Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"Westinghoused," Part 2

(In the late 1800’s, the battle between two competing electric technologies, AC and DC currents, turned brutal. For Thomas Edison, it was a life and death struggle. This is a fictionalized version of true events in history.)

July 30, 1888

Two rows of eyes glittered in the dim light. The stage blazed like daylight. Harold smiled at the thought of whose light bulbs lined the heights above him.

"As you can see, gentlemen, the delivery of direct current to the animal caused obvious pain and distress, but was ultimately harmless. The animal is shaken, but healthy."

An open hand directed attention to the apparatus. The dog stopped pulling at the rope around its neck. Its haunches settled on the metal plate and shook.

The assistant stood near in case it whined again.

"All electricity is dangerous. It is not a plaything. But the system powered by General Electric, gentlemen, direct current, is orderly, controlled, and predictable. In short it is safe so long as reasonable prudence and precautions are employed. To err is human. Except in the most egregious circumstances, a mistake with direct current will not be paid for with your life."

A flashbulb captured Harold's beneficent pose. The reporters muttered.

"Mr. Brown?"

It was the man Harold was watching.

"Mr. Brown?"

"Please hold all questions to the end of the demonstration. Thank you."

"Mr. Brown are you employed by Thomas Edison and the General Electric Company?"

The assistant left his position and moved toward the audience in the darkness. Another man angled toward the reporter from the rear.

"You all know my interest in this topic," Harold said. "After I witnessed that young boy so pitifully struck down by a telegraph wire powered by the Westinghouse system, I've made it my mission to educate the public on the dangers of that ill-advised technology."

The two men whispered to the reporter. A hand clamped on his shoulder. Harold continued.

"Now, gentlemen, we've met the cultured and refined force of direct current. But the invisible world harbors a darkness and evil counterpoised to this source of good. 'Alternating current' is an innocent and misleading name for this primal, destructive force. Where direct current is the calm river flowing through the countryside, alternating current is a mountain cataract, white waters boiling and crashing and destroying."

Harold's voice was rising.

"It's like passion unleashed. Anger, hatred, lust, burning below the surface of the copper wire. It deceives us with its silence."

Harold disconnected the direct current generator and engaged the Westinghouse circuit.

"You see. No difference. Just the hum of the generator. Nothing to alert you to the mortal danger."

He moved to the switch. The dog was panting.

"But it's a lie, gentlemen. That fury dipped from the ancient forces of chaos and devastation cannot be tamed or domesticated."

Eyes began to shift from Harold to the dog. Harold fixed on the representatives of the New York Board of Electrical Control.

"When you invite Mr. Westinghouse into your home, gentlemen, you invite the fires of the devil himself!"

His hand touched the switch and fingers curled.

"Do you want this crossing the sky over your heads? Do you want this in the walls of your homes? The devil is hungry, gentlemen. He is waiting to devour you!"

Metal touched metal. The circuit closed.

The jumping motion of the dog didn't clear the plates. The paws seemed welded down.

Harold's voice was maniacal. "Do you see? Do you want this to be your child?"

The reporters were shouting.

The popping sounds deepened and something began to burn.

On to Part 3.
Back to Part 1.

(If you enjoy this kind of fictionalized history series, feel free to check out The X-Ray Martyrs to meet a couple of the many people who died before we understood the dangers of radiation.)


suzanabrams said...

Hi Jason,
I often wonder especially now with my new place up, that you experiment so comfortably - the different styles & art forms, do you know which theme or style of writing you enjoy most?
I love this piece but I also love all your other pieces. I find your versatality amazing. And am trying too, to discover myself in this way or rather, be more ruthless about who I am as a writer. Do you see yourself the same way? :-)

apprentice said...

Yes you have a great range Jason.
I have cause to be very grateful to those early pioneers of X rays.
As a kid I remember those shoe store boxes that X ray'd your feet!

I love the trailcam shots. They animals do appear to be so relaxed. If you added a few curves in Photoshop the the infra red effect would make them into a series of great Christmas cards.

Verilion said...

Oh eek. Oh the poor dog. Will there be more? That Howard seems bonkers, want to know more about him.

Aj said...

Hmmm, the bit about the dog was a tad disturbing. Oh how the times have changed. Mr. Brown is a very interesting character. It is very intriguing to see how far he will go in his attempts to destroy Westinghouse on his way to the top.

Anonymous said...

You all thought this was good? Just wait until we get to the part where a convicted killer's testicles are hooked up to an AC line as he shrieks profanities at the name of Tesla.

Anonymous said...

Suzan, thank you for the kind words about versatility! I'm truly humbled. Yes, I am purposefully experimenting widely here. We're all capable of diverse kinds of writing, and I'm trying to find where my abilities will resonate with the greatest number of readers. So, in a way, my blog readers have been shaping me all this time. What I've found is that working on a novel only is very dangerous for beginning and intermediate writers. It doesn't teach you enough. You can labor for years in the wrong direction. This blog and its many experiments and styles has taught me more lessons than I can count. Those lessons are then incorporated in my novel writing.

Apprentice, now it's hard to imagine fluoroscopes in shoe stores for fun! I shudder to think about all the radiation exposure they caused. **Thanks for the kind words. Yes, the trail camera photos are unique in the way the animals are unaware.

Verilion, I'm planning on at least two more installments. Glad you're finding it interesting!

AJ, yes, the animal demonstrations are shocking by today's standards. Something about this time period and early battles of modern technologies fascinates me.

Trevor, let's not take Tesla's name in vain now. ;) Of course, you are right. Our final destination will be even less pleasant.

mermaid said...

"The animal is shaken, but healthy."

The rest of this short vignette is great. It supports that statement well. It echoes your war story as well.

We pass our pain to others as if it is a great lesson in learning, when in fact, it is a torture of the worst kind. Whoever thought scare tactics work did not count on the fragile human psyche that can be damaged beyond repair.

I love reading your talent and your understanding of human ways in your stories.

Anonymous said...

Mermaid, I'm very humbled by your words and insights. I often weave these complexities for my own curiousity. It's such a pleasure when others sense them.