The Automaton's Apprentice -- Supposed to be sort of a steampunk adventure, about a little girl who is rescued from a fire by a automaton, and grows up to defend him (and their eventual love) from others who would deem it "wrong"... While being a master Automater herself. Feminist and social commentary and blah blah blah. I think big ambitions killed this project before it got off the ground.
She was ten years old, and she knew from across the room that Grift was dead. Something in the way his body was bent told her it wasn’t natural, it wasn’t survivable. It was bone-deep wrong, and she had to run, because if they’d find Grift, they would surely find her. There wasn’t any time to honor the boy who’d found her in the wreckage of her home, pried her away from the bodies of her parents and, in his way, saved her life.
The Train to Nowhere -- An Elliot and Delilah piece about a train that takes them to a place where there is a lake of fresh water that hasn't dried up, in the middle of the Drought of the Centuries. Elliot, as previously revealed, is a Rainmaker, but can only bring about rain at a terrible (human) price. The beginning of the piece clips along but then sputtered and died out somewhere along the way -- possibly because Story Cannot Survive on Clever Dialogue Alone.
By the time the train slowly came to a stop, Elliott and Delilah had managed to get some sleep, despite Elliott’s efforts to the contrary, and most of their fellow passengers had been grateful for the break from the constant bickering, and said as much as they departed the car. It had been hot in Deer Born when they left -- summer was unforgiving in this part of the world, and the heat of the day had necessitated traveling by night, so when they arrived at Traver’s Station, morning was just breaking.
“The train stops here until morning,” the uniformed railroad employee told everyone aboard. “We recommend you enjoy the hospitality of one of the inns in town until the heat of the day passes.”
Delilah and Elliott stepped off the train and into the bright light of day. Something immediately struck them as eerie, as they surveyed the town in front of them. “You know, it’s funny,” Elliott said, “I was expecting a bit…. More.”
“More?” Delilah looked around. She saw everything she expected. A saloon. A row of quaint little shops, full of clockmakers and dry goods stores. Something, however, tingled on the edge of her conscience. “From a little Podunk town in the middle of nowhere?”
“Yes. I was expecting, you know. People.”
“There are people here.” Delilah gestured broadly. “They’re just—a little slow to get up this morning.”
“I doubt it. Listen.” The professor held a finger to his lips. “Do you hear that?”
“Exactly. There’s none of the bustle of life. Where are the animals? Where are the early-morning peddlers and the children crying from their cribs?”
“I just knocked on the door of the hotel. Damn thing’s stuck or something,” said one of the passengers from their car, an older lady named Irene. “Doesn’t appear to be anyone there.”
“Nor at the saloon,” said a red-faced Timothy Dulan. “Though the door’s wide open.”
“Yes, we can see that,” the professor drawled, and then smacked his hands together. “Well. This is indeed a…”
“Mama!” One of the children from the train shouted from a few hundred yards away. “Mama, look! Water!”
Delilah looked over at Elliott. “Water.”
He was already crossing the field to investigate. Delilah had to rush, her full traveling skirts impeding her movement. She was out of breath and red in the face before she stopped, joining the professor and the boy over an open pool of… water. Far larger than a pool, or a puddle, it stretched out as far as the horizon. It might have been called a lake. Her mouth dropped open.
“Oh, my dear sweet Lord in heaven. It’s a miracle.”
The professor raised an eyebrow at her. “It might be.”
“It might be? Professor, I’m twenty-eight years old and I’ve never seen open water like this.”
“Yes, I know.” The Professor shook his head. “Why do you suppose that is?”
Before he could say any more, the other passengers aboard the train flocked to the shoreline, murmuring to each other and oohing and aahing.
“Yes, yes, it’s all very exciting,” the professor said in a loud voice, until everyone was paying attention to him. “I know, you’ve never seen anything like it in all your years, et cetera… but I must insist that whatever happens, you do not have any contact with the water.”
“What?” The red-faced Timothy Dulan asked incredulously. “It’s a hundred degrees out here, easy! I can’t think of anything I’d like more than a good dip in that water.”
“Yes. It’s a large body of water. Outside an abandoned town.” Elliott raised his eyebrows and waited for folks to do the math. It took considerably longer than he might have expected.
“Wait. You’re saying… the water may have something to do with it?”
Elliott sighed. “Top of your class, Irene. Top of your class.”
“So, what do we do now?” Delilah asked.
“We’ve got a large body of water and an abandoned town.” Elliot raised his eyebrows. “What do you think we’re going to do?”
“So what you’re saying is we’re stuck here for a little bit.”
“It might not take me that long to figure it out.”
“You’ve got one night,” the conductor said, approaching the group standing around the water. “Frankly, we’re all a little freaked out right now. I’ve got a crew willing to work doubles just to get away from this place.”
