Incarnate

Elodie Capshaw is to supernatural phenomena what Sherlock Holmes is to murder mysteries. When Londoners hear things go bump in the night, they seek Elodie’s skills determine the causes and discover the cures for these vexing otherwordly visitations. What her clients don’t know is that Elodie is herself one of the otherworldly creatures they fear: a ghost, albeit one with the rare ability to assume solid form. Though she’s been dead for more than half a century, Elodie has no intention of slipping peacefully into that sweet goodnight; she’s too busy living death to its fullest.

But the powers of the shadow world run deeper and more dangerous than even Elodie, one of its own, realizes. When a client asks her to find out whether he has contracted lycanthropy, Elodie discovers not only the pack of murderous werewolves who are terrorizing London’s living residents, but also a darker plot that threatens the very existence of all the living dead, herself included. To save her client and herself, she must enlist the aid of two unlikely allies: a sinfully handsome angel and an angelically gorgeous werewolf, both of whom want Elodie, body and soul. For eternity.


Note: The following excerpt is unedited.

Chapter One
May 26, 1903

Dear Lady Beckwith,

It is with no small regret that I must inform you of my findings in your case. Alas, the strange noises you have been hearing in your home are not signals from the spirit of your dear departed husband, but the unfortunate rumblings of a boiler in desperate need of servicing. It is my recommendation that you dock your butler’s wages, as it is clear he has not attended to household maintenance in an exigent or responsible manner.

Despite the outcome of this investigation, I hope you will think of me again should you encounter other phenomena of a supernatural nature in the future.

Sincerely,
Elodie Capshaw
Investigative Spiritualist

With a sigh of resignation, Elodie folded the carefully typed letter and slipped it into the envelope addressed to Lady Beckwith. The elderly widow was sure to be displeased with the report, but Elodie could not bring herself to falsify the facts to comfort the lonely woman, especially when such falsification might lead to the old lady and her house being blown to bits by an equally aged boiler. She was equally disinclined to inform the grieving countess that her husband’s ghost had taken up residence not in their fashionable Kensington townhome, but rather in his favorite bordello near Piccadilly, where he had spent nearly as much more time in life as in death.

After setting the envelope in the outgoing post tray, she lifted the carbon copy of the letter from the desk and turned to file it in the cabinet behind her. The top drawer creaked loudly on its steel rollers as she opened it, so the sound of a throat being cleared behind her made her jump.

“Excuse me,” a polite male voice said as she spun around, “but are you Miss Capshaw?”

Elodie lowered her spectacles to peer at her visitor. A gentleman wearing pin-striped trousers and a polka-dotted necktie stood near the doorway, nervously fingering the brim of his hat. His wavy brown hair was too long and stood slightly on end, giving him a wild look at odds with his otherwise pressed and tailored appearance.

“Of course I am Miss Capshaw. Who else would I be?”

The gentleman coughed. “Well, you look rather more like a secretary than an Investigative Spiritualist.”
“You were expecting something more…colorful?” Elodie asked.

She deliberately eschewed the gaudy, gypsy-inspired costumes of the other women who plied her trade not merely because she thought them garish and unflattering, but because she did not wish to associate herself or her services in any way with those of the charlatans who merely pretended to commune with the dearly departed. No, Elodie was cut from different cloth entirely, and she chose to dress accordingly. Her ruffled white blouses and plain black skirts might be unexpected, but they clearly advertised to her clients the gravity and diligence with which she would approach their cases.

Her visitor’s cheeks grew ruddy with obvious embarrassment “Er, well, yes, as a matter of fact, I was. I’m afraid I just assumed…that is, I’ve never—“

Elodie smiled gently. Most of her clients had little to no experience with spiritualists before they came to see her, and what little they did know was influenced by the mania for seances and the like. “That’s quite all right. I completely understand.” She gestured toward the chair on the opposite side of the desk. “Please, have a seat, Mr.—“

“Langley. Sir Francis Langley,” he supplied as he slid into the seat, resting his hat on his lap.

“Very well, then, Sir Francis,” she said, setting her spectacles on the desk as she settled into her own chair, “why don’t you tell me what brings you to seek my services today?”

He glanced furtively from one side of the small office space to the other before loosening his necktie. She thought he meant to make himself more comfortable, the better to divulge his concerns. Many of her clients were embarrassed to admit they had any belief whatever in the supernatural—aside, of course, from the realms of spiritual belief prescribed by the church—let alone that they were actually experiencing visitations from the dead.

When he began to unbutton his shirt, however, Elodie experienced a trickle of alarm. What, exactly, did he think an Investigative Spiritualist was? Surely he didn’t expect her to investigate what was beneath his clothing.

“Here.” He stopped at the third button and pulled the shirt collar away from his neck.

