[Just in time for Christmas, a heartwarming story of a town that comes together in the true spirit of the holiday...oh, heck, who am I kidding. It's just the kind of thing that happens in a Steampunk Victorian community. - RJ]
I knew from the start this would end badly.
One December day, Dr. Tesla Steampunk announced that, to express his gratitude toward his new country and the famous tolerance of her people, he would host Christmas dinner at his laboratory high above Windemere. Kathy Jameson, my sister and partner in crime, looked at me with an expression of deep unease. We were the scientist’s closest acquaintances in Caledon, and could see no way out of attending.
Much to our surprise, a fair number of our neighbors accepted the invitation. Many were in the military – Commodore O’Toole of the Fleet of Wrath Exiles; Colonel Creeggan; Lord Middlesea; and Lord Primbroke; among others – and perhaps the often-lonely life of the military officer engendered some sympathy for Dr. Steampunk. Others came, no doubt, to satisfy their curiosity about the reclusive Tesla Steampunk. Still others were powerless to decline a free meal. In all, we expected close to 50 guests.
Kathy and I arrived early to help transform the lab into something fit for human habitation. We unloaded several tablecloths and an arsenal of flatware and glasses. As Tesla opened the door to our knock, I was dismayed at the line of glass tanks, each holding what appeared to be a human brain, bobbing gently in a pool of green fluid.
“Tesla, what were you thinking? We can’t serve Christmas dinner surrounded by brains!” Kathy shook her head in disbelief.
“Blast it all, I completely forgot about that experiment! Ah well, I shall use one of these tablecloths as a curtain and no one will be the wiser.”
“Do not cut into one of Grandmother Jameson’s antique lace tablecloths, sir, or we will have words.”
Meanwhile, I was more interested in the dozen large birds clucking noisily at the other end of the laboratory. “Um, Tesla, these turkeys are still alive.”
He turned and watched one of the birds try to peck out the eyes of a second. “Quite so. Everyone likes their meat fresh, do they not?”
“Yes, but…Do you know how long it takes to prepare a turkey? You have to kill it, drain it, de-feather it, cut off the head and feet, and cook it for hours. Multiply that by twelve. Your guests are arriving in a few hours, and our dinner is still on claw.”
“Aha! That is where my genius plays its role.” Tesla swept his arm at the wall behind him to indicate a row of silver covered platters, each with a number of electrical wires extending from the platter, running the length of the room, and attached to a medium-sized generator in the corner. I felt a chill sweep through me. “You see, my dear Rhianon, I merely dispatch each turkey, place it on the platter, and throw the switch. Electrical current will instantaneously cook the creature to the perfect temperature. One merely need cut into the turkey and carve the moist, succulent meat. Et voila!”
Kathy piped up. “What a terrible idea! This will be a disaster.” She looked at me. “Rhianon, tell him. He can’t go through with this.”
I tried, but it was no use trying to persuade a scientist that his experiment would go horribly awry. The scientific method demanded that he find out himself, even if common sense would have suggested working this out before four dozen guests arrived. I shrugged, and said, “As the Babbagers would say, what could possibly go wrong?”
“Would you be a dear and kill and drain the turkeys for me?” he requested. I had not dressed for blood spatter, and was about to object, when Mary, Tesla’s all-purpose servant, muttered a disapproving agreement. She grabbed the nearest bird and went to work.
The guests arrived a short time later. Most were happy to accept a drink and engage in small talk before dinner, but some, concerned about the lack of aroma of cooking turkey, pointedly sniffed the air. Tesla refused to comment, not wanting to spoil his surprise.
We were seated for dinner, and the serving trays covered the raw turkeys. Tesla entered and, with a dramatic motion, pressed the lever to the “On” position. The lights dimmed, and the crackle and hum of electricity was clearly audible. Several guests gasped. Tesla switched off the generator. As the sound of the generator and the electric current died away, I could hear a faint noise. Was that clucking? He walked to the nearest platter and, with a flick of the wrist, raised the lid.
A featherless, headless turkey tentatively raised one leg, then the next. It hopped off the platter and onto the floor with an emphatic gobble! As the guests looked on, dumfounded. Tesla looked confused, and revealed the next platter, only to have the same thing happen. Again and again, turkeys took to the floor and began making whatever sounds they could, given the distinct lack of a larynx.
“Tesla,” Kathy said, “do those look a bit underdone to you?”
Tesla stood, puzzling over the problem while the birds wandered aimlessly about the laboratory-cum-dining room. “Oh, blast! I know –”
But we were not to know what Tesla knew, for at the word “blast” at least a dozen armed Caledonians took that as a signal to help out their host, and drew their weapons and began firing. For a moment, the sound of weapons discharging deafened me. The smell of gunpowder overwhelmed the aromas of Christmas dinner.
Just as suddenly as it began, it was over. Guns were holstered, the reanimated turkeys were once again dispatched to the fowl world beyond, and guests stood, generally looking a little embarrassed. Miraculously, no one was hit by a stray bullet, though Tesla’s lab was pockmarked with holes, glasses were overturned, staining the antique tablecloths, and several odiferous liquids oozed out of shattered beakers to the floor.
“Good show!” Tesla said, looking at the destruction about him. “I can’t imagine what…oh, goodness, the brains.” I looked at him quizzically. He gestured toward the set of tanks, many of which were now destroyed. “One of the wires must have strayed into this area, and conducted the current from the brains to the turkeys. Not exactly what I had in mind though, to be sure, an interesting result.” He jotted some notes on his shirt cuffs.
The episode eliminated the meat from our main course, but enough wine, brandy, port, sherry, whisky, and absinthe allowed the guests to forget the ghastly sight and enjoy the remainder of the meal. As the last guest teetered out the door and staggered back home, Tesla waved and said, “Merry Christmas!”
Kathy and I looked at the stained, spattered, bullet-ridden, and turkey-infested laboratory and the remnants of dinner and decided that the entire mess could wait until tomorrow. Perhaps we would be lucky and fire would strike during the night.
“Ah, Caledon!” said Tesla. “What a wonderful place! Such wonderful people, and so polite! Not a single one mentioned that one little snag in the evening, or suggested they would be calling the law upon me. I do like it here.”
Kathy looked at him incredulously, but finally saw the humor in the situation. “We are indeed blessed.”
[Edit 12/29/09: The tale is now available as a downloadable .pdf file at Calameo .]