Authors: Elizabeth Massie
A Del Rey eBook Original
Copyright © 2011 by Fontenay Films, Limited
Excerpt from Raising Stony Mayhall copyright © 2011 by Daryl Gregory
All Rights Reserved. Used Under Authorization.
Published in the United States by Del Rey, an imprint of Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Del Rey is a registered trademark and the Del Rey colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
Playback and the Playback logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Fontenay Holdings, Ltd.. in the United States of America and elsewhere.
Logo design and cover illustration by RevImage
Cover images from the motion picture Playback, courtesy of Bennett Robbins Productions
, is a supernatural horror thriller that takes place in the present day, focusing on a group of high school students who awaken a malevolent spirit that corrupts and destroys them through video playback. One of the undercurrents of the film is the pervasive use of technology in our society.
is a completely modern-day tale, but that intersection of technology and evil can be traced far back into history, to the dawn of motion pictures and the mysterious disappearance of film pioneer Louis Le Prince, who captured the very first motion picture in history. Set in the time of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, Elizabeth Massie’s chilling prequel, “Playback: Light and Shadow,” is not a novelization of the film, but rather an introduction to the dark lineage that drives its story. We hope it gives you a taste of the mythos of
, and that you find it as haunting as we did
John M. Bennett and Lawrence Robbins
The clouds held low over Coney Island, gray and shifting, yet there was just enough cold sunshine leaking through to make it possible to film the execution. More than one thousand men, women, teens, and children, who on a normal Sunday afternoon would have been home having tea, mending socks, or reading the Bible, had flocked to Luna Park, laughing and talking nervously, bundled in their overcoats and mittens, ready to witness what no one else had ever seen before. The spectators shuffled around on the frozen ground, stamping their feet to keep warm, craning over each others’ shoulders so as not to miss a thing. There was some pushing and grumbling among the spectators as they jockeyed for better positions.
“Watch it there, you stepped on my foot.”
“Hey, fella, no pushing.”
“Madam, your hat is blocking my view.”
“Sir, your cigar exhalations are irritating my nose!”
The people were gathered at the rear of the amusement park, back behind the rides and the shows, which were closed for the season. Back where the smelly animal barns were located, where the horses and ostriches and dogs and bears of Forepaugh’s Circus snuffled about within their stalls, piled high with mounds of manure. Beyond that a separate barn served as home for the Circus’s herd of elephants, including the twenty-eight-year-old Topsy, the three-ton star of the show.
But Topsy would no longer be the star. She had committed too many crimes of late and today she would pay for her sins. Adam Forepaugh, owner of the circus, would be paid handsomely by those who had passed up the Bible and tea to buy ten-cent tickets to witness the event.
Topsy emerged from her shed, shaking her massive, harnessed head. Her brown eyes were bright, wide, and flashing with pompous rage. There was no evidence in those eyes that the cyanide-laced carrots she’d been given minutes before had any effect at all. No matter; she was not condemned to die by poison, but by electrocution. The cyanide was only a prelude, something the handlers hoped would slow her down a bit. It hadn’t.
On a raised wooden platform a good eighty feet from Topsy’s shed, Thomas Edison stared out through the movie camera’s lens at the great, gray elephant. He adjusted the camera’s height slightly by tapping one of the tripod legs with his foot, and then he looked through the lens again. On the ground, just in front of the platform, his technicians did a final check on the electric generator and the tackle that would hold the animal in place.
All was ready.
Edison stepped back, allowing Jones, the head of Edison’s film crew, to take over with the camera. Edison removed his hat and did a slow turn on the platform, pretending to be scanning the sky but in fact giving the crowd a chance to have a good look at him. He knew these people had not just come to see an elephant die, but had also come to see the famous Grand Inventor, the Wizard of Menlo Park, America’s Most Brilliant Mind. He lifted his chin and straightened his shoulders beneath the weight of his coat. Let them look. Let them marvel. Let them have something to tell their friends. “Guess who we saw in Luna Park on Sunday!” Let them not see the insecurities that constantly raced through his mind. Let them not know the fear that haunted him daily, the certainty that there were conspirators out there who wanted to destroy him. Let them be tricked by the facade of courage and confidence.
Let them believe he was all they imagined he was.
Topsy’s main handler, a brutish, black-haired fellow named Burke, raised his bull hook, indicating he was ready to guide the animal into position. Edison put his hands into
his coat pocket and said to Jones, “You best get this and get it good. We won’t have this chance again.” The cameraman nodded, reached for the crank on the side of the camera, and began turning it at proper filming speed.
