The First Annual Hedlund Summer Steampunk Festival
Come to Hedlund for a riveting good time. Arrive in style using your personal steamcoach. Don’t forget to wear your finest attire and top it all off with a shot of absinthe.
TREASURE DARKLY picks up when Clark finds the father he never knew – a millionaire rancher meeting his illegitimate son? Ut oh – but what happens while Clark is on the run from the army and its captain who seeks to use him for his newfound power? Check out the following short story for an adventure featuring Clark Treasure in all his bad boy glory.
A Treasure Tale
By Jordan Elizabeth
Clark extended his hand for a shake, but the manager of Arvay Ranch shook his head. Not a good sign, that. Clark pulled off his glove, the leather worn almost clear through in the knuckles, and stretched out again, but the manager rocked back on his boot heels.
“You’re an honest looking kid. I like that about you.” The manager turned his head to spit tobacco juice into the dirt. “We’re just mighty filled up here for the time being.”
“I’m willing to do any job, sir. I can wrangle and rope. Work the fields. I know my way with a saw.” Brass glass, he’d be eager to muck out the outhouse if it came to that. His pockets didn’t jingle with coins as loudly as they used to. He’d had to leave his last job at a ranch further south –
a good position where he looked after horses, when the army sniffed too close, and he hadn’t dared stop until now. “I can do housework too. I’ve trained with butlers.” He’d seen them, in the fancy ranch houses. That sort of work seemed to mean politeness and servitude, and not much else.
The manager jammed his hands into the pockets of his denim slacks and narrowed his gaze at the Arvay Ranch. The Bromi woman who’d fetched him from the “Big House,” as she’d called it, stood by a fence with her head bowed.
“Good lookin’ ranch,” Clark said. “Smaller than some I’ve seen, but hearty. A fellow can tell you folk love the land here.” Managers didn’t appreciate sugar-coating. If a man told it like it was, he got further with those who loved work, and Arvay Ranch shone with crisp paint and clean yards. “Place looks run well. Looks like your crop is peaches?”
The manager nodded, tugging at the red bandana at his throat. “We are pretty booked here. Don’t really hire a lot of outside folk. You know what, though. My brother’s the doctor in town and I’m certain he could use help.”
The image of a physician’s saw biting through a man’s gangrene-ridden leg pierced Clark’s mind and he forced his lips to remain in a line. He’d done worse in life. Brass glass, he’d helped the midwife back in Tangled Wire for spare pennies. Maybe he’d be able to use his ability to save a few lives.
“I’d be grateful, sir. I can’t stay forever, just passing through, but I’d appreciate the job for the time being.”
“I’ll write you a letter and some directions. Feel free to get yourself a drink at the well.”
Clark pulled his glove back on and headed toward the pump near the shed. Sunlight beat against his neck, the skin bared by his ponytail, as he worked the brass handle. Water flowed out in clear spurts into a bucket on the grass. He used the hanging ladle to scoop out the liquid, frigid from the earth, and sighed. Nothing beat fresh water from a pump, not canteens or streams. Streams were good, but the water had a grittiness to it that stuck in his teeth.
When his stomach felt thick with water, he sidled back toward his steamcycle, wiping the back of his mouth on the sleeve of his leather jacket. The Bromi woman stared at him while she plucked at the stained apron tied over her calico dress.
Clark lifted his hand in a wave. If he spoke to her in her tongue and the manager returned, he might not be so willing to get him the job.
“I know who you are,” she said.
Talking in her tongue might not be so devastating then. Some ranches treated their Bromi with humanity. “I’m looking for work—”
“Those who die live again for you.”
She meant it in that way then. Ice crept over Clark’s skin and he folded his arms to appear nonchalant as he glanced at the ranch house. A dog barked in the distant fields. “That’s something that’s not talked about.”
“A new Bromi is here. He knew you from the desert. He spoke of you to us. You saved his father from the dark sleep.”
Clark kept his facial muscles slack to avoid looking suspicious. “Glad I could help him, but there are people who don’t like that part of me.”
She nodded so hard her bonnet slipped down her broad forehead. “We never harm our own and you are one of us now. Be careful with Mr. Parker’s brother.”
“How’s that?” Clark leaned his back against the fence beside her, drooping his arms over the top and hooking one of his boot heels into the wood. If anyone looked over, the individual might not realize they carried on a conversation.
“Manager Parker has a brother who’s crazy. Doctor is crazy.” The woman wiggled her fingers in a jagged pattern in front of her face, the Bromi sign for mentally unsafe.
“What’s he do?” The doctors could be cruel to Bromis; not many would treat the natives.
