The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 14

“…And for that reason I will ask all of you not to disturb me this evening,” said Viscount Vernal. His lips pulled back into something resembling a smile, if one had heard a description but never seen one. The group of servants faking listening attentively turned away and changed their looks of polite interest into utter incomprehension as they filed out of the room. Two maids stayed behind to tidy up.

Lord Vernal looked around the room, first up at the vaulted ceiling with its spire in the centre then down at the circle of chairs arranged on the floor with wires snaking around them. In the chairs sat 23 puppets. Then he looked up again to see lightning arcing across the sky and whispered, “soon”.

He began to don a strange looking hat when there was a commotion at the door. A man came into the room.

“My lord…” started the man.

“I thought I said no interruptions Smith,” said the Viscount. “Was that somehow confusing?”

“No my lord, but we thought you would want to know about this. We found these two snooping.”

Mr Smith indicated to the doorway and a couple of rough looking fellows came in carrying sacks on their shoulders.

“Ugh!” said the Viscount. “What foul men are these?”

“These are your employees my lord,” said Mr Smith. “The snoopers are in the sacks.”

The two men undid the sacks to reveal Phlebotomous Bosch and Sir John.

“Well, well, well,” said the Viscount. “What do we have here?”

“I think it’s two men, sir,” said one of the thugs, which earned him a sharp glance. He shrank back, or as much as man can when he is six foot five, and also quite tall.

“And what men indeed,” said the Viscount. “It’s my old friend, the vegetarian vampire, who was so very helpful before. And… wait… I recognise you from the church.”

“Sir John Jennings,” said Sir John determinedly. “Paranormal investigator.”

“Well you’ve come to the right place,” said Lord Vernal. “Look, here are 23 little supernatural creatures. Although soon there will only be two magical creatures here, when my fully operational device will extract their magic into me. In fact, I think I may make that one by having your vampire friend for dessert.”

“You can’t do that!” cried Phlebotomous, glancing wildly around the machinery lining the walls of the room. “Oh, my mistake, it looks like you can.”

There was an ominous rumble of thunder above.

“Then let us begin,” said Load Vernal.

He walked over to an ornate looking throne with wires connecting it to the spire. He sat in the throne, donned the strange helmet. He looked around him one time and glanced up as the lightning played around the spire.

“Soon,” he said, his voice rising from a whisper to a roar, “I will be more than a man. Soon, I will be powerful beyond belief. Soon… I will be immortal!”

Viscount Vernal closed his eyes and smiled. There was a flash high above in the spire as lightning struck.

Arts and Crafts

Dear Readers

First we would like to apologise for the recent slow progress of posts on this illustrious organ. All we can do to explain is to quote one of the world’s greatest philosophers, and say that, “life is what happens when you make other plans.”

We do now hope to resume something like a more regular and indeed more frequent publishing schedule. Readers can be re-assured that not only is the Clockwork Conjuror complete, there is a new story that Mr Michael has commenced. More on that topic later in the year.

We have also uncovered recently a most amusing device called DALL-E. This contraption is, amazingly, able to produce “art” to demand based on a literary prompt. I use art in the loosest possible sense here, for reasons that will shortly become clear. We are also aware we are a little “behind the times” on this topic, but then being behind the times is perhaps half of what we do here.

So, intrigued by the proposition of an autocreating art machine, we gave it a cursory description of Mr Michael and Ms Pichette to see how it would cope. This is the result.

The resemblance is uncanny, in that it doesn’t resemble us at all but rather something uncanny. We then asked the device to create an image for Miss Henderson, with this result.

We are reminded here a little of Francis Bacon’s Screaming Pope – not least because the image caused us to cry out a religious oath at some volume. Lastly we asked the device to re-imagine our famous “clocktopus” logo.

We’re not quite sure what the time is on that clock, or what the curious debris at the base of the picture is, but this does at least have something. With any luck, it won’t pass it on to anyone else.

