Like Rob said to me yesterday, this Duel feels a lot more real now that we are sharing our writing with you all! Hope you all enjoyed Rob’s excerpt yesterday – I certainly did, it was just as good as I expected it would be! – and hope it whetted your appetites to keep following and to find out more about The Invention of Steam.

Here is my first offering. Sam has followed his brother, in the middle of the night, to a graveyard. That’s all you really need to know.

I look through, and shiver when I see the four figures gathered amongst the gravestones like ghosts. They are illuminated by a flickering glow that comes from a flame held up by one of them. The flame is a thick piece of wood, a primitive torch. I’ve only ever seen people on television use them, like explorers in films searching deep, dark, scary caverns and ancient temples. I don’t feel like an explorer any more. The figure moves the flame up, illuminating his face more now, and I can see that it is Ollie. He looks slightly mad, covered in moonlight and firelight. Maybe he is the real explorer. And I’m just following in his footsteps.

He is facing across the graveyard towards me, but I don’t think that he can see me. I am deep  in the bushes, and slightly higher than where he and his friends are gathered. The low squat shape of the dog is restrained now, lying down in the snow. The figure holding its lead sits on a headstone, tiny legs dangling just above the dog’s head. The figure looks like a girl.

I look around the others. The one opposite Ollie is a round silhouette, his flat back staring at me. It must be a boy, besides his large shape his shoulders are broad. It is hard to tell from behind, but I think he has got his arms crossed. There is a skinnier boy, definitely a boy, between the big round shape and Ollie, and opposite the girl with the dog. He is the only one that looks cold, hopping back and forward. He takes his gloves off for a moment to blow into his hands, and the gloves dangle from his wrists, tied on strings through this coat. I try not to laugh. Even I don’t have gloves on strings.

Ollie is talking to the group. It doesn’t even look like him. He’s not an explorer, I realise. He is a General. The leader of this gang. But no ordinary gang. An otherwordly, alien gang. And I am Sam the Astronaut, hiding from an alien colony, and its General has shapeshifted into my brother to lure me out, using my weak human mind against me.

None of this feels real.

I realise I have absolutely no idea what time it is. I didn’t even look when I left the house, and that seems like hours and hours ago. It is probably not been that long since I was woken up by the snowballs at the window. I have certainly never been awake at this time of the night before. Let alone outside of the house. I am awake in a new world, watching someone who looks like my brother standing in a graveyard, holding fire and talking to ghosts.

I concentrate on my breathing. Long, slow, silent breaths. I close my eyes, and listen to my heartbeat. That is definitely real, still thumping in my chest. My breathing is real. I touch my arm. Even through thick gloves and a thick coat, my arm is real. I am afraid to open my eyes and look back down into the graveyard. Reality might disappear again.

One last look, just to make sure what I’m looking at is really there, and then I will go.

Something sharp presses into the back of my neck. Somebody laughs behind me.

“Well, well, well….”

There you go… hope you liked it! Please let me know in the comments.

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