The End Of The Line


Chapter 1: Teddy
Written by Natalie Fu

Chapter 2:  Doug O’Clery
Written by Chloe Kwek

Chapter 3: Louisa Lennon
Written by Tham Yu Xuan

Chapter 4: Teddy
Written by Natalie Fu

Chapter 5: Louisa Lennon
Written by Tham Yu Xuan

Chapter 6: Doug O’Clery
Written by Chloe Kwek

Chapter 1 : Teddy

Written by Natalie Fu

Teddy could never catch a break. Not from the suffocating fumes of tobacco, or the constant aching of his overworked muscles. Not from the fresh bruises and cuts that never ceased to dot his arms and legs. And certainly not from the misery and fear that came along with the drudgery of life at the Lennons’. 

“Charles wants this place spotless! Make sure not a speck of dirt remains!” Louisa Lennon nagged at Teddy as she walked through the manor, sipping on her innumerable glass of wine that day while ensuring all the servants of the Lennon household were doing their cleaning duty before she retired for the night. “And work faster! There is still much left for you to clean.” 

With an exasperated sigh, Teddy obediently sped up his pace. He picked up a bronze hand mirror resting on the living room’s reclaimed oak mantle and used a worn rag to polish it. 

Though on paper Teddy was an adoptive son, he was virtually just a servant and a farmhand to the Lennons. A convenient and wise decision on Louisa’s husband, Charles’ part: adopted him for free, back in 1834, from the Boston city orphanage. 

They took him miles away to the Lennon’s reputable tobacco farm in Dowagiac, Michigan to exploit as free labour. Only having to feed stale leftovers and be provided shelter in their palatial manor, and be used as an outlet for Charles’ uncontrollable anger. By now it was just an ingrained part of a life that wasn’t lived, but survived, endured. 

His mind travelled to the other adopted orphans he had known back at the orphanage, as it did frequently. Were their lives parallel to his? He can’t help but believe that one of them was out there living the life Teddy had only been able to dream of- one with a parent’s love, those that give warm embraces, with bright laughter and gentle words. 

Those that don’t beat you bloody. It was all he ever wanted. 

He’d thought of leaving before, planned it out down to the detail of how he could escape—but where could he go? Parents both dead, and not a clue about any relatives, penniless, and would most likely be starving on the streets of some nameless town, not to mention filthy and freezing from the December cold. 

As Teddy was distracted by his thoughts, the bronze hand mirror slipped out of his grasp. He cursed when it fell onto the floor with the sound of shattering glass. A crack resembling a drunk spider’s web covered its entire face. All traces of exhaustion dissipated away and was replaced by a pounding fear in his head. 

It’s just a mirror. Teddy tried to reassure himself. They won’t miss it, right? In the past 7 years of his life living with the Lennons, he had learned that there was almost nothing they couldn’t afford to replace. 

“What was it that broke?” Louisa’s voice, calling from the kitchen. Louisa entered the living room with quick footsteps. Each footfall was chaotically spaced from the last, a drunken stagger with no rhythm at all. It was 11 PM at night, and by now she had well gotten her daily overconsumption of alcohol. She gasped, eyes widened with despair when she spotted the broken mirror on the floor. 

“I’m sorry. I knocked it over. It was an accident.” Teddy started. He was frozen, a single thought running through his panicking mind: Please don’t tell Charles. 

His apology fell on deaf ears. In a few broad steps, Louisa crossed the room to where Teddy stood. Like a coil suddenly relieved of tension, her arm flew outward and struck Teddy across the face. 

Stunned, he stumbled backwards and hit the wall. He was used to Charle’s ruthless and unrelenting fists, but Louisa? She had never raised a violent hand against him before— 

Louisa grabbed him by the neck and pushed him against the wall to hold him in place, fists making hard contact with his face repeatedly. The rings that adorned her hand cut his cheek with every blow. 

“I said I was sorry. It—” Teddy choked. “It’s just a mirror!” 

“Just a mirror? Charles gifted it to me fifteen years ago before we married! You have no idea how much it meant to me!” Louisa screamed, eyes welled with hot tears. 

Her hand that held Teddy’s neck tightened its grip with every second, fingernails digging into the back of his neck. Teddy let out a strangled cry. Whenever Teddy incurred Charles’ wrath, he would hide in the servant quarters in the attic under his thin blanket, trembling. Louisa would always visit him when she had the chance—when Charles was busy or sleeping. “Eat.” She would say, and give him an extra slice of bread or piece of meat she pocketed from her own dinner when Charles wasn’t looking, then applied an ointment on his cuts and bruises. 

“It’s not your fault Charles hit you, Teddy.” She would say. “He’s just like that.” Her face emotionless, but eyes softening with worry when she looked at his injuries. Teddy had always thought she cared about him as a son, though Louisa never expressed it verbally or showed any signs of affection other than tending to his injuries, he thought of her as his mother. Her face now, however, looked like how Charles did when he beat him. Flushed red, with a clenched jaw, dilated pupils. The countless amounts of punishments Charles had inflicted on him, the ones that would haunt him in his sleep every night—they were nothing, both physically and emotionally, compared to this. 

“Please.” Teddy pleaded. “It was an accident.” 

Louisa did not stop, anger enhanced by the drinks she consumed throughout the day. The servants had stopped their work long ago and were now whispering at the side, nosy eyes watching as Louisa unravelled. 

“Poor boy.” 

“It’s the drink. It’s making her become like her father.” 

“Just like O’clery!” A servant remarked. The ex-servant Teddy would hear time and time again in the servants’ gossip. The one who had been as badly abused as Teddy had but by Louisa’s father when he was still the head of the farm. 

