“Make it quick,” Kate said, but not to Babs. The young woman put a hand on her chest, right above her heart. “Right here. Now!”
A bolt of lightning, crooked and cruel, jumped down from the sky, faster than any eye could see. It was so bright it made Babs twist her face away, clamp her eyes shut and still she saw that incredible, deadly light.
When she could look again she expected to find Kate gone, that she had lost. Instead, she saw the young woman looking frustrated and angry. At the corner of the roof a spike of metal, three yards long and as thick as Babs’s wrist, glowed with energy.
“A lightning rod,” Babs said, mostly to herself. Of course. That explained why the house hadn’t already been blown to flinders by the repeated attacks of the lightning. “Kate, he can’t touch you! That thing’s as good as a pentacle against his type!”
“What?” Kate demanded. “No! I’ve made up my mind. I’m going with him. It’s the only way that I can keep from hurting anyone else.”
Babs shook her head. “He’s powerless, as long as—”
Three more bolts of lightning came in quick succession, as fast as bullets from a Tommy gun. The lightning rod drew each one, and at first Babs thought the storm was simply expressing impotent rage. The first bolt was absorbed harmlessly, conducted down deep into the earth. The second left the lightning rod looking a little… softer, a little less sharp. The third turned it to molten slag that dripped liquid iron on the tarpaper of the roof.
A fourth stroke came and the lightning rod was simply—gone.
“There,” Kate shouted. “There, now we can get this over with.” She raised her arms to the sky. “You want me so much? Come and get me, you, you—bastard!”
The storm roiled overhead, and Babs had the sense of a javelin-thrower winding up, pulling his arm back for another cast.
Just then, something small and silvery, hissing like bacon cooking in the pan, came rushing past Babs’s knees. It moved fast, on all fours like a dog, but it was already changing shape as the lightning roared.
The bolt shot downward from the sky, headed as straight as an arrow right at Kate’s heart. Babs knew that if it connected it would annihilate her corporeal form, burn her to ashes—and steal her spirit away, to be the storm’s companion.
Fortunately, it never got there.
The sodium elemental’s body spat fire every time a raindrop touched it. It had stretched itself very thin, elongated its limbs until they were much longer than they had been before, back when it was confined in the bell jar. It had taken on the form of—what? Babs had trouble making it out in the dark. The shape of a squid, standing with its rubbery arms spread out over Kate’s head?
No. Not a squid. An umbrella.
Meanwhile a thin tendril of its substance snaked across the roof toward the stump of the lightning rod, re-establishing the circuit.
It took the lightning bolt and passed it down into the earth. Sodium, among its many other properties, is a very good conductor of electricity.
The storm howled and the bright eyes overhead narrowed in fury. It would only be a moment before it struck again.
It was time for Babs to make her move. She lifted her weapon—the sword she’d found in the alchemical laboratory behind the library—and showed it to the clouds. Not the blade, though, but the pommel.
“You see this, you party crasher?” she shouted. “You see where it says AZOTH? I’m betting you know exactly what that means.”
She was betting rather a lot, actually. Since she, herself, had no idea.
Luckily, her bluff seemed to have some effect. The storm’s powerful winds slackened instantly, as if the thing up there was holding its breath.
Babs had not had time to read Septimus Grimbly’s lab notes in any kind of depth. She’d barely skimmed over them, in fact. She did, however, remember one passage. “The power of this sword allows me to bind an elemental,” she said. “Like—like my friend here.”
The sodium elemental, which now resembled a series of pseudopodia that sparked in the rain, waved one shapeless appendage.
“Maybe you’re not strictly an elemental,” Babs shouted. “But a being made of pure electricity? Close enough, I’m thinking.”
The storm howled and wind blew her short hair back from her temples. Was it laughing at her?
“You’re going to leave my friend Kate alone,” Babs insisted, “or I’m going to bind you up in the basement here and never have to pay an electric bill again!”
Lightning crackled across the sky. Thunder made her sway and nearly fall over. The sodium elemental turned one limb toward her as if asking her if she really knew what she was doing.
The thing about bluffing, Babs knew—the way you win at poker—is you have to commit.
“In the name of Astarte,” she improvised, lifting the sword. “In the name of Venus, by the power of the three Norns—”
The wind stopped. The air fell still and it grew surprisingly warm. Babs remembered that was supposed to happen right before a tornado struck.
Above her, those eyes the size of public libraries blinked.
Kate turned and stared at Babs as if she couldn’t believe what she saw. “Mama always warned me about black magic,” she said.
“Your mama can go suck an egg,” Babs said.
There was a sudden roar, a vast, unending cry of rage and sadness and loneliness and then lightning shot between Kate’s eyes and the glowing patches in the sky. The sodium elemental was knocked away like a—like a—like a feather elemental, for lack of a better simile. Babs thought all was lost, that the storm had called her bluff.
Then she realized the lightning was traveling not down from on high, but up. Out of Kate’s body, and back into the cloud.
The young woman screamed and then her eyes fluttered up into her head and she started to topple over. Babs just had time to drop the sword and run to grab Kate, to keep her from falling and maybe hurting herself.
