Friday, October 9, 2015

Fright Fest 2015: Death and Reanimation

Greetings, Everyone! It's Cybelle here on this dark Friday morning, and I'm delighted to contribute to the annual Fright Fest once again. This year, I offer part of chapter from my novel in progress, Medea's Disciple,  called "Death and Reanimation." Enjoy!

           The elderly Comte de Mazan carried Sabine, wrapped in a linen shroud, to David Symes’ practice. She had been missing for three days when a hunter encountered her body half buried in a ravine on the outskirts of the village. News of the discovery spread rapidly in the quiet coastal town of Aberlady, and David was not surprised by the Comte’s grim visit. He had cared for the nobleman and his family since their escape from France in 1793. Now the once proud and handsome man appeared small and impossibly ancient. His hands trembled pitifully as he clasped the remains of his daughter. David led him in and helped place Sabine on the table. Looking down at the wrapped figure, the Comte collapsed over her, sobbing. “My beautiful girl!”
            David put his arms around the grieving man and led him to a chair. “Monsieur, I am so very sorry for your loss. She was indeed beautiful.  I remember my first visit to your home, so many years ago when she was still a child. She gave me a small bouquet of wildflowers. Such a sweet girl. I cannot imagine…Let me get you something to drink, Monsieur, a whiskey or…"
            “No, no. You know why I’m here. We must bring her back."
            David sighed. For years, he had been demonstrating the effects of galvanism on a variety of subjects, mostly small animals. From time to time, he was even able to obtain a human specimen. They were costly and difficult to procure, but the effect…He remembered his first observation of such a demonstration on a hanged criminal. Damage to the man’s spinal cord precluded the possibility of full reanimation, but David later came to believe that directing electrical currents to the vital organs could restore the dead to life. Once he obtained the body of a woman who had been dead less than an hour. She had lost a considerable amount of blood in childbirth, but he was certain temporary reanimation could be achieved. He wasted no time on the limbs but touched the rods directly to the chest. The body jerked. For a few moments he had hope, but after several attempts, he realized the woman’s heart and lungs would never function of their own accord. The process lacked some essential element. Still, audiences continued to gasp with horrified delight at the spectacle of a flailing, grimacing corpse. Every observer believed the dead could come back, and David did not disabuse them. Now a father’s grief brought him face to face with the vanity of his efforts.
            Gone was the sweet scent of bluebells he had come to associate with Sabine. A powerful emanation of putrefaction, damp earth and mold filled the room. Death covered her completely.  “Monsieur, think about what you are asking. Even if I could, she would not be the same. It’s better to bury her. Let her rest in peace.”
            The Comte stood suddenly, a hint of his former vigor returning. He strode to the table, pulled the shroud from the girl’s face, and began shaking violently at the sight. “No, she would not be the same!” His voice was hoarse and charged with rage. “But how can she rest in peace?”
           David closed his eyes to dispel a sudden, dizzying nausea. He could not reconcile his memory of the vibrant beauty with the mutilated corpse on the table. Her left cheek bone had been crushed. A glazed eyeball oozed blindly toward her ruined nose. The remains of her lips revealed jagged, broken shards that had once been her teeth. Blood and soil caked her carefully coiffed hair. “An abomination,” David said finally. “She was so well loved. Who could have done this?”
            “Someone I have protected for far too long.”
            “What? You know the monster, Monsieur?”
            “A monster indeed. There are those of high birth who merit far worse than the guillotine.  My own brother, for one.”
            “What are you saying? Has he admitted this to you?”
            “No. He takes me for a fool. How can he think that I would not remember the outrages, the unspeakable cruelties?”
            “Monsieur, I cannot believe…he never appeared—”
            “We are an ancient family, doctor. Our survival has always depended on the power of appearance. I do not expect you to understand.”
            “This is appalling. He must be held accountable for this crime! Your own daughter, the most vital person I have ever seen, has been murdered, and you say she is not his first!”
            “If he were brought to trial, he would be hanged. I no longer care about appearances. Our name has no value in this country. But I will not let that murderer pursue my daughter in the world beyond.”
            “What makes you think—”
            “Keep her here. You must bathe her in pure water and mellify her, as the deified Alexander was embalmed. I have sent my servants to purchase several cases of honey. They will bring it to you shortly. Once she has been purified, place her in a vessel with the honey. Ensure that every part of her is covered. The substance will preserve her body and nourish her tortured soul. When a week has passed, I will return to restore her.”
            “You will restore her?”
            “I have watched your experiments on many occasions, doctor. Never has reanimation been achieved."
            “No, not once.” David burned at the admission.
