The Prize - Part 2 of 3

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Liss plunged through the crowd towards the shooting range. She heard the swish of the young woman’s coat behind her. Liss shivered. She didn’t know how, but the coat sounded like the deep silence that gathers around midnight. She felt a tug on her sleeve before they reached the range. Liss turned around to face the young woman.

“Before we go over, here’s a thought. Why don’t we make it interesting and have a small wager while we’re at it?” asked the young woman. She flashed Liss a wicked grin.

“Aren’t we trying to win the deer?” asked Liss.

“Well we could do that, but we can think of something better. I bet you ten shillings I can win the deer and you can’t.”

“I don’t have ten shillings,” replied Liss.

“If you don’t want to do it…”

“No, I do, I just don’t have ten shillings. I know! I bet you my life I win it.” Liss smirked at the woman. The woman couldn’t have been serious offering such a high sum as a bet – so she wouldn’t be serious in her offer either.

“Your life, eh? That’s a rather large thing to gamble,” said the young woman. She smiled again, exposing the grey teeth and black gums. Liss swore she saw a shooting star in her right eye.

“Well if you’re scared...” said Liss.

“Alright then. If I win the deer, I take your life. But if you win the deer, I’ll let you keep it,” said the stranger.

“Sounds fair to me.” Liss screwed up her face. It sounded like such a stupid bet – what was this stranger going to do, kill her?

“Right, my good man. My friend and I wish to shoot,” said the young woman, turning to the announcer. Liss winced at her voice – now it sounded like hob-nailed boots on rusty metal.

“Have either of you handled a weapon before?” asked the red-nosed man.

“I have, I’ve used a rifle, and a pistol,” said Liss.

“I’ve used all sorts,” said the young woman.

The red-nosed man handed them each a long gun that looked like a cross between a revolver and a rifle. Liss looked along the barrel, adjusting the sight. The man coughed, looking pointedly at the sight.

“I am not adjusting it back. How do I know you don’t have these set up wrong just so we’ll lose?” asked Liss. The young woman laughed, an eerie sound like that of a crow cawing a lament for the dead soldiers on a misty battlefield. The red nose man coloured, and waved at Liss to continue.

Satisfied that the sight was correct, Liss examined the gun. The chamber hung like a distended stomach, and held three brass shots. She needed the highest score to win the deer. The highest possible score was fifteen, which meant getting all three shots into the bullseye.

“How are we going to do this then?” she asked.

“How about we alternate? I take a shot, you take a shot,” replied the young woman.

“Sounds fair to me. Want to go first?”

“I think you should go first. You have more at stake than me.”

Liss raised the gun and nestled the butt against her shoulder. She looked down the barrel and aimed an inch above the bullseye. The young woman sniggered.

She thinks I’m going to miss, thought Liss.

Liss squeezed the trigger. The gun yelped and fired, smacking Liss in the shoulder with the recoil. The bullet thudded into the dead centre of the bullseye. Five points. The red-nosed man gawped, and the young woman stared. Liss gestured for her competitor to take a shot.

I’ll be damned if I explain why I did that, she thought.

The young woman raised her gun and aimed an inch above the bullseye as Liss had done. She also jerked back with the recoil, and the bullet slammed into the target, right at the edge of the bullseye. The red-nosed man clapped and announced it as a five-point hit.

Liss raised her gun, and stared down the sight again. She squeezed the trigger just as a man pushed through the crowd and shoved her shoulder. Liss jerked the gun to the side as she tried to stay upright, and the bullet thumped into the ring marked ‘4’. She turned back to the target – she’d missed the bullseye by an inch.

 “Oh that’s not fair, that man pushed me!” said Liss. The man had already been swallowed up by the crowd.

“It’s true, she was pushed,” said the young woman. She nodded, and her curls rippled like an oil slick on cold water.

“Sorry dearie, but I can’t let you have another go. The guns only hold three shots, so you only get three goes,” said the red-nosed man.

“Why can’t I just reload one chamber?” asked Liss.

“Rules is rules.”

Before Liss could answer, the young woman raised her own gun and fired. The bullet hit the ‘4’ ring above the bullseye. Liss looked at her, but she just shrugged.

