What if Dickens went steampunk? A Twist in Time by Brent A. Harris published by Inklings Press, follows an older Oliver as he investigates the disappearance of orphans across London. He sets out to save them, with help from tinkerer, Nell Trent, and a slew of fantastical contraptions – including a mysterious pocket watch that allows its bearer to bend the rules of time. With Oliver’s childhood nemesis, the Artful Dodger and her lethal bag of tricks dogging their steps, he discovers that there is more at stake than his own life and the missing orphans. Can he save London from the flames?
I raced down the macadam road, toward the flames, the storm breaking on my heels. The wind had picked up, the barometer had dropped, and flurries chased me. I shivered without my coat, having shed it in a rubbish bin at the club. I would have given thanks for the warmth of the fire, but those same flames meant that I’d arrived too late.
The door to the Curiosity Shop had fallen from its hinges by the time I entered the building. Already, the smoke was thick enough to send me coughing. I searched in vain for Nell. A stout wooden beam blocked my path. The wall to the training room had begun to crumble. And the roof threatened to cave in.
Flaming debris fell around me. Clothing, tinker-toys, automaton birds were all just kindling for the fire. A copy of Oliver Twist went to ash before me. I implored Nell, “Tell me what to do.”
Silence fell but for the roar of flames and the bells from the fire-carriage outside. The very same carriage sat unmoving when I’d come in. All anyone could do was to watch the old building burn, ensuring that the flames didn’t spread.
“Where are you?”
“I’m still here, for now. But there’s nothing you can do,” Nell’s voice returned. “I’m sorry, Oliver.”
“There must be something to save you, to keep you here.”
I could sense her shaking her head, but it was probably just how I knew her in my mind. “Take your cane. I’ve kept it safe from the flames. It’s by your case. Take it, get to the steam mill.”
“No.” I was so tired of losing. Of failing. I wanted to put my past behind me, I wanted to be someone different, but every time I did, someone suffered, from Farley in the street, to Edward. Now… Nell. This was going to end. I was going to save Nell or die in the attempt. “I need you.”
“I can’t stay. The store is gone.”
Another beam fell from the ceiling. I flew deeper into the store, my choice made. I saw the case Nell mentioned. I could have saved it. I might even have escaped the store alive. Instead, I watched as flames licked it, then tasted the case and cane… then consumed them.
My cough increased. My eyes shut in tears. It was too late now anyway to escape.
“No, Oliver—” Her voice grew distant, a fading echo.
I took the watch and held it out. “No gear twists back time. It knows my soul. It knows where I must go.” The timepiece didn’t work for me earlier. But it had to now. I wanted nothing more in this world.
The second hand ticked on as the flames grew.
Take me back to before the fire. Before the club.
Seconds ticked on.
Take me back far enough to save Nell.
Swirls of copper surrounded me as orange flame entangled the light. I could hear Nell’s faint voice echoing, “Don’t do this, Oliver. Let the watch guide you, or you could make it worse…”
I shut the voice out of my head. White and blue currents of electric energy crackled and shot from the copper ball of light entombing me.
Everything went white—
The storm was gone.
A Bite of… Brent A. Harris
Q1: Would you rather be a hero or a villain?
Villain. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a villain, as every Big Bad is technically the hero of their own story. Therefore, you can never be the villain. Thanos just wanted to make the universe a better place. Darth Vader wished to bring peace and order to the galaxy. They would never call themselves anything but a hero.
Q2: Would you rather be James Bond or Batman?
James Bond. Batman is cool but he’s a small fish in a world of Supers always hunted by the police, tormented by a clown, and imprisoned by his own moral code. James Bond lives in a world where he’s the only one with super cool gadgets, cars, women, and a license to thrill. His only semi-super-powered nemeses are a guy with metal teeth and a guy who can throw his hat. Although I’d possibly take the Batmobile over the Aston Martin, but I’m not terribly picky.
Q3: Would you rather live in this world or the one you create in your books?
Well, the problem with that is I’ve yet to write a book where I’d have any chance at survival. I’d die of dysentery, smallpox, or a musket ball during the American Revolution in A Time of Need. Victorian London isn’t regal at all; life is nasty, brutish, and short in A Twist in Time. And dinosaurs are literally fighting for survival in “Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon.”
I guess the only thing to do is to make this world the best it can be, and that takes all of us working together. The problem is, we all view ourselves as the heroes, even people who are tearing the world down. Either we start agreeing on a way forward or the next book I write needs to feature me living on an island paradise called Brentlandia.
Brent A. Harris is most known for writing alternate history. His most notable work is Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon, co-written with Ricardo Victoria, where evolved dinosaurs travel back in time to save their dying world, was nominated for a Sidewise Award 2016. He considers Southern California his home but currently lives in Italy. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter or find him on his website.