Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Miles and Years

When I was young, I thought I would be a lawyer one day. It wasn't really a driving passion though. It was something I thought would be neat and that I would be good at. I'm pretty sure The Paper Chase was my inspiration, but it could have just as easily been the fact that lawyers wore nice suits and made a lot of money.

Nancy had the drive and desire to become a lawyer. Her parents let her have a phone in her room. It had a number that was just hers. The last four numbers spelled out ATTY - short for attorney. It wasn't an accident either.

I met Nancy at youth symphony practice. I played bass. She played violin. That reveals a lot about both of us. Regardless, we got to know each other a bit and I started to actually look forward to going to rehearsals at California Lutheran College once a week.We practiced, got better, gave a concert, and that was that. I lived in Thousand Oaks and she lived in Simi Valley. Less than an inch appart on the map I used to look at in my room, but a world away without a car or a license.

Then we met again at a summer theatre program. We were doing Finian's Rainbow.. I was doing sound - setting up and running the microphones. She was in the orchestra.

 I finally got up the nerve and asked her out. She said yes,

It was summer - the kind of summer that can only exist in southern California when you're sixteen. I finally had my driver's license. I'm sure it took some pleading every time I used my parent's car, but I don't really remember.

I do remember going to Nancy's house one time that summer. We went swimming. Somehow, we ended up facing each other over a small blow-up raft, trying to accidentally lean closer to each other. Our legs dangled and slowly kicked in the water under us. The feel of our legs brushing together under the raft is as clear today as it was then. We kissed across the raft, but to be honest, it's the feel of our legs touching in the warm water of the pool that I remember most.

The world got a little bigger that summer and smaller. I discovered that life is big and the world is small. I never became a lawyer. Nancy did. She went to Princeton, became an attorney, and then became a wife and mother.

It's summer again, but now I'm in Wisconsin - miles and years away from that southern California summer.. And now I think that maybe life is not big enough and the world is enormous.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Devi lasciarla andare.

Quando mi sona svegliato ero triste.

When I woke up I was sad.

The sun was shining, but I was seeing it through a different window. For a moment, I listened for the sound of you humming a favorite song but heard only silence. There was no smell of strong coffee to greet me.

Fuori, la strada è tranquilla.

I open the window and look out at the square. The tourists of August are gone. No children are playing. They are back in la scuola in the new part of town.

A small breeze rustles the poster pinned to the message board on the other side of the square. It is for a marionette show that has already taken place.

The tables are out in front of il ristorante although there is no one to fill them. I consider going down for coffee and a pastry, but can't bear the thought of the pained smile Giacomo will put on for me.

Lei è andata. Devi lasciarla andare.

They tell me to move on, to put you in the past. How can I tell them it's impossible? Without you there is no future for me. Without you, I am a violin with no strings. I'm a hollow shell that can't make any music.

I fill the stove top espresso pot with water and coffee, light the gas burner and wait for the thick, brown liquid to sputter up. The pot fills and I realize I'm still staring at it even after it is done. I shake my head and fill my tazzina. There are only a few packets of the raw sugar you love left, so I drink the coffee black.

I dress and go down the stairs to the street. I walk down the hill from the old town towards the new, from our dream to their reality.

Non capiscono. Mi hai dato la vita. Mi hai fatto sentire.

Ahead I see the busy viale. I stop and turn down the side street that leads to the beach. I know it will make me late, but I'm not ready. I need more time.

It takes me fifteen minutes to walk to the water. The beach is nearly empty. Only a few people are laying on the sand, on our beach.

For a minute, I can imagine you lying on the Moroccan blanket reading a romance novel. I'm on my side looking at you. You are on your stomach and a strand of your long, brown hair slips down. You brush it back, glance at me and laugh.

Non mi danno i tuoi occhi camera da letto è vecchio lech.”

Non essere così bella allora,” I say.

Vai rinfrescarsi in acqua. Fammi leggere il mio libro.”

You just smile and read as I trace the curve of your back.

I'm thinking of this when a soccer ball bounces near me. I turn and see three young men looking in my direction.

Mister!” one of them yells. “Calci indietro!”

I look at the ball and kick it back to them.

Gracie!” they yell and turn back down the beach, kicking the ball as they go.

I can't put it off any longer. I turn away from our beach and walk back toward town.

Too soon, I'm at the ospedale. I walk into the lobby. The nurse at the desk barely notices me. I take the elevator up and get out. I walk down the long hall, past the window with the newborns behind it without looking at them. I turn at the end of the hall and push open the door to the ward of no hope.

The dottore is in your room. He's wearing a white coat. You are in your bed. I can see your chest slowly rise and fall to the beat of machine next to you. It's tube is in your throat, filling your lungs with air.

