I’ve been scribbling short stories like crazy the last few weeks, with little work on the actual novel. Not a complaint, rather an observation. The one I’m excerpting here is from “Dead’s End to Middleton” which borders between steampunk and weird west. I just like this bit from the beginning.

_ _ _

“Mary Mother of Jesus.”

Up until that moment, I had no recollection of my mother swearing. A proud, quiet, Catholic woman, she navigated the majority of her life with cool, calm reserve. It was my father who swore, adhering to that form of expression not unlike my mother to her rosary–repetitive, quiet, and a cadence unto itself.

“Christ almighty on a donkey.”

That was my brother Jack. Six years my senior, he was the one steering the covered wagon as we made our way from Dead’s End to Middleton, a near three day’s ride through the desert. We were on our way to Middleton to visit my father, who’d been working there for the better part of a month while the rest of us were left to the ranch, being at it was, time for the cows to birth. But most of that business was done, and my two oldest brothers Hector and William stayed back with my younger sister Bettany.

Mother let me along with her and Jack since it was my birthday in a week, and she reckoned seeing my father would be good for me. She said I’d been ornery, and that I needed a good sitting down with Father. I suspected it had something to do with the steam gal rags she’d found under my bed a few weeks past, but I couldn’t be sure. Hector had given them to me, and said that they’d help me calm myself. Whatever that had meant. All the pictures and stories had done was made me feel wound up as a spindle, though I couldn’t put a finger on quite why.

Still, on my way to becoming a man or not, I could make no more sense out of what I’d just seen than anyone else. Mr. Stein, Father’s business partner, shuddered next to me, and held a handkerchief over his mouth, gagging back blood and snot. He had the consumption, and the lights had just about scared his soul right out of him. It was to my great dismay that I had to sit next to him and, on the order of my mother, attend to his whims.

“What do you suppose—?” he asked, his voice gritty and low, wet from coughing.

I’d only emerged from the back of the wagon when my mother had screamed. The horses had been startled, too, but that wasn’t uncommon. I’d figured it was a snake, as had been the case a day ago.

But due to my late entrance, I only caught the last few moments of the event. A black streak in the sky, fire, and an explosion. Now, whatever had landed was smoldering on the horizon, long tongues of green and orange flames intermittently flaring and quelling. Smoke rose, too, casting gray puffy streaks into the sky, dissipating as they reached higher, but not going out entirely.

There was a sound, too. A low crackling–inconstant, and yet familiar. Like dry logs in a hot fire, but louder. Like distant thunder.

“Don’t reckon we can go around,” Jack said, wiping his eyes. He looked back at me. “Jess. Get back in the wagon.”

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More zombies. Strange birds. Something called aetherspore.

—Della.

—Birdies, said Anton.

—Good evening, Doctor Henrickson, I said.

He did not look up at me, but held up a hand and beckoned me forward.

I inhaled briefly, as I always did, when trying to prepare myself for the next few moments. These were always the hardest.

—I was right, you know, he said. Terribly right. And I’m sorry for that.

—For? I asked.

—Birdies, insisted Anton.

—There was a problem, continued the Doctor. There is a problem, I should say. You see, they don’t know I can see them, of course, and I’ve deduced that they do not understand our language in the least. Though I imagine it won’t take long. They are remarkably smart!

He still did not look up at me, and instead flipped one of the pages he was reading, then slid the glass magnifier over it to both weigh it down and make it easier for him to read.

Now I could see what he was looking at: a book on optics. That made sense of course, this being the Celestial Collection. Astronomy was at the heart of such studies and with it, the acquisition of better and more powerful lenses.

—You see, of course, I was right in my thinking as, you know, I most always am.

He did look up now, and his gaze slipped quickly from me to Anton who said:

—Birdies.

Adventure! Intrigue! Airships!

I’ve been playing around with the idea of for a steampunk short story serial for a while, and decided to take a break from the hefty novel editing, and do a little fun writing. Sure it’s a little campy, but it was fun to do.

James Castledeck is a somewhat minor figure in the novel itself, and his short stories can be read independently of the novel, or in concert with. This first adventure is called “Castledeck and the Arabella” and takes place partially in the skies above Hartleigh City.

Read, enjoy, share, comment!

You can read the .html or .pdf version below: I’m working on a pretty .pdf version I’ll post a little later.

Castledeck and the Arabella

Castledeck and the Arabella – .pdf