The Lennons, old or current generation, were all the same. And he would only live this life on repeat, working for them as a servant until he died. Collecting even more bruises and scars all over his body, like the past 7 years living with the Lennons and the next few years to come if he stayed. 

“We even gave you the easy task—polishing! Can’t you go a single day without causing any trouble for Charles? For me?” 

Teddy was seized with a fierce anger. It was an accident, for god’s sake! She only had to send a servant to the mirrorsmith and have it fixed! Why did he always have to be punished over every single little thing 

It was going to be like this from now on, wasn’t it? Louisa must be finally done playing family. This was how she truly saw Teddy. No matter how many years he 

endures and waits, the Lennons would never turn into a loving family, Louisa would never be the mother he wanted her to be. He would never know a parent’s love here. Teddy would never be able to find what he wanted here. His life would never begin. There was only one option for him now: to leave. 

It didn’t matter that he had nowhere and no one to go to. It didn’t matter if he would be homeless and starving. He would rather be living that version of freedom than staying captive for decades in the ‘safety’ in the Lennons’ manor. 

And so, as soon as Louisa headed off to drown her anger with alcohol again after her fists got worn from beating him, and the black dots vanished from Teddy’s vision, he would make his escape. 

Chapter 2: Doug O’Clery
Written by Chloe Kwek

He’d done it again. Salt Lake City to Boston for the twenty-seventh time now. What am I doing with my life? he thought. The misery of it all. Expanses of desolation with no merry hills or houses to bring colour to the endless horizons of this so-called promised land, flashing past his sleepy eyes as he piloted his dull machine across the great continent. This was so far away from what he had wanted. 

With these thoughts in mind, Douglas slipped silently out of the driver’s cabin—that melancholy space, at once his prison and his escape—with an unlit cigar in hand. He deserved a break. He stood with his back against the smooth lacquer of the train, observing the workmen at their labour unloading freight on the other track. Most of them would have wives to go home to, smiling children, dinners meagre but warm, houses awash in light. And what do I have? A wife ashamed of him, a son indifferent and uninterested in his father, and a scattered family half a world away. Nothing

Sudden noises cut into his thoughts. Out of the darkness on the other side of the train, a silhouette emerged from the early morning shadows, a bulky rucksack thudding along on his back with the frenzied rhythm of his footsteps. With alarm, Doug realised that the man was running right up to his train. 

“Hurry!” shouted the stranger between quick, sharp breaths. “Start the train! Start it, you hear? Before”—he gasped for air—“before she catches up!” Who was she? Why was he running? Doug wasn’t going to start the train—was he crazy? It was an hour to the scheduled departure time and the boiler wasn’t even warmed up!—for some random stranger.

Doug stared, frozen in place, as the man approached. Had he even seen him? He was on the opposite side of the train. Cautiously, Doug stepped up onto the small platform attaching the driver’s cab to the first-class car. The stranger ran up to the train and collapsed, exhausted and panting, onto its sleek, sturdy green surface. Doug was startled to find that he was very young, most likely not yet twenty. There was something familiar about him. Hard to place, but Doug was sure of it. He’d seen him somewhere, sometime before. 

“Start the train, I say! They’ll be coming for me soon. Please.” The boy’s voice broke on the last word, and Doug inhaled quietly. I know this boy. On impulse, he extended a hand to him. He grabbed it, and Doug hauled him up onto the platform. Still, there was something so very familiar about his features. 

“I have to get out,” he rasped. “They’ll kill me if they find I’m gone.” “Look, that’s not possible, son,” Doug said tersely. “Too early. Passenger trip to Salt Lake City leaves at 6 AM. A train like this needs two skilled men to run well. Can you regulate a boiler?” 

He shook his head. 

“Then we’re not going anywhere.” 

And then from somewhere within the depths of Doug’s memory, an image surfaced, and he remembered at last. A little boy, with sandy hair, and bright eyes. “Teddy?” he tried cautiously, disbelieving. 

The boy in front of him nodded. “Doug.” 

Doug raised his eyes to the heavens. 

“You’re O’Clery. You knew,” Teddy said simply, with no malice or bitterness in his voice. Doug looked back at him. Now he had darker hair and duller eyes, but that turned-up nose was unmistakable. And the weight of the realisation came back to him. He had known, and he had done nothing to help the boy. 

“You knew I was going with Louisa,” Teddy continued, tone flat and unreadable, “because you saw her. You knew how they treat their people there.” “You told me she was kind,” Doug shot back, at once defensive by instinct. “Who would I be to disappoint a child?” 

“Well, on that day when she brought me back from Boston, you saw it. It was just her. She’s not so bad, really, without him and the drink. I don’t know how I mistook it for kindness, but then kindness is something I’ve never really known. You’re right, I was a child; after seven years in a city orphanage, she was the first adult who managed to go two hours without raising her voice or fists on me. Well, that was unimaginable gentleness. You understand that, don’t you? 

“Of course, it changed pretty quickly when we got to Dowagiac. Charles Lennon and his tobacco pipe made quick work of that. You understand that too.” Doug nodded numbly, thinking of his own stint at the tobacco farm. “I found out that you were with them, of course,” Teddy continued. “Their other slaves would talk about you. Louisa mentioned you a couple times. Said you made a mess of every job you got.” 

“Well,” Doug retorted, “the woman isn’t exactly the kindest mistress.” Teddy opened his mouth to reply, but he wasn’t done. “Do you have any idea what they used to do to me? Useless animal, they called me. ‘People of your kind can’t do honest work’. I was already lucky to have that job. The advertisements in the gazettes all said the same thing, ‘no Irish need apply’. They beat me—us Irish are violent apes, aren’t we, we should be able to take it,” he spat. “I don’t know how I got out.” 

