from the journal of Ailis Tierney Frankenstein
I had just finished tying a piece of dark lace around the end of a braid when I first heard the sound. It was a throaty grumble of protest and warning. I moved from my dressing table towards the window, and as I did so the light from it faded. The air was dead and oppressive. A storm was coming. I resumed my seat and studied my face in the mirror. The knowledge that our plans would likely be broken weighed on my spirit and dissipated my energy. We’d been dressing to attend a dance in Louisburgh, a much needed diversion. When Ernest first mentioned the idea my mood was so black that I protested vehemently against it. But he’d quietly overruled me, and as the day drew nearer, my mood improved, and I even began to look forward to it. In a few days, August would arrive, and my self-imposed deadline would compel me to inform Ernest of my medical condition. The dance had come to represent an oasis of sorts, a last perfect moment of innocence together before shared knowledge altered us forever.
A sudden flash of light, reflected off the glass, broke the spell. Ernest was humming a waltz as he entered my chamber.
Our reflections regarded one another until I felt his gentle touch upon my shoulder.
“What are the odds?” He grinned as I reached up and rested my hand atop his.
“With us…?” I managed a smile.
Before I could finish, everything in the house seemed to jump. My perfume bottles rattled in sympathy with the glass in the windows. The discussion was over before it had begun. It might not last long, but this storm would be bad.
“Did you get the clothes off the line?”
“No, I went out front and closed up the barn. I thought we’d have more time.”
I went back to the window. If it was already raining, I’d just have to let them get soaked. As I returned to my seat, the unexpected sound of knocking halted me in mid-motion, and we exchanged identical looks of surprise. Who would be out calling in this weather? Perhaps Dr. Martin had been making a call and realized he’d be unable to reach his destination before the storm hit. Or maybe the Shaws or one of the other neighbors needed urgent help. The authoritative knock repeated itself but louder and with a more pressing beckon. Rain began to sting the roof.
“Check that the other windows are closed. I’ll see to the door,” your father called over his shoulder as he took rapid strides down the steps.
A quick circuit of our relatively modest-sized upper floor revealed no surprises, and it wasn’t until I fully descended thesteps that I heard two male voices arguing.
“No, I’ll not come back!” The voice was deep and carried a commanding tone.
At first, all I could see of the stranger was his tall hat, which was higher than my husband’s head. A hand suddenly clamped it downwards as the winds and rains began an outright onslaught. I was hesitant to interfere. I had no desire for this visitor to be caught in such an angry tempest but knew Ernest well enough not to attempt to directly intervene, so I waited until completing my check of the downstairs windows.
“Darling, all the windows are now shut so unless you intend to invite the storm in through the front door …”
Torn between mutual sources of disapproval, he relented, and grudgingly granted the stranger entrance before rudely slamming the door behind him.
Though it had been brutally hot that day, our guest was enshrouded in a rather heavy looking and soaking wet, traveling cloak. Beneath it, he wore the garb of the officer corps of the British Admiralty. Undoubtedly, this was reason enough for my husband’s extreme reluctance to speak to the man.
The stranger set his sturdy cane aside as he removed his waterlogged outer garments.
“Madam, I am in your debt.” He hastily acknowledged my presence as he resumed his grasp on the nearby cane and abruptly turned to face my husband.
“And you, sir, are Ernest Frankenstein?” Both men’s faces could have been chiseled in stone for all the emotion they betrayed.
“Brother to Victor?” Ernest’s face remained impassive but the tension in the room grew. “Once a resident of Geneva?”
Just as I began to fear that our unwelcome guest would not relent, he suddenly smiled. “Relax young man. The British Navy does not seek you, only me Captain Robert Walton at your service.” His head bowed a degree as he extended his hand, which Ernest ignored.
Walton waited a moment then decided to try a different approach.
“I assure you, sir, I’m here of my own accord on a personal errand,” he stated, withdrawing some papers. “Your solicitor ... M. Christiansen’s recent request for your purchase of these lands from my family is immensely fortuitous. Indeed, had it not been for this transaction I might never have known you were here, as unlike many absentee landlords, I pay little attention to the details of our Irish holdings. My work for the Admiralty keeps me far too busy. Still, I have been searching for you for some time. For you see, I was one of the last people to see your brother, Victor, before he died.”
Only the rage of the inhuman winds and ceaseless waves of rain dared to fill the silence following this statement. Ernest turned his face from both of us. My own emotions surged with confusion. I was suddenly aware that I was sweating in the humid, sealed house.
“You have proof of this?” My tone was much harsher and challenging when I spoke the words than they sounded in my head. Walton looked uneasy.
“I do. I mean I did … but … well, it’s rather a complex story.”
“So you don’t have any proof?” I angrily pressed.
