A Penny Dreadful Entertainment
as related to his scrivener, Sean Hoade.
A warm welcome to those following my intellectual exploits through Amateur Electronics magazine or via the “Dime Novels” or “Penny Dreadfuls” published on either side of the Atlantic, respectively. 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 surely also wish to earn profits doing so, but no man is entirely immune to the call of Mammon.)
The present reader no doubt knows that Nikola Tesla, inventor of modernity and imaginer of devices to end human suffering, is myself. However, those of more average intelligence should not close this booklet in intimidation, for I will keep my explanations simple. (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, or at least vying for the throne.)
As you may have read in the biographies outlining my multifarious scientific endeavors, my periods of sleep are almost superhumanly short. Medical doctors seeking to assist in my mission call incessantly to offer prescriptions for dormitive elixirs, but I would not trade my highly productive schedule for a ride with the Wright Brothers!1 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 much more effective—not to mention cost-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 do not believe that this excellence and precision of thought experimentation would be possible if I gave in to the advice of overzealous medicos and wasted fully one-third of my life in true sleep, entirely absent from my mental workbench. Therefore, I enjoy and embrace this productive schedule.
However, this is not to say that sleeping so little was entirely salubrious. There was one odd effect that I believe would be anyone, if anyone there be, who maintain the same sleep habits as I. The effect of which I speak is one that, after the events to be related in this volume, I came to call “The Slender Man.” I did not have a name for him in the beginning, nor did I even think of the phenomenon as anything beyond a trick of overtaxed eyes and an underutilized bed; however, the phenomenon was hardly less unnerving for that knowledge. He was merely a smoke-like human form, impossibly reedy, vacant of features on an utterly smooth and white oval of a head. The form was shifting darkness espied in my peripheral vision, always outside whether day or not, darkening a doorway or recesses between buildings, but these infrequently; most of the sightings were made while I walked to or from the Edison campus, his body floating between the trees fifty yards away, first on one side, then the other.
This effect was less annoying in the beginning—I was nineteen or so when I first noticed it—because it amused me, the way the effects created by stereoscopes amuse those who gaze into them. Exactly so, in fact: one knows it is an illusion, it must be, but it remains captivating, compelling, the usually dependable senses going haywire in the presence of that which should not be.
Every time I noticed the shade, I credited it to overwork, but instead of seeing it as a call to cease the quantity and quality of my efforts, I took it as a sign that I truly was giving everything I had to peeling back the mysteries of electricity and using that knowledge to help the world. If I be honest—and I am always honest—I know now, and I would bet ten groats I knew then but denied this knowledge to myself, that he was something evil, something worse than death, something with a dark existence that was absolutely, horrifyingly, undeniably real.
In fact, from the years between the haunting encounter in Manhattan2 to the last in a wooded area near Wardenclyffe Tower,3 I invariably chose to turn my mind to anything—anything—else when he floated like a corpse from the depths of my memory. Young science enthusiasts, it is only in the service of truth that I endure the conveyance of this experience.
A SHADOW IS ENCOUNTERED.
My first encounter with what I now know was the Slender Man came while I was but a 31-year-old electrical engineer struggling under the employ of that dark wizard of Menlo Park, who was then still of Pearl Street in New York City. I would enjoy my long walk to Edison’s laboratory, running my gedanken-experiments on what would become Alternating Current—and for which, as my biographers have been careful to mention, I was treated with derision by that ham-handed blunderer—and this walk carried me past some pleasant wooded city parks.
It would be entirely unrealistic to expect a human body, no matter what the quality of the mind housed within, to shuck off billions of years of mundane development in order to facilitate the mental-innovation schedule of one man. I understood this and was aware that periods of unbroken wakefulness would necessarily move one’s corpus to announce its desire for sleep. In me, this protest manifested itself in involuntary saccades of the eyes—more accurate would be to call them twitches, since saccades, technically speaking,4 involve both eyes moving as one.
Dear reader, other than by reactions caused by the eyes’ reflexes, I believed these shapes to be mere hallucinated chimera, no more physical than rainbows. Or, more to the point, than shadows.
On this occasion, I was wrong.
A dark figure shifted in the right side of my periphery. I whipped my carefully coiffed head to get a squared look, but no one I could see lurked within the woods. I let out a self-deprecating chuckle and continued on—
The left side now. The chuckle snapped off like a dropped current. Something was there.
But I was looking directly at the space that contained the movement. There was no one—there was nothing.
Actually, that was not entirely accurate. Although there was nothing in my direct field of view—what was taken in by the detail-perceiving “cones” at the center of the eye—I once again detected some dark shape moving in the periphery on my left.
This time, however, I used the mental fortitude I had developed during my student days at the Graz University of Technology to prevent the reflexive turning of my head to get “a better look.” No, the “look” I needed would be entirely lost again if I relied on basic perceptual instinct; this shadow—and now I became aware of the cold which had suddenly crept upon me despite the sun-lit hour—would vanish like a black flame whenever I fixed my gaze upon it, then dance and mock me any time I looked away.
Then how was I to see this apparition clearly, I wondered, beyond the vague movement that was all I could make of it from the extreme corners of my eyes? How could I both look at it and not look at it at the same time?
The answer came, as it so often does, from my understanding of the behavior of light. As Newton5 showed, light on an incident path will find its reflected path to share the same arc-width; thus, it is simple to calculate the angle at which one should hold a gentleman’s pocket mirror (which I carried at all times in the pocket of my waistcoat, of course) in order to view the reflected image of some object positioned to the side of or behind the holder of said mirror.
