ZM_CH8: In Which Nickie Nick Meets Some Zombies

NickieCVR4WebContinuing in the Victorian tradition, enjoy today’s installment of The Zombies of Mesmer: A Nickie Nick Vampire Hunter Novel.  Every Friday a new installment of this YA Steampunk ParaRomance is published free for your enjoyment. Leave a comment and be entered to win an author-signed copy of the sequel, released Summer 2013. The more you comment, the more times your name is entered.

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 8: In Which Nickie Nick Meets Some Zombies

Turns out Wilfred gave me a gift of his own as well. While I was out last night, he and Fanny were busy at work themselves. Fanny not only had Judith get me some larger corsets and day dresses for training, but she and Wilfred had made me my own secret weapons hideaway. Beneath the carpet in my bedchamber, they had cut out part of the floor boards and hinged it. All my new hunting clothes, my staking boots, and the weapons were hidden safely for no one to find. Just the three of us knew it was there.

All this without my parents knowing a thing.

It was all rather fun, this secret, vampire hunter identity.

Fanny led me in about an hour of training, picking up where we had left off yesterday. She commented on how quickly I was learning, but then, I was The Protector. It was all innate, it seemed. All the moves and kicks and such came to me as if I was remembering them rather than learning them. My body knew exactly what to do, and my mind was not far behind.

It was nearing two when my parents returned with their packages, so Fanny dressed me in a nice new skirt and blouse for the day. As I came downstairs, my parents were in the library, just adjacent to the foyer.

“Happy Christmas, Mother, Father.”

Father turned around with his pipe clamped tightly between his teeth and looked over his newspaper at me. “Happy Christmas, my dear!” He dropped one side of the newspaper to open his arms, inviting me into an embrace.

“Have you been sneaking apple tarts again?” my mother sneered.

“No mother, I assure you.” I sat on the settee next to her. She patted my skirts with a white gloved hand and turned back to her glass of wine.

“What did you find at the shops, mother?” I asked.

“Oh some very lovely things, indeed. I found a new hat. It is from Paris–all the rage there. I shall be wearing it tomorrow afternoon when our visitor comes.”

“Visitor?” I asked.

“Of course, visitor. Are you daft, girl? Visitor! Have you forgotten? Lord Godwyn is coming to call on you tomorrow afternoon!”

I had forgotten, and I so wished the image of Lord Godwyn had stayed buried deep, for the thought of spending Christmas with that fop, listening to him prattle on, was not a pleasant one. No, I would much rather spend it out on the streets. Perhaps I could run into Ashe again. This time, dressed as a woman. Of course, mother would never approve, as he was likely an orphan at best or a chimney sweep at worst. But I didn’t care. In fact, it may have made him that much more desirable. It was my life, after all.

“Have you a gift for Lord Godwyn?” my mother asked.

“No. Do I need a gift for him? He is the one calling on me.”

“It is only proper! It is Christmas after all!”

I sat with my hands folded properly in my lap and looked at my mother blankly.

“Very well,” she said. “Get your wrap. We are going to the shops. Benedict.” She snapped her fingers to draw his attention away from the newspaper he had begun reading again. “Have Lucian bring the carriage around.”

“We just got home, Greta. Give a man a break.”

Father was speaking about himself, not Lucian.

“There will be time for lethargy after Christmas. Benedict. Now, please,” my mother said in her softly demanding way.

Father closed his newspaper with a rustle and dropped it on the floor next to his comfy chair. The headlines read “Dozens of Factory Workers Missing” across the top of the paper. Down the side column was a picture of the Rickett Carriage I had seen last night, or at least, one very similar to it. The caption read “The Future is Here.”

“Go get your wrap,” my mother repeated, tearing me away from the newspaper.

“Is everything all right at the factory, mum?” I asked, indicating the headlines.

She sighed. She didn’t care to talk about the business with me. She said it was not my concern, but I refused to move until she answered.

“There have been a few men gone missing, yes,” she admitted.

“What do the police think?” I asked.

“That’s neither my nor your concern, child. Go get your wrap.” This time, the demand was not quite as soft, so I did as I was told.

 ***

“What do you think of this,” my mother asked, holding up a pair of handsome leather gloves.

“Rather posh, Mother. And quite pricey, too.” We were truly all right, financially, but there was no sense in being wasteful. Especially when others had so very little.

“This is Lord Godwyn, Nicole. LORD Godwyn. He is the most eligible bachelor in all of London for a family such as ours, and for some reason he has set his eyes on you. Let us keep it that way, shall we?”

“But Mother, he is a complete bore.”

If we had not been in a public place, she likely would have slapped me for my cheek. Instead, she roughly grabbed my arm, smiled sweetly at the shopkeeper, and led me back outside into the cold, December air.

