A mellow light poured in through the open window, the interior of the hotel suite smelling just like metropolitan New York. The curtains danced and twisted about as the breeze whispered cool life into the suite. Nikola Tesla consistently kept his window open to allow the local pigeons entrance; he always believed that the pigeons of Central Park were the best fed in the country, due to his mix of special seeds and grains.
Though, there was one who he favoured above all the others, a female. They shared many hours together in the park, and she provided him with more hope and encouragement than he fancied he could ever need from a human companion. They were positively in love; all he had to do was call and she would land gracefully on his shoulder minutes later.
This time, in the suspense before the dawn, she blew in like a heat storm. The swoop of wings awoke Nikola, who was draped on an armchair in the living room. He was too tall for the chair, so much so that the effect was almost comical, as he was all angles and sharp points. He smiled at her. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever perceived, pure white with grey wingtips, and a coo that he would recognize in a flock of chattering birds.
But something was wrong, he could tell. He started up. “You’re dying,” he murmured. At that moment, a blinding flash of light was thrown upon him, more dazzling than any of the light he had ever produced artificially in his laboratories. The light seemed to be emanating from the pigeon’s eyes. The flash of light subsided as quickly as it had come, and at that moment, he knew the last breath of air had just escaped her lungs. He lifted and held carefully her tiny feathered carcass like a fragile treasure. He held it to his own chest, as if he could transmit his own heartbeat to hers by sheer willpower.
Gasping and clutching at the arms of the chair, Tesla awoke. At first he thought that he was merely a victim of a terrible dream; until he saw the pure white cadaver, now cold and stiff, lying beside the armchair. That was all it took for the horror of reality to wash over him, and with that, he collapsed back into the chair.
This is how Henry MacDougall, the editor of Electric Weekly, had found him. “Mr. Tesla!” he cried. “What in the world--?”
Nikola was painfully coiled up in the armchair. “Have you ever heard the angels singing?” he implored. “In your dreams?” The soft, wistful eyes that peered up at the editor were like oases in a face positively shattered with anguish. Henry knew grief when he saw it, and this was it in its purest and hardest-to-swallow form. It unsettled him greatly to see a man of a rational profession in such a state.
“What—whatever do you mean by that, sir? You are not right; you are rather pale.”
Nikola Tesla ignored his testaments. “I slept just now. This is unusual for me, as you may know. I heard the angels singing mother’s song just for me.” He trailed off and paused, screwing up his face for a moment, and then peering back at Henry. “Why did I have to awake to this world?” it was barely a whisper, yet it was heavily laden with all the sorrows of a great love forcibly ripped away.
Over the previous months for which Tesla had written a column for Electric Weekly, Henry had gained Tesla’s acquaintance, and had even been invited to view a demonstration in one of his old laboratories; back before they were all burnt to the ground, of course. He resolved then and there to try and snap Tesla out of his misery, as he could clearly see that no sparks were dancing in his great mind, no oscillating parts turning in front of his surprisingly light eyes; that the only thoughts he had were of his beloved bird, and the tragedy that had befallen them both.
“If you are adamant that your bird is…departed,” said the editor on their walk through Central Park. “At least take it to the physician to be looked at.”
“I cannot, Henry. I cannot bear to see her laid out on a cold metal table.”
“You have done so for many of your pigeons, have you not? This is the same, only—“
“No!” Nikola shouted as if he were physically injured. “It is not the same!” but his tone softened. “The other birds were alive; they were merely ill. I had the joy of nursing them to health. There is no joy in paying a doctor to tell me what sad truth I already know.”
“But would you not like to find out the way in which it died? At the least you should run a short analysis. I think that it will help you to come to terms with the event.”
Nikola Tesla paused to think for a moment, and then nodded in affirmation, however little he thought it would help him. Arriving at the building, Tesla proceeded to walk three times around it as Henry looked on in mild puzzlement, and then they both entered together.
“Poisoned?” Nikola Tesla recoiled at the doctor’s diagnosis.
“Yes, I am afraid so,” said the gruff man in the moustache. “It appears to be rat poison.”
Tesla wore an expression of shock and revulsion; he said nothing. He and his
company left the physician’s office in dejected silence.
“I thank you for your help,” said Nikola bleakly, as they entered the hotel once more. “But I shall never work again. Nor shall I, I think, write the column. I bid you a good day.” And with that, he shut the door.
Henry returned the next afternoon, as he, being caught up in his friend’s grieving process, completely forgot to pay him for his last article. He was met at the door to room 3327 by a man feverish with questions; this was slightly more like the Nikola Tesla he knew, but this time the face he saw was tinged with madness. Nikola held out a balled up piece of paper.
