A warm welcome to those following my intellectual exploits through Amateur Electronics magazine or via the “Dime Novels” or “Penny Dreadfuls” published on both sides of the Atlantic. Commendably, these publishers wish to place advanced concepts into the minds of the penurious masses yearning to breathe free from illiteracy and idiocy. (The business concerns in question also wish to earn profits doing so, but no man is entirely immune to the siren call of mammon.)
The present reader no doubt knows that Nikola Tesla, inventor of modernity and imaginator of devices to end human suffering, is myself. However, there is no need to close this booklet in intimidation, for I will keep my explanations simple, even if I am describing something scarcely even suspected by the average intellect. (Do not be insulted, reader; average intelligence is something to be cherished in these dark early days of the Twentieth Century, where ignorance seems to be King.)
As you may have read in the biographies outlining my multifarious scientific endeavors, I sleep no more than two or three hours each night. Medical doctors seeking to help my mission call incessantly to offer prescriptions for dormative elixirs, but I would not trade my diurnal schedule for a ride with the Wright Brothers! The limited amount of sleep I take each evening allows me, when awake, to fall into a sort of liminal state between sleep and full consciousness of my surroundings. It is during these periods, in fact, when I am best able to run my potential inventions through rigorous “thought experimentation” that is so much more effective than old Edison’s wasteful trial-and-error approach.
When in this state, I can see the workings of my designs from every angle, holding them before me with a mental hand, if you will. This is how I was able to conceptualize Alternating Current as well as the elegant, simple infrastructure required to bring it into being. (If you are reading this by electric light, you are very welcome. I am joking, of course. Enjoying my technological breakthroughs is the thanks many, many people give to me, and it is all I need.)
I don’t think this excellence and precision of thought experimentation would be possible if I gave in to the doctors and spent fully one-third of my life in true sleep, entirely absent from my mental workbench. Therefore, I enjoy and embrace this productive schedule.
That is not to say that sleeping so little is entirely salubrious. There is one odd effect that annoys those who maintain the same sleep habits as I. (There are so few, in fact, they I could identify them each by name. But this sort of public identification is viewed by some, less dedicated to public illumination than I, as undignified or simply injurious to their reputation of unthreatening normality. Thus, I carry on alone with speaking of my sleep habits and the fruits of this lifestyle, as refined and feted as ever.)
This effect was less annoying in the beginning—I was nineteen or so when I first noticed it, having recently adopted my —because it amused me, the way stereoscopes amuse those who gaze into them. Exactly so, actually: One knows it is an illusion, but it remains a captivating, even compelling, one nonetheless.
The effect of which I speak is one I call “The SlenderMan.”
I did not have a name for him in the beginning, or even think of the phenomenon as having any identity at all beyond the tricks of overtaxed eyes and an underutilized bed. “He” was simply a smoke-like human form, shifting darkness espied in my peripheral vision, darkening a corner or even recesses between buildings as I walked to the various employments I held at that age.
I credited it to overwork, but instead of seeing it as a call to cease working so much, I took it as a sign that I truly was giving everything I had to peeling back the mysteries of electricity and use that knowledge to help the world.
I thought no more of this phantom shade, even though its dark presence always startled me and made my chuckle to myself, than I would the prismatic apparition we call “rainbows.” However, during the time running my New York laboratory, I witnessed the Slender Man declared his—his—dark existence absolutely, horrifyingly, undeniably true.
I must hark back to a few years before la fin du siècle to tell this tale. My memory, then as now, is eidetic, and thus the passing of years has done nothing to diminish the experience in my mind.
A TRAGEDY IS REPORTED.
It was Boxing Day, 1909. Having enjoyed the holiday previous with my friends the poet Robert Underwood Johnson and his wife Katharine, who had come up to Manhattan from Washington D.C. for the holiday. (I secured my own room next to theirs at the Hotel Astor to spend the night, on trustworthy bedding I had brought from home.) I felt refreshed and eager to return to work that crisp Monday morning.