“How dare you embarrass me like that in public, young lady!” she huffed.

“Sorry, Mother. It shan’t happen again. I still must not be feeling all that well,” I said, knowing arguing with her was pointless.

“You are an ungrateful wretch, you are. There,” she said, pointing across the street. “Your father is over there at the baker’s. Go to him, and I shall buy something for Lord Godwyn from you.”

“Very well, Mother,” I mumbled and then added under my breath, “You should marry him, too.”

“And no apple tarts for you,” she added.

With a scowl, I started off across the street but was immediately overtaken by a group of marching men. They looked very similar in countenance as those from last night. The same blank stares paralyzed their faces. Their mouths were hanging slightly open, and they all marched in step with one another. I pulled back just in time from being run over by them.

“How very curious,” I said aloud to myself.

Just past me on the sidewalk, other shoppers were not so lucky. The marching men ran straight into one woman, sending all her packages flying onto the cobblestones. Another couple were thrown back against the shop window.

“Now see here,” I heard the man say, and his wife chimed in with a “I beg your pardon!”

“Nicole!” My mother rushed out of the shop. “Are you all right? Who were those men?”

“I don’t know, Mum.”

“The one looked very much like Mr. Whitewood from the factory, but he has not been to work in quite some time.” She looked down the street after the marching men, annoyed. “Your father will not be pleased when he hears about this, and I’m afraid Mr. Whitewood will not have a job when he decides to return.” She turned in a temper back into the store one last time, picked up her purchase, which was now wrapped in fanciful paper and tied in a red bow, grabbed my arm again and started off across the street to collect my father.

“Benedict! You will never guess who I just saw. Mr. Whitewood! He was walking along with that band of…thugs. Knocked that poor woman right into the street.” She pointed her fur muff at the woman brushing snow from her skirts. Several well-dressed men had come to her aid, but the group of marching men had turned a corner somewhere and could no longer be seen.

“Is that so?” was all that father said. He puffed on his pipe and put the white bakery box under his arm. He signaled Lucian, who was waiting in our brougham just up the street, and the carriage came clattering down.

“Is that all you have to say, Benedict?” My mother’s face was all flushed with the excitement.

A small group of street urchins who had been peering in the bakery window gathered at my father’s feet.

“Please sir,” the tallest one said. “We haven’t eaten in days. Could you spare some bread? Or anything? Please?”

My heart went out to them. They couldn’t have been older than Edwin, all small ones, likely sent to beg by their drunkard father, or worse, just living on the streets. It was such a common sight in London, but I never got used to it. Especially ones this young.

“Have you no manners?” my mother snapped at them just as the carriage pulled up.

“Lucian,” my father said to the driver, ignoring mother and the young boys altogether, “take us to the factory.”

“Yes, sir.”

The young orphans bowed their head and moved back to the bakery window, dreaming of something to eat.

“Sorry,” I offered, but before I could say more, my mother yanked me around and pushed me toward the carriage.

My father held my elbow as I stepped into the cab and then did the same for my mother before joining us inside.

I didn’t say anything on the ride to the factory, and I tried to block out the rantings of my mother, first on the gall of those children and then on the gall of Mr. Whitewood. From the look on my father’s face, so was he. Mother’s life was quite good, so she truly should not complain. Still, she usually did.

We crossed Westminster Bridge, and I was quite happy to do so, as it was my favorite bridge in all of London. I was fortunate to be on the side of the carriage where I could see the Houses of Parliament on the way across, even luckier that the hour struck. The full, rich sounds of Big Ben filled the air and my mind, taking it off the hungry children momentarily. We could rarely hear the bells from our house, so it was truly a treat to hear them chime. The black waters of the Thames contrasted the banks, covered in snow and ice. The streets and tree limbs were also dusted in white. This year, a huge wreath was hung just beneath the east-, west-, and north-facing clock faces. Smaller wreaths decorated the gaslights along each side of the bridge. It all looked perfect set against the hazy grey-blue winter sky, with a fine mist hanging in the air. It was a truly magical time to be in London.

I watched the gaslights and holiday decorations reflecting in the Thames as we rattled along Victoria Embankment on the way to the factory. Mum prattled about business to father nearly the entire way there, but my mind was by then far away. Resting my cheek in my hand, I thought again of Ashe. Mad, really, that I was so taken with him. He could be anyone, and he was most certainly not of a station of which my parents would approve. He was likely an orphan like Conrad and Franklin and the others, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to look into his dark eyes again.

Ashe had been so brave last night, fighting the vampire alongside me, although he had also been rather rude. Had it been any other man, I would have given him a what for, but I was most definitely stuck by this gentleman. And he might just be a gentleman, for he was dressed well enough. As for the soot, if anyone knew about dirt on the face it was me with all my nighttime adventures. Dirt and soot washes away. Perhaps it is a disguise of sorts as well.

