Worse than the unknown is the unknowing.
Lovecraft was not met in the gold gilt foyer of the Waldorph Hotel so much as intercepted, caught by a middle manager who knew from the man's scuffed brown oxfords and heavy tweed overcoat that he simply did not belong. How such a commoner ever managed to slip past the doorman would be a definite point of consternation once the day was through.
"I was invited to dine," said Howard, awkwardly holding up an invitation.
The manager snorted back of chuckle of disbelief as he flipped the card over for closer inspection. It was printed on formal stock, ivory white, embossed and signed by one of their most dignified patrons.
"Come with me Monsieur," said the manager and began to walk away.
Not sure if he was going to be shown to the restuarant or shoved out into a back alley, Lovecraft sheepishly followed along, meandering through countless halls, up one stairwell and down an elevator. Finally they arrived at a pair of tall double doors which looked as if they might open into a banquet hall.
"May I take your coat," said the Manager as another waiter approached him with a proper dinner jacket. This was not a question.
"Oh, yes, certainly," said Lovecraft, glancing up at the shadows of the arched cieling to help free his shoulders, "If I must."
The doors were opened and the banquet hall revealed to be far smaller than he expected but no less illustrious. In its center stood a large king edward dining table. Seated on the far side of its curve was a man who shot bolt upright as Lovecraft entered. In black satin jacket, white gloves and bow tie Nikola Tesla was a dapper if somewhat gentrified picture of high society.
"Come in! Come in," said Tesla, broad mustache stretching a smile across his face.
Just before coming within range of a hand-shake, Tesla grabbed the back of a victorian chair and slid it out to offer Lovecraft a seat. "Please, sit. I've been so eager to meet you!"
It was the only other place setting at the table and distantly set across from Tesla's own.
"Well," muttered Lovecraft, lowering his unshaken hand, "I must admit that I don't normally do this. But after realizing who had sent the missive, I could not possibly say no."
"Good. Good," said Tesla, returning to his seat.
Lovecraft sat and untented the napkin standing on his plate. Across the broad length of polished mahogany, Tesla smiled once again, this time with lips held aloft more by force than enthusiasm. Six tented napkins surrounded his table setting, three to each side. For a brief moment Tesla looked to Lovecraft like a little kid caught in the middle of a game of Cowboys and Indians where the napkins were teepees and the silverware horses. A little kid who is seven going on seventy.
Almost unthinkingly, Tesla whipped open a napkin, breathed on the bowl of a spoon and began to polish it ferociously.
"Are you an admirer of my work," asked Lovecraft, "Because I am certainly an admirer of yours." He pointed at the byzantine chandelier of crystal and gold hanging over their table.
"Thank you," said Tesla, "It is a beautiful construct to be sure, but I had little to do with it. Notice how all the bulbs have been blown to resemble candle flames. In the rest of the restuarant there are still candles on every table. A terrible fire hazard to be sure, but mankind does not let go of its dark and primative past so easily. Would you agree? Would you like to order?"
Tesla opened a leather bound menu and tapped a small electric buzzer to summon the staff. "Tonight you are my guest. Anything on the menu is yours. I am not a big lover of seafood but I hear the kalimari is excellent."
Queasy at the mere mention of it, Lovecraft opened his menu and buried his face in the appetizers to hide a pale pucker of disgust.
"Do not worry Lovecraft. I have been through these kitchens dozens of times. Everything is up to code. You will not find hide nor hair of Sinclair's Jungle in here by jove!"
Lovecraft peeked back over the top of the menu, "You are not an admirer of my work, are you."
"I am a busy man living in busy times Mr. Lovecraft. And no. I fear I must admit that I have not read any of your literary endeavors. But I do have assistants, trusted men who assure me of its quality."
"Then why am I here?"
"Because of a book. No, not one you have written, but one I believe you have written about."
"And that is?"
"I have written its name on a slip of paper under your plate."
Almost cautiously, Lovecraft inched up the porcelain round to peer into its shadow. There on the table cloth sat a ripped scrap of stationary with the word NECRONOMICON penciled out in big block letters. Lovecraft jumped in his seat as the door behind him swung open, causing him to drop the plate with an unnerving clatter.
"Your orders, Monsieurs," said the attentive waiter.
"No, please, I need more time," said Lovecraft, quickly returning his attention to the menu. His eyes fell on the clam chowder but he knew it would be that vicious vichyssoise the Manhattanites liked to make with tomatoes and god only knows what else. There had to be something else....
“Nonsense,” exclaimed Tesla, “Garçon, we will have the Lobster Thermidore with a Sauvignon Blanc. A nineteen twenty three, should you have the vintage.”