Using this knowledge, I slipped my looking glass from its pocket and held it directly in front of me. (In other words, exactly where the ghoul was not.) I then swept it slowly, pivoting it on a vertical axis through its center, to scan the wooded area from side to side. As the shape had most recently manifested itself to my left, I began there; but, not spying it again, I felt confident I would espy it through the mirror as it danced to my right.
I was correct once again.6 My eyes had to rest somewhere while I saw the shadow thing vaguely on either side, and now they “rested” by gazing without sharp focus on the image in the pocket mirror, at the Slender Man. His form waved like a flag in a constant mild wind, his solidity pulsing and flowing; his four wispy arms undulated in a surreal, undersea rhythm. He wore what looked to my slightly unfocused eyes to be a mourning suit and a black four-in-hand necktie, like what Death itself might wear if called to testify before God. But most unsettling was the creature’s face.
Or, rather, its lack of one. There was only a white blankness that made me—me—want to vomit, run away, and never leave my rooms again. The head was hatless and without feature anywhere on its earless, smooth oval, and this made the lack of eyes or nose or mouth infinitely more harrowing to look upon. Apparently noticing that his image had been captured in the mirror, the thing screeched and startled me into dropping the glass.
I picked it back up immediately and looked askance with the “rods” of my eyes; then turned my head and looked directly with the “cones” at the spot where he had just been. But he was gone, and I would not see him again for a long time—long, but nevertheless never long enough. I gathered it was a vast understatement to say the thing did not enjoy being seen in all its dark glory.
A time did come when the Slender Man would come to haunt me once more, and that time is the main subject of the Penny Dreadful you are now reading, and I understand if you are reading this, despite my reputation, possibly with some skepticism. But, as in my earlier adventure, you will see that any such skepticism is soon to be overwhelmed by narrative fact.
I must hark back to a few years following la fin de siècle to tell the tale of my battle with and ultimate defeat of the terror that unfolded in the first years of the new century. My memory, then as now, is eidetic, and thus the passing of years has done nothing to diminish the experience in my mind.
NEXT WEEK: PART 2 — A TRAGEDY IS REPORTED!
A TRAGEDY IS REPORTED.
It was Boxing Day, 1904. I had just enjoyed the holiday previous with my friends the poet Robert Underwood Johnson and his wife, who had come up to Long Island 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 had been halted due to … consequences is all 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. I still very much enjoyed long perambulations, but, 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 is wasted!) filament-based electric light bulb, as contrasted with my own, more advanced “fluorescent” light.
Mere brutes did not frighten me, as they were no match for my Bartitsu training, but those with possibly supernatural malfeasance on their minds presented 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 activity 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—fluorescence provides a more consistent and bright illumination than incandescence—and his ignorance of my identity provided 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:
NO SIGN OF YOUNG GIRL
Was this the item over which the crowd was making such a hullabaloo? It was unfortunate, certainly, not to say insensitively timed during the holidays, but a six-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 Mister and Mis’ess Walker residing near 34th Street and Broadway, reported was their daughter excusing herself to her room for bedtime. Mother Walker 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 by Mister Nast’s popular illustrations in Harper’s Weekly Magazine, visiting her home that very night. No forced entry or other physical insult to the door or window of her room was identified, and small footprints were found leading toward the trees. The Walkers reportedly told the newspaperman that “Suzie stayed up almost all night” on both the antepenultimate day and last day before Christmas. Despite young Susan’s retirement to her room at 9 o’clock both nights, her parents reported that she could be heard stirring on and off for hours, 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 in resignation to that statement, puzzling me. As I don’t care for speaking with unknown persons—or known persons, for that matter—at close proximity, I didn’t ask for further information or clarification regarding this sentiment. To whom were they referring? Who was “back”? And why “right on time”?
I folded my newspaper twice to ensure neat edges 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 conveyance. 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 conclusion: she had wandered off. Perhaps her body would be found in the Manhattan slush; perhaps she would be discovered alive and wiser (if shaken) for the experience. And, of course, perhaps she would never be found, whether dead or alive.
I beg of you not to think me cruel in my speculations. I have no opposition to the concept of children, for those who desire them; but the entire process—which relies entirely on unskilled labor, I might add—of conceiving and producing children, some of whom will, no doubt, survive to adulthood and, presumably, produce more children, is anathema to me, a perpetual motion machine of dubious value at best.
Of course, 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 periodic reports of his master’s 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 at the base of the tower 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 detecting mundane criminal activity, I truly was no Sherlock Holmes.7
I continued to the streetcar station, consoling myself with the fact that Mister Holmes, while leagues above myself in crime-solving prowess, was probably not wrestling with how to bring unlimited free 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 floor, the facility being used to prepare my latest innovation, the bladeless turbine, for demonstration at the Waterside Power Station. I shooed out Tippy the office boy, who had lingered after stacking some cordwood to heat the large open space of the workshop proper, and Thomerson entered to greet me and present any developments arising since I had left the previous evening.
In most cases, I find “chit-chat” an appalling waste of time. However, in Thomerson I found a bright and interesting interlocutor who would often lean against the doorjamb of my office 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 of the early edition, which I already had seen and bought my own copy, screaming out that tawdry headline about the missing girl. “It’s a sad day, Mister Tesla. A child—children, I should say—gone missing at Christmas. Probably dead, I’m sad to say.”
“Children? And dead, not simply missing? Have new editions of the newspapers reported more disappearances?”
“Not yet, sir,” Thomerson said and shook his head ruefully. “But he comes once every hundred years or so, always starting right around the holiday. This is just the one the newsmen know about so far, I’d bet. Mark my words, sir, there’s gonna be more before he’s done.”
