Monday, August 25, 2014


85,000 words
NA Steampunk


My mother did not want me to tell her good-bye. In her last moments, she refused to have me by her deathbed.
“Please,” she wheezed to my father through her respirator, which resembled a large bronze-and-black spider devouring her face. “Take the children to the cellar.”
“Scarlett! Teddy! Hurry along now!”
“Mama, I want to stay with you!” I clutched my mother’s thin hand as I collapsed to my knees. I ignored the respirator, the blue veins that bulged along her fingers, and the shadows staining the hollows of her eyes. She was immortalized in my memory with her midnight tresses, the flush of her fair skin, and the warmth of health blooming in her smooth, supple palms.
Mother gasped. A bead of sweat rolled past her temple. She pressed her free hand to her throat as she coughed, lurching on her back, the final minutes of her life forcing spasms along her spine.
Baba yanked on my shoulder. He held my little brother, Teddy, by one hand.
“Scarlett, down to the cellar.”
Turning a deaf ear to my screeches, he slung me over his broad shoulder, as easily as a bamboo pole. He whisked Teddy and me out of the bedchamber to the kitchen. Coriander and ginger scented the air, and darkness slammed above my head. With the snap of the lock, Baba trapped my brother and me among the sacks of flour, rice, and dried fruit.
Teddy clung to my waist. I threw my arms around his shoulders, resting my chin upon the tuft of dark hair atop his head. Teddy’s tears streamed down my neck. I tightened my embrace, needing the softness of his round, familiar cheeks against my collarbone.
“What’s happening to Mama, Scarlett?”
My voice felt like glass shards in my throat. “Mama’s dying, Teddy.”
Teddy was only four. “Baba keeps saying Mama won’t return. Is that what dying means?”
My tears dripped into my brother’s black hair. “That’s right. Mama will be gone. She’ll sleep and never wake up.”
“Then she’ll need a kiss!” Teddy leapt to his feet as if he had dug up gold. “That’s how ladies wake up in stories! Baba needs to kiss her, and she’ll live!”

