Afraid of the Truth
by Rebecca Yeomans
by Rebecca Yeomans
“Are you saying your father was a sky pirate?”
Henrietta paused and glanced at Edison over the top of the changing screen. She strapped the last buckle of her waistcoat into place and smoothed her shirt sleeves over her knuckles. Sighing a quiet confirmation, she readjusted her boots and brushed dirt from the heels.
“When exactly were you going to tell me this, Henrietta?” Edison pressed. “On our wedding night? Ten years after?”
Opening and promptly closing her mouth, Henrietta studied herself in the mirror and touched the silver ring hanging from her neck. Turning, she rested a hand on the changing screen and stepped in front of her fiancé.
“You will not be leaving this house dressed like some harlot!” He spluttered, a deep blush spreading across his cheeks as he stared at her. Henrietta ran a hand down her waistcoat and looked down at her ruffled skirt. She had found them in a tightly sealed case pushed to the back of her mother’s wardrobe. Her father’s scrawl on a scrap of parchment tied to the box.
Carry on where we left off.
A rough hand grabbed her arm and pulled her from her thoughts.
“Are you listening to me, you silly girl?”
Henrietta met Edison’s outraged glare and wrenched her arm from his grasp. Clenching her jaw, she reached for the cutlass resting on the bed and raised it to her eyes. “This is who I am, Edison, the real me. Do not presume to treat me like a child,” she snapped, the metal glinting in the firelight. “I’m sorry I had to hide this from you but it is for your own safety,” she continued, sheathing the blade on her belt.
Slipping her gloves on, she stuffed Father’s journal and her spyglass into her suitcase before snapping the lid shut. Behind her, Edison wrung his hands and began to pace.
“What the Devil do you mean, ‘for my own safety’?” he asked, deep brown eyes boring into the back of her neck.
Henrietta paused before stepping over to her dressing table. She slipped her mother’s pocket watch into her shirt pocket and turned to face her fiancé.
“Do not take me for a fool, Edison. You know as well as I that a blood relation to a sky pirate can put many in peril. You know the law,” she replied and took his hand. He pulled away, his brown eyes downcast and ran a hand over his face. Henrietta sighed, trying to ignore the flicker of guilt in her chest. “Forgive me, but this is something I need to do."
She reached for her coat and shrugged it on, tying the lace hurriedly. Edison stood with his back to her, his shoulders tense. She picked her suitcase and hat up and paused, the clock ticking in her ears as she willed her fiancé to turn around.
“I will come back to you. I promise.”
Edison remained in place, brown hair covering his face from view. Henrietta bit back a sigh and left the room without a sound.
After scurrying silently from the house, she soon found herself on the street, smog reducing her vision tenfold. Yellow spectral orbs hung in the air, accompanied by the hiss of gas and the distant yell of patrons as they left the public houses slightly worse for wear. Henrietta clutched her suitcase and slid down an alleyway, ignoring the long arms who attempted to grab her from the shadows.
A few moments later, she paused in front of a large house. With a glance over her shoulder, Henrietta skirted around the building and smiled as she found the spiral staircase. Hitching her skirt up, she rose above the thick, dense air. The factories of London loomed threateningly in the distance, thick smoke swirling and billowing in the ink black sky.
Her feet clicked on metal as she reached the top of the stairs. Henrietta smiled.
“Hello, old girl.”
The ship stood before her, tied securely to thick metal railings. Just as she remembered. Climbing aboard, she set her case down and glanced around the small airship. By the streetlight below and weak moonlight above, she stepped across the deck and rested a hand on the helm. The two deflated balloons which held the ship aloft stared back at her, waiting to be filled so the old ship could be reunited with the air once more
The hairs on her arms stood on end and a bubbling laugh erupted from her lips. Within a beat of her heart, she pulled her goggles over her eyes and hurrdily lit the fire. After ensuring there was enough water stocked up, Henrietta powered the brass engine and watched with a smile as steam billowed into the air. Soon, the two balloons at either end of the ship filled with hot air and the ship rose off slightly the building, sails caught the slight eastern breeze. With a grin, she cut the ropes loose. Henrietta hurried over to the railings and stared at the town below her as it disappeared from view.
