Short Story: Young Romance During the London Blitz

I wrote another short story. Because it was an “assignment” with my writers club. And I had a deadline. And I didn’t want to disappoint.

Louise Hillery, who founded the Scibblers Writing Club some odd few years back, is really good at coming up with exercises for us to work on. A month ago, she suggested we come up with some prompts to spur our imaginations and get our literary juices flowing. So, we came up with the following prompts.

Write something short, probably not more than a page: poem, memoir, story, whatever. You may use some of the following (not required):

*Setting: library, time machine, a shop, restaurant, or business, during wartime (e. g. WWII).

*Characters: close-knit group, people like yourself (demographically), wildly different kinds of people, a dog (may not die in story!), musician(s).

*Emotional factor: suspense, jealousy, romance, humor, a current social issue.

*Plot factors: the color green has a special significance, a twist or surprise at the end.

That’s a lot of stuff. It’s hard to include all that stuff in one (or a bit more than one) page. For my short story, I chose to include as main elements: library, time machine, World War II, suspense, jealousy, romance, the color green, and a twist at the end. I mentioned dogs and musicians just to get them in, but they are not major factors in the plot line.

If I were to actually submit this story for publication, I’d flesh it out a bit, add a bit more historical context and character detail. But since I wanted to keep it fairly short for our Zoom discussion, it’s a mere 1,694 words. Without further adieu, I present “Young Romance During the London Blitz.” Enjoy (or don’t; it’s totally up to you).

A homeless boy points out his bedroom to his friends, after his home had been wrecked during a random bombing raid in an eastern suburb of London. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images). 1940

Young Romance During the London Blitz

Not again, I thought. Not when I finally got a date with Jane.

The air raid siren had just started wailing, alternating between the irritating low pitch and the ear-piercing, brain-splitting high pitch that made us cover our ears. Even inside the Watford Library, the loud wail jolted us to attention.

“Bloody Nazis are bombing London again. Better get in the basement,” the head librarian announced more to herself than to anyone else as she sat at the front counter, twisting the dial of the radio, her ear against the speaker.

Jane and I had been walking to the checkout counter with the books we’d planned to take home, hers on the dogs of France and mine on 1930s British musicians. When the librarian spoke, though, we froze in our tracks as we knew we were only 20 miles or so from where the heaviest of the blitzkrieg had been occurring.

The librarian stood up straight, placed her hands on her hips, peered over her half-moon spectacles that she’d pushed down her long, thin nose and repeated the command with more authority to anyone within earshot. “Get in the basement.”

I’d gone into the basement for ten whole minutes on a dare from some school chums several years ago. I made it back out alive. But it was a dark, dank, lonely existence for a boy of ten.

Without saying anything, the look on Jane’s face suggested we obey the librarian, and despite any fears of how creepy the basement in this old building might be, we did as we were told. Jane and I took the worn wooden steps one at a time on the creaky staircase to the underbelly of the building, following closely behind the librarian and the other patrons, of which there were less than a dozen.

Upon getting to the lowest level of the library, everyone else marched down a dimply lit hallway, entering a room at the end of it. It wasn’t quite as bad as I’d remembered from my first venture down the creaky staircase. Not pleasant, mind you, just not dreadful.

Not in the mood to join the others in an enclosed space, I turned the opposite direction, and Jane followed as I’d hoped.

I tugged on a doorknob, and the big, wooden door opened with an eerie noise. It was apparent someone needed to oil the hinges. I fumbled for a light switch and flipped it. A small light fixture in the center of the ceiling lit up, though actually only one of the three bulbs worked. Still, it was enough to get our bearings and survey the room.

There were dusty cardboard boxes stacked along three of the walls of the small, windowless room, writing on the sides of most of them, no doubt alerting everyone to what was inside. The last wall featured a large, black chalkboard with the word “green” written in white chalk on it.

“I wonder who wrote that, Tom?” Jane asked as she sat down at one of the four school desks crammed into the middle of the room.

“Or why,” I said, sitting in the desk next to hers.

“Green? Was this the answer to some research question?” I wondered to myself. “Was this some classroom to teach colours to children? Some learning environment for the young ones.”

The sirens continued to wail, albeit the sound of them was just a tiny bit muffled in the basement. Meanwhile, Jane and I sat there not knowing what to do. Well, at least I didn’t know what to do. Perhaps Jane was perfectly happy with nothing said or done.

I finally got the nerve to reach out and gently place my hand atop Jane’s hand. If she slapped me, I would tell her that I only wanted to comfort her in this hour of dread. But she didn’t recoil, and after chatting about the incessant bombings for a bit, she actually grasped my hand. The conversation moved to school, where she was one grade behind me. I happened to mention my insane jealousy of Richard, who asked Jane to last spring’s dance in the school yard just a moment before I was going to. I left out the word “insane.” But he did it right in front of me, that maggot.

