“Is this your first time dining at The Fern?” The maître d’hôtel asked. He was short, portly and bald. His head glistened in the warm glow of the dim gas lighting and candles on the tables.
“Yes it is,” replied Professor Bantam.
“A celebration.” The professor squeezed his wife’s hand. She gazed into his dark eyes behind their spectacles, framed by the dark curls that she said reminded her so much of her father and the Regency period. While he was not a tall man, she had always found his intellect and wit had lent him a strength and weight that she had found irresistible.
The maître d’ lead them to their table, not too far from the impressive wall of mirrors along one side of the restaurant. The table was set, the fine linen tablecloth laden with several different glasses and sets of cutlery.
They sat, and he ordered a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
“To Nikola Tesla!” he said, raising his glass.
“To Bantam’s Bulbs,” Mrs Bantam replied.
“And, of course, to Professor Frankenstein, without whom the idea behind Bantam’s Bulbs would never have existed.”
Mrs Bantam rolled her eyes, but smiled.
They both ordered the Cream of Jerusalem Artichoke soup to start. It arrived in fine white china bowls, delivered by a young man with dark hair and an unsightly scar across one side of his face. It was a pale green soup, thick and warm, with tiny flecks of artichoke.
“Let’s hope it tastes good!” said Professor Bantam, dipping his spoon in. Mrs Bantam smiled and gently scooped a little into her small mouth.
“Mm, delicious!” he exclaimed.
Then the lights went out.
A collective gasp filled the room, a group inhalation of surprise. As Professor and Mrs Bantam breathed out, they joined the other diners in muttering about how this was most unexpected, highly irregular. Gas-powered lights just didn’t all go out, without so much as guttering. Not in modern London. Not in the centre of the British Empire!
Lit only by the candles on the tables, the diners looked around for a sign that something was being done to fix the issue of illumination.
Then something began to move through the room, and the screams began. Candlelight did not shine on the creature, but through it. It was a black shadow, cowled and faceless. With wings, giant wings of black feathers that flexed and spread as it stalked across the dining room.
Women shrieked in terror. Most of the men shouted or cursed. A soldier drew his cavalry sword and slashed at the black presence as it drifted through tables and chairs, past men and women, towards the middle of the restaurant. His blade passed through the black-winged angel as though it were made of smoke and air. The spectre continued, inexorably drawing closer to Professor and Mrs Bantam.
Mere feet away from the couple, the winged shadow raised one arm and pointed to Professor Bantam. His face turned white, then a deep, dark red as he clutched at his throat. He tried to stand, but his legs gave way and he sank back to his chair. He gasped and wheezed, then fell forward, face first into his bowl of soup.
As Professor Bantam died, the winged shadow lowered its arm and, as if it had never been, vanished.
The lights burst back into life.
The screams began anew.