an excerpt from “The Giant Killer”
by Jonah Knight
From Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine, now funding on Kickstarter.
“Excuse me,” said Hanna Lee. She leaned in, joining the porter to look out the train window. “I could not help but notice that these people seem to be, what is the proper description? Fleeing in terror?”
The porter nodded and turned from the window to face the sixteen-year-old woman before him. “It’s one of the giants, I expect.”
“I thought that the giants were inactive?”
The porter shook his head and his cap wiggled. “They been getting ornery after their maker died. Confederates never got to Boston, of course, but three of the steam-work giants patrol, same as before the war. I seen Cormorgan marching around the train yards plenty of times. Looking for an army to fight.”
“I see,” said Hanna, watching the people scattering beside the tracks as her train slowly approached North Union Station. “It would appear his behavior has changed.”
Grinding steel brakes rattled the car, bringing them to a sudden stop amidst the screaming Bostonians. Typical, thought Hanna. Every mission she had been sent on to recover artifacts from the War Between the States had found her diverted and sidetracked. And now giants. “Nothing to do do about it, I suppose,” she said to herself.
Hanna put her hand on the porter’s shoulder and firmly turned his nose from the window. “Perhaps you could see us safely from the train?” She held the little smile on her lips, and motioned to the car full of near-panicking passengers. The porter nodded, straightened his vest, and began calling out orders, ushering the people toward the exit in a calm fashion.
Hanna secured her bonnet and scarf, and carrying her reticule, a sizable handbag, descended onto the dusting of Boston snow. She turned away from the rest of the fleeing passengers and went to see the spectacle.
Three train cars ahead of her stood Cormorgan. The steam-work man was only about eight feet tall, but he was as wide as three men and round like a barrel. He had torn open the side of the coal car and was shoveling the fuel through a door in his chest into his furnace. Flames spilled out, blackening his iron hide. Hardly a giant, really.
Hanna watched a pair of police officers creeping up behind the giant. One held a long iron rod like a spear and the other aimed a rifle. The rifleman fired and hit, but the bullet ricocheted harmlessly away.
Cormorgan’s head rotated around in its socket, his three eyeholes focusing on the officers. His body turned about, rotating at the waist, squaring off with the police. The fire exhaled from his chest as he spread his arms out wide and lurched forward.
His thick legs reminded Hanna of Greek columns. They were not steady, but the giant moved with surprising speed above the waist. He clamped his hands around the chest of the rifleman. The man screeched as Cormorgan lifted him, crushing his bones. As the man flopped lifelessly, the giant pulled him in, cramming the broken, leaking officer into the giant’s gaping furnace.
Hanna could smell burning flesh even at this distance. She held her scarf up to her nose to block the stench and looked about the train yard for a few moments before a plan came together. She began to jog alongside a neighboring track that housed a train loaded with lumber. She loosened her scarf, positioning herself behind the remaining officer.
The officer, with red whiskers and wild eyes, yelled to her. “Go! Get away!”
“Keep your eyes on the task before you,” Hanna replied, calmly looking about for a safe place to set her reticule, before spying a mostly dry spot under the train. Now then, she thought, pulling the scarf from her neck and rubbing its ends together.
Hanna lived on trains much of these last few years, and when she had the good fortune to procure a private car, she would spend her hours building useful devices to assist in her non-traditional occupation. She was particularly proud of this scarf and its magnetic properties although, she had to admit, it was truly her aunt’s design.
The blood splattered across Cormorgan’s body was smoldering as the giant advanced. He clumped awkwardly, one step at a time, arms quickly lashing out. The officer ducked and scrambled to stay out of his reach.
“Excellent,” Hanna said. “Bring him this way if you could.” She felt the magnetism within the scarf begin to activate. Just a few more moments, then, she thought, and began to count down from ten.
She began twirling the scarf in front of her and walked in front of the officer. “What are you…” began Red Whiskers.
Cormorgan stepped onto the track as Hanna counted three. She pulled her arm back on two and threw the scarf on one.
The scarf stiffened, attaching itself in part to Cormorgan’s left leg and in part to the train track, and Hanna began to count down again. The giant lunged forward, but finding himself anchored, tipped forward, crashing into the ground.
“You trapped it,” said Red Whiskers, as Cormorgan spun his arms in the dirt.
“Not for long,” said Hanna, pulling the spear from his hands. Eight, she counted. She jumped up onto the nearest lumber flatbed, perched on a log, and with the spear began prying at the latches holding down the pile of wood.
“What are you doing?” asked Red Whiskers.
“Attempting to bury the giant,” she said, straining in a most unladylike manner. Six, she counted. The first latch popped off and the logs shifted. The officer scrambled out of the way as Hanna dug the spear into the second latch.
Fire was spilling out of Cormorgan’s chest as he lay face down, pounding at the earth. Three, counted Hanna as the second latch popped. She jumped aside and watched as the logs stayed exactly as they were. One. The scarf lost its magnetic charge and Cormorgan began to push himself back to his feet. Hanna took a breath, wedged the spear into the pile of logs, and threw her weight behind it.
The timber spilled, flowing over the side of the flatbed, raining down on the giant. His back dented, his arms cracked, his head split. When the deluge ended, all that could be seen of the giant were the bottoms of his feet sticking out from the pile of wood.
“Ah,” said Hanna to herself, clapping her gloved hands together lightly to remove the dust. “That seemed to turn out just fine. Would you mind,” she held out her hand toward Red Whiskers, “helping me down?” The officer shut his slack-jawed mouth and rushed around the logs to offer his assistance as the porter ran up beside them.
“You killed Cormorgan,” the porter said in a soft voice, picking up her scarf.
“In my defense,” said Hanna, draping her arm around the officer’s neck as he lifted her to the ground, “He didn’t leave me many options. Thank you,” she said, accepting the burned scarf. “It does look a bit damaged, doesn’t it? Out of commission for the time being. I trust we are still on schedule to depart for Bangor this evening?”
Red Whiskers cleared his throat. “I’m afraid not, miss. The mayor has put a halt to all trains until the giant situation is resolved.”
“Are they all revolting?” asked the porter.
“Only two others,” said Red Whiskers. “Two-headed Thunderdel in the Public Garden and Galigantus in the harbor.”
“And no one can stop them?” asked Hanna.
Red Whiskers shrugged. “The maker built them in a secret laboratory. Seemed a fine idea until he died and no one knew how to turn them off.”
Hanna pouted. True, her schedule did have flexibility, but she did not want to set a precedent of attending to every local crisis she encountered in her travels. However, she considered, these were the famous giants of Boston. Incredible machines that had not yet seen their equal.
“Well,” she said, turning toward the porter. “If the trains will not depart before the matter of the giants is resolved, perhaps you would care to escort me?”
“To your hotel?”
“To slay the giants.”
Jonah Knight is a multiple time musical guest of honor at various SF/F conventions up and down the east coast, from The Steampunk World’s Fair to his home base at MarsCon. The songs on his six (soon to be seven) albums range from supernatural steampunk to creepy Christmas to paranormal modern folk. Although primarily known for his music these days, he spent three seasons in the Kennedy Center’s playwright training program and had a number of his plays produced around the country as well as an official performance at the Faust International Theatre Festival in Hong Kong. He occasionally takes a break from writing music to work on a script or short story. His music can be heard all over the internet including www.jonahknight.com. He lives in Frederick, MD, though not for too much longer.