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Authors: K.C. Finn

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BOOK: Sinister Sentiments
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Weather Vain

 

 

A humble clerk knows that his future position in any company is fully dependent on how he looks when he enters the office. I always stand by the window when I finish dressing in the morning, under the arch of the roof in my third-floor bedroom. The gilded mirror sits in the corner just beyond this window, reflecting light into the modest room behind it, and onto me as I stand, appraising myself in its polished glass.

Two eyes in a fine amber shade. Dark brown hair smoothed into an austere backward sweep. A slim jaw and slightly-pointed chin. One slim, straight nose in a symmetrical position, sitting atop a thin moustache that I don’t seem to be able to cultivate into a proper beard. An aspiring businessman ought to have better facial hair, but perhaps I’m still too young for the right kind of whiskers to grow in. Someday, I hope for better growth.

“Your tie isn’t straight, darling dearest.”

Annette. The brightest light in my life. I don’t know how long she’s been standing at the bedroom door, but now she swiftly moves into my vision, coming to stand between me and the mirror. She reaches out to straighten the maroon bow tie enveloping my shirt collar, patting her hands down the sleeves of my brown jacket afterwards. She smiles with angel’s lips, her almond-shaped, hazel eyes encased in long lashes. Though her hair is kept back by a sensible knot, a recent memory flashes to my mind of those soft, auburn curls hanging down about her bare shoulders.

I pull her towards me, wrapping my arms tight around her waist. My little wife giggles into my chest, gasping as though she’s breathing me in. I feel her tender fingertips slip to the small of my back, fumbling up under the jacket and into the spot where my braces meet my trouser waist. The touch sends shivers through me that she knows only too well. I nuzzle into her smooth neck, planting kisses on the perfect, porcelain skin there. She smells like citrus and lavender water.

“Khazran, darling,” she says, wriggling in my arms. “You have to breakfast, or you’ll be late for the office.”

It’s a feeble protest, and one we both know will do nothing to assuage my lips from travelling up and down her collarbone.

“I can’t help it, dear Annette,” I confess with a chuckle. “You’re too beautiful to resist. It’s my Turkish blood.”

She makes a little scoffing sound and pulls her neck away.

“You blame everything on your Turkish blood,” she chides.

I’m about to counter her argument when we both jump at the sudden rumbling noise overhead. A bright flash illuminates the dull morning, turning the whole view outside the window into white nothingness for the briefest moment. Annette moves out of my now-loose grip, pressing her fingertips to the window as she squints out into the wider world.

“It’s snowing on Forsyte Street,” she remarks.

I turn to follow her gaze. In our little avenue, the dull, cloudy morning reigns supreme. Three streets away, however, the lightning flash has brought a tirade of concentrated snowflakes down on the dozen houses of Forsyte Street. Beyond that, most of the other alleys and avenues are bathed in faint spring sunlight.

“Quite a blizzard,” I muse. “I wonder what they’ve done to upset Mr Metero this time.”

Forsyte Street quite often gets the worst of the weather. Sunshine is reserved for only those who impress Mr Metero, the weathermaster, the most. I’m hoping that, after today, I’ll be the one responsible for bathing our humble home in light.

“You ought to go,” Annette tells me, straightening my clothes once more. “He’ll make it rain if you’re late for work.”

The Metero Factory is home to several divisions of labour. The ground floor is for labourers; the hefty men who stock the coals and turn the engines for the great machines in the sky. The first floor is for clerical workers and administrative assistants, who feed the machines their instructions. The second floor houses the designers; the grand men and occasional ladies who cultivate custom-made weather patterns to customer specifications, punching them in on co-ordinated cards to be fed into the great machines by the floor below. The third floor contains the private offices of Mr Metero himself. What goes on there, I can only dream of, as yet.