“No, Teddy.” I shook my head as I pressed my fists against my soaked eyes. “Kisses can’t save her, not even ones from Baba. She’ll disappear, and we’ll never see her again.”
In a momentary halt of tears, Teddy stayed quiet in the dark. He processed my words, let them seep into his ears, soak into his brain, and felt the blunt trauma of truth bruise him deep beneath his skin before a fresh flood of tears assaulted my skirt.
“Don’t ever die, Scarlett!” He pressed his face between my ribs.
“I’m not going to die!” The declaration ripped out of my throat as we sobbed and embraced each other by the lumpy sacks of flour. We couldn’t tell whose tears were whose. They merged like raindrops streaking down windows on stormy nights and bleeding into oblivion.
Our sobs ebbed into sniffled whimpers. We didn’t hear anything. No winds through the windows, no tinkling of windchimes in the garden, no creaking footsteps, nothing but the ticking of the kitchen clock. Tick...tick...tick…
A great cry from my parents’ bedchamber shattered the silence. It resonated against the walls, deep and anguished. It couldn’t belong to anyone but Baba, but the voice did not sound human. It sounded like the cry of a mauled animal.
There was a sudden rush of sounds--a window clattering open, glass smashing and crackling upon the floor, the stomp of steel boots, and a satin-deep voice that declared, “She’s mine now!”
“No!” I heard Baba cry. “No! She’s my wife!”
I clutched my brother to me, his cheeks squished against the curve of my neck as we quashed our breaths. Was this why Baba locked us in here?
“Leave my family alone!”
“That simple, is it? You’ll never be left alone.”
I heard another scream from Baba, like an arrow shot through my ears.
The unfamiliar voice chuckled. “I am perfectly aware that you have a daughter.”
“No!” Baba’s ragged voice was fading, and I had to raise my head and widen my eyes to catch his words. “No children!”
Only a laugh. “You’re still a poor liar. I’d like to meet her very much.”
Dragging my brother by the hand, I buried us both beneath a pile of rice sacks. I clamped my hand over my mouth as the lock shattered open, and light stabbed into the cellar.
I screamed when a large hand snatched my tresses. With brute force that I could not resist, I was dragged into the daylit kitchen, and back to the bedchamber. There was my father, his hand clamped onto the door frame as he leaned forward with heavy breaths. A syringe with clear fluid stuck out from his shoulder, the very shoulder I had been slung over less than an hour ago.
“Look at me, girl!”
I shrieked like a pig to be slaughtered as my head was yanked back by my hair. The intruder’s face was obscured by a white mask with painted black slits. His velvet coat was long and green, and his hair was hidden beneath a wide-brimmed black hat with a gold feather.
“What a pretty girl.” His deep voice was like a purr, a soft breath stained with sneers. “How old are you, child?”
Tears streaked down my face. My mouth hung slack.
“Eight? Nine? Ten?” He yanked harder on my hair. “Answer me, girl!”
“Nine!” The stinging in my scalp shot the truth out of me.
“Nine?” He laughed, and met Baba’s red eyes, which were delirious with anger. “You and your wife produced a future minx. Give her another ten years, and she’ll be at the apex of ravishment.”
A flash of black movement jerked another shriek out of me. One lash of a whip against the intruder’s arm, and I crumpled to the floor. I crawled to Baba. He clenched his bared teeth as I yanked the syringe out of him. A shadow loomed over us.
My grandmother stood tall before us, her teeth bared and an axe in her fists and a whip and a pistol at her belt. She glared at the intruder, her legs spread in a formidable stance.
“You dare come after my family?”
“I have only come to collect my debts.” The intruder rubbed his arm where he had been whipped, even though he chuckled.
I clutched Baba’s hand as he tried to stand, but the injection from the syringe made his legs quiver, as if he had been reduced to the strength of a fawn trying to take its first steps. Grandmother’s axe swung out many times in vain at the intruder, who gathered my mother’s corpse. She hung over his arms like a marionette, her black hair like a swinging drape. The respirator had been removed from her pale, parched lips, and the white lace of her nightgown fluttered along her protruding collarbone like flowers shriveling beneath a blast of wind.

Large mechanical hands attached with springs shot through the window and snatched both the intruder and my mother, flinging both of them into an airship that hovered outside the window. The massive red and copper structure gleamed in the daylight like an angry shard of sun that threatened to burn us all alive.


  1. I think you've got some really strong world building here. The emotions of the characters really shine through as well. I did feel like I wanted to know a little more about Scarlett before the action gets started, and I also wondered why we start on the MC at such a young age in a NA. Best of luck to you!

  2. The emotional content is really good - and I thought that Scarlett's interaction with her brother was really strong.

    When the action starts I was a little confused. I have a bit of trouble keeping track of who is where, and what the scene looks like. Things move very quickly.

    "There was a sudden rush of sounds--a window clattering open, glass smashing and crackling upon the floor, the stomp of steel boots, and a satin-deep voice that declared, “She’s mine now!”" <-- I thought she was dying, but now she's being taken by someone? Who is this outside person?

    "Grandmother’s axe swung out many times in vain at the intruder, who gathered my mother’s corpse. " <--- how is he just ignoring an axe? Is it bouncing off armor? Going right through him? It's hard for me to picture this.

    I suspect we're supposed to be surprised that this villain would have any interest in kidnapping a corpse but something about the transition from this very personal and very tragic moment between Scarlett and her brother into the intrusion from this outsider was very jarring.

  3. I agree with Timothy that I'm not sure why an NA story starts with age nine--though I do love the disturbing interaction with the stranger. Is this maybe a scene we could get in flashback? I felt a little distant from the MC in the beginning--I have a hard time reading strongly emotional scenes when I don't know/love the character. So I felt like I was watching her grief instead of really feeling her grief. For me, the scene didn't really catch me until we got to the intruder--so if you don't want to do this as a flashback, maybe you could start there--you don't have to show her mother dying (we can get that grief from the aftermath), you could just start with her hiding in the cellar with the body of her dead mother overhead . . . that would make the conflict/stakes immediately higher.


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