Horror & Wonder.
He stood looking out over the love garden, soaking in the golden sunshine, just glorying in the glow about the blood-red roses, how the flowers burst with fervor, delight, how the scent nearly lifted him off his feet. He was waiting for Anne, standing out on the balcony of their honeymoon suite, but as late as she was—as late as she ever was—Jack didn’t mind. He was too at peace. Everything was just too good. After so much pain and suffering, now he could relax, now he could be with Anne, and all was right with the world. He was a married man. Now he could rest.
He was about to call out to her, to nudge her along, but why should he? Let her dawdle. The roses would wait. He sighed and leaned against the balcony, staring down at their bench, their white, lovely bench, where they would be soon, smelling the scents, strolling hand in hand. It was their favorite place in all the world, their honeymoon bench. Ah, their lovely honeymoon on the Honey Moon, what could be better?
Jack supposed he might still be a little miffed with Punchinello, after all, the monster had kept Jack in an iron cage, with a slop bucket, for actual slop, with no blankets at night. Jack shivered, remembering the midnight promenades of the manikins, the featureless, faceless beings carved out of wood. He remembered them strolling about, with the uncanny whispers, the puppets arm and arm, as if they were in love and socializing, gathering in cliques, pairing off and lounging against walls—Jack could still imagine the smooth talk, the begging, the pleading, the lovers’ flirtation, and yet he had never distinguished a single word.
Enough of that. He was out. Punchinello was sufficiently contrite, sending Jack and Anne bouquets of white roses, bottles of white wine, and incredible white chocolates. The Puppet Master was even putting them up here at The Cross Keys, paying for their stay in the bridal suite. It was time for Jack to let all the pain go. Bygones be bygones, and all that bloody rot, what? Aye, say I, indeed, yes-indeedy-do de-doo-doo-doodles, and can we all get a big, fat aayy-men to that? Amen, and amen, y’all.
His soreness was abating, at least a bit. Perhaps his sensitive skin was getting used to all the...exercise. He had barely managed to convince his wife to tone down on the honeymooning, as he had taken to calling...it, if only a little. Three or four times a day should be enough, shouldn’t it? Well, that was the daytime routine, anyway, if Jack could hold her off a bit. The nighttime sessions were still a bit...well, long—usually lasting most of the night, sometimes Jack felt himself straying into the dream realm, and he was not at all certain about how much of the kissing, suckling, and all the perpetual motion—how much of it was a dream, and how much of it was reality, and sometimes, only sometimes mind you, it could all begin to slide into the realm of...nightmare.
Sometimes he had to wonder what exactly it was, the thing, that clutched at him from behind, that worried at him, gnawing, rather like a rat on the limb of a corpse. Sometimes Jack felt himself desiring to scream. What was that shape, that black silhouette moving above him, groaning like a zombie. He might scream, and then he probably would never stop screaming. He would scream, and scream, and scream, for forevermore.
But that would be crazy, wouldn’t it, amidst all this bliss? Together, here, with his dream lover, his soulmate—it was all beyond the fantastic. It was supernatural, his happiness, their shared ideal love. Idyllic. It was beyond his wildest dreams, his most surreal fantasies.
Anne was the ideal dream. The dream love.
Idyllic. Dybbuk. Demon. Dream lover. Succubus. Love vampire. Horror.
Yes, Jack was empty. He had to be, didn’t he? I mean, how was this even possible? It wasn’t like he was on the Blue Pill, or anything (why, oh why didn’t you choose the blue pill—was that from a movie? Jack couldn’t quite remember), but wasn’t the blue pill the...sex pill? To keep you from thinking, to keep you going, always, forever, constantly feverish, constantly trembling. He was constantly...erect. Even now, he felt like he needed to purchase some looser pants, because he was enormous, like he was trying to hide a walrus in the front of his pants. Weren’t you supposed to dial 9-1-1 when something like this lasted in excess of four hours? Talk about excess. How about a full week? And more?
The Walrus and the Carpenter—the walrus hid in his pants and the carpenter provided all the wood you could ever need. Jack should be able to build a mansion, at this point. It was raining oysters on their mansion made of wood.
Jack thought of that rabbit hole, and that strange, ugly white rabbit. He thought, again, of how he had wanted to dash and dive into that deep-looking hole. Before that nightmare in the chapel with the impressive clergyman from The Princess Bride.
Jack laughed. He remembered discussing William Goldman with Stacey.
“Jack!” Anne called. She always did that. It was like she somehow knew.
Oh well, he eased himself, all honeymooners experienced this, didn’t they? Especially on the Honey Moon. It has to be so, because Jack was no sex maniac, he wasn’t a nympho, was he? Okay, so he probably was, maybe a little. He had always been something of a horn dawg.
The truth was, he had been a virgin, until Anne. Everything had been mostly in his head—until things got out of hand, so to speak. Oh sure, he had a few make-out sessions, with that nut-job goth girl, Jack couldn’t even remember her name—from back in the real world. Real world, whatever that was. What an idea. What a concept. She had pressed Jack, grinding against him. They necked, they petted, and Jack was tempted—even despite his plans for waiting until he met...her, his she, his dream girl, his lady ghost—he had always believed she was there, just out of reach, searching for him as he searched for her.
