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Mary Kendall’s Choice


Mary Kendall’s Choice.

A salty tear dripped in a slow cascade from Mary Kendall’s cheek unnoticed. Her shaking hand clutched three pieces of paper. The first two were telegrams. The paper was cheap, wrinkled and embossed with the Harrisburg train station’s logo. The text was hand written. Rough pencil translated dots and dashes into words. They could not be changed. The first message read:

U.S.D.F. Stalwart lost en route. Stop.
All hands lost. Stop.
A. Mccord.

The second was even less verbose. It simply said:

JF NOT RECOVERED. WILL INVESTIGATE. Stop.
E.

Noise from the common room downstairs reached a din that threatened to shake the dust from the rafters. Her room contained only the barest of essentials: A rickety wood frame bed and a table that could topple over with the slightest breath. Mary sat on the coarse wool blanket with the telegrams in one hand, and the third paper in the other.

Mary came to this destitute inn, located on top of Alison’s Hill after collecting her messages. Upon reading about the Stalwart, she had left her employer indefinitely and come here to think, plan and grieve. The neighborhood was an impenetrable shroud of anonymity. She was certain her employer or others of his ilk never set foot in this portion of the city.

The last piece of paper was a technical diagram depicting a human connected to a massive machine by a series of wires. Several Babbage Engines also attached to the person, a driver she presumed. The drawing was for a machine so awful it defied conception. Yet here it was in her hands. It left her with a cold pit in her stomach. Worse, someone knew who and where she was.

A note in spidery script read ‘Meet at stagecoach stop in Boalsburg on October 1 at dusk. Tell No One. Presence is mandatory. Failure will be persecuted with prejudice, starting with family in Illinois.’

The loss from the first telegram and threats in the note stabbed at Mary’s heart. She knew that the Stalwart crashed in Somerset County, one hundred and twenty-five miles away. Even by airship, the journey would take several days. The trip to Boalsburg would be several hours by dirigible. How could she possibly be there and in Somerset at the same time?

The mysterious person behind the schematic managed to locate her. Not an easy task Mary thought, considering the lengths I have gone to hide. She took a second look at the drawing. Tracing over the lines running from the person’s spine with her finger she wondered at the folly of the proposal. Mary was confident that this was not a government project. While they might coerce her to assist them, it would likely be holding her own past against her, not by threatening the lives of ordinary citizens like her family.

The indictment in Chicago still lingered overhead as retribution for pushing the boundaries of science forward. How could she have known that certain drug use would eradicate the buffering and allow too much amperage through the wire into the spine and then the brain? The memories of the man’s screams as his brain cooked inside of his skull haunted her in dreams and while awake.

A loud pounding interrupted her thoughts. A slurred voice called from the hallway: “Lizzy! C’mon open up and see me.”

Mary reached into her rucksack taking a wrench out of it. It was a little more than the length of her forearm and a reddish color. Stepping over a pile of light brown hair, she pressed herself against the wall next to the doorframe. Her bicep swelled against the cotton shirt as she flexed her arm. This was not the first time the lout on the other side had pounded on the wooden portal. He grew more insistent each time.

The door flew inward with a resounding crash and a cascade of wood splinters. A rough man tumbled in after it. Unclean, unshaven and smelling of spilled beer and unwashed skin his red eyes swept the room. Stepping up behind the man, Mary lashed out with the head of the wrench. A sharp crack came from the connection of metal to skull. Like a newly cut tree, the man flopped face first onto the floor. His right leg twitched sporadically. There was nothing for it now. She would have to flee.

After flicking the door closed with her foot, the first thing Mary grabbed was a locket made from a small brass cog. The small object attached to a delicate steel chain and opened on a recessed hinge. Inside was his picture. The wrench went back into the rucksack next to her more refined tools and notebooks. A change of clothes and some other small personal effects rounded out the contents. From her trouser pocket, she took a four-barreled derringer. That went onto the bed while she pulled on knee-high boots and a rough canvas oilskin coat.

The telegrams went into the bag. Mary gathered it and the derringer up and made her way to the door. A groan came from the man on her floor. Pausing briefly to give him a swift kick to the temple Mary felt confident that he would not move for a half-hour at least. It ought to be enough of a head start. She decided to go to Forster Island where the airships docked and find passage out to Somerset. With some luck, she would be able to send a telegram to Waukegan warning her parents of possible danger.

Of course she still had to make it down from the ‘Hill and across the city first. Derringer in hand and determination stamped on her face she left her room. In the taproom, she tossed the balled up schematic into the fireplace, opened the door and stepped out into a gloomy fall morning. Rain fell steadily and bounced off her coat. Shouldering her bag Mary hurried into the grayness with thoughts of a faraway county while clutching the cog-locket tightly.

One Comment
  1. I love this description! A well-told tale! I could see Mary’s attacker falling like a “newly cut tree.” Nice!

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