A Life Of Fiction CXCVIII

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

Here is yet another vignette which originally appeared on the Steampunk Empire website. I did quite a few of these. It would be a shame if people never got to read them again.

Morley’s Best Tinned Pork

Inspector Albright sat at his desk and pondered the fact that people had gone missing on his patch, and at a far greater rate than was normal. You always got some people go missing in the East End of London. Some went abroad, seeking a new life. Some changed their identities, to try to escape debts and other onuses. And some ended up floating face down in the Thames.

The people who had been reported missing, though, were not the usual sort of people who disappeared. One had been a barrister. Another had been butcher. A third had been a clerk at a City firm. A fourth had been a costermonger. Nothing seemed to connect them apart from the fact that they had come into his patch and never been seen again.

Albright got out his tortoiseshell snuff box and put a pinch of snuff in each nostril. He’d had two of his men look into the case. But, although they had produced reams of facts concerning the missing men, the two officers had utterly failed to discover what had happened to them. It was time for him to have a look for himself.

He stroked his thick, reddish-grey beard, and then hauled his heavy frame out of his chair. He got his coat, and stormed off in the direction where the men had last been seen: the area around Spitalfields.

Albright stomped down the street, towards Spitalfields Market. Perhaps somebody there might now what was going on. He walked past street hawkers and match girls, past the sort of people who turned around and walked off in the opposite direction when they saw a policeman coming; past the poor and the needy and the guilty and all of the wonderful individuals who made up this little corner of the world.

He walked past a greengrocer’s and a tobacconist’s; past a haberdashery and a printer’s; past a barber’s and Morley’s Tinned Foods, a small concern which had posters outside declaring their Best Tinned Pork to be the finest in the world. That was a new business, Albright thought. The last tine that he had walked down this street it had been a draper’s; and long before that it had been a pie shop, if his memory served him right. But those did not interest him. It was the market where he was most likely to get his information – especially if he used strong-arm tactics on some of his blowers.

Albright had a locket with the photograph of one of the missing men – the barrister, Jackson – in one side, his wife in the other. The policeman reflected that his wife was probably now a widow. But the picture might bring to justice whoever was responsible for the disappearance.

Ten minutes later Albright was done. He had not even had to use violence to get the information which he had sought. One of his informants had recognised the picture, and recalled seeing Jackson going into the barber’s. When pressed the man had said that maybe he had seen the other missing men going into the barber’s, as well. But he had not recalled seeing them come back out.

Albright stared at the barber’s. Decades ago there had been trouble with a barber’s, when he had just been a little nipper. Everybody knew the legend, even if they were hazy on the details. But surely it could not happen twice?

Sebastian Thomas. That was the name above the red and white pole. An odd name, Sebastian. That barber years ago had had an odd name, as well.

Albright thought about going straight into the barber’s, and asking about the missing men. But, although he might be built like a brick outhouse, he was not going to play silly buggers with somebody who was at home with a cutthroat razor in his hands. No, he though, he would come back with a few more boys, and with a search warrant, and do this one by the book. And, perhaps, he would give some time to researching just who Sebastian Thomas and the Morley foods people were.

Two days later and Inspector Albright’s investigations were complete. He had got his search warrant, and he had a pair of big, powerfully built constables with him. Despite the fact that they were powerfully built – and Albright himself resembled a brick outhouse – all three men were armed with revolvers. Albright was not taking any chances. He feared that this might be a bad one.

What is this?” Sebastian Thomas asked, as Albright pushed open the door of the establishment and marched in, with the two constables behind him.

Sebastian Thomas was alone in the barber’s. He was a tall, angular man, but with the litheness of a snake. His eyes were jet black. He held a cutthroat razor in his left hand.

It is a search warrant.” Albright barked at the man, as he flourished a piece of paper. “Constable Williams, stay with our barber friend, and make sure that he doesn’t go anywhere. Although he is not just a barber, this one: he is also the owner of Morley’s Tinned Foods. He has been a very busy man; a barber by day, and a canner by night, it would seem.

Put the razor down, Thomas, or I will give Williams the permission to shoot you.”

Thomas put the razor down.

Watch him, Williams.” Albright barked. Constable Williams kept his revolver trained on the barber. “If what I think is true, then Mr Sebastian Thomas is one of the most dangerous men in London.

Henderson, come with me, we’re going down the cellar.”

Albright and the other police constable found the door leading to the steps down to the cellar. There was a gaslight on the wall of the cellar, and it was lit. But Albright was not surprised by that fact.

Not was he surprised by the fact that there was some sort of mechanism on the ceiling of the cellar, directly beneath the barber’s chair. There was some sort of trapdoor in the ceiling, and it looked like the chair could flip down to drop anybody sitting in it down into the cellar. There were bloodstains on the slabs which formed the cellar floor, directly beneath the contraption in the ceiling.

There was a passage in the cellar. It went to the left, having been knocked through a wall into the cellar of Morley’s Tinned Foods next door. Albright was not surprised by that, either. In fact, he had expected something like that.

Come on.” he said. He led the way, through to the cellar of the tinned meat company.