“Indeed we do,” said the waiter.
“I thought you said you didn't like seafood,” said Lovecraft.
“I don't! But it's the only thing on the menu I haven't tried, and I always enjoy trying new things.”
Lovecraft spun in his seat to change his order but the waiter was gone. Turning back around, he once again lifted the plate to examine the scrap of paper hidden beneath. It didn't really say what he thought it said.
Lovecraft slid the paper out and gently crumpled it in his fist. His shadowy eye sockets shot Tesla an unsteady glare across the table.
“Are you having fun at my expense, Mr. Tesla? The Necro-”
“Stop,” commanded Tesla with a sudden lock of eyebrows, “do not say it. Ears are everywhere, listening in on everything I say and do. The reason we are dining here tonight – alone – is because I do not wish to have word of this range beyond your confidence. Please, a gentleman's agreement if you will."
“Certainly,” said Lovecraft, stilling his composure, “but you must understand that this book does not exist. Granted, I have taken lengths to construct a rich and labyrinthine history for it. But, long story short, I combined the words Necros and Lexicon while eating my Wheaties one morning, and I assure you it is nothing more than a parody of the Egyptian Book of the Dead.”
“The Egyptians, hmm...,” said Tesla, rubbing his chin with interest.
“I swear to you, on my honor, that it is a plot device and nothing more.”
“Then what if I were to tell you that I have seen it Mr. Lovecraft.”
“Then I would tell you that what you saw was a fake.”
Tesla picked up a knife and spun it between his linen covered fingers in thought.
“Did you happen to read any of this so-called book,” said Lovecraft, “because I would dearly love to know what it says.”
“Unfortunately, I was not given the chance. But I did bare witness to what it can do.”
Lovecraft pushed himself back from the table. “In all honesty, sir, I expected more from a man of your stature. I think we are done here.”
“No. Wait,” pleaded Tesla, “please hear me out. At least until our orders arrive. It was barely a month ago.”
“October,” snarked Lovecraft, “But of course, how silly of me for thinking that such a book could ever be encountered at any other time of the year.”
Exasperated, Tesla stared at Lovecraft over the folds of his white gloved knuckles. His voice reconvened, hard and stern, the voice of an inventor no longer courting investors but facing a stubborn mechanical problem.
“It – was – in October, in Florida. Florida City Florida, should you have ever heard of such a place, a small swampy hamlet to the south of Miami.”
Lovecraft pulled himself back to the table, “Humor me. What were you doing south of Miami.”
“As I am sure you are well aware from the inkspillers in the newspaper industry, I am no longer an active force in the technological fields. A man gets old and even if he is filled to the brim with vim and vigor they retire him to make room for fresher faces. It sells more copy. But I guarantee you that I have not retired nor will I ever retire while these old bones can still move. And yet, most of my income no longer comes from the promise of the future but by liscensing the patents of the past.”
“So I have heard,” said Lovecraft, “The Westinghouse Patents-”
“Are Opprobious!” snapped Tesla with the slam of a fist on the table, “Those I sold long ago for a paltry sum and have had nothing to do with, especially their gross mismanagement, other than the purely coincedental attachement of my name. Their controversy is nothing of my own.
“No. The patents I speak of are those which I still own, mostly for inventions which once shined with promise but have since shown a lack of practical application, such as my high frequency oscillator.”
At Lovecraft's blank stare Tesla added, “my infamous Earthquake machine? The one that nearly brought Mark Twain to soil his shorts. Surely as a literary man you must.”
Lovecraft blinked at him unknowingly.
“The youth of today, how soon they forget,” sighed Tesla, “Anyway, the Westinghouse Company has a small standing army of lawyers to defend its claims. I have my own two feet and the stigma given me by their nefarious actions which admittedly is usually enough to scare patent infringers into settling out of court, as well as protect me from the costs of hiring a lawyer. But I digress.
“Two months ago these feet, with the help of a steamship took me to Miami. There I purchased one of Henry Ford's obnoxious gas powered machines and puttered my way out to investigate the news that one Edward Leedskalnin was using a device he invented called a 'perpetual motion holder' to single-handedly build a castle made of coral."
"Oh please, Mr. Lovecraft. If a perpetual motion machine could be created I would have created it by now.
Lovecraft sipped from his water glass without comment.
"That's a joke. Nothing is more anathemic to nature than the notion of perpetual motion. It was obviously a fallacious front for something else. Even if Leedskalnin could create perpetual motion, it would have had nothing to do with what he was rumored to be doing.
"Informants told me that they had seen him, deep in the night, using magic to float huge blocks of coral through the air like radio-controlled zepplins and land them wherever he wanted them to land.
