London, England 1888
He was saving her life, and she shot him. The rain washed blood from his chest to his toes as it failed miserably to muffle the sound of her scream as he wrenched the pistol from her hand and pulled her to him, his arms a prison. The lightning struck the sky like a fist from a cruel god, illuminating the dark London alley. For a second the world was revealed in all its violent glory. The woman screamed again, not because of the dead man lying nearby, neck broken, but because the sight before her was a nightmare come to life. At that moment Adam Frankenstein, the creation of a madman and an evil witch, knew the woman he had just saved would have traded her savior for a villain without hesitation.
He covered her mouth, looking down into blue eyes that no longer saw hope of rescue, but mirrored every terror-filled face he’d ever seen. Or, rather, that had seen him. Adam searched for weeks to find her despite his loathing of the city and difficulties that came with needing to question, without being seen. A cloak could hide his disfigurements, but not his large size. Help was hard to come by even without the fear of a killer walking the streets, killing women in Whitechapel. He’d hired a man of unscrupulous morals, questionable methods but desperate financial predicament to help him in his quest. It led to finding the woman, but unfortunately, the man kidnapped her from her lover’s apartment to an undisclosed place while he negotiated a ransom for her release.
Adam glanced at the dead body again, pants down to his knees, ass glowing white in the darkness. Tram, or so the man called himself, apparently thought he would rape the girl, slit her throat and leave the blame to the Ripper as a way to prove he was not to be trifled with when Adam refused to pay up.
Lightning struck again and the woman fainted, saving him from another long, shrill scream. Limp in his arms, he picked her up, threw her over his shoulder and walked to the open mouth of the alley. The cold, the rain, the Ripper all kept the streets empty, though he felt eyes on him as he moved north where he had a covered carriage waiting. No one called out to stop him and no whistles gave him away to the police. Adam found the carriage just as he had left it, unmolested. He laid the woman inside, not bothering to put her on the seat, but leaving her on the floor. He considered tying and gagging her, but doubted she would be willing to leap from a moving carriage, so he shut the door, climbed up in the seat outside, took the reins and made haste out of the city.
The horses sped along the dark road unafraid of the lightning. Adam cursed his change of plans as one of the wheels hit a large rock jostling the carriage and causing him to twist in a way that tore at the wound in his chest. It was a three day ride to return the woman to her father, the man who had hired him. The old mage had requested The League of Supernatural Hunters, a group created by Adam’s one and only friend, Mary Shelley, to help find the girl but she’d not been kidnapped, she’d run away and no supernatural being had been involved other than the father himself. The League refused him, but they owed him a debt from a previous mission in which the man had been useful in stopping a werewolf, so, knowing he was freelancing, they’d asked Adam if he wanted the job. Adam was never part of the League, but they had a common goal; kill creatures who posed a threat. The difference was, Adam included all creatures, not just those with supernatural abilities. He realized early in his life that humans were monsters too and that he had no prejudice regarding who or what needed killing.
The old mage had no money to speak of, but he would owe Adam a favor and sometimes favors were more valuable than money. The old man had recently lost his wife, so when his daughter ran away with one of the Queen’s soldiers he’d become despondent and agitated, even frantic to find her. Adam cared little for the man’s opinion of his daughter’s lover, but the old man had shown no fear of Adam, offered him tea, food, and respect, so Adam agreed to the terms.
“It is of the greatest importance to me that she is found immediately,” the old man, Stefano Polleno, said, arms waving in the air, one hand pulling at his wild salt and pepper colored hair. “My Helena is fragile, sick. She’s not recovered from the death of her dear mother. This solider has taken advantage of her, taken her from me when I need her most. He will use her and leave her to the dogs!”
In his agitation, the man accidentally kicked the small dog that’d been following him from one end of the large open room of the hut to the other. It yelped, stopping the man in his tracks and he picked the thing up. Adam had little knowledge of dogs other than the wild ones he’d come across. He knew humans often took them in as pets, but he’d not personally seen any this small. The creature was no larger than a loaf of bread and certainly no heavier than the crossbow slung across his back. It was normal in most ways, having four legs, a tail, and fur, but it had unusual colors; primarily it was black and gray, but with tan markings on its face and feet. The small dark eyes peered at him, tail wagging as the man stroked its fur, apologizing for his carelessness.
“Oh, little Bella,” Stefano cried, his Italian accent stronger with emotion. “Am I to hurt and lose you as well? No. No, I do not think you would leave me, my Bella. My loyal friend.” He kissed the dog’s head and sat her back down, looking at her as she sat at his feet seeming to hesitate for just a fraction of a second before looking back up at him. Stefano looked to Adam and managed a smile, less agitated after holding the dog. “Bella is my touchstone you see,” he explained. “She calms me.”
Adam, unused to conversation, answered, “The little creature is important to you.”
“She has been my companion longer than any,” he answered. “There is no love or loyalty like that of a dog. They care nothing for your station in life, your politics or …” he hesitated, looking at Bella, then Adam, “the way you look. They love you because it is their nature to love you. They would never leave you.” The old man grew quiet, tears gathering in his eyes as he looked at the dog.
“Unlike people,” Adam stated. If the old man was to be believed, the dog was unlike most people Adam knew, with the exception of Mary. People always judged you by the way you looked, by your station in life, by what they could get from you. And people, no matter how loyal, left you. Unlike Adam, people died. Adam had been created, the bastard son of science with magic as his whore mother. Immortality was the punishment for mixing the two to create new life from death. “But one day the creature will leave you. It will die.”
Mary, the woman who’d helped him kill his maker and thwart the witch, Hannah, who’d helped bring him to life with her unholy magic, had died so recently Adam often forgot she was gone. That he was now friendless. The pain upon hearing such news had been unlike any he’d ever experienced. He’d been shot, stabbed, burned and stoned, all quite painful but none painful like the news of losing her. The other wounds healed, no scars to remind him of the pain he endured. But, the wound he carried inside him that rocked him to his very soul, it remained. Nothing healed it. He could ignore it for a time, but it was always there. Once he had thought being unloved and unwanted, a creature of horror too hideous to befriend, was a curse. Now, he thought perhaps it was just another tool in his arsenal to protect himself.