The room was lined with Mason jars on shelves, the jars having been used in home canning since their invention some years ago. There was flesh in the jars. It was supposed to be pork, and there was a dead pig hanging from a hook dangling from the ceiling. But it was not only pork which was being canned, for there were two human bodies hanging there as well. They were unrecognisable, but Albright had no doubt that the men who had gone missing had fuelled Thomas’s meat canning business. The police inspector had found out that there was no Morley behind Morley’s Tinned Foods, and that the premises were owned by the barber next door.

There was enough evidence in that room to make sure that this second demon barber would swing. He was taken down the police station and charged.

It was later, and Albright was relaxing behind his desk, as best as he could, his thoughts on this latest killer who he had caught.

Albright shook his head, as he pondered the matter. A few years ago they had had Jack the Ripper. The newspapers had named him, of course, taking a most sensational interest in the case. Albright could imagine what the newspapers would call this new killer: the Mason Jar Man; or the Cannibal Canner; or something equally florid. To Albright, though, he was simply Sebastian Thomas Todd, the barber having dropped the surname which he had inherited.

One thing was for sure, though, Albright thought, as he thought about the case: he was never going to eat pork again.

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A Life Of Fiction CXCVII

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

Here is yet another short story which I did for the Steampunk Empire. Like the others it is very short.

The Death Of Smudge

Note: this short story was written for a writing challenge, for the Steampunk Empire, to feature the death of a steampunk character.

The Death of Smudge

Smudge knew that he was going to die. There was nowhere left to run. There was only one window, but looking down into the Thames after at least a thirty foot drop. And Smudge, like so many people in those days, had never learned to swim.

Smudge could hear clanking from the floor below. Once upon a time the sounds of machines had not bothered him. They had merely been the background noises of London: the rattle of omnibuses as they plied the streets; the metallic clanking of the hooves of the horse automatons which pulled the Metropolitan Police’s Black Marias; the hooting from the horns of automobiles as they fought for space on London’s crowded roads. But that had been before metal men had begun hunting him.

Smudge looked around the room for some sort of a weapon. He was in an abandoned or empty office above a warehouse. He had run up here hoping that the stairs would not be sturdy enough for the metal assassins, as he had heard of one man who had escaped death from these monsters due to stairs collapsing.

There was nothing to use. There was not even a spanner, let alone something deadlier, like a gun. Not that a gun would have been of any use, as bullets simply bounced off the metal carapaces of these soulless things.

Smudge backed away from the doorway. All that he could do was to wait and hope. There would be no rescue for him.

The clanking was on the stairs leading up to the door. The stairs were holding. His last hope – that the stairs might collapse – had failed.

They were close now. There would be no getting out down the stairs. But what was the point of running away when they always seemed to know how to find you? Wherever he had tried hiding in London they had come after him.

Smudge heard the heavy footstep on the landing beyond the office door. His heart fluttered in his chest, as one hand sneaked into a pocket to search for a knife which wasn’t there.

The wooden door burst asunder, the hinges ripped away as it was forced inwards by one powerful shove from one of the automatons of the Iron Duke. The metal man entered the room. Smudge could see that there was a second mechanical assassin slowly stamping its way up the stairs.

The red eyes glowed in the semi-darkness of the room. It fixed its merciless gaze on Smudge, and advanced towards him. Smudge reflected on how he had come to be in such a parlous circumstance, as a rather unchristian life flashed before his eyes.

It had all started when he took that damned playing card from out of the box in the house in Richmond. That was when things in his life had gone from bad to terrible. That was when these monsters had begun hunting him.

I don’t ‘ave the four of diamonds.” Smudge pleaded, even though he knew such words were pointless. These machines knew mercy. They had already proved that fact from the other people who they had killed, in their reign of terror. Yet he could not help but plead for his life. “I fenced it. I don’t ‘ave it any more.”

The first automaton advanced, as the second stood in the doorway of the office, to make sure that the thief could not get away. Smudge was now close to the closed window, the murky waters of the Thames yards below.

Smudge tried to dodge out of the way, as the automaton came towards him. Smudge evaded the first chance to catch him. But the automaton launched itself at Smudge, as the burglar tried to get out of the way. It caught Smudge in its iron grip as it slammed forwards into the side wall and window.

Brickwork and glass exploded outwards. Smudge screamed as he fell towards the Thames, unable to free himself from the death-grip of the steel assassin. It would not have mattered if Smudge had been able to free himself, anyway, as he couldn’t swim.

It seemed as though the two entwined figures hung in the air forever, over the dirty waters of the polluted river. Then they fell, and were gone in an instant, the waters closing over their heads after a great splash of water.

A few bubbles came up to the surface. Then the waters were still. Smudge was gone.

A Life Of Fiction CXCVI

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

Still in the process of putting on here little vignettes which I write for Steampunk Empire. It is an excuse for the lack of ideas at the moment. But as I write these words I’m struggling to throw off a very bad of influenza. It means I am so ill that all that I feel like doing is watching TB as I go hot and cold and cough every time that I move. Perhaps an enforced sabbatical will refresh my writing, once I actually recover.

Anyway, here is another short piece of fiction which once appeared on the Steampunk Empire.

The Steel Assassin

The old man wandered between great, hulking machines, each one a marvel in its construction. Together the cost of the construction of these machines would have been enough to bankrupt a nation state. But those wise men who ran the great British Empire from London had no idea that these machines even existed; and they had played no part in their creation.

There were hundreds of Difference Engines, all of them linked together, connected by wires. Occasionally there would be movement on one of them; then another one would have a part move.

