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…And a Grand Dream This Is

The sun comes up on a humdrum town.

Professor Curl rises early to work on his calculations. He makes a pot of strong coffee and a couple of slices of buttered toast, taking everything into his office. The coffee pot and mug go in the one empty spot on his desk, while the plate of toast is balanced precariously on a stack of books. He grabs a marker, stares at the whiteboards spread around the room, and…he does nothing. He shakes his head, but he can’t focus his thoughts. He pulls a small flask from the pocket of his bathrobe and empties it into his coffee. After downing one cup of what he calls Cuban coffee, he’s able to shake off the ghosts of his childhood and throw himself into his world of numbers and calculations. Familial abuse is a hell of a thing. Drinking rum on the sly is a hell of a thing. Professor Curl knows he has something of a problem, but the drink fuels his work, and his work fuels his life, so he accepts his drinking as a devil he’s made a bargain with out of necessity.

* * *

The sun shimmers over a rundown city.

Summery Sir Patrick dials the number of Miss Surly. She is a dreamier young woman than Sir Patrick has ever met before. She has a merry light in her eyes that sparks dynamite in the warm cavern of his heart. His attraction to her is as deep and salty as an ocean. But despite his sunny spirit, he is beset with anxieties when it comes to Miss Surly. How could such a delightfully imaginative and profound woman like her feel love for such a tempestuous and distracted man? Before his call can be completed, he hangs up the phone, springs from his seat, and paces the room in manic indecision. To call or not to call? To take a chance or stay in the comfort of insecure loneliness?

Sir Patrick falls back into his chair and sighs. “Fuck it,” he grumbles. He picks up the phone and redials Miss Surly’s number. This time, he doesn’t hang up.

* * *

The sun yawns and sprawls over a humdrum town.

Mrs. Curl throws her coffee mug at the wall. The sound of it shattering brings Professor Curl into the room. “Whatever is wrong?” he asks, a sight slur to his anxious words.

“My sister is coming out here this afternoon,” she snaps. “My lazy, irresponsible, self-centered sister is coming out here. To borrow more money from us, I would guess.”

Professor Curl slumps against the wall next to the shards of the coffee mug. “Ah,” he says. “Well, that should be a fun visit.”

“Exactly,” Mrs. Curl says. “The parasitic bitch is taking the 4:00 train.” She hisses the words venomously. “She never stops taking, never stops demanding.” Professor Curl flinches at her knife-sharp anger and slinks back into his office for more coffee and rum.

* * *

The sun lurks behind soggy, grey clouds that swim over a humdrum town.

A mermaid rises from the sea foam in the heart of Miss Surly’s chest when she hears her phone ring, hoping it’s the hot-blooded Sir Patrick calling her. Her three sisters drearily sit on the back porch, watching the heavy spring rain. She watches them through the window as she answers her phone with a whispery hello.

“Miss Surly?” The voice on the other end is warm and as fresh as green grass. “It’s Sir Patrick.”

“Sir Patrick,” she says, “how wonderful to hear from you.”

“It is?” he asks. She can actually hear his cheeks flush across the telephone line. “Well, that’s good. That is, I mean,” he clears his throat as if he has words caught in his throat, “I’m happy that you’re home. You see, I’m taking the train into the countryside this afternoon and I was wondering if you would like to have dinner with me this evening. If you’re available, that is.”

Miss Surly smiles so wide, she could swallow the Nile if she had a mind to, and says, “I would love that, Sir Patrick.”

“Well then,” he says, his voice suddenly surging with cheer, “I will be on the 4:00 train and will knock on your door sometime around 6:30.”

“I look forward to it,” she says before hanging up the phone.

* * *

The sun hides from a whispering, buzzing countryside behind a turbulent, turquoise sky.

A shriek of lightning. A furor of metal scraping on metal. A thunderous boom of fuel ignited. Smoke and rain and blood and flame: a train wreck on a stormy, spring afternoon.

* * *

The sun stumbles over a sodden, humdrum town.

When she hears the news on the radio, Mrs. Curl is positively merry about the train derailment. This scares Professor Curl, a shivering chill in his bones. He watches her with a nervous churning of caffeine and alcohol running through his veins as she hums a cheery tune and moves lightly around the living room, dusting surfaces that aren’t dusty.

He would feel even worse if he knew his wife’s secret: she called the storm in and brought the lightning down on the train. She’s been doing this ever since she was little, whenever she’s angry with someone. Her blood feels like electricity, her eyes sparkle, she reaches out with her furious heart, and…in comes the storm, torrents of rain, cascades of lightning. It’s a wonder her sister, who Mrs. Curl has never liked, made it to adulthood before dying in a fiery train derailment.

* * *

The sun goes down on a smoldering, buzzing countryside.

Sir Patrick wanders down the hillside, away from the still-hot wreckage of the train. Every footstep he takes on the wet grass hisses and steams. Bits of his suit still smoke and burn, but his skin and hair are completely undamaged. He looks back at the train, sniffs the air, and frowns. He can still smell the ozone from the lightning, but he can also smell the acrid tang of angry magic. He smells fury, intent, will, a heady swirl of scents. Someone brought the lightning down on the train, killing everyone aboard except him. He sees jagged traces in the air, arcing towards his intended destination. He sniffs the air again. He can tell he wasn’t the target of the lightning, but if it wasn’t for his own stubborn refusal to die, the summoned storm would have killed him, and he would never again see the lovely Miss Surly.

“Unacceptable,” he growls. Hot-blooded and determined, eyes glowing with anger and desire, Sir Patrick sets off across the rainslick fields, walking through the dusk towards a humdrum town.