Archive for October, 2009

Makings of a SteamPunk

October 13, 2009

“This isn’t the last you’ve heard from me, Flint,” Mr. Covalence says as he raises his hands above his head.  “It’s not over.”

“It never is,” says Osiris Flint with a sigh.  A pair of copper manacles dangle from Flint’s right hand.  In his left is a snub-nosed revolver.  He casually steps over the unconscious form of one of Mr. Covalence’s hired muscle, and advances towards Covalence himself.

Mr. Covalence’s hands lower slightly, “I should, however, warn you that this dirigible has a… for lack of a better term… a dead man’s trigger.  And once I have flipped the switch, there is only a matter of seconds before the hydrogen keeping us aloft ignites.”

Flint pauses.  He has heard threats like this before.  Not only from Covalence, but from other foes, like Steam Boy or The Robber Baron.  What makes him pause is the knowledge that the threats are not always idle.  “What switch, Covalence?  I don’t see any form of toggle on the console.  There’s the altimeter and the pressure gauge, the compass and that’s the thrust.  Nowhere do I see a toggle.”  Flint continues towards his quarry.

Mr. Covalence straightens his bowtie, sets his bowler squarely atop his head, and adjusts the lapels of his suit coat.  He then pounds the gold-capped base of his cane onto the wooden floor of the control room.  There is a gaseous hiss as the cane’s base sinks through the floorboards.  “Oh, you’ll have to pardon me.  It was a button, and not a switch.”

Flint lunges at Covalence, but he is one step too slow.  Covalence’s cane slices through the air and catches Flint across the arms, causing him to lose his grip on both the gun and the manacles.  As Flint stumbles and tries to recover his firearm, Covalence flees in a swirl of cape.  He stands at the control room’s door, strapping himself into what looks like a metal cylinder with a rod on each side that loops around to Covalence’s chest.  He looks back to Flint: “I do wish you luck Osiris.  It would be a shame if you were to go up with the airship, and, as such, I have left you a parachute.” He points to the corner of the room farthest from the door.  In the corner is a small canvas pack.  Covalence opens the door and leaps out into the starry night sky.  As he falls towards the city and the open water of the bay below him, he grabs hold of the rods and twists his fists.  A great flare erupts from the bottom of the metal cylinder and Covalence rockets out of sight, his trail being lost among the stars in the sky.

Inside the dirigible’s control room, Osiris Flint scrambles to his feet and hurriedly grabs the parachute in the corner of the room.  Without pausing to pull the straps over his shoulder, Flint leaps through the control room’s door.  Pulling his arms tight to his chest, Flint plummets towards the black water of the bay.  Above him, and reflected on the water below him, the night sky fills with an enormous bloom of fire as the dirigible’s hydrogen ignites.  The boom assails his ears moments later.  Then the heat and concussive force of the blast pound against Flint’s back, causing him to tumble and roll through the air.  He fears opening the ‘chute, if there is even a parachute to open, too close to the exploding and descending dirigible.  But if he waits too long, he knows he’ll either snap his neck from trying to stop the speed of his fall, or he’ll crash into the surface of the water

“Damned if I do, damned if I don’t,” Flint mutters and pulls the parachute’s ripcord.

Tarquin Saint Regis. Take 2

October 8, 2009

Tarquin Saint Regis is the older of two sons.  He does not consider himself to be in the good graces of his younger brother, Branford.  In truth, Tarquin isn’t in the good graces of the entire family Saint Regis, a position owed mostly to the fact that Tarquin has refused to take part in any of the familial enterprises.  It broke his mother Bronwyn’s heart so greatly that she cried for two weeks straight and then did not leave her bed for another three months.  His father, MacArthur, burned down the family’s summer home on the Allegheny and declared that Tarquin was dead to him.

Tarquin is a dandy.  Before turning his back on the Saint Regis family’s considerable steel empire, he had developed a penchant for tweed suits and wingtips.  A penchant so strong that Tarquin had the Harris Tweed Orb tattooed over his heart (directly below and incorporating the Scottish cross that was already tattooed there) on his eighteenth birthday.  His exit from the family’s wealth has not hurt his foppishness too much, and he still manages to wear a different suit for each day of the week.

