Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews

Author Postcards: Jennings and Jennings

Welcome to Steampunk’d Lancaster my dears! I am Mrs Baker, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. My soup kitchen is rather quiet now for the summer, Max and Collin and all the little street urchins are out selling Lemonade, everyone else seems to be off on their holidays and things are overly quiet around the bakery. Nevermind, it gives me a chance to go through all the lovely postcards I have been receiving – although some appear to be mis-directed and others seem to be from dimensions I have never even heard of! Still, it is very nice to have mail, let us see now what have we got in the letter box today… why it’s a postcard for me from my dear friend Miss Henderson!
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Hello Mrs Baker,
I hope you are well.

We are all in Paris now, myself, Mr Bosch and Morag. We all came here on what was supposed to be a holiday for Sir John and Marie Jennings, but it has all gone horribly wrong again. Those fiends, Clackprattle and Pook are also here and are up to no good trying to find a magical weapon. Also, the food is almost all French, which is rather difficult to digest, and has caused Mrs Jennings to have an unusual mood yet again.All in all it is rather unpleasant and our so-called holiday is mainly taken up with trying to solve magical clues to prevent a catastrophe and avoid sauces that are too rich, which is most of them in my opinion.

Having said that they have something nice called Petty Fours which are like cakes but much too small.We are staying with some local people, a pleasant gentlemen called Emile and his lady friend, who is very modern if you get my drift. She is not really my sort, but I am being polite and not letting it show.We have also been able to spend some time sight-seeing in Paris.

Everyone says it is a romantic place, but I have to agree to disagree. I find it a little bit ‘flash” and “showy” and not really my idea of romance. I would rather spend a pleasant evening at the dog races with my special friend Detective Symonds.We went to the Eyeful Tower, which is well named because it is an eye-full. Also we spent a day looking at paintings in the Loos, which no-one found funny apart from me.

And then we went shopping on the Shampy Sleazy. I suppose that was alright if you like that sort of thing.All in all, I would rather be back in England having a warm pie and beer with my special friend the Detective.

Hopefully, we will be back soon and the world won’t have been destroyed by Pook and Clackprattle. The whole thing is being written about in some paper called “The Benthic Times”. The writer doesn’t seem very good, but the story might be interesting.

All the best,Your very good friend

Miss Felicity Henderson

PS If you get a chance, can you send a packet of Colbert’s Patented Washing Salts, Sir John has an embarrassing red wine stain on his dinner jacket and I feel the salts will help.

Oh dear! Poor Miss H it doesn’t sound like Paris suits her does it? I will certainly send her the salts and also a little potion I have tucked away for stain removal (although I won’t let on as to it’s true magical properties!)

If you would like to find out what happens to Miss Henderson, Sir John and Marie on their adventures in Paris you can read the entire story in THE BENTHIC TIMES.  And if that gets you hooked (and I’m certain it will!) you can read more of their adventures in their book ‘Jennings and Jennings Paranormal Investigators Case Book 1 ..

You know when I was dusting Peril’s Lovely Library for him I came across a rare Jennings and Jennings story, and took it home to browse by the fire, would you like to hear it? It’s called The Nouveaumancer…
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The Nouveaumancer – by Paul Michael

 

I was awoken at the godforsaken hour of two o’clock by the butler. I guessed at the time by the angle of the sunlight streaming into the lounge window.

 

“There are two gentleman to see you,” said the butler, “from the constabulary.”

 

I sat up on the chaise longue that I had been sleeping on and wrapped my kimono around me.

 

“Well, show them in!” I said. The butler looked pointedly in the corner wherein was my latest art project. It was a nude of a girl. Also in the corner was the girl from the picture, still nude and fast asleep.

 

“I’m sure they have an open mind,” I said and the butler left. Shortly after, the two men appeared. The first was in his early 30s with a light suit and clear blue eyes. The second was in his 40s wearing a bowler hat, dark brown suit, and an enormous moustache. It twitched at the sight of my room. I’m not sure if was the general air of debauchery, the aforementioned painting, or the gently snoring girl that provoked that response. In fact, I had met the second gentlemen before, during an unfortunate incident the previous year. I won’t bore you with the details. In fact, I couldn’t; they’re really rather racy.

