Thursday, March 27, 2014

Story 26: What Happened to Ernest Frankenstein?

          (Based on a recent book club pick)
          I loved my family: no one could have had a more blessed childhood than I had in 18th-century Geneva.  My parents, though distant in age, adored each other and their children; the two girls we had incorporated into our clan had their beauty equaled only by their virtue; and our little brother William was everyone's favorite.
          And then, there was Victor.
          Do not misunderstand me: I loved my brother as I loved all my relatives.  It is only that there was always something, well, how to explain: not quite natural about him.
          From a young age, he had become interested in alchemy and achieving eternal life.  Honestly!  Father should have kept a tighter reign on that boy's reading material, if anyone had asked me, but I do not begrudge the freedoms we all enjoyed.  We were allowed to frolic anywhere we wished like well-behaved hooligans, getting ourselves into all sorts of orderly mischief.  My blood siblings were Victor and Saint William, and our parents adopted Elizabeth, the Mother Superior, and Justine, our social equal until she would come of age to be our servant.  Elizabeth was our sister in almost every sense of the word but everyone, her included, expected her to marry Victor, which I found a bit distasteful and added a disturbing layer to our childhood games; however, no one asked for my opinion.  Come to think of it, few people ever asked me about anything.
          Victor's departure for university was delayed when Mother died, as mothers nursing sick adopted girls tend to do.  I do not know if her passing significantly affected the turn his studies took while he was at school - that die seemed to have been cast well before that tragedy could have been used as an excuse.  He wrote not once - not once! - while he was studying in Germany.  I could understand several weeks or even a few months, but years?  That was when I first started suspecting that he was not entirely well.  In the head, I mean.
           Our friend, Henry Clerval, then wrote to us that Victor had fallen ill, which naturally had us all worried for him.  We were soon distracted from that by The Saint's martyrdom - that is to say, poor little William was found randomly murdered.  Odder still, our mother's miniature portrait that he was wearing on a whim that day was found on Justine.  The finger of the law pointed to her and no other.  I myself thought it odd that someone who would do such a thing would then leave incriminating evidence lying around for others to find in her possession, but no one asked me.  Poor Justine confessed so she would not burn for eternity, and was hanged for it.  On his return home during the trial, Victor was extremely upset about the whole thing, even more than the rest of us: he beat his chest, pulled his hair, and groaned a lot.  He also spent much time walking around and rowing on the lake.  I mourned as well, then had to continue studying for my exams.
          After one of his walkabouts, Victor asked Father's permission to study in England.  England!  As if Germany hadn't been enough!  Clerval wanted to go with him, the better to complete his training in spreading The Word to foreigners, so Father acquiesced.  I had yet to be allowed to join the service and see the world, yet there was Victor, on his second international journey.  Well, someone had to keep Elizabeth company while he was gone, at any rate.
           Time passed (onward, as it must), and we received word that Clerval had met an unfortunate end and Victor had been arrested for it.  That news most assuredly set us astir, until we received word later that Victor was proved innocent by eyewitnesses stating that he was in the vicinity of his island laboratory with its foul stench at the time of the murder.  That was certainly a relief.
           The inevitable then happened: after Victor came home, he and Elizabeth married.  I spent the whole ceremony holding back the feeling of sickness as I watched them sickeningly make their sickening vows of love and destiny and virtue and ad infinitum to each other.  When we received word later that Elizabeth had been found dead on her wedding night, I first thought she had expired in self defense.  Then I thought Victor had finally snapped and killed the one he loved, but he claimed that some "monster" (he always exaggerated) had murdered her.  Father gave way to the tidal wave of grief and joined Mother, who was the lucky one out of all this, in Heaven.  And then Victor disappeared, leaving me, well and truly, alone to face the cold world.
          Some time later, I somehow came across letters written by a sailor to his sister that detailed his meeting Victor in the middle of the Arctic, of all places.  The whole sordid story of my brother's attempt to play mother (twice) by creating a living human being from the parts of dead human beings, his responsibility for our family members' and friend's deaths (except for Mother's: that was all sick Elizabeth's fault), and the possibility that his "man" was still running around wreaking havoc despite its claims to the contrary just about killed what was left of my spirit.  Having said all that, the one act of Victor's that I absolutely could not forgive was his behaving as if his entire family was dead when I was still alive and had to hear about all this years later.
          I think Mary Shelley forgot about me. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Story 25: Lust at First Sight