So, our little survey led us to conclude that whilst this device was not terribly suitable for producing art of great note, it could produce “visual material” that is at once unsettling and hilarious. Since that is almost our metier, we thought we might, if you would indulge us, use a few examples for the next few episodes of our story. Ms Pichette will of course effect the magic she does to make the automated “artwork”seem more visually appealing. Or possibly, given the source material, visually appalling.

We look forward to entertaining you on a more regular basis forthwith …

The gentlefolk of the Benthic Times

The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 13

“Well done Miss Henderson,” said Sir John. “I knew you wouldn’t disappoint us.”

“Indeed,” said the maid, “I have secured the position that Lucy previously held, so I shall have access to all the house.”

Sir John, Marie, Phlebotomous all turned to look at Lucy, who was dressed in plain clothing.

“Once you told me all the terrible things his lordship had done, and was planning, I was glad to be out of it,” said the former maid. “But I do worry now how I shall look after me wee bairns.”

“Miss Smith,” said Sir John, handing her a fat envelope, “thank you for your help. Please accept this payment as compensation for your troubles.”

“Thank you,” said the maid and rose to leave.

“How many children do you have?” said Sir John conversationally.

“Oh none yet,” said Lucy as she was leaving. “But I hope to one day.”

Miss Henderson put her hand over her mouth as Sir John’s mouth dropped.

“Well…at least you made ingress in the castle,” said Sir John.

Miss Henderson looked shocked.

“I did no such thing,” she said, “I had an interview. It was all fine and proper.”

“I mean you secured the role,” said Sir John, panicking slightly.

Miss Henderson recovered.

“Oh I see,” she said.

“How is the… Conjuror getting on?” said Marie.

“Well, he telegrammed to say he had made contact with his friends, and he hopes to persuade them to help,” said Sir John, grateful for the change of topic. “I don’t think we can truly rely on him, or them to tell the truth. But we’ll have to see. Phlebotomous, can you tell us what we’re assuming about the castle?”

“Yes,” said Phlebotomous.

There was a pause.

“Oh now?” he said. “Yes, well I have calculated that in order to achieve the magical transference that he wishes, the Viscount will need a source of power equivalent to 1.21 gigawatts of electricity,”

“Great Scott!” said Sir John. “That’s around the power of a lightning strike.”

“Indeed,” said Phlebotomous, “and that’s what I think he plans to do. Look, here’s a touristic guide to the castle.”

Phlebotomous opened a leaflet explaining about the castle. Everyone muttered appreciatively.

“Here in the centre is a tall spire-like structure. I believe the Viscount will attach his machine to this. He will then wait for a storm, and use the power of the lightning to drive his machine.”

Sir John looked grim.

“Then he may have overcome the problems he had in London. When is the next storm due?” he said.

Phlebotomous pulled out a local newspaper.

“In three days time,” he said. “There is a warning about it, it’s likely to be a dark and stormy night.”

“When do you start?” said Sir John to Miss Henderson.

“Tomorrow at six,” she said.

“You must try and get access to that central spire,” said Sir John. “Meanwhile we’ll need to think of a way to make ingr… to get into the castle. Since he’s Draco Viridis, he’ll know me and Marie for sure. In fact, Miss Henderson, you need to be careful too. You were at the church that night.”

“Don’t worry,” said Miss Henderson, “us maids have a way of passing unseen, like the Scarlet Pimple.”

Sir John looked puzzled.

“I think,” said Marie, “I have an idea.”

The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 12

Miss Henderson sat opposite a rather severe looking middle aged woman wearing a dour frumpy dress. The woman’s hair was in a tight bun and not a single strand dared escape. She treated Miss Henderson to something she probably thought was a smile.

“So Miss Anderson,” she said. “I understand you would like to apply for a job as a maid at Cawdor House? I am Mrs Cartwright, the housekeeper here.”

“Very pleased to meet you Mrs Cartwright. I am indeed hoping for such a role,” said Miss Henderson, sounding nervous. “I have some letters of condemnation.”

