27 Jan


Below please find my 100 (plus a few) word story in response to the FridayFictioneers Photo Prompt posted by madison Woods. It’s not a story so much as a meditation on travel and our choice of methods of same. Please read all the stories by an amazingly creative group of like minded authors. good fun in deca-word doses. Here’s the link that get you links to all the stories. just read the comments about Madison’s story and click on the links to others.



The countryside racing by my window moves sedately farther out, where farms and fields form the horizon. The air horn blares warning at level crossings through a tumbledown town. Wide eyed children wave in awed communion as we rumble, all movement and tumult through their world and past, diminishing into distance. The mystery of hill and dale, the sudden eclipse of tunnels and the quiet stillness of forests; these are my seat companions.
We slow gradually and stop and the conductor appears, saying, “Bad news, folks. Both engines have failed.”
He waits a beat… smiles broadly and continues, “Good news is, you took the train.”

57 Responses to “Pastoral”

  1. The Lime January 27, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    Oh, Doug, this is gorgeous. It does all this work and description so effortlessly and I’m right there with you, imagining the landscape, feeling the train rumble. Thanks, as always, for writing!

    • dmmacilroy January 28, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

      Thank you my friend!

      I missed the mark a bit, (I’ll blame time!) but am heartened to read that you enjoyed the journey.



  2. bridgesareforburning January 27, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    Such beautiful writing. It carries the piece and I liked the small bit of humor at the end. You can really put words together! Thanks.
    Here’s mine:

    • dmmacilroy January 28, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

      Thank you, Sir!

      I appreciate the praise. i struggled so much with the prompt that I cheated and used memories from my youth and an old joke to stitch together a story of sorts. I’ll try to do better next Friday. (See you there!)



  3. Craig Towsley January 27, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    So much great movement and imagery at the start. That first paragraph whizzed and chugged by. “Tumbledown Town” is perfect and worth stealing, hahahah.

    The change in tone at the end made me a bit sour, but you know, one man’s opinion. have a good one./

    • dmmacilroy January 28, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

      Dear Craig,

      I’m glad you liked ‘tumbledown town’. It has a nice ring to it, evocative of so many towns beside the railroad tracks. You are right to note the change in tone at the end. I was cheating in using memories from my youth to frame a joke. It was the only way I could think to bring the conductor in the prompt into play. (Frankenstein walked through the town picking flowers, but the villagers still had sense enough to kill him:)



  4. elmowrites January 27, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    As ever, Doug, you amuse and enlighten. I agree with the other comments – gorgeous and beautiful are both apt words for this. Congratulations on another fine post!

    • dmmacilroy January 28, 2012 at 9:52 pm #

      Thanks Elmo,

      Your praise is kind and makes my day. The prompt was a difficult one for me. You and others did it justice. I was just trying to get past it and into some sort of rhythm of the tracks.

      See you next Friday.



  5. kdmccrite January 27, 2012 at 4:51 pm #


    This is a magnificent piece of writing. Visual and touching the emotions. I liked the little twist at the end. It gives a sweet conclusion to a strong, evocative scene. GREAT JOB!!


    • dmmacilroy January 28, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

      Dearest Kady,

      You’re kind to me, as always. The prompt was a tough one so I cheated, dragging memories from my youth to the fore and plastering a joke onto the end of them. You clothed it all in the new suit of your praise and I appreciate that. Makes me feel less naked in this forum.



  6. writingbothsides January 27, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

    You managed to weave perspective of distance nicely into the story then zoom in at the end for the great final lines. Well done.

    Here’s mine:

    • dmmacilroy January 28, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

      You’re sweet to leave such a kind compliment.

      Your piece was truly wonderful. 35 years described in 100 words. Well done.



  7. John Hardy Bell January 27, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

    Beautifully written piece, Doug! I could almost see the twinkle in hte conductor’s eye when he spoke the last line!

    Great work as usual!

    Here is a link to my contribution

    • dmmacilroy January 28, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

      Hi John,

      Thanks for the compliment. Reading yours puts mine to shame and reminded me to keep working for the best. You are the teacher this week. Well done.



  8. Carlos Repuesto de la Tabla January 27, 2012 at 6:59 pm #

    Yes, I’m with all the others: beautifully written. The joke at the end is good, but the writing leading up to it is better. My wife and I, eschewing flying, took the boat across the Atlantic a couple of times. The first time, she was terrified and I asked what scared her? “If all this water just disappeared, we’d plunge thousands of feet to fiery deaths!” So I guess the train is safer.