            Their eyes met across the crowded room, both pairs desperately searching for happiness.  Once locked onto each other, they could not tear themselves away.  The eyes led, and the bodies followed: they met at last in front of the bar at the height of happy hour.
            There was just… something about him.
            She was beautiful in her loneliness – he knew she needed someone like him to take care of her.
            This was the real deal: this was true love.
          Each of their families disapproved of their moving in together the following day, but the blood relations just didn’t understand the magnetism, the chemistry, the biology, not even, most importantly, just how hot the other person was.  Sure, he was a bad boy; sure, she was a bad girl.  Each needed the other desperately - it was plain for all to see.  The rest would come some time later.
            SOME TIME LATER
            She saw the court order in the mail.
            “You pay alimony?!  You never told me you were married!”
            “You never asked.”
            “I never asked if you were a deadbeat either, but it seems that’s been answered, too.”
            “Which one is it?”
            “Which one what?”
            “Which wife.”
            “How many….?!”
            He held up three fingers.  She threw a plate at his head, which barely missed him in spite of her aim.
           “Wait, does separation still count as marriage or should that be considered divorce?  `Cause if it’s the latter –” He held up four fingers and received another plate.
            “I don’t believe this!”
            “Just a head’s up in case you also see this in the mail soon, maybe now’s a good time to mention my five kids – those checks’ve been a little behind, too.”
            “I can’t imagine why.”
            “Hey, you’re one to talk – what about all those stripper photos I saw posted of you, huh?”
            “You weren’t supposed to see those!  I was supporting myself through college!”
            “And I would applaud your entrepreneurial spirit, if it didn’t also involved B&E and grant theft auto.”
            “I thought those records were sealed!  You are such a hypocrite to throw those in my face – I was a kid!  Kids do stupid things!”
            “You were 35 years old, and it was last year.”
       “I thought you didn’t care about my past!  You said the past doesn’t matter, only our future, remember?”
           “Not if our future involves me being charged as an accessory after the fact!  I always knew you didn’t buy that van that's been sitting in the garage.”
            “I need wheels for my kitchen!”  She covered her mouth to retroactively take back what she said.
            “Oh, I knew it – you have a mobile meth lab!”
            “Don’t get all sanctimonious on me, Mr. Floating Poker Game!  I followed you one night and saw you’re both the organizer and the kneecap breaker!”
            “It cuts costs!”
            “And what’s with the offshore accounts you hid from me that’ve suddenly disappeared?”
            He started crying.  “So much money!”  He suddenly stopped.  “How’d you know about them?”
            “The IRS came calling this morning.  I said you were out, but, in good conscience, I don’t think I can keep lying for you.  The good news is, you’ll have your choice between federal prison and plain old prison.”
            “If you rat me out, I’ll rat you out!  And another thing – that ballet you dragged me to last Saturday was boring!”  She gasped in horror.  “How could you think I’d like it?”
            “I guess I was under the same delusion you were when you dragged me to that tennis match!”
            “You said later you liked it!”
            “It was boring!  Don’t you know me at all, John?!”
            “My name’s Brian.”