 

“Constable Blowfly!” I said. “How nice to see you again. Who is your young acquaintance?”

 

“It’s Detective Constable Blowry, Lord Hollingbury,” he said, gruffly. “This is Detective Inspector Hampton.”

 

“Enchante!” I said. “How may I assist you gentlemen this fine spring morning?”

 

The moustache twitched as I’d hoped, and the younger superior spoke.

 

“Lord Hollingbury, we’ve come because we need your specialist skills.” said Hampton. “Something unusual has happened … a man has died.”

 

“I would have thought that was fairly commonplace,” I said. The policeman looked confused.

 

“I mean, rather, that the circumstances of his death are unusual. There is the suggestion of … occult forces. You are, I believe, a … magician?”

 

“That’s rather an old-fashioned term,” I said. “I prefer something more in keeping with the modern times. I call myself a Nouveaumancer.”

 

“I see, well, whatever we call you, we think we need your help,” said Hampton.

 

I was about to speak when Blowry interrupted. As he spoke he stared straight ahead with a look of smug amusement on his face.

 

“Chief Inspector Mouslecomb wishes to be remembered and reminds you that he still has the photographs.”

 

“And I’m sure he finds them most delightful viewing on cold winter nights,” I said brightly, Blowry’s expression clouded and the moustache twitched.

 

“Still, I understand your inference. Let me put some more clothes on and you can show me what you have.”

 

Hampton looked a little perturbed. He glanced in the corner.

 

“What should we do with the young lady?” he said.

 

As I wandered to my dressing room I called back.

 

“You’re all consenting adults, you can do what you like!”

 

I could almost hear the moustache twitching down the hall.

 

***

 

Suitably attired, I travelled with the two members of the constabulary from my humble seaside abode on the Steine to an imposing looking house in Preston Park. The gentlemen escorted me down to a basement where there was a most interesting scene. A large circle and a triangle were inscribed on the floor with various symbols and hieroglyphs. Inside the triangle was an Egyptian sarcophagus with the lid pushed aside and a dead man dressed in a robe with a sheet over his face.

 

“What makes you think there is an occult influence?” I asked innocently. That’s always rather a struggle.

 

“The, eh, circle, triangle and robes really,” said Hampton, looking confused. I inferred humour wasn’t his strong suit.

 

I walked around the circle, first reading the hieroglyphs.

 

“These are Old Kingdom,” I said. “Not my speciality, but I can more or less read them. These are pleas to various deities imploring them for protection and assistance.”

 

I walked around a little further until something caught my eye.

 

“This is interesting,” I said, looking at the marks on the floor.

 

Hampton came over to look. He glanced down then looked at me.

 

“Is it some manner of demonic curse?” he said earnestly.

 

“No,” I said, “it’s a recipe for fish soup. I think whoever wrote this copied it from a book, and rather inexpertly at that. There’s far too much salt in it.”

 

I looked back into Hampton’s earnest blue eyes. It wasn’t an entirely unpleasant experience.

 

“Did the gentleman have some sort of book with mysterious and eldritch symbols?” I asked. “They usually do in my experience.”

 

Blowry shoved a grave looking tome between me and his superior with a quiet grunting sound. I looked at the book and flicked through the handwritten pages.

 

“How tiresome,” I said. “It’s written in some manner of code. I’ll have to look at that a bit later.”

 

I moved to the sarcophagus then and started to read the hieroglyphs on the lid.

 

“Dedelion,” I said. “Well, that’s a name to conjure with.”

 

“Who is he?” asked Hampton.

 

“A Fourth Dynasty magician,” I said. “He was said to have the power to create demons into physical form. He would assemble body parts of humans and animals and evoke the demon into the form, bringing it to life. It’s the sort of thing that Mrs Shelley or Mr Wells might write about.”

 

“Is this his sarcophagus?” asked Hampton.