During this period in my life, I lived where I worked: in rooms at my laboratory at Wardenclyffe. By this time, my plan for wireless transmission of power from the site was halted due to … consequences, that’s I shall say for now … of its electromagnetic waves carrying into space. [The full, true story of Wardenclyffe Tower will appear in a later number in this series—Ed.]
From the hotel, it was but a short walk to the Queensboro Bridge Local streetcar, which then conveyed its human cargo at a dignified speed toward Long Island. Although I still very much enjoyed long perambulations, having once been singled out as a daylight vampire’s prey before I was able to wipe out its entire nest [Chronicled in the first number of this series—Ed.], I now made certain to tread carefully, watching for any men of low wattage but high temperature, if you understand me, but also for strange others. (I refer by this metaphor to Thomas Edison’s unforgivably inefficient (ninety percent of its energy was wasted!) filament-based electric light bulb as contrasted with my own, more-advanced “fluorescent” light.)
Mere brutes did not frighten were no match for my Bartitsu training, but those with possibly supernatural malfeasance on their minds were an entirely different problem. In any case, I kept watch for anything unusual, and in the morning bustle of New York City, that was no small task.
Fortunately, that morning presented no attackers but instead the sight of clutches of people huddling in front of newsstands, some three or four reading over one another’s shoulders—at some lurid or insipid item, I was sure. It was odd, however, even during the week of Christmas, to see so little busy-ness upon the streets. Men and women alike moved slowly, many with eyes fixed only on the few feet in front of them, as if they were sleepwalking. More than a few women pushed prams holding well-swaddled babies or toddlers on the slippery sidewalk, looking about themselves with furtive glances.
I did not read newspapers except when some scientific subject had received mention, and even for those articles I trusted my right-hand man, Thomerson, to bring them to my attention. However, this morning proved an exception, so captivated and apparently horrified did these newspaper readers appear. I used my walking stick to gently encourage my fellow pedestrians to make way and placed a dime upon the paper peddler’s counter. I waited patiently for the vendor’s attention, and finally I got it.
“What?” the burly, hatless, and unshaven fellow barked at me as his fingers deftly swept my coin from the counter.
“I would like a New York Herald, if you please.”
“Then take one, ya dim bulb,” he growled, then turned to abuse some other honest citizen. (The irony of his epithet was not overlooked, his ignorance of my identity instead providing me with amusement.)
I shook off the misguided insult and, as instructed, slid a copy of the sensationalist newspaper from the untouched lower reaches of the stack. The headline at the top of the front page read
CHRISTMAS KIDNAP; NO SIGN OF BREAK-IN
Was this the item over which what the crowd was making such a hullabaloo? It was unfortunate, certainly, not to say insensitively timed, but a 6-year-old gone missing was hardly news in a city like New York. I scanned the accompanying article quickly, looking for anything unusual. The last contact the girl’s parents, a Mr and Mrs Walker residing near 34th Street and Broadway, reported their daughter when she was excused to her room for bedtime. The mother reported that this daughter, Susan, was quite excited about the next day being Christmas. Susan seemed especially enchanted by the idea of Santa Claus and his flying reindeer, as portrayed in the popular illustrations in Harper’s Weekly Magazine, visiting her home that very night. As the headline proclaimed, no forced entry or other physical insult to the door or window of her room was identified. Mrs Walker had reportedly told the newspaperman that “Suzie stayed up almost all night” on the both the penultimate day and last day before Christmas. Despite her retiring to her room at 9 o’clock both nights, her parents reported that she could be heard stirring during the night, no doubt awake and on watch for the mythical Father Christmas and his retinue of airborne Greenland caribou.
“He’s back,” I heard more than one of the citizenry declaim to the somber nodding of their compatriots.
“Right on time,” some others answered to this declaration, puzzling me. As I don’t care for speaking with unknown persons at close proximity, I didn’t ask for further information or clarification regarding this sentiment. To whom were they referring?
