Moving Forward

a story
2016-11-25 20:25:28,
2017-04-12 07:39:06
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      A whistle blew out across the Gearford city streets. Lucas could feel the night’s wind on his face. His hand took that of his friend, Esther. Her shoes made a clack upon the sidewalk.

      “It’ll be just up this way,” Lucas said.

      They turned a corner. In front of them was the entrance to a tall residential building.

      Esther gathered her skirts and ran ahead. “How exciting!”

      Lucas meandered along, not pushing himself to catch up to the entrance.

      “Aren’t you excited?” she said.

      Her smile had a tinge of wildness to it, like she was able to forget who she was just for one night. She was still in mourning, dressed in the traditional black every day. Lucas thought that she needed to get out of the house desperately, and her expression proved it for him.

      Lucas turned to climb up the steps towards the door. “Of course, I am. Though, perhaps a little more nervous than you, hm?”

      “Oh, yes. What about this poem makes you so nervous? I thought you’d written poetry before.”

      “Well, I think the poem’s considerably more intimate this time,” Lucas explained, “William isn’t one to let easy on me, to write something about my automata. No, he insisted it was 'personal'…”

      They walked into the entryway and looked up Bittersworth’s apartment on the bell board and pulled the cord. Lucas stepped out of the building so that whoever was checking the door rings could see him. He waited.

      “Have you known William for long?” Esther asked.

      “Not as much as you’d think. I had only met his acquaintance in passing until more recently. Though, he’s the sort it seems like no time has passed at all when you reacquaint.” he said.

      “You met him before meeting my sisters and I?”

      “Probably a few months before. He’s never really liked Astam, even now that it’s a larger city.”

      Nobody had poked their head out the window. Lucas was concerned that nobody had heard the ring. He opened the door and walked back inside.

      Esther shrugged. “Guess they’re just gonna—”

      Locks turned and the inner door opened. A lady in vibrant silk pants of a sort answered the door.

      “Names?” she asked.

      “Lucas Buford and Esther Thompson,” Lucas said.

      “Fancy. Don’t even need to check the list. William’s expecting you.”

      Esther took a judgemental eye to the lady, whose attire couldn’t be more opposite her own if she’d attempted to do such a thing on purpose.

      The stairs were long and steep. It was now obvious what took so long for their ring downstairs to be answered. Lucas still believed it would have been courteous to say hello out the window first.

      Lucas took some chocolate, wrapped up in paper, out of his pocket and nibbled a piece. He turned to offer a piece to his companion.

      Esther was trying carefully not to slip on the stairwell in her heels and coats.

      He decided it was best not to distract her.

      “Here we are,” said the lady in the vibrant pants.

      The door opened slowly, and smoke oozed out of the room. If they didn’t know any better, they’d have assumed there was a fire hazard.

      Lucas turned to Esther. “I think I know why they didn’t open the window to say hello now.”

      “I thought you said you’d been to these parties.”

      “Perhaps I visited the lamer, off-season affairs of his.”

      Esther stared at Lucas in a what-have-you-gotten-me-into way, sideways and with an eyebrow raised.

      They continued through the entryway and into the large parlor. Several groups were sitting around pipes of different sorts, or smoking pipes and such. Lucas wouldn’t have been surprised to see Abigail right about now. It’s primarily the reason he didn’t, himself, partake.

      Esther found a spot on a small couch and motioned Lucas over. Lucas stopped observing the room to rejoin his guest. Just as he arrived, William appeared from a set of ornately blue doors.

      “Lucas! How are you?” William said.

      Lucas offered his mechanical hand for a shake. “Up and down, ol’ chap. Tonight’s a big up!”

      “Brilliant, and who’s your lady friend, here?”

      “William Bittersworth, may I introduce Miss Esther Thompson.”

      Esther stood up to greet him.

      William tilted his head and turned it towards Lucas in an almost comically owlish way. “Of the Astam Thompsons?”

      Esther put her hand out to be greeted.

      He turned his attention back to her and grabbed her hand. “It’s a pleasure, dear Miss Thompson.”

      “Likewise,” she said.

      “My condolences.”

      “Pardon?” — she looked down at her clothes — “Oh yes. Clementine and Esther are cursed to survive the rest of our immediate family.”

      William placed his other hand on hers and squeezed with both. “I hope that tonight helps you to embrace life again, both in it’s ups-and-downs, as Lucas put it.”

      He let go of her hand, turned to the crowd and snapped his fingers a few times. A butler shuffled over with drinks. William grabbed a couple and handed them each a glass.

      “Nothing quite like a proper taquilla,” he said.

      “What’s in these?” Lucas asked.

      “Well, it’s nothing like a proper tequila if that’s what you’re asking. By-the-by, did you happen to get me any chocolate?”