“’One bird in the hand is worth two in the thicket,’” Henry read aloud from the scrap. “Yes, it is a well-known saying.” He looked fitfully puzzled.
“I awoke at three o’clock, as I usually do by the old habit of my inventions, only to find that this had landed on my floor. Naturally, I ran to the window, but the fire escape was devoid of human intruders, as were the streets.” His whole body was trembling. Henry realized that Tesla must have been fizzing himself up since he had awoken, and this was the eruption that followed. “Do you see what this indicates?” His eyes were searching for something in Henry’s.
“I fancy you mean it has something to do with your late bird,” he said and lifted one eyebrow.
“No,” replied Tesla with a mad vigour. “I know it does.” They spent the next hour or so trying to piece together the puzzle. Tesla drew up a mental list of people who may have a reason to murder his precious bird.
"Perhaps the person was trying to deter you from your work,” suggested Henry.
“Exactly; it might have worked, except that the note did not add insult to injury; rather, it added intrigue.” Henry liked to see that Tesla had gotten over the sad part of the grief, but now he was moving into furious determination. “Do you happen to have a scrap of Thomas Edison’s handwriting?”
“Thomas Edison?” Henry was somewhat surprised, but then it began to fall into place. There had been a feud between the two for decades, which all started with their disagreement on power source efficiency; Nikola Tesla advocated for alternating current, Edison for direct. It had sparked something between the two that Tesla now seemed to think has been carried to this day.
Henry MacDougall briefly departed and returned with the bit of Thomas Edison’s handwriting, which they then brought to a handwriting analyser to confirm a match; it was positive. Edison had written the cryptic message.
Henry was surprised that Nikola did not jump for joy; he was so resolute about discovering the answer to this problem. However, Henry also knew that it was much more complex an issue. Tesla looked heartbroken; he had used to work for Edison, and now he missed his friend. But he also missed the love of his life.
“We will file charges,” said Tesla. “We shall bring it up in the court.”
“Are you mad? What good would that do? It is a bird, Nikola; a common pigeon. There are many multitudes of them circling Central Park every day, and not one person cares about any of them.”
Nikola Tesla looked offended, but he was always a gentleman, so he managed to restrain himself; albeit rather visibly. “What do you suggest I do then? I need to do something.” There was pleading in the entirety of his expression.
Henry thought for a good while before he responded. “You have said he is superstitious…”
That night they were making the preparations in the warm glow of the single lamp in Nikola’s apartment. It was almost ironic that he, the master of light, owned but a single lamp. From the streets, it would have looked the strangest thing in the world, but Nikola Tesla had never worried about his reputation in the public’s eye. Archibald Dubcek, a chemist, and Tesla’s friend first and foremost was busy spreading the special mixture of birdseed on Tesla’s shoulders and arms, and applying glowing phosphorous to his clothes. Henry arrived with some of Tesla’s machines and tools, and Nikola set to work assembling.
Thomas Edison was awoken in the dead of night by a soft cooing outside his window. He rushed to wrench it open and looked out. He choked and spluttered questions such as, “What’s that?” and “Who’s there?” Suddenly, two eerie balls of light emerged on either side of an immensely tall figure that was not yet illuminated enough to get a proper view. The figure approached the window, and the cooing steadily got louder.
The orbs of light were brought up closer to his body so that Edison could just make out a wing here, a beak there. He swallowed hard, for he knew what it was that had prompted this. His collar constricted him, and he whipped his head about as if he were being confronted by angry spirits. Suddenly, he was dazzled by a blinding flash of light. He threw his arm in front of his eyes, tossing his head back and forth, but it was no use; the light seemed to penetrate every single surface of the room, as if it were whitewashing a canvas. He thought he had died, and, writhing and panicking, he screamed and whimpered to have his life.
The chambermaid came in to Thomas Edison, pupils in pinpoints, rolling on his floor and muttering over and over again, “It’s the bird. It’s the bird taking its vengeance. Oh, Mary, mother of god, it’s the bird come back from the dead.” She finally persuaded him, shaken up, dazed, and still in his night clothes, to hail a taxi-cab and visit his local physician.
The next morning, he was met with a flurry of journalistic press, prodding and probing with questions about the previous night. One of them asked him about the phenomenon of the lightning. “Man-made lightning? Do not talk to me about man-made lightning,” he replied, shuddering, his voice thick with worry. “I am afraid of it.”
No accusations were filed against the tall figure despite the amount of speculations regarding who he was, and so he was able to retreat once more into his own mind. Though he lived out the rest of his life destitute and alone, he was still able to dream. He dreamt that he could fly too; dipping in and out of the lightning, starkly white against a backdrop of the eternal azure day, perfectly matching the strokes of pure white wings with soft grey tips. The angels sang his mother’s song. In his boundless mind, he could go on dreaming forever.