“I will be back.”
Henrietta stirred in her sleep. Then bolted up in her small cabin bed, heart thumping wildly against her chest. A trickle of perspiration slid slowly down her back as her breath condensed before her eyes. Wearily, she rubbed her eyes free off sleep and let her head fall to her chest, slightly gasping for breath.
Almost every single night for the past eight months she had lived through the same dream. Nothing changed, there was no variation. It happened without fail.
Her eyes drifted over to the small framed photograph sitting beside her bed. Edison smiled at her behind the glass, his eyes unblinking. He was a constant presence in her dreams. And she never found a way to save him, no matter how many times she tried.
Taking a shuddering breath, Henrietta reached for her pocket watch and paused, staring at her hands. She rubbed them against the covers, her sleep ridden mind merging dream and reality into one. She looked back down at her hands: they were spotless.
“Get a grip of yourself,” she muttered and flicked the pocket watch open. The weak candlelight reflected on the cracked glass, Henrietta squinted and held the face at an angle so that she could see the two small hands clearly. Sighing, she snapped the watch shut and pushed the covers off her legs, her bare feet hitting the cold wooden planks. She shivered and focused on getting dressed, she had wasted too much time as it was. If she didn’t get moving soon, she could lose the westerly wind and be back to square one as the year ended. Even with the steam engine and the balloons filled to the brim with hot air, she needed the wind on her side if she was hoping to make any progress.
She dressed hurriedly in the cold air and was fixing the shirt buttons when the alarm went off. Henrietta froze, fingers stilled as the noise echoed in her ears. In one quick movement, she threw her jacket on and shoved her stocking clad feet inside her boots, not bothering to tie them properly and rushed from her small bedchamber at the back of the ship, shoving her hat on as she went. Henrietta paused only for a moment to snatch up her spyglass and Father’s journal which were sitting on the small counter in the galley kitchen before stumbling out to the main deck.
The alarm grew louder as she reached the helm and stopped dead. Dense fog enclosed the airship like a thick blanket, she could barely spot the weak winter’s sun feebly penetrating through the fog. Her heart thumped against her chest as she slowly made her way across the deck, one hand resting on the cutlass strapped to her hip and the other held in front of her, grasping blindly in the thick fog. With a quick glance up, she could just see the outline of the two balloons, a trickle of relief seeped into her bones as the familiar hiss of steam filtered through the alarm.
Her fingers bumped against the wheel and closed around one of the spokes, clinging on tightly as she stumbled towards the helm. Her father’s scrawl shrieked loudly in her ears, she had only last night read about the adverse weather conditions when flying an airship. Father made it clear, she should be ready for anything, ready for any threat that crossed her path. He wrote in detail about the weather monitors and what to do if and when the alarm should sound. Henrietta had fallen asleep before reading this part and mentally kicked herself as she tried to locate the weather monitor and stop the offending noise ringing in her ears.
Panic rose in her throat. If she wasn’t able to shut the alarm off, it would alert other ships, a beacon shouting her ship was ready for the picking. She had read horror stories of Father witnessing several ships being taken over by other pirates, their captains slung over the railings and falling to their deaths.
That could not happen. Not after all she had accomplished, all she had given up.
Her hand brushed against something round and metal: her goggles.
She hurriedly slid them over her eyes and sighed in relief as the air slowly became more focused around her. Within a blink of an eye, she switched the alarm off and stared down at the monitor, the brass cogs moving so quickly she could barely keep up with them.
A small wisp of stream danced in front of her eyes before becoming one with the endless white fog that surrounded her. Henrietta sighed in relief as the small brass pointer inched slightly northwards and her destination. Casting a quick glance at her compass, she smiled at the accuracy of the monitor. How technology could keep a weather eye and track her progress across the sky was beyond even her imagination.
Checking the machine was running properly, Henrietta readjusted the focus on her goggles and made her way to the small kitchen for a hurried breakfast, journal in hand.
She sat on the bench a few moments later, a mug of hot tea and a plate of bread and dripping on the table. She pulled the journal towards her and opened it carefully. Raising the mug to her lips, Henrietta paused as a hiss of steam floated above her head. She shot a glance out to the main deck and her heart dropped.
