Cat’s Eye” is the first in an ongoing series of short shorts set in the Nimbus universe. While not necessary to understand or enjoy Nimbus: A Steampunk Novel, these “Tales from Nimbus” are meant to offer insights that help explore aspects of the world the main narrative doesn’t get a chance to touch on.
The little boy sent a glass marble flying across the deck; the marble knocked into several more, sending them scattering in many directions. Without pause, he reached into his pocket and pulled out another one–the kind called a cat’s eye–and shot it at a cluster of green and violet marbles just beside his father’s feet.
The Amber Skycruiser raked just above the Skyline, slicing through the clouds like a knife into a loaf of fresh bread. The airship warbled slightly, and the people out on deck reached for rails to catch their footing.
“Be careful, son,” said the boy’s father. His hair was still dark, but patches of white were starting to show along the sides, just above the ears. “If the ship shakes too much, we may have to go inside.”
The boy watched as his cat’s eye marble rolled toward the edge of the deck, dangerously close to falling overboard. “Get it, daddy!” he said. “That’s my favorite.”
His father went over to the edge and pocketed the marble. With a smile, the boy started to his feet. Before he could get far, however, the ship shook again. This time, the Amber Skycruiser tilted to the starboard side, almost flying completely sideways.
Without hesitation, the boy grabbed onto the railing and held his breath. The remaining marbles rolled away, disappearing over the edge of the ship and into the clouds floating thickly along the surface. As the airship dipped further below, the clouds disappeared.
“We’re under the Skyline,” gasped a portly man standing next to the boy’s father. “What’s Captain Fruscia thinking?”
“I think something’s wrong with the left dorsal fin,” said the boy’s father, peering toward the back of the ship. He turned to the boy. “Hang on, son. I‘m coming for you.”
The boy nodded and tried to smile, but his knuckles were white from grasping onto the railing so tightly. Above, he could see the gasbags of the airship deflating. It appeared that more was wrong with the airship than just the left dorsal fin.
His father seemed to be ignoring the cries of the other people out on deck. Instead, his father reached out a hand and called to him.
“Take my hand,” he said. “We’re going below deck.”
The boy shook his head. He was too afraid to speak, much less to let go of the railing and grab his father’s hand. The airship spiraled further below the Skyline–so low, in fact, that the boy could see the fog swirling just underneath the hull.
The fog that could eat away at the flesh the way a starved mutt tore the meat off a hambone.
The fog that could kill everyone and everything below the Skyline…
“Take my hand,” his father repeated. Keeping one arm wound tightly around one of the mast poles, his father leaned out to him. His father’s hand was just a few inches away now. “Just grab it. I won’t let you go.”
“I can’t,” the boy choked out. He looked down and saw that the fog was even closer now. In a matter of seconds, the ship would be low enough that the deathly fog could reach them. With a whimper, the boy turned back to his father. “I can’t do it. I’m too scared.”
“It’s okay, Owen. Just grab on–”
The airship jutted to a stop. All around the deck, the wind whistled crazily as the ship plummeted at an unbelievable speed. The boy had just enough time to let out a visceral scream before, miraculously, the engines began to hum again and the ship started skyward. With another bump, the airship became level once again.
At the last jolt, the boy lost his grip on the railing and flipped overboard. His tiny fingers managed to hang onto the railing for just a moment. It was long enough for him to hear his father calling his name one last time.
Then, his fingers slipped and he was falling. Falling away from the airship and through the clouds. Falling below the Skyline and into the fog.
Thankfully, the lack of oxygen took him into darkness before the fog could rip the skin from his bones.