"To the primatives of Florida City this sounded like sorcery, but to me it sounded like patent #1,365,543 for my Electromagnetic Transport Apparatus."
"And you've built such a thing?"
"With the possiblity of such application how could one not! Or at least try? Imagine it Lovecraft! Steel girders flying in over a city like bees to the construction site then levitating in place where needed. Skyscrapers could spring up overnight. Buildings could be built three, four, five times taller than ever before! By the turn of the 1940's the whole eastern seaboard could be turned into a booming metropolis to rival even Paris. Oh the beauty of such a vision still gives me the shivers."
"So why do we still use cranes?"
Tesla's hands, which had been animated about his head accentuating his ideas, fell flat to the table.
“For the same reason as always. Price. The laboratory prototype cost thousands to create and was only one hundredth the scale. Cranes are infinitely more affordable.
“Also, I'm not sure how much you know about magnets, but if you have ever played with a pair of them, using the pressure of reverse polarity to float one over another, then you will recall just how easily and with what amazing force they can flip out of alignment.
“When dealing with large electromagnets this force increases geometrically. All it took was a slight oscillation in the frequency leading into the main magnet to turn our lifter into a catapult, flinging iron test rods with enough strength to break through a brick wall. Actually, quite a few brick walls if I can recall, as well as some windows, doors, and both sides of one dumpster.
“Ultimately we had to abandon its developement due to complaints from the neighbors, but I did repurpose the idea to become the basis of patent# 1,644,113 for my Electromagnetic Particle Acceleration Weapon. So it wasn't a total loss.
“So I wasn't just in Florida guarding my property. I was down there defending the public good. If some simple-minded immigrant farmer had somehow gotten his hands on my plans and taken them so far as to create a high powered electromagnet that could move multiple tons of rock – and was actively using it – then he obviously had no idea what forces of nature he was dealing with. Such a man had to be stopped.”
A knocking came at the door just before it swung open. A pair of waiters wheeled in a small silver rimmed serving cart.
“Apéritifs Monsieurs,” said the head waiter, plucking a bottle from an ice bucket, “champagne and escargots. Compliments of the house.”
Lovecraft was quite pleased by the small flute of sparkling wine served to him, but not so thrilled as the serving dome was lifted to reveal six large snail shells each packed with a black muscular mass fringed with a strange green herbs. Using a dainty fork he stretched a cooked mollusk up out of its shell and found himself reminded of his childhood, specifically a bloody nose that had left him with huge coagulated rope of sanguine snot dangling down the back of one sinus, hot and quivering against the hollows of his throat. Frantically, he waved a hand for the waiter to take them away, which they did with no small amount of confusion. Across the table Tesla gobbled down his escargots with no small amount of gusto which only tightened the knots already forming in Lovecraft's stomach.
After the waiters left the room Tesla dabbed the sides of his lips with a napkin and reconvened the story.
“Lovely isn't it? I do so love the Waldorph. Where was I? I was in my Model-T and bounding down the unforgiving mud-rutted trails which pass for roads in southern Florida when the tropical fens and scrub forest broke into a long field of swaying golden grass. Rising up out of the expanse was a wall of cyclopean blocks as well as a half-finished watch tower. Not far beyond the construction site stood an old barn in desperate need of a coat of paint and a single story farmhouse lazing in the shade of a drooping live oak. I puttered in to take a closer look. To call Rock Gate a castle does no justice to the grand old stone-work fortresses of Europe, but for the thought of this to be the work of just one man acting alone struck me as absolutely astounding.
“I left the Model T, walked to the farmhouse and knocked on the screen door. Its frame rattled and the wood creaked beneath my feet. For a moment I was absolutely certain that the place was empty, that I would have to leave and return some other time when a man appeared, stepping out of the shadows as silent as a mouse. 'Can I help you?' Leedskalnin said, and I startled at his sudden closeness.”
Tesla stopped to refresh his throat with a sip of champagne and looked across to Lovecraft, expecting him to do the gentlemanly thing and beg him to continue. Lovecraft sat and twittered his thumbs.
“Well, anyways,” continued Tesla, “Leedskalnin turned out to be a small man, a thin man. He claimed to be a Latavian immigrant, but I know my accents of Europe and sensed no Latavian in him. Even worse, I introduced myself as myself and he just stood there hanging on the straps of his overhauls, oblivious. Can you believe that? I! The creator of the AC Induction Coil and Radio Communication, nothing more than a mere shoulder shrug in this cretin's presence. That was when I first began to suspect that something was amiss. That he was not like either you or I.”
