Short Story: Something To Do

Old fashioned steam engine train

Photo via Visualhunt.

The town looked deserted as it methodically swept past Thane’s train window. His face and hands were pressed up against the dark, cold glass as he tried in vain to see if anyone was out and about. No one was.

He slumped back into his seat completely bored. His governess was snoring softly next to him, and there was no one else in their compartment. Thane subconsciously kicked his feet as he looked around. It was a tiny space. A boring space. A brown, dull, baggage-filled space. There was nothing out the window to catch his interest and certainly nothing in the compartment, and he wasn’t allowed to leave to find something interesting elsewhere, not even to the dining car.

He dug around in his coat pockets, his fingers itching to find something to play with. When he found nothing, he rolled his eyes and sighed with his bottom lip pouted out, causing his fine blond bangs to flip up momentarily. He paused, then blew again. His governess had been mentioning hair cuts lately, but he kind of liked his hair this way. None of his friends could blow their bangs up like that, he was sure of it. Or at least, he had never seen them do it. Then again, they probably never had to sit on a boring train with nothing to do but blow up on their bangs either.

He crossed his eyes to look at his nose. Nope, nothing interesting there. He let his tongue slide out of his mouth to see if he could touch his chin with it. No, again. He flipped his tongue up to touch his nose. He stretched his tongue and contorted his face again and again, but he couldn’t get them to meet. So instead he wiggled his tongue all around while making funny noises and ended it with a wet raspberry. He smeared the back of his hand across his mouth.

Thane glanced up at his governess and noted she was still asleep. He sighed as he leaned against the wall and stared out the window again. Wasn’t there anything to do?

His eyes widened at a sudden thought: He hadn’t checked his governess’ pockets yet. Oh, he would get in so much trouble if she woke up with one of his hands still searching through her coat. But oh! What a game it would be; an excellent game—as long as he didn’t get caught.

Still against the wall, he let his fingers tip toe towards her. He slowly leaned forward as his fingers inched closer and closer. She was still snoring quietly, completely unaware of the situation.

Thane carefully undid the button on her coat pocket and lifted the flap. He wiggled his fingers inside and felt around until he touched something smooth and cold. He wrapped his fingers around it and gently pulled it out. It was a pocket watch. Thane didn’t know she even owned one of those, let alone carried one with her. He inspected it carefully with the eye of an explorer as he swung his feet back and forth. One of his shoelaces had come untied and was occasionally flicking at his leg, but he ignored it.

The gold watch didn’t have a chain, and the front covering had hundreds of tiny indentations that looked like swirly lines when he held it an arms length away. Thane brought it back up to his face. How did it open? The only ones he’d seen before had buttons that would pop it open when pressed. But there wasn’t anything like that on this one. Maybe it wasn’t a pocket watch after all. He shook it, but didn’t hear any rattling. He pressed it to his ear and squeezed his eyes shut. There was a faint ticking. Thane grinned as he opened his eyes. It was a pocket watch.

He nervously glanced at his governess again to make sure she was still asleep, and then turned his attention back to the watch. He was determined to figure out how to open it. He spent several minutes running his fingers over it and tapping or pressing certain places in hopes of finding the secret button. But when he still couldn’t figure it out, he started to get bored again. Why wouldn’t the stupid thing just open? Frustrated, he dug his nails into the side intending to yank the front off. Instead, it opened smoothly. Thane blinked at the open face of the watch. That was easier than he expected.

Now that it was open, and he realized it was just an ordinary watch, he snapped it shut and snuck it back inside his governess’ pocket. He had been hoping for something a little more exciting than that for all the effort he had put into it. Thane tiptoed around to the other side of his governess to check her other pocket. She stirred and mumbled something. Thane dove into the seat in front of him.

Getting caught could mean a week of staying indoors and no desserts after supper. Or even worse, he’d have to be “nice” and play dolls with his sister when he got home. He shuddered. He couldn’t imagine anything worse than that.

He sat with his ankles crossed and his fingers intertwined in his lap as his eyes fidgeted around the room. He was so bored! What he wanted to do more than anything was to get off the train and play outside. But he knew that wouldn’t happen.

Thane looked up at his governess again. She was still sleeping. He studied her face as he weighed his options. He could wither away with boredom while she slept, or he could have a little fun. If he had fun, he might get away with it, but she might wake up, too. Basically, it came down to dying, having fun, or his sister. He shuddered again as he moved back to his seat by the window. He stared out at the scenery for a while, but he couldn’t stand it for long.

He didn’t want to risk waking his governess up, so he decided to tackle her purse instead, which she had resting beside her. She often said a lady always keeps the entire world in her purse. If that was true, and if he was a real explorer, in what more convenient way could he explore the world than this?

He lifted the purse onto his lap and began quietly rummaging through the contents. There were pencils and paper, makeup, and some sewing tools. There were also several other things he had never seen before, but they didn’t look all that exciting, so he ignored them. He dug around a while looking for anything interesting and was about to give up when his hand touched metal. Confused, he lifted the object out of the purse and discovered a pair of scissors in his hand.

He looked at his sleeping governess and cocked his head to the side in thought. What could he do with these? He smiled mischievously. She’s the one who kept talking about hair cuts. Wouldn’t she be surprised to wake up and find that she had one? Thane covered his mouth to keep from giggling. Oh, this could be fun!

He put the purse on the floor and stood up on the seat next to his governess. He carefully lifted her large hat off of her head, and stifled a sneeze when a fat feather tickled his nose. He gently put the hat behind him.

Her hair appeared stapled to her head. She had dozens of hairpins tacking up coils of hair up off her neck and face, which had been hidden under her massive hat. After some thought, Thane decided to leave the hairpins as they were, rather than risk waking her up. He checked one last time to make sure she was still snoring before he started snipping the scissors through the coils. He cut each one twice—the large ones three times—but they were all still fastened tightly to her head with the pins. He gently placed her hat back on her head, and sat down.

Thane had barely put the scissors back in her purse when a loud horn sounded. They were arriving at the station! He shoved the purse next to the governess and jerked his hands back into his lap as her eyes fluttered open.

“What? Here already?” she asked. She yawned rather ungracefully. “Well, we’d best get ready,” she said as she picked up her purse.

It wasn’t long before they were on the platform with their luggage and their ride. As the driver shoveled the bags into his vehicle, the governess turned to Thane and said, “Now, wasn’t that a pleasant trip?”

He smiled sweetly and said, “Oh yes, Ma’am.” When she turned and walked away, Thane whispered to himself with a grin, “It was very pleasant, indeed.”


This was a story I wrote during college, over ten years ago. The assignment was to write a short story beginning with the line “The town looked deserted.” There are some changes I would make if I was rewriting this today, most of them involving pacing, but I still really like this naughty boy.

Feel like trying out the assignment yourself? Start with “The town looked deserted” and see where it takes you. We had about twenty or so students in that class and no two stories were alike, in spite of all of them beginning the same way. I believe the word limit was 1,500 words, since mine is only just barely under it.

I always write stories too long and have to trim it down to the word limit. How about you? Do you have to fluff it up to reach an expected word count or do you have to trim it down? If you’re the type who manages to write right on target, teach me your magic. Please!