That couldn’t have been...Seven, could it? No, that would be just too, you know, gross. Weird, he hadn’t thought of Seven, in like forever. She had slipped his mind. Out of sight, out of mind. No, Seven couldn’t be the girl of his dreams, she was like an old lady or something, in her twenties, sheesh. Still, how old was Anne? Like three thousand years old or something?
“Jack,” Anne called from the bedroom. Yes, she always knew, a real mind-reader, that Anne.
“Yes, Love?” he called.
“Don’t be naughty, Jack!” Anne called.
How in the world did she know? She always knew. If he thought of...anyone, really, from before, from all those other realities. Or if Jack was tempted to Google, or pull himself something he desired from AC. She had some kind of magic—womanly intuition?
What did it matter, Jack consoled himself. Data is data. Hadn’t Old Ben told him that, that data is data? Old Ben...
“Come along, Anne,” Jack said, exasperated, “the love garden is waiting! Let’s head down already, sheesh.”
“Don’t be impatient, Lover,” she called in her sing-song voice. She had a lovely voice, like a bird, a nightingale. She had such a beautiful voice, meant for...lullabies.
What had that two-book reading Tesla said about...lullabies?
Jack rolled his eyes. Damn it, but that got tiring. She bitched, all the day long, even if he just wanted to Google something about Olde London. Bitches be crazy. Hadn’t Old Ben told him that? Jack grinned. Or if he wanted to even think about a historical figure, such as Nikola Tesla, there was Anne, brushing her finger at him as if she wanted to start a fire with flint and steel.
Tesla. Of course, this Tesla wasn’t exactly historical. The guy strolling around in Olde London right now reading two books at the same time wasn’t exactly the same guy who had fought so long against Edison, proving tirelessly that alternating current kicked the ass of direct current. Here, instead of Edison, it was Frankenstein that stole all Tesla’s ideas.
Alternating current versus direct current. AC/DC, didn’t that have another meaning? Or was it the name of some old black group? Funny, how Jack couldn’t seem to remember anything these days. Not even music.
“Jack,” Anne said, appearing just on the edge of the balcony, in her shining white dress, giving him that oh-you-naughty-boy look. “Are you falling out of love with me, already, Lover Jack?”
Jack held open his arms and she rushed into them. He sighed. Yes, this was his Anne, all right, this was her. His she. All was well with the world. She clutched at Walrus, who wasn’t at all hidden that very well. Carpenter provided all the wood they would ever need, and how much wood could a woodchuck chuck?
Please, enough oysters, that was decidedly enough oysters, for goodness’ sake. But he was very apparent, old Mr. Walrus, basking on his rocks, his sore, sore rocks. What was the opposite of blue balls? Red balls? Definitely, red, inflamed balls. Why oh why didn’t I pick the blue balls? Sometimes the blue balls were the safe bet.
“Down to the garden, Love,” Jack said, steering her toward the balcony doors.
“Wouldn’t you like to love me, Jack, right now, right here?” Anne crooned, choking the life out of poor old Mr. Walrus.
Jack was about to argue, more out of exasperation than any other feeling, but then the knees of his mind buckled. He felt a little woozy. He felt drunk, because this young wife of his, his Anne, she truly was lovely. Lovely, lovely, lovely. He was utterly and absolutely punch drunk.
She pushed him and he stumbled backward, the backs of his knees hitting the edge of the white-iron bench, and he sat down. Anne lifted the skirts of her white dress and straddled him. What, out here, on the balcony, really? Okay, she was adjusting their clothes. He always enjoyed the variety of what she wore beneath the virginal outer clothing, yes, he did enjoy the silks, the satins—Victoria’s Secret had nothing on Olde London, and Jack did admire her...imagination. And all of her.
The ground shook.
Anne froze in his arms, her eyes suddenly terrified. In this brief moment, Jack hardly recognized her. Her body locked up and clamped down, Jack almost shrieked in pain as her limbs wound about him. She was choking his whole body.
The ground trembled again, and Jack’s first thought was—sonic boom—but, of course, nothing in this world ever came close to the speed of sound. The scientists here scoffed at such an idea. Jack was certain that Nikola Tesla would not scoff at the idea. Then he thought it must be the first inklings of an earthquake, although he had been in a few of those and this was nothing like that. It sounded more like a vast giant, taking its first tentative steps, waking up to its hunger for human flesh, grinding those bones, oh that bread!
“Jack! Jack! Help me Jack!” Anne cried, quivering atop him.
“What’s wrong, here, Anne, climb off of me,” Jack muttered, trying to wrestle her off him, but it was far too late for that, as she was rooted to him, or more accurately he was rooted to her, but even so, all her sexuality was gone, and she was obviously terrified.
Again, she did not look like herself. It was as if he were pinned to a stranger, her pale face almost a blur just above his head. Her eyes looked too bulbous. Alien. Her small, serrated teeth glared out, looking almost like bunny rabbit buckteeth. She whimpered and her eyes rolled all about in her head, like someone suffering a seizure.