"Perhaps," said Lovecraft, "he was being intentionally rude to turn you away from his door?"
"But why? I had not yet mentioned patent infringement or the possibility of a lawsuit. At this point I was just one inventor idly passing time in the company of another. And Leedskalnin? His looks were gaunt and severe but to his credit the man's manners were gentle and gracious. He simply did not know.
“We went on a small tour of his castle, which he calls Rock Gate. Inside of which were many sculptures made of coral. They were crude yet impressive for their sheer mass, mostly celestial bodies, broad tables, arches, tricks of balance and leverage. I asked him how he accomplished it, but Leedskalnin would only say that he had learned the secrets of the ancient Egyptians and after that remained as silent as the Sphinx.
"In a far corner of the castle grounds I did spy a large tripod made of telephone poles and a chain fed pulley, but it was a rusty chain. As someone who is no stranger to construction sites I can tell you that a working chain gathers no rust. The construction of the tripod itself was so heavy that it would have needed another even larger tripod just to be budged an inch. No. What I was seeing in this equipment was as much an artifice as everything else at Rock Gate. An implied answer to the mystery of how it all had been created. But I did not bring this up. I was cordial and well-mannered. We lounged on rocking chairs made of stone and a girl he introduced as Anna served us lemonade.
“Lovecraft, you would not believe just how beautiful this woman was. Her radiance glowed in the warm southern sunlight, and although her appearance had only been for a brief few seconds I was moved in ways I hadn't been since I was a young man prowling the streets of gay Paris. Her skin was impossibly smooth and flawless. Her hair long but tastefully pulled back and tucked away in a fashionable bun. In the turbulence of Anna's appearance I totally forgot why I had gone there and then managed to leave without ever once bringing up the matter of patent infringement. Leedskalnin escorted me back to my vehicle and we parted ways quite amicably.
“I throttled up the Model T, threw it into reverse, turned to look over my shoulder and in backing out of the drive it hit me. There are no power lines leading to or from the house. In fact, there were no powerlines on the street, or anywhere in sight. Out on the road, I drove in the opposite direction from whence I came to discover that there was nothing electric within a drivable distance of Rock Gate. Back in the lab our prototype transport apparatus did not consume an exorbinant amount of electricity, but it did require a keen and dependable source of energy, one able to deliver a current with perfectly stable oscillations down to plus/minus 3 millihertz. Anything less would yield absolutely disasterous results. And so?”
Feeling himself prompted, Lovecraft responded, “There had to be a generator on the grounds?”
“Right! My good man. Right! As I drove I cursed myself for not thinking this earlier, and so I decided to wait until sundown and then sneak back onto the premises to take an unescorted look around. If Leedskalnin was good to his word then he would be in his castle, hard at work and oblivious to my intrusion.”
“But Mr. Tesla,” whispered Lovecraft, right at the very edge of auricularity, “that's trespassing. You might have been shot!”
Tesla smiled and began to pick free the fingers of a glove, “Lovecraft, do not think that I wear these just to be fashionable. Decades of exposure to oil, acid, carbon, and chemicals that most men do not even know exist have stained my hands as black as Africa.”
Tesla held the hand up so it wouldn't be lost against the black satin of his dinner jacket. As far as Lovecraft could see the skin was almost purple with a disconcerting blue hue under the quicks of the nails and a sooty indigo stain about the creases.
“My ways may seem squeamish to some, but the awful truth is that I would crawl, belly flat, through the worst of city sewers if it meant accomplishing my goal. Most men live in blissful ignornance. Most men would never leave their houses if they knew an eighth of all that I know. Me? I do so every day.
“So I must admit that I was not happy to do this, especially since my approach included a quarter mile hike through cypress swamp at sundown, with water up to my knees and an just an old Misell flashlight to light my way. A flashlight which, might I add, bearing second-rate batteries gave out a mere five minutes into my journey. But! I was more than willing to do it.
“It took about an hour, long enough for the sky to turn from orange to black to blue as a full moon broke the horizon. No lights shined in any window of the house. The crackle of radio could not be heard. If not for the milky white flourescence of the moon I wouldn't be able to see my hands before my face. With gloves on, of course,” Tesla added with a chuckle, “And so there I stood on the edge of the forest, crouched behind a tree, watching the house, until the bang and clatter of the screen door, as well as the flickering glow of a kerosene lamp told me Leedskalnin had left to go to work.
“I crept in closer and circumvented the house, peeking in windows but seeing nothing, expecting at any moment to hear the thunderous roar of a diesel generator starting up to power his equipment, but I heard nothing but the cacophonous din of tree frogs and cicadas. Finding nothing at the house I slipped inside the barn.
