1. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
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    Ralph's side of the island.

    Contest Winner! Congratulations @tenderiser for "travel broadens the mind" - contest #178

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Sep 26, 2015.

    Short Story Contest # 178
    Theme: "Travel Anecdote" courtesy of @GingerCoffee

    Congratulations @Tenderiser for your first medal with a fascinating story, Travel Broadens the Mind.

    My apologies for the delayed thread, my busy season at work has begun.


    Travel Broadens the Mind [1939]

    Brian set his personal jar of coffee down on a counter in the staff room and looked irritably at two of his colleagues. They were standing in front of the kettle, blocking his access, and talking about nothing important.

    “Just booked two weeks in the Algarve,” Tech Support was saying. “Bit of sun, sea, sand and all that. You just got back from Spain, didn’t you? How was it?”

    “Oh, it was amazing,” said Human Resources. “Just what we needed. The kids were happy playing in the pool all day and John and I got some time to sit and relax, for once. We went all-inclusive. Everything we needed was right there.”

    Brian smirked and shook his head at the overhead cabinets. He wouldn’t be surprised if they hadn’t bothered to leave the hotel at all, happy stewing in their own sweat by a pool and reading endless, god-awful romance novels. Had they bothered to talk to a single native? Try some of the local food? Of course they hadn’t.

    He may have snorted out loud.

    “Are you going away this year, Brian?” said Tech Support.

    Brian turned to face them. Human Resources looked annoyed.

    “I’m still making plans,” he said, hopefully with an air of mystery. A little thrill ran through him.

    Back at his desk, he placed his personal jar of coffee back in his drawer, leaving the label (reading ‘Brian’s – do not use’) face up.

    Automatically checking his inbox and not really expecting anything to be there, after weeks and weeks of obsessively refreshing, it took him a moment to realise what he was seeing. Brian clicked the unread email with trembling fingers.

    He had passed the medical. He was cleared for flight.

    At the printer, he waited anxiously for the letter to emerge, as if it might all have been a hallucination bought on by the months of nervous anticipation. But no, it was real.

    Dear Mr Clarke

    We are pleased to confirm…

    Carefully folding the confirmation letter and sliding it into his breast pocket, Brian was flooded with excitement. He took a ready-packed briefcase from the bottom drawer of his desk, did a quick sweep to make sure he hadn’t left anything behind – and a good thing he did, because he almost forgot his personal stapler – and walked over to Human Resources, handing her an envelope. It had been ready for months.

    “I’m resigning,” he informed her.

    There was a hush as everybody turned to look at him.

    “What?” said Human Resources, blankly.

    “I’m resigning. I,” said Brian, pausing dramatically. “Am going to see the world.”

    “Going travelling?” said Finance Assistant, looking him up and down.

    “I,” said Brian, straightening himself to his full height. “Am taking a journey the likes of which have never been seen before. I am going to see sights that none of you have seen, that none of you ever will see, that none of you have even dreamed about.”

    He thought they looked suitable awed.

    “In fact,” he said, warming to his theme. “Most of you never see beyond the computer screens you are forever glued to. You never really look at the world around you, even the tiny part of it that you bother to travel to. I am escaping the endless factory shift. I have my sights set on bigger things.”

    Turning on his heels, he paused at the exit and looked back at Tech Support.

    “Do enjoy your package holiday,” he said, with a smirk.


    Brian chose his going-away outfit carefully. There would be cameras, so he had to look smart, but he also wanted to be comfortable. This journey was going to be the making of him and he did not want to be distracted from the profound, philosophical musings that would surely come by a constricting tie or a starchy collar.

    Eventually, he settled on a pair of black trousers and a white shirt, leaving the top button open. He thought he looked rather roguish but debonair at the same time.

    Sure enough, when he emerged from the taxi, the storm of camera flashes blinded him temporarily.

    “Mr. Clarke!” they were shouting. “How did it feel to be chosen?”

    One of the event organisers escorted him to a platform with a microphone. Brian enjoyed looking down at the sea of journalists and spectators.

    “I,” he said, pausing for effect again. “Am delighted to be here. Unlike those of us content with a fortnight stewing in our own sweat” – he had stored that little soundbite away when it had occurred to him in the staff room – “in front of a pool filled with people who live within a few hours of our homes, I,” – pause – “am really going to see the world.”

    They loved it. The cameras went wild, and the journalists scribbled manically.

    Feeling very pleased with himself, Brian entered the rocket and sat in the seat. He would be confined in this small space for the next week; just him, a chair, a bed and the few personal possessions he had been allowed to bring.

    He had practised the flight routine many times over the last dozen weekends at the astronaut training centre, along with all kinds of emergency procedures and special event protocols. The science people dashed around ensuring he was strapped in correctly and that he remembered how to adjust conditions during the flight. Brian nodded pleasantly, not really listening. He would be too absorbed in his thoughts to worry about trifles like the temperature.