The ground shook again, and a moment later there was an echoing bang. The bang sounded as if someone had slammed the lid on a grand piano the size of a blue whale.
He attempted to wrestle her off him again, but her legs clamped around his waist, and she was squeezing him too hard, and he felt her nails digging into his back. He gritted his teeth and looked out over the gardens and it was just at that moment that a sizzling arc of blue electricity flashed over the city. It was just an instant, like a strobe light, but its brightness left behind a red afterimage.
“What in the world!” Jack cried, standing, wearing Anne like a hotdog bun, his pants pooled about his ankles. That flash! It was a thin beam of lightning, arching high over the city, a crackling arc, instantaneous like lightning, but so loud, so powerful, and so bizarrely blue, bright blue, like a small gas flame extended and stretched for miles.
The ground shook again, harder, but only for a few moments, and within a second of the last reverberation there was an answering, echoing BOOM, which must be explosives, far away. Must be cannon fire, Jack thought, again trying to push Anne off him. She felt like wood, and she seemed far too heavy as she squeezed down upon him. Every part of her clamped down as if the world were ending, and Jack knew he would die if this continued.
“Get off me!” he cried, tugging at her arms, but he could not budge her.
“Jack! Please! I love you! Haven’t I been a good wife to ye?” she said, and some weird accent was taking over, and her eyes did not look like her eyes, or eyes at all, but more like glowing windows, yellow, pulsing.
“Please Anne you’re hurting me!” he bellowed, tipping all about the balcony, drunkenly, nearly tripping over his hobbled ankles.
“I love ye Jack! Me husband! Please dinna lemme die me Jack!” she shrieked, jerking him, and he cried out, in terrible pain, and yet attached to her most intimately, and they finally fell over as Jack convulsed, his loins in spasm. He could not believe he could climax at a time like this, but it was as if she had just brutally squeezed it out of him, choked it out of him, and he coughed and groaned. They lay now, side by side upon the tiled floor of the balcony, face to face, and Anne screamed once, as if Jack’s fluids seared her, and then she jerked, and began issuing a high-pitched mechanical squeal, and to Jack’s horror he watched as smoke billowed up from both her ears, and then from her nose and mouth, and eyes, and Jack felt her body heat flare in intensity—spontaneous human combustion! She was beginning to burn, and Jack was locked to her body.
“Jack! Jack! Come back!” someone yelled, it seemed right by his ear, but when he looked to the side he was alone, only Anne was here, and still she made that terrible inhuman squeal, like metal grating together with metal. Sparks shot out of her mouth.
I’m dying here, right now, with Anne, Jack thought, pain suffusing his body, and he felt he was made of wood, and that wood was now catching fire. At least I’m dying with her, at least we’re dying together, he thought.
Because the face staring at him had no life in it. It did not even look human. And his vision darkened, and the thing burning against him, lashed to him, seemed farther and farther away, growing smaller, and Jack wished to scream out against the world and fate as he felt his life diminish, but he had no strength, not even the strength remaining for a last scream, and he seized Anne’s body in his stiffening fingers, and he held her, his mouth close to hers, and he tried to kiss her, just one last kiss, please, but even that was denied him.
Two puppets—genius things made of sculpted wood and glass, leather and lace—lay entwined upon the balcony, holding each other, faces close. One looked as if it were trying to kiss the other, and the other looked as if it were screaming, eternally screaming.
Smoke lifted lazily from their bodies, as the ground shook again, and a distant boom echoed over the city of Olde London.
Jack was gone.
Adam moaned. The creature stood trembling, clearly afraid to enter the next chamber. It turned its massive head and rolled its ghastly eyes down to stare pleadingly at Tesla. The inventor stared up at the giant a few moments—when you were around the creature for a short time, it seemed more or less like any other person; somewhat inarticulate, that was true, and there was a peculiar odor suggesting that the reanimated dead body had not had a bath, probably since its massive body was alive in the many other bodies in a prior existences. But there was something childlike about Adam, something innocent.
Physically, everything about Adam was too large—Frankenstein had obviously been aiming at an ideal of horror, a being too strong to be contained by even twenty average men, and while Adam was alive, the poor thing was not alive in the usual sense of the world, for the whole titanic body reeked with gangrene, and maggots writhed openly in various abrasions and scabbed-over wounds. Most of its fingers were so abraded as to barely pass as working fingers, a bone showing through on the right-hand middle finger. And yet Adam walked, with power. Tesla could not ascertain whether the creature was healing, or whether it was perpetually rotting.
Apparently, Frankenstein had purposefully created the monster with high pain tolerance, and yet the poor creature was remarkably sensitive. It had glimpsed what was in the next chamber, and even it, with all its might, was terrified of the sight within.
It did not enjoy pain and suffering, especially when those terrible sights included children, and almost everything in this monstrous place included children, or the parts of children. That army of child catchers had excelled in their labors, and the creatures had very busy, especially of late. There was hardly a street child wandering the outer world.