The old man checked several of the machines, to make sure that they were in working order. Everything seemed to be fine. Nothing was sticking, or needed replacing. But, the following day, he would check them again, and the day after that. Every single one of the machines needed to be in working order for ‘It’ to be able to think.

The old man walked into a small chamber at the end of the cave. Wires from the Difference Engines ran in through the stone wall of the chamber, and into some great set of controls, all levers and buttons. There were several dials on the control panel, indicating remaining fuel, internal pressure, and so on.

The old man sat in a chair at the control console. He had one final look out of the room. But everything was still fine. The Difference Engines were still thinking. And there was nobody to witness what the old man was doing.

It was time. The old man pulled down a lever. The control console made a humming noise. It lived.

Miles away, in the darkness of a seemingly abandoned building, mechanical eyes opened, rising up inside a steel skull. The eyes glowed red, like coals in the night.

The eyes flickered, looking first to the left, and then to the right. Then the head moved, first to the left, and then to the right, before finally returning to its original position.

A cog whirred; a great, heavy foot lifted off the ground, and paused, raised nine inches above the floor. Then another cog moved, and another, and the automaton began walking slowly forwards. Its feet were like thunder on the floor.

It pushed boxes and old tea chests out of the way. It reached the wooden door leading to the outside. But the great hulking automaton did not slow down, not even to try whether the door was locked or not. It simply carried on walking, bursting through the door as though it was only made out of balsa.

It was the middle of the night. But this was London, and there were always people on the streets of the capital, whether whores or policemen or night-dirt shifters.

It was only two minutes after the automaton had burst through the door that it was seen.

Harold Minter had stumbled out of the Cog and Steam tavern, too drunk to keep a straight line with his feet. They had their own ideas of where he should go. Unfortunately, neither left nor right could agree where that should be.

Then Harold saw the automaton clanking down the street towards him. Suddenly Harold was not quite as drunk as he had been only a moment ago.

He made the sign of the cross, despite not having seen the inside of a church in years, and suddenly found the coordination to stumble down the street in the opposite direction to the mechanical monster.

Others, too, saw the automaton that night. A few even made it into the police stations to announce what they had seen. By the time that the police decided that they probably should investigate these reports it was too late, anyway.

The automaton moved onwards, his red eyes taking in everything, caring about nothing. It did not matter who saw it. It could not be stopped.

Within twenty minutes it had reached its destination: a house in the East End of London, a house much the same in outward appearance as any other in the area. The house was not a slum. But few people would have chosen to live there.

The automaton walked up to the front door of the house. It raised one hand, and brought it down in a chop which smashed the less-than-sturdy door in two.

The mechanical assassin marched in through the doorway, flicking the broken door out of the way.

Upstairs an old man got out of bed, woken by the terrible crash of the door being destroyed, but not knowing what it signified.

The old man staggered out of his bedroom, onto the landing, to see the automaton begin to climb up the stairs.

The old man stared. He could not move. He was caught by terror. Besides, there was nowhere else where he could go, unless he dived out of his bedroom window onto the hard cobbles of his back yard.

The metal automaton placed its heavy iron foot on the second step, and put its entire weight on it, as it raised its other foot to place on the third step. The step creaked, and collapsed. The weight of the automaton had been too great for the rickety old stairs. The automaton plunged through the stairs into the space below.

Below the stairs there was the stone steps leading down into the cellar. The automaton crashed down onto the stone steps. Something stopped whirring. There were a couple of clunks from the cellar, and then silence…

A Life Of Fiction CXCV

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

Still in the process of putting on here little vignettes which I write for Steampunk Empire. Here is another one I made earlier.

The Box

Note: this short story was written for a writing challenge, for the Steampunk Empire, to feature the four of diamonds. This was my second attempt at such a vignette. The first one I rejected as not being interesting enough, although it will appear in First Drafts And Unfinished Tales, when that finally sees the light of day.

The Box

Smudge had spent days checking out the house which he intended to burgle. The house was in Richmond, out of the areas where Smudge usually wandered. But the rogue had received a tip off that the old man who lived in the house was extremely wealthy.

He certainly didn’t go out much. Nor did the old man appear to have any visitors. Unless the old man went out there was no way in which Smudge could burgle the place. Smudge was not going to go in there unless he knew that the place was empty.

The next time that the old man was out Smudge was going in, the criminal had decided. He was hungry, and could not afford to waste his time just watching some house.

The would-be burglar was almost sure that the old man did not have any servants in the place, which was a little strange. Smudge thought that all rich people had servants. But what did he know? He didn’t even know who his parents were.

The next day the old man went out just as the sun was setting. Somebody in a tilbury came to collect the old man. Smudge watched from the shrubbery near the house as the old man was helped up into the carriage. Smudge took particular attention of the fact that the old man appeared to have a silver head on his walking cane. Anybody who could afford something like that had to really be rich.

Now it was time for a little redistribution of that wealth.

Smudge had already determined how he was going to get into the house. There was a window at the back of the house which he could break, open, and then climb through. The window could not be seen from the road, and Smudge hoped that the house was far enough away from the others in the area that nobody would trouble the police with a tale of having heard breaking glass.

Smudge crept up to the window at the back of the house. Smudge grabbed the ragged scarf from around his neck, and wrapped it around his dirty fist. He used it to punch a hole through the glass.

