Black Friday is here and we’re discussing the season with Andrew Mayer’s Sarah Stanton from Power Under Pressure.
The Society of Paragons is gone—destroyed from within by traitors and enemies. With the death of The Industrialist and the rebirth of the Iron-Clad as a monstrous half-human creature known as “The Shell,” Lord Eschaton now has almost everything he needs to cover the world in fortified smoke and rebuild it in his image—everything except for the mechanical heart of the Automaton.
The device is nearer than he knows. Just across the East River, hiding in a Brooklyn Junkyard, Sarah Stanton is trying to come to restore the mechanical man to life. But before she can rebuild her friend, she must first discover the indomitable power of her own heart and save herself. Only then will she be able to forge a ragtag group of repentant villains, damaged Paragons, and love-mad geniuses into the team of heroes known as “The Society of Steam.”
Make sure you stick around to the end. We’ll be giving away an set of the entire Trilogy – The Falling Machine, Hearts of Smoke & Steam and Power Under Pressure.
Merry Christmas Mister Krampus
“Well, no,” Darby said almost absent-mindedly as he tapped a finger against one of the decorations on the Christmas tree. “But we’ve been walking the streets for hours now without a clue. Perhaps we can do a small bit of shopping, and hope that the scourge shows a little Christmas spirit.”
“What’s a Krampus anyway?” Sarah asked, heaping disdain onto her scorn. “He doesn’t sound very scary to me,” Sarah said, trying to pay attention to the conversation despite the overwhelming number of distractions that surrounded her. If nothing else, the large department store was warm, and after an afternoon spent trudging up and down the blustery corridor of Fifth Avenue looking for a gang of magical pickpockets, the heat was magical in and of itself.
“A twelve foot tall monster with goat horns doesn’t sound scary to you? You are a very brave little girl.”
“I’m not so little,” she reminded him. “And I’ve seen a lot of men dressed up in costumes. Most of them aren’t nearly as fierce as they first appear.”
“Yes, you’ve seen a sight too many I should think,” the old professor said as he turned to her and scratched his beard. “Don’t you agree Tom?”
The mechanical man nodded his head, the expressionless mask bobbing up and down on its gimbals and gears. “Yes… Sir Dennis,” he said in a series of sing-song musical tones.
The Automaton wore a large stove-pipe hat on his head, and a great coat large enough to hide his decidedly barrel shaped body. Sarah was still impressed that everyone didn’t notice him simply for being so unfashionable.
“You see? And if we happen to catch the trail of a villain at the same time…”
Sarah barely heard him, instead becoming fixated on a display of Christmas decorations from around the world. She had seen many lovely things, but for some reason this seemed far more fascinating. They had come from around the world, including a beautiful diamond encrusted globe from Russia.
“I know you may find this hard to believe Miss. Stanton,” Sir Dennis said, “but there was a time, not so long ago, that Christmas wasn’t quite so focused on buying things as it is today.”
Sarah responded to the old man without looking up at him directly. “So in the old days people went out during Christmas Eve purely to hunt down villains? Surely they must have liked to get presents sometimes.”
“Such cheek,” Sir Dennis said, “And a bit cynical for a girl your age, although I suppose that we adults are always making the past seem more wonderful than it was.”
Sarah knew the old man wouldn’t admonish her too much, and she did like shopping. She was in awe of all the clever toys, gorgeous decorations, and the people that were filling the halls of the department store on this particular Christmas Eve. Her mother was not much of one for a crowd, and Sarah had never been so directly surrounded by all the holiday excitement as she was at this very moment.
As she examined the ornaments more closely there was a smile on her face. Sarah knew that she wasn’t supposed to like that she wasn’t like the other young women, but there was a part of her that reveled in knowing that the old professor held her in high regard. She was a dozen years old now, and since the previous Christmas her world had been rapidly changing. The world of childhood was receding quickly: the fact that her mother and father had allowed her out on her own (albeit in the company of the old professor) was proof of that.
She held up a little figure in front of her on the palm of her hand. It was a clockwork ornament, beautifully made with many little details lovingly painted on its surface. It was intended to portray the little drummer boy, but having been rendered from stamped metal it appeared a bit inhuman. “Does this remind you of Tom a bit? Should we get it for father?”