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Story 24: No One Really Wants to Know

          My typical day starts the same as most people’s: the comforting land of unconsciousness is brutally shattered by the forced awakening into the prison that everyone insists on calling “reality”; I shower off the filth of the previous day and night so as not to offend the senses or invite infection; and I insert food and drink into the machine that is my body, enabling it to function for yet another day.  I then head to the bus stop, as my commuter membership requires that I be transported with other like-minded souls who also choose to live far from our places of employment in order to reduce our take-home pay by that much more.  I arrive five minutes early at the area where we all mill around and I grimace at one of the regulars, who is very polite and takes it as a smile.
            “Good morning," she says.  "How are you?”
            “Bad.  My heart stopped when I woke up this morning and my feet hurt.”
            “Oh, that’s too bad.”
            “Glad we agree.  How are you?”
            “Good, thanks.”
            We go through the same routine every morning – she never gives up on me, the sweetheart.
            At the office, I see the mailroom guy who doesn’t come up to our floor often.
            “Oh, hi!"  He waves at me.  "How have you been?”
            “Not well at all – my sciatica’s acting up again and my aunt’s in the hospital.”
            “Oh no, I hope it’s not too serious.”
            “It is.  How have you been?”
            “I’m doing well, thank you.  Take care now.”
            “You, too.”  I’ll probably never see him again.
            Lunch is another force-feeding session – will I never regain my sense of taste? – and then it’s back to the paper shuffle.  My boss stops by my cubicle.
            “So, how’s it going?”
            “Terribly.  The report’s going to be late, I misplaced a file, and I think I’m losing my vision staring at the computer screen all day.  How’s it going with you?”
            “Uh, let’s talk in my office.”
            We have a nice chat about this and that, and I get an almost-free visit to the eye doctor out of the deal.  As I head to the bus station to make the return journey to my haven, the doorman stops me.
            “Hi, I’m the new evening doorman.  How are you today?”
            “Not good, thanks – I’m in constant pain and this afternoon I almost got fired.  How are you today?”
            “Oh, I’m good, thanks.”
            Why does everyone lie to me?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Story 23: Fax From the Past?

             Ring, ring: 718-555-7342.
            “It’s that number again!”
            “What number?”
            “Listen.”  She hit “speaker” and picked up.  “Accounting, this is Sheryl, how may I – ”  Booooop – buzzzz – crackle-crackle-crackle – “It’s that fax machine calling here again!”
            “So call it back.”
            “No one’ll answer.”
            “Sometimes it’s also a phone.”
            “Oh, OK.”  She hit “speaker” again and dialed.  After a few rings: “Click.  This is an unregistered number in --- Company.  If you know your party’s extension, please dial it – ”  She disconnected.
            “You heard that?”
            “I did.  That’s weird.”
            “Weird?  We’re getting phone calls from a phantom fax machine!”
            “Just try faxing a notice to it telling them the right number.”
            “Good idea.”  She did that.
            From the fax machine’s speaker: “Click.  This is an unregistered number – ”
            “It’s a phantom fax machine!”
          “Calm down.  Just let I.T. know and maybe they can track down the number for you.  For Pete’s sake, do I have to think of everything?”
            “Yes.”  She spoke with I.T. for a few minutes and slowly hung up.  “That number was disconnected and hasn’t been used in years.”
            “What number?”
            “The phantom fax number!”
            “Oh, you’re still going on about that?  Just let go – it’s stopped calling.”
           "Don’t you understand the implications of all this?  A number that’s not in service is calling here now.  Someone from the past is trying to send us a message and dialed the wrong number!”
            “Are you listening to me?”
            “No, I’m typing my report.  Would you please go back to work?”
            “How can I work when we’re experiencing a temporal phenomenon?”
            “Concentrate harder and block out distractions.”
            “If only they had dialed the right number.  What lessons could that past figure have taught us that we can’t already learn through history?”
            “I can’t believe we all got fired!”
            “Not ‘fired’, ‘let go’.  ‘Fired’ means it’s your fault, ‘let go’ means it’s their fault.”
            “I’m already locked out of my computer!”
            “I’m surprised Security isn’t here yet to gently throw us out the door.  They must be busy with the rest of the floor.”
            “I should’ve taken that job I told you about last month.  Now my life is ruined!”
            “Why not fax your past self and warn her about all this?”  Snickers.
            “You’re right!  The new fax machine got assigned the phantom fax number and that means it actually transmits to the past, not from it!  This is my only chance to save myself!”
            “Save me too while you’re at it, would ya?”
           “Sure!”  She scribbles frantically as two security personnel approach their area.  “I only have one shot at this – keep them busy!”
           “Just knock your stuff on the floor!  Minimum effort!”  She jabs the message to her past self into the fax machine, dials, and hits “Send”.  “Yes!”
            The security personnel arrive.  “Time to go.”
            “I don’t think so, my good men, for in five seconds I will have vanished into thin air before your very – no!”
            “Our very what?”
            “What is it, Sheryl?”
            “I dialed the wrong number!”
            The causality loop is now closed for business.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Story 22: The T.V. Lawyer