    • dmmacilroy January 28, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

      Dear Carlos,

      I love your wife’s imagination. I’ve used her “Imagine if all the water had disappeared” line to make people think about the depths of the oceans, but never as a reason to be nervous about floating along on the water. Love it. Thanks for the comments.



  9. eliserae January 27, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    🙂 Oh that caught me by surprise! Hahaha. I love riding the train! It’s longer but it’s worth it to me. Well played!

    Here’s mine:

    • dmmacilroy January 28, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

      Dear Elise,

      Thanks for enjoying the joke and taking the time to say so.

      Your piece was remarkable for it POV and the message contained within it. Lovely work.

      See you next Friday?



  10. Susan Wenzel (@SusanWenzel) January 27, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

    I love the rhythm of “tumbledown town”…and, you perfectly illustrated the wonder that is train travel. I love it.

    Susan (Here is mine:

    PS – I love the ending…made me laugh out loud!

    • dmmacilroy January 28, 2012 at 9:38 pm #

      Dear Susan,

      Thanks for validating the use of ‘tumbledown town’. So many towns by the railroad have that characteristic. Life has been hard on them and the wear of the years is plain to see. (Kind of describes me, now that I think of it.) I’m gratified that you got the joke at the end. The first part was just to frame it, so it’s nice someone laughed.



  11. susielindau January 28, 2012 at 2:03 am #

    To me it seems from another time where wide-eyed children waved.. I remember being one of them. Thanks for the memories Doug! Very nice!

    • dmmacilroy January 28, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

      Dear Susie,

      The description came whole and unabridged from my childhood next to the railroad tracks leading to New York. I was one of those wide eyed children. The joke at the end was an attempt to get the conductor into the piece. i was derailed by that prompt.

      Thanks for the kind comment. See you next Friday!



  12. Lindaura Glamoura January 28, 2012 at 10:50 am #

    Hi Doug, this is Lindaura and I am going to be the odd man out. I love your punch line. Really LOVE it. But I have trouble with the poetry of your prose. To me, it does not trip off the tongue the way I know you want it to. I believe you can make it better. I am going to do something wrong here, and show you how I would edit it:

    The countryside races past my window, but moves sedately further out, where farms and fields form the horizon. The air-horn blares a warning at level crossings in tumbledown towns, where wide-eyed children wave in awed communion as we rumble by, all tumult and movement, through their world, diminishing into distance, into mystery of hill and dale, into sudden eclipse of tunnels and the quiet stillness of forests; these are my seat companions.

    Forgive me,


    • dmmacilroy January 28, 2012 at 11:32 am #

      Dear Lindaura,

      Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

      That’s for taking the time to do what you said was “wrong”. I don’t feel that way at all. I love the input, the interplay, the search for ways to make words “trip off the tongue.”

      You correctly read that I never found the right sound and that there was a better way. I was under the gun, time-wise and had to go with what you saw. Never was wholly satisfied, but then, what writer is. That said, I like part of your edit, but not the ending. The ‘seat companion’ line can simply be left out or off. The flow into the conductor’s line would then need some transition but that could be dealt with.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’ll try again next week

      • Carlos Repuesto de la Tabla January 28, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

        Hi Doug,
        This is fun – we may have started a new kind of blog: rewriting Doug’s stories!
        Here’s my version, which has the added OCD advantage of being exactly 100 words! Otherwise, liberties have been taken…

        The countryside moves sedately past my window through farms and fields extending to form the horizon. The air horn blares warning at crossings in tumbledown towns, wide-eyed children waving in awed communion as we rumble through, inexorable power in a phalanx of smoke and noise. Their world diminishes into the distance, overtaken by the mystery of hill and dale and the quiet stillness of forests, my fellow passengers.

        We slow to a stop, the conductor saying “Bad news, folks. Both engines have failed.”
        He waits a beat… smiles broadly and continues, “Good news is, you took the train.”

      • Lindaura Glamoura January 28, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

        Thank you for your good spirit. You are right about that phrase. I tripped on it, but left it in, because it seemed that it might have been dear to your heart. Now that I know it was not – off with its head!

        That said, I always sleep on mine, get up in the morning, and slice it to bits!

        That said, Carlos’s below is ALL WRONG! I can say that, because I know him!

