Fantasy and humor collide in a case where only the best will do.
Steam poured from the side vents of the train’s engine as smoke drifted upwards from the stacks, giving the engine the appearance of a great clockwork dragon. One by one, mechanical arms stretched out from the station like spider’s legs over the row of spheres behind the engine. Beneath each arm hung a hose, a faint mist of condensation surrounding each one, as super-cooled, liquefied coal gas flowed into the train’s insulated fuel cells. On the Boston station platform, a multitude milled about, waiting for trains to arrive and depart, and friends, family and lovers to welcome and to bid adieu.
When the Founding Fathers first penned the Coalition Charter, those states wherein slavery still reigned, insisted that there be special provision for trade crossing state borders. They struck a compromise in which the railways would be administered according to a stripped down version of law agreed upon by all the state delegations, had very few prohibitions, concerned only with the greatest offenses: murder, theft, manslaughter, assault, etc. While this ensured certain vital and/or lucrative cargoes, such as slaves, could be freely shipped from one state to another so long as they remained aboard the train, it also permitted other nefarious activities. Even after slavery had been abolished, these peculiarities of the railway law remained.
The trains on this route not only transported cargo, they provided luxury accommodations for passengers from Boston to San Francisco, and did so with a casino and the finest courtesans the Coalition had to offer. So long as any such activities confined themselves to the train, none of the intervening states interfered with the world’s oldest profession in any way. The illegality of slavery now insured that the girls, coloured as well as white, held the status of free women. The first trains to carry courtesans seeking clients travelled out of New Orleans’ Storyville district and had become known as the Storyville Expresses. The name had stuck for any train offering intimate services.
Two gentlemen stood among those waiting to board the train. Young Master Pendleton, age nineteen, a thinly built gentleman of means; his short woolen black hair, mahogany skin and brown eyes, evidence of his African ancestry. He wore a simple black suit, expertly tailored, with a string tie and a black arabesque vest. Pendleton’s man Kiyoshi, a wiry-built man of Nipponese descent, had long, braided black hair, surmounted by a pair of riding goggles. A katana at his hip, Kiyoshi wore a pinstriped suit of deep crimson, lined with black and open sleeved on the right to permit the ready utility of a clockwork arm – a wonder of mechanical engineering, a system of gears, wheels and pulleys that greatly augmented his physical strength. Leaving the mechanical arm exposed lessened the possibility of damage to his clothing, and experience had proven that its visibility carried with it a factor of intimidation.
The pair boarded the Storyville Express; Kiyoshi saw Pendleton seated in the first class dining car before personally placing their bags in their sleeper car. Sullen, Pendleton sat moping in that way unique to over-privileged teens.
Passengers and working girls filtered their way into the dining car; the passengers for a repast, and the working girls seeking employment. Pendleton found them pretty but little else. Certainly none stirred him to action.
Two women entered the dining car and sat down, one mature, one younger, with the look of mother and daughter or aunt and niece about them. Pendleton gave them no mind until the younger of the pair began to read from a text by the noted philosopher Nietzsche.
“You read Nietzsche?” Pendleton asked, enthusiasm clear in his voice. The older woman scowled at him.
“Forgive me. Allow me to introduce myself. Pendleton Williams, at your service.” With a gesture towards his valet he added, “My man, Kiyoshi.”
Satisfied with this introduction, the older femme spoke, “Mrs. Annabelle Sutton. My daughter Clara.”
Pendleton nodded. “Do you enjoy Nietzsche, Miss Clara?”
The girl sighed. “I’m afraid I find him a frightful bore. Unfortunately, his writings are a part of my studies.”
Her mother continued, “Clara is returning to her liberal arts college in San Francisco. I’m coming with her to keep her company and look after her during the semester. And what of you, young man? Do you enjoy Mister Nietzsche?”
“Oh, I do. ‘The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.’”
Annabelle nodded with approval. “And do you, Mister Williams? Do you own yourself?”
Pendleton sighed. “I’m afraid not, ma’am. I’ve too many obligations to kith and kin.”
“Well,” she said, “there’s nothing wrong with that.”
The waiter arrived at the Sutton’s table; Annabelle and Clara discussed food and drink options with him. Pendleton found his gaze shifting back and forth between the two; the resemblance between them uncanny. Annabelle’s face, lovely as her daughter’s, held of course, more lines and creases, and she carried more weight. But, Pendleton thought, in those imperfections you can see she’s travelled, gone places, done things – she’s lived.
Conversation between Annabelle and the waiter turned to the matter of salad dressings and, her mother distracted, Clara smiled at Pendleton and winked.
Ignoring her, Pendleton looked out the train window. Fields of wheat sifted past while streaks of white dotted the cerulean blue above. He let the conversations of others die around him, emptying himself for a time by focusing on the clack-clack of the train as it traversed the countryside.
* * *
Pendleton sighed and looked about the dining car. A brass-plated clockwork cart with mechanical arms delivered their drinks from the bar.
The look on Pendleton’s face communicated his lack of interest in the goings-on.
“I resent this, Kiyoshi.”
