Gold DUST || Marta Walczyk


by Marta Walczyk


The wooden wheel hit the surface of the river splashing the water around. Rick stood on the bank, knees deep in the river, sieving through the sand. Two metal buckets to his side stood empty for the third day in a row.

“Told you there is nothing there, boy.”

Rick raised his head and saw old Pete heading to his farmhouse. 

“I will prove you wrong, old man!”

“There is no need to prove anything,” Pete said. “How about you join me and Maggie for dinner tonight?”

His stomach twisted but Rick could not allow himself a break. Not yet. 

“Not tonight, Pete. I have other plans.”

“As long as it’s not standing here all night.”

Old Pete patted Rick on the back and made his way home. 

The sun was starting to set filling the sky with orange haze. Rick looked up at the distant star and cursed. His dream of finding gold in the river seemed as far away from him as the sun. 

Hours later, when the moon already took over guarding the skies, Rick decided to call it a day. The empty buckets dangled in his hand, banging against each other as if laughing at his failure. As he walked up a small hill in the woods, his house appeared on the horizon. There was light in one of the windows. This girl, he thought.

The front door creaked, announcing his arrival. He promised Elsa, he would fix it, but he never had the time. 

“I started to think you decided to spend the night by the river.”

Elsa sat in her rocking chair by the fireplace. She wore her nightgown, but her legs were wrapped in a thick blanket she worked on for the last month. Rick avoided meeting her curious gaze and rushed to the kitchen to grab a glass of water. 

“I wanted to check a spot a bit further away,” he lied instinctively and instantly regretted it. Somehow, she always saw through him. 

“Sure, you did,” Elsa smiled and picked up her knitting. “Are you planning on going out again tomorrow?”

“I don’t see any other way,” Rick said and sat up in front of fireplace at her feet. “I know it’s there El, I met a man who found it.”

“You met him at the bar. If he found gold, he would have been a rich man, or a merchant. He would travel to the big cities of the world instead of staying at the end of it.”

“Maybe some people want to live at the end of the world, far away from the noise.”

“Rick, I love the woods as much as you do, but I also would like to live around more people and have running water in the house.”

A sting of regret shot across Rick’s stomach. He failed her. When they met, he promised her they would have a good life. The list of plans and dreams, some said too ambitious, was noted in his diary. If he gave up now, all his work would go to waste. Would it be a waste if I haven’t achieved anything? 

Elsa seemed to read his thoughts and ran her fingers through his hair. 

“I don’t need anything more than we have, Rick. But you should take a break. Let’s go to town tomorrow, old Pete told me they are holding a fair. Alice would love it and she misses you.”

Rick nodded and stared into the fire. He did not really want to take a break from the river, but he could not allow himself to let down his family more than he already had.

The next morning, they headed to town together in a small horse carriage borrowed from old Pete. Little Alice sat on Rick’s lap, clinging to her father’s shirt. Elsa sat next to them with her head held high, staring at the sun.

“Looks like we got a nice day, so let’s make the most of it and eat all the cotton candy we can find,” she said.

Alice giggled and clapped her hands. 

“She looks a bit pale today,” Rick said. “Is she still taking the vitamins from Doctor Stones?”

“Yes, I’ve been giving her two a day. Her cough got a bit worse last week, but she seemed to have a lot of energy to play.”

“Play!” Alice repeated and climbed on Rick’s back. 

“If her cough doesn’t go away, I’ll take her to see a doctor again,” Rick said and focused on the road ahead.

The variety of colours and sounds at the fair stopped Rick in his tracks. There were clowns, mimes, jugglers, games of all kinds, food stalls and even a puppet theatre. Before he had a chance to absorb it, girls already made their way to a cotton candy stall. He made his way towards them when a tall man in a suit appeared right in front of him.

“Mr. Ashcroft?” 

“Yes,” Rick replied.

A chill went down his spine. His father was referred to as Mr. Ashcroft, or Sir. He never saw himself as such. 

“I was hoping to talk to you about our proposal,” the man said. 


