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Concerning the Disappearance of Lewis Gamine
BY CLINT MARSH
EXCERPTED FROM JACARÉ NO.1

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At 141 Darrow Street in the city-state of Mercia, member of the G---- Kingdom and seat of its bicycle manufacturing industry, there is a house. From the outside it is a splendorous thing, with broad brick walls and a half-timbered roof. The garden along the back wall is surrounded by two other houses and an iron fence covered with ivy. It is home to a wide spectrum of flowers, herbs, and Etruscan statues. Inside, the house is divided into four flats. It was in the fourth flat, on a dark night of mystery and spirits, that Lewis Gamine disappeared from this world.

Flat #4 was home to Madeline Chambers, renowned hostess and connoisseur of all things odd. It was common knowledge that Mlle Chambers possessed psychic abilities, and she used her otherworldly skills to enhance her entertaining. Every few weeks she would spend a day deep in concentration as she sought potential guests for her séances and channeling sessions. Her mental tendrils would climb out of the back of her neck, just below the hairline, creep under the door of the flat, slide down the stairs and into the garden, and rise out above the streets of Mercia, hoping to come in contact with other extensions in the ether. Once a sufficient number of guests were located (usually five or six, although it was rumored she once entertained the Count of Jaconde exclusively for three consecutive sessions), Madeline would draw the tendrils back into her body and spend the remainder of the evening engraving invitations for the guests to attend her next séance, held on the first Sunday evening of the coming month.

The sky was low as the five guests neared Darrow Street, the fog carefully wrapping each brick in the tight, dense cobblestone streets of Mercia. Arriving first in a rented carriage was Arthur Sweep, a young fop who had recently inherited the family law practice after the untimely death of his father. His invitation came as a surprise, and was misguided. Mlle Chambers' tendrils had not come into contact with Arthur's psychic extentions, for he had none. Rather, they had found radio waves emitting from his townhouse, the source of which was a primitive short-wave Arthur had purchased only a week before. Arthur, of course, had no idea this was the case, and had been waving his engraved invitation under the noses of his fellow dandies for over a week.

Two guests arrived fashionably by bicycle, the Lord Chester and Lady Norbella Dunsford carefully placing their velocipedes on the porch surrounding the apartment building. The two were nobles in name only, the Dunsford estates having been seized by the Empire three generations previous. However modest their situation now (Chester held a minor management position in a sponge factory and provided for his wife in their creaky flat in the Dregham district), the Dunsfords were still nobility and attempted to appear as dignified as possible. Both Dunsfords were skilled clairvoyants and occasionally aided the police in missing persons cases. When Mlle Chambers had come into contact with them they were searching for a small boy who had disappeared seemingly in his own family's house a few weeks back (and for all their skill the boy was still missing, the police dubbing his "surely dead. If the Lord and Lady Dunsford can't locate him we're certain we can't").

The final two guests arrived on foot from opposite directions, Nunca Thorne coming up the street and Lewis Gamine coming down. Nunca was a slight girl of fifteen, with small features and hair the color of dry autumn leaves, which was pulled up in a bun and held through with a short spike closely resembling her namesake. Her psychic abilities were in their earliest stages and Mlle Chambers had found Nunca manifesting them in her sleep. Her father's gardener, Klaus, an ox of a man who lived in the guesthouse and kept things running smoothly on the Thorne estate, escorted her. Nunca had been overtly sheltered in her childhood and when she received her invitation she begged her father to let her go. He eventually conceded on the condition that Klaus escort her. Nunca was overjoyed and had secretly bribed Klaus the night before. Nunca's jade necklace and two gold coins would belong to Klaus if he turned away a block before Mlle Chambers' apartment and let Nunca enter alone. Klaus did.

As Lewis Gamine neared 141 Darrow Street, his eyes narrowed to allow him better vision into the dimly lit upstairs window. A soft roseate glow came from the room which he supposed to be Mlle Chambers'. Lewis Gamine was a painter by day, spending his days on the sidewalk, offering a good price for a flattering portrait. His nights, however, were spent reading of his two passions: inventions and the Western Frontier. Lewis craved the life of the vaquero, and for years had wished to leave his belongings behind and venture into the West to realize his fantasy. Lewis' self-confidence, though, was rooted in the city, and wrapped him like a vine, continually present and immobilizing. Lewis first discovered his psychic abilities at the age of thirteen. By focusing his concentration on another person, Lewis experienced their thought process alongside his own, totally unbeknownst to the other. He sometimes used his ability to get a better idea of the subjects of his portraits, but it always left him feeling guilty and slightly disoriented. Not all subjects were worth entering, and there had been more than one time Lewis wished he had kept his mind to himself. Mlle Chambers' tendrils had encountered Lewis as he was painting a pair of young newlyweds, and she nearly made the invitation out to all three people.

