The Threehouse

When my kids ask me to tell them a story, I don’t get a lot of prep time, sometimes only a few minutes. So when I start to tell a story, I don’t always have an idea of where it’s going to go, and it doesn’t always go well. Every so often, I surprise myself with a story that shouldn’t have worked at all, but did…

Luke looked out of his window. The rain hadn’t stopped in four days. He sighed. He’d read every book in the house, played every game, listened to all of his music, drew a hundred pictures. He was bored. He wanted to go outside. He wanted to run and play. He wanted to play with his friends, go exploring through the forest, ride his bike, play ball out in the field. When he looked out the window, however, all he saw was water. The front yard was a giant puddle, the backyard a lake. 

Luke sighed again. He sighed mostly to himself, and also for the benefit of his parents, in hopes they might solve his problem. They didn’t hear him. So he sighed louder. Either they didn’t hear him, or were ignoring him — he wasn’t sure which. He tried sighing louder still, but it came out as a grunt. 

“If you’re bored, buddy, I could use your help cleaning up the workshop…,” Luke’s dad suggested. 

“No thanks,” Luke replied, still staring out the window. Being bored was better than having to clean. 

“Do you want to play with your LEGOs?” Luke’s mom asked. 

“Not really,” Luke replied, still staring out the window. 

The rain kept falling. Luke watched the water pour out of the downspout into their rain barrels. The barrels were overflowing at the top, spilling down the sides like a waterfall. Rain dripped from the power line where it curved before attaching to the back of their house. The bird house looked like it had just been plucked from the bottom of a pond. The water pooled, filling with hundreds of rings where the drops of water landed. It was as wet as wet could get. 

And then Luke saw Mr. Sorenson. Luke saw Mr. Sorenson a lot, as he lived next door. Mr. Sorenson was a nice man, and Luke enjoyed talking to Mr. Sorenson whenever he could, because Mr. Sorenson never talked like any regular grown up. Mr. Sorenson also did things that Luke’s father described as “odd”, though Luke usually found them funny.

Mr. Sorenson was watering his plants. That would have seemed normal, except that it was raining. The rain could be ignored, too, if the plants were sheltered from the rain, which they weren’t. The strangest part, though, was that the plants were plastic, stuck in a box that was attached to the outside of the large treehouse in Mr. Sorenson’s backyard. Mr. Sorenson was out in the rain, watering fake plants. And to Luke, that was just weird

“Mom? Dad? I’m going outside!” Luke announced, racing over to the closet next to the back door. 

“Are you sure, honey?” asked his mom. “You didn’t like it the last time you went out!” 

Luke didn’t answer. He knew that if he said why he was going outside, his parents might stop him. He quickly put on his bright yellow rubber boots and his bright yellow raincoat with hood. He opened the door and stepped out into the rain. It was cold, like the rain always seemed to be, but with its hood up, Luke’s raincoat kept him dry. 

Luke trotted over to the short white picket fence at the edge of his yard. Mr. Sorenson stood on a short ladder, carefully pouring his plastic watering can over the equally plastic flowers. 

“Hi, Mr. Sorenson!” Luke smiled. 

Mr. Sorenson looked about, and quickly spied Luke. “Eh, Lucky!” he waved. Mr. Sorenson never got Luke’s name right. He was an older man, though not as old as Luke’s grandpa. He wore a wildly patterned red, blue, green, and yellow button-up t-shirt, a pair of long beige shorts, winter boots, and a pink toque over his scraggly white hair. He looked like he should be wearing eyeglasses, but never did. 

“What are you doing?” asked Luke. 

“What’s it look like I’m doing?” Mr. Sorenson squawked, throwing his hands at the fake plants. “I’m watering my flowers!” 

“But it’s raining!” laughed Luke. 

“So? Plants need lots of water, and this rain ain’t nearly enough!” said Mr. Sorenson. Luke looked down at the puddle he was standing in.  

“But they’re plastic flowers! They don’t grow!” Luke giggled. 

“Says you! I’ve been raising these beauties for years. They’ve never looked better,” he smiled at the slightly faded green and yellow flowers. “Why don’t you come give ‘em a sniff?” 

