Jebediah stared at his stubble-covered face in the small oval mirror in the bathroom. He held in his hand the cutthroat razor his father had given him many years before. As a child he had watched his father shaving many times, but his father had never taken the time to show him the proper way to shave as a father should. So he took in on himself to practice alone, shaving as he did now. The razor was just another piece of his father he had inherited since his passing, a symbol of all he had lost and that which he could never regain.
With the shaving mug lathered, he scooped the soap into the palm of his hand. When his face was covered, the resemblance to his father seemed even greater; grey eyes and salt-and-pepper hair were a trait running all through his family. So far, there were no other descendents to the Morningside line and any future family resemblances would end with him. Jebediah still had time though; being a wealthy businessman of twenty-nine he was not short of suitors. The thought was a depressing one, countless relatives and friends had already tried to make their matches, hoping for a piece of the Morningside legacy. Putting this thought from his mind one more time, Jebediah placed the sharp blade to his face and started to shave.
With a clean face and pressed clothes, Jebediah stepped out into the mid-afternoon sun beating down onto the porch. The cold glass of lemonade he held was wet from condensation, a result of too hot versus too cold. From his vantage point he could see the cemetery and mausoleum he had grown so accustomed to. The source of his family’s income and it would continue to provide. He was as sure of that as he was sure that people would grow old and die. The Morningside business employed quite a number of local residents too; safe in the knowledge that there would always be work. After the war against the British and the North, was where his family had made their real money. So many dead, so many laid to rest. Jebediah was a young boy then and only had vague memories of that time. He supposed his father had kept him out of the way for many reasons, if not only for him to be kept out from underfoot. There was one memory of that time which remained so vivid. His father had been advised to take out an advertisement in a newspaper to boost his already growing business. It simply read:
Morningside Cemetery: When you die, you don’t go to Heaven. You come to us.
Seeing this had made the young boy upset. He did not understand the nuances of witty advertising and had simply come to the conclusion that there was no Heaven and consequently he would never see his mother again. So upset was he that his father had been called away from his work to attend to him. Once it had been explained, trust between father and son was restored. The older Jebediah had grown to understand it and loved his father still. He knew now how shrewd and intelligent the man was. A master of chess and a keen scientist all by the time he was in his late twenties. He set the glass down on the wrought iron table in from of him and pulled a small leather book from his pocket. One of the smaller things his father had bequeathed him, an equation book filled with mathematical thoughts and theories of his own design. Even at his present level of education, Jebediah still could not work out what his father had been calculating. It would take time, but he would solve it once he had the knowledge.
Tonight another guest was to arrive, another attempt at pairing between families. The need for a wife was certain, but he needed someone who would drive him; to be an equal. This quality he had not found in any of his suitors so far. He hoped tonight would be different; he was to greet a unique lady by all account. She had travelled the world with her previous husband, who had been lost to malaria several years previous. It had been said that she had learnt practices from the natives, but he was never a man to listen to rumour. What he did know was that she was wealthy, so money would not be the driving force behind her wants. The chance to enquire of the world would be refreshing. Although an educated man, he had never left his own state. From the distance, the sounds of an approaching coach grew louder, no doubt his company for the evening. Rumours of her beauty had reached his ears but he was yet to lay his eyes upon her.
As the coach drew to a stop, Jebediah sauntered down the front steps to greet his company. As he approached, the driver released the steps and the door to the carriage opened. For the first time in a long while, the sight before him was to be truly marveled at. A petite lady in a light purple evening dress stepped out. She seemed young for her years, even after so much travel. Her hair glowed against the late afternoon sunlight; its hue matching the corona of the Sun itself. Jebediah took her hand as she disembarked from the coach.
“I am Jebediah, Miss.”
“Charmed. My name is Katherine.”
In the comfort of the main parlour, the two exchanged their views and passions, commonality of interest coursing through every subject. With each sentence Jebediah became more absorbed. After all the homogenous women he had met, this beauty left them all behind.
