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Week #5 (2023): Wikipedia Eskalators

February 11, 2023

Write a story based on a random Wikipedia article.

The story is based on this article about The Eskalators, a steampunk musical collective based out of New York City. They are known for playing on the city’s subway cars. You can hear their music here and see a video of one of their “shows” here.

Photo by Keira Burton,

The plastic was cold and hard, but a subway ride from the Bronx to Brooklyn was long, so Carl settled in. He pulled the paperback out of his backpack and dislodged the gum wrapper he’d been using as a bookmark. His niece had recommended it, said it was a story about “fantastical machine cities”. Carl could never say no to his niece, so he’d picked up a copy at a local used bookstore. It was well-worn, the corners just starting to yellow. He slid lower on the warming plastic and planned to read until Brooklyn was in sight.

They came clustering around him, all except one, a tall, thin one in a black coat – a girl, Tom thought, although he could not be sure, because she wore a black scarf wrapped across her face like the turban of a desert nomad.

The girl in the black head-scarf slid one hand inside her coat and said, “I have something for you, Valentine.” She spoke so softly that only Tom and Katherine heard her, and as they turned to look she suddenly sprang forward, whipping out a long, thin-bladed knife.

Carl could hear the garbled MTA announcements for each stop in the background of his reading. He registered the doors of the car opening and closing regularly, but he didn’t pay them any attention. He still had a long way to go.

Tom saw his chance and threw himself forward, grabbing her arm as she drove the knife at Valentine’s heart. Carl imagined a drumming sound as Tom threw himself forward and a single shrill note of a trumpet as the girl lunged for Valentine with the knife. She hissed, writhing, and the knife dropped to the deck as she twisted free and darted away along the catwalk. A clatter of cymbals, followed by staccato notes from an oboe, clarinet, and flute, accompanied the dropped knife and subsequent escape in Carl’s mind.

Tom glimpsed a dark silhouette against the distant glare of the furnaces. The girl was at the far end of the catwalk, climbing nimbly up a ladder to a higher level. Soft notes from a french horn, all sharp, were overlayed with a chattering of eighth notes from a piccolo.

Outside Carl’s book he can feel bodies pressing closer as the car fills up, but he can’t be bothered to see how crowded the car actually is.

He flung himself at the ladder and scrambled eagerly upward, determined to be the one to capture the would-be assassin. Bold trumpet notes and an excitable drum beat guided Tom on his chase. He could feel his heart pounding with excitement. After all those dull years spent dreaming of adventures, suddenly he was having one! It was no surprise to Carl that his niece had enjoyed the book. In fact, Carl’s heart was pounding and he had a sudden craving for adventures of his own.

He plunged through deep shadows and war, blinding clouds of steam with the girl always a few feet ahead. Brass notes set the stage with a low pulsing beat. They’re punctuated every so often with sharp notes from and oboe and pings from a triangle.

Down a giddy spiral of iron stairs and out onto the floor of the Digestion yards, flashing through the shadows of conveyor belts and huge spherical gas tanks. The trumpet and oboe melodies danced around each other, getting louder as Tom reached the floor. Other instruments joined them in a crescendo of sound, until all at once there was silence.

Ahead, the way was barred by a circular hole in the deck-plate, ringed by rusty handrails — a wast chute, scorched and blackened where clinker from the furnaces had been tipped down. Her breath came in sobs as she backed up against the handrail, lifting herself awkwardly over it. Behind her, the waste chute gaped like an open mouth. A slow haunting melody rose from the flute and clarinet.

The girl glanced past him, then heaved her wounded leg over the handrail, crying out at the pain. The trumpets flared high notes. A soft ominous beat from a drum took over the background.

“No!” pleaded Tom again, but too late. Her ragged greatcoat snapped and fluttered and she was gone. All the instruments together slid down the scale until only a low pulsing beat was left. Carl breathed deeply. She was gone, dropped out of the waste chute, very likely dead. Carl knew deep down that she couldn’t be dead, but the anguish stuck to his ribs.

Carl took a deep breath and looked up to see where he was. The ticker near the ceiling said the next stop was Grand Central Station, about halfway to his destination. The subway car slowed and Carl watched as a group of people made their way to the doors. He saw a man with a trumpet cradled to his chest, another had a clarinet wedged in the crook of an elbow, and yet another was tinkling out the doors with a set of cymbals and a triangle.

The last to leave was a man carrying a 5 gallon bucket. On his way to the doors, the man leaned over toward Carl and nodded his head toward Carl’s book. “There’s no way she dies, right?” The man winked and stepped out into the crowds of Grand Central Station.

Carl continued on his way to Brooklyn. He continued to read. It wasn’t the same without the music.

All text in italics is directly from chapters 2 and 3 of Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, published in 2001. It is a young adult novel about the battle for resources between giant machine cities in a post-apocalyptic world. It has a great steampunk vibe. Mortal Engines was adapted into a movie in 2018, directed by Peter Jackson. Although the movie diverges significantly from the book, it is visually appealing and enjoyable. Highly recommend both the book and the movie!

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