Slamming her mug done on the scrubbed table, Henrietta stumbled to her feet, quickly tying her boots and unsheathed her cutlass. She hurried towards the door and pressed her back against the wood, eyes fixed on the sky above as the faint outline of another ship descended through the thick fog.
What felt like hours passed before the other airship came alongside. Henrietta held her position, refocusing her goggles when needed. A silence stretched, only punctuated by the creak of sails and hiss of steam. Then a voice called out.
“Is there a need for assistance here?”
Henrietta froze as a thump on the deck ricocheted under her feet. Slow footsteps echoed closer towards the galley and she could hear the faint murmur of conversation in the fog.
Swallowing past the lump in her throat, Henrietta stepped out onto the desk, the cutlass gripped tightly in her hand.
“Declare yourself,” she said firmly, trying to ignore her thumping heartbeat and the slight tremble in her hands.
“I heard an alarm,” the person said, turning on their heel to face Henrietta. With a flick of a wrist, long auburn hair tumbled down the pirate's shoulders. The leather hat dangled from slim fingers. Henrietta gawped then shuffled her feet as the other woman examined her closely. “Thought we’d come and see what the trouble was,” the woman said with a shrug.
“We?” Henrietta echoed, her eyes darting around the deck. The fog had thinned somewhat, allowing her to see the shadows of a city below.
Two sets of footsteps pounded on the desk. Henrietta’s eyes darted from the three figures now standing before her. She glanced behind her shoulder, eyes locating the pistol resting on the kitchen table.
Henrietta turned to face her trespassers. The captain fiddled with the hat in her hands as she turned to frown at the brunette girl, no more than fifteen years old. Henrietta frowned, taking in the girls’ frayed and patched dress, her hair scraped back from her face and held in place with what looked like a filthy piece of string.
The captain raised an eyebrow and pushed the girl behind her before putting her hat back on, her hands then clasped behind her back. Henrietta lowered her cutlass slightly.
“I mean no harm,” the captain said. “I know what it’s like to have your ship send out a call unnecessarily, there are some of us out there who would rather slice throats in a heartbeat than offer assistance,” she gestured to the pistol strapped to her waist then folded her arms over her chest.
Henrietta paused Father’s tales of rogue pirates boarding their ship and killing the crew in cold blood in search of gold or women. But also of the heroism and honour amongst most crews, most of their kind looked out for one another in times of need.
Her Mothers’ voice echoed in her ears. Was it worth the risk?
She bit her lips then sheathed her blade, resting her hand on the hilt. Father would be rolling in his watery grave if he knew. Casting a glance at the captain's other companions, she stepped forward and held out her hand.
“Henrietta,” she said, her gaze drifting to the man standing with his face turned away.
Her hand was grasped firmly and Henrietta smiled. “Esther,” said the captain and gestured to the small girl eyeing her curiously. “This here is Cordelia, my sister,” Esther turned to the man and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “And this is Timothy.”
The man inclined his head slightly, brown hair flopping over his eyes and obscuring them from view. Henrietta narrowed her eyes then redirected her gaze to the location monitor which was whirling shrilly. She hurried over, Esther on her heels.
“Looks like we have company,” Esther said, retrieving a small dagger from her belt. Henrietta’s gloved fingers flew over the control panel, the cogs spinning wildly. Ester beckoned her young sister over and crouched to eye level.
“I want you to tuck yourself away and do not come out until I say so, do you hear me, Cordelia?” Ester said as the familiar sound of hissing and mechanical clunking increased around them.
The young girl opened and closed her mouth, Henrietta forced her eyes away from the pair and adjusted her goggles by a few millimetres. She heard Timothy unsheathe his blade and finally, turned to face her. Henrietta blinked.
Deep brown eyes bore into hers. The air caught in the back of her throat as the unmissable sound of a gunshot pierced the air.
About the Author
Third year creative writing student at the University of Derby. I write fiction, scripts, blogs and poetry. I have submitted a radio play to the BBC which got through to the second round of read-throughs. I also have a children's book in the pipelines and will be published later on in the year.
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