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The Stone-Child of Sens

As I mentioned before (here), I was at work on a carnival-themed horror story for Iron Cauldron Books. Well, it’s finished. I had a great time writing this – inexplicably, I really get a kick out of writing dark and disturbing, sometimes disgusting, pieces of fiction. If you had a problem with Emancipation, no worries. The Stone-Child of Sens is certainly dark, but it doesn’t touch on the same sort of taboos that Emancipation did. It also clocks in just under 4000 words, so find someplace more comfortable than your smartphone at a red light, eh?

The Stone-Child of Sens

                Fairgrounds Park was a sea of people from one end to the other with high, peaked tents jutting upward like wayward islands. The massive amphitheater sprung up like a basalt monolith to Francis’ left, scraping itself against the sky in garish flags and bunting. He sneered a bit at that, tugging up one corner of his mouth beneath the razor thin mustache. He wasn’t a fan of progress for the sake of progress and that hideous structure was nothing less with its automated curtainry and water-drawn sets. The livestock pens opposite it were preferable, he told himself, but he gave them an equal berth as he marched into the crowd.

Loathe to make contact with the pork-stained hands and mud-caked shoes of the city’s thronging poor, he made short work with elbows. The soiled mass parted around him with pained squeals and curses cut short when they caught sight of his finely tailored suit and expensive bowler. Likely as not, even the pickpockets certain to haunt this human congestion would steer clear of him now. Unfortunately for his narrow-toed shoes and their fine tall heels, litter and detritus would not give way so easily. He did his best to pick around the largest of the rubbish without taking his glaring eyes off the crowd.

From the thick of things, it was less obvious where everything lie. Even so, he knew the agriculture hall to be to his right, nearest to the pens, and the mechanical hall to be straight through toward the furthest end. He was already compiling a lengthy list of complaints to share with his companions once he joined them there, acerbic in wit and rife with superiority. It was, after all, why he hadn’t had the carriage take him to the opposite side of the Park.

The gentlemen of the Apparatus and Science Society wore their witticisms as a badge and Francis had no device on display this year. Whereas Andrew and Chandler were presenting their steam-powered ambulatory and Darcy his portable kinetoscope, Francis would be among those forced to suffer their compatriot’s condescensions in the dull silence of the unwitted observer. This horrible trek through the rabble, at least, would give him fodder for conversation that might usurp attention from his more industrious peers.

Even as he was quietly congratulating himself on his exceptional social maneuvering skills, the crowd to his left surged wildly and pushed against him despite a renewed flurry of elbows and kicks. Thrust backward by an immense woman in neither bustle nor corset, Francis cringed away from her touch and crashed into the canvas wall of a small and tastelessly colored tent.

“Careful, son, you’ll break something,” cooed a gravelly voice riding a wave of bourbon and tobacco. Recoiling from the source, Francis pushed further back against the tent until some solid surface on the other side of the canvas stopped him with a clatter of displaced glass.

“Hold your hat, boy, it’s just old Ulisse.” The old man spoke again, his head thrust out of a slit in the tent like some perverse puppeteer’s ill-conceived comedy. Weathered and wrinkled like a peasant, the grandfather’s mouth puckered and sucked around his gums where no teeth were left to keep his lips away. A poorly treated tophat clung to his head more thoroughly than those few wispy white hairs that remained. Francis pushed himself upright and, admittedly, a fair few steps further from the stinking old man. The tinkle of glass subsided from within the tent.

“That’s a good boy,” the old man gave him a simpering smile. “Now, on to your big things with big people. Ulisse has mouths to feed and money to make.” Francis was only just forming the appropriate invective for an ancient carnival gawker that did not know his place when the man’s ridiculous head disappeared back inside the tent. A crimson heat crept its way up Francis’ neck.

“See here!” He shouted after the man, desperate to have his stinging insult be the last word on the situation. He elbowed the tent flap open, careful to keep his still-white gloves clear of any residuals, and forced his way into the dim interior beyond. Whatever words had laid upon his tongue only a moment before fell backward into his throat and choked him.

The tent was walled with poorly-constructed wooden shelves housing endless jars of glass. Lit from beneath by small, smoking lanterns, the vessels shone with a venomous green light. Housed within each was a mass of an unidentifiable sort, ranging in color from greys and reds to pinks and blacks. Those to his right were fouled by movement. Movement, he suspected, caused by his own collision with the tent only moments earlier. The ancient carnival geek, Ulisse, was lifting the lids from jars one at a time and dropping small handfuls of something dark and leafy into the viscous fluids.

“What in God’s name is this?” He’d never admit it to the gentlemen of the Apparatus and Science Society, but Francis’ voice cracked something awful. Ulisse dropped his last handful of mystery offal into a jar, replaced the lid, and turned to Francis with his brow drawn down.