Since moving out of his family’s sphere of influence, Tarquin has found himself reading more.  He spends hours at the public library (ironically it is a Carnegie library, funded from the coffers of another Scottish steel magnate), and is working his way through the shelves from Abbot to Zola.  He surreptitiously scribbles notes into the books’ margins and if a subsequent reader were clever enough, they would discover that the scribblings add up to Tarquin’s magnum opus: a story of three brothers who kidnap Satan and attempt to extort their immortality from him.

Saint Regis rents an efficiency on the eighth floor of an antiquated apartment.  There is no elevator and, in his scaling and descending, he often has to step over sleeping or passed-out forms at some point on the eight flights of stairs.  Aside from his army-surplus cot and scratchy wool blanket that smells of fried potatoes and wet dog, Tarquin’s apartment is austerely unfurnished.  There is a sink mounted to the wall behind the door, but the water is brackish and tinged with rust.  When he first moved in, Tarquin had tried keeping an orchid plant, but the tap water killed it within two days.  He finds poetic irony in the death of his plant, and has yet to remove the wilted remains and pot from the windowsill.

Tarquin is aware that his family is looking for him.  His mother sends money to the Pittsburgh Post Office’s Main Office, addressed to Tarquin Saint Regis, General Delivery.  Along with the money, there is usually a small note.  The most recent note described how MacArthur had begun plans to rebuild the summer home.  MacArthur had also declared that Tarquin was no longer dead to him and he was waiting with fatted calf for the return of his prodigal son.  Tarquin had replied only once to these letters from his mother.  His message had been brief, containing only two words: Don’t Wait.

Still, the letters come bimonthly.

Tarquin Saint Regis. Take 1

October 5, 2009

A heavy hand clapped Tarquin Saint Regis’s shoulder.  A muffled voice accompanied it, but, being muffled, he couldn’t make out the words over the pounding bass of the bar’s music.  He shrugged the hand from his tweed blazer and swiveled on his barstool.  Several inches of smoky haze and poor bar lighting wavered between him and a man clad in a black wool suit, the nap of which was busy absorbing aromas of stale beer, cheap perfume and cigar smoke.  Looming behind the suited man were two larger gentlemen, the heavy hand belonged to one of them, whose sour grimaces gave an air of permanent inconvenience.

Tarquin, ever grinning, shuffled a half empty pint glass from right to left and then offered his hand, “Branford, how nice of you to make a call!  Hoyle, Collie, it’s always a pleasure, a-and I do appreciate your coming out tonight, what with the weather and all.”  Tarquin’s hand hung like a lowered half of a drawbridge, but Branford only looked at it disapprovingly.

“I’d much rather do business elsewhere, Tarquin.  Why is it, every time I’m sent by Dad to come and fetch you, you always seem to have pissed yourself through the cracks of civilization and wound up puddled in some deathtrap of a bar?  I know it’s trite, but I feel intoxicated just breathing in the air.  I’m loathe to touch anything, yes-even you, for fear of contracting something that has yet to be discovered by modern science,” Branford snuffed once, his nose and upper lip curling in disgust.

Tarquin laughed and dropped his hand.  He raised his pint glass and drank the remaining beer in one gulp, though a noticeable amount spilled from the side of his mouth and splashed on the already-soiled lapels of his blazer.  “Bran, of the sizeable kennel that Dad has, you are by far his best retriever.  No one else could have found me here, inebriated amongst the world’s destitute wastes… wasn’t that how you put it once?  And you do it with such emotion and patience for your little brother, God save my wayward soul.”

The larger of the two brutes chuckled, but was silenced by the connection of ribs with his partner’s elbow.  The prodding brute spoke up in a bullfrog’s croak, “It’s time to go Mister Saint Regis.  We gotta schedule to keep.”

Tarquin frowned, a move that revealed lines in college rule on his brow.  Not new lines, but the sort of lines that erode themselves into a forehead over the duration of one’s life.  Tarquin was 24.  “Nobody’s going to hurry me out of here.  I didn’t ask you to come down here, I didn’t ask Dad for nothing,” He turned his head and coughed, “I’m looking for another pint, Reg.  And I think I’ll need a shot to wash it down.”  Tarquin slowly returned his gaze to the three men who stood around him, “Hoyle, Collie, i-if you’d be so kind as to give me and my brother a moment alone?”

