Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Abandoned Prose

I love reading Steampunk, but for the life of me, I just can't write it worth a damn. There's something about the British-esque voicings ubiquitous to the genre that eludes me. Only one solution: posting all my failed attempts to my blog!


Sir Stephen Carter's journal was often as not quite dull. On the 17th of July, he ate three eggs for breakfast, and too much bacon. It gave him nasty indigestion. That is all that happened on the 17th of July. On November 21st, he overslept, and was running behind schedule all day long. He spared not a moment to describe what exactly what that schedule might be. On the 4th of October, there was written only one word, in a frantic, ecstatic, unfamiliar hand: “HOLLOWNOT”.
Still, a pattern emerged and a story took shape from the diary.
He flew over the wall on January 3rd. The clockwork gunners that walked along the tracks of the turrets and balconies of the wall were all covered in special winter clothes as if they were men. How strange, it was, to see soulless automatons dressed for cold weather. The zeppelin rode a particularly brisk wind over the cities and farms. Looking down, there was an unsteadiness to the earth. All the streets ran with tracks. Trains chugged along in all weather. Houses had a very subtle shiftiness to them. Roofs had been engineered to keep the snow from piling up. In bad weather, they trembled slightly. With trains and trembling, the city seemed to hum like an insect colony.
The zeppelin flew on, over farmlands. Steam filled the sky from the milk plants, where cows were drained of their natural fluids by mechanical hands. The fields were kept free of birds by scarecrows that walked and made clacking noises. Their sounds were so loud, they rattled through the walls of the zeppelin high above the earth. The plants did not seem to notice, as they do not have ears, but such a din would surely chase off all hungry creatures of the earth. Beside the fields, farmhouses hummed as the snow shuffled in heaps around the doors and windows. Perhaps a device was supposed to be clearing out the impediments, but the extra insulation likely reduced the sound of the scarecrows.
The larger city, near the capitol grew in heaps of gears and trembling walls – either trembling by design, or due to the countless machines spinning gears and clanking inside, he could not tell. Sir Stephen Carter saw the palace, as it had been described to him in letters with the burgermeister of the clockmaker's guild. How could anyone miss it? The clock tower was nearly tall enough to poke the sun in the face. Sir Stephen Carter took his zeppelin around once, to find a good place to dock. He noticed that the clock was going to strike the hour soon. He ran back into his laboratory, and grabbed protection for his ears. He had heard rumors about those bells, and he was not one to take chances.
At 2:00 the hour struck. The bells, each as big as a bedroom, sent flocks of pigeons tumbling end-over-end, stunned. The huge, rumbling gong of the bells rattled the machinery of the zeppelin. Sir Stephen Carter fell back in his chair. He clutched at the earmuffs, and gasped. He had felt the heavy bells rumbling all through his bones, loosening his bowels, and hurting his very eyes.
A dial spun wildly on the controls. An alarm bell rang.
Sir Stephen Carter, master of his machine even in great storms, cursed, and dashed back to his delicate devices. Glass had shattered. His vials of pressurized quicksilver had cracked, and slowly the pressure leaked onto the floor, consuming flogistan as it did so. The metals rusted. The wood rotted.
The crack began not just to leak, but to push like an artery. The pressure was building.
Sir Stephen Carter threw a tarp over the machine, to keep the spray of poisonous quicksilver from reaching the cockpit. He rushed to his dials, to reduce the pressure on his device. He had to land. He had to land quickly. He chose the nearest, mostly open area. It looked to be the market square below the town's cathedral. The cathedral did not seem solid, but Sir Stephen Carter had no time for sightseeing. He had nothing as mighty as the bells to warn the people below of his descent, but he did have an excellent bullhorn of pressurized air to honk at them. He had a sonic device that would amplify his voice to the level of an artless opera singer, to warn of his descent.
He shouted. He blew the horn. He watched below at the activity in the square. No one was running. They moved aside at a deliberate pace, people carrying palanquins. No stall-owner ran fleeing with armfuls of precious commodities. The stalls cranked and rattled and rolled away like little trains upon little tracks. The palanquins would likely escape injury, but the carts were doomed.
“Hurry! I cannot slow my descent! Abandon your goods and your carts. I will reimburse you for all damages. Hurry!
He did not crash this time. He landed. All his bottles tumbled from their casements. All his cabinets and boxes spewed their contents. He bounced from his seat, to the ground.
He clenched inside at the sound of the crash, especially the sounds below the zeppelin's undercarriage. How many people were hurt? How many were... killed?
He rushed to his feet. He quickly shoved his tools aside, for his heavy gloves and largest crowbar. He jumped out, into the courtyard, prepared to rescue injured cart owners.
The palanquins had opened their curtains. The people inside smiled, and cheered, quite unlike folks who had very nearly been crushed by a descending aeronautical engine. A man stepped from his palanquin hurriedly to rush up to Sir Stephen to shake his hand.
“You are the famous Sir Stephen Carter?”
“What in blazes...? The carts, man! There are people down there! My ship was damaged! We must extract the survivors and render aid!”
“What are you speaking about, Sir Stephen? I thought it was masterful how you landed upon the carts. It will keep the clockmakers busy for weeks! Good show!”
“But the merchants...! Hurry, man!”
“What merchants? What are you talking about? The merchants are in their offices. Why would they be in carts? I assure you that with jokes like this it is no wonder none treat your humor with such respect, to make light of people being crushed and killed like that. That's not funny at all. Here, can you autograph my book? I had hoped to run into you while you were here in town, and I had my book with me just in case...”
In the margin notes of his personal diary, Sir Stephen Carter mentions that the carts were all managed by mechanical servants, who were put into place to promote the honesty and integrity of the markets. No sly deals could be made with machines. No theft would go unnoticed under their watchful lenses. All commodities would be traded fairly at the price set by the head merchants. The carts had not noticed that they were about to be crushed by a zeppelin. They had assumed that the disintegrating population meant that the market had closed early.
No one was mad at their accidental destruction, because it meant the clockmaker's guild would have something to do. It was important to keep the clockmakers busy. Everyone broke something now and then and passed it on to keep those incorrigible tinkerers from inventing anything new.
A royal representative rode in on a mechanical palanquin slightly larger than the rest, embossed with copper and gold. The palanquin was large enough for more than one person. Upon Sir Stephen's insistence, armed guards were placed at the four corners of the zeppelin, to protect the population from the dangerous chemicals they might encounter if anyone had a bent for a little honest exploration. Upon securing the sanctity of the zeppelin, the representative of the king, a humble butler, rode with Sir Stephen in the palanquin and explained the situation at the palace. The palace was in mourning. Two weeks prior, the queen had met her fate in a terrible accident. Princess Sapsorrow had been in the same accident, and was now in the strictest medical care. The Butler also complemented Sir Stephen for his choice of entry, creating a great spectacle for the public, and providing plenty of work for the busybodies at the clockmaker's guild.
“Good sir,” said Sir Stephen, “I was brought here, in part, to assist Princess Sapsorrow's modern scientific education. If she is injured, or ill, it is my duty, as her tutor, to offer what aid I can. Please, let us hasten to her bedside.”

I don't know if you hear this a lot about writers, but we tend to fail more than we succeed, and our failures tend to remain out of the limelight because we don't publish them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just thought I'd say that Steampunk, as a formulaic-genre, eludes me as well. But that didn't stop me from injecting some of the devices into a heroic fantasy serial I gave away on my blog last year.

If you love it, then there's a place for it. Know what I mean?

PS: My word verification was "invert"; possibly ironic, dig? Haha!