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Today’s original Fantastic Fable is pretty special. That’s because our storyteller is Lia Habel’s Vespertine Mink…and she not only has a very cool name, but she also has an opinion. Lia’s debut release, DEARLY, DEPARTED, will be available on October 18th 2011 from Random House/Del Rey, and today Vespertine is giving us the low down on New Victoria. Thanks to the ever generous Del Rey, three of you who comment on this post will win a copy of the book!
Thank you so much for inviting me to participate in this event! For my character I decided to go with Vespertine Mink, who plays a small role in my upcoming release DEARLY, DEPARTED, and a much larger role in the sequel. Vespertine is great whenever I need someone to have their “judgey bloomers” on – and yet, she’s tougher and more complex than she seems. As for Erik, I tried to go more with a “book” Erik, but I’m sure the movie slipped in a few times!
A Tongue-in-Cheek DEARLY Universe Story for the Fantastic Fables Blog Event
© Lia Habel 2011
A month on, and I still had only the foggiest idea what had happened to me. It wasn’t that left side of my brain couldn’t break it down into neat steps – in fact, it often did so without my willing it to, chanting a strange chronology at me as I twirled La Carlotta’s hair about my fingertips.
- The Dearly parlor, half in darkness and populated with questionable sorts, both living and dead. A den of vice, for all its celestial-themed ornaments, and the last place I ought to be. The tasteless tea, the mushy macaroons – the eternally bruised and strangely intriguing face of Mr. Renfield Merriweather as he watched me, keen as a bird and polite as a lady’s lap dog, from the other side of the room;
- The zombie who could remove his head, that mouthy and ambulatory champagne cork, snapping the last piece into place and presenting, with his mortified-looking fellow “engineer,” the brass-and-wire machine meant to mock teleportation;
- The announcement that someone ought to get inside to complete the experience, and enjoy the show from within. The ensuing row – the living arguing that the dead ought to go and the dead arguing that “ha ha, no, reanimation teaches you something about risk aversion” and then me, annoyed and petulant, swishing into the brass cage and shutting the latch. My hat and gloves left on the glass coffee table – a silly detail.
- The switch being thrown, electricity arcing, and then – this.
“No, you little dunce!”
Called back to my new reality, I let my fingers slither out of the soprano’s hair. “It doesn’t please you?” I asked, in my broken Italian.
“It’s wrong, wrong, wrong!” The beefy woman turned to glare at me. Being used to glares – from the girls at St. Cyprian’s, from my mother, from the ravenous dead wanting in the windows – I did my best to look terrified. I knew full well that my only hope of survival lay in mastering my part.
“I can fix it. Please, please forgive me, prima donna.” But before I could begin the attempt, the dressing room door opened. The usual entourage – it was always an entourage doing things about the Palais Garnier, never a person alone – swept in, courted and cooed La Carlotta, reminded her that it was time to go, and ushered her out the door, seemingly all in one fell swoop. As they filed out one of the scrawny, frizzled-haired ladies turned and hissed, “Clean up here, and Daae’s dressing room.”
I answered with a curtsey. I had no choice.
Once the door was shut, I was able to sink onto the vanity stool for a moment of reflection. The left side of my brain was now silent. Now the right side took over, fear constricting my heart, making my corset feel far too tight.
The machine had been meant to mock teleportation. It’d been a set piece, nothing more. As real as the papier-mâché elephant stored in the subbasements below my feet, as real as Carlotta’s much-stuffed and extended hair.
And yet, it had moved me. When I’d come to, alone in the darkness, I’d soon realized that I was inside a theater of some sort. I’d wondered if I was still in the New Victorian territories, or if I’d somehow been propelled onto Punk soil – and then I scolded myself and forced myself to believe that I’d been tricked, drugged, dragged bodily into a basement somewhere – that Nora Dearly was indulging in an elaborate prank. The fact that Mr. Merriweather had apparently let it happen had been far more upsetting.