“So?” Teddy said impatiently. “We have to get out of here before she comes after us. She’ll know I’m here.” He sighed. “Louisa is… I think deep down she actually does care about us, a little bit. She won’t be feeling good about this. She hit me. She’ll want to come to find me, and she knows I’ve always dreamt of…” He stopped himself. 

“Of…?” Doug prompted. 

But the boy deliberately pursed his lips. “We have to hurry,” he said flatly. “I can’t regulate a boiler, but you can. And I can drive a train. There you go, two skilled men. Let’s go west.” 

Doug thought again of the landscape of the American continent. How many times had he guided this hulking machine through the wild fields and great nothingness of this land? How often had he lamented the meaninglessness of it all? Perhaps, amidst all this awful nothingness, it was time for something new. “Okay,” he said, taking a deep breath. “Let’s go west.” 


They did not speak for most of their indefinite journey. Doug hadn’t been in a boiler room for a while, but the easy repetitiveness of the work had long imprinted the motions in his mind. The train was running like clockwork. How did Teddy know how to drive it? He supposed it must be thanks to him. 

How long ago had that been? Seven years? A routine round-trip from Massachusetts to Michigan. The boy had been travelling first-class; unusual, he had thought at the time, for a child still so full of vigour and mischief. Upper-class young boys were rarely given leave to behave as young boys should. He vaguely

remembered those stubby hands running along the sleek forest green of the train as the passengers boarded at Boston station, those bright eyes widening in a magic childish awe upon catching a glimpse of the boilerman shovelling coal into the furnace. 

And then Doug had looked to see who was accompanying him on his journey: a skinny, pale woman, rather unhealthy-looking, dressed in luxurious but worn furs, expensive but tarnished jewels. 

His breath had hitched, and for a moment he forgot what was happening around him. 

Louisa Lennon. 

The Lennons had long been considering the prospect of adopting an orphan to work for them. Doug had overheard Charles propose the idea once. So this must be the unfortunate boy. 

Stop! he thought forcefully. Forget Dowagiac. So what if the Lennons had a son? It was none of his business. He no longer had any connection to the Dowagiac tobacco farm. 

But he hadn’t expected the child to come to him. 

Later, at one of those nameless towns between Boston and Pittsburgh, there had been a soft knock on the door to the driver’s cab—“What is it?” Doug had growled as he wrenched the door open, annoyed at being disturbed—and the boy had slipped into the cab, his jaw dropping at the sight of the sticks and buttons which the red-haired man seemed to control without the slightest confusion. 

Doug had quickly given up on trying to chase him out of his workspace. The boy was clearly enamoured of the machine. “So you like the train, huh?” he asked gently. 

He nodded. 

An idea came into his mind, and he found himself saying, in a tone kinder than he had thought himself capable of, “Would you like me to teach you how to drive?” They spent the entirety of the stopover pushing on buttons, and pulling on levers, both of them (re)discovering the intricacies of the vehicle. The boy informed the train driver that his name was ‘Theodore, but it’s really Teddy because Matron said we couldn’t have long names’. So he’s really from an orphanage, Doug thought, and felt a sudden sadness wash over him. Would this boy ever really know a parent’s love? Of course, Doug hadn’t been able to push Louisa out of his head. At some point he worked up the courage to ask Teddy, “So is that woman who was walking with you going to be your family now?” 

The boy nodded solemnly. “Her name is Louisa, but she says I’m to call her Mother.” 

“And… how do you like her?” 

He shrugged. “She’s OK. She was kind to me in Boston. I don’t think she likes this train, though. And she keeps drinking this stuff that smells awful, but she pretended not to hear me when I asked her to stop. Anyway, why is your hair that colour? It’s strange.” 

“I don’t know, I was born like that,” Doug chuckled, not looking Teddy in the eye. Inside, he didn’t know what to think. Louisa was an alcoholic now, huh? At least, he supposed, she wasn’t half bad to the boy. He huffed a small sigh. I guess things are better now. “Well, she’ll be back to normal in a bit, once you’re off the train. I’m sure she’ll make a lovely mother. Aren’t you pleased?” 

Teddy shrugged again. “I’m just glad to be out of the orphanage, so I shan’t have to sleep in those awful lumpy beds below the other boys and hear the iron 

creaking all night.” He shuddered. “I was scared they’d collapse and crush me to death.” 

Doug cracked a small smile at that. The boy was spirited. Perhaps, in time, he’d forge himself a better fate than this one. He allowed himself to picture a good life for Teddy as an adult, perhaps taking over the farm, expanding into business somewhere in the city. 

“So, Mister Doug,” Teddy cut in impatiently, those bright green eyes sparkling, “what’s this do?” He yanked on a green lever. With a start, Doug jerked upright in his seat and slapped his hand away. But the damage was already done. A loud whistle rang out, and both the little boy and the train driver winced, the latter with immense exasperation. “Teddy, I told you that was the whistle. And I told you how annoying it is.” 

Teddy grinned. “It gets your attention.” 

Looking back on all of this, Doug found himself marvelling at how Teddy was still essentially the same as he had been then. Despite the drudgery of life at the Lennons’, that wicked humour hadn’t faded from him. That spirit would do him good. TOOT-TOOT! went the whistle again, nearly frightening him into dropping a red-hot coal chunk on his foot. If he had found that noise grating in 1843, it was positively infuriating now. Especially when it took him by surprise. Doug looked round to the driver’s cabin and found Teddy sticking his head out of the window, grinning at him. Evidently, being in the train and away from Dowagiac had cheered him up. “I knew you’d like that,” he said. “Question: are we stopping at Stevensville?”

