This Book is Full of Ghosts

Ghost Machine Book CoverGhost Machine is available on Amazon now–and already a bestseller in the young adult steampunk category. Woot! Check it out here. Not sure if it’s a book you’d like? Here’s some of the stuff you’ll find inside:

  • A creepy Victorian asylum full of ghosts
  • Airship battles
  • Mad science
  • A logical heroine and Byronic hero
  • Giant killer iron automatons

Still not sure? Then read the excerpt below:

Chapter 1

The door shut behind me with a deep thud followed by a clink as the nurse locked it from the other side. A jingle of keys, a rustle of skirts, and then the nurse’s footsteps trailed off down the hallway, leaving me alone in silence.

The meat pie I’d eaten for lunch tried to make its way back up my throat. I swallowed firmly.

My new room was small and simple. The only pieces of furniture were a bed with white blankets and a battered wooden nightstand. There was a washing basin, bucket latrine, and… well, that was all. Night was approaching fast, but they hadn’t even left me a candle. The walls were gray and bare, and metal pipes ran across the ceiling. The window had cheerful yellow curtains at least, but the effect was ruined by the iron bars outside the glass.

Bars… locks… My knees shook, and the room swam dizzily before my eyes.

No. I pressed my hand against the door to steady myself. I refused to faint, no matter how ladylike and appropriate it might be in these circumstances.

Someone had brought in my trunk, and it rested forlornly in the corner as if shrinking away from its unfamiliar surroundings. I rushed to it and began to unpack.

I had brought very little. The patients at Auttenberg Asylum wore only nightgowns and dressing robes, so there was no need for an extensive wardrobe. I tried to picture myself walking down the hallways in my favorite pink-and-peacock-blue gown, but the asylum was so dreary and gray it would probably suck the color right from the fabric. I’d wanted to pack my dime novels but hadn’t been allowed. The nurses had said the tawdry stories would upset my fragile state of mind.

At least I’d been able to bring my most important belongings: a leather-bound journal and a family photograph. I set them on the nightstand, and some of the tension in my chest loosened at the sight of my parents’ faces even though right now they were in a steam-powered coach traveling back down the mountain. Papa, in his finest tailcoat and pince-nez glasses, smiled warmly at the camera while Mama remained solemn beneath her flower-covered hat. I stood between them, looking like a younger version of my mother. Both of us were plump, blue-eyed, and blond (though the grays of the photograph didn’t show it). I wondered if these past awful weeks had left my face as worn and tired as it had hers.

Already I was done unpacking, and I looked desperately around the small room for something else to keep me busy. Outside, the sun was setting, dark clouds atop a sky awash in violets and blues. My window had a view of the asylum’s courtyard, which might have been nice enough in spring, but now thick snow hid the barren lawn and flower beds. Beyond the iron fence, the forest began, trees coated in ice so that they glittered in the last rays of sunlight. It would have been pretty if I were in the mood to appreciate it.

I hoped my parents would make it to the valley before nightfall. Perhaps they were stopping at a quaint little inn right now. It had taken us the better part of a day to reach Auttenberg, and now that I had nothing more to distract me, I realized how tired I was from the journey. It was still early. Had I been at home, we wouldn’t even be starting dinner for another hour or so. But I wasn’t home, and I might as well go to bed now and recover my strength for tomorrow.

I undressed as quickly as possible, threw on my nightgown, and slid under the blankets. The mattress was hard (predictable, really), and the blankets smelled of whatever chemical had been used to clean them. I took my journal from the nightstand and squinted in the poor light as I scribbled a few lines about my small, depressing room. By the time I’d finished, my eyelids were heavy and begging to be closed, so I lay on the pillow and pulled the blankets tightly around me.

Slowly the sky grew darker. Every so often I’d hear a distant murmur or a door being closed, but the building was overwhelmingly silent. I curled up, trying to protect myself from the growing cold. No, “cold” wasn’t the best word for this room. “Arctic” was more accurate. The temperature must have dropped ten degrees in the past minute. I knew I was high in the Carpathian Mountains, but…

What was that light? It couldn’t be morning already. I opened my eyes—and my breath froze in my lungs.

No. Not again.

It was a woman. But then it wasn’t, not really. Women weren’t eerily transparent. Something that looked like both smoke and light composed her body, and she was right next to the bed, her feet hovering just inches in front of my face. At first I thought she was floating, but I was wrong. A rope made of the same wispy, glowing substance as her body was fastened to the pipes in the ceiling. It ended in a noose around her neck. My mouth opened in a voiceless scream, but that wasn’t the worst of it.