Smudge waited, his fist through the hole which he had just made. There were no shouts. Nobody came running to see what had made the noise. Nobody had heard the sound of the breaking glass.

Smudge undid the catch of the window, and opened the window wide. He then carefully withdrew his fist. He unwrapped the dirty scarf from around his hand, and shook it, to remove any bits of glass which might have been sticking to it. Then he wrapped the scarf back around his scrawny neck.

Smudge climbed through the window. He left the window open in case he was required to make a swift exit. Then he began to search the house.

Smudge was disappointed. He couldn’t see anything worth stealing. There were no silver spoons in the kitchen, and no silver candelabras in the bedroom. A search of a bureau in the study turned up the less than princely amount of three shillings and sixpence. He had expected there to be pound notes. But there was not one.

There were a lot of papers, and a lot of books. Smudge was not interested in them. He had never been interested in books, due to the fact that he was virtually illiterate. He had no idea if any of them were valuable or not. Anyway, it was a moot point, as his fence was not interested in such things.

Where d’you keep your brass?” Smudge muttered out loud. He hadn’t busted into this place to go back empty-handed.

Smudge threw open drawers, looking for something which might have been hidden. He threw socks and underwear all over the room. But the sock drawer contained only socks.

He began to get desperate. He felt that he had spent too long in the house already. Smudge feared that the old man might come back and catch him.

Smudge glanced around the room. There had to be something there which he could cabbage. Then his eyes alighted on an ornate wooden box on the mantelpiece above the hearth.

Smudge grabbed it, and tried opening it. It was locked. It didn’t rattle, but why lock it unless there was something valuable inside it? There had to be something good in there.

It was time to get out of there.

Smudge ran to the open window. He had a look through first, to make sure that nobody was about. He couldn’t see anybody. It looked safe. He climbed out of the house, and got out of there, the box held hidden underneath his shabby clothes. He did not bother to examine the box until he was a good half a mile away, on a small piece of waste ground.

The box was rosewood, not that smudge realised that. It was just wood, as far as he was concerned. It had an intricate design carved over all sides apart from its base, an interweaving lattice. The box was held closed by a small lock on one side, which jutted out from the wood of the box.

The box was not all that heavy. Smudge held the box up to his ear, and shook it. Had he heard something? He could not be sure. But nothing had rattled loudly. There were no gems or jewellery inside. No coins, either, as those would have made a noise. But he thought that he had heard something.

He supposed that there might be something held in cotton wool. Well, it was time to discover what that something was.

He picked up a small rock, from off the ground, big enough to fit nicely in his fist. He got his knife out of his jacket. He put the tip of the blade on the top of the lock, intending to use it as a makeshift chisel. He raised the rock high, and brought it down on the end of the knife with all his strength

The lock smashed, falling off the box. Smudge flipped open the lid, still believing that there had to be some great treasure inside. You did not lock a box unless there was something inside which you wanted to protect.

He flipped open the lid. Inside there was the four of diamonds, and nothing else. Just a playing card. He had burgled that house for nothing at all.

Smudge picked up the card and stared at it. The card was heavy, and appeared to be made out of metal. It was quite thick, as well, perhaps a quarter of an inch. It would have been no use as a playing card. You couldn’t have shuffled it into a pack. Smudge noticed that there was what looked like tiny grooves along the edge of the ‘card’.

Smudge stared at the card that wasn’t. It was not what he had expected. Then he pocketed it, put his knife back in his pocket, and got out of there, leaving the broken box on the waste ground.

A Life Of Fiction CXCIV

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

The following short story was entered for an online short story competition, on the theme of a person being stranded on a deserted island, and what items they might need. Needless to say, I did not win. But I had fun writing the story.

A Deserted Island, A Long Way From Anywhere

The man sat on a sandy beach, his blue eyes looking out at a calm sea. He was dressed in rags, the remains of clothes in which he had been dressed upon the Sallee Rover, and other ships.

There was a sword lying on the sand within reach of this man, ready to be grasped if needed. He had a flintlock musket across his knees.

A mongrel dog sat on the sand near the man. The dog had been the man’s constant companion ever since events had brought them to this barren place. The dog barely left the man’s side. At the moment is stared out at the sea, as though looking for something. Occasionally it would turn its head to one side to glance at the man, as though to confirm that there was something which it was supposed to be looking at.

The man was unshaven. It looked as though he had not shaved in many days, a light brown beard disguising his features, covering the fine line of his chin. His skin was cracked by the sunlight and the salty air. Dirt, not washed away, stained his forehead.

That forehead was shadowed by an old hat, which kept the sun out of the man’s eyes as he gazed out across the waters of the ocean. It seemed that he had an eternal vigil, looking out across the water for a ship which never came. How long had he sat hear, in this position, staring out across the waters for some sign that his time on the island might be coming to an end?

He did not know, not for certain. Sometimes he felt that he had only been on the island for a few days. But, at other times, he was sure that he must have been on this island for years. Yet he knew that this could not be the case. It had only been days.

The castaway moved slightly. His legs had gone to sleep. But he had no desire, yet, to get up from his position. Where would he go? He had explored his island, long ago (or was it only yesterday?). Apart from the rats and the birds he was alone on the island. But the musket across his knees suggested that he feared an attack; and the truth was that this man had suffered at the hands of callous pirates in the past. In his mind he carried the memories of that dread pirate ship, and the cruelties which he had suffered. He remembered the Moor, and the Maresco.

