The Paris Awakening: Fire – Part 15


Sir John walked down the wood paneled hallway and tried not to look at the art. Some of it was distinctly modern and whilst he imagined Emile might have been able to make sense of it, it wasn’t Sir John’s cup of tea. There was a nice painting of a place that was apparently called Sunnyport, but other than that little caught his eye. Eventually the corridor came to an end in a vast room, with white walls, empty save for a large throne on the opposite side. The throne was highly ornate with carvings of a serpentine nature. 

Confused by the absence of anything else, Sir John looked around and then finally up.

“Ah” he said, then “Aha.”

The ceiling was one giant mural. Like some of the artwork on the way it looked rather abstract, except that Sir John recognised the motifs. He stared up at a  collection of interconnected cogs, gears and machine parts, with flashes of lightning in between.

“This is how I see the world,” he said. “A mechanical, physical universe invigorated with the energy of spirit.”

As soon as Sir John had said this the mural started moving, gears and cogs turning and lightning flashing between the parts. Sir John stared up, fascinated. He then began to notice a pattern to the lightning. The bolts seemed to be following a path that converged over the throne.

“I bet that energy extends down,” he mused,” into the chair. I wish I had the ectoscopic glasses, they might be able to see it.”

Sir John touched his temples. They were on his head.

“Of course,” he said quietly and pulled them down.

Sir John could now clearly see the paths of power forking to the chair, and more, he could see a being formed out of that power. Sir John grinned.

“A fifth avatar, of course, from the four come the fifth,” he thought, “A being of pure spirit.”

Sir John looked at the creature. It was hard to make sense of as it was formed of lightning energy. But it seemed that it was speaking although Sir John could not hear. 

“I think I have the hang of this now,” said Sir John. “I imagine if I hold out my right hand, my Thanatograph would be here.”

Sir John touched the machine and turned it on. The machine, which was adapted from a gramophone and was intended to pick up spectral voices, began to spin. A deep and sonorous timbre came from the large horn on top.

“You seek the key piece then,” said the Avatar.

“Indeed,” said Sir John, “what must I do to acquire it.”

“You mean you don’t know,” said the voice chuckling.

“Ah,” said Sir John, “yes. Rather obvious. And to get home the same. I imagine.”

The Thanatograph was silent, but the avatar smiled. Sir John reached down and picked up a small metal rod.

“Well goodbye then,” he said and  promptly disappeared.

The Paris Awakening: Fire – Part 14


“Alright then,” said Sir John, “here goes nothing.”

He wasn’t, he had to admit, feeling very confident in this endeavour. Nevertheless, he moved towards the massive facade doors of Hotel Raoul. His hand gripped the imaginary key they had all spent the last evening making, if gripped was the right word. Or even making.  He  was having trouble focusing on pretending it was there. He felt a little foolish for a start.

He scanned the door to find where the key might go, but the door didn’t seem to be designed to accommodate any kind of key, imaginary or not. This was an unforeseen setback.

“I can’t see a keyhole,” said Sir John to the others across the road. “Can you see from over there?”

“Where do you think it should be?” called Miss Henderson after a pause. It seemed a strange question to ask under the circumstances.

“Well, I imagine it would be about here,” said Sir John indicating an area of the door just above waist height on the right. From a great height a penny started falling.

“Oh!” he said as it achieved terminal velocity.

For if this was an imaginary key then it followed that it may have an imaginary keyhole too. And that keyhole was most certainly likely to be where he imagined it would be. Sir John pushed the key into the space he had indicated. It fitted perfectly. 

“I think I may have found it. I’ll turn the key,” he said, feeling rather pleased he had solved the puzzle.

There was an audible click and Sir John stood back. The door was now ajar. Sir John squinted into the dark corridor that lay behind.

“Good Lord!” he said. A six foot lizard stood on two legs, a lopsided crown stuck at a jaunty angle and its arms held out to the side. Sir John couldn’t tell if it was intended as a welcome or not, it looked more like the lizard was mimicking a crucifix stance.

“Hello, I love you, won’t you tell me your name,” said the lizard.

“Well, hello to you too,” said Sir John. “I’m not sure I feel the same way, but it’s nice to meet you nevertheless.”

“I am the lizard king,” said the creature, “and I can do anything.”