Darby laughed as she closed one eye to see if her comparison really held up. “They’re both mechanical men, but I think Tom might consider himself a bit more than just a toy, and your father isn’t Tom’s greatest fan.”
“We are both… mechanical men,” the Automaton repeated with his dulcet, but mechanical tones. There was little doubt to the argument that Tom was intelligent, but Sarah still found him very odd most of the time, although she had spent a fairly enjoyable afternoon recently watching her friend Nathaniel make Tom repeat a variety of mildly naughty phrases over and over again until the young housemaid, Jenny Foxbrush, had caught them at it. The woman had admonished them both soundly, if not without a few stifled moments of laughter as Tom repeated “knickers” over and over again. She had told them that they needed to treat the mechanical man with the same respect they might a young child, although unlike a human baby it seemed like Tom was unlikely to ever really grow up.
For many people in the store around them the sight of the famous Automaton was more of a draw than the fabulous display of international Christmas decorations, although here in Lord & Taylor’s most people seemed to be able to control themselves and move on. Out on the streets of Fifth Avenue they had been surrounded by an almost constant swirl of people wanting to find out more about the self-aware machine.
Sarah was about to ask Sir Dennis whether or not he thought that Nathaniel might like the little tin toy when she saw a hand reaching up into the display. It snatched the diamond decoration and disappeared.
For an instant she was too shocked to react, but when she ducked to look under the display she saw the boy was stuffing the priceless ornament into a sack. The adults around him seemed unconcerned, or hadn’t bothered to notice the young ruffian as he poached the object.
For an instant she considered simply ignoring it. Being a child in New York meant constantly being surrounded by the littlest of thieves. It seemed that adults, despite their claims of being constantly vigilant, were so good at ignoring children they often couldn’t see that their innocence hid a tremendous number of small crimes.
Her sense of righteousness overwhelmed her. Ducking down she crept around the display until she found a grating that had been pulled loose. She reached down, but before she could open it herself, a boy burst through.
He was surprisingly well-dressed for a child, even if his tweed coat was slightly tattered. But the boy was as fast as he was skinny, and as Sarah scurried across the floor of the department store after him she found herself weaving through a maze of hoop skirts and trouser-legs chasing after a skinny thief with a slingshot hanging out from the back of his pants.
A year ago she would have had no problem running between the adults unseen, but the last year had seen her grow a full three inches. She could still catch glimpses of the boy as he headed into the housewares department, but rather than gliding along, she found herself apologizing to the adults that towered above her.
The grunts and tuts that she received from them made it clear that her days as a free-spirit were coming to an end. Still, if her childish adventures were coming to an end, she might as well make this one worth remembering!
She smiled when she saw that the urchin in the slightly tattered tweed had slowed down. Clearly he didn’t realize that she had followed him.
Sneaking up behind him she grabbed his sack of stolen swag from out of his hand. “That should put an end to your crime-wave you little thief.”
The boy turned around and stared at her with an intensity that made her jump back. He really was rail thin—even more so than she had originally imagined—and despite his shorter stature it was suddenly clear that he was possibly even a bit older than she was. “Give it back to me,” he said to her in a tone that was threateningly cold and even. It was also delivered in something that contained traces of British accent, but wasn’t actually close enough to being one that she could really consider as an accent at all.
“No,” Sarah replied, getting her dudgeon up a little higher. “You’ve stolen these.”
For a moment the boy said nothing, and then he lashed out without warning, giving her a shocking slap to the face. Sarah had been knocked around a bit before, having had to learn the hard way that there were other girls willing to fight, no matter how pretty the dresses were that they wore, but rather than simply stumbling backwards, this boy had managed to stick his foot behind hers, robbing her of her balance.
An instant later she found herself on the floor, the bag pulled from her hand before she hit the ground. Despite the thought that if she’d had any good sense at all, that’s where she would have stayed, she instead scrambled to her feet.
The boy was running, and this time he knew he was being followed. He held out his arms, sending crockery tumbling to the ground. Sarah leapt over the pile of smashed plates in front of her, grateful that she was still allowed to dress in the more forgiving clothes of a child rather than the elaborate outfits that the women around her were forced to wear. Obviously her days as even a casual adventurer would come to an end the moment she was locked into a corset and skirt.
