Genres: Historical Fantasy; Alternate History
An epic battle between psychological manipulation and natural magic unfolds as Perjos, the world’s greatest magician, returns to the Blank Slate Boarding House for Creatives to settle old scores.
The house’s newest servant, Emily Turner, must resist the magician’s powers alone after her only friend disappears, leaving her to face Perjos as he destroys the lives of the the artists who stay at the Blank Slate.
The one person left to help Emily stop Perjos is Old Ted who lives in the forest, but his world — and our world — is forever changed by a tree plague that devastates the forests.
The Blank Slate welcomes believers and skeptics alike in this dark and richly layered tale of historical-magical realism, inviting the question “Is seeing believing?”
Chapter One of The Blank Slate Boarding House for Creatives
An Impromptu Performance
The world’s greatest magician did not like Cherbourg, and he did not like waiting.
Huddled beneath his woolen overcoat, Perjos stared at the gray English Channel awaiting the blast that would announce the first boarding call for the S.S. Rotterdam. He had up-ended his cherry-red steamer trunk to help block the chill wind, his luggage the only bright thing in that gray morning.
He sat at one of the port city’s tiny cafés that doubled as tobacconists and booksellers to travelers. These were the last places for travelers to part with their money before commending their lives to the sea — and to the greasy calloused hands of those who worked the ships’ engines below the water line.
Although not surprised to find his cup of tea had grown cold in the raw morning air, he wondered how a fly had gotten itself drowned without his notice. He dabbed a fingertip in the tepid liquid to retrieve its corpse and flicked the little bloated body onto the ground. Sliding the cup slowly away from him, Perjos maneuvered the saucer to the edge of the table and then let go. The cup and saucer teetered at the edge and then shattered against the ground.
He heaved himself upright, crushing remnants of the teacup under the soles of his black-and-white leather brogues. He left his steamer trunk at the table, weighted with wardrobe and curiosities.
Once again he fingered his way through the paltry offering of mementos at the café’s narrow counter. Judging the stock of picture postcards too reverent of Napoleon, Perjos assured himself the one he had sent to Mrs. Cornelius announcing his imminent return to her esteemed boarding house had suited her: a photo of the blackened foot of Santa Barbara. Although the saint’s flesh had miraculously repaired itself under torment during her martyrdom, her sole remaining appendage moldered in the ceaseless torment of time encased in the glass shrine in Kiev, which is where he purchased the postcard.
These others, with Le petit Caporal throwing fierce expressions from rearing horses, were not to his liking. He bent their corners in disdain.
“Haven’t you any postcards with more religious themes?” he inquired of the wrinkled man behind the counter.
“It is as you see,” the man replied.
Perjos snorted derisively as he turned his back to the counter and returned to the boulevard.
Now what to do?
The waiting was agony, and the only release was his eventual arrival in America. There he looked forward to contending with his critics, chiefly the Wriggling Rabbi (as he called Harry Houdini), so that their dispute would be at an end. No more questions from garrulous newspaper reporters.
Do you agree that Houdini is the greatest living magician?
Are the rumors true that Houdini wants you to stop performing?
It was time to settle once and for all who was — and who was not — a real magician, let alone the world’s greatest one.
But that was months away.
In Cherbourg it was nothing but waiting, waiting, waiting.
Other waiting travelers milled up and down the boulevard, anxious but more optimistic than he. A little boy held onto his father with one hand while enthusiastically kicking at one of the tree stumps that lined the street. Stumps, stumps everywhere. His journey had been lined with tree stumps and waiting and worse — people talking about tree stumps and tree diseases.
The trees of Europe were falling.
Although Perjos would have preferred anonymity as he suffered, just another shivering and anxious traveler awaiting a wretched voyage trapped on the S.S. Rotterdam, a family of Germans decided otherwise.
“Excuse me! Excuse me!” the mother brayed at him in Plattdeutsch.
From Bremen, Perjos decided.
Judging from the bulge under her coat, she was with child as if the three already in her keep weren’t enough.
How do they recognize me? he wondered.
How could they fail to recognize me? he decided bitterly. His dark eyes peered from brick walls and newspapers across the continent.
Everything about the German family made Perjos cringe, even the most recently birthed child who was barely covered by a blanket in its pram. It was still small for a human, and its big eyes could not yet focus on any object farther than its own sticky fingers, which, it found, fit nicely in its bespittled mouth.
“Please, sir,” the mother begged. “The children would cherish forever the memory if you would perform one of your tricks.”
Perjos smiled in spite of the rush of hot anger that made his scalp tingle from hearing the word.
“My pleasure,” he replied. Then he feigned concern, troubling the edge of the pram with his gloved hands.
“Was there not a child in that carriage just moments ago?” he said.
Both mother and father leaned in for a closer inspection only to find an empty cushion and damp spots. They could not see their beloved briet, and this sent the little family into a fit. The husband went so far as to pat his own coat as if the infant had stowed away in the pockets. Mother and father extended the circle of their search, dodging in and out of shops and accosting passersby — most of whom could not make sense of their guttural babble.
“Now this is fun, isn’t it?” Perjos said to the child who had, in fact, remained in the pram while its parents continued their frenzied search. Perjos studied the cooing baby’s eyes, innocent yet of the torment that would become its grinding existence. All the interminable waiting.
“The eyes are the secret,” Perjos confided to the infant. “But don’t tell anyone.”
The infant’s mother, who was off her head with screaming, made her way toward Perjos begging him to use his tricks to rescue the child. Her voice grated his already tender nerves. He waved her over, calmly announcing that he had found the child. She rushed at the wheeled contraption like an elephant charging a safari hunter. At the final moment, Perjos kicked the pram so that it shifted into her path. In a blink, both mother and child were prone on the cobblestones, the wild-eyed infant barely saved by its mother’s outstretched arms.
“Oops,” Perjos said.
The ship sounded a blast, the sound he had been dreading. It coursed through the grimy, treeless streets of Cherbourg and reverberated in his stomach. A young boy smudged with soot appeared at Perjos’ elbow.
“Carry your luggage for you, sir?” the boy asked.
“Of course you will,” Perjos said, pointing to the red case still at the café table. He was in a mood as foul as the boy’s clothes.
The boy picked his way through the remnants of the broken tea set to retrieve the steamer. Soon he was struggling to keep up with Perjos who was anxious to cross the gangplank. The magician shook his head and grimaced as he watched the cold, dark waves lapping the ship’s hull.
Those depths were a nightmare full of monsters.
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About Chaunce Stanton:
Chaunce Stanton brings readers into the realm of imagination. He writes in diverse fiction genres, including literary, magical realism, dark humor, and horror. He develops characters who behave realistically within the unexpected twists and turns of their lives.
His latest novel, The Blank Slate Boarding House for Creatives, combines Fantasy of Manners and Alternate History fiction with unexpected plot twists and strong character development.
His first novel, Luano’s Luckiest Day (2012), came from a dream about a boy riding a white tiger in search of his mother. Chaunce began writing the novel as soon as he woke up. It is a story set without a specific map or calendar in mind, and yet he is able to bring the desert town where Luano lives to life so that it becomes very real to the reader.
A resident of St. Paul, Minnesota’s diverse North End neighborhood, Chaunce’s favorite reads include Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun; Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke; Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón; and Devil in the White City and Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson.
Chaunce is an avid walker, reducing his “carbon footprint” by leaving his actual footprints on the sidewalks of the city. He is married to Naomi who preserves and cooks the produce from their large organic raised-bed garden. They enjoy traveling and the odd visit to cemeteries.
The giveaway will run 9-16-13 – 9/23/13! Open worldwide, must be 18 or over to enter!
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