The castaway recalled all of the events which had brought him to the island. They were as clear in his mind as though they had been written in ink on parchment; and those recollections did not change or alter, from day to day upon this deserted island. no, the time that he had spent at sea was perfectly clear, from that day on the first of September, 1651, when he had first gone out to sea, until that day when some savage storm had sunk the ship in which he had been sailing. Those thoughts were as clear as the sky, untroubled by clouds as far as the horizon. No, it was more recent memories which seemed confused, for some days he imagined it to be less than a week since he had been washed up on these foreign shores; yet, at other times, it seemed more like years, and the castaway could not account for the discrepancy between the two.

On the beach, close to the ragged man, there were the remains of a raft, wood lashed together in a makeshift manner. The raft would only have been of use for a short journey upon that great blue ocean which surrounded the island on which the man sat; it would surely have foundered had he attempted any great distance. But the raft would have been of use in exploring the waters around the isle, or of securing any provisions from some ship which had sunk.

Of such ship there was no trace to be seen, anywhere that the man’s gaze fell. If there had ever been such a ship it must have long disappeared beneath the waves. Perhaps it laid there still, the bodies of the sailors who had been shipmates of the castaway now only food for fishes. It was settled on the ocean bed, on its side, planks ripped apart by the storm scattered about, what provision the marooned man had not been able to recover now lying close to him, yet beyond his ability to recover. Ship’s biscuit destroyed by the waters of the sea; black powder ruined; casks of grog lying on the sand beneath the waves. They were so much useless lagan.

The castaway continued to stare out across the water. There was not a cloud in the sky; there was not a ship to be seen. Not even the smallest dot of another island broke the perfection of this view. The castaway, perhaps, should have abandoned this vigil minutes ago, had he been here for days; or perhaps he should have abandoned it years ago, if his faulty memory was correct when he sometimes imagined that he had been here for decades.

There was a compulsion which, each day, brought him out to this beach, to look out at a featureless horizon. He felt, though, that should any ship come he needed to be seen. He needed to be seen. But, surely, he would see any ship long before they saw him…

Behind the ragged castaway, at the end of a little plain, there was the opening to a cave, which, over considerable time, had been fashioned into a home for this castaway. No, it was not just some cave for those abandoned by God, but had been turned into a veritable fortress.

Two rows of strong stakes surround the cave. Anybody rushing the cave in the hours of darkness would risk impaling themselves on the end of the wooden stakes.

The opening to the cave was not on the ground, but on high. A ladder, made by the maroon, provided the only access into the cave. When the man went back into his cave to sleep at night he would draw the ladder up into his cave. At the front of the rise, before the opening of the small cavern, he had constructed a tented canopy, to help protect the entrance of is home from the weather.

For the most part the weather on this island was good, with sunshine which bronzed skin and bleached clothing. But, occasionally, Hell released cursed storms upon the island, and the place was battered by the same winds and rains which could sink any sailing ship. When those storms struck all that he could do was to cower in the back of the cave and wait for the tempest to pass.

On the shelves of his cave were those items most important to this maroon. The items precious to the man were in shelves which had been fashioned out of the planks of some sailing ship.

There was some ship’s biscuit, not entirely rotten; raisins; a bag of rice, three Dutch cheeses, some pieces if dried flesh, of some indeterminate animal; and a little corn. The fact that the biscuit was still palatable, and that the cheeses had not yet been eaten, were surely the proof that the castaway could only have been on the island for a few days; and that the idea that he had sat on the beach for many years must surely be an illusion.

The stores were not limited to food, however. There were a couple of horns containing gunpowder on those wooden shelves; a musket; two flintlock pistols; and a rusty sword. There was a hammock hanging in the cave, where the castaway would sleep at night.

There were tools in his cave, ones which he remembered recovering from the ship. There was a saw, a hatchet and other items of carpentry, which he had used to create his ladder, and the wooden stakes which protected his home. Every ship had a carpenter – and without those tools his existence on the island would have been very bleak.

There were books, brought from the ship which had foundered and presumably sunk beneath the waves. He had three Bibles in English, so his soul would be saved, even if his body would not. There were a few books in Portuguese. There were Roman Catholic prayer books. There was even a journal, lying on one of the shelves.

Each night the man wrote in the journal – or, at least, he thought that he did. So why, each night, when he wrote, did he feel as though he had written those words a thousand times before? Yet those words were not in his journal. The page was blank; and there was nobody else on this island to change his journal, or to rip out the pages which he had written.

There were a pair of cats there, as well – when they chose to be there, for no man could command a cat. They, like the dog, had been on the ship, and had earned their keep by keeping down the numbers of mice and rats. Now they carried on that tradition, albeit on this island. They would keep safe what little grain the man possessed.

The man sighed, and stood up, slowly, his legs aching as feeling was restored to them. He had spent his time watching from the beach. Now it was time to search the island, although he had searched it many times before. He knew every little hillock, and every clump of grass.

The dog whined, and looked up at the man. The dog stood up, on all fours, and wagged his tail, perhaps happy that now they would be going for a walk, rather than just gazing into the distance.

The man set off, along the beach. He knew all of the other creatures of the island: of land animals, there were rats and goats. Seabirds nested on the island, and he had purloined their eggs more than once. There were parrots, but he had failed in his attempts to capture alive one of those birds.