Mrs Cartwright looked confused as Miss Henderson handed over the letters.

“Oh I see, recommendation,” Mrs Cartwright said. “Well your timing is most fortuitous as we have very recently and unexpectedly had a maid quit on us with no notice. In the middle of a meal, in fact.”

“Oh how unprofessional,” said Miss Henderson. “I could never leave an employer in the lunch.”

“You worked for a family in London, the Hennings at Northampton Row?” said Mrs Cartwright. “They seem very pleased with you from this letter. What size was the household?”

“Well,” said Miss Henderson, “I am a little under 6 feet…”

“I meant, how many serving staff,” said Mrs Cartwright.

“Oh there was only me,” said Miss Henderson. “Mr… Hennings was very interested in scientific things and he had a number of very reliable mechanical devices in the house. They helped save time in the chores. Which reminds me, there was also a part time mechanic for when the reliable mechanical devices broke down.”

A flicker of amusement shot across Mrs Cartwright’s face. 

“You may find yourself at home here then. Viscount Vernal has a similar interest. But, we have much more staff here, it will be a very different experience,” she said.

“Oh good,” said Miss Henderson, “I have so longed to work within a larger house, to be a part of something as grand as this magnificent building with its historic impediments and flying butt rests..”

“Tell me girl,” said Mrs Cartwright, “you’re a long way from your last job up here. Why did you come so far? Is there a man perhaps? Do you have an understanding with someone who lives here?”

“There was a gentleman friend,” said Miss Henderson. “And I hoped one day he might be more. But he wished to remain in London so I doubt we will ever be understood. I am here to help my sister, she’s expecting her third any day.”

“Child?” asked Mrs Cartwright.

“Husband,” said Miss Henderson. “He’s due back any day and will be discharged from the Navy. He’s developed a gammy heart and a dicky leg. Or is it the other way around? Anyway she’ll need some help with looking after him as well as all the little ones. She’s been better blessed with children than luck.”

“I see,” said Mrs Cartwright. “Well, your references are excellent, your manner is good and frankly we are desperate. We shall give you a month’s trial, starting tomorrow if you are available.”

“I shall see you first thing,” said Miss Henderson. “Thank you, I shan’t disappoint you!”

Castle Kitchen

The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 11

Sir John, Marie, Phlebotomous and the Clockwork Conjuror all sat in the Jennings’ Southampton Row residence. The Conjuror was obviously distressed and was sniffing and occasionally making a trumpet-like sound blowing his nose. Each time he did this Phlebotomous jumped.

The door opened and Miss Henderson stepped in with Detective Symonds.

“Jo… Detective Symonds,” introduced Miss Henderson. She did an awkward half curtsey and added. “I shall fetch some tea.”

“What’s the latest?” said Sir John.

“The rogue never came back,” said Detective Symonds. “I waited there hours after you left and then posted a constable overnight.”

“Then the trail has gone cold. It’s like you said, Phlebotomous,” said Sir John.

“‘Ironic indeed,” said Phlebotomous, “‘I shall take them to my donjon’. That’s what he said.

“His…dungeon?” said Detective Symonds.

“His chateau… castle,” said Marie. “It’s an old French word.”

“Then the trail may not be cold,” said Detective Symonds, “because I think I know where that is. I found out that the warehouse where Phlebotomous was being kept was rented by one Viscount Victor Vernal. When I showed the owner the picture the automaton drew…”

There was a loud trumpet noise from the Conjuror. Phlebotomous jumped.

“…he recognised it as the Viscount. Furthermore, I found that he was listed as a known associate of Lord Anglestone, who you recall, led Draco Viridis.”

“I could hardly forget,” said Sir John. “Then we have our man.” 

“There are… complications,” said Detective Symonds. “Cawdor House is the building that is probably his… donjon. That is the family house, and is in Northumberland. I have no jurisdiction there. And… I also have no crime to arrest him for.”