“He? 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 morning allotment of Dewar’s Scotch Whisky8 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 long-ago encounter.
“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?” I felt the words streaming from my mouth under its impeccable moustaches. “Is he the one who watched me work through my thought experiments? Or is this some moniker given an unidentified villain by the newspapers, like ‘Jack the Ripper’ or ‘the Pearl Street Strangler’?”
“Sir? 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 my shout seemed to stop every noise, every bit of movement in the shop. It definitely drew some of the color from Thomerson’s face.
“Yes, sir, of course,” he said with a new seriousness. “Everybody knows—the, erm, common man knows, I mean—that every one hundred winters the Slender Man steals children who stray too near the woods. He takes them one by one, until he is driven off to return a century later.”
“Exactly one century?” It was 1904; my experience with the phantom had occurred only seventeen years previous, in the winter of 1887.
Thomerson shrugged a shoulder. “Maybe not, sir. I suppose it could be that he’s only noticed after a few years, or maybe saying it’s a hundred years just makes the story stick better to keep the kids from wandering off.”
“Yes, and I would conjecture that folktales and contemporary Eighteenth-Century warnings transmitted by handbill might not make for the most accurate measure of the villain’s interval. That is, unless there are supercentenarians to support this contention of cyclical disappearance and return.”
“Sounds reasonable, Mister Tesla.”
“But you specified that the Slender Man takes them. Takes them where, I wonder?”
“No one knows. Some say he eats them. Others say he enlists them to serve in Hell.”
“I see,” I said with a sigh. Metaphysical mumbo-jumbo was terribly tiresome, not to mention almost entirely unhelpful. However, I must admit that, although I did speak somewhat dismissively of such shoddy documentation, I felt a chill at the possible fate of Miss Walker, something I no longer fully believed was due to a misadventure while seeking sign of Saint Nicholas.
Thomerson gazed at the well-swept floor of my office and muttered, perhaps in abashment, perhaps in fear, perhaps both: “I heard about him when I was a boy running messages from the telegraph office, sir. I myself repeated the story of the Slender Man to other office boys when practicing Mister Morse’s code back and forth. I know my friends did the same, multiplying it to still more boys at more offices. Nobody knows exactly where the legend started, Mister Tesla, only that the story was sent and received telegraphically—electrically, I guess you’d say. It always says that he comes every hundred years, steals children, and so on.”
I thus concluded that there was no independent verification of this Slender Man phenomenon, reports of the phantom being spread like one of Doctor Ivanovsky’s infectious viruses.9 “Thomerson, surely you recognize that this Slender Man hypothesis is weak tea, indeed.”
“As you say, sir, but that don’t mean it’s not true.”
“Doesn’t, but yes, you are correct. Before my victory over the Daylight Vampires, I believe I would have dismissed this spectre out of hand.10 And, as in that adventure, it is clear that our errand boy may once again be our secret weapon.”
“Shall I call Tippy back in, then, sir?”
“If you please. That is, if he hasn’t somehow already been taken by this Slender Man or—more likely—some miscreant using the story to obscure his own nefarious ends.”
There was a rap on the window of my office door, and we could see it wouldn’t be necessary for Thomerson to call for Tippy: our slightly sooty workshop helper had returned. Thomerson opened the door for him, and Tippy entered to present another newspaper. “A morning extra, sirs,” he said, and handed it to my assistant, whose widened eyes betrayed his dismay.
“What is it, man?” I said in a voice without strength.
He turned the paper around. A large rendering dominated the front page: in a tree-lined city park, next to one winter-bare trunk, stood a man at least eight feet tall, dressed in black, his face a white blank, with arms—four of them—undulating like tentacles all the way to the ground.
‘SLENDER MAN’ RETURNED?
NO CHILD SAFE!
“Tippy, evil is afoot,” I said as dramatically as I could muster. “Might you once again answer the hero’s call?”
“Always up for an adventure, Mister Tesla.”
“Good man,” I said.
A HYPOTHESIS IS RUSHED.
It is not in my nature to work quickly. Unlike Mister Edison and his brute-force approach to invention—he will order his staff to build model after model to correct problems that could have been anticipated with a pencil and a length of butcher’s block paper—I conceive of a machine or, in the present case, an experiment and run it over and over in my mind until the concept has been thoroughly proven,11 adjusted if necessary, and proven again until it is ready to be created as a model. (This last is necessary to ensure that no disappointing “real world” complications defeat the elegance of the concept during the rudeness of action.)
However, the Slender Man, whatever he or it was, needed to be brought into the light. It would not do to allow some evil entity to attack passing children12 from copses of trees near public parks, summoning them for spiriting away with some irresistible siren call. Thomerson took me to the telegraphy room at the Wardenclyffe Post Office,13 where I was able to speak to the now-grown versions of the types of boys who had shared the legend—I here refer to it as a “legend,” even though it arose in urban environments rather than from the dark forests of medieval Germany or the sylvan glades of Greece—and learn the following before going off half-cocked in desperation with the first idea that entered my mind:
The Slender Man is said to reappear roughly every hundred years, but his removal of children from this earthly plane may go on for years before he is identified as the cause. Thus, while it was 1904 when the events of this narrative unfolded, it could have been 1801 when he was noticed last time, or 1804, or, indeed, 1887. There is no way to know for certain, especially considering the unreliability of public reports prior to the modern age. Also, it is in the nature of children to go missing. They are untidy and careless, and a dozen children vanishing over several years may have gone without the incidents being connected in the public eye. (Indeed, in later repose at the New York City Public Library, I was to find that the apparition’s present appearance was predated by at least ten children lost under circumstances remarkably similar to our suspect’s modus operandus.)
