Since we are in a bit of a transition this week (moving to a new state on short notice made it a bit difficult to get this weeks chapter out on time) we thought we would share a little sneak peek excerpt from our young adult novel that also fits into the Inari Steam Universe, which is currently in the editing process. It's a coming of age story about a young girl named Katie who has grown up with the skymen on her father's airship.
Her father glanced in that direction, "I suppose that would be fine, but stay in the shade of those trees, no wandering off and exploring."
Katie sprinted through the crowd and found a place under the tree where she could easily see into the center of the band of richly painted wagons formed a circle just to the right of the registration office. The gypsies were sweeping in and out of their wagons. The women wore long colorful skirts that made jingling noises as the fabric swished around them as they walked. Most of the women wore their long dark hair loose down their back, and stacks of thin metal bracelets around their wrists. Several of the men were juggling or tuning instruments. Katie desperately wanted to know where they were traveling to next. Her father had taken her to one of the gypsy fairs a couple of years ago, and she had been dying to go again. They were only a short distance away from the shade, She could just slip up and ask them where their next shows were going to be, to see if they would be close to a port the ship would be stopping in. She was sure her father wouldn't object to that.
Katie tiptoed up to the edge of the nearest wagon. She noticed the front of these wagons was made of bars rather than being a little house like those on the other side of the circle. She peered into the dark interior. Slowly the form of a large cat resolved out of the shadows. He was sitting perfectly still in the back corner. Katie gasped and stood transfixed by the massive feline. He was solid black with pale green eyes that seemed to almost glow. He stood and slowly moved toward the front of his cage. His movements slow and fluid, as if he were made of some mysterious living liquid, or the shadows had suddenly come to life. He walked along the bars directly in front of Katie. He glided along the front of his cage toward the opposite corner.
Suddenly the opposite side of his cage creaked and light came flooding in. Katie's heart and feet froze, the cage was open, the beast that was so transfixingly beautiful a moment ago became a terrifying threat, and she could not pry her feet from the ground to run. The cat poured himself out of the opening and Katie's eyes slithered to the corner of the cage waiting for the huge cat to come around and devour her. She mentally screamed at her feet to get a move on, but they had taken root and wouldn't budge. She paused silently to hope that death by enormous cat would be quick and painless.
The cat glided around the corner rubbing his face on the edge of the wooden frame of his cage, bringing his front paws slightly off the ground as he petted himself. When he came into the light Katie let out a gasp, the cat was not solid black as she had originally thought, he actually had beautiful spotted markings all over his body that became visible only when he stepped into the light. Katie was so focused on the cat's every slinking movement that it took a few seconds for a couple of important facts to penetrate her fear. The cat was on a leash, and the leash was held by a very handsome gypsy boy. "Hello." his accent was only slight, but it made him sound thoroughly exotic. "I saw you looking at Juca."
Katie nodded, her relief over not currently being a cat snack made her feel light-headed, and her mouth had grown dusty and dry "He's amazing, is he safe?"
The gypsy boy laughed, flashing an easy smile that filled his dark eyes and made them sparkle, "Juca! He is so sweet we leave him to watch the babies when we are busy!" He scratched the cat between the ears, which the cat seemed to heartily encourage.
Katie relaxed a little seeing the cat look so contented, "May I pet him?"
The gypsy boy smiled again, "Yes," but just as she reached out he added, "but I must first give you a warning." She snatched her hand back fearing that there might be some spot that by touching would upset the animal. "If you start petting him, he might not let you stop, he can be very greedy." She laughed and reached out to scratch the cat between the ears as she had seen the boy do. The cat pressed his head up into her hand, tilting this way and that to help her fingers find angles that pleased him. "I am Mihas."
Katie smiled up at him, "I am Katie, my father's ship is loading cargo, I came to ask what cities your caravan is stopping in to see if we might be able to come to the gypsy fair."
Mihas looked surprised, "Are you often sent on such errands alone?"
Katie blushed and looked down to make sure she was petting Juca in a way that would keep her in his good favor, "No, I was waitin' for my father under those trees, he's in the line for registering some cargo, I saw the wagons and decided to ask by myself."
Mihas smiled and nodded, "We are getting on a train and going far north tomorrow. There will be no more shows for a while." Katie was heartbroken. She had already been planning ways to get to talk to Mihas again when she went to the gypsy fair, she looked back down at Juca, enjoying the sight of her fingers moving the beautiful spotted fur. "But if your father is in those awful lines then we have plenty of time! I will show you around." Excited by the idea of getting a tour of the gypsy camp from a real gypsy Katie snapped her head up and looked at Mihas, he was smiling hopefully at her. She wavered thinking about how she had promised her father she would stay under the trees. "I should go back to waitin' for my father. I'm s'posed to stay under those trees."
Mihas looked disappointed, but then he brightened, "What if we stay just over here by the animal cages, you can see the trees from here and we will watch for your father, and I can show you all of the animals!" Katie really wanted to see the animals, and if she kept a good eye out her father might not even notice that she had strayed, and she was sure he would understand when she told him what had happened.
