The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 5

Sir John and Marie settled into their seats in the nearly empty theatre. Seated next to them was a man coughing intermittently and a young man with a paper bag of sweets, that rustled loudly. Sir John kept glancing at them.

“Been a while since we went to the theatre,” he said. “When was the last time?”

Marie pulled a moue and looked away.

“Wait, was it when we were in Manchester?” said Sir John. “When that man had a funny turn?”

He looked at his wife who had a tear running down her face.

“That was me,” she said.

“Oh,” said Sir John, “Oh. Oh. Well at least tonight should be free of anything supernatural, just a good old fashioned puppet show.”

He glanced around guiltily to check no-one had heard.

“Nearly let the cat out the bag,” he whispered to Marie.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” said an invisible announcer, “I present to you… the Clockwork Conjuror and his Amazing Automatons.”

There was a smatter of applause in the theatre as the lights dimmed. The Conjuror walked out on stage, followed by a troupe of 23 automata.

“Good evening everybody,” he said, “and welcome to the show.” 

There was an attempt to disguise his rich west midlands accent, but it was the elocutional equivalent of a small fake moustache. The show then commenced with the automata making a series of elaborate tricks. Sir John looked moderately amused but Marie was rapt.

“Seems a bit obvious when you know how it’s done,” Sir John whispered to Marie.

“Where are the strings?” said Marie.

Sir John looked puzzled. 

“Well.. maybe they’re on sticks” said Sir John.

“Then where are the sticks?” said Marie. “Something is strange here.”

“Well we are quite a way from the stage and I imagine they do a good job disguising it,” said Sir John, as a duo of automata jumped through a hoop. “A very good job.”

Marie turned away from the show for the first time and pushed her face close to her husband.

“Something is amiss here, I can feel… I can feel something magical,” she said.

“Are you sure?,” said Sir John.

By way of answer Marie took off her pendant and let it dangle. It rotated gently for a moment until she half closed her eyes. Then the pendant shot horizontal, pointing toward the stage. It spun about wildly in all directions pointing to the whole of the stage.

“Good Lord,” said Sir John. “What is that? Did you learn that in France?”

“No, I taught myself,” said Marie. “I used it before, when… never mind. It detects magical force. And it’s all over the stage.”

“Are you sure?” said Sir John, looking perturbed at the pendant.

“That’s a good trick miss,” said the man with the sweets.

Marie shot him a look and gathered up the pendant. She turned closely to her husband again.

“Those aren’t puppets,” said Marie, “they are magical beings.”

“Well then,” Sir John said, swallowing hard, “we’d better pay the Conjuror another call.”

The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 4

The room was gloomy with decoration so tired it was practically snoring. In the centre was a middle aged man with a paunch, receding hair and the look of one who had seen too many late nights and not enough early mornings. At least not from the right direction. He was dressed in a garish costume which had food stains and was engrossed in a book on stage magic. Around him were various puppets or toys that looked mechanical in nature..

Suddenly there was a knock at the door.

“Open up, this is the police!” said Detective Symonds.

The man jumped up, looked shocked and cast his eyes around the gloomy room. He shrugged, went to the door and opened it. Behind it stood Detective Symonds and Sir John Jennings.

“Are you the… Amazing Clockwork Conjuror, Master Magician of Devices,” said Detective Symonds, reading from a flyer.

“Oi am” said the Conjuror, in a strong Black Country accent.

Detective Symonds looked puzzled at the man and then looked at the flyer and the man in quick succession.

“Artistic loiciense,” said the Conjuror. “Do come in and make yo’self at home.”

The two men came in, looked at what passed for furniture and remained standing.

“We wish to speak to you about a disappearance,” said Sir John.

“Which one?” said the Conjuror.

“You mean… you’re aware of more than one disappearance?” said Sir John aghast.

“Of course, I make two or three people disappear every night,” said the Conjuror.

“Arrest this man!” said Sir John to Detective Symonds.

“I believe,” said Detective Symonds, “that Mr… that the gentleman… is referring to disappearances as part of his stage act.”

“Of course,” said the Conjuror. “What do you mean?”

