ZM_CH1: In Which Nickie Nick Discovers Her Destiny

NickieCVR4WebIn the Victorian tradition, today starts the serialization of The Zombies of Mesmer: A Nickie Nick Vampire Hunter Novel.  Join me every Friday for a new installment of this YA Steampunk ParaRomance. Leave a comment and be entered to win an author-signed copy of the sequel, released Summer 2013.

Follow Nicole Knickerbocker Hawthorn (Nickie Nick) as she discovers her destiny as The Protector, a powerful vampire hunter. Ashe, a dark and mysterious stranger, helps Nickie and her friends solve the mystery behind several bizarre disappearances. Suitable for teens, enjoyed by adults, the story is full of interesting steampunk gadgets, mad scientists, bloodthirsty vampires, and mesmerized zombies. This paranormal adventure is sure to appeal to fans of Boneshaker, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Vampire Diaries.

The Zombies of Mesmer is a Gothic Young Adult Paranormal Romance novel set in Victorian London. Appropriate for teens.

Get your very own copy of The Zombies of Mesmer in paperback or for your Kindle (FREE for Prime Members)! Don’t have a Kindle? Kindle apps are available for smart phones, PCs, and tablets. Have another eReader? Email me about other formats.

-_Q

Chapter 1: In Which Nickie Nick Discovers Her Destiny

The toes of my oversized boots searched for footing along the back of the countertop as I slid through the small back window, clutching the sill for support. I always came in and out of the pantry window when I went on my “adventures,” as Fanny the Nanny called them. My parents would never dare come into this part of the house. It simply was not done, as it only held the laundry room, pantry, and kitchen. It was a place for servants, and my parents would not lower themselves enough to be in a place of servitude. The servants themselves were not down here unless it was just before or just after a meal. So even if they caught me, they would not tell my parents. Not even Fanny would tell.

I lowered myself to a standing position and brushed the snow from my patched overcoat, dusting the sink with a sprinkling of snowflakes which melted almost as soon as they hit the countertop. A sudden, insistent clacking sound startled me. I turned from the window to see Fanny glaring up at me and impatiently tapping her pointed black boot against the pantry’s stone floor.

“Where have you been?” Fanny the Nanny scolded. She was not really my nanny, of course. No seventeen-year-old girl needed a nanny. She was more like a governess, but I still liked the sound of Fanny the Nanny. And more importantly, she didn’t.

“Out,” I replied in mock defiance, crossing my arms and holding my ground.

“Just look at you. You are a mess, and you must make your grand entrance within the hour! The party is about to begin and your guests will be arriving any minute.” She stood glaring up at me with her chubby hands balled up in fists and set firmly on her hips. “Get down from there this instant, young lady. What would your mother say?”

“She would not say a thing, Fanny, because you shall not tell her a thing,” I replied, taking her proffered hand and jumped down onto the stone floor beside her.

“You have been with that Conrad again, haven’t you?”

“Not just Conrad. With Franklin, Rufus, and Edwin as well,” I replied with a smirk, which would have sounded so scandalous to any passersby, a girl talking about all the boys with whom she had been keeping company. But it was far from scandalous. “They are just friends, Fanny, as you well know.” But she did like to tease nonetheless.

“Friends or no, my lamb. You are cutting it very close tonight.”

I took off my scarf and cap, letting my dark hair fall about my shoulders, still damp from the quickly melting snowflakes. With the gas range in the adjacent kitchen, burning virtually all day and night, it was rather hot on this level. Quite the change from the bitter sting of the London’s streets in December. “They were cold and hungry, and I was not going to leave them out there like that. Birthday or not.”

Fanny flashed me a smile, then sighed, “Always thinking of others. Tenderhearted, you are.” She took my hat and scarf, then held out her hand again waiting for my overcoat. I unbuttoned it and handed it over, revealing a dingy waistcoat over a pair of dirty dungarees. “Ugh,” Fanny grunted. “Upstairs with you, young lady. Wash up and get out of those awful clothes. I never should have gotten them for you.”

“Just think how much worse it would be if I had gone in my fine white dress?” I teased, then spun around the pantry as if dancing at a ball.

Fanny laughed and shook her head. I loved making her laugh with my antics, as long as mother was not around. With mother, it was all propriety and tedium. With Fanny, I could be myself.