“There it was pitch black. I searched inside my jacket for a box of matches. Yes! I know. Me! The paragon of Alternating Current having to light his way with a match, but sometimes you do what you must do!
“The sulfur tip sparked up and I stifled a scream. The barn was for the most part empty but there before me reared back a bear with claws upraised, ready to rake some poor soul to death. Thankfully, it did not move. It was stuffed. Taxidermy must have been a sideline of Leedskalnin's because half of the barn was filled with a menagerie of dead wild beasts locked in interesting poses. Carefully I wandered among the musty beasts until I came upon a broad tool bench in the back. Curiously enough, this table was filled with the tools of a machinist rather than a taxidermist and there in the center of it all sat your book, a heavy ancient tome bound in old crackling leather but with that name arced across its front in tarnished brass letters. The buckle was undone and I was eager to see what lay inside - something my assistants have since told me dire warnings against - but at the moment I was a curious ignoramous. What saved me was the match burning out of stick. I dropped the ember, smudged it out with a toe and went looking for another. Just then I heard Leedskalnin call from the doorway, 'Anna? Anna are you back there?' And I froze.
“I was mortified. Petrified at the idea of being caught skulking about like a common thief. I was also standing in his direct line of sight. I guess the darkness of my dress and the dimness of his lantern worked to hide myself in the shadows. As he shuffled forward, I slipped backwards, taking cover in an empty horse stall. Leedskalnin stopped at the table. He was so close I could see one of his nostrils bounce as he sniffed the air, doubtlessly smelling the suflurous remnants of my match. Thankfully, his mind was elsewhere. He stuffed a few tools in his belt, took down a strange staff made of stainless steel that had been hanging from pegs on the back wall, picked up the book and left.
“I tell you. I was absolutely drowning in nervous sweat at that point. Once Leedskalnin had left and my heart stopped trying to pound its way out of my throat, I crept to the front of the barn and considered returning to my vehicle. Afterall, I had seen what I had come to see. With the absence of anything electrical Leedskalnin was definitely not infringing on any of my patents, but just then Anna appeared, a pale vision of beauty flowing across the lawn, moving towards the castle while wearing little more than the gossamer ghost of a night dress.
“Oh what a sight to behold, Lovecraft! I couldn't just see her ankles, I could see the round firm bulbous mounds of her calves, all the way up to the knee! This nearly stopped my heart. Then she slipped around a block of coral and disappeared from sight.
“Leedskalnin had not formally introduced us, so I naturally assumed that she was hired help and had hoped she would have gone home by then. Anna was too beautiful to be his wife. Too young to be a sister. Too old to be a daughter. However, she was certainly something. Intrigued, I followed her into Rock Gate, but on turning the corner could find nothing more than an empty row of standing stones.
“I slinked down this corridore and turned into another. Go home, I thought to myself quite sternly, what you are doing is wrong, Nikola! But then I felt it, the old familiar tingle of wirelessly transmitted electricity tickling the hairs on my arms. Not far away there came a harsh grating sound and high above me a block of coral the size of an ice box lifted up off the top of a wall and drifted out of sight. Then went another. Up ahead the stark shadows and white moonlight became intermittantly punctuated by faint flashes of purple and red. Anna appeared out of one corridor and moved into another, headed towards them. I was helpless but to pursue her. I turned into a clearing and there in the distance stood Leedskalnin, bathed in a dark light, an intangible sphere of ultraviolet radiance hovering over his head. That book was open on the pedestal before him, and around us humongous blocks of coral floated like bubbles in a bath.”
“What was he doing,” asked Lovecraft.
“Building. Stacking or restacking a wall. I couldn't tell. He would read something in the book, lift the staff over his head, wave it in a strange pattern and those blocks would obey his every command.
“The staff. It too was strange, lit all along its sides with small dots of light, bulbs too small to be anything of this earth. These points of luminence would glow in the darkness but not cast any actual illumination. They streaked as they moved, crafting cryptic glyphs in the air about his head. And the staff, that thing, it sang as it moved. It vibrated like the needle of a phonograph riding invisible grooves carved in the depths of the night, skipping and popping across the music of the stars!
“And then Leedskalnin would stop and with it went the music. The blocks would hover there, waiting attentively. He would scribble something in the book, read some more, and reconvene. I was mesmerized. I had to get closer and so I crept and crouched and slithered like a snake around the stones, inching ever closer.
“I told you that I sensed wireless energy in the place, but as I approached the pedestal I began to believe that the force was not electrical at all. Wireless electricity brings with it a perky lilt, a small jolt that brightens the day. This. Whatever this was. It just filled me with dread and fear, fear that the hairs on my arms – should I get any closer – would not just tickle and agitate but begin to smoke and combust. Still, I could not help myself. I moved in closer, and then suddenly without any provocation-”
Knock. Knock. Knock.
