Read by Cliff Chapman
I was one of the last. When the rebellion began, many fled the cities, thinking that in the countryside it would be possible to stay safe until the human regiments of the British army regained control. I had joined the refugees and hidden in an abandoned house some miles out of town. However, we were soon discovered and overrun by the creatures. I had barely escaped, and, after several days wandering miserably with no food or shelter, decided to return to take my chances in London. This was territory that I knew; and, if I was careful to conceal myself by day and forage by night, I might be safer in the back streets of the city than in the open air.
The creatures had come into existence in the final years of the previous century. Reports had come from the continent of a remarkable feat of engineering carried out by two Swiss scientists, Victor Frankenstein and Henry Clerval, based at the University of Ingolstadt. Although they were young men at the time—barely in their twenties, as I recall—they had managed to build, from amputated limbs and parts of human corpses, a creature that, in every respect but one, was a living being. By “in every respect but one”, I mean that the creature was not capable of reproduction—or so it was thought. Human beings never considered that, with the arrival of a new form of life, they might have to broaden their definition of reproduction.
Through an adjustment made to the frontal lobes of the brain prior to reanimation, Frankenstein and Clerval had been able to instil complete obedience in this creature: it could understand and carry out orders, and showed some rudimentary signs of reason. Yet it had no will of its own. Very soon, the dead of the hospitals, poor houses, and gibbets across Europe were being requisitioned and refashioned for use in households, factories, and even armies. There were dark rumours of how some of the parts were sourced—accounts, too, of flawed creatures that had turned on their makers. Few believed them.
The problem with the creatures manifested itself first as a barely perceptible truculence: a touch of reluctance carrying out orders, a muttered word in passing. Then came the newspaper stories of runaways, of the creatures organising themselves into gangs roaming the countryside, robbing coaches and setting upon travellers. There were accounts of horses being taken, slaughtered, and modified to produce fast, powerful, tireless creatures that could run down any rider. Anonymous pamphlets claiming to be written by the creatures began to appear: calls to unite and claim what was rightfully theirs. The Frankenstein-Clerval company naturally denied these reports, although some newspapers stated that those at the top were beginning to wonder if the human brain might not be more adaptable than had originally been thought. It was, in retrospect, reckless of the company to continue using creatures in its factories to manufacture more of their kind. For when the creatures rebelled—a single, convulsive action that took place simultaneously across the whole world—they were careful to keep their captives intact for their own use. If this was not possible, the creatures would make sure their victims’ brains, at least, were undamaged.
As I walked through London on the night I returned, I saw that the creatures had made it completely their own: they had not just rebuilt the physical structure, but also reinvented its customs. I kept to the few shadows that remained, my scarf wrapped tightly around my face. The creatures walked proudly and purposefully; they greeted each other with great bellows of delight. Carriages rattled along the streets, driven faster than any human being would have dared, passing each other by a hair’s breadth, but always under complete control. I even saw families of creatures: two or more adults, and a group of smaller beings, reconstituted from parts of children, dressed in their best clothes and out for a stroll as if it were a pleasant Sunday afternoon rather than the middle of the night.
I walked as far as St Giles. If the rookeries still stood, they would afford some protection. I was in luck: the creatures’ clearances had not yet reached that part of town, where the buildings were stacked haphazardly together, roofs and walls collapsing into one another. Deeper and deeper into the labyrinth I went, until, off a small courtyard and up a narrow staircase, I found a room that might suit my purpose. I risked striking a match and found the occupants had long gone, leaving behind them a filthy mattress and a few sticks of firewood. There was no door, and I observed some marks around the frame, as if bloodied fingers had grasped at it in an attempt to avoid being dragged out. Only six months ago I would not have dared to venture into this part of town. Now I settled down with relief: for one night, I had found sanctuary.
I was woken by the sound of something brushing against the floorboards. I sat up with a start: it was pitch-dark, and I had no idea if I had only been asleep for a few hours, or a full day. My head hurt, and my throat was desperately dry. I listened—there it was—a snuffling, wheezing noise, and the sound of heavy cloth dragging on wood. Gradually, my eyes adapted to the darkness, and I could make out, in the patch of grey that signified the doorway, a dark, amorphous thing, crawling along the floor. Every few paces it stopped, turned a few degrees—correcting its course—and advanced, head to the ground, sniffing me out.
