STIFF LOWER LIP
Runner-up: Most Original Story
Dougal Macintosh, renowned mesmerist, dashingly swept through the Empire’s second city in his stylish black cape. Since Princess Victoria’s convenient demise, his family’s pneumatics concerns had risen dirigible-like through the smoky vapours of Glaswegian society. One brother devised the Pneumatic Analytical Engine, and the other headed the North British Atmospheric Railway Corporation, whose air-driven carriages vigorously thrust through the tunnels beneath the former Dear Green Place. Yet beneath his dark brocaded waistcoat beat a heart of jet-black dastardliness.
Esmaralda Campbell had attended Mr Macintosh’s Kelvinbridge rooms, succumbing meekly to his animal magnetism in the ardent hope of flushing her circulatory obstructions. Now she was beside the track itself under Kelvinbridge Railway Station, tied to a disused rail track with an hose in her mouth whose other end was in the thrust tube of the atmospheric railway above.
“Esmaralda Campbell, awake!”
Her eyes snapped open. Her first sight was the ceiling vault. Then she became aware of the rubber flavour in her mouth and the need to gag.
“Let me explain, my dear. In one minute the 9:30 am to Dunbarton will arrive above us, driven by the Broomielaw air engine. Once she passes, the air pushing the magnificent beast will surge into your belly. This will continue until I have decided your dimensions are sufficient.”
She could already hear the squeaking of the train wheels as it approached the station overhead. It ground to a halt above the ceiling and there was a bustle of alighting passengers. At any moment, the guard would sound his whistle and – she trembled at the thought of her fate.
Soon the fateful note of her demise issued from the railwayman’s mouth. The train slid off. Forthwith, the weight of the vehicle would pass and the full force of the wind behind would be surging into her tight-laced form.
The carriages had left the station. Immediately she felt the rush of air into her, becoming acutely aware of the tightness of her stays. It was pressing her against the whalebone with insistence, crowding her viscera yet she could emit no peep for the gale entering her. She could catch her breath on the overflowing wind in her throat but tension was building and squeezing her. Her corset began to creak and the drawstring from her bloomers cut into her waist.
In a most unladylike development, she needed to break wind most calamitously. Mr Macintosh cackled evilly as she struggled to hold it in. It just wasn’t done, even in such circumstances as these. Still her laces strained, still she felt the build-up of pressure, yet she must resist, for decorum’s sake.
Macintosh made his way over to her and produced a rapier from his sword stick slicing ruthlessly through her front strings. Immediately, her belly blossomed forth and she felt the pressure on her fundament relieve slightly.
“Are you with child, woman?” asked Mr Macintosh with a sinister leer, for her burgeoning belly resembled nothing so much as that of a mother-to-be in confinement. Yet still the distant pistons thrust the air into her.
Her front filled with air like the sails of a tea clipper. She heroically strove to hold the pressure within her. She would sooner burst than permit herself such an embarrassment in front of this gentleman. That moment, if it came, must now be soon.
Mr Macintosh finally corked the hose, untied her and offered a hand. Her belly was a ripe tropical fruit from the Indies. She gazed down in disbelief at her rotundity. As she rose from her supine position, she knew she must contain the air at all costs. Now he removed the hose entirely and she was forced to fight the battle on two fronts, above and below. Eructation now would mean never holding her head up in polite society again.
She was a globe like John Bull, but she must contain herself.
Mr Macintosh finally permitted her to leave. As she strolled through Kelvingrove Park with her shattered stays about her, none of the onlookers could have guessed at the immense quantities of air inside the abdomen of this apparently pregnant lady, and the magnificent British pluck exhibited by her stiff lower lips, but she must make her way home without a single puff of relief for the sake of womanhood and the empire.