“I see,” said Sir John. “Well, to answer your question I’m Sir John Jennings and I’m hoping to take the challenge. I assume you’re who I think you are?”

“The gate is straight, deep and wide,” said the Lizard King. “Break on through to the other side.”

“Yes, I’m ready to… break through?” said Sir John. “Is that what you said?”

The Lizard King pointed behind himself down the corridor. It was a wood paneled affair, with paintings on both sides. Sir John could just make out images of pyramids and circus acts. It looked like a gentlemen’s club or stately home. In something of a strange daze, Sir John walked forward and slipped into the house.

The Paris Awakening: Fire – Part 13


“Alright then,” said Sir John, “here goes nothing.”

He moved towards the massive facade doors of Hotel Raoul. His hand apparently gripped something but in fact was empty.

“I can’t see a keyhole,” said Sir John.

“I cannot see a key,” said Pierre, looking perplexed.

“It’s a special kind of key,” said Miss Henderson, standing close to him. “It took us hours to make. We had to build a special machine for it.”

“It is… invisible?” said Pierre. 

“More or less,” said Miss Henderson. She thought about how they had planned the construction of the imaginary key. How Phlebotomous had imagined a machine to build the key, Morag had concocted some fictitious alchemy to give it puissance and how she had polished the key as if it were real. It had felt like a child’s game and she felt bad for secretly thinking it was doomed to failure. But she hadn’t shown her feelings.

“Can you see from over there?” said Sir John.

From across the road Miss Henderson took a moment to look up at the giant doors and the ornate frame that held them. It was a most impressive frontage and had it actually been attached to a building she was sure the building itself would have been magnificent. As it was, it seemed to be only the doors that had been built. She hadn’t bothered asking anyone why. This was Paris after all. That sort of thing was bound to happen.

Morag stood on Miss Henderson’s foot and she leaned down.

“Ask him where he thinks it should be.” whispered Morag. Miss Henderson stood up and looked up a bit confused.

“Where do you think it should be?” she said.

“Well I imagine it would be about here,” said Sir John indicating an area of the door just above waist height on the right. “Oh!”

Sir John pushed his hand into the space he had indicated. 

“I think I may have found it. I’ll turn the key,” he said.

There was an audible click and Sir John stood back.

“Good Lord!” he said.

“What is it!” said Pierre.

“Well hello to you too,” said Sir John, staring at the door. “I’m not sure I feel the same way, but it’s nice to meet you nevertheless.”

“Who’s he talking to?” said Pierre.

Miss Henderson didn’t want to say, but she could guess.

“I see,” said Sir John. “Well, to answer your question I’m Sir John Jennings and I’m hoping to take the challenge. I assume you’re who I think you are?”

“Is he talking to the avatar?” said Pierre. He looked down the street and scratched his nose.

“Yes I’m ready to… break through?” said Sir John. “Is that what you said?”

He took a step forward and walked into the closed door. Miss Henderson couldn’t see the moment, or how it happened, but he definitely disappeared.

Just then an aristocratically dressed man ran past Pierre, glanced at him then ran at the door where Sir John had been. The man disappeared too.

The Paris Awakening: Fire – Part 12

Thinking Prisma

The church was candle lit and Sir John, Phlebotomous, Osvold, Miss Henderson and Morag sat around the table. Constable Claude was back outside.

“So,” said Phlebotomous, looking slightly uncomfortable, “you want to build an imaginary machine?”

“No, that’s not it,” said Sir John.

“Ah good,” said Phlebotomous, looking relieved. “Because I was worried that…”

“I want to build a machine that lets me see imagination itself,” said Sir John.

“Oh dear,” said Phlebotomous.

“Perhaps a nice cup of tea and a sit down would help,” said Miss Henderson in a slow steady voice. She maintained both a fixed smile and a fixed stare at Sir John throughout.

“Look I know this sounds crazy,” said Sir John to everyone. Nobody disagreed.

“It’s not crazy crazy, more ‘day after ye took some powerful drugs’ crazy,” said Morag. “Sort of ‘maybe you should sleep on it before saying it aloud’ crazy.”

“It’s what Miss Henderson said,” said Sir John. Miss Henderson looked appalled.

“I did no such thing!” she said.