Chapter 3: Louisa Lennon

Written by Tham Yu Xuan

Louisa had gotten used to the thick scent of tobacco by now—both the pungent smell of it always burning on her lips, and also the light scent of its plant, nicotiana. It was not unusual—her family owned and lived on a tobacco farm, after all. Or more specifically, they resided in a manor that stood near its gates; a bricked island in a sea of green, the place where all hedge paths coalesced. And from there, she’d be able to savour all the smells—burnt coal from the neighbouring train station, sour peat of the bog, charred lumber of the factories, and of course, tobacco. Everywhere, she’d be able to catch a whiff of it. But in a home full of pipe smokers, its malodour had already become a permanent resident there — haunting every space with its stench as it wafted through doors like silk. And just like it, Louisa often found herself drifting through the rooms aimlessly, after a big fight, or after a bottle of wine. 

Time and time again, she’d always be brought back to the same room. The largest room in the manor——the office. A place flanked by taxidermied animal trophies and locked in by columns and columns of windows. Louisa traced her hands on the door as she entered the room. She took a seat on the centerpiece of the room, a large oak chair, flattening her black dress. The night was calm. Louisa looked around. It’s all still the same. It had been a good thirty-four years of growing up in this home and this room, but even now in 1850, virtually nothing of the manor had changed. Not the decor, not the plantation, not even the man of the house. Her father, a headstrong and temperamental businessman, had long passed, but his heir, her husband Charles, was virtually the same man with a kindred spirit. Heck, even she was starting to fall into this line of hotheaded people, considering what she just did. Louisa sighed, smoothing back her tressed blonde hair into a neat bun. 

She had a big fight, in fact, probably the biggest fight with Teddy just hours ago, over her broken mirror, where she hit him. Louisa had never been one to resort to violence, but with the wine and rage, her hand just swung as if possessed by the violent force of her father—— almost with the same violence as the time he beat up an Irish farmhand, O’Clery, so badly he resigned the next day. Why do I even care for the mirror so much? It was given to her by her man who expected too much of her, who barely even loved her. Oh, to be anywhere but here! Louisa lamented. She had read countless journals of the Tropics and the Orient, and now, more than ever, she wished she could leave her stuffy clothes and stuffy house and stuffy life and start somewhere anew. In fact, maybe she could sympathise with Teddy. Were they not … just the same birds in different cages? 

Louisa stood up with a sigh and brushed her thoughts away. ‘Melodramatic and sober thoughts are not for refined women,’ Charles had once remarked. She was a businesswoman now; the Madame of Lennon Plantation. Besides, no mother should be so soft to their child! But she still felt so bad, for treating Teddy so harshly. Jesus, I am too tender-hearted, Louisa groaned. But the guilt was … unshakeable. I guess a check up would not hurt… 

“Charles, I’m going to check on Teddy,” Louisa opened the bedroom door. Her husband was lying on their bed, smoking a cigar. He had taken up all of it, but Louisa preferred sleeping in the drawing room, anyway. 

“Whatever for?” He turned off the gas-night lamp. 

“I do not know, I beat him just now— I never hit him.” 

“Don’t feel bad. He broke your mirror. He deserved it.” 

“I was awfully drunk. Plus, Teddy is still our child.” Louisa looked down.

“He is our farmhand,” Charles muttered. “We got him to polish and clean, and he broke my mirror! In fact, now that I think of it, even a beating seems too lenient. If I were you, I would make him pick up every single shard with his fingers until they bleed.” he continued. Louisa knew this was no exaggeration; too many times she would secretly need to treat Teddy’s wounds, a result of his rage. 

“You know… there is a reason he is deathly scared of you,” Louisa muttered. “Women should not talk back to their husbands, Louisa.” he jabbed coldy. Louisa sighed and left the room. Charles did not understand her. Teddy was not a farmhand. They adopted him as a child, for god’s sake! To him, his adoption was just a convenient source of free labour. But to her … She knew where she’d go, it only felt right. I was too rash; I’m becoming more like my father. Louisa’s head throbbed. “You know, I should have chosen the governor’s daughter, had I known I would be marrying a woman with the heart of a lamb.” Charles hissed as she made her way to the door. Louisa paused, slightly pursing her lips. 

“Go to sleep now. And please, for god’s sake, do not go find Teddy. Your tender heart will be the downfall of my family’s authority. Besides, he needs rest. I’ve got a new batch of tobacco seeds from Honduras for him to plant tomorrow.” Charles said as she left the room. 

“Definitely,” Louisa muttered, closing the door. 

She would apologise to Teddy. His hand just slipped; it was not on purpose that he’d break something so dear to her. She pulled up her dress and made her way up the stairwell, up the ladder, and into the attic. 

“Teddy.” She knocked on the door. “Teddy, I’m coming in.” She unlocked the door gently. Louisa gasped. 

His room was empty. Packed empty of the little clothes he had, and empty of himself. The window lay wide open, broken. Louisa looked out of the window, her blonde hair hanging out. No, no. The ivy on the walls were torn … yet Teddy was nowhere in sight. Stupid child! As she made her way down the steps and out of the manor door, her steps grew ever more distraught. This is my fault

“Teddy!” Putting on a garrick, Louisa ran into the white night. “Teddy, please, wherever you are!” she begged. Her hands dug through bushes, tossed open sheets of vats and doors of sheds. “Teddy, I’m so—” “CRUNCH!” Her feet stepped on something in the mud. Louisa looked down. It was a crumpled train-schedule. Dear god. Her eyes focused on the sheet. On it, a single departure was circled in ink. The five-AM Westbound train. 