When we arrived at the factory, one of the largest buildings in all of London, Father took my mother’s hand, assisting her descent from the carriage, and then my own. The factory dominated a full city block and employed over two thousand workers.

Inside the eight-storey-high Hawthorn Textile Mill was a storm of sound and movement. We came in on the street level and stood on a long, wooden boardwalk that led to stairs going both up and down. The first four stories consisted of one room, starting at the cellar level. This was where the main manufacturing took place. On one side of the warehouse, huge steam-powered machines run by hundreds of workers wove thread into cloth. The arms of the weaving machines went to and fro, never missing a beat as if they were the tinny tempo of a grand march. Workers monitored the thread going into the machine, and had to detangle any tangles between the movement of the arms. Interlocking gears, each half the size of a man, spun along the edges of the imposing machine, all driven by a belt-powered steam engine. It was in one of those machines that Conrad’s father got hurt. The other boys, too. Unfortunately, accidents like that were all too common, and it left orphans just like my band of boys. At least they had each other, and Conrad to look after them.

Big brass vats of colored, boiling water to dye the textiles lined the back wall. Workers stood over the vats with long wooden poles stirring the fabric to get an even dye throughout. Their clothes had been stained a mishmash of colors from the rising steam and the splashing water. From dye, the fabric then went into steam-powered driers, which took up the second half of this massive first story. The drying machines would not only dry the fabric, but also measure, cut, and wrap it into bolts for transport or sale.

A portion of the fabric stayed in house. The second part of the Hawthorn Textile Mill was upstairs, where hundreds of women sat at sewing machines making clothes. This is where Conrad’s mother had worked. The specialty of this factory were short trousers, or knickers. But they also made shirts, skirts, and the like, mostly for the masses. For anyone of good birth or monied would have all their clothes tailor-made specifically for them.

It was easy for me to get new clothes for the boys when they needed it and to get boy’s clothes for myself. Fanny, after being with the family for so long, got some special perquisites. One of those was getting clothes for her nephews and other family members when they needed something new, although she didn’t actually have any nephews or living relatives. It was through this guise that we were able to help the boys and clothe me for my adventures without extra expense.

“Happy Chris’mas, Govna,” a snaggle-toothed, leathery man said. This was Mr. Brock, father’s factory manager. Mr. Brock looked rather like a weasel in a waistcoat. A downright creepy man, he was.

“Good Day, Mr. Brock. Update?” They were shouting to each other to be heard over the cacophony of clanking machines.

“A’course, sir.” Mr. Brock stood a little straighter and tipped his hat to me and my mother. “Ladies,” he said. He looked straight at me and smiled.

My stomach turned.

I gave a quick curtsey, and my mother just ignored him and looked out over the machinery.

“Nufink new t’report, Gov. Everyfinks workin’ fine.” He took his hat off and scratched his head for a moment before replacing it. “Oh. Mr. Jarry got caught up th’machine, few days back. But all’s well. Just lost a few fingas, is all. Didn’t stop work for long, and ’e’s at ’ome recoverin’. A good Christmas ’e’ll ’ave, m’lord. At least ’e’s not workin’ on Chris’mas Eve like the rest of us.” He laughed and massaged his scraggly jaw, but my father didn’t return the smile.

“His position filled yet?” father said. Nothing mattered to father but profits.

“Yeah. The very same day, Gov. Work is ’ard to come by these days, sir. So there’s always more willin’ t’work.”

“Very well, Mr. Brock. Good work.”

“Fank you, sir.”

“Any word on Mr. Whitewood?”

“No sir. None whatsoevah. Strange that,” Mr. Brock said. “Wif everone needin’ work an’all. Why would someone just stop comin’?”

“That’s a good question.”

“Yes, sir. Fank you, sir.” He tipped his hat.

“Anyone else go missing, Mr. Brock?”

“No, sir.”

“And upstairs? All well there, ol’ chap?”

“Yes, sir. Oh. Come to fink of it, Mrs. Fellmer went into labor last week. Made a mess of finks upstairs, but it was cleaned up fast enough. And yeah,” Mr. Brock said before my father could ask, “’er position’s been filled already, Gov.”

“Good man.” Father took out his pocket watch from its waistcoat pocket and opened it. He snapped it shut again and looked out over his workforce. “Let everyone off an hour early today, Mr. Brock. For Christmas.”

“Oh! Fank you, sir. That’s very generous of you, sir.” He tipped his hat again.

“Carry on.”

Father led us back out to the carriage.

-_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 July 5, 2013.

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