“Okay!” said Luke, and ran for the fence. He opened his own gate, ran around the corner, and through Mr. Sorenson’s open gate. He ran right up to the front of the treehouse.

The treehouse had always fascinated Luke. It was no mere treehouse. Luke’s friend Todd had a treehouse, which was only a small wooden box perched up in a v-shaped branch. Todd’s treehouse had a single doorway, with no door, and a hole for a window, with nothing else. It was cold when it was windy, and you couldn’t play in it when it rained. 

Mr. Sorenson’s treehouse was huge, wrapping around the massive oak tree, a full ladder’s height off the ground. The house was short, big enough for Luke, with a low-sloped roof that extended out over a deck that went all the way around the house, creating a sheltered porch. The outside of the treehouse was painted white, with a little bright red door. The windows were real, also painted red, and even had glass. The door was about Luke’s size. Around the deck was a white railing.  

The treehouse looked nicer than Mr. Sorenson’s house, a red bricked building with windows that were always closed, and curtains that were always drawn. The door needed a coat of paint. At night, the lights never seemed to be on. 

“C’mon up!” said Mr. Sorenson, climbing up the ladder, and hunching down low to walk onto the deck of the treehouse. His back pressed against the roof overtop the deck. Luke followed up, and hopped up onto the deck, too. Luke could stand on the deck without any trouble.

“See, they love the rain!” said Mr. Sorenson, looking at the plastic flowers. They were stuck in a box full of dirt. The flowers were wet. The dirt was so soaked that it almost looked like mud. 

“You’re silly!” giggled Luke. “Those can’t grow!” 

“You don’t think so, eh?” asked Mr. Sorenson. “Are you a botanist?” 

Luke kept giggling. “No!” 

“Then how do you know they’re not going to grow?” 

“Because they’re plastic! Plastic plants don’t grow. My grandparents have plastic plants that look the same every time I visit them!” laughed Luke. 

“That’s because they don’t take care of them. Every plant needs water, sun, and food!” explained Mr. Sorenson. 

Luke tried not to laugh, but he couldn’t stop. “Well, they look hungry to me.” 

“Well, I’ll just have to get some plant food, then!” said Mr. Sorenson. He turned to the door of the treehouse, opened the little red door, and walked in. After a moment, he called out: “Are you comin’?”

Luke had never been inside the treehouse before. He’d always wanted to go inside. “Coming!” he cried, and raced inside. He stopped just inside the door and stared. “This place is nicer than my house!” 

The treehouse was a single room, with a large sofa on the left, bookshelves on either side of a small fireplace along the back wall, and a table and chair on the right. Two sets of shelves sat on either side of the table, lined with all sorts of boxes and bags and jars and canisters. A large patterned oval rug in rainbow colours lay in the middle of the floor. The walls were wallpapered with a dark purple, with a deep red trim at the top and bottom. The room felt cozy and inviting. Luke wanted to grab a book, curl up on the sofa, and listen to the rain hitting the roof. 

He noticed that there were windows on all the walls, not just next to the door. He could swear that he could see a mountain out of the windows next to the fireplace, and a lake out the window over the table. He was too scared to move any closer to the windows so he could be sure. 

And then he saw it. Or rather, he didn’t. 

“Where’s the tree?” blurted Luke. From the outside, the house wrapped around the tree. Inside the house … there was no trunk in the centre of the room! Outside the house, branches came out of the roof. Inside the house, the roof was wooden beams, and no sign at all of branches. 

Then Luke saw Mr. Sorenson crouched over a shelf next to the table. Or rather, he didn’t. 

Unlike on the porch outside, Mr. Sorenson was standing straight up. Luke turned around and looked at the door. It was still Luke’s height, exactly what he’d seen before. But the rest of the room looked … bigger. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, to make sure he wasn’t seeing things.

“What kind of crazy treehouse is this?” Luke asked. 

“Threehouse,” corrected Mr. Sorenson, not looking away from the shelf. “Ah, here it is!” he exclaimed, picking up a box. 