Tesla gulped. Normally, he was able to scientifically remove himself from any momentary emotion, through the exercise of logic, and speculation. Under normal circumstance, he was just a very curious man that liked to figure out how things worked. But some of the things they had already witnessed in Punchinello’s Horror House, well it was too much for any sane man.
“You wait right here at the door, Adam. Let me past. But think about when he emerge from this hell, concentrate on that. We will do something nice, something you like, think about that,” Tesla said, patting the giant’s arm, which was far bigger around than both of Tesla’s legs, together.
“Nice cuppa tea,” Adam moaned. Tesla was barely able to discern the words, so garbled and so wounded was Adam’s slash of a mouth. “Cuppa tea, milk, and seven lumps sugar.”
That was clear enough.
“Yes, we will sit down to a nice cuppa tea, Adam. You may have seven lumps of sugar in as many cups as you would like,” Tesla said, feeling dazed. He had already self-diagnosed himself a concussion, with a lot of eternal bleeding, and right now he would enjoy nothing more than to lie down here on the floor and go to sleep, and so he kept himself moving, searching. “Perhaps a few biscuits, as well, if you would like.”
The monster moaned, but continued to murmur about a nice cuppa.
Frankenstein’s monster was bringing them down, level after level, far below the surface of the street outside. Each successive level down exposed the pair to worsening visions of death, and suffering, and horror. Punchinello was heavy on the horror, as if it were part of the overall decor.
Tesla discharged his tuning forks on each level, ridding the world of the living dead creatures that still moved—most of them, the ones that included puppetry, were disabled beyond threat. But on these lower levels, there was less puppetry and more and more zombies.
“Good,” Adam murmured. There was definitely something of the zombie in the giant, although unlike any of the zombies Tesla had observed, Adam could think, and felt the baser emotions. “Good tea, nice cuppa. Sugar. Milk.”
Tesla pushed the monster back away from the door. He imagined it was like trying to push a full-size grizzly bear, but Adam complied, happy to move away from the horror within the chamber. The room was blackness. Tesla had ascertained that unlike himself, Adam was able to see in the dark, like a cat. The creature’s pupils were large slits that expanded very wide in eyes made from many eyes.
Tesla adjusted his goggles, and although damaged, the right lens still provided enough magnification of illumination that he was able to catch sight of the body parts squirming away at his approach.
Tesla checked his capacitors, which were getting low. Unfortunately, this far under the ground, with all the shielding that Punchinello had installed, Tesla could no longer receive charges through the air from his tower situated far away on the White Cliffs of Dover. But hopefully, he had enough charges remaining to locate any living prisoners.
As yet, there had been none.
Tesla entered the chamber, six levels beneath street level, a vast hall, some kind of dark workroom, whispering with sound. It was the sound of slithering appendages, zombie arms and legs, and headless torsos. There were no mechanicals in this chamber, no automatons, no clockwork—this was the handiwork of Doctor Frankenstein. These were the reanimated.
Although Tesla could not in any way discern the purpose of this chamber, this dark workroom, save for the certain relish of horror in it. Either Punchinello or Frankenstein, perhaps working together, enjoyed themselves herein.
Apparently, the objective for all of these pieces was to fit together the zombie flesh in new and various ways, like some sort of children’s puzzle game.
A large “ball” rolled past in the dark, animated with some unknown sentience, a ball comprised of human arms, attached somehow in the middle, perhaps the shoulder sockets were plugged into some form of adapted human head. It rolled close to Tesla, doing an investigatory pass. Tesla aimed one tuning fork at the ball, but did not squeeze the trigger. He hated to admit it, but he was curious—what was this all about?
The ball moved on its hands, the fingers articulating its passage, shifting the bulk of its weight from hand to hand, rolling quite smoothly and changing direction neatly. The thing knew what it was doing. There was a mind at play here, contained in the center of that mass of arms and hands. At the top, the ball was as tall as Tesla’s chest, so these were small arms and hands—Punchinello had been using the parts of children, like dolls, for his fun and games and ghastly puppet shows.
Glancing about, Tesla shifted his eyes nervously. He did not wish to look at anything in this place for too long. Once the eyes beheld these images, his mind would never forget them. For there must be a hundred torsos fastened to the walls, interchangeable parts, there was a wall that was a collection of arms. Tesla glanced about, spinning his body, attempting not to look at anything directly. Temporary partitions stood like art gallery display boards, only what hung there were the half-heads of both children and adults, displaying the living faces that could be selected, Tesla surmised, and fitted to puppet heads—apparently, you could select your pieces here, and fashion exactly the kind of “person” you desired. The faces moved, stretching the mouths, the eyes rolled unseeing, and the noses twitched as if a sneeze loomed.
Tesla stood, his legs trembling. Sweat poured down his body. He was in danger of shocking himself whenever he pulled either trigger. He was exhausted.