The woman was beautiful in an otherworldly sort of way. She wore a lacy, white nightgown like my own and had dark hair that ran wild down her back. Her face was as white as her dress, her features smooth and fair—all except the eyes, because she had none. In their place were two gaping dark holes like pools of shadow.

I was suffocating. I forced myself to inhale. Thank God the woman’s black gaze wasn’t directed at me. She hung facing the window and didn’t seem as if she would move.

Stop it. I was thinking of her as a spirit, but she wasn’t. She was a hallucination, a symptom of my insanity. She wasn’t real. I should ignore her and go to sleep.

Heaven help me, but I couldn’t.

She seemed so real. I was afraid to move in case the action drew her attention. The thought of her turning to me, looking at me, was more than I could bear. I couldn’t even close my eyes, terrified if I didn’t keep watch, she’d come for me. I lay there, muscles clenched tight, cold sweat on my chest and back. How long would the specter—the hallucination—remain?

Maybe I should call for help. I’d come here so the doctors could treat my hallucinations, and I’d never needed treatment as desperately as I did right now. But just thinking about calling out made me sick to my stomach with fear. I kept picturing the woman turning to me at the sound, snarling and attacking. She’d tear my soul right out of my chest and send it to hell.

She’s not real, I told myself. I forced my lips to part, my mouth suddenly dry. I’d have to shout so the nurses would hear me; otherwise, it would be useless. My heart raced, feeling like it had migrated from my chest into my throat. Seconds turned to minutes, and I couldn’t make so much as a tiny whine. My voice wouldn’t come. I couldn’t do it.

The nurses probably wouldn’t come anyway. This was an asylum; they must be used to hearing screams in the night. It was a terrifying thought that if I cried out for help, no one would come. Nor was it comforting to realize I was a coward.

If I couldn’t act, then I should ignore the hallucination and go to sleep. I forced my eyes to close, but they flew open an instant later, staring wildly at the hanged woman. She hadn’t moved. It was no use watching her. Even if I saw her coming, there was nothing I could do to stop her from killing me.

With that cheerful thought, I closed my eyes again. Hopefully, sleep would come soon and save me from this nightmare.

 

* * *

 

I didn’t sleep.

I stayed in the exact same position, woozy with dread and fatigue, until dawn. When the first rays of sunlight crept through my window, the ghastly woman faded away. I could only close my eyes and murmur a prayer of thanks.

Then at least I should have been able to sleep. But knowing the woman was a hallucination didn’t quell the cold terror in my stomach. Even in the light of day, my room seemed ghostly. There was no way I could relax enough to sleep here. I sat up, stiff and bleary, and picked up my journal from the nightstand. If I couldn’t sleep, then I may as well write.

 

March 9, 1887. Morning.

Another hallucination appeared at sunset. (I must carry a pocket watch so as to record the exact time of the next one.) It was a white woman with black hair, somewhere in her second decade of age, dressed in a nightgown of contemporary fashion. Her eyes were missing, and she was hanging in a noose. I am unsure why my subconscious must always be so morbid.

The translucence and slight glow were the same as before. (See entry February 24.) However, this one did not move.

The temperature seemed to drop when she appeared. Is this unrelated? A tactile delusion? Or perhaps a measurable effect of the phenomena? I wish I had a thermometer.

 

I set down my pen and looked at the page. When I was younger, I’d hated journals. Mama had insisted I keep one, deeming diary-writing to be a sufficiently ladylike hobby. For nearly a week, I had obeyed her dutifully, recording every detail of my day from my school lessons to my supper. And Lord, was it boring. It was a waste to fill the clean white pages with something so dull and pointless. So I started to exaggerate.

Carriage rides in the park turned into thrilling tales of highway robbery. Dinner parties with neighbors were traded for feasts at faerie courts. I battled monsters, rescued princes, and discovered hidden civilizations. Scribbling in that little book became my favorite pastime—at least until my mother figured out what I was doing.

I hadn’t bothered with journals since then, but now… Now I wanted to see my words on the page, no matter how boring the subject. Then maybe I could analyze my thoughts and figure out if they belonged to a normal girl or if they were truly the thoughts of a madwoman.

Doors started to open somewhere down the hall, followed by footsteps and voices. I snapped my journal closed and put on my dressing robe and slippers, bracing myself for my first day at Auttenberg Asylum.

I prayed it would be better than my first night.

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