Elodie gasped. Three deep gashes ran from just to the right of his Adam’s apple all the way down to his upper chest, slashing through the copious whorls of dark hair growing there. The wounds had begun to heal, but they still appeared swollen and tender to the touch. And certainly like nothing any ghost could have done.

“What happened to you?” she asked, unable to keep the wonder and horror from her voice.

Langley shook his head. “That’s just it. I’m not sure.”

“How could you not know?” If she had ever sustained such terrible injuries, she was certain she would remember the circumstances.

He twirled the hat in his lap, looking uncomfortable again. “I’d been out at my gentleman’s club in Tottenham Court Road that night. I’m afraid I had a bit more to drink than my usual.”

Elodie emitted a delicate cough of skepticism. Not only did she doubt that any self-respecting gentleman’s club would be located in the middle of the Rookery, one of London’s most notorious slums, but it seemed rather unlikely that Sir Francis had merely over-imbibed. On the other hand, he would probably prefer not to confess to having visited either a brothel or an opium den, and it was possible that neither fact was relevant to the case.

“Beg pardon,” she said, covering her mouth with her hand. “Swallowed the wrong way.”

Sir Francis nodded his acceptance of her apology and continued his tale. “I don’t remember much of what happened after I left except that there was a full moon that night and I heard howling. When I woke, I was lying in an alley, my clothes were ripped open, and I had these.” He indicated the wounds on his chest. “Not to mention the bites on my arms and hands.”

“So you were attacked by a feral dog.” Her brow furrowed. “Which makes me wonder why you’ve come to see me? I should think you’d be wanting the dog catcher, not an investigative spiritualist.”

“And I would go to the dog catcher, Miss Capshaw, I most assuredly would, except…” He leaned forward and tugged at one of the tufts of hair that poked out from his open collar. “You see this?”

Elodie blinked. She could hardly avoid seeing it. “Of course.”

“I didn’t have this before I was attacked. It’s all grown in the four days since then.”

Elodie sat a little straighter. That was definitely odd. And intriguing, if not precisely in her area of expertise.

“And this,” he continued, pointing to the thick, overgrown hair on the top of his head. “I had it cropped short only yesterday. Not to mention my back and…well, other places. And then…” He glanced around the room again to assure himself no one but Elodie was listening.

A fruitless enterprise given that a full half-dozen ghosts inhabited the two interconnected rooms which housed her office and private living space.

But she was not attending her client, who had lowered his voice to a near whisper. “And then, there is my appetite.”

“Appetite? You mean you are eating more than is customary?”

“Yes, that certainly,” he said, clearing his throat. “But it’s almost my appetite for…well…for the flesh, if you understand my meaning, miss. Though, of course, you oughtn’t as an unmarried lady of good reputation.”
Elodie suppressed a chuckle. She knew rather more about everything than an unmarried lady ought. But then, she was hardly a typical lady, unmarried or otherwise.

“My poor lady wife,” Sir Francis added on a sigh. “She knows not what to make of me these past few days, nor do I. To say nothing of my mistress.”

Elodie did her best to appear sympathetic. “I can certainly appreciate the vexation of your dilemma, but I’m still not certain understand why you’ve come to me, Sir Francis. I investigate spiritual and supernatural phenomena, not…well…not excessive hair growth and overactive physical energies.”

“But don’t you see, Miss Capshaw? Surely there’s only one explanation for what’s happening to me.” He lowered his voice again. “Werewolves.”

“Werewolves?” Elodie echoed.

The symptoms he described did sound like classic signs of lycanthropy, of course, but there was one problem with that theory: Werewolves, unlike spirits, were pure fiction. As were vampires and fairies and sea monsters and any number of other fantastical creatures human beings had invented to frighten themselves.
Which meant Sir Francis merely believed he had been attacked by werewolves and that his supposed symptoms must be the product of an overactive imagination to match his overactive libido.

“What else could it be, Miss Capshaw? I must have been attacked that night by werewolves and now, I am becoming one of them. It is only a little more than three weeks until the next full moon, and I must know before then so that I can protect my family.” He leaned across the desk, his expression beseeching, and clasped her hands. “Will you help me? Surely my problem falls into the realm of the supernatural, and your advertisement in the paper says you are an expert in all matters spiritual and supernatural.”

Elodie had to admit he had a point there. If werewolves did exist, they would be a supernatural phenomenon. Not that she was allowing for the possibility that they did.

But perhaps all it would take to alleviate Sir Francis’s symptoms was proof that he could not have been attacked by werewolves and that he was, in fact, perfectly sound of body…if not of mind. And who was better placed to prove that than she? Certainly not any of the false “mediums” with whom she competed for customers. Not a one of those ninnies even believed in the spirits with whom they claimed to converse. They would simply bilk the poor, deluded Sir Francis of the contents of his purse and send him on his way, no better off than before.

Besides, she could ill afford to dismiss a client. It didn’t cost much to sustain herself, but she still required the wherewithal to cover her rent and her weekly visits to the butcher shop.