“-the blocks fell to the ground.”
Once again Lovecraft jumped in his seat and spun about to catch the team of waiters rolling a pair of cloth covered carts in through the doorway.
“Qui Monsieurs,” said the head waiter, “The main course has arrived.”
The waiter moved in close to Lovecraft, so close he bumped his shoulder with his hip. A silver bell covered tray was set on the table. “Lobster Thermidor with Asparagus de Blanc,” said the waiter, whipping off the cover.
What emerged from the cloud of steam looked like a giant red insect blasted by artillery fire. Flipped upside down and turned inside out, its red chitenous legs reached to the sky, almost as if begging for mercy after having its tail ripped off, jammed into its carapace and stuffed with a mysterious ramassage of bladders, gills and other piscean organs. Slathered over it was an eggy sauce rich in semi-coagulated butter slime.
“Bon appétit,” said the waiter.
Lovecraft stared at the dish with eyes that were loosening in their sockets. He tapped a leg with a fork and was grateful it did not move. For if the dish had so much quivered with a hint of life he would lose what little was already in the stomach, not that covering the dish in a bile ridden stew would do anything but improve its appearance.
“Merci à vous,” said Tesla, waving away the staff and biting into a tender puff of white flesh jutting from the end of a broiled lobster leg, a fine sheen of butter running down his chin.
“Now where was I,” he wondered aloud after the doors had slammed shut, “oh yes. The blocks had just fallen and some had cracked where they hit the ground. Leedskalin's dark face scowled hideously in the deep purple radiance and suddenly the pips of illumination running along the sides of his staff went blood red. He waved it in the air above him and a presence in the darkness, something I could only see from the absence it made against the night sky swooped in to land between us.
“This creature, Lovecraft, it was huge. It was like a bear with bat wings and vulture claws and an alligator head and tail. It was like all of those things and yet none of those things. I stood there, watching it, frozen in terror, as it spread out its massive leathery wings and bowed in supplication before this warlock. This hideous man who had seemed so affable mere hours before. I trembled with rage as I hid in the shadow of a standing stone, but I was too terrified to bring myself to move. Then Anna flowed in out of the catacombs to likewise kneel before him.
“She almost seemed to be in a trance and for that I feared the worst. I feared for the dark tales I had heard during my youth in Serbia, of evil men sacrificing young virgins to gain eldritch powers. I feared that maybe this was what had caused the blocks of coral to float and that of this power he had just run out.”
“What did you do,” wondered Lovecraft, eyes still fixed on the mucilaginous horror on the plate before him.
“The only thing a proper gentleman in such a position could do. I steeled my spine and stepped from my hiding place. I pointed an accusatory finger in Leedskalnin's direction and demanded, 'What the Devil is going on here!'”
“And what did he say?”
“Nothing. His scowling face punched itself into an even deeper sneer and he waved that staff of power towards me. The creature flopped around, lifted itself into the air on its large jagged wings. And it roared. It roared with a voice that shook every bone in my body.”
“And you were afraid?”
“Absolutely! But if I could stand up to Thomas Alva Edison then I could certainly stand up to some winged gorilla with a reptilian brain. In many respects there is not much difference. Besides, I was not unarmed.”
Tesla stood up from his seat and circled around the table, unbuttoning his vest. Under it, strapped to his left side was what looked like a tray of glossy black beetles.
“I was wearing this,” said Tesla, pushing a lever under his sleeve which caused a device resembling a small doorbell on tin struts to slide into his hand.
“Do you know what capacitors are? They're a bit like batteries except they store electricity rather than produce it, and they can store that energy for quite a long time. I invented this device in hopes that it might replace the brutality of the billy club for our city's police force. It works quite well, releasing a sudden jolt of 360 volts but only a piddling few amps. It would never Westinghouse anyone, but it could easily drop a cow.
“Alas the cost of production was estimated to be $104 per unit and it needs to be recharged after every use. Meanwhile a billy club costs ten cents to mill and works until your arm gives out. Such is my life. But I digress.
“The beast had a bead on me. I had my electro-stunner ready to go. The girl screamed as the creature took flight and I charged at it, upraised arm aiming for where I hoped its heart would be.”
“And it grabbed me. Its talons grabbed me about the wrist and yanked me free of the earth. Under its pounding wings it carried me aloft, just barely clipping my heels on the outer walls of Rock Gate. I heard something in my shoulder go kerchunk and feared that a bone had been broken but adrenalyn was hiding the pain. Nonetheless, with my free hand I pounded on the creature's claws but the lock it had on me was stronger than a vice grip. If I was going to break free then I was going to either gnaw my own arm off or somehow goad it into releasing me.