Mihas showed her through all of the cages. One cage was full of little monkeys. Mihas gave Katie some pieces of fruit, and they ran up and took them right out of her hand. Katie was so amused by their antics that she asked Mihas if they could let them out. "No, I don't think that would be good."
Katie's shoulders drooped, "Oh, will they run away?"
A battle between amusement and embarrassment waged across Mihas' face, "no, they will stay close, but...well..."embarrassment looked like it might win the war. He looked at the ground, "people have things in their pockets..."
The meaning of what he was saying struck Katie, "OH!"
Amusement staged a coup, and he and Katie laughed together.
Mihas called one of the gypsy men over and asked him if he could go get Meschin so they could introduce her to Katie. Meschin turned out to be a massive snake. Katie didn't want anything to do with her at first, but after Mihas assured her that Meschin was harmless, and even draped the snake over his own shoulders, Katie drew close enough to hesitantly stroke her cool soft scales. Katie watched the powerful muscles ripple as she moved. Next they stood and watched a fat bear sitting in the center of one cage munching on a large melon.
Mihas showed her an enormous toad, he said that there were crazy stories going around about talking frog people coming up out of the ground and attacking cities, Mihas said they dressed up the big toad in baby clothes and told the people who came that it was one of them. He said it was one of the most popular things in the show. Katie laughed at the thought of this funny creature with its bulging eyes and wide mouth dressed up as a little baby!
Several of the cages were empty and Mihas explained that they had set up a camp just on the other side of the trees in a clearing and many of the animals were there grazing. He told her about the huge elephant with the sweetest little pink spots on her ears, and how she is so gentle you can climb right up on her back and ride her! He said they also had several ponies that his sister and cousin could ride standing up and do all kinds of amazing tricks. Katie desperately wanted to see the gypsy camp, but it had been almost an hour and she was sure that her father would be done soon.
They went back to the shade under the trees to see if her father was there yet, but they didn't see him. Clouds had rolled in and there was a comfortable wind that made the sun inviting, but the shadows beneath the trees were now cool and dreary. Mihas told her it was only a few minutes to the camp and they could run, take a quick peek, and be back just like a flash of lightening. Katie didn't want to miss seeing all the things that Mihas had described, so off they went running through a little break of trees.
Out they popped into a little clearing and Katie felt as though she had been transported to a magical world! Huge sheets of fabric of the most vibrant colors, deep emerald greens, and dark crimson red, fiery oranges and cobalt blues, hung in the trees! She felt as though she had stepped right into a rainbow, there was a flurry of activity all around them. The gypsies in their bright colored clothing were in constant motion, like butterflies flitting in a wonderful garden. Busy looking one way and another Katie bumped right into a gypsy man and to her surprise he sputtered and produced a great plume of fire from his lips! Katie shrieked and grabbed hold of Mihas, then realizing that she was holding onto a very cute, very nice gypsy boy with friendly dark eyes and adorable shaggy dark curls, she blushed and leapt away, right back into the gypsy man, who again belched a cloud of flame. Mihas just laughed at her distress, "Katie, meet Rica, he is a fire breather." Katie nodded to him and stuttered out a, "Nice to meet you." Everywhere she turned there was something to take in. Men were walking on tall stilts, some of them had stilts on their arms and legs and were galloping or trying to do acrobatics. Some of them managed amazing stunts, others would come crashing down in an awkward pile of stilts akimbo, then there would be a great PHFIT sound and a puff of steam and they would spring into the air, just like the dried corn kernels the balloon men popped near the heaters for snacks! Then the stilt walkers would be up and running and trying their tricks all over again.
A vast net hung suspended a few feet above the ground. Above that a gypsy couple in dazzling costumes swung back and forth sitting on tiny bars. A flash of movement, and they flipped so they were hanging by their legs, Katie had a queasy moment thinking about her own moment of hanging upside down last night and wanted to close her eyes. She was sure they would fall but they just kept on swinging. The woman flipped again and was hanging by her hands, they swung closer and closer matching each other until they were in perfect unison. All at once, the woman's hands slipped and she went flying through the air. Katie covered her eyes not wanting to see the woman fall. Mihas tapped Katie's shoulder and she peeped out at him. He was laughing and pointing at the swings. Appalled, Katie looked. The man had caught the woman by her wrists and she was dangling below him as they swung back and forth, going higher on each return. Finally, on an upswing just when Katie thought they couldn't get any higher, they released hands and the woman flipped in the air and caught her swing again. Katie shook her head in awe, "Nothing here is what it seems!" Mihas just laughed and pulled her on.
He showed her the ponies, and they watched his sister and cousins do amazing stunts, Katie laughed when they did hand-stands on their ponies, and she held her breath when they jumped from pony to pony as the mounts ran in faster and faster circles.
Mihas introduced her to Dulce, the elephant. She stroked her soft skin, transfixed by the intelligence in those big dark eyes rimmed with long dark lashes. He helped Katie up and showed her how to tuck her bare feet right behind Dulce's ears. He sat pressed behind her and talked her through the commands to make the elephant go wherever Katie wanted.
