Unexpected Steampunk

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A little work on introducing a character I’ve been thinking about for a while, who would be introduced not in Ghostlight, but it’s sequel (though he is mentioned in Ghostlight a few times). I tried keeping spoilers about Ghostlight’s ending vague enough as to be nonexistent.

***

I live with ghosts in my everyday life, witnessed more than one impossible murders firsthand, was a murder suspect myself and get dark looks if not outright threats to my personal safety every day at school. Just to give some context when I say that what I saw upon opening the door on an afternoon in late April was the last possible thing I could have expected.

A character who’d walked right out of a steampunk novel stood before me. He was a young man with dark blonde hair in a shaggy cut, tucked behind his ears under a brown newsboy cap, with longer sideburns than I’d consider fashionable or attractive. He wore khaki slacks and a white button-down shirt with an honest-to-God brown tweed waistcoat vest, buttoned up to mid-chest, with a pocketwatch chain looping out from a pocket to one of the shiny brass buttons. In one hand he held a polished mahogany cane with topped with an amber stone and a gold handle, and the tinted glass compartment below it was filled with some kind of fluid. This was all odd enough, but the real pièce de résistance were the goggles pulled down over his eyes. The brass frames had rivets and springs and a extra set of lenses currently flipped down over his eyes and leather sides that completely wrecked any and all peripheral vision. The extra lenses looked either antique or self-made, being a weird amber color and filled with waves and bubbles; they couldn’t possibly be any use in the task of seeing clearly, much less better, and I was completely baffled to try and figure out what their purpose was.

“Can I help you…?” I asked after realizing a few moments had passed in silence while I took all this in.

“Bette?” he queried.

“Who’s asking?” I replied warily.

“Alex Wagner! Don’t you — oh, right, sorry.” He pulled the goggles up on top of his cap, revealing hazel green eyes and a face I recognized at last. I was simultaneously reminded of the last time I saw him, at Graham’s funeral, and of the identical eyes of his brother Eddie.

Neither was a welcome reminder and both swiftly left me feeling very uncomfortable.

“Alex…right. Hi,” I said. “…what are you doing here?”

“I’m visiting my parents, I’d thought I should come by. Say hello,” he replied. “…can I come in?”

Thinking back on my last encounter with anyone from his family, this didn’t strike me as a great idea. “Now…isn’t really a good time. Sorry.”

“Oh.” He looked disappointed.

“I mean, it’s just me here, right now.” Not technically true, but true enough for anyone who wasn’t me. “Dad’s at work, and mom…doesn’t live here now.”

“I heard…sorry about that. Actually, it’s you I was hoping to talk to,” Alex said. “About Eddie.”

My throat tightened. “I don’t want to talk about him. Sorry, Alex, but — bye.” I started closing the door. His cane whipped out and caught the edge of it, stopping it from shutting.

“Bette, I really need to talk to you,” Alex stressed, his eyes losing the old friend demeanor in exchange for a determined and serious stare.

“And I don’t respond well to threats,” I snapped back at him, kicking the cane up and away from the door. He stumbled backwards, tripping down the stairs and grabbing the railing just as I slammed the door shut. I leaned against it, pulse racing with fear. I cautiously then turned and peered through the side window. He struggled up, using the cane to push himself to standing and favoring one of his legs as he did. The cane was for practical reasons? What had happened to him? Actually — now that I thought about it, hadn’t he been on crutches at the funeral? I had no idea why, but the detail jumped out of my memory. Outside, he looked at the door, finding me in the window easily. I ducked back behind the solid door.

“I hope you’ll reconsider,” he said loudly. I heard the creek of the metal mailbox next to the door open and close, and the tap of the cane’s brass cap on the pavement as he walked away, still favoring one leg. I didn’t relax until he got back in his car and drove off, then sighed and slid down to sit on the floor. Alone again at last.

As alone as I ever got, at least.

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