    Soon, he would be the first space tourist. The first human to orbit the planet without scientific endeavour, but just to see it. To see the whole world. It would change his perspective forever. The book he would produce afterwards would be a bestseller. He hoped he would be able to call it Life of Brian.

    The ascent and descent were the most dangerous times, by far, on a rocket. Brian had learned that in training. However, the training could not prepare him for the effects of extreme G-forces on the body. He gritted his teeth and rode it out. It would be worth it. When he emerged, he would be a changed man.

    When the intense vibrations stopped and Brian’s organs fell back into their normal places, he opened his eyes. Through the small viewing window he could see Earth. Not the whole thing yet, but a part of it, filling the window with its enormous majesty.

    Brian waited to feel awed and humbled and to discover entirely new things about the human condition.

    He waited a little longer.

    Well, perhaps it would come when the whole planet was visible. He couldn’t expect his entire world outlook to change in a few moments; the human brain just wasn’t prepared for it.

    He settled back in the chair, empty notepad and pencil poised in his hands, and waited for inspiration.

    Several hours later, he tried a new tack. His house was down there, somewhere. He tried to see it in the context of the massive planet slowly revealing itself through the window. It was too minuscule to even compare on this scale. But it did not feel small and insignificant. It was his home, with everything he owned inside it, and when he imagined it, the size was more than sufficient for him.

    He still felt like an important part of the universe when he went to bed. In the morning, it would come. His brain would process everything during his sleep, and he would wake up a new man.

    He woke up hungry.

    The ration packs contained all the nutrients he needed but nobody could call them haute cuisine. Brian thought fleetingly of a nice little café on a sea front somewhere, where he could order a seafood paella and a carafe of white wine.

    Goodness. Here he was, in space, and he was thinking about paella! Brian shook himself. Although, he thought, grinning at his roguishness, a nice margarita cocktail would not go amiss.

    He returned to his chair. Nearly the whole planet was visible now, the edges of the viewing window filled with black nothingness. A void. A lonely planet spinning in an empty, unfeeling void.

    But there was so much in the universe, and the Earth teemed with movement and life.

    Brian frowned, and tried to picture his house again. It still seemed a reasonable size. Especially compared to this pokey little room.

    Eating another tasteless ration pack for dinner, still feeling quite important in the scheme of things, Brian wished he could waltz up to the window and order whatever he fancied. Perhaps a nice steak followed with a strawberry ice cream.

    When he went to bed, the notepad was still empty.

    Three days into his flight, he no longer fancied an ice cream. The temperature seemed to be dropping. Brian vaguely remembered them warning him about this in training, but he hadn’t really listened. He’d scoffed at the idea of being concerned with small physical discomforts when he was looking down at his own planet.

    He missed the sun.

    By day four, he wished he had bought a Kindle. Office Manager was always bleating on about hers. “It’s like a bookcase the size of a small paperback”. He had rolled his eyes at her and asked why she needed a bookcase when the ever-moving screen of life played out around her. He had been rather pleased with that statement. Now, he would gladly have traded anything he owned for a Kindle; especially the useless, still-empty notepad.

    No, actually, he would not give up the clothes on his back. He wanted a blanket nearly as much as he wanted something to do.

    He imagined himself on a nice beach, in the blazing sun, with a plate of fish and chips on his lap.

    The notepad got used on the fifth day. Brian used it to draw a grid and played noughts and crosses with himself.


    On day seven, the rocket landed back on Earth after another teeth-rattling G-force episode. The science people checked him over frantically but efficiently, then Brian stepped out to another bombardment of camera flashes and shouts.

    “Mr. Clarke! How was the experience? What have you learned from it?”

    Somebody pushed him onto the podium and he faced the sea of expectant faces.

    “I,” said Brian. “Have seen the world. And it has changed me.”

    They went wild, throwing question after question at him, but Brian stepped down from the podium and shakily clasped his hands in a silent prayer.

    He was quiet in the taxi home, reflecting on his experience.

    “You may let me off here,” he informed the startled taxi driver, on the main shopping street of his town. “I need a little walk.”

    Clutching his small bag, Brian looked up and down the street as the taxi drove off. He spotted a store with a sky-blue frontage and entered, dropping the notepad in a bin by the door. A young lady with blonde hair tied back in a tight ponytail smiled brightly at him, though it faltered as he came nearer.

    “Dear me, sir,” she said, in a high voice. “You look like you need a break.”

    “I do,” Brian agreed. He sat in a blue plastic chair in front of her desk.

    “Two weeks in the sun?” said Travel Agent, pulling a stack of brochures towards her.

    “Yes,” said Brian. “Somewhere hot.”

    She nodded sympathetically. “Flights, transfers and hotel?”

    “I want you to arrange everything,” Brian confirmed.

    “Bit of sea, sun, sand?”

    “Yes,” said Brian, with feeling. He reached out and held her wrist, appealing to her with his eyes. “All-inclusive. Please.”
    Lady Marmalade and Sifunkle like this.

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