Wednesday, 8 December 2010


A little something I entered into a steampunk writing competition, prompted by the Emperor, one half of Paragon and the wordsmith behind Fractal Friction.

The first sentence was given, the word limit was 500, the rest was up to you. Sadly, I didn't get anywhere, but thought I'd share the musings anyway. This one's called The Memory Of Horses:

No airship could fly faster than the Zenith. Passengers hung their laughing faces through the portholes, liberated like eagles on the wing. 

We watched the Zenith from the streets below, rolling our self-winding marbles along the granite. Mothers stopped loading the auto-washers to watch it rend the sky. Commuting fathers squeezed the brakes on their steam-bikes, pausing to watch their dreams made real.

The Zenith and the steam-bike, the hydro-pump automobile and the steam-engined train; suddenly we could travel farther and faster than ever before. As children, we saw the oceans; we played and waved as great liners danced upon them. We were taken out of the city, shown the great fuel-forests. We watched as steam-saws sliced through the shafts of ancient trees, fuel for our changing world.

Older, we found nostalgia. Nostalgia now, but then we were scorned, called Luddites, anti-progressionists, revolutionaries. Those who spoke loudly were cast into jails. Others remembered in the safety of silence.

We thought back to those long-gone forests. And to what we saw when we snuck away from the felling of the great trees. Coming to a clearing, looking up to the branches, we saw hand-made ropes and rough-hewn ladders, sensed a skittering and a shuffling in the leaves.

Hidden, we watched. And from the trees emerged children, their ragged smocks nothing like our silks and cottons. They shuffled into the clearing and sat clustered on the ground. Silence, the silence of a world without machines. A few moments later, more children came, each leading a horse tethered by a hand-knotted rope. They too entered the clearing and waited.

Unnerved by their silence, we fled, back to our parents still salivating over the march of progress, back to their star-spangled wonder at the great saws and the Zenith overhead.

Only years later did I understand the clearing. These were the horses that used to pull the cabs and carriages; the ponies that dragged the tradesmen's carts along our narrow streets; the children who tugged the rickshaws for our fathers' commutes; the boys who ran telegraph messages from house to house; the maids who washed linens by hand and cooked meals in great pots over open fires.

It was the memory of horses that struck me; when I was a baby, there were as many horses as people on our streets, as many stables as homes. Horses now are unseen, unknown.

I had watched the horses in their living grave, there in the woods, and I had seen the Zenith sweeping through the skies. And I saw I was a bridge between the old and the new. The next generations would only know their automated world, not what came before. They would not know the horses, the children, the trees, all long gone now.

I have kept my memories close in the world of the Zenith, the world of a difference engine on every desk, a steam-auto outside every home, a miniature Elisha-phone raised to every ear. I have kept my memories close.

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