It is not easy writing a short story. I’m a naturally wordy person, even when I speak, so trying to contain my characters and world-building to a short is like trying to squeeze into my high school jeans.
Still, when a group of authors in the Sterling and Stone community decided to publish an anthology of stories in the open-source Engine World, I knew I wanted in.
It’s been a fun ride, and today, we’re launching Beyond the Gate: Stories from the World of The Dream Engine to the public!
The anthology contains stories from 23 authors that cover all sorts of themes, topics, and styles. You can learn more about it here. My story is called “The Crown Reading” and it may be one of the most promising pieces of fiction I’ve written to date. If you’ve read some of my other stories, particularly the Waters Dark and Deep series, you’ll probably love my take on the Engine World as well.
And the coolest part? “The Crown Reading” is the start of my new canon series in the Engine World, which will be out next year around March/April. I’m collaborating with the Sterling and Stone guys, who invented the Engine World, and a number of other canon authors who are also writing their own series in the world.
An Excerpt From “The Crown Reading”
Tick, tick, tick, tick…
The lit Ferris wheel spun upward to the beat, pirouetting gracefully in place, as if performing for the vast crowd of stars that dotted the sky.
The solstice festival was supposed to be a joyous occasion, and for Helena, it had been once—until he disappeared.
She hadn’t seen him for nearly five years, but it didn’t keep her from picturing his sharp green eyes, his dark shiny hair, his soft face. When they had last spoken, he had been still growing into that face—there were hints of angles, cheekbones, four o’clock shadows forming—but a fourteen year-old boy could only offer so much.
She had often tried to imagine Willard’s face at nineteen, the age he would be now. Nineteen was a good, handsome age, an age at which she could fully appreciate his rugged, otherworldly looks. She wondered if he would notice her own face the way other nineteen year-old boys noticed it, but that didn’t quite fit what she remembered of him.
He had known her before her cheekbones, after all—before her hips had formed curves, before her collarbone had become a tease for something more. She hadn’t been beautiful back then, and hadn’t been someone others wanted or noticed.
He had noticed her anyway. He had liked her.
The summer solstice had been their night until it wasn’t, and he had been her friend, her connection to what lay beyond the city limits of Waldron’s Gate—until he wasn’t. She missed his funny stories about the Nascent people, who believed the ghosts of Aerohead had once been elves; his conspiracy theories surrounding Stensue, where the nation’s army was held; and his descriptions of the Fog, which whispered and winded not far from Yon, on the other side of Alterra. The sky shaws were, in some ways, the only opportunity for the citizens of Waldron’s Gate to hear of news from outside the city.
But no one really believed the stories the ruddermouths spun when they stopped at the sky ports on market days. Those men made their living selling exotic wares from all over the country—they were allowed to have a pitch.
One year, at the dock where they always met on solstice, Helena had confided in Willard that she wished to see what lay beyond the edges of her city.
“Where would you start?” he’d asked her, gobbling down the chocolate velvet cake she’d brought him. Although her family was poor by Waldron’s Gate standards, her mother was an excellent cook.
“Thestic,” she’d lied, not wanting him to know how pitiful her knowledge of Alterra truly was. The truth was that she had never thought of it before. Her only longing had been to leave the gates, leave her problems, leave her family obligations and begin a life for herself.
But it had never occurred to her to have a destination.
“Thestic,” he’d repeated with a sly grin.
“Yes,” she’d said with more confidence. “The holy city. I want to worship The Crown properly.”
Willard had burst into laughter, to her dismay. “You’re going all the way across the country to worship a fool’s tale?”
“The Crown is not a fool’s tale,” she’d replied indignantly.
“It is, and you don’t need to go all the way out there to know it. There is no more or no less worshiping in Thestic than there is here in Waldron’s Gate.”
She had pursed her lips, biting back her tears at his words as he’d launched into another of his stories of what he’d seen, what he’d experienced abroad. He had been orphaned at a young age, and not long after, he had managed to secure work with one of the ruddermouths cleaning up after the crew.
So many might think that being orphaned was cruel—but Helena knew Willard was freer for it.
The next year, when she had seen Willard again, he had brought her a gift—a tiny deck of cards no bigger than the palm of her hand. The deck was non-traditional and rare—Helena could tell just by the gold edging, the intricate drawings, the odd suits that she didn’t recognize.
“From Thestic,” he had said. “Now we can start our pending adventure together in a more interesting city.”
His smile had come easily, and Helena had returned it, not knowing it would be the last time she saw him.
Now, she wished she had known, because she would have told him the truth—that the cards only made her want to visit Thestic more.
She reached into the pocket of her dress and fingered the edges of the cards that were now well worn from the readings she did. After that first casual reading she’d given him, she had studied the cards for months, learning as much as she could about each one, researching how to use them to cast the future.
If only Willard could see her now.
She wondered for the thousandth time what had happened to him—why he stopped showing up at the port. He wouldn’t have willingly quit the shaws, so something must have happened. The constant twist in her stomach told her that he was in trouble, but it wasn’t like she could affect that.
At least, not without a destination to start at, and not with all the mouths she had to help feed.
She had promised herself that if she found a clue as to where he was, if it wasn’t a wild goose chase to the ends of Alterra, if she could justify the pain she would cause her family by disappearing, she would go to him. She would help him. She just needed that first clue, that sign.
No reading she had ever done gave her a definitive answer, and not for lack of trying—but then, that wasn’t what the cards did. They only held the future, not the past.
Helena was still trying to figure out a way around that.
If you’d like to see what happens to Helena and Willard, grab Beyond the Gate: Stories from the World of The Dream Engine on Amazon. The only way you can get this story at the present is through the anthology, due to exclusivity. Also, there are some great stories from other authors in the anthology that I know you’ll enjoy. Here’s the description:
Waldron’s Gate, capital of Alterra. A land powered by steam, but inspired by the power of dreams, and surrounded by the mysterious Fog.
The Dream Engine explored this city. Now you are invited to go Beyond The Gate.
Twenty-three authors will take you over, under, into, and beyond the Fog in this cross-genre compilation of short stories.
From time travel to romance, young adult to horror, science fiction to historical fantasy, you’ll discover tales that delight, intrigue, and maybe even shock you.
This is only the beginning.
I appreciate your interest and support!