On June 1, 2013, Once Upon a Clockwork Tale will be available in eBook and paperback. Along with three other tales, this collection of steampunk reimaginings of classic fairy tales includes my novella, Bitter Cold, based on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen.”
Here is part 2 of a short excerpt from Bitter Cold.
Inside the laboratory, Greta worked, consumed by the featherfall formulae. The time had come time to add a second solution, and heat it until it turned silvery white. She poured in the vial of lemon-yellow liquid, and the formulae turned bright green. She stirred it, setting it above an oil lamp. She lifted her goggles to her forehead unable to see through the fog She just had to watch it constantly and remove it from the heat the moment it began to turn white.
Kit flung the door open, striding into the room. Greta turned in surprise. Her eyes widened at her friend’s disheveled appearance. Kit was always as neat as his perfectly-ordered workshop, his soot-black hair combed as precisely as he tuned the springs in his machines. His overalls and shirt might be smudged with grease, but they’d be starched and pressed beneath the grime, sleeves rolled up past his sinewy forearms.
At this moment, his tan face glistened with sweat. His hair stood on end from running both hands through it bracing himself. His wire-rimmed spectacles were pulled off his face and dangled precariously from his breast pocket. He was wearing his Sunday suit, and it was only Friday.
Greta found this change alarming. Kit was as reliable as the sun. Something terrible must have happened. Was he on his way to a funeral? Did she know the dearly departed? Her inability to note or remember such social details made Kit her only friend, as well as her oldest and dearest. Well, that and her tendency to cause violent explosions.
“Good gracious, Kit! Has someone died? Are you feeling well?” She brushed a lock of amber hair back from her face and hurried toward him, hand outstretched to check for a fever. In her distress, she failed to fully notice the featherfall formulae change to silvery white behind her.
A concerned motherly reaction was not what Kit had in mind. He stepped backward, as if that could rewind time so he could begin again.
“No, no, no.” He shook his head in frustration. “No one has passed, and I’m perfectly fine.” He batted her hand away, trying to brush the irritation from his voice. This was not going at all the way he’d planned. Things rarely did where Greta was concerned. Behind her back, the formulae darkened from silvery white to dull grey.
He started again, struggling to find the right words.
“Greta.” He reached into his pocket for the ring. “We’re very good friends, aren’t we?”
Alarmed at Kit’s serious tone, Greta stepped closer. “Of course! Best friends since we were children.” She looked into his warm brown eyes, questions furrowing her brow.
“But we’re not children anymore. We’ve grown up. We have to put childhood behind us. Move into the future.” Kit took a deep breath. At least he had her full attention for once. She seemed to have totally forgotten the table of potions behind her. In one beaker, the featherfall formulae darkened, the grey liquid swirling ominously like stormclouds.
Meanwhile, Greta’s quicksilver mind had run a million miles ahead–in the absolute wrong direction.
Kit was leaving. She was certain of it. After the Great Christmas Exposition, the biggest newspapers in the Republics had written about his astounding devices. Three months later, some industrialist must have offered him an engineering position somewhere far away, fulfilling Greta’s most dreaded fear. Kit had come to bid her farewell, leaving childhood behind, along with his childhood friend.
“Kit, please don’t.” She turned away, hiding tears. Greta suddenly saw her friend with new eyes, as a grown man. Of course he wanted to move away, seek his fortune, and find a wife. He couldn’t stay in his father’s house forever, making her clockwork songbirds, and cleaning up her catastrophes. She should have expected it, but it still hurt.
Kit was crushed. He’d expected surprise. He’d feared she might ask for time to think about it, or insist they were too young. He had not expected her to reject him outright. He gathered his nerve, determined to convince her. She had no idea how important it was that she marry him, and soon. As usual, she had no idea of the danger she had fallen into.
Suddenly, Greta noticed the beaker tittering excitedly over the oil lamp. The featherfall formulae had turned oily black.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this excerpt. Be sure and stay tuned for the official release announcement. I’m going to be having some contests to give away free copies of the ebook version of Once Upon a Clockwork Tale.