This is my inaugural post for Lands Uncharted. I’m Gretchen Engel. I don’t have any full-length novels published. My manuscript for The Barber Surgeon won the ACFW Genesis Contest for Speculative Fiction in 2018, and I have several short stories that have been published. Most of my stories take place in a fictional steampunk world. I have always loved historical fiction, so my spin on the genre is what I describe as “Downton Abbey with gadgets” and at the ACFW conference, which is primarily women and heavy on romance, I pitched my writing style as speculative fiction for women who think they don’t like speculative fiction. I was that woman until I was about thirty and even now, I enjoy fairy tales, sweet romantic fantasies, urban fantasy, and of course steampunk. This is why I eagerly accepted the invitation to contribute to Lands Uncharted, I know most of these ladies through Realm Makers, ACFW, or both. These ladies are my people.
I just got home from seeing Little Women, which is phenomenal. I can’t decide if I like this somewhat nonlinear but deeper adaptation or the 1994 version better. Both are fantastic in their own way. I may have to watch my DVD of the 1994 version again for comparison. Little Women is a touchstone book for me. I sat on my grandmother’s lap while she read experts from it when I was maybe five or six. The Little Golden abridged version was the first chapter book I owned. I received it just before I entered second grade. I’ve since read and listened to the full-length novel.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a flash fiction piece for a speculative-themed mash up with classic literature. My mind immediately went to Little Women.
Little Women and the Vampire
The four March sisters sat in their parlor before the fire. Meg and Jo read while Amy sketched and Beth tapped out a tune on an imaginary piano. Books could only hold Jo March’s attention for so long. She unfolded her long legs and stood. “The walk needs cleared.”
With father off at war, the manly duties of the home fell to tomboy Jo. She grabbed a shovel and scooped out a path. She glanced up from her work and noticed the curtains moving next door.
Curious, Jo walked over to the mansion and asked for Laurie, the teenaged grandson of Mr. Lawrence their family’s benefactor.
The butler told her the young man was ill, but Laurie peered behind the man and mouthed, “come back in an hour and use the side door.”
Jo obeyed Laurie’s request as if he’d compelled her to do it. She returned with a basket packed with soup, flowers from her sisters, and a pair of kittens. “I come bearing comfort for the invalid.”
Once she shut the door, Laurie emerged from the shadows. His alabaster skin pale against his black hair. He led Jo to an untidy sitting room. The young man moved a chessboard from the table and a pile of books from the sofa. “Thank you. My only company is Mr. Brooke, my tutor. How is Meg?”
“Fit as a fiddle. Thank you again for offering your carriage.”
The two met at a party when they both sought refuge from the crowd. Old Mr. Lawrence drove the girls home from the party after Meg twisted her ankle dancing.
“I haven’t met Beth and Amy but heard you calling their names.”
“You have good ears to hear through the glass and these heavy curtains.” Jo ambled to the window. “This room would be so much cheerier with some light.”
Inhumanly fast, Laurie blocked Jo’s path. “Please no. My eyes are weak. He looked down at his white hands with nails that almost pointed at the tips. “Side effects of an illness I contracted when I was abroad.”
“This will help.” Jo lifted the soup tureen from the basket. She procured a spoon and handed both to Laurie.
He grimaced but took a sip. He clutched his neck and choked.
“Broth’s supposed to cure. It’s only a bit of chicken, salt, and garlic.”
“Indeed,” Laurie rasped.
A dark-haired man not much older than Jo and Laurie entered the room. “It’s time for your lessons.” The man gave Jo a tight smile. “I didn’t realize you had company.”
“It’s only Jo, Margaret March’s younger sister.”
The man stammered an apology with a blush and a timid handshake. “John Brooke. Give Margaret my regards.” He backed out, dabbing at a small bloody spot above his collar.
Jo stumbled backward. “I will, and I must be going.”
The kittens mewed. Laurie snatched up the basket and licked his lips. He held it out stiffly. “That is probably best. I will call at your house. I hope you’ll invite me inside.”
One dark gray day the following month, Amy answered the door. “Do come in Laurie.”
Laurie studied Amy and the room. “What a lovely home and girls.”
Amy blushed and curtseyed. “May I go with you?”
“We don’t want children ruining our fun.” Jo slung her ice skates over her shoulder and walked out the door on Laurie’s arm.
Jo treated Amy like a baby. She’d teach Jo that she was not a child. Amy picked up Jo’s notebook of stories and flung it into the fireplace. She ran upstairs for her skates.
Amy laced on her skates and caught up to Jo and Laurie. She passed them for the center of the river. Amy heard a crack and slipped under the water.
Jo sat next to Amy’s bedside furious over her burned notebook but relieved Amy would live thanks to Laurie. He dove into the icy water as if it were summer.
Amy stirred. “Laurie saved me. I think he bit me to keep me alive like a regular samphire.”
“Silly goose, you mean vampire, and they’re imaginary.” Then Jo spotted the two red marks on Amy’s neck.