141 Darrow Street in the city-state of Mercia, member of
the G---- Kingdom and seat of its bicycle manufacturing
industry, there is a house. From the outside it is a splendorous
thing, with broad brick walls and a half-timbered roof.
The garden along the back wall is surrounded by two other
houses and an iron fence covered with ivy. It is home to
a wide spectrum of flowers, herbs, and Etruscan statues.
Inside, the house is divided into four flats. It was in
the fourth flat, on a dark night of mystery and spirits,
that Lewis Gamine disappeared from this world.
#4 was home to Madeline Chambers, renowned hostess and connoisseur
of all things odd. It was common knowledge that Mlle Chambers
possessed psychic abilities, and she used her otherworldly
skills to enhance her entertaining. Every few weeks she
would spend a day deep in concentration as she sought potential
guests for her séances and channeling sessions. Her
mental tendrils would climb out of the back of her neck,
just below the hairline, creep under the door of the flat,
slide down the stairs and into the garden, and rise out
above the streets of Mercia, hoping to come in contact with
other extensions in the ether. Once a sufficient number
of guests were located (usually five or six, although it
was rumored she once entertained the Count of Jaconde exclusively
for three consecutive sessions), Madeline would draw the
tendrils back into her body and spend the remainder of the
evening engraving invitations for the guests to attend her
next séance, held on the first Sunday evening of
the coming month.
sky was low as the five guests neared Darrow Street, the
fog carefully wrapping each brick in the tight, dense cobblestone
streets of Mercia. Arriving first in a rented carriage was
Arthur Sweep, a young fop who had recently inherited the
family law practice after the untimely death of his father.
His invitation came as a surprise, and was misguided. Mlle
Chambers' tendrils had not come into contact with Arthur's
psychic extentions, for he had none. Rather, they had found
radio waves emitting from his townhouse, the source of which
was a primitive short-wave Arthur had purchased only a week
before. Arthur, of course, had no idea this was the case,
and had been waving his engraved invitation under the noses
of his fellow dandies for over a week.
guests arrived fashionably by bicycle, the Lord Chester
and Lady Norbella Dunsford carefully placing their velocipedes
on the porch surrounding the apartment building. The two
were nobles in name only, the Dunsford estates having been
seized by the Empire three generations previous. However
modest their situation now (Chester held a minor management
position in a sponge factory and provided for his wife in
their creaky flat in the Dregham district), the Dunsfords
were still nobility and attempted to appear as dignified
as possible. Both Dunsfords were skilled clairvoyants and
occasionally aided the police in missing persons cases.
When Mlle Chambers had come into contact with them they
were searching for a small boy who had disappeared seemingly
in his own family's house a few weeks back (and for all
their skill the boy was still missing, the police dubbing
his "surely dead. If the Lord and Lady Dunsford can't
locate him we're certain we can't").
final two guests arrived on foot from opposite directions,
Nunca Thorne coming up the street and Lewis Gamine coming
down. Nunca was a slight girl of fifteen, with small features
and hair the color of dry autumn leaves, which was pulled
up in a bun and held through with a short spike closely
resembling her namesake. Her psychic abilities were in their
earliest stages and Mlle Chambers had found Nunca manifesting
them in her sleep. Her father's gardener, Klaus, an ox of
a man who lived in the guesthouse and kept things running
smoothly on the Thorne estate, escorted her. Nunca had been
overtly sheltered in her childhood and when she received
her invitation she begged her father to let her go. He eventually
conceded on the condition that Klaus escort her. Nunca was
overjoyed and had secretly bribed Klaus the night before.
Nunca's jade necklace and two gold coins would belong to
Klaus if he turned away a block before Mlle Chambers' apartment
and let Nunca enter alone. Klaus did.
Lewis Gamine neared 141 Darrow Street, his eyes narrowed
to allow him better vision into the dimly lit upstairs window.
A soft roseate glow came from the room which he supposed
to be Mlle Chambers'. Lewis Gamine was a painter by day,
spending his days on the sidewalk, offering a good price
for a flattering portrait. His nights, however, were spent
reading of his two passions: inventions and the Western
Frontier. Lewis craved the life of the vaquero, and for
years had wished to leave his belongings behind and venture
into the West to realize his fantasy. Lewis' self-confidence,
though, was rooted in the city, and wrapped him like a vine,
continually present and immobilizing. Lewis first discovered
his psychic abilities at the age of thirteen. By focusing
his concentration on another person, Lewis experienced their
thought process alongside his own, totally unbeknownst to
the other. He sometimes used his ability to get a better
idea of the subjects of his portraits, but it always left
him feeling guilty and slightly disoriented. Not all subjects
were worth entering, and there had been more than one time
Lewis wished he had kept his mind to himself. Mlle Chambers'
tendrils had encountered Lewis as he was painting a pair
of young newlyweds, and she nearly made the invitation out
to all three people.