 

“No,” I said, “but it’s something that belonged to him. Let me look at this book. Now I have a name, I may be able to crack this code.”

 

I looked in the book and skimmed for the name of the ancient magician in code.

 

“Good heavens!” I cried out.

 

“What is it man?” said Hampton, sounding panicked.

 

“This code is so simple a schoolboy could crack it … ah, I see now what he was trying to do.”

 

I looked again at the sarcophagus lid.

 

“Oh dear,” I said.

 

“What is it?” said Hampton.

 

“I think I know what happened here. May I see the corpse,” I said.

 

“Yes,” said Hampton, “but I must warn you, the man has some terrible injuries. The sight may be very disturbing.”

 

We walked around to the front of the sarcophagus and stood over the body. Hampton knelt down and looked up at me for confirmation, and I nodded gravely. He removed the cloth and looked away himself. I gasped and put my hands to my mouth.

 

“My word!” I said. “That haircut is two seasons out of date!”

 

“Good God, man!” exclaimed Blowry. “Have some humanity, a man has died!”

 

“Yes, and a man that was as foolish as he was unfashionable,” I countered. “If Mr Darwin’s theories are to be believed, and I think they are, this man has done the world a service, assuming he hasn’t bred. And with that haircut, I imagine he has not.”

 

“You said he was foolish,” said Hampton. “Was that because of the ritual he did.”

 

“Indeed,” I said, walking in front of the sarcophagus, “for this man has attempted, and I believe succeeded, in summoning to this world one of Dedelion’s most ferocious demons. A creature of immense power and utter cruelty. A creature that exists only to maim and kill. Unfortunately, because this idiot had only a passing knowledge of ancient Egyptian, he has managed to bring this beast into the wrong body.”

 

“What do you mean,” said Hampton.

 

“From his book he mistranslated this word here,” I said pointing to the sarcophagus. “He has translated this section as ‘within here is contained Master Dedelion’s most beloved and treasured demon.’ This is inaccurate by exactly one word. The word he has as demon is, in fact, … cat.”

 

“Then he has evoked a demon of immense power…” started Hampton.

 

“Yes,” I said, “into a mummified cat.”

 

There was silence as both men tried to comprehend what had happened. I took the advantage of the pause to turn to show my best side.

 

“The creature would have awakened in rage and confusion, hence the scratches on the fool’s face, and then gentlemen … it will have left to hunt.”

 

“To hunt what exactly,” said Blowry.

 

“A more fitting form,” I said.

 

***

 

“Follow me,” I said to the policemen as we left the house in Preston Park. “We need help and I know where we can find it.”

 

“Can’t you somehow track the creature?” said Hampton.

 

I stopped to face him.

 

“What would you like me to do, get on all fours?” I asked.

 

Hampton looked flustered, and Blowry’s moustache started twitching which provided me some light relief.

 

“I’m not a magical dog,” I said, “but I know where we might find one.”

 

We rode down to St James Street and knocked on the door of my old friend’s house. Presently, a butler with a pale, waxy face came to the door.

 

“Good day, sirs,” he said in a monotone voice. “May I take your names?”

 

“I am Lord Hollingbury, and these are two gents from the constabulary, namely Hampton and Blowry,” I said. “May we speak with the Maker.”

 

The butler nodded and walked down the entrance hallway. About halfway round he stopped suddenly, jerked and turned round and came back to the door.

 

“Good day, sirs,” he said in a monotone voice. “May I take your names?”

 

“Lord Hollingbury,” I said, “and acquaintances.”

 

The butler walked back into the house as before. Halfway down the hall he stopped and turned again. Suddenly, from behind him a short and plump figure with a welding mask appeared. It made an anguished sound before hitting the butler around the side of the head with a metal wrench. There was an unexpected clanging sound.

 

“Good God, man!” shouted Hampton. “What have you done!”

 

The policeman pushed past me into the corridor. The butler was lying on the ground and twitching as the short figure stood over him.

 

“I am going to have to arrest you, sir,” said Hampton.

 

The figure flipped up the welding mask to reveal a young woman’s face. She leant over the butler and opened his suit. A mass of wires and clockwork formed his upper chest.

