I assume that those young readers who follow my popular column in the Electrical Experimenter magazine are familiar with the creature called the vampire (or wampir, as my Croatian grandparents called it in stories to keep us children from roaming outside at night). In fact, now that motion pictures have made a talking motion picture of that most famous vampire novel, Dracula, I believe most adults are also aware of the mythical monster.
However, the adults of late 1897, when the events of the following narrative took place, lacked the plasticity of brain to entertain thoughts of such creatures, their gray matter hardened into rigidity through the rut of everyday behavior. In that time before the filmed presentation of vampires, few adults retained from youth the ancient legends of undead, blood-hungry ghouls who rise and feed on the living once the sun goes down. These creatures, formerly human, may transmogrify into wolves, or bats, or even mist; or so the Old World legends say.
The legends are true, after all. Yes, it is an incredible story I shall now recall for you from my eidetic memory. Yet I—Nikola Tesla, inventor, scientist, the man whom some call The Messiah of Electricity—once faced the sinister creature myself, and it looked as if even I might not successfully defeat this ancient evil. Children who are overly impressionable or women currently with child or who expect to be thusly burdened soon should not shy away from this true and accurate report, for it shall strengthen the weak and fortify the strong alike.
Allow me to begin, as all scientists must, with the initial evidence as it was laid before me. It was late summer of 1897, when, after much suffering and falling prey to the American humor of one Thomas Alva Edison, I was finally making Alternating Current a dominant success in the world.
AN ANOMALOUS INCIDENT OCCURS.
In the streets of New York City, whence I moved from the cultured and timeless cities of Europe, I always employed the use of a walking stick, an ebony cane with a silver handle in the shape of a pigeon’s head. This I had used on several occasions in the gentleman’s defensive fighting technique known as Bartitsu. I was on the pavement, avoiding as best I could the waste-slickened streets of New Amsterdam, when I was approached by a young hooligan of massive size but with the smooth face of a boy not yet old enough to shave. I begged his pardon when he stepped in front of me, the polite thing to do even though I was in the right and it was he who should have apologized.
He puffed out his chest and presented me with nothing short of a brick wall through which I obviously was not intended to pass. “Yer wallet, wop, gimme it,” he said in a voice somewhere between a dog’s bark and a fat man’s snore, but still just comprehensible enough to recognize he thought me an Italian. His breath smelled of a charnel house on a hot day.
“I believe you are looking for someone of Sicilian descent, or perhaps Roman. Both fine peoples, I am sure”—a lie; I shared his distaste for hirsute folk—“but I am not among their numbers. Now, kindly allow me to pass. I do not wish to step into the muck of the street.”
“All right, ya g——d frog, your money or your life.”
Involuntarily my thick, not cretinously thin, moustache twitched. “Do I really look a Frenchman, or even a Belgian? Young sir, you treat me ill.”
“I’m gonna treat yer teeth to a trip down yer throat, ya … kraut?”
“If yer an Arab, I’m a monkey’s uncle. Gimme yer money already.”
“You will be relieved: you have no simian relatives in your line.” The irony was, of course, that he looked more simian than a gorilla at the zoo.
“Greek? I mean, hand it over, ya olive-picker.”
“Come now, there are only so many countries a white man may hail from.”
His brow knotted, and were I an acolyte of the phrenologists, I would be tempted to think this man a thief or some other unsavory type. Fortunately, he merely seemed as dim in mind as he was Olympian in body. “Uh, maybe Russian or something? I dunno the right word—”
“No, I’m sorry. They are a noble people, but I am not among their number.”
“Canuck? Hebe? Polack?”
“Please allow me to end your suffering. I am from Croatia. The relevant slur, I believe, would be ‘Stable Boy,” because of our proud tradition of—UNGGH!” I yelped in pain—the ignoble blackguard had just punched me in the nose!
“Gimme yer f——g money, now!” With this, he lunged at me with a face suddenly turned feral, but I quickly slipped behind him, coiled my right arm around his while using the point of my walking stick’s bill to threaten violation of his jugular vein. He was quite paralyzed by the pressure on these points. He seemed especially to rue the silver bird.
What he didn’t know and in fact couldn’t know—my patents being frequently stolen or copied, I did not patent this because I didn’t want my own invention used against me—was that my walking stick was far more dangerous than it looked. This was owing to the tight coil of copper wire making up the interior of the cane. At the bottom was a nine-volt battery of my own invention (equipped with the proper impact protection so that using it as a cane would not agitate the chemicals) which, in much less than the blink of an eye, would be iteratively increased in voltage until, set free, it was enough to knock down an American buffalo, let alone a misguided thug. (The amperage was kept low—this was purely a defensive weapon, not meant to kill its target. However, and ironically now that I look back upon these events, the cane utilized Direct Current because of its injurious power over small distances.) Additionally, silver is an excellent conductor of electricity in addition to being quite stylish no matter what the ensemble its holder has chosen.