I work in the Correspondence Department (first floor), dealing with requests for specific phenomena. It’s my job to decide, on a case-by-case basis, whose weather requests are suitable projects for the weather architects to work on. Occasionally, I also have to work through the pile of complaints that are threatening to start a fire in the storage room, and today is one such beastly day. I am resolute, however, that I’ll make a good, efficient job of it. I’ll power through the complaints at such a record speed that Mr Metero will have no choice but to commend the dedication of Khazran Steed.

I work eight hours a day, in an office so compact that a mouse wouldn’t even envy its square footage. Surrounded by paper and inky stamps, I pause occasionally to look at the photograph on my desk. Annette and I had it specially commissioned on the first anniversary of our marriage; it is a scene taken in deep snow in front of a Ferris wheel on the seventh of July. Mr Metero provided the weather for a hefty sum of money, but it was worth it to see the look on Annette’s face when the powdery substance fell all around us. I look at the satisfied smile on my younger face, remembering how proud I felt to have made it snow for her.

“That is the smile of a young man in love.”

I don’t recognise the croaking voice, but when I look up, my breath catches a little in my throat. A hooked nose protrudes from between glossy eyes, so pale blue that one could almost call them silver. The gentleman wears a golden cravat about his neck and a crimson top hat covered in shiny brass gears. They click and hum all the time around a miniscule printing press, which is producing a thin strand of paper that dangles down to the old man’s shoulder. He tears the paper strip off as I gape at him, reading the information before casting it down onto my floor.

“Mr Metero, Sir,” I stammer. “I had no idea you were inspecting the department.”

“Far from it, dear boy,” he croaks. “I have come to commend your efforts for my company, Mr Steed. It is time I reviewed your employment here properly.”

Dear boy. The affectionate name gives me hope that my little scheme to climb the career ladder has begun to take hold. I stand up to give Mr Metero a little bow and the old man approaches, looking me over with a faint smile on his greying lip. He has a light, wispy beard that curls like white foam on his chin. His head bows a little as he appraises my desk, one liver-spotted hand reaching out to take hold of my photo frame.

“My, my,” he says with a sigh. “Aren’t you and your wife a pretty pair?”

“Thank you, Sir,” I say without delay, inclining my head again.

Mr Metero holds the photograph up, comparing it to my current features, I suppose. His free hand reaches out, barely a half-inch from my bare chin, so close that I can feel the frozen air coming from his fingertips.

“You’re darker-skinned than you look in the company records,” he tells me.

“My grandmother was a Turk, Sir,” I answer. I try to sound apologetic of the fact, even though I rather like the hue of my skin in private.

“Still,” Mr Metero muses. “There’s something very pleasant about your aspect, my boy.”

He touches me properly then, and an uncomfortable jolt hits my stomach at the contact. Only Annette ought to have her fingertips on my face, but it isn’t polite to rebuff one’s employer. Fortunately, the tape emanating from the old man’s hat has reached his elbow, and he backs away to rip it off and study it once more.

“It’s official!” he exclaims with sudden, hoarse joy. “The Empire has acquiesced to my request for sky engines over Africa! Look here, do you see?”

He holds out his latest paper strip, but all I can make out are strange, shorthand symbols that I don’t understand. I reply brightly all the same.

“That’s wonderful, Sir.”

“I shall have to depart at once for the continent if I’m to be there in time to oversee the launch.”

Mr Metero turns on his heel, ready to depart in his sudden excitement, but when he reaches my door, just a pace or two away, he stops. His frosted eyes fall on my face and my stomach jolts again.

“I suppose,” he begins slowly, “that I shall need someone to take care of the factory whilst I’m gone.”

He can’t possibly mean me, and yet the smile on his thin lips tells me otherwise. I raise my eyebrows, unable to vocalise the question that all my dreams might come true, if only for a week or so. Mr Metero just nods, as though he can hear every word I’m thinking.

“You’re a diligent chappie, Mr Steed,” he says merrily. “Why don’t you come up to the top floor with me? We’ll see if you’re suited to the task.”