The doctor looks at me. He doesn't know I'm wearing your favorite shirt, the one you bought me in Rome because it made my eyes look more blue. I can't speak, so I take your hand. It's limp in mine.

So che è difficile, ma è la cosa giusta da fare,” the doctor finally says. “Se ci fosse qualche speranza...”

I fight back tears and lean forward to kiss your forhead.

OK,” I whisper. “Si, va bene.”

And then I can't stop the tears.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Captain of the Guards (chapter one)


“No time,” I think as I reach back into the car for a weapon, any weapon. But what kind of weapon do you use to fight a six and a half foot tall man throwing blue energy bolts at you?

Okay, so, he probably isn't a man. Give me a break here - something that looks like a man, a very tall man at that, is hurling deadly energy blasts at me. I know they're deadly because the ones that have missed have fused chunks of the parking lot gravel into, well, fused gravel. Luckily for me, he seems to be looking for something and I'm no more than an annoyance to be brushed away.

I don't want to be brushed away though. I rather like me and the little life I lead. Sure, I could use some more money, maybe better looks, a nice car...

“Remington!” yelled Alyssa. “Now would be a good time.”

The bad energy guy was turning toward us and his right hand was glowing with crackling, blue plasma. I only have time to reach in to scoop up a handful of small pebbles and slide a golf club out of the 1930s canvas and leather Wilson golf bag I keep behind the driver's seat. Not just any golf club mind you. This beauty has a hickory shaft, leather wrapped grip and a hand-forged head. It's a Hendry and Bishop niblick.

Hendry and Bishop, Ltd. was a golf club company in the first third of last century. One of the biggest in the world for a while. Big, in this case, didn't mean shoddy though. Take this club – the hickory shaft is still straight and doesn't have any cracks, the leather grips are original and the metal head is a deliciously perfect with a dark brown patina. It takes years to acquire that kind of patina.


Time slows down like a car crash as his hand swings forward. It's not just everything slowing down, it's slow and fast at the same time. As his hand swings forward and a blast of energy leaps from it, I toss the pebbles in the air. As his blast collides with the pebbles, there's a thunderous boom like a wave crashing on a rocky shore and the blue energy vaporizes into a light mist.

“How...” Says Alyssa. She's looking up at me from the ground. Her eyes have that look. You know the look you get when people discover that you're not just a bumbling idiot? No? Well, I get it a lot.

“What did you do?” she asks.

“Witch's stones...”

I mean give me some credit. I'm not gonna just lob some pebbles at a pissed off Faerie. Yeah, I sort of figured him for one of the Fay, but I wasn't sure till just now. That was Faerie Fire or I'm a monkey's...oh never mind. Just trust me, it was.

Anyway, witch's stones are stones that have a hole naturally worn through their center. They look a bit like Lifesavers, which in a way they are. Witches hang them about their property for protection. I found mine along the beach. Hence the whole wave crash thing with the energy blast.

I could explain this to Alyssa, but we've got big problems now. You don't just knock down a Fay's Faerie Fire without him noticing. I could feel his rage pulsing. If there's anything the Fay don't like, it's mortals using magick.

“Wizard!” The whites of his eyes were flashing red.


I have just enough time to aim the handle end of my golf club at the Fay before he tosses another blue bomb our way. Aged hickory makes a really nice wand and wands are handy for focusing power. I plant my feet and feel the warm, earth energy flow up at the same time he hurls a blast our way. I'm just able to deflect it. My wrist, elbow and arm scream with pain at the blow. There's a lot of energy being thrown around. This is one powerful Fay.

If he keeps tossing Faerie Fire at us, we could be toast really soon. Again we get lucky and he charges forward with a yell.


He can probably tear me apart with his hands. Contrary to what you may have heard, faeries aren't cute and delicate. They are pretty darn strong. As he rushes toward me, I flip the club around, pull back and swing it at his head. There's a dull thud as the club connects with his head. He gives me a startled look and falls with a thud.

Alyssa is looking at me with wide eyes.


“Scottish iron in this club,” I say. “Faeries don't deal with iron real well and this is hand-forged, Scottish iron. Don't think he was expecting that.”


“Faeries don't deal...” I start.

Alyssa is looking at me like I'm nuts. I'm used to this, a lot of people have this reaction, but this isn't how I had hoped the day would go. I sigh to myself and try to think of the best way to explain all this.

Most people go their entire lives without ever having to know there's more to this world than what we see. Few people ever have any dealings with supernatural beings and those who have usually find a way to rationalize it away.

I know this isn't going to go good. It's too bad, I really like this girl.

“That,” I say, pointing at the dead Fay. “That is a Faerie.”

“A Faerie?”