I gave the man a sympathetic smile and told him, “Both my money and my papers were stolen from me upon my arrival to your sooty town of opportunity, so, sadly, I have none to share. If I release you, will you allow me to continue on my way?”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say, Mac.”
“I’m not Scottish, either, my large friend, but thank you for your kindness,” I said, and released him.
Disappointingly, the instant he was freed from my Bartitsu hold, the miscreant spun and lunged at me again, murder more in his eyes now than simple avarice. Again I fooled him into the exact same hold, this time applying pressure with my arm and snapping his in both the upper humerus and the lower ulna. He cried out, and I immediately released him again, as doing more injury to him than absolutely necessary was anathema to me.
“I do apologize, my good fellow, but it was … necessary … to …” My words were lost as I watched the man step back, bones broken through the skin in two places of his right arm and tears of pain flowing down the pale expression of rage on his face. He kept his eyes locked to mine as he whipped his arm in the air and the broken bones snapped back into place. Then the punctured flesh surrounding the wounds—and, Dear Reader, I assure you this was as unbelievable to me then as it may be to you now—sealed up and now looked as if the man had never been injured at all!
His strength returned but his martial strategies still sadly lacking, he rushed me again, head-on like a steam locomotive. In the few seconds I had, my mind quickly came to the conclusion that the application of normal pugilistic techniques or even of my redoubtable Bartitsu would result in a closed loop of attack-defend-heal-attack until one of us tired and the other was able to strike the victorious blow. However, since this … man? … could apparently heal any wound, my only recourse was my electric walking stick.
I sidestepped his newest blundering attack and pointed the silver tip of my cane at him, from which he flinched even before I unleashed the electrical bolt that galvanized his large corpus and sent him stiffly to the ground like a plank of wood. Unfortunately for him, his body’s choice of landing spot meant he fell face-first into the fecal muck of the cobblestone street, allowing me passage at last on the pavement with the minimal inconvenience to me of stepping over his motionless legs.
My readers probably have surmised that New York City is a shady and often villainous place. But what happened next perplexed me and forced me to view the Empire City as infinitely more dangerous than I had formerly any reason to assume.
The thug did not stay down, as someone even of his immense build should have given the large dose of electricity I had just run through his body. Instead, before I was even ten feet away at my admittedly quick pace, I heard him growl—there is no more appropriate term for the sound—and when I turned to satisfy my curiosity, I saw that he had indeed “shaken off” the cane’s effects. He stood, a bit disoriented, but quickly found me within his ken, and roared with an open mouth as he barreled toward me. Within that mouth, Dear Reader, were long canines which resembled nothing so much as fangs.
My observant eye had noticed no such elongated and sharp teeth when the man had first spoken to me. In any case, this now-befanged bully rushed me much yet again in the manner of a raging two-legged bull, and, to my dismay, I knew the cane could not again release its electric mayhem until I had built and installed a new battery. (Needless to say, even had I time, I did not have the materials at hand there on the pavement to construct such a power source.) Thus, I relied on the tactic of concentrating all one’s mass into a single spot—in this case, the silver head of my cane—in order to provide as much resistance to his momentum as possible. To effect this, I held the length of my stick into a line formed by my outstretched arm and hand holding it and ending where I expected the face of my charging attacker would soon arrive. I, of course, possessed no momentum but would use his against him. (His large mass multiplied by his fast speed would be sure to ensure a dramatic result.) I doubted he would “stay down,” but perhaps I could effect my escape while he was thus stunned by his own momentum being bounced back to him, if you will.
I could see his eyes widen as he recognized the silver pigeon’s head, but his immense size and almost-inhuman speed resulted in such momentum that he was unable to retard it or even change its vector, bringing his baby’s face into sudden and violent contact with the pigeon. It would be expected at this point for one’s tormentor to fall back with a broken nose, teeth, and/or cheekbone. If the opponent were not dissuaded from consciousness entirely, he would almost inevitably bring an end to the altercation by retreating to tend his wounds.
This is not what happened.
Instead, the instant the thug’s flesh made contact with the silver handle, his flesh sizzled and burned as if it had been insulted with a strong acid; the fangs in the man’s mouth were now unmistakable as he screamed. He now fell to the pavement again, but this time with his hands to his face and writhing in great pain. As appropriate for an attempted mugging, the now-screaming man had chosen a deserted street—I had chosen this same street for ease of maintaining my brisk walking pace to work—and no one appeared in order to come to his aid or to question me. Knowing I had neither help to offer nor believable explanation to provide to the authorities, I swiftly removed myself through an alley onto a much busier thoroughfare, one that I hoped would allow a personage even such as I to disappear into the crowd.
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