“You mean treehouse,” said Luke, correcting Mr. Sorenson. Luke corrected Mr. Sorenson a lot, though he had given up trying to get Mr. Sorenson to say his name properly.

“No, threehouse,” repeated Mr. Sorenson. “Read my lips. ‘Three’. ‘House’. Threehouse.” 

“What’s a threehouse?” asked Luke. 

“What’s a … what’s a threehouse?!” exclaimed Mr. Sorenson. “Goodness boy, don’t they teach you anything in school?” He looked at Luke, who still looked terribly puzzled. “I guess I’ll have to show you! Come with me,” said Mr. Sorenson, and led Luke back outside. 

Climbing back out onto the porch, Mr. Sorenson first he leaned over to his flowers. “First, I need to feed my beauties.” He shook out the contents of the box onto the flowers. Small blocky bits in green, blue, and yellow fell onto the soil.

“LEGOs?!” Luke exclaimed. 

“Plant food!” said Mr. Sorenson. “How else do you think I’m supposed to feed plastic flowers?” 

“You’re weird,” said Luke. 

“You listen to your parents too much,” said Mr. Sorenson, grinning mischievously. 

“My mom told me she feeds her flowers with, um, fern and liner,” said Luke. 

Fertilizer,” corrected Mr. Sorenson. “And that only works with real plants. That does nothing for fake ones.” 

Luke scratched his head. It hurt a bit. “I’m confused.” 

“Well, yeah, you’re thinking too hard,” smiled Mr. Sorenson.

Luke nodded. That sounded like good advice. He looked back towards the closed red door. “Can we go back inside?” 

“Of course we can!” said Mr. Sorenson. He turned back to the door, and knocked with a rap-rap-raprap-rap. Then he turned the door handle and ushered Luke inside. 

The sofa was gone, and a bed lay in its place. A large comfy chair sat on the other side of the room where the table and chair had been. The bookshelves were replaced with a dresser and a small table with a wash basin on top of it. The rug was rectangular and white and very fuzzy. The walls were light blue with a white lace pattern. Out one window he saw a dozens of skyscrapers, out another window he saw a huge bridge, while out of another he saw endless farmland and a big red barn. The only thing that looked familiar was the fireplace, which sat in the same place. 

Luke looked as puzzled as he felt. “How…? What…?” 

“What? Have you never seen a bedroom before? You do have a bedroom, don’t you?” asked Mr. Sorenson. 

“Well… yes, but not in… the same room… as my, uh, living room,” said Luke, pausing only to figure out how to say what he was seeing. 

“No, no, no! This is not the same room, Lucky! This is my bedroom. The last room we were in was my living room. Honestly, can’t you tell the difference?” 

“But … we only went outside and came back in!” protested Luke. 

“No we didn’t.” 

“Yes we did! When you go into a different room, the other room is still where it was!” said Luke. 

“Yes,” agreed Mr. Sorenson. “And so is my living room.” 

“Where?” asked Luke. 

“There!” said Mr. Sorenson, pointing to the door. 

“But that goes outside!” said Luke. 

“No, it goes to my living room,” said Mr. Sorenson. “I’ll prove it to you!” 

Mr. Sorenson ushered Luke back outside again, and closed the door. Then he knocked on the door with a rapraprap-rapraprap, and flung it open. Luke walked back through the doorway.

In the centre of the room was a huge white bathtub, sitting on huge clawed feet. One end had large brass taps and a brass faucet, the other end was raised and curved, looking almost like the back of a large chair. There was a toilet over where the bed and sofa had been, a towel rack where the table and comfy chair had been. The fireplace remained again, but was alone on the wall. There was a desert sand dune through one window, a jungle through another, and igloo through a third.

“Oops!” exclaimed Mr. Sorenson. “Sorry about that. This is my bathroom.” 

“It’s a nice bathroom, Mr. Sorenson … wait, how did you get a bathtub in this room?!” blurted Luke. 

“House,” corrected Mr. Sorenson. “It’s in my threehouse.” 

“But … this is impossible!” shouted Luke. 

“Bah! That’s what grown-ups say! Nothing is impossible if you’re willing to believe that it’s possible,” said Mr. Sorenson. 