Gamine and Nunca Thorne reached the door to 141 Darrow Street
at precisely the same time. Lewis knew that the bulk of
a man lurking in the alley behind the young girl presented
no threat, but he did not attempt to enter Nunca's mind.
Vaqueros may be rugged, but they do have their honor, thought
Lewis as he opened the door for the slender frame of Nunca
Thorne. Without meeting his gaze she smiled cautiously and
quickly stepped into the house.
parlor of 141 Darrow Street was ornamented with wide tapestries
and overstuffed chairs. When all the guests had arrived
they were met by Mlle Chambers' servant, a short, olive-colored
man wearing an elongated fez. He led them up three flights
of stairs to the doorway of Flat #4, and giving the knob
a turn and a slight push, ushered them in.
Chambers was there to greet them and introductions were
made all round. Young Arthur Sweep seemed surprised at the
lack of recognition the others afforded him. Padding through
Sweep's grotesque harlequin of a mind, Lewis Gamine could
plainly see that the arrogant macaroni did no belong in
the party in the least, but he was sure there was some sort
of reason for his presence. The Lord and Lady Dunsford were
especially delighted to meet Nunca, and the fragile little
girl slowly began to seem more comfortable.
If you are all ready, I think we shall begin now,"
said Madeline Chambers, and she led the group to a dark
guest bedroom furnished with only a circular table and six
chairs. Mlle Chambers lit a tall black candle in the center
of the table and each guest found his or her personalized
name placard and sat in the corresponding seat. The door
was closed as the servant left the room, and the group joined
hands. Lewis Gamine now noticed that the entire room was
draped in deep blue velvet. He heard a faint humming coming
from somewhere behind the walls, it seemed, but when he
brought his attention back to the table Lewis found the
others already lost in a trance, their eyes closed and their
throats humming almost imperceptibly. Young Arthur Sweep
had one eye half open and was grinning skeptically at the
others. Lewis quickly shut his eyes and tuned himself to
the humming continued, Madeline Chambers began a low chant,
a mixture of Latin and Egyptian incantations meant to call
the dead. Lewis' body began to tingle. The feeling started
in his fingertips and slowly spread up his arms and into
his core. The humming increased in volume and intensity
as the incantations became more and more concentrated. The
tingling grew into a fast, dull throbbing that eventually
engulfed every cell of Lewis Gamine's body. He was frightened
at this, and felt like standing up and calling the whole
thing off, but his intuition held him fast. The rhythm increased
in tempo and Lewis began to see pockets of light explode
slowly under his closed eyelids. Madeline Chambers was chanting
loud and fast, as were the Dunsfords. Lewis thought he could
hear Nunca screaming, and he hoped she wasn't in danger,
but he couldn't tell because the explosions were too bright.
Lewis' eyes were open now, but all he could see was the
table upturning as Arthur Sweep leapt to his feet, shouting,
"Now see here!" As the table fell, the candle
went out and Lewis Gamine disappeared in a flash of brilliant
Mlle Chambers opened the door of the room to let some light
back in, she counted her guests. Four. So Lewis truly had
vanished. Mysterious, she thought, but her thoughts were
cut short by Klaus' entrance, as delicate as a steam engine,
into the room. "No more ghosts for you, Nunca!"
Klaus shouted, and grabbing the terrified girl by the wrist,
dragged her out of the room. Young Arthur Sweep bolted out
behind them, tripping over the short, olive-colored servant
who was lying flat on the rug, knocked unconscious by Klaus.
Only the Lord and Lady Dunsford remained with Mlle Chambers,
and the three of them spent over an hour searching for any
trace of Lewis' presence on the astral or ethereal planes.
Their search was empty, Lewis Gamine was lost to Mercia's
greatest clairvoyants and presumed dead.
extensive apologies, Madeline saw the Dunsfords out and
stumbled to her bedroom, collapsing from exhaustion. She
slept a fitful sleep of toy soldiers and teakettles, and
awoke Monday morning still puzzled at the events of the
Madeline Chambers remained puzzled, until she received a
strange letter in the mail a few days later