Memories of Light: Chapter 4

Mary Schleinkofer with the Tesla Coil at Spark Museum of Electrical Invention on Thursday, July 18, 2013 in Bellingham.
Mary Schleinkofer with the Tesla Coil at Spark Museum of Electrical Invention on Thursday, July 18, 2013 in Bellingham. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

"Come with me! Hurry!"

His father, whom Tanner Ellis had thought was dead, grabbed him roughly by the shirt and dragged him to the middle of the abandoned tower, where a rusty trapdoor yawned open, a mere black smudge in the suffocating gloom.

Tanner never would have noticed it, as absorbed as he'd been in Gaffer's light-device, dazzled by pictures of times long gone.

"Dad?" he shouted in disbelief, twisting around to look at the unrecognizably lean, bearded man who was shoving him down a ladder below the trapdoor.

"Ssshh!" His father shimmied in after him, then hefted the door closed in silence.

Tanner listened to himself breathe, too stunned to wonder what they were doing down the hole. Then he heard a pair of clumsy footsteps shuffling briefly above. Then silence.

Tanner moved down the ladder until his feet hit the floor. He was in a tunnel that was lit somehow, from somewhere. The cement walls glowed like the picture of Mount Baker in the morning sun.

Father and son blinked at each other in the strong, clear light. James Ellis had aged greatly in his three years at the work farm.

"We thought you were dead," Tanner said quietly. James flinched at the unspoken accusation.

"It was better that way," he said. "You were safer with your mom."

He held his arms open and Tanner went to him without hesitation, fighting the urge to sob openly into his father's muddy burlap coat.

James gave him a too-hearty pat, then another. The thickness in his father's voice as he said, "It's good to see you again," told Tanner that he, too, had been sorely missed.

"The council told us you had been stealing food and other stuff. They said you died on the farm."

"The council says whatever they need to, to keep their slave force strong. And, no, I'd never stolen anything when they arrested me. I've learned a lot since then, though."

"Where are we?" Tanner asked.

"Underground tunnel system. The council forgot about it decades ago," James answered. "Well, I guess I'd better show you what's going on."

James began running down the corridor. Tanner sprinted after him. Dizzied by the featureless maze, he was lost within minutes, but his speedy father gave him no chance to get his bearings.

They ran down one path, then another, for what felt to Tanner like miles without stopping. Just as Tanner was about to stop to save his lungs from collapsing, James stopped at one of the dozens of identical gray doors they'd run past.

Tanner noted that his father wasn't even slightly winded as he yanked energetically at the doorknob. Finally, after giving the bottom of the door a solid kick, it popped open and immediately swathed James in a brilliant, warm light that painted his careworn features into a broad grin.

"Come have a look," he said as he disappeared into the glowing room. Tanner followed, and had to throw his arms up to protect his eyes against something in the middle of the hangar-size room.

"What ...?" he began, squinting around for his father.

"Tesla made it!" James shouted from somewhere to Tanner's right, then appeared by his elbow wearing black-tinted goggles.

He handed a pair to Tanner, who strapped them on with his eyes clamped shut. "What ...?"

"Tesla! Nikola Tesla! We're right underneath the SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention. They had a Tesla exhibit back in the old days. And now we have a Tesla exhibit; actually, we have this!"

James flung an arm wide to display the gigantic glowing orb. It nearly filled the room, and its light was blinding. From somewhere inside the thing's belly, Tanner could see a thousand flickering tongues of light lapping at the boundary of the sphere.

"What ...?" Tanner asked a third time, stunned to the core.

"Take it all in!" James shouted happily. "Still feeling out of breath?"

Tanner stood up straight and laughed with surprise. He realized the wheezing ache in his chest had disappeared the moment he entered the room.

"And how about your mood?" his father asked. "Feeling good all of a sudden?"

Tanner checked himself, then laughed again. "Is this thing making me feel better? What is it?"

"It's an ionic orgone generator!" James crowed proudly.

A third pair of goggles peered out from around the gleam of the sphere and bobbled angrily at James. "It's an osmotic orgone-airwave purifier!"

"It's an orgone generator, you beaker-twiddling goof!" James roared jovially.

"Who's the scientist here?" countered the short, improbably round woman wearing goggles and a hand-knitted lab coat.

"But what's it for?" Tanner broke in impatiently.

"For?" replied the scientist, taken aback. "Why, it's for saving the world, of course!"