Toot-Toot!” a muffled sound erupted nearby. Turning her head, she saw the roaring lights of the station. No, oh no. She knew exactly where Teddy was, but very soon probably never, forever. In the distance, the light-stained smoke from a train’s boiler started churning. But it must have been a good three hours before five… Why did it leave so early? Louisa sighed, her breath still rapid from running so hard. Ten minutes. She had ten minutes before the boiler fully churns, and the train finally departs (a knowledge gained from living next to a train station for most of her life). Louisa sighed. She would have to catch up to the train on horseback. 


Two minutes. By the time she dismounted her horse in front of the night-drowned station, the boiler had already been spewing mountains of smoke. She could see the train’s silhouette clearer. In fact, she could have sworn she could see the shadow of Teddy through its orange windows … next to a taller man? I’ve got to make things right. I’ve got to bring him back. Louisa thought, darting to the train. One minute. “Ring!” A whistle shrieked. Louisa gasped.The train was finally departing. 

“Wait!” Louisa screamed at the train as she burst into the station. “WHOOSH!” Its crying boiler drowned her shrieks. Just a few meters more and she would be within sight of the conductor! “Stop—please!” She cried. The wheels started roaring, charging like a great mechanical horse. “Stop the train!” she flailed her arms helplessly. “TOOT-TOOT!” It was all too late—with a hiss of its wheels and a clank of its drawbar, the train was off. 

Louisa crumpled onto the floor. I was so close. She did not want to think of Charles’ infuriated face when she returned. Worst of all, she did not want to think of how big of a failure she was—now even the person she felt a tinge of care and responsibility for, even if only the slightest, had left her before she had the chance to make up with them. Louisa sat on a bench and buried her head in her palms. 

“Need a ride to Stevensville, don’t you?” a soft, aged voice said. Louisa looked up with dewy eyes. It was an elderly man with an oil-stained smock offering a hand. 

“Ah … No horse can catch up with that train now … it is … gone,” Louisa muttered. Even if she did reach Stevensville on horseback and intercepted the train, Teddy would have already had a twenty-minute head start by then to escape to god knows where. 

“Thank you, nonetheless.” she trailed. The man looked at her as he took off his gloves with an almost cheeky grin. “Well, I’ve got something that goes faster than a horse … or any train.” he smirked and pulled a curious Louisa up. 

His name was Bernard, though he preferred to go by Bert, he said as he led her to the back of the station to a disused track. He introduced himself as a mechanic and an inventor, and it was evident from the locomotive that sat on the rails that he was quite a resourceful one. 

“I built it myself,” he boasted as he stepped onto the platform of the locomotive. Louisa took a closer look. It was a rather small, flimsy carriage supported by wheels and equipped with some kind of a miniature steam motor. 

“You are … an inventor?” Louisa asked. She had heard of some eccentrics in Indianapolis who scrambled together cogs and wheels to make their own amateur trains, but she never thought there would be anyone as inventive as them in her hometown. 

“Why … are you helping me?” Louisa questioned him. Meeting a helpful soul in Dowagiac was a rarity, after all. One must be wary. 

“Pfft! Who wouldn’t help a lady such as yourself, especially one sobbing like a squonk? Besides, I came from Fennville, I’m headed for Chicago. Stevensville’s on the way.” he replied. Fennville. Kooky place. Last time Louisa heard, their town constructed a trout-impaler on their river. No doubt that place would produce … people like Bert. 

“Chicago?” Louisa asked. 

“Yessir! This baby got me a spot at the Chicago Industrial Exhibition, you see,” he chortled, slapping its hull. 

“Well, what else do you do with it, other than, you know, helping damsels in distress such as myself.” Louisa quipped, letting out a chuckle for the first time that night. 

“Well, I’m a traveller. I hop around towns, you know. It’s actually surprisingly easy—all the companies are mad about trains now, but few actually do complete their tracks. Big waste of money, if you ask me, but at least I don’t need a permit to ride on them!” he smiled as he helped Louisa onto the carriage. A traveller! Louisa thought. How nice

“Hold on now!” he announced, and with a flick of a lever and a pull of a switch, the locomotive revved up and sped on the train tracks and into the dawn. Louisa shut her eyes for a moment, feeling the cool breeze tickle her eyelids. Soon, she thought. Soon she would finally make up with Teddy, bring him back, make Charles glad and everyone and everything would be fine and dandy. 

Chapter 4: Teddy

Written by Natalie Fu

As he piloted the steam locomotive, Teddy could feel the engine rumbling beneath his feet, transporting him away from the Lennons back in Dowagiac and towards a sweet freedom he yearned for. 

Teddy’s thrilled eyes watched as the sunrise lightened the monochrome sky, and took in the passing picturesque scenery of wide grasslands, feeling at ease. He was free. It was all over now. Charles’ fists would never bruise him again. He would never have to work his limbs off day and night on that dreadful tobacco farm again. He would never see Louisa again. 

The initial jubilation was instantly replaced by bitterness and anger when he thought of the events of the night before. How disappointing. The only maternal figure he had ever known had turned against him. Though Teddy knew it was because of her drinking, he wished they could have parted differently. With the warm memories of Louisa caring for Teddy, instead of a harrowing one of her fists opening old wounds on his face. 

Teddy put away his thoughts and shifted his focus back to the present. He didn’t want to dwell on his bad past any longer. A directional sign planted by the railroad indicated the next town up ahead was Stevensville. 

Teddy turned to look at Doug behind him, still busily regulating the boiler. A cheeky idea popped into his head. Hoping that his memory served him right, Teddy yanked on a green lever for what would be the train’s whistle as Doug had taught him years ago. 

Doug jumped in shock from the raucous sound, causing Teddy’s lips to stretch into a grin. He still remembered how much Doug despised the sound of it. “I knew you’d like that,” he said. “Question: are we stopping at Stevensville?” 

