Saturday, October 3, 2020
Welcome to the garden party, my chuckaboos! I’m glad you are here. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who visited, hosted (so far), and supported the launch of Hullaba Lulu, a Dieselpunk Adventure this week. I’ll be visiting other blogs throughout the coming week. You’re all pos-i-lutely swell.
Wow, it’s already October. Another wow is this episode number — 50. I’ve never taken a serial to 50 chapters before. A very small part of my mind tells me that I should be celebrating a landmark episode… but I’m not.
Like the Garden Party song said, you can’t please everyone. That tune kept playing in my head as I worked on this post. I deleted several paragraphs of this introduction, explaining my personal battles that make it hard to drag myself out of bed in the mornings. (I know there are plenty of people who endure much worse. I’m grateful for the good in my life. But if you’ve got to play at garden parties, I wish you a lot of luck.) That intro wouldn’t have pleased anybody.
You can’t please everyone. People complain when episodes are too long, so maybe short is good, but that has kept this boat on the river a lot longer. Now they express their displeasure that the story has gone on too long. I agree. I learned my lesson well.
I went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friend. (It’s not in a garden, but Dan Antion is hosting different party at the No Facilities Bar & Lounge today.) He often says, blogging should be fun. I thought that’s why they came. It seems like no one heard the music. Anyone who was interested could get the book that I’ll eventually make if episodes were too long or too many. You’ve got to please yourself.
Here’s the chapter — I’m sorry it’s longer. Here’s the chapter — I’m sorry it’s not the last one. Lott-in-dah-dah-dah, lot-in-dah-dah-dah…
This chapter’s random reader thing was provided by G. P. Cox. It’s canoodling. Thanks to Dan Antion for providing some of the photos for this episode.
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 50 — Discover
Tremors vibrated throughout the riverboat. It was worse than the time when we crossed a state line. That state line tremor had left me sprawled in a hallway. It had a similar effect on two of the passengers while they were canoodling. That bump in the river exposed the fact that the governess and the boy in her care were actually two women. Thankfully, I was the only one who saw.
I tried to keep their secret. It would have been awful if Alex Rice was exposed as Alison Ritchie, and the “boy” had to go back to her cheating, thieving husband.
Admittedly that thought was fleeting. There were more immediate problems on my mind. Blue John’s anxiety was contagious. Seeing the clockwork creatures reacting to the situation doubled my concern.
If I felt any worry about the riverboat, the Captain was my first thought. Cecil Perlog was my rock and my comfort. Yet he would doubtless be busy, if only from checking every possible thing, to make sure the Delta Pearl was unharmed by whatever caused the very odd tremor.
The Dealer, I thought. If not the Captain, then Jaspe.
By the time I reached the gaming area I heard running footfalls drawing closer behind me. It was Alex/Alison Rice and Azalea Morton. They were again attired as boy and governess. Although it was obvious that they had dressed hurriedly.
“Émeraude, what happened back there?” Azalea wanted to know.
“It’s obvious that something is amiss,” Alison asserted as she tucked a wayward strand of hair into her cap.
“Both of you should go back to your cabins,” I told them. “Or at least one of the cabins,” I added, feeling flustered.
The Dealer suddenly appeared at my elbow, causing me to jump. He raised one eyebrow as he looked at me. I admired the man’s grace, but honestly… he moved so quietly he could startle a stone statue.
“All is well. It was just a little bump. C’est tout,” Jaspe told them with Cajun charm. “No harm has come to this vessel. You will be safe. At least no harm will come to you as long as you stay inside. Don’t venture onto the decks,” he added ominously before he moved to another group of passengers who had gathered nearby.
The Cook appeared, leading a troupe of tray laden kitchen staff. Each carried steaming tea and sourwood honey.
“You girls need to sit down and have a nice cup of tea,” Agate told Alison and Azalea. “Then come with me after I finish handing the trays around.”
The two young women gasped. Both cast an accusatory look at me, assuming I was the one who let out their secret. I cast a warning glance in return. The silly things.
“Now, now dears,” the Cook chided them. “It isn’t as if I couldn’t see a girl dressed as a boy, or the attraction between you two.”
Agate’s comment flabbergasted me. Was their deception that obvious to her? If it was so noticeable, then why hadn’t I at least suspected something before I caught the pair bread and butter fashion? Could I be that gullible?
My self-analysis was cut short when the Dealer discretely motioned for me to come to him. He was talking to the worried Mate. Blue John hurried off after a brief exchange of words with Jaspe.
“Try not to worry, cher. It is serious business, but everything should be fine — provided the passengers remain inside,” the Dealer said in a calm tone. “The current circumstance is only temporary.”
