Saturday, March 20, 2010

Short Story: Breaking Barriers

Back in January, I had a short story published online over on Calista Taylor's blog as part of a romantic steampunk contest. While I didn't win, I had fun writing something out of my comfort zone. And since it's already out there online, I figure I'd post it on my blog. As far as romance goes, it's tame, more of a splash of UST, and there is no real warnings for content. The story has a supernatural flavor and clocks in just shy of 1000 words. If you take the time to read it, I hope you enjoy.

Breaking Barriers

She had waited over a year for this moment, and now it had finally come.

Eleanor Hodgson stood in the doorway, her arms stiff as boards, as she peered into the hidden room in her father's basement. Lit only by the glow of the oil lamps that lined the stonewalls, and not the broken electric lanterns that had been fitted between them, the room teetered on the line between life and death, light and darkness. Each flicker within the lamps cast moving shadows over the hunks of machinery that littered the floor, dancing like ghostly waifs before they retreated into the recesses of the lab.

And away from Charles Butler.

An average man, he was neither handsome nor homely, but carried the stench of hard labor in his oily clothes. Lost to his tinkering, Charlie--as he liked to be called--hunched over a metal contraption, one of her father's unfinished experiments, which rested on a small mahogany table. She still felt the loss, yet knew that her father's work was in capable hands. He hadn't recruited the former garret-master without good reason.

Her attention returned to the broken lamps.

"Blew them out," Charlie said, answering her unspoken question. He turned and offered a lopsided grin, the smudge of forgotten soot highlighting the lines on his face. "Come right in, Ellie."

"Miss Hodgson," she said. She tightened the pin that held her hair and stepped into the workroom, closing the door behind her. "Remember your place."

Charlie gave a lazy shrug and smiled before returning to the mangled mess of valves, pipes, and tubes that comprised the heart of the monstrosity. A typewriter rested in front, connected to the steam turbine by copper wires. Brass plating lined the sides of the typewriter, giving it a haunted gleam in the dim light.

Her father's spectregraph.

A machine to reach the other side. A gadget to change the world. That had been her father's last invention before his untimely death, one he had never been able to finish on his own.

She glanced at Charlie.

He handed her a spare pair of goggles. "It'll help see through the steam."

She accepted the goggles and waited for his mark. A spark of mischief danced in his blue eyes as he pulled the lever and hopped back. An abrupt hiss signaled the start. Steam pushed through the valves, while the typewriter trembled from the pressure.

A crack of electricity charged the air; Eleanor took Charlie's hand and squeezed.

All the same in death: her father's final words. He had once told her that his inventions would help revolutionize not just London, but the world. He had told her they would break down every last barrier.

He had told her that one day she would need to let go.

She had waited a year to ask him what he'd meant.

Eleanor held her breath while the keys clinked one by one. As the bars pounded the paper beneath the brass plating, she couldn't stop her excitement from getting the better of her. Her father, and now Charlie, had managed to create something extraordinary.

She approached the typewriter. The paper was damp from the steam, but the ink was legible. As she leaned closer, she felt Charlie's unwelcome hand on her back.

Today, she didn't stop him.

She read the print: As should be in life.

The words meant nothing to her. She frowned and shot an accusing glare at Charlie. He kept smiling, his good-natured flare shining through the darkness that shrouded the spectregraph.

"What do you find so amusing?"

"That'd be him, Ellie."

She ignored his indiscretion. Her father had always been a man of few words, but words that held an immeasurable weight. But was this really him? Not some parlor trick or demonic ploy? Was that all the spectregraph could accomplish? Mere bits of esoteric phrases would do nothing to revolutionize the world.

"What do you mean?" she asked. "What barriers? What must I let go?"

The typewriter punched out a few more words.

You know, they said. You know.

Eleanor trembled.

"Maybe he's talking 'bout different barriers than you're thinking," Charlie offered.

It wasn't a remark filled with scorn or conceit. Charlie's voice was warm and compassionate with a hint of sorrow. She found the comfort of his hand on her back more reassuring than ever.

She took off her goggles and stared at the dying spectregraph as the last of the steam sputtered through the pipes. While the results could have been created by a wayward spirit, a psychic ruse, or by other supernatural entities, in her heart, she knew that Charlie was right. She should be happy that her father's machine worked.

Instead, she was miserable knowing there would be no more midnight rendezvous in the dark room. No more long lazy summer evenings where the two of them would debate the morality of her father's wishes, test and experiment his gadgets, or pore over his feverish notes.

There would be no more Charlie.

She had never understood what her father had meant. Yet, as she stood with Charlie and stared at her father's final work, she finally understood his simple words. She had been a fool.

Charlie knew it as well. "I guess that's it then," he said, his voice low.

"I suppose it is." Eleanor paused, considering her future, her past, and what the present could hold for her and Charlie. "Though, I wonder… My father would never have settled for merely chatting with the dead. He would have wanted to communicate with a full manifestation."

Charlie arched his eyebrows, barely noticeable under his raised goggles, though she could see the knowing smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I wouldn't want to let Mister Hodgson down."

Eleanor pulled the pin from her loose bun, and after giving her hair a hearty shake, she turned to Charlie. "Then we have much work to do." She snapped on her goggles and grinned. "Shall we?"

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