“No,” Stefano spoke, taking Adam’s attention. “No, not Bella. She is special, you see. When I was a young mage, learning magic from the old masters, I was given young Bella as my companion. But, she was attacked by the companion of another boy, his was a wolf, and my Bella was ripped apart.” Stefano watched the small dog walk near the hearth where a bowl of water stood and the little thing dipped its head to drink. “Her heart still beat when I carried her to the old masters. It was forbidden to kill another man’s companion. The boy had found amusement in using his wolf to kill. That day they banished the boy and gave the wolf to one more deserving. They’d offered it to me, but I would only have Bella. And so one of the masters gifted me with a talisman, pushed into the bleeding body of the dog. He closed her wounds, leaving the talisman within her, making her immortal. And giving her special powers.”
Adam considered the animal, which seemed to be considering him. Its eyes seemed to shine with intelligence and though the creature’s tail wagged, Adam felt its scrutinizing stare watch him with keen interest.
“Special power?” Adam asked, intrigue sparking an idea.
“Yes. And you should know as we negotiate, Bella has the ability to detect lies,” he said with pride.
“Useful.” Adam watched the dog walk in circles before finally determining the spot was worthy to rest in. He smiled at the simple action so inherent to dogs.
“Yes, and she can shapeshift into a cat as well. That’s useful when I need to leave her on her own. Cats are far more independent than dogs.”
Renewed interest pulled Adam’s attention back to the small animal who now lay in front of the fire, head on her paws, eyes closed. Her ears stood straight, her head slightly too small for her body, but not to the point that it was the first thing you noticed. The first thing Adam noticed upon closer examination of the creature was how soft her fur appeared. The gray and black mixed together, black spots scattered like large freckles, varied in size. He recalled a larger breed dog he’d seen with similar markings. The hunters came close to his home, so he tracked them to ensure they’d not stumble across his hut. They’d called the coloring blue merle, and though Bella was of a different breed, Adam felt confident the color was the same. Her legs were small, but long and fine, mostly the tan that also marked part of her face. She was a beautiful dog, but appeared unremarkable otherwise. She was immortal, just as he was, they were alike in circumstance, living on after others die, and neither of them human.
“I need my daughter to return to me soon. Before the next full moon to be certain. Do not give them enough time to plan their wedding and escape. My daughter is in mourning. She thinks she needs this young man to help her, but it can only end in disaster,” Stefano said, wringing his hands and pacing once again.
“I want the dog,” Adam blurted out. “I don’t care why you want your daughter back. I would even kill the soldier if that’s your desire. But, I want the dog as payment.”
Stefano stopped abruptly. “Bella?” He was genuinely confused. “You want Bella? But, I cannot part with her. It simply isn’t possible.”
“Make it possible or find someone else to retrieve your daughter,” Adam stated, calm and cold.
“I will give you one favor. A favor as agreed when you first arrived. I am a powerful mage. There is much I can give you.” Stefano sounded panicked, lost and desperate. “I can make a potion for you that would cause you to appear handsome to those who look upon you. Or, give you a love potion so you may choose a wife. “
Stefano’s offer was enticing. Adam desired a wife but realized it would be difficult to find a woman willing to marry him, to be his companion. She would have to accept the way he looked and accept that her life would be forever in the shadows. He had long ago given up his need for acceptance by others, though he could admit that it would be good to walk openly among others without fear of rejection or violence. A wife, though temporary the situation would be as any wife he chose would someday die, would be welcome.
“I will think on this,” he answered, causing the old man to release a deep breath he’d been holding.
“Good. Good. I have told you all I know of the soldier. You have the small portrait of my daughter. I am certain they are in London as that is where the young man’s troop was headed. Make haste sir, collect her and bring her to me before the full moon rises and you will have your reward.” Stefano handed Adam a cloth sack filled with bread and cheese and strips of dried beef. “This will help sustain you. You are welcome to use my horses if you would like.”
Adam took the sack. “I have my own horses, thank you. I leave tonight. I will return as soon as I find her.”
“Before the full moon. It is required, you understand?” Stefano asked.
It had taken two days to reach London in the black carriage pulled by Adam’s two best horses. He arrived, secured a hotel room in a shady area of London, hired a man to help him and spent time locating the solider, his abode and then the girl.
Things went horribly wrong the first night Tram was to take the girl from the apartment she stayed in with the young man. The soldier was gone, the girl alone, no servant stopped Tram from entering the house and removing the girl. But, he was to deliver her to the carriage where Adam awaited. Several hours later Adam realized he’d been duped. He went to the apartment himself, found no one there, and then went back to his hotel room to await Tram and an explanation.
Later that night a knock on the door had Adam jumping from the bed to answer. The night clerk, dressed in a bowler’s hat, brown tattered suit and wreaking of alcohol, handed him a letter.
“Mr. Tram asked that this be delivered to you this evening,” the night clerk told him.
“When was it given to you?” Adam asked.
“An hour ago, sir,” he answered. “He insisted that I wait an hour before bringing it to your room.” He put the paper in Adam’s hand, hands trembling, turned and trotted quickly down the hallway.
Adam opened the note, impressed that his hireling could write. The letters were printed like a child had written it, but he’d signed his name at the end of the brief missive.
I have her. Bring gold. Tomorrow night meet beside the pub near your hotel.
Adam threw the note to the floor, cursing. The man hadn’t said how much gold to bring, but perhaps any amount would do. It didn’t matter. Adam had no intention of bringing anything. The toad would get nothing from him but death.
