Cover art once again courtesy of my artist buddy Luis Molina, aka Akklonia. This novel can be purchased for the Kindle (or Kindle App on smartphones) from Amazon. Note that it has some small formatting issues due to Amazon’s conversion process. Those should be fixed in <72 hours. Any copies bought before then will receive an over the air update, most likely it’ll be fixed by the time you read this.
This is another of my novella trilogies compiled into a novel, for those of you that wish to own these stories for your Kindle. The premise is that Frankenstein’s method of reanimating human remains has been rediscovered and commercialized. It is now a service wealthy persons can make use of to bring back their deceased loved ones from the dead. Sort of. Obviously there are a few big catches, or this wouldn’t be a horror story but one of miraculous, tearful reunion. The devil, as ever, is in the details. Here’s the sample from Amazon:
It was a beautiful service. As expected, for I spared no expense. To honor her in death as I did in life, or so I told my father in law when we organized it together. Truthfully, a desperate reflex. As though if I spent enough, I could bring her back.
During the somber procession to her grave, I noticed many of the upper class graves were covered by wrought iron cages. Not to keep vengeful revenants from escaping, as I’d thought when I was small.
Rather, a precaution against those basest of scoundrels who might dig up the dead to rob them of any jewelry, fine raiments or other valuables they were buried with. It is also a poorly kept secret that many cadavers used by medical schools are obtained this way.
Resurrection men, in the common parlance. Grave robbers. The most audacious of which are why the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, and the pyramids themselves for that matter, are a pale shadow of their former glory. There’s some poetry to it, however. Every breath drawn by the living is in some sense stolen from the dead they’ve replaced.
All graves but those of the poorest also feature an air tube, capped at the top by a small deflector to keep rain out, and a bell. The bell could be rung by someone accidentally buried alive by tugging a string which trails from the bell, down the air pipe and into the coffin.
A non-trivial added cost. Much less than the cages, but today I could understand at last why they are so common. Apart from the alarming frequency with which death is wrongly diagnosed these days on account of the immature state of life sciences, grieving families must cling to any remote hope that their loved one is among those who may yet ring that bell.
I vaguely recall a tale from my youth, told breathlessly to a small group of us by the ringleader of a midnight excursion to the local graveyard. The sort of frivolous, and in retrospect dangerous adventure any proper boy’s childhood is replete with. The tale goes that one evening, a gravekeeper heard one of the small bells ringing and dashed to that grave, that he might calm down the poor soul trapped below while arranging to have them brought up.
Only, when a woman’s voice echoed up the air pipe begging to be exhumed, the gravekeeper rebuked her. “Madame”, he supposedly said, “The papers for this grave say you were buried in January. It is now April. I do not know what you are, but alive you are not, and I shan’t dig you up.” With that, he disconnected the string from the bell, and was done with the matter.
It’s a shame that it took such a tragedy to collect us all in one place. All those assurances that we’d gather for a grand dinner this year, or the next, or the next. Like so many plans put off ’til the morrow, it never occurred. Like the plans I made with Annika.
When the casket was open, I could not bear to look. However I might’ve wanted to savor her perfect, pale skin one last time, I resolved soon after she died never to look upon her remains. So as to remember only the living, ravishing, delicate beauty I met that adventurous Summer after the close of the war.
Having picked up a taste for motoring during my service, I’d purchased a motorbike with which I decided to tour the English countryside. Petrol shortages led the fellow I bought it from to build a great ungainly wood gas mechanism into the sidecar, which I first thought to remove as it was a blemish on an otherwise beautiful machine.
However, petrol stations are still rare, especially so as you get away from cities. Accordingly, I did not tamper with it after all. It soon proved its worth, as I could periodically stop along some wooded region, chop down some saplings, convert them to pellets in the span of an hour, then be back on the road for another hundred miles or so before having to repeat the process.
It was during one of these stops, as I roasted a rabbit I’d shot and skinned over a campfire while reducing yet another sapling to pellets, that I first encountered Annika. Ghostly maiden of the woods, I thought. A tantalizing mirage. She fit so perfectly into the natural beauty surrounding her, I could hardly conceive that she was a real woman, but some feminine manifestation of Summer.
Those who knew her would forgive me. In many ways, I was right. She so loved God’s creatures, and it only enriched my love for her. I recall her first words to me were angry Russian, shouted from a distance as she approached. Soon clarified in English as “You are on private property. By what right do you cut down our trees?”
