Book: Restless Spirits

Previous: Chapter 11
Next: Chapter 13

Chapter 12

 

Vincent stood at the doorway of what had been Francis Reyer’s bedroom on the second floor. Of course Henry had decided to set up his séance equipment here, where evidence of spectral activity had been high. Henry might have tried to draw the ghost somewhere else, like a hunter luring a beast from a cave. But such a plan would have been too sensible—why not just march right into monster’s lair instead?

Henry and his cousin had dragged the furniture back to the walls, save for the desk, which they’d put near the center of the room. They’d placed their Wimshurst machine on the desk, along with a host of measuring instruments: galvanometer, thermometer, barometer, even a water-filled contraption Henry referred to as a dispeller.

Vincent glared silently at Henry as he checked the equipment a final time. Vincent had revealed the most painful moment of his life, opened his heart, and what had Henry done in return? Accused him of hiding, of not doing enough. Of not even trying to make things better. As if Vincent hadn’t been doing his best to keep them all safe, even when no one wanted to listen to his warnings.

Well, the devil could take Henry Strauss for all Vincent cared.

“We should have packed and been out the door, on the way to the train station,” he muttered to Lizzie, who stood beside him in the doorway. Everyone else had crowded into the room to watch Henry and Miss Strauss prepare for the séance.

“Perhaps,” Lizzie murmured back. “But I wish to view the operation of Mr. Strauss’s Electro-Séance. It may yet catch fire or fail to perform.” She hesitated. “And Dunne wouldn’t have just left Miss Prandle and Miss Strauss to suffer the foolishness of others.”

“Dunne recruited me,” Vincent said, pulling his flask from his pocket. “So what did he know?”

Lizzie gave him a quelling glare, which he ignored in favor of sipping from the flask. The amulet hung heavy around his neck, reminding him of the consequences of failure.

Maybe that was why he was still here. As long as he wore the amulet, he couldn’t be possessed. If he was a gateway, as he’d told Henry, the amulet was the seal keeping it shut. He didn’t have to be afraid, for himself at least.

And if his hand shook so badly it took two tries to screw the cap back on the flask...well, he wouldn’t think about it. He’d concentrate on the séance and pull Miss Strauss and Miss Prandle clear of the room should things go awry.

And perhaps things wouldn’t. Maybe Henry was right, and he and his untried equipment could handily remove the angry ghost of a man who had killed before and after death. At the moment, Vincent devoutly hoped things would go just as Henry believed, with the ghost removed and Henry strolling away with the prize money. Certainly it would be a far better outcome than the one Vincent feared.

“We’re almost ready to begin,” Henry declared. “We’ve set the desk beneath the strongest cold spot. We’ll ground the rest of the cold spots, then begin the summoning. Jo?”

She picked up the thermometer. Henry pulled on his heavy rubber glove and picked up the copper rod, whose wire was already attached to the lightning rod outside the window. The two cousins went around the room, finding the surplus spots and draining their energy.

Vincent pulled his amulet from beneath his clothes, wrapping his hand tightly around it until the edges almost cut into his palm. Sick fear whispered along his nerves, and he tasted old metal and rust.

Something in Reyhome Castle had taken notice of Henry’s actions.

“There we are,” Henry said, sounding satisfied. “All extraneous cold spots taken care of, so any spirit we summon won’t be able to draw off the energy of the room through them. Now, there is one more step before we attempt contact.”

As Henry spoke, Jo began to set up a strange device, almost like a telegraph line: wooden posts surmounted by glass insulators, with wires connecting them. Soon they formed a circle around the table. “I call this the phantom fence,” Henry said proudly. “Once the spirit manifests, we’ll attach the wires to a battery. The current will prevent the spirit from crossing out of the circle.”

“Why not just use salt?” Gladfield asked.

“Salt is too easily disturbed,” Henry replied. “An accidental scrape of the foot or a gust of strong wind, and suddenly the spirit is free. The phantom fence removes all uncertainty.”

“I’m not sure I understand how it works,” Miss Prandle said with a small frown.

“Being composed of electromagnetic fields themselves, ghosts can be disrupted by other, stronger fields.” Henry patted one of the fence posts like a proud father. “At the moment, the wires are inert, but as soon as a current moves through them, a field will be generated. The ghost won’t be able to approach without dispersing itself.”

The idea, Vincent had to admit, was clever. Maybe even brilliant. Lizzie tilted her head toward Vincent. “He certainly seems to have thought of everything.”

“Yes,” Vincent murmured. The taste in his mouth grew stronger, and the back of his neck prickled.