He remained indoors, ordering his food to be delivered to the room. He considered visiting the brothel where the only whore in London willing to have sex with him resided. Adam saw her once a month, three days at a time. If he were to spend his gold anywhere, that would be the place. The whore was older, but still attractive and, more importantly, she was blind. She’d remarked on his size the first time he paid for her. She was more than willing to teach him what he wished to learn, give him what he longed to have and tell him what he needed to hear. But, the second time he visited her she was angry with him. She said he had hidden the fact that he was deformed and only after he left did her friends tell her what she’d just finished fucking. She demanded he pay twice the price. And he did.
Adam’s patience wasn’t forgiving and his temper was high. Becoming physical with anyone at the moment was likely not wise. So he remained in his room, waiting for night to fall. He waited another hour, dressed, threw on his dark cloak and packed his belongings. He would not be returning.
He went to the rooftop of the hotel after securing the horses a few streets away and paying an orphan boy to watch over them.
“You will have a coin now,” Adam had told the young street urchin, “And three more when I return if the horses and carriage are still where I leave them. Five coins if they are ready to go and no harm has befallen them.” He gave a single silver coin to the boy whose eyes shined bright at the round piece of hope put into his small hand.
“Right here,” the boy pointed to where he stood next to the horses. “We’ll be right here, no worries.”
The boy could be no more than eleven, his face dirty, his hair worse. His clothes were too small, tattered and smelled of filth. But, he’d been the only one not to run from him when he approached a group gathered beneath the awning of a building, out of the rain, but shivering. Adam kept his face hidden, but his hands were scarred at the wrists and his size struck fear into the hearts of most men. Still, the boy had remained, spoke to Adam and took the coin. Adam wondered what sort of life the boy had had that would make him so fearless. Or how hungry he must be.
Waiting on the rooftop now, rain pouring from the sky as though it would wash away the sins of London, Adam watched Tram pulling the girl into the alley, Tram’s attention split between the entryway of the alley and the girl who fought him with surprising strength. She wrenched herself free and made to dart around Tram, but he brought his fist around and connected squarely to her stomach causing her to crumple to the ground. He kicked her in the ribs for good measure.
“Stay down there you bloody little bitch,” Tram yelled. ”If you get up, I’ll kick your face in.”
The cold burrowed inside Adam’s coat, moving like a ghost through his clothes to kiss his skin, finding his flesh warm, but his response lacking. Unlike a man born of a woman, he was immune to extreme cold or heat, his body remaining the temperature he was created with, never changing inside or out. The rain carried the cold, exploding on contact, causing the humans below to shiver visibly as one hour lead to the next. When the bells of the clock tower rang out the witching hour, clanging in alarm, melodious only to those awaiting midnight, Tram pulled the girl to her feet.
“Bastard isn’t willing to pay for you,” Tram told her, “And if I release you, you’ll have me in Newgate, hung and buried before the full moon rises.”
The woman stood, swayed then pulled hard to break free of his grasp. The hours on the ground, her muscles growing cold, her dress gathering the weight of the water, slowed her movements and he grabbed her once more before she could take a single step away from him.
The crash of thunder heralded the lightning. Sound and light and cold came together to expose the violence below. Adam moved from rooftop to rooftop, moving in a single fluid leap to the mud and muck below.
Tram threw the girl against the side of the building, pushing up her muddy skirts then fumbling with the front of his trousers. “It’s not gold, but I’ll take my pay,” he said, his lips against her ear, “And in the end, they’ll blame the ripper.”
Adam moved from the shadows, the rain beating on dirt, brick, and stone until it became a rhythm of violence echoing until nothing else could be heard. Moving slowly, becoming part of the darkness, unseen and deadly, the sound of his steps adding to the death song playing out in the alley. Focused on the man oblivious to all but his lust and anger, Adam reached out as the thunder roared, grabbing Tram around the neck, removing the man’s ability to cry out as Adam’s arm grew tighter crushing Tram’s windpipe just before Adam pushed with his other hand, breaking Tram’s neck.
Both bodies fell to the ground, but the woman pushed at Tram’s to free herself. The sky lit up filling the alley with the first screams of the terrified woman. Adam stepped back, allowing her to gain her feet, though she pushed herself back against the brick wall. There had been a time when Adam felt certain that saving a life would win him, not affection, but perhaps appreciation. So when she screamed he realized the hood of his cloak and fallen away, exposing his face and that nothing had changed for him. There would be no appreciation that he’d saved her from rape and certain death, there would be only loathing and fear. And like it was with the elements, he’d become immune, feeling nothing for her fear or pain.
Curiosity drew his attention to the object in her hand. Tram had brought a pistol, the girl had apparently found it when she crawled over his dead body. The weapon infused her with a measure of courage as she aimed it at him. Before he could reach out to take it, she fired into his chest, just below his heart. He rocked back, lost his footing in the mud and landed on his back. Pain blossomed, radiated out causing his lungs to pull a deep breath and his senses to focus all around him. The cold rain beat his face with every drop, the girl’s mewling, her jagged breaths, even her beating heart filled his ears. He pushed his focus inward to the pain, searing, throbbing, but already beginning to burn with whatever magic kept such wounds from claiming his life. He assessed his ability to move, sat up and was on the girl before she could reach the light that cut into the mouth of the alley.
Adam had been grateful when the woman finally fainted. Now, hours into their journey he knew he would have to stop at his home, let his body heal, change his clothes and wait for the storm to pass. He would miss delivering her in time by one or two days, but she was alive and relatively unharmed. He’d return her and gain his reward.
The road he’d turned down was difficult to follow unless you knew it well. Brush and foliage reached out to embrace those attempting to pass by foot, horse or carriage. The wind whipped branches until they beat and scratched the carriage and Adam. He hunkered down, making himself as small as a man of his size could get. He pulled his cloak around him, but the branches tore through, slicing at his skin.
The narrow roadway opened gradually until it became a clearing that held a single hut, a small barn a shed and a small smokehouse. He’d built it all himself. His personal sanctum. No one had ever crossed the threshold of his home except him. The calm that usually greeted him was replaced with trepidation, a cold stone in the pit of his stomach. He realized as the rain eased, but the wind picked up, he’d made an error bringing her here. He dismissed the idea of turning around and going elsewhere this late at night. The horses deserved rest and he needed to change his clothes. The pain in his chest had dulled, but the blood loss caused his body to crave rest.
