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Title: The Lure (Young Toughs).
Series: Young Toughs.
Publisher: Love in Dark Settings Press.
Publication date: May 2, 2016.
Genres: alternate history | maritime fiction | young adult (crossover fiction).
Tags: family | friendship | 1910s America (Chesapeake Bay island) | masters and servants | watermen (fishermen) | criminals | spirituality themes (reincarnation).
Word count: 9,000.
Buy link: http://duskpeterson.com/youngtoughs/#
"The panic was stronger, now that they had reached the wharf. It was his parents' mightiest rule: Never allow himself to be seen. If, by terrible chance, he met someone in the woods, he must run away immediately."
His entire life has been a secret. Now he must rip open the secret.
Hannibal S. Mercer has lived all his life in an isolated island home with his loving parents and two servants. Hannibal never receives the opportunity to meet anyone else. The older servant doesn't speak to Hannibal. The younger servant might or might not be an ally in time of trouble.
Now trouble has arrived. When hostile strangers invade Hannibal's world, he must uncover the truth his parents have been hiding from him. And then he must make a choice that will determine the course of his life.
With a setting based upon an island on the Chesapeake Bay in the 1910s, this novelette (miniature novel) can be read on its own or as a story in Young Toughs, an alternate history series about the struggles of youths in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Young Toughs is part of Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, a cycle of alternate history series (Young Toughs, Waterman, Life Prison, Commando, Michael's House, The Eternal Dungeon, and Dark Light) about adults and youths on the margins of society, and the people who love them. Set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the novels and stories take place in an alternative version of America that was settled by inhabitants of the Old World in ancient times. As a result, the New World retains certain classical and medieval customs.
Hannibal S. Mercer spent the night beside a secluded creek in the northwestern woods of Barren Island, trying to choose a proper fishing lure. Nothing he tried worked, so he decided to camp out; though it was early autumn, nighttime remained warm. In the morning, he might find the lure he sought.
Bert discovered him there next morning, sleeping peacefully. After that, of course, there was no question of Hannibal staying to lure the fish.
He outraced Bert home, pausing as he reached the clearing between loblolly pines where his parents' house lay. The clearing was well hidden from the shore, but the training he had received since his marking held true. He made sure that his long sleeves fell over his wrists, as his parents had long ago taught him, for reasons he still did not know.
Through a gap in the woods, he glimpsed the double-masted Elsie Pembroke sailing by, its crewmen and culling boys busy at work on the deck. He usually waved to the culling boys when the Elsie Pembroke passed, merely for the fun of knowing that the boys there didn't realize he was a young master; they thought he was a servant like themselves.
Besides, they were the only boys he ever saw. Even Captain Pembroke had stopped coming to dinner, long ago.
Turning his thoughts from the fishing boat, he hurried inside. As he closed the door to the single-floor house, he saw that Ray, dressed in the uniform he never seemed to take off, was pacing outside the bedroom of Hannibal's parents. Then the young servant sighted Hannibal.
"Sir!" Ray's voice soared high. He was apprentice-aged also, two sun-circuits older than Hannibal, who had just finished his twelfth sun-circuit. Ray had served Hannibal's family since well before apprentice age, for he was an orphan, with no close relations to care for him.
"You must treat him kindly, son," Hannibal's father had said. "He will make a good valet for you when you're older, if you treat him well. In the meantime" – he glanced at Hannibal's mother, with one of those odd looks they exchanged from time to time – "he can be an occasional playmate, since you don't know any other young masters."
Now Ray hurried over to him, anxiousness clear upon his face. "Sir, Bert went for you—"
"He found me." As he spoke, Hannibal heard the squeak of hinges on the back door that led to the kitchen. Quite properly, Bert had entered the house by way of the servants' entrance. Hannibal impatiently began to shrug his way out of his overcoat. "How are they?"
Ray's silence was the answer he had dreaded. Hannibal stood rooted, coldness spreading through his body. Finally he croaked out: "When?"
"Mastress died at dawn, sir. Master died an hour ago." Then, seeing the shock in Hannibal's face, Ray added hurriedly, "Sir, I wanted to fetch you right quick! But I'd got to stay here while Bert fetched the doctor. Then Doctor said we might be needed if he sent for the ambulance boat.. . . They died faster than Doctor expected."
Hannibal continued to stand motionless, though Ray was now helping him out of his overcoat. "It was food poisoning, Bert said."
"Yes, sir. From last night's dessert. They both ate it."
Something beyond his parent's deaths penetrated Hannibal then. He looked over his shoulder at Ray, who was carefully hanging the overcoat on the rack. "Did you and Bert eat the leftovers?"
"No, sir. Mastress Mercer ordered us to put aside the rest of the dessert for you. They were expecting you back yesterday evening."
"I couldn't find the right lure," he said helplessly. He looked at the bedroom door. He would have to go in. And after that . . .
What lay after that he had no idea. He knew no one in the world except his parents and their servants. His parents had made sure of that.