Kiyoshi sighed at the thought of revisiting the issue.
“You resent what, Master Pendleton?”
“The intrusion into my personal affairs. My studies, my comings and goings, what I wear, what I eat, who I speak to and befriend. My parents, my tutors speak of nothing but grooming me to lead and all I do is obey. And this? This most personal of matters being treated by my tutors, as though…”
“As though I’d turned in a paper late,” Pendleton said.
“Because your studies are behind on this issue.”
“I’m well versed in Dr. Randolph’s theories – I would have attended to it in good time.”
“It’s past time,” Kiyoshi said. “And memorizing the works of Paschal Beverly Randolph is no substitute for good, honest practice. Other boys have lost their virginity by fifteen. You’re nineteen years old. You need to catch up or you’ll fall irrevocably behind.”
Pendleton said, “I’m well versed in a number of mystic techniques and methodologies. Sex magick can wait.”
“Your father disagrees. As does your mother and your personal tutors. If you’re to succeed your father, personal power is everything.”
Pendleton turned away, as he often did. He understood the nature of Kiyoshi’s statement and the danger implied within. From birth, Pendleton’s family groomed him to one day supplant his father as head of the most powerful and influential sorcerous cabal on the Eastern Seaboard. The financial and occult prowess of Pendleton’s father and his associates kept them at the precarious apex of New England society, both visible and not, and enabled them to influence or directly control most economic and political matters east of the Mississippi. As such, Pendleton had competitors not only in the other families, but in his own as well. He did have siblings after all.
Kiyoshi tapped twice on the table to draw Pendleton’s attention back to the conversation. “Master Pendleton, how long have I been in your service?”
“I don’t know – eight years?”
“Yes sir. And in all those years, have I ever lied to you?”
Pendleton shook his head. “No, I don’t believe you’ve ever lied to me once.”
“Not once.” Kiyoshi paused before continuing. “You’re a young man of nineteen. Your failure to find someone appropriate in this regard has your father believing that you prefer boys.”
Pendleton’s shoulders dropped and he rolled his eyes. “I do not prefer boys – I just haven’t found the right girl. I haven’t found that special someone.”
“You know, it’s alright if you prefer boys. If you admit to it. If you want boys then something can be arranged. Geldings, castrati and such…”
Pendleton cut him off with the simple statement, “I do not prefer boys.”
Kiyoshi continued, “Men? Would you prefer a man? If so, your father’s instructed me that – if you wish – I myself should…”
“Oh, and do you propose to lie on your belly, clutch a pillow in your teeth and think of England? Or are you proposing the reverse? How would that look – standing before the other cabals having been rogered by the help, of all people? Mother would never forgive me.” At the last, Pendleton looked Kiyoshi up and down with a wicked look in his eye. “Hmm.”
Although he tried to avoid it, Kiyoshi flinched. Pendleton looked away. “Relax. I’m only teasing.”
Kiyoshi sighed in relief.
Kiyoshi shrugged. “A Moreau perhaps? A cat or foxgirl? It would take some doing but it’s certainly not unheard of.”
Pendleton shook his head. “Intriguing, but no.”
“Then you need to pick a girl and do the deed by the time this train gets back to Boston. Just choose a girl and be done with it,” he said.
“Fine. Dammit, fine.”
“Language,” Kiyoshi chided.
“‘In all times and in all places, a mage must – ‘” Kiyoshi began before Pendleton cut him off.
“‘ – say what he means and mean what he says. Language is a scalpel,'” Pendleton repeated.
Kiyoshi nodded in approval. “Literally – it is a precision instrument.”
“Tell me, Kiyoshi,” Pendleton said, looking away again, “when it was your first time, was it an experience you savoured, a cherished memory of a time you shared with a certain special someone or did you ‘just choose a girl and be done with it?'” Kiyoshi looked sheepish.
“No. Sorry. She was well-chosen.”
* * *
Lithe youthful nymphs flitted past Pendleton, blondes, redheads and brunettes, a panoply of beautiful girls, long-haired, short-haired, straight-haired, wavy-haired and curly-haired, and none to his liking. Kiyoshi excused himself while Pendleton continued to survey the options the Storyville Express had to offer. Time moved inexorably from tea time to dinner time and still Pendleton had come to no decision.
Kiyoshi returned to stand next to the table where Pendleton sat.
“I’ve arranged a private showing. You’ll be able to see all the girls not otherwise engaged. You’ll pick one; you’ll get through this and we can do some pleasant shopping in San Francisco when we get there.”
Pendleton followed Kiyoshi to an elegant private car decorated in purple damask, with a huge four-poster bed. Posts, stocks and a rack, festooned with leather shackles awaited use, as did a saw horse with saddle and stirrups. Pendleton spied an assortment of whips and riding crops, and in the far corner of the room, light flickered from an array of candles.
Pendleton plopped onto the bed. “Bit much for my first time, don’t you think?”
Kiyoshi nodded. “I simply wished to provide you with options, if you desired them.”
