Short Story Excerpt: Beyond the Familiar by Jeff Young – Afterpunk Anthology

JY Steam.jpgMeet Jeff Young.

Jeff Young is a bookseller first and a writer second – although he wouldn’t mind a reversal of fortune.

He is an award winning author who has contributed to the anthologies: Writers of the Future V.26, In an Iron Cage: The Magic of Steampunk, Clockwork Chaos, Gaslight and Grimm, By Any Means, Best Laid Plans, Dogs of War, Man and Machine, If We Had Known, Fantastic Futures 13, The Society for the Preservation of C.J. Henderson, TV Gods & TV Gods: Summer Programming. Jeff’s own fiction is collected in TOI Special Edition 2 – Diversiforms and the forthcoming Spirit Seeker. He also edited the Drunken Comic Book Monkey line, TV Gods and TV Gods –Summer Programming. He has led the Watch the Skies SF&F Discussion Group of Camp Hill and Harrisburg for seventeen years. Jeff is also the proprietor of Helm Haven, the online Etsy and Ebay shops, costuming resources for Renaissance and Steampunk.


Beyond the Familiar Excerpt

“The departed have better things to do than talk to you.”

Kassandra met that statement from Madam Foss with a canted eyebrow.

“Look at me like that all you will lassie, but it’s still the truth.” She tipped her teacup back and drank down the last bit as Kassandra waited for her to continue. “It may sound absurd but the dead don’t always have an interest in what the price of butter is. They’ve moved on. They’ve joined the grand choir. They’ve earned their reward. They’ve other concerns.”

Kassandra couldn’t help but notice that as Madam Foss delivered her last comment her eyes drifted off to the right and she lifted the empty cup for another sip only to find she’d already emptied it. Kassandra enjoyed her time with her new mentor. However, she often found that not only was it important what Madam Foss relayed but also what she avoided. Since it was expected of her, she asked, “Well how does one engage with the departed then? My former teacher was grave robbing and then forcing the spirits to speak.”

Madam Foss’s dark wrinkled visage puckered up even farther as if she’d been offered something scraped off of the road outside. “You and I will be avoiding any such wrongdoing. What we do is like a tool. You can build a house with it or you can lay about with it doing all sorts of damage that not only hurts those around you but also you.” With that one of her fingers shot out and dug into Kassandra’s chest. “You will be better than that wretch.”

Leaning back in the chair, so she could reach for her teacup and put herself out of the range of that finger, Kassandra considered her mentor.

Madam Foss kept her hand outstretched for a moment longer and then leaned back into her own chair. “We speak to the dead mostly through intermediaries. There are those that are just as restless as they were in life. They can find the spirits we need to speak to and if those are unwilling to speak, the intermediaries can carry messages.”

“They are familiars,” Kassandra said suddenly pleased with herself at the realization.

The chair creaked as Madam Foss lunged towards her once again, finger pointed and then thought better of the action. She clutched her hands together, staring at Kassandra. “I keep forgetting that you are so much older than most who are brought to me.” She shook her head, the gray curls swaying under her bonnet, “I forget that you like to think for yourself instead of just listen and listen good like a younger one would. So lassie if you say familiar to anyone else, they’ll be calling witchcraft in no time at all. What we do has nothing to do with the dark parts we were discussing before. Perhaps those spirits do become familiar and perhaps that’s why they take such a name, but the common man only knows that as evil. We speak to intermediaries, to intermediaries only, clear? We are mediums. We speak for the dead and the dead speak to us. That’s all that matters. When someone decides they know better than we do, that’s when words like ‘evil’ and ‘witch’ gets tossed about. That’s when they start gathering tinder.”

She considered Kassandra for a moment longer her dark eyes squinting as if she could see inside her. Then the passage of a dirigible overhead caused the windows of Madam Fosse’s small home to shudder and broke her attention. She stood up suddenly and gestured for Kassandra to follow her. Setting aside her teacup, Kassandra brushed the front of her dress down and then stepped after her mentor as she crossed the sitting room and walked through the foyer. The house was split by a large staircase that rose into the dimness of the upper level. On the other side were a pair of large wooden doors. Kassandra had spent most of her time in the sitting room and the kitchen beyond during her visits. They hadn’t ventured to the other side of the house until now. Madam Foss pulled out a large brass key and unlocked the doors and then threw them open.

Dark curtains covered the windows in what was a converted dining room. Bookcases were set up so that the square corners of the room were rounded off. Wooden chairs with caned bottoms were spread around about the perimeter and a rich rug covered the floor. But what drew Kassandra’s attention was the table at the center.

It was circular and draped in deep red velvet. A wooden disk lay on top only slightly smaller in diameter. At its center was a hole and braided copper wires rose from inside the table to latch on to the Jacobs Ladder that climbed halfway to the ceiling. Copper threads chased across the wooden circle in strange patterns and two brass handgrips were mounted close enough for easy use. A leather-backed chair was pushed up to the table in front of the grips.

Madam Foss pulled back the chair and said to Kassandra, “Sit.”

Before they’d merely been conversing. The tone that the medium took with her now was one that had Kassandra dropping into the chair before she considered rebelling. Instinctively she reached out for the grips. They were so cold to her touch that she almost pulled away but the sharp glance from Madam Foss made her keep her hands in place. The older woman reached down and began turning a large crank that was just visible under the tablecloth. As she did so, a crackly snapped through the air and a flicker of static flew up the Jacob’s Ladder, then another and another until visible arcs ascended towards the top and dissipated into the surrounding air. The copper wiring on the tabletop danced with fat blue sparks and then the current hit Kassandra shooting her hair out in all directions. Her red curls furled like a corona about her.