“I actually liked you more,” Jane confessed, looking into my eyes with what I decided was a bit of sheepishness.

“Really?” I was so stunned by this revelation that I nearly didn’t hear a loud, whistling sound. But we both did, and we both instinctively covered our heads.

Less than a millisecond later … KA-BOOM!

Our desks shook underneath us. The light bulb flickered above us, but stayed on. The dust atop the boxes rose into the air making the room look at though a dozen voracious smokers had been lighting up cigarette after cigarette. The dust haze wafted into my nose and made me sneeze a few times, which caused the dust to billow violently forward. We heard bricks and mortar crumbling above us and perhaps all around us. When the noise had subsided, we looked around. There was a hole about three feet square where the word “green” had been on the blackboard. Other than that, the walls and ceiling appeared to be intact.

An interior view of the bombed library at Holland House with readers apparently choosing books regardless of the damage. Photographed in 1940. The House was heavily bombed during World War II and remained derelict until 1952 when parts of the remains were preserved. (Corbis)

“I’ll see if the others are okay,” Jane said as she tried the door. It didn’t budge.

I put my mouth near the keyhole and yelled, but nobody responded. We were stuck. It felt like we were the last people on Earth. Which would be fine with me; I really fancied Jane.

We sat there for a few moments before the hole in the blackboard captured my curiosity. I walked slowly over to it, Jane in tow. The nearer I got, the more there seemed to be some sort of light on the opposite side of the wall. I peered inside the hole.

“That’s weird,” I said.

“What? I can’t see,” Jane responded.

“There’s a little red glowing pyramid perched atop a white post and a green one just like it atop another white post. And I think that’s all that’s in there.”

“Weird. Let me see.”

I moved aside so that Jane could get a better look. “That’s creepy,” she said as she turned back toward me.

“Yeh,” I said, “but it might be our only way out.”

Jane nodded.

“Well, only one way to find out,” I said, putting on a brave air in front of my date.

I crawled through the hole, then helped Jane do likewise. We walked to the pyramids that were situated in the middle of the otherwise dark, bare room. No stacks of boxes, no light fixture, no window. There wasn’t even a door.

“There had to be a reason ‘green’ was on that chalkboard,” I said.

Once again, Jane nodded.

Figuring the red pyramid was certain death, I grabbed ahold of the green one to see if it was some sort of lever. It didn’t move, but a weird feeling pulsated through my body like you hit your funny bone, and your whole body was the bone. And it was also as if my hands were stuck to the pyramid. I couldn’t loose my grip on it.

Moments later, I found myself grasping a fence post cap in the school yard, standing next to Richard, both in our dark blue blazers loosely covering our white shirts and dark blue slacks. My eyes opened wide. Was this some sort of dream or vision? Was I dead? Is this Heaven? Or that other place?

Richard was talking about the spring dance and saying that he was going to ask the next girl who came along, no matter who she was.

“Wait a minute,” I thought to myself. “I’ve heard him say that before.”

Just then, I saw Jane was walking toward us. She had on her usual straight, dark blue skirt just below the knee, a white blouse, a necktie in our school colours of blue and yellow, and a suit jacket that matched the skirt. Her Mary Janes tapped out a soft rhythm as she walked.

“I’ve been here before,” I said in the most obvious case of déjà vu I’d ever encountered. This was exactly where we were when Richard asked Jane to the dance.

Bloody hell, that wonderful green pyramid had sent us back in time. Or at least I did. Jane wasn’t running up to me yelling, “You saved us, Tom! You saved us! My hero!” So, I was guessing only I went back.

And now I had a second chance at getting Jane to go to the spring dance with me. Brilliant! I wasn’t going to mess it up again. Now knowing that Jane fancied me more than Richard, I didn’t even have to wonder what she’d say. The nervousness usually reserved for such awkward communications need not rise its ugly little head. I just had to prevent Richard from talking first.

Jane was getting very close to use now. As Richard turned to open his mouth, I unlocked my grip on the fence post, quickly stepped in front of him, faced him, and gave him a good swift kick to the John Thomas area.

I’m not sure why putting my shoe into his genitals seemed to be a better idea than just shoving him aside or gagging him with a handkerchief, or just pushing him gently aside. But there wasn’t much time to think about it, and my action had to be swift accomplish its goal of shutting him up.

The goal was achieved in splendid fashion. Richard immediately doubled over in pain, eyes as big as saucers, grabbed himself down there, and gagged through reddened cheeks.

“So, Jane, would you like to go to the dance with me?” I asked, chest puffed out, already knowing the answer to my query as she arrived at the scene of the attack.

As she patted Richard on the shoulder, her caring face turned ugly as she turned to look me straight into my eyes and blurted out, “Thomas Smith, I wouldn’t go out with you if you were the last boy on Earth!”

The End

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