Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Exclusive Excerpt The Crimson Inkwell by Kenneth A. Baldwin

“Too much excitement for one evening?” A husky, baritone voice floated from behind me, cutting through the din. I turned halfway in my seat and saw the silhouette of a man standing behind the open flap of a yurt. His question hung in the air. I could feel his gaze rest on me. I should have been alarmed, being all alone in a bizarre carnival, out of strength, and now confronted by a strange man in the dark. Instead, my senses were slipping from me. I was tired. I had just settled myself on the log, and I wasn’t inclined to move.
“I just need to sit for a moment, thank you,” I replied.
“Mind if I join you?” he asked.
“You can do what you like,” I said. I could feel my reservations melting into the evening. It must have been the side effects of the emotional journey I’d been on that morning. Still, I was determined to hold on to the dignity and pride I’d won that day. Tonight, I wasn’t just a member of the masses. I wasn’t just a woman to be scared of strangers or shadows. I didn’t need to move if a stranger wanted to share a log bench.
The man sat down with a sigh. I heard him take a crisp bite out of an apple. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a beautiful Burgos Pointer follow behind him and sit erect and obedient at his flank. I kept my head forward, feigning interest in the hypnotist, who now had another woman hypnotized. Her two thralls danced together at her command.
“That used to be me,” he said, gesturing to the center of the ring with a half-eaten apple.
“I beg your pardon?”
“There in the center. Used to have my own show. They had me on the advertisements,” he said, taking a bite. “Times change.”
“You used to be a hypnotist?” My curiosity was getting the better of me. I inclined my head ever so slightly and darted my eyes, catching a glimpse of his features. The electric lights across the crowd lit up the stubble on his face, brown, red, and black. Perhaps a Scotsman? Though I didn’t detect the unmistakable northern accent. I was tempted to look at him openly to assess his features, but I held back. Not yet. Let him feel my disinterest.
“Not a hypnotist, no.” I heard a smile in his voice. It was congenial. “Tried that once; it didn’t end well. Hypnotized myself by accident. Couldn’t snap out of it for a week.”
This absurd account did me in. I shifted in my seat and gave him my full attention. “Is that meant to be a joke?” I asked.
“Depends. Do you like to laugh?” he replied, giving me a boyish grin. I puzzled on his question. I laughed with Anna occasionally. Something about this man made me feel nineteen. I don’t know whether it was the playful expression on his face or the absolute mess of brown hair on his head. His eyes were a deep, honey color, though that might have just been tricks by the lights. He had a peculiar talent of looking very comfortable sitting anywhere, and this effect permeated into my demeanor.  Girlish feelings swelled in my bosom.
He wore a ratty old robe made of what once may have been velvet, patched over in faded groupings of foreign silk and tapestry. Underneath, his linen shirt, collarless, was largely unbuttoned down to his slim fitting waistcoat. His question, and his appearance, took me off-guard.
“Do I know you, sir?” I asked.
“She called me sir,” he said to the pointer. It sniffed the apple in his hand in response. I could not place his face, but something must account for this feeling of familiarity. I was not accustomed to feeling swept up by the charms of strange men, but I caught myself leaning toward him.
What was I thinking? My thoughts flew to Byron like a lifeline. Me, an engaged woman! It wasn’t right to be here alone. The propriety of it! The very appearance of evil! I had made him a promise. What if someone saw me? How would he react if reports of this got back to his ears?
This man was so unlike Byron, too. He felt young. He felt vibrant. He felt unreasonable.  How did he feel all these things by slinking onto a bench and eating an apple? I stood.
“No, not a hypnotist,” he continued, disregarding my imminent departure. “I had a show of a very different kind. A better show. But, I guess you’re only as good as your last performance.”
I should have walked away. My head told me to walk away, but I felt like he was chiding me. As good as your last performance? My thoughts flew unbidden to the face of my father in a fog-filled church. You’re more than a single story. Isn’t that what he’d said?
I needed water. I wanted something to take the bitter nut taste out of my mouth. Meandering aromas in the air smothered me, aromas that were free and intoxicating only moments before. All around, people clapped and marveled at the many facades of the carnival. They consumed the entertainment like a drug then wandered on to the next amusement.
Only as good as your last performance. I watched the hypnotist in the center ring. The two strangers who had danced only minutes prior were now put into attack mode, being held at bay by another two volunteers, so they wouldn’t tear each other limb from limb. It was terrifying. I reflected on my first sip of success. Was I hypnotized? Was I the hypnotist?
I stewed over what I wanted for myself. My recent story should have made me so happy, but the day had not yet expired, and I already felt empty. It was, after all, a single success. Soon, my story would be just another bit of ink on scrap paper lying in the mud. My father had wanted more for me, sacrificed so that I could accomplish more than this, perhaps, with time, something as illustrious as our city’s most prestigious literary award.
I suddenly realized why I came to the carnival in the first place. I wasn’t after celebration. I had celebrated all day with Byron. The success had lit something dark and desperate inside of me, something that a strange man breathed life into with an offhand comment. Maybe what I found so familiar in him was the wisdom of my father.
Inside of me, lurking behind the drunken dizziness and puffed up pride, crouched a looming, fanged question.
What next?
I needed more stories, and Edward wasn’t going to see a ghost every day.
“Why aren’t you still in the center ring?” I asked.
“A dangerous accident. A paying customer met an unfortunate end,” he said grimly. The hair on my neck prickled.
“What kind of show did you say performed, Mister…”      
“I’m Bram,” he said, standing. He walked to the entrance of his yurt and lifted the flap. “Would you care to see?”