Only those same untidy, careless children may actually perceive the Slender Man, at least initially. In the right circumstances, according to Thomerson and his fellow mythos-promulgators, certain adults may be able to detect his presence well enough and for long enough to banish him until his next centennial appearance, or at least from that place for another one hundred years.
No version of the legend that my informants were aware of specified how, exactly, the Slender Man was previously, even if only temporarily, defeated.14
I admit that I entered into this experiment without a full understanding of what we were facing—a rushed action unique in my experience—but an alacritous response was vital lest this bogey-man grow stronger, and hence bolder, in our waking world. To that end, I instructed Tippy to procure a length of stout rope. I would have preferred metal cord that would carry an electric current aimed at disrupting the ectoplasmic form of this supernatural monster (if supernatural it was), but since the tether would be firmly tied around Tippy’s small frame, such an approach would have the unfortunate effect of frying the boy to a crisp in the process, thus spectacularly defeating the purpose of the whole enterprise.
“You were in the Merchant Marine once, were you not?” I asked my assistant, who nodded. “Then you shall be able to fit Tippy with a harness knot, from which this kopile will be unable to remove him?”
It took me a moment to realize that he was not, in fact, calling me a bastard, but only repeating a word I had just spoken. “Please excuse me, Thomerson. A Croatian epithet beneath a person of my station.”
“Mister Tesla,” he said with care, “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard you pop a native word into conversation before. Are you okay? Begging your pardon, but why are you so passionate to give the business to the Slender Man? If I may, sir, you have no children and ain’t never cared for them, to my knowledge. No offense, Tippy.”
“None taken, thank you, sir. Can’t say as I blame him. Can’t stand ’em my own self.”
We both smiled at our young friend, but soon silence filled the volume of my workshop office, silence that could be dispersed only by my answer to Thomerson’s question: Was I all right? I sent the errand boy on his way and collected myself.
“Your concerns are valid,” I said with solemnity. “You are no doubt discomfited by my charging forth against an enemy I do not fully understand with methods that have barely been turned over in my mind once, let alone with my usual redundant precision.”
“It did strike me, sir.”
I nodded. “Mister Thomerson, you have been in my employ long enough to know that I do nothing without sufficient reason, and this Slender Man business is no exception. The full truth is that, when I was working for Mister Edison in New York City, I encountered, fought, and—I have always believed—defeated for good a dark being that had, since my youth, presented itself to me in periods of great mental exertion or stress. I now believe that this evil being has returned and its identity to be the very same Slender Man who is now likely responsible for stealing these unfortunate children.”
“But—sir—how could you detect the monster? Pardon the familiarity, but you’re no ‘spring chicken.’15 And he appears only once every hundred years, or real irregular, anyway.”
I forgave his insults to the language and responded, “It is because I have a childlike mind—in the admirable sense, of course. That is to say, I am able to see problems and phenomena with the fresh eyes of a child instead of the jaundiced view of … an old and vastly overpraised inventor, say.” I swept a mote of dust from my coat sleeve. “We must keep in mind that, while he may materialize and remove offspring according to some unknown schedule, we cannot assume that his vile presence is absent entirely from this physical world when he isn’t noticed plying his dark trade.”
Thomerson took in this latest information and nodded somberly. “Then you know what the Slender Man is? You got an idea how to defeat him?”
“Indeed not,” I said. “But no one can tell you the exact nature of light or of the luminiferous æther in which it travels, but, as you well know, I have entirely tamed both of these and put them to use for the betterment of mankind.”
With misplaced confidence, my shop assistant blurted to the greatest mind of the Twentieth Century:16 “But … isn’t light just electromagnetic radiation falling inside the visible spectrum? And didn’t those English guys disprove the existence of the æther?”
I fixed the misguided servant with an expression I hoped would cow him into abandonment of such anti-scientific notions (spouted in my very presence!) and said with intimidating finality, “I think it would be best if you hailed a carriage. Leave word for Tippy to meet us at the wooded area where we resurrected that beagle last year.17 We must offer the agreeable boy as bait so I may grasp the nature of this ‘Slender Man.’”
“Gotcha,” Thomerson said, then caught my expression. “I mean—understood. Sir.”
THE EXPERIMENT GOES BADLY.
The idea, if I may refer to the abomination upon which I too hastily acted with that noble word, was that the Slender Man had to assume a physical form in order to seize a physical target such as a sooty child looped within a coil of rope. If he were physical—and, of course, if the child had been well instructed not to go to him despite any compelling call—then he would have to approach very near Tippy, which meant he would also have to place his newly corporeal form very near to myself and Thomerson, both of whom were obscured from view by a large bush and holding onto the other end of the rope. My aim was that the Slender Man would attempt to grab and drag off the errand boy but be stopped from doing so by we adults resisting via the rope; in so doing, I planned to examine the monster as thoroughly as possible before he ran away without his prize.
That is not, exactly, how it went.
Tippy arrived and we tied the rope around him, Thomerson employing an impressive knot he had learned during his maritime career. Then Thomerson and I took our positions behind the foliage and each looped the tether around one hand. And then we waited. My scientist’s eye reminded me that there was little chance the Slender Man would pick this boy at this time just because he was near a wooded area. Even if the chances were good a random child would be his target, perhaps the shade could detect that there were two adults very nearby. It might also be able to sense that there was a rope tied around the bait, or be forewarned of imminent danger by any other tell-tale conditions that I would certainly have avoided in any less-urgent circumstances. However, necessity is the mother of invention, and there we were.
