Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Old Skewl: Lab

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by Nathalie Gray
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Eleanor Clerverly may have been a spy, a murderess, but she was no fiend. Why resort to violence when a simple drop of potent poison would suffice? She tested the spring-loaded mechanism that allowed a needle to shoot out of the broach then gently pinned it back on her corseted dress. Blood-red, like her lips. One of her many weapons. Enough were concealed on her person—her corset alone was a veritable armory—to kill a man in half a dozen ways. Slender dagger, garrote, pistols, poison.

She hurried down the deserted corridor. A drafty night owned the silent university.

No one would be here. Except him.

The checkered floor did not register her steps. To the untrained ear, no faint rustling stirred the air. To the amateur eye, no shadow flitted along the stone wall. Beyond the great ramparts keeping the university from sliding into the tumultuous ocean, thunderclouds gathered like angry god-fists. Eleanor reached the massive double-doors keeping all but the best picks from entering the observatory. Hers were the finest in the land. She closed the door behind her, making sure not to click the bolt back in place. She would need to make a hasty retreat after the deed was done.

Leeford Gunn, her target, must have been hard at work, shut-out from society and his rich family, except for two people who depended on his meager rent; a vinegary groundskeeper and a quite mad cousin who called herself Lady Frivolous. She had no qualms with such a man who would seemed considerate and charitable. But his research was just too dangerous to be allowed to flourish in hands not as responsible as is.

So after the society for which she worked had failed to convince Gunn to abandon his project, she had been tasked with his murder. Still, such a shame for she had caught a glimpse of the man earlier in the night. Standing a good head taller than anyone,

Gunn was hard to miss. Dark blond hair that stuck out at odd angles, eyes bluer than the sky, and a genuine smile that curved only at one corner. But it was his hands that Eleanor had noticed first. Long, strong hands covered in ink stains. Made to follow the contour of a woman’s body. Eleanor shivered.

She crept up the circular staircase, each step taking her closer to the unpleasant business. Sounds filtered down to her. Then smells. Sulfur, ammonia. Incense? She would put nothing past the eccentric man. The door was open, so she stole a glance inside. She had expected chaos, but nothing like this.

Everywhere machines hung, lay or leaned, they stood, balanced or ticked, they rumbled, steamed and occupied every flat surface available in the giant circular room. To her surprise, it felt very cozy, very comforting. Below the domed ceiling of glass and steel stretched a metal framework where a collection of pulleys of all sizes and lengths of chain stirred in the amber light cast from gas bracket lights.

She felt as though she were inside a living machine. Gears, chains, levers, switches, light bulbs, copper pipes, glass tubes. Sheets of paper lay everywhere.

Drawings done in haste by hand covered three blackboards leaning precariously against a denuded portion of the wall. In a corner, a tiny enamel kitchen sink bolted into the wall, a cast-iron cooker on bowed legs, a small dresser filled with things that had little to do with cooking. Pliers, tiny iron hammers, a set of miniature clamps. The man was messy. Steam rose from a kettle the likes of which she had never seen. It stood a foot tall on its pewter pedestal with a long “beak” and a thick porcelain handle. It resembled a crane to her.

But what caught her eye was a table across the room on which a gray tarp hid a barrel-sized lump. Her heart skipped a beat.

She sensed the presence behind her too late. A click she knew well heralded something small and hard pressing in the nape of her neck. “Can I help you, madam?” a man whispered.

She did not need to turn around to recognize Leeford Gunn’s characteristic voice.

She would have to play it smooth.


Flash fiction derived from Mechanical Rose, by Nathalie Gray
© 2010. All rights reserved.

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by Nathalie Gray
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~~*!~~ eBook Giveaway courtesy of author ~~!*~~

Mechanical Rose
by Nathalie Gray

This is an ebook.

Open to all.

Offer ends: December 26, 2010


Send me a link to a picture of a (steampunk) corset you like AND include you email in comments (if i don't already have it).

View corset entries here.


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* image source mechanical rose brooch

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