Rick did not recognise the man. Since he married Elsa, he stopped hanging around men of this kind.

“I’m sorry, I thought Pete Stevens would have told you about it. My name is Arthur Wallace and I represent Wallace Industries. We are looking to set up our new sawmill and plant there. To do that, we need the majority approval of the local residents. I hope you would vote in our favour when we present the proposal.”

“I heard about your idea from Old Pete, but I do not intend to support it. Now if you excuse me, I’m going to join my wife and daughter.” 

“Of course, of course,” Mr Wallace said, and let him through. “Just one thing, Mr Ashcroft. Little River is in a dire need of development. We could bring workforce, supplies, and with that new residents, new shops, a school and…  a doctor.”

“We’re doing just fine, thank you,” Rick said, and turned to Elsa and Alice who already held cotton candy in their hands. 

“Maybe you are, Mr. Ashcroft, but your daughter will need help. I’ve heard this cough before, and it’s not something that goes away without doctor’s help.” 

Mr. Wallace bowed and walked away, leaving Rick feeling completely numb. Alice ran up to him and showed him the cotton candy. He hoped he responded with a smile, but he lost control of his body. 

“Rick, are you ok?” Elsa put her hands on his face and shook it.

“Yes, I’m fine. Let’s explore.”

“Who was that man?”

“Mr. Wallace of Wallace Industries. They want to set up a new plant in Little River.”

“I thought Old Pete told them to go to hell,” Elsa said. “He was quite proud of it.”

“Yes, but it looks like they’re not planning on giving up on the idea.”

“What do you think about it?”


“Yes, you. I know what Pete thinks about it, but he has a farmhouse to take care of. Do you think we could benefit from a new sawmill?”

“Well, it would definitely put an end to my gold search. On the other hand, I could get a job at the sawmill and have a steady income. Mr. Wallace mentioned they would look to set up new shops and even a school in Little River. Alice wouldn’t have to travel far to get her education.”

“Sounds like it’s an idea worth considering,” Elsa said. “I’m sure you’ll make a good decision.”

That was the end of their discussion. Elsa did not mention it again and they spent the day playing games and getting stuffed with local specialities. Rick could not shake off Mr. Wallace’s words but decided not to bother Elsa with it. His girls had to take priority. 

Weeks turned into months, and Little River was unrecognisable. After a majority vote, Wallace Industries moved into Little River and set up their new sawmill. Rick had to admit they picked the perfect place for their business, with the river and the woods providing all the necessary supplies at hand. Little River expanded to a size of a small town quadrupling its population with the sawmill workers and their families. New shops appeared on the main street, selling wooden ornaments, fabrics, and sweets. The only person still fighting the development was Old Pete. Rick tried to reason with him many times with no luck. He missed his friends, but everyone else in town seemed happier. Rick was in good spirits too. Working in a sawmill was hard, but he was able to bring money home and improve their house. Elsa started a crafts circle with local women focused on knitting and sewing. Alice gained new friends, and as promised Mr. Wallace presented plans for a school for local children. 

Rick opened the door of his house, which now opened smoothly, and gave Elsa a kiss. 

“I have good news. Mr. Wallace spoke with us today and said the plans for a new school are being finalised. It should be ready by the time Alice turns six.”

“That is great news. I hope her health improves by then.”

“I didn’t notice anything wrong lately.” 

“Because you’re not home when she’s awake,” Elsa said with slight resentment in her voice. “Her cough is back and it’s worse than before. I called Doctor Stones but someone new took over his practice. They said we must come with her so the new doctor can see her.”

“I will take a day off work and let’s go tomorrow then,” Rick said. “You should have told me she was getting worse.”

“You should have seen she was,” Elsa said, and turned to do the dishes.

“I’m sorry, El. I know I work a lot, but if all goes well, I could take over the lead of the plant when Wallace Industries moves to their next development.”

“I don’t know, Rick. Little River changed so much and so fast. Old Pete doesn’t talk to us anymore.”

