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The Mekanikal Turk

The Mekanikal Turk

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Published by thecyben
For all those (three of you, anyway)waiting for the release of 'Chains of Tartarus' and the conculsion of the story begun in 'Elysian Fields'....
Here's a stop-gap, unrelated little gem to keep you busy while I go head-butt the word processor like a drunken football hooligan!
For all those (three of you, anyway)waiting for the release of 'Chains of Tartarus' and the conculsion of the story begun in 'Elysian Fields'....
Here's a stop-gap, unrelated little gem to keep you busy while I go head-butt the word processor like a drunken football hooligan!

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Published by: thecyben on Oct 04, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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07/11/2013

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THE MEKANIKAL TURK I stared into the flames until I felt my eyes would roast in their achingsockets; until purple flare-bursts danced in my brain.I wanted to be sure – utterly, totally sure that this was how I wouldremember Slake Hall, when the jagged shadow of its eaves and turretsand towers loomed up out of my nightmares. So I stood, fixated as thenavvies and breakers worked around me, stood while the leaping flamescame howling and roaring up out of the shattered chimneypots, and whilea rain of sparks fell like a starshower across the overgrown pleasure-gardens.I knew in my heart that it would not work; that I would always recallthe greasy air, the
 pressure
, the underlying stench of the place. That andthe man who now had Slake Hall for his pyre – if, by the end, he had been a man at all!Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself; here - let me fill your cup, let methrow another log on the fire. The winters are so much colder now thanwhen I was young...My name
now
, well, that doesn’t matter. I’m just a dusty old tutor, partof the furniture! But back then they called me Nathaniel Price, and I wasa gentleman.How far I have fallen, eh? All the way below stairs – but scandalcouldn’t follow me here, friend. Scandal, and the others who may have been at my heels, aye...This young fellow Price was a vainglorious fool, a spendthrift, alibertine – and a master of chess. I remember when I was him, young,strong, with all my own teeth and a mind like a cut-throat razor! Back then I could spend whole days in the little checkered world of thechessboard, crossing swords with Russians and Frenchmen and Poles,Prussians and Italians, Spaniards and Colonials... I even spent my nights poring over a board by gaslight, composing strategies against far-away players by mail. No need for me to toil in some factory or dusty firm, for my father had been knighted posthumously, and I had invested his hefty pension well.The details of his sad demise were quietly hushed by the grandees of Whitehall and the Palace; all I remember was being summoned to thecold, drab office of the Headmaster at Saint Osbert’s School to beinformed that I had an hour to pack my belongings and be ready to leave.Later I learned that he had been an agent of the Crown, stationed inParis during the bloody days of Robspierre’s reign of terror. One of hisfellow spies tasted the kiss of the guillotine; another fled before the moband arrived back in London in the belly of a fishing scow. The third wasdriven insane by the sights he had seen, and ended his days in St Mary of 
 
Bethlehem’s – the now-infamous Bedlam madhouse. My father - the lastof this sad little group - was taken years later by a French assassin’sknife, and lauded as a hero for foiling some kind of monstrous republican plot.That was when I threw myself into the deceptively simple world of chess, a world which swallowed me up for twenty years. In the circles of the game, my fame grew, and challengers would present themselves onthe doorstep of my club by the day, having traveled from all over theEmpire and beyond.Which was why I was not surprised when the concierge of the clubcame to me one afternoon, bearing on his salver the little calling card of another hopeful chess-master.But this name was different. This name cut through my fevered attentionas I hunched over yet another game – for this was the name of the manwho had left Paris so ingloriously all those years ago, to fetch up onBlackfriar's Steps covered in fish-scales and filth. He had been a spy, andnow, like me, he lived his life on the chessboard.The name piqued my interest, and his servant’s odd request pricked mynot inconsiderable pride. And that is how I came to Slake Hall oneevening in winter, stepping down from the coach before the wrought-irongates in a halo of gaslamp light and powdery snow.The manor house crouched black and unwelcoming behind a gnarledwall of trees, only the tops of its ornate towers and innumerable chimneysvisible against the oppressive sky. The little valley held no village, nofarms – no human soul, it seemed, but those who toiled in the grounds of the manor. The coachman who had brought me there hastened away witha crack of the whip as though the Devil himself dwelled behind those tall black gates, set with the curious arms of Sir Josiah Harkewell – a greatsilver cogwheel on a red field.I had not long to wait before a manservant came down from the houseto open the gate, though how he knew of my presence there I cannotfathom. A vast black figure loomed out of the mossy tunnel between thetrees, jangling an immense gaolers ring in one hand, fumbling withunwieldy fingers for the right key. As he stepped into the little pool of light cast by the gaslamps I made out his bent and misshapen form moreclearly, and flinched back in momentary fright. The hunch-backed giantonly smiled - a vacuous, drooling grin which left me in no doubt that Godhad seen fit to make him a simpleton as well.Still, a gentleman must comport himself with dignity, so I smiled back, and waited while he wrenched the gates open. He shifted the ice- bound iron with one hand, jerking it loose almost effortlessly. Then acurious flicker passed across the servant’s lumpen features, as swift as theshadow of a hawk gliding over a sunlit field. Something seemed to

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