We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from The Escapement, a new novel evoking Westerns, surrealism, epic fantasy, mythology, and circus extravaganzas from author Lavie Tidhar—available September 21st from Tachyon Publications.
Into the reality called the Escapement rides the Stranger, a lone gunman on a quest to rescue his son from a parallel world. But it is too easy to get lost on a shifting landscape full of dangerous versions of his son’s most beloved things: cowboys gone lawless, giants made of stone, downtrodden clowns, ancient battles, symbol storms and more shadowy forces at play.
But the flower the Stranger seeks still lies beyond the Mountains of Darkness. Time is running out, as he journeys deeper and deeper into the secret heart of an unforeseen world.
The Kid said, “I see your Magician and I raise you Death.”
The Stranger had the Emperor but not the Empress or the Wheel of Fortune, and though he retaliated with the Moon it was no good and the Kid swept the money to his side of the table with one scrawny arm. There was an old piano in the corner, and a one-eyed woman tickled the ivories, playing a Dibdin piece. She’d flashed the Stranger a grin when he’d come in earlier.
“So you’ve met the Lovers and lived,” she said.
The Stranger inched his head in reply. Then Temperanza went back to her playing. She looked like she was waiting for something; though she was probably just waiting for the train.
“I’m going to take a piss,” the Kid announced, and he strutted across the floor, his spurs making a rasping sound across the scuffed wood. The Kid had been drinking moonshine steadily throughout the game, but he was still beating the Stranger at cards.
The Stranger watched him go. The Kid wore his pistols low-slung on his hips and his hat at a cocky angle, but for all that he just looked like a kid playing at dressing up.
They were almost the only people at the bar. It was not a place that invited confidences or offered comfort. The tables were rough-hewn wood and tallow candles burned with oily smoke but offered little light. In one corner sat a small man cowled in shadow and now that the Kid had gone to the outhouse the man got up and sauntered over to their table and sat down without being asked.
“New in town, stranger?”
He had an ordinary face and hard black button eyes and his nails and his hair were both cut short. The Stranger looked, but he couldn’t see if there was a dagger hidden up the man’s sleeve, though he rather suspected so all the same. He said, “What’s it to you?”
“Just making conversation.”
The Stranger shrugged. “It’s no secret,” he allowed.
“You rode in from the Doinklands?” The black button eyes turned shrewd. “You didn’t happen to’ve come across the Thurston Brothers, did you? Scalp hunters, there’s a reward out for them. Good money, too.”
“I think that bounty’s claimed,” the Stranger said, and over by the piano Temperanza smirked without breaking melody.
The other man nodded.
“Is that so, is that so. Well, never mind, I’m sure. The world’s a better place for it and so on.”
“Professional interest?” the Stranger said. The other man shrugged.
“Listen,” he said. “Out there, did you see any sign of the war?”
The Stranger nodded. “The Titanomachy rages on. I saw a battle in the distance, but I didn’t go close, and who won it, if any, I don’t know. Why?”
“No reason, no reason,” the other man said. “Only, there’s rumours, see? I am looking for something, yes, yes, there could be a handsome reward in it for a man such as you. A piece of materiel, rumour says. Some sort of weapon. Yes. What it does, no one knows for certain. Something big, though.”
The Stranger thought uneasily about the tinkerers; and about the vast slab of mechanical fish he had caught sight of, for just a moment, hidden under blankets in the back of their wagon. But he shook his head, slowly. It could have been anything.
“You’re a Pilkington?” he said. The other man shrugged.
“We all got a job to do, ain’t we?” he said.
“Bit far from base,” the Stranger said.
“Pilkingtons go wherever they must,” the other man said. At that moment the Kid came sauntering back into the room and sat down, glaring at the Pilkington.
“I thought I told you to keep out of my business, Clem,” he said.
“This ain’t your business, kid.”
“Fucking Pilkingtons,” the Kid said. The other man glared at him but said nothing.
At that moment, the Stranger felt the wind change. The tinkle of wind chimes began to sound ethereally in the air, and the smell of rotten eggs and custard intensified. Faint on the breeze, the Stranger thought he could hear a demonic laughter, like a distorted echo of the sounds one heard when one came upon the Colossi walking the Escapement. But this was not the inhuman sound of the Colossi but a terrifying, yet very human, sound. He heard two gunshots go off outside, one after the other in rapid succession, coming from two different places.
The three men moved independently but almost in unison. Temperanza alone, unconcerned, remained at the piano, and the music she played was haunting and sad.
The Kid held his pistol and the Pilkington, Clem, had a sawed off shotgun that seemed to just appear out of nowhere, and the Stranger had the uneasy feeling it had been taped to the underside of the table.
He himself held his revolver. They had all moved to the window, guns drawn, and the Stranger peered out onto Main Street. He saw the shops were rapidly closing, their internal lights extinguished, and the people outside were running for shelter, and in mere moments the street was deserted. Behind them, he heard the owner of the bar loudly pump a shotgun.
“He’s coming,” she said.
“Who?” the Kid said.
But then they heard it. The cries, faint at first, but growing in volume, from one side of Main Street to the other.
The Stranger and the Kid exchanged bewildered looks; but Clem, the Pilkington, grinned in savage satisfaction. The Stranger stared out. The burning multicoloured lights cast the street in a non-linear chiaroscuro. Even those prospectors passed out on the side of the road from Sticks were gone now, dragged away by their comrades to safety.
Then he saw it.
Excerpted from The Escapement, copyright © 2021 by Lavie Tidhar.