That was until I got outside the theater, and discovered that someone in Central America had apparently decided to lovingly recreate the entirety of Paris. Because I knew from history books and holographic movies what Paris looked like. I knew from my music studies and attending the opera in New London and watching Inheritance Theater on the New Victorian Public Programming channel.
And I knew that it no longer existed. The new ice age had wiped it off the face of the earth years ago.
So when I found a paper in the trash – me, daughter of Lord and Lady Mink, digging about in the trash like a beggar – that told me the date was 1881, not 2196, I’d been perhaps more inclined to believe the paper than not. Days of disorientation and fear had followed, and I’d staggered through them, only to eventually end up upon the steps of the opera house again.
I couldn’t speak French. It was practically a dead language in my time, a curiosity, a relic. I could speak Spanish and a little Portuguese and a tiny bit of Italian, and it was with these that I managed to get myself a job not mending costumes and ballet slippers, as I expected I might, but aiding the aging soprano, La Carlotta.
Survival was my forté. I’d take what I could get.
I hid the birdcage-shaped time conveyance in the third subbasement, along with my holographic charm bracelet and my be-gemmed mobile phone. Every night I visited them, fingered them, turned them on for a few moments. I didn’t know what I expected them to eventually do. There was some power yet in the cage – power that fed a flat screen that told me that the thing still had some sort of weak connection with the home unit, if I was reading the icons correctly – but I didn’t dare do anything other than look at it. I had no time to play with it, hobby programmer that I was. I didn’t want to waste the battery.
And so my days became long, terrible, unanswered questions.
It was in a numb haze that I straightened Carlotta’s chamber and saw myself out, keeping to the wall as the ballerinas pranced by – pretty Jammes and hideous Meg Giry, all legs, scandalously open in their behavior. I’d come to wonder why my society insisted on basing itself on these people, the First Victorians. From what I’d seen they tended to act abominably, let their animals defecate in the streets, and seldom brush their teeth.
Upon entering Christine Daae’s little dressing room – she who had so quickly risen of late – I caught myself staring at the large mirror. I looked as if I’d aged ten years since my arrival. There were bags beneath my gray eyes. While I curled and coiffed Carlotta’s hair, my own blond curls went ignored; while I ironed her pleats and fluffed her furbelows, my own green dress, the only one I had, seemed to get shabbier by the day.
“Survival,” I whispered to myself. After weeks of Italian and immersion French, it offered me some relief just to hear my own voice speaking English. “You’ll get out of this. Just like when the evil zombies came. You just have to think. You have to stay cold. Stay serious. Survival.” And then I let myself slip, just for an instant. “Mr. Merriweather will come for you, if nothing else. Have faith in him.”
As if he’d heard me, the lights dimmed and a thin figure seemed to fade into existence within the glass, just beyond my reach.
A moment later all I knew was gravity, a sense of falling away.
When I came to, I could feel a body beneath mine – a bony shoulder, two scrawny, rebar-like arms – and I realized that I was being carried. It was too dark to see, but from the molding scent that hit my nose, I knew where I was. The subbasements.
Before I could open my mouth to issue a cry, the person bearing me like a bride murmured in flawless English, “I mean you no harm, Mademoiselle. Remain still.”
Despite my better judgment, I obeyed – not because the owner of the voice told me to, but because the voice itself was achingly beautiful. Musical, for all of its obvious masculinity.
Upon turning my head, I found myself captivated by the vision laid out before us. He was carrying me toward a stony beach, apparently far underground. The roof above was cavernous, the sides bare rock; there was no sky reflected in the inky water.
It wasn’t until the voice’s owner lowered me into an awaiting black barque, moving after me quickly enough to rock it, that we got a good look at each other. I was treated to the sight of a tall, skeletally thin man in evening dress, his face hidden by a black silk mask. His eyes were dark, sunken points, but I could tell that he was regarding a stranger. What little I could see of his expression told me that it was currently hovering somewhere between curiosity and…fear.