The thought occurred to him that this horror house could be used as a place of discovery. A laboratory to delve that ephemeral line between life and death. Given the right mind, science might progress with this grim opportunity; however, he was certainly not the man to dabble in such sorcery, and he never wished to meet the man with the mind that would exult in this opportunity. This was evil. These were the base pieces of what had once been life, personalities, fears and loves and hopes—reduced to interchangeable plug-and-fit parts.
In one corner, plugged into batteries, was what appeared to be a large fish aquarium, bubbling with fluids. Even from this distance of fifty feet, Tesla recognized the thing that moved inside that horror tank. Was it now, thinking thoughts? Perhaps remembering when it was a person, housed in a skull? Perhaps it was living a virtual life, still imagining itself a person?
The thought struck Tesla, what if that was him in such a tank, and all of this, all that was happening now, happened only in his mind—this could all be a virtual exercise, as Punchinello introduced various electrical stimuli, producing sensations, thoughts, and memories. Despite himself, Tesla shuddered. Wherever you were, or whatever you attempted, it was best to do so with all your might, regardless of the varied fancies suggested in these dark times.
Tesla pulled the triggers, arcing electricity and ululating currents of sound across the walls and partitions. He shook his tuning forks, twisting them to produce the hands of miniature lightning that arced out before him, leaping to each grounded bit of animated flesh, frying arms and torsos and legs, faces, all the twitching parts. The tank in the corner erupted in gouts of steaming fluids. The room illuminated with flashing blue strobe, as he turned about, targeting anything that moved—and everything in this chamber...moved. This unhallowed flesh was not alive, but it was animated.
Toward the end of the nightmare, Tesla turned abruptly as the arm-ball attacked him, rolling out swiftly from the shadows upon the flashing palms of its many, many hands. Tesla blasted it, feeling something of remorse, as the thing obviously wished to remain alive, as it fought for its reanimated state of being. But it was awful—awesome, true, Tesla had to admit that—and it could not be allowed to survive.
When all was irrevocably dead that should be dead, Tesla released the grip of his convulsing fingers, cutting off the flow of electrical juice. After such a discharge, the capacitors would surely be low. Each step he took provided a slim boost to the capacitors in his metal boots, but he would need to walk for a full day to attain even a half-charge. But he must continue, and hope for the best.
He startled. Adam was near him, standing two steps away—Tesla did not even hear the behemoth approach. It was true, his hearing was mostly gone, despite his precautions, but the creature could move with the stealth of a cat when it chose to do so.
“Better,” Adam said.
“Yes, decidedly better,” Tesla replied.
Above, an explosion shook the building. It must be high above, perhaps on the second floor above the street level, which is where Punchinello housed most of his steam engines and vast Tesla coils. There might not be a way out of this place, at least not traveling upward. Tesla did not concern himself with such thoughts. If they could not escape the way they had entered, they would just have to find another passage to liberation. He would entertain those thoughts only when he had located the captives.
He hoped there were captives, living people.
The greatest danger now was that the whole complex would come down, Punchinello’s entire Theatre, collapsing in upon itself. Everything above would end up down here, where Tesla and the creature stood.
Adam pointed to the far side of the chamber, where the aquarium had stood.
“Jack,” Adam murmured.
“Good then, Jack,” Tesla acknowledged, patting the giant upon the arm. “Shall we proceed?”
The creature stared at him. There was something different about the thing. It was looking at Tesla very differently. Danger was evident in those strange elongated eyes.
“Friend?” Tesla inquired.
The monster stared at him, and then slowly, it nodded.
“Good. Very well, indeed. Adam, friend,” Tesla said, drawing his arm across his face to clear away the sweat that was streaming from him.
“Kill him,” Adam said.
Tesla stared up at Adam. Tesla was a tall man, six-foot-two inches tall, but he had to crane his neck to look up at Adam in the dark—saying the phrase, eight feet tall, that’s one thing, but standing next to such a being, it was difficult to comprehend, even for Nikola Tesla.
“Kill him?” Tesla said, unsure if he had heard the giant correctly.
“Yes. Tesla, friend. Kill him,” Adam moaned.
“Kill...whom?” Tesla inquired, his hackles rising.
“Adam,” Adam said. “Kill him. Fire. Tesla kill Adam.”
“No,” Tesla said, squaring his shoulders. “Tesla...that is to say, me, I—I do not kill Adam. I do not kill my friend. I help my friend. My friend helps me. You saved my life, Adam.”
“Kill him,” Adam said.
“We shall talk of this matter, later,” Tesla said, shaking his head, recollecting himself. “Right now we must find Jack, and the others—if there are any alive in this hell. Do not talk of killing Adam.”
“Adam, no,” Adam said, looking positively thoughtful. “No say. Other, say. Him. Punch.”
Debating with a monster, a babbling monster, Tesla thought, shaking his head. He set out to the far corner of the dark workroom, where a low doorway was evident. His goggles flickered a bit, which did not bode well. If it came down to it, he might fashion some form of torch, produce a little flame to see by, and he reminded himself to keep out an eye for any such materials which might be drawn together to fashion such an implement.
Tesla glanced back. Adam had not moved.
“Come, Adam,” Tesla called. The monster stood, regarding him.
“He, here,” the monster moaned. “Punch.”