Gladfield noticed their quiet conversation. “Come now, won’t our mediums draw nearer? At least join the rest of us outside Mr. Strauss’s fence. No reason for Mr. Night to stand there imitating a cigar store Indian.”

For the first time since Vincent had taken up position in the doorway, Henry looked at him. The gaslights threw reflections across his spectacles, but his mouth turned down into an unhappy frown.

God. Vincent was an idiot to let it affect him. To care what Henry thought. But he found himself shuffling closer, Lizzie behind him.

“If you’ll shut the door, please, to keep out the light?” Henry asked. The man sounded uncertain, as if he thought Vincent might yell at him to close the damned door himself.

With a sigh, Vincent shut the door. Henry smiled, perhaps taking the action as an indicator Vincent was no longer angry with him. “Thank you. Bamforth, if you’d be so good as to draw the curtains and put out the lights except for the candle.”

A swish of curtains, and the gloomy sunlight vanished, along with the sight of snow slowly piling up against the panes. Within moments, the room had been plunged into near darkness, with only the dim candle to provide any illumination. The tang of iron grew sharply stronger, and Vincent leaned back against the door, feeling the solid wooden planks against his shoulder blades. A chill passed over his skin, the small hairs of his ears vibrating in response, as if something unseen had let out a nasty chuckle.

“Jo, crank the Wimshurst machine,” Henry ordered.

She did as he asked. The tick-tick of the machine’s rotating disks sounded in almost total silence, as if everyone in the room held their breath. The first loud crack of electricity leaping from one metal ball to the other made Vincent’s heart jump; given the small motions from Miss Prandle and Lizzie, he wasn’t the only one startled.

“We wish to make contact with the spirit of Francis Reyer,” Henry proclaimed in a clear voice. “If the one known as in life Francis Reyer is here with us, use the energy provided by the machine and show yourself!”

~ * ~

Henry’s pulse fluttered in his throat. Now was the moment—either Reyer would respond and the séance would proceed, or he’d suffer humiliation in front of Gladfield and everyone else. Drawing a deep breath, he started to repeat the invocation.

A wave of freezing air poured over him, shocking in its cold. The thermometer’s reading plunged, and the galvanometer showed the charge vanishing from the air. “Keep cranking, Jo!” he cried. “It’s working!”

His words came out in a breath of steam. Frost coalesced on the surface of the table, raced along the Wimshurst machine, and gathered on the copper wires surrounding the table. A thin skin of ice formed over the dispeller’s water bowl.

Jo let out a cry and jerked her hand back from the crank. “It’s too cold!”

No—they couldn’t fail now. Henry lunged at the crank, grasping it with his gloved hand. “Jo—attach the wires to the phantom fence. Quickly, before the spirit leaves!”

She rushed to carry out his instructions, but he kept his eyes fixed on the air of the original cold spot. Was it his imagination, or was there a sort of shadow there, like the ripple of a heat wave, only darker?

There came a soft hum as the fence came to life. At the same moment, the ripple seemed to thicken. A translucent substance, not quite smoke and not quite solid, took shape. A sickly, yellow-green glow clung to its edges, allowing him to make out its form in the dark room.

“We have ectoplasm!” Henry exclaimed. Someone—he thought it might have been Miss Prandle—clapped in delight.

A pair of eyes appeared amidst the ectoplasmic swirl. Not human eyes, but spots burning with some unholy light. They fixed upon Henry.

He stopped cranking, the Wimshurst machine letting out a few last cracks as it slowed. “Francis Reyer?” he asked. “Your presence is no longer welcome here.”

A soft laugh, like the skittering of skeletal fingers across his ear, came from the form.

All the little hairs on the back of his neck tried to stand up. Pushing back his fear, he said, “Be gone, or you leave us no choice but to force you out.”

The eyes blazed, and malevolence struck him like a physical force. The spirit began to advance on him.

Instinct screamed that he needed to back away, to run, to put as much distance as possible between them. This thing wanted to hurt him, to break his will, to lay greasy fingers upon his very soul.

He had to hook the dispeller to the battery. But his every muscle locked in place. He couldn’t move, could barely breathe.

It was only inches away. Was this the last thing the maid had seen before she’d fallen to her death? These soulless eyes, full of hate and rage?

“Henry!” Vincent cried from somewhere beyond the phantom fence.

The spirit’s attention snapped away from Henry. He sagged, knees turning to water. His hands slammed into the desk, palms catching him from collapsing altogether. From beneath the desk came a pitiful squeak. Jo had taken refuge under there—thank heavens she wasn’t hurt.

And Vincent? Why had the spirit turned from Henry? Did it realize Vincent was a medium—a gateway open to spirits, as he’d said earlier?