“Yes. The train’s fuel is running out, and Stevensville has a coal and water station. By the way, there are other ways to catch my attention, Teddy. You don’t always have to use that darn whistle.” Doug complained, though there was a slight amusement in his voice. 

Their ride continued for a few more minutes, until the train slowed to a halt by Stevensville’s bricked train platform with loud hiss of steam and a metallic shriek. A frosty wind nipped at Teddy’s face when he hopped out of the train and fell into step with Doug walking briskly towards the coal station. 

“Well.” Doug commented as he stretched his sore muscles. “You did a great job for your first time driving a train.” 

“Thanks.” Teddy’s face warmed, despite the chill. It had been a while since he had received praise. 

“Let’s try to make quick work of refuelling this train. With the two of us, we could possibly finish and set off again in less than 20 minutes.” 

“Oh. I was thinking that we could spare some time to explore Stevensville?” Teddy gestured towards the small smattering of quaint houses that laid further behind the train station. 

“It’s not much of a town.” 

“Yeah. But I haven’t exactly been to many places besides the orphanage and farm.” Teddy retorted. “I want to see what other towns are like. You understand, right?” 

“But what do we do if someone catches up to us, wanting to bring you back to that dreadful family?” Doug answered patiently. 

Doug made a good point. Teddy didn’t reply, but frowned and silently picked up a shovel, and started work. Soon enough, they were about to toss the last shovel of coal into the train’s, when a familiar train whistle resounded from an approaching ‘train’. 

It looked smaller than your average ones, with similar features to the locomotives but with a more homemade feel. 

“Doug! Look at that! What is it exactly?” Teddy asked, voice pitched with wonder. He ran his eyes over the unusual contraption that slowed to a stop at the train station. 

“It’s a self-built train. I’ve heard that some people build them as hobbies.” It was nothing Teddy had ever seen before. Not amongst the different types of engines in picture books about trains and engines he used to devour back at the orphanage. His eyes travelled along the carriage keenly, absorbing every detail about the weird contraption until he spotted a head of blond hair blown back by wind, revealing an all too familiar face. Teddy froze, spirits falling. 

“Teddy!” Louisa gasped, climbing out of the carriage and rushing towards him. “I have been looking for you. I have been worried sick!” 

“You have?” Teddy asked incredulously. 

“ Any mother would be…” Louisa murmured. “Come, let us go home now.” Teddy sighed. He was expecting her to say that. 

“Well, I’m afraid your trip was all for nothing. Save your breath and go home. I don’t ever plan on returning.” 

“You have had your fun, Teddy. But it is time to return home. Charles is waiting for you.” 

The control over all the seething resentment Teddy kept on a tight leash snapped at the mention of Charles’ name. “How could you be so… thoughtless? Of all people, you know best about what he’s done to me! Yet you’re asking me to return? No! I’m not going to put myself back in that hellhole, not when I’m already out of it.” 

“Where else can you even go? What future do you think you are going to have without us?” Louisa forcefully planted a hand on Teddy’s arm, tugging him towards the direction of the train but he planted his feet into the ground, refusing to budge. 

“And what ‘future’, as you claim, would I have back in that tobacco farm? To work until I’m close to collapsing? To be yelled at and punished everyday?” Teddy shook Louisa’s hand off. 

“You would be safe. You would have a roof over your head, food to eat the next day— You have a family waiting for you!” 

“How can you call yourself his family? You and Charles treated him like your father treated me all those years ago. Like a servant.” Doug interjected. “Do I know you, sir?” Louisa questioned, confusion written over her face. “Stay out of my business between me and my son.” 

“Oh, I know you alright. In fact, I think you’d remember me too. O’Clery. Does that name ring a bell?” 

Louisa’s eyes widened in shock. “I know you,” She opened her mouth as if to continue, but nothing came out. 

“Do you also remember your father beating me up as badly as Charles beat Teddy?” Doug reminded her. 

“See the pattern here? What kind of sane person would want to return and suffer with that for the rest of his life?” Teddy asked with a desperation in his voice. “But we’ve raised you all these years. Since you were a child.” 

“Some kind of childhood you gave me, Louisa. Teddy shook his tunic’s sleeves back, revealing a mass of bruises and scars all over his arms. “Look at all these. How can you even say that?” Teddy snapped back. 

“I’ve only ever hit you once, and it was because-” 

“You beat him black and blue and you call it love. Louisa, you and your whole family are monsters. He doesn’t love you and he’s not going back. Face it, the Lennons’ house is an awful place to be.” Doug interrupted once again. Louisa stood, silent, her eyes twitching slightly. 

“Teddy,” Louisa ignored Doug, turning to Teddy. “You know I am not Charles… I care for you. Haven’t I been like a mother to you? All those times I’ve healed your injuries!” 

“I am more than grateful for your care.” Teddy softened his tone. “But so long Charles is in that house, and you have that drink, I will never return to Dowagiac.” “I will talk to him… try my best to make him better. I will make myself better. Please,” Louisa coaxed. 

“What makes you think that would ever work? That man never listens to you. Or anyone. Let me go on my own way.” Teddy replied curtly. Louisa pursed her lips. 

“He’s better off without Charles and that life. In Dowagiac he’s just a servant. 

Here, at least, he’ll have the freedom to decide his own fate.” Doug supported. 

“His fate is to be on the farm. It had been decided for him the day I took him home to Charles, O’Clery.” 

“There is no unalterable fate in this world. Those who believe in set fate have already lost belief in themselves. Like you. All you do is sit at that dresser and drink all day. You don’t have the guts to fight for yourself and you’re wasting your pathetic life away, but that doesn’t mean Teddy has to waste his.” 

“You do not understand, Teddy—” Louisa murmured. 

