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art by Seth Alan Bareiss

The Lady Electric

Gary B. Phillips lives in Arizona with his wife, two daughters, three cats, and four chickens. He has been previously published in Stories in the Ether, Interstellar Fiction, and Lacuna: A Journal of Historical Fiction. He is currently writing his first novel and growing a mighty beard. Follow him online at How Dull the Wretch and on twitter @garybphillips. Gary B. Phillips lives in Arizona with his wife, two daughters, three cats, and four chickens. He has been previously published in Stories in the Ether, Interstellar Fiction, and Lacuna: A Journal of Historical Fiction. He has a story in the forthcoming anthology Another 100 Horrors. He is currently writing his first novel and growing a mighty beard. Follow him online at How Dull the Wretch and @garybphillips.
There was a hole in the fabric of your favorite dress and the light seemed to bend around it. Light always favored you, softening or illuminating to give you an ethereal beauty at all times.
I didn't say anything to you about the hole. I knew how angry you would be. I knew what could happen if your anger got the best of you, but I didn't fear it. I wanted to keep you safe.
Halfway through dinner you saw the hole and your face flushed that brilliant, pure white. The other patrons took notice. How could they not? Children pointed at you, gazing in wonder at the black dots that burst around you and sucked in the light.
The restaurant emptied and the police came in, their guns drawn, shouting at you to get down. A few of them got too close and winked out of existence, though I'm not sure anyone noticed in the confusion.
"I love you," I shouted to you, in the midst of the chaos. Bullets and light and the sound of the earth coming apart at the seams.
"I love you too," you said.
It seemed to calm you.
And then they were upon you. They led you away in handcuffs.
Word about the incident spread quickly. The papers ran rife with speculation. The names of the missing cops were released and the city held a candlelight vigil in their honor. The mayor pleaded with the public to come forward with any information they had about the "freak accident" or mysterious woman.
They didn't know how to deal with you, so they kept you in solitary for two weeks. I tried to visit you but they turned me away every time.
"She's a danger to herself and others," they said.
A deal was made and they transferred you to a laboratory outside the city. A man named Edison had taken a keen interest in you.
I took a train to New Jersey and hailed a carriage to Menlo Park. His lab looked less like a place of research and more like an oversized residence. Thomas Edison stood on the porch, puffing at a cigar and looking up to the heavens.
I let myself in through a white picket fence.
"Strange night," he said.
I looked up to the stars but only saw a few twinkling, as if a veil had been draped over the sky.
"Indeed. Are you Mr. Edison?" I asked.
He nodded and shook my hand.
He asked, "Mr. Atwood with the Times?"
I nodded and he invited me in.
When I first contacted him, I had lied and told him I was a reporter. You know I'm not a liar so I had even surprised myself, but if it meant getting to see you again, it was worth it.
His lab was bright, lit by a queer light that made my eyes water. He introduced me to his assistants and showed me around the lab.
"This is really special," I said.
"But this is all yesterday's news. I have something new," he said, drawing closer to me and speaking with a hushed fervor. "I've never seen anything like it. Would you like to see?"
I nodded, following him downstairs and through locked doors. We stopped in an enormous white room, heavy with the sound of machinery.
"There she is," he said.
I scarcely recognized you. Your hair was gone, replaced with tubes and wires that ran to strange devices.
"I call her The Lady Electric," he said. "Mark my words, she will change the world."
You had already changed mine.
Your eyes were milky, rolled back into your head, but you stirred when I came close.
"I am not of this place," you said. "I was not supposed to but... I met you..." Your voice trailed off.
I saw a spark of recognition light your eyes and then they were listless again.
I left crestfallen.
But he was right. You changed the world.
The newspapers hailed Edison as a genius. They covered up the real story of course, printing lies that he had found you in an alley begging for food. They wrote of the quaint invention he had been working on until he met you.
Within a year, every major city used you. They took their fill of you. The lady that lit up the night sky, replacing the stars and moon.
I met with Mr. Edison often, under the false pretense that I was writing articles about him and you. I could not keep up the charade though.
"I love her," I told him over coffee.
His gaze did not meet mine. He was fixated on his cup of coffee. His hair had thinned and turned white since our first meeting. He was a far cry from the young man I had met a year prior.
He looked up at me.
"As do I," he said.
"You're not surprised that I know her then?" I asked.
The diner was quiet, save for the faint clink of silverware and murmured conversation. The silence was heavy between us.
"She speaks of you often," he said.
I knew I couldn't fight him on the grounds of morality. I had to appeal to his heart.
"Does she love you?" I asked him.
"I'm thinking of leaving Mina," he said. Then he paid the bill and left. He did not contact me again and I was no longer permitted in his laboratory.
I took up arms against him. Not with gun or sword but with words. I told the world your story. That you were not a machine to be used up, but a woman. A girl.
Others took up the cause, condemning Edison, calling him a monster. But they were hypocrites because they cursed him under your light.
You wavered in your tenth year of captivity. Your light blazed one minute and was gone the next.
I stepped outside to see the city darkened, and yet still illuminated. The stars shone in the sky, brighter than I had ever remembered seeing. Such a vast array of radiant light above us and I wondered why we needed anything but them for light.
After gazing at the stars that night, I knew that you were gone, before I read it in the papers.
Are you with the stars? Is that why they shine so brightly?
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, April 25th, 2013


I had a song stuck in my head when I entered the shower one morning and this story had replaced it by the time I was done. When I finally got the chance to write the story a week later, the first draft was finished in one sitting. This one came easily. I wish that were true for all of them.

- Gary B. Phillips

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