Back in 2011, my friend Josephine Boone & I wrote a weekly serial on a steampunk website. Set in an alternate late-1800’s Egypt, it featured ancient and future tech in a land where the ancient Gods are still active.
Chapter 01 – The Taxi Ride
by Josephine Boone & Paul Kemner
Horns blared and tires squealed, punctuated by a raspy voice cursing and shouting in Arabic.
Josephine and AP cowered in abject terror, crammed into the back seat of a tiny steam-powered taxi as it barreled through the marketplace in Cairo. Hot wind gusted through the open windows, carrying with it the overwhelming smell of exotic spices, people and animals, and the acrid stench of the taxi’s engine.
Their luggage, tied to the roof, caused the taxi to sway sickeningly as it careened around corners. Steam from the cobbled-together engine obscured the view of the street ahead. The pair clutched desperately at the seat in front of them, white-knuckled and wide-eyed, wincing at a long, drawn-out screeching of tires.
The ramshackle contraption accelerated through a tiny opening between a streetcar and a cartload of bricks before slaloming between a line of stalls and carts. As they turned another corner, AP accidentally put a hand out the window and ended up with a fist full of hummus. “Jo, I’m sorry I ever teased you about your scooter driving! Compared to this it is yaaaargh!!! Look out!!!” The driver cursed in several languages, yelling at everything to get out of his way as they screeched to a stop at a traffic jam.
Suddenly Jo screamed and AP turned to see a curious donkey poking its nose in through the open window, drooling on her dress. She swatted ineffectually at the animal, and it sneezed on her. “AP, help me!” Just as they both managed to shove the donkey head out again, the taxi driver reversed wildly, spun the wheel and detoured down a narrow alley. Both sides of the car scraped the walls, trailing sparks. A dead end loomed ahead, but the driver yanked the accelerator lever and the taxi leapt forward. Just when it seemed they would crash head-on into the mud-brick wall, a man opened a door at the end of the alley.
Panicking at the sight of the misbegotten hybrid bearing down on him with steam spewing from its maw, he turned and ran through several rooms of the house, the hellish invader on his heels. The hapless passengers waved to several ladies in the midst of a belly-dancing lesson.
The homeowner ran out the front door, swerving to one side and falling into a fountain as the taxi swerved the other way, ending up back on the city street. Two doors down, the driver suddenly cranked the wheel around in an impressive display of parallel-parking as the engine stalled. The street was unnaturally quiet as the passengers stumbled out of the back of the deathmobile.
“W-why…” Jo gasped, “Why is there…hummus…on my dress?”
“The donkey must have had it for lunch.” AP replied as he paid the driver, including a very large tip because he was so glad to still be alive.