“I have things I want to see and experience. I want to get an education, start a family. I want to find a place I can call home. You can’t give that to me, can you? As a mother, why can’t you be supportive and want what’s best for me?” 

A look of sadness passed Louisa’s face. Her eyes were bleak and stunned, and she lowered her head, staring at her shoes sullenly. There was nothing she could say to ever persuade him to go back. 

“Don’t worry, Louisa. I’ll take care of him along the way. Better than you and Charles ever will.” Doug reassured her. 

“Goodbye, mother.” 

“I… hope you will be happy.” Louisa murmured slowly. “Goodbye…” Teddy exhaled. He was finally free from the Lennons. Teddy seized the driver’s cab door’s elongated handle, and boarded the train once again, and rammed the door shut behind him. He was certain not returning with Louisa to Charles was the right decision. 

“TOOT-TOOT!”As Doug started the engine, the train departed for their next stop in Chicago, Teddy looked back at the train platform just to get a last look at Louisa. 

But she was gone. 

Chapter 5: Louisa Lennon

Written by Tham Yu Xuan

Teddy was right, was he not? He is happier this way, Louisa thought. Besides, Charles never really did care for him. She could adopt another kid and Charles’ would not even see the difference! It is better this way … for me as well, Louisa reasoned. For the past few years, Teddy had … softened her, Charles would always say. Maybe now that he was gone, she could finally be that austere woman he married. Louisa headed back to the platform. Bert’s train had already left, probably headed to his next adventure; Chicago. Louisa sighed and walked towards the ticketing booth, passing by children playing in the dirt, mothers with their babies and families; all jolly and merry. Louisa gulped. 

“The train to Chicago is leaving! Stevensville – Chicago train is departing!” the voice of a stationmaster cried out from behind. It was the train Teddy and O’Clery were on. This would be the last time she would see Teddy. Louisa’s eyes twitched. She felt … gouged. The thought of leaving that boy—of which she had fed, scolded, defended, and cared for, even if no one else saw it, brought tears to her eyes. Louisa took a deep breath and forced herself to walk on. 

“All passengers—” the stationmaster continued. 

“We’re not taking anyone today. We’re leaving now.” She heard the train conductor, O’Clery, say. 

Louisa looked back one last time as the train started its rumbling. She could hear the closing of train doors, the bolting of locks, the clinking of wheels. This is what Teddy wanted … he will be happy now. Louisa tried to comfort herself as she pursed her lips and paced away, her shoes clinking on the bricked floor. Louisa, what are you doing? She simply could not do it. She could not just leave Teddy forever! He 

was her son, on paper and in her heart. Okay, leave now Louisa. Your emotions are getting the better of you again. Leave. “Ring!” the train’s final whistle of departure squealed. Louisa shut her eyes. The train’s wheels started roaring. Jesus. She turned back towards the train. 

Run. Louisa sprinted until the station turned into a blur. “Ma’am!” the stationmaster’s voice cried out from behind. Run! The train started moving, chugging its wheels, churning steam. “TOOT-TOOT-!” the train-whistle bellowed. Louisa reached desperately for a pole attached to the train. “TOOT-TOOT!” the train screamed for the final time. With fingers wrapped around the pole, she hoisted herself onto the train. And before she knew it, she was on, watching the station grow smaller and smaller and smaller until it sunk into the horizon. 

Jesus. I must have gone mad. A rash and reckless decision, for sure, but at least now she still had another chance to make it right with Teddy … somehow. Louisa took a seat. Teddy and O’Clery were in the front, so she could take a breather, at least for now, and enjoy the delightful hum of the moving locomotive and the expanse of rolling scenery for the next two hours, as she pondered her actions to come in the next train stop: The City of Steel, The City of Steam—Chicago. 


The sudden stop of the train jolted her awake. Louisa woke up to a grand cacophony of sounds—clinking wheels, jolly banter, clamorous footsteps, and gushing industrial air. By god! Louisa lept and looked out of the window to be greeted by the most marvellous sight in all of Illinois—a metropolis of a thousand blue-stained 

buildings atop an ocean-of people. This is the place! She had arrived at the greatest city by the lakes, Chicago. 

“Madam!” a knock on the window and a muffled voice came from the outside. A man was standing by the carriage. Louisa undid the bolts, lifting the window up. 

“Pardon me, I’ve been asleep! I did not hear—” Louisa blurted. 

“No problem. But you need to get off the train for now. All passengers need to disembark here. Chicago laws.” the stationmaster said. 

Louisa shrugged. Is Teddy still on the train? Or … did he get off? She certainly did not want to be accidentally left behind, after how far she had come. “I take the conductor of this train and, um, any of his aides have already left the train then?” Louisa inquired. 

“Yup. The conductor left early, I think he wanted to see the city. Train’s leaving later in the afternoon at four regardless, so stretch your legs for now.” Maybe a well-deserved break would be ideal for Louisa. It would be a great shame to leave this city unexplored, and a little stroll would keep her mind off Charles, most probably searching for her, or trying to find a replacement clerk to do the finances. It would give her space to think and decide her consequent actions following her rather rash decision. But where would she go? Louisa looked into the skyline and an idea struck her as she remembered Bert. 



The signage hung above Louisa, plastered up proudly on the entrance of the City Hall. Below it was a crowd of men in suits and women in hats, murmuring and 

chatting, all eager to enter. The air carried foreign unplaceable scents of chemical origin, and the atmosphere was peppered by sounds of mechanical clicks and pops. Charles had been to one of these back in Dowagiac, but he told her that innovative exhibitions like these would “not make sense to her”, so she, well, simply did not go. “Where do I get a ticket?” Louisa said to a woman beside her. 