 

“Bloody thing,” said the woman with a Scottish accent. “The short term memory is always a problem.”

 

“My God, it’s …”

 

“An automaton? A woman?” I asked stepping in. “Clarissa, darling, how are you?”

 

We embraced briefly, as I didn’t want to get engine oil on my suit.

 

“What are you doing with the peelers?” asked Clarissa the Maker. “Have they finally nabbed you for something? What was it – animal, vegetable, or mineral?”

 

“Nothing so mundane,” I said. “There’s something more than a little sinister on the loose in Brighton, and I need your help.”

 

I explained my requirements and discovered that Clarissa, bless her, had more or less what we needed. So in no time at all we were back at Preston Park with the nice gentlemen from the police and an automaton dog.

 

“It can trace the magical scent of the mummified cat,” explained Clarissa, “but it can get stuck behind complex objects. I’ll tag along to make sure it works.”

 

We let the automaton lose, and after running in circles it started off down Preston Drove.

 

We continued for some time with Clarissa adjusting the dog as we went, as it became thwarted by a plethora of everyday objects. We were heading down Millers Road when it first dawned on me where we may be going.

 

“You know, chaps,” I said to all and sundry, “call it intuition, but I think I know where the demon went. What would you think was interesting if you were a dead cat?”

 

“I don’t follow?” said Hampton.

 

“Dead birds,” I said.

 

***

 

When I got to the Booth Museum things weren’t as bad as I thought. They were much, much worse. Inside the foyer was one dead mummified cat and two dead museum staff, with a multitude of scratches on their bodies.

 

The Booth Museum has, of course, one of the largest collections of stuffed bird specimens in Europe. There are all sorts of shapes and sizes, from vast eagles to tiny sparrows. The demon had obviously had some difficulty choosing which bird to possess, as all the glass cabinets were smashed. It was clear though which form he had decided on in the end. The cabinets were completely empty; he had chosen to be all of the birds at once.

 

Having successfully managed to think like a mummified cat, I wondered what it would be like to be hundreds of dead birds. It was a difficult thing to do, even for me, so I waited for my companions. They had decided to follow the automaton dog in case my intuition was wrong. No, I don’t know why they did that either.

 

“There’s good news and bad news,” I said as they arrived. “The good news is that we have found the mummified cat. The bad news is we are now looking for several hundred reanimated dead birds.”

 

“The dog’s nae use then,” said Clarissa, “if yon beasties can fly.”

 

“Quite,” I said. “I imagine the birds will try and find a place where they can cause as much havoc and mayhem as necessary. So maybe we should look for somewhere visible from the air where people gather. Oh, and Blowry, I need you to pass a message on for me.”

 

I handed the policeman a slip of paper with a name and address. He looked at it with immense suspicion.

 

“It’s alright,” I said, “there’s no chance of contracting moral lassitude from it. It’s a note for someone who may help.”

 

I turned around to find Clarissa gone and Hampton gawping up at the sky. I followed his gaze and saw Clarissa had shinned up the nearest tree and was looking through a pocket telescope.

 

“I think I see where they went,” she said.

 

“How can you tell?” I asked.

 

“I can see people running,” she said. “Lots of them.”

 

***

 

 

As we headed to the seafront, we saw people running, too. They were shouting and screaming, which seemed to disturb Hampton but just reminded me of an interesting evening I’d had a few months back.

 

When we got to Hove Lawns, we saw the full extent of the chaos. By now, it was early evening and people were perambulating on the seafront. A nice turn around the lawns would be a natural thing to do, as one could enjoy the sea, the greenery, and look at the West Pier. Unfortunately, this evening’s promenade was being ruined by hundreds of dead birds: flying and running, biting and pecking. Couples ran for their lives, and fashionable young gentlefolk had their clothing ruined. It was hard to bear.

 

“Right, I’ll be back in a bit,” said Clarissa and headed off. “I may have something that will help.”

