The young wife of the most powerful man in Ireland has been kidnapped, and Nate and Gerald must save her—from their own family, if necessary
While her husband is away on business, Daisy Wildenstern buys a shape-shifting engimal from the charming adventurer Peter Barnum. The origins of the part-animal, part-machine being are a mystery.
Life is cruel in Daisy's family. Trained from childhood to be merciless predators, the Wildensterns are taught to trust no one—especially not their treacherous relatives. As long as their reputation stays intact, nothing is considered unacceptable on their quest for wealth and power. But Daisy belongs to a new generation of Wildensterns who are determined to defy their elders and live a more honorable life.
When Daisy and the engimal go missing, it is of little surprise that most of her family doesn't seem to care. It's up to her brother-in-law, Nate, and his cousin Gerald to find Daisy and face her kidnapper, a ruthlessly cunning hunter.
With relatives like these, who needs enemies?
About the Author
In 2003 McGann published his first two books in the Mad Grandad series for young readers, followed by his first young adult novel, The Gods and Their Machines. Since then, he has written several more novels for young adults, including the Wildenstern Saga, a steampunk series set in nineteenth-century Ireland, and the thrillers Strangled Silence and Rat Runners.
A full-time writer and illustrator, McGann is married, has three children, and lives somewhere in the Irish countryside.
Oisín McGann was born and raised in Dublin and Drogheda, County Louth, in Ireland. He studied art at Senior College Ballyfermot and Dún Laoghaire School of Art, Design & Technology. Before becoming an author, he worked as a freelance illustrator, serving time along the way as a pizza chef, security guard, background artist for an animation company, and art director and copywriter in an advertising agency.
In 2003 McGann published his first two books in the Mad Grandad series for young readers, followed by his first novel, The Gods and Their Machines. Since then, he has written several novels for young adults, including the Wildenstern Saga, a steampunk series set in nineteenth-century Ireland, and the thrillers Strangled Silence and Rat Runners.
A full-time writer and illustrator, McGann is married, has three children, and lives somewhere in the Irish countryside.
Read an Excerpt
The Vile Desire To Scream
A Wildenstern Saga Novella
By Oisín McGann
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2015 Oisín McGann
All rights reserved.
AN EXOTIC GUEST
Daisy Wildenstern was an expert at chitchat. It was a necessary skill for a woman in her position. It called for both imagination and stamina in order to maintain a civil, guarded, but interesting, conversation for any length of time. Having welcomed Mr. Peter Barnum into the large, well-appointed drawing room, she and Tatiana, her husband's sister, were then obliged to engage the guest while they waited for Nate and Gerald.
As it turned out, however, Peter Barnum was a hunter, adventurer, and accomplished raconteur with a wealth of well-practiced and thrilling stories of derring-do, making routine chitchat unnecessary. Even before tea had been served, he had launched into tales of his adventures, much to Tatiana's delight. The young girl had a taste for blood-curdling yarns.
"I am sorry that I missed the chance to meet your husband, ma'am," Barnum said, after he had finished relating his escape from a Thuggee death cult in the Himalayas. "I am told that he is an extraordinary personality. An exceedingly cultured man."
"That he is," Daisy replied. "He is currently in London, in meetings with the East India Company. I would be there with him, but I was recovering from the flu when he left, and could not travel."
"Yes, she was jolly sick," Tatiana piped up. "I had it too. It was ghastly! We can only hope, Mr. Barnum, that you can escape from the house uninfected. It would be the height of embarrassment if we were found to be passing diseases onto our guests."
Daisy restrained her desire to roll her eyes. Tatty was a bubbly, excitable girl who lived every moment with passion and reduced every issue in life to simple, black-and-white terms in accordance with her own values. With her blonde curls and rosy-cheeked cherub's face, she looked a picture of innocence. Her tendency to speak as bluntly as she thought could come as a shock to those who didn't know her.
"I assure you, Miss Tatiana," Barnum said with a solemn expression, "years of travel in the most hostile of climates has left me with a strong constitution. A dose of common influenza poses little threat."
