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Creative Writing Piece (Steampunk) - Traded Lives

Updated on April 2, 2014


This is a piece I have written in the Steampunk genre. It is based around a slave boy who has escaped his captor and depicts his journey through the streets of Budapest.

What is Steampunk?

Steampunk is a form of speculative fiction. It is often set in the Victorian Era and has been described as "What the past would look like if the future happened sooner". It does not contain any advanced technologies such as electricity but rather everything is steam powered and mechanical.

Steampunk image of author, G. D. Falksen, in an arm mechanism created by Thomas Willeford.
Steampunk image of author, G. D. Falksen, in an arm mechanism created by Thomas Willeford. | Source

Traded Lives

His dark, dingy hiding place offered little comfort from the prying eyes of those who inhabited this monstrous and squalid metropolis. The rhythmic creaks and groans of the cogs and the hissing steam resonated through the exterior walls of the factory against which he rested. Soon he would have to emerge from his refuge of boxes into the bustling streets of Budapest, the prospect of which simply petrified him.

Having barely escaped from the men who had so brusquely stolen him from his family, Byron did not have much of an idea about where he was and how to contend with his immediate environment. His mother and father, who had been so determined to resist Byron’s capture, had frantically snatched at their young son but were outmatched by these unknown men. The ensuing trip in the back of a cart had been uncomfortable, made worse by Byron’s state of utter confusion about the situation in which he found himself. On the way, he overheard another hostage naming their captors as slave traders. A feeling of numbness crept through his bones.

Byron sat shivering, dispirited by the harrowing events of the previous few hours. His escape had left him drained and now he sat, feeling beaten and overwhelmed by the enormity of Budapest. His attire singled him out as a slave; a status lowlier than the poorest of men. Boxes filled with metal served as one of the two walls of his refuge, affording him little protection from the elements. The coarse fabric draped like a tent over the boxes kept out the worst of the cold, yet did little to comfort him. The fear of discovery ate at him. He knew that soon he would be revealed and that he had to move on, but the big city environment only added to his apprehension.

A man in a dirty leather apron exposed Byron’s hiding spot much earlier than Byron had hoped. Startled by the sound of the sheet being ripped aside, Byron was slow to react and before he knew what was happening, he was hit with a tirade of words from the angered blacksmith. Regaining his senses, he sprang to his feet and launched himself into a sprint, choosing to run closer towards the towering monoliths in the heart of the city. As he ran he tried to hold back tears; tears of desperation.

After ten long, hard minutes of running Byron slowed, looked around cautiously and took in his surroundings. He wiped the tears away and spotted a corner in which he could avoid suspicion. He was in a small street, closed in on both sides by two-storey buildings; some houses, others factories. At regular intervals there were lamp-posts toting luminiferous aether, the device responsible for emitting light. The lamps were intricately detailed with engravings and ornate flourishes of brass and steel. Automatons undertaking menial tasks appeared occasionally, ticking like clockwork as they passed by. A heliocraft hovered overhead, its balloon casting a thick shadow over Byron. He had seen these before in a poster in the village near his house. He could hear the bellows above, giving the heliocraft propulsion. He hoped one day he could be a heliocraft pilot, if he managed to work his way out of this mess.

Budapest was all new to Byron. Never before had he seen steam powered machines, nor the towering buildings which dominated the skies. The black filth which seemed to hang over the metropolis was akin to fog and everyone was affected; no one had clean skin. The busy nature of the city intimidated Byron who, up until this point, had only ever experienced the number of people at the market in his tiny home village, a mere gathering compared to the bustling streets of Budapest.

Byron saw that his clothes were attracting some odd, concerned and sometimes disgusted looks from the public. Different clothes were imperative if he wanted to fit into the crowd. He slunk into the shadows in an attempt to avoid some accusing stares. Byron could see that waistcoats were a common feature among the citizens of the metropolis, male and female alike. Some wore goggles around their neck or on the top of their head, others preferred top hats. He noticed a few people with automaton arms or others who had artificial joints or braces. One man stalked past with a perplexing contraption on the side of his head. Byron stared at this man’s elaborate eyepiece, intrigued by the complexity of the moulded copper and brass and the tiny cogs constantly turning. With a jolt he snapped back into reality, knowing this was no time for sightseeing.

Byron had been keeping to shadows in an attempt to avoid being discovered. So far he had noticed few children, so not many opportunities to find new clothes. Breaking cover, Byron began towards the centre, keeping as much in the dark recesses at the side of the street as possible.