“A… man has gone missing,” said Detective Symonds. “We believe one of his last social engagements was at one of your performances.”

“Well a lot of people come to my shows,” said the Conjuror. “Sometimes.”

“His name is Phlebotomous Bosch,” said Sir John.

“Oh, him!” said the Conjuror. “Yes he wrote to me to say he was coming, but I never saw him.”

“Do you have the letter,” said Detective Symonds.

“It will be in the fan mail,” said the Conjuror, looking into a nearly empty box. He produced a letter and handed it to Detective Symonds, who read it with a confused look on his face.

“I was quite glad that I didn’t see him to be honest,” said the Conjuror. “I would have had to confess my secret and I think he would have been disappointed.”

“Your secret?” said Sir John.

“Yes,” said the Conjuror, “that these aren’t really mechanical devices, just puppets. I’m not really a technical wizard. In fact I’m not even that great a magician. But put together a bit of a magic show with some ventriloquy, give it a mechanical flavour and throw in a few jokes, and voila, the crowds come flocking. Eventually.”

“This looks like a red herring,” said Detective Symonds. “We’ll need to work back from the theatre.”

“Talking of which,” said the Conjuror. “Do accept these complimentary tickets to the show. There are only a few left, so these are like goldust.” He picked up another box filled with slips of paper and handed two to each man.

“Well, thank you for your time,” said Sir John and the two men left.

After he shut the door, the Conjuror sat back in his chair and sighed. One of the heads of the puppets began to turn to face him.

“I don’t like the sound of this boss,” said the puppet to the conjuror, with a strong Brooklyn accent.

“Me neither,” said another. “I smell trouble brewing.”

A Wonderful Book on Stage Magic

The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 3

The room was darkened from black drapes on the windows and there were a number of laboratory tables covered in mechanical objects and notes in spidery writing. On one was a cup of cold coffee swimming in a small sea of black liquid next to a pile of equally cold, slightly burnt, toast. Occasionally there was a whirr or a tick, like a broken clock. But there were no sounds of living beings.

From outside the door there came a knocking.

“Mr Bosch?” said Sir John through the door. “Phlebotomous? Are you alright?”

More knocking followed, then an exclamation and the sound of a ringing bell. As the bell rang a sign lit up in the room saying VISITORS! The ringing and sign lighting continued for a little longer. Then Sir John spoke again.

“I don’t think he’s here, Detective Symonds,” he said.

“It’s good you called me,” said the Detective. “I’ll need to force an entry.”

“Oh will I get to see one of those skeleton keys?” said Sir John, sounding enthusiastic. There was then a loud thump in the door and it swung open. Detective John Symonds and Sir John Jennings walked into Phlebotomus’ house.

“Ah,” said Sir John. “Not a key.”

“Not as such,” said Detective Symonds, rubbing his shoulder. “My god, this place is in chaos, it must have been ransacked.”

“Actually,” said Sir John, “I’ve been here before, this is fairly normal.”

“Let me check the bedroom in case he’s…” said Detective Symonds heading off.

“Actually, he’s already dead,” said Sir John. He saw the lake of coffee and mountain of toast.

“Hmm,” he said. “What’s this?”

“He’s not here,” said Detective Symonds returning. “But there is an unusual perfume in the bedroom.”

“I think that’s normal too,” said Sir John. “Mr Bosch is fastidious about personal hygiene, but has no sense of what scents match well. It’s not unusual for him to smell like the perfume floor at Harrods. But look, there’s some breakfast machine here that’s been running for days. It suggests that he hasn’t been here for a while.”

Detective Symonds inspected the coffee and pile of toast. He stuck his finger in the coffee cup and licked it quizzically then spat rapidly.

“Poison!” said Sir John.

“No, sugar,” said the Detective. “I suspect three of four spoons of it.”

“Ah, yes,” said Sir John. “He has a sweet tooth.”

“Let’s look for a clue as to where he went,” said Detective Symonds “Does he have an active social life?”

Sir John snorted.

“Not as such… oh, what’s this,” he held up a flyer for a theatrical performance. Detective Symonds came over.

“The Clockwork Conjuror presents his latest show of technological wonders and robotic marvels,” the detective read. “All are invited to this spectacle at the London Palladium on October 18th.”