“Boots, too.” She pointed to the filthy, wet boots on my feet and the muddy footprints marking the steps of my mock waltz.

“Oops.” I eased them off, smearing more packed, muddy snow on the stone floor. I gave Fanny my best please-forgive-me expression and batted my eyelashes once or twice.

“Upstairs with you, missy,” she scolded and flicked the scarf at my derrière as I left.  “Don’t you dare let your mother see you like that. I should never hear the end of it,” she called after me.

To be safe, I used the servant’s back staircase to get upstairs, and after checking that my parents were nowhere in sight, I snuck across the hardwood floors in my stocking feet on tip toes, careful not to slip. I made my way down the hall and disappeared into my bedchamber, undetected. Just as I was closing my chamber door, the music for my impending debutante ball floated up the main staircase and filled me with dread.

“We must do what society demands,” I said aloud in a mocking sing-song way, repeating what my mother said to me far too often.

I shall play their game and draw out this marriage thing as long as I can, hopefully until I will be regarded a spinster. Then I can get on with more interesting pursuits in life, like learning and traveling. 

I dreamt of going on the Grand Tour and helping people who were not as fortunate or “well-born,” whatever that meant.

I shuddered when I saw the fine white ball gown with its frills and ruffles and short lacy sleeves spread out on my bed. A pair of white gloves lay across the dress, and all I wanted to do was to smear the dirt from my hands all over them. How I loathed this day.

The water in the corner wash basin was still lukewarm. After removing my dingy boy’s clothes, I stood before the small mirror in just my camisole and pantalettes and, regarding myself, took a deep breath to stop the tears from coming. I took the white washcloth and washed my face, hands, and arms. At least I got the satisfaction of staining their ceremonial white washcloth. When I was finished with it, it was as dingy as the boy’s clothes in which I felt so much more comfortable. I picked up the brush and began to brush my hair. It was naturally curly, which would be a blessing this evening, as there was no time to curl it before my grand entrance.

Mother insisted on me making a grand entrance, American style.

Traditionally, the debutante was to greet all her guests as they arrived, but mother wanted to do it the new way. She was a paradox, both ashamed of being considered of the nouveau riche, fairly new into London’s society, and at the same time trumpeting her American heritage and modern ways.

I heard the door close behind me, and I turned to see Fanny enter frantically. She held a steaming pot of water. “Still not finished washing up?” she said in her strong Scottish brogue.

She rushed over, put the kettle on an iron trivet next to the wooden washbasin stand, and then, with a look of disgust back at me, took the cloudy water over to my bedroom window. When she opened it, a gust of refreshingly cold wind blew in, carrying a few stray snowflakes, and it filled my heart with momentary joy. Brisk, beautiful winter weather.

Fanny tossed the dirty water out the window into the alley below before shutting and locking the window, along with my joy, bringing me back to the reality at hand.

“Perhaps we can make some excuse, like I’m deathly ill. Then I shan’t have to parade around like a peacock, on display for all the eligible bachelors. It is like I’m nothing more than chattle or a sheep on market days, presented for the picking.”

“Now, Nickie, we have discussed this. It is just one night. You can make due for just one night.” Steam rose toward the ceiling as she poured the fresh water into the now empty basin. Taking the browned washcloth between the utmost tip of her thumb and forefinger (with another sneer of exaggerated disgust), she dipped it into the hot water and started scrubbing places I had obviously missed.

“Balderdash, one night. They are trying to plan the rest of my life! I’m most certainly no debutante, and I have absolutely no interest in marriage at seventeen. I just want to be left alone, and I really hate white, frilly dresses.” I pouted and crossed my arms like a petulant child.

“We must get you into that frilly white dress and fix this rats’ nest.” She turned a blind eye to my mock tantrum, trading the washcloth for the hairbrush and tugging against the tangles.

I bit my lip and tried not to cry out. It felt as if she would pull the hair from my head.

“One should enjoy their seventeenth birthday, shouldn’t one? But not me, no sir.”

“Quickly,” she said, ignoring my continued protests and putting the brush on the washbasin stand’s lower shelf. “Corset.”

There was that feeling of dread again. Corsets. Not fun. I assumed the position. Against the corner of my four poster bed, I hugged one of the ornately turned shafts and waited as Fanny laced the back of the corset over my camisole and pantalettes.

“Do you think they will find a husband for me tonight,” I asked Fanny quietly.