“Well, actually...not so much anymore. But, yes...”

“A Faerie?”


“I think I want to go home,” says Alyssa.

Told you it wasn't going to go too good.


Alyssa pulls open the passenger side door and climbs in. I draw a circle on the ground around the dead Faerie and mutter a few protection words. I'll have to come back later after I take Alyssa home and figure out this mess.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Isabella Beauchamp - The Tom Thumb Robot

(This is the second episode/chapter of Isabella Beauchamp's adventures. They are set in a slightly different 19th century England. I'm posting with almost no editing and revision, so try and overlook any glaring problems in that department. I've also noticed that the formatting is spotty after transferring to Blogger, but I don't have the time now to fix it.

The stories are meant to be a nod to Victorian era serials. I'm shooting for fun and quick to read without too much complexity. This a bit of an exercise for me. I have a journalism background and have found that I write better when I'm actually doing it on regularly - preferably with a tight deadline. This project will, I hope, help.)

Sanjeep carried the silver tray down the hall toward the double doors. The sound of shuffling feet, stomps and metal hitting metal grew louder. As he reached the doors he heard Isabella’s labored voice and the crash of breaking glass. He paused at the doors, sighed and pushed one of the doors open.

The large room was a disaster. A beautifully carved mahogany side table was overturned and a 17th century Chinese vase lay in pieces on the ground. A figure, clad in black, wearing a wire mask and wielding a sword was, advancing on Isabella, who was backed nearly to the far wall.

Suddenly, she was driven all the way to the wall by the ominous, sword wielding figure. The black figure was clearly a man – large and skilled with the use of his deadly instrument. Sanjeep watched as he lunged toward Isabella, sword extended in a finishing thrust.

She ducked to the side of the sword and deftly slid behind the man as his sword implanted itself in the wall.

“Chai Miss?” asked Sanjeep casually.

Isabella spun towards him, green eyes blazing, and quick as lightning let fly a knife. Sanjeep saw it hurtle end over end towards him. He felt the slight breeze as it whizzed past his head and heard the thump as it struck point end first into the wall behind him.

“Yes,” said Isabella. She shook her long, brown loose and it tumbled down around her shoulders. “Chai would be very nice. Thank you Sanjeep.”

“And for Mister David?” said Sanjeep to the man in black.

Isabella’s cousin David Ambrose pulled off the fencing mask with a grin.

“You know I can’t resist that bloody Indian concoction of yours,” he said. “What do you put in it anyway, opium?”

“Of course, Mister David,” said Sanjeep smiling. “And many other mysterious and potent drugs of the far East. It is the secret of the Rajas.”

“Okay,” laughed David. “But someday you’ll tell me how it’s made.”

“Sanjeep will never break his Hindoo oath of secrecy,” said Isabella. “Isn’t that right?”

With his free hand, Sanjeep mimed turning a key to lock his mouth shut and set the tray down on a table that hadn’t been jostled in the sparring.

“I do hope that Miss remembered tonight is the appearance of the miraculous Mr. General Tom Thumb at the Egyptian Hall,” said Sanjeep.

Isabella saw the look of concern on her butler’s face and knew better than to kid him about the show. Sanjeep was obsessed with Tom Thumb, the diminutive side-show performer. She knew he kept a rolled up poster from Tom Thumb’s previous London appearance in 1844 and had been dreaming of seeing him since the current appearances had been reported. He had a ticket for this same evening and had been trying with mixed success to keep his excitement in check.

Tom Thumb was all the rage and his appearances had been drawing crowds all week. In fact, he had been invited to Buckingham Palace the following night at the request of the Queen herself. Isabella was to attend the appearance at Buckingham Palace.

She suspected that Sanjeep’s fascination was rooted in his Indian background. She was partly correct. As an Indian, Sanjeep grew up in a highly stratified society with firm castes. The fact that a midget could become such a celebrity struck him as a wonder of the modern age. But, he also had heard of the slapstick the short man was famous for and couldn’t help but be drawn in. Sanjeep loved silly comedy.

“Of course,” said Isabella. “We can manage from here. You go prepare for the big night.”

Sanjeep gave a small bow and started to turn for the door,

“David,” said Isabella. “Don’t you have something for Sanjeep before he goes?”

“I say,” he said. “”That’s right. Nearly forgot.”

He reached into a pocket and pulled out a sealed envelope.

“Take this with you old chap,” he said. “Show it to the stage manager at the back door after the show. He’ll take you in to meet Tom Thumb personally. Do enjoy yourself.”

Tears of gratitude welled in Sanjeep’s eyes.


David and Isabella dined together that evening at the Ship and Turtle in Leadenhall Street – one of the best places in London for real turtle dishes. As cousins, they had much to talk about – family, common friends and, of course, Sanjeep’s big night out.

