Pipe and Slippers: Tales from Steampunk’d Lancaster
Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.
I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.
But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here; here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!
But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Bruadar malt whisky liqueur eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,
like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing, stalking … I mean studying… the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in the curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…
TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER
SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS
Tale The Second By LESLIE SOULE
“Your writing – I’d like to see it,” he says, hopeful like a child getting candy. I don’t
want to open up that book and show him the horrors of a past I’d care not to remember – most of it I’ve already shared, but that book opens wounds afresh, even though I had to write it, to tear the little imps from my heart, force their tiny legs between the pages and stamp out their pokers onto the sheets of print.
It was part of a healing ritual, a ceremony, and maybe instructions for someone else who needs them. One never knows these things. But all I do is smile, and nod, in the way that you’re supposed to do, when confronted with such gestures of interest.
This fellow is my friend, a banker from the gentrified part of town. He rarely travels downtown. There is no tea, here. Maybe one day I’ll tell him the truth, or he’ll discover it. But for now, the coffee steams between us, and the silence speaks volumes, and I feel disheartened. I don’t want those imps to escape again, and plague my beleaguered heart anymore. It needs a rest.
“So what brings you here?” I ask, adjusting my knitted scarf. I see his eyes trace the tattoos on my hands as we converse.
“I have some business with Montmorency,” Christopher explained, sipping his coffee, and I watch those lips for a fleeting moment, hoping he doesn’t notice. I am reminded of the strange night we spent together, with kisses and cuddles, before he discarded me for getting too close to him emotionally, the way men do – the way they’ve always done, when it comes to me.
I nod, drinking my mocha as though it is the water of life that can save me, and mentally, I am far away, back at the hideout, hanging out with the rebel hex-slingers and talking shop with them.
I’d spent most of yesterday practicing martial arts with Delvan, admiring the bright blue eyes he pinned me with. It was my day off.
I look down at my watch, knowing that I have to be at work by 10am and put in a full shift, transcribing records onto the mega-typewriter in the Office of Records, and file them away into folders, and into drawers, into rooms.
What business can Christopher possibly have with Montmorency? It interests me, but I dare not approach the subject. I knew Montmorency to be a slumlord, directing his army of street-urchins selling their illegal lemonade.
Tea, cake, lemonade – the governments of Lancaster strictly controlled their use and prohibited their sale on the streets.
“Well it’s good to see you again,” I say to Christopher, and that was no lie. It really was good to see him – he tended to keep to himself and to his hobbies of making money and brewing beer. The government Wiz-goons hadn’t outlawed beer…yet. But give them time.
“Have you ever thought about leaving the Office of Records?” Christopher asked. Well I’d certainly considered it – it was boring, repetitive work and not everyone could do this kind of job. But the real reason, was that I’d become addicted to the fights and the resistance, and the feeling of power that I’d get from those late-night street duels. I never fought alone. Eros, my morph corn snake who looked white with pink patches, always joined in, channeling the mystic power that emanated from my hands in neon rays.
No one asked any questions when I walked into the office bleary-eyed, and the Wizards hadn’t yet thought to look for resistance fighters in the Office of Records – and who would? What kind of danger would lurk in such a bland atmosphere?
“Yeah, I’ve considered it.”
When I arrived, my desk looked exactly the way I’d left it – pens sitting there in the wooden holder, notebooks stacked off to the right. My co-workers sat patiently at their desks, some of them sipping from mugs of coffee, waiting for the work bell to ring, and indicate the official start of the work day.
“Long night?” asked Erin, my blue-haired, bespectacled co-worker.
“Yeah,” I admitted.
You have no idea.
Last night, I’d found myself cornered in an alley, three Wiz-goons heading my way. One of them wore a pink carnation in his lapel. I wondered at that strange symbolism.
I didn’t kill them. I’m no murderer, though this is a war, and I have no love for the Wiz-goon overlords who rule our lives down to the very foods that we are allowed to eat, or not. And there was something strangely intriguing about that pink carnation – it didn’t belong there, on those smelly, authoritarian streets covered in cold lamplight. It took all I had, to project the aether toward this one and knock him off his feet.
In the end, I followed through, because that was the way of the world – we stood on opposite sides of a battlefield that neither of us created, but both had to fight on, this unfair chess board of life.
“I’ll be alright as soon as I get some coffee from the break room.”
The work bell rang. I seized my timecard and dutifully punched a hole in the correct spot, grabbed my nondescript white coffee mug, issued by the Office, and walked over to the break room. This place ran on coffee – the life-blood of office work, surely as gasoline runs a horseless carriage or water runs a steam turbine. I poured the coffee from its decanter, a feeling of completeness filling my heart as the coffee poured, black as sin, dark as the deepest confessions of my soul.
Armed with it, I walked back to my desk, opening its drawer, to search for a copy of the procedure manual that I’d forgotten to toss out.
Instead, I found a pink carnation, and a small card – From Your Secret Admirer, was scrawled on it, in black ink.
LESLIE SOULE Infamous Fantasy Author I am a fantasy/sci-fi author from Sacramento, CA. she has an M.A. in English and is currently working on the final book of her fantasy series, The Fallenwood Chronicles.