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monster talka novel
By Michael Jarmer
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Michael Jarmer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOf a Race of Devils
On the first day of the new school year the children were asked to tell the class their names and to share something interesting about themselves, something that made them unique. A healthy, small-framed boy of about seven years, confident and clean with eyes full of a still, deep water, stood up in front of Mrs. Terhart's second grade class and said, as a matter of fact but with a reverence almost palpable, "Hello, my name is Victor, and I am named after the great Dr. Frankenstein. My great-granddaddy was his monster."
Most of his classmates believed him immediately and unconditionally, but some of them sniggered, and some others thus far in their young lives had no awareness of such a personage and only just vaguely recognized the name from some deep place in the recesses of their little memories. Everybody, though, knew what a monster was, and there were lots of questions.
"What did your great-granddaddy look like? Was he ugly?"
"If your great-grandaddy was a monster, why aren't you a monster?"
"How does a monster talk?"
"Talk like a monster!"
"Did your great-granddaddy eat people?"
"Do you eat people?"
"Are you crazy?"
Mrs. Terhart was not pleased.
Later, she kept Victor inside as the class spilled out onto the playground. He stood next to her shyly, and she, sitting in her teacher chair behind her teacher desk, held him close, hugged him about the shoulders, looked down at him sweetly. "Dear Victor. You are such a good boy. You do your work in class, you never get into trouble, you don't fight or swear or tease girls. You had such a successful time in first grade. Why did you tell the other children about Dr. Frankenstein?"
"I did what you asked, Mrs. Terhart. You asked us to share something interesting about ourselves."
"Yes, dear Victor, but I wanted you to tell the truth."
"It is the truth, Mrs. Terhart. Scout's honor." And Victor immediately began to cry.
She hugged him a little harder. "Sweetie, Victor, do not be sad. We'll work on this together, okay? Don't you worry about it for now. Okay?"
Victor loved her. "All right," he said, and he was off to join the other children on the playground.
As would any child who is not believed by the adults in his life when he is telling the truth, Victor felt a constant pang of frustration in his younger years. At home, he was taught to speak honestly about his feelings and about what he knew to be true. But when Mrs. Terhart called home one evening, he heard his mother say that she didn't know why Victor would be saying such things to other students, and that she would have a talk with him. And she did have a talk.
"But Mama," Victor said, "you have always taught me to be truthful."
"Yes, Victor, but no one will believe you. It makes sense, then, that you spare yourself the trouble of not being believed. In this case only, you need not share that story with others. It is not a lie to simply choose some other interesting thing to share."
"But Mama, it is the only interesting thing about me."
"No, Victor. There are a million interesting things about you."
And Victor's mother, Justine, paused for a good long time before speaking.
She could have said that her young son was wise beyond his years, that if it weren't for his stature and childlike features, if you closed your eyes, you might believe you were in the presence of another adult, quiet and thoughtful. She could have said that he, unlike any child Justine had ever known, had a tremendous capacity for love. She could have said that she thought he would be great someday. She could have said that he, more than any member of her family or any relative in memory, was certainly no devil, was no monster.
"You are smart and sweet and good. A good boy," she said finally.
And while Victor knew that there was nothing particularly interesting about that at all, his heart warmed, and for a second he was flooded with the euphoria a boy feels when he knows he is loved by his mother. And he resolved in that moment to keep his family's history to himself. But it had already been spoken once, and some things are not easily forgotten. It would follow him, doggedly, throughout his childhood and into his teenage years.
It began only days after that first show-and-tell, when some especially resourcefulyoungcretins,whohadpumpedtheirparentsforinformationand had even been introduced to Boris Karloff, walked around the playground in front of Victor like arthritic zombies, wooden and stiff, flinging their limbs, waving off fire, growling, and then laughing hysterically.
