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An Octopus, a Time Traveler, and an Author…

...walk into a lighthouse. Okay, they run.

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I think I may have mentioned once or a thousand times that weird things happen inside my head when I’m trying to write a story. Don’t get me wrong, I can set limits around my muse—a few. 

When I’m writing a scifi story, my muse tends to stick to scifi elements for the most part. I mean, flamingos did happen in Found Girl. Lol

But how Specters in the Storm happened? That might be the weirdest mashup yet. 

It started out to be a steampunk novel, but I had to put it aside to work on a book that my readers actually wanted. I can’t remember which now. It kind of grumbled in the back of my mind, like a surly teenager who has been grounded. 

While it was grumbling there, a friend invited me to be a panel with her—a steampunk panel about octopuses (yes, that is correct, you learn many things on panels haha). Because of the panel and my research to be on the panel, I had a random thought that it would be fun to have an octopus in a story…

You see what is happening here, right? The pattern? 

I’ve always liked lighthouses…

And another friend contacted me about putting a book in a paranormal boxed set she was putting together. It could be novella length, but it had to be paranormal.

Hmmm….ghosts? Specters? 

All the above sort of flowed together. I pulled out the bits of the story I had written. I rewrote them, tossed in my octopus, a time traveler, and a lighthouse (the lighthouse in the story actually exists) and…

Specters in the Storm happened. 

It’s creepy. It’s funny. Yeah, it’s weird, but I had fun writing it. And Octavius the octopus is pretty cool (in my humble opinion). 

Here’s an extended excerpt for you: 

Ernest didn’t position Winston at the prow, though he’d been tempted. It was their function to occupy high-risk places, but he needed human eyes and instincts, his human responses, as they cautiously chugged toward the edge of the storm. Below them, the sea appeared to grow calmer—almost becalmed—as they pierced the first edges of the trailing fog. Wisps of it wrapped around their stacks and trailed along the sides of the airship like very long, exploratory fingers.

There was a small bump as if they’d passed through something resistant, then a jerk as the airship’s speed increased slightly. It almost seemed, after that initial resistance, that something now pulled them forward faster. Alarmed by that thought, he rapped out an order, and the engines slowed. To his relief, so did their forward speed. Conversely, he now wished he hadn’t slowed. A pure scientist, he had not believed in anything outside his sight and sound, but he’d learned the hard way that there were other senses, ones that warned of danger before it was seen. If he’d trusted it back then—

He snapped off the thought that threatened to pull him into the past, distracting him from this very present peril. 

The only sound came from the engines and those sounded muffled, as though the thick air acted as a dampener. Even the sound of his breathing seemed muted, felt labored as if the thick air entered his lungs reluctantly. 

When they were fully under the storm, the fog fell away, drifting back toward the outer edge once more. There were probably air currents he could not feel, he told himself, currents caused by their passage. He needed the rational in the face of the irrational. It was darker under the storm, but it would be. Though the water ahead was calm, the storm showed an observable circulation, at least from what he could see through the murk. The shape of the storm was that of something viscous pushed through a funnel, the spirals thicker at the edges, then thinning as they approached the center. He was too far from that center to see if there was a defined eye, though this storm appeared to lack other recorded characteristics of a cyclonic storm. 

The smell of burning was stronger now, and the air tasted coppery. He was reminded, he frowned, of a blacksmith’s forge. Fire and brimstone. It did not fit the general conception of hell. Fire and water were, for the most part, mutually exclusive. Unless there was something in there…his skin crawled, and he felt an urgent need to turn back. He suppressed it with an effort. 

The stacks shuddered as if they’d come into contact with something. The top of the dirigible was lost in the dark clouds, so he ordered a few more feet of descent. The sturdy airship drifted lower, skimming along just barely above the surface of the almost motionless water. The shudder stopped. 

They moved forward with more ease. It became easier to breathe. Once more he resisted the urge to increase speed. It would be unwise to expend too much of their fuel reserves when there was so much he didn’t know about what might be ahead. Their progress was steady and unimpeded. He should have felt better. 

He didn’t. 

The sensation of being watched crept over him. He needed to look up. He feared to do so. Off to his left, the setting sun sent rays of light under the storm, though this light did not reach them. It acted more like a distant beacon. And indicated that the storm had limits, an end if only he could reach it. The sight of the distant light eased the growing panic, gave him hope, though the sense of being watched did not ease. If anything, it became worse. The sensation was one of animus, but more than that. He felt fear in there. Anger, malice, nothing positive. His hands gripped the gunwale until his knuckles turned white. He tried to speak, but his throat went dry and closed as if something gripped it to hold in the call for assistance from his automatons. 

He wanted to claw at that hold, but he couldn’t let go of the gunwale. Couldn’t move. His chin started to lift as if impelled. When he could fight no longer, when he thought he must look and die, he was distracted by movement along the surface of the water. He blinked, sure it must be an illusion. But the sight of it, for whatever reason, eased the sense that he could not move or speak. 

“Winston! ‘Ware!” He called out the alert command. This was not his imagination, he realized. It was real. The wake made a perfect “V,” like an arrow pointing straight at him, with waves falling away from the edges of something just under the surface. It came on, swift and straight as an arrow. 

A sort of howl, like the wind, but not like it either, sounded above him, then the surface of the water came to a boil. Out of the maelstrom, he saw—

Tentacles? 

A different kind of panic rose inside him. Giant tentacles. 

He started to back from the edge as two of the monstrous things reached up, sliding along the bow, then gripping the gunwale close to where he’d stood. 

“Ware!” he called again, the sound more a croak than a call. 

A large red dome rose from the water and giant eyes regarded him for a long moment. 

There was another howl, like a wind he couldn’t feel. A jerk. Then a jolt as The Weatherman slammed into the surface of the water, yanked downward by the tentacled grip. 

Ernest flew backward hitting the deck hard enough to knock the wind out of him. Just before his head connected with wood, he saw what he’d feared to see…

…faces…

Thousands of them. 

The specters in the storm…

* * * * *

I don’t know whether to hope you enjoy the excerpt because it is creepy. Lol So I’ll just hope, instead, that you better understand how I wanted into writing a paranormal, ghost, detective, time travel, steampunk story. 

Wow, that kind of made my head hurt.

Perilously yours,

Pauline

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