The boy crashed through a door labeled “The Management Only”, and Sarah crashed through it, right behind him.
“C’mon sister!” The boy yelled. “We’ve almost gotten away!” Sarah realized that the young thief was attempting to mark her as his accomplice.
“Stop you!” a portly gentlemen shouted at her, taking the bait. His thick hand grazed the cloth of her dress as she managed to swerve out of the way. She was sure that Darby would get her out of any trouble she could get into, but she wasn’t about to let this little jackanape get away with his holiday thievery and embarrass her in the process.
Both of them clattered down the stairwell, leaving the would-be do-gooder behind, but the boy had the better of it, and after chasing him to the last step she watched him slip through a heavy metal door held to the wall by a loose chain.
She dove in after him, but it took effort to slip through, and as soon as Sarah realized that she had left behind the whitewashed walls of the department store for a dark, dank stone corridor somewhere under the streets of the city, she wondered if perhaps it might not have been better to simply let the boy go.
“In for a penny…” she said to herself, pushing up her courage, and moved further into the darkness.
Using her hands to trace out a path along the wall, it was only a few yards before she heard the sound of arguing rumbling down the corridor. Following the sound she quickly found herself looking into a room that was lit by dozens and dozens of flickering candles. “I was followed.”
“But you got away?” One of the other boys asked.
Sitting in the alcoves that had been hacked into the stone were a variety of stolen objects including dozens of wallets and ladies’ purses, along with jewels and gems of all kinds.
“You kids is gettin’ too bold,” said a deep voice in the darkness. “Keep on like that, and we’ll all get sent off to the Tombs.” When her eyes found source of those heavy tones it took Sarah’s breath away: sitting on a large stone chair was an enormous figure of a man, his body covered with thick white hair, and a pair of impossibly enormous horns sprouting from his head. “The Krampus…” she said softly, but it was still too loud.
“Oy! Who’s that?” the skinny boy said to her. “Grab her!”
Suddenly she found herself grabbed by dozens of tiny hands, and before she could struggle she was immobilized, and being dragged towards the terrifying figure.
Despite her attempts to stop herself the Children pulled her forward until she was face to face with the monster.
Close up she could see the man’s features. His face was sunken and unnaturally white, with his eyes almost invisible behind the strands of hair falling down over his face. He looked like an old apple, or a poorly smoked ham. Sarah didn’t believe in real monsters, but she had to admit this was a most convincing argument for a change in philosophy. “Are you really the Krampus?” she asked timidly.
“That I am girl…” The man leaned forward and she swore she could hear his bones grinding. “And if you’ve found me, that means you must be a very bad child indeed.
Sarah swallowed hard. “Please don’t eat me sir!” She hated herself for saying it, and even more for believing it.
“I don’t eat children, I put them to work. And now you work for me.” When he lifted an arm she saw that he was wearing chains.
“Are you a prisoner here, sir?” she said, the words coming out of her mouth before she could stop them.
The skinny boy stepped forwards and pushed Sarah back away from the chained demon. “Oy girl,” he said, giving her another shove. “That’s enough questions out of you.”
“The little thief,” she said, her fear broken by his rashness. “And what’s your name?”
“Jack,” he replied without thinking, and then grimaced at her. “I thought I said no more questions!”
“I’m sorry, but you can’t mean to tell me that you all live down here with a chained up old man!”
One of the littler boys stepped forward with the kind of stern look on his face that only a child could make.
“That’s the Krampus that is!”
“Oh hush Donnie,” Jack said. “Old Krampus is all right most of the time, and smarter than he looks.”
“He knows how to plan a crime for sure!” Donnie said with a smile.
“Shut it, or I’ll knock yer teeth in,” Jack said, threatening the other boy with his raised fist. “He’s smart, but sometimes he gets a bit dangerous, so we keep him chained up and everything goes better that way.”
Sarah suddenly found herself feeling sad for the poor creature. “But what happened to him?”
“Eschaton,” Krampus croaked. “He promised me power, and gave me this ruined body instead. Crossed me with a goat I think.”
“I have friends who I’m sure could help.”
