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A Threat No Longer

A Threat No Longer

Dear readers, your advice has proved indispensable in making a capture of the steam wraith. Mr. Mortlewood’s trapping wisdom reminded me that in a sense, I did know what the wraith fed upon—the fear of the living, particularly the wealthy residents of the Burroughs. To find where it “sleeps,” I followed Miss Eliza’s suggestion and marked the locations of reported attacks on a map bought for a dime in the market. Tylor the Lessor’s suggestion to attempt dowsing is one that I have filed away for later use. I generally do not truck with the supernatural if I can avoid it, but recent events have forced me out of my zone of comfort in that regard.

The map revealed that the wraith was striking within a six block radius, along common evening stroll routes. The newspaper clippings indicated that the attacks generally occurred just after sunset. Armed with this information, I wrote a letter to my friend and assistant Miss Watkins, home recently from her grand tour. I knew immediately that I would require her assistance in the matter.

I detailed to her my plan upon her hasty arrival at my boarding house. Mrs. Dowd frowned upon me having visitors of the fairer sex within my rooms and laboratory, so today, we met in the sitting room and schemed over the map. With our quarry located, we only needed to bait the trap. I would have asked no one to participate in my scheme, but Miss Watkins has proved herself valuable time and time again in my work. I trust her with my life, and I would wager that she trusts me with hers.

“I’m not certain I have anything that would pass for high society garb,” I admitted, pointing out the flaw in my plan.

“I have just the outfit for you,” Miss Watkins said with a grin. “My late father’s old dress wear should fit you well.”

I cleared my throat nervously and moved on to describing other aspects of my plan. Here and there, Miss Watkins made suggestions to streamline things, such as suggesting a route that could possibly allow us to encounter the wraith more quickly.

With the details hammered out, we parted ways. Miss Watkins promised to have her father’s suit sent over, and it arrived soon after she departed. I found that it did indeed fit me as if I had ordered it tailored to my own frame. A thought—but I will save that uncomfortable notion for later.

Miss Watkins and I met for an early dinner at a small café near the Burroughs. I would have liked to have dined somewhere more fanciful, but funds were short, as they always are for a scientist and man in my position.

We passed the hour with idle conversation until we could put off our mission no longer. I paid the bill and folded my photonic capturer away and tucked it within my jacket. It caused a ridiculous bulge, and I hoped that the steam wraith was not a perceptive spirit.

We followed our carefully prepared route. Nervous, I kept my eyes on the shadows and my ears open for the sound of escaping steam.

Within three blocks, the steam wraith was upon us, streaming out of the sewer grate and forming into a looming figure. Miss Watkins let out a scream and fell back into my arms in a dead faint. I lowered her to the ground carefully and began to back away. The wraith drifted forward towards her, and with its attention diverted, I withdrew my photonic capturer and assembled the lens.

“Do it now!” Miss Watkins cried out, and I threw open the shutter. The steam wraith turned its blank glow of a face towards me and brightened. It did not vanish.

“Oh dear,” I said faintly. “I believe I have forgotten to load the proper plate.” I had it in my pocket, and had planned to load it at the restaurant, but in my haste, I had forgotten! I could reload, but it would take me two minutes under no stress at all.

“Run!” I shouted. Miss Watkins gave up her ruse and following me at in a gallop down the streets. Sensing my true fear, the wraith gave chase.

I ran, as I always do in such situations, for home. One of my valuable talents is that no matter how lost I am, no matter how influenced by spirits of the liquid sort, I have always found my way home, wherever I considered home at the moment. Mrs. Dowd’s boarding house seemed as safe a destination as any.

As we ran, I fumbled with the plate door on my device. I removed the exposed plate, ruining it by exposing it to the moonlight, and threw it over my shoulder hoping that it might temporarily attract the attention of the wraith.

To my luck, it did hesitate, and this act on its part allowed us to increase the distance between until we could no longer see the spirit. I darted in and out of alleyways, trusting my instinct to guide me to my destination. I slowed to a walk to catch my breath and wait for my heart to beat at a rate slower than the wings of a pollen gatherer.

I finished loading the plate, not that I thought it would do any good now that we had run from the spirit. I wondered if it would fall for the same trap twice, if it still retained enough of its human intelligence to understand what we had attempted. The wraith did not give me an opportunity to find out.

It stood before Mrs. Dowd’s home, drawing moisture from the air all around it and growing in size. Steam tendrils wrapped in on themselves until the wraith had taken a corporeal form. I stood dumbstruck by the sight—until Miss Watkins walloped me on my back and cursed at me in a decidedly unladylike manner.

I brought up my capturer and opened the shutter once more. When I closed it, the wraith was gone.

* * *

I sent word to Cass the next day that the plate had worked. A letter arrived back via urchin in messy but readable handwriting.

The boys and I congratulate you in surviving, doctor! Unfortunately, I have some bad news.

Dorfan sends instruction that the photonic capture must be viewed regularly to ensure that the wraith has not moved. If it does, then its bonds have grown weak and it could escape from the plate. Another binding would be difficult, so do not let it escape once again.

Keep the picture as a reminder that you should check your curiosity in the future, Dr. Roundbottom.

Yours below,

Dear readers—by now you must know that I do not have the most reliable memory in such matters. Time will pass and I will forget to inspect the image, and it will become lost among my many capture prints. So I provide you with this image and ask that you check it regularly on my behalf for signs that it has begun to move. If it does, notify me by post immediately, and run, run as fast as your legs will carry you. A twice-bound wraith will not content itself to merely frighten its victims.

Dr. Julius T. Roundbottom

Sincerely, Julius T. Roundbottom

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