Part One

The Prize - Part 1 of 3

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Prize is set eight years before the events in The First Tale, which is still just 99c on Amazon and Smashwords.
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“Step right up! Come and see Fenwell’s Fabulous Fair! Come one and all! Everybody welcome!”

The portly man stood by the open gate, ushering visitors into the field. Red and gold paint spelled out the name of the travelling fair over the lop-sided entrance arch. A hag in gypsy clothing took pennies and handed out tickets.

“Liss, have you got the money? Have you got it?” asked Teva.

Teva Hunt clutched at Liss’ arm, dragging her elder sister along the track to the fair. Liss rolled her eyes and fished in her pocket for two pennies. Teva snatched the coins and scampered ahead. She bounced up and down behind the people blocking the arch. Liss strolled up behind her as she handed the hag the money.

“I still don’t know why you made me come to this. You know I don’t like travelling fairs,” said Liss. She shoved the small paper ticket into her pocket.

“Oh but they’re so much fun! All of the stalls, all of the smells, all of the colourful people with stories to tell!” Teva beamed.

“You need to stop reading that poetry nonsense,” said Liss. “I told you it’ll just bake your brain.”

Teva rolled her eyes and pulled Liss into the crowd. Citizens of all ages and classes mingled in the field. Liss spotted two Vertigo City officials standing by the stall marked “tavern”. They hid under stovepipe hats and false moustaches that fooled no one. A gang of rowdy dockworkers jostled each other beside the dancing girls’ show. Liss hurried her sister away from the stage. The girls didn’t look much older than Teva.

“Look! A fortune teller! I’m going to go and have my cards read!” said Teva. She pointed at a purple tent covered in silver stars. A scrawny woman in a moth-eaten shawl stood outside, proclaiming the talents of Madame Cherie, the finest fortune teller in all the land.

“You do know it’s all rubbish, don’t you?” asked Liss.

“Stop raining on everything. Mother asked you to bring me and you said yes. If you didn’t want to come, you shouldn’t have said you would,” said Teva. Her look of defiance withered under Liss’ glare.

“I came because I wouldn’t have had a moment’s peace if I had said no. Why in the name of sweet Vertigo would you want to come somewhere like this in the first place?”

“Well I’m going to see the fortune teller, and you can’t stop me.”

Teva turned and flounced through the crowd towards the purple tent. Liss tried to follow her progress but the bulk of a quayside fishwife blocked her view.

“That girl has talent of her own. Why is she going to a fortune teller?”

Liss spun round at the sound of the scraping voice. A pale young woman stood behind her, a mass of inky curls tumbling around her shoulders. She wore a long black frock coat over voluminous black leggings. Liss gaped at her, watching the stars that glittered in the depths of her midnight eyes. The woman’s deep purple lips parted in a friendly smile, although Liss baulked at the black gums and grey teeth.

“Who in the name of Vertigo are you? And how do you know about Teva’s talents?” asked Liss.

“I know a lot of random things about people. You might call it my parlour trick,” replied the young woman. A harsh metallic edge sharpened her words into the buzzing of flies.

“Are you a fortune teller as well?” asked Liss.

“Not quite.”

“Well you’re not from Vertigo City. I’d remember someone like you.”

“Oh I’m a frequent visitor to Vertigo. I just like to keep a low profile when I’m there, especially when business is...brisk.”

“So what do you want?” Liss knew she sounded rude but the black and white woman unnerved her. She tried to avoid eye contact by glancing at the shifting crowd around them. She’d completely lost sight of Teva.

“We’re both bored and neither of us really wants to be here. Say, there’s a shooting range over there, do you want a go?”

Liss followed the line of the young woman’s starry gaze. As promised, a shooting range stood at the end of the row of stalls. A man with a red nose and grey beard called for citizens to take their best shot. He offered a wooden figurine of a deer to the best shot of the night.

“Oh I love shooting!” exclaimed Liss. Her father taught her to shoot rats in their cellar, using the sound of their squeaks to locate them in the dark.

“Let’s have a go then!”

“You’re on!”

