Today I am so pleased to welcome Alexis Hall to Joyfully Jay. Alexis is sharing an excerpt from his latest release, Liberty & Other Stories. He has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving Alexis a big welcome!
This excerpt is from the story ‘Squamous with a Chance of Rain’
My dearest Miriam,
Thank you kindly for the description of the latest additions to your wardrobe. Sheer black satin, you say, with wicked little bows? How intriguing. Though you may have to tell me more about it before I am able to render a sound sartorial opinion. I look forward to your next missive.
As for myself, I cannot lie. Things have been difficult of late. The investigation into the death of Uncle Ridgewell was concluded, not to put too fine a point on it, inconclusively, with a judgement in which the phrase “the balance of his mind disturbed” featured prominently. And having gone through his paperwork, I am inclined to agree. By the final pages, the writing in his journal resembled nothing so much as the vile scrawlings upon the idol pedestal: over and over and over again, the most disturbing invocations to beings who slumber beyond the stars. I must have spent too long in their perusal for the hieroglyphics have lately taken on a peculiar clarity to me, as though I learned them long ago.
However, putting aside these grotesque mysteries, I do have some good tidings to share. After several fruitless pilgrimages to the agency, where I was told in no uncertain terms there was nothing suitable for me (emphasis theirs), I have at last secured a new position with a family in Cornwall. The head of the household is, I understand, a retired skycaptain, a widower, with seven children. His wife passed away some years ago, and frankly, I cannot blame her. Apparently they have had some trouble retaining governesses in recent years, and I was asked for most particularly.
Should this trouble me, I wonder? One hears such stories. There was that red-haired girl hired at exorbitant expense to impersonate the daughter of the household for reasons that still strike me as manifestly implausible. Or the business with the fellow with the black beard on the bicycle. Or our poor dear friend from school who strangled that little boy in the woods one evening. Of course, she always was terribly sensitive, and having attempted to teach the rudiments of civilisation to little boys myself, I can well understand why she might have succumbed to murderous hysteria.
I did make some enquiries of the previous governesses, but unfortunately none of them have answered my letters. If I had any spare funds, I could hire a consulting detective, but I do rather dislike consulting detectives, and my finances are so deeply unhealthy as to be practically consumptive. I shall simply have to be sensible. I will not ride any bicycles, explore any attics, wander around any woods late at night, or strangle any children. And if anyone should happen to want me to wear any clothing other than my own, I will tell them no. How difficult can it be? What can possibly go wrong? A skycaptain with seven children. What is so fearsome about that?
But I must apologise for this hasty letter. I have to make my preparations for the journey, and several challenging decisions lie before me. For example, should I pack the grey worsted or the grey nankeen? And will I need the grey organdie in the wilds of Cornwall? Glamorous, is it not, the life of a governess? Though, to tell the truth, I am not entirely without hope. I understand the place is something of a smuggler’s haven. I suppose I must take care lest I am set upon and brutally ravished by a wild-eyed, wild-haired skypirate in tall boots and scarlet petticoats. That would be simply dreadful. I had best take the organdie.
Just in case.
Your ever hopeful Jane
My dearest Miriam,
I am safely arrived, unravished, in Cornwall. I may have to abandon all hopes in that direction. A would-be despoiler would be hard pressed even to find me, for in this part of the country, night sets in at two in the afternoon and does not depart again until midway through the morning. The daylight, if so it may be called, is a thin, pallid waif, who swoons and sighs and does not linger long. If only the rest of us had such liberty. It began to rain about twenty miles from Vanstone Hall and has not ceased since. The sky shifts sullenly through shades of granite, and the air possesses a uniquely clammy quality as though one breathes through damp flannel.
In short, it’s charming here. Do visit.
Oh, I so envy you Italy. And your poor husband recalled suddenly to India. Just in idle curiosity—I could stand to hear a little more about the Venetian comtessa.
As for Vanstone Hall, it is your typical sprawling English pile: golden stone and symmetry and terrible, terrible draughts. The grey-green lawns stretch all the way to the sea, which twists and turns beneath the clouds like an unquiet dreamer, but otherwise we are surrounded on all sides by a dense black forest which smothers what little light the sky bestows. The captain himself spends the majority of his time in a decommissioned airship, and the children, as a consequence, have been left to run wild. The housekeeper, a black-clad gargoyle called Mrs. Smith, took one look at me as I climbed, wind-buffeted and bedraggled from the carriage, and declared that I would not last a day. If she thought to menace me, she misjudged the matter severely, as I have always rather appreciated being underestimated. It allows one to relax.