“Now you know why I wear a hat,” came Madam Foss’s dry comment.

But Kassandra wasn’t paying attention any longer. She was trying to understand where the water had come from. Then it struck her, it wasn’t water and it was coming from her. Her skin, her pores, her mouth, her eyes, her ears – every exit from her was weeping something that wasn’t water but rather ectoplasm. Madam Foss had called it the insulation between worlds at one point. There it was real, right before her. Gradually, the silver substance began to collect in a sphere over the table. When Kassandra looked down at the design in copper with its circles about the handgrips, she realized that it was designed to help keep the ectoplasm contained. The Jacobs Ladder overhead was bleeding off just the right amount of static to keep the circuit she was part of safe. More and more ectoplasm kept pouring from her until the sphere swelled to twice the size of her head. She looked at it closely and discovered that it was spinning ever so slightly. Then she lunged forward out of the chair and plunged her head into the silver mass.

At first she didn’t notice anything. It was almost as if her eyes were adjusted to a dark room. There was a faint sound that might be footsteps and a light breeze blew across her face. Gradually, she began to realize that she was looking down what she could only describe as a path. It was so straight and long that perspective vanished into the distance. She could see a little of what looked like woods to either side but couldn’t actually move her point of view. It was as if her head weren’t with her any longer but only her eyes. There were shapes and shadows ahead of her, however they were so far down the path they were more like suggestions or imperfections in the overall pattern. Then one of the shadows grew darker and became more defined. It stepped out of the side onto the path and crossed it quickly. But before it faded into the other side, it hesitated. For the tiniest part of an instant, Kassandra thought that she’d seen a dark cloaked form turn to stare at her.

The last time that she’d seen the shade of her mother Anastasia, she’d worn a dark cloak. If there was any spirit she wished to speak to it was most certainly her mother. If her mother were to become her familiar spirit, it would be almost perfect. But the figure was gone. The path was fading and Madam Foss’s iron grip was pulling her forcibly back into the chair.

As she sat there gasping, her hands torn from the brass grips, Madam Foss considered Kassandra, hands akimbo. “Should’ve known you were going to do that. From now on girl you listen to me if you plan on staying on. The other side doesn’t take kindly to intruders. There are things that keep us out. That’s not how we talk to the other side. That’s the important part. We talk to the other side. You don’t get to visit unless you’re planning on staying. Now you just sit back and I’ll get you another cup of tea. Your heart’s gonna race and be out of rhythm for a little and it’s likely you’ll have trouble catching your breath. You’re young so you’ll do fine but it’ll hurt.”

With that she reached under the table, pulled the handle she’d cranked into place against the underside of the able. She patted Kassandra on the shoulder as the table crackled with a few stray sparks and wondered off after the tea.

While Kassandra sat there blinking, black spots chasing across her vision and her heart thumping away like a swallow trapped in a chimney, her mind was racing. She’d seen heaven. Well, she’d seen the other side. It wasn’t anything like she’d expected.



The Details on the upcoming Afterpunk Anthology

tales of paranormal steampunk.jpg
eSpec Books brings you three great new steampunk books of witches and magic and the great beyond.
eSpec Books is back with three delightfully punky tomes for your reading enjoyment. Won’t you help us make these fantastical books a reality? We bring you familiar favorites and shiny new names, but as always wonderful fiction. This campaign will allow us to cover production costs, pay the authors, and possibly include artwork in these books, which you can read about below…


by Michelle D. Sonnier

The seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Arabella is destined to disappoint, when she was expected to shine. Though she descends from a long line of gifted witches she has earned the moniker of a “brown bud” showing no sign of magical talent.

When it truly seems her lot can grow no worse, she discovers an unnatural affinity for…of all things…technology. Not only are the mysteries of the mechanical world open to her, but her new-found ability allows her to manipulate them, making her the first ever clockwork witch and anathema to the nature of the witching world.

How will she come to grips with her new power when she must question if she will survive the judgement of her family and her peers?

spiritseeker.jpgSPIRIT SEEKER  

by Jeff Young

The Kassandra Leyden Adventures

The Leydens were people of extraordinary means. The father a well-known adventurer. The mother a spiritualist oft consulted by the government of New Britain. The daughter, Kassandra, inherited both the skill and sense of adventure that made her parents great.

But when her mother vanishes without a trace, and her father turns toward spirits of a fluid nature as he loses himself in memory, Kassandra is left to find her own way and purpose. She quickly learns a sense of caution as she discovers there is as much intrigue as adventure about the world she lives in. And not all those she’s had faith in are to be trusted.

With the whispers of spirits in her ear and unlikely allies at her back, Kassandra strives to defend both the living and the departed…after all…

It’s the Spirit of the matter…



edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Greg Schauer

While mankind can scarce hope to pierce the Veil without crossing it, a few intrepid souls will ever bend their will against the aether, combining artifice and the arcane to uncover its secrets.

From voodoo death cults to the Day of the Dead, mummy parties, the wheel of reincarnation, the practice of death portraits, and so much more, these tales leave no gravestone unturned.

Be it heaven or hell or the limbo in between, the hereafter is about to get ‘Punked.

With stories by Jody Lynn Nye, David Sherman, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, James Chambers, Michelle D. Sonnier, Jeffrey Lyman, Bernie Mojzes, Travis I. Sivart, Jeff Young, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

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