Saturday, June 5, 2021
Welcome, my chuckaboos. I hope everyone is safe and well. The Delta Pearl is almost finished. It’s been a complex story, stretching over many months. So, I thought a recap of past chapters was in order. Besides, I’ve come down with a head-cold, and it’s interfering with my “little gray cells.”
Following are selected scenes all the way back to the beginning. Some have links and some don’t… Like I said, annoying head-cold. I’ll divide them by episode number in case you want to look up the full chapter. If you want more review, just click the “Delta Pearl” category on the right side of the screen.
Reverse the paddlewheel!
The Delta Pearl
The first time I saw the Delta Pearl, I was eight years old. I wondered if the legends were true, because my grandfather died three days before.
I asked Moma if Peepaw had seen the riverboat. Maybe seeing it had “marked him” like folks said. I didn’t see what was wrong with the question, but apparently something was. It made her so angry she threatened to give me an anointing.
Squinting at the brilliance, I imagined what it would be like to be a grand lady with strands of diamonds at my throat and in my hair. I thought of her suitors asking for a dance.
I stood and turned and turned, dreaming of the dance, while I spun around and around. Then I staggered to a stop, enjoying the sensation of the dizzy world seeming to sway around me. Stumbling, I held my arms out for balance as I faced the river.
That’s when I saw the Delta Pearl.
Chapter 1 — Dance
Between the Captain and the Dealer, I had not just one, but two father figures. Damfino how a girl was supposed to have any fun…
The Dealer gazed at the horizon. He raised a white gloved hand to shield his eyes from the bright sunlight. I knew he saw much more than I ever could. Jaspe stared at one spot too long. It made me wish for a spy glass.
I couldn’t help stooping down to touch the plush fibers. What gave me pause? I had grown up on the Delta Pearl, lived most of my life there, so I knew the carpet had never been replaced. Yet it did not fade nor did it develop signs of wear.
As I stood, I realized I was beside the old portrait again. The subject of the painting was a beautiful woman. She was from some undetermined past century. The woman looked vaguely familiar to me. Yes, she definitely reminded me of someone, but I had never been able to place the person from my past or present who resembled her.
Vaguely, I heard the Mate call my name from the pilot house. For a moment I stood staring at nothing. Then I saw a smudge on the horizon. If the Dealer hadn’t acted so strangely, I would have never noticed it.
Blue John called my name again. I stood transfixed. The smudge became a small dark cloud that rose up from the shore.
Although you know how if something’s going to go wrong, it will happen at the worst time. We’re about to border another state. Thou knows how the Delta Pearl can get finicky about such things. I don’t know why it should matter to her,” Blue explained in an uneasy voice. “But I’ve seen it a time or two, when she reacts strongly to crossing a line of demarcation, like the borders between states. And that’s nothing compared to how she gets with time zones.”
Chapter 12 — Prognosticate
I stared at the place on the staircase where I had last seen the Mate. The Delta Pearl was my home. Mobile and ever cruising the rivers though she was, regardless of how many guests came and went, to me it was a stable home. I was unaccustomed to the idea of anyone other than passengers departing. The probability of Blue John Boulton leaving the Delta Pearl was very unsettling to me.
Blue was like an older brother to me. What if he tried to stay longer than he was able? Worse, what if he suffered a complete breakdown? How did a person heal from that kind of thing? With another twinge of guilt, I also wondered how the Delta Pearl could get along without her First Mate.
Placed near the window was a large green scarab. It was too big to be a brooch. It wriggled little pincers and then scrabbled away on green enameled legs.
“It’s clockwork. Like your spider,” Victor said in surprise. “What’s wrong Émeraude? You’ve gone pale.”
“Did you notice the carved gemstone that covered its back?” I asked.
“Dark green with lighter green streaks?” Victor began.
His eyes widened in realization.
The gemstone was malachite.
Chapter 44 — Sing
Polished calcite inlays reflected the lamplight in the Delta Pearl’s hallway as Cal ran ahead of us. An unlikely clockwork pair, the horse and the spider chased the tiny copper scarab. Amethyst was again balanced on Cal’s head.
We neared the boiler room. At the far end of the hall, I heard music and Blue John Boulton’s voice, singing. However, the Mate wasn’t playing his ukulele, as he often did for the crew. The music came from his special tuning forks.
The music Blue John was making was part of the natural scale of music buried within every single thing in the world. The riverboat used that scale to align herself. The ancient tones were at the core of what made the riverboat the Delta Pearl.
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…”
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.
Chapter 62 — Stagger
Looking up, I saw the all too familiar brown cloud.
Onyx, along with Amethyst and Peridot, flew directly to the sooty cloud and whatever it concealed.
Chapter 64 — Remember
“Blue John was ranting like a lunatic. I didn’t understand half of what he said. The only part I heard clearly was ‘It’s coming.’ And as nonsensical as it sounds, I could have sworn he said ‘the other pearl.’ For a moment I thought he meant the Delta Pearl, but that’s insane,” Victor commented. “Then he bolted away with the telectroscope and the rocket.”