        That said, please do not think I have any imagination. As I was explaining to Carlos, I have come to the conclusion that my world vision is askew. I think I am writing completely factually. This world in my stories, or other worlds in others of mine, appear this way to me. I really am just reporting what I see, only in a prose format that I hope is pleasing to read.

  13. Cara Michaels January 28, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    The last line took me a second, and then I truly laughed out loud. I probably woke my fiance, lol. Great stuff, and as always, I enjoyed your tale.

    • dmmacilroy January 28, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

      Dear Cara,

      The lead in to that joke has caused a lot of discussion….I’m just glad you got a laugh out of it.

      Thank you for the guffaw!



  14. Jan Morrill January 28, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    Beautiful ride you took us on, Doug. The scenery, the people, the feel of the ride. Everything was perfect. Then, what a nice touch of humor at the end. Now I want to go on a train ride!

    Here’s mine:

    • dmmacilroy January 28, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

      Dear Jan,

      Thanks for the kindness. As you can see from above and below in this comment section. I could have worked longer on it but had to kick it out the door.

      I used to live by the train tracks as a boy and much of what I wrote came from my deepest memories of watching trains go by. In fact, my brother’s first words were “Traingoby!”

      All of that was just to bring the conductor into play with his deadpan straight line and punchline. I was actually stumped by the prompt. Many others managed to concoct something readable, but not me. Oh well, there’s always next week. Can’t wait.

      Love writing with you.



  15. Judee January 28, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    The descriptive writing was so lovely, you really captured the feeling of a train ride. What a fun surprise when the conductor made a joke – and a funny one at that. It is almost as if you purposefully missdirected the reader with such sweet prose, only to give them a belly laugh at the end.

    • dmmacilroy January 28, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

      Dear Judee,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment so kindly. I was pressed for time and had just scrapped a totally useless, wholly independent other story from the prompt when the version I used morphed into existence. I had only a few minutes to find the best arrangement of words and off it went into the ether.

      You are correct in your guess that the ‘pastoral’, the description in the beginning is a set up for the punch line. They kind of live separately and are both true, but alsmost have to be shoved into the same room together at the end.

      See you next Friday?



  16. Jake Kale January 29, 2012 at 12:46 am #

    I’ve never travelled by train or plane (and the quip at the end nicely sums up why I am very unlikely to do the latter) but I have taken a fair few coach journeys, and this piece captures the feeling of those journeys perfectly. Just enjoying the world as it passes by, passively absorbing the fields, woods and quiet little villages that I’d much rather be living in. Fantastic job.

    • dmmacilroy January 29, 2012 at 1:51 am #

      Dear Jay,

      Trains are probably safe, but I know what you mean. If I had my druthers I’d travel by bicycle or Shank’s Mare as often as possible. Thanks for stopping by and talking.



  17. John Wiswell January 29, 2012 at 3:04 am #

    That was the best and safest laugh I had all day. Thank you for writing this, Doug.

    • dmmacilroy January 29, 2012 at 3:37 am #

      Dear John,

      Thanks for stopping by and reading. Happy to hear it made you chuckle.

      Did you write one that I missed? Must go check.



  18. justlyd January 29, 2012 at 6:31 am #

    I really loved from reading the comments that you weaved bits of memories together to form this- reading it it reminded me of past journeys and being jarred/woken up from a slumbering state of mind that the trip and scenery had put me in by someone(flight attendant, bus conductor, taxi driver etc.) making a joke- it took me a minute to get the joke but that’s the response I’d have in real life as well so I felt like it worked here,, just my opinion! 🙂

    • Douglas MacIlroy January 30, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

      Dear Lyd,

      Thak you for stoping by and leaving such nice comments. Trains, their sounds and appearance and transformative power, make up many of my more potent youthful memories. Living next to a railroad track for years will do that, I guess.

      See you this coming Friday!



  19. kbnelson January 29, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    Great piece this week, Doug! Oddly enough, I was visualizing YOU as the conductor. Must be the twinkle in your eye…
    Thanks for sharing and see you next week!

    • Douglas MacIlroy January 30, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

      Dearest karen,

      I love reading your comments. Thanks for taking the time to write them. I was a submarine pilot for tourists and I did a lot of what a conductor would do on a train. perhaps that’s where the gleam in my eye comes from. See you this coming Friday.



  20. loustar02 January 29, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    Lovely writing. Very evocative – I was right there too enjoying every minute. Not sure I quite got the joke but the comments above have made that clearer. Great post!

