Title: Gravely Inanimated
Author: Esther Wheelmaker
Genre: Steampunk YA, Romance Adventure
Tour Host: Lady Amber's Tours
It has been thirty years since England was plagued by zombies. Humans fear for their lives while the dead kill the living.
By the cover of night, a man known only as Aeron hunts these creatures. On one foggy evening he finds Lucille Knight's life in jeopardy and Aeron's interest is instantly peaked when he saves the young lady.
But Aeron will have competition when Lucy meets Lord Garrett Ashdown, son of the Inventor, Earl Thomas.
Lucy is drawn to the masked man and equally mysterious Lord. With one concealing his true identity and the other hiding a ghastly secret, she does not know which one is less dangerous.
Will she be able to be with the man she chooses when she learns the awful truth?
Zombies limped toward me, bloody and disfigured, a chaste moon slinging shadows against their lurching fingers. Their crimson-splattered mouths were hungry for my flesh. A few pulled the lower half of their bodies with their ashen, supple hands.
Some moved faster than others; they must have fed recently. How I had been stupid enough to head home from a friend’s house at such a late hour baffled me now. Thirty years since the zombie apocalypse and sixteen years since my birth meant I had grown up knowing what should and should not be done. Yet here I was. Fear caused me to think as clear as a drunkard bent over a garbage pail.
Even though Queen Victoria had commanded a good majority of her soldiers into the streets of England to protect her people, it still remained a bloody mess. Some of us were still living with that false sense of security though.
I screamed the sound echoing off the brick buildings. The streets were empty. Smart people were safe at home. The others were in taverns dancing and drinking. I wondered if anyone heard me or if everyone was ignoring me, as I had done so many times before.
Puddles of water splashed against me as I ran. My boots kept my feet warm, breath heavy against the cold. My hand caught my fall as I skidded to the left, the back of my leather skirt ripping against a wooden box I raced past. The whistle of a train broke through the sound of death following close behind. I ran into a chain-linked fence, and my rubber soles scraped against the stone road as I came to a halt. I had misjudged my aim. I had meant to go down Lily Road, toward my house. Instead I went down Dead End Road…literally.
With my back against the fence, I stared through my strands of shoddy raspberry-colored hair and into the dead faces before me. Ten of them. Slow and stupid, but large in numbers. The queen tried to keep these diseased creatures under wraps. Over the last few months, they began multiplying and soon became too much for our countries troops.
Again, I let out a petrified scream, but no soldier came. I imagined my neighbors shutting their windows and locking their doors, like I had done so many times before. Another attack wasn’t anything new, and everyone depended on the Queen’s men to help.
Here I was, at the mercy of these demons, my black-and-white thigh-high stockings slithering down from my ruffled petticoat. Even with gloves covering my hands, the coolness of the steel gate behind me seeped through.
Crusty dried blood covered the mouth of the zombie closest to me, and I shut my eyes when his mouth showed teeth stained with yellow.
“You can’t see me, you can’t see me.” I mumbled a childish thought, one would have when only a tot.
The static tenor of a thunderous grinding voice reverberated in my ears. I opened my eyes. What sounded like the ringing of metal slicing through brittle rock was a sword splitting the flesh and bone of the zombie in front of me. I tried to back into the chain-linked fence, hoping to meld into it and be free from the havoc before me. Blood doused my chest; my eyebrows creased my forehead, my mouth deepening with a frown.
A zombie with haggard brown pieces of hair staggered up to me. Her hand crept toward my face. My muscles clenched, matching my corset-tightened waist. I pressed the side of my face against the steel to the point I knew it would leave an impression. Peeking through the corner of my eye, I witnessed a blade strike her temple. The blood of the monster squirted against me. I flinched.
A gloved hand grabbed my shoulder, and an arm came under me before I experienced cool air sweeping against my sweaty face. The ground became distant as I was lifted over the fence and to the open road on the other side. My blood pumped with fright while I pounded the body holding me, afraid I had been captured by another type of monster. Arms grasped me closer as if I was a bride and we were crossing the threshold.
