At just over 300 nautical miles per day, the Henri Giffard XVI was the fastest luxury dirigible in the fleet. It was just before 8:00 pm on October 5th. Her captain was in the process of reviewing the final preparations for launch, and not a moment too soon, as far as he was concerned! Passengers rarely boarded in Port Bump, and it was his recommendation that this stop be excluded from all future voyages. After all, for years now it had been company policy that passengers remain on board while the ship took on supplies. Skipping this brief layover would allow him to reach his destination, just south of the equator, a half day sooner.
He was about to issue the order to shut the hatches and release the grappling lines when he spotted something of interest. Moving over to the glass and swivelling it to view the south he quite clearly saw two women running at a break-neck pace for the tower.
“Mr. McGregor,” he called over to the chief purser, all the while continuing to watch the approach of the two distant runners, “are we expecting any showgirls to be joining the complement from this stop?”
“No sir,” replied the purser who had joined at the captain’s side to watch the rapid approach of the two colourfully-dressed women. After a brief moment the purser noticed something more. “Look,” he called, pointing to a line of dust rising from the ground a short distance behind the women, “it appears they are being pursued by those savages from this Gods-forsaken Port.”
The captain shifted the angle of the glass. “Indeed you are correct Mr. McGregor.” The captain saw what appeared to be a mob of about a dozen angry men, two elephants, and a troll running about 300 metres behind the two women. The mob appeared to be gradually gaining on their quarry. “Keep the hatches unlocked until my word, Mr. McGregor.” instructed the captain without taking his eye from the glass. “I do hope they make it.”
Malus stared at the fire-grilled sausage wrapped in a fresh cornbread bun with a level of food-lust hitherto unheard of. He was about to sink his teeth into all that spiced-meaty goodness when he heard a tiny voice pipe-up: “Feed me.”
Malus looked down, his mouth still open, the sausage mere centimetres from meeting its final destiny. But then, before he could bring himself to consummate this epicurean union, he was staid by the sight of the most pitiful little waif he had ever seen in his life. She couldn’t have been more than four, with big blue eyes shining forth from a flawless little face, framed in wispy strands of mousy-brown hair. She was dressed in rags, her tiny, delicate fingers just poking out from under the large loose sleeves of her sweater.
“Feed me.” the child said again. “I is so hungry mister. I ain’t ate in nearly two days.” A single tear fell from the child’s eye, carving a path through the soot that darkened her cheeks.
“Don’t you listen to her mister.” warned the toothless old lady behind the sausage stand. “She ain’t what she seems. That child is the very spawn of evil, you mark my words.”
“My good lady,” Malus said with great indignation on behalf of the child, “As anyone can plainly see this child is neglected and half starved. Have you no compassion? Where is your pity?” Ignoring the calling whistle from the train behind him, Malus turned to the tiny child.
“Don’t you feed her!” the lady called again in warning, starting to back away from the sausage-wagon as if she meant to turn and run.
“Here child,” said Malus, resigning himself to purchasing a second sausage (likely half as good and twice as much) from a concession stand at the airfield. “Take mine.” he said with a smile crouching down and handing the sausage and bun to the beautiful little urchin.
From his seat aboard the train, Emerson had watched the exchange, a smile spreading across his face as well as his heart. He turned to find the conductor at the far end of the car. “My good man,” he called out, “if you could wait but a moment more. My squire is just in the process of carrying out a deed of a most chivalrous nature. You most certainly…” the sentence hung forever incomplete. For at that moment, with a casual glance back to the sausage wagon, Emerson saw his squire Malus, sword in hand, in a life and death battle with what appeared to be a 7-foot troll. The conductor, having caught sight of the amazing altercation as well, began blowing repeatedly upon the whistle which hung about his neck.
“No wait!” called Emerson standing now in the aisle, “surely there are men aboard who might be willing to offer assistance.”
“Sir, sit down or get off the train, but make your decision fast.” The train lurched as the breaks were released. Slowly the train began to move forward along the tracks. Emerson grabbed the bags and jumped to the platform at a loss as to how he was going to be of any assistance what-so-ever. In a complete act of desperation he ran to the now abandoned sausage wagon and began to fling fire-grilled sausages at the creature who was menacing Malus with increasing intensity. As if to illustrate what it would do should it get its hands around Malus’s throat, it caught one of the sausages and squeezed, only to let out an astonished bellow of pain as hot sausage grease trickled down through the hairs of its bare arm. Emerson and Malus took the distraction as an opportunity to run for their lives down the muddy main street of Bump.