A gypsy woman called out to Mihas. She was wearing a long flowing skirt like the other women. Hers was of deep blue and her white top and the silver chains that looped around her hips with a million little hammered silver discs dangling and jingling from it contrasted with her dark hair and complexion. Her figure was slim and her face seemed so young that Katie's eyebrows arched with surprise when Mihas explained that she was his mother. He helped Katie down from the back of the elephant and solemnly introduced her to his mother. Up close Katie could see that she was not as young as she had originally thought, and when she smiled and her eyes lit up, Katie instantly saw the resemblance between mother and son. "Mama this is Katie, Katie, this is my mother, Afina."
Afina smiled her warm smile at Katie and tucked Mihas under her arm, "Any guest of Mihas' is welcome!" Her voice was deep and more heavily accented than Mihas', "It gets chilly out here, come have cups of tea." She swept them along toward the edge of the clearing. They reached the edge, and she moved aside a length of heavy fabric dyed a deep sunny yellow. Warm, heavily scented air rushed out from between the layers and Katie shook her head in amazement, nothing in the gypsy camp was at all what it seemed! What she had thought were mere sheets of fabric hung in the trees to add some privacy to the clearing were, in fact, large tents created by hanging the heavy fabric in such a way that the trees formed the supports. Inside it was blissfully cozy. The floor had thick pillows dyed in the deepest jewel tones and covered in intricate embroidery. She soon learned that they were full of straw that would pass on to the animals to bed in. In the center was a fire, the smoke was wafting up through a gap in the roof, and the wood they were burning had a spicy scent. Over the fire was a large cast iron spider with an old teapot whistling away on top.
Mihas handed Katie a small flat disc. She politely held it while he and Afina prepared the tea. Afina leaned toward Katie with the teapot ready to pour. Katie sat there helplessly trying to figure out what she should be doing. Afina laughed a deep, velvety laugh, and Mihas reached over and gently plucked the disc from Katie's hands. He lifted a windup key gently away from the side and slowly turned it. With each turn, the disc expanded up into a pretty little teacup. When he finished he handed her back the cup and Afina poured the tea.
The three of them sat and sipped the sweet tea and the gypsies told her fascinating stories about the places they had been and the things they had seen. Often other gypsies would stop in with bits of news or gossip and Mihas would politely introduce Katie. They all offered her warm words of welcome.
As Katie's third cup of tea was growing cold Afina asked her where she had come from and just as if a spell were being broken Katie realized how much time had passed. She knew that her father must be looking for her and, in fact, the ship should have left dock hours ago. If they are out looking for her instead of having taken to the air, then the cargo was already late! Katie gasped and with a few rushed apologies and thank you's she pushed her way out of the tent! It had gotten dark since she had entered the tent and the clouds that had made the afternoon cool and comfortable were now spitting the first drops of rain. The clearing bustled with activity, torches had been placed around the edge, making the faces and objects look distorted and eerie.
Katie rushed across the clearing to the path through the woods. The path was completely dark now, and she stumbled over roots and rocks. All she could think of was her father. How angry and disappointed he would be when she got back to the ship. She couldn't stand the thought of letting even a second pass without trying to get to him. She sped through the woods.
She could hear it when the deluge began. The first burst of drops hit the treetops with a roar. She wasn't sure if this was the right path anymore and tried to adjust her course while still rushing on. The rain was making its way through the canopy of leaves now and the layer of leaves on the ground was slick under her feet. She slipped and fell and bashed her knee on a rock. She pulled herself upright and limped on. She could feel the blood dripping down her leg and soon it was mixing with the water from the storm. The forest lit up with a bright flash that etched the silhouette of trees on her retinas, and a moment later thunder shook more drops from the trees.
Katie knew now that she had been running for too long, if she were on the right path she should be out of the woods by now. She knew that she was lost in a small patch of woods and was probably running in circles. She couldn't bring herself to stop, stopping would mean further disappointing her father, and she couldn't bear that along with the shame she was already feeling.
Her knee ached, her clothes were heavy with water and long strands of dark hair that had escaped from her braids were clinging to her face and arms. Lightning flashed again and in almost the same instant the boom of thunder shook the air. The rain and wind was a deafening roar in her ears and yet some small sound reached her to tell her she wasn't alone. Her brain flashed to Juca, not the friendly beast whose ears she had scratched, but the creature of liquid motion that she had seen slink from the cage, and in that moment she felt like prey.
She willed herself on, through the fiery pain in her knee, she made herself move faster. She could feel something behind her and she pushed herself to add speed, but the pain in her knee wouldn't allow her to pump her legs any faster. The demon behind her caught her arm and spun her around. She clawed and fought until her arms were pinned. A soft voice whispered soothing sounds in her ear, so similar to the ones that she had issued to the tangled seagull, that her heart slowed and she was able to think more clearly. She looked up and saw that it was Rica, the fire breather, that had caught her.
I hope you guys enjoy the first look at Katie Kensley Gets Grounded, we will pick up with Scottie and the rest of the crew next week.