Victor had never seen an actual photograph or drawing of his great-grandparents. Of course, by the time he was a teenager, he would have read the Shelley tale repeatedly, handed down to him through generations as a kind of family Bible. It was the history of his race—or, as it could be argued, the story of his species. While the "novel" would work on him profoundly, he would find the images of his great-grandfather in this record unhelpful, because before he could handle nineteenth-century prose, he had heard the stories so many times that pictures of his own had formed in his mind with the exactness and relentless tenacity of a home movie. And while he had seen most of them anyway, the films of the twentieth century had been summarily dismissed and forbidden by his family. All lies, they had said—the worst kind of Hollywood butchery, savage propaganda, an insult to the race and to their ancestors. And Victor agreed. He saw them out of curiosity. He had to know for himself. None of these other images, comical and sad, were powerful enough to displace the images he had formed in his own mind, though: people who had been constructed, yes, from parts harvested from the dead, but who were nevertheless beautiful, noble, and miraculous. Frightening? Only to those who had no appreciation for the art or who were unable to wrap their minds around the science or who were moralistic and cried sacrilege or who became unfortunate victims of Great-Granddad's rage. This was Victor's view of things, passed on to him from his mother and father, his aunts and uncles, and in large part from the woman he loved more than Mrs. Terhart and possibly more than his own mother: Grandma Elizabeth, who, while keeping the memories of the family alive and intact, was the person most responsible for the end of the art of making monsters.
In his bedroom, still sulking and smarting a little from the realization that he could not be open about his family's history just as he was becoming familiar enough with it and proud enough of it to actually discuss it, Grandma Elizabeth's voice came through his closed bedroom door. "Can I come in?" His parents were out of the house, and he was alone with Grandma. Without Victor's awareness, on that evening, Grandma Elizabeth was there by design for purposes other than to simply watch Victor while Mom and Dad were out. She had come to him with a gift.
She came into the room in her graceful, deliberate way, sat down next to him on his bed, and handed him the present.
"What is it, Grandma Elizabeth?"
"Feel it. Feel the package. Can you guess?"
"Yes, but I won't guess, Grandma. I want it to be a surprise."
"Let's not waste another minute. Open it, Victor."
Elizabeth had prepared herself to be disappointed. She was giving him a book that he would not be able to read until he was perhaps twice his present age—and even then with limited understanding—but Victor was thrilled to receive it. Elizabeth was pleased beyond all measure. The expression on her face made it seem as though the sun was shining on it. Indoors, at night, she lit up like a lamp. And Victor would never forget this moment.
"This is the story of the very beginning, Victor—the beginning of your family."
"Frankenstein." He recognized the word immediately.
"Yes, but I want to tell you the rest. I want you to know the rest. And I hope you will remember. I know you are young, but I am very, very old. And I will not be here very much longer."
"Where are you going, Grandma?"
"I will die soon, Victor."
"What does that mean?"
"It means—it means that I will no longer continue in this shape and form."
"Will you become light, Grandma Elizabeth?"
"Yes. I will become light."
By degrees and over time, Victor learned the story from Grandma Elizabeth, and later, but much sooner than anyone could imagine, the rest would fall into place. And as Victor knew he was meant to do, even as a second grader, somehow, someday, he would finish the story.
Of Bedtime Stories
Whenever Grandma Elizabeth visited from that point on, she made a ritual of tucking Victor into bed, and, as she told her daughter she would do, she "read" to him. Actually, she was presenting to Victor what would become known famously as the monster talk, telling Victor stories of the family's history. He would be able to read the story from Shelley when he grew older and smarter, yes, but mostly, and from memory, Grandma Elizabeth would speak of what happened after that story ended.
"My father, your great-granddad," she said on one of the first of these occasions, "was a genius. He was a little troubled from his experiences in Europe, but he was a great scientist, a linguist, a poet, a first-rate gardener and hunter, and a master builder. But he was very lonely. Instead of lying down to die, though, he had to experience what was always just out of his reach. So his desire to build a companion, someone to love, made the study of science the most important thing in the world to him, and before he moved to this country, he learned everything there was to know about his creator's art. And it came easy to him."
And Elizabeth went on to tell Victor about how his great-grandfather worked tirelessly and secretly for years in libraries and laboratories across Europe. He was fortunate in finding "donors" for everything he needed. "He called them donors," Elizabeth said, "so that he wouldn't feel so bad about the work he was doing."
"Why would he feel bad, Grandma?"
"Well, dear, because he was digging up graves and stealing dead bodies. And that's not very nice behavior in polite society."
"Oh." Victor was wide-eyed.
And Elizabeth continued. "Everything was going right for him, as if the universe was falling perfectly into place. He thought to himself, 'If it comes so easy, how could it be wrong?' So your great-granddaddy, he built himself the wife his creator refused to build."
"Wow," Victor said and closed his eyes.
Sometimes she kept talking even when she could not tell whether or not he was still with her. "I understand," she said, "that the awakening was a phenomenal thing to witness and experience—a throbbing, pulsating, gyrating, euphoric, galvanizing sensation that swirled through the veins and organs of both creator and created alike.