Barnum was a tall, sinewy, balding Englishman with reddish-brown whiskers. He was dressed in a dapper suit that spoke of a certain jaunty style, but not of great wealth. A professional perhaps, but not a gentleman. There was a leathery toughness about him too, Daisy observed. Understandable, given that he was a veteran hunter.
But she recognized the scars on his knuckles from similar ones borne by some of the men in the Wildenstern family. They came from splitting the skin on the knuckles — and one did not fight animals with one's fists. A traveling trunk with a brass lock and corners sat on the floor by Barnum's side.
"And in what far corner of the world did you find the mysterious beast you have brought here today?" Tatty asked, her hands clasped together in eager anticipation.
"Beast might be a harsh term for something so beautiful," he sighed, patting the top of the traveling trunk. "For it is certainly not a danger to anyone. Indeed, I have found that its instinct is to protect. I discovered it in South America, in Peru. It is highly intelligent, and was devilishly difficult to capture. But once caught, it was easy to train."
"My brother-in-law and cousin will be keen to see it," Daisy told him. "They are passionate in their study of engimals. I'm sure they will be along any minute now."
Mr. Peter Barnum had come to Wildenstern Hall with something to sell. Something that a friend of Daisy's had assured her she would want to buy. But Daisy was reluctant to make any decision without someone to cast an expert eye over the creature in question. Which was why she was waiting on Nate and Gerald. Between them, they possessed a great deal of knowledge of and experience with the most exotic of creatures: the engimal, an organism that was as much machine as animal and came in a startling array of forms.
Daisy was the young wife of Berto Wildenstern, Nate's older brother. An accomplished woman, she could boast expertise in a range of abilities, but she was normally too discreet to do so. She was one of the first women ever to attend London University, where she had graduated with honors. She had helped run her father's business, saving it from ruin, before being courted by Berto and marrying into the Wildenstern clan.
Many felt that Berto had married beneath him. But given Daisy's intelligence, her dark-haired beauty, and her impeccable manners — not to mention Berto's bloody-minded insistence — the family had given its reluctant blessing to the marriage. Now she was expected to fulfill the duties of a good wife and nothing more. It was a situation she found thoroughly exasperating and one she rebelled against at every opportunity. But for the sake of appearances, she was forced to conceal her feelings in public.
"Perhaps we could just have a peek at it, while we're waiting?" Tatty asked, unable to contain her excitement. "Oh, Daisy, where would the harm be? Mr. Barnum assures us that the thing is fully trained!"
It was at that moment that Nate and Gerald arrived, much to Daisy's relief. Unfortunately, Gerald's mother, Elvira, had also heard about Mr. Barnum's visit and arrived along with them, pushed in her wheelchair by a handsome, muscular footman. Daisy let out a carefully silent sigh.
Elvira was older than everyone else in the room combined. As well as being a wildly eccentric, scheming harpy, she was also corrupt, bloated as a toad, and overbearing to an unbearable degree. Confined to a wheelchair by a mixture of gout and obesity, she was deaf as a post but did not let that get in the way, using her listening trumpet to barge into any conversation she detected around her.
Daisy made the introductions. Then for the benefit of the new arrivals, she added: "Mr. Barnum is an explorer, a hunter, and an entertainer. He has something he'd like us to see. Mr. Barnum, if you please?"
Barnum smiled and stood up in the manner of an actor taking the stage.
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the honor of this audience. The Wildenstern family is, of course, renowned not only for their status in Irish and British society, but also for their keen eye and exacting taste when it comes to the engimal market. I believe I even see a fine example of a drawbreath at the back of the room there!"
They all turned to see the machine-like creature, about the size of a badger, with a bristly metallic pelt. It had a triangular head, extended from a long, snake-like neck. Wire whiskers stretched out from around its wide mouth. Its eyes were set on either side of its head. Drawbreaths were dull-witted creatures with wheels for feet. They liked nothing more than to crawl back and forth over a thick carpet, sucking the dust and dirt from it. But like all breeds of engimals, they were extremely rare and expensive, and only the very wealthiest homes could hope to afford one.
