Issue 10 is starting to come together! To keep you entertained until it’s ready, we’ll be featuring a couple of short stories here on the blog. Here’s the first; enjoy!
ON THE EFFECTS OF TRANSMUTATIONAL SCIENCE
Jeannie M. Leighton
Truth be told, the life of a half-ghost is not as thrilling as the living let on. I ought to know. Ever since Dr. Osmosis bribed me into sitting for him in that contraption, I’m not half the woman I used to be. Oh yes, I can walk through walls and play clever parlor tricks at parties by sticking my head through the privy’s door to see who’s squatting, but honestly, it’s only funny if you’re the one waiting to get in. For me, well, suffice it to say, I’d wished I’d never taken the good doctor’s offer of one hundred quid for five-minutes’ work.
It seemed a good idea at the time, what with me being down on me luck and all. Desperate as I was to clear me good name, I didn’t think to ask why so many copper coils were snaked around the arms and back of the polished metal chair. I must admit they were pretty, all sparkling with translucent ribbons of wires winding upwards to a lead-glass ceiling. Reminded me of one of those hair curling whatnots I’d seen in the windows of the ladies’ salons uptown. Never fancied myself sitting under one of those, but here now was something similar so I just assumed I was in for a beauty treatment of sorts.
Dr. Osmosis hired me off the street. Now, before you jump to any mis-conclusions, it weren’t like that at all. I’m a proper lady and I’ll give you a cuff if you try to argue me. There I was, dusting fallen leaves and debris off the slate steps to me landlady’s place from an early October storm when he strolls by. I didn’t take no never mind to his being in my part of town such as it is ’cause there’s many a fine-dressed gent who takes to strolling down our streets; some of them right friendly and generous, too, I might add. I straightened myself upright and smoothed me brown taffeta skirts before nodding me head cordial like.
“Evening, sir,” I says, all polite. “Nice time of year for a walk, ain’t it now?”
He slows and taps his walking stick soft on the sidewalk. I didn’t notice until then that a steam-horse drawn carriage followed him, slowing as he did. He returns my nod and tips his grey flannel top hat.
“And a fine evening it is,” he says, “Now that I’ve met the brightest star in the heavens.”
“Gaw, what you mean by such talk?” I says.
“Nothing but the truth, dear lady,” he answers.
Now you wonder how I remember all this word for word and I’ll tell you soon enough. So here we were, making informal introductions and small talk like a couple of Bloods when he asks me if I’d be interested in gainful employment. Says it wouldn’t take any time and would pay well but that I’d have to be able to attend him at a moment’s notice. I says I’m not that type of working girl and he gets all red-faced.
“Do you have a tube?” he asks me and I get hot and tell him in so many words that he best watch how he talks to a lady if he wants to retain his manhood. He clarifies by saying, “Does your establishment have a pneumatic mailing system for me to send correspondence?”
“Aw, that,” says I. “Everything here gets sent to Mrs. B; she’s the landlady and she’ll see that it’ll get to me. Why?”
He explains how he’s a doctor of Transmutational Science and how I could become the first woman to join the ranks of spectral transfers if I’d agree to secrecy and not tell a soul. He chuckles at this last but I missed the joke. I was still ruminating over becoming a spectral transfer; sounded exotic, like from one of those far-off countries. I set me dust broom down and shook his hand to seal the deal, swearing on my mother’s grave. He returns my handshake and laughs even harder.
“Very well, then. I’ll send notice within the week, weather permitting. Do stay close to the tubes because, as I said, timing is of utmost importance.” He hands me an envelope from his coat pocket. “As a retainer,” he says. Then he turns to that coach and a door opens with nothing but the air to move it and he climbs in. The horse trots off with no one to guide it and I head into me apartment while opening up the envelope and dream of lucky horseshoes.
Two days pass and I’m keeping low to me self just like I promised the doctor when who shows up on me doorstep but me cousin Mike. He’s wondering why I ain’t been round the Palace and asking if I’m sick ’cause it ain’t like me to miss a good night out. He says he heard I’d come into a bit of extras. Now Mike ain’t really me cousin; we only say that for inquiring eyes who see us about. Me not being the quickest thinker what with me good looks and all, I well up and quiver out how could he believe such stories and how I’d never hold back even so much as a tuppence without asking him first but he’s not buying it and we’re about to have a go around when Mrs. B bursts out the front door waving a tube addressed to me. I grab it and twist off the seal. There’s a letter inside all fancy with an embossed crest and everything and I start to read it but Mike tries to rip it out of me hand. Just as he reaches a third time, here comes that steam-horse carriage to the curb and a door swings open and I dive in clutching the letter. Mike manages to tear off a piece as the door swings shut. I can feel the carriage lurch forward and I hear Mike’s voice screaming but I don’t turn around.
I must have dozed off because next thing I know, I’m sitting in this chair with the copper coils. Dr. Osmosis is standing across from me, his fingers templed in front of his nose. I blink several times to get me bearings.
“What’s this?” I ask. “I know I sleep like the dead but how’d I get in here without waking?” I tried to rise but found a padded belt around my waist and wrists. I notice me corset’s missing and all I’m wearing is me chemise.
Dr. Osmosis crooks one elbow and taps a finger against his spectacles. “Nothing to fear, my lady. Nothing to fear. You’ve had a long ride and I wanted to insure ensure your safety until you awoke.”
He approaches and checks the restraints. I smile coyly and wait for him to unlatch them but instead, he turns to a large display full of wheels and bulb-shaped tubes. Lights flicker intermittently but I can’t make out from where the light source came. I pull on the wrist straps but they hold fast.
“This isn’t the kind of parlor games I play, doctor. I’m a straight up girl.” I might as well have been talking to the braided series of cords that connected me and my chair to the display. I squeal as a flash of lightning shatters the overhead glass ceiling with blue-white light.
“Just a few more minutes,” he says, scuttling over to yet another panel of pulleys and switches. “We’re nearly ready.”
“This was not what I signed on for.” My mouth tastes like copper.
“Oh, but it is, my dear.” He reaches over his head to a large wheel contraption and turns it like a top. “Five minutes was what I believe we agreed on.” He checks the enormous time piece taking up one wall. “One now. Soon you’ll be famous.”
The floor beneath me begins to spin. I force myself not to faint as the chair to which I was strapped begins to rise. Rain droplets hit the bare skin on my arms, icy cold with each wet slap. I think I screamed but the only sound was the near continuous cracks of lightning and thunder from above. The glass ceiling had opened like an observatory and I, Dr. Osmosis’ evening star, was soon to become a heavenly body.