Actions

Work Header

A Date With The Dead

Work Text:

Our story begins along the banks of the Seine, where lovers are encouraged to walk on starry nights in Paris, though M. François N. is neither young nor a lover when this story begins. He is also only a small part of this story. He has been following the banks of the river home from his visit to Mme. Justine, a spiritualist of some acclaim, and was lost in thought when the meteorite streaked by overhead and landed not 300 meters from where he was standing.

On the other side of the city at the apartment she shared with her sister, Agathe Blanc-Sec was just turning away from the window when the streaking light of the meteorite flew past. She was waiting for her young man, Andrej Zborowski, a scientist at the Paris Botanical Gardens, to come collect her for dinner and a show at the Moulin Rouge. Agathe was very happy so far with Andrej's infatuation with her, though she was soon to discover that his attentions did not have the effect on her sister, Adèle, that Agathe wished.

In the meantime, she opened her door to a knock with a flourish. "Andrej!"

The man on the stoop was not Andrej. Agethe frowned. The stranger was quite small, his skin not only sun-browned but pulled taut over his bones. He was dressed in a neat suit and bowler hat but he looked like an Egyptian mummy playing dress-up as a Parisian gentleman. "I beg your pardon, madam," the man said. "I was hoping to call on Adèle Blanc-Sec."

"I'm her sister," Agethe said. "She's not in."

"Of course I recognize you, mam'selle," the stranger said, bowing. "Though you may not remember me. I am Patmosis."

Agethe blinked a few times. "Oh, yes, of course," she said, reaching up to her forehead where a tiny, unremarkable scar still lingered from the time she'd spent with a hairpin remarkably lodged in her skull, to no lasting harm. "You helped Adèle get me to the doctor who cured me."

Patmosis shook his head and raised one reedlike finger. "It was nothing. I merely assisted with matters of propriety. May I come in?"

"You'll forgive me," Agethe said. "But Adèle is on holiday and I am not expecting her back for another week, and I had plans for dinner." She brushed her hand over her hair and smiled beseechingly. "I am expecting the gentleman any moment."

"Ah, of course," Patmosis said, bowing again. "Please forgive me, I'll leave you. But do tell your sister, if you see her soon, that if my calculations are correct we are about to be visited by a spaceship."

Agathe blinked a few times. "A spaceship?"

"Yes, yes. We got them all the time in Egypt. Noisy things, filled with tourists." Patmosis raised his hand, tipped his hat, and left.

Agathe watched him leave for a moment, then shrugged and shut the door.

In the meantime, M. François N. had finished the first half of his journey only to realize that he had left his gloves in the parlor of Mme. Justine, and was now cursing to himself and in the midst of deciding if he should turn 'round to claim them, or continue to his lodgings. On the one hand, his hands were cold. On the other hand, it would take just as much time to return to Mme. Justine's as it would to go home. Back to the first hand, they were expensive gloves, and he did not want them lost. Onto the second hand, they were as safe in Mme. Justine's parlor as they were anywhere. Back and forth he went, turning himself in a circle, until he looked up and saw he was face to face with a strange apparition.

The apparition puffed up until it was twice as large as it had started, and then screamed.

M. François N. screamed as well, and then fainted.

Agathe threw open the door at the sound of the knock. "Andrej!"

Her sister scowled at her. "Andrej?"

Agathe stared. "Yes," she said. "With a J, as in Japanese Garden. You're home early."

"I am," Adèle said. She lifted a sodden valise and made her way into their pied-a-tierre, dripping daintily onto the floor. "Don't ask. I remember Andrej. Smart boy. He almost saved the pterodactyl."

"He's taking me to dinner," Agathe said, flexing her fingers in her gloves. "And that reminds me, Patmosis came to see you earlier."

Adèle stared at her with a puzzled expression, marred only slightly by her dripping hat. "Patmosis?"

"You recall, the mummy?"

"I know Patmosis the mummy. He came to see you?"

"He came to see you," Agathe corrected her. Adèle shrugged off her sodden coat and took off her hat, setting it on a 14th-century bronze statue of Kali. "He said we were to be visited by a spaceship."

