Greetings, Merry Tricksters. I am Marc Royston, author of Hecate’s Faun (available now at Amazon.com), The Story of Méabh (current project), and The Wizard Ignites (Volume I of A Wizard’s Life) (UPCOMING RELEASE from My Boy Publishing).
For this stop of the Virtual Fantasy Con 2016 Blog Hop Hunt, I am your happy host. Welcome to my worlds of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Keep your shoes off the sofa. And remember: the demons bite.
If you would like to find out more about the Hunt, please click here – http://vfcscavengerhunt.weebly.com/
Somewhere on this page is a hidden number. Collect all the numbers from all the authors’ posts, and then add them up. Once you’ve added all the numbers, and if I am your last author, please head to the official website and click on the ENTER HERE page to find the entry form. Only entries will the correct number will qualify to win.
The author I’m pleased to be hosting for Virtual FantasyCon’s Blog Hop Hunt today is
Steampunk Author, Jonathan Fesmire.
Jonathan Fesmire is a steampunk author, blogger, and podcaster living in Orange County, California. He loves going to steampunk related events with his son, where they both dress in their Wild West garb and hang out at Disneyland.
Jonathan began his career as a fantasy writer, and has three related novels published. His first steampunk novel, Bodacious Creed: a Steampunk Zombie Western, is due out in November 2016.
THE OBSTRUCTED ENGINE
© 2015 Jonathan Fesmire, All Rights Reserved
The first two weeks of January, 1876 filled Anna Lynn Boyd with trepidation she had not experienced since childhood. From age seventeen to twenty she had been a soiled dove out on the edge of the American frontier, yet even then she never felt so worried.
On January third she stood on the porch of The House of Amber Doves. That restful platform turned at a corner and faced two streets, Pacific and Soquel. Anna ended her life as a prostitute when she left just about three years ago, glad to be out from under the thumb of the madam, Margarita Fullerton. Funny enough, last August she had returned and bought the place outright, building and business. Most of the women now in Anna’s employ were happy to see her and relieved at Fullerton’s retirement.
Anna’s next big announcement came to a shock not only to the girls, but to many living in Santa Cruz. She had scheduled major renovations and remodeling for The House of Amber Doves. She paid for long-term hotel rooms for each of her twenty doves. The women couldn’t fathom how Anna could afford all this, but she said her uncle had passed away and left her his fortune. A lie, but she had secrets she felt far from ready to share.
By early December the construction was finished. The building, once two stories, now stood at three. Before, several girls often had to share the same room, but now each had a room of her own. The saloon on the first floor now boasted a stage, a long bar, a larger kitchen, and a winding staircase. Anna resided on the first floor, her room past the kitchen and down a hallway.
Most notably surprising to all the girls were the new steam generators attached to the outside of the building, something Fullerton had never bothered to pay for. Of course, such amenities were new, but many other businesses and even ordinary folks already had them generating electricity for refrigeration, lights, and other inventions from Morgan’s Mechanicals. No more lamps and candles for the girls. They now had Tesla bulbs to light their rooms. The kitchen could now stock enough food to serve some of the city’s best meals to its patrons. In short, the House of Amber Doves had joined the fast pace of the times.
If only the girls knew the major part Anna had played.
In the alley behind The House of Amber Doves, Anna looked over the steam generator attached to the wall. One of three that powered the saloon and brothel, it had stopped giving off its low hum and the thin white steam had trailed off.
The steel machine, a convex circle four feet in diameter, had a metal tube with thicker edges on top, where the steam escaped. Anna had brought up a screwdriver, pegging this generator the culprit when power went out on the second floor.
After removing four screws, she opened the panel on the upper right side and carefully set all pieces in the dirt at her feet.
Underneath was a Morse key, exactly the sort one used to send telegrams, but this one allowed her to send a password to the generator. Anna tapped it in and the large circular plate in the center swung open to the left.
Anna gasped. She didn’t generally like surprises, unless they were especially good. This fell into the bad category. How in the world had this, of all things, gotten down into this tubing? She had to breathe deeply several times to calm her pounding heart. She then grabbed the obstruction around the middle and pulled out the dead white cat. It gave off the musky smell of wet hair and cooking meat.
This full-sized adult feline must have climbed through the tube at the top, just about twenty minutes back, and died.
With the body gone, Anna flipped an internal switch. The generator design was such that, if anything blocked the tubing, the whole machine would shut off. She knew exactly how it worked, down to the slow flow of otherworldly aether that gave the steam more force and caused it to last longer. No one had figured out how the aether worked, causing the boiling water to last much longer, multiplying the escaping steam, but it did. Anna’s machines made the engines from just two years ago look ancient by comparison.
Within a few minutes, light would return to the second floor. She closed the circular hatch, heard the lock slip into place, and screwed on the first panel. Anna then knelt and patted the cat. The generator had not shut itself off immediately. The cat’s moist fur scarcely covered the blistered skin on its face. The mouth hung open, revealing its charred tongue. The engine had probably seared its lungs, killing the animal quickly though painfully.
