I wanted to share this excerpt from my Christian steampunk novel-in-progress. It's set in the Present Day on an alternate Earth which has many Victorian era cultural and technological influences. Like all my stories, it has a twist or two, even in this segment. After you read it, feel free to Like the article (on Facebook), Tweet it or leave your feedback as comments. To comment, click the "comments" link at the bottom of this article (below the Like and Tweet buttons) and fill in the short "Leave a Reply" section. I hope you enjoy the story!
(Beginning of excerpt)
Catherine Olivia Baxter was at the esteemed manor of her best friend and the hostess for the evening, Gwynevere Gladstone. It had taken almost her entire life, but Catherine now enjoyed the privilege of being an “Upper” in society. She was even a celebrity, a world-class jazz singer known for seducing audiences with her velvety soprano voice and charming wit. She was sporting a sapphire-hued gown with matching jacket and heels that contrasted nicely with her sienna-hued skin. Her raven-colored hair was wavy on top and split in the middle but the sides were tressed in loose curls. Her entire body was soft and feminine in an hourglass shape but her cognac-colored eyes were hard like diamonds. She had seen hardship early in life and decided to rise above it, but the cost had been high.
The soiree she was attending was taking place in the impeccably maintained courtyard just outside the main two-story palatial estate on this cool night. There were tables brimming with gourmet foodstuffs to accommodate meat lovers, vegetarians and those with varying allergies, all labeled accordingly, each having servers to assist. There was another long table with numerous dessert offerings ranging from fruit cups to pastries and puddings.
The entire area was illuminated by hundreds of small white ball lights and a dozen dazzling string light displays. All were hanging from the surrounding perfectly landscaped trees. It provided an intimate feel while also becoming its own discussion topic for the guests.
Catherine stood with Gwynevere in front of the most grand of the tables. It held a huge, six-tiered chocolate cake. Each layer was separated by smooth and creamy ganache and overlaid with pink and white buttercream icing. It literally looked too good to eat, standing two feet tall and just as wide. Two slender young women in chef’s uniforms stood on either side. They were clearly proud of their creation and ready to dice up and distribute the sweetness on small plates.
Gwynevere was a prominent Massachusetts socialite married to a beloved senator. Everything about her was exaggerated and generous -- from her dazzling smile to her jewelry and even her physique, as one befitting her status. Her evening gown appeared to be made of fine black silk and her recently-colored, wavy blonde hair was flawlessly styled into an upward-sloping work of art atop her head. She held up a fluted glass filled with champagne, preparing to salute her friend in front of the two hundred-plus guests in attendance.
“Happy Birrrthday, Catherine!” Gwynevere said opulently, her loud voice and slight sway unintentionally revealing her level of intoxication. “How old are you again?”
That evoked polite laughter from the audience. Catherine herself attempted to diffuse Gwynevere’s seeming faux pas.
“Now, Gwyn, you of all people should know it’s not kind to ask a woman her age,” she teased with an air of warning.
“True, darling, but you know I’m just playing, right?” Gwynevere answered. Then she leaned close, barely able to maintain her balance and whispered in Catherine’s ear. “Between you and me, I think we’re the youngest ones here anyway!”
Catherine snickered at that, looking at the crowd with her peripheral vision. She noticed a distinct number of silver- and white-haired individuals. Others clearly dyed their hair. With new confidence, Catherine grabbed a glass of champagne and held it high, turning to address the people.
“I am so happy that you are all here with us this evening for my birthday party!” Catherine announced, slowly pivoting her stance to make eye contact with everyone. “And since my dear, somewhat tipsy friend asked, I will tell you -- I am forty-four years young today!”
That brought enthusiastic clapping and cheers. Gwynevere followed with an inebriated, tone-deaf rendition of “Happy Birthday To You” which was somewhat deflected by many others singing in unison with her. Cake was cut and handed out to everyone. The hostess began introducing Catherine to some of her guests.
“Catherine, this is Chiaki Dickens,” Gwynevere said. “Her husband is the senior partner at the Hertz, Lichten and Dickens law firm. Her daughter is an up-and-coming news anchor in New Liverpool.”