His voice was the only hint I might have had, though Jaspe usually modulated his tone. I rarely got so much as an insinuation of his feelings from his facial expression. It was typically neutral. However, the behavior of the Mate alone was enough to tell me that the worries Blue had expressed earlier were valid.
“What is it, Jaspe? I’ve never felt a tremor that strong aboard the Delta Pearl. The vibration from it came from every direction. I already know something has happened, so you might as well explain,” I said, trying unsuccessfully to match his dispassionate expression and tone.
The Dealer glanced to make sure no one else was within earshot. Even then he hesitated. I gave him a significant look to prod him.
“You are, of course, aware of the Delta Pearl’s sensitivity to crossing boundaries, time zones, and such. I believe the Mate discussed it with you in detail when last we encountered this phenomenon,” he stated.
What he said caused me to wonder how he knew of that conversation. Then I remembered Onyx had been there. The clockwork owl really was a little gossip. My eyes widened in brief indignation, but I asked Jaspe to continue.
“There has been no damage. We are actually still on course. However, the Delta Pearl has encountered a temporal rift,” the Dealer told me as if that should make perfect sense.
“You don’t mean to tell me that we have moved in time?” I asked in disbelief.
From the time I first came aboard the Delta Pearl I had heard the crew whisper about such unbelievable things. I thought the accounts mere fiction, fantasies of people who had too little contact with the outside world. However, Jaspe was serious.
“Well then, where, or perhaps I should say when are we?” I asked.
“Latitude and longitude remain unchanged,” the Dealer clarified. “However, we have shifted in time. We are in a time about one hundred fifty years later than our own era. That is why the passengers must stay inside. We could never make an excuse good enough to appease them if they happened to see some bizarre happening or some strange future technology.”
All the staff bustled around. The Mate poked his head around a doorway and motioned toward the Dealer. Jaspe excused himself and left me on my own to ponder temporal shifts and what consequences there might be if our passengers figured out what had happened. Not to mention how long it might take to set things to rights.
A small but insistent clicking sound reached my ears. I turned around but no one was there. The clicks came again. Finally, I spotted the source of the sound. On the plush velvet upholstery of a sofa a few feet away perched the purple clockwork spider.
“Amethyst! So, there you are!” I exclaimed as I moved to the sofa. “I wondered where you’d gotten to, you naughty little thing.”
I sat down on the luxurious deep red velvet. The little spider hopped onto my arm. Amethyst pointed at the sofa back with one spindly leg.
“He sneaks,” she whispered.
“You don’t say,” I murmured with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I stretched to look behind the sofa. There I found a very sheepish looking Victor Topaz Elam. His spectacles were askew, and his hair was a mess. A goose egg swelled red on his forehead. He touched it gingerly.
“Are you… hurt?” I asked, knowing full well that the man must have heard the private conversation I had just had with the Dealer.
Even though Victor had been pulled into the bonding ceremony that made Jet Fischer an official part of the crew, it was an accident. I didn’t know whether it simply stunned him, if it has a partial effect, or if it completely “took.” Regardless, I didn’t think Jaspe would have wanted the inventor to hear all that.
“Oh, I’m fine,” he began in an offhanded way. “Whatever rough water we hit back there set me off balance. I fell and banged my head against something, although I’m not sure what it was. Maybe it was just the floor,” he answered awkwardly.
“Perhaps I should get you back to the Cook. Wasn’t she looking after you? That knot on your noggin is getting larger as we speak,” I suggested casually while I wondered how much he had heard.
“The Cook?” he muttered bleary-eyed. “I have a fuzzy memory of her pouring some vile concoction down my throat. But how did I get here?”
Victor struggled to his feet and walked around the sofa to sit beside me.
“I feel like I’ve been batty-fanged. The past day is a carriwitchett. I remember Amethyst and Cal chasing that little copper scarab, and us following it… Then I just remember colors and music. It feels like I had a bizarre dream. Then I remember feeling a strong need to go somewhere. I must have been sleepwalking. The next thing I remember was the pain to my head when I fell,” Victor explained haltingly.
I looked at him carefully. Had the bump to his head caused a chunk of his memory to be lost? Or had the bonding caused it? Obsidian Durango, the Cadet, lost the memory of the entire week surrounding his bonding, but it returned after about a month. On the other hand, the Chief Porter, Garnet Redford said the memory of his bonding never returned.
A gleam came to Victor’s eyes when he spotted Amethyst sitting on my arm. It was as if he was suddenly suffused with excitement. Finally, he could contain himself no longer.
“But I heard what the Dealer told you just now!” he said breathlessly. “A real temporal rift? I can hardly believe my good fortune. What an opportunity for investigation!”
Putting the heel of my hand to my forehead, I groaned.