“Possibly. There were already many guests arriving as I headed upstairs. We really must hurry.”

“I don’t wish to marry for duty. I want to marry for love.”

“Yes. You and every other girl in your position. Such is life in these times. At your station,” she replied matter-of-factly.

“Then I don’t wish to marry at all.”

“I’m afraid that’s not up to me, nor is it really up to you, if you want to gain your inheritance,” Fanny said with a hint of sadness in her voice.

“The devil with my inheritance. They can send me into the country–or off as a governess or even put me to work in their blasted factory dying linen, but I shall never submit to marry. After all, you never married.”

“It is just one night,” she reminded me again.

“Of course, what society demands,” I sneered. “The ball is one thing, and I suppose it will be relatively painless, but I absolutely will not submit to marry someone I don’t fancy.”

She tugged on the strings of the corset and cinched it snugly around my middle. I caught my breath and tried to push the front of it down beneath my breasts.

“Leave it alone.” Fanny swatted my hand away. “Relax your breath or I will not be able to close it.”

“I shan’t be able to breathe,” I protested.

“You will not have to breathe, much. You’ll just be standing around and dancing some, not the level of activity you are used to, my dear,” she said with a hint of sarcasm, referring to my adventures. “I’m quite sure you will be just fine.” She wrenched the corset tighter, causing me to grasp the bed post more firmly to avoid being pulled away from it. “Have you been sneaking apple tarts again?” she asked with an accusatory lilt. “This is rather difficult to close tonight, my lamb. Hold on tight.”

I couldn’t take a deep breath as the corset already confined me too much for that, so I took a shallow breath and held onto the bedpost more tightly than ever.

A chill ran up my back, and I looked over at the window thinking another gust of the winter air had come through, but it was still closed tightly. The chill continued and filled my entire body. I watched the goose bumps travel up my bare arms. Then the chill turned to a burning fire that surged through my limbs, chasing the goose bumps away. Colors became brighter around me. The scent of new satin filled my nostrils and I heard guests milling about downstairs through my closed door. My entire body felt full of energy. Life. Strength. Power.

“One, two…three,” Fanny counted. As she reached “three,” she pulled with all her might and I held on to the bedpost with all mine. With a loud crack, I fell backwards onto Fanny with the bedpost still in my arms!

“Oh, my graces!” Fanny exclaimed.

“I–I’m sorry,” I stammered, pushing the broken bedpost away from us. “I didn’t mean to, Fanny. It just came off in my arms!” Moving off Fanny, I looked up at the bed trying to make sense of what just happened. The canopy sagged on the corner onto which I was so recently holding. The other three posts still held up the wooden frame around the top from falling completely, but it definitely sagged.

“Oh, my graces!” Fanny said again. “It has happened. Hasn’t it?”

“What?” I was still not sure how I broke the thick post off from the rest of the bed. I turned back to Fanny on the floor with me. She looked at me with an open mouth and wide eyes, as if I was some sort of circus sideshow exhibition.

“The prophecy! You are she after all,” she said, eyes wide. Her trembling hands covered her cheeks. “I thought when nothing happened today that the witches had been mistaken, but you are her after all!” Fanny exclaimed again. She sat on the floor staring up at me in surprise and her skirts crumpled beneath her.

“What witches? What are you talking about?” I demanded.

A knock at the door interrupted us.

“Nicole?” My mother’s voice sounded muffled through the door, but her tone made it quite clear that she was rather impatient. “It is almost time. I do hope you are dressed.”

“Just a moment!” Fanny’s shrill, excited voice filled the room. “We shall be down presently, madam. Don’t look! We want you to be surprised at your own daughter’s beauty. Oh, and she does look lovely, madam. So very lovely.” Fanny took the broken post and shoved it under the bed. “We’ll be down presently,” she repeated.

“Very well, but do make haste,” my mother said through the door. Her footsteps trailed down the hallway and I let out the breath I didn’t know I had been holding.

Fanny sighed a relief next to me.

“Quickly.” Fanny scrambled to her feet. “I must get this corset fastened and you in that dress. Hold still,” she said, jerking me up and grabbing hold of the corset strings again.

“What witches!” I demanded.

She cinched the corset as tight as she could.