“Three days ago,” said Sir John. “That’s exactly the sort of thing Phlebotomous would be excited about.”

“Then we need to speak to this Clockwork Conjuror,” said Detective Symonds.

The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 2

Sir John and Marie were sitting in the drawing room of their Southampton Row house. Marie was busy with her crochet and Sir John was simultaneously reading the newspaper and eating biscuits. A series of grumbling sounds and appreciative mutterings were issuing from him depending on the activity.

“It really is too much,” he said, putting down the paper.

“What is?” said Marie.

“That whole business,” he said, waving a hand vaguely at the paper. 

He turned to look at the plate of biscuits, now empty.

“We go through those rather quickly don’t we?” he chuckled. “I’ll ring for some tea, there might be more.”

Marie smiled to herself and then at the maid as she entered the room.

“Here is some tea and I brought you some more biscuits,” said Miss Henderson.

“That was rather quick,” said Sir John. “You must be a mentalist.”

“I can assure you my mental facilities are in full working order,” she said, looking a little put out. “By the way, do you know when Mr Bosch might be calling? Only that ironing device he gave me is playing up a bit. Well, a bit more than usual. A lot more in fact.”

“I…he’s… well isn’t he here?” said Sir John. “It seems like he usually is.”

“I don’t think I have seen him for a few days,” said Marie.

“Well, if you do see him, please kindly send him downstairs,” said Miss Henderson. “On a not unrelated topic, I’m afraid I’ve had to send that skirt with the lace trim to the repairer Mrs Jennings. There is a small mark on the waistband and the lace is completely destroyed. As is much of the skirt”

“Oh dear,” said Marie. “Yes, we’ll definitely send Mr Bosch to you when we see him.”

“And finally, here is the post,” said Miss Henderson, handing a few envelopes on a silver tray.

“Thank you Miss Henderson,” said Sir John and began attacking the post and the biscuits with equal vigour.

“Oh here’s one from Osvold,” said Sir John. “That’s rare, I wonder what he wants.”

Sir John opened the letter and a frown crossed his face as a biscuit was inserted into his mouth.

“Hur-rur-rur fur-rur  hur-rur,” said SIr John through the biscuit.

Marie looked puzzled and so Sir John handed her the letter.

“Oh, he hasn’t heard from Mr Bosch either,” said Marie. “And he usually gets a telegram every day.”

“I shall call Mr Bosch on the telephonic device” said Sir John. “This is one mystery we can solve easily.”

Sir John picked up the telephone and called. There was a pause whilst it rang then it was picked up.

“Ah here he is,” said Sir John. “Hello Phleb… What do you mean you’re not there, I’m talking to you. Stop, slow down man you’re not listening to me. What do you mean ‘leave a message’? Phlebotomous? Phlebotomous?”

The telephone made a high pitched tone. Sir John put it down, looking at it suspiciously.

“Something is seriously amiss,” he said. “I shall go at once.”

The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 1

Dear Mr Clockwork Conjuror

Before I begin this letter I should probably clear up how to address you. Debretts was unable to tell me the correct format for addressing a conjuror and I wasn’t sure if conjuror was an honorific. As it is the second word in your name I guessed not and then realised that I didn’t know whether you were a Mr, a Dr or even a Rev. Having checked Hansard I have established you are not an MP which at least rules out Rt Hon. I wondered if maybe I should even address you as The Clockwork Conjuror, but that seemed strange to use as a greeting. So In the end I settled for Mr. If indeed you are a medical doctor, a holder of a PhD or a minister, I apologise in advance.

So, having established that point, I now will turn to the main part of my letter. I am writing to tell you that I am very much looking forward to your upcoming show at the London Palladium. I have booked 4 tickets, one for me and two either side so nobody puts their elbows on my seat and also the one in front so a lady with a large hat won’t spoil my view. I am rather short and I have had this problem in the past. I once watched an entire performance of Giselle through an oversized ostrich feather. The problem was magnified as I have allergies to large flightless birds. And also many birds that can fly.