The drawbreath raised its head, alarmed to have suddenly become the center of attention. It scuttled behind a sofa and carried on greedily combing the carpet.
"Dreadful, skulking creature!" Elvira exclaimed. "It is not supposed to be in the room when the family is present!"
"Don't be mean to it, Auntie," Tatty protested. "It doesn't know any better. Besides, I quite like having it about. It's like a cat — but useful."
"And I saw your gardeners leading those lawncutters across the grass on my way in. And as for that mighty bull-razer in the paddock — a majestic beast!" Barnum gestured toward the window. He bowed his head toward Nate and Gerald. "Not to mention, of course, the famous Beast of Glenmalure, captured by your valiant efforts in the Wicklow Mountains. How I would love to have witnessed that hunt!"
With Gerald's help, Nate had tracked and captured a wild velocycle that had terrorized the mountains for generations. Nate had spent time in Africa, studying and trapping some of the wildest engimals in the world. Now, he rode the velocycle like a horse. He was notorious for racing the belligerent creature recklessly along the roads, crisscrossing Wildenstern land, and through the streets of Dublin.
"Yes, yes," Nate waved the compliment away impatiently. "It's in the stables, even as we speak, waiting eagerly for its evening run. Shall we get to the point? What have you got to show us?"
"Pardon my brother-in-law, Mr. Barnum," Daisy said gently. "His manners are like gloves — only worn occasionally and often mislaid. Please continue your presentation."
Barnum gave her an ingratiating smile.
"Then I will waste no more time. Let me introduce to you ... a creature like no other. I call it ... the trans-portmanteau."
He opened the traveling trunk at his side and pulled out a large object. It was a similar shape to the trunk itself and only a little smaller, but with rounded corners. It was a bronze color, with tangled plantlike markings on its surface in a darker shade of the metal. From the way he handled it, the container was obviously very light. They all expected him to open this up and remove something else. But instead, he placed the container in the space in the middle of the floor and stood back. He beamed at them as if he had just presented the crown jewels.
"Splendid — it's a box," Gerald observed.
"I assure you, sir," Barnum said, "it is far more than a box."
He clicked his fingers. With a sound like the pages of a book being flipped, the bronze box unfolded itself. On the inside, it was a dark, but shimmering silver. The entire container was a single sheet of wafer-thin, intelligent metal. It immediately turned its mirrored surface toward the window.
"It feeds on sunlight, like a leaf-light," Nate said. "But it's much bigger, more sturdy. You're right, Barnum. I've never seen anything quite like it."
"But what does it do?" Gerald pressed its owner. He was the scientist in the family, obsessed with discovering how engimals worked. "I have always been of the belief that every engimal has a purpose — a use to mankind. What is this creature's role?"
"It has many uses," Barnum told them. "Though it is particularly well-suited to meeting the needs of a woman who wishes to travel in comfort and convenience. It can make itself airtight and waterproof. Its surface can be rendered almost frictionless. You can slide it along the ground as if it were on wheels. As a traveling trunk, it has almost no weight. It weighs only as much as its contents. But that is just the beginning. Please observe."
He clapped his hands twice. The trans-portmanteau folded itself to create the shape of table, with a section of its mirrored surface standing up at the back.
"Here, it has created a simple, but elegant, dressing table, complete with mirror."
Barnum clapped his hands three times. The trans-portmanteau unfolded to its full size, stood on one edge and bent itself in three folds.
"Here," he waved like a circus ringmaster, "it has created a screen behind which one can change one's clothes in complete privacy."
Daisy was quite taken with it. To her, it was both beautiful and eminently useful, a combination that she sought in all her possessions. Nate stood up and walked around it, studying it carefully. He glanced over at Gerald, who shrugged and nodded.
"It is a fine engimal and appears to be in good health," Nate said. "A traveling trunk, a dressing table, a screen ... and probably more uses besides, if it can be trained to adopt them. A winning combination. But what is it worth?"
"This is unseemly, sir!" Elvira cried, brandishing her listening trumpet at Barnum. "One does not undress in the presence of an engimal. It would be the height of impropriety!"