“Your valise,” Jebediah enquired. “Something from your travels?”
“It is something I had hoped someone like yourself may understand. However, few men ever do.”
“I’m intrigued,” Jebediah replied.
She opened the clasps on the case and produced a rectangular ebony box from its velvety interior. Its corners were cut like a precious stone and a large hole gaped at one end.
“This is a test for all young tribesmen of the Samburu tribe in the Congo. It separates the ordinary from the exceptional. Would you like to see how you will fare?”
“Shall we move to the dining table, then?” Jebediah asked. Katherine grinned excitedly and glided to the large table in the centre of the parlor.
“Put your hand in the box, Jebediah.” Katherine ordered.
“What's in it?”
“Just put your hand in the black box.”
Jebediah rolled up his sleeve and did as he was told. There was a sudden crushing sensation, a thousand vices clutching at his fingers and palm. His arm started to shake with the pain upon pain. Panic started to fill his body and the pain grew alongside it.
“Don't fear, Jebediah. Don’t fear.”
Something clicked inside his mind. If I do not fear, nothing can harm me. With this thought, the pain started to lessen. Soon he was pain free and he could remove his hand from the box. Examining his hand front and back, Jebediah could see no damage to it whatsoever.
“It was simply a reflection.” Katherine said. “Fear is the killer. That's what you have to learn.”
“It’s incredible. That really hurt, but my hand is untouched.”
“It was all in your mind.” Katherine said. “So, it looks as though you will become a great man after all.”
After retiring to the porch for refreshments, Jebediah finally broached the subject he had hoped to with so many other women.
“I have wanted to show this to someone for many years now, but I don’t think that anyone would have understood it. I have trouble with it myself.”
Jebediah pulled the small leather notebook from his trouser pocket and proffered it to Katherine. With the book in her hands, she began to leaf through its pages.
“This is beautiful.” She said, her eyes transfixed on the pages. “So complex, the equations are astounding. Your work?” she asked.
“My father’s. I’ve been trying to decipher it for years but I’ve still no idea as to its purpose. It was physics-related, that’s all I know. His work was left unfinished and I suppose he wanted me to continue. The trouble is, I don’t know how.” Jebediah smiled across at the room like a child with a secret. “Would you like to see my laboratory?”
He ushered Katherine to the wooden room at the back of the house. There was a bureau to her left and a workbench to her right. In the centre stood on an old oak table, topped with a vast array of test tubes, Bunsen burners, sprockets and cogs of all sizes. Jebediah walked over to the bureau and plucked two small silvery objects from its surface.
“My father left one clue as to his work, these two metal bars.”
Katherine took the two small metal bars and ran her fingers over the smooth surface. She held one in each hand and held them between thumb and forefinger at arms length and framed Jebediah inside them from across the room.
“Kind of suits you,” Katherine muttered to herself..
“What did you say?” Jebediah said.
“It felt like I could see you between these two bars.” She replied. “I didn’t know exactly what I meant by that, it just came out.”
Jebediah rushed to the bureau and frantically started to scribble on a blank piece of paper.
“I didn’t mean to upset you, Jebediah.” Katherine proffered after a few seconds of silence. Furious scribbles and corrections were taking place that even a freight train could not stop.
“That’s it!” Jebediah proclaimed
“You’ve shown me the key when you held the two bars in place. I know what he was working on.”
“Well then, what is it?” Katherine asked.
Jebediah held the piece of paper up to Katherine so she could see. She could see a rough sketch of a man in a black suit stood between two posts no higher than his waist with his arm outstretched towards her.
“Transportation, my dear,” Jebediah said. “Transportation.”
Katherine’s visits increased as the weeks went by, as did Jebediah’s enthusiasm. The laboratory became filled with more equipment along with the increased presence of its owner. Evenings were spent dining with Katherine and the occasional game of chess. The hot summer evenings began to cool with the reddening of the leaves. Jebediah included Katherine in his work, his two passions brought together. Katherine had a keen mind and could see past problems where there seemed to be a block.
