Short Story Extract

The following is an extract from a yet to be published short story I wrote late last year. It was nominated for an award in several categories in the Spectrum Short Story 2017 competition placing 2nd in 'Best Setting', was a runner up in 'Best Plot', and a runner up in 'Best of Show'.

By the Boiler's Hand - Synopsis

The Help have been living in the oceans since the end of the Second World War, but Liz couldn’t care less. She works as a boilerhand on the Trans-Atlantic express train, ferrying people to and from The Help. Liz dreams of becoming a driver but with a fading grandfather to care for, believes nothing will ever change. When a passenger incident provides Liz an opportunity to finally be a driver, the boilerhand must decide if the price is worth it.

Atlantic Ocean at Night

The Help don’t understand dementia. They don’t like illness. Grandpa wouldn’t join them anyway even if by some miracle he was drawn from the yearly ballot.

“I’ve got work,” I say, noting the time on my watch.

“Aye, I know. I’m old, not senile.”

The care home is modern and smells of new carpet mixed with disinfectant. My Grandpa shifts in his chair by the window as a carer walks by with the tea trolley. Her name is Liz too, and I know Grandpa sometimes gets us confused. Liz 2 (that’s what I call her) understands, but she always smiles and slips Grandpa a dram of Scotch in a mug.

“Will we be seeing you on the telly this weekend, Lizzie?” Liz 2 says.

“Don’t think so,” I shake my head. “I don’t get to drive. I just keep the boiler hot. Most passengers ignore me and the cameras never find their way to the engine. No one wants to see a boilerhand in overalls.”

“Ah that’s a shame,” Liz 2 says as she moves her trolley away. “I was telling my Mama all about you.”

Grandpa coughs through his mug and for a moment his old brown eyes are young and full of pride as they follow Liz 2.

“That’s my granddaughter ye know?” he says to me.


“I’d been all around the world before she were even a glint in her Papa’s eye. Loves her trains. Wants to be a driver.”

“You must be proud.”

I move over to give him a kiss on top of his balding head, but just as I move to leave he grabs my arm and pulls my ear close to his mouth.

“It wasn’t worth all this,” he hisses desperately and in a shocked moment I realize my Grandpa is shaking softly. “None of this was worth it.”

“Worth what Grandpa?”

“The Help ye stupid gal! We’d be better off by ourselves. Will ye tell Lizzie?”

I lean out gently removing Grandpa’s hand from my arm and placing it carefully on his lap.

“I’ll tell her.”

“Should’e been a driver,” Grandpa sighed, lost in another memory. “She were the best I ever saw. Should’e been a driver. Could’e. We all could’e been more. Were it not for The Help, maybe your Mama and Papa would still be here. I’m sorry we gave up on ye.”

Grandpa starts crying and I look up to see another carer moving toward us to help. I withdraw my hands as the carer’s take over comforting the only member of my family still alive.

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Boilerhand Train Image
Sir Nigel Gresley

© Copyright John Allen 2018

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