He rounded one particular corner and knocked into another boy, about his own age and well dressed. “Watch where you’re going!” the boy said angrily as he stood up and brushed himself off. Byron looked the boy up and down and ran, hoping the boy did not realise he was a slave. His hope was soon misplaced as within minutes he was spotted by the authorities, the boy by their side. The leader yelled at his men to give chase to Byron, alerting him to their presence. Byron looked behind at the men brandishing menacing swords and other weapons he did not recognise, realising the horrible reality.

Byron knew that the men could run for a longer period than he could, thus, losing them in the side streets would be his only option. Careful to avoid being cornered, he made as many turns as possible. Byron noticed a factory door ahead which was ajar. He sprinted towards it, heaved the massive door open just wide enough to squeeze through and promptly shut it behind him. He sat and listened for his pursuers, anxious they did not realise his temporary asylum. To his relief, the authorities ignored the factory door, the leader shouting orders at his men as they ran past. Relief washed over Byron; all his efforts to evade capture were not wasted, not yet anyway. This feeling was soon washed away by the fear that had been eating at him from the moment he was snatched from his parents.

Emerging to continue on his way, Byron’s trip further into the centre remained relatively uninterrupted, though not without worry. He eventually came to the first of the skyscrapers on the edge of the city centre. Here he noticed a small tailor’s shop, off the main street, in the window of which he saw some garments. He found a secluded hideaway opposite the shop and sat down, observing the premises and its owner and slowly devising his plan of attack.

It was not an overly popular shop. The shopkeeper seemed to spend a considerable amount time out the back where Byron assumed the workshop was located. Byron knew that his only chance would be when the shopkeeper was repairing clothes in the workroom. A long time passed until Byron saw his opportunity to strike. He noticed the shopkeeper rise from his chair and move to the room in the back of the shop. Byron emerged from his position and walked to the door, checked for customers and silently entered the empty shop. The clothes he had seen earlier were only a few steps away. His anxiety kept him observant and alert. He could hear a sewing machine, masking the minimal noise Byron was making. He approached the counter where the small pile of clothes was sitting and took one last look before snatching them and running for the door. He saw the door opening and came to the horrible realisation that a customer had just arrived. The man took one look at Byron and drew the conclusion that he was stealing, his ragged appearance having given him away.

“Oi! You, what do you think you’re doing?” Byron did not answer, but rather tried to find a way out of the shop. He looked around desperately, trying to control the panic that began to grip him. The shopkeeper stumbled out from the back room, alerted by the yelling. Byron grabbed a nearby umbrella which he hurled at the man still standing by the door. Seizing the moment, Byron made a dash past the stunned man and had nearly escaped with the clothes when the shopkeeper grabbed his arm. Byron momentarily hesitated, remembering the feeling of being trapped and alone.

Byron’s fear became panic as he realised the dire consequences of being caught. He wriggled and strained, trying to escape the shopkeeper’s firm grasp. He had to get out, get free before the other man could grab him too. Taking action, Byron whirled around and kicked the shopkeeper in the stomach as hard as he could, winding the man and forcing him to relinquish his hold. Byron dashed out of the shop and sprinted down the street, away from the centre. He was adamant that he would not be caught; he could not be after his effort to reach this stage. Leaping into the back of a deserted cart, Byron felt a sense of euphoria which he had not felt in a while. He changed into his new clothing, waiting for an opportunity to emerge as a young man.

As day turned into night Byron settled down to think about how he could return to his parents. The sound of dragging chains approaching brought him back to his senses. Carefully lifting the cover on the cart, his eyes settled on a familiar slave trader with eight children, chained up, dejectedly following. Despite his fear, Byron emerged from the cart and crouched underneath, remembering his own brutal treatment at the hands of this man. He watched, his feeling of sorrow for the children made worse by the fact he could not do anything about it.

The sight of the helpless children led him to think about his parents; the distress they must be experiencing at his loss. These children must also have distraught parents, parents who have suffered in the same way as his own.

Stopping dead in the cover of a building, Byron stood, torn between the children and his own freedom. He wanted to give those young victims a second chance at a reasonable life, just as he himself had been given. He also wanted to stay out of harm’s way, to stay free so he could return to his parents and the life he knew. How he would do this though was beyond him. Confusion and indecision ate at him. He did not know how to get home; he did not even know where it was. Surely in this vast city there were others like him. Hearing again the distant sound of the chains, Byron took what he thought was his only option and stole away in pursuit of the enslaved children.


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