“He kidnapped Phlebotomous,” said Sir John, “and the automata.”

There was another loud trumpeting sound, not unlike an elephant.

“Indeed,” said Detective Symonds. “But none of those… people… are seen as such by the law, on account of being dead. All I can arrest him for is possession of stolen goods. And the Metropolitan Police won’t let me travel that far for that.”

“That’s criminal!” cried the Conjuror.

“Sadly,” said Detective Symonds, “it’s not.”

“This changes nothing,” said Sir John. “We’ll head up at once.”

Mon chère,” said Marie. “I understand how you feel, but we need to be a bit patient here. This man will be very powerful in his own domain. We won’t have any support there.”

“We have our wits,” said Sir John, “and your skills and Phlebotomous… er …”

He was interrupted by Miss Henderson coming in with a tray of tea.

“I shall start the packing at once,” she said, putting the tray down. She cracked her knuckles and left.

“And Miss Henderson,” said Sir John.

“I don’t think it’s wise to take Fel… Miss Henderson,” said Detective Symonds. “There may be grave danger, unknown risks and the possibility of deadly violence.”

The maid stuck her head round the door.

“Mr Bosch, may I use the knife sharpening device on my katana?” she asked.

“I have no doubt there will be,” said Sir John. “Especially for Viscount Vernal.”

‘I shall take them to my donjon

The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 10

There was a commotion outside the door, but the Clockwork Conjuror was silent. This was partly because he was trying to listen attentively to what was happening, and partly because he’d been gagged and strapped to a chair. Finally, the commotion resolved into some voices followed by a loud slamming sound against the door. An angry looking woman in a maid’s uniform burst in.

“We should probably proceed with a bit more caution,” said Sir John from outside the room before stepping in the room. He was followed by a man the Conjuror recognised from the puppet’s drawing.

“Good God! What happened man?” said Sir John on seeing the Conjuror. 

The Conjuror rolled his eyes and tried to indicate the gag. The maid came over and took it off and began untying him.

“I have the strangest sense of day jar view,” said the maid, “I’m Miss Henderson by the way.”

“Charmed to meet you,” said the Conjuror, “I’m David Bumblewit, Clockwork Conjuror extraordinaire.”

“Oh!” said Phlebotomous “No wonder I couldn’t find you in Debretts, I didn’t realise you used a stage name.”

“What’s happened here?” repeated Sir John.

“I, er, you really didn’t realise Clockwork Conjuror was a stage name?” said the Conjuror.

“No, or that your mechanisms were really just spirits summoned from the nether realms,” said Phlebotomous. “I’m starting to wonder if we can trust anything you say.”

He crossed his arms and tried to look stern. Miss Henderson had a small coughing fit.

“He came for them, for my little guys,” said the Conjuror, deciding to direct his attention to Sir John, who seemed a little saner. “The man in the drawing. They trashed the place.”

Sir John looked around the room surveying the general demeanour. He looked a little puzzled, as if he couldn’t see any difference.

“They?” said Sir John, “The man  had help?”

“He had henchmen,” said the Conjuror.

“Henchmen,” said Miss Henderson. She cracked her knuckles and licked her lips. The Conjuror found it a little disconcerting.

“He held Phlebotomous here captive as well,” said Sir John. “He had some dastardly scheme to extract magic from Phlebotomous and use it himself.”

“Did he succeed?” said the Conjuror, feeling worried now.

“No,” said Phlebotomous. “The wiring of his device was all wrong, it needed much more power than he had, and I’m not even sure what he was going to attempt was possible.”

“So, his machine broke down?” said the Conjuror.

“He didn’t even start it,” said Phlebotomous. “Once I mentioned that your act was phoney, he lost interest and left.”

“Phoney?” said the Conjuror.

“Yes,” said Phlebotomous, “passing off common and garden spirits as machines.”

“You… you told him they were magical?” said the Conjuror.

“Well it was ironic,” said Phlebotomous.

The Conjuror was utterly perplexed.