“You smell it on him,” she hissed.
The Bromi relied on spirits and herbs; the woman might be uncomfortable around modern medicine. “Thank you for the warning.”
“Not even you, who befriends the dead, can protect against crazy.”
The brick house’s side door slammed and the manager swaggered across the lawn with a paper in his hand. “You can read, can’t you, kid? You seem like a bright one.”
“If you know your sums, point that out too.” Mr. Parker slapped the note into Clark’s palm and at last shook his hand.
Clark parked his steamcycle along the dirt road through town. The doctor’s house, a three-story white clapboard with a veranda and four chimneys, had to be the nicest place for miles, at least the nicest place he’d seen all day. Trimmed bushes lined the porch and walkway, and a wrought-iron gate blocked off the property. The doctors Clark had known in the past kept shacks; they didn’t have time to build up a fancy life.
He slung his leg off the ride and hung his helmet off the handlebars. A buggy rattled by in the road and two little boys stood across the street outside the general store. When he looked at them, they darted behind a rain barrel. He’d been like that once, Clark and Mabel, pretending the world was out to get them and hiding in near plain sight would save them.
The world was after them and hiding didn’t help a lost soul.
Clark tested the gate and it swung open – halleluiah for that, he wouldn’t have to try to call for attention from the road – so he shut it behind him and headed to the front door. A brass plaque read: Doctor of Ailments, Lionel Parker. Clark whistled; what other kind of doctor existed?
He lifted the brass knocker shaped like a lion’s head – how fitting with the name Lionel – and let it smack the mahogany door. Clark stepped back and wiped his hands on his denim pants.
No gloves. He pulled them off and stuck them into his jacket pockets. His hair would have to do with a quick brushing of his fingers through the shoulder-length yellow strands.
The little boys laughed from the rain barrel. A cowboy on a horse clopped past.
Clark knocked again. Brass glass, the doctor might not be home. How long would he stay around before he headed out to find the next ranch? Ranches were safe. Drifters wandered through on a regular basis, but workers in stores tended to stick around. People asked questions about folk they saw every day. Hired ranch hands stuck to themselves in the fields or barns. For sure, Mr. Parker wouldn’t have sent him if he’d known the doctor was out, but living miles apart, communication might be sparse between them.
The door opened to an elderly Bromi woman in a black dress. “You need Doc Parker, suh?”
“Um, yes. Thanks.” Clark cleared his throat. “His brother sent me.”
Her dark eyes widened before she nodded. “Come, please. I get him for you.”
Clark stepped into a hallway of red walls and polished wood. No pictures or mirrors offered decoration. She opened a left-hand door and slid aside for him to enter. He wondered how she could move so soundlessly until he looked down, noticing her bare feet beneath her skirt.
Potpourri scented the room to a degree that made his throat clench. Like the hallway, naught adorned the room, apart from the smelly balls hanging from brass hooks in the ceiling. Two velveteen sofas faced each other.
He wasn’t a patient or someone sent to fetch the doctor. Clark had no spare money for medicine, if he’d needed any. He hovered near the window, with its crimson curtains, to avoid touching anything he could dirty with filth from the road.
What did the potpourri serve to hide?
The door opened to a tall, thin man in a black suit…and a ghost with a missing leg. Clark bit back a groan. He should have known a doctor’s office would be riddled with the kind of dead who didn’t want to pass on.
“My brother sent you?” A smooth accent toyed with his words.
Clark held out his hand, but the doctor made no move to shake it. Not a shaking family, the two men. Clark dropped his arm down to his side. “I was looking for work out at the ranch and Manager Parker sent me here. He said you might have something for me to do. I know my words and sums.” He removed the letter from his jacket and held it out; the doctor did accept that. “I don’t plan on staying long, a month at the most.”
The doctor flared his nostrils in his long nose as he read the note. “My brother enjoys the richness of life and the joys of people. I, unfortunately, do not share his feelings. I have seen too many men harm their brethren.”
Clark licked his lips. Doctors had to want to help people. Why else would they invest in learning cures? “Sorry to waste your time, sir. I’ll get off.” On to the next town then. He might find a farm that would give him food for a few hours of work.
Doctor Parker breathed through his lips. “Have you ever helped a physician? Do you know how to measure vials and sterilize instruments?”
Hope lodged in Clark’s throat. “I can sterilize, sure, and if you show me with the vials, I can do that too.”
“Those vials,” the ghost hooted from the doorway. “They’re tainted. Don’t get near those vials.”
Clark caught himself before he could frown. Ghosts tended to struggle with truths.
