do you consider yourself a local?” I asked, eager to turn the conversation toward other things.

Jack laughed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah. I was born not far from here. No matter where I go or what happens here, it will always be home. This way. One of my favorite places is just here.”

We crossed the street and stopped in front of a small shop. Two large windows flanked the narrow red door and behind the glass…I grinned and stepped close to peer inside.

Books. Books. And more books. Towers, piles, arches, trees, a chair, and shelves going to the back wall, anything that could be shaped by books and hold books.

“It’s just like the history texts,” I breathed.

Jack coughed to get my attention and pointed at the sign on the door’s window: Open 24 hours.

I squealed and pushed the door open, the soft tinkle of a bell the only sound as I submerged myself in the books.

Bookshops disappeared decades ago and now only a select few libraries still distributed physical books, and the rest of the books belonged to private collectors. The Emerald Library boasted a digital copy of every book ever written, but this small shop bursting with books of every size and thickness, in every state of condition, deserved more praise and wonder.

When we reached the entry again, I had two full bags.

“Um.” I awkwardly hoisted each bag onto a shoulder. “Where next?”

Jack looked at me like I’d lost it and turned to the lady behind the counter. “Carol, can we leave these here for now?”

“Of course, dears,” she took our purchases and placed them behind her counter. “Come back soon, Jack.” She winked at me and slid over a small heart-shaped tin, nodding when I pointed to myself.

I hesitantly took the tin, thanked her, and we headed back into the city. I stopped under a streetlamp—one lit with real fire—and popped open the tin. Small mushrooms made of chocolate caps and cookie stems filled the tin and I eagerly ate one.

“It’s so cute. And tasty,” I said, eating another sweet. “Want one?”

Jack shook his head and withdrew his own tin, this one diamond-shaped. “I prefer peppermints. The Merchant Street?”

I nodded. “So,” I said as we resumed our walk passed intimidating and charming buildings. “Why whiskey? You don’t look like a typical drinker.”

Jack pointed at the group on the opposite sidewalk who appeared to be discussing where to go next. “It’s because of them. People, really. Food and drink are one of the few remaining things that still bind us together. The one thing Harbingers can’t quite replicate and standardize. I want to keep that tie strong; make sure we never forget what it’s like to meet and discover things together with no artificial lights or noise distracting us.”

“That’s nice,” I said softly.

“Yeah. It’s my dream. Not sure it will survive; many organizations are trying to erase the independent companies. But I’m not going to give up,” he smiled at me and his sadness made my chest ache.

“You better not,” I affectionately punched his arm. “I’m in advertising. You say the word and I’ll create the best campaign you’ve ever seen. We’ll do adverts, flash flyers, contact local and regional news outlets, maybe rent a few e-boards and do some interviews. Paying hands will love you. I can increase sales by 42.3% and bring in multiple investors—actual investors,” I laughed and gestured at the fire-lit street before us. “We could even have some in-person events for those looking for a unique experience. Ooo! They have blimps with e-boards on them. We could get some of those too.”

“Alice, Alice,” Jack held up his hands. “Slow down. First of all, I appreciate your offer, but corporate hands are out of the question. I want to succeed because people like what I’m doing, not because I have the best advertiser money can buy,” his sad smile returned. “People should see who’s behind the things they buy. But I want them to be customers and to see their excitement firsthand. It’s about creating a lasting connection, not faceless hands making the line go up.”

“Oh. Well I’m sure I can come up with something,” I said, barely deterred. Personal contact. Customers. Connections. Hmm. I’d have to run some simulations.

Jack shoved his hands in his pockets. “When you look around here, what do you see?”

We’d arrived at the entrance to Merchant Street and I read some of the wooden signs hanging in front of shops: Crimson Clothiers, Tweed and Time, Chessing’s Dental, Kings of Antique, and beside us, Hattie’s Tea Shop. I drifted over to the tea shop to study the delicate display of cups, saucers, creamers, pointed napkins, and the fake food arranged on platters which rested on pedestals.

“It’s a perfect novelty,” I sighed. “A wonderful escape.”

“You don’t belong here, Alice,” Jack said.

I turned back to him and frowned. “Of course I do. It’s for tourists.”

“No. It’s not,” Jack’s hands rose and he gestured around us. “This is what it used to be like. Before ugly boxes, parking blocks and automated factories, people used to care. Being a business owner meant something and required hard work and sacrifice. You couldn’t just be assigned a job and expect that to be the end of it. We toiled and failed on the journey to success.”

“But we don’t have to anymore,” I reached for his hands and he backed away. “Everything’s easy now. Isn’t that good?”

