STRANGEWAYS VS THE WRAITH (Spirited Anthology, 2011. Leap Books)
This would not do.
I crouched over the slim form of Nora Rumsay and administered smelling salts to my unconscious companion, who, but seconds before, had fainted in a dead heap at the top of The Narrows grand staircase. Another eerie wail, an exact replica of the one that had sent Nora off, rumbled from the lower level, reverberating underfoot as the very floorboards absorbed the sound. The howl of a crazed beast. A demon seeking a soul.
And annoying as hell.
Seeing Nora begin to stir, I tucked the vial of salts into a hidden pocket sewn within the folds of my skirt. It clanked against the Hylo derringer also encased within. These days it sticketh closer than a sister. I gathered my skirts and swept to my feet.
“Jefferson Rumsay,” I roared, “play that infernal gramophone disk once more, and I’ll flay the flesh from your bones. I won’t stop there, no sir. I’ll stretch your skin over the disk and see what pretty songs your rotting hide sings beneath the needle.”
From below, a flash of dark hair, spindly limbs trapped in a day suit, and then Nora’s younger brother appeared, saying, “Someone’s testy.”
And someone was lucky to be alive.
“You don’t think I have cause? Of course not, because you don’t think. Ever. I almost had your sister feeling quite confident at the prospect of descending twenty-seven stairs while in full debut ball finery. Almost had her able to hold her chin high and face the scrutiny of the lowest echelon of New York society known as the upper class.” I gestured to Nora. “Now look at her.”
“Oh, that didn’t sound flattering, now did it?” Nora said as she struggled to her feet against yards of petticoat.
I shot her a reassuring smile and a low, “Of course you look lovely as always, my dear.” I scowled down at the brat who stood at the base of the stairs, leaning a nonchalant arm on the intricate handrail. I placed my hands on my hips. “We can’t have the debutante fainting every two seconds because her father insists on this ridiculous Specter’s Ball theme, despite knowing she’s scared witless of anything supernatural.” I smiled at Nora, all reassurance. “Not that I think you’re witless. Of course I don’t.”
Mr. Rumsay, however, was a different matter. The recent widower, and founding member of the New York branch of the Ghost Club, had no idea how terrified his daughter was of his occult dabbling since her mother’s death the year before. His obsession to prove contact with the other side was not possible had marked him as one of society’s most vociferous debunkers of spiritualism. To Rumsay, the inventor of numerous mechanical gadgets and the smallest steam-driven engines in the world, every supposed supernatural occurrence had a scientific explanation.
Yet the man also mourned his wife with a tenaciousness that was not healthy. If a way existed to contact her dead spirit, he’d discover it. By any means. Even if it meant embracing the possibilities of the magical world.
Neither Nora, nor her father were aware that I, Miss Amelia Strangeways, had proof Rumsay had done more than debunk the dark arts. He’d begun practicing them.
If the man hadn’t been about to call on the powers of hell, I’d have been impressed. Not many attempted the ritual known as the Widow’s Curse, mainly due to the sheer amount of time it took to see results. Those seduced by the power of the dark arts were prone to impatience—often the trait that got them killed by the very magic they sought to wield.
The Widow’s Curse required the soul of the initial sacrifice to burn in hell for a year and a day before the culmination took hold. The same amount of time as an old-world handfasting.
And the dead would walk once more.
Rumsay had the audacity to bring New York’s elite to witness his efforts and then planned to gut them like feted sheep. On the eve of Nora’s debut.
A series of imposing chimes drummed through the house, announcing the arrival of the first of the two hundred and fifty-seven illustrious guests.
All soon to be pawns in the supernatural gamble of a madman.