Approaching the barn, a soft click followed by the banging of the carriage door as it was thrown open, caused Adam to pull back on the reins. The carriage lurched as the girl jumped out, landing several feet away. When Adam landed in the mud near her she took off in the opposite direction, dress weighing her down, but not stopping her progress.
“Damn!” Adam called out causing the horses to whinny. “No favor is worth this.” He lurched forward, panting as though he’d already been running. “You’ve nowhere to run, woman,” he yelled as he picked up speed. “I will not harm you.” He wondered how long that statement would be true as he crossed from clearing to a forest.
The forest was thick and dark. The trees were mostly bare, limbs reaching out to embrace those who would trespass. The wind whistled as it chased through those arms, rocking the limbs and even the trees themselves. The rain slowed as it bounced off the treetops and searched for its final landing. There’d been no stars and the moon which had peered through heavy gray clouds intermittently disappeared offering no assistance as he raced to capture the girl.
Adam had always been a hunter, senses honed to find, capture and kill. The snap of twigs and small limbs caused him to change direction. She was fast. Faster than he could have imagined under the circumstances. But, his legs were longer, his footing more sure and soon he heard her heavy breaths. Her hair was golden, her dress pale, and her movements out of rhythm with the swaying trees. When she was within arm’s reach he leaped forward, pulling her to him, cushioning her fall as he lost his balance and landed on his back in the mud and thistle.
The weight of her body on his wounded chest forced a short groan from his lungs, but the deep, guttural growl was all her. She nearly brought him up off the ground as she levered herself, then tried to roll away taking him with her, his arms like steel around her midriff. Arms flailing, elbow repeatedly looking to connect with this body, he began to lose his grasp on her in an effort not to damage her. He pulled her back to him and rolled over, pinning her face down to the forest floor, Adam’s full weight running along the length of her body.
“Be still,” Adam commanded. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“You are hurting me you barbarian!” she replied, still thrashing beneath him. “I can’t breathe with you pushing my face into the mud. Get off me!”
Adam eased his weight from her upper body, taking her arm and bringing it high behind her back, eliciting another growl. Her fist was nearly between her shoulder blades when he slowly got up, bringing her with him.
The wind blew leaves and nettles from their hair, but the mud would take more effort to be rid of. Adam pushed her forward, into his hut.
The spacious, simple domicile was sparsely decorated, two chairs between a single table, a long, narrow bed heaped with blankets took up one corner and next to it a side table stacked with books and a single, unlit candle. A tall shelf near a slow stove was filled with cooking utensils and plates. Clean, simple, functional.
Adam forced the woman into the chair furthest from the door. She was strong. Stronger than her petite frame would have one believe.
Pointing at her as he stepped away, Adam said, “Don’t make me chase you again. If you try to escape, I will tie you to that chair.”
She didn’t move, but he thought it was partially due to the darkness within the hut. As he lit a candle he kept one eye on her.
“You’ve seen me, so further dramatics on that count are unnecessary. I am disfigured, not a demon. After speaking with your father, I believe you must have some education, so please apply it.”
“My father?” she asked, her voice quiet, soft and childlike. “He wanted you to bring me back?”
“He is determined to have you back, yes.” Adam struck the match, the horrible phosphorus odor wafting quickly throughout the hut before the light could fill the room. One oil lamp, industrial in size, gave off enough light to see much of the hut, but the edges outside the light danced in shadow. He sat the lamp on the table, taking the other seat nearest the only door. “I do not require reasons not to return you as they will not matter to me. He possesses something I desire and I will return you to secure it. It would be best for us both to remain here, out of the storm, tonight and return you in the morning. I will secure you to the bed and sleep in front of the door.”
A few seconds went by before the expected soft sound of crying began. Adam watched her lie her head on her arms, shoulders shaking gently. He stood, but she didn’t notice or perhaps didn’t care. He pulled a chest out from under his bed and opened it, removing clean clothes.
As he used a rag to clean off the muck and mud he began to dress, all the while keeping an eye on his reluctant guest. She finally sat up, but didn’t stir to get up from the chair. She watched him, no screams now, but with detached interest as he stripped naked to complete his cleaning process before adding new clothes.
“My God, man! Must you remove your clothes in my sight?” Her voice wavered between what sounded like fright and anger.
“Close your eyes.”
She grew silent as he completed dressing, looking out the small window as lightning lit the sky over and over again.
Adam pulled out a long nightshirt from the trunk before putting it back under the bed. He thrust it at her, but she let it fall to the floor beside her.
“I don’t care if you clean up or not,” he told her. “But, you’re welcome to that garment if you wish it. You will not be sleeping in my bed in muddy clothing, so consider that.”
“I’ll sleep on the floor.” She continued looking out the window. “Or I’ll not sleep at all.”
“Suit yourself. I haven’t the energy or inclination to beg you to take the bed. I will be tying you to it though, so I may rest without concern.”
“You’re a brute.” She managed to look at him, this time anger replaced fear in her eyes.
“You think to profit from my misery, but tonight will be the last night you profit from anything.” Her newfound bravado brought her shoulders back and she lifted her chin to make full eye contact. “My father,” pain crossed her face before she continued, “can go to the Devil. And the two of you can plot from there.”
Adam ignored the statement, stepping just outside the hut and returning with a length of rope. She visibly shivered at the sight of it, but made no move to elude him as he tied it to one leg of the bed and approached her, bending down to tie the other length to her ankle.
“Barbarian.” She hit his shoulder as he bent over securing the knot. He ignored it, pulling hard to ensure it would be difficult for her to untie.
The storm raged on, thunder shaking the hut as though Satan knocked on the door. Lightning flashed often enough the lamp seemed unnecessary. The roof held and they remained dry. Cold slipped in through the cracks and Adam lit a small fire in the hearth.
“Do you require anything before I retire?” he asked.