“Stop that or I’ll toss you back to be food.” He had an acute amorous voice.
One calloused hand was around my thigh and his other held my waist. The rapid wind assaulted us, he took us both away from the zombies now obscured in my rear view.
I was being rescued by some pale stranger with long black hair hiding behind a mask. Thoughts turned into a jumbled mess as I wondered if I should scream for rescue or hold on tighter. How could I know if he was truly here to help me or saved me only to murder me himself?
It was hard to see through it all, but I knew his eyes were boring into me. My breath caught as I feared what we might run into with his vision diverted. My face flushed while fear continued to sear through my stomach with a stabbing sensation.
“Stop looking at me and start looking at where you are going!”
The strange man’s face hardened in contrast to his one high apple-shaped cheek bone I could see brushed with a light pink color. One eye had a monocle between his eyebrow and bottom lid, with two other monocles reaching up above the other. Through the dark lenses, I thought I glimpsed a red eye similar to those of the zombies.
His dimpled cheeks creased into a smile. “Don’t worry, I can do both,” he assured me, yet my heart still pummeled and the stinging prickles against my skin gave no whisper of disappearing.
“Put me down!” Between my endorphins running rapid, the shear shame of needing saving, and my fear of this stranger, I decided to resort to indignation.
He slowed until he was at a jog. Now I could clearly see that his other eye was protected by a mask covering half of his face. The plate was made of leather with cog teeth at the bottom surrounded by a lighter beige oxhide. It appeared menacing and didn’t help to drown my dread in mud.
“Die by zombie, die by running into a wall, they both leave my soul diminished.”
“What? No thank you?” He came to a stop, still holding me firmly.
My lips tightened with a hardness I’d inherited from my father. “Thank you, you silly boy.” I squirmed until he let me down. My knees buckled. He caught me before I fell and kept me upright. I tried to push him away. “I don’t need your help.”
He didn’t even budge. “It would not appear that way.” He crossed his arms and cocked an eyebrow.
When my legs felt sturdy, I stepped back and glared straight into his monocle. “I can take care of myself. Thank you for your help, but please leave me be.” My hand searched inside my pocket for my steam-ignited pistol, but I found nothing. I had left it on top of my dresser at home. Bloody hell, I was more absent-headed than normal tonight.
He shook his head, his hair swung back and forth, stark against his pale face. “You are such a disappointment as a woman.”
I gasped. “Pardon me?” My face pinched, and I clenched my fists.
He sighed heavily as if bored with me. “I am met with hostility even though I saved your life.”
“How dare you! What is your name? I shall make it a sin to be spoken.”
The braveness of his chuckle along with his grin made me step back. “Aeron, and please make my name a sin to speak. You are a ghastly mess and should be taught proper manners.”
With my feet planted on the pavement, I grew leery of what he might want in return for saving my life. The desperate groan of the zombies had faded, and my house was less than a block away. All I wanted to do was lay my head down to meet my pillow.
“Thank you.” I tried to put more softness behind the words, but my gritted teeth didn’t help. “I’ll be fine now.”
“You’re welcome, even though you are quite difficult.” His words sent bolts of electricity through my core. I turned around so he wouldn’t see the anger on face. “Try to keep yourself safe. I won’t always be around to save you.” His nonchalance was insulting, as if he thought I was a simpleton was loud and clear.
God, he was so cocky! I didn’t need him, or anyone else, coming to my rescue. If he hadn’t shown up, I would have figured a way out. “I’ll be just fine!”
The emptiness became apparent when the silence overcame the dim scenery around me. He had gone without a goodbye, and I jogged the rest of the way home. After removing the long chain from around my neck, I picked out the correct key and unlocked the door. I lived with my father and several servants in a double townhouse. We weren’t as upper class as that Aeron man thought, but we were known well enough throughout the city.
