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Flood: ONE

Today is a Red Letter day for Open Writing. We begin the serialisation of a new novel by ace professional story-teller Emma Cookson.

This story of passion and disaster set in the 19th century can be purchased on Amazon Kindle http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005966G30.

Robert Dyce left the turnpike and urged his horse across the open moorland of the Pennine hills towards the peat-roofed home of Old Backache the road-mender. The old man had lived in this rough stone house for as long as he could remember, with his broken mind and a copy of the good book by his side. He’d scratched a living until the morning Colonel Simms had ridden up to his shelter and demanded explanation as to who the hell he was and what the hell he was doing on the Colonel's land. Robert had heard the story often enough.

Old Backache had snapped to attention and saluted smartly and said, "Waiting for God and salvation, sir, as all poor sinners must."

"And who the hell gave you permission to wait here for salvation, in this precise location?" the Colonel had said, to which Old Backache had replied, "It's in the good book, sir. It's all in the good book."

The Colonel had inspected the good book and discovered it was a copy of King’s Regulations. Inside the cover had been written:

Presented to Private Jeremiah Walker on his discharge from the Grenadier Guards, March 31, 1816, and for the edifice of anyone it may concern to know that said Private Walker was a good soldier and a reliable comrade who always did his duty throughout all engagements and tribulations in which he partook in the war against the French, and in particular, during the Battle of Waterloo, where he suffered grievous injuries of the mind. Signed, Sergeant A J Wilderspoon.

"The Grenadiers?" the Colonel had said.


The tone of the officer's words kept him at attention.

Colonel Simms had been at Waterloo and had been with Wellington when the Iron Duke had personally taken command of the old soldier's regiment to repel Napoleon's Imperial Guard. The battalions had lain in the mud in formation to endure the bombardment of the French artillery. The survivors had risen on command to win the day with steady volleys and the Foot Guards became the Grenadiers, taking the name of the enemy they vanquished.

The Colonel could understand how the battle might have unbalanced Private Walker and led to his discharge, which was why he made him keeper of this stretch of road over the Pennines. Ever since, the old man had lived here alone, and assiduously repaired the road, no matter the weather.

Today, he was sitting outside his home in the sun, watching Robert’s approach. The young man wore white britches and brown boots and a well-cut brown coat. A white silk scarf at his neck was fastened with a pin. His hair was thick and black and the faint outline of a scar tugged his left cheek. He reined in his mount and touched his hat in greeting and the two exchanged looks. Old Backache took a clay pipe from between his lips.

"You've come back, then?" he said.

"I have."

"Tha's grown."

"It's been four years."

Old Backache chewed the stem of the pipe before asking, "Bin far?"


The old man ruminated.

"Long way, America."

"It is."

"Boats and railways." He spat sideways on the ground. "Soon be railways everywhere. Soon be no need for roads."

"There will always be a need for roads." Old Backache shrugged his indifference and Robert stared around at the skyline. "I've missed it," he said. "There's a special solitude."

"Oh, aye."

"Is that why you live here, Mr Walker? For the solitude?"

The old man puffed his pipe and considered solitude.

"For the secrets," he said.

"What secrets?"

"That's for me to know and thee to find out." He puffed the pipe. "Otherwise, they wouldn't be secrets."

Robert laughed and held up a coin which he tossed into the roadmender's lap.

"We shall speak again, Mr Walker." He touched his hat and put his knees into his mount, causing it to move away. "I bid you good day."

"And good day to you, too, Master Dyce."


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