She said nothing and he hoped she’d remain silent for the next few hours as he rested in the hope it would speed his healing process. He took a mug of water to bed and lay there reading for a few minutes before his hopes were dashed and the quiet crying began once more.
“You have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into,” she said, no emotion evident in her tone. “My father can’t be trusted to keep his word. He has no money, regardless of what he’s told you. You’ll return me and he’ll likely put some spell on you and you’ll forget all you ever knew. He’s a mage you know.”
Pulling in a lungful of air Adam sat up, back against the wall of the hut. “Is there nothing I can do to keep you from speaking outside of gagging you?” he asked. “I realize you’ve lost your lover. You’ve been kidnapped and nearly raped and then kidnapped again. Regardless of your opinion of me, I am not the monster I may appear. Your father seems sincere in wishing you back with him without any hint of malice or intent to abuse you. He is your family. Not everyone has family. Go to him and try to put your differences behind you. Besides,” he added, “I am not looking for money. I will be taking his dog as my payment.”
A shrill laugh, short and dry, filled the air. “That dog is more valuable than even I. He will never part with her. Not even to have me returned to him. Not even to hide his wicked secret from the council of mages. The dog is immortal. It has an uncanny ability to ferret out lies from truth. It can shapeshift into a cat at will, or command, and as a cat she has a different set of abilities. No. You are a fool. He will use tricks, magic or weapons before he lets you have that dog.”
“I am immune to most magic,” Adam shared. “A condition of my creation. I am difficult to trick, as I’ve learned subterfuge and sleight of hand to survive. And I have no fear of weapons, as you have already seen that my wounds heal quickly. I am no fool.”
She laughed again, but a hint of sadness hung within it. “He would give me to you, before giving you Bella. He uses the dog’s blood for his experiments. It is what he would hide from the other mages. Among other things.”
“I do not want you, I want the dog. An immortal companion, not bound by nature’s rules. I care little for the dog’s magic, its tricks. She will become my family and I will no longer be alone in the world. Whether he agrees to give the dog to me or not, I will take her.” He felt no remorse and cared little for her judgment of him. He’d stolen before. First, out of necessity. Then, out of anger. Food, clothing, horses. Few would engage in commerce with a man such as him. Those who would look upon him in fear, disgust and hate would let him die of starvation if it were possible. They would let him freeze if it were possible. They had little compassion for one such as him and he had none for them. He would not kill to attain his desires, he’d promised Mary that much, but he had no remorse, no regret, for what he’d take to survive.
“I would help you take her,” she offered.
“For your freedom?” he scoffed. The old mage would not trick him, and neither would she. “I do not require your help to take the dog.”
“I’d not do it for you,” she said. “I’d do it for Bella.”
Intrigued, he sat forward, the bed creaking beneath the movement. Lightning filled the room as thunder shook it. The storm was upon them, nature cursing them with an air of excitement and looming fate.
“Entertain me with your tale, then, woman. I will listen.”
She picked up his nightshirt as she stood and walked to the bed. She spread the shirt on the corner and sat on it, keeping her muddied clothes from his covers. Shoulders back, he knew her courage cost her much as he could feel the tremors of fear shake the bed at his feet.
“I love my father,” she said earnestly, “but, I hate him, too.” Her eyes boldly looked into his, no shrinking from the horrible scars she saw there. “He was better when mother was alive.” She nearly whispered it, but then cleared her throat and lifted her chin before continuing. “He’s a powerful mage, but his work in alchemy and the human body got him into trouble and he was thrown out of a powerful council of mages, given only the dog that had been gifted him. Bella. One of the greatest mages ever known had saved Bella’s life when she was attacked. The dog was more than a gift though. She was a window for the mage council to watch over what my father was doing. Through magic, the mage that saved her could see through her eyes. But, that was not told to father. Not until a few months ago when his experiment with Bella’s blood cost the life of my mother.”
The lightning struck but had moved away from the hut and its light reached in with greedy fingers, desperately clawing through the window, winning no more than half the hut as it illuminated within. The sudden brightness cast additional light to one side of her face and, despite the mud and grime, she was lovely. Adam noted that she was fair where her father was dark and surmised that her mother must have been as she, yellow hair and alabaster skin. He wondered if her mother was an Englishwoman.
“So your father killed your mother during these experiments?” Adam asked.
“No,” she whispered, her voice low and taking on a more sinister depth, nearly a growl as she let the word roll off her tongue. Lightning flashed fast and bright, bathing one side of her face and casting a most unusual hue of gold to her eyes. It lasted only a moment and was gone with the current of energy it rode in on. The soft light from the table nearby flickered, the gold gone in an instant. “No, I killed her.”
Adam leaned forward, the story more intriguing with a killer an arms-length away. “So, was it a mercy killing then? Did he experiment on her and you released her from some horrific change or pain?” Adam could understand that. He knew mercy killing intimately.
She turned her head away from the light and shadows hid her expression. Seconds ticked by and she pulled in air, held it a moment then slowly released it. Her shoulders sagged slightly as she faced him once more.
“I was ill you see,” she began, “I was dying actually. Consumption. There was nothing that could be done. But, my father wouldn’t give up. He studied science and magic and he was determined to save me. And my mother agreed that he should try. So night after night I was forced to drink some brew, drink some powdered concoction. I heard them argue over adding blood and flesh to the mix. I knew father was cutting Bella and putting some of her immortal blood in some of the drinks. I still have no idea what kind of flesh he used.” She shivered visibly and wrapped her arms around herself for comfort or warmth. “At last my mother began to argue with him. But, he’d not stop. He would challenge God himself to keep me alive and I was far too weak to fight him. The final brew was thick as stew. I saw blood on Bella’s throat.” She stopped, covering her mouth with her hand as though to stop what would be said next. “He’d nearly drained her. The poor little thing could hardly walk. I know she is immortal, but if you’d seen her.” She paused again and Adam waited. “Bella trusted him and he cut her over and over without thought. Father is like that. He loves you even as he hurts you. He hurt her and she would still come at his call.”