Friday Flash - Angels of the Junkyard

Friday, 15 July 2011

Image by John Uhri
Edits by me
Pot holes line the road to the Vertigo City Yard of Scrap Metal. I bounce around inside the hand cart whenever the front wheel finds a rut. Jones whistles a mournful tune as he cajoles the cart along the pitted track. The servant begged his master not to dispose of me, but Mr Pickard was not to be prevailed upon. I am not entirely surprised. What master would allow a servant to keep a battered and broken automaton found in the street near a known lair of the Meat Beast? Indeed, Jones made several impassioned pleas on my behalf, promising Mr Pickard that he could repair the damage. Yet here I find myself, riding in the hand cart. I fancy I hear a funeral dirge nestled inside Jones' melody.

A portly man in an ill-fitting jacket sits in a small booth beside the gate. A tiny pork pie hat perches on his bald head. He clutches a newspaper more than a week old inside his beefy fist.

"What've yer got?" he asks.

"An automaton," replies Jones.

"What's wrong wi' it?" asks the guard. He sniffs the air, looking for all the world like an overweight yet suspicious rabbit.

"A few dents, some scrapes...mostly its internal damage to the mechanism. It looks like he was thrown against a wall, y'see, and-"


"Well, it. I've tried to repair it but Mr Pickard insisted I leave it here," says Jones. The threat of tears thickens his voice.

"Best place fer it then. In yer go," said the guard. He waved us past his booth with the ageing newspaper.

Jones leaves me lying in the cart as he opens the gate. The guard sits back in his booth, his bulk spilling over the waistband of his bulging trousers. Such a man is allowed to feast with impunity, and yet I am to be discarded through no fault of my own? Vertigo City was once a place of fairness, though this is no longer the case. I wonder when I developed the capacity to feel. My maker did not install such abilities.

The servant wheels the cart into the yard. Towering piles of rusting metal rise either side of us, threatening to blot out the sun. Forgotten machines of industry cluster near the gate, and piles of scrap rise and fall like rolling hills of twisted metal. Bronze arms and legs stick up among the junk, reaching for a saviour that will not come. I regard my own brass limbs with nostalgia. How long will it be before I too become buried, my arms the only part of me to witness the sun?

Jones pushes the cart a short way up a low pile. He pauses and tips me onto the slope. Toothless cogs grind against the metal of my torso, while rusting blades scrape my limbs. Jones looks down at my prone form and lets out a single sob. He turns and runs down the slope, hauling the cart behind him.

I lie on my bed of scrap, staring up at the sky. Bilious grey clouds loom above me, grumbling to one another in thundery tones. I longed to see the sky when I worked for the Resistance. I think of brick-lined tunnels far below the City, devoid of sunlight and air. I remember the savage attack of the Beast, and dragging myself above ground. I sought my maker, and salvation, yet I found only abandonment. A drop of oil wells up beneath the rim of my eye lamp.

A fat raindrop explodes against my exposed torso. Another hits my face, chasing the droplet of oil across my cheek. Raindrops hit my eye lamps and I curse the sky for her cruelty. The water will surely damage what circuits I have left, and I picture myself as an empty carcass, spotted with rust. I wish the Meat Beast had not so thoroughly destroyed my vocal mechanics. Without my voice box, I cannot beg for release.

A crash and a clatter disturb my silent prayer. I cannot turn my head to see but the splintering of glass and the rending of metal is enough. Something is coming for me, though I know not what. Is this to be the end of me? Oh, let it be so, for I cannot take this slow descent into decay and ruin.

Two figures lean over me, blocking the rain. One is a collection of scrap metal in the rough form of a man. Cogs stare at me in the place of eyes, and it stretches out fingers of pistons and spark plugs. The fading light streams through the other as it stretches multi-coloured wings of broken glass.

I do not know how much time passes but twilight streaks the sky when they finish their repairs. I sit up, and look around. The sea of scrap no longer looks as melancholy as it did. I flex my fingers, pistons hissing at my knuckles. Clockwork beats within my chest. My voice box is beyond repair, but I can move. I am myself again. I am Four.

The gates of the junkyard screech open. The angel of broken glass gestures to the freedom beyond. I shake my head, and delight in the new range of movement. I cannot leave. I will remain here, a guardian of the junkyard. I will protect the angels, and help others. I will save as I have been saved.

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If you've read my steampunk story, The First Tale, then you'll already be familiar with this particular automaton. If you want to know more (and find out exactly how he got here) then The First Tale is just 99c from Smashwords and Amazon.