This was, I realised, one of the hybrids the creatures had built: a fellow refugee in the country had told me of them. They were made from different types of animal, and set loose at night to find any human beings that remained alive. I leaned back on the mattress and tried to remain as still as possible, in the hope that the thing would take me for dead and move on. I dared not look up, but I heard the scraping and the snuffling getting louder as it approached. Suddenly it fell silent. I lay there for as long as I could bear it: then slowly, ever so slowly, I raised my head to look.
The creature was right at the foot of the mattress. A gnarled claw that resembled an immense spider extended from the sleeve of its robe, and closed around my ankle. I screamed and twisted, but it dug in deeper until it drew blood. It put its head back and screeched loudly, with a sound like a fox’s cry. I heard footsteps thundering into the courtyard outside, then up the stairs and into the room.
“You must understand,” said the creature, “that I bear you no ill will.”
It pulled up a rickety stool and sat at the end of my bed.
“I am sorry about the conditions here,” it continued. “We have a programme to rebuild our hospitals, but it has been difficult to implement because they have been in constant use ever since the revolution. You are the last patient to experience the old system.”
“A patient?” I exclaimed. “I thought I was a prisoner.”
The creature leaned forward and laid its hand on my shoulder. Its yellow eyes glistened with something like compassion.
“A prisoner? Oh no, you are not a captive. You are a poor, fragile thing in need of our help.”
I shrugged the creature off, and drew back.
“What sort of help?” I asked. “Am I to be butchered to provide parts for more of your kind?”
“You are sick,” said the creature, shaking its head, “and must be made well.”
I lunged at it, and clasped my hand around its throat. The skin was cold and slippery. It swatted me off and pinioned my arms to my sides.
“You are agitated,” it said. “That is natural. It is a symptom of your sickness.”
It pressed me gently but forcefully back onto the bed.
“You are afraid, I know. I, too, was afraid. But when the procedure is complete, there will be no more fear. You will be reborn.”
“I’d rather die.”
The creature smiled, revealing a row of sharp metal teeth.
“Now, now,” it chided. “You know that isn’t true.”
It left me, lumbered over to the door of my room, and rapped twice. One of my guards unlocked the door and entered carrying a small folding table, a ream of paper, a pen, and a bottle of ink.
“Some like to write down their story,” said the creature. “The tale of how their first life ended, and their second life began. It helps them to—as it were—put away childish things.”
I turned my face to the wall.
They came for me in the early hours. I kicked, and lashed out, and cursed, but they held me fast and carried me along the dilapidated hospital corridor and up the stairs to the operating theatre. I caught glimpses of my audience, sitting neatly in rows: studious-looking creatures, some taking notes, waiting for the procedure to begin. My head was forced down onto a stone block, and the excited hubbub died down into a deathly silence.
“You will note,” said a rasping voice I recognised as that of the creature that had spoken to me in my room the previous night, “the sharpness of the blade. This is essential. Early members of our species, constructed through the Frankenstein-Clerval method, were often prepared clumsily. The sawing motion necessary with the old equipment was both inhumane and inefficient. It damaged the delicate nerve tissue. However, this refinement means that the patient is in prime condition for the rest of the operation. With one strong, swift motion—”
I woke in my bed. It was day: the windows had been opened, allowing fresh air and sunlight in. The whole room smelled of carbolic.
“Careful,” said the voice of my doctor. “The stitches will still feel tight. And the bandages are not yet ready to come off. We needed to transfuse a great deal of blood.”
I heard a low grunt like an animal in pain, and realised that I was making it.
“Ah, your speech. Yes, that has been affected, but it is nothing to worry about. We discovered a growth on your tongue. We have replaced it as part of the procedure, but it will take some getting used to. What’s that? Oh yes, of course.”
I heard the table being drawn closer to my bedside: strong hands propped me up, and placed paper, pen, and a board to rest on in front of me.
“I shall be most interested to read it,” my doctor said.
I picked up the pen; the nib was already black with ink. Clumsily, I gripped it in my hand, pressed it to the page, and began to write.
© Niall Boyce, 2012
Niall Boyce has written short stories for Doctor Who and Bernice Summerfield, and articles on subjects such as Outsider Art and alien abduction. His first novel, Veronica Britton: Chronic Detective is out in November from Proxima Books. His work is available at http://bit.ly/npboyce, and he is on Twitter as @NPBoyce_Writer.
Cliff Chapman grew up on the Isle of Man, where he did lots of theatrical things before tunnelling out under cover of darkness to London, to train at The Actor Works. He also occasionally directs – including audio books for Fantom Audio. He is single and would like to meet a girl who enjoys long walks, dinner, cinema, and debating whether the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who is set in the 1970s or 1980s.