Thank you, author and editor Dennis De Rose for responding to last Wednesday’s Visual Writing Prompt. I’m happy to be sharing your story here! Dennis happy to hear any feedback so comments are welcome!
“Opa, can you tell me a bedtime story? I’ve had a grueling day and I’m all keyed up.”
“Mikey, how can a six-year-old have a grueling day and be keyed up?”
“Opa, age has nothing to do with it. I need your help. Dad told me I had to be asleep in twenty minutes. I was already tensed up and now look at my fingernails. Opa, my life is a roller-coaster. And you’re the only one can make the ride as smooth as pudding.”
“Mikey, I love your analogies.”
“Opa, please, I don’t care about allergies. I need to relax and you know it only works with you.” Analogies and allergies, close enough…
“OK Mikey, get under the covers and let me turn the lights down. Let me think for a second. Are you ready for a hum-dinger? You want happy or scary?”
“Opa, remember, I am almost seven. I can handle anything. But Opa, don’t turn those lights down all the way. You know how I get. Before you start, what’s the title? You know the title has to come first.”
“How right you are Mikey. This story is entitled Steampunk Tea. When I was little, just about your age or a little older… I’ll never forget one bitter cold winter night…”
“Stop Opa, you know what I have to ask you?” I shook my head. “What in the world is steampunk?”
“Steampunk is something that takes place in the past; you know history, when a lot of machines were run by steam, before electricity, with elements of science fiction thrown in for good measure.”
Well, I kinda get it but it’s a little foggy. Like Star Trek but before the electric light was invented which must have been hundreds of years ago.” I patted Mikey on the head.
“… I thought I heard a noise in my closet. I woke up out of a sound sleep. Next thing you know I saw a big shadow by the closet door so I high-tailed it under my bed, grabbing my blanket and pillow in case I needed to build a fort. I knew the corner was the safest place to be. This wasn’t my first rodeo. But when I leaned up against it, the corner felt funny, like a sponge…”
“Wait Opa, when did you go to a rodeo?”
“Mikey, I’ve never been to a rodeo. When I said ‘not my first rodeo’ I meant I had been under the bed many times. It’s just an expression.”
Oh, OK, I’ve been to that rodeo too. I’ll have to remember that. Let me place that in my memory bank.” I just smiled and continued.
“… Next thing you know the sponge wall sucked me in and threw me out the other side. But I was lucky. I landed on a trampoline and I was dressed all warm and toasty.”
“A trampoline, Opa, are you making this up as you go along? This story sounds fishy to me.”
“Mikey, I swear I am telling the truth. This is for real. Now, where was I. So, there was a pretty girl standing next to the gadget, like she was expecting me.”
“Hey, boy, where did you come from?” After I stopped bouncing, I got a good look at her. I could tell she was older than me. Her long red hair was tied up with pink ribbons; her cheeks were red probably from the cold.
I sat on the edge of the contraption just looking around, trying to get a sense of my unreal surroundings. It was dark, cold and foggy to beat the band. Looking over my shoulder, I saw four giant blinking teapots, each one sitting atop four huge spaceship-like legs on rubber wheels. My mouth fell open, my eyes grew large and I started to shake. It was hard to breathe.
The girl stamped her foot to get my attention. “Boy, I asked you a question. What’s your name and where did you come from?”
After she helped me down, I calmed down and answered her questions. “My name’s Dennis and I’m from New Holland, Michigan. And to answer your next question I don’t know how I got here. I was under my bed one second and bouncing on that thing the next.”
She looked at me and shrugged her shoulders. I didn’t know what that meant so I just stood there, waiting. “Come with me and I’ll show you around. Don’t be afraid. By the way, my name’s Carla and I’m almost eleven. Follow me.”