“So the drink did something to you.” Adam stated. “You’re very much alive, so it must have worked.”
Her smile was sad and she shook her head. “I lived, yes, but I’d hardly call it a success. I only remember the pain. Excruciating. It was as though I was on fire from the inside. My bones ached. At some point, I fainted. The next thing I knew I was on the floor and my father was beating me with a cane. Bella was ripped apart, but alive. Mother was beneath me, shredded as though some demon beast had carved her with long claws.”
She brought her feet up, her knees pulled to her chest. Her shoulders shook as she rested her forehead atop folded arms. In that moment Adam saw she was still young. A child blossoming into a woman, still innocent and naïve. Or had been. A few minutes went by and she began to unfurl. Wiping at her eyes, she continued her story.
“I was that demon beast who killed her,” she announced. “The brew had turned me into something wild and dangerous. I was no longer human. I killed my mother and nearly killed my father.”
Something softened within Adam’s breast and wished he were the kind of man who could reach out and comfort her. But, he could not, so he kept silent, letting her take her time.
“For a few days father tried potions and all manner of magic in an effort to reverse what he’d done. I was locked away, tied up, because at night, the beast would come back. But, after a few days it seemed to lessen. I was brought back into the house for more experiments, but mother was gone and father was mad. The mage council sent someone to take me to London where they said there was a group of people who might help me. Father didn’t want me to go. But by the time they came for me, I was ready to leave that house of death. I met with the mage, Sir Cartright, late in the night and we fled.”
“So, this Cartright, he wasn’t a lover?” Adam asked, recalling the story Stefano had given him.
She laughed without humor. “Sir Cartwright was older than my father. He was never anything but kind to me. He was angry with father, but he never showed anger to me. I believe he truly felt he could help me. Of course, he was killed by the man you sent to kidnap me.” She glared at him. “Any hope of reversing this curse likely died with him. Who will help me now that they know they may pay with their life?”
Adam considered her story. If the dog could detect lies, could it also hide that someone is lying? Did the dog protect Stefano by not indicating his lies? He thought that was possible. And that was if he chose to believe the dog had that ability. Her story felt true. But, he had to acknowledge that his experience with people didn’t give him any special insight to truth. To hate and judgment and fear, yes, but truth was tricky. Subjective.
“What would you ask of me?” Adam swung his legs over the side of the bed opposite her. “What is it you want?”
“I want you to take me to Italy, where the mage council is. Tell them Sir Cartwright was the victim of an unfortunate event and ask them to try and help me.”
“You don’t think your father will do this for you?” Adam stood and felt straw from the ground rub against the bottom of his feet.
“Father isn’t allowed back there. And I know his experiments have made his return even less likely. His pride has already cost Sir Cartwright his life. He’ll want to try and cure me himself, but I don’t think he knows how. He had no confidence when he gave me potions he hoped would reverse my condition. And if he could cure me, I think Sir Cartwright would have left me there.” She looked as though she would stretch out on the bed, then caught herself and sat up straight.
“You can lie on the bed as you are. I need to wash the bedding eventually. Get some rest. Let me think in peace.” He sat at the table, glancing at the stove, contemplating the merit of coffee at this late hour.
She didn’t hesitate and stretched out, taking one blanket to throw over her shivering body. “I can feel something happening inside me. The beast returning. Whatever it was father used to save me, he seemed convinced the magic was tied to the full moon. Tomorrow it will be full. We have little time to think, and even less time for peace.”
Adam considered her unusual strength earlier that night. She was faster than most humans. He wondered what she would be like tomorrow when her beast was set free.
“No matter how this ends, the dog is mine.” The old mage was willing to torture the small creature. He understood the man was trying to save his daughter and that the dog was immortal, but cutting its throat over and over was careless and cruel. When Bella became his, he would protect her. She would never be tortured again. A small but heavy weight lifted from within him. He would save her and care for her and she would be his loyal friend.
“Yes,” she agreed. “The dog is yours, but you must agree to help me.”
“The dog is mine regardless of what I agree or do not agree to. But, I will remain with you until there is an acceptable solution to what happens to you next.”
Silence filled the room and spread out like the cold. The desperation in her voice pulled at Adam’s senses and the need to protect her and the little dog filled his heart. Years of rejection and loneliness hadn’t prepared him for the rush of energy coursing through his veins as he realized he was needed.
Adam listened to her even breaths as slumber found her. The storm diminished, echoes of thunder growing more and more quiet. He still listened to her as the sun rose a few hours later. The day brought sunshine and warmth. It was also the harbinger of night and the full moon and choices.
It was late in the afternoon when they reached the outskirts of Stefano’s property. In the distance, just beyond the trees, a spiral of smoke reached for the clouds and Adam hoped the man had coffee waiting.
The woman allowed him to call her Helena, and she agreed to speak with her father before making demands or trying to run away. Adam would only agree to help her if she spoke with the old mage. If violence could be averted, that was his desire. Both Stefano and Helena had endured much tragedy. If they could be spared further pain, Adam would leave them in peace. He would not leave without Bella, however. So whether peace could be attained, and maintained, was difficult to predict.
Wind blew gentle, then stronger as they approached. Leaves had long since met their doom in the mud. Naked branches seemed to reach for them as the lane narrowed and Stefano’s home came into view.
“He will want his way in all things,” Helena warned. She’d cleaned up and did what she could to tame her wild, yellow hair. Her clear, white brow furrowed as Stefano peered out at them through the window. “He may have some trap set for both of us.”
“Perhaps.” Adam agreed. “So it is best that we make your wishes known right away and gauge his reaction.”
Adam watched Stefano disappear from the window. Bella’s nose peered out at them as she struggled on her two back legs to stand tall enough to watch them.
He helped her down from the carriage and tied the horses nearby as she waited for him. The front door opened, but Stefano didn’t come out. Instead, he moved away, leaving the door open for them. Helena glanced back at him, worry in her eyes, but she preceded him inside.