“I’ll keep you for a day or two,” said Doctor Parker. “I can pay you two cents an hour for odd jobs. If you work out, we can extend that period. I do amputations, son. I need strong hands to hold down the patient.”
It would be lost limbs then. Clark forced himself to nod. “Is there a place I can hunker down? I normally stick to ranches, and they offer food and a roof.”
The doctor snorted, crumpling the paper into his pocket. “I can’t offer you any rooms in here. I keep them for patients to stay in. You know what a hospital is, son?”
“He thinks this place is a hospital,” the ghost hollered.
“I’ve heard of army hospitals.” Clark nodded. Those places he avoided. Besides, he wasn’t salaried by the government. Only soldiers could go there.
“The east has one in each main city. I want to bring the safety of the east out here. That’s where I’m from.”
The ghost drew a line across his throat. “He came out here to torture us stragglers.”
Whatever operation the doctor had done must have failed. Clark had seen it before, men who lost limbs in hopes of saving their lives, but passing on anyway. It had happened to a Tarnished Silver who had worked with his mother. She’d cut her hand on a razor, the wound had festered, and even though the doctor had removed it, she’d grown sicker and left the world in a week.
“I can stay in a barn.” If Clark had to find lodging elsewhere, it would eat up his money like a brushfire.
Doctor Parker touched his goatee, drawing the graying hairs into a tighter point. “My Bromi girl can get you some bedding. Stay in the stable if you want. I have scraps in the kitchen; eat that if you like, but if not, you’re buying your own.”
“Thank you.” He’d lived on worse than scraps.
“If it comes to you being my assistant, you’ll have to wear black. Hides the blood. I see you’re mostly in that now. If we get anyone staying here, I have a no shoes policy. Keeps things quiet for them.”
“Come on with me to the back room where I mix my medicines. I’ll get you to that and we’ll see how it goes.”
The ghost of a woman with no arms joined the one-legged ghost in the backroom. Clark bent over a table using eyedroppers and glass beakers to fill vials. Doctor Parker had scribbled the recipe on the back of his brother’s note, wrinkles and all.
“Bad man,” the female shrieked. “Look at what he did to me arms!”
Clark glanced toward the door. Doctor Parker had shut it, saying, “If a patient comes, you’re to stay out of sight.”
“Sometimes operations are necessary,” Clark said. The green and blue liquids created a murky purple shade.
“Not this one! Me husband called me an adulteress and off went me arms.”
Clark looked up. “That can’t be the reason.”
“Doc Parker’s known for taking the man’s side. Ask him.” She glared at the other ghost.
The male scowled. “Sure, you got a problem and you pay enough, Doc Parker will help.”
Clark clenched his hand around the glass vial. That couldn’t be true. Anyone in the west knew some doctors wanted money for medicine, then didn’t deliver more than dyed water or sugar cubes, but he’d never heard tell of one amputating limbs for perversion.
“Doc’s crazy,” the female ghost continued. “He has his own daughter locked up. Real bright girl. Sad state.”
Clark pictured a shed with a girl pounding against a padlocked door, and his skin crawled. “What do you mean?”
“The room upstairs, end of the hall,” she exclaimed. “He won’t let her out. He’ll probably experiment on her next. See if she grows back a tongue.”
Clark crouched outside the room indicated by the one-legged ghost. He held his breath as he worked his tools into the lock. If anyone came, the ghosts had better warn him. If it weren’t for their nagging, he wouldn’t have bothered skulking around the house. A girl locked in a shed was one thing; a girl locked in a room was another. She might have a disease. Clark chuckled under his breath; his abilities had better keep him from catching it.
The lock clicked and he slid the toolkit back into his jacket pocket. Easing the door open enough to peer through, he studied a white wall and plain table with a single chair. Not really girl friendly, from what he’d seen. Sure, he knew more about men on the run, but the soiled doves who’d worked with his mother had treasured knick-knacks. His mother would have had a table cloth, a candlestick, maybe a cushion on that chair. He’d drawn a picture for her once with a hunk of charcoal and a meat paper. She’d stuck it to her wall on an old nail and never taken it down, even though neither of them could remember after a few years what the blob was meant to be.
Clark pushed the door open a bit more, and froze. Against the opposite wall, a young girl sat on a cot beside a window, paper taped over the glass as if to obscure the image. Lank brown hair hung down her back, oily and matted, and she wore a shapeless gray shift.
He glanced back into the hallway before he darted inside and shut the door, in case the Bromi slave or doctor wandered by. “Um, hullo.” He cleared his throat and shifted his stance. “Are you… the doctor’s daughter?”
She nodded. “I’m Brenda. Father didn’t send you, did he?” Dark circles lined her eyes a shade grayer than her linen shift.