"Huh," Adèle said. "Well, I'll be here for a while if he comes by again. I need to take a bath and catch up on my post."

There was another knock on the door. Agathe grinned and swept it open. "Andrej!"

The woman on the doorstep scowled at her. "Are you Adèle Blanc-Sec?"

Now annoyed enough to pout, Agathe snipped, "Can't you tell I'm the pretty sister?"

"Which is no use when she wants the smart one," Adèle sniped back, elbowing Agathe out of the way. "What do you want?"

The woman was short, with salt-and-pepper hair and deep brown eyes, and as soon as Adele stepped into the doorway she gathered up her formless gray shawl and curtseyed. "I am Mme. Justine, Spiritualist Extraordinaire," she introduced herself. "And I come with a message."

Adèle smiled politely. "Yes?"

Mme. Justine stared at her, then curtseyed even deeper, making her voice go quavery. "A message from BEYOND THE VEIL."

Adèle's smile remained polite, though it got slightly more fixed. "And that is?"

Mme. Justine cleared her throat, wobbled on her feet, took a deep bow and intoned, "A message from ONE WHO HAS GONE BEFORE US."

"Listen," Adèle said shortly. "Do you want to give me the message, or shall I find a ouija board and ask myself?"

Mme. Justine turned her face to squint up at Adèle. "The message was to find a ouija board, the professor has something he wants to tell you," she said.

"Ah." Adèle's fixed smile was back on her face. "Thank you very much."

"You're welcome. I work for tips!" Mme. Justine said as Adèle shut the door in her face.

"Let's see," Adèle said, looking around their apartment. "Where did I put that."

"I thought those spiritualist things were all fakes," Agathe complained as Adèle opened up a cupboard and moved aside three medium-sized Dao swords and a set of bagpipes. "And isn't that a parlour game, anyway?"

"A parlour game can serve as a conduit for the spirit as well as anything," Adèle said, pulling a gaudy cardboard box out from the back of the closet. "And I would never argue with the dead."

"Yes you would," Agathe corrected her.

"Only if they were wrong," Adèle said. She sat down on their carpet, flipped open the box, and put her hands on the planchette. "Now. What do you have to say for yourself, hm?"

The planchette shivered, then shifted until it was over the letter M. "M-I-R-O-I-R," Agathe spelled as it moved.

Adèle looked around until she spotted a hand mirror sitting on her desk. She stood to pick it up, then sat back down. "All right, I have your mirror," she said. "Now what?"

The planchette moved again, and Agathe narrowed her eyes as it spelled out C-O-N-C-E-N-T-R-E-Z

"I am focusing, you ridiculous--" Adèle said, and then gasped as her head rolled back and her eyes went wide open.

"Adèle?" Agathe knelt next to her sister, and gently tried poking her in the shoulder. When that produced no response, she tapped her sister gently, then not so gently, on the cheek with the flat of her hand. "Adèle!"

"Adèle?" came a voice from the mirror.

Agathe snatched up the mirror and scowled into it. On the other side of the mirror was not her normally compassionate face, but a strange man, bald as an egg with a hooked nose, squinting into the light. "Adèle?" he asked again.

"Now, see here," Agathe said. "I am clearly not Adèle Blanc-Sec. I am obviously her much better looking sister. And as is also obvious, you have done something to my sister and I will not stand for it!"

"Ah, Agathe!" the man said, looking delighted. "So it worked! Patmosis was able to cure you!"

"No, the doctor of Rameses II was able to cure me," Agathe corrected him. "Patmosis is a nuclear physicist. Who are you?"

"Forgive me, young lady," the man said, and bowed. "I am Professor Espérandieu. I was trying to reach your sister. May I speak with her?"

"Oh, everyone wants to speak with Adèle, Adèle, Adèle!" Agathe snapped. "Patmosis wants to speak to Adèle, Mme. Justine wants to speak to Adèle, you want to speak to Adèle! Well, Adèle isn't available, she's looking quite ill, and you'll have to speak to me!"

Professor Espérandieu looked striken at that. "Oh, my dear, I am so sorry." Agathe started to feel mollified, until he continued, "I'm so sorry to hear Adèle is ill, what's wrong with her?"

