The Orkneys, Scotland, 1778
At first, there was nothing but the sweet darkness and bliss of oblivion. Some small awareness intervened in that darkness and the scatter of confusion blew over the new being. The awareness was meaningless within the nothing, save for the cold, and the new confines of a frozen shell. The shell clamped around the being and held him tight. The chill increased. Cold. Clammy. Uncomfortable. Prickling. The being stirred within himself, and still incapable of conscious thought, developed exploding infant tendrils of desperation that instinctively sought for understanding. More sounds poured out of those cloistered around him as his eyes adjusted to the changing lights and darks, and his mouth opened to gasp his first breath.
A kaleidoscope of sensation assaulted the being. Light. Touch. Taste. Want. Repulsion. Pleasure. Pain. More. The being experienced an endless barrage of increasingly torturous, conflicting, sensations. He experienced them all in something like terror as they came upon him in a flood. His extremities twitched with the confusion of these things. His hollow mind roared with them. He was awake but did not know what awake was, alive because his heart beat and blood rushed through his veins.
He sat up without meaning to, a slave to the reactions of the cold shell wrapped around him. He was unconscious of the fall of sable locks over his eyes, unaware of the bat of long, dark lashes like butterfly wings beating over the smooth marble of his cheeks. His heartbeat was loud and drew his hands to his ears in an effort to blot out the terrible noise—but the noise only grew louder as the heart found its rhythm and that rhythm intensified to riotous as the terror that suffused the being compounded.
All was indistinct, and then, in the shadowy darkness, the being perceived the pale outline of another. Blinding white light illuminated this other for intermittent moments at a time. Violent noise that seemed to be coming from everywhere at once outlined his existence. Sounds poured from this other, a jumbled tangle that the being could not even begin to hope to understand.
“Victor, my beautiful Victor, you are alive,” the other said. “Slow-witted Ernest Frankenstein has brought to life again that which he adored utmost in the world! Praise be to science that dares to touch the rippled cape of that thing called dark sorcery! Praise be to these brilliant sons of the illustrious Illuminati, gathered here for the sake of curiosity and knowledge beyond the normal human scope! Oh, sweet lovely Victor, my darling beautiful brother, I did not make your mistakes! Live! Live to walk again the myriad geographies of this world with your devoted sibling! How I have missed you!”
The being did not, could not, understand. Newborn, torn from the darkness of nothingness, everything was an invasion, every sight and every sound. The bright lightning, the rolling thunder, the droplets of rain as they hit the ragged thatch roof of the hut in which it had received life. The presence of the other, the dim awareness that fringing the other were even more beings, draped in darkness that was deeper than the shadows surrounding the table on which he lay, all inspired the few emotions he had managed to gather in the seconds since his birth—desperation and terror.
“Baron Frankenstein, do not follow your brother into madness. Be ever so mindful of that which you allow yourself to rationalize. That which lies upon the table is not Victor Frankenstein. He is but a facsimile of gathered body parts formed carefully into the pleasingly artistic likeness of him. We have made enhancements to the creature that you cannot claim for association with your precious brother. Werner’s near obsession with perfecting the musculature, Albrecht’s sculptor’s flare with the face--”
“Look, our splendid monument breathes!”
“He is Victor reborn! Victor improved! For we have spared him imperfection. We may have outdone ourselves in that regard. Who will believe that the thing is a mere man--?”
“It--! But fellows, what is it really? What have we done?!”
“You question our purpose and operations now, Werner? What a time, when the deed is done and the creature lives!”
“God have mercy on us all.”
“There is no God, only science. Do you not truly perceive the truth of that now, Braun? On this little island, in this squalid hut, we have surpassed that superstitious nonsense--”
“But for the sorcery, for it was sorcery that healed the wounds that Victor could not. Yet, his brilliance is unmistakable. Look at the thing. My God, look at it!”
“Sorcery? We called no phantasms, no clawed demons. It was a magnificent puzzle Ernest brought us from his explorer’s notes. Together we put the pieces, and together we perfected them beyond Victor Frankenstein’s crude attempt. Where is the sorcery in that?”
“It sits up and stares at us from the laboratory table, man!”
Panting like an animal, his breathing irregular as he tried to figure out how to do it, the being watched as a pale figure approached him. He did not know details, could not distinguish eyes, mouth, nose, and make that ‘face’ and make that face ‘person’. He saw the figure as a singular whitish blur of pure…presence. When that presence touched him, a gentle familiar stroke along his cheekbone, the being made a horrific, shocking croak of a noise that set him bolting from the laboratory table into a scatter of forgotten human limbs that littered the floor.
“You’re terrorizing the thing, Ernest.”
“Silence! He will know me.”
“How can it, when it is not your kith and kin, but some manufactured monstrosity very pleasingly packaged? Our goal here was to do the brilliant Dr. Frankenstein one better, and create the unflinching beauty that he could not. I would give anything to see the hideous abomination that he dubs ‘monster’ in his notations. Alas your explorer’s notes dubbed the beast suicidal, and its bones fester on some Arctic funeral pyre of its own devising. For shame, such a magnificent grotesque would have made for marvelous scientific study. But for us, the question becomes, now that we have created our own version of Victor’s experiment, what will we do with it?”
“Think on how our notable fathers will view what we have done here in this miserable hovel on this barren rock of an island. They will know that we four, along with poor Ernest, are truly worthy to continue in their illustrious vein. Five more for induction to the wonders and mysteries of the Illuminati--”
The being slipped and slid in gore, blood and body parts. His limbs gave slowly to obedience of what he had of a will. His want was simple—freedom from this new thing called terror. He managed to gain his legs and knocked over tables filled with various beakers and vials, spilling their nauseous contents to the hovel’s filthy floor.
