(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.”
“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.”
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.
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?”
“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.”
“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.