“You shouldn’t be here, fancy man,” he moved at Francis, his hands waving in front of him with clinging bits of the unidentifiable paste still hiding under his nails and between his fingers. “This show isn’t for you with money and bowlers and steam-powered things. This is for other people. People with no money and straw hats and donkey-powered things.”

Despite his morbid curiosity, Francis quailed beneath the man’s soiled hands and fled the tent before his suit was irrevocably stained. Rather than bluster and look the fool, he straightened his bowler, brushed off his camel-colored suit as best he could, and moved at a very brisk walk away from the garish tent. The whole stretch of attractions in this area looked to be a carnival grotesquerie. The Bearded Lady and the Skeleton Man. The Snake Handler. Madam Bouviere, the fortune teller. All of them marked with painted banners strung across the tents.

The Stone-Child of Sens.

That tent, with its endless jars of something, fell from view as he rounded a bend in the thoroughfare and found himself facing the mechanical hall.

***

Francis was ill-prepared for the gentlemen of the Apparatus and Science Society. His caustic commentary on the rabble of fair-goers was lost in his run-in with Ulisse and his strange collection. All plans to usurp conversation were fouled by his mind as it turned back to that gaudy tent and the green-lit jars. He was forced, instead, to trail along with the other nonparticipants and simply listen as Andrew and Chandler remarked upon their own spectacular intellect and Darcy boasted of patents and corporate interests. The whole of it soured in his mouth and, rightly or not, the bitter seed of his discontent was flourishing in a soil of Ulisse and his green-lit jars. It was that wretched old man’s fault that he was off game. He and his disgusting baubles were to blame for Francis’ poor state.

The Society toured the great hall, marveling and making fun as seemed fit. A coal-powered corset lacer was mocked as trivial and ill-suited for such a prestigious stage as the St. Louis Exposition. A dirigible replica, designed to carry as many as a thousand passengers if the model could be translated to reality, received all-around applause and admiration from the gentlemen. Through it all, Francis stewed at the back of the crowd. Whenever an opportune moment arose and he opened his mouth to interject wit or witticism, the image of a formless and floating mass within an acidic green fluid crossed his mind and erased the words from his mouth. He would snap his jaw shut again, looking supremely stupid.

Twice, but only twice, one of his boon companions asked after him. Concern after one another’s welfare among the Society was no concern at all, of course. Jibes about his failing health or weak constitution would be never-ending. He shrugged them off, claiming his mind busy at work on a particularly bothersome equation that they could certainly be no help with. Even as they left him to his fuming, he doubted they would believe him. It was perfectly reasonable that he might be mulling over something complicated, but these pampered gentlemen would prefer to believe him infirm. Really not a very creative bunch. He knew them inside and out without much effort of deduction.

It was late evening by time the Society had made the entire circuit of devices on display. Most agreed to retire to a fine restaurant downtown for cocktails and conversation, but Francis demurred. He was too ill-tempered to carry on with the pretentious lot. The day had gone quite poorly and he had nothing to show for his efforts. He’d be damned if he would stretch it out any longer and continue to make an ass of himself in quiet indignity. It was likely that he was just feeding their judgment, helping them to convince themselves that he had fallen ill with something common and derogatory. Even so, the haunting image of the almost-familiar shapes in those oversized glass ampoules drove him to distraction.

Instead, he excused himself and exited the mechanical hall as he came, striding into the thinning mass of fair-folk with a stiff spine and a sneer. It didn’t occur to him that his car was meant to pick him up on the northern end of the fair until he’d already made his way back to the carnival booths. The area was littered as the rest of the fairgrounds, but the grimy populace had made its way to the amphitheater for whatever lurid show was scheduled for the evening. Only smoking lanterns and a wire-haired dog of the most vagrant variety remained with him among the ridiculous tents. Their colors, muted in the ochre dusk, were no less offensive to good taste than they had been in daylight, but the quiet beneath the faraway roar of the amphitheater was disconcerting. The whole avenue of sideshow acts grew irredeemably morose and menacing as the last of the daylight fled to night.

Of course that stupid old man would take up in the darkest, most dodgy part of the fairgrounds where he could accost people on whim. Ulisse was the reason Francis’ day had gone so poorly and so much social stock had been damaged. He was the reason that perfectly laid plans had so utterly spoiled. Heat crept along Francis’ collar as he considered how truly and deeply his standing had been wounded by the felonious old ass.

The indigent terrier attempted to make friends and take some comfort from Francis amid the desolate carnival regalia by rubbing itself against his trouser leg. The fine point of his very expensive shoe took it in the ribs and lifted it halfway into its flight of pain and terror. A smug sort of satisfaction took him over despite the likelihood that the beast’s stinking hairs clung to his pantleg. Old Ulisse was no more than a stray dog here, in his city, where Francis walked among the gentlemen and kept tea with scholars and businessmen. Perhaps it was high time Ulisse received a kick of his own to remind him that every person, or dog, had a place in society and his was well beneath Francis’. He squared his shoulders and settled his bowler high on his head, moving with resolution to the tent beneath the banner of the Stone-Child of Sens.