The Crimson Inkwell
The Luella Winthrop Trilogy
Book One
Kenneth A. Baldwin

Genre: Gaslamp Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Eburnean Books
Date of Publication: May 8th, 2019

ISBN: 1095674749
Number of pages: 277
Word Count: 97,000
Cover Artist: Vikncharlie

Tagline: A Gaslamp Fantasy Novel

The Crimson Inkwell is a story about journalist Luella Winthrop. In her journey to become Dawnhurst-on-Severn's most acclaimed writer, she discovers that her city houses dark, magical secrets too uncomfortable to believe.

When an enigmatic carnival worker offers her a pen that can turn fiction to fact, she quickly learns that tampering with the unknown can be intoxicating, lucrative, and dangerous.

Book Description:

Magic exists where we cannot see.

It lives in unexplained phenomena, in attraction to strangers, in a pen and crimson inkwell, from a trunk, in a tent, at a fair, in the fog.

I didn't believe in magic.

Before he died, my father taught me the world was solid. Reporting was more like science, anyway. Hard facts. Logical inferences. Of course, I wasn't exactly an award-winning reporter so what did I know about it? But, when Detective Edward Thomas told me he had seen a phantom, something woke up inside of me. I could have tried to dismiss it as a trick of the lamplight, but how else could I explain the body on the cobblestones?

Instead, I simply believed him, and not just because he was arrestingly handsome. I was engaged, after all, to a sensible, though older man--the same man who published my articles, in fact.

No. I believed him because somewhere, deep down, I knew magic was real. What's worse, I knew it was a part of me. The detective's ghost story had just woken me up.

As soon as I accepted this truth, everything changed. My writing career, my family, my domestic prospects, and my freedom.

What woman, pray tell, can fit three men and a writing career in her life and still keep her sanity?

But there I landed.

Byron was my fiancé. He was sensible. He could provide a modest life of means for my sister and me. He could also continue to publish my little articles in his weekly magazine. He adored me.

Edward was my detective, so good and true, straight as an arrow and noble as a knight. He inspired me to be something more. But, I could never live up to such a high standard.

Bram was a mystery. Who could say where his life had taken him before he met me or what adventures he had endured. Everything he did was curious. I was drawn to him in ways I didn't understand.

Could I escape this journey with my engagement intact? Which course would lead me down a road to the woman my father always believed I should be?

And why did I feel so angry all the time?

My fingers still have that enchanted twitch even as I peck these words out on an old typewriter. Before another episode comes, let me tell you what happened that fateful autumn in Dawnhurst-on-Severn. . .

About the Author:

Kenneth A. Baldwin loves stories you can sink your teeth into.

He lives nestled under the Wasatch Mountain Range with his wife and dog. He writes historical fantasy. When he's not working on his next book, he can be found teaching story mechanics or sketch comedy writing.

Kenny has worked as a staff writer for TV, Radio, web, and comedy scripts for years. The Crimson Inkwell is his first published novel.


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