A few months back, I started working on a short story. I have since stopped working on said story, and I’m so busy with other things lately that it’s taken the back-burner by necessity. But rather than let it languish in the lightless dungeons of my documents folder, I thought I would share the current version here. It’s origins are strange and difficult to explain.
Sometimes I enjoy drawing fantasy maps, just for fun. Years ago, when I lived in Portland, OR, I was very lonely and isolated, and a little crazy. Over the course of one rainy evening, I made a large, complex map on a poster sheet, which was in turn inspired by a fake deck of illustrated cards I had made, which was in turn inspired by Edward Gorey’s Fantod Pack. By the time I was finished, I had made a strange and gruesome world that was fertile ground for storytelling. Here’s the map –
THEN, a few years later, I finally got up the gumption to start writing a story that was set in this world. I had pretty clear ideas from the get-go what I wanted the overarching plot to be about (this may grow into a novel), and I had an idea of the general structure (epistolary, travelogue). I struggled, however, to create a protagonist that I would be invested in, and who could carry the story along, so I think that’s why it took me so long to use this material. Before I post the story, I should also explain the title for this post, Weird Fiction. It’s a term that’s been bandied around a lot, and I’m not really using it correctly. It usually refers to horror fiction from the late 1800’s, early 1900’s like Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, and later H.P. Lovecraft. There’s also the New Weird, which is more fantasy and science fiction, like Jeff Vandermeer or China Mieville. I’m drawing way more influence from the latter group, and at the time I created the map, I was also reading a lot of Walter Moers and Edward Gorey. So anyway, here’s the first part of the story, tentatively titled “The Terratologue.”
Entry the first, the 4th day of Poldoure, 738th year of the Sanguine Reckoning
I begin this account at the urging of my creator, Dr. Aldona Swantopelk. If my Great Work is to begin in a timely manner, I must grow accustomed to the habit of writing, sharing my thoughts and observations. This journal will in time become an integral part of my mission in this world, and to ignore it would be to ignore that very same mission. The doctor has also encouraged me to make use of the Demiurge Deck before writing an entry, that I may contemplate the draw’s possible meanings. Today I have drawn the Egress. How appropriate.
Still, I was uncertain where exactly to begin. The good doctor has taught me letters and the arts of expression, but not yet how to spin a good yarn. She has explained that I need only cover the events of my life as they have occurred thus far, embellishments being unnecessary. It shouldn’t be hard, I haven’t been alive for very long compared to her. I may as well start with her initial experiments.
She desired a being who could look upon the world with fresh, innocent eyes, and thus understand it differently. I came to discover that her intentions were more complex, and far more specific, than that. But for the first few years, that’s the explanation I was given. My body was grown from various exotic fungal cultures, and the flesh of cadavers acquired from the Harrowgate Institute. Through Dr. Swantopelk’s ingenious understanding of anatomy, biology, and the cutting edge of industrial sorcery, I came into the world.
At first I was but a head. A “seed,” as the doctor was fond of saying. I was made to observe, and so I should learn how to do that first without any distractions, or so the reasoning went. I personally believe my creator was impatient to start my life, but I have never told her as such. When I tell visitors to the doctor’s estate about this early phase, they are quite horrified, but without any history of enjoying the use of limbs or torso, I did not miss them. Eventually, I was grown organs and lungs, contained within a rubbery sack of fluid. I resembled a sort of sad worm, at least in the doctor’s photographs, but still with a very human head.
At this point I was taught to speak, and I enjoyed many thrilling conversations with the doctor about the nature of my existence, and hers. Upon request, I was grown arms, and with those in place I got up to all sorts of mischief. While I didn’t miss having limbs, I was determined to enjoy my new ones. When the doctor found me crawling legless out of the laboratory into the middle of one of her parties, trailing viscous slime, gasping, and causing a terrified stampede, it was decided that I would stay confined to quarters for the ascertainable future.
Still, in spite of my youthful indiscretions, Dr. Swantopelk and I got along famously. I was a quick pupil, and she an inexhaustible teacher. In some tales of creator and created, such as the natural philosopher Destregus and his Marvelous Meat Woman, there develops a sort of parent-child relationship, or even romantic love. There were no such inappropriate definitions between us, though there was, and is, love of a sort. I love the doctor as much as I am fascinated by her, and fascinating she is. Her tireless manner, her keen mind, and her somewhat inhuman quirks.
