A FOLD IN REALITY
It is an experience that frequently returns to me, even after everything else that happened. That carriage, the hellish web of what Carnacki later informed me was ectoplasm, a by-product of spiritual interference, of the invasion from one reality to another. To a rational man, a man who had always held strong to his beliefs in a solid world, a world that had no place for the table rappers and carnival palm readers, it was an assault on the mind as well as the body.
The young woman, panic stripping her of all common sense, had made a break for the door, believing that Carnacki meant to abandon rather than help us.
“Carnacki, man!” I had shouted. “Do something!” But it was clear that he felt intervention beyond him as he vanished from the carriage.
As the glutinous strands of ectoplasm reached for her, I made the decision that, whether or not I understood what was happening, I could no longer be a bystander to it. The woman would not come to harm if I could help it. I have never been a man that can stand by when others are in danger. Had that not been the case I probably would have avoided the bullet wound that pensioned me off from the army in the first place,
“Hold on!” I shouted to her. “Help is coming!”
I doubt such na"ive offerings consoled her much but, grabbing a meat fork from the waiter’s serving trolley, I leaped upon the woman’s table and thrust its thick, steel tines into the ectoplasm. It was like attacking a jellyfish with a stick, counterproductive and likely to end in the aggressor being stung.
The ectoplasm formed a new strand which wrapped itself around my waist. For all its apparent lack of substance, when it constricted, my breath was forced from my body and I imagined my ribs might break were it to squeeze any tighter. I tore at the thing with the meat fork but the jelly simply reformed as quickly as I could tear a furrow in it. I felt hands grip my ankles as a fellow passenger sought to yank me free.
“Never mind me!” I shouted. “Grab the lady!”
People were already trying, but as much as they pulled at us, they too were grasped by the slick tentacles. In a matter of moments the whole carriage was a screaming mess of juddering ectoplasm and passengers desperate for their lives.
Those that had originally been captured in the web began to shake violently. Carnacki had said the thing was feeding, had the exertion demanded it drain even more energy from its prey? If so could they survive the experience or would they follow the same, presumed fate of the poor man we had watched flung aside a few moments ago?
It would seem there was little I could hope to do about it, in fact, as the tentacle’s grip tightened, my vision began to blur and I realised I was close to passing out.
Then, with no warning, the ectoplasm vanished, and we all found ourselves back in our seats.
“Dear Lord,” I whispered, looking at Silence, “did that even happen or was I...?”
He held a hand to his temple, face crumpled in pain. “It happened,” he said, “I can still taste the after-effects in the air.”
There was a resounding crack and Carnacki, bare-chested, appeared outside our window, clearly hanging on for dear life.
I pulled down the window and Silence and I grabbed the young man by the shoulders and pulled him inside.
“How on earth did you end up out there?” I asked.
“Battling the infernal, as per usual,” he replied, lifting my wine glass and draining it of its contents.
“I say, sir!” cried the young lady whom I had risked the continued solidity of my ribs to rescue. She showed no sign of distress from her encounter, in fact the only emotion clearly on display was one of indignation. “Do you really think that is suitable attire in a mixed dining carriage?” she asked.
I looked to my colleagues in some confusion. “I’m sorry?”
She flicked her fingers towards Carnacki’s bare chest. “I can assure you ‘gentlemen’,” and the sarcastic stress she placed on that word was only too clear, “he is as scantily dressed as my salad and twice as unwelcome while I’m eating. Please retire to your carriage and avail yourself of a shirt at the very least.”
“Madam,” I replied, “do you not think there are more important things to concern ourselves with than the sight of some pectoral muscles?”
“And fine pectoral muscles they are too,” muttered Carnacki.
“They are as tanned and tattooed as a maritime thug, sir,” she replied, “and it sickens me to look upon them. I fail to see what can be more important to a gentleman, if indeed there are any in attendance, than the feelings of a lady. Kindly retire.”
There was a scream from the far end of the carriage and our attention was drawn to the elderly lady who was still in my debt to the tune of one rail fare to Inverness.
“He’s dead!” she cried, pointing at the middle-aged clerk sat across from her. “And I was only just talking to him!”
“Well, of course...” I began to say before Silence gripped my arm and pulled me back.
“They don’t remember,” he said, “none of them have the slightest idea what just happened.”
“But how can that be?” I asked as Silence made his way to the other end of the carriage to console the elderly lady and check on the state of her dinner companion.
“It’s more common than you would credit,” said Carnacki, “I’ve seen entire households ignore the most grotesque supernatural incursions simply because their rational minds cannot accept it. Either that or reality itself has been folded back as a direct result of the beast’s departure.”
He pulled his watch from his trouser pocket and checked the dial. “Could that be it?” he asked himself. “The entire event expunged from our personal timelines?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about,” I told him. “If they have forgotten then how come we remember? It makes not a jot of sense.”
Carnacki smiled. “Welcome to my working life, Doctor. It puts missing diamonds and homicidal dowagers in their place somewhat, doesn’t it?”
Silence returned. “Dead from heart failure,” he said quietly, “with no external signs of anything untoward.”
“Nothing to corroborate what just happened?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he replied. “I must talk to the conductor.”
“Good evening, gentlemen,” came a voice along the gangway. “I hope I haven’t missed service?” I looked up to see Holmes striding towards us. He stopped in his tracks, the shock in our faces – not to mention Carnacki’s state of undress – giving him pause. “Ah,” he said momentarily. “I see that perhaps I have.”