With a couple tentative whacks of the hook, Burke drove Topsy forward as the assistant handlers, two scrawny boys Edison didn’t know, followed along on the other side. The elephant walked clumsily in the copper-lined wooden sandals Burke had buckled over her feet, but she didn’t stumble. The chains that hung from her leather harness swung back and forth, making a disturbingly cheerful
sound, like Christmas bells a few weeks late in the ringing. The crowd, separated from the elephant and generator by a makeshift wooden fence, gasped and stepped back in unison as if Topsy might grab them up with her rubbery trunk and dash them to the ground. For that was what she had done to one of her handlers. Picked him up and slammed him to his death, head first. She might not have killed the man had the handler not thought it funny to feed her a lit cigarette moments earlier. But no matter. The handler had been her third kill in three years. The other two deaths were men who had been a bit too aggressive with the bull hook. Likewise, they were lifted, dashed, and squashed.
Furious at the animal for hurting the circus’s reputation and thinking he might have a new way to make some quick cash from the morbidly curious, Forepaugh declared they would hang Topsy to death from a crane. “Let her swing! Let her dance on air!” he wrote in a flyer that was posted around the Island for all to see. But the ASPCA heard of his plans and kicked up a huge fuss, declaring such an execution would be inhumane. “How long would she hang?” they demanded to know. “How long would she suffer? Doesn’t Forepaugh know that animals are sentient creatures just like humans, only mute and unable to share their thoughts and fears?”
“Damn those animal lovers to hell!” Forepaugh had declared. “How dare they take my rights from me?” But he gave in, not wanting a riot of any kind on his doorstep,
and began his search for another dramatic way to get rid of Topsy. She was too big to shoot. She was too massive to stab.
It was then that Edison stepped up, offering to down the elephant in a most graphic and entertaining manner—frying her with an electric generator that produced powerful alternating current. Edison didn’t make the offer out of the goodness of his heart, though. In fact, he had two solid reasons for hoping his offer would be accepted.
The first reason was business. Alternating current had been developed by his competitors in the electric market—Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse—and Edison feared competition against his already established direct current technology. And so he started a campaign to prove how dangerous alternating current was and how everyone should stay with direct current.
To back up his claims, Edison had sent his technicians on tours across the country where they would scoop up stray cats, stray dogs, and old farm animals, and present a side show for the local citizens in which the animals were hooked to generators of alternating current and killed by electrocution. As the switch was thrown and the current coursed through the hapless animals’ bodies, the technician would shout out his prewritten, rehearsed claims: “This is the electric current that Mr. Westinghouse wants to be brought into your stores, your public buildings, your schools, churches, and even your homes! Do you see the danger you would be facing with alternating current? Do you know that even now, in the prison in Auburn, New York, this very current is being used to execute murderers in their electric chair? We must keep Thomas Edison’s direct current. It is the only safe choice!” The audiences would nod in enthusiastic agreement, but then wander away, forgetting everything except the thrill of the kill and the smell of burned fur.
A film of Topsy being toppled by alternating current would make the point as strong as it could be made. If an elephant, the largest land mammal on Earth, could be put down by alternating current, then was any living creature safe?
Edison’s second reason for today’s events was decidedly personal. He knew some people—powerful people, prestigious people—were talking about him, making fun and belittling him behind his back. They were whispering among themselves, laughing that he was becoming weak and lazy. That he was paranoid and no longer able to actually go out and supervise any work himself, but relied completely on his employees to do everything for him.
He couldn’t let anyone believe that. The thought that others would think less of him was unbearable.
Edison felt his jaw tightening, and he turned back around on the platform to look at the elephant.
Topsy had reached the fence and the generator. She sniffed the machine and then stretched her truck out toward one woman on the other side of the fence, as if she might have a treat. The woman giggled nervously and her husband yanked her back, scowling and cursing.
“Watch your damnable creature, Forepaugh!” the husband shouted, though Forepaugh was nowhere to be seen. Probably watching through binoculars from one of Luna Park’s tall towers, apart but still present, counting heads and his winnings for the day.
One of Edison’s technicians immediately went to work, attaching the chains to pulleys on the ground to keep the elephant from wandering away, and then attaching wires from the electric generator to the electrodes that protruded from the copper on the animal’s wooden sandals. Topsy didn’t protest. Perhaps she thought she was getting ready for a bath, something she enjoyed immensely. Once the connection was secured, the technicians and handlers got the hell out of the way.
Jones hunched into the camera even farther, as if he could make the film better by the sheer intensity of his desire.
The crowd went quiet. Even several squawking babes-in-arms stopped their crying. The world was suddenly as silent as one of Edison’s movies.
They’ve come to watch a giant brought down
, Edison thought sourly as he locked eyes with the elephant for the briefest moment.
Humanity loves nothing more than to see something big and powerful brought to its knees and destroyed. Much like many of them would love to see me lose my fame and my position!