Elbowing the worn flap open, he lunged inside and barked out, “Aha!”

He had hoped to jostle the repugnant old man, but alas, Ulisse was not within. The dimly lit jars on all sides tinkled against one another, their fluids swishing and roiling as though recently disturbed. Francis peered into each dark corner and swung himself around swinging and shouting out another loud “Aha!” Ulisse was not, however, lurking in hiding behind him as he thought he might be.

Straightening himself out, he crossed to the center pole of the smallish tent. Very well, if Ulisse could not be here to receive his rebuke, perhaps he would receive it properly come morning. Francis grinned sharply to himself, feeling something wicked and wonderful swell inside his stomach. Or he could receive it not in person, but by very clearly spelled out message. Francis took a step toward one shelf, the wickedness making him giddy. A step closer and he was nearly within reach of the shelves. He was near to giggling when he took that last step to the shelf and reached a hand out toward the long lines of glass.

His fingers stopped just short of touching the jar nearest to him. Peering closer into the dimly lit depths of the vessel, he started to make sense of the slowly swaying shape within. No larger than a Cornish game hen, the mass floated lazily in the still-moving green fluids, staring back at him.

Staring.

A small, underdeveloped foetus of grotesque proportions hung suspended in the viscous liquid, malformed arms and legs clutched tightly to its body. The face was bloated and split at the crown, revealing a grey and limpid brain edging its way out of the skull to drift hypnotically in the sway of the solution. The skin of the thing was drawn and pallid like an egg left too long to brine. The eyes, lidless and staring, kept pace with him even as the pickled foetus continued to rock.

Morbid curiosity waged a war against the delicacy of his stomach. Despite an overwhelming urge to vomit or shit or flee in terror, Francis moved closer and examined the neighboring jars. In each, suspended within the green ichor, was another underdeveloped foetus, clinging to an embryonic state of perpetual stasis. One, covered in fibrous dark hair, had the split lip and vestigial tail of something less human. Beside it, another supported two heads on a single neck. Yet another wore its heart on the outside of its chest, a blue and purple thing clinging to the preserved body like a parasitic tumor.

Francis was not wholly unaware of either birth defect or abomination, but never before had he seen so many preserved in such a state. Even within the tent of a carnival grotesquerie he would never have guessed such a saturnine display to exist. Surely old Ulisse was the basest of carnival geeks to charge admission to such an exhibition. The man’s collection rivaled the medical department of Washington University or any modern academic institution in the east, to be certain.

Francis made his way around the small tent, examining the floating foetuses with rising disgust. He prided himself in being a man of science, but no science was present in the garish and unwholesome display of these wretched beasts. No, quite the contrary, this hoard of atrocities had no right to exist beyond the walls of medical study. They were anathema to the human condition. They were abomination.

Moreover, their constant motion within the embalming fluids was beginning to make his head swim. All along the walls, moving in accord, the foetuses swayed to and fro, to and fro, in an endless rocking motion. It occurred to Francis that any disturbance he might have cause should have long since run its course. Even if old Ulisse had jostled the primary tent pole on his way out, the shelves had certainly stopped moving. Only the fluid within the jars continued to rock.

And the pickled monstrosities continued to stare with baleful gazes at his person.

Francis balked.

Every preserved cadaver faced him where he stood. Despite the constant gentle motions of their fluids and despite the purely mathematical impossibility of it, they invariably shifted within their liquid prisons to face him. A cold, terrified sweat rose on his spine as he spun wildly, taking in the constant rocking and haunting stares. His mind raced to imagine wires or dowels or some other device designed to accomplish such a disconcerting feat, but it failed to compete with the electric warning signals firing along his spine.  Adrenaline flooded his body and burst from his skin in a cold, stinking sweat. Overcome with agitation, he lurched for the tent flap.

Ulisse stood blocking his path, cradling yet another glass ampule. The old man’s eyes were wide with surprise and something else, something sad or disappointed.

“Out of my way, you wretched pervert!” Francis shouted, trying to dance around the old man in his ridiculous top hat, but unwilling to move within his reach. “I’ll have the constabulary on you for this, this… atrocity!” His voice rose and cracked and wavered, but his heart raced to quickly and too loudly for him to notice the shameful display.

“Poor man,” Ulisse said, his voice still rife with bourbon and tobacco. “Poor, poor man with no sense. You shouldn’t have come here. You should have gone to drink and degrade and debauch with your friends.”

He sighed heavily at Francis, slumping his shoulders without loosening his strong-fingered grip on the jar in his hands.