“Let us hope we can fasten your dress, or you will be quite the sight,” she said, ignoring my question. She was ignoring a lot of my comments tonight. “I cannot cinch this corset closed. You and those apple tarts!”

After I felt her tie the corset off at the bottom, I spun around and took her by the shoulders. “What witches, Fanny? What prophecy? What just happened?”

“There is not time for it now.” She pulled herself from my grasp and gathered the white dress from the bed. “Put on your petticoat. There is no time for dawdling!”

“I will not do another thing until you answer my questions,” I insisted, placing my fists firmly on my hips.

She sighed, defeated. “Very well. Put on the petticoat, and I shall tell you as you dress.” She stuck a chubby finger in my face. “But you must promise me that nothing I say will stop you from behaving properly tonight at your ball. It is very important, now more than ever, that you keep up appearances. Do you understand me?” She turned and gathered up the frilly dress from the bed.

“That depends on what you say, Fanny. You are frightening me.” Chills ran up my arms. I tried to warm them away by rubbing my hands over my bare skin, but nothing could take the feeling away. Something had changed in that moment. I had changed.

“Promise me, Nicole.” She stood there with the white dress in her hands and looked at me with a very serious expression. I had never in all my life seen her look so dour, yet at the same time, I did see a hint of joy in her eyes.

“All right,” I gave in. “I promise. Now tell me.” I stepped into the petticoat and tied it around my back. She put the white dress over my head and arms, and while my head was still covered by the white satin she said, “Your birth fulfilled an age-old prophecy that a Hawthorne would be born prematurely on Midwinter’s Night, and on the seventeenth year from the day of her birth, she would be called upon and bestowed with the powers necessary to protect humanity from evil supernatural fiends like vampires.”

My head cleared the white satin and I looked at Fanny the Nanny, expecting to see some sign that she was just having me on, but there was none.

“Evil supernatural fiends? Vampires? Really, Fanny. Is this all a game?”

“No, my dear. I should have told you before tonight, but there had been no signs before, well,” she said with a look back to the broken bed.

“This is preposterous!” But there was no denying the change I had felt run through me. Something was definitely different. Still, evil supernatural fiends? Please.

She hurriedly fastened my dress in the back and fluffed up the blasted bustle. I truly did hate those frivolous things. Leading me to the dressing table, she pushed me down in the chair and began working on my hair.

“Quickly now, the powder and blush. We shall have to work together. Your mother will no doubt be coming back soon to collect you.”

“You are serious.” The look on her face made that clear. I picked up the powder puff and tended to the shine on my nose, cheeks, and shoulders. The white gown had a rather wide décolletage, so there was much skin to cover.

Fanny swept my chestnut curls up into a loose twist and fastened it with a silver hair comb.

“I’m quite serious, my dear. Oh my, I just really don’t know where to begin, and we have so little time,” she said while twisting a few stray locks into place along the side of my face. I began putting some color on my cheeks and lips.

“How about the beginning?” I offered. I was doing my best to remain calm, and the tight corset certainly reminded me not to get overly excited and remain quite proper and still. Society dictates that ladies must keep their feelings well hidden. After living in this household for so many years, I excelled in skills that would be essential to make it through this night. Especially now.

“I come from a long line of witches, and we have watched your family for generations. It was your ancestor John Hathorne who condemned some of the witches in Salem over in The Colonies. After that, the American coven wrote to their sister coven here in the England about a series of dreams they had had after those horrid trials were over. They dreamed that a descendant of Hathorne would one day set it right. It would be a girl and she would inherit the powers of the damned to be used for good, working with the witches and fighting the vampires, demons, and even fey from the unseelie court.”

“Vampires?” I said with a derisive scoff. “Really?”

“Listen child,” she began as she draped a string of pearls around my neck and fastened them in the back. “This is no jest. You wanted to hear it before your ball, so I’m telling you quickly. We can talk in more detail later.”

“All right.” I found all this rather hard to believe. It was merely another of Fanny’s strange stories, just as she had told me my whole life. She was just telling me another ghost story to entertain me before the ball. That’s all this was.

“You were conceived on Beltane, a holy day for my people and the day associated with the holy hawthorn tree, from which your family were originally named. You were born on a moor a mere seven and a half months later, premature, on Midwinter’s Night. It was exactly where my coven had foretold: The Forest of Bowland in Yorkshire.”

“A moor in Yorkshire. Really?” I said, still not believing her. “What a tale you tell.”