I folded my newspaper crisply and silently took my leave of the newsstand mob. Surely the girl had gone out of the house under her own volition Christmas Eve, perhaps to check for any sign of Santa’s sleigh. Of course, I had no idea what theories or assumptions the police were working with on the “case,” but I felt confident that they would ultimately come to concur with the results of my spontaneous logical investigation. Perhaps her body would be found in the Manhattan slush; perhaps she would be discovered alive and wiser (if understandably shaken) for the experience. And, of course, perhaps she would never be found, dead or alive.
Do not think me cruel in my speculations. I have no opposition to the concept of children, for those who desire them; but the entire affair—which relies on unskilled labor, I might add—of conceiving and producing children who often survived to adulthood and the production of more children is anathema to me.
I certainly hoped that the entire situation would be resolved happily. However, despite my ability to rapidly analyze and identify a solution to most any conundrum that passed my way, I did not care to play Sherlock Holmes, although I admire the man greatly. (I follow with great enthusiasm his able assistant’s periodical reports of Holmes’ exploits in The Strand Magazine. However, a consulting detective’s life is not for me—both Mister Holmes and myself help mankind via careful ratiocination, but each of us takes his own path to the same benevolent end.)
I resumed my walk to the Machine Works and found myself glancing down every snow-laden alley I passed. I saw nothing unusual in them, surprising myself with a feeling of disappointment that, when it came to mundane crimes, I truly was no Sherlock Holmes.
I continued to the streetcar station, consoling myself with the fact that Mister Holmes, while leagues above myself in crime-unraveling prowess, was probably not wrestling with how to bring unlimited energy to the world.
A PATTERN IS DISCOVERED.
My own able assistant, Thomerson, would often visit me as soon as he noticed I had entered my office off the Wardenclyffe laboratory floor, the facility being used to prepare my latest innovation, the bladeless turbine, for demonstration at the Waterside Power Station.
In most cases, I find “chit-chat” an appalling waste of time. However, in Thomerson I found a bright and interesting interlocutor who would lean against the doorjamb and help me organize my plans for the day. “Mister Thomerson! I trust you had an enjoyable holiday?”
“Indeed, I did, sir. Thank you for asking.” I noticed that he was standing in my doorway rather than leaning on it, and there was a newspaper folded under his arm.
“What have you there?” I said, indicating the paper.
Thomerson pulled out the newspaper and gazed solemnly upon the front page, which I already knew screamed that tawdry headline about the missing girl. “It’s a sad day, Mister Tesla. Child—children, I should say—gone missing at Christmas. Probably dead, I’m sad to say.”
“Children? And dead? Has a new edition of the newspapers reported more disappearances?”
“Not yet, sir,” Thomerson said, but shook his head ruefully. “But when he comes, once every hundred years happens for one full year, always starting right around the holy day. This is just the one the newsmen know about so far, I’d bet. Mark my words, sir, there will be more before he’s done.”
“Before he is done? To whom are you referring?” I asked and sipped from my teacup.
“The Slender Man, of course.”
I very nearly lost control of my mouthful of Dewar’s Scotch Whiskey at this comment, but managed to swallow it down, albeit more quickly than I usually do, missing its subtleties, but one mouthful was a small sacrifice to find out how my assistant could possibly have guessed at my recurrent hallucination.
“Goodness! Are you all right?”
“Never you mind that. How do you know about my Slender Man?”
“Yours, sir?” Thomerson paused in awkward silence, then said, “Are you all right?”
“That is to be seen—tell me, who is this Slender Man? Is he the one who watches me work through my thought experiments? Or is this some moniker given an unidentified villain by the newspapers, like ‘Jack the Ripper’ or ‘the Wardenclyff Strangler'”?
“I’ve never seen you like this, Mister Tes—”
“Blast it, man, answer my questions!” I don’t know if I had ever raised my voice at Thomerson in all our time at the Electrical Machine Works, but it seemed to stop every noise, every bit of movement in the shop. It definitely drew some of the color from Thomerson’s face.