First Line Fiction (12)

The first line of this fictional short story was sent to me by one of my longest and very best blogging friends, Cindy Bruchman. A published author and blogger, Cindy lives in Arizona, USA, where she works as a teacher.

“On a bitterly cold January morning, after saving for two years, he had enough money to buy a plane ticket to Arizona to visit his friend Cindy.”

Travelling in an English winter was never going to be easy, and the day didn’t start out well. Pete had to get to Heathrow Airport, just west of London, and that was one hundred and thirty miles from his home in Beetley.

And there was something else. That old Jimmy Webb song sung by Glen Campbell was playing on repeat in his head.

“By the time I get to Phoenix…”

As well as a flight of over fourteen hours to anticipate, there was that travelling time to the airport, and having to arrive two hours before departure. Given the problems with trains from East Anglia, and the cost of a taxi being prohibitive, Pete had opted for the long-stay parking option, with a shuttle bus from the compound. That meant a rush-hour drive in pretty awful conditions.

Packing one bag for a two-week stay wasn’t easy when you knew you had to be warm coming and going, but it could be 72 degrees while you were there. Then there were the cameras, two of them carried in hand luggage, plus chargers. He might never get another chance to photograph the wonders of the desert and surrounding mountains, let alone his delightful host.

On that grey, forbidding morning, as he scraped the ice from the windscreen and tried not to hear Glen Cambell in his head, the prospect of seeing the sunset over a giant cactus kept him positive and cheerful. Roadside diners, large portions, and all those things about the American south-west he had only ever seen on cinema screens. What a prospect.

At least his old car started first time, and Pete was so glad about that, he almost kissed the steering wheel.

After that, things went downhill. Light snow became heavier snow. People were driving slowly and carefully around the country roads in Norfolk. All well and good normally, but not when you knew there was a flight waiting for you later on, and you had only got as far as Swaffham.

It took almost another hour to weave along the winding lanes until he got past the air base at Lakenheath, and could get on to the A11 fast road at the big roundabout junction.

Still, why worry? He had allowed well over two hours more than it should take.

Good news followed. The A11 was moving well, probably as so many drivers had not bothered to venture out on such an awful day. Pete pushed the car a little, windsceen wipers on double speed to cope with the snow. Stump Cross junction was coming up. That meant joining the wider M11, and then it was south to the M25 junction where he would turn west in the direction of Heathrow.

But red lights were flashing on the gantry in the distance, and that wasn’t good.

Wrapped up against the weather, a policeman in a bright yellow jacket stood next to his police car. Its blue lights were flashing, and he was waving his arm to indicate drivers had to turn off. Pete stopped close to him, and let down the window enough to speak. “What’s happening, officer?” The cop’s weary expression indicated he had been asked the question too many times. “Mortorway’s closed. Bad accident further south. You need to turn here and head for Saffron Walden. Hurry up please”.

That wasn’t good. Saffron Walden was further east, and Pete wanted to go west. But with no access to the motorway, he had to comply, and follow the huge queue of traffic snaking along the small roads of Essex. Switching the radio on, he waited the six minutes to the hour to hear the news. The M11 was going to be closed until the Stansted Airport junction. That didn’t seem so bad, as it wasn’t far. Pity you couldn’t fly from there to Arizona, he was thinking.

In between verses of the Jimmy Webb song.

Trouble was, every car in that part of eastern England was in the same predicament as him, and nothing was moving at all.

Just over ninety minutes later, Pete switched off the engine. An hour after that, he turned it on again, and moved about twenty feet. This time he left it on, as it was getting colder in the car.

Four and a half hours after leaving home that morning, Pete rejoined the motorway to see three lanes of solid traffic moving at a crawl in heavy, settled snow. Still over sixty miles to go to the car parking compound, and he had yet to deal with the notoriously bad M25 orbital motorway. The flight was due to take off in just over two hours, and his top speed was currently ten miles per hour with no sign of the road clearing ahead.

With the M25 junction fast-becoming an impossible dream, he took the next available exit in the direction of Chipping Ongar, and parked on the first stretch of quiet road. In the glovebox was his mobile phone, and he reached for it with a heavy heart.

