By Andrew Evans

Well, It was fantastic. I would say exactly what I thought it would be, but that would be a dis-service. My open travel ticket was still valid but I was very close to maxing out the savings in my groaning bank account.

Still, I had enough for my food and drinks and my clothes were clean so I saw no rush to get home. Not to that mind numbing job and those smug people. They can shove it. I’ll get another job when I get home. In fact, I might never even go home. So there.

So, where to then? Well, off I went on the underground rail system while I still had a week on that pass to use up before I had to eat into my funds. I crossed the border out of the country and into the next one. Culture, I wanted. I was not fussy where I slept. There was usually a hostel or a bed and breakfast and a lot of people in these magnificent countries were so much more friendly than where I lived. Friendliness, a dying art.

I’d stayed with a married couple, a fisherman, above a shop, and worked on a farm in exchange for food and a bed. I chastised myself momentarily, if only I had had this courage in my twenties! Still, as is the popular saying ‘It is what it is.’

I had decided I shall no longer work for fops, idiots and buffoons whom are very dismissive of the intelligence of the people who work for them, and their qualities, and are living in constant fear of a visit from their own managers and so take out their foul, anxious moods on the underlings. Us, the workers.

There, rant over. Nothing would change, so I had to. So, munching down a cardboard bowl of beef stew from a pop up street food vendor, I hopped on the train and hurtled over the border. No passport needed, I just flashed my ticket and away I went. Out into another new city and another hundred miles from the mundane, steady life I no longer wanted.

I just loved the cobbled streets here and the coloured houses and quaint hotels and the boats on the dock. Outdoor markets selling all manner of local produce and handcrafted souvenirs. There was a band playing rock and roll. I couldn’t understand the language but they sounded great. The guitar solo was something else. I got that warm rush of blood you get every so often. Sheer contentment.

No appointments, no bills to pay, no pressure to go out when I don’t want to. To be honest, I was giving myself permission to absolve myself of responsibilities and to hell with the repercussions. It’s about time I did what I wanted to do. No good sitting bolt upright in palliative care shouting ‘If only I’d..’ and then croaking it. So no more would I be answerable to the tyrannical managers and the script followers.

Time to get my bearings. I’m in a square in a new city. Enough for a night or two in the bank but don’t lunge for the nearest place and act like a tourist. I had found that wearing souvenir hats and t-shirts was like advertising ‘Here comes a fool with money.’ So I took to wearing pullovers and jogging bottoms and a flat cap.

I was hardly ever asked to buy things or asked if I was interested in a great deal. My answer had been ‘Yes, I am interested in a great deal. A great deal of things interest me, but being ripped off is not one of them.’ They rarely understood my accent and by the time I’d finished babbling at them, they usually shrugged and off they’d go.

This place looked about right to me though as I strolled a bit further out of the hustle bustle and found myself by a canal. It ran right through the city which I found quirky and enticing but I walked further away from the noisy part. As much as I enjoyed the metropolitan side of my tour, I craved peace and tranquillity at night.

Here was a barge with a sign on the window. ‘For hire. One Bed, Cooker, Portable T.V. Peaceful. Enquire within.’

As a Black Swan glided down the still waters and small fish jumped for gnats, I looked up at a yellowing sun beginning to get ready to roost. Hmm. I think I’d better get ready to roost myself, I thought. So I had a look through the window of the barge.

Red, white and blue in colour and shall I say.. a ‘distressed’ theme to the paintwork? No, let’s be honest. It’s not had a lick of paint since 1982. Nevertheless, rustic is my thing.

“Hello?.. Hi.. I’m here to inquire about renting the boat for a few nights?” I ventured to nobody in particular. No-one was on deck. Sometimes a stove would be on or a dog would be enjoying the breeze or a tell tale deck chair or radio by the boat. Nothing here though.

One last try.. “Hello..?”

A shadow flashed past the window and I jumped a little. From the tiny door to the interior of the barge, named ‘Gwildors Key’, emerged a small, gnomish looking man with round spectacles, a cane and a hooked nose and a broad, welcoming smile.

“Welcome traveller, welcome. I had heard you approach but was in the middle of cooking my revered meatball soup. Very well received ‘round these parts you know! Come about old Gwildor then have you?”

“Erm, yes I need a place to sleep for a few nights while I look around the city and think about what to do.”

The gnome put his hand out to offer a hearty handshake.

“Ah, we all need to think about what to do. By all means, come aboard. The boat is in a well known spot here. Idyllic, some say. You may come and go as you please. I shall take no payment. I only came up today to see that the old boy had not sunk!”

The gnome cackled infectiously. It did not fill me with confidence!

“Sunk?” I asked him.

“My little joke. Pay no heed. Come aboard, I will take your knapsack, as it were. The bedding is warm and clean. Everything has locks on and well, I shall leave you some of this stew of plenty, unless of course, you do not care for such tastes?”

“Oh no..I mean..yes, the stew sounds lovely. Smells great. Please, let me offer you some payment though, I won’t feel comfortable taking your accommodation like this.”

“By no means. Where I hail from, pieces of paper and round metal objects carry no value my friend. It looks like you will need your resources more than I, if you are not going back to your place of work after your trip?” Said the gnome fellow.

“Yes, I suppose you a.. whoa! Hang on a second. How did you know that about me?” I took a step back.

“Written all over your face my friend by all means. Seen it all before, can’t blame you. The treadmill that is life eh! We only realise that life is our own to do as we choose and not to fit in with a template and be what we are expected to be when we are, how did you think it now?…

Ah, that’s it.. ‘Sat bolt upright while in palliative care shouting if only..’ before erm..croaking it?” He smiled and chuckled again. He had read my mind this gnome-like person.

“Well yes, but this is both fascinating and creepy at the same time. I’m now not sure I should stay. How do you know these things about me?”

“Come aboard and we shall talk. Dusk approaches my friend. The stew is ready. I shall brief you on what to expect from this city and its ..folk..”

I was in a bit of a daze but tiring so I climbed aboard Gwildors Key and followed the little man inside. I must admit it was warm and homely, candlelit and welcoming and the food smelled divine after another full day’s travel.

The water sloshed softly against the sides of the barge and through a small window you could see a hillside underneath the moon as owls hooted. I had to admit, it was inviting inside and out despite this strangely intuitive fellow, who now beckoned to me to rest.

“By all means be seated friend, I will tell you how this place is unlike any other. At least, in this universe.. for you my friend, have stumbled upon.. the long way home..”

Independent author Andrew Evans is a father of one and enjoys time with his daughter, travel, music, gym and discovering new places to explore to inspire his writings. He studies counselling at college and loves to write both at home and in public as he likes to be around people. 

Building a short story profile, he also has two novels in progress. Including debut novel Ramona in the Realms, a full length fantasy.

He cites literary heroes and inspirations as Alan Garner, Lucy M Boston, Jack Vance, Arthur C Clarke, J K Rowling, Ben Bova, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and Helen Cresswell from growing up until today.

Andrew can be found many days in the local library, combing through current manuscripts or starting new ones! He always wanted to work in journalism and media but began to write as a hobby which he continues to love.

Andrew Evans currently resides in Handforth, Cheshire not too far from Manchester international airport and the home of Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat, if you believe such things…!

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