Steal Head: Chapter 1 – All young gentle dreams drowning…

The Queen steamed through the afternoon and evening, her engines driving me inexorably towards my adopted home and away from New Babbage, city of sooty intrigue and shrouded nobility. As the paddles pulled me to Steelhead, I dozed in my chair and mulled over the fate of my recent ward now in the stern grip of Madam Justice. The past weeks working at the hospital with Dr Mason and Director Harvey had aroused within me a curious mix of emotions that, as I journeyed back to my single, lonely room in the stinking slums of Shanghai, I found exhausted me to examine.

The jolt of the steamer’s engine going into reverse woke me from a deep slumber, the Queen was pulling into a fog-bound Steelhead and I groggily gathered my belongings and prepared to disembark. A short while later I was gazing out across the mist-shrouded bay as the pride of New Babbage’s fleet sailed away.
Headless Ryne_003

Night had fallen and the chill air was thick and grey, the city as cold and quiet as the grave. Not a soul did I see as I passed through the empty streets, only the occasional street lamp to ward off the dread fog. The alleyways and cut-throughs seemed even more unfriendly and loathsome as the think night fog swirled in them. More than once I found myself glancing over my shoulder convinced I was being watched…
Headless Ryne_004

The approach to the slums of Shamian Alley took me through the deserted heart of the city. Nary a light did I see in any windows, no footsteps or voices did I hear. It was as if the entire population of the city had simply vanished leaving behind the shell of their lives to be filled by this accursed fog.
Headless Ryne_012

The closer I got to home, the stronger the feeling I was being watched became. Each window was a black eye watching my every move, every doorway and alley a shadowed threat of ambush.
Headless Ryne_009 Headless Ryne_010

Until at last, and with no small measure of relief, I climbed the rickety steps up to my darkened room and unlocked the door. The fog curled around me and seeped into the room, its tendrils only vanishing once I closed the door, severing them from the night outside. The room was as I had left it before my sudden departure, newspaper and books lay where they left them, half-drunk tea growing mould in my mug. I threw my hat over to the table and shrugged off my winter coat, the chill of the night not quite surpassing the cold sweat the eeriness of the deserted, foggy city streets had sent down my back. I was tired and I needed bed. I walked over to the night stand to see what water remained in the jug and that’s when I saw it…
Headless Ryne_002b

In horror, unable to comprehend what I saw, my hands reached for my face, desperately groping in fear of what I would, or rather would not, find…
Headless Ryne_005

I stared at my reflection in the small mirror. My reflection, I realised with the hand of dread terror around my heart, was missing my head!
Headless Ryne_001

With a start I awoke, sitting in my chair aboard the Clockhaven Queen as she steamed towards Steelhead. My hands shot upwards and I almost cried out with joy as I found my head exactly where it should be. It had been a dream, just a dream…

**{}**

A few hours later, as the sun set across a bustling and decidedly fog-free city, I stared out to sea, at the wake of the departing steamer, and shivered as I tried my damnedest to put the terrible nightmare out of my mind. I had patients and a practice to get back to, I didn’t have time for silly dreams…
Back in Steelhead_001

****{}****

To be continued…

All my “Steal Head” posts can be read here and all my “Snatched From Steelhead” posts can be read on my blog here.

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) Steal Head’s first appearance was recorded by Nurse Lucy Tornado here.

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