Yet this death was recent, which made it promising. Just maybe, Anna could reverse it.
Back inside, the House of Amber Doves bustled with activity. Danielle, a robust dark-haired gal in her late twenties, rushed up to Anna at the bar, pulling along the young ranch hand. “Lights ‘r on, thank you!” she exclaimed. The gentleman smiled sheepishly as they hurried upstairs to Danielle’s room on the second floor.
Anna loved the new technology that she in secret had helped to bring about. Like all good advancements, it made life easier. For her it came down to efficiency, and that meant better use of energy and time.
The chill air and northern wind convinced many of Anna’s customers to sit by the fire in the saloon’s expansive main room. Others migrated to the quieter back section behind the stage. On that raised, half-circle platform, Whiskey Zombie Collective performed a trail tune with guitar, fiddle, and banjo.
Anna knew her presence in the saloon added to the morale of the girls and that many of the men were happy to see her there. Some here had been her regular johns in years past, but no more, though some still propositioned her. It wouldn’t be the worst idea though, now and then, maybe better than trusting one man with her secrets.
Funny enough, at that moment Jonathan Johns moseyed in though the wide open doors. Anna pegged him for about nineteen, or four years younger than she. He put his thumbs in his suspenders and glanced around for a table. His sleeves were rolled up, his baggy trousers covering the necks of his walking boots. Though slender, he radiated a quiet strength with well-defined arms. It was the sort of look Morgan’s Automatons used for their many standard steelies.
Anna took a quick glance at the two automatons that stood beside the stairs. These guard models, Christmas gifts from Miles Morgan, she had named Lucky and Dixie. Though they’d made some guests uncomfortable for a few days, by New Year’s they had become fixtures of the saloon.
Her eyes immediately went back to Jonathan Johns, who many in town called Jojo. When Anna had ostensibly left Santa Cruz three years ago he hadn’t been around, but she’d noticed him immediately when she came back. He had a long, chiseled face and wild blond hair. She bit her lip and wondered if he could be wild in the bedroom as well.
Anna had never seen Jojo in the saloon before, just around town doing odd jobs. She had even noticed him working on a steam generator at the bank. He had to be bright, and Anna found that as attractive as his looks.
As he sat at the bar, Anna thought she might have a shot of whiskey to settle her nerves. Before she could turn, he addressed her.
“Howdy ma’am. What sorts of vittles you serve?”
“All sorts.” She passed him a menu from a shelf under the bar. He took it in his wiry hands. Anna turned around to catch her breath. She knew this was stupid. She never had such nerves around any of the men she’d taken to bed, nor now when she’d flirt to encourage more business.
Karla, a prostitute who did double duty as a barmaid, leaned toward Jojo, arms on the bar to press her breasts together, deepening her cleavage. “You’re new here, but I’ve seen you around town. Maybe I could interest you in some dessert after dinner.”
Anna watched through the mirror behind the bottles of scotch, ale, and whiskey. She had to force herself not to turn around and pull Karla away. If Jojo wanted to fuck one of the girls, who was she to get in the way of her own business, or of any of them making the money they relied on? Never very good at hiding her emotions, Anna noticed her worried look in the mirror.
Jojo turned over the menu and said, “Yeah, I might have some dessert. Chocolate cake looks mighty fine.”
Anna stifled a giggle.
“No,” Karla said, leaning closer, “you know what I’m talking about.”
Business or not, Anna acted on instinct and positioned herself next to Karla, so close that she pushed the dove aside an inch.
“You’re new here,” she said a little too loudly to Jojo. “Your first meal and dessert are on the house. I recommend the steak and potatoes for a hard worker like you. Rare. The steak I mean. Have the steak rare.”
Karla gave Anna a hard pat on the shoulder and asked another man if he needed a refill on his drink.
“Rare steak sounds outstanding,” said Jojo, “and cold beer. If you’ve got it.”
In fact, they had cold beer on tap, device and refrigeration courtesy of Morgan’s Mechanicals. Anna filled an oaken mug for him. The beer came from a shop a few blocks away, Front Street Brewery.
She set the mug in front of him, careful not to let any spill, then flashed him a smile and stepped into the kitchen through the batwing doors to the side of the bar. “Steak, rare, and taters for our special guest,” she called. Marjory Smullen, cook and daughter of the nearby stable owner, gave Anna a nod.
Marjory called out the meal from the back and Anna served Jojo his meal, a refill on the beer, and an especially large slice of chocolate cake. They hardly exchanged a word. The rest of the evening, shyness gripped her. Jojo seemed to lack a talkative streak. As she worked at the bar, she felt a growing awkwardness between them.