Jack shook his head and chuckled. “You don’t get it. Maybe you never will. Life should be like finding our own rabbit hole to fall down; no one will follow you and nothing will ever be boring again. We’d have to fight to thrive. I’m fighting, Alice. I hope someday you will too.” He turned and merged with a group of tourists.

“Jack! Jack! Wait!” I pushed by the people and ran out into the street, shocked by the growing crowds filling the dawn-touched cobbles.

Jack was gone.

November 12, 2023 18:08

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Mary Bendickson
20:17 Nov 19, 2023

Your own descriptions of your book characters maybe could have worked for these two. Working to see each other's point of view. Unsettling to me he left her in an unfamiliar world and disappeared She didn't even retrieve her books. Her love of books showed she had something in common with him. Thanks for liking my moon story.


Kailani B.
18:10 Nov 20, 2023

Thanks for reading, Mary! I think Alice returned to the bookstore and ran into Jack again. Maybe they talked a bit more too!


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Danie Holland
12:42 Nov 16, 2023

I really liked the conflict here. A lot of it is already mentioned in the comments below but what stands out to me is that so often we have different points of view without the patience to see outside of ourselves. I think they could both learn a great deal from each other if only they would be willing to see things from a different perspective. It may be tempting to want things to go back the way they were but time marches forward without regard to anyone. He seems to be very focused on the connections behind things where as she seems a bit...


Kailani B.
21:27 Nov 17, 2023

Yeah, I know several people who are set in their ways and no amount of outside advice will make them change, no matter how convincing the argument. I like writing characters that have the potential to alter their course and I think Jack and Alice could both benefit from someone else's ideas. Thanks for reading, Danie!


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Karen Corr
16:47 Nov 15, 2023

I very much enjoyed reading your story. I love the worlds you build! I loved the Aqua Tide, train and the shops and gardens in Winton. So sad that Jack and Alice didn't make it. So sad that small businesses are being swallowed by indifferent corporations and everything is done for money. (though in the real world we know all about that). Thanks, Kailani! 😊❤️


Kailani B.
15:24 Nov 16, 2023

So happy you liked it, Karen! I'm really enjoying the short story format because it allows me to create places and characters that would otherwise take me years to get around to making.


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Hannah Lynn
02:48 Nov 15, 2023

Well done! I love the sea train, makes me want to take a trip on one lol, it caught my imagination!


Kailani B.
14:54 Nov 16, 2023

I hope the trains will be real some day. Thanks for reading, Hannah!


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Michał Przywara
21:40 Nov 13, 2023

Right from the start, good work on the setting. We assume she's on a plane, but then she's looking at fish - something isn't adding up. The sci-fi setting is established gracefully, without interrupting the story of two people meeting. And they're interesting people. Compatible, and also fundamentally, incompatible. We learn the backdrop is a hypercorporate world, and it sounds like ease is the order of the day - even finding work is handled for you. Jack dislikes this, and believes in his own independence. From his POV, this is a corporat...


Kailani B.
04:08 Nov 14, 2023

Thanks for taking the time to comment, Michał! When I picked this prompt I thought having the characters on a plane was too obvious a choice. My second idea was a dragon (dragons flying at the speed of light, anyone?) but then I decided to go outside my comfort zone and try the slightly futuristic option. Glad it worked, 'cause I wasn't sure how it would play out. As for the characters, I think I just like putting two (or more) opposing sides on the page and letting them make their case. In the book I'm writing, I have a guy from a poor fa...


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Michelle Oliver
22:52 Nov 12, 2023

This was deep, like a rabbit hole. You have created two distinct characters and we can empathise with both, yet they are totally opposite in world views. I like the idea of a future world that is easy, but ominously controlled by the mysterious harbingers. The human population seems to have become domesticated to the point where they do not see their cages. I like Jack, a rebel who wants human connections and he leaves Alice with something new to think about and hopefully grows from this encounter.


Kailani B.
05:23 Nov 13, 2023

Thanks for commenting, Michelle! I had fun creating these two characters and the slightly dystopian world they live in.


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Tom Skye
22:48 Nov 12, 2023

Really nice work. It was an interesting take to have two people meet like that and not end up seeing eye to eye. The clash of attitudes with Jack symbolized the old world and the new. The way he disappeared at the end was very poetic and impactful. Lost to the crowds he lamented. It was really well done. It is interesting how many people hit it off of transport, particularly planes. I think it's because mostly people need an opportunity to really speak to each other for a significant amount of time and transport often enables that. Perhaps ...


Kailani B.
03:45 Nov 13, 2023

Love hearing your thoughts, Tom! And thanks for catching that typo. I have to admit I'm not very familiar with traveling long distances on public transport (I haven't done it in over a decade). I'm a complete introvert and small talk is the bane of my existence, but the idea of hitting it off with a stranger does sound cool.


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