Her ancestral town had the misfortune to be devastated by the war. Many survived, working the fields outside the town when the bombs fell. There was just nothing to rebuild. So they went their separate ways, seeking their fortunes elsewhere. As fate would have it, Annika’s family resettled in England.
I must’ve made quite a picture. Hair wild from the wind, as I was never one to wear a motorist’s helmet. What’s the point of such a contraption except to feel the wind whipping your hair about as you thunder down the road? Oil stains all up and down my shirt and trousers. Not thinking, I pawed at my face, to wipe some of the sweat away. All I accomplished was to smear it with oil. It was the first time I heard the sublime music of her laughter.
For an unaccompanied young woman to go motoring with a man she’s only just met, sans escort, would be unthinkable. Had she been English. Our courtship was handily expedited by her peasant background, and her family’s discovery that I stood to inherit my father’s industrial empire. That some of his factories make munitions seems to disturb only me.
“Go! Be young!” Her stout, muscular mother urged us. After a long, and at times subtly threatening discussion concerning when I was to return her, and in what condition. So, we went. And we were young. Still the highest point of my life, never more clear than when viewed from the lowest.
The motorbike is not yet commonplace enough that musicians should write songs glorifying the experience of tearing down a country road with a beautiful woman on the back, clinging to you. Hands wandering about your chest and stomach, under the pretext of securing a safer hold. Stops now chosen not just for the preponderance of trees, but picturesque views against which to admire Annika.
I thought I’d exhausted my tears the day I learned of her death. Drowned in a waterway when a bridge collapsed under her motor carriage. Of all the damnable things. She’d never learned to swim, understandably. That set me to agonizing over whether I could have saved her, had I only thought to take her swimming now and again. Or if I’d accompanied her that day.
A bystander was quick to retrieve her, but not quick enough. I met with the man once, only to assure him I placed no blame on his shoulders. I returned to drinking for a time. Not for too long, I am more disciplined than that. But I could scarcely function if sober. My limbs would not answer commands to move me from the bedroom to the kitchen, that I might eat. I did not bathe, nor read mail, nor leave the house.
Death is not felt discretely when that person is dearly beloved. By all who know her, not just myself. Ripples of grief spread out from the event, her poor mother wanting no part of a world without Annika living in it. A sentiment I deeply understand. Every day which passed after that felt wrong. As if I was being carried by the merciless currents of time into a future I refused to inhabit. “Until death do us part”, I once said. Taking for granted that we’d both go at once.
The usual words are spoken by the man of God. That she is with the heavenly father now. That what he gives to us is also his to take, and that it is not ours to understand why. Can this really be meant to comfort? What cosmic plan requires that my wife drown due to a collapsed bridge? My insides writhe for the remainder of his speech, but I remain silent.
The casket is lowered, ever so slowly, into the grave. The cold, wet Earth swallowing up the only source of warmth and beauty in this world, so far as my heart will acknowledge. A young man hops gingerly into the grave, to check the bell mechanism. All present know it is a futile gesture. He lingers, fiddling with some unseen task, then climbs out.
“All great works of literature written in the Queen’s tongue consist of just twenty six letters. Sufficient, even so, to capture the greatest heights of beauty and the darkest depths of human despair. But I defy the masters of that craft to capture the smallest fragment of my sorrow today. For me, the world burned on the day I learned of my darling’s….”
I choked up. Some part of me still refused to say aloud that she was gone. I scanned the faces of those present. All but the children shared in my pain. Blessed, enviable children, who do not yet know what death is. I composed myself, as much as I could in such a state.
“Annika, likewise, eludes satisfactory description. One of the great beauties of our time. Gentleness beyond compare, an angel’s constitution. To say that she was the combined light of every heavenly body, every star in the sky, every stunning sunrise over the now desolate, frozen landscape of my life does not begin to convey it. Though the future is known only to God, I vouchsafe that I will not remarry, as there is not in all the world another woman who compares. My lone sustaining hope is that there is a world after this one in which we might be reunited.”
I lingered after the ceremony. All present meeting with me one by one to say their piece. I sincerely found scraps of healing in it, and told them so. The still living who knew her in life vowing not to let our shared memories of her fade. Last of them was a baron known to my father, whose own wife was one of those falsely believed dead, saved only by the little bell above her grave. Lucky him, I bitterly thought.