“Choosing the latter over the former I began to swing back and forth with all my strength, twisting like a cat in mid-flight, forcing the creature to weave and bob in the air. It retaliated by climbing higher and higher into the night, possibly hoping to scare me into submission. Far below the moonlit walls of Rockgate receeded until they were just a dim dot on the landscape. For a brief moment I actually felt ice crystals forming on my skin. And then it happened. The fabric of my jacket ripped and I slid in its grip, just enough for the beast to open its claws in an attempt to get a better hold. I grabbed the beast's other leg, wrenched myself free, and buried the annode deep in the oily black feathers of its coat. Somewhere in there, among the lice and chiggers, the stunner connected with skin and discharged its power load.
“The beast screamed like an unbalanced flywheel. Flames burst out along its sides, filling the air with black acrid smoke that singed my lungs raw as I failed not to breath it. Together we plummetted through the expanse, spiralling and flopping over each other endlessly as its wings failed to grab the sky, not sure who at that point was grabbing onto whom. Then, right about level with the tree line he released me to fall through the canopy of an old oak tree, bouncing painfully off its branches, and ripping through the spanish moss, I was absolutely certain I was going to die until my fall was broken by none other than the cloth roof of my own Model T as well as the foam padded springs of its bench seat which I hit after ripping through that cloth roof.
“And there I lay for more hours than I care to remember, convulsing as waves of pain and shock rolled me over like a sailor lost at sea. Finally I managed to sit upright. The impact had blown out all the windows but amazingly nothing in my body was broken or bleeding. I scanned the surroundings. The creature was nowhere to be seen. Nothing could be heard but frogs and cicadas.
“Once I deemed it safe enough, I stepped outside to crank the engine, got back in and drove away. Too terrified to turn on the headlights, I crept past that dreaded castle in near pitch blackness. The moon had begun to set leaving only bare slivers of light slipping through the trees to light my way.
"My courage had abandoned me, Lovecraft. My skin was cold and clammy. Anna as beautiful as she was, I left to fend for herself. There was nothing more I could do. I drove without stopping for anything other than Petrol all the way back to Miami. There I caught the next steamer for New York and vowed to never return to Florida again."
For a long time Lovecraft sat there in silence, eyes shrouded in the shadows of their sockets, fork quietly pushing untouched chunks of cold lobster about his plate.
"You don't believe me, do you," said Tesla.
"Not a single word," grimaced Lovecraft, "Mr. Tesla, did I wrong you in some way? Was it something I wrote?"
Tesla began to undo the buttons on his shirt, “I can show you the bruises that creature left on my body. They've faded a bit, but they are still quite evident!”
“No. God man no! Keep your shirt on. Let us not let this sink any deeper into depravity!
“I do not know what happened to you in Florida, but I assure you my works of fiction had nothing to do with it. I will admit that I have had dreams, disturbing dreams, broken dreams, the fragments of which I have quilted into more than a few storylines. But they were all just dreams, the product of a weak constitution and a lack of sleep.
“The Necronomicon does not exist.”
Tesla returned to his seat, picked up a spoon and began to polish it in a frenzy, almost to the point where Lovecraft suspected he might try to convince him of psychic phenomenon by bending it with his mind.
"Mister Lovecraft," said Tesla after taming the fury of his thoughts, "I was born on the edge of darkness, the frontiers of Serbia, where all men are raised to fight back the Muslim hordes for the good of our Christian empire. It is a dark and superstitious place, a place where the evil eye is feared worse than cannon or gun. In my youth I fled from the place. I became a champion of technology, a harbinger of electric light, quite determined to pull mankind out of this darkness – kicking and screaming when necessary – into the brilliance of innovation. Now. On the outer edge of my life, on the western edge of our Christian empire, I find myself once again facing the eternal night. Only now it is so much more powerful than before. As if all this time it has occupied itself, off in the wilderness, bolstering its defenses, schemeing its schemes, determined to crush everything I have accomplished and plunge the world back into darkness.
"I want to get my hands on a copy of the Necronomicon. Not so I can use it but so I can study it, so I can defeat it. Only by knowing what makes it tick will I be able to defeat such an infernal menace."
Lovecraft pushed himself back from the table. As he spoke he wriggled his arms free from the tight dinner jacket. “Mr. Tesla,” he said, “If this is truly your heart's desire then perhaps you should take the time to read more of my fiction before setting off on such an endeavor. For while all of my Fictions are complete Artifice to their very core, my stories are incredibly honest. Nothing good comes to those who follow such dark obsessions. Bitter disappointment at best.