Turtles came onto the shore of his island, as did penguins. Each of those animals had provided him with a source of fresh meat, in the past.

Beyond where he had created his home there was a small brook, which trickled down into the sea. As he walked across the strand he crossed that source of fresh water. He had to wait, though, as his dog stopped to lap at the water. Then they continued their walk along the isle.

They walked past where there were a couple of turtles on the beach. The dog ran over and sniffed at one of the turtles. The turtle desperately tried to skim across the sand, and back into the water, in the ungainly gait which turtles have on solid land. The dog followed the turtle all the way. It liked the taste of turtle.

With a whistle the castaway called the dog away. They were not hunting at the moment. There was food back in the cave. They would eat what they possessed, and only go hunting for turtle when they were low on supplies. For now the turtles got to live.

Come on.” the man said. He carried on walking. The dog, pink tongue lolling from his mouth, followed along.

The island was more than twelve miles long. Perhaps it was as much as twenty, for the castaway found measuring distance to be difficult on his home. He had buried posts on both the north and south shores of the island, to mark where he believed the twelve mile mark to be. He would not go beyond those posts today.

Perhaps he would only walk a few miles on the southern sand, and see if anything had washed up on the shore. He hoped that some other items from the sunken ship, which he had not been able to recover, might by force of the tides become jetsam which he could collect. He had recovered everything which he had been able to get on his raft; yet he knew that items had gone down beneath the waves before he had been able to bring them to the shore. Some items, doubtless, had gone over the side of the ship before it had foundered, defeated by a storm it could not outrun or endure. Perhaps the captain had had a trunk of clothes, and that sealed trunk might, one day, wash up, waiting to be opened, and the castaway could clothe himself in fitting raiment, rather than the ragged vestments which his clothes had become. He tried to repair them as best as he could, but he feared that, one day, he would be forced to walk around like Adam before the Fall.

At the heart of the island he had discovered a deep, wooded valley surrounded by hills on all sides. He had not explored that valley, for he could easily have become lost between the trees, and not found the way back to the safety of his stockade. There had been no sign of any people there, anyway, only the colourful parrots which he had seen flying over the trees.

Only once had he walked around to the very far side of the island. That was not a trip which could be done in a single day. But he had had to know what was there, in case he had missed something of importance.

It had not been worth the trip. There had been a rocky bay in the far east of the island, slippery with seaweed underfoot. He had been forced to sleep outside, a long way from his protective stockade, his flintlock musket cradled in his lap, his back against a rock. The musket, and the dog, had been his only defences. Yet any animal could have come along and attacked him while he had slept.

There had been nothing in that furthest stretch of the island to justify ever returning to the region. There had been a few turtles, seaweed, and seashells. But those could all be found elsewhere on the island, much closer to the point which he had chosen as his home. Why risk injury and exposure to the weather if it would not lead to some material gain?

The marooned man could see small clam shells lying on the sand of the beach. He turned a few over with the end of his rusty sword. But these clams were only a single shell. Some creature had already got at them, and eaten the soft meat inside.

There was the shell of a conch a little further along the beach. The castaway investigated that, as well. But it was another dead shell.

He picked it up and held it to his ear, marvelling at the fact that he could hear the sound of the sea inside it. He tried holding the shell to the ear of the dog. But the dog backed off a little. He did not want to play.

The man sighed, and let the conch drop from his fingers, back onto the sand. He turned away from the beach, and headed off in the direction of his cavern home. Perhaps he would have something to eat. Or perhaps he would only record that day’s events in his journal. Life went on.

Fate – and the hard work of this castaway – had provided this man with everything which he needed to survive on the island. He had a secure place in which to sleep, where he could relax, without fear of some attack in his sleep. He had weapons, with which to protect himself from man or beast. He had food, until what he had recovered ran out – but, armed with his pistols, he could hunt what birdlife there was on his isle. He could collect the eggs of gulls, or shoot dead the parents. He had grog to drink. He had everything which he needed to survive.

The man had all that he needed, apart from companionship, for he was truly alone. He knew this, for he had searched the island time and time again.

The castaway had everything he needed, almost as though it had been provided for him. But the one thing which he wanted was to see footprints in the sand, and to know that there was some companion to share his time on this Island of Despair. The company of a dog or a cat was not the same as that of a human being.

Perhaps tomorrow… Perhaps tomorrow they would let him meet his Man Friday.

The visitors to the museum strolled past the hemisphere, looking in at the island in the distance. The entire island, and the sea around it, was contained in the exhibit, distortion of dimensions allowing miles of desert island to be shrunk down to a few decametres.

Here we have a recreation of the island of Robinson Crusoe, from the novel by Daniel Defoe.” the tour guide said. “As in all other exhibits, the human inside the hemisphere cannot see out of the exhibit, and has no idea that he is a museum. He believes that he on an island on the planet Earth, in what the humans called the early eighteenth century. He has no idea that Earth suffered a cataclysmic ecological collapse five hundred Earth years ago, and is no longer capable of sustaining human life.”

One of the young aliens went right up to the plastic of the hemisphere and stared at the human in the distance. The alien picked one of his three novels with the end of a tentacle, which another tentacle operated the viewer, telescoping forwards for a closer look at this human as he sat on the shore of his desert island.