A mature, silver-haired woman with a fascinator cocked to one side of her head poked into the doorway. “Are we all set in here?”
“Certainly,” Kiyoshi said.
The woman introduced herself as Madam Arione. She led in five young women of various heights, hair colours and degrees of voluptuousness. In series, groups of five girls, aged sixteen to twenty-four in chemises, and bloomers, barefoot or in high heels made themselves available to him. Five pairs of breasts, unfettered by brassieres, ebbed back and forth like a tide governed by the train.
Arione asked, “Perhaps the young gentleman would prefer a girl of his own kind for his first time?”
A young black girl, her hair worn naturally in an aura about her head, stepped forward, clad only in a chemise and bloomers. The lovely chocolate-complexion girl spun about on her heels, a proud smile on her face, and pulled down her bloomers for Pendleton’s inspection, rocking her hips, revealing a full and curvy derrière.
Pendleton shook his head. Disappointed, the girl pulled up her bloomers and took her place back in line.
“Perhaps a girl from Iceland?”
A beautiful young girl with blonde locks, shining blue eyes and a warm smile stepped forward, her hands clasped behind her. She twirled in place to give Pendleton a better view of her, but he shook his head again.
“Something truly exotic, perhaps? From the distant shores of Cathay?” Madame Arione suggested.
A thin, raven-haired Chinese girl stood before Pendleton, her porcelain skin immaculate, with dark, doe-eyes and long, full lashes. Small, but visibly pert, breasts jutted under her chemise. Pendleton found the girl’s beauty unmistakable.
For the first time since the selection had begun, Pendleton spoke. “Let’s put her at the top of the list for now. Are there any others?”
“Certainly,” Arione said.
The girls filed out of the room; someone went to gather the next batch to present themselves before Pendleton. Kiyoshi distracted himself while waiting by pulling out a deck of cards and beginning a game of solitaire. The madam withdrew a fan from her purse and began to cool herself with it. With nothing else to divert his attention, Pendleton really focused on the madame for the first time. She had silver hair – the sort of silvery sheen of a woman who has gone prematurely grey and yet is so confident enough in herself and her femininity not to feel the need to acquiesce to vanity and dye her hair. She wore her hair pulled into a long graceful ringlet over her left shoulder.
Though she wore a blouse buttoned all the way to her neck, her full, womanly bosom, still evident, rocked gently back and forth with the motion of the train. Over the blouse, she wore a brown leather bolero jacket cinched about her waist, further accentuating her bosom. Pendleton followed the sweeping curve of hips wreathed in a soft, brown filigree satin skirt, down long, stocking graced legs to laced high-heeled leather boots. Heavier set than the thin girls presented to Pendleton, the madam possessed a ripe beauty he found pleasing.
As Pendleton surveyed another set of girls brought in for his inspection, the singular thought occurred to him that the madam possessed a confidence, an elegance, a presence that none of these young girls did. Pendleton realized in that moment that the solution to his problem lay before him the whole time. Pendleton asked, “May I have any woman in the room?”
“Certainly,” Arione said.
“For what your father is paying for this, I’d imagine you could have one of the passengers if you wished,” Kiyoshi quipped.
Deeply out of his element, and feeling shy, Pendleton waved Kiyoshi over and whispered in his ear.
Kiyoshi, with an intrigued look in his eye, clasped his hands before him and turned to face the madam.
“Young Master Pendleton inquires if madam would be so gracious as to do the honours herself?”
A surprised look shone on Arione’s face and a demure smile spread itself across the madam’s rosy lips, her cheeks reddening. Wordless, she nodded.
The girls began to file out of the room. Arione placed her hat and purse upon the bureau and then pulled one long, leather glove from her hand and then another, placing these too upon the bureau.
Pendleton pulled himself from the edge of the bed where he’d been sitting.
Uncinching her jacket and letting it fall to the floor, Arione then undid her blouse and skirt and stepped clear of these as they pooled at her feet.
Last to leave the room, Kiyoshi nodded to his master, smiled and closed the door behind him.
Arione stood before Pendleton for a moment clad only in a corset and panties, stockings and her high-heeled boots. She gracefully lifted one leg to Pendleton for him to undo the laces on one boot then the other. These too fell to the floor.
Arione climbed onto the four-poster bed atop Pendleton, who put his arms about her and, cupping the plush softness of her derrière with both hands, drew her close, and sighed.
“Ah. Perfection…” he said. Arione laughed gracefully.
* * *
The Storyville Express returned to Boston; and with Kiyoshi carrying his bags, Young Master Pendleton, his mission accomplished, stepped onto the platform, with Madam Arione on his arm as his new personal tutor in the Sensual Arts.
About the Author
A new voice in the field of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy fiction, New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black has a Bachelor’s in Military and Political Journalism and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. His most recent story, “The Night Mississippi Declared War on the Moon,” was published in Dark Oak Press’ Capes and Clockwork II, edited by Alan Lewis. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. Brandon lives with his guardian and protector, Battle-cat Princess Kaleidoscope, in his home town of New Orleans, Louisiana. Find out more about Brandon’s work:
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