"Agh!" Agathe said, and spun the mirror around to show the face to her sister's still form.

"Oh my," Professor Espérandieu said.

"Yes," Agathe said.

"She's holding open the channel," the professor said. "I had intended for Mme. Justine to do that."

"Well, Mme. Justine works for tips," Agathe said. "And Adèle didn't have clear instructions. What did you need to talk to her for?"

"There's a delicate matter at hand," said Espérandieu, sounding sullen. "And it involves the end of the world."

Agathe stared into the mirror. "Oh, the end of the world. Is that all?"

"Some force is coming from outer space. I have felt its tremors on this plane. It may cause enough upset to raise the dead and turn them against the living."

Agathe wrinkled her nose. "How disgusting."

"So you understand why I need your sister's help."

There was a knock at the door. Agathe looked down at the mirror in her hand, over at her wide-eyed and still-dripping sister, and then back at the door.

Andrej was standing on the doorstep with flowers. "Agathe!" he said, grinning, then looked past her. "What... what's going on here?"

"I'm afraid I'll have to cancel for dinner, Andrej," Agathe said mournfully. "There's a spaceship landing in Paris sometime tonight which might accidentally wake the dead and cause the end of the world."

"I... er... ah..." Andrej said. "What?"

"Do you know the ancient Egyptian Patmosis?"

"Pat... whatsis?"

"Patmosis," Agathe repeated. "He's a mummy. He wears a suit and a bowler hat."

"Sorry, I..."

"Never mind!" Agathe said cheerily. "He was here earlier, I'm sure we can find him again." She picked up her umbrella and the mirror holding Professor Espérandieu, linked her arm in Andrej's, and smiled at him. "Shall we go look?"

Andrej craned his neck to look past her at Adèle. "Shouldn't we check on your sister?"

"She'll be fine," Agathe said, and closed the door.

Not two kilometers away, M. François N. was being interrogated by the police. "It was tall," he said, "And it was wearing a top hat, and it had long arms, and its skin was pale, and it screamed at me!"

Andrej and Agathe set out into the night trying to find a mummy. As difficult as it is to find a mummy in the proper mileu, and as difficult as it is to find a mummy when they are dressed like a mummy, it is even harder to find a mummy in Paris dressed as a Parisian. It was almost unsurprising when instead they came across something that looked like a large silver saucière perched in the middle of the courtyard of the Louvre.

Andrej stared at it, wide-eyed and impressed. "It's beautiful!"

"It doesn't complement the space," Agathe said.

"Does that matter?"

"It always matters," Agathe said primly.

Andrej started forward to what would be the spout of the sauce boat. Agathe followed him nervously. "Is this what you were talking about?" she asked Espérandieu.

"I cannot be certain," the professor said. "Perhaps if we went inside?"

"I would not recommend that," a familiar voice said from across the courtyard. Agathe turned to see Patmosis shuffling towards them.

Andrej turned around to greet the newcomer, then got a good look at his face and jerked backwards, startled. The movement sent him stumbling backwards, until he collided with the wall of the ship and vanished.

Agathe was too startled to even scream. "What?"

"Oh dear," Patmosis said.

"What happened? Hold me up," Professor Espérandieu said.

Agathe jerked her hand with the mirror up again. Patmosis peered into it. "Hello, there, professor!" the mummy said. "It's good to finally meet you!"

"Ah, you as well!" Espérandieu said. "Patmosis, I presume?"

"Indeed! I am glad to get a chance to thank you for your heroic work which allowed me to awaken in this fascinating city. It has been--"

"Excuse me," Agathe said. "What happened to Andrej?"

Patmosis shrugged. "He was pulled inside the ship."

"What does that mean?"

"I'm not entirely certain," Patmosis said. "Usually we just sent them on their way. Occasionally they would kidnap a peasant."

"And?"

"We never saw the peasants again." Patmosis shrugged. "We assumed they had been eaten."

"Eaten!" Agathe shrieked and shoved the mirror into Patmosis' hands. "I'm going in there."

