I had a lot of fun writing this story. It's a fantasy nod to Sherlock Holmes, in a fantasy world I hope to revisit sometime soon. I'm already noodling around with a new story featuring Mina and James Stark that I'm currently calling "The Affair of Death's Clock."I'm still experimenting with the Kindle outlet. A lot of people seem to enjoy short stories they can read on their iPhones and iPads.
You can find the link the Amazon here.
And the first few pages are here:
Dark things are drawn to my husband. I know this to be true and I no longer question why. I love him, and I think it would be harder for me to imagine someone not feeling the way I do than in why it is so.
His physician, Dr. Theophilus Hyde-Whyte, thinks it was because my husband was born dead. His heart was not beating when he was taken from his mother’s womb. Thankfully, Dr. Hyde-Whyte had a hedgewitch on hand that knew about such things. She placed a palm over my beloved’s chest and shocked his heart back to beating.
My husband believes the hedgewitch saved his life. I choose to believe he is so strong that his first breath could not be denied to him, and that his life will have to be torn from him because he will never willingly give it up.
His mother insists that he was born with a caul over his face and therefore sees the dark things in a different light than most. When he was a child of twelve, a fortuneteller predicted that my beloved’s life will always be connected to the darkness.
I do hope so, for his interaction with the dark things that come calling bring him joy and challenge. But I fear for him as well, because everyone knows the darkness is unmerciful when it finds a weakness.
The gargoyles that perch on buildings and listen to secrets in the streets and in the structures they watch over come to life at night and whisper what they know to my husband. He has an arrangement with them, you see, based on favors he has done them in the past. Travelers searching for arcane objects and rumors of those objects consult with him and the vast library we keep in our large home. Hansom cab drivers across the city know to refer these people to my husband.
These visits from strangers seeking the mystical often prove diverting and titillating, making for long discussions in front of the roaring fire in my husband’s study, which I am fortunate enough to be invited to partake in. My beloved trusts my instincts and judgments in such matters because I have proven quick-witted and insightful. He has always known me to be so, but I fear that I wasn’t the case before I met him. My continued association with him, my love for him and his love for me, have all contributed to changing my views of the world and of dark things.
Occasionally, the Drummond Police Department detectives come calling. Usually Inspector Charles Kirklyn is sent round our way. Despite his hardened demeanor and quick temper – one the result of growing up in the Gutbucket, that section of Drummond where the poor and lawless live, and the other a mark of his heritage as Khellenan, though he didn’t grow up as his forebears did on the Isle of Khell where kelpies sometimes still lure ships to their deaths – Kirklyn is a good man. I would like him even if he didn’t treasure my husband’s friendship; but he does and so I welcome him into our home without reservation.
The police only send Kirklyn round when they have exhausted all other avenues involving a particularly offensive and strange crime or murder they wish to solve. With any other inspector, though, I fear those meetings are more the result of suspicion about my husband than of an attempt to gain his assistance.
My husband, a very intelligent man, always sees through their subterfuge and chooses not to feel threatened or slighted. I fear I am not so generous as he. But, should the puzzle prove challenging, he accepts the niggardly stipend they offer (though we are wealthy and do not need it) and applies his knowledge, wits, and – sometimes – sword and pistol to the solution of that mystery. He does love intrigues so.
I would prefer to live out the life we have together in our house in the city or – more my choice – at the manor house and lands that are ours in the countryside. But mysteries don’t often find their way to our doorstep out there. So I abide, loving him and enjoying what I wish of Drummond’s busy nightlife.
My beloved’s name is James Stark, but he holds title in the Court of Lords as Lord Gallatin. Others know him as a consulting investigator, the only one in Drummond who specializes in the occult. He has cards printed that find their way into the hands of those who need his services, and those worthy of my husband’s time and his precious blood are guided to our door by direction or by fate.
That night, when the case began – which I have taken the liberty of calling The Affair of the Wooden Boy for reasons which you’ll quickly come to understand – we were at home after just returning from a Siahnea play. Both of us had looked forward to the play, for it was the first of its culture to ever be imported to Drummond.
I had rather fancied the costumes, which were gay and festive and not ever to be worn by the ladies in Drummond, this according to Queen Isina’s royal decree (I still don’t think a monarch should decide what her subjects should and should not wear, or how they should behave in the privacy of their own homes!), and James had found favor with the swordplay, a whirling, two-bladed discipline that had filled the theater with the clangor of ringing steel during the choreographed fighting sequences.
