It had already been the longest I had spent in my father’s home in many years. I had visited Geneva only briefly, never more than a month at a time, through all the Napoleonic wars, and my travels afterward. They had begun so soon after my brother, my last relative, had left, on the excursion that killed him, the fatal end of what I had recently discovered was a long period of madness. It was foreign to me, after so many years as a soldier, a mercenary, to sleep in the same comfortable house night after night, attended by servants, though I had known them since childhood. Perhaps that was why I was cleaning my rifle, long since unused, when I fell asleep.
I was stirred from a nightmare inspired by my recent readings by some thump on the roof of the mansion. Rubbing my scarred face I stepped out of my father’s bedroom with my rifle in hand. The thumping repeated, almost as though some great man was walking across the roof. A maid, Beatrice, was already in the hall, looking up, quite frantic, at the room.
“Oh, do you hear that, Master Ernest?” she said.
“I should say, it woke me. What do you think, some owl? A great bat?”
“I’d think too loud. And too cold out. I fear a burglar.”
“Either way, I should say two or three bullets aught to silence things.” I was rather proud of that gun, Cornelius I called it. My own design: breech-loading, rotating triple-barrel. Deemed too complex and too difficult to use for mass-production, but nonetheless the weapon that made me a world-class sharpshooter. For much of my life people told me I was not so studious or inventive as my older brother, but while he studied his natural philosophy I would later make my way in the assembling of deadly machines.
“Oh, don’t speak that way, Master Ernest!” Beatrice cried out. She was the oldest of the maids and about the age my mother would have been, and had indeed become a sort of doting mother to the empty household.
“Calm yourself, Beatrice. I won’t shoot anyone. Though I think I’ll head out to take a look. Do fetch my coat for me.” I thought of something. “Oh, and Beatrice?” She turned to look at me. “My father has been dead for twenty years.” I said. “My elder brother nearly so. I realize I was young when I left for war but do you think perhaps you might refer to me as though I was the man of the house?” I realized I had begun to sound angry.
“I’m sorry, Master Ern— ugh. I’m sorry. May I ask…what brought this on? You seemed reluctant in the past…”
“I know. I know. I’ve gained some perspective since then. Do you know where I was in my most recent trip?”
“England, you said.”
“England, yes. To collect something.” I ran back into the room and retrieved the stack of papers I had been reading. I handed them to her, though I knew she couldn’t read the English.
“What are these?”
“Transcripts of letters from a man named Walton to his sister.”
“Walton?” she said before recognizing the name. “The man who found him? You tracked him down?”
“Not personally.” I said. “Apparently he and his sister both moved to the American frontier. He was an adventurer, after all. No, she left this behind. It bounced around lovers of the eccentric for some years before coming into the hands of a young Englishwoman, a writer I’ve had some correspondence with. Her husband had half convinced her to edit it and send it off to publishers before she realized she knew one of the characters. I decided to collect it from her personally.
“My brother told this man his entire life’s story, there in the arctic. And he was apparently mad for half of it.”
“Mad?” Beatrice said, concerned. “I knew he had a fit in Ingolstadt, and another after…in the bad times, but—“
“No, apparently the two were one in the same, one fit punctuated by a long period of talkativeness. You should read the story he tells, the sheer egoism of it. He claims, and Mr. Walton takes care to corroborate, that he, while at university, created a being. A terrible and oddly articulate monster in fact, on whom he blames all the death that surrounded this family, directly or indirectly.”
“A monster?” Beatrice said. “What, cobbled together from too many gears like that rifle you love so much?”
“Oh, no, no,” I chuckled. “That would not be nearly accomplishment enough, for my brother, no not for Victor,” it had been a long time since I had said the name. It felt odd in my mouth. “No, he claims to have discovered the secret of life itself! To have built flesh from base components and carved it into shape! Or something of that nature. He’s purposefully vague on the excuse of secrecy.”
“And he claims this creature…”
“Murdered our entire family. Besides our mother, of course. And at last drove him to the top of the world in the search for vengeance, where he met the adventurer, and at last died. Walton even goes so far as to fabricate a meeting with the creature out of pure sensationalism.”
After a pause, Beatrice said, “Forgive me, but…you seem almost glad at that.”
I held up the stack of papers. “I’m only briefly mentioned here, you know. I don’t think my name even appears in the second half. He describes leaving on his final journey, but never once stopping to consider me. Never makes a point of mentioning I was left alive. One could easily forget me, reading this.