“That was wonderful of you to arrange that meeting for him,” said Isabella.

“It was nothing at all,” said David. “Barnum had been to the house on their last tour and was kind enough to write the letter.”


“Come on,” he said. “We both know Sanjeep is positively daffy about this Tom Thumb. It was the least I could do for him.”

“I do hope he’s having a good time.”

“I’m sure it’s something he’ll never forget,” said David raising his glass. “To the adventure of a lifetime.”


Sanjeep hadn’t laughed so hard in years, maybe even ever. It was all he had hoped for and more and now he was about to meet Tom Thumb. The stage manager led him back to the dressing room where the star was changing after the show. The big man rapped quickly on the door and opened it.

“Well go on in then,” he said.

“Yes,” said a higher pitched voice inside. “Come in.”

Sanjeep hesitated and then stepped into the dressing room. There, sitting on a miniature child’s chair in front of a mirror was the star himself. Sanjeep was tongue tied for a moment, but managed to get out his name and express that he was a big fan.

Tom Thumb, for his part, was the model of a gentleman through and through. He quickly made Sanjeep comfortable and the two fell into a lively conversation while the performer removed his stage makeup. They talked about New York City, the wilds of India and the miniature carriage that P.T. Barnum had made for his small star. The diminutive steam carriage caused stares whenever he took it out on the London streets. He planned on appearing in it at Buckingham Palace the following evening. He knew it would be a hit since the miniature horse carriage he appeared in back in 1844 had the Queen in stitches.

Nearly forty minutes had passed with the two conversing like old friends when suddenly the room went dark. Sanjeep heard the shuffling of feet just before he felt something pound the back of his head. Then he heard and felt nothing.


Sanjeep gingerly opened his eyes. The room he was in was dark, but there was enough light coming in a pair of windows set high in the wall to make things out. It was some sort of warehouse building. The last thing he remembered was talking to Tom Thumb.

“Mr. General!” he gasped. He tried to get to his feet and found they were tied with rope. His hands, he realized, were tied behind his back.

The light from the windows made him realize that it was day time. What day he didn’t know, but it was a start. He was lying on his side, that was something too.

Looking into the gloom, he could make out all manner of strange things. He saw a mummy case and various Egyptian looking artifacts. He also saw a giant wheel with four iron shackles on it. There were knives stuck in it’s front surrounding a painted outline of a person. He had seen this thing before, but where?

His brain was still fuzzy and he couldn’t place it. Then he remembered where he had seen it. It had been used in a magic show he saw some time ago at the Egyptian Hall. He realized then that he was in a storage room for items used at the Egyptian Hall. It didn’t seem likely that this was part of the hall itself. It must be a warehouse somewhere else in the city.

Sanjeep rolled over and looked at the other side of the room. He saw a small steam carriage with a little man inside.

“Mister General!” he yelled. “Mister General Tom Thumb!”

“Mmmmmph,” was the response. “Mmmmmver mmmmere!”

But the response didn’t come from Tom Thumb. It came from…Tom Thumb! The little man was leaning against a crate, bound and gagged, off to the side of the room.

“Mmmmmver mmmmmere.”

Sanjeep rolled like a log over to the little General.

“Are you okay Mister Tom?” Tom Thumb nodded his head.

“But why are you tied up? And how can you be over there too?”

Tom Thumb couldn’t answer with the gag in his mouth so Sanjeep got no immediate answer. Using the crate, he slowly worked himself upright and then over to Tom Thumb. He could just reach the knotted cloth keeping the little man silent. With the knot behind him, he blindly maneuvered the knot loose and got the gag off.

“Dynamite,” said Tom Thumb. “There’s dynamite in the steam carriage.”


“The Queen…Buckingham Palace!”

It all became clear. It was the next day now and Tom Thumb was supposed to appear at Buckingham Palace in the early evening. An elaborate dummy was in the carriage. It must have been set up to steer itself onto the grounds, up to the front entrance and when the Queen and her guests greeted it…

Looking up to the windows, Sanjeep could see that the light was turning red. It was nearing sunset. They didn’t have much time.

He tried to think. Isabella would know what to do. She could always be counted on to come up with a plan. But she wasn’t here. Isabella, Sanjeep remembered had planned on staying with David’s family last night. Their home was closer to the palace. She wouldn’t even know he had been abducted and she would be at the palace to greet the carriage.

“Think,” he said out loud. “Think you dimwitted man.”

Just then there was noise outside. Someone was unlocking the outer door.

“Pretend you’re asleep,” Sanjeep whispered to Tom Thumb as he rolled himself down onto the floor.


The door opened and was quickly closed. Two men had entered the room.