            “But at the beginning, you believed it was possible. I admired you for it, but I knew every attempt would fail. I learned the true method long ago, before the Terror, and hoped never to use it. True reanimation requires the manipulation of forces more powerful than any mortal thing.”
            David suspected shock and grief had conspired to strip the Comte of rational thought, but he asked anyway. “What is the method of which you speak?”
            “A sacred rite stolen by a chaos god and given to a violent sorceress, who recognized no limits but those of her inclination and imagination. She had no pity for any living being, and her imagination was vast as the oceans.”
            “Then you should not use it.”
            “Indeed, I should not. But I am about to prove Socrates wrong and do harm knowingly. There is little time for details. Tell no one you have my daughter’s body. Admit only the servants bringing honey; they do not know its purpose. If my brother or wife tries to gain entrance, send them away. Fabricate any excuse you like, but tell them nothing of Sabine. In a week’s time, I will bring them here with me. Then we shall all be cursed with understanding.”
            “Your wife, Monsieur? Does she…”
            “I suspect she knows a great deal."
            “This is absolute madness. I’ll do as you ask, but—”
            “Yes, and you think I am mad? You may be right.  Treat my daughter with great care.”
            “Always.” David escorted the Comte to the door and locked it behind him. He returned to the table and gently removed the shroud. He shuddered at the viciousness of the wounds. The girl had been violated. Dried blood flaked from the mottled flesh of her thighs. Her breasts bore the deep wounds of multiple slashes. Every finger was broken. David looked more closely at her face. Opening her mouth, he saw the tongue had been cut out. Like Philomela. If only you could become a bird and fly away. He left the room and returned with a light bathtub made of zinc and placed her inside. Then he drew several pitchers of clean, cold water and washed the filth from her decaying flesh. Already the skin of her palms was beginning to slip from her hands. He lifted her gently from the tub and cleaned it. It would have to serve as the vessel of her mellification. He moved the tub to a cabinet and placed her folded body inside it once more, covering both with the shroud. The Comte’s servants arrived shortly thereafter with three cases of honey. Once she had been submerged, he locked the cabinet door and tried not think of her.
            The Comte’s brother and wife made this impossible.  Time and again they returned to David’s practice, pounding on the door and demanding entrance. But never together. The first few times, he spoke to them through the door. “I’m sorry, I’m terribly ill. You must not come in. No, I don’t know where he’s taken her. Monsieur le Comte has not called upon me. Please, you must go.” Now he just covered his ears.
            As the days passed, he grew desperate to leave his practice but dared not. He had water and a little bread in addition to several jars of honey that had not been needed. He made himself eat it, though he now hated the taste and cloyingly sweet odor. He passed the time reading theories he no longer believed. His imagination often wandered to the chaos god and his stolen secret. In the early hours of morning, strange dreams made the story seem possible.
            When a week had passed, the Comte returned, as promised, in the company of his wife and brother. “Doctor, you have something of mine in your keeping. I have come to claim it.”
            “Yes, there, in the cabinet. Take the key.” David watched as the old Comte opened the door. With his brother’s assistance, he removed the tub, still covered by the linen shroud. “What is this, Alphonse? It cannot be—” The younger Vicomte was uncharacteristically nervous.
            “Remove the linen, Gilbert. Go on.”  Directing a malicious glare at his brother, the Vicomte pulled the sheet from the tub in a single movement.
            Sabine’s mother dropped to her knees, her face visibly drained of blood.
            “Oh really, Alphonse. This is too much. Look at what you’ve done!”
            “Stop talking.” The Comte’s manner silenced Gilbert, and for once, David noticed, the Vicomte’s customary aplomb had vanished. The Comte circled the vessel three times before kneeling beside his daughter. Slowly, he withdrew a slip of paper from his vest and unfolded it.  Then he reached into the viscous fluid and gently guided Sabine’s head to the surface. When her faced touched the air, he parted her lips and placed the slip of paper in her mouth. Almost instantly, the girl’s body jerked. Pieces of flesh tore from her muscles as she struggled to rise from the honeyed vessel. The Vicomte stumbled backward with a hiss and edged toward the door. The Comte jumped to his feet with the agility of a young athlete and grabbed his arm. “No, Gilbert, stay a while. Look at what you have done.” Sabine’s broken fingers tapped the edges of the tub until the withered palm planted itself on the side. Within moments, she managed to rise to her knees. Trembling, she looked toward her father and opened her tongueless mouth, as if asking permission.


Karin Gastreich said...

Oh, Cybelle, I remember this story! Loved it then & loved it now. I'm so glad you're working this into a novel. I'm looking forward to seeing more.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Karin! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!