“Really?” Catherine replied. “You must be very proud!”
The sixty-something socialite was markedly thin and looked tired. Her unnaturally black hair was tied back into an indistinct bun near her neck and she wore a dark gray pantsuit. She managed a reserved smile at the compliment.
“I am quite proud of her, yes,” Dickens acknowledged. “One of her videos recently went, what do the kids call it now -- virulent?”
“Perhaps you mean ‘viral?’” Catherine suggested.
“Yes, that is it!” the older woman added enthusiastically. “One of her news videos went viral!”
“Which one?” Gwynevere asked.
“Oh, the one with the airship accident,” Dickens answered. “Two young people ran in and saved survivors from a crash. It was quite amazing!”
“I think I heard something about that but haven’t seen the video,” Catherine noted.
“Oh! My son downloaded it to my gearPhone for me,” Dickens recalled. “May I show it to you, Catherine?”
Dickens rummaged through her handbag until she located her device. She pulled it out and pressed several of the extra large digital numbers on the screen to unlock it. Then she went to the video application. The news report was the only one there. She pressed it and handed the phone to Catherine.
Intrigued, Catherine beheld the young reporter on the scene of a horrendous disaster. The camera shifted to show a damaged building and then angled downward to view the debris and buried remains of the airship. In a flurry of motion, the camera focus shifted back to the reporter as she continued describing what she had witnessed.
Next, the lens swung to a young woman who was injured but leaning over an unconscious man to check on him. Felicia Dickens introduced herself as she tried to talk to the dark-haired, light brown-skinned woman. She did not look well as she stood up, her bloodied left arm hanging loosely at her side. Dickens asked the woman her name.
Catherine’s world stopped as the woman being interviewed answered “Merritt Baxter” and then collapsed from her afflictions. Catherine suddenly paled. Her eyes dilated and began to produce tears. She felt like her throat was tightening and she started wheezing, unable to speak. Her heartbeat reverberated through her chest like a pounding drum. She was on the verge of fainting.
“Catherine?! What’s wrong?” Gwynevere urged, catching her friend by the shoulders.
“She looks like she’s seen a ghost!” Dickens suggested.
“I’ve never seen her like this,” Gwynevere added. “Please excuse us. I’ll take her to freshen up.”
“I am sorry, dear,” Dickens said to Catherine as Gwynevere led her by. “I hope you feel better.”
Gwynevere took Catherine to a chair away from the other guests and helped her sit down. Catherine was despondent and barely responsive. Gwynevere brought a small cup of water and held it out.
“Catherine, drink some of this.”
“What have I done?” Catherine uttered softly, her eyes eerily remote.
“Cat, you’re scaring me. What is wrong with you?”
“The girl in the video…” she started to say.
“No, the one she was talking to.”
“What about her?”
Catherine summoned the strength she needed to speak the truth.
“Gwyn, she’s my daughter.”
Gwynevere leaned forward and squinted, as if she wasn’t sure she had heard Catherine correctly.
“What did you say? Cat, I thought you didn’t have any kids.”
Catherine took some slow, deep breaths. She couldn’t look up at Gwynevere, she was too ashamed.
“I had her young, I wasn’t married. And I pushed her off on my sister right after I had her, so I could pursue my career.”
“I told myself she’d be better off with Marjorie. That’s my sister, who’s married. She already had a family, so I thought it would be good. I knew it was a lot to ask but I also knew she’d do it. Or maybe she just knew she couldn’t stop me and took pity on the baby. I don’t know.”
Catherine leaned forward in her chair and ran her hands through her hair nervously. Her tears collected one drop at a time in her lap. She was starting to tremble.
“Merritt...I named her Merritt. A pretty name for a pretty little girl,” she said with a tormented smile, a bittersweet memory.
(End of excerpt)
About the author
Allen Steadham is a nondenominational Christian, happily interracially married since 1995. Father of two sons and a daughter. He and his wife have been in the same Christian band since 1997. He plays electric bass, she plays strings, they both sing. It's all good.
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