While my meagre possessions were being taken up to my room, Captain Vanstone honoured me with an introduction. He is a tall, dark gentleman of the expected military bearing, not unhandsome, I suppose (were one to be interested in that sort of thing), if his features were not marred by the harshness of his mouth and the coldness of his very blue eyes. We shook hands, and he regarded me most intently, enquiring if I was indeed the niece of Ridgewell Harris. I saw no reason to deny it, and he continued to stare at me, as though some thought or recollection troubled him, until Mrs. Smith cleared her throat, which seemed to recall him to himself. Whereupon he produced a whistle from the pocket of his coat, and sounded a naval call. In response, there was a mighty clamour from the second floor, and his seven children came galloping down the stairs and stood at attention in the entrance hall.
My dear, I cannot tell you how deeply I was impressed. In all my years of governessing, which admittedly do not number so many, I do not know how such a marvellous idea had not already occurred to me, for there is no task so demoralising or exhausting as rounding up children. He had even prepared a whistle for my use, and I thanked him with true sincerity for his kindness. When he left us, I bade the children introduce themselves. The eldest, Abigail, informed me she was sixteen and did not need a governess, to which I responded that she had one and had therefore better accustom herself to it for the sake of her own comfort. Next came Benjamin, Chloe, and David, who said he was incorrigible, for the previous governess had told him so. “Then I will see that you are appropriately corridged,” said I. And, finally, Esther, Faith, and Grace.
Once we had all met each other, I dismissed the children to bed and went up to my room, for the hour was already very late, and I was exhausted from my journey. In truth, I have not slept well these past nights, for I have been beset by the same unsettling dream: I am lost and alone amidst the measureless ruins of an ancient city, its aether-smoothed, oddly angled stonework thick with stardust and tarnished by untold centuries. And when I look up, I see no familiar constellations, merely a great emptiness through which the cold vastness of the universe seeps.
Your somewhat troubled Jane
About Liberty & Other Stories
For the delight and edification of discerning readers, we present diverse stories concerning the lives, histories, and adventures of the crew of the aethership Shadowless.
Lament! as an upstanding clergyman falls into the villainous clutches of a notorious criminal mastermind.
Question your sanity! as a dissolute governess confronts blasphemies from beyond creation.
Wonder! at the journey of the dashing skycaptain Byron Kae across sapphire oceans, through smog-choked streets, and to the depths of the sky itself.
Gasp! at an entirely true and accurately rendered tale of pirates, cavalrymen, aethermancers, scientists, and a power to unmake the world.
Plus, hitherto unseen extracts from the meticulous and illuminating journals of Mrs. Miranda Lovelace, rogue scientist and first of the aethermancers.
This collection contains:
- Shackles (A Prosperity Story)
- Squamous with a Chance of Rain (A Prosperity Story)
- Cloudy Climes and Starless Skies (A Prosperity Story)
- Liberty (A Prosperity Story)
An instructive story in which vice receives its just reward.
Inspired by true and scandalous tales of the Gaslight aristocracy, we present the most moral and improving tale of Lady Rosamond Wolfram.
Weep, reader, for the plight of our heroine as she descends into piteous ruin in the clutches of the notorious Phlogiston Baron, Anstruther Jones. Witness the horrors of feminine rebellion when this headstrong young lady defies her father, breaks an advantageous engagement, and slips into depravity with a social inferior. Before the last page is turned, you will have seen our heroine molested by carnival folk, snubbed at a dance, and drawn into a sinful ménage a trois by an unrepentant sodomite, the wicked and licentious Lord Mercury.
Reader, take heed. No aspect of our unfortunate heroine’s life, adventures, or conduct is at all admirable, desirable, exciting, thrilling, glamorous, or filled with heady passion and gay romance.
Get this free read now: http://riptidepublishing.com/titles/there-will-be-phlogiston
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret.
He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.
He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car.
He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.
Connect with Alexis:
- Website: quicunquevult.com
- Blog: quicunquevult.com/blog
- Twitter: @quicunquevult
- Goodreads: goodreads.com/alexishall
Alexis has brought a copy of an ebook from his backlist and a $10 Riptide gift certificate to give away to one lucky reader on the tour. Just leave a comment with contact information at the end of the post to enter. Be sure to follow the whole tour, because the more comments you leave, the more chances you have to win the prize!
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