“You mentioned the Ectoscopic glasses and the Thanatograph. They let you see and hear spectral activity of course. And I was about to say that this is different, as the spectral forces are things one can’t normally see and hear, but they do exist. Well this is the other way round, see?” said Sir John. Four blank faces looked at him.

“I mean in this instance, we are looking for imaginary things. Imaginary things don’t exist but some people can still see them,” said Sir John. “So we simply need to build a machine which will let us see things that don’t exist.”

“I’ll put the kettle on,” said Miss Henderson and got up to leave, backing away from the table.

“I sort of follow you,” said Morag. “Absent a few of the details, but how would you build something that can see things that don’t exist. I mean, there’s an awfa lot of things that don’t exist.”

Sir John sat down and held his chin.

“Hmm,” he said. “You have a point.”

He stared at the table muttering to himself.

“How do we know which non-existent thing is the thing we want? That’s why I wish we had an artist. They can use the eyes of the imagination and bring something into being. I think if we knew what the avatar thought it should look like, we might be able to see it.”

“Maybe,” said Phlebotomous, “we should apply some logical problem solving.”

“Break the problem down you mean?” said Sir John. “Good idea. The avatar seems to be connected to the doors. I wonder perhaps if the doors have an imaginary counterpart?”

“Here’s some nice tea with 3 sugars,” said Miss Henderson, returning with a tray.

“So the question, then, is – how do you open an imaginary door?” said Sir John.

“Use an imaginary key,” said Miss Henderson absently, sitting down.

She looked to see four faces staring at her.

“What?” she said.

The Paris Awakening: Fire – Part 11

Stitched Panorama

“It’s definitely here?” said Sir John looking at the large door. “Only my memory is a little vague.”

“Yes,” said Mrs Henderson. “This is the only door without a building I’ve seen. Is it the only one in Paris, Pee-air?”

“That’s Pierre,” said the man in police uniform accompanying them. “And yes, this is indeed where we met after the unfortunate incident.”

“Sounds rather like a fortunate incident to me,” said Sir John absently. He looked puzzled  but then something caught his eye. He crouched down to look at the wall next to the door closer up.

“It’s curious there is, uh, no-one to greet us,” he said, staring intently at the wall.

He squinted at the wall and Morag came up and sniffed.

“Poodle,” she whispered to Sir John.

“What is the monsieur talking about may I h’ask.” said Pierre. 

“You may h’ask but I may not necessarily h’answer,” said Miss Henderson haughtily. She was quite enjoying having the police at her beck and call for a change.

“It’s a tiny painting of a lizard,” said Sir John, still crouching. “You know they say that if you look at a flame with the right eyes you can see a salamander at the heart of it.”

“Are the powders still affecting him?” said Miss Henderson to Morag in a botched sotto voce.

“No I feel fine,” said Sir John standing up rapidly before holding on to the wall. “I think I know why there isn’t some creature to meet us here. And I think we may be in trouble.”

“How so,” said Pierre, brow furrowing.

Sir John looked at the policeman, then glanced behind him.

“I think maybe something untoward is happening over there,” he said.

The policeman looked puzzled and turned around.

“They’ve just gone round the corner,” said Sir John and the policeman went off.

“I didn’t see anything?” said Miss Henderson.

“I want him out of earshot,” said Sir John. “I think I’ve found the avatar.”

“I don’t see anything there either,” said Miss Henderson.

“I think there is one, but we can’t see it with our eyes,” said Sir John.

“Told you,” said Miss Henderson to Morag.

“We need to be able, or need someone who can use the eyes of imagination,” said Sir John.

“I see,” said Miss Henderson.

“No you don’t,” said Sir John. “That’s precisely the problem. And neither do I, I’m not the artistic type.”

“If only Sabine were here,” said Miss Henderson wistfully. Morag looked up at her, head tilted to one side.

“Indeed,” said Sir John and looked down.

“But you’re very creative, Sir John,” said Miss Henderson. “You made all those devices and whatnots. Like that ecto-whatsit that lets you see ghosts. And that thanatomata… ta ta… thing”

“Yes but that’s to see things that normal eyesight can’t see, whereas this is….” he trailed off and looked into the middle distance. His eyes flicked back and forth and his lips moved. He swiveled to the group, stared at Miss Henderson.