Chapter 69 — Sense
“Welcome, my dear. I’ve waited long to greet you in person,” the man stated.
“Where am I? What kind of place is this?”
“Welcome aboard the Geostrophic Pearl,” he said with a bow and a flourish.
“The what Pearl?” I choked out the question, although the word pearl put the sensation of an icy knife in the pit of my stomach.
Okay… those are somewhat random reminders, some of them have links to the full episode. If you want more click on the sidebar button for “Delta Pearl” and you will get all the episodes. I’ll go ahead and keep the entire episode here of the most recent chapter.
Chapter 74 — Stare
Hand firmly clasped over my mouth, I stared in shock at the woman as Malachite’s words came back to me.
“She is exquisite, no?” Malachite remarked in a Cajun accent. “Cécile Pere, mambo extraordinaire. A Voodoo queen of unsurpassed skill and beauty.”
My scream escaped in a yip when the leopard slowly came up beside her. Blue John Boulton hung across the back of the largest clockwork I had ever seen. The dragging sound was from his feet.
Blue let go of the leopard and sank to the floor. Cécile Perle immediately turned her attention to the Mate. Her back was to me as she fussed worriedly over the injured man.
I had only glimpsed her face. I told myself that I was overwrought, that it was my imagination. The face I thought I had seen couldn’t possibly have been real.
“Émeraude, don’t let Cécile use her powers on me. It’s better that I die here and now. I don’t want that kind of unnatural life,” Blue gasped out the plea.
Cécile let out a horrified sob at his words.
“Now, now, cher. It’s not so bad as all that. Just a little gris-gris to keep you going? The Delta Pearl, she needs you,” Cécile told him in a soothing voice.
“Gee-Peh, mon chaton,” the woman began. “Help me get Blue John back into hiding.”
If I had not been so overwhelmed by all the extraordinary things that I had seen in such a short time, I would have been amused. Cécile used a pet name for the leopard that meant “my kitten.”
Also, she had named the huge clockwork Gee-Peh, for the sound he made, rather than for the gems that decorated him, as was customary for the mechanical creatures. Then I realized the name would have been taken. The clockwork jungle cat had inlay of leopard jasper. The Dealer’s name was Jaspe, which meant jasper.
Suddenly I shivered with a suspicion that would haunt me, unanswered for the rest of my days. However, in that moment I knew that everything I had seen up in the Geostrophic Pearl airship was more deeply, intricately connected to the Delta Pearl than I wanted to admit.
Bracing myself for what I would behold, I waited for a clear, rational look at the woman’s face. I wouldn’t let fear cloud my vision again.
However, my resolve was interrupted by soft mechanical sounds — the rustling of wings, the soft clicks of tiny metal feet, the quiet turning of hundreds of gears. Small shadows darted about the room.
“No,” Blue John insisted as he pulled himself to his feet, leaning heavily on the leopard for support. “I’m done with hiding. I’ll face Malachite here and now. I said I would take him to hell with me, and I meant it.”
The Voodoo queen’s back was to me as she stood. She shook her head sadly at Blue. Her shoulders sagged and she muttered Cajun words that I didn’t understand. Then with palms facing upward, she held out both hands.
“Come to me my pets,” Cécile murmured as Peridot fluttered from her hand up to her breast where a brooch would be pinned.
From out of the shadows, clockwork creatures of every shape imaginable moved toward her. A ruby encrusted scorpion, a gold grasshopper, and a jade gecko, hurried forward and crawled into her hands.
“Onyx!” I gasped as the Captain’s owl flew to land on the woman’s shoulder.
His little top hat was askew when his brass head turned backwards to look at me. The black onyx eyes blinked at me once. Then the owl tilted his head and winked at me.
Clockwork creatures continued to emerge from corners and hidden crannies. A silver swan, a citrine bumble bee, and a sapphire bluebird flew to perch on Cécile’s outstretched arms. A moonstone monkey, a rainbow fluorite rabbit, a small rose quartz kangaroo, and a gold grasshopper hopped to stand beside the mambo. Soft clicks and whirs from dozens of other clockworks filled the room.
The Voodoo queen turned toward the empty hallway. Light flashed off the cheval mirror. A tall thin man in a green pinstripe tuxedo was in the reflection. Malachite. He was coming closer.
“I fear it is too late for hiding,” Cécile murmured. “He comes.”
Then she turned to face me. That time I really did scream.
End Chapter 74
If you are following my monthly serialized novelettes, Dead of Winter, the June issue is now available.
Dead of Winter: Journey 6, The Fluting Fell
Dead of Winter — The Journeys
Universal Purchase Links
Journey 6, The Fluting Fell
Journey 5, Llyn Pistyll Falls
Journey 4, The Old Road
Journey 3, the Fever Field
Journey 2, Penllyn
Journey 1, Forlorn Peak
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.
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