Welcome to the first installment of my new serial, The Power of Steam Compels you. Please click here if you'd like a quick introduction to this story.
Energy buzzed through the air as if taunting Rachel to stay down and keep her eyes closed. She wasn't quite sure what sort of predicament she was in, but knew Bart and the children were somewhere close. The truth of it all, that memory of the last few minutes, teetered on the edge of her mind, but wouldn't yet move forward into her consciousness. Finally, she forced her eyelids open to make sure her family was okay.
The room looked to be the epicenter of a dynamite blast. She lay against the wall, thrown back from the now-obliterated table in the middle of the tea parlor. Bart lay across the room from her in a similar state, as did Abel and Molly, their almost-adult children, on the other walls. No one looked hurt, merely stunned. After a quick internal evaluation, Rachel realized she, too, was fine.
Whatever had done this wasn't dynamite. She'd heard too many horrific stories of accidents with TNT from the miners that frequented their store, Fergusons' General Goods Mercantile. If it had been that, there would be char marks all around, if not an actual fire with all of the combustible material in the room. Not to mention she and her family would be much worse off. No, this had been something else.
A moan came from the hallway. That had to be Madam Halifax, the medium they hired to perform the séance. Yes. It all came flooding back: the strange bumps in the night, the eerie, inhuman noises, things moving on their own, and many more strange occurrences these past few weeks. When she mentioned these to a few of her friends (as a jest, of course, so they wouldn't find her peculiar), they became excited at the prospect of a spirit and recommended a medium they knew of in Phoenix. The ladies felt it would be such a fun adventure, and they couldn't wait for Rachel to regale them with the stories the séance brought. Rachel kept her own voice light and airy as she talked with her friends, but, inside, her heart grew cold at the prospect of needing a medium at all. Later that day, when she discussed it with first Bart, and then Abel and Molly, it was decided, and she penned a request for the medium, this Madam Halifax, to pay them a visit. The medium got back to her post-haste, saying she'd be there on the next zephyr drift into Prosperity.
Madam Halifax couldn't have arrived soon enough. The family servants -- their human ones, at least, as the machines didn't seem to care a lick about the happenings -- began voicing their concerns, where they had up to then been mum. No one in the household, from family to the servants, wanted to admit to being superstitious in the least, but much relief shone through with the promise of professional help.
Now Madam Halifax was here less than an hour, and this occurred. Rachel couldn't be sure -- she might have sustained a conk to the head, after all -- but her memory told her they'd only just begun the séance when the energy blasted them to the edges of the room, and, in the case of Madam Halifax, out the door into the hallway. Rachel knew their circle had been opened to invite spirits in, but no questions had been queried.
"Is everyone okay?" Bart asked, the first to push himself to his feet.
Abel and Molly stood and answered affirmatively. Bart turned to her and raised his eyebrows, which was his way of making sure she responded.
"I'm fine," she said, and likewise rose. She took a step towards the door to check on Madam Halifax, but before she got there, the medium stepped into the room, a thin trickle of blood from her nose, and on both sides of her head from her ears.
Molly let out a gasp. "You're hurt."
Bart handed the medium his handkerchief and motioned to her nose and ears. Madam Halifax murmured her thanks and dabbed at the blood. Rachel didn't know if it was a guess or some sort of premonition from the strange scene, but she didn't think the injuries had been caused by the tumble through the door.
"What happened?" Bart asked.
Madam Halifax didn't answer. Instead, she went into some sort of trance and muttered what seemed to be a chant, the words such that Rachel couldn't make them out. They certainly weren't in any language she understood. Neither Rachel nor her family interrupted, too stunned to say anything.
After an agonizingly long two or three minutes, the medium opened her eyes. "I will contact the Spirit Wranglers at once. I have no doubt they can be here in the next day or two. Until then, you should be safe. I've cast an incantation on your house that will hold until they get here."
Bart was the first to find his tongue. "What do you mean safe? How? And who are the Spirit Wranglers?"
She waved his questions away and walked towards the front door. Over her shoulder, she called, "You trusted me enough to bring me here, so continue in that trust. The Spirit Wranglers are better equipped to handle this situation. My presence will only cause further trouble."
With that, she was gone. Rachel and her family stared at each other, all with slack-jawed confusion written on their faces.