Details from Christensen’s letters flowed through my memory, the litany of unsavory characters who had tried to exploit the remnants of my husband’s devastated family. And despite his uniform and forced politeness, this Walton seemed no different to me. He was just another sycophant trying to take advantage of my love, who’d already suffered enough for one lifetime. I moved behind Walton and opened the door to a rush of rain-cooled air and mist.
“Leave,” I ordered.
It’s hard to tell who was more surprised. I said the word through clenched teeth, which altered the sound of my voice and startled me to a degree.
Walton looked affronted that I, a woman, and technically still his land tenant, would dare to demand he resume the road in this type of weather. Ernest finally turned to face us, his visage still unreadable.
“You will tell us your tale, Captain. And then you will leave as my wife has requested and never set foot in this house again.”
It was my turn to slam the door. The tailing swirl of winds snuffed the remaining flames from the candles in the hallway and plunged the room into twilight. Tersely, we followed Ernest into the front room. Here, the soft glow from a dying fire competed with lightning flashes. Walton hobbled in on his cane and claimed the chair my father had passed in for himself, and began a tale that was at once terrifying and outrageous.
He paused a long time before beginning, grinning slightly as he did.
“It is fitting,” he quipped. “It’s fitting that we should meet in this fashion, Monsieur Frankenstein.”
He did not wait for us to inquire about this statement before he continued.
“Ten years ago, I was a much younger man: an adventurer, a poet, and a fool. You see I set sail from the port at Archangel, intent on reaching the elusive northern pole, and if possible, finding a way through the ice to the other side of the world. My dreams of personal glory, I justified by touting the enterprise as an advancement for science to be marveled at through the ages. My own life and the lives of my crew were a secondary consideration, and I’ve paid a small price for my uncharitable attitude.”
This said he removed his right boot and revealed the reason for his cane.
“Forgive me, but you cannot imagine the pain of first the frostbite and then the gangrene. Fortunately the surgeon managed to save the back half.”
I shuddered to think of them cutting through his decayingflesh and bone. He replaced his boot and continued.
“The Arctic has a unique beauty, one that defies description. It is a singular place with treasures beyond imagination and terrors to freeze your soul. My ship became encased in sea ice not long after we penetrated the frontier. It was while we lay trapped within that sea of ice that I encountered your brother. He was alone, half-mad, exhausted beyond reason, and driven by a singular obsession—to destroy a foe he had pursued there.”
Rain pulsed against the window panes and threatened to drown out Walton, so we were compelled to move closer together. Our faces were a ghastly blend of frantic highlights and deep shadows in the shifting frenzy of the storm. At some point, your father and I clasped hands, and though his face still betrayed little emotion, the heavy beat of his rapid pulse left little doubt of his true feelings. The foe! Walton could not begin to comprehend what these words meant. Hearing them justified the brothers’ paths of flight from Europe and quieted ancient doubts while simultaneously igniting new fears. Could one person truly be responsible for all the pain Ernest had suffered? Time seemed to dissolve as Walton continued.
“Understand me, in the short time I knew your brother, I grew to feel both friendship and pity for one who was so obviously gifted but so fatally flawed. While he lived, I was compelled to record the details of a most fantastical, and for a time I felt, unbelievable tale.”
Again he flashed a wistful smile.
“Yes, it is fitting that we meet in this fashion because the roles have been reversed. For you see, I am now the stranger with the story no one will believe, and you are the doubting audience.”
He paused suddenly and sucked in a deep breath as he considered the storm still hammering the house. Slowly he fumbled in his jacket, removed a pipe, and began to fill it with tobacco.
“Madam, do you mind if I smoke?”
I gave permission, and his hands trembled slightly as he went through the ritual. It was then that it struck me that this man somehow seemed prematurely aged. He smoked, and we waited. Ernest would apparently have to tell him if he wanted to hear more.
The great temptress, Passion, whispered to us there in the dark. The language it used was both familiar and seductive. It penetrated our minds and caressed our emotions. I suddenly felt as though we stood upon the edge of a great and terrible abyss. I wanted to hear no more of this story. Victor was dead. What more could the man have to say of relevance? As if fighting to release his words, my dear husband spoke again.
“And did you see this foe?”
I’ve never witnessed such a shift in a man’s demeanor as I did Walton’s. He seemed to shrink, as if he carried a great burden within, the difficulty of which had finally been noticed by another. The pallor of his face dimmed, framing his eyes as orbs of sadness and fear. The slight tremble in his hands became a pronounced shudder. Words were unnecessary. Yes, he had seen the foe.
Excerpted from "Frankenstein A Life Beyond [Kindle Edition]" by Pete Planisek. Copyright © 2012 by Pete Planisek. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.