Victoria never talked to anyone. Sometimes she would glance across the street in barest acknowledgement but she never made conversation. She carried herself like she was better than everyone. Maybe it was her background; her private education, her wealthy family.
She lived in her manor, which was as large as a boarding house but severely neglected. One wondered where all that wealth was spent. It was a mystery.
Outside, the manor grounds were overcome by nettles, shrubs, spiderwebs encrusted with dead insects. The iron fencing around the manor had started to corrode – the metal was rusted, brown and orange, flaking apart like dried candle wax.
Every evening of winter, when the winds were chill, and bones turned cold, a large fume of smoke appeared from the back chimney of the manor. My daughter, Elizabeth, found it fascinating. It was nothing like other houses, nothing like the mills, or the coal mines. She had seen the men coated in black who crawled from the pits; the rows of women threading in unison. But that rancid smoke filtering into the sky – it was magic.
It hit the sky, putrid, poisonous, filtering into the clouds, separating and becoming one with the heavens. Elizabeth’s imagination turned the thick spitted smoke into insects, crawling on the roof of the world.
‘Watch out for the spider lady! She lives in the webs.’ Elizabeth pointed as smoke unravelled across the horizon.
‘Each one is a soul, a victim caught in her web.’ The smoke drew closer to the schoolyard, twisting and spiraling as if turning into a palm, then a fist, then a claw. ‘When it gets inside you, you become possessed, and walk into her webs. It’s her toxin. She’s coming to get you.’
As if on cue, the smoke would flume from the mansion, dark, black, charred and poisonous as it spread.
‘Look, the spiders are escaping!’ With that, the children ran away at Elizabeth’s taunts.
Every evening I looked for the spiders in the sky, the insects on the roof of the world, because I knew it brought Elizabeth joy when we searched for them together.
One day, the acrid smoke ceased to bellow. My gut turned. My concern did not lie with Victoria, but the lack of smoke in the sky, which created a dense weight in the air.
I wondered if I would ever see her after that. But no sooner than I had the thought, she appeared. She crossed the newly cobbled street in the last hours of a dying evening. I noticed how her clothes seemed to fit her differently. She struggled to stay on her feet. Her legs were damp, and sickly grey water dripped on her shoes as she walked. Victoria pushed past me, knocking me into a wall. She glared back at me as if this shocked her. Her eyes were worried and strained, her face gaunt.
I never had a desire to help her before but something overcame me.
‘Victoria, you need some help.’ I offered. But she had already left me and hurried down a nearby snicket. I ran after her, pushing on against the strong gusts of the chill evening wind, but her black hair blurred with the shadows, her dark pinstriped dress became one with the night. It was near impossible for me to follow her.
When I turned the corner, she had disappeared and was nowhere to be seen. I thought it was there that I’d lost her trail. Then, as if cursed by a colour, by a black mirage, a midnight black feline crossed my path. I was locked in a labyrinth of noir, darkest shadows camouflaging her path from me.
The cat was startled by me, and scurried away. In its haste it knocked over empty bottles of ale stood by a beggar’s bed of greasy cloth scraps. I clenched my nostrils with my fingers and edged further down the path. Amongst the shadows there, I saw Victoria.
Her head hung down between her knees and she appeared to be cradling her body, softly rocking to and fro. Blood covered the cobbled ground, leaking from underneath her skirts and trickling between the cobblestones towards my shoes. I stepped back, my boots already sticky with the dark heavy blood.
She raised her head to stare directly at me. In the weak moonlight reflected by a disused, cracked mirror in the alley, I stared back at her.
She was pale and close to death. I began to reach down to her but then hesitated. I was afraid I would hurt her more. I felt my chest drop and become paralysed just by the sight of this now fragile woman I had so envied. I saw then that this wealthy woman was lonely, alone in a village full of people who did nothing but glare at her with jealousy, and children who were relentless in their teasing, singling her out as a witch.
I tried to speak, urging myself to say something to comfort her, but as I tried only my hot breath escaped from my lips and disappeared. I stepped away, out of the alley and into the open air, away from the horror of her.
In the lamplight of the evening turned night an officer took a final puff of his cigar. I hurried to him, as if chasing towards courage. I gripped his hand, towing him towards the snicket. When we got to where I had left her, she was gone. No trace remained apart from a shallow pool of blood.
