[Welcome to the first of the Halloween posts. Throughout the rest of October, through Halloween, you’ll be getting an excerpt from Gilbertine & the Exchange, the fifth novel in Reggie’s series, due out in three volumes, starting in late 2019 and continuing through 2020. For those who weren’t here last year, in this novel, we’ve moved ahead two and a half years to 1964; 12-year-old Reggie and his parents have just moved to southern California, residing in what was once a small town that’s become one of the suburbs/exurbs outside Los Angeles. In the course of the period of adjustment to his new home, he’s met a pretty but very strange little girl named Gilbertine, who also claims to be a new arrival from Europe (in her case, Bruges, Belgium), and has a way of literally appearing and disappearing into his life. She attends Reggie’s junior high school, but no one has a class with her. No one knows her (except through Reggie). And, as another of Reggie’s new American friends puts it, “Strange things sure do seem to happen around her.”
These posts, as with last year’s, are all from Volume 2, which entails the adventures of Reggie and Gilbertine on Halloween night. In last year’s posts, Reggie and Gilbertine come upon a group of clowns, performing for a group of dead Victorian children, the latter posed forever the way they were in their final, post mortem, photographs. Reggie and Gilbertine got on the wrong side of both the clowns and children, and the posts last year concluded with our heroine and hero about to be attacked by both groups. I won’t tell you how, but Gilbertine and Reggie do manage to escape and reconcile with the children. But, the clowns are quite another matter, and things turn comically violent. Again, I won’t tell what happens, but Reggie ends up unconscious; he’s just reviving as his next portion opens.
The featured pictures are from my ebook on Victorian Post Modern Photography, yours free if you just drop by the home page of the website and sign in at the opt-in box, The character Jessamynne’s physical appearance is a composite of the girls standing in the two photographs. Her personality and back-story are an entirely different matter. A different portrait of Gilbertine by my friend and illustrator Robbin Day also accompanies each post.]
I’ve no idea how long I remained unconscious, but slowly became aware of being in a kind of “twilight” sleep and of feeling rather more diffuse than usual.
Voices, initially sounding as though they were at the far end of a tunnel, became nearer, more distinct.
“Oh look,” I heard a voice gush that sounded like the girl who’d called me “adorable” in the course of the costume contest, “his head’s almost back together; I can see his darling little face now, and all that lovely long hair. I can’t wait for the rest of him.”
“In due time, Jessamynne,” I heard Gilbertine reply, with a certain proprietary tone, “but take good care no pieces go bouncing out. It wouldn’t be so easy to collect them again here.”
So that’s why I felt so lightheaded: At this moment, there wasn’t anything to me but my head, existing as some kind of free-floating apex. Still, neither Gilbertine nor anyone else seemed concerned that my head might float away, however real the possibility felt to me at this moment, so I kept my eyes shut and hoped for the best. Bit by bit, I felt my shoulders and neck materialize beneath my head; my arms, chest and back slowly followed.
Enough of me had returned that I could get up onto one elbow, sit up and take a look around. But before I did, I decided to simply open my eyes to see what was going on immediately above and beyond me. I was lying in a handcart, somewhere between a tumbrel and the kind used to haul away trash. It wasn’t particularly large, and I could only hope there’d be enough room for me to be fully horizontal once I completely came together again.
Gilbertine was in front, facing away from me, in charge and perfunctorily steering the thing. As I’d suspected, the girl who’d gushed about me during the costume contest – whose name, I gathered, was Jessamynne – was now walking alongside, hovering over me, and making sure that no part of me bounced out. Two of the seated “children” were behind the cart, pushing it, each apparently sitting in some kid of wheelchair-like apparatus. A pair of teenagers who’d been standing during the performance now flanked them, and was also engaged in pushing the cart.
Jessamynne straightened a second. Before she could hover over me again, I sat up and took a look around. The locale seemed strangely familiar, but at first, I couldn’t place it. Then, in a flash, I was reasonably sure where I was. I could now move my head with relative ease, and I looked behind me to confirm my suspicions. There it stood: The stone slab I’d been lying upon only a week ago when I’d played the wounded Juste-André.
We were on the narrow stone bridge on the other side of the subterranean slab, the one arching over the deep chasm.
Even Jessamynne found the space between cart and bridge wall too confining, and was now walking alongside Gilbertine in front.
“I believe he’s coming ’round,” said one chair-bound kid.
“Nah,” said the other, “he’s still pretty bad off – look, most of his legs are still missing.”
Gilbertine and Jessamynne stopped the cart and turned around to look at me. Gilbertine smiled at me. Jessamynne had too much dignity to contort her face into one of those eerie, twisted facsimiles of a smile, but her eyes glowed warmly.
“Welcome back, Reggie,” Gilbertine said. “And don’t worry, we collected every bit of you, no piece got away. Now that you’ve come to, you’ll be completely back together again in five to ten minutes.”
“How long’ve I been out?” I asked.
“Not quite an hour,” she replied. “That’s the typical amount of time for a boy in your condition.”
“Condition?” I asked. “Wot condition?”
“You laughed yourself to pieces, Reggie,” she explained. “I hope you had a good time doing it. It’s rarely fatal for anyone our age, mind, but people over 50 have been known to die from it.”
© 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
My ebook on Victorian postmortem photography will be coming back soon, for a few weeks. Stay tuned.
The Bluebottle Boys (Volume One) is now available from Amazon Books. The Bluebottle Boys (Volume Two) is due out later this autumn.