“No friends. No help,” the Krampus wheezed at her. “You’re with us now and forever girl.” Despite his age and the chains, she could feel her heart skip a beat as he leaned towards her. “Your friends will never find you!”
Then she heard someone calling out her name in the distance. “Sarah! Where are you?” She let out a sigh of relief when she recognized Sir Dennis Darby’s voice. All around her children scattered.
“I’m sorry Mister Krampus, but I think you may find that my friends are more resourceful than you think.”
The old man’s features turned to one of surprise. “No! Please! Don’t tell, don’t tell! We don’t need grownups here! Just the children and me!”
“Then let me go,” she said, turning to Jack.
“How do we know we can trust ya girl?” the boy said.
“I’ll give you my word, and besides you have no choice.”
“The word of a little rich girl? You’re just playing with us, just like you rich people always do.”
“It’s my word, that’s why,” Sarah said, and stared straight into the boy’s eyes. “And you have to give me that ornament.”
As more moments passed Sarah felt her desire to turn and run continuing to. Certainly, if the boy waited too long to give in then they’d all be found out, and despite her belief that Sir Dennis was a good man, she doubted he’d refrain from turning all the children in to the authorities. And while the professor might help the twisted creature, she wasn’t sure he’d be better off than he was now.
The seconds ticked away, and just as she was about to give in Jack pulled out the diamond encrusted ornament, handed it to her, and nodded towards the door. “Seems that I don’t have a choice, what with that metal man what I saw with you.”
“No, you don’t, not really,” she replied.
“Sarah, is that you?” The voices were getting very close now. She needed to go if they were going to avoid finding this trove of stolen treasure.
She turned back to the figure in the chair. “Perhaps we’ll meet again.”
He looked up at her. “I doubt it.”
She nodded and took a longer look at him. “I’ve seen a few men in costumes before Mister Krampus, and I know you think it’s better to be a monster, but I wonder if you and your friends wouldn’t do a bit better if you tried being Saint Nicholas instead.”
The figure let out a laugh. “Oh ho ho,” he said with a sudden twinkle in his eye. “That might not be such a bad idea.” With a surprising quickness she found the Krampus’ clawed hand in her hair scratching her head. “Merry Christmas girl.” She stifled a scream while he tousled her hair.
“Merry Christmas, mister Krampus.”
As she turned and ran from the room Sarah wondered exactly how the real Santa Claus might feel about her helping out a gang of criminals, and then admonished herself for still believing in fairy tales. But then again, she had met a real monster today. Perhaps the true spirit of the season was a bit more complicated than most people made it out to be.
Meet Andrew Mayer!
Andrew Mayer was born on the tiny island of Manhattan, and is still fascinated by their strange customs and simple ways. When he’s not writing new stories he works as a videogame designer and digital entertainment consultant. Over the years he has has created numerous concepts, characters, and worlds including the original Dogz and Catz digital pets. These days he resides in Oakland, CA where he spends too much time on the internet, and not enough time playing his ukulele.
Want to purchase Andrew’s novels?
Society of Steam
Please help spread the word: Tweet: Celebrate the madness with 32 authors while #giveaways ensue during #BlackFriday (Nov23-Dec24) http://tinyurl.com/LEBlackFriday2012 #paranormal #fantasy
Thank you Andrew for taking part in Literary Escapism’s Black Friday!
Andrew is giving away an set of the entire Trilogy – The Falling Machine, Hearts of Smoke & Steam and Power Under Pressure. To enter, all you have to do is answer this one question: Name the superhero you think is the most steampunk BESIDES Batman. Remember, you must answer the question in order to be entered.
Even though I’m not giving the additional entries any more, you can still help support the author by sharing their article, and this contest, on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere you can. After all, the more people who are aware of this fabulous author ensures we get more fabulous stories.
The winner must post a review of the novel someplace. Whether it is on their own blog, Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing or wherever, it doesn’t matter. Just help get the word out.
All Black Friday contests will remain open until December 31st at which time I’ll determine the winner with help from the snazzy new plug-in I have. Have you checked out the other Black Friday contests yet? Check out the Master List to see all the Black Friday giveaways
I have not been contacting winners, so you will need to check back to see if you’ve won.