“Check them two out,” said the first man. “I’ll start this ‘ere boiler.”

The second man walked over to Sanjeep and Tom Thumb.

“Oi, they’re still out cold. The little one’s lost his gag though.”

“Never mind that. It won’t matter once we get this thing out of ‘ere. It’ll only be a few minutes before the boiler’s ‘ot enough. Let’s wait outside. I ‘ate this place, gives me the Willy’s it does.”

As soon as the men left, Sanjeep got himself upright again.

“I have an idea,” he whispered to Tom Thumb. The little man nodded.

“You need to pull out this pin on my jacket with your teeth,” whispered Sanjeep and nodded down to an exotic looking pin on his lapel. It was serpent -the color of rich, high-karat, Indian gold and had two gleaming jewel eyes.


Tom Thumb quickly worked the pin out and held it in his teeth.

“Now pass it to me.”

Sanjeep leaned forward and took the pin from Tom Thumb’s mouth with his own teeth.

“Don’t go getting any ideas now,” whispered Tom Thumb. “That don’t mean we’re dating or anything.”

Sanjeep grinned and rolled himself over to the carriage. He worked himself up and against the imposter Tom Thumb inside. Up close, he could see it was a good likeness with a wax face and gears to create lifelike movement. He could also see that the carriage was packed with dynamite – a lot of dynamite. As quickly as he could, Sanjeep stuck the pin to the imposter’s lapel. He knew it was a long shot, but it’s all he could do. He rolled himself back to Tom Thumb.

“That’s it?”

“If Miss Isabella sees that pin on you…or your, how do you say, dopelgang…she’ll know something is wrong.”

“That’s a big ‘if’.”

“This is very true,” whispered Sanjeep. “It is out of our hands now. When these men leave, we must remove our ropes and go to Buckingham.”

At the sound of the door unlocking, Sanjeep rolled to the ground and he and Tom Thumbed once again feigned sleep.


The crowd outside the gates cheered as Tom Thumbs steam carriage turned and entered the Buckingham Palace grounds. It made its way toward the group of invited nobility, guests of note, and the Queen herself.

Isabella leaned forward to see better as it approached. Tom Thumb was smiling and giving a jerky parade wave as the carriage passed and drew to a stop in front of the Queen. The setting sun cast a warm glow on the carriage and Tom Thumb. Isabella smiled at the sight. Then she saw a glint of light reflect off a pin on Tom Thumb’s coat. It was familiar somehow.

“Sanjeep?” she said aloud.

“What?” asked David.

“Sanjeep’s pin,” she said. “What is it doing…”

Isabella didn’t finish. She shoved forward, knocking a Member of Parliament into his wife and jostling past several Ladies.

“Get back!” she yelled to the startled group and ran toward the Queen and pushed her away. “Get back!”

“I say!” shouted someone.

“What the deuce!”

Isabella ignored the clamour and jumped onto the carriage. She quickly scanned the machine. Someone tried to pull her off, but she kicked her leg out and caught whoever it was in the face. Spotting a lever, she shoved it forward and the carriage started slowly rolling. It picked up some momentum and Isabella turned the wheel and dived away. The carriage continued forward and then exploded in a fiery ball.

Through the smoke, Isabella could hear the sounds of yelling and then police sirens. She could see men in military dress uniforms and tall, black fur hats whisking the short, stout figure of the Queen inside the palace. David was running over to her as two Sterling Police Broughams pulled up.

“Are you alright?” asked David as he kneeled beside her.

“I think so…” she said. “Is…is…”

“No one is seriously hurt,” he said. “Just some cuts and scrapes. But, I think you may have broken the Prime Minister’s nose.”

Isabella looked at him and he nodded. She managed a small smile.

“Serves him right. Imagine, grabbing at a lady’s leg like that.”

Sanjeep rushed out of the back of one of the police vehicles.

“Miss! Miss Isabella!” he yelled. “Are you…is she okay?”

“She’s going to be fine,” said David. “Just fine.”

“I’m afraid I lost your lovely jeweled pin though.”

“My pin,” sputtered Sanjeep. “You think I’m worried about my pin? Miss is the only jewel I care about.”


Several days later, the whole story came out.

Isabella had, of course, recognized the pin and known that Sanjeep would never give away such a family heirloom – not even to the illustrious Mister General Tom Thumb. She knew something was wrong, but it wasn’t until she jumped onto the carriage that she realized just how seriously wrong. That’s when she saw the imposter Tom Thumb and the dynamite and understood a plot was unfolding to assassinate the Queen and as many dignitaries as possible.

Her quick thinking got the carriage just far enough away that no one was seriously injured. No one except the Prime Minister, whose nose she did indeed break. He harboured no grudge however.