Overhead the clouds swirled and twisted and started to blow away. Rain fell in huge warm drops like tears, fell in sheets until they flooded the roof. The giant eyes up there winked out, like dying embers, and were gone.
The sodium elemental staggered and bent and rolled from side to side, regaining a humanoid shape. Except it didn’t flow as smoothly as it had before. It looked sick, perhaps mortally injured by all the lightning it had channeled. Smoke hissed from its back as the rain lashed it, water striking sodium in little puffs of flame.
If it got wet enough, if the rainwater on the roof grew deep enough, Babs knew the thing would go off like a bomb.
For a second, just a moment, it turned to look at her and it had a face she’d never seen before. Neither male nor female, but distinctly human. It gave her a quiet, sad smile. Then it started running for the edge of the roof, even as parts of it burst like hand grenades. When it reached the low parapet at the far end of the roof, it jumped into the air. Babs chased after it, dragging Kate along by one hand. “It just wanted to help,” she said. “That’s what it was trying to tell me, with the nurse get-up. It wanted to help.”
Well—technically it wanted to be free. It owed its conjuror a single service, and it had now discharged that duty (if you’ll pardon the pun). Septimus Grimbly might have ordered it to destroy his enemies, or build a palace in a day, something like that. When he died before he could give the elemental its marching orders, it had languished in that jar for years, just desperate to be aid to someone. Anyone. Truly, if we’re going to be pedantic about the thing, no one had asked it to help save Kate.
But that’s really just splitting hairs.
It had completed the terms of its summoning, and now it was free.
There was a loud bang—as loud as any thunderclap. Babs skidded to the edge of the roof and looked down and saw a smoking crater in the lawn, nearly five yards wide. A few windows on that side of Grimbly Hall had shattered, but otherwise the house was safe.
It was about then she noticed she was still holding Kate’s hand. Kate’s bare hand. She had not yet been fatally electrocuted, which she took as a good sign. She looked at the young woman’s face and saw the lightning flowers were gone, her skin as smooth and unblemished as Babs’s own.
The storm had taken back its engagement gift.
She pulled the young woman into an embrace, and together they wept and laughed for some time.
In the morning, Babs sent Kate home. She’d telephoned the young woman’s parents and explained that it was perfectly safe, now. Her father, at least, sounded grateful.
Kate was too embarrassed to say much, but her gratitude was clear. A few weeks later Babs would get a parcel in the mail and find, inside, a knit cloche hat in purple and pink, with a huge embroidered daisy on one side.
It was unspeakably ugly. Babs folded it up in a drawer in her room and tried to forget about it, but she never quite had the heart to throw it out.
Neville and Reggie came home, exhausted from their own adventure, to find the ushabtis repairing some damage to the side of the Hall and cleaning up broken glass in the back parlor. Neville took one look at the charred radio and the empty space on the parlor table where his sodium elemental was supposed to be. Then turned and faced Babs in an expectant manner.
“I know you wanted to show the elemental to Dr. Thurlow,” she said. “I’m afraid he’s plum out of luck.”
Neville used his shoe to nudge some of the broken glass scattered across the floor.
“We had a little trouble,” Babs said. “While you were gone.” She made an absolute point of not biting her lip, or wringing her hands, or looking away. Instead she just met him, inexpressive gaze for inexpressive gaze.
Eventually he lifted his shoulders, then let them fall again. “Upkeep on this place is a wonderful tax deduction,” he said. “Will you tell me about it, sometime?”
“Maybe, if you’re darb,” she said, and smiled. “Which you very often are.”
He seemed pleased enough by that to leave her be, for a while. She plopped down in an armchair and closed her eyes, thinking she might make an early night of it. She was, however, interrupted in her dozing by the sound of the door opening. She looked up and saw Mrs. P standing there, hands folded behind her back.
“Have you counted all the spoons?” Babs asked. “Made sure Kate didn’t boost any on my behalf while you weren’t looking?”
“I come to ask what you want for dinner,” Mrs. P replied. She looked oddly subdued. Babs, who’d been sitting with her legs up on the arm of the chair, swiveled around to sit in the traditional manner.
“Fish, I suppose,” she said. She raised one eyebrow.
“I make nice for you,” Mrs. P said, and turned to go. “We see what you do for girl. Was good.”
Babs raised the other eyebrow. “So we’re all chums now?”
“Comrades,” Mrs. P suggested. “Ah. This is for you.”
A silver platter floated into the room and set itself down next to Babs on an end table. On board was a single champagne flute containing a perfect—and very strong—Seelbach cocktail, red as lipstick and fizzing with bubbles.
“Thank you, Hughes,” Babs said. In the corner of her eye a spectral presence executed a stiff, formal bow.
It looked like Grimbly Hall had accepted her presence.
She figured she might stick around. For a while, at least.
And there we are… with the story of Babs and Kate.
Please join us again when we start Episode Five: THE PHARAOH OF WESTCHESTER COUNTY, coming soon!