“Very well, Sir Francis, I will take your case,” she said while carefully extracting her hands from beneath his overly warm ones. “But I must warn you that my findings may not suit your preconceived notion of what has happened to you and, if they do not, you must still compensate me for all services rendered.”

“I assure you, Miss Capshaw, I should like nothing better than to be proved wrong in this.” Langley rose from his seat and set his hat atop his head. The brim sat askew, pushed to one side by the unruly mop beneath it.

Elodie squinted, for his hair seemed to have grown longer and more unkempt in the short time he had been sitting there. Was he drawing her into his delusions?

She shook her head. No, that was quite impossible. If there was one thing Elodie was sure of after twenty-eight years of life and more than a half century of afterlife, it was that she was the stuff of other people’s delusions, not the other way around.

***
No sooner had the door closed behind Sir Francis’s allegedly hairier-than-usual backside than the denizens of 97 Fleet Street began to come out of the woodwork. Literally.

“You are not really going to take that beastly man’s case, are you?” Lady Margaret Allworth demanded as she materialized over the heavy oak desk that dominated the office.

Lady Margaret was exactly what living people meant when they said they had seen a ghost. Her shimmering white phantasm possessed a discernible head, shoulders, and torso but became more indistinct at the hips, fading to oblivion somewhere around the knees. If one concentrated, it was possible to make out some semblance of a face—two darkened areas where eyes should be, a faint pink half-moon for a mouth, and a slight protuberance in place of a nose. That Lady Margaret’s nose should be visible seemed particularly fitting, since she was nothing if not eternally nosy.

Elodie slipped her hand into the pocket concealed in her skirt and rubbed together the three cool, metal coins she had just received from Sir Francis. He was beastly, whether he was about to become a werewolf or not, but that was beside the point.

“Of course, I am taking his case. His money is as good as anyone else’s.”

She walked to her desk and sat down. After drawing out a blank sheet of paper, she inserted it into the typewriter.

“I agree with Lady Margaret,” Polly Costigan announced, her thick Cockney issuing from the vicinity of the top shelf of the matching bookshelf. “I don’t like him a trice.” Her aspect, a tight ball of yellowish light, bounced with disapproval.

“Nonetheless, I have decided to take his case. If nothing else, it is a change of pace.” Elodie put on her spectacles and positioned her fingers over the keyboard.

Lady Margaret floated around and looked over Elodie’s shoulder as she began to type up her initial case notes.

Client: Sir Francis Langley
Complaint: Werewolf attack
Location: Tottenham Court Road, exact address not specified
Observations: Has been attacked by some kind of animal, probably a feral dog. Excessive hair growth and increased “appetite” likely client’s imagination. Tendency to womanize clearly predates reported incident.

“It would serve him right if he did turn into an animal,” Lady Margaret said. If she had possessed an actual nose, she would have punctuated her words with a sniff. “His form will match his character.”

“Not to mention he is lying,” the dull greenish glow of George Burton put in from his favorite spot above the chair on the other side of her desk.

Elodie rolled her eyes. “I didn’t die yesterday, you know. I’m old enough to know a gentleman’s club in the Rookery is a ridiculous notion.”

“It’s more than that. There’s something else he’s not telling you about the attack.” The silvery mist that was Quintus Arrius Verus had gathered in the corner nearest the front door. A Roman soldier, Quintus retained greater mental acuity after more than two thousand years than most ghosts did after that many decades. Elodie suspected this was due to the fact that he had been able to incarnate for roughly thirteen centuries. Unfortunately, that had ended when his grave had been paved over by a medieval building project. The thought always made her queasy. What if the authorities saw fit to pave over Meath Gardens, where her earthly remains lay in quiet repose near a dewberry bush?

She suppressed a shiver of horror at the idea of being permanently disembodied and gave Quintus a quizzical look. “Those claw marks looked real enough to me.”

Quintus’s misty phantasm scattered then recollected in the ghostly equivalent of a shrug. “I can only tell you I sense he’s holding something back. Something important.”

She was contemplating the implications of this observation when George hissed, “Someone’s coming.” At the warning, her friends faded into the woodwork as quickly as they had emerged.

Removing her spectacles and slipping them into her skirt pocket, Elodie rose to her feet and looked eagerly at the front door as two male figures clad in billowing greatcoats climbed the front steps. More than one new client in a single day was unheard of. Three would be unprecedented, although it seemed more likely these two men represented only one case. Even so, this could be the beginning of something wonderful.

Perhaps her understated but effective methods of communing with the dead were finally beginning to gain currency.

When the door opened with the accompanying jangle of the bell, however, her hopes were crushed in an instant and replaced by cold, black dread. She gripped the back of the chair to steady herself.

There was no possibility whatever that the man who entered might be a client in need of her assistance in communicating with the spirit of his dear departed.

Not when he was an angel.