Fortunately for Emerson and Malus, while the troll may have been strong, it was not particularly fast. Within a few minutes they had successfully managed to elude the angry creature and were able to slow to a more leisurely pace.
“That was a little close for comfort.” said Malus, as he re-sheathed his sword.
“Indeed it was.” replied Emerson, trying to catch his breath, noting a curious blackened and burned-out lot to his right. “Fortunately it’s not yet 2:00, still plenty of time to make our way to the airfield in time to catch our flight.”
Stopping at the end of Main Street, they noticed a series of tents and temporary structures being set up by a traveling carnival. The roadies and carnival workers barely took note of our two heroes as they enjoyed a moment of respite beside a cage housing two tired looking elephants. “Have you ever seen muckier streets?” Emerson lamented the toll on his shoes.
Malus wasn’t really listening as he had noticed a bag of peanuts next to the elephant’s cage. It certainly wasn’t the sausage on a bun he had been anticipating earlier, but at least it was something, he thought, as he absently started cracking shells and popping the nuts into his mouth.
“I commend you Squire Malus on your selfless act of chivalry.” said Emerson, allowing his eyes to wander over the simple wooden structures lining the street. “How were you to know there was an enchantment upon that child?” Neither man seemed to sense the increasing level of agitation being displayed by the two elephants behind them. “In fact,” Emerson said with a smile, “I do believe I would like to buy you a steak and onion lunch for your deeds.” Just then both men suddenly jumped in startled response to the trumpeting call from one of the elephants. They both started to laugh. “That was shockingly loud wasn’t it?” Malus said.
Emerson clapped Malus on the shoulder, “Come on,” he continued, “I noticed a place which may suit our needs just a few doors up, a rather inviting looking saloon called Snake Eyes.” Malus grinned at the prospects of finally getting his steak. He dropped the bag of peanuts to the ground about a metre and a half from the cage, much to the chagrin of the two angry elephants.
Moments later they stood outside the doors of the Snake Eyes saloon listening to the tinny sound of a frontier piano coming from within. A poster beside the door promised a burlesque show every hour. “This may be a bit risqué.” Emerson said with a wink, opening and then holding the door for Malus. Once inside the dozen or so patrons all turned at once. Conversation ceased immediately. The piano player stopped mid-song, his hands hovering over the keys. The silence hung like an eternity before someone broke the spell. “Look boys…the entertainment has arrived.”
Despite the valiant efforts of the bar-room piano player to drown them out, the catcalls and the boos were both bawdy and relentless. “Come on.” encouraged Emerson, his arm around Malus’s shoulder as he tried to choreograph their moves. “Like this: lean to the left and kick to the right, then lean to the right and kick to the left… again, one, two, three, kick… one, two, three, kick. There you go.” The crowd quieted somewhat.
“A higher kick though.” Emerson instructed, “and don’t bend your knee. They want to see more petticoat.”
“I can’t seem to manage these heels.” Malus complained.
“Just keep you back straight and your weight over your hips son… and place your foot straight down or you’ll twist an ankle.”
“I don’t see how this is supposed to help us escape.” Malus hissed angrily, missing a kick in the process. The crowd started to boo once again and someone threw a bottle narrowly missing Malus’s head. It was now almost 6:00 pm. Emerson scanned the exits seeing no means of unblocked escape. Indeed, with the airship scheduled to depart in just over two hours, their situation appeared grim. This last desperate ploy to distract the crowd from their more nefarious appetites had seemed to run its course. Indeed many had started to approach the stage with a hungry look in their eyes.
Then, just when there seemed no hope of survival, a deafening crash came from the front of the bar as the two enraged carnival elephants, having easily broken through their flimsy cages were now running about in a full-out raging rampage.
“Run Malus, run!” Emerson shouted amidst the confusion even as he made a break for the door. Malus grabbed their two bags from the side of the stage and quickly waded into the mayhem. Somehow, in the confusion, they managed to get past the stunned Bumpians finding themselves once more (and this time in heels) on Bumps mucky main drag. They didn’t have time to relish the victory however, for the troll they had eluded earlier had finally caught up to them. In a blind panic, Emerson Lighthouse and Martin Malus ran for their lives.
“Mr. McGregor!” the captain called, “our new guests have succeeded in reaching the tower’s lift. Seal the hatches the moment they have been secured onboard. Ready to launch, on my mark.”
((Thanks Jed, for some technical assistance as well as adding some setting perspective. Thanks Brother Malus for letting me continue to have fun with your character))