FIRST BLOOD

9 2 1

1905

Sister Maria and Clara were outside, waiting on the platform for their train. While this woman shared her sister's name, the similarities ended there. This was a stern woman, although anyone who had lived through what Sister Maria had was entitled to a bitter outlook on life. Clara quickly concluded that any attempts at conversation would get her nowhere.

Clara was anxious. A maelstrom of emotions lay just beneath her calm exterior. A lot had happened since her mother had been laid to rest. It was hard on a child to witness the chaos that invariably followed when a family loses its anchor.

A glowing light approached in the distance. At first it was as bright as a star but it grew in intensity until Clara had to avert her gaze. The ground began to tremble, but Sister Maria was not worried, since for her this was a routine and mundane affair. Clara found it hard to believe that having a mechanical behemoth barrelling towards them was anything less than extraordinary.

Clara was startled when Sister Maria grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her away from the platform's edge. She was whisked away just in time to hear the whistle call out into the night and felt a rush of air as it roared on by. This particular train was an express and would not be making a stop at this nondescript outpost.

She sighed, disappointed that her great journey remained on hold. In the distance she saw a small group making their way up the boardwalk. Until that moment, they had been alone on the platform. Once their faces were illuminated by the light, Clara's eyes brightened and she ran towards them. She jumped into Maria's arms embracing her sister with all her might. It felt good to feel wanted and loved even for a moment.

When Clara turned to Ada, she noticed the family elder was holding onto a young man's hand. She had seen him around town, the son of a miner who had just reached that age where he too would be going deep beneath the surface. It took a brave (or desperate) man to go deep under the ocean floor to mine for coal. To breathe in that dust and not see the light of day, all the while surrounded by equally desperate men and dwarvish horses. Clara hoped he would at least be spared her father's fate.

"Couldn't have you leave without saying goodbye," Ada said and kissed Clara on the forehead.

"My train won't be here until the morning," Maria said and put on a brave face.

Clara nodded, trying to keep her tears at bay and found the stern gaze from Sister Maria did little to help. Originally, the plan had been for them to leave town as a family.

The Church had lined up work in a laundry for the elder sisters and Clara would attend school at another location. Now it was clear that they would each walk their own path.

"Congratulations," Clara said while looking at both Ada and her beau.

It seemed a sensible thing to say even though she could not bring herself to smile. She wanted to stay with her sisters, but they were too old to attend this school and Maria was too young to take care of Clara. Ada would soon be starting a family of her own, so Clara would have been an additional mouth to feed. That realisation was enough to douse any flames of hope in Clara's heart.

Ada kneeled down to look Clara in the eye. It was hard to keep this moment from devolving into a shower of tears. They all knew what this meant for the last vestiges of their family.

"Thank you Clara," Ada said. She then hugged Clara before adding, "Don't forget to write."

Another train came in from the distance. At first it mimicked the actions of its predecessor until it slowed to a halt in a long deliberate squeal.

The Van Helsing ParadoxRead this story for FREE!