We stood alone with the pool of blood. But as we moved closer, something there stirred.
It was oddly, and awkward, the shape of a mandrake, shrivelled and still. I felt draw to it, as if I was pulled closer by its silent words. Then I gasped.
The way it laid still.
It was a baby. A lifeless newborn.
Lifeless. And that’s what horrified me, I felt for a moment it was alive, and it was crying, I swear on my heart it was crying for its mother. It’s eyes were small, looking as if they had been painted on by the point of a needle. It’s body was shrivelled in such a way that it appeared wrapped and distorted by vines.Its eyes were small, almost painted on by a needles end. Its body shrivelled to such a degree that it was in twisted vines, as if it had sprouted from a bulb.
Its mouth was open as if in pursuit of food, only to be met with the emptiness of air. Never to know the bliss of breathing.
Victoria had not cradled her knees, but this child. The one she had just lost.
From Professor Brunet
I heard a thud on the door. It carried on, echoing past midnight. The hounds woke, startled, in turn they woke the rest of the damn house. To hear a knock on the door was unusual, especially at that hour, but what made it more unusual was how quickly the hounds stopped barking. So with the sudden intrusion and the absence of noise from our dogs, I threw on a robe and walked to see who had decided to disturb our peace.
Who could it have been who had managed to gain the trust of our dogs, for it was not the foxes or the stray hares. My wife Priscilla and the children had found the silence disturbing and chose to gather by candlelight in the living quarters. There was comfort in the company.
The hallway opened out and had plenty of room, it had an oval shape, and stretched, the stairs spiralled into the above chambers, and the living quarters were in an open space across from my study. I always found it relaxing to see the children play while I worked. My wife and two girls played checkers in the living quarters while I dealt with the visitor.
While the thud consisted I was in no hurry to answer. I had an odd feeling that only bad news awaited by answering the door. And yet the thud persisted. Ringing through the hallways, dancing through the corridors thump thump thump like a chorus of heartbeats reaching out of the chest, thump thump thump like a marching band in unison, thump thump thump like a steam train on broken tracks, awaiting to be derailed.
I found the courage to open the door, holding on to the brass handle, it was cold to the touch.
I slowly turned it.
I was met by a man, his fist held high as if he was to add another thud. His face was sullen, it sank in such a way that one would think it was being sucked by the core of the earth, his eyes were bloodshot and travelled inwards, away from whatever tried to look at them. There was a smell of dried ale, as if it had caught on his clothes and become trapped there, and a oddly clean fragrance, as if he had spent time with a large amount of soap, and a peculiar smell of tobacco that lingered upon the evergreen.
I was suddenly aware of the man’s size. He was over six feet, and towered over me. If it were not for his hunch I would have thought he would be much taller.
We stood in silence.
‘I’m cold, Daddy.’ A tug pulled on my sleeve and that small voice was oh so familiar. My daughter had sneaked away from her mother to be by my side.
‘Back inside dear. I won’t be long.’
And to that the man brought himself inside, following my daughter like a ship to a light. His lips were blue and frozen while his actions held authority.
He pulled out a large box, one that had been used for cigars, and opened it. It has been nested with hay and nursed inside was something pruned, the figuration of an apple that was left to rot in the sun.
‘Is it what I think it is?’ Came the man. His first words to me, demanding, and straight to the point. I looked at it, examined it. Instantly I understood why the man had been so sullen.
I may have thought this was some abomination not of this Earth. It’s deformed, horrifying in appearance, almost human like, with its roots sprouting from its body, they almost resemble fingers, do they not? Where did you pick up this abomination?’
‘It was found near the city in a pool of blood. An abortion perhaps.’
‘I would not fear, it’s nothing to worry about. Many mothers abandon their young these days. You see if they feel it’s twisted in some way, and this thing was, it is tumorous, undeveloped, high chances to be dead at birth, well they tend to take action so they save it the pain of existence.’
‘So there is… no chance… it could be saved? Will it take root? Should I bury it?’ the man said.
‘Burn it.’ I was direct. ‘You can never be too careful with these things. I’m not a superstitious man but curses have been known to come from cursed creatures.’