It did not take long for an odd howl, like that of some ethereal wolf, to sound over the glen. Tippy—a boy whom I had personally seen snatch a brass button from an old uniform after it had been shoved inside a roaring furnace—eked out in a terrified whisper, “S-Sir! He’s here. He’s here.”
I could not resist a peek over the bush18 at the thing from my nightmares.
“What?” I muttered stupidly, fumbling for my gentleman’s mirror to engage in the optical trickery I had used to glimpse the villain years before. I held it and swept every angle of my peripheral vision, keeping my loosely focused gaze squarely on the center of the glass. But some element was missing. The Slender Man was definitely present—I could feel the temperature of our immediate vicinity drop—but the mirror remained empty of ghouls. “Tippy, I see nothing. Thomerson?”
My assistant joined me in looking over the top of the bush, then shook his head.
The boy’s words were almost incomprehensible through his fear. “He’s—he—Mister Tesla! He’s right there! No! NO! Mister Tesla! Mister Thomerson! Help! Help m—”
Both of us rushed from our hiding space to block the horror or grab Tippy or do anything except stand open-mouthed at the sight of the lasso of rope lying on the grass just where Tippy had been sitting and finding our young friend completely vanished … along with the thing that took him. But that, of course, was exactly what we ended up doing.
A DESPERATE MOVE IS PROPOSED.
It was well into the afternoon before Thomerson and I abandoned the search for Tippy. The open area was not large, and the cluster of trees was inaccessible after a few yards, but we spent several hours calling for the boy, beating the brush with sticks—to what end, I still do not know—and circumnavigating what felt like every plant in the forest to see whether Tippy was somehow stored behind one. In the end, we failed to find a single sign of him or the Slender Man, and we called off our efforts due to exhaustion, frustration, and hunger. We hiked back to Wardenclyffe, washed up, and took our dinner together at a chophouse near the Machine Works. As we solemnly fortified ourselves, my able assistant and I used our sadness to focus on finding a solution to this intolerable, now undeniably supernatural, situation.
“Sir, do you think Tippy is lost? Dead, I mean?”
I considered this and said, “If the Slender Man can become corporeal at will and exist for centuries, perhaps there is hope that our young friend yet lives. For all I am aware, there could be some timeless supernal dimension to which the spectre flees with his quarries, and perhaps all the children he has taken still exist there. The unfortunate fact is that, however much we may wish this to be so, there is no evidence supporting such a place.”
“But there’s no evidence against it, right?”
“True, but I find the conjunction of those two properties to almost always be the case when something simply doesn’t exist.” It was a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless. That said, it wasn’t a logical necessity; Tippy and the others could still have been alive and returnable to our realm. But the only way we would ever find them would be to find the Slender Man first. Fortunately—and hardly surprisingly—I thought of something that could allow us to see the demon, which was the necessary first step in catching him. “Thomerson, pardon my impertinence, but how long do you sleep each night? A rough estimate, if you please.”
He looked surprised and a bit amused at the question. “Well, sir, I never really sat down and counted it, but I guess I’d say your usual seven to nine.”
“Very good. This is important,” I said with a bit of amusement, as my usual “seven to nine” was more like “three to four,” the very point I now sought to make. “You may recall that I related to you the story of how I had felt the spectre nearby when I had been working especially hard on some problem. However, I failed to realize that an important element was missing from my narrative, this element being what prevented me from seeing the thing as it attacked young Tippy just now; something different in the circumstances from when I was able to visually apprehend the thing entire.”
“But, sir, what could it be? We were outside, near trees—I mean, the Slender Man was there, right? I’m no scientist, Mister Tesla, but I can’t think of what could’ve been missing. Maybe the sun was too high in the sky or something?”
I finished a bite of salmon19 and said, “You may not be a scientist, my friend, but you still approach problems like a man of science. It’s one of the reasons I sometimes endure—excuse me, enjoy—your presence even outside of the Works,” I said, and Thomerson seemed as chuffed as possible considering the experience we had just suffered at the hands of our enemy. “Now, I shall presently reveal the last piece of the puzzle, but, to your point, I don’t believe that the angle of sunlight would come to bear on whether the spirit could be viewed, but that is an element we can at least minimize by taking our next step during the transitional period between full day and full night, or, more to our purposes, between full night and full day.”
“You mean at twilight?20 In that sorta zone?”
“Precisely,” I said. “Perhaps there is a fifth dimension beyond those known to man. I conjecture that this could be beyond the vastness of the three dimensions of space as well as beyond the infinity of the fourth dimension, that of time.”
“Wow … I … wow. Can we get there, or at least, you know, pull Tippy out?”
“I propose this ‘twilight zone’ may be a middle ground between light and shadow, between the worlds of science and superstition. A place that represents the lowest pit of our fears, but also one which I can conquer by rising to the summit of my knowledge.” I stopped for a moment to admire my own spontaneous poesy. “And it is that very knowledge, combined with my vigorous and flexible imagination, which I shall now share with you to tell how we may summon the Slender Man—and defeat him.”
“Terrific, sir!” Thomerson placed the last bite of chop into his mouth and chewed with an expectant smile on his face.
I slid my plate to the side, as I wanted no more of the fleshy sustenance, and summoned the serving girl for two strong coffees. “I can envision a signpost up ahead—our next stop: the ‘twilight zone’!”
SLEEP IS DEPRIVED.
The crux of my insight had relied on the memory of that morning in 1887 when I encountered the spindly shade on my walk to Edison’s laboratory and saw its entirety through that mirror held in the palm of my hand. The Slender Man appeared to me in toto after I spied the dark disturbance in the corners of my eyes as I had since my youth in times of particularly concentrated work and mental fatigue caused by a lack of slumber. During such times of uninterrupted cognition and work, I truly sleep, as mentioned above, three to four hours per diurnal cycle,21,22 and the period of my invention of alternating current certainly qualified as such a time.