“Better to have a broken nose than have my bloody head blown up,” he was reported to have said.

Sanjeep and Tom Thumb have been able to free themselves quickly enough that Sanjeep was able to set off running toward the palace. He flagged down a police vehicle and they raced to the palace. They arrived just after the two men had set their plot in motion and were making their escape.

Sanjeep recognized the men and captured one while the police apprehended the other. The men, it turned out, were part of an anarchist group. One of them worked at the Egyptian Hall and hatched the plot some months earlier when he learned that Tom Thumb would be appearing there.

The other man was a machinist and created the elaborate gearing that allowed the imposter steam carriage to seemingly steer itself. He simply set the gears to turn, slow down and stop at pre-measured intervals. The dynamite had a timer set to go off after the carriage pulled to a stop.

Sanjeep and Isabella were called to the palace a couple of days later and thanked by the Queen. Sanjeep was knighted and presented with as close a copy of his pin as could be made. Although both he and Isabella knew that mere gold and jewels could never replace the one he had sacrificed, neither said a word of it.

Afterwards, both Isabella and David took great pleasure in irritating Sanjeep by continually referring to him as Sir Sanjeep. And, though he feigned irritation, he was very proud.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Isabelle Beauchamp and the Audley Street Spectre

(A chapter from The Isabelle Beauchamp Adventures. Just a bit of good, clean fun...enjoy.)


Isabella Beauchamp set the large gold beetle down on the table in irritation. Despite her copious notes from Everton’s Encyclopaedia Hieroglyphae, the words inscribed on it remained a mystery. Even the cartouche was impossible to decipher.

The ruby eyes of the large scarab stared tauntingly at her. She stared petulantly back at it. Perhaps, she thought, if it blinked first it would be forced to reveal its mysteries. She was startled by a cough behind her. Turning, she saw Sanjeep, her Hindoo butler.

“Miss Isabella,” said Sanjeep. “I am very much sorry to disturb you, but there is a caller.”

“But it’s well past nine. Who in the world is calling this late?”

Sanjeep entered the study and handed her a card. It was neatly printed on heavy stock with the name Lady Evelyn Crabbtree. Isabelle covered the gold beetle with a silk cloth and turned back to her butler.

“Very well Sanjeep,” she said. “Let us see what Lady Evelyn finds so urgent this evening. Bring her in won’t you.”

“Of course. Shall I see to some refreshment as well?”

“Yes. I suppose that would be a good idea.”

“Very well,” said Sanjeep turning toward the door.

“Sanjeep,” said Isabella. “See to it that her driver gets something as well. He’s probably wishing he was at home in bed instead of…well. Just see to him.”


Isabella couldn’t help thinking of a caged rat as she waited for Lady Evelyn to come to the point of her visit. The older woman paced back and forth with a pinched look as she failed repeatedly to string together a coherent story.

“It’s that,” said Lady Evelyn. “Well, you know, I don’t normally subscribe to those sorts of beliefs…”


“Of course not,” said Lady Evelyn, finally stopping her pacing. “Everyone knows those occultists and mediums are charlatans. I’ve never seen why reasonable people have to believe in such silly things as ghosts and apparitions. I mean, really, spectres.”

“Very practical of you.”

“What? Yes, of course. I am, by nature, a practical person. I believe in common sense.”

“Not ghosts.”


“Until now that is. Now that you have something that doesn’t make any sense.”

“At first I dismissed it as the servants’ silly superstitions,” said Lady Evelyn. “The thought of it, my house haunted.”

The older woman twisted a handkerchief in her hands. She looked at Isabella as if hoping that she wouldn’t have to continue her tale. Isabella waited in silence until Lady Evelyn began again.

“The maids said that things were being moved when no one was in the rooms. Then they started on about noises and strange feelings late at night. I tried to calm them, but they were all in a state and wouldn’t hear me. Before I knew it, they had all given notice and I was left without any help except my driver.”

Lady Evelyn paused again.

“And then I started hearing the noises,” she said with a shiver. “The horrible noises, I couldn’t sleep a wink. Then tonight, I saw it. It was a glowing mass floating in the air. I came here at once.”

“You were wise to do so Lady Evelyn.”

Isabella got up from her chair and walked to the bookcase. She pulled a large, midnight-blue, leather-bound volume out and opened it. Flipping through several pages, she found the one she was looking for and set it down on the table next to the covered beetle. The page showed a map of London crisscrossed with lines of various colors and thicknesses.

“What was the address again?” she asked.

“It is ­*** Audley Street,” answered Lady Evelyn.

Isabella followed the street with her finger.

“Near Grosvener Square?”

“Yes. That’s right.”

