Monday, June 18, 2018

Excerpt: The Colonel and the Bee

Good afternoon book lovers! Patrick Canning, author of The Colonel and the Bee, was kind enough to submit an excerpt from his novel for the Howling Turtle. He describes it as a cross between Around the World in 80 Days and The Wizard of Oz! 

Do you have a favorite book that features hot air balloons? Let me know in the comments!

Excerpt Context
The story takes place in the early 1800's. Beatrix (Bee), has recently escaped a circus where she worked as an acrobat for an abusive ringleader. She has bargained her way aboard a four-story hot air balloon called the Oxford Starladder, or Ox for short. The Ox is owned by a mysterious adventurer known as Colonel Bacchus. In this scene, Colonel Bacchus is teaching Bee to fly the Ox as they travel from Switzerland to Belgium, where the Colonel believes the next clue lies in his search for an elusive criminal. 

Excerpt
“Flying the Ox is much more akin to playing an instrument than operating a machine. Approach the challenge less formally, do so with confidence, and the craft’s perfect obedience will be your reward.”

I lost sight of the burner strap and by accident pulled a vent on the main balloon. We began to rotate and descend with great rapidity. The Colonel allowed me to find the correct cord on my own, and I did so just in time as the Ox nearly scraped a rolling pasture hill, startling a herd of brown Belgian cows enough to sour their milk.

Taking care to avoid the ripping line, I continued to bring the Ox up, searching for the northwest wind. To my chagrin, I sent us southeast, and it took a deft intervention from the Colonel to set us right. Applying the correct pressure on the correct combination of cords in the correct sequence did indeed give him the appearance of an accomplished maestro.

“Skill comes with practice, and northwest can be elusive. Northeast can be downright tempestuous,” he said as if recalling a talented snooker rival.

I readied another question, but the Colonel anticipated me. He held up a gentle hand to stay the incoming query, motioned with both hands downward, indicating I should relax, then gestured to the edge of the Ox.

So worried I’d been about that morning’s lesson, I’d hardly taken a moment to observe our environment. I joined the Colonel at the railing, and became lightheaded with wonder. The full effect of flight had been disguised by darkness the previous night, and now, in the maturing light of dawn, I beheld a world transformed by perspective: rivers and mountains were maps come to life, trees were seas of leaves that shimmered emerald in the breeze, even birds flew at a height far below the Ox, moving like schools of fish in currents of wind.

“Toast my bloomin’ eyebrows,” I mumbled, forgoing any attempt at eloquence. “I didn’t know... I couldn’t have imagined...”

“Wonderful, isn’t it? From this height, we’re permitted to see plainly the orchestrations of daily life, rank with crisscrossing motives and the clutter of needless haste. Up here in the rarefied air we are weightless in cool √¶ther, unspoiled by the odour and noise of man’s desires far below.”

We stood side by side, watching the scene in silence, until something in the distance stole the Colonel’s gaze.

“There. Antwerp on the horizon. Drink your leaf juice if you must.”

By now, all of the Manx were flying in a loose halo about the Ox, gently displacing the Belgian mist we floated in as they dove and twisted as birds in play.

“They have such charm and spirit,” I said.

“They detect my excitement. This visit could prove fruitful in our search for the criminal. He’s been most elusive thus far.”

“Do you know the murdered party?”

The Colonel’s face fell a note, but he recovered quickly.

“I’m interested in the criminal.”

“To bring him to justice?” I gulped my tea. “For this or a past transgression?”

“There is plenty to choose from. It is enough for you to know I seek an audience with the man.”

“He has committed other crimes?”

“Certainly.”

“Is he dangerous?”

Most certainly.”

I finished my tea as the green vegetation and black soil of tilled fields shifted to the red brick and grey stone of buildings. Antwerp’s harbour introduced itself to the nose long before the eyes.

The Colonel inhaled deeply.

“Have you been?” he asked.

I shook my head.

“A bastion of crime and seafood, how I adore this city. I apologise as it’s unlikely we’ll have time for a proper tour. Perhaps a return under less harried circumstances. Unfurl those ropes there, won’t you?”

The spiderweb of roadways below passed ever faster as we descended. I let drop a collection of heavy ropes over the side of the Ox as the Colonel set her down in a rather regal park. Despite the posh surroundings, there was an air of danger. Apparently, the Colonel felt it too.

“No chance we’re deflating here,” he said. “Down the steps with you. Help secure us.”

Author Website
IG: @catpanning
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Disclosure: this post contains links to an affiliate program (Amazon), for which I receive a few cents if you make purchases.

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