Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Steampunk Flash Fiction: "Monice"

I'm currently building a steampunk universe, so when someone else's muse showed me the following image all I saw was...something else entirely.

I thought, Those are claws and tentacles reaching up over a tree line, above the glow of gas lamps in a country park...

My mission then was to write some flash fiction. To be honest, I'm using it as a universe-building exercise.


By Mark Cassell
(500 words)

Smoke dirtied the moonlight, and fires crackled beyond the trees. The gas lamps that remained upright still glowed, drenching the dead in a putrid yellow. Most of the town's residents had fled to the park only to be trampled or ravaged or snatched into cavernous mouths.
        Now the screams had stopped, Monice knew she was alone. At her feet the Commander’s body lay twisted into the mud. A three-clawed impression had crushed his weapon. And his head. The mud and grass blended with skull and hair, flesh and oxygen mask. Shell casings glinted.
        Like discarded mannequins, her platoon surrounded her in various mangled states. Monice had been the only one to take cover beneath the crumpled sheet of metal she guessed was an airship wing. Its length had protected her from the onslaught as she'd fired round after round at those...things.
         She licked dry lips and adjusted her dented armour. Her comrades' blood smeared the breastplate.
        In a surprisingly steady hand, she hefted her rifle. A green light pulsed within the valves, and chemicals bubbled through coiled tubes. Of late, the Ministry were spending a heap of taxpayers’ money on weapon modifications. The contraptors in research and development had unparalleled reputations but the mods had so far proved inefficient.
        She refused to end up like the rest of her platoon. Besides, she had aspirations to head for Sky Island once her duty ended. This was, indeed will be, her last duty to the King.
        Something crashed—a tree perhaps—and a roar echoed on the smoky air.
        Over the trees and beyond the park, tentacles lashed the sky. Claws, too, on gnarled fingers. Spirals of smoke curled as those fleshy limbs whipped and tore away the top branches.
        More trees crashed. The ground shook.
        Those things were close.
        Time to move. Towards them.
        Mud squelched and she ran into the shadows. For now, the trees would offer protection. She knew where the creatures were most likely headed: the town centre, near the zoo, the clock tower. That was where it had all began. No more than a couple of hours ago the tower created a portal, only to snap shut on an emerging creature. That one was dead. Speculation from the Ministry suggested that now the fabric between worlds had torn it was inevitable more beings would come through. And they had, amidst a vortex that spat red lightning. Two beings slithered into the world, and the rip in space proceeded to suck everything into it.
        The hulk of a fallen evacuation ship loomed over her. At least half of it—the other half, she could only imagine, was in another world.
        The curved panels of the fuselage lay buckled and tangled with shreds of balloon fabric. Blood caked the inside of the cracked windows. Suspension cables snaked across the grass. Glass and iron splinters littered the area. Plus several bodies, some with missing limbs.
        She ran faster.
        Once these creatures were defeated, her duty to the country would end. Then Sky Island.
        Time to find a larger weapon… 

Did you enjoy the flash fiction?

Here are the opening pages of The Shadow Fabric

Unable to blink, I shot a quick glance around the dining room. My heartbeat stormed my head. I had to get out of there, I had to leave the other men to it. These brothers had a lot of hate to throw around.
       The black fabric draped across the table and chair, tracing every contour. It flowed over the wood like liquid. Hugging tight whatever it touched, it turned everything into a shadow, a silhouette, a featureless dark blot of its former self. The way it moved defied physics.
       My throat clamped around a cry that came out a whimper.
       I had no idea what Stanley intended. The strange fabric didn’t travel far from his hand, and where the material ended, it rippled and pulsed, pulling further away, yet unable to claim more of its surroundings. The more it unfolded, the dimmer the room became. My skin itched as it sapped the light.
       Victor and Stanley stood facing each other: Victor, with his eyebrows pushed together, the ornate blade clenched in a fist, and Stanley, with his jaw tight and a twitch at the edge of his mouth. In Stanley’s grasp the fabric quivered, its material reminding me of the way midday sunlight reflects from the surface of a swimming pool, the ripples a criss-crossing of movement. It was peaceful to behold, hypnotic almost. But this thing was dark and stifling to observe.
       There was nothing remotely tranquil about this.
       I wanted to leave them to whatever absurd game this was…yet my feet refused to move. The familiar ache in my knee rushed through my body, drumming in my skull, telling me I was useless. Since the car accident the knee often was useless. I couldn’t leave Victor, I knew that. The man looked as terrified as I felt.
       “I hate you, Victor.” Stanley’s nose was no more than a thumb’s width from his brother’s.
       “No,” Victor gasped. His hand shook, his knuckles whitening around the knife. “Don’t!”
       I didn’t know who or what Victor spoke to. Was it Stanley? The shadows? The knife?
       In a blur of darkness, shadows coiling his arm, the blade slammed into Stanley’s chest. Blood spread and he staggered back.
       Victor’s eyes widened. Clutching the weapon, he stumbled from the fireplace, away from his brother. The knife slid out, sucking at the wound. A jet of scarlet misted the air, and then oozed.
       I could only see darkness…so much darkness, and my lungs went tight.
       The fabric—the Shadow Fabric—closed around Stanley’s buckling legs.
       The remaining material swept from the table, away from the violin case. Black tentacles whipped and grabbed Stanley. The darkness enfolded him as his eyes glazed over. It dragged his body along the carpet a short distance and tightened its grip.
       My jaw muscles twitched as I clenched my teeth.
       The Fabric began to shrink. Still in its embrace, the last I saw of Stanley was his dead stare.
       “Vic…” I whispered, and gripped the back of the sofa.
       My boss dragged his eyes away from the retreating shadows and stared at the knife. Behind him, the mantel clock hammered out several seconds before the weapon slipped from his hand onto the carpet, where it bounced with a red splash.
       He fell to his knees. “Oh God.”
       The Fabric vanished.
       I dashed across the room as much as my leg would allow and staggered to a halt beside him. Sobs wracked his frame as I grasped his bony shoulder.
       On the table next to where Stanley had been standing was the violin case, still open like a crooked yawn.
       A million thoughts tumbled through my head, but I couldn’t find the words. I’d been Victor’s chauffeur for no more than a day, and already I’d witnessed him stab his own brother. What the hell?
       I don’t know how long I remained like that, holding him, with light creeping reluctantly back into the room. Victor shouldn’t have been surprised that the shadows had taken his brother. After all, those shadows—the darkness—are associated with all that is dead…or should be dead.
       Silence clogged the air like we were buried in a tomb.
       For some of us, there is a moment in our lives where all we’ve believed real is whipped out from under us and we’re left to survive in a world that’s a lie. All the things in life we’ve taken for granted are sheathed in a weak veneer, behind which stands the shadows.
       For me, this was one of those moments.

Mark Cassell's dark fantasy novel is available
from all bookshops and also Amazon.


Author photo (c)Christopher Shoebridge
Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK with his wife and a number of animals. He often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines.

His debut novel, The Shadow Fabric, is a supernatural story and is available from Amazon.


  1. Thanks for taking part :) I love this, great imagery. Glad my Demon Muse could help x

    1. Thank you! And I'm pleased to have contributed. :-)