The man turned to leave, stepping from my porch and mounting his horse. He ordered it with a sharp word, and cantered down the pathway, disappearing into the dead of night. He took his silence with him, the usual sounds of night seeming to leak back into the world once he had gone.
My wife was asleep with my daughters cradled in her arms. One by one I took my daughters to bed, the limp bodies pressed against mine for heat and comfort. Climbing the stairs, the floorboards creaked and the wind gusted through our chamber halls. Finally, I returned to my wife, the candlelight was weak and flickered wildly for life, creating shadows on her rose coloured skin. I kissed her on the forehead to wake her.
She murmured something absently as she hooked her arms around my neck. I carried her to our chambers, allowing my mind to clear of the grotesque creature that was to haunt my dreams later that night. I left the candle to die alone in our living room. The irony of life lost in a living room I thought. How fitting that was.
From PC Burgen.
. From being a boy he would return on his adventures with some tropical gift, neighbours would visit to see what he had brought me. They were so unusual, even to this day, I have yet to see anything close to their designs. Things like trinkets, toys, cloths. Items full of colour they could suck out the grey of the fog. It’s odd isn’t it? How effects can have some a large impact on your youth but as you look back you struggle to remember what it had been that held your affection so dearly.
There are a handful of things that I still remember. One, a chess set. The pieces were so carefully carved, made of ivory, the white pieces were soft and smooth to the touch, while the black pieces were made of ebony, the pieces were so dark I would often feel I was falling outside the Earth when I looked at them too deeply. I was fourteen when I received my last gift from him. He handed it to me in newspaper wrapping with a bow tied around it, as I removed the paper it revealed a box of cigars.
The box itself was the most colourful thing I’d ever seen. The patterns, the shapes and colours were of a style I’m unable to explain. Some would say it had a feminine appeal about it with its purples and oranges and soft pinks but I thought differently, it reminded me of the colour of sun through a pane glass window. Light that was neither inside or out but trapped inside a cage for a man to admire. A majestic bird caught by hand to become a trophy much like a boars head.
There were 20 cigars inside, and I would smoke them on special occasions, and one I was to save for if my Uncle ever came home. When I first tried to smoke the things I choked, the tobacco was strong and I had not been used to the way they were supposed to be inhaled. My Uncle spent the evening showing me how it was done, you see you’re only meant to inhale so far and not let the smoke reach your lungs. Holding the smoke within your mouth and then exhaling so not to let it slip down your throat. After a few practice puffs and some explanation I was finally able to smoke them, and did so throughout the years, only using my Uncle’s special cigars when the occasion called for it.
I had one on my eighteenth birthday, one the day my youngest sister wed her husband, I even gave her spouse one that we shared over an evening meal, one was used on the evening of my fathers funeral, and there were others. What’s important is that they meant something to me. I was down to my last cigar and with my Uncle unlikely to return I thought there was no better night to light it than on my final beat. I had been offered a new job caretaking a school, a job my wife had encouraged me to take. So as a start of a new chapter, I lit lit it and I smoked it just as my Uncle Jeremy showed me.
On that night I took my final puff from my final cigar and put away my Uncle’s cigar box safely into my jacket. Throwing the butt away a wiley woman approached me, from the off I could tell something was not quite right. She had seen something disturbing, quaking as she approached me. The woman, she called herself Maria, hurried out a long explanation to me about a neighbour with an Eastern European name, began with Victoria ended with a name beginning with an F. Francistein, but I could be mistaken. Maria pulled my jacket, toeing me along like a childs toy. Forcing my head into where the baby lied.
Of course it was easy to disconnect, it looked nothing like a baby should do, and if it’s all the same I’d rather not go into the details.
I examined the area the best I could. The lady who had given birth to this thing had continued bleeding as she went away. Maria on the other hand vanished into the ether, after she left I collected a handful of hay from a stable close by, packing my multicoloured cigar box, that had lost some of its vibrance through the years, carefully, I lifted the still child and placed it inside, giving it a final place of rest. It wasn’t graceful, but it was something important to me, so I hope whatever this child was called will appreciate my gesture. I did think for a moment in the gloom, I’m pretty sure my Uncle would of liked what I did with it.
