"The panic was stronger, now that they had reached the wharf. It was his parents' mightiest rule: Never allow himself to be seen. If, by terrible chance, he met someone in the woods, he must run away immediately."
His entire life has been a secret. Now he must rip open the secret.
Hannibal S. Mercer has lived all his life in an isolated island home with his loving parents and two servants. Hannibal never receives the opportunity to meet anyone else. The older servant doesn't speak to Hannibal. The younger servant might or might not be an ally in time of trouble.
Now trouble has arrived. When hostile strangers invade Hannibal's world, he must uncover the truth his parents have been hiding from him. And then he must make a choice that will determine the course of his life.
With a setting based upon an island on the Chesapeake Bay in the 1910s, this novelette (miniature novel) can be read on its own or as a story in Young Toughs, an alternate history series about the struggles of youths in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Young Toughs is part of Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, a cycle of alternate history series (Young Toughs, Waterman, Life Prison, Commando, Michael's House, The Eternal Dungeon, and Dark Light) about adults and youths on the margins of society, and the people who love them. Set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the novels and stories take place in an alternative version of America that was settled by inhabitants of the Old World in ancient times. As a result, the New World retains certain classical and medieval customs.
The doctor wrote down, "Denomination unknown." Aloud, he said, "Since there's only one cleric on this island, you'd best notify him. Cleric Courtman; he cares for the chapel in town."
"Thank you, sir." He knew where the town stood, more or less. The houses on Barren Island were spaced widely apart, but his parents had told him of a place where the community buildings were gathered: a chapel, a school, a grocer's store. He'd never seen the town, but Ray went there weekly to buy groceries for their family.
"You'll need to sign this." The doctor offered his pen to Hannibal. Hannibal leaned forward to take it; as he did so, his shirt tightened and his sleeves rode up, exposing his wrists.
"What?" The doctor snatched back the pen. "How dare you engage in such a masquerade! And at a time like this!"
Hannibal stepped back, confused and frightened, not so much because of the doctor's words as because he was aware that he had violated his parents' strict orders concerning his clothing. He had always assumed that a boy showing off his wrists was as shameless as a woman showing off her knees. From the doctor's outraged reaction, it seemed this was true.
Behind him, the door opened. Before Hannibal could see which of the servants had entered, the doctor rose and grabbed his shirt-front, shaking him. "That is a very, very poor way to show proper respect!" he shouted as Hannibal, astonished, tried to decide what he should do. "Shameful! Shameful!"
"Sir!" It was Ray; he managed to insert himself in front of Hannibal, so that the doctor was forced to release his grasp. "Sir, he don't know! He don't know!"
He was speaking to the doctor, rather than to Hannibal. The doctor frowned. "That is absurd."
Ray glanced at Hannibal and then leaned forward and whispered in the doctor's ear. All that Hannibal could hear were the words "master and mastress."
"This is shocking," declared the doctor, but he seemed to have lost his fire, for he gathered up his book and bag. "You will have to deal with this. It is not my job. One of you must notify the cleric, since there is no one else to do so." He swept out of the room before Hannibal could ask him what he meant.
Dusk Peterson writes historical speculative fiction: historical fantasy, alternate history, and retrofuture science fiction. Amidst dangerous events, love often occurs in the stories: family affection, friendship, platonic life-companionships, and romance. Visit duskpeterson.com for web serials, series resources, exclusive e-book previews, and notices of new releases.