When I was inside, I turned the golden knob to snap the lock back in place. Two automated arms came over the door and clasped each other at the mechanical wrists for extra security.
I leaned back. My head hit the hard wood of the door, and I let out a breath. Dragging my feet up the stairs, I almost made it to my room without a hitch when I a squeak from down the hall caught my attention.
“Good evening, Father,” I said without looking.
“How many times are we going to have to go over this before I get it through that thick skull of yours? Walking around after sunset is dangerous, and you are forbidden to do so!”
Forcing a bright smile, I went to him and wrapped my arms around his neck. “I’m fine, Father. Look!” When I stepped back, I opened my arms wide and did a circle. “See?”
“Bloody hell, Lucy, look at you. Tights falling, skirt raised, hair askew… What were you doing tonight?”
Bollocks, I should have fixed my clothing when I came in. “I was…I was running home because I heard a noise.” That was ten zombies behind me, hungry for my brains. “I came from Emily’s house. I lost track of time.”
“You will help Olivia with the dishes after breakfast tomorrow!”
“I am sixteen years old, Father! You must stop treating me as though I am a mere child!”
“Until you are taking care of a husband of your own, you will do as I say.” His mustache twitched. “Now go to bed!”
With a rumble of frustration, I stomped my foot and went off to my room. The first thing I did was tear off my clothes, leaving them were they landed, and changed into a long white gown before going to the vanity and taking a brush to my knotted locks.
My father never talked about what happened when the zombies first rose, but I knew he had been through a lot. A vast majority of England had been wiped out when they first showed up.
The zombies favored the night when partiers and drinkers were susceptible. From watching several during the day, it did give the impression that they were much weaker when the sun was up.
If it had not been for the famous inventor Earl Thomas Ashdown and all of his automatons, England would be nothing more than a feasting ground for those disgusting creatures. When more time passed, his steam-powered inventions became more advanced and helped us build an army that could at least defend England from the creatures. However, with one dead, it was as if three more emerged. As of late, it seemed that more automatons were in need, and it had been over a year since a new model was made.
Many stories about how the zombies came to be floated around. The most popular story became the gossip of a voodoo queen who obtained the souls of unsuspecting humans. It had been said that she captured the victim’s shadow, and then, little by little, took hold of their body until she possessed the entire person. The person would die, and the voodoo queen would raise them from the grave later that night and put them into a comatose trance. Which turned them into a slave, needing only needed human brains, flesh, and blood to survive.
After that, the voodoo queen’s curse passed from the zombie to whatever human it drew blood from. One would become nothing more than an animated corpse soon to haunt the streets in tattered rags without any memory of whom or what they once were…or, at least, that was the rumor. Soldiers searched for the queen behind the wreckage, but not much was found to prove it.
There was no other explanation, and the Royal Family was known for their secrets and keeping their people calm…well, calmer state by never acknowledging such a person existed. I could imagine the riots that would ensue, people searching any house they pleased to find out where she was.
For a moment I stopped brushing my hair. I must say, I do wonder if their soul was trapped inside their body, and they realize everything they are doing even though they don’t really want to do it. They’re just remnants of a person who once was, dreaming of death as their flesh rots, entirely subservient and bound to the ascendancy of that wicked queen.
People had whispered that they have seen her; she was said to have on a ball gown made of spider web and goblin silk, dirty matted hair twisted into dreadlocks, wild eyes that flashed red when looked into directly and dark skin that was no smoother than that of an alligator. Or so people alleged. I wasn’t sure anyone could see such a woman and not fall over dead where they stood! How ghastly it would be. I shuddered at the thought and put my brush down.
The idea was less speculation since the outbreak began in London instead of somewhere else around the world.
My bay window beckoned to me. Sitting on the thin cushion, I pressed my finger against the glass filled with condensation and pushed open the French-style window. Zombies had yet to climb trees to get to anyone so I didn’t fear my window being open.
“I see you are home safe.”
