an excerpt of “The Hair Ladder”
by Diana Bastine
From Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine, now funding on Kickstarter.
“We don’t have the money.”
Julia wrapped her arms around her husband, snuggling close. “But think how nice it would be for the baby.” She patted her growing belly, pulling his hand to do the same. He tried to resist, but he could deny his wife nothing.
“The old woman only comes once every season,” Julia almost whined. “Besides, we’ve been saving….”
“We’ve been saving for the baby,” her long-suffering spouse replied, with every attempt at firmness.
“Oh, Thomas, please?” Julia batted her eyelashes at him, before burying her face in his chest. “I really must have one of her clockwork toys. I think I might die if you don’t bring me one.” She widened her innocent blue eyes in horror. “Or it might even affect the baby. You wouldn’t want anything to happen to the baby, would you?”
Thomas knew it was nothing short of blackmail, but he also knew it would work. They had been trying for quite some time to have a baby, and were finally on the verge of a successful birth. He would do nothing that might risk a safe and healthy delivery. He gathered his coat, for even though the winter had turned to spring, it was still a chilly morning, and he had a long walk to the town square.
Thomas didn’t need to read the sign outside of the old woman’s tent: Clara’s Clockwork Creations. He knew he was close when he started hearing the steady drone of gears. Most of the clockwork creatures were small and intricately detailed, but the combined sound was still powerful enough to carry on a still, clear day. He gathered his ragged coat closer with a sigh, then strode closer to the tent, being careful where he placed his somewhat large feet. He certainly had no desire to step on one of the delicate creations–he wanted to choose carefully, not be forced to buy whatever he crushed!
The old woman, Clara, greeted him politely. He had seen her many times before; she came to town four times a year, and Julia always begged him to stop so she could watch the beautiful clockwork toys that she knew they couldn’t afford to waste their hard-earned money on. Thomas wasn’t expecting the old woman to recognize him however. She didn’t know his name, but she clearly recognized his face.
“How is your lovely wife?” she asked him, as he carefully picked up an exquisite mechanical peacock. As he turned it from side to side, its tail feathers slowly spread out in a broad fan, each metal “feather” painted in bright blue-green. Its head bobbed slightly, before the tail feathers contracted back again. He could barely hear the faint whir as the gears turned inside its body. Thomas knew the peacock was going to be far too expensive, and he quickly put it down before Clara started to convince him to purchase it.
“Julia is well,” he answered. “She would have come today, but she is expecting our first child and sometimes feels a bit unwell in the mornings. She is looking forward to the summer, when we will have our new addition.” Thomas didn’t normally babble like this, especially not to total strangers, but he was still flush with pride at the thought of being a first-time papa.
“Oh, a child!” Clara said, clapping her hands in delight. “I adore children. They are so appreciative of my work.” She spread her hands to encompass her clockwork creations. “Many craftsmen scorn my beauties; they find them to be frivolous, and a waste of resources, but children appreciate the fine work and detail, more so than you might think. They are often more careful of my work than their parents are.” She smiled, having clearly observed Thomas’ delicate approach.
He shook his head in disbelief. “I cannot imagine anyone looking down on your skills, Miss Clara,” he said sincerely and emphatically. He picked up a charmingly detailed little field mouse, admiring its “fur” and long tail. The tiniest metal threads were visible as its whiskers, and he could have sworn its tiny nose twitched just a bit.
The old woman closed his hand–gently–over the mouse. “You must have it,” she said. She held up a hand when he opened his mouth to protest. “No, I insist,” she said. “It is for the child.” When he finally nodded in acceptance of the generous gift, she loosened his hand again, just long enough to take the mouse and carefully wrap it before returning it to him. He thanked her most sincerely, and headed home, certain that his wife would be satisfied.
Diana Bastine is presently a free-lance author and editor living in the mountains of NC. She is the author of the YA fantasy series consisting of The Source, Shapeshifter, and Selkie. These novels, and the final, previously unpublished volume, Gabriel’s Secret, will be released by Double Dragon e-books in 2016.
Diana is known to her friends and family as the “Fairy CatMother” and sells t-shirts and tote bags with this logo. She is a certified Reiki Master/Teacher as well, and practices other forms of energy healing, including Crystal Energy Therapy and Energetic Cord Cutting. Diana loves to read, knit and improve her brain! She loves puzzles of all sorts, including jigsaws, math and logic puzzles, and word puzzles of every variety. She enjoys exercising first thing in the morning, eating healthy foods and swears her only vice is 85% and up dark chocolate….