"Oh, that's unfair, Auntie!" Tatty protested. "It's no different from undressing in front of animals, and I do so in front of the spaniels all the time. It means nothing to them."
"That's more information than Mr. Barnum needed, I'm sure," Daisy commented softly.
"You are too young yet to take part in these proceedings, Tatiana!" Elvira snapped across at the girl, waving her listening trumpet in a menacing fashion. "Spaniels and engimals are not the same thing. And you should know by now that neither should compromise a woman's modesty. One does not know what kind of obscenities pass through the minds of either creature!"
"But they're just spaniels!" Tatty cried.
"They have eyes and genitalia — that is all that is required for fiendish imaginings!"
There were several sharply indrawn breaths as Elvira's ravings reached this new low.
"And what about your parrot, Mother?" Gerald said sharply. "It has shared your bedroom for decades. One can only guess at what it has witnessed."
"Which might well account for its foul language," Nate muttered under his breath.
Tatty heard this and had to cover her mouth to contain a fit of the giggles. Barnum did not say a word, preferring to let this unconventional family argue the finer points of propriety among themselves.
"Mark my words!" Elvira pronounced. "That wretched thing will not darken the door of any lady's chambers in this house!"
There was a tense moment of silence in the room, until Daisy spoke.
"How much are you asking for it, Mr. Barnum?" she inquired.CHAPTER 2
MANEUVERS IN THE DARK
The trans-portmanteau cost roughly as much as a landau carriage, but Daisy considered it money well spent — and not just to see Elvira go through the roof. She and Berto traveled abroad whenever they got the opportunity, and she found the more exotic one's destination, the more luggage one needed. But she detested women who brought half the contents of their house with them when they traveled.
It was late in the evening, and she had retired to the suite of rooms near the top of Wildenstern Hall where she and Berto slept. From the windows, she could see the overlapping, undulating shapes of the Dublin Mountains, and those of Wicklow beyond them, heaving up and fading back against the dark blue sky. Like all good Christian couples who could afford it, she and Berto slept in different bedrooms. But they were rarely separated from each other for very long and he almost never traveled alone.
Daisy regretted having dismissed the maid who had helped her undress. The girl's inane chatter could be irritating, but at least she was friendly company.
Sitting on the end of her bed in her nightdress, Daisy brushed her long dark hair. She gazed at the trans-portmanteau as it sat motionless in the form of a dressing table. Looking at her reflection in its mirror, she wondered if it was looking back at her. It had no eyes that she could make out, but it could obviously see where it was going, or sense its environment in some way. At the end of the evening, it had followed her obediently up to her room, folding itself so that it walked on four corners. Now, it hardly seemed alive at all. Her thoughts went back to what Elvira had said — that it was unseemly to have an engimal in your bedroom, watching you.
There was something about the creature now, the way it squatted as still as the piece of furniture it imitated, that disturbed her slightly. Still, she was happy to have defied Elvira. Time and again, Daisy found she had to assert her authority in the house, to establish her position, often at odds with the older generation.
This was the nineteenth century, when a woman in Ireland — or Britain for that matter — was the property of her father, husband, or brother and could not vote, or take part in government, could not own property or a business. But this did not stop Daisy from helping steer her somewhat batty husband through his business affairs — much to his family's disapproval. But she was not a woman to be trifled with, and slowly but surely they were learning that lesson.
Still, it was at times like this when she missed Berto desperately. Even among a family of predators, she was never anxious when he was around. Despite his upbringing — one that encouraged him to think of his family as allies who could betray him at any moment — he always managed to maintain a warm, kind heart, able to make light of the most serious matters. Without him, the huge intimidating house did not seem like home.
She stood up and walked over to her normal rosewood dressing table and laid down the hairbrush. She tied up her hair — she never slept with it down — and moved back in front of the trans-portmanteau, staring into its mirror again.
Excerpted from The Vile Desire To Scream by Oisín McGann. Copyright © 2015 Oisín McGann. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Fans of steampunk and witty adventures will really enjoy this read!