Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"Westinghoused," Part 7

(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. If you're just joining us, you can start at Part 1.)

Alfred P. Southwick
1826 - 1898
Buffalo Dentist and Father of the Electric Chair

Dr. Alfred Southwick watched the footsteps of the man being led into the room. Chains clanked against tile. The shuffle made the man something less than human.

The eyes would be a different reality. Dr. Southwick was careful not to look at them.

Despite the pull of travel fatigue, Dr. Southwick's excitement shivered down to his fingers. So much effort and study to arrive at this moment. After seeing a man accidentally killed by electricity, devoting himself to learning its properties. The many experiments. All of the stray dogs and cats he killed.

His dental practice was insignificant in comparison. Electricity would shine the light of reason into the darkness of superstition and brutality. A new era was about to begin.

The warden stepped forward to the rows and rows of chairs. All were occupied. Flash powder popped and sizzled from the hand of the state photographer.

The warden read the death warrant in a single river of words. Dr. Southwick couldn't hold the sentences, and they lost form. He stared at the unmoving fabric of the prisoner's shins.

The man didn't shift from foot to foot.

Perfect stillness. Yet, Dr. Southwick sensed the rock hard life beneath.

But technology would prove capable of slipping life from skeleton and muscle and nerve. Like a magician's sleight of hand. Electricity would bestow mercy on the merciless act of execution.

The man had a name, but Dr. Southwick covered it in his mind.


No, Kemmler the murderer.

And now the murderer sat in the chair. Dr. Southwick tensed.

It was happening. Time lost friction, and the world was sliding.

The warden bent to the ankle and leg restraints.

His hands were shaking.

On to Part 8.
Back to Part 6.


apprentice said...

This is really chilling. I'm glad you're shining a light on this piece of history.

mysfit said...

lovely, every section of this story gets better and better, building suspense step after step - i cna't wait till the next part

p.s. part 5 doesn't have a link to get to part 6

Verilion said...

Oh I was beginning to think that I had missed this part. I like the way the way Southwick labels Kemmler to make the act more palatable, but then you add the warden's hands shaking. Great stuff Jason.

mermaid said...

Idealism can give one person life and kill another.

'The fortune of one man means less for some'.

Thank you for the lesson.

The Quoibler said...


Hurray! "Westinghoused" is back!

This installment seems to have a different tone and cadence than the others.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but it feels as if there is more distance between the reader and the act that's about to follow than in previous sections.

Maybe it's just me, though!

I, too, love the shaking hands of the warden.


SzélsőFa said...

I'm also waiting for the next chapter. Very interesting. Suspenseful.

Anonymous said...

Apprentice, thanks! I find these really fun. It's almost like I'm slipping back into history and living it.

Myfit, much appreciated, my friend. :) Thanks for finding the missing link! (Okay, that didn't come out quite right.)

Verilion, the shaking hands of the warden is historically accurate. In the next, and probably final, part, I will be including real dialog from the event.

Mermaid, I'm not sure that distinction was ever shown more starkly than this moment.

Angelique, very perceptive! I didn't want a close feel to Southwick. I preferred a little more distance. With Kemmler, on the other hand, I wanted more intimacy.

Szelsofa, admittedly, I let this series languish. I'll be prompt completing it now. :)

mysfit said...

oh, i found the missing link alright, just don't tell anyone...

i agree with the distance from Southwick - i had noticed it but i assumed it was his scientific detatchment as well as his symbolic loss of humantity...

the individual voice said...

Ooh! This is new to me and looks good. I will have to go back and read it from the beginning. I tried to do a serial on my blog, but even I found it annoying trying to go back and re-read all the parts. Blogs are not that conducive to serials the way they are formatted, which is disappointing, because it seems like a perfect venue.

angel said...

wow!!! i wonder if he really did watch his invention used for the first time!

Anonymous said...

Mysfit, yes, I think that's right. His thoughts are detached and scientific. If they were too close and emotional, he would be more troubled by what is going to happen to Kemmler.

Individual Voice, serials are tricky business on blogs. On the one hand, they can enhance the blog when readers are looking forward to new installments. If that's not sparked, however, serials are harmful. I think the key is to keep installments short and make sure each has a little cliffhanger element or something really entertaining in each part.

Angel, yes, this is true. He was there.