* Author : Tony Pi
* Narrator : Wilson Fowlie
* Host : Jen R. Albert
* Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh
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Previously published in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction.
CW: Grief and mentions of suicide.
Our Chymical Séance
By Tony Pi
To thoroughly inspect the spacious Silverbirch Room before the séance would take more time than we had, but I did what I could. No clockwork cheats lay hidden between the wall of books and the arched windows, and no mystical runes had been etched onto the crystals of the chandelier or cut into the fossil calygreyhound skeleton on display on the mantelpiece. All that remained was the grand salon harmonium, also the most troublesome. Madame Skilling could have hidden a charlatan’s trick anywhere among the instrument’s countless parts, from its mahogany upper casework to the hundreds of pipes at its heart.
Cesar De Bruin rolled the key to the room between his palms as he stood watch, peering through the slightly ajar door. “Anything yet, Tremaine?” he asked. “Too many so-called spirit mediums have preyed upon my family’s grief, but they were charlatans with parlour tricks, all. I would rid myself of this one quickly as well. We haven’t got much time.”
I couldn’t fault my friend’s dander. His only son Poul had shot himself with a palmcannon last summer, a year to the day. Cesar had this lounge closed to the guests at Château Banffshyre ever since. Had his wife not insisted on the séance, he would have been content to leave the Silverbirch Room sealed. “Laroux said he’d stall her, and he will. He’s nothing if not resourceful.”
“Let’s hope. This Skilling woman’s convinced my wife that her ‘chymical’ method will not fail to contact the other side. I know too little of alchemy to prove her and her Ektoptikon device false, and Fay will not see sense. Have you nothing?”
“In all likelihood Madame Skilling hasn’t breached this room, Cesar, judging by the dust.” I gave the lion’s-head handle on my new walking stick a quarter-turn clockwise, revealing a clever compartment in the shaft beneath the collar. Freed from its cherrywood cocoon, the foxfire-in-amber within shone brightly from its silver setting. I ran the illumination along the pedal keys, but they showed no signs of tampering.
Discrediting a medium had not been my intent when I came to visit Sir Cesar De Bruin at Château Banffshyre. My team would always visit his Château before and after a dig in the badlands east of here. What better way to bid adieu to civilized comforts than to indulge in them? Or afterward, to wash away the patina of antediluvian dust in the thermal springs? The grand hotel had much to recommend it, thanks to Cesar’s vision: scenery, hospitality, and luxury unparalleled. The railway baron had built a formidable chain of grand hotels across the Canadas and ensured that tourists would choose his line when they traveled across the continent by train. The Banffshyre was the jewel of his endeavours.
Cesar and I had become friends on my first foray to the fossil valleys of Canada Northwest nearly a decade ago, when rumours of newly unearthed Leolithic skeletons had lured me across the Atlantean Ocean. Though my doctorate was in Aigyptian archaeology, my research into sphinx cults had led me to fossilized specimens of countless leonine hyb...