"Are you listening, sweetie?" She was happy to see that he had nodded off and was sound asleep.
The next time she was over for the weekly family dinner, Victor insisted that Grandma Elizabeth tuck him in. "Tell me about your mother," Victor said, and Elizabeth laughed for some mysterious reason.
"Yes, Victor. I will tell you that my mother was a beautiful monster, and Daddy loved her with every fiber of his being. And she came together easily, almost seamlessly, except for one tiny little problem. He used a rib. And he wasn't trying to be funny. It was a fact that this particular donor was missing a rib in a really important way, and he could not stand to see his wife shorted in this manner. He busted a gut, Victor, and gave up a rib. So we children referred to our parents as Adam and Eve!"
"I don't get it, Grandma. What does that have to do with Adam and Eve?"
"The Bible story, Victor, says that God created Eve from one of Adam's ribs."
"Is that a true story?"
"No, dear, that is what we call mythology. Some people believe it's literally true. And those people are very silly. Shall we continue?"
"Yes!" He was very excited, and Grandma worried only a little bit that tonight's story would have to be a long one.
"My father, remember, had no name, and so he didn't really name my mother. He preferred instead the use of pet names. His first words to her, after the awakening, were simply 'Bonjour, ma cherie.'"
"And from then on, for nearly a century, he continued to refer to her either as "my dear" or "my love," and she responded in kind. But we were not so brave as to call our parents Adam and Eve to their faces. We only joked about it with them once or twice in the whole of our existence together, kept the joke mostly to ourselves, and continued in the normal way to call them Papa and Mama. Mother was kind and caring and strong, and she was also smart as a whip. She learned to read—or relearned to read in her new life—with some of the greatest books of all time. And these are the books that we learned from: the Bible, Paradise Lost, Faust, Dante's Inferno."
"Will you read those to me?"
"They're pretty tough, Victor. But we can try sometime."
"Okay, so tell me how they got here, Grandma. How'd we get to America?"
These two lovers, Elizabeth told Victor, the monster and his new monster-bride, stowed away on an eighteenth-century war vessel headed for Boston as if they were booking a pleasure cruise. It was that easy. Elizabeth thought, but she was not sure, that somehow Adam had come by a great deal of money that he must have used to pay their way over. And when they arrived in the New World, they knew instinctively to travel quickly and stealthily due west, a hundred years before it would become fashionable to do so. They beat Lewis and Clark to the punch, pre-paved the Oregon Trail for the Expedition, and then turned sharply southward through California and into the dessert. And, being strong and resourceful and no strangers to adversity natural or unnatural (weather, difficult terrain, hostile natives, guilt, fear), nothing could stop them. They traveled, mostly on foot, thousands of miles across the continent and settled finally in Arizona. They quickly adapted to and then learned to love the heat of the place, the red rock, the dessert sand, the strange, otherworldly creatures, and the ever-present company of the sun and the stars.
"Grandma," Victor said, "how come you're so old?"
"Victor, that's no way to speak to your elders."
"No, you know what I mean. I mean, you're old. Really old. And so is Mama. It's like you're way older than most old people."
She knew what he was after. "For some reason, Victor, our species, our kind of people, are remarkably robust—I mean, we're really strong, built to last, as they say.
Adam and Eve both lived 150 years. And us children have had long lives. If we're lucky and something else doesn't come around and kill us, we keep going until we are very old indeed. We're a hearty, healthy brood. For some mysterious reason, we don't get diseases, and we don't wrinkle up like prunes. At 150, our daddy looked very much like he did the moment he wandered out into the world for the first time in Ingolstadt. Victor, we don't know why a creature created from parts of dead people would not have a rougher start to begin with. We don't know why the jumbled genetics from all of the various donors wouldn't cause certain problems in the development of the off spring. Did Dr. Frankenstein, and then later your great-grandfather, know hundreds of years ahead of his time something about the genetic imprint that triggers the aging process? Was the family line simply blessed somehow? We just don't know, Victor. There are people in the Bible stories who lived nearly a thousand years—but I think that's hogwash. Maybe, just maybe, some of those people were likewise endowed and lived 200 years and then Moses or whoever was writing those books just exaggerated a little bit. Hey, Victor, maybe they were monsters!" She decided to end this evening's monster talk on a light note, gave her knees a double pat with her hands as a signal, and reached over and affectionately tousled the boy's hair. "Good night, Victor."
Excerpted from monster talk by Michael Jarmer Copyright © 2012 by Michael Jarmer. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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