“What will I do,” he said, “those little guys, if he takes their magic away, they’ll die won’t they?”

“Mr Bumblewit, don’t worry”, said Sir John. “We are experts in such mysteries. We can help.”

The Conjuror looked at the maid, the sulking vampire and the posh gent.

“My poor guys,” he said.

Poor little guys

The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 9

There was a commotion outside the door, but Phlebotomous was silent. This was partly because he was trying to listen attentively to what was happening, and partly because he’d been gagged and strapped to a chair. Finally, the commotion resolved into some voices. They seemed to be trying to whisper and failing badly.

“Are you sure this is it?” said a man.

“Yes,” said a woman with a Scottish accent, “I could find that combination of scents if it was on the moon.”

“We’d better take the advantage of surprise,” said another man, “stand back while I…”

The door burst open, and Miss Henderson and Morag fell into the room.

“..knock the door down,” said Detective Symmonds. “Fel…Miss Henderson, that was very reckless.”

“He’s my friend too,” said the maid. “Look there he is.”

“Wait, it may be dangerous!” called out Sir John.

“It certainly will be for the gent who did this,” said Miss Henderson.

She arrived in front of Phlebotomous.

“Mr Bosch, are you all right?” she said.

“Hr…ngh…hnn…hrr,” said Phlebotomous.

“Oh right,” said Miss Henderson and removed the gag.

“Yes very well,” said Phlebotomous. “But how did you find me?”

“We, er…” started Miss Henderson.

“I could follow your… scent… from the theatre,” said Morag. “It’s quite… unique.”

“Personal hygiene is very important,” said Phlebotomous, “especially when you’re several hundred years old and dead.”

Sir John and Detective Symmonds came over. Sir John started looking at the machine next to Phlebotomous. He stared at it curiously for a while before jumping backwards.

“Good Lord,” he said, “Is this what I think it is?”

“Is that a rhetorical question?,” said Phlebotomous. “People keep asking me questions as if I could read their thoughts.”

“Isn’t that something people like you can do?” said Detective Symonds.

“Inventors?” said Phlebotomous. “Not usually.”

“It’s a machine designed to extract magical power from something,” said Sir John. “Thank heavens we got here in time.”

“It won’t work,” said Phlebotomous,” I did explain it to the man, but he didn’t seem to listen.”

“Was this the chap that abducted you?” said Detective Symonds, holding the picture that Danny the automaton had drawn.

“Yes!” said Phlebotomous. “He said he used to be a member of Draco Viridis. He remembered me from the church.”

“I wondered when we’d cross paths with them again,” said Sir John, “Let’s get you out of here, before he gets back.”.

“Actually, I don’t think he is coming back,” said Phlebotomous. “He seemed to lose interest in me after I mentioned the haunted puppets.”

“The Clockwork Conjurors puppets?” said Sir John.

“Yes, what a disappointment to discover they were just a bunch of spirits,” said Phlebotomous and sighed.

“So, he lost interest in you when he found out that they were magical creatures?” said Sir John.

“Yes,” said Phlebotomous. “He said ‘ironic indeed’ and then left in a hurry.”

Sir John and Detective Symmonds looked at each other.

“We have to check on the Conjuror,” said Sir John.

a machine designed to extract magical power

The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 8

The tall, thin and rather severe looking man leant over Phlebotomous who was strapped into a chair.

“Soon, my vampiric friend, this machine will suck all of the magic out of you and will give it to me, making me powerful beyond belief,” he said. The glint in his eye suggested a manic cackle was imminent.

“You can’t do this,” said Phlebotomous.

“Oh yes I can,” said the man.

“No, you can’t,” said Phlebotomous. “Your main capacitor is overloaded by too many inputs, there is a dampener in the wrong place on the output, and the whole device is chronically short of power.”

Phlebotomous nodded to the large machine that he was connected to.

“How stupid do you think I am?” said the tall man.

“From the state of the wiring, I would guess slightly above average intelligence?” said Phlebotomous earnestly.