“I blamed myself. For a long time. For William, especially. He was with me, his elder brother, at the time, I was supposed to protect him. But for the others too, some. I suppose…it’s good to know I wasn’t the only one.”
We were abruptly brought back to the world by more stomping on the roof above us. “What in hell?” I said. “Do fetch my coat, Beatrice.”
“Right away Master—“ she caught herself this time. She set down the papers as we parted, and corrected herself.
I circled the estate once, my coat tight against me in the November night, seeking some sign of what was on the roof, my eye on the woods behind the yard. I took no servants with me, telling them to stay in the house. I was the soldier after all, I had seen worse that some noisy animal. Thinking so, I caught a glimpse of some avian shape passing before the moon, just before a cloud did.
I might have left it there and headed back to the light of the house had there not been, a moment later, a gust of wind beside me in the dark.
I centered my gun on the sound in a lightning reflex, and as the moon was revealed, I, an atheist for some time, saw one of Satan’s fallen angels in the flesh.
Some seven feet tall, svelte, with a breast like some great plucked bird, naked and lacking features either male or female, four black vulture’s wings stretched behind its back. Its skin was pale, lifeless, transparent and almost yellow-tinged, and lined all along it with faint scars that seemed to outline the forms of its anatomy. Its face was simplified, shaved into the rough shape of a beak. Its eyes glowed blue.
I shot the fucking thing then and there.
It didn’t seem to mind terribly. Just stared down at its gut bleeding too-dark blood before looking back up at me and saying in its booming voice, “You wound me, great uncle.”
I pumped the shaft of my rifle, turning the next barrel into position. “Worse than that I’ll do!”
“If you so please,” it said, holding out its arms. “Another will come.”
I hesitated, I know not why. “What are you.”
“I am an angel in service of my creator,” it said. “Though not the one you think of.”
“Well, if I wasn’t an atheist before,” I said to myself. “What is it you want?”
“To bring you into the fold, of course. We have sought to for some time, but you are elusive, Ernest Frankenstein.”
“I regret I was busy fighting Napoleon. However, I did receive mail.”
“You, the creators thought, must be approached personally. To be shown the fruits of their labour.” It indicated itself. “The legacy of your family.”
I thought of Victor’s tale. The ravings of a madman rapt with guilt. “I’ll have no part of your fruit. And my legacy is only of death.”
“And from there, life, again. Your brother was—”
“Do not speak of my brother, devil!” I leveled Cornelius again.
“Shall I speak then of his killer?” it said.
I caught my breath. Fifteen years dodging french bullets, I had never been this afraid.
“Accept not glory as uncle of the new era, that is fine. Accept not the invitation from the Creators to their founder’s brother for its own sake. But we offer you greater prizes still: We offer you vengeance.” It stepped closer to me, and though I know not why I let it without giving it more holes. “Did Victor tell you, uncle, of his first, flawed creation? Of that beast which took—”
A vast, quick form burst from the shadows of the forest at the devil before me. In reflex I fired my weapon. The two shapes landed and were for a moment a great writhing mess of limbs, of yellow skin and black feather and hair. I backed away from the fight, I would like to say to have the upper hand with my weapon, but in truth, I was terrified. At last I saw great yellow hands wrap around the head of the devil and twist. A crack rang out like wood splitting. The wings limply drooped to the ground, and the assailant stood from the body of its victim.
He had no wings, no bird’s breast, no beak-face, but still seemed less human even that the devil he had killed. Eight feet tall he stood. His skin was plainly yellow even in the pale moonlight, and quite transparent. The scars that covered him seemed, though more faded, haphazard, redone again and again in places as if by an experimental hand, and more numerous. Other scars mingled with them, the ordinary scars of a hard life: of knife and gun. It wore the clothes of a man, which were far too tight aside from being dirty and tattered, but was as good as naked in this cold. His hair was black, and straight, and came down past his shoulders. And in the lines of his face, forcing myself to look past the mummy’s skin and black lips, past the scars and misshapenness, past those glowing yellow eyes, I could detect faintly the features of my elder brother.
He had not noticed me yet. “Finally,” he said to his prey, his voice like the grinding of a ship on the waves.
“So it is true,” I said.
