Prelude - 'The Loss of Love'
1873 - May - Portslade, Train Station - 10:36AM
Now, it’s fair to say Eli Watts wasn’t very popular. Even as a baby, he drew the ire of anyone brave enough to peer under the hood of his pram. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth and a silver knife and fork in each respective hand, Eli was afforded the very best education and the finest toys that money could buy. At home, the dinner plate was always piled high. At school, he rubbed shoulders with peers that would later become the ‘who’s who’ of the scientific community. In fact, I shouldn’t call you a liar if you told me Eli ‘wanted for nothing’. But he wanted a lot. The simple fact is, that Eli’s existence was effortlessly easy. That was until the blistering summer of 1873, at the ripe old age of ten, when things began to go seriously awry.
Eli had been granted a holiday by his parents that year and had elected to visit India. He’d read good things about the culture in ‘World Explorers Weekly’ magazine and he liked the sugary treats his father had bought back from his trip to Delhi a year previously. As he stood hand in hand with his mother at the platform’s edge, a conglomerate of servants scurried around them. Pottering with the numerous colourful travel cases and boxes that littered the platform, Cooks, Butlers, Luggage Carriers, assistants of all shapes and sizes carried out their respective duties with startling efficiency. Nannies, kitchen maids, dressers and undressers, dairy maids, laundry maids, scullery maids and many other well-groomed personnel, tasked with every imaginable aspect of Eli’s wellbeing. And they all competed to appear the busiest.
The platform was long, hot and bustling with life. The hum of movement and conversation conspired to drown out even the loudest avian chorus from the trees outside. The summer had been relentless in its pursuit of dryness, but today, after a long parched season, the Gods had finally awoken and the clouds carried the gift of rain across the city. With the overwhelming scents of petrichor and burning coal in his nostrils, Eli watched the raindrops as they carefully navigated the station roof and gathered into a waterfall at the extremity of the platform. As Eli gripped the soft digits of his mother’s left hand tightly, he day-dreamt of ever warmer climes than these and the interesting spices and people he would surely discover there.
Somewhere along the platform, a commotion had started. Eli couldn’t quite see the hubbub that conspired against his travelling party, but the ruckus was enough to bring him out of his thoughts. Raised voices echoed through the station, bouncing off the red brick walls and then back down from the glass roof above them. Bellowing anger met with high pitched screams, and before too long, the voices began to blur with the sound of trampling feet. For the first time that morning, Eli felt startlingly aware of his small stature. He contemplated how much bigger the adults actually were, while they panicked around him. The rumble was so determined in fact, that Eli hadn’t noticed the familiar clicks and clacks of the oncoming steam engine that was hurriedly making its way towards the station. Rolling and reverberating, a giant steaming beast charging ahead, oblivious to the heaving masses. Eli hadn’t noticed it. Nor had his mother. Her attention was focussed, much like her concern, on Eli’s wellbeing.
As the crowd grew louder and the melle more violent, the train chugged closer. Not even the thunderous vibrations emanating from the tracks, could steal the attention of the chaotic crowds from their rampage. The volume intensified, and to Eli, seconds began to feel like minutes. Police whistles pierced through the pandemonium, while the smoke from the oncoming train began to cloud the air above their heads. The rabble seemed to roll like hot lava, edging closer, consuming rows of people as it went. For Eli, the swelling fracas came into view through the legs of those to the right of him. A mass of lower limbs, stamping feet and flowing skirts made of bright colours and intricate lace, flashed in and out of view. Fenced between the station building and the platform’s edge, the bedlam enveloped each person it came into contact with. It terrified Eli and terrified his Mother - who clasped her hands tightly on each of his shoulders.
As the wave of bodies flowed, it washed each new layer of terrified people into the tides of hysteria. The sounds grew more intense. The feet got louder. The train came ever closer. As the carnage climaxed before them, time seemed to stand still. Eli’s mother turned her shoulders towards him and with her head tilted down at a jaunty angle, their eyes met. For just a few seconds, the riot felt silent. She spoke in silky tones, that unbeknownst to Eli, would form the very last words he would ever hear her speak... “Don’t worry darling, everything will be ok.”
The remains weren’t much to look at. The skills of late 19th century undertakers weren’t much to write home about at the best of times. Let alone when satirically horrific incidents left them with so little to work with. In a small coroner’s office, Eli and the family Butler, Henry sat beside each other on a rough wooden bench and stared silently at the floor. The heady aroma of formaldehyde seemed to emanate from every pore of the brickwork. A rickety desk sat before them. It supported a large rusty green lamp and was strewn with torn paperwork. Chipped green wall tiles joined a smoke stained ceiling and a dust coated floor,making the room feel unseasonably cold. So much so, that Eli could feel the warmth of Henry’s leg in the small gap between them.
Eli’s mind felt blank. Numb even. So distant in fact, that the heated discussions taking place just outside the room between his father and the funeral staff, seemed light years away. The room felt huge and cavernous to his modest frame and his mind felt even bigger.
Eli didn’t much care for his father. ‘Elusive’ was the best word to describe him, Eli thought. ‘Aloof’ was also good. Not uncaring per say, but unfocussed when it came to their relationship. So when it was announced later that evening, it was no great surprise to Eli that he was to spend the rest of his summer with the family butler, at his Uncle’s mansion in a small town further along the coast. Little did he know then, that he would never return to the welcoming halls of his family home, where he had spent so many happy hours in the arms of his mother.
This is not a story of total doom and gloom, I promise my lovely readers. At the age of 15, Eli was a homeowner, when his Uncle bequeathed him his mansion. And by 16, the Watts family fortune sat in his bank account. By the age of 17, he had one of the biggest and most well-stocked laboratories in the world. By the time he was 25 and a half, he was world famous and had surpassed his inheritance ten times over with his own self-made fortune.
But let me be clear, fame and popularity are not exclusive of one another. With no family but Henry to speak of, Eli had put all his energies into his studies. By the time society deemed him a man, his superior intellect had all but alienated him from even his closest peers. His obnoxious genius was the shield he raised in battle and he left no survivors. I guess the old saying is true readers, no one actually does like a ‘smarty pants’.
Having extensively more money than love in his life, and an abundance of time to spend it, Eli began to lose touch with the monotony of typical human existence, and became increasingly obsessed with the majesty of science. In school, he’d excelled in Biology, Chemistry and Physics, so with his Uncle’s mansion over his head and his family’s fortune in his pocket, he built a laboratory that would one day give inspiration to the likes of such notables as Nicola Tesla and the infamous Magnus Volks. No experiment was too big for him and no scientific dead end could dent his incessant confidence. Outside the laboratory walls he was frustrated by mundane communication, hopeless at relationships and unable to draw anything but contempt and confusion from the people he met. But behind his test tubes, his extensive rack of chemicals, his tool kit and his numerous scientific diaries, he was surely king of the castle.
Now, your humble author doesn’t pretend to comprehend such insane genius. Certainly not the likes of which your protagonist wields. Not even a dream-team of the finest psychiatrists in all of London town could do that. And I don’t claim to know every single gory detail of this story in full, so don’t go asking. But fear not scintillating sentence seekers, there is plenty to placate your salivating ravenous hunger. I’m simply here to tell you a tale. And hopefully, it’s a good one. So grab a brew and a pack of your favourite biccies, sit back and gorge yourself on the tale of how a crazed character with an indeterminate intellect named Eli Watts, found his nemesis in a haphazard and hapless scientist called ‘Professor Elemental’...