Anyway, what I really wanted to say was that I was hoping that after the show we may meet up and talk about your technical achievements. I am an inventor myself and so the chance to not just witness a performance of twenty three automata, but to converse with the genius that created them, is one I don’t want to miss. I mean you of course when I mean the genius as I have assumed you have built them. If not and someone else has built them and they are also at the show, it would be nice to see them. Of course it would be nice to see you too as you could talk about how you operate the automata on stage. Again, unless there is a third person that does that. In which case, meeting all, or some, of you if you are not busy would be wonderful.

Anyway, I will be at your show on October the 18th and hope we can talk about the automata.

Best Regards

Phlebotomous Bosch

PS As I mentioned I am an inventor myself. If you are agreeable I can bring a small portfolio of some of my diverse inventions. Perhaps you may even find something useful for your show! Although I have to tell you now that I would be unable to accompany you on any tours as I have unusual sleeping arrangements and an aversion to overly starched hotel sheets. But nevertheless I could perhaps create a set of instructions to help you fully utilise any device you wished to have in your show. I am also unable to offer guarantees of safety at the request of my lawyer (made shortly before his untimely demise).

From the Desk of Paul Michael

Gentle Reader,

Firstly, we would like to wish you a most pleasant new year and hope that all your endeavours come good this year. Unless of course, you are hellbent on world domination and tyranny, in which case we merely offer you a pleasant new year.

This is, of course, the time of year when television programming is chock full of “repeats” and we have of course been similarly engaged, repeating two stories for chronological accuracy. “All well and good,” I hear you cry, “but when do we get something new?” Fear not, dear Reader, for that hour is nearly upon us. Oh yes! In just one week’s time we will be publishing the first instalment of an exciting new story, “The Clockwork Conjuror”. Suffice to say, and without any of these accursed spoilers that one trips over all the time, it concerns a Conjuror with a deep interest in clockwork. Is that not a theme “par excellence” for our little literary venture? “Why yes,” I hear you cry, “that sounds like exactly the sort of thing I would enjoy. But – I am afeared that two episodes a week will simply be too much excitement. I have a fragile temperament and am subject to paroxysms of nervous palpitations.” Well, dear Reader, we understand your dilemma and we can reassure you that we at the Benthic Times take your nerves very seriously. Indeed, we often wonder about the sanity of people who read these pages. To mitigate the chance of nervous exhaustion, we have decided to reduce our usual break-neck publishing pace to once a week. This should give all our readers the chance to recover from the tremulous sensations our stories can provoke.

And with that happy news, we will take our leave. Until next week and… The Clockwork Conjuror…

Paul Michael, Esq

Victorian Desk – edited in Prisma App – Mononoke

Hoop la!

Hoop La!

Dearest Maud

I was sorry to miss you on your recent visit to Brighton. I hear you managed to have a perfectly pleasant time without me, which I find more than a little disconcerting. You must pop back when I’m in town and you can show me how its done (and not for the first time).

I was, as I’m sure you heard, having a little sojourn in a small town called Sunnyport. It proved quite the diversion. Without wishing to tire you with the details, I met a perfectly pleasant, if dull, couple and encountered a monstrous species of mind stealing creatures. Long story short, I managed to save the day by waltzing in to a cultists church with a magical hoop. I had a daguerrotype prepared (enclosed) so you can see. It was quite a little adventure.

Anyhoo, I am back in Brighton now and enjoying the lively and varied entertainments. In fact two of them are calling me right now.

Do take care

Your loving brother

Lord Hollingbury

The Sunnyport Shadow: Epilogue

“Good morning Sir Jenkins, Mrs Jenkins,” said Mrs Pimplenick, beaming at the couple. “Can I get you some tea and orange juice?”

Sir John jumped backwards at the approach.

“Yes, that would be … very pleasant,” he said. “This is our last day in Sunnyport you know, so I must settle up with you.”

“No need, no need,” said Mrs Pimplenick, “That very good friend of yours, Lord Hollingbury settled your account first thing this morning. Such a charming man! I had no idea you were such good friends with a lord.”

“I … he did what?” said Sir John.

“He said you might be surprised, so he left this note for you,” said Mrs Pimplenick. “May I enquire if any more peers of the realm may be calling this morning, only I’ll get the girl to do the reception if they are.”

