“Tickets please.” The train conductor looked over the family of three sitting at Table Seven in the dining car. Dan McGonagle held up three tickets—one for himself, his wife Anne, and twelve-year-old daughter Sarah. The conductor cancelled the three tickets using his handheld punch.
“What about him?” he asked, nodding toward the stuffed toy giraffe sitting in the plush green velour chair across the table from Sarah. “Doesn’t he have a ticket?”
A look of alarm washed over Sarah’s face. “We don’t have a ticket for Geoffrey? Does he need one?”
The conductor winked. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t joke. He’s fine. Just keep him from jumping on any of the passengers.” Sarah looked nervously at her father.
Dan spoke up. “Can I check our connections with you? I believe we transfer at Interlaken toward Lauterbrunnen where we transfer again toward the mountain pass. What’s it called?” he said, shuffling through the notes in his passport holder.
“Kleine Scheidegg. That’s where you will take a cogwheel train up the mountain. Don’t worry about the names. Just follow the people. You’re all going to the same place.”
“Well,” Dan said, boastfully. “We are actually going to head out onto the glacier and out to the caves. These people don’t look like hikers.”
“You are all going to the summit,” the conductor said, handing back the tickets. “But,” he said, pointing at Geoffrey, “make sure you take everything with you when you disembark.”
The next to visit them was the porter, a small, young man, adorned in a red blazer with sleeves too long for his arms. “Anything to eat or drink?” he asked in broken English.
“Three krankles and a plate of codsnarps,” Dan said instinctively.
Anne shot Dan a look and quickly turned to the waiter, who shrugged. “English bad.” He handed out menu cards. Anne breathed a sigh of relief.
“Sorry,” Dan muttered, reminding himself of where he was. He pointed at the menu, and in his best German, ordered two sandwiches, two apple juices, a croissant, and a coffee. The lad scribbled down the order and wandered off.
“Dan,” Anne scolded, “you must be more careful. Not everyone here is like us. We don’t need to attract attention.”
“And Dad,” Sarah added, “we don’t know that there aren’t any wanderers on this train.” She looked about.
“Well, there is one way to find out,” Dan said.
“Dan!” Anne said, “don’t you dare—”
“Im-Brish-Nee!” he called out, invoking the spell that stopped time for all except those in the spirit world. The whole of the train became frozen in time. “There,” Dan said looking about the stillness of the rail car. “It’s just us in here.”
“Dad,” Sarah whispered, “the man at the first table. I thought I saw his eyes move.”
Dan looked back over his shoulder at the man who, like all the others, appeared to be frozen stiff. “There is one certain way to sort that out—”
“Don’t you dare!” Anne blurted out. But Dan had put his hands over his chest was calling out, “Caliente Corazon!”
Caliente Corazon was a spell Dan learned from his parents when he was young. His family vacationed at a home in Spain near abandoned caverns in which he and his three brothers liked to play. Dan’s father conjured up the spell to cause the hearts and eyes of those in the spirit world (including children) to glow so that he could find them—and to also seek out any dangerous wanderers who might be lurking.
After casting the spell, the glowing eyes and the chest of the man at the first table could be seen through the newspaper he was trying to hide behind. But before Dan could rise to confront him, the conductor reappeared, his chest and eyes aglow as well. “Hah, there is something special about you,” he said. He pointed at the radiant glow coming from the seat occupied by Geoffrey. “I thought you might have been trying to smuggle him in without a ticket,” he said laughing.
Dan shushed him, motioning his head in the direction of the first table. “We are not alone.”
“Don’t mind him,” the conductor assured them, “he’s a watchman. Can’t be too careful with the wanderers around.”
“Are we safe?” asked Anne.
“Very. There are no wanderers on this train. There are two other families, like yours, in the train car ahead, heading up to the solstice celebration. None of them, however, is accompanying the likes of him,” he said, referring to Geoffrey. “Some giraffe.”
At this, Sarah felt the need to pluck Geoffrey out of his seat and snuggle him in her lap. “You won’t say anything, will you?”
“Not a word.”
“Not bad for my first cloaking spell,” Sarah said proudly.
“Not bad at all. Let me guess: taking the little blighter back to see his birthplace.”
“He hasn’t been back to the caves since we adopted him,” said Anne.
“Now, let’s stop playing with spells so we can get this show back on the road.” The conductor pointed at the stuffed toy: “But keep the cloaking spell in place. Please.”
Sarah giggled. “Wouldn’t that be something?”
The conductor took off his hat and wiped his brow: “In Roman times, Hannibal got elephants up and through the alps. So, a dragon? Shouldn’t be a problem. But I’d rather not freak people out—not today.”
Dan reversed his spells and the normal sights and sounds resumed. The porter arrived with sandwiches, sparkling apple sodas, a coffee and the biggest piece of chocolate cake any of them had ever seen. “I like the sound of your German,” Anne said. Sarah placed Geoffrey back in his seat. “Big bad dad didn’t order anything for you,” she whispered, opening a packaged towelette to wash her hands. “But that’s okay. I’ll save you some.” Geoffrey blinked. “And I’ll use a spell to make it bigger.” Geoffrey winked, his heart aglow (on the inside).
Andy Shaughnessy is an Intellectual Property Litigation Lawyer and writer living in Toronto and Gravenhurst, Ontario. He is a frequent participant in the monthly Off Topic Short Story, Creative Non-fiction and Poetry contests, in which he has posted a win and honourable mentions in the past. His short story ‘As Night Lifts’ was published in Off Topic’s ‘Wayward & Upward’ anthology in 2022. He has a dog and makes perfect poached eggs.
8 thoughts on “To The Alps – by Andrew Shaughnessy”
I love the fun fantastical elements of this piece! What a train ride!
I absolutely love this delightful story that’s at once lovely and fantastical. I need more Geoffrey in my life.
It was lovely to read a story based in my home country. Especially about places I’ve been to. I enjoyed it. Danke vil mol.
Thank you so much for reading and commenting! Oh the places we can go when we think of the places we’ve been! Andy
Lovely to read about a story based in my country. I enjoyed it.
Thank you so much for this lively–and lovely–story, dear Andy! A terrific wee adventure. Fine job. Loved the trip…from beginning to happy ending.
Thank you so much, Corinne, for reading and commenting! Andy