“Oh, don’t worry. I understand your need to keep this quiet. Rest assured I will not speak a word of it to the other passengers. There are some who might use the discovery to advance their own causes. But please, I’d like to offer my services to the Captain. I’m sure I could be valuable in this situation.”
“Victor… to the Captain this is not a discovery. It is merely a slight disruption in the Delta Pearl’s course. Frankly, I’m concerned that he will be upset that you have learned of it,” I told him honestly.
I intentionally mentioned that the Captain would be dismayed if Victor had found out what was happening. I hoped it would remind the timid inventor of what a huge man Cecil Perlog was. The thought should have struck fear in the much smaller man’s heart.
However, it seemed Victor was a dyed in the wool scientist. If the thought of a huge man being upset with him crossed his mind, then it deterred him not at all.
“Come with me Émeraude,” he said, rising and taking my hand. “Let’s go to him now and present my offer of assistance.”
“Victor, it is not that simple. But there is one thing I can promise you. Captain Perlog will not be happy that you know of this situation!” I insisted, but he wasn’t listening.
“Émeraude!” Eliza Needleman called my name.
She hurried into the room. I breathed a sigh of relief, and hoped that whatever Eliza had to say would distract Victor from his foolishness.
Her usually tidy Gibson Girl bun was disheveled. She held a small music box cylinder.
“Do you still have the papyrus with you?” she wanted to know.
“What happened to your music box?” I asked, as I took the tiny scroll out of my pocket.
“I went at it with a hammer,” she said flatly.
Eliza pointed as she compared the hole-punched papyrus to the cylinder. She made a soft but impatient sound when we looked on blankly.
“What is it?” Victor asked.
In answer, Eliza began to sing the song she and I had spontaneously sang early in the voyage.
“She’s only a bird in a gilded cage, a beautiful sight to see. You may think she’s happy and free from care. She’s not, though she seems to be. ‘Tis sad when you think of her wasted life, for youth cannot mate with age. And her beauty was sold for an old man’s gold. She’s a bird in a gilded cage,” Eliza sang.
Abruptly the portrait came to my mind. It had nothing to do with the song, except for one detail. The subject of the painting was a beautiful woman. A riverbank formed the background to one side. A tiny figure on the stood there. An owl who looked surprisingly like Onyx sat in a branch. Across the river, a woman sat on a balcony, which was enclosed by a fence of ornate golden bars. Her hand rested on an elaborately designed music box.
“The portrait, the golden fence…” I murmured. “It’s like a gilded cage.”
“You said the malachite scarab dropped the papyrus to you while you were captured in that net. It must be a message of some sort,” Victor commented.
“Does it mean that the woman in the portrait was in a cage?” Eliza pondered. “Randal examined the painting and he thinks it is quite old. So, the message shouldn’t be a plea for help… Should it?”
All I could think of was the inescapable feeling of how familiar the woman seemed. Blue John had laughed at my comment. He said she looked just like me.
The riverboat trembled violently.
End Chapter 50
Thanks again to everyone how has visited and participated in the launch of Hullaba Lulu, a Dieselpunk Adventure. The fun is only just getting started.
Friday, October 2, I was in South Africa with Robbie Cheadle chatting about Ouija boards.
Saturday, October 3, I’m in Connecticut where Dan Antion is hosting a launch party at the No Facilities Bar.
Monday, October 5, I’ll visit Miriam Hurdle – watch out for the bubbles.
Tuesday, October 6, I’m off to Spain for a visit with Olga Núñez Miret for chat about Carl Jung.
Wednesday, October 7, I’ll be in Oregon where D. Wallace Peach is hosting me. Watch out for that Tesla coil!
Sunday October 11, I’ll be in California chatting about 1920s styles with Valentina Cirasola.
Monday, October 19, I’m in Kentucky for Teri Polen’s festival, Bad Moon Rising. I didn’t bring Lulu, but she came by herself.
Be well, be happy, my chuckaboos.
This serial is made possible in spite of (not because of) the deplorable lack of Internet service from TDS Telecom. They are even worse than the government about claiming no problem exists in the face of failure. TDS Telecom meets every complaint and service call by saying they find no problem. Their technicians come to my home and refuse to do any work or replace equipment, even when their offsite managers have instructed them to do so. They brought equipment that they openly state does not work properly. They refuse to let me talk to a manager. They refuse to promise to send someone other than the previous do-nothing tech. They refuse to make sure the technicians have working hardware with them. My letters, emails, and tweets go unanswered. Dear readers, please do not comment here in response to this paragraph. Just be aware of my awful experience with this so called provider.
This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 and 2020 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
All rights reserved.
No part of this work may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.
All images are either the property of the author or provided by free sources, unless stated otherwise.