When she found the spot on her map, Isabella frowned. It was directly on top of the intersection of two of the colored lines. Both of them where fairly thick. Not good, she thought.

“And the problems started when?” asked Isabella.

“They began in earnest Friday last.”

The day before the full moon, thought Isabella. The perigee-syzygy, or so-called super moon, when the full or new moon drew closest to the earth. No, this was not good at all.


Isabella would have preferred to take the Stirling Phaeton Velocicar. She always enjoyed the rush of gliding quietly through the streets of London late at night. The Stirling allowed her that, but the two-seater wasn’t practical for this night. Instead she rode in the steam powered Victoria Brougham with Lady Evelyn. The Victoria, being steam powered, was still a quick vehicle, but it required the services of Chapman, her driver.

It was after 11 o’clock by the time they sent Lady Evelyn’s driver away, Chapman had the boiler heated and they were on the way to Lady Evelyn’s home on Oxford Street. Most of the society crowd had followed the social calendar to the country, leaving those still in the city a quiet peace before the whirl of parties, concerts, gallery exhibits and blushing, scheming, unmarried young women once again took center stage.

This quiet time of the social season had the added benefit of leaving the streets relatively empty. Those of higher status who remained in the city generally took to bed early and the newly expanding west side of the city held little of interest for the working classes at this hour.

Isabella would normally love the drive through the late night streets, but Lady Evelyn’s agitation grew as they drew nearer to her home. It didn’t seem possible, but the older woman grew more like a trapped rat as they drove.

“Perhaps it would be best if you remained with Chapman when we arrive,” said Isabella.

“What?” said Lady Evelyn. “Yes, yes, of course. If you think it best.”

“I do.”

Dealing with the supernatural was always tricky, but the presence of someone in Lady Evelyn’s state could add an element of danger that Isabella was loathe to accept. She had seen the effect the fear of the inexperienced could have on the world of aether and spirits.


Chapman skillfully pulled the Brougham up to the curb in front of *** Audley Street. He stepped around and opened the door for Isabella and then went to the back of the gleaming vehicle. He opened the boot and pulled out a strange machine constructed of wood and brass.

The E.C.R.U. was much more than it’s simple exterior revealed. Its interior was a machine of scientific complexity. The original had been designed by Isabella’s father and built with the backing of her uncle Lord Reginald Farthington. This model had been modified by Isabella herself. The initials stood for Ectoplasm Containment and Removal Unit and its purpose was exactly that.

The E.C.R.U relied on advances in the ectoplastic sciences to allow the operator to first restrain unruly spirits and then contain them in its containment unit. Once contained, the spirits could be removed to be dealt with safely.

Chapman helped strap the unit on Isabella’s back and handed her a belt with several detection apparatuses.

“Will you be wanting the Arachnid net gun as well Miss?” he asked.

Isabella thought for a moment before replying. The Arachnid was useless when dealing with spirits. It was indispensable when dealing with more solid beings of the supernatural world. The two short barrels of the gun could be equipped with shells that fired nets woven of extremely strong and light synthetic spider thread.

“Yes,” she said. “I don’t think it will be necessary Chapman, but one can never be too prepared.”

“Indeed Miss. One never can be too prepared.”

Isabella checked the two chambers and saw that it was already loaded with one standard shell and one with a blend of spider and iron thread. It was unlikely that she would need the second, but her map had indicated that a Fae line ran directly under the house in front of her. Better safe than sorry, she thought again.

Prepared now, she leaned into the Brougham and asked Lady Evelyn for the key to the front door.


The house was eerily quiet. All the servants but the driver had turned in their notices and left when the disturbances started. The driver didn’t live in the house proper, so he had never experienced any apparitions.

Isabella crossed the marble floor of the entryway and started checking rooms. From what Lady Evelyn had told her, there were seldom any problems on the main floor, but she wanted to be thorough. Assured that there was nothing amiss on the first floor, she moved up the stairs to the check the family’s bedrooms. These proved to be clear of anything untoward as well and she started to wonder if Lady Evelyn was suffering from nerves rather than ghosts.

When she moved further upstairs to the servants’ room, though, she noticed the first twitches of her ectoplasmeter. There were definitely traces here, but the meter stayed stubbornly well clear of the red zone that indicated a nearby presence.

Taking the back stairs, Isabella headed back downstairs. Her meter continued to pick up traces as she made her way to the kitchen and pantry. Seeing that the needle ticked up as she passed the door to the wine cellar below the house, she opened the door. The needle sprung up into the red zone.

Inside the door, at the top of the stairs, was a small shelf with several candles pieces and matches. Unlike the rest of the house, the cellar wasn’t gas lit. Isabella lit a larger piece of candle and started down the stairs.