“You never mind, you larcenous imp. I’ll have you all shut down for this,” Francis threatened, clutching at his finely pressed pantlegs and sweating above his carefully trimmed mustache.  Old Ulisse didn’t quail or flinch. Instead, he set his jaw, resolution writing itself in his creased features.

“Very well, mister gentleman, you came to see the Stone-Child. You came to peek without paying and see without learning,” his gravel voice was low and firm. “Very well, mister gentleman, we will give you a private show then.”

Moving ever-so-carefully, the wizened carnival hawker cradled the jar in one arm and took the glass lid in his other hand, uncapping the container with a flourish that did little to diminish the sadness in his eyes. He set the lid down on the nearest shelf and the jar down on the ground at his feet.

“The Stone-Child was to have been born in 1582 to a tailor’s wife in Sens on the French countryside,” Ulisse intoned, his voice taking on the modularity of a practiced hawker. As he spoke, the old man waved his hands across the surface of the open jar. The theatrical gestures sent undulating waves of sour pungency to waft against Francis’ nostrils. Rooted as he was in both fear and fascination, Francis breathed shallowly, hoping to avoid the stench but unable to flee any further.

“The day of labor came in a torrent of blood and liquor amnii, but no child pushed itself from her bent legs and heaving stomach. The infant lay forgotten within the womb, believed lost to miscarriage until La Gargouille rode the night winds from Rouen the visit the child who was not born. La Gargouille whispered to the child through Madam Chatri’s open legs while she slept. The beast told the unborn the secrets of the stone and so the child learned them and wished to grow up like La Gargouille.”

Ulisse plunged a hand into the green ichor and clutched at the mass within. Francis was so startled that he stepped backward into the center pole of the tent and set all the shelves to rattling again. The thick scent of formaldehyde and brine and turned earth choked the air until he thought he’d pass out from the stink of it. All around him the shelved jars chimed against one another, clinking and jostling in a frenzy of disturbance, but Francis dared not look. He dared not look away from Ulisse with his arm plunged into the jar and slowly extricating the mass within.

“For nearly three decades the unborn child hid within Madam Chatri, practicing all the secrets given by La Gargouille,” the old hawker continued, reaching his other hand in after the first. “When she took her last breath, the local chirugeon was only too eager to investigate the causes. He laid her upon his table and opened her up from one end to the other and peeled back her skin and bones. Within he found a scaled egg, impervious to scalpel or saw. Only a mason’s mallet and drill could crack it. And when it did, finally was the Stone-Child of Sens born!”

At that, Ulisse pulled the floating foetus upward in a surge of stagecraft that elicited a surprised gasp from Francis. Held between his gnarled hands was a perfect replica of a foetus, carved of marble and detailed with unrivalled artistry. Unlike its companions in the still clattering and sloshing shelved jars, this statuette was flawless in its biology. Francis moved closer, overcome with a curiosity that rivaled the revulsion and anxiety roiling in his innards.

“A fascination unlike the world had ever seen, the Stone-Child remained a cold and quiet guest among the moving. It gave time to the chirugeon who birthed it until the man was discovered at the foot of his stair, his head hatched and its yolk spilled. The Stone-Child explored all the world, from Paris to Venice to the quarters of the King of Denmark. Each time the Stone-Child moved on, men were found dead or famous or wealthy.”

Francis barely listened, so enthralled was he by the Stone-Child. Moving a step forward again, he examined the horrid and beautiful thing. Its knees were bent, and the legs drawn up towards the chest. The feet and lower legs were fused together. The head was tilted to the right, and supported by the left arm. The right arm extended down towards the navel. The tiny lids of the eyes were clenched shut as if the dim and smoky light inside the tent was too bright. The hoarse and bourbon-soaked voice of Ulisse droned on in the background but Francis gave his attention only to the Stone-Child.

Perhaps that was why he failed to note when the glass jars ceased their rattling.

“When the Stone-Child came to me, I gave it a home,” the old man stretched his arms outward, offering the calcified antiquity to Francis with a forlorn look. “I think, perhaps, the Stone-Child is ready for a new father.”

Francis thought to take it from the old man and run. The artifact was a treasure of immeasurable value. He thought to snatch the Stone-Child and bolt through the midway and out onto the streets and home where he could hide it or sell it or covet it. All of these things darted through his mind like wildfire and burst along his nervous system, urging muscles to move and act and commit larceny.

Unfortunately for Francis, the old gawker’s other children had made their appearance as well. Tearing his eyes away from the Stone-Child, he found a limp and limbless foetus, still slick with green ichor, clinging to his neck and suckling at his skin. Another with a second face growing from the side of its first pawed at his waistcoat buttons with a blunt, fingerless hand. His arms could not move under the weight of a dozen more soggy and preserved foetuses each with some unnatural defect. Twice that number clung to his legs and torso until the weight of them pulled him to his knees.

