In a quiet Mayfair drawing- room, a man and a woman sat stiffly upright, eyes closed and hands outstretched across a white table-cloth. The curtains were drawn. A single candle on a rococo mantelpiece illuminated a circle of midnight- blue wallpaper, a row of photographs, and a rather hideous painting of the titan Saturn devouring his children. There was a faint scent of incense.
The woman was middle-aged. She wore high-collared black and silver, and an expression of fierce resolution. The man was young and handsome, fair and blue-eyed, and faintly smiling. He was the subject of most of the photographs on the mantelpiece, posing stiffly, dressed for tennis or mountaineering or camel-riding.
On the table there was a large white card with a red sphere painted on it; the man and the woman each rested their fingers on its corners. They sat all evening in silence, hardly even breathing, until at the same moment they each opened their eyes in alarm, jerking back their hands so violently that they sent the card spinning off the table into the dark. The man swore, got to his feet, and went in search of it. The woman clutched her necklace. "Mercury — what happened?"
He went by the name Mercury when they met. She went by Jupiter. "A rude interruption."
"Rudeness! I call it an assault. They struck us."
"I suppose they did. Yes. Where did it go, do you suppose?"
"We were further than ever before. I saw the gate open before me — the ring turning — did you see it too?"
"Then a terrible discord. And shaking, as if the spheres themselves halted in their motions — how?" She took a deep breath, collected herself, and stood.
The man dropped to a crouch. "Aha. It slid under the wardrobe — and that hasn't moved since my father's day. Bloody nuisance."
"They struck at us, though we were far out."
"They did, didn't they? Troubling. I thought we had more time."
She glared at him. "Your father's friends, Atwood?"
Martin Atwood was his real name, and this was his house. He stood.
"Well, don't blame me."
"No? Then who should I blame?"
"I expect we'll find out soon enough. I wonder how they did it? I wonder what they did? Something dreadful, no doubt. Wouldn't that be just like them?" He lit a lamp, and snuffed the candle. "If only we knew who they were," he said. There was the sound of rain at the window, first a whisper, then a clattering, thrashing din. "Aha," he said. "See? Something dreadful." Over the noise of the storm there was the shrill insistent ring of the telephone across the hall. Atwood poured himself a drink before answering.
The storm smashed a fortune in window glass. It uprooted century old trees. It sank boats and toppled cranes. It washed up things from the bottom of the river, rusted and rotten stuff, yesterday's rubbish and artifacts older than the Romans. It vandalized the docks at St. Katharine's. It flooded streets and houses and cellars and the Underground. It deposited chimneys on unfamiliar roofs, laundry in other peoples' gardens, dead dogs where they weren't wanted. It cracked the dome of the Reading Room and let in the rain. It coated the fine marble facades of Whitehall with river muck. Lightning struck Nelson's Column, scattering the few dozen unfortunate souls who slept at its foot like so many wet leaves. The lights along the Embankment whipped free and floated downriver. The London Electric Supply Corporation's central station at Deptford flooded and went dark. Barometers everywhere were caught unawares. Omnibuses slewed like storm- tossed ships, and horses broke their legs.
Men died venturing out after stalls, carts, pigeons, and other items of vanishing property. Arthur Archibald Shaw staggered and slid from shelter to shelter. An abandoned bus in the middle of Southampton Row gave him protection from the wind. God only knew what had become of the horses. An advertisement on the side for something called KOKO FOR HAIR took on a fearful pagan quality. What dreadful god of the storm was Koko? He stumbled on, clutching at lampposts, and turned the street-corner (by now quite lost) just as lightning flashed and snapped a tree in two. He stopped in a doorway and watched leaves and roof tiles whip past someone's house.
A light in the window. He could expect no Christian charity on a night like this. A horse ran down the street before him, wide-eyed and panicking. He shivered, wrapped his arms around himself, stamped his feet. He was young, and he was big — running to fat, his friend Waugh liked to say. Well, thank God for every pound and ounce. Skinny little Waugh would have been airborne half a mile ago. The storm appeared to have engulfed all of London. Lightning overhead flashed signals, directing coal- black hurrying clouds to their business in all quarters of the city. His fear was mostly gone; what had taken its place was excitement, accompanied by a nagging anxiety over the cost of replacing his hat and umbrella. He wondered if he might defray the expense by selling an account of the storm to the Mammoth — he was already thinking of it as The Storm of '93 — or, better yet, the New York periodicals: Our correspondent in London. Monsoon in Bloomsbury. Typhoon on the Thames.
An Odyssey, across the city, or at least across the mile between the Museum and home. They'd like the panicked horse — it would make a good picture. He peered back south in the direction the horse had fled. Behind the rooftops and out over the river there was something like a black pillar of cloud. It resembled a gigantic screw bolting London to the heavens, turning tighter and tighter, bringing the sky down. Behind it there was an unpleasant reddish light.
From The Revolutions, by Felix Gilman. Copyright 2014 by Felix Gilman. Reproduced with permission from Tom Doherty Associates.