The trail of blood would not have been noticeable to an untrained eye, it was small splatters, similar to a nosebleed overspilling from a handkerchief. There was a locked hatchet on the floor that must have led to a cellar, I opened it up and then the trail went cold. Inside the splatters of blood ended, I shon my lamplight down and a tunnel appeared below. Although there was no specific trail, I thought best to pursue it.
There was no blood to be found down there. I shone my lamp around in the small, cramped space. The feeble light revealed a tunnel. Although I had lost the scent, I thought it best to continue my investigation down here.
The tunnels were unlit and my lamp struggled to stay lit as the air become thinner the more I journeyed through. I must have walked a good distance before I reached the end, and to my disappointment, it led nowhere. It looked as if it had been walled over. I inspected the gaps in the wall for an opening, tracing my fingers over the walls.
Then it was cold and pitch black. I stumbled for my lamp but rather than the iron cast and glass that I was expecting, there was leather, it was a shoe, with a very large and frightening man attached to them.
I was to assigned to look after Lady Victoria as she arrived in England, her family knew few people here but it was the most ideal place for a woman of her stature to have an education. The Frankenstein’s lineage goes very deep into the Lithuanian monarchy, with marriages and children it is very unlikely that she will need to go home to the motherland.
My earliest memory of Victoria was when she would play with her dolls, our housekeeper made these porcelain wonders, and gifted them to her on her birthday every year. She would line them up on her bed every morning and put them to bed every evening, in drawers, in shoe boxes and whatever would become a makeshift bed for her. It’s a sad thought looking back.
It’s funny how she always had a fondness for dolls, for small, child-like things.
She was in tears as her water broke. She had told me she thought there was something wrong and her eyes were harrowing, as if to warn of its birth. I was confident I knew where she may have gone. Victoria had an obsession. And as she stormed off into the cold night I thought there was only one place she could have gone.
The hobby began innocently enough. She would rescue woodland animals, nurture them back to health and free them into the wild. But when she was unable to recover them she began… experiments. First she tried to insert organs from rats into cats, to see if they would be compatible, and there was a time I discovered a wing, several eyes in brine, and a piece of sewing string, and I dared not ask her what she had planned. Her mind is one of a kind, brilliant, but perhaps misunderstood. I admired her creativity above all.
It was the stink that caught the public’s attention. The smell of rotting carcasses, of chemicals burning flesh, and the substances she used were most certainly toxic. Eventually, the complaints became so severe we created a basement.
She became fascinated with physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, classic art and combined them all to create something profound. Over the years the wood animals were replaced with lab animals, and then lab animals to — more on that later. However, I must say it was fascinating.
Victoria had instructed me to obtain her child for burial. She had been too distressed. Poor thing. Within a span of 5 years she has had 3 miscarriages, a burden I wish on no one. Her last was the most tragic, she continued to buy baby clothes long after she lost it. Days upon days she brought home tiny garments to be filled by a small body, a tiny human that would one day grow to be a member of society. Much like a tree from a simple seed, however not all trees sprout, as were the case of my Lady Victoria. No matter how hard she tried.
The baby garments filled her the guest bedroom and were pristine, some in blue, some in pink. I almost hadn’t the heart to remove them. But when I finally had the courage to return them to the sellers she didn’t seem to know, instead, she fixated on her work, occasionally filling the room with more baby garments. She soon stopped when she got pregnant once again.
The officer was easily overcome with a bash straight to the cranium with my nightstick. Luckily for me he was very willing to be knocked out, he even had his head in the right position.
And now here I am. Recovering her child. I took her to a nearby doctor in the guise of the officer, my rouse was to appear horrified, but in truth, I hoped I would find some redemption for the poor thing, but it appeared that the more she tried to birth the more malformed her offspring became. I stood in the cold, the brisk air shocked my neck, making me aware of the dead of night I was in. I pulled up the dirt from the ground, it had frozen and chunks were covered in flickers of ice, and once a suitable hole had been dug I buried the thing. I dared not return it to its mother.
And before I left I remembered the name she wanted to call it, yes. And so as I pulled the soil over it’s minute grave I whispered into the soil ‘goodnight Charlotte’ and I returned to Lady Victoria. Unfortunately, she had already begun to attempt to inseminate once again. Poor thing.