The sun shone down on him, blinding him at the moment he stepped inside the dark interior of Stefano’s home, but his senses, heightened first by the nature of his creation, but even more so by the potential of danger from Stefano, he heard the quickened intake of breath before it was stifled. Adam turned toward the sound, which now echoed with the scraping of wood and rustling of clothes, just as white-hot pain seared into his breast, through flesh and bone, burning once more at his back. Instinctively, Adam turned in the direction of the sound as he grabbed the long, thick arrow, caring little for how it ripped as much as he pulled it out.
Another arrow caught him in the shoulder, but he’d stepped further inside and his eyes registered movement to his right. He swung with speed and strength knocking another arrow from the air. Eyes adjusting, three shadowed figures caught his attention. One held the slight figure of Helena. Captured, she struggled to free herself and as Adam grabbed the man holding a crossbow Helena broke free.
Stefano stumbled back, struggling to capture her once more, but Adam couldn’t help. A large, strong man dropped the crossbow as Adam took hold of it and reached in for a dagger so sharp Adam didn’t feel the first slice across his palm. The dagger arched high in the air, but the man was short and Adam blocked him by pushing up with his forearm, moving the man’s arm to the side where it connected with a surprised Stefano. The dagger fell when the man’s knuckles connected with Stefano’s cheek. Adam kept the momentum and pushed into the man’s side, driving him back hard enough the man hit the wall behind them, the sound of several ribs cracked loud enough Adam could hear it.
“Stop!” Helena screamed, causing Adam to turn.
Stefano had the dagger in his hand, the tip nearing Adam’s throat. Before Adam could turn his attention to Stefano, Helena caught her father’s arm and pulled him back, causing him to fall, with her beneath him.
The man at the wall pushed his body forward into Adam’s, but the adrenaline coursing through Adam’s veins added speed to his strength and Adam caught the man, threw him up in the air and down next to Stefano.
Adam picked up the fallen crossbow, loaded it and trained it on the men in the floor. “Let her up.”
Helena pushed Stefano to one side and crawled from beneath him. Taking her place at Adam’s side she picked up the dagger and stood tall and ready to fight.
“I don’t understand,” said the man in the floor, the one who’d helped Stefano ambush them. “Why would she help you if you killed her mother?” Slightly out of breath, the man sat up, holding his side. Casting a glance at Stefano, the man grimaced, jaw flexing as clenched teeth bit down through the pain.
It took Adam a moment to realize the man was speaking to him. Whether it was some tactic to distract him or sincere questions he was unsure, but the man hadn’t pulled out another weapon, so Adam answered. “I did not kill her mother.”
“He is a murderer! A kidnapper!” Stefano cried out as he stood.
“He is not,” Helena spat at him, her anger etched across a furrowed brow. “He did not kill my mother. He did not kidnap me. He is here to help.” She drew back as though willing to use the dagger if either man approached.
Adam found it prudent not to argue with her, though in fact, he had killed Tram and had taken her from London against her will to return her to her father. Facts notwithstanding, he was in a position of power with the weapons and a soon-to-turn-beast woman of immense strength beside him. Facts at this point were nearly irrelevant.
The large man stood and though he was not as tall as Adam, he was tall. Long, dark hair, pulled back and secured, he appeared young, not yet twenty and five, though his build was bulked with muscle giving him the air of someone older. Stefano stood behind him, not daring to take up the fight while weaponless.
“You are Helena?” The man asked. When Helena nodded the man continued. “I am St. John of the mage council. Your father’s familiar alerted us to danger and when Cartright did not return, I was sent to find out what happened. Cartright was able to use the dog to see, but I haven’t that ability. Where is Cartwright?”
“Dead,” Helena told him. “Killed by a man in London who tried to rape me.”
“Bella,” the man called and the small dog entered the house from outside. Bella hurried to Helena, licking her face when Helena knelt down to greet her. “So Cartwright was not killed by the man standing next to you?”
“No, he was not.” Helena stood, glancing at Bella before looking defiantly at the man.
Adam watched the dog for signs of communication knowing the creature’s power to detect lies. But, of course, Helena had not lied. It was Tram who’d killed Cartright. Truth had its loopholes.
Watching the dog, St. John nodded and his shoulders visibly relaxed, though he continued to hold his side as though he were keeping the broken ribs from doing more damage as he moved, taking a seat at the nearby table.
“He is a murderous creature,” Stefano argued, approaching St. John until that man put out a hand to stop him.
“He is something not of man, I can see that for myself,” St. John said. “What he is, I do not know. Perhaps he can explain?” St. John looked at him, curiosity warring with pain.
“What he is doesn’t matter.” Helena stepped forward. “If you know Carright then you knew his mission and that my father was doing experiments, just as the council forbade him to do. Cartright arrived over a fortnight ago and learned that I had been dying of consumption and my father concocted a potion that turned me into a beast. It was I who killed my mother. And I will kill again this night if I am not shackled and locked away. When my father refused to allow Cartright to take me to London where he thought I could find help, we were forced to leave without father’s permission. So, father hired this man to retrieve me, promising him anything, lying to him, and in the end, trying to kill him and make it appear he’d murdered my mother.”
“If I murdered the mother, and this Cartright fellow, and kidnapped Helena, why would I return?” Adam asked, intrigued at the web of lies Stefano had hoped to weave.
“To collect the ransom,” St. John said. “An exchange. The daughter for the dog. The dog alluded you, so you took the daughter instead. In your rage, you killed the mother. Cartright went after you to save Helena and you murdered him.”
“A carefully crafted story.” Adam said, “But the only truth of it is that I do plan on taking Bella.”
Helena nodded. “I told him that I would help him claim Bella if he helped me. Father can’t cure me. And I would rather die than kill innocent people. Adam was to take me to the council and keep me from killing.”