“You can’t have three rooms in the same house!” 

“Of course you can! Your house has more than three rooms, and you don’t have a problem with that!” said Mr. Sorenson.

“That’s not the same thing!” said Luke. 

“I just use my rooms better than you do,” said Mr. Sorenson. “That’s why it’s a threehouse.” He pushed Luke towards the door again. “Otherwise I’d had a really hard time living here.” 

“You live here?” asked Luke. 

“Well, of course I do! Where else do you expect me to live?” asked Mr. Sorenson. 

“What about your real house?” asked Luke, pointing in the direction of the large brick house. 

“That thing?” asked Mr. Sorenson, pointing to the house with disgust. 

“Don’t you live in that?” asked Luke. 

“Goodness, no! That’s just for guests. I hate going in there. Too many rooms to clean! I hate cleaning rooms,” said Mr. Sorenson. 

“Me, too,” added Luke. 

“Okay, now let’s see if I can get the right room this time,” said Mr. Sorenson, and balled his hand into a fist. 

“Can I try?” asked Luke. 

“Sure, why not?” said Mr. Sorenson. “I think you need to knock with a ‘tap-tap-tap’. Can you do that?” 

“Sure!” said Luke. He stood in front of the closed door, and knocked with a rap-rap-rap. Then he opened the door and they walked in together. 

The room had shelves all the way around the outside, filled with every toy Luke could have ever desired. A TV hung from the wall where the fireplace had been. A small table sat in the middle of the room, on which sat a snack of cheese, crackers, and apple juice. Luke walked over to one of the shelves, and picked up a soft stuffed rabbit. 

“Why do you have a room full of toys?” asked Luke. 

“I didn’t know I did,” muttered Mr. Sorenson, looking around. He picked up a few toys himself, put them back down, and walked to the table. He stared at the snack for a moment, then picked up and munched on a cracker. He put his hands on his hips, frowned, and said: “Well, darn!” 

“What’s the matter?” asked Luke. 

“Now I’ve got a fourhouse!” 


The Dream Road

I love trains and I always feel a little sad when I come across an abandoned railway line. It feels like it should be something more important, but our love affair with the automobile led to the death of a trusted friend that we only see in our dreams.

Liam was out walking with his father one late summer’s afternoon, strolling through the fields near his uncle’s house. Liam’s family had visited with his uncle every summer for as long as Liam could remember, and long before that. 

Walking in the fields was one of Liam’s great joys. It didn’t matter what the farmers were growing. Some grew hay for livestock, some grew long lines of lettuces or cabbages. Some had sheep or cattle. It was the walk through the openness of the fields, which was only broken up by property lines in the form of low ivy-coated stone walls, or the odd line of bushy trees that rustled in the easy breezes. The lines crossed over the low and gentle hills, like someone had laid down a huge patchwork quilt, made with a hundred shades of green. 

Except for the odd car, the only other thing Liam could hear were the distant bleating of sheep, and his own feet as they walked through the grass. The sun shone bright, he felt warm and cozy, like waking up in bed on a Saturday morning when the house was still. He walked, listening to the stories his father would tell about when he was a boy, coming out to visit with his relatives, and walking around the fields with his father.

“See that tree?” asked Liam’s father, pointing to a large oak. “There was a tyre swing on that big branch. You can still see the band where the rope was.” 

Liam squinted at the tree. There was a thin line, which looked sort of like his father’s finger whenever he took of his wedding ring to cook dinner. He could almost see the hemp rope dangling, the worn tyre swinging back and forth, with himself wedged in the centre, his legs dangling. “Yeah,” said Liam wistfully. 

They walked further, crossing through a gap in another stone wall. Trees ran thickly in a line, splitting two fields. The walked into the next field, which was smaller than the others, empty grass except for five trees towards the north end, which were separated by a huge gap in the middle. They walked diagonally across the field, towards the middle of the gap. 

“Whoa!” Liam squealed as his foot caught on the ground, and he started to tumble forward. He quickly caught himself and stood up. 

“Are you okay?” asked his father. 