 

Hampton decided to be a hero and attack some of the birds, but that sent more flying at him. I stood at a short distance on Brunswick Terrace and viewed the scene. I drew a little circle to protect me from the demon. I had also seen the demon’s sigil so I knew I could trap it into a triangle at least. Hampton came to where I was, his clothes torn and scratches all over him.

 

“How can we defeat this?” he said. “It’s too powerful.”

 

“Well, first we need to contain it. Traditionally it should go in a triangle. The West Pier can form one side of it, and the Kingsway road the second. Then we would just need somehow to connect the end of the pier to – say about here, and we could trap the demon in that space. So we need someone to trot along the Kingsway muttering a special incantation, then keep going out to the pier and then somehow get back here.”

 

I looked at Hampton.

 

“Are you game?” I asked. He nodded gravely and I leant closely into his ear and whispered the words.

 

He headed off down the road whilst I tried to figure out how to get him back and close the loop. Just then Blowry arrived. He looked red-faced.

 

“What were you doing there with Detective Hampton,” he said accusingly.

 

“Nothing untoward,” I said, “just teaching him a powerful demonic incantation.”

 

I suppressed a smile as the moustache twitched. Just then a giant mechanical angel flew down onto the lawns.

 

“Thought it might help,” said Clarissa, who appeared next to us. She was holding a circular object that I inferred controlled the automaton. I was about ask how when it breathed fire.

 

“Oh, very good,” I said as burning birds fell to the ground. “Maybe we won’t need my plan after all.”

 

The angel span round emitting fire in all directions and soon large numbers of birds fell onto the lawns. If the sight of mad dead birds and screaming people hadn’t driven people away then a fire breathing angel did. The lawns were pretty empty and it seemed like the fight was all but over.

 

“Well done, old girl,” I said slapping Clarissa on the back. I turned to walk towards my local club. They would be serving cocktails by now.

 

“Wait,” said Blowry. “Look.”

 

The burnt birds had started to get up. They pulled themselves up onto their feet and slowly, awkwardly walked again. Then some started to flap charred wings, and they flew into the air.

 

“Oh dear,” I said. “I guess we can’t kill them if they’re not alive. Back to plan A, then. Clarissa darling, can you fly onto the West Pier and pick up Detective Hampton. We’re just trying to make a giant triangle to trap the demon in.”

 

“Of course,” said Clarissa and the angel flew over to the pier. Unfortunately, the birds had rather got the hump with it and flew across as well. As the angel landed on the roof of the pier it was forced to contend with birds diving at it from all angles. The angel breathed more fire, but the birds had learnt and were thinly dispersed. Worse, the pier caught fire in the mayhem. Clarissa took out her telescope again and could just see Hampton as he grabbed onto the angel’s legs. She piloted the device back to the lawn and away from the burning pier. He ran back up to join us in the circle.

 

“Good work,” I said. “Now we have them trapped as long as we are here.”

 

“Is that the plan then?” asked Blowry witheringly. “We stand on this step forever.”

 

“Well … we need a finishing touch, I suppose.” I said.

 

“Excuse me, Lord Hollingbury,” said a man with a cello. “We’ve arrived.”

 

“Oh, splendid!” I said. The man and three others with stringed instruments arranged themselves in semi circle.

 

“Debussy, I think,” I said to the quartet. I turned to look at the other three in the circle.

 

“I simply can’t think straight without music. I have this quartet on a permanent retainer. Thank you for fetching them, Blowry.”

 

As the warm, rich harmonies of the French genius wrapped around us I felt myself transported from the less fashionable end of Hove into a world of art and magic. The warp and weft of colours and sounds circulated in my mind, and freed from reason and rationale, I hatched a plan.

 

“We need the sarcophagus,” I said, “Good fellows of the constabulary, if you could arrange to bring that, it would help enormously. Clarissa, would you be able to keep the birdies entertained whilst that happens.”

 

Clarissa shrugged. “No problem,” she said.

 

“You see, the problem is there’s nothing physical to tie this demon to. He came in the wrong vessel so to speak, so he’s able to reanimate any dead thing. I can trap him into the sarcophagus, as that was his entry point, but then that leaves us with a very dangerous box. If the box opens with even a tiny crack the demon can escape and posses anything that is dead.”