St. John eased back slowly in the chair. Stefano paced back and forth in front of the table, pulling at his hair until the short, gray strands stood on end. Adam felt the air grow thick with tension as St. John appeared deep in thought. Adam wished only to hand the woman over to the mage so she could find help and then leave with the dog as his reward. St. John’s contemplation inferred the man thought his judgment would be final law. Adam hoped he’d not have to kill the man, but his hands tightened on the crossbow when St. John stood, gaining the attention of all in the room.
“Stefano, I cannot imagine what it must be like to watch your child dying. And the grief of losing your wife has taken a toll on your ability to make sound judgment. But, the terms of the mage council were clear and you were not to experiment as you did. In the end, you exchanged your wife’s life for your daughters, and abused Bella during your madness.” St. John started to sigh, but grimaced and breathed shallow once more, adding pressure to his side.
The warmth of the sun filled the small home until Adam longed for a reprieve from the heat. The small home held a sour odor, that of sickness and despair. Bella remained at Helena’s feet, watching St. John just as everyone else did.
St. John looked at Adam. “What are you? Man, beast? You appear as a man, but surely you are more?”
Adam felt the scowl crease his forehead. It would be nothing to simply take the dog and fight his way out. His only hesitancy was whether or not the dog would accept him should he steal it. He had no experience with pets and if she held a grudge, she might just run away at the first opportunity.
“I am a man, made of flesh,” Adam answered, “But not born of a woman.”
“I see that you have not harmed Helena, and indeed I see you would protect her.”
“Your point?” Adam grew weary of St. John’s scrutiny.
“You have kept your end of a bargain.” St. John pinned Stefano with a glare, stopping whatever words were about to escape the old mage. “As I represent the council I am at liberty to complete the bargain where the dog is concerned. I release the dog to you to own without interference as long as you treat her well.”
“No!” Stefano yelled, causing Helena to step back, nearer to Adam. “Am I to lose all? Everything? Is that my due?”
A dull ache spread within Adam’s chest as he watched the man whither until he sat in the floor. Helena rushed to him, kneeling and taking him to her.
“He will not be punished?” Adam asked, finding that it mattered and feeling surprised at his feelings. The old man lied to him. Manipulated him. Would have killed him. But, something deep inside of Adam wished to he could stop the man’s pain. Adam knew too well the dangers of despair.
St. John looked at father and daughter, his own eyes moist and shining. “They will both return with me. Stefano is a gift alchemist. I will speak to the council and ask that he be allowed to remain with us until we are able to free Helena of her curse. It is the best I have to offer.”
Adam nodded. Helena, absorbed in her grief, rocked her father gently like a child in her arms. Stefano held to her, tight and desperate. He cried softly, but said no more of his fate.
“You are free to leave,” St. John said. “You have a companion who will care for you. Be loyal. Be good.”
“I can promise only to try,” Adam said.
St. John smiled as he said, “I was speaking to Bella.”
Adam had no reply. He turned to retrieve the dog, but she was beside him, deep, brown, intelligent eyes looking up as she wagged her tail.
Adam walked out into the sunshine and opened the door of the carriage for the small dog. She looked at him for a moment, the jumped up into the driver’s seat to wait for him. The carriage swayed as he took his seat.
Slowly, he reached out, using one finger to caress down her neck and back. “Soft,” he said to her. “I knew it.”
She leaned into him and he pet her head as he’d seen the old mage do. Warmth tingled from his fingertips and spread to his chest. “You’re beautiful.” A knot seemed lodged in his throat and he cleared it, but it remained. She put a paw on his thigh, stretching to reach the top, licked his hand and looked up at him. He knew little of pets, but he would have sworn she smiled at him. The warmth in his chest grew and he pet her fur over and over.
The warm wind picked up and the promise of a cold night wove within it. Adam took the reins and headed toward home.
“I will take care of you as long as we both live,” Adam promised. “Do you believe that?”
Bella barked, tail wagging and rested her head so she could look up at him.
Petting her once more before putting his focus on the road ahead he whispered, “I am not alone.”
I started writing this short story in 2015 after I’d started writing my Blood Quill series (think Penny Dreadful meets Supernatural, modern day New Orleans, with a tiny bit of time travel). I knew that, one day, Adam would show up in New Orleans and he’d run into his old friend Victor Dracula. I was entertaining the idea of what Adam would be like if he had lived all through time.
I realized that, despite his large size and disfigurements, the modern world would be somewhat desensitized to that because the world had grown larger, saw more and didn’t see such issues as witchcraft as something to immediately fear. He’d be like a wrestler with a gimmick, large and scarred. Some people would still look at him and not want to engage with him, but some would ignore him altogether because it was simplest to do so. Either way, he would go from being seen and feared to being unseen and alone. I needed him to have someone or something that enabled his compassion. Someone or something that let him know love was powerful. Someone to teach him the power of unconditional love.
About Bella. Bella is a Miniature Pinscher, or MinPin, which is actually not related to the Doberman Pinscher, but they do have similar markings. Bella is a Harlequin MinPin, which is more rare and very special. Please do Google it and look at what beautiful dogs they are. Bella is a real dog. Yes, there really is a Harlequin MinPin named Bella and she looks exactly as described in the Adam Frankenstein stories. She is not immortal, however. She is my dog. She is a rescue who came to me as a puppy with distemper. The likelihood, according to the vet, was that she would not survive and he offered to put her down so she’d not suffer. But, she was so full of spirit and had not had a seizure, so I was going to try and save her. I believed in my heart that she was one of those one-in-a-million and that she would survive.
It was a battle, but she never did have a seizure. She and I slept together, her on my chest, in the living room binge-watching the show Supernatural, for three months. And, she lived. She was the only animal from the shelter who survived that outbreak. I recall the night I thought we’d lose her and I held her all night, in my arms, whispering that she was a good girl and that, if love could save her, she would live forever. Love did save her. That and her incredible spirit. In my heart she is immortal.
This book is dedicated to anyone who has ever cried against fur. For those who love cats, or dogs or any pet that felt as though they were your best friend. To those who understand just how much a pet can become family.
Find out more about this author at SheilaEnglish.com