“Silence!” roared the man. “I am a genius!”

“Not with wiring,” said Phlebotomous, which earned him a glare.

“It’s ironic, isn’t it?” started the tall man.

“What is?” said Phlebotomous.

“What I’m about to tell you,” said the man irritably.

“Oh, then I don’t know,” said Phlebotomous.

“Don’t know what?” said the man.

“If it’s ironic or not, since I don’t know what it is yet,” said Phlebotomous.

“I know you don’t know, that’s why I’m telling you,” said the man.

“Then why did you ask my opinion on whether it was ironic?” said Phlebotomous.

“It… it was a rhetorical question!” said the man.

“Oh!” said Phlebotomous. “One of those questions you’re not supposed to answer.”

“Exactly,” said the man. “Now, have you quite finished interrupting me?”

There was an awkward pause and Phlebotomous squirmed in his chair.

“Is that rhetorical?” he said.

“Yes! No! I don’t know,” said the man. “Anyway, my point is this: It is ironic that I spent so many months going to so many magic shows to find a magical creature on the stage, when one should be in the audience.”

“That doesn’t sound ironic,” said Phlebotomous. “I can see a distinct causal link.”

“Don’t try my patience,” snapped the man. “You see I recognised you straight away from the church. From the day your friends attacked it.”

“Oh!” said Phlebotomous, “You must be one of those Draco Viridis people.”

“We do not speak of that order,” said the man, lips pursed. “It failed in all its aims and was rightfully disbanded in disgrace.”

“Are you one of those people who wanted me to bite them?” asked Phlebotomous.

“No, I have no desire to be a shadow, working in the dark,” said the tall man. “Forever driven to madness by hunger.”

“Oh things aren’t that bad,” said Phlebotomous. “We have electric lights now and I have developed a delicious plant-based alternative to human blood.”

“Enough of you chatter,” said the man. “We will commence the power transference.”

He walked away with a manic grin on his face.

“It still won’t work,” said Phlebotomous. “And your story isn’t ironic. What is ironic is going to see a show thinking it’s automata pretending to be spirits, and finding it’s spirits pretending to be automata.”

The man paused in front of a giant lever marked ON.

“What did you just say?” he said.

The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 7

Sir John looked stunned.

“I don’t believe it,” he said.

“Let me understand,” said Marie. “You are a semi-competent stage magician with a ventriloquist show pretending to be automata which are actually puppets possessed by the souls of a New York construction crew.”

“Yes,” said the Conjuror. “I may be a third rate ventriloquist but it turns out I’m a half decent magician. Somewhat ironically.”

“No, that I believe,” said Sir John. “I don’t believe we’re back to square one.”

“Did you conjure more?” said Marie.

“No!” said the Conjuror, taken aback. “Once was enough. It quite put the wind up me, to be honest. And when I found who the little fellas were, well I felt like I had to help them out.”

“Hey, don’t be so hard on yourself,” said the head puppet. “We love it here, even with the weather.”

There was a general murmur of consent.

“We’d never be in show-business back home,” said another puppet.

“So when you said you haven’t seen Phlebotomous, that was true?” said Sir John.

“Cross my heart and hope to diet,” said the Conjuror.

“Shouldn’t that be “die”?” said Marie.

“After all this business I have no fear of death,” said the Conjuror, “but salad makes me nervous.”

“Then this is a red herring,” said Sir John. “We may as well leave.”

“Hold your horses,” said the lead puppet. “Maybe it is a dead end and maybe not. See, he might be focussed on the phoney hocus pocus, but we get to look out at the audience.”

“Yeah,” said another, “tell us what your friend looked like and maybe we figure out if he came.”

“Short, pale, probably nervous,” said Sir John. “Very, very pale.”

There was a general non-commital murmur.

“We seen a few of these, boss,” said the lead puppet. “This is a theatre after all.”

“He’s a vampire,” said Marie.

“Ah!” said the ensemble.