A second later, I understood why. With trembling hands, the man reached up and unmasked himself. I neither flinched nor screamed when he uncovered his face – I only gaped. The skin beneath the mask was taut and yellow, thin enough to reveal the skull over which it was stretched. His nose was gone, his hair stringy and sparse.
Where I was from, his face was common enough.
“You’re a zombie!” I squeaked. I was half afraid – I had no weapon, and here I was, looking a strange zombie in the eye. I didn’t know if he had given in to his new urges, or if he was mad, or violent, or…
Oh, it didn’t matter. The other half of me wanted to hug him ‘til he snapped in two. I hadn’t seen a single zombie since making my apparent trip back in time. I despised zombies, feared them, but right now – God. He was beautiful.
“Is that what you call it? Erik has never…” He gestured to his face, and then sat down, reaching into his jacket. He brought out my mobile phone, and I sat up taller, my throat burning. He’d found my things.
I watched as, amazingly, the First Victorian zombie tapped his thumb expertly over the keys of my phone. He then showed me the screen. He’d accessed my photo album, and was flicking through some pictures I’d taken of the Dearly crew. Nora’s beau Griswold, skin ice-white and eyes foggy in death. Dr. Samedi, playing with his own head. The noseless Tom Todd.
The elegant skeleton that was Renfield Merriweather. On this photo, he stopped.
“Who are these people?” he asked, voice raspy. “Who are these people who make it so that you do not scream at my face?”
I had no other word for them, though it was the last I’d ever use to their faces. “My friends.”
“They are…like me.” He turned the phone back around, flicking through more photos. “And yet…they smile. They laugh. They associate with beautiful girls…”
“Yes, well. There’s no accounting for taste.”
Monsieur “Erik” lifted his eyes to mine. “Where did you get this device?”
“That’s rather a long story.” And for the first time, I had someone to tell it to. “Where do you want me to start?”
If the first month was odd, the next few weeks were extraordinary.
I soon learned why the zombie – who, it turned out, was actually that “Phantom” that everyone up top had always rambled on about, a legend I’d accorded as much respect as their constant warblings about the “evil eye,” given my own scientifically-created troubles – was so adept with my technology.
He was a genius. End of statement.
He’d not protected his (perfectly ordinary) home only by moving it underground – heavens no. I soon learned of the vast network of labyrinthian tunnels and booby trapped chambers that served as its security network. One contained a torture chamber that resembled a blinding desert full of dead metal trees, designed to make its inmates go mad and wander until they dropped. The lake itself was rigged with miles of hair-fine wire, placed so that if one rowed the boat along a predetermined, wire-free path, one could pass safely. But if one did not? A scum-draped automaton would rise from the deep, an iron siren with a horrible face, and drag the trespasser to a watery grave.
When I explained to him that where I was from he’d likely find a home amongst the Punks – the neo-Luddite terrorists that my people, the New Victorians, had driven from their Territories, creating a schism between those embraced analog and digital technologies – he laughed and said wryly, “I suppose so. Though Erik has never been much accepted, wherever he goes.”
“But, if I might ask…” We were walking along the stony beach, lanterns in hand. “Who bit you? I haven’t seen a single zombie since I came here…I thought they were limited to my own time.”
“It is still difficult to conceive of travel through time. I would call you deranged if I had not seen your trinkets with my own eyes.” He shook his head. “I have heard legends of the dead rising, as you’ve described. Ghouls. But as much as Erik likes his pretense…he is, sadly, alive.”
Wait. “But you sleep in a coffin.” I’d seen his strange bed during the tour of his house some days ago.
With a sound of annoyance, the man grabbed my hand and, before I could fight back, laid it upon his chest.
His heart was beating.
He really was alive.
“You women are so curious. I am living dead,” he spat. “Is that not more horrible than the cold calm of the grave? Do you see why I should rather pretend to be forever asleep within the ground?”
I saw. And now I understood why the photos had affected him so deeply.