"Sir, I assure you, from the very depths of my heart that what I write does not exist. They are modern day fairy tales, dark magic and the light fantastic, nothing more."
As Lovecraft opened the doors to make his exit, Tesla called out to him one last time. "There is no Magic, Mr. Lovecraft. There never has been. There is only Techonology. The press once called me Wizard but only because they did not possess the mental facilities to understand what I did."
"Then perhaps Leedskalnin is dealing with something that you do not possess the mental facilities to understand," said Lovecraft.
"WHAT," exclaimed Tesla, punctuating his anger with the slam of a fist on the table, jingling the fine china and silverware, "How dare you insult my intellect! I am a man of Invention! I am Science! I am Technology! I know the limits of what can and cannot be done with electrical power."
"Then we are back to magic again."
“Get. Out. You. Fiend! And damn you for wasting my time!”
“They are dreams Mister Tesla. Nothing more.”
“Then perhaps you should pay more attention to where your dreams are coming from. Do you hear me Lovecraft? Nothing precipitates itself in reality without just cause! Lovecraft!”
He had been heard, but Lovecraft was already in the hall, donning his hat and wondering how he would might return to the front desk to reclaim his coat.
In the barn, Edward Leedskalnin stood on a latter, staring into the gaping neck of his Byakhee. The fur of its chest terminated at a metal ring beyond which were countless wires, crude home-made circuit boards and many miniscule soot-blackened cantilevers. The pungeant stink of burned rubber stinged Leedskalnin's nostrils, more than once causing him to nearly lose his balance. Cursing, he clattered down the ladder and walked over to where the Necronomicon had been flopped open under an ultraviolet light. Under normal light the pages appeared empty, but under the purple glow they came alive with notes, scribbles and designs. Leedskalnin flicked through a few pages and sighed, looking at them more than reading them.
“What is the matter Edvard,” asked Anna, gracefully slipping in through the open barn door, a bundle of letters and envelopes in her hands.
“The Byakhee,” grumbled Leedskalnin, “It's fuses are blown. It's memory banks have fused. I'm not sure what Tesla did to it but he certainly did a job. I might not be able to repair him. I may just have to rebuild from scratch.”
“But you haven't even finished your castle yet.”
“I know. I know. But what good is a castle without a gargoyle to guard it?”
“It is an ugly thing. I would much rather have you spend your time with me.”
At this Edward smiled and descended the ladder.
“What came in the mail?”
“Bills. Catalog. A new issue of Weird Tales.”
At this Leedskalnin's eyes lit up, “Ooh, let me see.”
Anna moved to hand him the brown paper wrapped magazine and missed. Her arm shook and quivered as it reached for him, throttling the parcel left and right. Leedskalnin breathed deeply and sighed again.
“Turn around,” he said, “I think I know what it is.”
He flipped open a leather flap hidden under the bun of hair, found the seventh resistor pot in column number three, inserted a screwdriver and twisted, searching for the correct amount of voltage to make the shaking go away.
“My sweet sixteenth,” he whispered in her ear, “with dark hair and soft skin, forever. I don't know what I would do without you.”
Fixed, Anna spun on her toes and thanked him with the peck of a kiss on his cheek.
Leedskalnin ripped off the magazine's wrapper and turned to the index. With a finger he glossed over its list of contributors.
“Drat. No Lovecraft. Oh well, at least there is a Robert Howard story in this one.”
He handed the magazine back to Anna along with the rest of the mail, “Put it in the kitchen. I will look at it when I'm done.”
“Oh come on Edvard. You've spent nearly the whole day out here, and all of last night too.”
“Yes, but. Everything that has happened has disturbed me. Anna, my dear, I'm starting to think we should relocate. Our little place away from it all has proven to be not far enough. I'm thinking we should pull up roots and move farther off into the countryside, go someplace no one ever goes, like Orlando.”
“Anything you say Edvard. Where you go I will follow, but now I want you to follow me. Into the house. Up to the bedroom.”
Edward put a foot on the lowest rung of the ladder, intending to climb back up and work on the Byakee. Instead he backed up to take in the monstrocity as a whole, or as whole as it could be. Its alligator head was still severed from its neck and smiling up at him from the top of a near-by barrel.
The creature was ugly, as ugly as sin and then some, but that was the point thought Leedskalnin. No castle worth a grain of salt could be without a gargoyle to guard it. He turned to Anna and thought, or a princess to protect.
"Wait," he called as he hurried towards the house after her, "wait my dearest."