He’s really ugly.” the alien said.

We will come back this way on the way back, and you can have another look at our Robinson Crusoe.” the tour guide said. “But let us move on to the next exhibit. I think that you will find it really interesting. It is our recreation of the novel Dracula…”

A Life Of Fiction CXCIII

My Steampunk Empire stuff: I used to post stories on the site the Steampunk Empire. But it seems to have changed and become some sort of social network, one which does not recognise my name nor let me on, despite the fact that I used to have a page on there. I guess that many sites die after a while. It was a shame, as it was an interesting site.

Anyway, the reason why I am writing this is because I used to, occasionally, post bits of fiction on the site. If I can’t get onto the site I presume that that is the case for the occasional browser, as well. The pieces of fiction are collected in my collections of blogs on Kindle. But not everybody has a Kindle. Besides, they were always intended to be out there for people to read for free, as a kind of advert for the work which I charge for on Kindle. So I have decided to start posting them on here. The stories will additionally appear in these updates. When enough time has passed each little snippet of fiction may get its own page, so that readers do not have to keep scrolling downwards.

Each month I will add another short piece of fiction until I run out of stuff which I put on the Steampunk Empire. Or until I get bored. Whichever happens first.

The first story collected here is called A Riot. This short vignette was written for a writing challenge, about chocolate having been declared illegal, for the website Steampunk Empire.

A Riot

Down with the New Puritans! Down with Makepeace!”

That was the refrain from the large and angry crowd marching on the Houses of Parliament. That same refrain was repeated over and over again, occasionally interrupted by the variant chorus “Down with the Lord Protector!”

The crowd swept through the darkened, night-time streets of old London Town. Gas lamps turned themselves on, to make up for the fact that the sun had set. But the mob had no need of those sentinels. They carried their own lights with them, in the form of burning torches, as brand carried by every few men.

The grim-faced, black-garbed Ravens – the paramilitary elite of the New Puritan regime – stood guard between the mob and their intended destination. They stood there unmoving, in their black clothes and tall black hats, looking more like statues than people.

The Ravens were armed with the latest weaponry: Phlogiston-fuelled blunderbusses which were deadly at short range. They raised their weapons, and trained them on the crowd which was marching towards them. But they did not fire. Not yet.

Even the Ravens, loyal to the lord protector to the last man, could see that if fighting started that they could not win. The blunderbusses took too long to reload, and the crowd was too big, and too angry.

The people of nineteenth century England had suffered too many hardships under the second Protectorate of the New Puritans. They had seen Christmas banned. They had seen their newspapers banned – all bar a few who served the Puritan cause. Alcohol had been banned, and the bars all closed down. Catholic churches had been closed. Even hot cross buns had been banned, because of charges of idolatry. The people of Britain had suffered all that, and grumbled, as English people had been wont to do.

There had been minor incidents, especially when the public houses had gone, as the English have always liked their beer. But there were those who had praised that action, in getting rid of Demon drink, and enforcing teetotalism throughout the land.

A Life Of Fiction CXCII

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

Dictionary of the Occult: I have started work on another long term project, a dictionary of the occult. This has come about after I bought a supposed dictionary of the occult in a charity store. But, on getting it home, I was disappointed to see that it did not even have an entry for an athame. I thought that I could do better. The more I thought about it, the better the idea seemed. I had researched a lot of odd things when creating my gas-lamp fantasy RPG. I could use a lot of those entries, making sure that I removed any changes which I had made to fit into my world. I have a lot of books on the occult, and on folklore and on other strange things.
I decided that my dictionary was not just going to be about the occult, but about all of the strange things not accepted by science. it was going to cover ghosts, fairies, cryptids, unexplained disappearances, magic, and everything like that.
As I have said, this is a very long term project. As I write the book is only some 46,000 words, and I want it to be a lot bigger than that. I want it to be at least a couple of hundred thousand. But, as I have not yet finished any entry to my satisfaction, there is plenty of room for expansion in the future.
Here are five (unfinished) entries from what little I have done so far. These entries will become much larger when the book is done. But I thought that I would put them here as a very rough preview of what the book may be like. Those of you who have bought my gas-lamp fantasy RPG supplements may recognise the entries. Apologies for that, but I see no point in not reusing my research. Anyway, I hope that you will find these entries interesting.

Alderley Edge: Alderley Edge is a village in Cheshire. The village was originally known as Chorley. It was renamed Alderley Edge in 1880 when the railway arrived.
The Edge is a wide red sandstone escarpment situated above the village of Alderley. The Edge was described as a dreary common till the year 1779, when it was enclosed together with all the other waste lands of Alderley. Some hundreds of Scotch firs were planted on the highest points by Sir James and Sir Edward Stanley, between the years 1745 and 1755, before that time, it does not appear that a single tree grew on it.
The Legend of the Iron Gates: A farmer was passing by, taking a white horse to market. When he was going past an area known as Thieves’ Hole, an old man in grey robes blocked his path. The old man offered to buy the horse, but the farmer refused. The old man said the farmer would not be able to sell his horse; and that he would await the farmer’s return.
Needless to say, the farmer failed to sell the horse at market. When he returned, the old man was still there. The farmer took the old man’s offer, this time.
The old man led the farmer and the horse for a while, and then banged on the ground with his quarterstaff. The rock opened up to reveal a set of Iron Gates. The old man took the farmer down, and showed him a sleeping army, telling him that the army were ready to fight for England, before returning the farmer to the world, and closing the rock back up.
The legend suggests that the old man must have been the wizard Myrddin Wylt; and that the sleeping men were the army of King Arthur.
Parson Shrigley, in the seventeenth century, claimed to have met a similar wizard on Alderley Edge. Shrigley said that the wizard identified himself as Thomas of Erceldoune, a legendary wizard who was supposed to know some extremely powerful White Magick.