He turned its gaze upon me and his yellow eyes widened in shock at the sight of my gun. He gasped sharply and stepped back, and in doing so cringed in pain. His right side ran with blood slightly too dark to be that of a man, the wound inflicted by the shot I set off in my surprise. He looked at me more calmly, thinking my weapon had been spent, that I would have to reload. As he looked at me a glimmer of confused recognition seemed to come into its eye. “You…” it said.
“You are it. The thing which tore my life apart,” I said. At first I was quiet but I raised my voice at my speech went on. “You are the wretch who drove my brother away. Who murdered his wife and drove our father to death. Who killed his friend. Who slaughtered my brother William, when he was just a boy under my watch! You killed them all!”
It looked at me and then at the house. “I should have known,” it said, and looked at its latest kill.
“Answer me!” I cried.
It looked at me almost with pity. “Put that down, you have spent your bullet on me alr––”
I fired at it from my rifle’s third barrel. In a flash the creature had fled into the woods, and I heard it retreat through the underbrush in great leaping strides. I was left standing by the woods outside my family’s home beside the corpse of an angel, with an eternity of questions in my mind. I had seen that the creature was far faster than me. I had little hope of catching it on foot and a horse could not go far through that wood.
Slowly, defeatedly, I returned to the house, confused and not a little crestfallen. Some servants had come out to see what all the noise and the gunshots were about, but I hurried them back inside. It occurred to me then that this might all be some terrible dream. I had been prone to those, for some time after William died. Though not since Victor had left. Since then I’d had no dreams at all. Was it the house, I thought. The place where I had watched my mother and father die, one by illness and the other from the sadness of loss? I was only a boy when she died, barely a young man when he did. And in between there were many more. Friends. Cousins. Brothers.
I walked as far as my chambers, but then I noticed the stack of papers Beatrice had left on the desk in the hall. A transcript of Victor’s dying days, of the story he told. The story of a mad man. The story of the exact beast I had just seen outside my home.
I remembered the books he had read when we were children, tomes of alchemical theory, filled with accounts of transmutation; of Homunculi, life grown in miniature; of the secrets of eternal life, and the undoing of death, of which he had so vocally dreamed.
I dressed myself for the hunt, reloaded the barrels of my rifle and grabbed a pistol of similar design as well. I marched out to the tree line, to the spot where the creature had run into the woods, and searched for signs of his path. Tracking is not a skill that is often taught in the military. That I learned when I was a boy. The great beast, in his haste, left a clear trail, even in the night. As the sky began to pink with the coming sun, I ran after the thing on foot.
It was no subtle thing I hunted, and the trail was not easily lost. But I feared I could never outrun the creature, and could only hope that it had stopped to rest after traveling not too far.
What luck, as I came to a small clearing where the trail stopped, and I saw a little flame, over which simple nuts and roots roasted on a metal plate suspended by twigs. Beside it sat the creature’s bag, on which sat an assortment of berries, and a flask of water. The creature was not in sight. Had the he set up this camp? Or had some man, and what had he done to him? I held my rifle to my cheek and searched for sight of it.
A great hand struck my rifle from above, slamming it out of my hands and to the ground. The creature had jumped from a tree at me! It picked up my rifle as though a twig and stood at its titanic height mere feet from me. It said in its demon voice, “You cannot surprise me, Frankenstein. My senses are more acute than yours.”
With military speed I unholstered pistol. I am not a particularly tall man, but I was large enough to press the barrels of that short gun into his throat. I was surprised to see true fear in his eyes, to hear its breathing become nervous and ragged.
“Do not say that name,” I spat. “You have killed too many people of that name to say it.”
“Please,” it said, careful not to move otherwise, surprising me yet again. It tossed by rifle to the ground beside me. “Do not kill me yet.”
“And what should I wait for?”
“For my work to be done.”
“More killing to do, is it?”
I shoved the gun into its throat. It was shaking. So was my hand. I am not sure which of us was more afraid. I was too angry to feel fear.
“Your brother was not the only mad student of Natural Philosophy at Ingolstadt,” he stammered
I stared up at the ugly, misshapen face. “Is it true?” I asked.
“That your bother created me?” he said. “That he pilfered slaughterhouses and the graves of men for base material and stitched me together? That through chemistry and alchemy he breathed life into my second-hand lungs? That I am your brother’s monster? Every word.”
“Did you kill him?” I clarified.