Elliot looked genuinely puzzled. “Why aren’t you taking them up on it, then?”
“Not the best idea to have engineers driving a multi-ton machine, I’ve found. It’s a good way to ensure you have accidents.”
A crowd of railroad employees was starting to gather behind the conductor, grim expressions on their faces.
“Are you going to have a revolt on your hands?” Delilah asked.
“No.” The conductor’s voice was firm. “I think everyone from the train should stick together, though. There’s enough room at the old hotel that we can all stay there. No one wanders off, no one gets lost, no one gets dead, and we leave in one piece tomorrow.”
“That’s a good plan,” Elliot said approvingly. He waited until the conductor was out of earshot before he turned to Delilah. “I have a feeling that man is out of his depth.”
“You think so?” Delilah shrugged. “Who knows. This could turn out all right.”
“Delilah, my darling, I do love your optimism.”
Delilah adjusted her hat and straightened her skirt. “A little hope, professor. Looking on the bright side. Something terrible doesn’t happen every time we run into a weird situation.”
“Perhaps not,” the professor allowed, “but the numbers are on my side.”
Slow Bleed-- Sequel to I Ain't Afraid of Emily May. We left our hero, Nate, fatally wounded, as you might recall. He survived, much to his chagrin, but the wound given to him by the ghost blade refuses to heal. This makes him a little crabby. And he wasn't a charmer before. Where did this story go wrong? Hm, unsure. I think perhaps some of the weaknesses of the Emily May verse may need to be worked out before this one "clicks".
Let me tell you something about long-term rehabilitation: it’s not for pussies. Nurses are hardasses the likes of which the Marines would be proud to call their own, sponge baths (oddly) get old, and the food is straight-up terrible, and I’ve been a bachelor living on Kraft Mac ‘N Cheese for twenty-odd years. So I know from terrible.
My name is Nate Hannigan and I wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for my cousin Annie and an over-developed sense of guilt. See, seventeen years ago, my cousin Callie and I were not intelligent enough to leave well enough alone, and she paid for our stupidity with her life when Emily May – a seriously pissed off ghost, filleted her right in front of my eyes.
One of my other relatives – a second cousin, actually, Annie… just a few months ago, she accidentally summoned the same force, and like some suicidal idiot, I answered the call and came home, hoping to destroy the thing that had destroyed my life. I took a gut blow from a metaphysical knife in the struggle to save Annie, and I wound up here.
To be perfectly honest with you, the fact that I’m alive is a real cog in the works of my life plan. I haven’t been saving for retirement. I’ve got cut-rate health insurance, an ancient car, and a… uh, when I’m being optimistic I call it a “flexible” career…
And now I’ve got a stomach wound that hasn’t stopped slowly seeping blood for three months. Every time they stick a needle in me, I see dollar signs. At this point, I’m considering indentured servitude as a method of paying off the medical bills I’m racking up.
What may be worse than that, though, is that I seem to have acquired, whether I wanted to or not, the attention of my cousin Beth. And her daughter, Annie. Having lived without the tender loving care of any of the women in my family for so long, I’m finding their insistent presence in my rehab to be a little, uh…
“Uncle Nate! Are you trying to lift weights? Are you insane?”
Smothering. Smothering’s the word I was looking for.
“No, I’m not,” I said, hastily putting down the dumbbell I had been contemplating the same way a starving man contemplates berries which might or might not be poisoned. On the one hand: death. On the other hand…
“Good.” Annie stalked in the room, tossing her backpack in the corner of the gym. “Are you about done with your exercise… things?”
“Good, then you can help me out.”
“Whoa. Wait. No. Can’t you see I’m a broken man?”
Annie lifted one of her eyebrows at me. It was a look her mother had perfected. It felled grown men committing random acts of stupidity with the greatest of ease. I was vulnerable, wounded. It didn’t even take a half-second to break me.
“I’m sorry. I guess the uh… right thing to ask here would be, ‘help you with what?’”
“A ghost problem.”
“See, you got me with the eyebrow thing before, but when it comes to this stuff, I’ve got an iron backbone, kid, and I can tell you right now that there is no fucking way I am helping you with any fucking ghosts. No sir.”
“Uncle Nate –“
“No puppy-dog eyes. No pouty lips. We stay out of the way of ghosts while we’re hooked up to IVs, kid. That’s just my standard-fucking-rule. You don’t want to be dicking around with the supernatural when you’re vulnerable. And you shouldn’t be dicking around with the supernatural at all.”
“The nurses are scared.”
I blinked. Slowly. Tried to wrap my head around my astounding luck. “There’s a ghost here. In the hospital.”
“And he finally catches up. Honest to God, Uncle Nate, how did you survive without me?”
“Lots of alcohol, self-hate, and an overarching sense of mission, really.”
“Not a therapist,” Annie said.