“I thought you wanted it,” Rick said.

“I just wanted you to be happy, I wanted best for Alice. You needed a purpose Rick, and I’m glad you found it. I just wish you had time for us too.”

“You are my purpose, El. I do it all for you. Let’s take Alice to a doctor tomorrow and I’ll talk to Mr. Wallace about my working arrangements. Everything will be fine, you’ll see,” Rick said and made himself believe it.

“Did Doctor Stones discuss Alice’s condition and treatment with you?” Doctor Murphy asked.

“He said she is weak and prone to infections, so he prescribed vitamins to make her stronger and cough syrup for times when it was hard for her to breathe,” Elsa said. 

Alice wiggled in her seat, ready to dash for the door. 

“She is thinner and smaller than children her age. The wheezing in her lungs is a sign of something more severe than weakness. I would have to do more tests to provide you with a final diagnosis.”

“How serious is it?” Rick asked. 

He could feel Elsa squeezing his hand, her nails nearly cutting through his skin. 

“As I said, I have to do more tests before I can say anything definitive. I will take some blood and ask you to do some breathing exercises with her over next week. The nurse will provide you with details. I would like to see her again in a week.”

They left doctor’s office with sombre faces. Rick picked up Alice and held her in his arms. He was surprised how light and fragile her body was. It made him swallow hard. Elsa did not say a word on their way back home. Rick knew that they both played the same game. As long as they did not say it out loud, Alice was fine, as long as they did not mention the risks, the danger was far away. She was still with them. 

The day before their next doctor’s visit Rick focused on his work at the sawmill. He carried logs around, cut them into thin pieces. He kept his mind occupied so it would not venture to dark places. While working with a cutter, he heard a commotion outside.

“Let me in!” 

“You are not allowed here Pete and you know it.”

“I need to talk to Rick. It’s important!”

“You can talk to him after he’s done with work.”

Rick came outside and saw Old Pete arguing with the guard.

“It’s fine, John. Let him in.” 


“What can I do for you Pete?” Rick asked. 

He was surprised to see his old friend in the place he despised. 

“You need to get home. Elsa called me because she couldn’t get through to you. Something’s wrong with Alice.”


The ground disappeared from underneath his feet. Rick felt he was falling into a dark pit. He found himself on his knees in front of Pete and the guard. 

“Get up, boy. We need to get you home. My carriage is waiting outside.”

Rick ignored Pete’s offered and ran home as fast as he could. When he got there, the door was open and so were all the windows. Fresh air always helped Alice breathe, but now it was usually filled with dust from the sawmill. He ran into Alice’s bedroom and saw Elsa standing by the window, holding their daughter in her arms. 

“Elsa, I’m home…” 

He started, but when she turned towards him, her face told him everything. Her eyes were empty, and her face flooded with tears.

“It’s too late,” she said. “You’re too late.”

Alice’s eyes were closed, and she did not move. Rick desperately waited for her to open her eyes.

“She has to wake up,” he said. “It can’t be too late… I can’t be too late.”

Rick sat on a hill looking at the bank of the river where he used to search for gold. He wished he could sit by the river, but Wallace Industries monopolised it along with the forest. The trees he liked were no longer there and the people he loved were gone. Elsa left right after Alice’s funeral and did not return. Rick found a letter from Doctor Murphy informing them that Alice was terminally sick and the dust from the sawmill would worsen her condition. It was a final straw and Rick did not blame her. 

“It’s bad to dwell on your sorrows alone, Rick.” Old Pete said and sat next to him. 

“I had everything, Pete. And I lost it,” Rick said. 

He reached out for dry autumn leaves on the ground and crushed them in his hand. 

“I’m sorry, boy.”

Rick opened his hand and allowed the wind to take the crushed leaves away.

“I had gold dust in my hands.”

Image Credit: iStock


MARTA WALCZYK is an Edinburgh-based writer and a member of Scottish writing community, currently in the process of finishing her first novel while experimenting with the form and genre in short stories. Social media contact: Twitter @marta_walczyk

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