“Yeah,” said Liam, and looked down. He realized that he had caught himself on a raised bit of ground. He then noticed that the raised bit of ground was a long raised bit of ground, and that the long raised bit of ground seemed to go in a fairly straight line. In fact, the line seemed to go back through the stone wall and off into the next field, and the field after that. Trees grew out of the side of the raised bit of ground, making the line easier to follow to the east and west. “Dad, what is this?” 

“Huh?” asked Liam’s father, distracted by a distant memory. 

“What’s this?” asked Liam, stamping on the ground with his foot. 

“Oh, that? That’s the bed of an old railway that used to run through here,” said Liam’s father. 

“There was a railway here?” asked Liam excitedly. He had a model train at home that he loved to play with. 

“A long time ago. It was gone when I was your age,” said Liam’s father. “Actually, it might have been gone even when my dad was your age! I’m not sure.” 

“Where did it go?” asked Liam, following the bed’s line. 

“Out to the coast, I think,” said Liam’s father, looking to the east. “It probably connected with the main line,” he turned and faced the other direction, “about three or four miles that way.” 

“‘Main line’? What’s that?” asked Liam.

“The big railway. The one that goes near our house?” Liam’s father suggested. They hadn’t taken the train to see Liam’s uncle. Car rides weren’t nearly as fun. 

“So… trains used to go through here?” Liam asked. 

“Oh yes, big ones, too.”

“How big?” asked Liam. 

“Real big. Back then, they were all steam trains.” 

“Really?” exclaimed Liam. Steam trains were his favourite. “Where did they go?” 

“To be honest, I’m not sure. Probably out to the cities. That’s where everyone wanted to go. That’s where all the dreams were made,” said Liam’s father with a smile. “Where the people went to see the sights, where you could find anything you could imagine.”  

Liam looked down at the ground. The grass on the bed was thinner than on the ground to either side, and some of the heavy gravel that made up the bed was still visible. He shuffled his feet a little, and felt the stiffness of the stones. “Dreams,” he said to himself. He let his mind wander, and started to daydream.

He noticed a faint outline of a piece of wood. It was about as wide as his foot, and as long as the width of the road bed. Then he noticed another one near it. And another. Slowly, more of the wooden ties slowly rose up through the grass, growing like strange long brown mushrooms. The grasses between the ties grew backwards, diving into the stones and disappearing, exposing the whitish-grey rail bed. 

Liam looked up. The field looked … different. The trees were shrinking into small bushes and shrubs. The stone walls between the fields seemed to sink into the ground like a strange submarine. He looked about, and could not see his father. But Liam wasn’t scared — he wanted to watch. 

The ends of each brown wooden tie sprouted something that unfurled like a fern frond. They were a darker brown than the tie, and much taller than any frond Liam had ever seen on his walks near the brooks and creeks. They grew up and up, then fell down to lay atop the ties on either side, one frond upon another. They kept unfurling, twisting together, growing larger and stronger until they formed a solid rail. 

A train track lay beneath Liam’s feet, extending as far as he could see in either direction. The walls and trees and bushes and roads that had once covered the tracks were gone. He bent down and touched the track. The rail felt cold in his hand, the top shiny and smooth from the train wheels. 

Under his hand, Liam felt a vibration. Something was coming! He leapt off the tracks just as he heard a whistle coming from around a bend in the tracks some distance away. From behind a clump of trees he saw … smoke! Smoke was flying into the sky, moving across the tops of the trees. He heard the whistle again just as he saw the front of a steam train coming around the bend, heading towards him!

Liam stepped back a bit further as the train barrelled towards him like a bellowing iron dragon. The head of the dragon was a kingly sky blue locomotive with long curves from the front to the rear. Behind it were eight beautiful passenger coaches, a light tan on top with a deep, rich brown on the bottom. The train didn’t slow, and the locomotive whistled loudly as it roared past. The massive wheels twirled, the huge piston rods banged. Liam waved mightily to anyone on the train who might notice him. 

