A quasi-fictional account of life in a steampunk reality, complete with high tea and sea monsters.Queries
23 March 1873
We had been two days in flight when the storm first hit.
At first, I could scarcely believe what my uncle was telling me. Sailing ships met their share of obstacles upon the water, but I doubted air could roll and tumble about a large vessel the way the ocean’s waves did.
But when the Sadie Blue’s crew, Uncle Silas and I sat down to supper on the evening of the twentieth, I found out for myself that air itself could, in all actuality, be a powerful force.
Powerful enough to tilt the floor and send a soup plate skidding across the table.
Over to me.
And then upend it all over my chest and neck, effectively ruining one of the few bodices I had so carefully selected.
I bit back a howl of pain as the hot stew soaked through my clothing and made contact with my skin, which resulted in my cheeks ballooning out and my eyes bugging like that of a frog’s. This, of course, amused the ship’s crew to no end. Even my uncle was smiling, the traitor.
At night, the storm was especially bad. For two nights I could scarce sleep for the winds howling against the body of the ship, the endless creaks and clatters of the vessel’s insides.
And then last night, I finally succumbed to it.
I dreamed I was sitting on that sandy shore, but now, instead of the all-consuming darkness, a pale dawn light broke through the clouds, illuminating my surroundings. I could see flecks of gold reflected on the water, a beautiful sight.
One that, for some reason, filled me with terror.
I knew that soon that stench would assault me, that terrible figure out rise from the waters and beckon to me…
I awoke. It was dark in the common area of the Sadie Blue, but I knew the sun had come up, judging by the stripes of watery pink light I glimpsed dancing across the grimy floor. The storms had calmed some overnight, but the scent of fresh-fallen rain hung in the air all the same.
Sasha sat at the old dining table, puffing away on a hand-rolled cigarette. I wrinkled my nose as a curl of heady tobacco smoke cleared the sleep from my mind.
Why was he up at this hour? And more importantly, what was he doing in a room with a sleeping lady? I wished I had the tact necessary to reprimand him for his rather boorish behavior. But before I could speak, he stood up and crossed over, coming to a halt perhaps a yard away from where I lay in the cot.
"Mr. Thackeray sends his regards," Sasha remarked, his accent lending an ominous aspect to even the most innocent of words. It took my foggy mind a moment to place the name.
"Sssh, Miss. Wouldn’t want to wake up everyone else." He grinned at me and ground his cigarette out directly on the tabletop. Reaching into the back pocket of his trousers, he pulled out a small red envelope and tossed to me. It slipped through my numb fingers and landed on my lap. I picked it up and pried off the gray wax seal.
There was no letter inside, much to my surprise. Only a single dried flower.
"What in the…" I trailed off, lifting up the blossom and squinting at it. The shape and size of the petals, the color was familiar to me. I recognized it as being one of the many flowers in the vase decorating the table he and I had shared at the Café Royale.
A black-eyed Susan.
"He’s having a bit of fun with you. Leaving little clues and all that," Sasha remarked. I looked up with a start, having forgotten he was sitting there for a moment. He shrugged a brawny shoulder. "Don’t let it vex you too much. It’s how he works."
I sighed and tucked the envelope away under my pillow, feeling, for some reason, as though I needed to conceal it. “I can’t imagine why he wants to play some sort of detective game with me. Or why he thinks I would make a good pawn. It is my opinion that he is a demented and rather disagreeable man, and if you have some means of contacting him, I bid you to ask him to stop all of this foolishness.”
This seemed to amuse Sasha. He considered me as a mule would a fly for a long moment before turning away.
"I don’t claim to know how Ezekial Thackeray’s mind works, Miss," he finally replied. "I suppose you and I are both pawns in his little game. And wouldn’t it be interesting to find out who else aboard this ship is?"
"Are you suggesting–"
"I am suggesting nothing. Forgive me. I think it best we both get back to sleep." Pushing in the chair he had occupied, he left the room without another word.
I waited until I was sure he wasn’t returning before flopping back onto the bed. Sleep eluded me, and I think I was rather grateful for it.