When he finished, Jojo patted his belly with satisfaction, thanked Anna, and went back out the front door. He left a dollar on the counter, more than what the meal would have cost. A gentleman to boot. Anna’s lips formed a melancholy smile and she felt stupid for not asking Jojo more about himself. She wanted to know how he’d come to Santa Cruz and how he’d learned to fix so many things. She resolved herself to do just that the next time he came by.
As Anna swept the porch the next afternoon she had that white cat in mind. She had spent the morning with it, looking over its face. The scars had already faded some underneath its fur.
After that, when Anna had left her room, Hattie Kean was playing the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 on the piano up on stage. She considered requesting a more uplifting tune, but Hattie had her eyes closed and looked so mesmerized that Anna decided to let it go. The girl played well, but Santa Cruz had no demand for a concert pianist, so she sold sex instead and taught a few music students on the side. Joella, a tall blonde girl of Swedish ancestry, swept the porch and told Anna the wind had kicked up dust that morning. Anna offered to take over for a simple reason. She spotted Jojo across the street.
Though the dirt on the roads had become about as packed down as could be, it seemed every other day someone hit a hole with a wagon wheel. Jojo knelt over one now, having a look at the damage. Two crates, probably borrowed from the general store, held up the left back side of the wagon. The horse seemed calm enough, chewing on feed from its grazing muzzle.
Jojo had a pack of tools slung across his back. He dropped it beside him and took out a wide wrench.
“What’s taking so long?” Bill growled at Jojo. He and another ranch hand, Champ, stood watching Jojo work. Judging by the 98 crates in the back of the cart, the two had come into town from Rancho de Mierdino to make a delivery when their wagon hit a rock or pothole and needed fixing.
Champ stood a head shorter than Bill and both men wore dusty linsey-woolsey trousers and brown shirts with sweat stains under their armpits.
More than once, Anna had seen Bill use his height to intimidate others. In her days as a dove she had always avoided him when he’d visit the brothel.
“That’s all right, Bill,” Champ said. “We still have time to get back. Let Jojo do the job right.”
“It’s not broken, not really,” Jojo said. “It just got loose. I’ll get it fixed up in a few minutes. If I put it on now it’s liable to crack or collapse on your way out of town. You don’t want this out of alignment.”
“Don’t tell me what I want!” Bill roared. He lifted his boot and kicked Jojo with the flat of it, hard, knocking the younger man into the dirt.
Anna gasped. She knew all about Bill’s predilection for bullying, but she had never actually witnessed him attack anyone before. Maybe he’d been drinking. She had a mind to stamp out there and whack him silly with the broom handle.
“Hey, hey now!” Champ took hold of his partner’s arms and pushed Bill back a pace.
Bill pushed against Champ, knocking him back several paces. He stepped toward Jojo again.
The tinker got to his feet, grabbed Bill by the arms, forced him around, and punched him square in the kidney. He then swept a foot against Bill’s leg, making the larger man fall on his face.
As Bill struggled to breathe, Jojo knelt beside him. “I’m helping you with your wagon wheel, but I’m not your whipping boy.”
Anna felt a little scared of Jojo at the moment, though clearly he had to protect himself. Champ knelt at Bill’s other side as Jojo went back to work on the wheel.
“You all right there?” Champ asked. “Yeah, you’re fine. Take it easy, breathe slow.”
Though his breathing sounded forced, painful, Bill seem able to take in a little more air with each breath. Jojo tried to work calmly on the wheel, but even from this distance, Anna witnessed his shaking hands.
She caught her own breath but couldn’t look away. A minute later Bill stood and leaned with hands on knees taking labored breaths. Jojo finished reattaching the wheel to the cart.
“You’re all set to go,” Jojo said.
“Thank you kindly,” said Champ as he tried to help Bill get into his seat. The larger man jerked his arms back in a combination threat and refusal to let his partner assist, then climbed aboard with all the grace of an angry toddler. As the men rode off, Anna thought of going to Jojo, but he turned and went into the general store.
To read the rest of “The Obstructed Engine,” visit http://bit.ly/steamscribe.
I’ve been writing since I was around eleven or twelve. Reading and writing were an obsession, and I not only enjoyed countless novels, but also devoured books on the writing craft. Over the years I’ve written dozens of short stories, several novels, and in the last six years or so a ton of blog posts and articles.
Though I started off writing fantasy, inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, and others, I’ve since fallen in love with the steampunk movement. I especially enjoy Wild West steampunk, which is why I’m focused on that sort of setting with my novel Bodacious Creed: a Steampunk Zombie Western. I intend for it to be the start of a series.
Writing gives me something to focus on. It’s a truism that people enjoy doing things they’re good at, and after decades of practice, I can say I’m good at writing. Here’s another one. Writers are driven to write, whether they’re new to it or old hands. I let my characters drive my stories, and that’s a challenge, especially when I’m juggling heroes, villains, and dozens of side characters. That’s just one of the things I find exciting, especially when writing a novel.
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