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This title is under the Peabody Collection
The Opening Line
1890. He gazed at the sheet that lay before him. Two black circles. Something was not quite right. He had done this before, many times. But never like this. The circular disk on the right was so frightfully perfect in design; it could not be an anomaly. Something was going on. His fingers lingered on the sheet, putting it back on his desk and bringing it up close to his eyes again, trying to invent some form of explanation for the streaks. But there was none, for something terribly sinister was at play to have produced such fearsome symmetry. He remembered the night, with the faint glare of the glowing apple-green light shining its stern eyes in the darkness, writhing within the confines of its glass tube in its attempt to consume the room with its intense, evil fuel made ablaze in the sight of the two men. Neither could explain the image, nor could they desire to see it once more, after it was locked shut behind the prison of the drawer door.
The inmate lay chained for five years, and its spirit waned with each passing day, till its death in 1896. Someone else had claimed it, and rejuvenated the spring of discovery. It began with a similar glow, but much fainter, sure to rouse the curious heart. He tried to turn it off by blocking the light ray’s path with a black cupboard box, copper, aluminum, and even the walls of his own abode, but to no use. And then he tried a nice solid block of lead, in the sarcastic smirk of jest. Alas, the sight! What was that ghastly thing! It was glowing and bony and wicked, as if some cacodemon from the grave has risen and come! And then he realized it. It was his own hand. What kind of mysterious rays were they, that could pass through his own skin? Frazzled by the puzzle, he dismissed them with the unimaginative term X-rays and proceeded to take a picture of his wife’s lovely hand, that delicate beauty he so wished to admire.
The two afore-mentioned men reunited upon hearing the news, scanning their records for any semblance of such an incident. And of course, they found it in that very drawer locked in the chain of their own fears. With the shroud of the supernatural lifted, they attempted to study their own fluke. And it turned out, after a lengthy dive among the swirl of thoughts and melodramatic fears of that fateful evening alone in the empty building, the circular disks were none other than two coins left on the plate of the Crookes tube set-up, set aside in good measure for Jennings personal trolley fare! He then repeated the electrograph procedure for Goodspeed’s pleasure, only to have left the secular coins remaining on the plate. Now that the conundrum was solved, the pair repeated their experiment with renewed ease, in the interest of seeing the reflections of their own primal origins, hidden in the human skull.
It was a failed image. A two hour seating resulted not in the penetration of the human bone, but in the epilation of their subject’s head. His hair fell to the ground three weeks after. Nevertheless, the image did reveal the corners of his teeth, in addition to unveiling the dangers of x-ray exposure on a sheer unknowing abject. The principle was simple. A regular light wave would bounce off a surface and be reflected into our eyes, projecting the color of that particular ray which collectively adds up to make up what we see. X-rays would penetrate through materials due to their high intensity, and if a suitable barrier like lead was present, the ray would pass through all standing before it and eventually hit and bounce off the lead block – whose image can be captured on a screen acting as an eye. But the fact of these rays passing through is dangerous for living beings, as its intensity can cause cell mutations within the skin, causing errors in the replication of our building blocks of life.
Yet the fascination of the human mind led to speculation rather than revelation, for the brief picture of the skull’s silhouette stoked telepathic fervor, and the crowds turned to mysticism in their grand disbelief of seeing a fragment of the crude human soul held captive within the roots of their own cannibalistic teeth. Fanciful theories elevated the unity and primacy of the human soul, that we are all the one same being who have the propensity to share the same connection that pervades us within our identical make-up inside our bodies, beyond the façades of our shallow skins. But science eventually won over, and made its mark in identifying foreign structures within our bodies, like an ingested paperclip or an obstructing kidney stone. Today it can even be used to spot fakes from original paintings in identifying whether specific earlier features sketched and painted over by the artist’s hand underlie the specific painting, or in discovering cosmic objects from stellar distances in x-ray telescopes held in orbit above the shielded atmosphere. It is even used to identify the microscopic structure of crystals with its highly precise beam scattering atoms in a regular pattern, which allows one to chart its internal shapes with the measurement of the distances between each atom through the shadows casted in the process.
A fate of luck, a missed opportunity. The rays which immortalized Röentgen could well have been Goodspeed’s and Jenning’s to name, allowing for something more corporeal than a mere ‘X’ referring to the unknowing nature of the once enigmatic discovery. After all, it is the passing transience of the everyday moment that led to some of the most amazing discoveries in the analects of science, like the death of a suicidal apple, the chimerical journey atop a beam of light, or the listless specimen sitting around in a bell jar waiting to be freed from its imprisonment and announce its name, somewhere among millions of other jars in an unopened cabinet.
While the first x-ray picture of the two disks may now be lost among six million other listings due to a cataloging error in a library committed in 1974, the life of discovery still stands around us, flooding our lives in the most inordinate and ordinary moments we spend most of our lives doing. And it is our time to find and re-seek those discoveries, to excite the world into a new era, and satisfy our own curiosities in the immortalization of a good journey.
We pass through life every day, going from moment to moment without fully being aware of what we have missed in our diurnal walks of routine. It was precisely such a moment that led to the discovery of X-rays, held within a curious heart.