“I want what you have.” His anger seemed to melt away, becoming a rivulet of pure pain that then flowed through his voice. Turning his gimlet eyes on me, he said, “There is a girl. A beautiful girl. A girl I have done horrible things for, all in the name of possessing her…for never has a soul loved me. She has seen my face, known my anger, and she fears me…rightly so. But you…you look upon my face with not a trace of fear. I want that from her.”
“The little soprano?” Something occurred to me, and I blushed for her. “The mirror! You’ve been spying on her!” Erik said nothing, staring straight ahead. “You’re a pervert!”
“You try my patience.”
“Oh, honestly. A second ago you were fine with calling yourself a corpse.” I tried to think, and ended up confessing, “If the cage you found had more electrical power, I might be able to get home. At least, it appears that way. I know a little about programming computers, hacking them, but when it comes to the heavier technologies I am sadly ignorant. If you could build me a dynamo, a secondary battery…” I trailed off. I wasn’t sure what I could offer in return.
“You would speak to Mademoiselle Daae?” He leaned closer. “Make her love me?”
“I can’t make a woman love anyone. No one can. But…maybe I could say something. Write her a letter. I mean, consider…if I truly am lost in time, any actions I take here might change the future. A letter can be easily ignored, vague, burnt. But it might do some good. I promise to write her a letter, if you promise to get me home.”
Erik considered this. At length, he nodded. “She loves another.” With this last bit of information, he turned – somehow majestic, for all that was wrong with him. “Come. I needn’t build anything. My opera house has power enough for you. The chandelier is newly electrified.”
Erik did the physical work, setting the cage up on the roof of the Palais Garnier and splicing the electrical line from the chandelier into it, overshadowed by the immense statues that called the roof home.
Meanwhile, with the assistance of a tattered French dictionary that had once belonged to Monsieur Erik’s poor mother, I wrote my letter.
By the time he was ready for me, it was finished and in my pocket. I entered the cage and coaxed the screen to life, heartened to find it glowing more brightly than before. Erik marveled as I spun my fingers over the touch screen, accessing the administration panel – or what I figured was the administration panel. For a dummy machine, Samedi and Chase had gone to great lengths to make it seem real.
I dialed down, and found that the connection with the home unit was stronger than before. I dug a little deeper, and was able to boost that power still further. Soon I was ready to try, my fingers trembling. It all seemed so silly, so futile – as if I were acting out a part in a play. I’d gotten here, but I still couldn’t imagine actually traveling home.
Monsieur Erik closed and latched the door. He passed me my bracelet and mobile phone, though he parted with the latter reluctantly. That was when I felt my first true stab of pity. To think that Nora Dearly adored that undead, overglorified soldier boy of hers and that this living man, for all his eccentricities, might truly die alone. For a moment, I wanted to take him with me – to a place where he could pass himself off as a member of the living dead and perhaps enjoy a little of life. At least he would be able to walk in the sun.
The First Victorians really did have it worse.
“Bon voyage,” he said, voice dry.
I removed the letter from my pocket. I was just about to pass it through the bars to him when the machine began to shake. I turned around, gasping, and realized that the bustle of my dress had knocked into the screen, somehow activating the button.
He was gone before I could blink. The entire world was gone.
“No!” I screamed.
That was the last thing I heard until I ended up on the floor of Nora Dearly’s parlor, with everyone shouting and macaroons and teacups falling like hailstones. Apparently I’d not changed history that significantly. Everyone was still standing precisely where I’d left them, at least from what I could see. I might’ve been gone all of ten seconds. Dr. Samedi’s body was shaking Dr. Chase by the shoulders, while his head yelled from the corner, “How would your father like me now, eh?!”
Renfield rushed for the cage, opening the door with a worried, “My stars!”
“Dead,” I choked out, before he even had me free. “Nora Dearly, you are dead! Double dead! Permanently-not-talking-dead!”
“Which is single-dead, for me! And I didn’t do that!” Nora shouted, black curls bouncing. “My God, what the hell happened?”
