Neon Electric Butterflies
from Smoke, Smoke, Smoke
Nikola Tesla pulsed electric. He was blue-tinged and radioactive. Nikola Tesla swarmed with St. Elmo's Fire-haloed butterflies. Nikola Tesla promised himself he would not become a monster. In his lab, he cursed Edison's name. He felt Edison's men's eyes on him. He imagined an earthquake machine and he built. He built the earthquake machine and imagined Edison falling down into the chasms it created. Tesla imagined Edison falling down forever. Tesla fed his pigeons, and they each dropped dead with his electric touch. Tesla hugged his earthquake machine, said machines would not fail him, and he lied, and Tesla knew the natural state of everything tends toward ending. Tesla imagined flipping the switch on the earthquake machine and diving into the abyss.
Tesla hid his earthquake machine to prevent Edison from stealing. Tesla hid himself so Edison's men would not take him. Tesla saw Edison's men everywhere, in cafe windows and butcher shops and in the middle of crowds. Tesla wanted to gather them together and flip the switch. He wanted to see these bodies tumble like so many electrified butterflies falling. Tesla grabbed butterflies from the sky and crushed them in his hands and rubbed their neon guts all over his suit, his face, his hands. "I am better," Tesla said, and he built, and imagined, and built.
Tesla was followed. Tesla traveled on a train and was watched by men carrying Edison's orders. Tesla tried to disguise himself but he was electricity and neon. He was heat and ball lightning. The men joined him in the dining car and Tesla pulled his hat down. The men had skin falling off from radiation. The men smelled sulfurous and burned. Tesla asked the men to leave him alone and the men showed him blueprints for Edison's empire. They told him, you are a calm sea. Your work is suicide and you are fading. Tesla imagined a death ray capable of making men evaporate. He imagined his death ray and saw its creation. Tesla made a gun of his fingers and made shooting gestures at each man, blue haloes of electricity glowing from his hands. Each man woke that night to Tesla standing over them. Each man heard Tesla speak in Serbian and they imagined he spoke in prayer and they saw only the glaring light of his death ray before they were no more. Tesla pressed his hands in the hot bedding where each man had laid and evaporated. He felt the heat of them. Neither man had begged him to spare them. Neither man had any use for absolution.
Edison's men filled up Colorado Springs. His men wore the same hats and suits and all looked the same. Tesla haunted and hunted them, one by one. He put his electrified hands on their heads and watched their eyes go dead. Still, they kept coming and, still, Tesla feared them. He told each man, this one's hands are good only for razing. Tesla felt his body poisoning itself. He felt decay and burning. Tesla locked himself in his lab and built a machine that created doppelgangers of Edison. Each day, Tesla asked the Edison doubles to forgive him and when they would not, each day he destroyed them. Tesla grew bored of slaughter and the lab filled with Edisons and their droning chorus of buzzing. Tesla locked himself away and envisioned a machine he could program to devour him. He imagined a machine with an electric brain and he built the machine and the machine refused to consume him. Tesla asked the machine why it refused and the machine said, you are only one version of annihilation.
Tesla built a machine to teleport him and he moved from city to city. He lived and worked in shadow and with each jump another memory of his life was erased. His skin turned blue and hot. He refused the company of women. He shook with cancer. He swallowed nightshade and the lightning in him burned it away before it could harm him. In every city, Tesla was followed. In every city, Edison's men reported as Tesla became less and less. Edison wrote a letter to Tesla with one line: There is nothing in us but erosion.
Tesla built a time machine. Each future he visited he imagined would exist after everything fell apart. He went farther and farther into the future. In each future, he saw signs of ending. In each future, things were ugly and living. Tesla wanted decay and entropy. Tesla visited each future hoping for decline. Tesla stepped from his machine and breathed in each future's dusty air. He paid attention to his lungs for disease. He inhaled and exhaled and waited for the world to shake and shudder, for the focus to go out, and he asked each future, will you not take me home?