“Tesla’s Ghost”


The following are the first few pages on my writing project that is still currently without a name. People have been asking about it, so I am sharing it with you here. Be aware that the storyline doesn’t stay in the time of Nikola Tesla, although he plays a significant part. Enjoy.

 

AUGUST, 1892

TESLA ELECTRIC LIGHT COMPANY

RAHWAY, NEW JERSEY

 

Fritz Lowenstein didn’t have fame in mind when he went to work for the scientist Nikola Tesla. All he wanted was a way to pay for a roof over the head of his wife and children and three meals a day. And if the quiet, tall, thin Serbian with the mustache was a little strange, that was all right too. As an engineer, Fritz had worked with his share of strange people. He preferred to work with eccentric inventors who had brilliant ideas and odd ways of expressing themselves than rich people with dull wits and no sense of humor.

And now after two years with Tesla, Fritz had gained the scientist’s trust. That’s just what he was thinking this morning as he was meeting with Tesla and the other two assistants in the lab. Tesla always showed up exactly at 8 a.m., ready to meet with his assistants to review the previous day’s work. After their brief meeting, they each received their assignments for the day and would either work closely with Tesla, separately on side projects, or be sent out on errands. Today’s meeting was much like every other gathering until they broke up. Fritz rose from his seat on a wooden bench to return to his corner of the laboratory when Tesla gestured for him to come over to him.

“Come with me, Fritz,” Tesla said. “Let us take a walk.”

Raising an eyebrow, Fritz joined his surprising boss as Tesla stepped out of the double doors of the laboratory and into the busy city streets. Even this early in the morning, the summer humidity was beginning to settle onto the streets around them, and Fritz could tell the warm morning would be followed by a stifling afternoon. The air above their heads crackled with wires from the direct current run by Edison’s electrical lines. As Fritz watched, a bird settled on one, sparks flew and it fell to the ground, dead. They continued walking down the street.

“I look forward to the day when your alternating current will change the way we see these streets,” Fritz said, looking up. “They are ugly…and dangerous.”

Tesla nodded. “Greed is always ugly. And dangerous. But greedy men are myopic and cannot see the future. I can. That is my gift, and my curse.” He frowned and looked at Fritz. “Tell me, Fritz. When you look at me, what do you see?”

Fritz chuckled. “That’s easy. I see the most brilliant scientist America has ever known. I consider myself fortunate to work for you, Mr. Tesla.”

Tesla smiled thinly and patted Fritz on the shoulder. They walked on and turned the corner on the street.

“I also realize that I have a lot to share with the world,” Tesla said. “I’ve known it all of my life. There are many things yet to be learned, yet to be discovered, and I am determined to discover them. So many possibilities! So many dreams!” He turned and looked at Fritz. “But I have to be also aware of my legacy.”

“Legacy?” Fritz echoed, mystified. “But you’re still a very young man.”

“I am seen as a man of science, and I want to always be seen as such,” Tesla continued, nodding to the horse-drawn traffic around them. “We must make sure we always use the scientific method in our approach to our experimentation.”

Fritz nodded. “And we do.”

“At the same time, I intend to travel on the outer edge of man’s knowledge. There may be some things that cannot be explained by our current understanding of science, and may not be for years and even centuries to come.” He stopped on the sidewalk and faced Fritz, his face serious.

“I do not intend to be seen as a crackpot or some mad scientist,” he said. “I want my discoveries to be seen in their proper light. As true science.”

Fritz stopped to look around him and realized that they had traveled around the block and were back at the doors of the laboratories.

“I have something to show you, Fritz,” Tesla said. “Something to show you and something to give you. But first I have a question for you.” He hesitated. “Do you believe in ghosts?”

Fritz started to laugh, then saw that Tesla was deadly serious.

“No, Mr. Tesla,” Fritz said seriously. “I do not believe in the supernatural.”

“Nor do I,” Tesla said. “Or didn’t.” He paused. “I find myself wavering in my own convictions. It is one thing to commit to beliefs based on lifelong training and education and another when you face something that challenges those commitments.” He nodded at Fritz, then opened the door. “Follow me.”

Fritz was confused. Nikola Tesla was normally a calm, decisive man who knew exactly where he was going and got there in as few steps as possible. He announced decisions already knowing any objections long before they were presented. And here he was confronted by a man who led him on a walk around the block in the morning air, apparently not because he felt he needed some sort of physical constitutional, but apparently because he didn’t exactly know where to go with his legs. Mystified, Fritz followed him into the doorway. They made a right turn and climbed the stairs into Tesla’s private office above the laboratory.