“Talk., girl.” Samedi’s body was marching toward me. “Spill. What did you see? What did you do?”
Tearing myself from Renfield’s cold hands, I ran. For the second time, I forgot my hat and gloves. I made my way out of the parlor and out the front door, into the Elysian Fields, the underground housing complex where the Dearly mansion was located. The idea that I was still underground made my breath come fast and hot, and I struggled to keep myself upright. By the time I burst through the gatehouse and out into the real sunlight of New Victorian Nicaragua, I was sobbing so hard that I couldn’t breathe. It wasn’t simply that I hadn’t been able to help the man – it was everything. It was everything.
As I took a seat by the side of the road, I groped about in my pocket and found the letter. I unfolded it messily, the paper tearing, and held it before my eyes.
You don’t know me. You never will.
I know that you love a handsome man, and that an ugly one loves you.
I urge you to consider not what you do feel for the one you plan to choose, but what you will feel for the one you leave behind. Which man would it pain you more to forever wonder about?
For what it’s worth, I think bone is capable of preserving love more truly than flesh ever could. Flesh melts away. Flesh means nothing. Bone can be carved, and scarred, and carried. Bone endures.
I’ve made my decision.
I wish you peace with yours. I already know I will never have it.
I calmed myself. I wiped my face with the hem of my skirt.
I tore the letter into tiny bits.
Lia Habel was born in Jamestown, NY – as far as it’s physically possible to get from New York City and still be in the same state, and official spooky abandoned farmhouse territory. As an only child of good geek stock (her mother still attends San Diego Comic-Con yearly, and her father is still an early tech adopter), young Lia was lovingly reared on horror movies, video games, and Victorian novels. She developed an affection for horror movie monsters early on, often challenging her weary mother with lists of reasons why Jason Voorhees might yet be saved or excuses for Darkman’s cackling insanity. As she grew older and her natural sympathy extended to ever more serial killers, swamp monsters, sentient fanged beasts, and reanimated gents, her mother began to worry what her daughter might one day bring home.
Despite this promising start, Lia went on to live an unremarkable life. Although she entertained vague thoughts of one day writing (comic books, specifically), it was only her love of literature that compelled her to pursue her B.A. in English Lit from SUNY Buffalo. Afterwards, ever the generalist and lover of Old Things, Lia moved to the UK to attend the University of Leicester and get her M.A. in Museum Studies. Several scattered internships and jobs followed, but Lia was never able to obtain long-term, serious work in her chosen field. In order to support herself, she at different times worked as a makeup artist, retail clerk, envelope-opener, door guard, and substitute teacher. Success never seemed to be hers, and she wrote the first draft of Dearly, Departed while unemployed for the fifth or sixth time. She had all of $10 in her bank account when she received her first check for it.
Miss Habel currently still lives in Jamestown, with three former alley cats and far too many Victorian ball gowns. She enjoys attending anachronistic and steampunk events, watching zombie movies (her goal is to watch every zombie movie ever made), and collecting Victorian and Edwardian books. She still hopes one day to run into the beautiful monster of her dreams, but would settle for the reincarnation of Vincent Price.
Want to read more from Lia Habel?
This giveaway is provided by Random House/Del Rey
Three winners will each receive a copy of Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel
Available on October 18, 2011 from Random House/Del Rey
About the Book:
Love can never die.
Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie?
The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune, and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses.
But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.
In Dearly, Departed, steampunk meets romance meets walking-dead thriller, spawning a madly imaginative novel of rip-roaring adventure, spine-tingling suspense, and macabre comedy that forever redefines the concept of undying love.
Click HERE to read an excerpt
1. Leave a comment for Lia, let us know what you think of this fable, book or series.
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3. Giveaway is open to U.S. and Canada only.
4. Please include your email address in your comment.
5. All Fantastic Fables winners will be announced on September 7th.
6. The winner will be picked with the help of Random.org.
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