Ha! What jocularity! Me calling her inhuman I mean. I look now like any other man does, but human I am not, and I have no wish to be. Humans have no purpose that anyone is aware of, whereas I have a distinct reason for being.
So, eventually the doctor instructed me on how to make better use of my fresh body, after allowing me to grow into a fully-developed, adult form. My fungal components worked in concert with my more meaty parts to allow me to make “adjustments”. In other words, I could change my physical form, within a reasonable set of limits. Cosmetic changes are fairly simple. With a modicum of effort and a little time I found I could flush my skin to a darker or lighter hue, grow or drop hair, and even change the shape of my face a bit. More complex changes require considerable time and quite a lot of calories (not to mention a mirror). I once ate three roasted mud hens and a mountain of toasted grains to make myself look like a 3-meter tall bearded woman. Poor Albadore the butler missed his dinner that night.
I had always been vaguely aware of these abilities, as they were present in the form of a tingling, or tickling sensation in my skin. If I concentrate, this tickling can be turned into a warm feeling (darker skin), or a prickling (hair), and if I “push,” it becomes a pleasant sort of pain that penetrates my innards, and that pain can be “steered” to mold my actual flesh. I hope anyone reading this account will forgive my crude choice of words, I do my best within a limited human vocabulary.
My creator found my emerging masculine traits to be rather curious. She had not discussed gender or sex with me to any great length, and I suppose she expected me to discard the idea of being one thing or another. I can see where she is coming from. She herself is something of an asexual anomaly among her species, having little interest in either persuasion. Even to look at her, it can be hard to tell where she stands in the dichotomy. She has always looked like a tall skeleton to me, with great staring eyes. Her ribs are more pronounced than her breasts. Still, I find her beautiful in her own way. In fact, I find skeletons beautiful in their own way.
As for the matter of my manhood, it is rather hard to explain. I suppose it is simply “me”. Perhaps the source material for much of my body came from male samples, and there was some kind of “echo” of manliness in my cells. Perhaps I was simply fascinated by what I didn’t know. Whatever the reason, by the time I had been alive and under the doctor’s tutelage for three years, I had settled on a nice growth of body hair and a masculine chassis. I even grew genitals, although they still don’t function quite the way they’re supposed to. In spite of that, I can be a convincing woman, or anything else if need be.
Over the years, I cultivated myself into quite the specimen, with the doctor’s careful guidance. I learned a number of languages, studied art, philosophy and science. I dabbled a little in the esoteric arts, but the doctor did not seem to think this was important in my education. I was voracious when it came to learning, always asking questions, always burning my way through every book and document she brought me. There was little else I could do after all, Dr. Swantopelk only took me outside her estate on short excursions. Her gardens were strange and lovely. The hanging lavendias and the perfumed mince-caps crowding her walkway were enchanting. The sky suggested infinite possibilities to me, of limitless explorations under the sun. But I would soon be ushered inside to return to my lessons.
My understanding of the outside world came from my readings, and the few times I was allowed to interact with the doctor’s guests at her soirees. I was desperate for real experience of the world, but the doctor insisted that I become fully “socialized” before we attempted a trip to Harrowgate. She underestimated the strength of my desire, or so I thought at the time. I made ready to perform an escape from the laboratory, although with the full intention of coming back, one must understand. Albadore, the butler, was at a certain point permitted to bring me meals. The poor man never got quite used to me, being of peasant stock and rather superstitious in outlook. I engaged him in a discussion one evening about horse husbandry, and while he was distracted I clonked him on the head with a weighty bunsen burner, and stole his clothes. I strapped him into my bed-gurney (this wasn’t my first attempt at escape, and the doctor had felt it necessary to start strapping me in before bed) and made off into the night.
I had studied geography, history, and current events. I knew that Doctor Swantopelk’s ancestral manse lay to the north of Harrowgate, overlooking the Yawning Bay. I also knew that in the Gateway Principalities, one had to have proper identification if traveling between cities, or at least someone to act as your guardian. I had neither, so I kept to the shadows.
I grow weary now of relating this history. I must rest before I launch into the tale of my first excursion into the outside world, unaccompanied. As I look out the laboratory window, a brownish fog drifts in over the Bay. If I could, I would let it drift into my brain as well, so that I could lose myself in unconsciousness all the more quick;y. Clarity and memory must take their rest, so that they may take their place again when next I seize the quill.
I may post more of the Creature’s adventures after his escape from the laboratory, but that’s a long enough word count for one post I believe!
Featured image courtesy of the Internet Archive Book Image’s photostream, no known copyright restrictions