“I suspect Lord Hollingbury will be the only one,” said Sir John and opened the note. He started to read and Mrs Pimiplenick hovered expectantly.

Aller,” whispered Marie and the landlady suddenly headed for the kitchen.

“Sorry,” Marie said, “but I am more than a little curious.”

“Let me read it out,” said Sir John.

Dear Sir John and Marie

Apologies for not seeing you off in person, but there was talk of contacting the constabulary in the small hours of the morning so I felt it was time I departed. I trust settling your account will suffice as apology. I also heard that the controversy in Brighton has died down after the outbreak of a scandal that didn’t involve me. Clearly, I need to head back before I am forgotten entirely. I was never truly sure why the nunnery thing was such a problem anyway. I wasn’t even aware they were women, let alone nuns. Anyway, that’s a story for another day.

So after our conversation with Mr Joseph I carried out the necessary ceremonies to banish the yellow jellyfish forever. I’ve tipped off the maritime ministry via a good friend of mine in case they turn up later and helped Rev Philips remove some of the more potent talismans and charms from his church. The man seems immune to occult forces of all types, I may come back and study him some time. I caught up with Wombly who had shed his jelly skin and now seems like his normal self. In truth, the conversation was no more interesting, although it was less repetitive.

So, all being well, the jellyfish menace should no longer cast its shadow over Sunnyport. Mr Joseph has promised faithfully never to call them again, on pain of imprisonment on some as yet uncertain charge that the police will manufacture when they arrive. Sadly, I will miss that creative exercise.

Anyway, pleasure doing business with you both. Please feel free to drop by if you ever come to Brighton or else you may see me in town. Although these days I mostly stick to Soho as the rest of London has become a little drab to my eyes.

All the best

Your friend,

Lord Hollingbury aka The Nouveaumancer

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me,” said Mrs Pimplenick bringing tea and orange juice. “It looks like your carriage for London has arrived anyway. I’ll let them know you’re breakfasting and will be out presently. I do so hope you’ve enjoyed Sunnyport and have had a memorable visit.”

SS Epilogue“Very Pleasant!”

Sir John looked at his orange juice in the cracked glass on the stained table cloth.

“I think I can accurately say,” he said, “that this holiday will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

“Very good sir,” said Mrs Pimiplenick and left the room.

The Sunnyport Shadow: Chapter 15

“What has been going on here?” said Reverend Phillips.

“Well, as far as we can gather, Mr Joseph here has been summoning jellyfish-like creatures from the deep which have killed and then somehow resurrected fisherman that are in some sense brainwashed and busy committing acts of vandalism,” said Sir John.

“You know, that old chestnut,” said Lord Hollingbury.

“They ain’t dead,” said Mr Joseph, “and they ain’t brainwashed neither.”

“Well, either Mr Wombly has the conversational skills of a trappist monk or something is messing with his mind,” said Lord Hollingbury.

“That ain’t him,” said Mr Joseph, “that’s them. He’s asleep in there.”

“What’s happening in my church?” said Reverend Phillips.

“It ain’t your church neither, you’re a newcomer.  You don’t know the old ways,” said Mr Joseph. “I told you before, them that has eyes, you don’t even see the pictures in this church properly.”

“Well, Mr Joseph,” said Lord Hollingbury pleasantly, “why don’t you go nice and slow and tell us all about it?”

“They first came here hundreds of years ago. My family, they’ve always been lighthouse keepers, in more ways than one. They came and they spoke to my great-great lots of greats grandpa. They don’t think like us, see, nor speak like us. They’re like ants or bees, like a jelly hive. But he can speak to them, shows his son and so on how to do it. They tells him they can make him live longer, make everyone live longer, and he agrees.”

“He agrees?” said Sir John. “So there’s a price.”

The lighthouse keeper nodded.

“They give life, but they take memories. Soon everyone was living longer, just by swimming in the sea. They don’t even have to be that close to the jellies. They give people years of extra life and just take some memories. For the ones that visit, the tourists, it’s nothing they’ll notice at all. Maybe they forget a name or two. For those that live here. They forgets a lot. They forgets about the jellies for starters. So we have to remember, the lighthouse keepers. When people stop swimming, we have to make them again. Otherwise they get hungry and….”