Bert entered the parlor. He was old and deaf; he'd spoken maybe a dozen sentences to Hannibal during Hannibal's life, the last one being, "Master and Mastress are food-poisoned." He had served Hannibal's father since before Hannibal was born. Hannibal's mother had made do without a servant for as long as Hannibal could remember. She said she enjoyed doing women's work, although Hannibal suspected otherwise and had taken over the work of cooking and cleaning as soon as he was old enough. His parents, naturally, were troubled by his easy adoption of servants' work, but they made no efforts to hire a third servant. They valued their privacy to a high degree.
Hannibal took hold of the latch to his parents' bedroom door. Behind him, Ray and Bert seemed to be in some furious debate; he heard Ray say, "You tell him." Hannibal took no notice; he was bracing himself for what he would see.
They looked as though they were sleeping. They lay on the double bed together, side by side, with the blankets pulled up to their chests. Their eyes were closed. His mother was in the gown she wore at night; his father was in a nightshirt. On the dresser lay their day clothes in a neat pile. His father's pocket-watch lay silent; it had not been wound for the day.
Sitting with his back to the scene, scribbling into a book he had laid upon Master Mercer's desk, was a man whom Hannibal supposed must be the doctor, for a medical bag rested on the floor beside him. Hannibal went over to stand by the bed. He touched his mother's cheek; it was cold and stiff. The dead watch bothered him. He picked it up, intending to wind it.
At that moment, the doctor turned in his chair. He said abruptly, "Are you the other servant?"
Evidently, the doctor was the sort of man who couldn't keep track of how many servants were around him. "No, sir," replied Hannibal politely. "I'm their son."
"Oh, dear." The doctor's voice changed. "I'm sorry; I didn't realize. . . Well, you'd better come here. I'm preparing the official notice of death. I'll need information from you."
Hannibal went over to the desk, which was bright with sunlight. He was used to seeing the room dimly lit; his parents preferred to keep the house's shades closed, day or night. Now the window was up and the open shades stirred as the moist smell of marshland entered the house.
"Name of closest kin?" asked the doctor, his gaze directed to the book before him.
Hannibal gave his full name and then spelled it at the doctor's urging.
"Any other living siblings?"
"Are their parents and siblings living?"
He stopped himself just in time from saying, "I don't know." Instead, he replied, "My parents were born on the mainland, sir. None of my other relatives have visited here. I'm not sure of their names or where they live."
"Hmm." The doctor took this news in stride, leaving that line blank. "Faith?"
"Ah . . . yes?" Then, as the doctor turned a fretful eye toward him, Hannibal added lamely, "We pray every day for rebirth into a better life, sir. I mean, we prayed."
The doctor wrote down, "Denomination unknown." Aloud, he said, "Since there's only one cleric on this island, you'd best notify him. Cleric Courtman; he cares for the chapel in town."
"Thank you, sir." He knew where the town stood, more or less. The houses on Barren Island were spaced widely apart, but his parents had told him of a place where the community buildings were gathered: a chapel, a school, a grocer's store. He'd never seen the town, but Ray went there weekly to buy groceries for their family.
"You'll need to sign this." The doctor offered his pen to Hannibal. Hannibal leaned forward to take it; as he did so, his shirt tightened and his sleeves rode up, exposing his wrists.
"What?" The doctor snatched back the pen. "How dare you engage in such a masquerade! And at a time like this!"
Hannibal stepped back, confused and frightened, not so much because of the doctor's words as because he was aware that he had violated his parents' strict orders concerning his clothing. He had always assumed that a boy showing off his wrists was as shameless as a woman showing off her knees. From the doctor's outraged reaction, it seemed this was true.
Behind him, the door opened. Before Hannibal could see which of the servants had entered, the doctor rose and grabbed his shirt-front, shaking him. "That is a very, very poor way to show respect for the dead!" he shouted as Hannibal, astonished, tried to decide what he should do. "Shameful! Shameful!"
"Sir!" It was Ray; he managed to insert himself in front of Hannibal, so that the doctor was forced to release his grasp. "Sir, he don't know! He don't know!"
He was speaking to the doctor, rather than to Hannibal. The doctor frowned. "That is absurd."
Ray glanced at Hannibal and then leaned forward and whispered in the doctor's ear. All that Hannibal could hear were the words master and mastress.
"This is shocking," declared the doctor, but he seemed to have lost his fire, for he gathered up his book and bag. "You will have to deal with this. It is not my job. One of you must notify the cleric, since there is no one else to do so." He swept out of the room before Hannibal could ask him what he meant.
¶ Buy or preview the e-book: The Lure.
About the author:
Honored in the Rainbow Awards, Dusk Peterson writes historical adventure tales that are speculative fiction: alternate history, historical fantasy, and retrofuture science fiction, including lgbtq novels and young adult fiction. Friendship, family affection, faithful service, and romance often occur in the stories. A resident of Maryland, Mx. Peterson lives with an apprentice and several thousand books. Visit duskpeterson.com for e-books and free fiction. A portal to Dusk Peterson's young adult fiction is at ya.duskpeterson.com.