He opened his mouth to scream and a rotund little arm stuffed itself into his mouth and past his tongue. Countless pickled monsters dragged themselves across the dirt to climb atop Francis, poking and prodding and trying feebly to nurse. The light disappeared as he slipped beneath the mound of wriggling, squirming things.

“Or perhaps,” Ulisse said, sadly, “her brothers are ready for a new mother.”

 

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Creepy

The following is a short story I recently submitted to Iron Cauldron Books for their upcoming La Machine de MortYou can find their call for submissions here. I’m also working on a short story for their collection of carnival-themed horror stories, Le Carnaval Grotesque. I first posted this as a note on my personal Facebook page, largely because it really toes a line and I wanted to get some feedback from friends before I put it out into the world at large. While my longer fiction shies from the darker ends of the human spectrum, my shorter work can get very creepy. I find it easier to maintain in short fiction and much more difficult to do in longer fiction.

Fair warning: the content following is not to everyone’s tastes. It comes in around 4,000 words, so it will take longer than the average blog post.

Emancipation

                For what seemed like the hundredth time, the doctor paused to let the swinging electrical bulb slow its pendulous motion. It seemed nearly every time he bent forward, his head struck the thing and sent it into wild gyrations that cast the narrow space in dancing shadows. Not ideal lighting for delicate work, to say the least. The bare bulb was too hot to touch, so he was forced to wait patiently for it to cease its relentless spirals. Even as he cursed himself for leaving the damned thing hanging so low, he congratulated himself on the forethought to wear the leather skullcap while he worked. It was soaked with sweat and a few ringlets of damp, dark hair had escaped the tight band, but he’d gained no new blisters to match those healing beneath the cap now.

When finally the bulb slowed to something close enough to still, the doctor leaned forward again and brought his tools to the ready. The body laid out on the table before him was narrow and pale and split open wide at the chest. The dark contrast of the internal organs against the alabaster of the skin was unfortunate in its eroticism. Another time he might have taken a moment to enjoy the scents of flesh and freshly sawn bone. He might have pulled off his cumbersome rubber gloves and touched the razor-straight lines that opened the flesh to reveal the treasures beneath. Even in a hurry, his cuts were always precise. Always delicate.

The doctor shook his head to clear his thoughts and struck the bulb yet again. The light swung away and angled back toward him, just missing his brow as he stepped backward and sighed heavily. Waiting again for the light to find a state of rest, he set a gleaming scalpel down on the tray beside him and pressed against the growing stiffness in his groin. Pushing one way and another until he’d managed to force his inconvenient arousal into a position of less discomfort, he peered again at the internal terrain of the expired young man before him. The yellow sphere of light cast by the dancing bulb illuminated the mounds of precious organs.

The moisture was dissipating. Too little time was left to preserve the vital structures before the body was too far gone. Damning the swinging bulb quietly in his head, he moved forward anyway and set the honed tools to connective tissues. Fighting to work despite the restless light and blood surging to his groin, the doctor began the process of removing each major organ with a quick and delicate efficiency. His own frustration at hurrying through a process that should have given him hours of carnal pleasure ruined his swelling stimulation and returned his typically wilted member to the sad state it occupied most times.

All in all, in the hour he had before the body had dried too completely to leave him anything useable, he managed to extricate the heart, lungs, stomach, and kidneys. The rest lost their gleam, and with it, the last breath of life in them. It was not a sloppy job, but it was a rushed and incomplete one. He was rewarded with none of the satisfaction and accomplishment he felt after a wholly successful operation. He found himself grinding his teeth as he stowed his tools into the small leather murderbag and the extricated organs into the canvas sack of coarse salt. A glance at his shining brass pocket watch showed little more than ten minutes to make his way out of the chilly basement and into the thick heat of outdoors.

The narrow basement room had no immediate street access and the main floor was peopled with the bereaved in their black finery and mourning veils. Street access, however, was neither means of ingress nor egress for the doctor. This house, like so many in St. Louis, was built with sewer access set in the concrete basement floor. Just as easily as he’d entered the home, he took his leave, climbing down the iron-runged ladder into the narrow sewage pipes below and pulling the round grate back into place behind him. In moments he was through the pipe and climbing out of a nearby culvert and into the oppressive sunlight.

It was late August and the summer was so fierce this year that it had burned away memories of a cooler spring or hopes for a chillier autumn. Beneath his long black frock coat, the doctor began to sweat through his linen shirt, his fine triple-breasted and double-pointed vest, and into his expensive waistcoat. Sighing at the torture of it all, he replaced his sweat-soaked skullcap with a dark bowler. He slipped from the culvert and onto Magnolia Avenue, easily blending into the crowd of similarly dressed and overheated pedestrians. Salted as they were, he no longer feared for the viability of those organs he had managed to pilfer, so he matched the leisurely pace of those around him, tipping his hat to the occasional familiar face and nodding a few quiet hellos.