And suddenly, Liam found himself standing not on the grass, but in the middle of a passenger coach. It seemed like the inside of some grand hotel he’d seen once before: deep reddish-brown wood that lovingly wrapped around the windows. The carpet on the floor was like a deep grass green, and wonderfully soft. Instead of benches, there were huge stuffed armchairs with deep red leather, gathered around small round tables in groups of four. Liam listened to the rapid clickety-clack of the wheels as the train sped along. 

“Welcome aboard, sir!” said a voice. Liam spun on his heel and saw an older man in a dark blue suit with bright brass buttons, and a cap that read: Conductor. 

“I… I… I…,” Liam stuttered, trying to think of how he got on a train. A train that was riding on rails that hadn’t even existed a few moments earlier! 

“You don’t need a ticket, Liam!” said the Conductor. He cupped his arm around Liam’s back and took hold of Liam’s shoulder. He walked him through the car to the largest, most comfortable-looking chair of them all.  

“Where … where are we going?” asked Liam.

“Does it matter? Sometimes it just matters to be on a train. Where it’s going is unimportant,” suggested the Conductor. 

“But … well, I guess the ride might be nice,” said Liam, looking out the window as the countryside sped past. 

“Would you be hungry, by chance?” asked the Conductor. 

Liam’s stomach growled as if the question had been meant for it. It had been a couple of hours since lunch, and after all the walking… “I would very much like a snack, thank you!” he said. 

“Waiter!” called the Conductor. 

Almost immediately, a smaller man with a thin layer of dark hair, wearing a stark white jacket with brass buttons that matched the Conductor’s, appeared pushing a small cart with a cream tea set. He quickly laid out the small tea pot after pouring the first cup, a small plate with two scones, the clotted cream, strawberry preserves, along with a small pitcher of milk, a slice of lemon, and a little jar of honey. 

“How did you know?” asked Liam, startled. 

“Why, it’s your favourite, of course!” said the waiter, as he bowed, and disappeared. 

“Enjoy your tea, sir!” said the Conductor, who headed off down the car. 

Liam looked out the window. The rolling hills drifted past his window like clouds on a sunny day. The trees blurred past. Every so often, they would approach a small town, announced by the shrill whistle of the locomotive. The townsfolk seemed to all be lining the tracks, and waved enthusiastically to Liam as they went past. He waved back, regally twisting his hand at the wrist. 

The hills sudden gave way to a tremendous valley. The train crossed the valley atop an equally tremendous viaduct that curved to the other side, rising from deep in the valley in arch after arch. Down the valley, Liam could see a vast sea that sparkled in the late afternoon sun. 

“Are you enjoying your trip, Liam?” asked the Conductor, reappearing at Liam’s side. 

“Oh very much, yes, thank you. Though I have been wondering…” 

“Where are we going?” smiled the Conductor.

“Could you give me a hint?” 

“Where you’ve never been before, and always dreamed you could go!” the Conductor laughed. 

Liam thought about that. Where had he always wanted to go? Sure, there were all sorts of neat places he could think of, but none of them really seemed like somewhere he’d wished to see. The world was full of big cities, or football pitches, or sunny beaches. He could go to them any time he wanted. “What’s it called?” he asked. 

“You don’t know?” asked the Conductor. He leaned forward, placing his hands on his knees, and came face-to-face with Liam. “But it was your dream!” 

“My dream?” asked Liam. 

“You don’t remember?” asked the Conductor. 

“I … I don’t know what I dreamed I wanted to see,” said Liam quietly. He felt bad, like when he’d lost his favourite marble. 

The Conductor leaned in close. “Think of a great city on the sea…” 

A faint spark burst in the depths of Liam’s mind.

“…With great towers of white stone…” 

The spark grew brighter. 

“…The winding streets filled with lights…” 

Liam’s eyes flew open. “Castle Liam! I remember!” 

As if Liam’s announcement were a command, the sun quickly set into the horizon, somewhere in the distance ahead of the train. The stars popped out one at a time, quickly turning the deep black sky into a field of tiny sparkles overhead. The rolling hills outside the coach had flattened, the grass disappearing into the cracks of cobblestones. And suddenly, they entered a great trainshed, covered with immense glass-filled arches.  