“My God, you’re right!” he said and started running back towards the artists’ church.

Morag sighed and looked at Miss Henderson.

“You may have a point,” she said.


The Paris Awakening: Fire – Part 10

fake policeman copy prisma

The two men sat shivering, their bruised faces looking anxiously at the well dressed gentlemen standing opposite.

“So,” said Pook, “I understand the operation was, shall we say, less than successful?”

“We had no idea,” said the man sitting, “how strong the lady was. We was more worried about the dog.”

“The… lady?” asked Pook.

“Yes Mr Pook sir,” said the second man. “She was a maid with Sir John. He seemed like he’d been drinking or maybe taking something stronger and the maid and the dog were trying to keep up with him.”

“Oh, I understand now,” said Pook, clapping his hands together. “Sir John did this to you in a crazed drunken stupor?”

“Not exactly Mr Pook,” said the first man, looking down at shoes, or as far as he could with the ropes around him. “At first they seemed shocked, on account of the uniforms I suppose. But then they gets wind of who we are and… well the maid… she must…”

“She must have had some training or somesuch,” said the second man. “She was fast and strong and…”

“Violent,” said the first. “She were very, very violent. Hence this.”

The man tried to indicate the bruises on his naked torso but the ropes prevented him from moving.

“So,” said Bisset, “your finest men were beaten half to death in a Paris side street by a… maid?’

Pook pursed his lips and looked sharply at the two men who trembled.

“So it was lucky for you when the police arrived I suppose?” said Pook.

“Yes sir,” said the first man, “we would have got a proper walloping otherwise. Then they hauled us away in the back of a wagon and… well… here we are.”

“Well here we are,” echoed Pook, a big smile on his face. “Thank you gentlemen for your report. I’d be pleased if you waited in the next room.”

Pook nodded into the darkness and a man came forward, cutting the others free from their chairs. They rubbed their arms and wrists as they were manoeuvred into a side room.

As the door closed behind them, Bisset covered his hand with his mouth and made a strange snorting noise. Pook smiled widely at him.

“Your little ruse worked then?” said Bisset. “At least on them.”

“Indeed,” said Pook. “As I was sure it would. Pierre? Please come and tell us more.”

A man dressed in a police uniform came forward.

“It was a complete success,” he said. “They trusted us absolutely.”

“And now?” said Pook.

“We have convinced them that they need us for protection. Even now Claude is the church, keeping watch.”

Pook clapped his hands together.

“You see what happens when a simple change of management occurs,” he said to Bisset.

“Indeed,” said Bisset, “it is excellent work. We now have our adversary under constant surveillance.”

Pook nodded Pierre to go.

“So we just need to be sure if they have found the location of the key,” said Pook. “Then we can proceed.”

Bisset nodded in approval.

“What about those two?” said Bisset, nodding to the other room. “They are merely stooges, no?”

Pook’s eyes widened.

“But we must make an example,” he said. “Otherwise standards will fall.”

From the room next door there came a loud scream, then panicked shouting, another scream and finally silence.

Bisset covered his mouth again and made the snorting noise while Pook giggled lightly.

The Paris Awakening: Fire Part 9

Tea set

“A job?” said Sir John.

“Yes,” continued Miss Henderson, “they said I would be ideal for body guard duty for the diplomatic corpse. I wasn’t quite sure why they needed to guard dead bodies but I was flattened anyway. I did think it might help with a certain situation back home in London, but then I also thought it might cause some problems with the family and all. So in the end, whilst I did think about it, when they asked again, I reclined.”

“I see,” said Sir John, “I think. I suspect some of those powders may still be affecting me.”

“You should be okay now,” said Morag, “I’m afraid you’re now dealing with reality in all its glory. But you’ll feel out of it for a day or two due to the third side effect…”

“I see,” said Sir John, “I think. I suspect some of those powders may still be affecting me.”

“…which is extreme short-term memory loss,” finished Morag.

“So… they took you to the station?” said Sir John.

“Oh no,” said Miss Henderson. “They recognised those other gentlemen were frauds. So they just brought us back here. They were concerned for our safety. They suspected a plot most foul so posted a guard.”

“And when did they go?” said Sir John.

“They’re still here,” said Miss Henderson. 

She opened the front door and spoke to someone.

“Is everything alright, Clod?” she said.