Despite the harsh heat and unwieldy load he carried, the doctor took the more circuitous route through Tower Grove Park toward his home. Though hardly satiated by the half-slap job, an excess of adrenaline still coursed through his body. It was nothing a slow stroll through the park couldn’t relieve and he required considerable dexterity and patience for what awaited him in his home laboratory. Neither of which would come easily if the excitement of organ theft still flooded his veins.

***

                The expansive lab beneath the doctor’s home smelled of chloroform and opium. Leaving behind the well-appointed trappings of his home to descend into the only place he felt he could truly work was a euphoric experience heightened by the lingering scents and the metallic taste of blood still haunting the air. He dragged one hand along the cement wall as he took the steps deeper into the laboratory. The cold, coarse surface was electric under his fingers. Here, he was finally home.

Through a couple doors and past a long line of metal cabinets filled with the tools of his trade, the doctor made his way into the inner sanctum of his laboratory. There, atop a long metal table, awaited his mistress. A shiver danced up his spine as he saw her, sending electrical pulses throughout his body and snapping the hair on his arms to attention. He placed the sack of salted organs on the floor next to his abandoned murderbag and crept closer to the table, marveling at her and, through her, himself.

Virginia Joy had been a lovely woman in life, but all that had been transcended the moment the Veiled Prophet had selected her. This year’s Prophet was a reckless man, overflowing with terrestrial passion and lust, and he’d broken her neck after he’d taken her. When her cold, translucent body had been delivered to him, blue veins had stood out against the skin and the head had lolled at an impossible angle. Her thighs and buttocks were covered in blood and bruises. To the doctor, she had attained perfection.

Her neck pressed against her thin flesh at the break, showing the bone where it had forced itself between the thin muscles. The blood spilled during her rape had painted her thighs in artful strokes that curled around the purple bruises and skipped along her backside. Every injury was more beautiful than the last and showed perfectly against her nearly colorless skin. She lay on the table with her legs spread wide to reveal the darkness of dried blood, even if the doctor found her genitals vulgar and unappealing. He left her neck tilted at an angle, but covered her face with a wash of her pale hair.

Her chest and gut had been cleanly split and opened to reveal the yawning emptiness of her body. Her own frail and insipid organs had been removed as carefully and precisely as any other, but they had been tossed aside to be made into sausage or melted for candles. There was no point in salting organs never intended for reuse. No, if she were to be the perfect Queen of Love and Beauty for the Veiled Prophet, she needed to be made of stronger stuff. And, though he would be required to repair and clean her, the doctor found it far more enjoyable to look on her in her current state while he worked.

His fingers itched to reach inside of her and trace lines along the pale white bones of her ribs.

Instead, he breathed deeply of her scent and switched off the electric lights. He carried himself back up to the main floor of his home, feeling each ascending step dig at him and beg for his return to the cool cleanliness of the basement laboratory. Closing the door atop the staircase was an effort of will that left him feeling empty and limp.

The overlarge grandfather clock in the foyer was poised to ring 3 o’clock. He moved into the sitting room and made an effort to relax himself on an antique divan of carved wood and plush fabric. It was no easy motion with the lovely Virginia Joy lying in wait for his ministrations below, but the Veiled Prophet would not appreciate his excitement showing in his trousers. Deep breaths that tasted like furniture polish were all that kept him company in those few tortured minutes before the clock sounded its call.

At exactly the moment that the chimes ended their reverberating song, the knocker on the front door clanged loudly. His breath caught and his fingers itched to fidget with his clothing, but he forced himself to remain still and composed as he could. Letting a long minute pass, the doctor reached for the ancient bell at the end table beside him. The old brass instrument was tarnished and scored with old scratches unlike anything else in his pristinely appointed home, but there was nothing to do about its appearance. Artifacts such as these were not to be touched by harsh cleansers.

He shook the bell once, letting the clapper resonate against the sound ring. A single, clear note rose into the rafters and danced around the heavy crystal chandelier. In response, a voice sounded from the hall, mimicking the bell note with uncanny precision. The doctor heard the paneled door just beyond the foyer slide open and the shuffling of feet move to the front door. The smell of opium wafted into the room and tickled his nose. The visceral response in his loins was impossible to suppress, but easy enough to hide by crossing one leg over the other and folding his hands into his lap.

The doctor’s valet shuffled slowly into the room with the Veiled Prophet and his men following behind at a careful distance.

In life, young Walter Breedlove had been slight and delicate before, but the doctor’s attentions had accentuated those qualities to a degree nature failed to achieve. The boy’s blue-black skin was pulled tight over his tiny frame and offset by the expensive cream-colored suit that clung to him, emphasizing the angular curves of his elbows and shoulders. The glass eyes set in his skull were exceptional in jade green and highly polished to give the illusion of moisture. The boy was a living doll if living required no beating heart.