"That is something I would advise against--" Patmosis said before Agathe ran straight into the silvery wall.

The inside of the spaceship was dark. Agathe didn't know what she was expecting. There weren't any windows, so any civilized people would have put in lights, but for a few moments she stood there blinking, unable to see.

In the dimness she could make out something like a sitting room, two chairs with a low table between them, and a big window looking out onto blackness. And no sign of Andrej.

She looked around the dim room, then walked briskly forward and sat down in one of the chairs. "So much for hospitality," she called out.

In response, the window lit up, as though the gas-lamps outside had just flared to life. She squinted in the sudden light until her eyes adjusted and she could see a tall, gangly figure wearing a dark suit and a top hat, facing away from her, standing in a field of gravestones.

"Oh dear," she said, remembering the phrase 'raise the dead'.

The figure gestured at a gravestone and the earth before it shuddered as a casket lifted out of the ground.

"Oh no," Agathe murmured.

The figure gestured and the casket started to glow with a green light. Agathe gasped and leaned back and the window went dark.

"No, you stupid device!" Agathe yelled. "Show me the picture again!"

Nothing happened. Agathe stood up and poked it, but it remained flat and cold. She threw up her hands, then turned around to leave.

Behind her where she hadn't looked was a big glass tube, and inside the tube was Andrej, gesticulating wildly at her.

"I'm sorry!" she shouted. "It was dark, how was I supposed to know?"

Andrej put his hands on his hips and scowled.

"I'll try to get you out," she said. "Hold on."

The tube was completely solid, and she couldn't find any levers or buttons. "Well, phooey," she said, and kicked it.

Her foot went through the glass, and in a moment she found herself inside the tube with Andrej, smushed up against him.

"Ah, hello," he said.

"Well, this is a pickle," she said.

"I've tried to get out, but I can't find any mechanism," Andrej said.

Agathe tilted her head back and tried to make out anything above them in the dim light. "Give me a boost," she said.

"A boost?"

Agathe put her hands on his shoulders and put her left foot in his hands. "Hup!"

Balanced against the wall of the tube and against Andrej, she was able to reach the ceiling. It was mostly smooth, but there was a little divot that when she put her fingers in revealed a little door that pushed open. "Aha! Adèle isn't the only one who can figure out how to get out of things," she said, reaching through the little door. Her fingers curled around a handle, and she pulled on it sharply.

A stream of water sprayed her in the face.

"Augh!" she cried, and dropped to the ground. Her shoes splashed in a puddle. The water continued to spray down, swiftly filling the tube.

"This has gotten worse," Andrej said.

Agathe scowled at him. "Yes, I noticed!"

"Well, what are we going to do?"

She looked up, shielding her eyes from the spray. "If you boost me up again, maybe I can close it?"

"I'll try!" he said, making his hands into a loop again.

It was much harder to boost herself up with the tube slippery from water, and water spraying into her eyes. She tried three times before she was able to brace herself, and then no matter how she tried she wasn't able to push the handle back into position. This time when she splashed back into the water, it was almost up to her chin.

"Agh!" she shouted as the water continued rising. "This isn't fair!"

She slammed her hand into the side of the tube to no avail. Angry, she did it again, and again.

And then something caught her hand. "Into my arms!" she heard someone yell, and then she was pulled through the glass and into the damp embrace of her sister.

"What?" she gasped, as she and Andrej and Adèle all stumbled backwards and out into the Paris night. All three of them were streaming with water, dripping onto the cobblestones.

"Well, good job, you two," Adèle said sharply. "Getting into trouble without me, I see?"

"What happened to you?" Agathe asked, ignoring her comments. "You were holding the bridge keeping Professor Espérandieu in the mirror."

Adèle shrugged. "It suddenly closed. I was aware of it enough to know that you had gone to the Louvre, so I took a cab after you."

"And lucky for us that you did," Andrej interjected.

Both of the sisters glared at him. He quieted.

"It is good to see that you are well," Patmosis said. He handed Adèle the mirror and she took it, frowning briefly into its surface and tucking a dripping lock of hair behind her ear.

"It is good to be well, Patmosis," Adèle said. "Now. What is our alien friend up to?"