Oh God. Vincent.

Henry forced himself straight just in time to see Reyer rush the fence. For a horrified second, he thought the spirit would surely slip past the wire. How could he ever have imagined simple copper and current would hold back such hate?

Just inches from the fence, the roil of ectoplasm stopped, jerking away from the wire and its current. Another pulse of rage and hate beat against Henry, and Jo moaned.

“You have it trapped!” Gladfield shouted. He sounded like a spectator at some entertainment, unaware or uncaring of the horror saturating the very air inside the fence. “Finish it off, Mr. Strauss!”

Finish it. Yes. A hurried glance at the galvanometer showed the charge in the air had dipped far below normal levels. The water for the piezoelectric dispeller had frozen, but there was no more energy within the circle for the ghost to draw from. Save for him and Jo, at least.

The ghost grounder. Where was it?

A growl vibrated through the air. The spirit turned from its futile attempts to breach the fence, its baleful eyes fixing on Henry once again.

“Don’t look at it, Henry!” Vincent cried. “Damn it, let go of me! We have to stop this!”

“Hold him, Bamforth!” Gladfield roared. “He’s trying to sabotage Mr. Strauss!”

Obeying Vincent’s command, Henry dragged his gaze from the spirit’s. Some life returned to his limbs, and he stumbled away from Reyer, although the fence prevented him from going far. Was Jo still safe? Where was the damned ghost grounder?

Something struck him in the back, sending him sprawling to the frost-covered floor.

The skin of his palms burned, either from cold or friction. His chin clipped the floor, teeth clacking together and a spike of pain jarring through his skull. Beneath the desk, Jo huddled, the whites of her eyes gleaming in the darkness along with her pale blouse.

And in front of him, just inches away, lay the copper grounding rod.

Henry snatched it up in his gloved hand. Even as the sense of malevolence beat at his back, he rolled over and thrust the grounder deep into the heart of the presence looming above him.

Frost raced across the rod’s surface, and sparks leapt around it, blindingly bright after the darkness. The sickly light faded from the ectoplasm, energy leaching away along the copper rod. The growl came again, deep and thrumming in Henry’s bones, but it seemed less intense.

The grounder was working.

The glowing roil of ectoplasm gathered itself—then shot across to the side of the circle opposite Henry.

Was Reyer trying the fence again? Henry staggered to his feet, intending to pursue the spirit if he had to in order to sever its connection to this world once and for all. The fence had repulsed it earlier—it would again.

Except the ghost wasn’t trying the fence. Instead, it fell upon the batteries powering the device.

Horrified realization crashed into Henry. “No!” he shouted, but it was already too late.

~ * ~

Henry stared aghast as the spirit drained the energy from the batteries, replacing everything he’d taken from it and more. The hateful, glowing eye spots flared, and there came a nasty chuckle.

But he’d nearly stopped it before. If he could only get the ghost grounder close again—

“The fence!” Jo shouted in dismay.

Oh no. Without the batteries, there would be no current. And with no current...

The spirit was no longer confined to the circle.

“Run!” cried Miss Devereaux, and she hurled open the door.

The ghost seemed to expand, tendrils of sickly ectoplasm streaming through the room. The mirror on the wall shattered. Paintings fell in a cacophony of snapping frames and ripping canvas.

A violent wind filled the room, like a blast straight from the arctic, so cold it stole Henry’s breath. The Wimshurst machine hurtled from the table, smashing against the wall. One of the fence posts uprooted and struck Henry in the back, sending him to his knees. Shards of glass stung his cheek, and he cried out involuntarily. Where was Jo? Was she safe? He had to get to her out of here, but how? He couldn’t see, couldn’t even stand.

Daylight flooded the room, even the dim illumination of a snowy afternoon blinding after the darkness.

There came a vibration like an angry roar, shaking the walls and floor, but the storm of glass and broken furniture died away. Blinking dazedly, Henry slowly lowered the arm he’d flung up against the sudden brightness.

A warm hand closed on Henry’s chilled one, accompanied by the scent of citrus and musk. Vincent.

“Can you stand?” the medium demanded. No doubt it was he who’d thought to open the curtains.

“Yes,” Henry said through chattering teeth.

Vincent hauled him up, then, one arm around his waist, dragged him out of the room. Henry stumbled beside him in a daze. How had things gone wrong this quickly? What had happened to the others?

“Jo,” he said as they emerged from the room. “Where is she?”

“Everyone else had the sense to run,” Vincent replied. “You were the only one to stand there and get knocked about.”

“I didn’t stand there! I—”

The door to the bedroom slammed shut behind them, cutting off Henry’s words. Vincent flinched. “Well. It looks as if Mr. Reyer isn’t accepting any more visitors today.”