“I have sent a message to Master Nilasta,” my husband said. He took out the poker and turned the logs in the study fireplace. Whirling embers shot up the flue.
“Who is he?” I asked as I poured wine into glasses and brought it over to serve him.
As always, he looked incredibly handsome in his eveningwear. In his early thirties, James is a tall man, two inches over six feet, with dark hair, eyes the color of cut jade, dimples in his cheeks, and a strong face. I am much fairer than he, and my long blond hair and gray eyes mark us as immediate contrasts. I am tall for a woman, though, five eight inches, which draws the attention of many men, but not so tall as my beloved, though I have been told we look very seemly together.
“Master Nilasta is the bladesmaster who taught the actors,” he said. He relinquished the poker, at last satisfied with the cheery blaze that warmed the room.
“Why would you wish to talk to him?” I sat myself on the love seat we often shared during our nights there. The fire warmed me and made me feel wonderful. Or, perhaps, it was only being there with my beloved. I have found, over our years together, that I have often felt exactly that way while with him even in the harshest of circumstances with flesh-eating beasts possibly awaiting us round every turn.
“I would like to learn the bladework.” My beloved smiled at me, and he reminded me once again of a boy whose interest flirts and flits through life like a honeybee. James has never truly been happy doing the same things again and again in his life. He seeks out that which is new and different.
When I first fell in love with him, I dreaded that aspect of him. Fearful of his charms and my own unwanted and unmatched weakness to swoon whenever I was around him, I thought that he could love me one day and leave me the next.
So far, in eight years, I have never had reason to doubt him. He tells me I am his constant constellation, his one true star that helps him navigate his tempestuous life. I choose to believe him. Doubt about love only leads to madness and murder, and I have seen that in many of the cases my beloved has investigated.
“You already know the art of the sword,” I replied, and sipped my wine.
“I would learn more, Mina,” he told me.
In those words, I was reminded again how so many of our adventures together had begun because of that need within him. I suppose I could not help my reaction.
“You’re laughing at me,” he said, but he took no offense.
“No more so than usual, beloved,” I told him. “Your infatuations are sometimes easy to predict.”
He touched the marble chess set I had given him as a gift (all of the pieces are night creatures and monsters from the works of the Brothers Taloch, whose frightful tales were once banned throughout all of the Empire – because many of them rattled uneasy skeletons in the closets of important personages throughout the Empire), then walked over to the vast collection of books we have accumulated. Many nights we spent hours playing chess, reading from books, exchanging ideas and talking. Our life together is complete. Still, my husband loves his diversions. And truthfully, upon occasion, I enjoy a good chase as much as he does.
“I don’t mean to be inattentive, my love,” he told me, “but I fear I’m descending into one of my despairing moods.” He sighed. “I’m ready for something, anything, to come calling in need of my expertise.”
As if the fates had joined together, there came a tentative knock at our door. Although we didn’t know it at the time, my husband’s claim to be ready for anything was about to be challenged.
He excused himself from my presence and went to answer the door. He had given Thom, our houseman, the evening off. Curious myself at who would come calling this late at night, knowing that it had to be connected to my husband’s predilection for mysteries, murder, and mayhem, I stood and walked to the hallway to watch him answer the knock. Every now and again, I’ve been able to prevent harm that might otherwise befall him. He has his strengths and I have mine. We complement each other.
James reached into his pocket for the pistol he habitually carries. He had learned even before meeting me that his fascinations often proved dangerous. His body is scarred from swords, knives, and bullets.
When he opened the door, he didn’t immediately invite in whoever stood there. Dark things, as you may know, often require an invitation to step into a person’s home.
“Fascinating,” he whispered.
Drawn by his surprise, I joined him at the door. Outside, thick white snowflakes tumbled through the air and drifted into masses that promised at least another foot on top of the winter’s leavings thus far into the season. Cabs and coaches pulled by sure-footed horses, and sometimes exotic creatures less seen in day, crossed the street in a rumble of wheels, heading in both directions. Gaslight streetlamps carved holes in the night. Golden glows played against a few other windows, for most of Drummond is early to bed and early to rise because it is a city of merchants and warehouses.
When I saw our prospective visitor, even I – who had seen nearly everything my husband had seen – was almost bowled over. For there on our doorstep, illuminated by the stoop lamp, stood a little wooden boy.