 

“I see,” said Clarissa, “I think.”

 

An interesting thing had occurred whilst I explained the plan to Clarissa. The charred birds, now trapped and deprived of victims, had united into a giant creature. It was roughly humanoid, a shape I suppose the demon liked and around the same size as the angel. The two were trading blows on the lawn.

 

“Gentleman,” I said to the quartet. “I think this requires some Wagner.”

 

Clarissa and I watched the mechanical angel and the composite bird demon fight as an adaption of “Ride of the Valkyries” was played by the quartet. It made quite a spectacle.

 

The policemen arrived with the sarcophagus on a wheeled trolley. We pushed it into the triangle and onto one end as I started my incantations to trap the demon. The bird demon heard the words and came heading toward me. I chanted as quickly as I could as the creature got closer and closer. I uttered the last syllable to trap the beast, and I stepped out of the way as the birds were sucked into the sarcophagus. The two policemen maneuvered the lid into place. I used the control that Clarissa had given me to bring the angel onto the end of the sarcophagus and pressed the button to turn it off.

 

I turned to leave then saw the weight of the mechanical angel was too much for the sarcophagus. A crack had appeared along the edge.

 

“Oh, no!” I said. “The demon can escape!”

 

The demon’s essence flowed out of the sarcophagus. With the angel turned off, it was able to take over the giant automaton. The demon-angel leaned down at me so I flicked on the on switch and tried to move the angel away from me. The mechanical angel jerked and spasmed as the demon and I fought for control of it.

 

“I bet you’d rather like this,” I said to the demon holding up the circular controls. The angel leaned forward to reach for them but I threw them high in the air.

 

“Catch!” I said and the angel-demon’s hand reached out and caught the controls.

 

At that point the electric charge that Clarissa had just now fitted into the control triggered. Electricity surged through the angel-demon. It shuddered a little as its joints fused together. Finally, it stopped still. The demon was caught.

 

The policemen, Clarissa, and the string quartet walked over.

 

“Beethoven,” I said to the quartet. “Something pastoral.”

 

“You know,” said Clarissa, “I didn’t think it would work.”

 

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” I asked Clarissa,

 

“No, of course not. I have hoards of giant angel automatons at home,” she said sarcastically.

 

“That’s the spirit!” I said.

 

“Can we move this now?” said Hampton.

 

“That might be … inadvisable,” I said. “The demon is still there, it’s just stuck in that angel. If it comes into contact with anything it can reanimate, there may be trouble.”

 

“What should be done with it, then?” asked Hampton.

 

“I’d cover it with a nice layer of metal so it can’t accidentally touch anything and then I’d leave it there, call it a statue,” I said, “for peace, or something disinteresting like that.”

 

“It’s a shame about the pier,” said Hampton looking at the smouldering wreck.

 

“Oh, I’m sure they’ll do something about that,” I said. “No one would be crazy enough to leave a rotting wreck on the promenade.”

 

With the job complete, I turned to leave for my club. Those cocktails weren’t going to drink themselves.

 

***

 

It was a little after midnight when I got back to my house. And by a little, I probably mean five hours. I’d rather lost track of time, but I think sunlight was starting to appear. My butler came and brought me a cup of cocoa with a splash of rum. I thanked him and topped it up with rather more rum when he left. My nude model had vanished, which was unfortunate as the picture was half finished, and in truth, I could recall neither where I had met her or even her name.

 

So, unusually for me, I managed to get to my own bed, and equally unusually, I got to it on my own. As my eyes closed I thought I would probably sleep the sleep of the just. And I wondered what that was going to be like.

 

 

 

 

 

3 responses

  1. Pingback: Author Postcards: Jennings and Jennings | Karen J Carlisle

  2. Pingback: Author Postcards: Jennings and Jennings – The Benthic Times

  3. Reblogged this on The Benthic Times and commented:
    Apologies for no episode – here’s a postcard instead…

    Like

    August 26, 2018 at 12:35 pm

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