The laboratory had been converted whilst he created his machines. One table had been removed to create more floor space, but his bureau and equipment remained where it was, as some compounds would have to be fabricated; ordering them from across the country was simply not efficient. Mechanical components were easily obtained, the local foundry always made bespoke components and the promise of discount funeral services to employees and their families sped the process up. The workers asked why these unusual orders were being made, but after a five minute mathematical discussion, nobody much understood so they stopped asking questions. Together with a location where nobody wanted to be, secrecy and solitude were easily maintained.
Juggling between business and invention became increasingly difficult when he had received everything he needed. The townsfolk expected Jebediah to be present at certain ceremonies, an assurance that their loved ones would be laid to rest in the highest quality of circumstances. Week by week, the laboratory took its new shape.
Two large Van der Graff generators, modified for purpose, stood in the corner of the room. They were exactly four feet apart and were identical in manufacture with the simple difference that the belt drive in one ran in the opposite direction to the other. A myriad of black cables ran from each unit into the control box like strangler vines to a mahogany tree. The control unit was powered by simple physical motion of cogs and wheels inside the control unit. Alloys of his father’s design created reverberations within, which would be the key to the “gate” allowing the travel he had hoped to achieve for so long. He would test it tomorrow with Katherine by his side.
Jebediah was waiting as he always did when Katherine’s carriage arrived. He proffered his arm for assistance as he did on the first day they had met. Jebediah noticed she wore the same dress as she had during their first evening together.
“I thought it appropriate for the occasion.” Katherine said.
“Entirely appropriate, Madame. Would you care to step this way?” Jebediah asked.
They both smiled and stared deep into each others eyes and ascended the stairs into the main parlour.
“Would you care for something to eat or drink before we carry out our experiment?” Jebediah asked.
“No, thank you. I don’t think I could manage anything anyway. Come on, let’s not delay any longer, I’m anxious enough as it is.”
“Very well, shall we make history?”
Their footsteps reverberated through the empty house as they walked arm in arm through the house to the laboratory. They stared at the magnificent contraption which stood in front of them. Truly it was an idea conceived in genius and had taken Jebediah nearly twenty years to understand and bring to fruition.
“Are you ready, my love?” Jebediah asked.
She nodded and placed her free hand on his shoulder. Jebediah unhooked his arm and moved to the control unit. He gripped the large wheel on the side of the unit and heaved it into motion. This set a chain reaction of cogs moving and whirring and then finally the generators began to hum. Jebediah beckoned Katherine forward to join him by the machine. The sounds of the generators began to increase as it fired up.
“It should take a minute or so to gain the right amount of power for the transference. Stand in front of the gate, ready,” he shouted over the noise of the machine.
The humming of the machine started to gain in volume, gradually passing the point of being comfortable for human ears. A sudden crunch from inside the control unit added to the noise. Jebediah let go of Katherine’s hand and raced to the machine to turn it off. Acrid smells of burning metals and rubber filled Jebediah’s nostrils. He grabbed the starter wheel and stopped its natural course. Sparks flew about Jebediah’s face, scorching his skin and hair. He turned to make sure that his love had fled, but she stood transfixed in front of the gate. He turned to the gate to see what had her so transfixed and for a moment he could see a shimmering between the two posts.
“Katherine! Move away from the gate!” he shouted at the top of his voice.
He turned his back to the machine, leaving the heat and noise to his back. He took Katherine’s hand in his, but she did not respond. Jebediah breathed in to shout her name again, but that was all he managed before the unit exploded, sending the two of them colliding into the wall at the back of the laboratory. Flashes of light and spark illuminated the room as Jebediah dragged Katherine away from danger. He picked her up in her arms and carried her to the safety of the parlour.
“I’ll be back soon, I promise.” He reassured.