The least he could do was to ring Cindy, and save her waiting at the airport for someone who was not going to arrive.

67 thoughts on “First Line Fiction (12)

    1. Bus to Dereham. (or taxi)
      Bus to Norwich. (or taxi)
      Train to Liverpool Street Station, London.
      Taxi or tube to Paddington Station, in west London.
      Train to Heathrow.
      That’s if the taxis are running in the snow, and if the trains are too.
      Just my attempt at being amusing though. I would still love to see Arizona one day.
      Best wishes, Pete. x


  1. I was so frustrated reading all the barriers and delays, hoping against hope that it would all work out, and you find yourself enjoying the pleasures and pictorial elements of Arizona, maybe a stop over in Lake County California at the lake house! Well done, C

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Pete, an entertaining story. Cindy is a lovely blogger. This has happened to us when we were in the UK in Dec 2009/ Jan 2010. First we got stuck at EuroDisney because the Eurostar after us [thank goodness] got stuck in the tunnel and the authorities closed it. We had to stay 2 extra days and eventually fly back to the UK. We left at 9a.m. in the morning from Faversham in Kent for a 7.30p.m. flight on our last day. We got delayed and the flight took off just before midnight. Any later and it would have been cancelled because of the staff hours regulation. Michael was 3 and Greg was 6 at the time. It was splendid!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Based on Cindy actually inviting me to visit, Jennie. It would be too hot for me during the summer in Ariizona, but bad winter weather in England might well affect my journey at this end. A dilemma! 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am sure Cindy understands the problem, Pete. She was coming to Minneapolis to do research on her third novel and she said she would look me up; but alas COVID came on the scene. I can’t wait for that new novel. The first two were excellent.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve got one chapter left~! Life has taken an unexpected turn. For the last month, I’ve been unable to even think about the third novel. Blogging seems like another life ago. We are moving from AZ back to Virginia! Sell. Buy. Job. Cross country move…xxoo

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Phoenix is in the Sonoran Desert, which is the type of desert you mostly see in western films. That’s where you’ll find the iconic saguaro cactus. Las Vegas is in the Mojave Desert, which is known for Joshua trees. Both are in the Desert Southwest. Phoenix is usually a couple of degrees hotter than Las Vegas, so a summer visit is not a good idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Now, if he’d kept going, and I’d been on duty at Heathrow, I would have rebooked his flight, given him a hotel and meal voucher and he would only have been a day late. Of course that’s the ideal world. Probably his flight was cancelled because of the weather and the next days flight would have been hopelessly oversold. Life can be a bitch!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, bummer! I was hoping you’d touchdown in Arizona…but it is fitting, in a sad and realistic way. Making that trip to the airport is always stressful, for me, wherever my destination–and I live close to the airport! I like that song, By The Time I Get To Phoenix. I’m sure you don’t–since you don’t like Country music–even though Glen Campbell isn’t really Country. He was a really, REALLY excellent musician.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually do like that song, also ‘Crazy’ by Patsy Cline, and ‘Wichita Lineman’. I like some individual country songs, just not the musical genre as a whole.
      Taking a trip across England in January with a deadline of a plane to catch is never a good idea, Pam. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m stressed just reading that. Reminds me of the time older son was driving down from Lincoln and picking up his brother and cousin in west London then coming round to south London for my aunt’s funeral. Trouble on the M1. He phoned to say he was picking them up just as we had to leave the house for the funeral. We had few enough relatives as it was! All I could say was see you back at the house.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So funny! This almost happened to me one year. I was fortunate to leave for San Francisco two days before a heavy snowstorm shut down Heathrow. I think any visits to Cindy need to wait until the spring!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Reblogged this on My Corner and commented:
    Fellow blogger Beetley Pete has been participating in a daily fiction challenge where he’s given a first line and must complete the story from there. Today’s contribution reminds me of a time when I flew from Wyoming to Florida to visit my brother and couldn’t make it to Billings, Montana, to catch my flight. Enjoy!

    Liked by 2 people

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