“I do not know why you insist on keeping this little Negro simulacrum around. It’s distasteful,” the Veiled Prophet spoke from beneath his pointed white hood. The blank features painted across the mask were vague and unmoving. The doctor might have pointed out that taste is subjective. He might have pointed out that his Walter was more lovely than any living boy. Instead, he merely offered a polite nod.

“He is exceptionally well-formed and better able to accomplish complicated tasks than some of my earlier simulacra.” The doctor maintained a placating voice that came close to, but did not reach, lecture. “As you know, the science is inexact and the complexity and rarity of ancient Jewish artifacts in St. Louis has as much to do with success as my own skill in reanimation.” It was not necessary to share that his Walter wore a glass aperture beneath his fine suit that allowed the doctor to watch the stolen organs twitch and shiver in parody of life. When no visitors were expected, only the finely pressed trousers were required wear for the valet. The doctor preferred to watch him in full motion. The thought of it pushed heat into his groin again and threatened to raise a sweat on his forehead.

“You are reminded that no Negro organs are to be used on the Lady Joy,” spoke one of the Veiled Prophet’s men. If the Prophet’s conical hood and mask and crisp white robes were unusual, they were made even more so by the somber attire of his henchmen. Nearly indiscernible in whatever differences their mother’s would have recognized, they were little more than hulking brutes in dull black dusters and bowlers better suited to men of proper station.

The doctor favored the man with a half-lidded smile.

“Of course. The arrangements were very specific and are well on the way to completion,” he lied. “All materials have been acquired and incorporation into the shell will commence forthwith.”

“The Lady Joy, if you please. I would not have her thought of as a shell,” the Veiled Prophet said in a low voice from beneath his mask. For all the power the man would wield for the year, the doctor knew he was a rapist and a murderer. The doctor knew that his grip on power within the city hinged on the reappearance of his Queen of Love and Beauty, the very woman he had deflowered, befouled, and dispatched. The man’s voice was thick with desperation and guilt. And it was sublime.

“As you will, Master.” The doctor made no move to stand for the men or offer them refreshment. It would have been amusing to see if they would drink from anything he provided or that Walter offered, but he had no time for such games. He needed the men to leave and he felt confident enough in their agitation that they would make their excuses and leave soon enough.

“You have a deadline, doctor.” The Veiled Prophet hefted his ceremonial shotgun to his shoulder and spun on his heels. In a moment he was gone and the doctor was left alone with Walter.

***

                Though he still required a new brain to complete Virginia Joy’s transformation, he spent the remainder of the evening incorporating the stolen organs into her perfect frame. The stomach and lungs of the young boy he’d pilfered earlier while the family grieved above, the kidneys of a soldier the Sisters were unable to save from incurable madness, and the heart of a young girl that would never make it home from work at the seamstress shop in North City. Her body he had kept in a bath of poppy and ammonium nitrate and would revisit when his paid work was completed.

Once he had sewn in the pilfered parts with silver wire, he filled her abdomen and chest cavity with a solution of sodium carbonate and Black Anther Flax Lily. Mixing a careful tincture of mercurochrome and quicksilver, he set it to boil in a cucurbit and placed an alembic atop it. With nothing left to do until he had found her a brain, the doctor reluctantly left her to steep for the evening and retired to bed.

The doctor lay restlessly in his opulent four-poster bed, peering through a crack in the heavy drapes and out the window beyond. Tire though he should be, gears and pistons turned endlessly in his head.

The Prophet had come to him because, frankly, he was the best of the few reanimators in the city. The small voice at the base of the doctor’s skull warned him against his unspoken plans, but opportunity too rarely arises with such kismet. He silently cursed the fool for his pride and conceit. His year of control among the city elite would likely fare no better than his chance encounter with his would-be Queen of Love and Beauty. And her broken body resting below was testament to the man’s self-control. It would tax him to put her to such use, but the artistry of her brutal death begged to be given over to something greater.

Thinking again of the delicate and shattered Virginia Joy gave him the peace he needed to sleep. He huffed greedily at a mask from his bedside table. Steeped in red seaweed chloroform, the sickly sweet inhalant ushered him quickly into a stupor.

The doctor dreamt that he stalked down the stairs to his basement laboratory wearing a robe of fine pink flesh and trimmed with golden hair. He passed Walter on the way. The boy looked at him with the same, never changing look of absence that maintained his beautiful features so perfectly. Love and pride swelled inside the doctor as he clutched his skin robe closer to his chest and hurried down the stairs.

Passing the long line of shelves, he saw the mutated specimens and unborn creatures were moving within their glass prisons. Twitching or undulating as their form would allow, they danced a rhythmic gambol that roiled the glycerol and arsenic humectant they bathed in. The movement syncopated to match the beating of his heart which grew louder and louder as he moved toward his sactum.

