I say Mr. Tesla is only aiding in speeding the opening of our eyes to the truths around us.
The Muse Factory
by Michael Paul Gonzalez
Mr. Bloom meets me at the entrance with a curt nod and we make our way up the staircase. The door whispers closed behind us, shutting out the haze, the street vendors, even the clatter of horse and carriage. The stairwell is dim, ivory walls and brass banisters that deposit us into a long hallway lined with doors. Save for the builders, nobody is sure of the true size of this construct, or the exact amount of rooms it holds. Mr. Bloom (this time a stout older man, silent as always) turns smartly at a door ten feet from the stairs and clicks his heels. He pulls the door open and motions me inside with a nod. I place a few coins into his palm for thanks and enter.
A room, no larger than a closet with a single chair. The glass screen dom-inates the wall, surrounded by buttons, lights, levers, and of course, the omnipresent dictophone. A selection of masks lines the wall, all molded from the same austere face, each displaying a different emotion. In the Chattertorium, it is illegal to show your true face to anyone. I slip on the neutral mask, situate myself properly, and pull the lever. The incandescent lights above me fade away, seemingly swallowed up by the prismatic globe of the Refractrix above. It is rumored that Mr. Tesla stumbled upon this device in a fever dream, and the feeling it evokes as its light pulses and synchronizes with your eyes is always unsettling. Duopresence, the demon light, some street preachers have called it. They say we’re ensnared in a web of sloth, lust, and gluttony, a web that Mr. Tesla will weave around the entire world! I say Mr. Tesla is only aiding in speeding the opening of our eyes to the truths around us.
The close quarters make me feel as though I’ve come to give confession, a sensation enhanced all the more when a window scrapes opens next to me. “State alias and gender, please.” The Facilitator. The things they must hear as they monitor our comings and goings.
“H.P.L., Male,” I reply.
A brief shuffling of papers, followed by a low buzz. “Accepted,” the voice drones.
“You’ve received an offer from a most honorable Prince Najeel Makumba regarding an inheritance—“
“Thank you, no,” I cut him off. “What else?”
“Tate Publishing has declined your latest manuscript, citing its macabre nature. No market for such things.”
“We are the market, my friend. Each and every one of us in this building. I’m ready to browse.”
“Where shall we go today, sir?”
I inhale and draw the small scrap of paper from the hidden compartment in the brim of my hat. I read aloud the Harlowe/Tesla Matching Link coordinates couriered to me this morning. My passport to The Muse Factory. A blue light blinks three times on the console. “Ready, sir.” The voice droned. “Thank you for attending the Chattertorium, your connection is good for forty more minutes.”
I push the button and dry my palms on my trouser legs. From my valise, I withdraw a small notebook and fountain pen. The Lumiere Screen before me changes, a warm glow that creeps in so subtly it’s difficult to tell if I’m looking at something taking place hundreds of miles away or merely peering through a window to the room next door. From my pocket I produce a flask of absinthe and take a deep drink.
A light rises on a young woman sitting in a chair. A card on a small placard behind her, inscribed with her name: Delphi. She’s chosen a very neutral mask this evening, stark white, smooth, unpainted. It’s difficult to tell what the mouth conveys; it could be a secret smile or a pout of dissatisfaction. I’ve worked with this woman on several occasions now, and she never fails to inspire.
She gives a small curtsy, meaning, “Good evening to you sir,”
“And a good evening to you, Miss,” I reply with a mild doff of my hat.
I lean towards the dictophone. “Inspire me,” I ask. “Dance for me as I dance with the Green Fairy,” I shake my flask at her. “The Grim Fairy… The Publishers tell me there are great truths to be writ down. Articles about politicians. Romances. Happy endings. Facades!”
“Shall we try, then?” She rises and prepares to dance.
“Delphi. The written word is worthless to me if it’s hollow. This, these moments, the act of writing, this is the gateway to discovery. To a greater understanding of what hides beneath the veneer of society, and You! Only you understand.”
I sigh, slapping my notebook down against my leg. “But I have bills to pay. A family. The worst truth of all. To survive, I must give Tate what they want. Bare yourself to me,” I say. I feel shame at asking, again, to see her body. I’ve described her smooth white skin dozens of times in my tawdry romance books (published under a nom de plume, thank the Gods!). There are only so many ways to paint the curve of her hip, the softness of her neck, the gentle curve of her earlobe. “Delphi, the most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to… correlate all its contents.”
“It’s not a mercy,” she says.
“I beg your pardon?” Her silhouette widens and warps briefly, then she snaps back into perfect form. The Absinthe.
“This is no mercy.”
She tips her mask up, revealing full lips, unpainted. Her upper lip is swollen and cracked. She hesitates for a moment, then turns away and removes her mask. This is a breach of protocol that could bring our session to an instant halt if a monitor notices us. She turns back to me, pushing the hair from her face. Her left eye is blackened.
“What happened? Who did this to you?” I ask.
She holds up an ornate drawing of a heart, a black valentine on a sepia card. “This was all I got for my troubles.” She pulls down the top of her dress, revealing a line of bruises and welts tattooed across her breasts and stomach. “I’m a dancer.” A tear spills from her good eye. Her hair begins to float and swim in the air, and I know I’m at the mercy of La Fée Verte. “I’m a good dancer…” she cries softly and pulls a small knife from her boot. She traces it over the skin of her arms, then cuts a harsh line across the top of her hand.
“Please! Wait!” I shout. She hesitates for a moment, her face twisted in a snarl of defiance. “Let me write this…Dance.”
And she does. An intricate, violent, bloody tarantella, her body twisted, contorted, sliced raw. A blur of motion and shining metal, her tongue darts out occasionally to lick at the blood coursing down her forehead. She has become something…other, a gateway of sorts, and my hand scrambles just to take notes, sketches of what I’ve seen. Her steps reach a pounding crescendo, such that the very walls of her room pulse like a living skin holding back a tide of blood and ichor. She collapses, spattered in her own sweat and blood, her hair soaked and dangling in her face.
In the silence, a halo of shadow forms around her, pulsing, beating like a heart, expanding. The absinthe is trailing away and clarity is seizing firm hold. I hear in the back of my head a voice, insistent, cold, oozing, clawing its way from the far reaches of my psyche, sinking claws icy and deep into my mind.
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.
I repeat it out loud.
“Has the drink set you ill, sir?” Delphi pants.
I ignore her and translate as best I can. “In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”
Delphi looks up from the floor, panting, smiling. “We’ve made something?”
“Yes. God help me, I’ll never be able to sleep again, but yes!”
In that moment, I clutching my pen, she her knife, we two are damned. Doomed. And happy.