Here's a sizable excerpt from the 3rd and final edition of my gothic fairy tale, The Twilight Gods. In this scene, Norris's tutor takes him to the Great Exhibition, where something strange mixes it up with a world of wonders.
Norris had barely stepped across the threshold of Mr. Garland’s room when his tutor accosted him. “Would you like to go to the Great Exhibition, Master Norris?”
He stopped, a little confused. “Sir?”
“The Great Exhibition! I thought that perhaps we ought to see it today—in lieu of our lessons, of course.” Mr. Garland stood before Norris, tall and spindly and burdened, his face a mask of exhausted hope.
“I don’t think Mama can afford to buy me a ticket.”
“Oh, there’s no need to ask her,” came the laughing reply. “I’ve been given two by the headmaster. Rewards, you see, for a most productive month at the academy.”
Norris tried not to feel resentful and failed. “It’s good to know that the students are enjoying a proper education,” he replied frostily.
“Indeed! Why, I’ve never been treated this generously by an employer before, sir! And I wish to share my good fortune with you, of course, being my special student.”
“Special, indeed,” Norris muttered, scratching the back of his head.
“So what say you, young man?” Mr. Garland indicated the dark, cramped room with a grand sweep of an arm. “Better to be out there, in the sun, walking among people of all ranks, lost in the world of English ingenuity than being locked away in these lodgings like consumptive wretches.”
Norris smiled, his mood rising at the prospects. “I’ll put on my coat,” he said, turning on his heels and rushing out of the room. Better not to wallow in resentment, he told himself, and take advantage of such an opportunity—yes, the same opportunity he’d always desired.
Within moments they’d taken their leave of Norris’ mother and were in a crowded omnibus that carried them to Hyde Park and the Crystal Palace. Norris could barely contain his excitement and found himself more complacent and forgiving than he’d expected, being crammed tightly inside the vehicle as it lumbered through the busy streets in the direction of perhaps the busiest section of London at that time.
He barely gave any thought to all the shadow-people he saw mingling with the crowd once they arrived.
“This is remarkable!” he cried, running up to the towering crystal fountain and standing, drop-jawed, before its sparkling waters and exquisitely carved, light pink glass. He could spend an entire day there, he knew, simply watching the water jetting higher than he could ever imagine water to fly, the delicate sprays capturing light and giving off colors that mesmerized as they soared heavenward before falling back down.
Around him the crowds surged in a noisy wave of color and conversation. A majestic iron fence separated one of the refreshment areas from the rest of the interior. Elm trees rose as though sprouting from the wood floor, lending the Crystal Palace such beauty as could only be found beyond closed walls. The visual effects, when seen against the backdrop of glass walls and ceiling, were strange yet breathtaking, and Norris wondered more than once whether or not those trees were truly real.
A plaintive wail tore through the noise, and Norris turned to find a small boy standing nearby, red-faced and tearful. Before he could approach the child and offer help, a uniformed man appeared through the crowd as though by magic, exchanged a few quiet words with the frightened boy, and gently led him away to the nearby police office, where, Norris soon learned, all manner of lost items and children were held. It was conveniently located.
“He expected to see lost babes around the fountain, I’m sure,” Mr. Garland noted with some amusement. “Come along, Master Norris, and let’s see what secrets we can wrest out of this great glass house.”
There were so many of those secrets, Norris soon discovered, too many for him to see in one afternoon. The bright colors of the displays and the noise worked together to make his skull throb with a dull pain.
“Why, England isn’t the only country offering something ingenious here,” he presently said as he stood before a splendid exhibit from India. Gem-encrusted silks were merely one example of its rich displays.
“No, but she boasts the best demonstrations of brilliant engineering,” Mr. Garland huffed as he stared down his nose at the sumptuous, exotic grandeur spread out before them. “You shall see soon enough, Master Norris, just how superior England’s scientific achievements are compared to the trifling superficialities of her neighbors.”
They moved on and examined displays from France and America, among others, with Norris growing more and more fearful of his ability to remember everything he saw. Every remarkable exhibit was juxtaposed with lively, colored columns and bright red canopies, which lent a harsh contrast to the much less intrusive colors of the exhibition’s visitors.
Norris tried to ignore a little voice in the back of his mind, reminding him of how far he was behind in fully understanding the mechanics of many of these incredible machines. As he moved from one exhibit to another, the cloud of regret over his feeble education gathered, but he resolutely ignored it.
“Surely,” he said, unmindful of who would hear him, “I can still work hard enough to gain more ground.”
He’d stopped before an American display, marveling at the sewing machine that he wished his family owned. It surely would have made life easier for poor Betty and her endless and thankless task of mending clothes. Mr. Garland had stepped away to lose himself somewhere, and Norris didn’t care to follow, confident that they’d find each other eventually.
“Well, good day, little Woodhead,” a voice chirped from somewhere behind. “What a pleasant surprise to see you here.”
Norris turned around, a little startled. “Good day!”
No one was there. Crowds of people continued to walk back and forth, completely unmindful of him as they enjoyed the exhibition. Among them were shadow-people, Norris saw, but even they appeared to be too busy flitting and fading to notice him.
“You’ll see me someday, perhaps? You might not recognize me,” the voice said, light with laughter. Its words drifted in and out as though carried by a breeze, with the last word trailing off into a quiet sigh.
Norris turned again and still found no one. “Where are you?” he cried, a little alarmed. “Who are you, and how did you know my name?”
The voice never answered, however. Perhaps the shadow-person was still there and was trying to communicate, but Norris saw nothing but the colorful and loud sea of humanity swarming around him. There were no vague, shadowy forms standing anywhere close. Those he saw moving with the crowds were easily swallowed by the explosion of color and texture of ladies’ dresses and men’s suits. He stared at the crowds, amazed and a little afraid.
The voice knew him, and Norris thought, to his growing amazement, it sounded familiar.