Alumbrados: The Alumbrados is a secret society of Spanish mystics. They influenced the founding of the Bavarian Illuminati by Adam Weishaupt. The society was also interested in Gnostic Christianity.
In 1525 two of the society’s members, Isabella de la Cruz, and Pedro Alcaraz, were executed on charges of heresy.
The society was believed to have been wiped out by the Inquisition in the 17th century. But, in fact, some of the society’s members escaped to the south of France. The first known presence of the Alumbrados in France dates from 1623. The secret society remained there until at least 1794, when it seemed to have moved back across the Pyrenees into north-eastern Spain.
The original aims of the Alumbrados were partially religious – to illuminate people by exposing them to Gnostic ideas. The society believed that it was possible during a person’s life to attain such a state of perfection of the soul that the person could understand the mysteries of the Holy Trinity. They also suggested that external worship was pointless, and that if a person achieved purity of the soul that they would reach such a state of communion with God that it would be impossible for them to commit sin.

Glamis Castle: Angus includes Glamis Castle, five miles south of Forfar. The castle is supposed to be one of the most haunted places in Britain. One of the ghosts is supposed to be Janet Douglas, who was arrested and executed in 1537 on charges of Black Magick, and using it to try to kill King James V of Scotland.
Strange knocking sounds have also been heard.
There is also supposed to be a hidden room with some sort of half human monster in it. The monster is supposed to be the 11th Earl of Strathmore, who was born in the early 1800s and is still alive. He is supposed to have an oval body, tiny legs and arms, and no neck.
There is supposed to be a secret room in the castle (presumably where the Earl is kept). A few years ago guests decided to try and find that room. They hung a towel out of every window, reasoning that any window without a towel would be the secret room. And there was one window which did not have a towel hanging out of it. But, before they could investigate further, the current earl returned and, in a great rage, banished the guests from his castle.

Killing Stone, The: This is also known as the Sessho-Seki. It is supposed to strike dead anybody foolish enough to touch it. It is supposed to have been the transformed corpse of Tamamo-no-Mae.
The stone was connected with the tale of another spirit, that of Hoji, a kindly fox condemned to haunt the stone. But, one day, a Buddhist priest called Genno stopped on his travels, to rest besides the stone. He was threatened by the ghost of Hoji. But Genno managed to exorcise the spirit through Buddhist rituals, and convinced her to never haunt the stone again.
The Tale of Tamamo-no-Mae: Tamamo-no-Mae was a courtesan at the time of Emperor Konoe, in the 12th century. She was supposed to have been the most beautiful woman in the whole of Japan. She always smelled wonderfully, and her clothes refused to be creased. She was supposed to have knowledge of a lot of subjects, despite the fact that she was not that old, only being around twenty.
She was beloved by the Japanese court, and the Emperor could not fail but to fall in love with her.
While the Emperor was falling in love with Tamamo-no-Mae, the Empress suddenly and mysteriously fell ill.
A wizard was consulted to see why the Empress had suddenly become sick. He said that Tamamo-no-Mae was the cause of the sickness, and that she was not really a woman, but a kitsune in disguise. Tamamo-no-Mae had been sent to the court by an evil Daimyo to disrupt the royal court.
Tamamo-no-Mae must have sensed the wizard divine her true nature, because she suddenly disappeared from the court.
The Emperor ordered his two best warriors to hunt down and slay the evil kitsune. The hunters tracked the fox spirit, gradually closing in.
Sensing that its pursuit was closing in, the kitsune appeared in the dreams of one of the warriors, begging him not to kill her. But he refused.
The next day the warriors caught up with the kitsune. The warrior who had had the dream, a man by the name of Miura-no-Suke, fired off an arrow from his daikyu, killing the kitsune.
The body of the kitsune was magically transformed into the Sessho-seki, otherwise known as the Killing Stone. Her spirit transformed into Hoji, and entered the stone.

Mare Tenebrosum: This is the Sea of Darkness. It appears to be a cursed stretch of ocean which can appear in different places of the world. It is an area of perpetual darkness; but ships sailing into the area at night might not realise that they are entering the Mare Tenebrosum.
When ships enter this cursed area of sea the ocean will suddenly become very calm, no matter what it was like before. Sailors looking up at the sky will not see the moon or stars, only black clouds as far as they eye can see.
Then the sailors of a ship unfortunate enough to enter this region will begin to hear strange sounds; first of all a choking hail out of the darkness, followed by the sounds of cannons, and the cries of men in battle. But there will be nothing to be seen. There will only be the sound of sailors crying out in every language under the sun.
The sounds will eventually fade away, ending with a wail. Sailors will then see ghostly ships appear out of the darkness. The ships will sail right towards the ship which has venture into this area, before suddenly fading away.

Next time I will be presenting a short piece of steampunk fiction.