Another sound escaped him and the shock of it sent him surging across the room. The pale being darted in front of him and the presence of the other almost turned him back. But he was in full charge—trapped in an apogee of miserable, relentless fear.
He did not know that the thing before him was a door or that the other man opened it. He was suddenly in the night, gifted with the view of the thunderstorm in its full heights. The world was screaming and the immensity of the sound dropped him to his knees as the wind and chill rain battered him. He put his hand to his ears again and stared up at the white light explosions crisscrossing the night sky. His scream joined that of the besieged world, as his heartbeat matched the thunderclaps for ferocity.
Thusly occupied with his own self, and his own terrors, the newborn being did not see the two men slide up to Ernest Frankenstein as he stood on the porch of the little hovel and watched the ocean chop on the rocks of the tiny island upon which Victor Frankenstein had sought to, and failed to, create a fellow creature for his monster.
* * * *
“What are you about, Master, that a naked man raves on the beach?” the first man asked with sly interest.
“You know better than to question my dealings, Baltasar. But you are correct, he is a man,” Ernest said. His eyes were fevered, bloodshot for the intensity and devotion to his labors. Those labors screamed in agony on the rocky shore before him. Victor was half in and half out of the choppy waters, as if he too contemplated the merciful ending of self that took his monstrous fellow creation. “I have done it.”
“Aye,” the other man said cautiously, backing away a little, like one who sensed insanity and rejected it as if it were something he could catch. “What will you have us do, my lord? We have waited on this filthy beach all night again. Dawn approaches and we have our own business to be about.”
Ernest felt the press of bodies in the doorway behind him—his friends and colleagues from the University of Inglostadt, sons of the most prestigious members of the clandestine sect known as the Illuminati to those few who knew anything about it at all. He had been careful to make certain that none of those with him had announced this dark excursion to their families. ‘If we should succeed’, he had told them, ‘the victory would be ours alone, the glory to the sons and not the fathers’. The pathetic peasants that occupied the few crude huts that cluttered the rocky shore were the only people in the world who knew of their presence on the miserable island.
There would be questions, inquiries, when the exceptional men of the University of Inglostadt learned of the disappearances of their precious progeny, but he had taken great care in his planning to assure that those questions would not turn to him.
“Where is the magnificent thing, Ernest?” Werner asked, excitedly. “Do not let it get away!”
“Look there, it seeks to drown itself!” Braun said. “How will we prove that we crafted it from the dead if it is dead again when we bring it forth? Let us stop it! Hurry!”
His colleagues surged all around him, the stolen robes that marked them falsely as members of the Illuminati flapping in the wind around their eager limbs. Oh, how their families would moan at the loss of them, Ernest thought with some sympathy. He knew that pain well. It had brought him to this dark and miserable place. Everything had been taken from him by Victor’s creation. From a world of joy and beauty, he had been thrust, death-by-death, into a realm of solitude. In one way or another, Victor’s monster had killed everyone he had ever loved in the world. But it was Victor whose death Ernest had bemoaned the most. His shining light. His older brother.
The explorer had loved Victor, too. For that reason, he had brought his bizarre tale of Victor’s last days and Victor’s notes to the desolate Frankenstein family estate in Geneva. When the noble explorer had gone, Ernest had read the notes and had resolved himself to do what his family had never believed him capable of—aspire to a higher level of the mind. He would follow Victor’s trail to that high institution in Inglostadt. He would learn. He would bring Victor back.
Five men struggled on the beach. More marvelously muscled and defined than he had ever been in his previous incarnation, Victor defended himself well and with phenomenal ease. His defenses though, had no drive. They were purely instinctual, the rough defenses of one who was physically superior by birth and nature, but without knowledge or will to fight. Ernest resolved himself to fix that. He would teach Victor again how to defend himself from the cruelties of the world. The first time around his brilliant brother had been, very simply, too fragile.
“Kill them,” he told the men whose job it was to collect the bodies for his experiments.
“Master, be mindful. This island doesn’t hold much, but there are two more huts, as you well know. The rough peasants inside may bear witness.”
“Kill them as well,” Ernest said. It is a mercy really, he thought, to end their abysmal penury.
The slaughter was a sonata of screaming joined in eerie crescendo by the power of the storm. Ernest heard none of it. As his handymen pulled their victims from Victor, he went again into his filthy laboratory and found a blanket. Armed with it, he approached his brother, who was no longer screaming his agony and confusion at the storm, but merely watching the sky.
Men screamed and died all around him, but, unmolested, Victor saw none of it, his dark eyes trained again on the white-light fury of the heavens as lightning rolled across its inky plain, and thunder beat a powerful tattoo to the cadence of the icy rain.
“This is warm,” Ernest said with the voice and manner with which he would approach a terrified child, and slid the blanket over his brother’s back. Panting like an animal, Victor flinched, but did not move, enraptured by the light play in the firmament.
“We will go to France,” Ernest said. “We will begin again. I will teach you. Lesson one, dear brother: your name is Victor. What happens upon this cold, black beach is but a terror dream my unfortunate beloved, brought on by your grave injuries. You have a passion for equestrianism. In a terrible accident that almost cost you your mobility if not your life, you fell from such a beast, that is why you do not remember.”
Ernest knew that he would tell Victor this again and again until he believed. Silently, he joined his brother in watching the magnificence of the sky as the screams died down beneath the thunder, and the smell of smoke from burning huts permeated the night air.
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Saturday, 3 January 2009
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