Tesla considered. He thought through Adam’s words. Adam, no. No say. Other, say. Him. Punch. He, here.
Tesla worked it out, forming a sentence or two, into his own words, a possible interpretation being: Adam, no, Adam did not say this, about killing Adam, that Tesla should kill Adam. The other, Punchinello, he said it. Punchinello is here.
Gooseflesh writhed along Tesla’s neck and back. Yes, that is probably what Adam was attempting to communicate. That Punchinello was yet present, still attempting to control the minds closest to him, which in this case would be Tesla, and Adam. He remembered earlier, when he had paused, considering the potential continuation of Frankenstein’s work here, keeping some of the bits produced by Punchinello, for purposes of experimentation. Those had not been his thoughts. For a moment or two, he had felt true temptation, as if the devil himself stood just behind him, and whispered into his ear.
He patted the insulated box at his hip. This was Punchinello, what remained of the Puppet Master, here in this box. Tesla had prepared this outer box to contain Punch, if he were successful in destroying the monster, and now here was Punch, still trying to manipulate those about him, inserting thoughts into both of their minds. Somehow, Punch was still dangerous. Tesla was puzzled, as this insulated box should provide at least some shielding. Apparently, it was not working as well as he had hoped.
Tesla checked the connections and was surprised to find that his grounding wire had loosened, it now hung free—when receiving the golden box from Adam, Tesla had inserted it carefully into this insulated box, and he had attached the wires to his belt, and somehow, it did not seem possible, the black wire had pulled loose. Tesla carefully reattached the wire, plugging it into the capacitor array on his belt, this time twisting the wire savagely, actually cutting his finger in the process.
“Adam,” Tesla said, beckoning to the giant who stood there like a pillar, “Punchinello is still present, in one form, but very, very small. He is here, in this box. But he can do nothing. He can only harm us if we listen to him. Do not listen to him. If he talks, inside your head, please inform me. Tell me if you hear Punch again, please.”
The creature moaned, and then took a few slow steps in Tesla’s direction.
“Better,” Adam said.
“Good man,” Tesla said, nodding curtly, turning to head toward the low doorway.
“Good man,” Adam repeated, in perfectly clear English, loud and distinct.
“At least my hearing seems to be returning, a little,” Tesla muttered.
He couldn’t bemoan his hearing that terribly, as he retained the ability to see, he thought, tapping at his goggles, which flickered illumination, perhaps five percent in the left lens, seventy percent in the right. They had spent far too long in the bowels of this hell, and now their time was running out.
They entered the low corridor through the doorway, both companions ducking down—poor Adam had to practically crawl in what turned out to be a tunnel comprised of brickwork, Tesla strode with his head bowed, the brick ceiling half an inch above him.
They proceeded in this fashion for entirely too long—they must now have left the grounds of Punchinello’s Theatre, entirely, and must be at least several streets away. Despite his wonderful sense of direction, Tesla was now completely baffled as to which direction they were heading, and where in relation to their starting point they now found themselves, as this tunnel seemed to be slanting off, even curving in a few places—and this after the confusing maze above them, in Punchinello’s Theatre, the veritable Horroratorium. No, there would be no coming back this way, as the explosions continued, shaking the very tunnel.
As they walked, growing weary in their unnatural posture, Tesla constantly checked the wiring leading to the insulated box. It was connected. And in truth, he did feel a little less punch drunk. Punchinello always had that effect on people, hypnotizing them, influencing them, controlling them, convincing them, entrapping them, and always misleading them. Tesla patted the box—no more, my monster, he thought.
Another explosion echoed through the ground and passages, sounding very distant, but concussively loud, the ground trembling ominously. Dust settled down upon them and they both coughed, but kept going, through the dark—Tesla receiving only dim, flickering light in his right eye, the left lens of his goggles was now dead entirely.
It was odd to think that Adam, following close behind, could probably see perfectly well here in a place without any form of illumination.
Adam’s stench seemed entirely too strong in these close corridors, which were rescinding about them, poor Adam was now moving sideways and often bumbled into Tesla, who kept stumbling, more from his weariness than due to the uneven ground, which had jutting bricks at irregular intervals. For a moment Tesla worried that the passage would constrict until the monster would be unable to follow, but then he recollected that Adam must have been here before, that he knew and had used this passage.
Many times they came to offshoot passages, even once a crossroads of sorts, but the creature always knew the way, pointing an extended finger in the direction they should go.
“How much farther?” Tesla gasped.
Adam moaned, sounding exactly like the zombies that sometimes escaped Frankenstein’s domain, to roam the countryside and terrorize the villagers. If he had intended to express any thought, Tesla could not discern any words in the ghastly murmur.
They now found themselves heading distinctly downward, so steeply that Tesla had to slow and pick his footing, lest he tumble headfirst into some pit unseen before them, but at least the passage was opening a bit, on the sides. His right goggle lens was now performing at only fifty percent illumination. Soon Tesla could no longer stretch his hands from side to side and touch the walls, even reaching with his tuning forks. Finally, after what must be half an hour, the ground leveled again, and now even Adam was able to walk upright. The brickwork was gone.