Jebediah shuffled back to the laboratory to make sure it hadn’t caught fire during their escape. Picking up a gaslight from a stand, he illuminated the smoke-filled room. It remained relatively intact, despite the floor strewn with debris. Shards of glass from broken beakers crunched under foot and his notes carpeted the floor. His concern of the house burning down around them however was gratefully unfounded.
“Jebediah!” Katherine cried. “It’s dark in here, what’s happening?”
He strode into the parlour with the lamp in hand. “It’s alright, there was an explosion but everything’s fine now.” He held the lamp next to her face to look for injuries. The sound of the lamp shattering filled the empty house.
After several hours examining Katherine, Jebediah finally plucked up the courage to speak.
“Are you in any pain?”
“I don’t feel anything at all. It’s as if nothing were wrong.” Katherine gently pawed at the bandage around her eyes. “You said that there’s nothing there?”
“Yes, it’s as if your eyes had been surgically removed and the wound perfectly cauterized. There isn’t a surgeon in the land who could have done this normally. I can’t understand it.”
Jebediah looked mournfully at his companion. “I’m the one responsible for this; I should never have asked you to come. I’m sorry.”
“You could have never expected this to happen. I forgive you, Jebediah.”
“What was the last thing you remember?” Jebediah asked.
“It was strange. I was waiting for the generators to charge to full power; when they finally did, there seemed to be a flickering between the two of them. Then everything started to go wrong. The flickering became less frequent and I could almost see a picture appearing in front of my eyes.”
“What was it?”
“All I remember was that it seemed to be a rock covered landscape. But the sky, Jebediah, the sky was...well, it was red. There was a sudden flash of light and I blacked out after that. I’m sorry, I can’t remember anything else.”
“That’s fine, rest now.” Jebediah reassured. “I’m going to fetch a few things to make you more comfortable, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Jebediah wiped the salt water from his face. He wept for her loss, but also because she could not.
Jebediah always held clothing as part of his funeral business; he knew that a few items he would be able to use to make Katherine more comfortable. Moving through the dark, he found the armoire where he kept such things. An oak masterpiece with four drawers, it had been in the house as long as he could remember. Jebediah gently pulled the top drawer open and it slid as smoothly as a skate on ice. Amongst the tie pins and cufflinks, he found the opaque glasses which would now belong to Katherine. They were small, ornate glasses made by the finest hands. He opened another drawer with funeral clothing for female ‘customers’. He had been holding a black, hand made lace dress in case of a family wanting something special for their departed one, but Jebediah wanted her to have something of comfort after the accident.
Jebediah returned to the parlour to find Katherine standing by the window.
“I have some things for you.” Jebediah said and Katherine turned to the source of the voice. “Your dress is torn, so I brought you a replacement.”
Katherine felt down the length of the dress to find the offending tear. “You’re right; this simply will not do any more.” Jebediah handed her the dress.
“Do you need any assistance?” he said.
“Why, Jebediah! So forward of you.” She laughed.
“I didn’t mean to offend…” he started, but Katherine stepped forward and placed her hand flat on his chest.
“Thank you, I shall be fine. If you would escort me to a room with a little more privacy, that would be just fine.”
Jebediah led her to the rear of the house where the armoire stood. He took Katherine’s hand and placed it on the doors of the armoire for support.
“I’ll be just outside the door should you need me,” he reassured.
As Jebediah waited to be called back in, he mulled over Katherine’s vision. Could it have been real? If so, another place or another time? He was on the verge of a brilliant discovery, but it had nearly destroyed him and the one he loved. I will try again, but only when I am sure it will not cause any pain or suffering as a result.
“Jebediah!” Katherine called into the house. “I’m ready.”
The black dress perfectly fit Katherine’s figure, a beauty even in a mourning dress. She had removed the fabric covering her eyes and the oval glasses rested where it had once been. They covered the empty sockets from casual view and almost made an ensemble with the dress.
He walked over to Katherine and took her in his arms.
“You look beautiful,” he said.
“Do I? Honestly? Would you want a blind fool for a companion?”
“Of course,” he said squeezing tighter, “you shall always be my lady in lavender.”