He thought about his answer. “Your brother died of pneumonia while chasing me through the arctic. I was not––”
“William!” I screamed. My voice echoed the name through the forest.
“The young one. The boy.” He mocked the look of shame seamlessly. “Yes. Yes, he was the first.”
“I–– I was watching him. I was supposed to protect him. And you killed him!” He dodged before the gun could go off in its face and ran into the trees. I fired the second barrel, keeping my eye on the creature as he circled the clearing. “You killed him!” Crack! “You framed my friend!” Crack! “You got her hanged for it!” Crack! “And you took everything from me!” The gun was out. I tossed it aside and dove for the rifle. Before I could reach it the thing burst from the woods and swatted my body across the clearing as though I were a fly. I hit a tree as though I had fallen from some height, and crumpled to the ground. I could hardly move. Not surrendering, I pulled a knife from my belt and brandished it at the creature. “I will kill you.”
He stared down at the knife. “You are determined.”
“You have made me so. You have made me vengeful.”
He stood several feet from me and crouched down as if talking to a child. “I have sworn to die by my own hand,” he said. “I intend to keep that promise as soon as there are no more of me left to kill. I will not kill you. I intend to leave at least one Frankenstein alive.” He stood and began to walk away, leaving me. But before he reached the edge of the clearing he turned back. “I do regret killing your younger brother. Of all my regrets, that is the greatest.”
“Why should a thing such as you mourn a child?” I said.
“Why should I not? Why should I not regret my first crime?”
“I read your story,” I said, “Or a version of it. You told him you did it for no reason. Simply because he said his surname, and to do so would spite Victor.”
“I ask no forgiveness. I ask no absolution. I know I deserve none. I ask only that you let me complete my work. After that I shall take your revenge for you.”
“Why should I sit idly and allow a demon to do his work?” I leveraged the tree to stand.
“That is what your bother called me also. Demon. Devil. Wretch. I was given no name. Only titles. Insults. The being who approached you had a name. He was given it by his creators. And with it they gave a purpose. A purpose they give all their creations. It is a purpose far darker than any I have given myself, darker than any murder I committed. For once I stand against darkness. For once I seek to stop the destruction wrought by your brother’s work, rather than embody it. My crimes will not be absolved. But neither will they be repeated.”
“Silence,” I said. “I don’t care about that angel who landed on my home, only the devil before me.”
“Perhaps you might were you not so blinded. The world has just seen one man who would see it conquered. Napoleon has been defeated, but more such men have risen from the knowledge of your brother’s works.”
I laughed. “That is your quest? The villain you think excuses your crimes? Some academics who wish to rule the world with an army of monsters?”
“You know firsthand the havoc one of me can produce. I am but one, made in the form of a man. They would build thousands, millions, in specialized shapes, and make more still from all those dead who had stood in their way. I will not rest, I will not let myself die by your or my hand until I have killed everything made in my image and all who can create such things.”
“The way you were made,” I said, mystified by one part of his speech, “it can revive the dead? Truly?”
He seemed confused. “Altered tissue of the dead is the base material from which I was made.”
“But it can revive the dead. He could have— Victor could have—”
“Yes,” he said. He sat on the ground, still nearly as high as I was hunched in pain. “I know little of the process that made me. I know it alters dead tissue, chemically, or alchemically, to make it viable for revival. This must be administered not long after death, though, and it must permeate the tissue entirely. That, I believe, is why Victor opted to alter tissue in parts, and reconstruct a body. Altering a corpse as a whole would provide…challenges.”
“But it could have been done?” I asked.
“Perhaps it was for the better it was not. I had no memories upon my…birth. I doubt that much of who the returned person was would remain.”
“But it could have been done.”
“For William I think not,” he said. “Too much time had passed, by the time Victor returned to Geneva. The others, though; his friend Clerval, his wife, your father in his illness. Had he worked quickly…”
He grew wistful. “That was why I only strangled them. I had the strength to rip them to bits, but I merely deprived them of breath. Their bodies were not damaged. I was begging him—taunting him, really. As if to say Try again. Make another like me. One with the face of someone you love. One at who’s appearance you will not scream and run. One you will have to love, for you loved it before. Even if it is only to spite me, love something that is like me.” He was crying then.
“But alas,” he said. “I doubt it even occurred to him. To mingle a thing such as myself with the form of one he loved, that would be worse than their death.