This seemed to be a tunnel, either a naturally formed tunnel, or created by some vast machine—Tesla was aware that Jules Verne was said to be working on some such device, which might journey to the very center of the world, at least that was the bandied rumor in the cigar and brandy clubs of the gentlemen of Olde London. Tesla had once attempted to contact the author, but had received a brief note stating that no friend of Frankenstein was a friend of Jules Verne.
Tesla paused in an attempt to orient himself. It was odd, but he could sense vast open spaces about them, as if they were now somehow outside, emerging from the ground, but he knew this was not so, as they were just too far down, perhaps two hundred feet below the surface. The ground shook beneath them, feeling like a mild earthquake, or the approach of an advancing giant. He lifted his head and sniffed the air—it was surprisingly fresh, notwithstanding the closeness of Adam.
“Come, Friend, follow,” Adam said, again sounding completely comprehensible, speaking perfect English, and the creature set off. Tesla managed to reach out and catch onto the creature’s wide leather belt, an accessory of clothing used in the binding of the creature, as there were several protruding rings of iron set into the belt, and Tesla clutched at one of these, allowing Adam to pull him along.
After a long interval of brisk striding, Tesla called a halt. He needed to rest a moment, and take in the spectacle before them, for down across a series of low-flung hills, was what appeared to be a village, completely illuminated with gas lighting. It glittered before them in the preternatural darkness of the underworld.
Adam swung a hand out, indicating the village.
“Frankenstein,” he said.
The good doctor had intimated to Tesla, over brandy and cigars, that he had his own village tucked away somewhere, hidden from the world. Whenever Tesla or any of the other gentlemen had attempted to question him further, Frankenstein merely smiled, and refused to tell them any additional facts. They were his people, he said, and they understood his work, and mission, if none in Olde London did. They took care of him, honoring him, and he protected them, and ruled them with benevolence.
Without a word Adam continued, now following a clear path that lead out of the foothills onto a sort of undulating plane of sand and strange, smooth rocks. Tesla guessed that at some time in the distant past, this was all a subterranean ocean, now dry. They passed a cliff of tall stone featuring a waterfall that smelled of fresh water, that gathered into a small lake. Tesla was immensely thirsty, but they were separated from the pool by hundreds of feet of jagged rocks that were a natural barrier wall. He wasn’t certain, but from this distance, it seemed that creatures swam in those waters—before he allowed his imagination to run amok, he turned his eyes away from the lake.
Looking about Tesla was amazed that he could somehow see now, with both eyes. He pushed back his goggles and saw that high above them, perhaps a hundred feet or more, there were patches glowing with dim, green light, perhaps lichens, or something else, something Tesla did not understand. There seemed to be crystal formations hanging down, and these either created some of the light, or at least reflected and magnified the glowing patches.
They were in a vast valley that seemed to go on further than the eye could see, it seemed there were distant mountains, miles away, that glowed beautifully with azure light, and a river that sparkled in a jade glow, that ran from back where the waterfall filled the lake. Tesla marveled, for it was some form of wonderland down here.
He wondered if Lewis Carroll had ever visited Frankenstein in this place, for he could certainly imagine Alice wandering this path.
As his eyes adjusted to the surreal light, he found that his vision was sharpening, and he noticed that many of the rock formations along the pathway glowed, and that even the sand of the path produced some mulled light, all its own, pale and earthy. It was uncanny, and very strange, but he had to admit it, this was one of the most beautiful sights he had ever beheld, comparable to an inverted sunrise or sunset, the colors quiet, and muted, but yet full of illumination, and dark glory.
This was the most awesome adventure of his life, and even if he were to die in this underworld, he would consider himself the most fortunate man alive. He lived in very strange times, and it was wonderful, and terrible.
He now strode along beside Adam, who had finally slowed, and they walked upon the path that was wide enough for a carriage. Tesla laughed, because there growing beside the path was a patch of mushroom, truly immense mushrooms, as broad as a serving platter, and these fungi glowed with lavender shine, accented by spots of deep maroon.
They had passed from horror into wonder. Horror and wonder, Tesla’s head reeled. He was so affected by the colors that he found himself smiling, dazedly. He glanced up at Adam, who also appeared to have gentled, plodding along with a contented gaze, so unlike the fury Tesla had witnessed upon that scarred visage. The colors seeped into his soul, and while his capacitors might be drained, his spirit seemed encouraged, flooded with new hope, against all odds.
Tesla had known Frankenstein prior to their acquaintanceship with Punchinello. Doctor Frankenstein—Victor—was a good man. He had been a good man. His greatest dream had been to lift man to Darwin’s next level, to a higher form, to a state of universal benevolence. He wanted immortality, not for himself, but for all men, that had been his lofty goal. But working with Punchinello had changed the doctor. He had tasted power, otherworldly power, and he wanted more, he had learned the most evil greed, that he now believed that his life was above other lives, and that those lives should enable him to achieve his wildest goals.