I covered my mouth before a small yelp came from me. When I scanned the street, I noticed Aeron leaning against a small tree. “Go away.” I tried to keep my voice low so my father wouldn’t hear.
“I only wanted to make sure I had not gone out of my way for you to get into trouble a few steps from your house, Miss Knight.”
He must have read my surname off our plaque. Shaking my head, I pulled the window shut and took to my bed, raising the covers high over my body. “What an annoying boy.”
Still, he did save my life, the little voice in my head said as I stared up at the canopy above.
Why did I treat him so harshly when he only wanted to keep me alive? I turned on my side and hugged my pillow tighter. Maybe it had been the suddenness of it all. I became caught up in the moment, truly upset with myself for being so naive and using him to take my anger out on him instead of berating myself. I was such a clever girl. He was still a stupid boy though.
Sleep swept over me after that, and it wasn’t until the sun rose that I did as well. My wrinkled sheets testified to my tossing and turning all night. It would take a warm bath and a good breakfast to brighten my mood.
My father, Julian Knight, was already at the breakfast table when I trotted into the room. I wavered for a moment, unsure if he wanted my company after the tiff we had last night. Without so much as a glance at me, he kept his nose buried in the morning paper while the maid pulled out my chair. He could have at least stood when I entered the room, but it was just the two of us, and dispensed formalities if he was being stubborn and only the two of us witnessed the lack of manners.
I buttered a slice of darkened bread.
“Good morning, Father,” I offered to no avail. God, the man could be a mule. “Mrs. North told me to send her greetings. Both Mrs. North and Emily were invited to the party being thrown at Duke Pyle’s residence this weekend. Did we receive an invitation? I was more than mortified that I couldn’t answer such a question.”
His eyes stared at me over his round glasses before he folded the paper and putting it off to the side. “I believe we were invited. I, however, am unsure if I should allow you to accompany me to such an event.” Taking a sip of tea, he wiggled his salt and pepper mustache that matched his neatly trimmed hair. “You have been all over the place lately. Ever since…” His thin lips became a line, and his hazel eyes, which I had inherited, scanned the room. “Ever since the incident.”
My heart fluttered, and warmth overtook my face. “Father, please…” The water forming in my eyes begged to be set free, but I shut them firmly to bargain them away. “I know I let you down last night, but I only let the time slip away because I was with Emily. I will not let it happen again.” Letting the breath of resistance toward my father’s rules dissipate, I got up and made my way over to him. From behind, I wrapped my arms around his wide shoulders and put my chin on top. “Please, Papa?” My voice was but a whimper: soft, sweet, like a child asking for a puppy. “I will be ever so good.”
His cheeks rose high against mine, and I knew I had him. “Fi-i-i-ine. But until then, if you as much as disobey the tiniest of rules, I will have you locked up for a month!”
My father’s rough grey suit was comforting against my skin as I held him firmly for a moment. When I had been a little girl, I would race to let him pick me up into his arms and hold me close after coming home from a long day. His bright tie had the color of a butterfly’s golden wings with a black top hat and goggles he wore when riding on top his steed. He could be such a gracious father at times.
“Thank you, Papa!” I raced back to my seat with a smile. “This is going to be so much fun.” Bouncing a few times in my chair, I took a couple pieces of bacon and munched quietly.
Duke and Duchess Pyle were the richest in the entire district, and it was more than an honor to be invited to an event held by them. Even people from Paris would travel the miles to be here for the evening, zombies or no zombies. It would mean buying a new dress, and for me, that was the best part.
“Don’t forget about helping with the dishes when you are finished.”
My shoulders slumped. I had hoped he would have forgotten that little tidbit.
With Gravely Inanimated (book one) coming to life, she is pounding away on her typewriter to try and get book two out. However, she is easily distracted by sparkly things.
Her background is a mystery and all anyone knows is she loves hugs, corsets, steampunk, books and Mozart….
…Let's face it…Everyone likes a girl with a little mystery.