The Old Shelter

Dieselpunk Roaring Twenties. Sarah Zama's Author Blog

Welcome to the Old Shelter

I started working on the project of a speculative story set in Chicago in the Twenties late in 2009. The story was very different back then. Actually, that part of story is still in embryo form. The project as it turned out is the prequel to that original story.
I planned Ghost Trilogy as a test for the original story, as a project that should have been far simpler and far shorter than it actually turned out.

As of today, I’ve worked on Ghost Trilogy for the best part of the last four years.
A solitary work, as it often happens for written stories. Very few people have read anything of it, and always just snippets and individual chapters, although I have been discussing the entire story with a few fellow writers.

I refused to share more because I’ve always thought, “It isn’t ready. I can’t have people reading a thing which isn’t ready.” But now that the first of these three novels is coming to completion and to a stage where I can actually send it out, I really feel like sharing with everyone. Either I do this, or I’ll explode!

Why the Old Shelter?
The Old Shelter is the main setting in the story. It’s a black-and-tan speakeasy standing in the Black Belt of Chicago (on Michigan and 37th, if you really need to know), and is housed in a building that was built in the mid-1830s by the ancestors of the current owner, Adam Braislfield.
Everybody knows the Old Shelter is haunted, although who haunts it is up for debate. Most people believe the ghost is Stacy Braislfield, Adam’s problematic grandfather. But there are other stories, one even involving a murder in the very first days of Chicago.

I truly love this setting. For me, the integrated speakeasy really expresses everything this story is about. I spent a great amount of time researching it… especially because you don’t find information about life in a speakeasy all that easily. I had to piece together bits and pieces of info coming from a variety of sources, but I’d say the effort was worth it. Well, at least for me.
A big chunk of the story happens inside the Old Shelter, together with the majority of plot points. This setting isn’t just dear to me, it is important to the story itself.

So, let me welcome you to the Old Shelter with a snippet of the first novel as it stands today (but it’s still in revision mode, so it may change).
This is the second time my main characters visit the club.

It was unbelievably crowded, so much so he wondered how the dancers could even move. More people stood along the edge of the floor, like he did, clapping their hands, moving to the rhythm, shouting in each other’s ears, laughing.

Michael had to admit that in spite of his dislike for speakeasies, he liked this feeling. Music and people reacting to it, living it, abandoning themselves to it. It was familiar enough that he felt part of it, to a point.

He sighed. Why would he think about it?

He skirted the crowd and, going up the few steps elevating the dice and pool rooms from the club floor, wandered among the little tables where people shot dice. This was one of the dimmest parts of the club and he noticed in the back of the dice room, under the stairs, protected by the wall of players, a few couples hid in the dark, necking.

Grinning, he crossed the arc into the pool room, where guys pressed around the table, playing and betting and cheering.

Michael stopped near the edge of the steps. He could see most of the club from here.

He scanned the place, searching, from this vantage point. When the clarinet took the lead, his eyes moved to the bandstand on their own accord. He didn’t know the song, but the voice of the clarinet sent a shiver down his spine. The clarinetist played in the background of the bandstand, almost hidden by the other musicians, his face downcast, his eyes possibly closed. He seemed to be oblivious to anything around him but the music. That sensation became even stronger when he paused a moment and raised his face. He craned his head back, turning his face up – to the sky? – his eyes closed. For a fleeting second, Michael expected him to raise his hands, palms up. He felt so very uncomfortable, he had to look away.

So his gaze landed on Adam standing by the light panel beside the bandstand, where three levers could be worked. He was listening to the music, sloping to the wall, leaning with a shoulder by the panel. He smiled when a cheer came from the dance floor, straightened and grabbed one of the levers.

The light became brighter on the floor and Michael turned to watch. Dancers moved to the edge leaving space in the centre, where two couples still danced. Michael grinned. One was Blood and Susie. The other was a lanky guy nearly as light as Susie and a curvy girl nearly as brown as Blood.

They danced one around the other, in a way that seemed like a shout back and forth. A challenge, called out with their dancing bodies. People around clapped their hands at the same rhythm, and shouted and catcalled and Michael thought he could recognise one part rooting for one couple and another part for the other.

He wasn’t into that kind of dance, although the beat did tug at his every muscle, but even he could see that where Blood and Susie were smooth and fast, the other couple was muscular and jumping.

A movement from the bandstand caught his attention. The light was dim on the stand now, but even through the glow of the floor, Michael saw the piano player turn to the bass player standing beside him and motioned toward Blood and Susie. The bass player grinned and nodded and then his bass started chasing after Blood and Susie’s steps, just like the piano chased after the other couple’s steps. The dancers followed the music, forcing the rhythm just slightly on some steps, and the instruments would caught those steps and weave a new rhythm on them, in a whirlwind that morphed the dance and the music.

Michael didn’t move when Rob came and stood beside him.

“Well,” Rob said, amazement in his voice. “Looks like Sharowna and Walt have found some worthy challengers.”

 

I’m going to make this very easy on you. This is not the Old Shelter… but it is very very close.

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7 thoughts on “Welcome to the Old Shelter

  1. Ah, so you have started! I’m liking this snippet — very atmospheric! And I love the way you make the music a part of the environment.

  2. Hi Nicki 🙂

    Was going to message you tonight. I’ve just launched the blog yesterday night and boy! Didn’t expect it was going to take me this much time to get started. But I’m happy with the result.

    I’m happy you like the snippet. It was great fun to write.

  3. A great snippet indeed! I love the way you set the atmosphere and pulled me right in. I’m looking forward to reading this myself. 🙂

    Welcome to the blogosphere btw! Looking forward to seeing more of your posts. I also started following you. 😀

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Rea. Everything is still so new to me, but it’s exciting 🙂

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