Sadly, Adam here walking at Tesla’s side, was one of those early successes of the good doctor, from the pre-Punch days. And Frankenstein had felt true horror at this, his creation. But empowered by Punch, Frankenstein had now crossed lines, challenging all the taboos and inhibitions of civilization. Innocent children had become the grist and fodder for his zombie mills, and puppets had become almost indistinguishable from people. From universal empathy and elevation, Frankenstein had descended into madness.
Men like Tesla must make their stand, and call a halt to this madness. Punchinello was down, and now it was time to perform the same mercy with the mad doctor, Frankenstein.
They were now entering the main street of the bustling village. Glancing about, Tesla’s spine ran cold. He was catching his first glimpses of the villagers. From horror, to wonder, and now, they were back to the horror again. In his first thirty-two seconds, standing wide-eyed at the mouth of main street, Tesla witnessed more horrors than he might have ever imagined in his former lifetime.
For here was a happy shopper, with two heads (perfectly normal seeming civilized women, were those two heads, but apparently one preferred the green scarf, while the other liked the red), and a man with a huge spread-out face filling his entire naked chest, with nothing but a vestigial lump topping his neck. Children played in the street, but many of them had too many eyes, some of them had absolutely no eyes, and others laughed and played upon a wheel of legs, similar to the arm-ball in the darkroom—if Tesla had acted a day later, that arm-ball would probably be rolling here with the other “children.”
A beautiful woman with the neck of a giraffe chatted with a woman laid out like a millipede, only all her legs were human legs, running the twenty-one-foot length of her slim, lithesome body (it was obviously several bodies grafted together, but with only one pair of arms, up near the normal torso where her average-looking head smiled and gossiped). Together the two women were enjoying a nice cuppa tea.
An odd creature, headless, cavorted in the street, propelled forward on two massive arms bulging with muscles, its foreshortened torso dangling a pair of stunted legs, which merely kicked its toes daintily at the ground between the giant arms. Despite its lack of face or features, the creature seemed...happy. It was actually skipping about on its massive hands, and the children laughed and danced about it.
So, this was Frankenstein’s Utopia.
“Home,” Adam said, nodding his head.
“Quite lovely,” Tesla said, and actually, it was very obviously an expensive, quaint little marketplace center. These were not hovels, or shacks thrown up, but rich woods, intricately carved by the best craftsmen, an exquisitely cast-metal fountain bubbled in the middle of town square featuring a statute of Frankenstein with jewel-bedecked children gathered lovingly about him—Frankenstein had spared no expense in creating this underworld haven. The whole village seemed laid out with mathematical certainty, with a certain equality of shape and form—everything seemed to fit, and really, the people did somehow seem magical. Perhaps this was Darwin’s next level.
The people, although freakishly strange in any conventional sense of people, here amidst their own kind—these seemed happy, socialized folk, with no sign of trouble, up and down the broad street. Giants on too-long legs strolled with dwarves without legs, the multiple-limbed chatted with the limbless, and some truly beautiful people, tall and lithe with long white hair that suspended as low as their long, shapely legs, stood about, holding each other—and it was only after gawking at them for many wondering moments, that Tesla realized each of these couples were actually solitary people, two people combined into one person, hermaphroditic and at peace with their plight, combining the best of both sexes. Tesla shook himself. That actually seemed quite nice, as disturbing as it was.
The people were happy, well adjusted, and the village was cleaner and nicer than any Tesla had ever seen. Or, as Tesla feared, was he only seeing what Frankenstein wished for him to see? The truth was, he doubted that Frankenstein would ever allow another man from the above world to visit this haven of the truly bizarre, his masterwork, his own heaven upon the Honey Moon, inside it. It had taken the fall of Punchinello for anyone to gain access.
“Jack,” Adam said, pointing toward a long Nordic-looking building, high-peaked, made of rough blond woods, massive and clean. The sides of the building were all great logs, some of them single logs reaching from the front of the lodge to the very end. Tesla doubted any of these trees had grown down here—it must have been a terrific expense to construct this subterranean village, including this massive Nordic structure. A towering sign outside the lodge proclaimed it the Hall of Villainy.
“That just might be the place,” Tesla said, clapping the giant on the back, as they started as one toward the front entrance, which seemed to be deserted.
They strolled past smiling-faced freaks, some of them only had a smile on their face, no nose, no eyes, and some of the people looked utterly normal, though Tesla kept himself from wondering exactly what manner of horror lurked beneath their smiles and clothing, while others nodded, offering treats, or beverages. Tesla did not think this was the proper place for their nice cuppa tea with seven sugars and milk, so he politely shook his head, curtly dismissing the offers, but smiling nonetheless.
“Good,” Adam said, walking woodenly forward, arms hanging straight down, his big, bare feet thudding with the gravity of Clydesdale hooves on the cobbles of the street. The creature moaned.
Finally, they stood before the Hall of Villains. They paused, neither eager to head through the mighty double doors. But then Tesla steeled himself, and mounted the wooden steps leading up to the lodge, and reluctantly, Adam followed. Tesla tried the doors.
The doors opened.
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© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).
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