We do apologize to our readers for failing to use the euphemism just then, but it’s what Babs said and it certainly felt appropriate.
“I’m… sorry?” Kate said.
“No woman,” Babs pronounced, “is ever so beholden to a man that she ever loses her right to say no.”
“No. Oh, they may think otherwise. I’ve known my share of mashers, real caveman types who asked me to dance and then figured by breakfast time I had to darn their socks. There’s a particular kind of man who feels entitled to female company. Let’s get one thing straight, dear.”
“They’re wrong.” Babs jumped up from the couch. “I wanted to help you before. I’m sorry if I doubted your intentions in coming here, but I think I needed to hear your whole story. Now,” she said, fists on hips, “I will move heaven and earth to get you free of this mustard plaster.”
In the interest of legibility, we will point out that Babs was using a slang term there to refer to an unwanted suitor, rather than an actual medicinal poultice.
“You don’t think I’m a… a tease?” Kate asked. “You know, a sl—”
“Don’t even finish that word,” Babs interrupted. “I won’t let it be spoken in any house where I hang my cloche hat.”
“So you’ll help me,” Kate said, and the gratitude lighting up her face could have brought ships safely home from sea. “But… but how? What are we going to do?”
Babs set her mouth. “I,” she said, “am not exactly sure. But we’ll figure something out. If he comes here, if he chases you, why, we’ll just light out for the territories together.”
“Together?” Kate asked, sounding surprised.
“Well, you can’t make it on your own just yet,” Babs suggested. “And lately I’ve been thinking about a change of scenery myself. In fact—”
She turned then at a tapping sound. In her pursuit of justice she’d completely forgotten the sodium elemental, still trapped in its bell jar. It had reverted to a quasi-humanoid form, and once it had her attention it pointed with some agitation at the windows.
Out there rain was lashing against the side of the house. It was still early in the day, but the storm clouds tinged the sky the color of night.
Looking at the windows, Babs had the feeling she was being watched. Everyone is of course familiar with this eerie sensation, a certain prickling on the back of the neck. This, however, was different. It felt like she was being watched by an eye as big as the dome of the heavens.
“He’s coming,” Kate whispered. “He’s coming here for me.”
“Looks like we’re going to have to think of something sooner rather than later,” Babs pointed out. “Alright, we’ve got some more cramming to do. Head to the library. Maybe Mr. Jones can recommend a book on dealing with weather spirits. I’ll—”
She stopped because the elemental had changed form once more. Now it looked just like Kate, complete with makeshift dress and heavy gloves. On its head it wore a little silver nurse’s cap, complete with a tiny cross.
“I have the feeling you’re trying to tell me something,” Babs said to the diminutive elemental. “I don’t savvy, though.”
The being of pure sodium held its Kate-shaped head in its hands and shook it back and forth. She got that message—the thing was frustrated. She felt for it, especially given her current predicament, but didn’t know what to tell it.
So she hurried over to the library, where Kate was sitting as close as she dared to the bust of Alexander Hamilton.
“You might have a shepherd’s crook at that honking great volume of Forteana,” the blue-eyed alien said, extending a tentacle toward the bookshelves. “Plenty of rot in there about funny weather, don’tcha know. A corking good place to—”
Thunder cut him off. A great rolling peal of the stuff, an echoing, booming symphony for cymbals and timpani with a bass line you could almost dance to. Kate jumped up and stared at the windows, though there was nothing to see.
Babs started yanking books off the shelves and flipping through them. It was a frustrating task.
Charles Fort’s wonderful tome of anomalistics, The Book of the Damned, is indeed a first-rate reference on all the strange things that have fallen out of the sky and clouds that act in a manner unbecoming condensation, but it offers little in practical advice toward fighting what is, by definition, nebulous.
The storm was coming closer. Babs timed it by counting the seconds between when the lightning flashed and when she heard the thunder. Not long now.
It’s rather a shame that this was 1927, for Neville’s library would certainly, in a slightly later time, have contained the works of Wilhelm Reich, a pupil of Dr. Freud. Reich was the inventor of the cloudbuster, a device for controlling storms through the accumulation and release of orgone energy. Sadly, as we have said, Reich would not complete this miraculous device for decades yet. Even more sadly, it wouldn’t have worked anyway, since orgone energy never existed anywhere except in Wilhelm Reich’s head.
Outside, a stroke of lightning smashed into an old beech tree at the edge of the forest, and a terrible annihilating glare flashed in through the library’s windows, bright enough to make Babs turn her face away.
Works of literature might have been helpful, though cryptic. Certainly James Joyce, who had just begun to serialize the masterwork that would eventually be known as Finnegan’s Wake, had embedded a “thunderword” in his narrative, a one hundred letter-long word that might have been used as an incantation against lightning spirits. T.S. Eliot, in The Wasteland, provided the holy words “Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.”, Sanskrit commands meaning, “give, compassion, control,” which might have had some effect. Unfortunately both these works require a great deal of time and study before they begin to make the slightest sense, and Babs was in a bit of a rush.
So she tore through the rather underpopulated section of Grimbly’s library which dealt with the sciences, specifically those concerning electricity. She found diagrams of Farraday cages and theoretical superconductors, and a quite detailed description of how magnetic flux densities can change over—
But just then the first lightning bolt struck the house.
The walls shook. St. Elmo’s fire jetted from the pointed ferule of the library’s globe. The lights flickered wildly and Babs felt as if she were chewing on a piece of tin foil. It was not a pleasant sensation.
Kate screamed. Babs turned and looked at the young woman and saw arcs of electricity flickering across her cheeks and hair. Without an explanation Kate ran out of the room, even as Babs called for her to stop.
Babs threw down the book she’d been holding—Aleister Crowley’s The Book of Lies—and gave chase, pursuing Kate by the crackling sound the young woman made. As she hurried across the marble floor of the great hall, another lightning bolt struck the house and she was nearly hurled off her feet. The lights went out entirely and she was forced to grope along in the dark, until a match flared to life and she saw the eerily underlit face of Mrs. Patavatsky.
“Again, fuse is blown,” the housekeeper said, using her match to light a kerosene lantern. “I fix?”
“Leave it,” Babs told her. She grabbed the lantern out of Mrs. P’s hand. “Start filling buckets of water—this whole place could burn down if we’re not careful. And put on some rubber-soled shoes if you have them!”
Then she hurried onward, following a faint glow that proved to be coming from Kate’s eyes. She came up short when she saw that.
“Your, um,” she managed to say, gesturing at the young woman’s face. “You’re. Well.”
Kate was in the back parlor, standing next to the bell jar containing the sodium elemental. Even that strange creature had pulled as far as it could get from her, pushing itself up against the side of its glass enclosure.
“He won’t stop,” Kate said. “Not until he has me.”
The light leaking out of her eyes crackled and fizzed. It sent evil shadows climbing up and down the room’s curtains. Through the windows Babs could see nothing but pure, elementary blackness.
Thunder cracked and rolled through the room, as if a very large piano were being pushed across the floor of the room above.
And then the radio switched itself on.