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Friday Flash Fiction: Gold Rush

March 9, 2013

Old Tom McGinlay straightened up and retied the string holding up his trousers.

He was ankle deep in mud, hunting through the marshy ground for molluscs. Well, mainly for molluscs but anything either edible or saleable would be scooped up into the ancient leather pouch slung around his chest. He hadn’t found much, but there were a couple of promising shinies that might have microchips inside. The dealers were paying good money for chips these days, now that the mines had all but run out and tech metals were rarer than ever.

Still, it was time for a break and he stumped back up to the path where the kid was waiting.
“Here’s your tea, Granda’. Still hot.”

McGinlay grunted. The kid should be at school or something. Not out here, with the gnats and the salt, where there was nothing to look forward to but whelks and sea-cabbage. He took the proffered tea-flask and poured some out into the cup. They sat together on a boulder while he sipped it.

“Mam’s got a letter from Dad.”
McGinlay looked up sharply. Now there was something. “Any news?”
The kid shrugged. Her scratty hair fell over her face as she hung her head. “She hasn’ opened it.”

He pursed his lips. That woman was short of a full deck. He didn’t know why young Tom had got mixed up with her in the first place, her and the kid. Off the rails. And then to up and leave the pair of them here, following some pipe dream.

Gold Rush Two Point Oh, they were calling it. He snorted and then, mindful of the child, hid his contempt in a long swallow of sweet tea. You can’t say a lot about whelks. But at least they’re here. And McGinlay reckoned he’d found more gold and such right here in the marsh, picking up discarded shinies, than young Tom would ever find over there in America.

He looked out at the flats and thought of the meagre pickings in his bag. He ought to stay and work another section, but he was anxious for news of his son. They didn’t hear often. Not like in the days of his youth, when everybody and his dog had a satellite phone. Now just about all the phones were gone, and even dogs were a luxury few could afford.

America! Land of opportunity, they used to say. He couldn’t help but resent what it had taken away from him. He was an old man, used now to this hard life, and the promise of riches rang hollow.

“Come on, Mayla.” He finished the tea and stood up, handing back the flask. “Let’s go home.”

He grasped his stick with one rough, damp hand and held out the other to his fosterling granddaughter. She took it and looked up at him. Her smile was sly around the edges.

“The envelope was heavy, Granda’. With a lump.”

[TOMW]

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