“A fella your pa worked on told me to find you here.” She didn’t need to know the fella was dead, or that he’d only discovered her after haunting the halls. “I can help you leave. We can go now.” So much for having a good job for a day or two.
“No, I can’t.” An Eastern accent tinged her voice. “I’m sorry, but I can’t, sir.”
The “sir” title didn’t really fit with him, made his skin crawl.
“Are you sick?” He fought to keep from wrinkling his nose.
“I’m not sick. Father said if I tried to leave, he’d never let me find my sister. As long as he’s got me, he’ll keep her safe.”
Clark almost growled. Doctor Parker was the monster the ghosts had hinted at. “We’ll go find your sister then. I can’t leave you locked in here.”
She stood and wobbled; the arms and legs poking from her clothes showed skin and bones, as malnourished as some of the thieves he’d run across in the desert. “If he finds me gone, he’ll hurt her. I know he will.” Her lower lip trembled. She couldn’t be more than fourteen-years-old at the most.
“Brass glass,” Clark swore. Brenda had a point in that. “I’ll find out where your sister is. We’ll get both of you away.”
“He’ll lock you up, too,” she said. “The man’s crazy. I’m safer in here. It’s better to be safe.”
Clark spread the new leather cover over the medical text and glanced at Doctor Parker from the corners of his eyes. The doctor scribbled into a notebook, a gaslamp illuminating his work.
Clark set the tome back on the bookshelf. “Have you been in the west long, sir?”
The doctor hesitated, his stylus hovering above the paper. “Long enough. I am needed here. People need medicine.”
People who wanted their enemies to suffer. “Thanks for doing the good deeds.” The words swelled in Clark’s throat as if to choke him.
Doctor Parker nodded as he returned to his notebook.
Clark pulled down another tome to cover it in the new binding. “Before I got here, I heard you had a daughter. I haven’t seen her around. A little girl,” he added, in case the doctor thought he liked to sniff around pretty skirts.
Doctor Parker set down his stylus, the movements slow and deliberate, his gaze on the office’s only window. “I have no children.” Liar. “That’s enough work for today. It’s getting late and I’ve already sent the slave off for the night.” He turned in his chair to face Clark. “Don’t ask questions here, boy, or this arrangement won’t work out.”
Something shook Clark awake; he clamped his hands down on the offender and he shoved. Maybe he should have opted for the shed, but he’d taken the doctor up on his offer of a pallet in the kitchen. A female gasped; a single candle sent a yellow glow around her shape.
“Brenda?” Clark reached for the pistol he’d left on his belt. When he’d first started sleeping with it out in the desert, it had jammed into his side each time he’d moved, but he’d grown used to slumber in one position.
“I did it, sir. I snuck out. The lock on my door’s faulty and Father never fixed it. Did you know she’s here? My sister’s here.” Brenda’s eyes seemed to glow in the dark of the kitchen. “He’s got her locked in too and he told her the same thing, about behaving so nothing happens to me.” Her voice rose with each word and Clark cringed.
“Hush!” If she didn’t keep quiet—
The door to the kitchen smacked into the wall and Doctor Parker stormed inside, his robe flapping around his legs.
Brenda screamed and yanked at Clark’s hands as though to pull him up, but her father caught her around the waist and shoved her back against him, slapping a cloth over her mouth. She screamed against the rag, slashing at him with her fingernails and kicking with her bare heels.
The doctor muttered as he dragged her into the hallway, her shrieks growing quieter.
Clark gripped the pallet of old linens, his heart pounding. He’d seen something he shouldn’t have. Doctor Parker would have to explain it away and send Clark off before he witnessed more.
“You.” Brenda Parker appeared beside the stove with hollow, black eyes, and marks around her mouth and neck.
“You’re dead.” Clark stood, kicking off a blanket, before Doctor Parker could return.
She touched her lips. “Chloroform can do that, you know.” Brenda lowered her hand to her belly. “Go get my sister. My father’s crazy. Don’t let him hurt Maura, please.”
Clark’s muscles tightened; Doctor Parker knew what he was about. Brenda wouldn’t have been an accident. The doctor would return to deal with Clark.
“That’s how you found out about me. Ghosts told you.” She floated higher before sinking back to the kitchen floor. “Send Maura east. Our grandparents are there and Mother.”
How calm she acted for a ghost. Usually the newly dead screamed at him until they realized he worked better when he understood. “I’ll get Maura.” She’d been alive in front of him, but he hadn’t managed to save her. “You can be with your Mother now.”