      Lucas procured a small bag from his coat pockets. “This one’s a drink, mixed up with some tea. Perfect with hot water—”

      “Or other things,” William finished, “I must be off. It was lovely to meet you, Miss Thompson.”

      They sat with their hard drinks in hand and relaxed. The conversations around them were both relaxing and sensory overload.

      Lucas watched Esther oversee and take in the different persons in the room. She caught him staring at her.

      “What a delightful party. Fantastically exclusive,” she said.

      “Exclusive? I suppose so.”

      “Well, that’s Technocrat Tamworth’s son, the daughter of the Thelean ambassador, Technocrat Radigus himself, the former wife of the Ministry of Civilization’s Jason Letterman, the Titanian ambassador’s nephew, and so on, et cetera.”

      “You’ve got a keen eye,” Lucas said.

      “Father introduced us to a great deal of important people while he still managed the trains, and I never forget a face.”

      Lucas was impressed. He sat back and enjoyed the tequila some more. He relaxed himself, making sure not to lean up against Esther too much.

      A glass was being clinked with a spoon. The voices in the room faded one by one. William was doing the clinking with a spoon against his drink, making his way to the front of the room. This was the spot he and other guests normally spoke from at his parties, reciting poetry, gossip, and comedy.

      William stopped clinking before the voices had all subsided. “Yes, I’m sure Yuri is very interested in your story Jeffrey, but I do quite demand your attention now.”

      The gentlemen behind Lucas and Esther turned forward and, embarrassed, paused their conversation.

      “Thank you,” William continued, “Tonight I charged each of you with a challenge to prepare something personal when you come up here. A definite departure from last month’s theme.

      “I must reiterate that what is said, drank, and smoked within in these walls is strictly for the benefit and knowledge of those here in attendance. If one of our regulars is not here, then they must return here next time if they wish any hope of hearing about what goes on tonight. And if I hear a single word about blackmail again, I’ll take the same measures as I did last Firch.

      “I don’t like redwork, but nobody ever said I was my own muscle. It’s simply to protect these gatherings. To allow them to continue.

      “Let me introduce our first speaker tonight... She has no name, but she’s been called many things by the Prushian papers: the Pirate Queen, the Red-headed Skret, and the Torcher of Dustermark. Give her a big hand!”

      The crowd clapped.It was customary for first-time speakers to be introduced with no name. It signaled the newness of the speaker and let the audience get to know them without preconceived notions. At least, those who didn’t already know the speaker.

      Lucas certainly did not know this woman.

      Esther leaned and whispered in Lucas’s ear. “Must be one of the people fleeing the oncoming imperial incursion down there. I hear it’s getting serious.”

      The Prush woman walked up to the front of the room as the applause quieted.

      “Thank you for listening. I will be reading a poem tonight.”

My child is lost.

My child is lost.

She cannot be found, I will not forget.

My child is lost.

My wild is lost.

The ashes of myself, lost to a bet.

My wild is lost.

My mild is lost.

Skret laughs at me, writhing in pain.

My mild is lost.

My child is lost.

Gorrn has taken my baby and man.

My child is lost.

My child is lost.

I am a desert woman. Destined to be dry.

      The audience clapped.

      Lucas thought back to Cordelia for a moment.

      William returned to the front of the room. “The Gearford Wordsmith Society thanks you for your contribution.

      “Our next guest was last here on our quietest night, but nonetheless has a name. He’s the Anthonious of Automata, the Clockwork Mogol,” — he turned his head and spoke smoothly and quickly — “Mr. Lucas Merriweather Buford.”

      The room clapped. Lucas nervously stood up and took out parchment from his inside jacket while approaching the front of the parlor. William stepped back into his throne to listen to his friend recite.

      Lucas looked up at the crowd and realized he no longer gave a damn what they might think of his words. The fact was that they were now his captive audience and had to hear what he had to say.

      “Thank you for listening. I will be reading a letter, addressed to myself.”

Dear Lucas Merriweather Buford,

      I am writing to inform you that you must continue forward. That change is inevitable, and that you must be the master of the changes in your life.

We have long lamented the reactionary decisions we’ve made. We’ve hired bounty hunters when our life was out of control. We’ve waited until our friends were in peril before we helped them.

That ends today, old friend. I know you better than I know myself. Do not run blindly into your fate, but walk with Tamarus - keep pace with him and decide your fate.


      Lucas Merriweather Buford

      The audience clapped.

      William got up from his throne and whispered to Lucas. “Good show. You’ll have to regale me with the bounty hunter story sometime.”

      Lucas smirked — “Not a chance.” — and walked away.

      When Lucas turned and sat, William shot him a jokingly bemused look.

      Lucas laughed.

      The night went on and several speakers entertained the group. The pair drank themselves silly into the night. William was a gracious host and saw them off personally onto a carriage back to Astam.

      Lucas wouldn’t remember climbing out of the carriage, nor walking upstairs and falling asleep.