“An Airship for Elise” for #WIPpet Wednesday

Since publishing Chameleon in a Mirror on the weekend, I have temporarily turned to a completely different project, a steampunk short story entitled “An Airship for Elise.” The reason for that is simple: I want to submit something to the Lightspeed Special Issue, “Women Destroy Science Fiction!” I actually wrote the story a couple of years ago and put it through the Villa Diodati workshop, where I got some great feedback and suggestions. But I’ve been concentrating so much on novels these days, that I never implemented the critiques, and never submitted the story anywhere. I’m not sure if I’ll manage to get it done in time, since the deadline for the special issue is Friday, but I’m sure going to give it a shot!

That’s the only “writing” I’ve been doing the last couple of days, going through those critiques and trying to edit the story accordingly. Thus, today you get a steampunk excerpt for WIPpet Wednesday, 19 sentences for 2/12/14 (2+12+1+4). But before I do that, a little background on the story. This one takes place in my own backyard (if I had a backyard): our house stands on what used to be the Daimler-Motorenwerke, which in the 20th Century changed its name to Mercedes-Benz. My main character, Elise, is a fictional niece of the real Gottlieb Daimler, who built his first experimental automobiles, airships and boats right here where I spend much of my time making up stories. Elise wants to be an engineer too, but she can’t because women are not allowed to study. So instead, she learns by doing, helping her uncle in his shop. When this story opens, they are participating in a ceremony at which a new airship is being launched:

Suddenly, a gasp went up from the crowd. People began pointing and chattering, even though Graf Zeppelin had not yet finished his speech.
Elise resisted the temptation to twist her head and see what was happening; it would be rude to look away from the speaker. But with an irritated expression, the Graf stopped speaking, and they all turned to see what had caught the crowd’s attention.
The dirigible was rising into the air, although it was not scheduled to launch until after the ceremony. Spectators ran forward to get a closer look at the airship drifting high into the sky, now free of the tethers that had been holding it to the mooring mast.
Elise peered at the gondola, trying to get a glimpse of Hugo Ernst, the young engineer who had taken her place as navigator. If a malfunction had caused the early launch, wouldn’t he be signaling them? But she saw no sign of him – or the ground crew either. Something was very, very wrong.
Another gasp went up from the crowd, louder this time – tongues of flame began to flick along the side of the airship. Elise fought her way through the others standing on the platform, scrambled down the stairs to the fairgrounds, and started running after the spectators. “Back! Back!” she yelled, trying to wave them away. But the onlookers continued to move forward, mesmerized, not hearing her words, not realizing the danger. Then she heard an explosion, and fire suddenly engulfed the ship.
At that, the crowd that had been moving towards the spectacle turned and ran, their gasps of astonishment replaced by shouts of panic. Elise clapped her hands to her mouth. Faster, they had to run faster!
The burning airship crashed into the mooring tower and tumbled to the ground, sending fiery debris in every direction.
That was when the screaming began.

WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts. 🙂

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18 thoughts on ““An Airship for Elise” for #WIPpet Wednesday”

  1. Congratulations on publishing “Chameleon in a Mirror.” I bet you’re excited! 🙂

    Your new story sounds really interesting. It scares me to think about those kinds of moments, when excitement and fascination turn to horror. One of my former co-workers grew up in Florida, and her class was watching as the space shuttle Challenger disaster happened. Talk about scary.

  2. Holy crap! Wow. How come it is people always move toward an impending disaster before they realize, too late, how they should have been running from it instead? You’ve set this scene very well, including the reactions of the crowd. Now I’m wondering what went wrong?!!?

  3. That last line… *shudders* very, very powerful, Ruth. For a moment I felt the heat as it whooshed over the crowd . I knew the horror Elise felt….

    But I don’t get how helpless she feels to get the crowd to stop moving forward. That falls flat. It’s like she tells them to stop, they don’t and she shrugs her shoulders. I mean, I know she ran to wave them back, but the intensity doesn’t come through. Perhaps it’s because I’m not picturing where she is in this crowd… Does she have to press through the people herself? Does she have access to the podium and loudspeakers? Is she close to the flames? What is the danger to her?

  4. Oh! A friend sent me the link to the Women Destroy Science Fiction submission info when it was first announced… and I promptly forgot about it. Well, too late now. I see on their Kickstarter page, they’ve announced a Women Destroy Fantasy as well, so perhaps I can aim for that.

    I love this snippet; it is so intense! (And I was totally picturing the Hindenburg, then scrolled down and there was a picture!). I really feel Elise’s desire to help but powerlessness to do so, particularly as things just get worse and worse.

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