Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Steel Dragon - Chapter 5 Excerpt


Senta walked slowly to the door, holding the gold coin in her open hand, as if it might disappear at any moment. She stopped near the steel dragon, sitting on his plinth, and turned back around to look at the woman in the strange black apparel—waiting for additional confirmation that it was indeed all right to take the coin and go to the toy store. Zurfina waved her on. The steel dragon let out a long hiss.

“Cheeky twonk!” said Senta.

The steel dragon, with his mouth the size of a house cat’s, took a snap at her. She jumped back and squealed. Then she dashed out the door, down the two flights of stairs and through the shop filled with strange translucent proprietors and strange translucent customers. She found herself once again on the street. People were walking up and down the cement sidewalk. Steam carriages were driving up and down the cobblestone street. The horse drawn trolley was moving along at its same clopping pace. And Senta stood in her strange black costume, with black and white striped legs—the only new clothes she had ever owned—clutching more money than she had ever dreamed of holding.

Closing her fist tightly around the coin, Senta took off at her fastest down the street, around the corner and down Prince Tybalt Boulevard. She was running faster than she had ever run. She thought that, to the other people on the street, she must appear nothing more than a black streak flying by like magic. Like magic! She was just about to reach the corner of Avenue Phoenix, around which sat the toy store, when her feet suddenly stopped and of their own accord, took her into the alley just behind the row of stores. She stood against the wall and opened her left hand to look at the coin. Magic! She pointed at the coin with her right index finger.

“Uuthanum,” she said, and twirled her finger.

The coin flipped over in her palm.

“Uuthanum,” she said, again twirling her finger.

This time the coin sat up on its edge and began to spin.

She could do magic!

“Hey, gimme that!” said a voice nearby.

Senta looked up to see a boy a few feet away from her. He had been sitting in a pile of trash, but now rose to his feet. He was a bit older and about twice as thick as Senta, but about the same height. He wore a pair of pants that might have once been white, but now were decidedly dark grey. His shirt, if the upside down writing on the front were any indication, had once been a sack of Farmer’s Best Grade “A” Flour.

“Gimme that.”

Senta closed her fist around the decimark and put her hand behind her back, but she didn’t say anything. The boy moved closer and balled up his fist. Senta pointed at him with her right index finger.

“Uuthanum!” she said.

She didn’t think it would really work, but if she could flip the boy over, like the coin, then she could run back out onto the street. The boy didn’t flip over. Instead, a blue cone sprang from her outstretched finger, expanding to engulf the boy. There was a crackling sound. The boy’s skin turned blue. Frost formed on his hair, his eyelashes, and his nose. Senta pulled her finger back, but the cone remained for a moment before fading. The end of the boy’s nose turned black. He opened his mouth to scream, but his lips cracked and began to bleed. He turned to run, and then fell screaming. He got back up and ran away down the alley, but he had left a frozen big toe on the ground where he had fallen.

Senta walked over and bent down to look at the frozen big toe on the packed dirt ground of the alley. She had a sudden urge to pick it up and put it in her pocket, but she didn’t. She did reach out and touch it with her finger. It wobbled slightly. Standing back up, she walked out of the alley and around the corner to the front of Humboldt’s Fine Toys. The same toys were in the window that had been there when she had last looked inside—the life-like, singing bird; the mechanical ships, trains, and steam carriages; and the doll. With a feeling she had never felt before and could not put a name to, Senta walked over to the door, pushed it open, and walked inside.

A bell hanging above the door chimed as Senta walked in. Though brightly lit, the room seemed somehow darker than it really was because it was so filled with toys. Overflowing counters left only tiny little aisles through which to negotiate. There was no shopkeeper to be seen, but the girl heard a muffled call from the back, and a moment later a man walked into the main shop. He was an older man with thinning grey hair and a bushy mustache, wearing a white shirt with brown suspenders. He wore gold-framed pince-nez glasses. When he saw the child standing in his store, with fine, new, frighteningly inky black clothing, he visibly started.

“Hello, young miss,” he said. “What can I do for you today?”

“I want the doll.”

“Which doll?”

Senta looked around, suddenly realizing that there were scores, maybe hundreds of dolls in the shop. There were dolls on the counters and dolls on the shelves along the back wall. There were even dolls hanging from the ceiling. Most, like the one in the window, were cloth-bodied dolls, with ceramic hands and feet. Some wore beautiful miniature gowns, though others wore day dresses. They ranged in size from a petit six inches to one which was nearly as tall as Senta.

“I want the doll in the window.”

Nodding, the man went to the window and retrieved the doll. He carefully held it by its cloth body, with its porcelain face peeking over the top of his hand and the cloth legs with black porcelain shoes dangling below it. He walked back to the counter and slipping back behind it, set the doll down in front of Senta.

“I can see the attraction,” said the toy maker.

Senta suddenly realized that the doll looked like her; or rather she now looked like the doll. She hadn’t this morning when she had gotten up, but now she had a new black dress, and shiny new black shoes, and a new short haircut.

“It’s four marks,” said the toy maker.

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