“We’re here!” the Conductor crowed, and led Liam to one of the doors. The Conductor threw open the door, and Liam stepped out onto a steamy, misty platform. At the front of the train, the locomotive sat, hissing and humming to itself. They walked through the huge station building, which had huge stone columns and gilded arches, with a huge gold clock that hung in the middle of the huge room.

Out the front doors they stepped, into the edge of a city he had only ever seen in his mind. Above him, the stars in the sky seemed to dance to an unheard rhythm. Before him, lay the huge Great Gate that led into the centre of the city, where lay the massive Castle Liam, which rose above the coast in a great white spiral from the ground. Towers sprang from the spiral as it grew, each a different width and height, but all topped with shiny blue cones. The walls had countless portals, which formed into bridges above houses and halls, whisking countless people from where they were to where they wanted to go. 

Lights seemed to burst from every corner, from every street, from every rampart, in great iron stands that held a wonderful yellow light. It glowed like the warmth of the sun, casting beautiful shades on every surface, turning the white of castle to the colour of warm sand. The shadows the lights left behind were playful, moving in tune with the people who seemed to fill every street. Even the sun wanted to play a part, and stopped its decent, leaving a thin strip of light where it met the edge of the sea. 

The city was coming to life, woken from its long slumber. Music erupted from every street, the joyous notes filling the late dusk sky. Flags leaped out from their poles, banners unfurled from the tallest towers into the night breeze. Whistles and shouts were followed by firecrackers and the bright booms of fireworks. 

“Is that Liam?” asked an unseen voice from high on a wall. 

“It is! It is Liam! Liam’s here! Liam’s returned!” shouted another. 

“It’s Liam!” rippled through the city streets, followed by great cries and hollers. “Let the celebration begin!” 

“Shall we?” asked the Conductor with a great smile. 

“Yes!” smiled Liam, and they walked through the Great Gate into the city. The streets were narrow, with two- and three-storey houses that nearly touched across the streets at the top. The streets weaved back and forth towards Castle Liam, under the bridges of the spiral. From every door and every street, people appeared in their finest dress, singing and dancing, joining into a massive crowd dressed in every imaginable colour, in a thousand different costumes. Some wore masks, some wore silly hats adorned with bells. Some wore floppy shoes while some wore no shoes at all. Together, they entered the Grand Plaza, at the entrance to Castle Liam. 

The Grand Plaza was ringed with stores selling cakes and sweets and breads and pastries. Every tree was lit with tiny lights. Along ropes that strung across the square in a huge X were lanterns of a dozen sizes, which lit the performers who were entertaining all who came. Some ate fire from a stick, then blew out huge balls of flame from their mouths. People juggled, people danced, people sang, people swung on swings that seemed to hang from the stars themselves. 

“Have some cake!” squealed a woman, thrusting a piece of cake right into Liam’s hands. He quickly took a bite, and tasted fresh strawberries and raspberries, with jam filling, and a vanilla whipped cream icing. 

“Have a lollipop!” said a girl, who presented a huge circular candy upon a large stick. It was a rainbow-coloured swirl that seemed to change taste with every lick. 

“Candy apple?” asked a clown dressed in purple and red frills, with bright yellow hair, as he rolled past on an impossibly small tricycle. Liam nodded and bowed, and took a huge bite of the deliciously sweet treat. 

“Your attention, please!” called a voice. Everyone turned to look at the man standing on a balcony in the centre building overlooking the Grand Plaza. “In accordance with his majesty, we declare this to be Liam’s Day! All hail King Liam!” The crowd, of course, gave a tremendous cheer. 

Several people picked Liam up, carrying him on his shoulders. All around, the crowd began to chant: “Liam! Liam! Liam!”


Liam snapped out of his daydream, and looked up at his father. He quickly looked down to his feet. The rails had disappeared, the wooden ties sunk back into oblivion. He blinked a moment. The dream, for now, had gone. “Hey, dad, why did the railway go away?” 

“I guess it was too hard to run, the company ran out of money. It happened a lot back then. The only thing left of it is the bed,” Liam’s father explained. 

“Hey Dad, can we follow the tracks?” shouted Liam, and started running down the line. “Who knows where they’ll lead!”