Tesla unlocked the door and Fritz followed him in, then surprisingly, Tesla quickly locked the door behind them. Fritz stood there watching him, and Tesla looked up, somewhat embarrassed.

“I think it’s better that we discuss this in private, Fritz,” Tesla said, an unusual blush coming to his cheeks. He inhaled through his nose, as if trying to summon some inner energy reserve, then passed over to his chair behind the desk and sat down.

“As you know, in addition to our ongoing work on alternating current and research on the proposed polyphase system, I’ve been looking into molecular bombardment. Fascinating results so far. Well, last night I had somewhat of a breakthrough. I decided to make some images inside those metal containers we have stored over in the corner downstairs. What I found was surprising.” He pulled out three large sheets of film and showed it to Fritz.

“This is an image of my foot,” he said, and Fritz saw what appeared to be a side view of the bones inside Nikola Tesla’s foot as well as the boot he was wearing, clearly identifying the hobnails holding the heel to the sole of the boot.

“And here is my hand.” Tesla showed him a second image, similar to the first, but showing the bones inside Tesla’s hand instead of a foot, as well as the outline of a ring on his finger.

“This it the third image I took,” Tesla said quietly. “I took it on a whim, using a much higher setting, focusing on nothing in particular, just the back wall of the laboratory.” He held the image out to Fritz and Fritz took it.

The white image showed in negative form the outline of the boxes and crates that outlined the far wall of the laboratory. To one side, one could see the rectangle shape of a window looking out into a moonless night. On the other side, a doorway was caught at just the edge of the frame. But what caught Fritz’s attention—and was obviously what Tesla wanted him to see—was in lower portion of the center frame.

It was what appeared to be the form of a man. Arms, body, neck and shoulders. An elongated head that seemed to be facing Fritz. But it was not a skeleton shape as he had seen in the first two images. This image recorded the outer silhouette of someone, or something, that was complete and alive. And it seemed to be aware of being recorded.

“What…what is it?” Fritz said finally.

“I was hoping you could tell me, or at least venture a guess,” Tesla said. “You can see why I asked about apparitions.”

Fritz’s mouth went dry. It’s not a ghost, he wanted to say, but he knew he had no rational argument to prove that it wasn’t, just as he had no argument to prove that it was.

“Perhaps it’s too soon to be giving it a label,” Fritz said carefully. “We need more research.”

“I was hoping you would say that,” Tesla said. “But you can understand my quandary. I am Nikola Tesla, a recent inductee into the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, an entertainer of poets, dancers and actors, and a regular guest of millionaires. My fate rises and falls depending on my standing in the eyes of these people. I cannot afford to lose credibility with the Westinghouses, the Morgans, and the Rockefellers of the world. By doing so, we lose all our financial backing.” He picked up the negative image and threw it at Fritz.

“I cannot be associated with any hunt for ghosts or any such nonsense. It would ruin us all,” Tesla said, staring into the eyes of Fritz. “At the same time, I am serious when I said that our research will take us to the outer edge of man’s knowledge.” He jabbed his finger at the image that lay against Fritz’s chest, as if cursing it. “There is something there, and I will know what it is. And I believe that you want to know as well.” He looked up at Fritz, as if the last few words were a request, rather than a statement.

Fritz nodded. “You know that I do, Mr. Tesla. Your pursuit of scientific knowledge is mine as well. I am committed to that goal. Tell me what you want to do.”

Tesla frowned, then nodded.

“From this point on, I want you to be in charge of these types of discoveries, Fritz. Anything we discover that might be looked suspiciously will go into a special file, right up here, under your name. Any inventions that might find additional purposes beyond—‘the traditional’”—Fritz noted how he chose his words carefully, “will be recorded by you. And I am giving you this journal to record any information that you feel might be important but may have been missed in the official lab report for that day.” Tesla reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a leather-bound notebook and gave it to Fritz.

“I see,” Fritz said, taking the book. “And what am I to do with this information?”

“Much of it will be left in your safekeeping to perhaps never be seen by the public eye. But if a discovery or an observation calls itself back into my memory, I want to have a record of it somewhere, even though I can’t afford some millionaire snooping around here and discovering that we have poltergeists in our laboratory!”

“I understand,” Fritz said, but he really didn’t.

He still didn’t in the days and weeks to come as he tried to keep the book safe. There weren’t many opportunities to use it, but on occasion something would come up and Tesla would give him a knowing look. After a mess was cleaned up or a discovery debriefed, he would follow up with his own debriefing and evaluation, and a special entry would be added to the book that was to be only ever read by Fritz and Nikola Tesla himself.

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