Short Story Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Prompts


Surprisingly, I finished this story much earlier than I thought. I have zero background in Steampunk, so if I’ve captured even a couple of elements, I’ll be happy. I was inspired by a kaleidoscope that sits on my desk at work, and the photo brought to mind a climate of uncertainty. I married the two, and below you have it, coming in at 994 words…Moirai.


A hole formed in the clouds, sending down rays to light their way. Agatha heard others shouting that it was a sign. She cautiously turned to look behind them, worried that the brightness would also help the militia aim their brass pistols with more precision at those still waiting to board one of the fleeing airships. Or worse, she thought with a shudder, use their silver blades to cut the citizens down. Agatha was ashamed now, being impressed by the number of weapons her schoolmate Maxwell’s father kept; how clever that one of the sword’s copper butt cap housed a hidden compass.

She knew better now; knew by listening outside the closed door of her father’s study where he and others talked late most nights. Maxwell’s father and those like him were just underlings in the party led by the carroty-colored, odious miscreant who plundered his way into power during the last election. Agatha’s father said they couldn’t trust that the abolishment of the electoral college was real, that elections going forward would be determined solely by the popular vote. The men agreed, and their talk became quieter.

Agatha held her breath as they began to pass over the wide chasm. Water roared down into the basin, and she wished they were as far along as those in front of them.

“Aggie,” her father called. “Why don’t you go help your mother with the baby. And be careful moving the case – I brought along something special for you.”

He smiled, and Agatha wondered where his courage came from. He and a few others had the most to lose; whistle-blowers who provided proof of the rigged election and subsequent cover-ups. They were labeled traitors to the party.

She nodded and went to the back of the ship where her mother sat nursing her baby brother. “Father said he brought me something from home.” Her mother pulled the eiderdown away from the trunk it covered. Inside, Agatha recognized the polished wooden box, and she pushed together two small copper hinges that released the top. She turned the dial to 44, which she knew was her father’s choice of code whenever necessary. The number represented freedom to her father and his allies.

The kaleidoscope was masterful. Its oval base was a medium grain wood, as was its matching triangle stand. A sealed cage prevented dust from accumulating on the gloriously-colored stained-glass mirrors. Agatha touched it lightly, like a museum piece. She ran her fingers around every inch of the contraption. Then she twisted the wheel and pressed her eye to the wonderment.

When she had seen many patterns in overlaying hues of violet and turquoise and citrine, she finally pulled her face away and held it out to her mother. The woman lifted the baby away from her breast and handed him to Agatha. A gentle laugh escaped her as she adjusted the wheel.

Agatha wiggled her brother’s fingers and bent her nose to his. “Will we be safe on the other side?” she asked. “They have so many weapons at home, and they’re so angry that people are leaving.”

Her mother lifted her face from the kaleidoscope and ran her hand up and down Agatha’s cheek. “Your father and his friends are very smart men. They won’t underestimate the ones we left, but fear is not a luxury we have.” She pointed to the baby. “His future is at stake, as is yours and that of all of your friends. We are duty-bound to fight for that. Love of what we’ve created will triumph over the greed of those whose words and actions seek only to improve their own lot.”

At twelve years old, Agatha wasn’t entirely sure of her place in the world, or exactly what her mother’s words meant. She spent most of her time dreaming up inventions, staying after school to watch her science teacher rake through his cartons of toggles and gears, watching him fill glass tubes with bubbling liquid and standing back when he cautioned her to.

“Do you think Mr. Kaylock and his family made it out?” Agatha asked, turning the kaleidoscope again. Besides her parents, the science teacher was her favorite adult. She wanted to ask if they would resume school on the other side, but her brother cried out for more food, and she didn’t want to disturb her mother any longer.

“I’m sure Mr. Kaylock will be fine,” he mother said, turning toward the infant. “I’d be more worried about Ms. Moulsdale and Ms. Diviny,” she said, almost to herself.

Agatha didn’t understand, but again, hesitated to press any further. The art and music teachers, two women who’d shared a house for years, were loved by students and parents alike. She packed the kaleidoscope carefully back in its place, giving the locking dial a strong spin.

Back at the front of the ship, Agatha stood by her father. “Thank you,” she said, leaning her head on his arm.

He tipped his top hat and then took it off and placed it on Agatha’s head. She laughed and twirled once before making him bend over so she could place it back on him. She took a moment to feel the studded leather band and then running her pinkie finger underneath the felt laces that crisscrossed on either side of the hat.

“You see,” he said, “we’ve crossed.”

Sure enough, Agatha saw that the pounding water was behind them now. She could see steam billowing out of towers in the distance and in the airships closest to them, people cheered.

“Are we very happy to be starting over?” she asked.

“Indeed,” her father replied.

“What will happen to those who stay?” She could no longer see the place from where they came.

“They will hide behind the walls they built, waiting and wondering who is coming to take what they took for themselves.”

“But no one will be coming.”

“No, my sweet Aggie, no one will be coming.”



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