“It’s Claude,” he said in a heavy accent.

“Then I shall bring you a nice warm cup of tea,” she said and closed the door. 

“That’s…” started Sir John.

“Clod the plod,” said Miss Henderson.

“OK, alright, so let me get things straight,” said Sir John. “We have found the gateway but were interrupted by some fake police and then rescued by some real police.”

“That’s about the long and short of it,” said Morag.

“So… we need to find out how to open this gate then,” said Sir John. “Quickly, by the sounds of it.”

“We were rather curious about that,” said Morag. “Did you perhaps encounter any mysterious entities when you were near the door? Something a little fiery maybe?”

“I… I don’t recall. I guess we should go back and see now we know the location,” said Sir John. “Wait, did you say those fake police were English?” 

Morag sighed.

“It’s the memory loss,” she said to Miss Henderson, “we’ll have to tell the story again.”

“No no,” said Sir John, “I remember the story. I mean… if they weren’t French does that mean… has Clackprattle sent for Draco Viridis? There could be a whole horde of miscreants out there.”

“I thought they learnt their lesson last time in London,” said Miss Henderson and cracked her knuckles.

“Well they are an order of incarnate evil,” said Sir John. “They’ve most likely taken all sorts of foul oaths.”

“They certainly were uttering some foul oaths last time we met,” said Miss Henderson. “I heard the most terrible language when I kicked one of them in the…”

“I mean,” said Sir John, “that they may be rather a fierce and persistent opposition.”

“It’ll be fine,” said Miss Henderson. “We’ll go in the evening when it’s busy, we’ll all go together and we’ll take Clod and his friend.”

She opened up the door again.

“Clod,” she said, “You may want to get Pee-air.”

Stay Home & Stay Safe

J & M quarantine prisma

Gentle Reader

The creators of The Benthic Times hope you are all safe and well at this time. We shall be resuming our story telling activities very soon and hope that that may alleviate any boredom you may currently be feeling.

Take care and stay safe

The Benthic Times

The Paris Awakening: Fire Part 8

policemen at door prisma

Sir John walked into the main room of the artists’ church clutching his head and saw Morag lying on the floor.

“I think we’ll have to postpone the experiment with the powder,” he announced. “I feel terrible today.”

“Aye well,” said Morag. “That would be one of the three side effects.”

Sir John looked confused.

“A splitting headache?” he asked.

“No,” said Morag, “I meant the total memory loss. We did it yesterday.”

“We did?” said Sir John. “I don’t recall a thing.”

“That’s probably for the best, you were a wee bit out of it.” said Morag.

“Did I do anything embarrassing?” said Sir John. “Did we find the avatar?”

“Well, let’s deal with the last one first,” said Morag. “After a bit of, what we can only describe as drug engendered fannying around and a whole barrel load of nonsense we did indeed find a door that leads to the avatar.”

“Oh good,” said Sir John. “I think. Did we… fail the challenge?”

“Nothing so high falutin,” said Morag. “We got stopped by the rozzers. Or so we thought.”

“Wait! I think I recall something,” said Sir John.

“Ah yeah,” said Morag. “That’s the other symptom, flashbacks:

“Stop at once,” said the first policeman. “What do you think you are doing?”

“We were just admiring this ornate doorway,” said Miss Henderson.

“Do you expect us to believe that?” said the policeman. “I suspect you were planning a robbery.”

“But there isn’t a building behind this door,” said Miss Henderson. “What do you think we were going to rob.”

“Why don’t you come to the station and you can tell us,” said the second policeman.

Morag coughed loudly.

“Look! You’re disturbing our dog,” said Miss Henderson and bent down to Morag.

“And what do you have to say sir?” said the first policeman to Sir John.

“Cancel my subscription to the resurrection,” said Sir John.

“Why are they speaking Engish?” whispered Morag to Miss Henderson. “They don’t sound French at all.”

Miss Henderson stood up quickly. “Parly view ong lay?” she said to the policemen. 

The first policeman looked a little perplexed, was punched in the face by Miss Henderson and looked even more perplexed as he fell to the ground. The second policeman reached for his truncheon and received, in short measure, a kick to the groin, the knees and then the head. A little distance away a whistle blew and some more men in uniform ran toward the scene.