Before she had gone several steps, the door suddenly slammed shut. A draft blew out her candle, leaving her in darkness.

“Oh bother!”

Isabella stumbled back up the stairs and fumbled in the dark for the shelf with the matches. She grabbed a handful and pocketed them in her coat. She then re-lit the candle and started back down again. There was another gust from below, but she had been expecting this and had her left hand cupped around the candle to block it.

“Now you’re just being irritating,” she said to the gloom of the cellar.

Just past the shelves of dusty Bordeaux, she caught sight of it. A glowing mist hovered in air near the back wall. It wasn’t big, maybe the size of a small child, and it didn’t glow very brightly. That was good. It wasn’t powerful, more a presence than a full-fledged ghost.

“Alright then,” she said reaching back and flipping a switch on the E.C.R.U. The machine started to hum and vibrate lightly on her back. “Let’s try and keep this civilized.”

The glowing presence pulsed and grew brighter, but still not enough to worry her. She pulled a gun-like machine from a holster on her hip. It was attached by a long, flexible tube to the E.C.R.U. She pointed it at the presence and pulled the trigger. Green strands of light shot from the end and encircled the presence. The glowing thing let out a squeal and was quickly sucked back through the gun and the hose into the E.C.R.U.

Isabella checked the ectoplasmeter and saw that it was once again picking up only traces.

“Well,” she said, relieved. “That’s that.”

No sooner had Isabella taken several steps back toward the stairs when a horrendous howl filled the cellar. Several wine bottles flew off the shelves, only just missing her head.

Isabella spun to face a figure crouched as if to spring at her. It looked vaguely like a young woman wearing nothing but a thin, wet shift. The shift clung to the creature’s body and now that her eyes had focused, Isabella saw that wet strands of mossy algae hung from its hair. The creature’s appearance shifted – first looking like a beautiful girl and then a hideous froglike beast.

The creature jumped at her, flying through the air with bared teeth that gleamed like polished pearl daggers. Isabella dove to the side, crashing into a shelf of wine. Bottles fell and broke, leaving blood-red pools on the brick floor.

The creature spun and jumped at her again. This time it lashed out with a claw like hand and slashed her arm. Isabella screamed and rolled away. The candle fell to the ground but, miraculously, continued burning.

With a fluid motion born of hours of practice, Isabella drew the Arachnid net gun, aimed and fired the first chamber. The synthetic spider web spread and ensnared the creature. It thrashed and bellowed, no longer looking anything like a young girl.

The creature growled and, with a swiftness that surprised Isabella, tore free from the net, It sprang forward, claws outstretched, and Isabella fired the second chamber.

The effect was stunning. As the web again snared the creature, it released a mighty bellow. Smoke began to rise from its skin and its face contorted in pain and anger. It again tore away the net, but instead of attacking it dove for the farthest, darkest corner of the cellar and disappeared.

Isabella brushed broken glass from her skirt and picked up the candle. She cautiously crept forward to where the creature disappeared. There she found a small opening at the base of the wall. It looked like a very old drain. An iron grate lay to the side of the opening. She picked it up and placed it over the opening.


Back at her own home, after having first settling Lady Evelyn in rooms at the Grosvener Hotel, Sanjeep carefully cleaned and dressed the gashes in Isabella’s arm.

“Surely this wasn’t a ghost Miss,” he said.

“No,” she said. “It was a Fell Affranc.”

“A water spirit?”

“Not a nice one either. Fetch me the green book on the third shelf, I’ll show you.”

Sanjeep went to the shelves and pulled the book down. He handed it to Isabella and she flipped through several pages, stopping at one with an engraving of a creature much like the one she encountered in Lady Evelyn’s wine cellar. She handed the book to Sanjeep.

He read the entry and looked at her questioningly.

“But it says these creatures inhabit swamps and shallow lakes.”

“And they do.”


“But, what was it doing in Lady Evelyn’s cellar?”

“Yes Miss.”

“If I had to guess,” she explained. “It came in through the old drain. The grate was off to the side. It must have been removed when the Middle Level Sewer was being built under Oxford Street. All the houses in Mayfair were connected to that sewer.”

“Hmm…I see.”

“The perigee-syzygy caused an unusually high tide on the Thames. That’s where the Middle Level Sewer flows to.”

“It came in on the tide?”

“I think, perhaps, it did.”

“But why that house?”

“It was probably attracted by the ectoplasmic presence. The Fae are always attracted to that sort of thing and the house is built on an old Fae line too. Its appearance likely set off the presence which was probably there all along without causing any trouble.”

“It’s a fortuitous thing that you had the net with the iron thread then Miss.”

“Very fortunate indeed Sanjeep. Very fortunate.”

One can never be too prepared, she thought as Sanjeep left the room.