“People die younger,” said Lord Hollingbury. “Much younger?”

“Yes, that too. But when it works it’s a fair bargain.”

“Isn’t that for people to choose?” said Reverend Phillips. “Not for you to force.”

“Mayhap,” said the lighthouse keeper.

SS Ch 15“A Price”

“The disappearances?” said Marie, “Why is that happening?”

“These new fangled entertainments,” said Mr Joseph, “these promenades and cafes and merry-go-rounds and so on. They keep folk out of the sea. They were getting hungry, see. So I arranged with them to take some fishermen and use them to break these things. So these newcomers leave here and people go back to swimming again.”

“The fishermen are … dead?” said Sir John.

“They’re asleep. The jellies cover their bodies and make the men sleep inside. Then the jellies can use their bodies. But I have to direct them. They ain’t that good alone.”

“So for generations these jellyfish creatures have been feeding on people’s memories and extending their lifespan, and when they’re hungry, they’ve reduced people’s lifespan instead. And your family’s job has been to keep people swimming so the jellyfish can feed?” said Lord Hollingbury.

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

“I have one more question,” said Marie.

“What is that?” said Mr Joseph.

“How do we make the jellyfish go away forever?”

The Sunnyport Shadow: Epilogue

The Sunnyport Shadow: Chapter 14

In the centre of the church the pews had been pushed back and a circle drawn. Around its edge candles flicked and in the middle was a single hooded figure. He was chanting slowly in a low tone, his eyes fixed forward. The gibbous moon was shining through the stained glass sending eldritch colours into the church and over the hooded man.

Gibbous moon“Reverend Phillips?”

Suddenly the main door burst open and three figures came in. One was performing a kind of shimmying dance which was seemingly keeping a hoop around his waist. The other two were clutching onto hoops. The one dancing was chanting too, but was putting a bit more rhythm and melody into it, and ending every phrase with “hoop-la”.

The hooded man spun round to look at the trio.

“There are forces beyond your ken in this very room,” he said. “If you’ve a care for your lives or your sanity, you’ll flee now.”

“Oh, I don’t think we need to … worry too much hoop-la,” sang Lord Hollingbury. “See here these magic circles … keep us safe from what-nots.”

Sir John raised up the Cryptozoetropometer whilst hanging onto his hoop and looked at the hooded man.

“It’s definitely him,” said Sir John.

“You mean the chap with robes on? Standing in the circle?” said Lord Hollingbury. He grabbed the hoop and stopped his dancing and singing.

“You really needed that device to work that out?” he asked. Sir John went red.

“I wanted to be sure,” he said.

“Messieurs!” said Marie. “Can we focus on the man? He could get away.”

“Oh, I don’t think so. See, he’s as trapped in his circle as we are in ours,” said Lord Hollingbury. “Aren’t you, Reverend Phillips?”

There was a noise at the back as someone entered the room.

“What’s going on?” said a voice. “What’s happening in my church?”

Reverend Phillips walked up the aisle to the circle, the hooded man inside, and the trio of investigators.

“What’s the meaning of this?” he said.

“You’re not the cultist?” said Sir John. “Then who is that in the circle?”

The man in the circle was starting some more incantations.

“He’s trying to banish the ghoulish what-nots,” said Lord Hollingbury. “Quick, stop him!”

Sir John rushed forward with the Cryptozoetropometer, clutching his hoop.

“Are you going to reverse the polarity and fire etheric energy at him?” asked Lord Hollingbury.

“Actually, I was going to hit him with it,” said Sir John.

“Alright, alright, I surrender,” said the hooded man.

“Let’s see who you are, then,” said Sir John and pulled back the hood. A gasp went out when the man was revealed.

“It’s Mr Joseph the lighthouse keeper!” exclaimed everyone at once.

“I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you well-meaning but impractical paranormal investigator, mysterious powerful French woman, and sexually ambiguous, morally dubious aristocrat.”

“I bet you say that to all the girls,” said Lord Hollingbury.

The Sunnyport Shadow: Chapter 15