“Don’t you know? It’s free!” she replied, her painted mouth cracking a laugh. Free? What a wasted opportunity! Louisa ambled along into the hall, a large space circumscribed by metal beams and bathed in yellow light. All around her was a buffet of inventions ranging from classy to kooky, all with their booths, and all for her eyes to feast on. ‘Wilhelm’sAutomatedRadiumSauna—BeautyMachinefrom Austria’ the sign stood above a metallic machine with a subtle lime glow, of which had attracted a large crowd … ‘FASTESTSTEAMENGINE’ the sign stood above a grease-stained man … ‘MechanicalLakeGliderLocomotive’…Oh, how much Teddy would love this exhibition! Louisa thought, remembering his affinity for contraptions and locomotives. Louisa continued exploring the exhibition, eyes scanning the signs for Bert’s booth before something truly caught her eye … 

Chapter 6: Doug O’Clery

Written by Chloe Kwek

Chicago, Doug thought, was one of the most exciting places to be in America. All the people coming in and out on the roads, business and trade flourishing, the whole place constantly in flux in the way only great cities can be. The last time he’d been here… 

It had been with his family, five or so years ago. Family. The word sounded strange, even just thinking it in his head, in relation to the distant, cold woman whose son he had fathered. And the son in question—how long had it been since Doug had last seen Arthur? A year? It hadn’t exactly been a happy occasion for either of them. A tense few minutes of awkward silence, neither of them really knowing what he ought to say to the other. 

“Doug?” he heard Teddy call from behind him, inside the driver’s cab. “Are you getting off the train? I am. There’s an exhibition in the city right now and I won’t miss it. If you don’t hurry up I’ll leave without you.” 

“Coming,” he replied. With no little difficulty, he clambered out of the boiler room and stepped out onto the station platform. He could feel it already, that buzz in the air of all the busy towns. The last time, with Arthur and Anna, it hadn’t been quite as strong. The city was growing rapidly, that much was clear. 

Teddy hopped out of the driver’s cab and fell into step beside him. Together, they shoved their way through the bustling crowds in the station, out into the sunlight. “Look, there’s a poster for your exhibition,” Doug pointed out as they passed by a crowded inn. “‘World’s Fastest Steam Car’. Imagine that!” For some reason, the words left an impression in his mind. Maybe he ought to visit the booth. 

The exhibition plaza wasn’t far from the station, and they reached it in no time. It was scintillating, packed with people in tall hats and fine clothes, buzzing with sights and sounds. Teddy lost himself in the crowds almost immediately. 

Doug wandered through the square with but a vague idea of what he was looking for. At last he stopped in front of a booth with the sign ‘FASTEST STEAM ENGINE’. Its creator stepped out from behind a model construction, grease dripping down his face. 

“I am Marconi,” said the scruffy gentleman, “Enzo Marconi. Very pleased to see you again.” 

“Marconi,” Doug greeted bemusedly. “Have we met before?” 

“You’re the Irishman!” Marconi exclaimed. “I believe I spoke to you in la Piazza della Libertà in the summer of 1845.” 

Doug gaped. “What on earth are you talking about?” 

“You were with your wife,” said Marconi thoughtfully. “Very pretty. And a young son… but I don’t think he was interested in my car!” 

Five years ago with Anna and Arthur, in this very city! He remembered it now. It had been early morning; they had been strolling across a busy square when a rather dishevelled-looking man had approached them and started proselytising, in a diverting Italian accent, the wonders of the single-boiler steam engine. 

Doug’s interest had been piqued. But Anna? “No thank you, sir, we aren’t interested,” she had snapped with characteristic tartness, and pulled her husband (on her right arm) and her son (on her left) away from the strange man. “You remember that?” he asked incredulously. 

Marconi shrugged. “I remember all the sad people. Everyone here is happy, dreaming of the future. But you looked like you had a past.” 

“Yeah,” Doug said, “I guess you’re right.” He really didn’t feel like talking about this. “Can I see that engine of yours then?” 

Marconi had looked as if he wanted to probe further, but now was all too happy to launch instead into a detailed explanation of his creation. He seemed to have a fascinating story to tell about every last cog in the system, and he was a lively speaker; and yet Doug couldn’t concentrate on him. Try as he might, his thoughts just drifted back to Chicago, 1843. And then to Richmond, 1838, the year of Arthur’s birth. 

Bizarrely, he found himself thinking of Louisa Lennon—the girl she had been then and the woman she was now. She soaked her emotions in alcohol; claimed to love her adopted son but seemed incapable of anything but abuse towards him. Was she to blame? She’d grown up watching her father beat their servants; and on bad days, her mother. Had she known kindness? If not, how could she possibly show it to her son? 

In a burst of sudden clarity, Doug remembered seeing nine-year-old Teddy walking beside Louisa. What had he thought? Will this boy ever know a parent’s love? 

And what of Arthur O’Clery? Would he? His mother cared only for herself and for advancing her own status in provincial Virginia society. Adorned him in fabrics she couldn’t afford and pretences she couldn’t keep up; tried her best not to say his last name because she was ashamed of where her family came from. His father traversed unimaginable distances over the continent so he wouldn’t have to see his wife—but by extension his son. When they did meet, he couldn’t even form words to say to him. Was Arthur any more loved than Teddy? 

No. The answer was no. And it was Doug’s fault.

One of the reasons why Natalie Fu (Class of 2023) writes is to explore the uncharted territories of her imagination. She enjoys ideating and daydreaming about potential story plots in her free time.

Chloe Kwek (Class of 2023) writes because it’s what comes most naturally to her.

Tham Yu Xuan (Class of 2023) developed an interest in writing after someone told him his Primary 4 composition was “a pretentious attempt at writing a novel in 200 words”.