“Oh yeah, we saw one of them a few days ago. Sat in a bunch of empty seats for the first half, and then sat next to someone in the second half.”

“Sat… next to someone?” said Sir John. “Could you describe them, the one he sat next to?”

“I can do better than that,” said the lead puppet. “Danny, get over here, do your thing.”

One of the puppets shuffled to the front. 

“I’ve got a perfect memory and can draw too,” he said. “You just watch.”

The puppet grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil. There was a flurry of wooden arms and then a picture was produced of a tall, thin and rather severe looking man.

“Could you sketch Phlebotomous,” said Marie. “Just to…”

“Make sure I got this guy right?” said the puppet. “Yeah, sure no problem at all.”

There was another flurry and a picture emerged of a nervous man with a hesitant toothy smile. His hands were clasped together.

“That’s Phlebotomous,” said Sir John. “Which means…”

“This is our man,” said Marie, holding the first portrait.

Tall, thin and rather severe looking gent…

The Clockwork Conjuror: Chapter 6

The backstage room was small, gloomy and had an odour that somehow suggested damp, mould and tears. The Clockwork Conjuror sat in front of a mirror, whistling a melody that had no apparent key and scraping face paint off by the trowel-load. There was a knock at the door.

“Come in,” he said cheerily.

The door opened and Sir John and Marie walked in. 

“Oh hello,” said the Conjuror, looking a little surprised. “You made it to the show then?”

“Mr… Conjuror,” said Sir John, “you haven’t been entirely honest with us, have you?”

The Conjuror dropped his head a little.

“Well I may have exaggerated ticket sales a little,” he said.

“No,” said Sir John, “I mean about your… troupe.”

He gestured at the puppets and noticed that all their heads were turned to stare at Marie. He couldn’t remember if they had been like that when he came in.

“I’m not sure I follow you,” said the Conjuror, nervously.

“Boss,” said one of the puppets,” I think the jig is up. That dame there, she has some hocus-pocus stuff.”

“She is a witch!” said Sir John, proudly.

“She seems perfectly nice to me,” said the Conjuror, taken aback. “Nice to meet you, by the way!”

Enchante,” said Marie. “Maybe you explain about this jig.”

The Conjuror sighed and began his tale.

“Well, truth be told, as well as being a mediocre magician, unfunny comedian and tuneless troubadour, seems I’m not a very successful puppeteer either. Of course, I figure this out after I’ve spent all my savings on a fine set of puppets. So, desperate and at rock bottom, I do something rash.”

Sir John looked around and tried to imagine what rock bottom would look like for the Conjuror.

“Go on,” said Marie, not unkindly.

“You know that magicians are supposed to summon spirits. Well of course, that’s just a story to sell the magic. Or so I thought. I wondered if there was some truth in the tale. So I went looking and I found it: A grimmer.”

“Grimoire?” said Sir John.

“Exactly,” said the conjuror. “So I arrange all these puppets in a circle, and I follow the instructions, and, lo and behold, they speak, they are alive.”

Sir John inhaled sharply.

“So these are… puppets possessed by… spirits?” he said.

“Not exactly,” said the puppet that had spoken before. “See, the same time the boss is doing his thing, we’re all sitting on a girder, high in the sky, eating lunch.”

“In… heaven?” said Sir John.

“Park Row Building, New York. We’re a construction crew, see? Well we were. Turns out that girder wasn’t attached so well. We all fell down. I can still recall it, seeing the ground rushing toward me, my life passing in front of me and then… BAM. We wake up in Birmingham, England.”

“Good God!” said Sir John.

“It makes sense mon cher,” said Marie. “It’s like you say about electricity, it takes the lazy path. Magic is the same. Why bother fetching spirits from the otherworld when you have 23 souls already here.”

“So here we are,” said the puppet. “We may be small puppets that are dead inside, but hey, we’re in showbusiness!”

“Ta-da!’ said the puppets at once.

Lunch atop a Skyscraper