She pinned a few curls into place and decorated them with some fripperies as I clipped the pearl earrings onto my earlobes. “Yes. A moor. Your parents were resting in the country during the latter part of the pregnancy, but your father got word from the factory that needed to be dealt with presently.”

“Of course,” I breathed through clenched teeth. That I believed. “Business always comes first.” It was why I hardly knew my parents. I had always been second to their precious textile factory.

“Your boots.” She knelt beside me, and I offered her my stockinged feet. She went to work lacing them up and continued, “Your mother didn’t want to be left behind, insisting that there was much time before the due date. Although her doctors advised her against it, they left early morning on the 21st, dreaming of Christmas in the city, but the driver took a wrong turn which ended in tragedy for him and almost for you and your mother. After hitting a large stone on the moor, it set your mother into labor. I was nearby, and not by accident, as it was where your birth had been foretold, as I previously said. Since I was a trained midwife, I delivered you. You were so very tiny. Three fortnights early, you were. It is a miracle you survived, especially after such a traumatic birth on such a bitterly cold night.”

She straightened my skirts over the white boots, got up from her kneeling position, and started fussing with my hair again. “I held you in my arms and I felt the definition of love. I understood the purpose of life. You were powerful even then, Nick.”

She reached around the back of her neck to unclasp a necklace and then lifted it out of the front of her bodice. Offering it to me, she said, “This is a powerful amulet, my dove. It will protect you from a vampire’s mind power. They will be unable to compel you or influence your thoughts. Keep a clear head, my lamb.”

“Thank you, Fanny.” I allowed her to clasp the necklace around my own neck. The large black stone cradled in silver hung from a heavy chain.

“You may tuck it inside your gown, for I know it is old and rather garish.”

“Nonsense. ‘Tis beautiful, and I shall cherish it always. Although I will normally keep it protected, close to my heart, tonight I shall display it proudly for all to see.”

Tears filled her eyes and her nose turned red. I looked at her reflection through my dressing table mirror, and I knew this was all the truth. I felt it, just as I felt the power of which she spoke surging through me. I wanted to scream. To run. To fly, but I had to sit with my hands folded properly in my lap. I had to go downstairs and dance with potential husbands. I had to–

Another knock, more frantic than the last interrupted my thoughts.

“Nicole!” my mother demanded. “Your guests are waiting!”

“Coming mother.” I got up and turned to Fanny. The tears spilled down her plump cheeks and she looked at me with love. I went in to embrace her, but she stopped me.

“No, you will smudge your powder. Remember what I said, act properly tonight, but have a nice time. One only turns seventeen once. We shall talk more later.”

“We most certainly shall!” I said in a scolding tone, but with a smile in my voice and on my face. She smiled back at me and wiped the tears from her rosy cheeks.

“Don’t forget your gloves.” She indicated the long white gloves still on the bed.

I collected them and put them on hurriedly as I turned to leave, but she stopped me with a single word.

“Nicole.”

I turned back to her with my gloved hand resting on the door handle, my mother still pounding on the other side of the door.

“It was I who suggested you be named Nicole. Unusual name for this part of the world, I know, but it means ‘Victory of the People.’ And of that I have no doubt, my dear girl.” She wiped more tears from her cheeks.

Willing my own tears away, I turned the door handle to face my determined mother, but it broke off in my hand. I looked back at Fanny for guidance.

“Take care tonight,” she added, laughing now. “You are stronger than you think.”

-_Q

Thank you for reading this week’s installment of The Zombies of Mesmer: A Nickie Nick Vampire Hunter Novel.  Join me every Friday for a new installment of this YA Steampunk ParaRomance. Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win an author-signed copy of the sequel, released Summer 2013. The more comments you leave, week after week, the more times you’ll be entered!

~ by omgrey on May 17, 2013.

5 Responses to “ZM_CH1: In Which Nickie Nick Discovers Her Destiny”

  1. Yay! I love serials! Look forward to more.😀

  2. […] Hunter Novel which is available on Amazon, Kindle, and serialized on my blog for free, either in print or via […]

  3. […] Hunter Novel which is available on Amazon, Kindle, and serialized on my blog for free, either in print or via […]

  4. […] the rest of the Chapter, or even more of the book, for free on my blog, Caught in the Cogs, or get your very own copy from […]

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