Category Archives: literary

Story for Critique 002: The Coffin Route by John McGowan

Welcome to Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group and the second story on this blog. This 1,796-word literary story is by John McGowan. Please do comment in the section below telling us what you liked about this story and, what if anything, the author could do to improve upon it. Thank you – it’s very much appreciated!

Comment / feedback sought: John is hoping to find out what works and what does not work with this piece of work, and welcomes suggestions for how it could be improved.

The Coffin Route

He had made a promise and you do not break a promise. That had been instilled into him in his childhood. So though an oppressive sky, thick and heavy with grey rainclouds smothered the hilltops and blunted the grey crags, making the world feel that bit smaller. Though the wind blustered a cold threat to stay indoors and the chilled rain spattered loudly on the hood of his jacket he resolved he would see the journey through.  As he walked the hills he ruefully smiled and recalled the goodbye to his wife on the doorstep of the B and B. ‘No such thing as bad weather only the wrong clothes.’ She had shaken her head at him and the sentence that had become a kind of family motto and with a sympathetic smile kissed his cheek and told him to be careful.

The walk was easy at first despite the rain muddying the landscape. Climbing the hills on pitched pathways the stones were greasy and slippery and at times it was like trying to walk on a path made from blocks of soap, water gargled underfoot as it rushed down pathways turned to riverbeds. The path then wove its way along the open hillsides where he found himself exposed to a wind that whipped and lashed at his jacket and trousers. He was granted a brief respite when for half an hour or so the rain eased off to a light shower before whirling back up into a frenzied downpour. His hands started to feel numb and stiff and after a while rain began to find a way through his supposedly waterproof clothing. The cuffs of his jacket began to feel cold and wet and the fleece lining of his sleeve behaved like a sponge drawing cold rainwater up his arm. His legs tingled as the cold wet folds of his trousers nipped at his skin. His boots were now sodden and he could feel his feet squelch and squish his thick heavy socks. Sometime later when he came to the edge of Rydal forest above the lake of the same name he looked out and over to the hills on the other side. Water streamed down them, rushing to the lake below on which the rain formed strange swirling patterns on its grey surface. Such a wild place David thought, but full of beauty no matter what the weather. Sure it was lovely when the sun shone and the skies were blue and cloudless but the place was always so full of tourists then that you felt stifled by them. No. This was how he liked the lakes, alive and raw, the landscape baring its teeth and snarling. Somewhere nearby he knew there was a long distance race being run and in conditions like today’s people would think of the runners and officials as being mad, irresponsible even. But David understood why they did it. The wind and torrential rain, the muddy earth pulling and sucking at your legs only made it more real, made it more of an achievement, it made you feel more alive and somehow liberated the soul.

He trudged on into Rydal forest where the leaves had fallen golden but were now sodden through and had formed a thick carpet that he squished deep footprints into as he made his way through the autumn pile, every so often slipping or stumbling.

The path was called The Coffin Route; it ran from Ambleside to Grasmere and was so called because in times before proper roads were built around the lakes it was used to carry the dead from Ambleside to the consecrated earth of Grasmere church for burial. David could visualize pall bearers dressed in ragged black suits, heads bowed and their jacket collars turned up to protect them from the cold wind, mud clinging to their boots and the bottom of their trousers midway between their ankles and knees. Solemnly trudging along the path they carried a plain box made from rough wood that looked more like a crate than a coffin. Occasionally stumbling or missing a step but never dropping their load. Did the ghosts of the deceased follow on behind David wondered, eager to find their eternal rest in the dark earth at the journeys end, anxious that their bodies not be mishandled?

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