Hoyle and Collie looked at Branford.  Branford’s shoulders sagged towards the floor, as though he had just put on a backpack filled with cement.  He looked at the floor and sighed, “Wait in the car.  We’ll be out momentarily.”

As the two hulks soft shoed their way out of the bar, Tarquin slapped the glittered purple vinyl seat of the empty bar stool next to him.  “After last time, I didn’t think Dad’d try to find me.”

Branford perched halfheartedly onto the stool, and looked his brother in the eye, “He’s your Father, what you did won’t change that.”

Tarquin nodded.  He lifted the shotglass off of the bar and raised it towards Branford, “Well, I certainly didn’t think you’d be the one to come after me.  Not after what I did,” he poured the shot into his mouth and swallowed, “But I guess blood is thicker than water after all.”

“I’m here because Dad asked me. You’re nothing to me.  And I’ve got half a mind to let Collie and Hoyle work you over a bit before we drag you back home. You’re a plague on the Saint Regis name.  I wouldn’t give a damn if we left you to rot in this dive.  But Dad wants you home.  And him I do care about.”  Branford slid off of the stool and buttoned his jacket.  He pulled slim moneyclip from his pants pocket and peeled off a one hundred dollar bill.  He tossed the bill thoughtlessly onto the bar, “Now we’re getting out of here.  That’s the end of it.”  He put his hands on his hips and stood, waiting for Tarquin to rise.

Crickets. Rain.

October 5, 2009

I remember my family’s penultimate vacation together.  We drove our station wagon to South Dakota.  I must have been 13, and about to enter eighth grade.

Our car, with five passengers and all of our camping equipment, was cramped, uncomfortable, and beyond the help of air conditioning.  It was near the end of summer, August most likely, and the South Dakota air was hot and dry.  We stopped at each tourist trap along I90: Wall Drug, the Corn Palace, every Wild West or Frontier themed “village”, all of it.  And everywhere we went, there were locusts. So many that the ground seemed alive with their clicking and leaping.  The slow ones crushed under our feet, a sound and feeling not entirely unpleasant.

One night, near the end of our trip, were camped in the Black Hills.  A torrential rain started up in the middle of the night and began to flood our campsite.  My sister woke up first, crying that her sleeping bag was wet.  This woke the rest of us up and we discovered a fairly large leak in the tent’s floor.  I remember my Dad’s futile attempts to staunch the leak- of course the leak was placed uphill- and my Mom’s voice criticizing him and arguing to simply move to the car.

Finally he conceded and we sprinted to the car, leaving our sleeping bags to grow ever wetter.  The raindrops fell fast and were the size of meatballs, and all of us were soaked before reaching the car.

No one could sleep in our cramped Ford Taurus.  Our clothes clung to our bodies and made us cold, while the windows fogged and the air grew muggy from our breath.  My younger brother screamed and kicked over his inability to get “flat,” impossible in his current position in the middle of the back seat.  My Mom berated my Dad for his failure to foresee the leak being an issue.  (In his defense:  Before we departed on our vacation, he had checked and rechecked the tent for leaks.  I had helped him.  There were no leaks then, and so he could hardly be held truly accountable.)  My Dad fought back weakly and without trying to win (he is a man who eschews confrontation- and I remember that in this fight his voice was not loud, but was sad and carried a note of defeat from the outset).  My sister cried over their fighting (a role that she would play for the remainder of our parents’ breakdown and eventual divorce).  I sat and listened to the rain hammer on our roof, my eyes were closed and I wished for sleep.  That sleep came at some point, but I do not remember when.  I also do not remember my Dad’s leaving the car and returning to the wet tent, but that was where he woke up the next morning.

We hung out our sleeping bags and did the best we could to dry them and the tent, but it didn’t do much good.  Our camping trip was more or less over.  We spent the next night in a hotel and drove through the following night.  My parents didn’t fight any more during the trip, but something had changed.  The foundation of our family had washed away like the ground of our campsite, and there was nothing we could do to staunch the leak.