“And he was right. There can be nothing like me. Not that are loved. Not that are feared. I will make sure of that.” He stood and made to leave.
“You say you don’t want forgiveness,” I said, “yet you make confession. Why?”
“No man has ever let me speak so long. Aside from my appeal to your brother.”
“Good. May your life be void of companionship.”
“I intend to make it so.”
“That is your design?” I said. “Your one goal? To hunt down the men who have replicated Victor’s work, then kill yourself?”
“And how the hell do you intend to do that, you gibbering idiot?”
He became abruptly angry. “What did you say to me?”
“You are a lone creature, secluded to the woods and shadows and you intend to collapse a conspiracy of powerful men through random acts of violence? Did my brother neglect to build large potions of your brain, or is your ignorance willful?”
“A hand on the throat makes all men equal,” he said.
“And how do you intend to find those throats?” I said. “You tracked down one angel, I assume by sight alone, and didn’t so much as bother interrogating it to find the next.”
“It broke off from a group sent to kill me, I followed its scent. More will—”
“That’s your plan? Kill them as they attack you? Do you even know anything about the men you claim are behind this? Where are they located? How many of them are there? Might they be connected to the Bavarian Illuminati which were active in Ingolstadt at the time Victor was there? What are their monetary resources?”
“Meaningless! All of it!” bellowed the creature. “When I kill one of their bands of assassins without survivors fleeing across the continent I will be free to follow their trail—”
“Feh! You’re in a war of defense, Wretch! You are attacked, again and again, for what must be some twenty years now, you unleash your monstrous rage upon the attackers, and you’ve convinced yourself it’s a ploy on your part. You are not fighting them, Creature, they are fighting you! Going as you are now, you will be removed from this conflict of yours as soon as your enemies realize they have more to gain by ignoring you.”
He lunged at me and barely restrained himself from putting his hands at my neck. His enormous face was inches from mine. I could smell his breath. It was distressingly fragrant.
“You anger too quick,” I said, drawing his attention my knife, held with its point just above one of his collarbones. “My brother was much the same. But I,” I moved my knife from his neck, placed it back on my belt, “never had his temper. Nor his patience.” I then punched the creature in the face. I’d grown quite fond of boxing in my years as a soldier, and intended to return the favor of swatting me across the clearing into a tree. “So I will need to keep myself occupied while my revenge is postponed.”
As the creature cowered on the dirt, evidently in more pain than when I shot him in the side, I ran around him to collect my scattered weapons. I pointed my rifle at him. “So help me, Monster. You will be the last thing I ever kill.” I let the gun’s point fall. “But for now, you and I shall seek out all the other things I will ever kill.”
The creature looked at me with confusion in his mad eyes. “What do you speak of?”
“You have a partner in your crusade, Wretch. One who actually has the resources to seek out the enemy. The people you killed left me with a rather significant sum of money and political connections. Don’t look so surprised. It is as you said, the world has just seen one man who would see it conquered. I’ve spent half my life fighting Napoleon’s forces, in one army or another. I’m hardly about to let some damn academics succeed in what that Frenchman could only dream of.
“Thus, here is the order of things: You and I will end my bother’s black legacy once and for all. I have the resources, the connections, the military expertise; and you are eight feet tall and have a rough understanding the enemy’s dark sciences. When that work is done—or perhaps more likely, when I grow tired of your company—I will be so kind as to enact your promised suicide on your behalf.
“Have we a bargain, abomination?” I said.
He stared at me for a long while. “You are mad,” he said, “arrogant, spiteful, devious, and rather unpleasant company. You have more in common with your brother than I think you realize.” He stood and brushed himself off. “Shall we adjourn to your home then, Soldier?”
I waved my rifle in the right direction. “You first, creature. Though I suppose I should approach the house first once we reach the edge of the woods, you would scare the servants to death without preamble. Assuming they haven’t already found the angel’s corpse.”
“We should burn that.”
“I assumed as much. I’ll have someone set up a pyre. After that, we embark for Ingolstadt.”
“I thought of that,” he said, “long ago. I searched all of that city. I could find no facilities where creations might be made.”
“That was your mistake, I think,” I said. “You searched for the enemy himself, rather than for people with information about him. Worry not, wretch.” The sun had begun to rise, and the red of dawn spilled through the trees. “I will find us our absolution.”