Lewis Gamine and Nunca Thorne reached the door to 141 Darrow Street at precisely the same time. Lewis knew that the bulk of a man lurking in the alley behind the young girl presented no threat, but he did not attempt to enter Nunca's mind. Vaqueros may be rugged, but they do have their honor, thought Lewis as he opened the door for the slender frame of Nunca Thorne. Without meeting his gaze she smiled cautiously and quickly stepped into the house.

The parlor of 141 Darrow Street was ornamented with wide tapestries and overstuffed chairs. When all the guests had arrived they were met by Mlle Chambers' servant, a short, olive-colored man wearing an elongated fez. He led them up three flights of stairs to the doorway of Flat #4, and giving the knob a turn and a slight push, ushered them in.

Mlle Chambers was there to greet them and introductions were made all round. Young Arthur Sweep seemed surprised at the lack of recognition the others afforded him. Padding through Sweep's grotesque harlequin of a mind, Lewis Gamine could plainly see that the arrogant macaroni did no belong in the party in the least, but he was sure there was some sort of reason for his presence. The Lord and Lady Dunsford were especially delighted to meet Nunca, and the fragile little girl slowly began to seem more comfortable.

"Good. If you are all ready, I think we shall begin now," said Madeline Chambers, and she led the group to a dark guest bedroom furnished with only a circular table and six chairs. Mlle Chambers lit a tall black candle in the center of the table and each guest found his or her personalized name placard and sat in the corresponding seat. The door was closed as the servant left the room, and the group joined hands. Lewis Gamine now noticed that the entire room was draped in deep blue velvet. He heard a faint humming coming from somewhere behind the walls, it seemed, but when he brought his attention back to the table Lewis found the others already lost in a trance, their eyes closed and their throats humming almost imperceptibly. Young Arthur Sweep had one eye half open and was grinning skeptically at the others. Lewis quickly shut his eyes and tuned himself to the others.

As the humming continued, Madeline Chambers began a low chant, a mixture of Latin and Egyptian incantations meant to call the dead. Lewis' body began to tingle. The feeling started in his fingertips and slowly spread up his arms and into his core. The humming increased in volume and intensity as the incantations became more and more concentrated. The tingling grew into a fast, dull throbbing that eventually engulfed every cell of Lewis Gamine's body. He was frightened at this, and felt like standing up and calling the whole thing off, but his intuition held him fast. The rhythm increased in tempo and Lewis began to see pockets of light explode slowly under his closed eyelids. Madeline Chambers was chanting loud and fast, as were the Dunsfords. Lewis thought he could hear Nunca screaming, and he hoped she wasn't in danger, but he couldn't tell because the explosions were too bright. Lewis' eyes were open now, but all he could see was the table upturning as Arthur Sweep leapt to his feet, shouting, "Now see here!" As the table fell, the candle went out and Lewis Gamine disappeared in a flash of brilliant blue light.

When Mlle Chambers opened the door of the room to let some light back in, she counted her guests. Four. So Lewis truly had vanished. Mysterious, she thought, but her thoughts were cut short by Klaus' entrance, as delicate as a steam engine, into the room. "No more ghosts for you, Nunca!" Klaus shouted, and grabbing the terrified girl by the wrist, dragged her out of the room. Young Arthur Sweep bolted out behind them, tripping over the short, olive-colored servant who was lying flat on the rug, knocked unconscious by Klaus. Only the Lord and Lady Dunsford remained with Mlle Chambers, and the three of them spent over an hour searching for any trace of Lewis' presence on the astral or ethereal planes. Their search was empty, Lewis Gamine was lost to Mercia's greatest clairvoyants and presumed dead.

After extensive apologies, Madeline saw the Dunsfords out and stumbled to her bedroom, collapsing from exhaustion. She slept a fitful sleep of toy soldiers and teakettles, and awoke Monday morning still puzzled at the events of the night before.

And Madeline Chambers remained puzzled, until she received a strange letter in the mail a few days later…

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