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August 1, 2014

Sneak Peek: Steampunk Carnival by Cassandra Leuthold


With a gentle lurch, the car rose into the air. Katya grabbed hold of the partitions between the seats, her knuckles bumping the hand of the guest on her left, who had also grabbed for it. Maddox did not reach for a stronghold. His mouth twisted in amusement, watching Katya seek security as everything that held her ascended ten, twenty, thirty feet.

The climb proved gradual and effortless. Once Katya began to relax, she realized how far she could see. The lamplights of the carnival looked beautiful and elegant below them. The slight flickering of the burning gas gleamed off the metal structures throughout the carnival. It lost itself in the velvet of patron jackets and glimmered off their silks. It flashed across buckles on top hats and shoes. It lit up gold and silver jewelry.

Katya could barely breathe. She almost forgot how nervous she had been moments before. The car reached the top of the tower and stopped there, offering its occupants a rare view at the world around them. Katya stared down at the carnival, trying to pick out the details of the band playing in the center of it all. The massive Beast behind it still intimidated, but from this height, Katya marveled in the majesty of its design.

The car shuddered and lowered itself, detaching from its part of the sky. The other occupants chattered to each other excitedly, but Katya could barely form thoughts in her head.

“What do you think?” Maddox asked her.

Katya recited the first thing that came to mind. “The ride lasts for three cycles.” She admonished herself for relying on the only words she knew about the carnival and gave in to sharing Maddox’s enthusiasm. “It’s thrilling.”

The car paused briefly at the bottom before lifting again. Each time it rose, Katya focused on a different part of the carnival. She looked across to the other side, where the Kaleidoscope competed against the game stalls and the Cannon for popularity. It really did shift like a kaleidoscope from this height, the colors of the booths smearing in her vision as they rotated. She looked past Maddox to the El and the food stall beyond it. Magdalene would be handing out cinnamon-sugar desserts and sausages on buns, but Katya was riding the carnival they had staked their lives on. She was riding the dream Brady had worked on years ago. She doubted even he had been able to enjoy it.

The car rested on the ground and stayed there. The operator made his rounds again, helping the patrons get unbuckled and return to their feet. He directed them to an exit gate in the fence. Katya and Maddox filed out with the others to the common grounds of the carnival.

“Where to next?” Maddox prompted.

Katya’s heart pounded with the possibilities. “The coaster.”

“The big one?”

“No, I don’t think I’ll ever be brave enough for that.” Katya watched the Beast’s cars roar high above them. “The smaller one here.”

Katya linked her hand around Maddox’s arm, and they walked to the nearby El. Maddox repeated Katya’s lie to the ticket taker. “Mr. Warden wants us to make sure the coaster’s operating properly.”

The man hurried them past, offering a more courteous front to the waiting customers. “You’ll all have a turn, I assure you. Just a routine inspection.”

Another operator stood a few feet inside the fence, and he motioned for Katya and Maddox to stop where they were. They watched the coaster cars slide and weave their way along the track. A minute later, they slowed into loading position on the platform. The operator stepped over to help the guests out, and once they left the platform, his flexing fingers invited Katya and Maddox toward him. He buckled them into the front seat of the first car.

“Are you nervous now?” Maddox whispered into Katya’s ear.

Katya nodded, but she felt the rush of anticipation filling her chest. “It’s not too fast, is it?”

“You should know.”

“I don’t know. I can’t think of anything except how fun this is.”

The operator filled the remaining seats in the connected cars. With a signal to the ticket taker and the man Katya could not see who ran the switches, the cars jerked forward. This time, Katya and Maddox both reached for the metal grab bar in front of them. A mechanism in the track pulled the train of cars up the initial slope. The passengers behind Katya and Maddox murmured with apprehension and breathed audibly, awaiting the first of many drops.

The train rose steadily, taking its passengers up to a short plateau. Within seconds, the cars slid down, lifting Katya’s stomach into the top of her chest. She let out a shriek amidst the screams and shouts behind her. The train twisted to the left, curving to parallel the outer fence of the carnival. It rose a short distance and fell again, racing its passengers lower toward the ground. A second mechanism pulled the cars even higher than before.

In one graceful motion, the cars slipped down the next slope of track, curving away from the back of the grounds. They dipped down beside the side stage, where Katya could not tell what contest was taking place. The cars sped along, turning left only to bend back to the right. The track led them down beneath the iron structure and returned them safely to the platform.

Katya barely had time to catch her breath before the ride operator unbuckled her belt. She walked with Maddox to the exit gate, where a small wooden sign bore the words Thank You in painted, curling letters.

About the Author


Cassandra Leuthold always writes about love and friendship under pressure.  This is her first time setting such adventures within a 19th-century carnival.  Join Cassandra in counting down to the release of Steampunk Carnival later this summer by clicking the links below.
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