Carla grabbed my hand and all of sudden I didn’t feel the cold and I stopped shaking. Walking toward the lights, the teapot structures grew clearer and I saw people walking back-and-forth, talking to their neighbors. There were old bikes scattered about. The people were dressed funny. Some of the men wore cowboy hats, dungarees and heavy cotton work coats. The women wore bonnets, funny long hoop skirts and heavy wool shawls. The four teapots were tethered and each one had a metal ladder going from bottom to top. Walking closer, I dared to touch the hollow leg of the first teapot.
Carla grabbed my other hand. “Don’t touch that; you’ll burn yourself. Each pot is propelled by a steam engine located at the top, in the lid. Steam is forced to the wheels under high pressure. We are one of the clans, the Tea clan, and we move from place to place trading with other clans. This is our pot. Stay here while I talk to my Ma and Pa.”
I stood there listening to people speaking a language I had never heard before and watching kids playing some sort of tag game, running around the legs and wheels from one structure to the next.
Carla tapped me on the shoulder and my hair stood on end. “What’s wrong, breathe.” She smiled and her eyes lit up. “I asked Ma and Pa if you could stay with us for a while until we can figure out how to get you home again. Climb up but be careful. I will be right behind you. Take your time.”
We climbed up and through a door, but not any door I’d ever seen; there was no doorknob and it wasn’t on hinges. The door was made of a thin rubbery self-sealing material. “What the blazes is that? And it’s warm in here.”
“We traded for that new door stuff. My Pa tried to explain it to me but it’s too technical. I’ll figure it out later, he told me. The heat is forced down through vents in the ceiling. This is the second floor. Did you notice the bottoms of the kettles glowed red? Each home has a coal bin at the back; the coal is fed by conveyor belt to the fire pot. The bottom floor is a little warmer. We’re lucky the floor is heavily insulated. Oh, I forgot to tell you to take off your shoes and those thin socks.”
“Carla, my feet get cold easy. What am I going to wear?”
“Here, I have an extra pair of wooden shoes and heavy wool socks. We all wear wooden shoes. How do they feel? If you like them you can keep them.”
“You know, they feel very comfortable and my feet are toasty. Usually my feet are cold even wearing my heaviest socks. Thank you.”
“Would you like something to eat and drink? The cold always makes me hungry. We have some goat cheese, some homemade black bread and iced tea in the cooler.” I was getting sleepy so I just shook my head. “I have to go downstairs. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
We sat together at a low table in the center of the room. “Denny, how do you like the meal? I know it’s not much…”
I looked up from my plate. Carla had surprised me. No one had ever called me Denny. “I never had goat cheese or black bread but I like it. The cold tea reminds me of home. Say, something has been bugging me. How come you can speak English but everyone else speaks a different language?”
“I speak English because you do. I cannot explain that. It’s like I’ve always known English. My parents and their friends speak Dutch.” I tried to wrap my mind around that but like other things I’d seen, I just couldn’t figure it out.
“Say, Carla, I’m kind of tired. Is there someplace I can rest for a bit? We can work on me getting home tomorrow.” Carla nodded and guided me to a darkened section of the room divided into three heavy-curtained bedrooms.
“Here, this is the extra bed. Sometimes I have a friend over. Tonight you are my friend.” I had never seen a featherbed before. As I lay down she helped me remove the wooden shoes but the wool socks were so warm I decided to keep them on. She placed a light blanket over me as she bent down and kissed me on the cheek. I never heard her parents come in.
“Mikey, when I opened my eyes I was cozy in my own bed still wearing the same cloths.”
“Opa, do you expect to believe that wild story? I mean, I loved the story but…”
“Well, Mikey, you don’t have to believe me but look under your bed.”
Mikey’s eyes grew as big as saucers. “A Pair of old wooden shoes and heavy wool socks! Opa, I can’t believe it. How…?”
“That’s for you to decide. But they’re yours now if you want them.”
A tear rolled down his cheek. “Opa, you can turn the light off now and thanks for everything.”
I kissed him on the cheek. He smiled at me and gave me a big hug. The door closed with the softest click.
Dennis is a wonderful storyteller and a good friend. See below for links to his other writing and his editing business.