Before Henry could reply, Jo hurled her arms around him, almost knocking him from his feet. Relieved beyond words, he hugged her back. “Jo! Are you injured?”

“No.” Her hair had half come out of its bun, forming a wild nimbus around her face. “Just frightened. But what of you?”

Henry’s cheek stung where flying glass had caught him, and his back ached from the impact of the post. Even so, he managed a reassuring smile. “I’m fine.”

“If Mr. Night hadn’t helped you...”

Now they were safe, fear began to be replaced by a sinking feeling. Vincent had saved him—Vincent, who had warned him not to do this in the first place.

Vincent, who, it seemed, had a point.

The medium stood a few feet away now, near the rest of the group. Beside him, Miss Devereaux’s hair was disarranged, but otherwise she seemed calm—if angry. Miss Prandle’s eyes were huge, and her hand fluttered above her breast.

“Oh!” she said. “Your séance had quite a bit more excitement than one usually sees.”

“Indeed.” Bamforth hovered near Miss Prandle, but his gaze went to Henry, tight and angry. “You’ve given the ladies a terrible fright, Mr. Strauss.”

Heat crept up Henry’s neck. “I won’t pretend things went according to plan.”

“Then I am reassured,” Vincent said. The flying glass had nicked him as well, and spots of blood stood out here and there against his bronze skin. “If that had been the Electro-Séance’s intended mode of operation, I would have to recommend against it most strongly.”

Henry wanted to make some acerbic reply, but as Jo had pointed out, he owed Vincent a great deal. “Thank you, Mr. Night, for your timely intervention. Without you, I fear my injuries might have been worse.”

Vincent waved his hand languidly. “Think nothing of it.”

“What went wrong?” Gladfield asked with the air of a man inquiring about some minor issue. Apparently, he didn’t feel the need to apologize for accusing Vincent of trying to sabotage Henry earlier.

Curse the man. Henry took a deep breath, forcing his shoulders to relax. “The battery. The spirit—Reyer—drained the battery connected to the fence, both energizing itself and removing the only thing keeping it in check at the same time. It never occurred to me...”

He trailed off miserably. This was supposed to be his moment of triumph, and instead he’d made a fool of himself in front of everyone.

“And now you’ve awakened, fed, and set loose a dangerous entity.” Miss Devereaux’s eyes flashed emerald fire. “Were I Mr. Gladfield, I’d demand you pay me five hundred dollars for making things infinitely worse!”

Stung, Henry stiffened his posture. “I’ll make things right. Jo and I will repair the equipment and try again.”

“And you think you can force the spirit to do your bidding? You couldn’t when it was weak—how do you propose to try now?” she shot back.

Would she not even give him a chance to put things right? “I made a mistake, yes, but I intend to fix it. Which is a sight better than standing about complaining!”

“We need to leave.” Vincent pushed himself off the wall, his dark gaze traveling over the company. “This is the ghost of a madman who murdered his own wife and children. It’s dangerous, and it’s angry. Depending on precisely when Reyer hanged himself, we have approximately twenty-four hours before the hour of its death makes it even stronger. We should pack our things and depart for the next train south. Reyhome Castle belongs to the dead now.”

Of course Vincent had no confidence in Henry’s ability. Why should he, given how badly the séance had gone? Still, Henry struggled to keep the hurt from showing in his voice. “I will fix my mistake. But I won’t ask you to stay.”

“Don’t be absurd—I’m not leaving you here,” Vincent snapped as if insulted at the very suggestion.

“I...oh.” He wasn’t certain how to respond, except Vincent’s words brought a foolish warmth to his chest.

“We should at least remove the ladies,” Bamforth said, with a glance at Miss Prandle.

Miss Devereaux’s mouth twitched in annoyance. “I’m more qualified to deal with this situation than anyone save Mr. Night.”

“And I have to help Henry,” Jo put in loyally. Henry started to protest, but fell silent. In truth, if they were to put the situation to rights, he needed someone who could help repair their ruined equipment.

Miss Prandle turned to Gladfield. “Well, uncle? Shall we stay?”

“Of course!” Gladfield said, as if any alternative were preposterous. “I’m not leaving a valuable property just because of a few broken mirrors and thrown bits of furniture. The experience was startling at the time, but no one was hurt, beyond a few scrapes and cuts. The real damage was done to the furniture and poor Mr. Strauss’s equipment. I see no reason to call off the experiment, especially as conditions now offer a true test of ability.”

“There you have it,” Miss Prandle said. “We are all resolved to stay.”

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Next: Chapter 13