Inside the pristine surgery, he found Virginia Joy not lying in wait on the shining operation table, but instead sitting on its edge, perched like a delicate and disemboweled bird. Though her abdomen remained open, the organs within it pulsed and moved as they might have in life. The silver wire that kept them in place was tied with dainty bows and the crust of salt encasing them cracked apart to fall to the floor in a shower of shimmering glass.

Virginia Joy, would-be Queen of Beauty and Love, wore a robe of sallow skin covered in coarse dark hairs and bearing wide, brown nipples as epaulets. He recognized the pallid garment with derision and repulsion. It was his own flesh she wore just as he wore hers. It was abhorrent that she bear the ugliness of his body. The imperfections and aberrations of his flesh stood out too clear beneath the electrical lights, glaring at him in defiance for their persistent life. His own robe, the skin of the beautiful Virginia Joy, bore none of the pimples and errant hairs of living tissue. It was immaculate.

Devastated at the loss, but unable to bear the image of her in his skin, the doctor slipped the perfect robe from his body and held it to her, proffering it as you might a crown to a queen. She turned her perfectly still and emotionless face to him and stared, uncomprehending of his need. So he moved to her and tugged at the soft and disgusting flesh she wore, pulling at it in desperation. The simulacra would not move or help as he yanked harder and harder at the vile robe, tearing at it as he tried desperately to remove it from her body. Each piece that ripped free from her garment appeared on his own body, a free-floating portion of the mantle he was fated to wear in life.

When the last piece of his defective flesh had been torn from her body, he collapsed to the floor in exhaustion. He lay panting on the floor as he lay panting in his sheets, soaked in sweat and naked of anything but his own flesh. Virginia Joy slipped from the edge of the surgery table wearing now her own flawless skin with its painted stains of blood and bruise. She stood over him, naked and broken and whole. Even as he mourned the return of his living flesh, he celebrated the beauty of hers. His breath calmed and his pulse quickened, surging blood to his ugly, living genitals.

Virginia Joy lay back on the table, her features never changing and her head bending to rest against her shoulder, pushing the broken bone of her neck against her translucent skin. The doctor climbed to his feet, on top of the table, and on top of Virginia Joy. He nestled his head against the openness of her chest, slick with alchemical compounds and solutions, and he forgot the revulsion of living flesh and reveled in the cold excellence of the dead.

***

He spent the morning going over his client list, calling the hospitals, and browsing the paper for large, crowded events. If he were to have a brain, he would have to find it quickly while the other organs steeped. The alchemical still had distilled the precious liquids he’d left in it overnight and he’d drain the existing bath from her cavity and replace it with the new one after breakfast. This would give him twelve hours to pilfer a brain before he must return to rinse away the new solution before it did irreparable damage to the organs.

In the meantime, he set about the ugly work of adapting her for his own needs. He cut carefully into her forearms, slicing deep through the flesh and into the muscle until he found bone and sinew. From beneath a canvas tarp, he produced twin implements of precision steel and carefully screwed them to the ulna in each limb. He pressed gently on the scissoring blades, compressing the springs and setting a latch that he carefully sewed to various ligaments with delicate silver wire. Molding her sundered muscle to cover the narrow riggings, he stitched the flesh atop them closed with a fine catgut that left little evidence of its existence.

Second, he placed tiny glass baubles filled with a finely powdered calcium oxide into her eye sockets. The exposed side was so precisely painted by an unknowing co-conspirator that it marveled him to look upon them. The sclera shone beneath the hanging electrical lights and the iris, an incandescent blue, was so carefully detailed as to show streaks of cerulean and violet accenting it. As fine as ice, once ruptured the baubles would release their blinding powder in a suffocating fog.

Finally, he cut her open at her most intimate of apertures. Pressing otherwise inconsequential organs aside, he pushed through to her tailbone and placed a fist-sized contrivance upon the last of her spine, fitting it neatly over her coccyx. Bolting it into place was a task made more complicated by a general lack of visibility and severely limited mobility. Added to that was the sensitive trigger he avoided out of both necessity and self-preservation, making for a long and careful procedure. At completion, he mopped sweat from his brow and carefully sealed her incisions. The last device was a compromise that galled the doctor. Poetry would have allowed the spring-loaded stinger with its scissor blades to burst forth from the very breach that had been her undoing. As it was, the cruel thing was more likely to thrust from her anus than her virtue, but the result should be no less satisfying.

Once he procured a suitable brain, he would complete his most beautiful automaton and Virginia Joy would be returned to the Veiled Prophet. It was inevitable that the subsequent mutilation of the city’s annual elite would be traced back to him. Perhaps even the organ theft would be traced back to his laboratory. When the constabulary did come knocking, however, they would find little more than a tired old doctor, dead from an excess of opium. And by his side, perfect and attentive, would be Walter Breedlove, the young Negro boy that last year’s Veiled Prophet had hung from a tree until his feet kicked free his soul.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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