Brenda recoiled. “Mother’s not dead. Father made her work as his assistant and she threatened to tell on him for what he did to his patients. He put her up in Wade Asylum and whisked the two of us out here.”
“Does your uncle over at the ranch know about all this?”
“They’re grave diggers together. My uncle used to send parts to my father when we lived in the east.”
Bile rose in Clark’s throat. Sure, that earned a few dollars and he’d seen people decimating graves for an eyeball or brain, but he had enough of the dead on a daily basis without dealing with them in the dirt at night.
The kitchen door swung again – that thing was going to tear off its hinges if the doctor wasn’t careful. Lionel Parker barreled through with his hands clenched into fists. “Get out. You’re not needed.” He fumbled in his jacket pocket, the item thrown on over a thin nightshirt, and threw coins at Clark’s feet.
Clark pulled the pistol from his holster and aimed it at Lionel’s chest. “You killed your daughter.”
The doctor swore as he patted his body, as if searching for a weapon. “I would never do that. Get out of here, you and your lies!”
Clark pulled the trigger and a hole blossomed with blood in the center of his chest. The doctor gulped as she stumbled backwards into the wall and slumped.
“You killed him,” Brenda said.
“Yup.” Maybe his ghost would appear for the other spirits to tear into him.
Clark glanced at the door leading to the backyard, but no shouts came from outside. Someone would find the doctor and Clark didn’t want to be arrested for murder, no matter how warranted. If the men in town liked the doctor to take care of their troubles, including upset wives, then they wouldn’t care about a deceased daughter.
Clark fastened his pistol into his holster. “We’ll free the Bromi so she can get a head start, and then we’ll nab your sister.”
“This one.” Brenda slapped her hand against the door, but it slid through and she grimaced. “Did you see my body down there on the parlor table? What do you suppose he wanted to do with me?”
Clark shrugged; his tongue seemed to have thickened past speech. He worked his picking kit into the lock and waited until it clicked to turn the knob.
“She should be in here,” Brenda said. “I called to her through the door and she answered. She was crying. That’s when I got you.”
That would also be when Lionel Parker overheard Brenda’s escape.
Clark stood, his gas lamp in hand, and entered the bedroom that reeked of mothballs. A little girl huddled on a cot similar to Brenda’s.
“That’s her!” Brenda soared over to the child, whose black hair hung loose.
“Maura?” Clark lifted the lamp higher so she could see him. “We need to leave, Maura.”
The little girl rubbed the back of her hand across her nose. “Where’s Brenda?”
“I’m right here, sweetie!”
Clark licked his dry lips. The child had lived through imprisonment; she couldn’t be reduced to lies. “Brenda’s gone. Your father got her.” If she were Mabel, he would have hugged her and she would have wept, made up some statements about feeling strong. Maura was a stranger, though.
She pressed a pillow against her face and her shoulders trembled.
“Brenda gave me directions to your grandparents in the east,” Clark said. “I’ll send you to them. They’ll take care of you.”
“Mama?” She lifted her face, tears on her cheeks.
“Right. She’ll be there too.”
“But not Brenda.”
“Not Brenda.” The poor chit had to be only seven or eight.
“I’ll be with her the whole way,” Brenda interjected.
“She’ll be with you in spirit.” Clark eased the pillow away from her. “Do you have anything to take with you?”
Maura shook her head, lips parted. Like Brenda, she wore a sack dress, minus the corset.
“We’ll find your father’s money,” Clark said. “Then we can get you a train ticket and something warm to wear. Some food. I’ll wire ahead if we can find the address for your grandparents.”
“I remember the address.” Brenda floated in front of him. “I want you to take some of the money by way of thanks.
It would be the first time a ghost paid him for help. Usually they screamed and vanished. Brass glass, maybe it would be the last time he had to help a ghost. Clark laughed. Nah, his curse wouldn’t let him go that easily.
What’s a festival without games and prizes?
You can win this awesome spyglass necklace and be able to see across the desert, in case a rival gang is hot on your trail.
Check out my website for contests related to my books, and you can read the first three chapters of TREASURE DARKLY: http://www.jordanelizabethmierek.com/
Craving more steampunk? The clockwork adventures continue with GEARS OF BRASS, a steampunk anthology featuring TREASURE DARKLY’s own Amethyst Treasure.
The Summer Steampunk Festival might end soon, but you can return to Hedlund in September for the release of BORN OF TREASURE, the sequel to TREASURE DARKLY. Twice the romance, thrice the ghosts, and a heap of clockwork inventions.
As a special addition to the summer steampunk festival, TREASURE DARKLY is on sale for 99 cents this week only! Check out Amazon for the deal.