I had come to the now-obvious realization that tiredness of the mind and body necessarily would include tiredness in the eyes. The saccades were necessary to see the Slender Man at the boundaries of vision, and it was necessary to detect his evil presence there before employing optic trickery to see in full his wavering, terrifying, faceless form. Neither I nor Thomerson—nor any adult, it seemed—could sense him any other way. Children, being of a brain and mind still forming, could see the villain regardless; but that also could have been due to the kidnapper needing to appear in full form before his victim, and he stole only children.
After the girl went to fetch the refreshment of our beverages, Thomerson shifted in his seat at the table. “Coffee, Mister Tesla? Shouldn’t we, y’know, go out and execute your plan? Whatever it is, I mean?”
I sipped my brew, which was vile but had to be braved for the good of Tippy and all children in danger from the enemy. I very much wished I could get a drop or two of Dewar’s in my flagon, but that would produce entirely the opposite effect from that which I was seeking from the bitter elixir in the first place. “Sip your coffee, Thomerson. We shall finish off more than one pot of it before the dawn.”
“The dawn? Respectfully, sir, it’s three in the afternoon! We’re gonna sit here and drink coffee ’til sunrise?”
“Indeed not, my man. I imagine that, by evening and on and off again throughout the long night, we shall rise regularly to ‘stretch our legs,’ as your folk might say. I believe that the brisk night-time air will help keep us awake and fill us with a bit of vigor so that we may be rejuvenated upon re-entering this establishment to commence the draining of another pot of Javanese.”
“But—sir—are you saying we need to stay up all night? All night? Without a drop of anything real to drink? I would never question your decisions, but could you possibly tell me what this has got to do with the Slender Man?”
I could feel my slick moustaches rise at one end as I smiled. I sipped again and said, “That’s quite all right, Thomerson. Such an idea as mine may seem to a working-class fellow such as yourself to be pointless, or even strange. But remember, if you will, the predicate upon which I spotted the form of the Slender Man: I had dedicated even less time to restorative sleep than usual, not even allowing myself my usual periodic thirty-second dips into unconsciousness. No, it was only when my body was utterly denied of rest that my eyes could detect the shadow to one or the other side of my visual field. I propose that you and I do the same to our unfortunate bodies tonight, staying awake without even the enjoyable cushion of alcoholic libation to ease our minds until morning.”
“Wait,” Thomerson said (and I did not blame him for forgetting the ‘sir’ in this instance; this was an odd idea, indeed).23 “I’ve missed entire nights of sleep—heck, two in a row sometimes—but I never ‘detected’ the Slender Man, or anything else unusual, come to think of it. I mean, there was one late night on a riverboat where I thought one girl in the bed was the other for a minute—”
“Yes! Well! That is certainly a very interesting story for another time,” I said quickly and gulped down the rest of my coffee while indicating that Thomerson do the same. I filled our cups again and gestured to the dining hall’s young lady to bring us another carafe, and quickly. “I believe the reason that you did not see the Slender Man during your own long periods of … let us say, wakefulness … is that the Slender Man was not there. Were you near a wood at the time of your asomnia? Was it a place that children, perhaps, were likely to be nearby? I would think that your sleepless nights were spent on the ships of the Merchant Marine, or, apparently, riverboats—places where nearby copses of trees were unlikely to exist.”
“I see what you mean, sir. Yeah, it was on ships and also in factories away from where the children mostly worked. All right, it sounds like a winner, Mister Tesla.” He raised his cup. “I do believe we’ll be spending a lot of the night leaning against the wall out back drinking all this stuff, but when morning comes, our eyes should be plenty ready to see that son of a … gun. But after that, how are we supposed to defeat the Slender Man?”
“Never you worry, my good man. We shall engage in shop-talk and perhaps you may share some of your no doubt diverting ‘sea shanties’ over the next dozen hours. When this place closes, we shall hasten to my residence and I can then keep us amused by using my electric coils to make the hair on our heads rise and other such novelties.24 When the rosy fingers of dawn arrive, we will head to the Machine Works on the way and enlist a squad of the night shift’s strongest workmen to carry three of my dressing mirrors to the scene of Tippy’s kidnapping.”
Thomerson nodded, no doubt seeing that the large mirrors would be somehow employed as the single small mirror had been seventeen years earlier to dispel the dark presence. Then he smirked as I had earlier and said, “Sir, you have three dressing mirrors?”
“No,” I replied, not understanding the source of his amusement. “But we need only three. I have one in every room of the house, of course.”
He hid his growing smile behind the coffee cup. “Of course.”
THE PHANTOM MENACE RUNS AFOUL OF ITS AUDIENCE.
It has long been my experience that one does not simply throw up his hands at his first utter destruction by a mysterious metaphysical enemy.25 No, rather than give in to despair and simply find another workshop errand boy, one should move ahead full-bore—if I may use a machine-shop metaphor—to erase the phantom menace from existence. (If this proves impossible, then and only then may we block the abomination from our minds and even act as if it never existed.) This seems to have been the approach to each appearance of the Slender Man throughout centuries of folktales and legends. I believed I had now a strategy to defeat him, but whether that would be temporary or if he would appear in the first decade of the Twenty-First Century to haunt the world’s youth once again, I could not say.