    • Douglas MacIlroy January 30, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

      Dear Loustar,

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I’m looking forward to this coming Friday and reading your newest effort. I hope Madison is gentle with us with the prompt.



  21. elmowrites January 29, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    Doug, you are too hard on yourself – the first paragraph was a great piece of descriptive action, and the last few lines made it into a story. Sure, it’s a joke, but jokes can make excellent stories in their own right.
    As a reader, I (and by the looks of it, many others too) enjoyed it, so you hit at least one of the aims of writing!

    • Douglas MacIlroy January 30, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

      Dear Elmo,

      I’ve taken your words to heart and have stopped thrashing myself. Will still be trying to redeem myself next Friday. See you there. Thanks for the kind words.



  22. Madison Woods January 29, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    After having recently enjoyed several flights and one train ride, I really laughed at your punch line. The news would be received drastically different depending on whether the rider was on the train or the jet! Relativity, perspective, or paradigms – all three favorite ponder points.

    Sorry to be so late getting to your story. It was definitely worth the effort to get here 😉

    • Douglas MacIlroy January 30, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

      Dear Madison,

      Thaks for the kind words. I’m glad you’re back and supervising your son as he digs holes and cuts wires. Looking forward to next Friday. i hope you’ll be gentle on us with your prompt. Are you enjoying this as much as I am?



      • Madison Woods January 31, 2012 at 3:38 am #

        LOL, obviously I wasn’t supervising! He, like me, seems to learn best through trial and error :/

        I am loving the Friday’s these days. It’s a lot of fun to see what different stories everyone comes up with in response to the same picture. Plus I’m enjoying coming up with my own. I’m glad you’re having fun, too!

  23. Quill Shiv January 30, 2012 at 5:27 am #

    Sorry to get here so late; I always enjoy reading your stories. This is a beautiful setting and it reminds me very slightly of a train scene I have in the book I’m editing at the moment.

    I did laugh at the joke at the end, though it did not fit the tone. But a change in tone is never something to rule out in a piece this short. My only iffy moment in this piece is the phrase, “moves sedately.” Maybe a phrase like “spreads sedately” would work better if you are going to use an adverb there? I could be reading the sentence incorrectly though.

    The rest of it is beautiful and reminds me, as well, of My Antonia in a lot of ways.

    • dmmacilroy January 30, 2012 at 5:34 am #

      Hi Quill,

      That first sentence was one I’d like back. Didn’t flow quite right and I spent the last few minutes swapping words here and there.

      I’m looking forward to the next prompt so that I can spend more time getting it right.

      Love the back and forth of comments with you. See you Friday.



  24. Russell January 30, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    The first part reminded me of the Guy Clark song, “Texas 1946,” where the whole town turned out to watch a train (new diesel, I suppose) pass through. I thought your language was beautifully descriptive, and I loved the ending. That’s my kind of stuff

    • Douglas MacIlroy January 30, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

      Dear Russell,

      Thanks for the nice words. i’m going to Google that song and see if i can’t learn something. I’m glad you got the joke.

      See you next Friday.



  25. Caely January 30, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    Dear D,

    I could go on and tell you what lovely work you have once more put together, but I won’t. I just want to narrow it down to three words: Give me more.


    • dmmacilroy January 30, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

      Dearest Cae,

      You are a sweet, sweet girl. Thanks for ending the comments section with a wonderful message and leaving me with a big smile on my face.

      See you in a few days. Fire up that imagination!



  26. parul January 31, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    You are a brilliant writer Doug!
    How do you commune such beautiful words into such beautiful sentences one after another ceaselessly??
    Brilliant imagination! You took the whole prompt to a completely new dimension!
    Great work, like always!

    • Douglas MacIlroy January 31, 2012 at 8:43 am #

      Dear Parul,

      You are too kind. I write by ear and feel and sight and sound. If it doesn’t sound right, I trash it and start over. I think about what the world looks like and how the reader might see it and I’m off to the races.

      Thanks for stopping by. See you in a few days.



  27. Joe Lerner February 2, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    Great imagery, Doug. I think a lot of people, when attempting these challenges, don’t take into account that language—poetry—is as important as story. Your little piece demonstrates both equally.

    Here’s mine:

    • dmmacilroy February 2, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

      Dear Joe,

      Thanks for noticing. I worked hard to get it sounding the way it did. Never quite happy with it, but close enough to hit the ‘publish’ button.

      Thanks for stopping by. You have a story yet for Madisons’ prompt this week?



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