          This is it – don’t let them think they have control, don’t let them think they have the power.  Show them who’s boss of this situation.  Yeah.
          Look at them in there, grilling my client, What’s-His-Name.   All smug and self-righteous, thinking they have it all figured out, and that not only is he the scum of the earth, but he’s also an idiot for getting caught.  Little do those fools know they are about to be stonewalled.
           I burst through the police station interview room door and point at my meal ticket.  “Don’t say another word!”  The wall camera has me at a good angle – that usually doesn’t happen on the first try.
            My client and the cops all say: “Who are you?”
            “I – AM – HIS – LAWYER!”
            Water drips and eyelids blink.
           “That’s right, I’m doing all the talking now.  I have a list of demands I’d like to review with you before we get started.”  I settle myself on the only other chair there, rip open my briefcase, and whip out my boilerplate ultimatums.
            The cops stand.  One of them parts with: “We’re done for now.  You can go, but don’t leave town.”
           “And you’d better not leave town either, madam,” I return.  That always throws them off on their way out.
            My client is new to the process.  “I don’t get it – am I still in trouble?”
            “You bet, but don’t worry: you’ll never see the inside of a courtroom.  Not with me on the case.”
            Six months later, I’m ready for the opening statement.
            “Your Honor, as I have consistently maintained, my client is a victim as much as the murdered victim.  He is a victim of harassment from the so-called ‘Justice Department.’”  The stenographer hates it when I do air quotes – always good to have people remember your distinctive qualities.  “We will be counter-suing The State for pain and suffering once he is acquitted, and no offer less than $300 million and documentary film rights will be accepted.”  Need to have a strong opening to get everyone’s attention, else they’ll think you’re weak.
           The District Attorney plays dirty: “Your Honor, we have DNA, security and cell phone video footage, and 10 eyewitnesses implicating the defendant as the murderer.”
           Oh, you and your evidence.  I have to stop this: “ Objection!  Supposition!”
            “May I approach the bench?”
            “You may.”
         The nosy D.A. has to tag along.  The Judge covers the microphone so no one else can hear him embarrass himself.  I have no such compulsion: “Your Honor, I’ve conducted my own investigation, and I have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt who the real killer is.”
            “You’re just bringing this to my attention now?!”
        I make sure everyone can hear me by rotating 360°.  “I was going to save this for after I had browbeaten the witnesses, but the real murderer is in this very room.”  The gasps are rewarding.
            “Counselor, you are bordering on contempt.”
            “The only contempt I have is for the miscarriage of justice that is taking place here today!  I will put an end to this farce, once and for all, and declare that the murderer is none other than that man there!”  I point the finger of law and order at the true culprit.  My triumph is complete now that I am now both lawyer and private investigator, as all of us in the profession dream of being.
            “Counselor, you’re pointing at your own client.”
            Hm, maybe that was why figuring it out was so easy.  Time to close.
            “And justice is served.  This court is adjourned!”
        As I exit dramatically from the courtroom, I decide that now’s the perfect time to retire from my practice and pursue my true aspiration of running a dog grooming salon.