By the time day broke26 and the sun had risen enough to clear the trees in our forest glen staging ground, Thomerson and I were exhibiting a marked tendency to stare at the ground and mumble incoherencies at each other. We were, as they say, gassed.27 But Thomerson remained wakeful enough to press five of his burliest metal-benders from the Machine Works to assist him in procuring and carrying the three heavy gentleman’s dressing mirrors from my home on the Wardenclyffe grounds. Once the men had positioned the mirrors into an equilateral triangle and angled them according to my specifications, they were dismissed and it was, once again, just loyal Thomerson and myself.
“I know I’m just the hired help here, sir, but I don’t understand how this is supposed to work.”
I fixed him with my bleary eyes, which were already saccading like those “jumping” seed pods from Mexico containing the heat-excited larva of Cydia deshaisiana. “I believe I have gone over this with you several times over the course of our extended evening. Nevertheless, we are tired perhaps beyond the easy formation of memory, so I shall explain again in temporal proximity to our campaign.”
Thomerson blinked his own red “peepers” several times in rapid succession. “What?”
His tone was disregarded due to our state. I smiled as best I could and said, “Please forgive my inability to adjust my speech to the audience, friend. I, too, am exhausted perhaps beyond even my high tolerance. What I meant is that you are probably too tired to remember my elucidation of our plan due to this purposeful fatigue, and so I will outline it to you again since we’re about to deploy it: in my former encounter with the Slender Man, he shrieked and vanished when I was able to use my hand-mirror to look him in the eye.”28
“All right,” Thomerson said, clearly working hard to take this all in.
“My reasoning behind this array of larger mirrors is that you and I may each espy him in the crook of our peripheral vision in a different mirror as we stand askance from the plane of the glass. When he appears at the corner of our exhaustion-twitching eyes, we shall turn our heads quickly to plant him squarely in the center of our fields of view, which—should he behave according to my prior experience—will force him into vapor that shall not re-coalesce for at least a decade, if not longer. Perhaps forever, since he is now being dispelled by the amplified power of more than a single direct witness.”
Thomerson nodded in understanding.
“My hope is that this extended period of consciousness will aid your mind in mimicking that of a child, open and curious. It should be, through this insomniac abuse, malleable enough to embrace the virtual, where, I contend, the Slender Man normally exists, and is not yet resigned to the mundane world of bricks and mortar. My mind has become somewhat hardened in age itself, and I believe the same effect should have taken root here as well.”
Thomerson’s gray and weary face was no match for his exuberant words: “Brilliant, sir! I knew no evil … kopile … could defeat the mind of Nikola Tesla!”
I laughed heartily despite the gravity of our situation and the pull of Morpheus. “Excellent, Mister Thomerson—your long-term memory is almost as good as mine, I see!”
“But … why three mirrors for two people? And what about poor Tippy?”
“Dear fellow, the answer to those questions is one and the same. During our marathon of taking in coffee and passing out water last night, I formed the hypothesis that when the Slender Man is present in his quasi-physical form, all of his stolen children are present as well, if invisible. I sincerely wish that I could save them all, but among them only Tippy knows you and myself, and only he is clever enough to know how to participate in this triangulation … spell, if you will.” I added, with slightly increased volume, but in a manner that would appear to all watching that I was still speaking only to Thomerson, “Only Tippy would know to position himself regarding the third mirror in such a way that he could form the ultimate member of our exorcising triumvirate. Only he would understand that his incorporeal form, which cannot become “tired,” doesn’t need to do so in the first place since his mind is already, by definition, that of a child.”
Thomerson was pleased by this, indeed, but his smile loosened at some inner qualm. “That is aces, sir, it goes without saying. But how will we know when the Slender Man is gonna show up?”
“Attend to the twitching of your eyes, Thomerson,” I said, and motioned him into his position as I assumed my own. “He is already here.”
As my assistant realized what he could see in the corners of his vision, his eyes widened with fear. He whispered, “I can see him. A darkness flittering around, I mean.”
“As can I.”
“Holy sh—I mean, golly—but I think I can see Tippy, too.”
I could see a small shape as well, exactly in the position I had hoped he would understand he needed to take.29 “Good. Excellent, in fact, but pay no mind to him—keep the Slender Man in your attention.”
“Aye, sir,” Thomerson said, slipping unconsciously into nautical-speak.
“Now, on the count of three, swivel your head to peer perpendicularly into the center of the looking glass. Its angle should put your form to one side and the villain right in the middle. And Thomerson, keep your eyes unfocused. Spying the beast directly may draw you into his dimension despite your post-pubescent age, and I don’t know if I will have the wherewithal to extract you and Tippy.”
“I imagine Tippy understands both the count and the other instructions.” I steeled myself and counted, “One … two … three!”
I threw my head to the right and put my gaze—although not my focus—on the mirror as I had told Thomerson and Tippy to do—
—and there he—it—was.
Waving like a drowned woman’s hair, the dark apparition in black suit and black tie put two of its arms up, its smear-like hands pressing against the sides of its face like Munch’s screaming soul—it screeched like the wheels of a freight train braking at the hands of a panicked conductor—and a black stain opened like a mouth upon the oval head, which narrowed until it stretched into a slender line and disappeared. The scream echoed in my ears even after my weeping red eyes could no longer apprehend its form.
Finally, I was able to move my eyes to see my friend Tippy standing just where he was supposed to be, first smiling and then, seeing that Thomerson and I were truly there—that he himself was truly there—laughing almost to the point of losing consciousness, exactly as a young boy should.
A Word about ‘Penny Dreadfuls.’
Although many in the current century have become aware of the term “penny dreadful” only through exposure to the Showtime television drama of the same name, these “novelettes” possess an interesting history (if not a pedigree).
