At the height of the Spiritualist Movement when creators like Huxley Auspex were inventing their other worldy creations like the Auspicmoriscope, a more mundane line of invention was being attempted by brilliant creator Professor Semper Vogel. Vogel, not content to simply teach his knowledge and try and inspire the youth of his city to push their gray matter towards more profound things, he put his talents and intellect to the task of inventing machines that would aid the afflicted in his world. His first attempts were at a clunky brand of hearing aids. Most of them proved too large and impractical for the individual use. They were little better than the old fashioned method of putting an ear horn to your head and hoping for more hearing clarity.
After much frustration and failure Professor Vogel came upon an invention that seemed to conduct itself perfectly. The rather large invention was a reading machine, a device that could be placed over a page of written words that were read and clearly reproduced aloud from a speaking apparatus at the top of the machine. The professor hoped such a machine would greatly aid the blind in finally having access to books without needing someone else to read them to them, or waiting for them to be translated into brail. The only mishaps the good professor kept encountering were that the words being read aloud often times were not the words to be found on the pages. He couldn’t quite tell if this was a simple matter of the reader not being able to translate what it was reading, or something along those lines. What troubled and vexed him was the fact that what was being spoken aloud, though not what was on the page, was still a well thought out and perfectly understandable speech. It almost sounded like the reading machine was reading its own stories in place of what it read on the pages of the book or paper its reading eye glass was moved over.
As he grew increasingly frustrated with a device that seemed to be working perfectly and yet was not, he found himself one night spilling his woes to his sister Belle over several glasses of brandy and sinful truffles. His sister suggested he leave the reading machine with her and see what she could make of it. She was just as bright as her older brother, just as capable at construction and invention, and in this case she would be a pair of fresh eyes taking an equally fresh look at the machine. Vogel agreed and left his reading machine with Belle.
Professor Vogel did not hear from his sister for a week after giving over the reading machine to her. He made several stops to her flat but found her not answering her door bell on each occasion. Finally, more worried than anything else, he forced his way into her small flat to make sure all was well. What he found was Belle huddled in a corner, her arms wrapped tightly around her legs as she rocked back and forth. Her eyes were wide open and her lips mumbling silently. He could not rouse her from this state. It was only when he moved over to the reading machine, that sat perched above an array of scattered books, that Belle suddenly came around. She jumped up and violently pushed her brother away from the machine. “Don’t let it speak Semper! Don’t let it!” she cried out.
Belle never recovered from this state and no one knows why or how she came to be in this way. The only thing doctors could draw from her was mad jibberish about how it spoke for them. The it and them in question she never gave a name for. Though Professor Vogel was not one to buy into foolishness, he could not ignore a few facts regarding his sister. She had been fine until he left her alone with his reading machine. The reading machine that spoke stories but not stories found in the books given to it to read. He didn’t want to draw strange conclusions, but his sister had been driven mad in a matter of days with only the reading machine being the new addition to her environment. Feeling somehow responsible for the state of his sister, Professor Vogel placed his reading machine in a crate and had it stored away in his basement, never to look at it again.
Decades later after the professor’s death, the contents of his house became the property of the university that he had taught at. Much of his belongings were auctioned off and the proceeds given over to the student charity fund. Some of these items were purchased by a group representing the Miskatonic Archive. Professor Vogel’s reading machine came into possession of the Archive.
Though study of the reading machine has only just begun, a few things were noticed right off by its new owners. The reading machine when put into use did indeed translate the written word into a spoken word. But what it was reading was not coming from the books laid out in front of it. The reading eye glass of this invention was able to see something those around it could not, and it was this unseen thing that the machine read aloud. The tone of this content seemed to depend greatly upon who was handling the machine and what type of environment surrounded it. In the brightly lit glass walled office of Babel Jean Tea-Hymn the machine told enchanting fairy tales never before read. When the reading machine was in the gloomy and neglected rooms of the Archive’s old storage facility the tales it told were dark and so ominous that those listening to it quickly covered their ears and rushed to shut the machine off.
A team of two Archive professors and a handful of interns have taken on the duty of properly studying Professor Vogel’s reading machine. The notes of Professor Vogel’s that once explained how he crafted the device have sadly been lost. But the researchers hope to carefully take the machine apart and put it back together again and try and understand how this device’s strange abilities came to be…
The artwork accompanying this story is copyright 2009 Bethalynne Bajema, All Rights Reserved. This print is currently available as a limited edition signed metallic print. For ordering info/options please follow this link.