“Go,” said Miss Henderson, “I’ll hold them off.”

Morag looked at the two policeman lying on the floor and the others approaching.

“Good luck,” she said as she tugged on the lead pulling Sir John.

“I’ll be fine,” said Miss Henderson.

“I meant the coppers,” said Morag as she hurried away.

“Good lord,” said Sir John, “What happened next. Where’s Miss Henderson.”

“Well the second lot of coppers turned out to be real police,” said Morag. “Luckily, they spoke to Miss Henderson in French before she could wallop them but they arrested her for walloping the other two.”

“So she’s in jail,” gasped Sir John. 

“Well,” continued Morag, “then they worked out the lads on the ground weren’t rozzers and arrested them too. When they got back to the station, they asked Miss Henderson what had happened and she said they tricked her and attacked her.”

“So… they let her go?” said Sir John.

“Actually,” said Miss Henderson, whistling happily and carrying a tray of tea and biscuits. “They offered me a job.”


French Policemen

The Paris Awakening: Fire Part 7


“All the trees are mauve,” said Sir John. “The sky, amber-gris.”

“Are you sure I mixed it right?” said Miss Henderson to Morag, hurrying to keep up with Sir John on the street.

“I watched you do it myself,” said Morag. “It was fine. You’ve got quite a talent for it.”

“It’s like cooking,” said Miss Henderson, “only my cooking doesn’t usually have this effect.”

“Aye well,” said Morag, “that special brew that we made should put Sir John into the realm of the imagination. And hence he should be able to see where we might find the avatar.”

“West is best!” pronounced Sir John, pointing east and heading that way at a fierce pace.

“In theory at least,” said Morag as she and Miss Henderson picked up the pace.

“French cooking seems to affect Mrs Jennings,” said Miss Henderson. “Do you think maybe that’s alchemical.”

“I think that’s nostalgia,” said Morag.

“Oh,” said Miss Henderson, “so it gives her headaches.”

“Weird scenes inside the goldmine,” said Sir John rather excitably, pointing toward the Seine. “Ride the king’s highway.”

“Does that make sense to you?” said Miss Henderson.

“Oh aye,” said Morag. “I understand completely. I think I may have messed up the potion a bit.”

“He is the lizard king,” said Sir John, gravely. “He can do… anything.”

“That could be a reference to salamanders, which are associated with fire,” said Morag, “or maybe just drug induced nonsense.”

The trio found themselves approaching the Sorbonne.

“Streets are uneven,” said Sir John, stroking his chin and looking around.

“This seems like it might be a good place for imagination,” said Miss Henderson. “The door says it’s a university, although they’ve spelt it wrong.”

“I’m sure it’s full of imaginative minds, but I think it’s thrown him off the scent,” said Morag. “Seems too obvious.”

Sir John looked around the entrance of the Sorbonne.

“When is a door not a door?” he said.

“When it’s ajar?” said Morag, hoping it might help.

Sir John fixed an eye on Morag.

“When it’s a grain of sand.” he said. “Land ho!”

He headed north towards the Seine then crossed at the Pont de Sully.

“We dug our treasures there,” he said whilst walking at quite a pace. The trio crossed over at speed and stopped at a halt once on the right bank.

“I wonder if the death of Emile has unhinged him a bit,” said Morag. “They were good friends.”

“I keep thinking about him,” said Miss Henderson. “He was such a nice man. I can’t believe he’s gone.”

“I just got into town an hour ago,” said Sir John, with a gentle tone. He looked up and down the street then slapped himself on the forehead. 

“Mr Mojo Rising!” he said, then shot down the Rue du Petit-Musc. Miss Henderson and Morag ran after him as quickly as they could. Sir John turned left then right then went a little further before stopping. 

Morag arrived first and struggled to catch her breath. She looked at where Sir John was staring.

“Oh,” she said.

Miss Henderson arrived a little later, cursing under her breath and trying to hold up the skirts she was wearing without revealing her ankles to the world. She looked at where Sir John and Morag were staring and saw the large ornate door with “Hotel Raoul” written above it. 

“This is definitely the place then,” she said.

“Aye,” said Morag. “This must be the only grand entrance in Paris that doesn’t actually have a building attached to it.”

“Alive!” Sir John cried.


Hotel Raoul