In the late 1800s in both England and the United States, the establishment of mandatory education for all children until the age of 10 created a huge market for reading material. Unfortunately, most of this newly literate population could not afford the hardback leather books of the day. Newspapers did not hold any particular interest for young minds in search of entertainment.
Thus, the “penny dreadful” (in the US, the “dime novel”) was born from the availability of very cheap “pulp” paper, subject matter ranging from what we now call “Steampunk” heroes to lurid stories of crime, murder, and sex.
With the advent of radio, this ingenious solution to the needs of an entire generation of readers died out. Paperbacks with cardboard covers rather than the coverless earlier publications filled the remaining need for thrilling or lurid reading material. (They are still known as “pulps” because of the cheap waste paper used back in the day.)
But despair not! Hoade’s Penny Dreadfuls has brought back the exciting “short novel” form, true to the spirit of the penny dreadful and dime novel … even if they now sport a protective cover and are printed on nice, smooth paper.
A Note on the Type.
The typeface used inside this book is called OldNewspaperTypes. It is fashioned after “cold type,” hand-placed cast metal sorts that were painstakingly laid out in reverse by the typesetter into words, then lines, then paragraphs, then entire books.
This particular typeface is the one used in The Strand magazine in the late 1800s to print Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes adventures. We feel it is therefore the ideal choice of type for our enthusiastically old-school “penny dreadfuls.”
- An aside to Orville and Wilbur: this is not meant to imply that I would refuse such a ride. (Telegraph me.)
- Relayed below.
- Also relayed below, but further.
- My favorite method of speaking.
- An intellectual giant who would, no doubt, be highly amused if he knew the absurd attempt to overthrow his physical theories that would be propagated by the pleasant but misguided Einstein the year following the adventure detailed in the current volume. Fortunately, at the time of the Slender Man’s appearance to me in 1887, light was still understood to travel in straight lines rather than bending around corners like an impossibly fast motorcar.
- Dedicated readers of my biography may know that I am not a native speaker of English. As a linguistic outsider, however, I am entirely devoted to knowing more about my adopted tongue than do many born to the language. Thus warming to my role as educator, I must point out a slight factual error in Mister Watson’s reports: the mental technique Sherlock Holmes performs is not deduction, the forming of conclusions based on incontrovertible statements and facts, but instead abduction, the use of evidence to form a conclusion that is not logically inevitable but is nevertheless undeniable. You are most welcome.
- Judge not.
- The reader should not be surprised at my currency regarding the latest medical discoveries.
- This was, to my shame, not entirely truthful, given that I had almost certainly encountered the thing itself as reported earlier in this volume. However, do not think me committed to even this small obfuscation; I rectify this sin of omission against Thomerson as the tale unfolds.
- “Proven” here meaning “tested,” as in the term “proving ground.” The result of such testing is the “proof.” Again, it is my pleasure to provide such illumination, if you will pardon the pun.
- Or 31-year-old electrical engineers, for that matter.
- [The Village of Shoreham was established in 1906. Before that date, the settlement was known as Wardenclyffe, and this is why Tesla’s facility bore that name. — Ed.]
- Fortunately for humankind—but unfortunately for the Slender Man—this did not deter me. Before my innovations, no one knew how to make electrical current travel more than a short distance, either.
- This Americanism has never ceased to amuse me.
- I regret that I did not have time to find the precise source of this honorific before the present volume was sent to press, but the reader should rest assured that it has been spoken, in some form, by many esteemed personages.
- Do not ask.
- I was glad, indeed, that I had worn my low-profile new black homburg instead of my tall new black topper.
- I have gradually moved to the vegetable diet from concern for all life as well as avoiding the contaminant effects of consuming the flesh of animals, but this Slender Man business was too much for me that day, and I sacrificed one of God’s noble creatures for a bit of extra strength. Also, it was flaky and baked to perfection.
- Although it has fallen from fashion in the years since the events recounted in this volume, the meaning of “twilight” as sunrise, or “dawn,” is as correct as that of sunset.
- That is, each day.
- Some have maintained that it is impossible to subsist on so little sleep, and this is technically accurate (which is the best kind of accurate to a scientist, of course). Although during exceptionally busy periods I do sleep this little, for less urgent times, my solution to the need for such rest is for me to catch very quick “cat-naps” of less than thirty seconds throughout my usual working day, done standing up. (For traditional sleep, naturally, I take advantage of beds or reclining couches.) During these minimal sleep periods, I engage in dreaming, but lucidly, so that I may continue my mental exertions even while giving into the incessant demands for tribute from Hypnos.
- As are many great proposals. Who, I ask you, would have thought traveling faster than light was indeed possible after Professor Einstein showed via his ostentatious equations that it would take an unlimited amount of energy? (I would, of course: his fame notwithstanding, he never stopped to think about how unlimited energy could be siphoned from the luminiferous æther as a craft sped through it.)
- I was impressed by Thomerson’s ability to mask his enthusiasm over this offer. The man was very professional, indeed.
- We all have been there, have we not?
- The inquisitive reader may wonder why, if slanted light was what was needed to bring out the Slender Man, did we not simply set our trap at sunset and strike at twilight instead of dawn? The answer is that we both needed to be mentally and physically tired indeed, and that required some fifteen hours of continued consciousness rather than the four or five available before the setting of the sun.
- Ironic, perhaps, given that I am confident my name will one day be synonymous with the all-electric automobile.
- I am aware that he possessed no face, and therefore, no eyes. Reader, I was quite tired.
- I am rarely surprised when one of my hypotheses turns out to be in accordance with reality, but I am always pleased. However, even including my surmises about electrical current, never had I been this pleased to be right.