I don’t want to lose the opportunity, but it feels so impolite to just cry ‘Yes’ at the top of my lungs. Instead I clear my throat, wringing my hands together for the briefest moment.

“You’re sure, Sir?” I ask humbly. “I’m just a simple clerk, really. I haven’t a clue about the running of a factory.”

“Precisely,” Mr Metero says, pointing a bony finger at me. “If I gave control to one of the designers, they’d have ideas above their station, be wanting to experiment!” He stamps his foot for emphasis. “Disgraceful! And give power to a labourer, well, he’d be taking liberties casting tropical sunbeams over his own back yard.” Another stamp. “Criminal! We can’t have that. But you, my lamb, you’re in the middle. You know your place, and you’ll stick to it for me, won’t you?”

“Yes Sir,” I say, hardly daring to believe my luck. “Of course Sir.”

The gold and glass elevator is only for designers and senior staff usage. It operates by hand-crack from the ground floor, where a labourer is put in place to wind the locomotive device in both the upward and downward directions. Mr Metero rings a little service bell from a panel within the contraption, which is labelled
Third Floor
in a curling, elegant script. The gilded box begins to ascend after mere moments, and I peer out of the glass panels in its doors to watch the forbidden floors above me coming into view.

We pass the designers’ floor, where the architects of weather sit at their titled desks, pencils and calculators in hand, then the scene is gone as a corridor the colour of aubergines comes into view. I chance a glance at Mr Metero to find the old man watching me, a knowing smile playing at his lips. He surely understands how exciting this moment must be for one who hasn’t witnessed the third floor before. He opens the elevator doors for us both, stepping back again to allow me first passage into the corridor ahead.

The corridor leads onto a huge expanse. Here, at the head of the building, the ceiling has been removed to combine with the attic, giving rise to a ten foot space above where I stand. The Metero Factory’s roof is riddled with thick, rectangular panels of glass that display the sunlit sky above. Between the glass, there are pockets of open air that let warmth and natural light stream in. I almost wonder what Mr Metero does when it rains, but then I remember who he is. I’m sure that it never rains above the Metero Factory.

Through the floor, huge brass pipes rise up towards the holes in the glass ceiling. I recognise the polished metal as that which belongs to the weather engines below, where some of my fellow clerks feed the customised punch-cards into the machines. Even as I’m watching the pipes, there is a sudden rumble from within one of the nearest ones. A whipcrack sound hits me like a physical force, followed swiftly by a slim bolt of lightning that shoots from the pipe into the sky. The lightning continues to shoot upwards for several seconds, and some bursts are longer than others, beating out some sort of code into the heavens. So this is how the machines in the sky receive their signals.

“How do you find it, dear boy?” Mr Metero asks.

“Fascinating,” I reply, too dumbfounded to even find another word to add.

The old man takes me by the elbow, weaving me through the jutting tubes as my head spins in all directions to watch the signals fire off. I stumble a little, my gaze suddenly snapping back to ground level, where I find that Mr Metero has a little desk set up for himself amid the machines. It is an elegant piece of furniture, with polished oak and golden edging, and I find myself a little choked that he should think me worthy to sit at such a desk in his absence. He even has his own personal machine feeder atop the desk, ready to send custom weather out with his very own fingertips. There are fountain pens and paperwork and all manner of schematics and important documents strewn about. Everything is beautiful and elegant atop the weatherman’s desk.

Except for the rose.

It sits in a glass dome at the far right corner: a single rose suspended by I know not what. It is withered and rotten, with almost all of its petals discarded into crumbling heaps of dead matter beneath its floating stem. It disgusts me to see it, but I find my eyes drawn to it all the same. What place does a thing of such displeasing aspect have in the realm of beauty? Mr Metero moves to the glass dome, resting one withered hand on top of it as he too watches the floating, wilted flower.

“Tell me Khazran,” the old man begins. “What do you think of thunderstorms?”

I look into his glossy eyes, deciding that honesty is a man’s true mark.

BOOK: Sinister Sentiments
13.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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