"I saw him!" Agathe said. "On a big window in there. He was in a cemetery standing over a coffin, and then it was glowing green."

"The window?" Adèle asked.

"No, the coffin," Agathe corrected.

Adèle frowned in thought. "Which cemetery?"

"I don't know which cemetery," Agathe said just as Andrej leaned forward and added, "Passy, I think?"

"That's only five kilometers away," Adèle said. She gathered her wet skirts and nodded at the street. "Are you coming?"

The four of them bundled into Adèle's cab with some protest from the driver, but soon they were bumping along the river toward the cemetery. "Are you sure this is a good idea?" Agathe said. "That spiritualist said that the dead would rise and the world would end!"

"All the better that we get there sooner rather than later," Adèle said. "If the world is going to end, I want to get this over quickly so I can change into dry stockings."

Agathe squelched her toes in her shoes and considered that it would indeed be nice to have dry stockings for the end of the world. Then she took the mirror from her sister and fussed her own hair back into place under her hat.

When they reached the cemetery they raced through the lines of headstones and statues, trying to find the plot that Agathe and Andrej remembered from the picture in the window.

"Wait," Adèle said as they trotted through the stones. "Wasn't Professor Espérandieu buried in Passy Cemetery?"

They rounded the corner to find Professor Espérandieu himself standing in an open coffin, the tall alien figure looming over him with its spindly hands on either side of the Professor's head.

"Professor!" Adèle shouted.

"Professor!" Patmosis gasped.

"Professor?" Agathe asked.

"RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!" the alien screeched before trailing off into a hacking cough. It turned and spat something into the grass by the side of the professor's headstone, inhaled, and said, "Oh, thank you, that's much better," in a lovely baritone.

"Not a problem," Espérandieu said. He looked over at them and waved. "Ah, it's good to see you all!"

Adèle's shoulders slumped, and she stomped over toward the professor, squelching in her boots at every step. "What is going on here?"

"I do beg your pardon," said the alien, bowing. "I was on your planet hoping to pick up a nice souvenir for my boyfriend back home, when I got a nasty tickle in my throat and knew that I needed to see a doctor."

"Oh, but I'm not a doctor," Espérandieu protested.

Patmosis clucked his tongue. "And you had to raise the dead for your sore throat?" he admonished. "What if you'd missed?"

"Oh, don't worry about that!" the alien said. "I just raised everyone in the cemetery."

Adèle and Agathe exchanged a look. Then they looked around at the ground around them, which was starting to shift.

"Ugh!" Agathe said. "All the greatest dead artists in Paris coming back to life, and I look like a drowned rat."

Patmosis buried his head in his hands. "And this is why we used to chase them away from the pyramids," he said.

In the end, they were able to get most of the undead of Passy Cemetery to lie back down in their graves, after they realized that being alive again meant paying taxes and rent and all the other indignities that Paris required of its living inhabitants. Though it took almost an hour for Hector Lefuel to stop arguing with Patmosis over the aesthetic benefits of installing a pyramid at the Louvre.

The alien decided to take Manet along with him, exclaiming that his boyfriend would be absolutely delighted by the slightly disgruntled painter. Patmosis and Espérandieu walked off arm in arm to Patmosis' flat on the bank of the Seine to take in a midnight glass of wine. And Agathe was left sitting on Espérandieu's casket wringing water out of her skirt, Andrej sitting gingerly beside her.

"I'm sorry our date was such a disaster," he said.

Adèle laughed at them. "I'm actually impressed, Andrej," she said. "I knew you were capable with pterodactyls, but you've got a good head on your shoulders with aliens as well."

Agathe felt the rising sisterly jealousy start to burn in her breast and threw both her arms around Andrej. "Now, don't you mind her," she said. "I had a wonderful time, no matter how awful, because I was with you. I knew you'd get us out of trouble." She beamed at Andrej as he turned to look at her.

"Really?" he said. "But I didn't do anything--"

"Really," Agathe said, and kissed him.

And if Adèle was looking particularly smug as they walked back to their apartment, well, Agathe was perfectly willing to let her think she'd won this one.