His wife, who’d accompanied him to the funeral, appeared lily white to the point that I imagined I could see through her skin. Symmetrical, doll like features shielded from what little sun broke through the cloud cover by a veil and frilly black parasol.
The baron, a great mountainous beast of a man, offered his heartfelt condolences. As well as a business card. I inquired about it but was hushed, and told to call the number on the back as soon as I returned home.
What a queer thing to do at a funeral. I assumed I would find it was well intentioned when I called. Perhaps someone who specializes in memorializing the deceased. I thanked him for his kind words, pocketed the card and headed home. The gravity of the day crushed, again, my will to resist the bottle and I soon resigned myself to a long night of drinking.
In this piteous stupor, I remembered the card. Stumbling to the coatrack I fished it out of my jacket pocket and studied it more closely, even as the sharp black print swam around on the paper in defiance of my efforts to read it. “Beady and Scholls Resurrection Services”. The address, surprisingly, was directly adjacent to the graveyard I’d just returned from.
I wondered at the name. A metaphor of some kind, but it wasn’t clear what for. I don’t recall when I passed out, only that it was in the livingroom, for that’s where I next regained consciousness. A loud rapping at the door pierced my skull with every impact. I cringed at the thought of appearing before some door to door salesman, a man of my stature, afflicted with such a hangover.
Instead, it was my sister. Accompanied by a lovely young thing in a sky blue dress and floppy sun hat. “My dear sister”, I stammered. “Whatever can you want so early in the morning?” She looked disturbed. “It’s four in the afternoon, Charles. Goodness, don’t tell me you’ve taken up drinking again.” I glared. Her face softened somewhat, presumably recalling why it is she’d found me like this.
The girl with her glanced around nervously, most likely unsure of whether she was wanted. I invited them both in. Shortly, my sister introduced me to the visitor. Beverly Wainsborough. I dimly remembered meeting her at a charitable gala.
Pretty enough, with long brown curls falling down either side of her face, a petite upturned nose and high, narrow cheekbones. I silently scolded myself for looking appreciatively on the features of some strange woman, just a day after Annika was given over to the worms.
This private shame erupted into rage when my sister clarified the purpose of her visit. I am not a hateful man, and under better conditions not the least bit unstable. But despite myself, when it became clear that my sister meant to set me up with this stranger not more than twenty four hours after Annika’s funeral, all restraint evaporated.
“OUT! BOTH OF YOU!” I bellowed, nostrils flared. “You’ll not mend my heart so easily as foisting some new woman on me, the very day after my wife was laid to rest! The bed not yet cold, her wardrobe still full! That you would dare try this nauseates me! Get from this house and bring nobody after this!”
I knew I’d pay for it later. And really, I’d reacted too strongly to what I knew in my heart was a well intentioned gesture. Yet I could not bear what she’d done. For a woman to have so little understanding of the ways of the heart astonishes me, but is not unprecedented for my sister, who because of that quality remains unmarried.
She must’ve meant for me to spend the day getting to know poor Beverly, who I expected would have some choice words about me for her family and friends. I resolved to smooth it over sometime soon. Should her family still be as influential as I recall, I might’ve put my foot in it by turning her away so rudely.
Yet, I now found myself with the day freed up. The hangover still beating at my brow from the inside, I judiciously shelved my liquor and instead rang the number on the business card. The recollection was so vague I wondered if the card had said something more mundane.
“Hello? Re….Resurrection…services?” I mumbled, not anticipating how difficult it would be to hold a conversation in this state. “Indeed! First things first. Who referred you?” I fed the voice on the other end the baron’s last name and the nature of my family’s connections with his. “Very good. When can you stop by our offices? It’s best to get things moving as soon after death as possible, for freshness.”
I raised an eyebrow. As soon as Annika’s death made the paper, being that I am a man of wealth I was approached by all manner of hucksters peddling “electric spirit-phones”, seances, and other purported means of speaking with the dead. I worried this was something along those lines. Sensing this, the man assured me they dealt not in the supernatural but in cutting edge medical technologies known only to those with the means to pay for them.
“What use are medical technologies to the dead?” I asked rhetorically, mostly just thinking out loud. “The line between life and death is ever changing, dear fellow. That mysterious threshold driven ever backwards by advances in our understanding of what forces animate the human figure, why they cease, and how to replenish them. But if you find all of that too dubious, simply come to our offices. I’ve arranged for a small demonstration.”
Sickness. To prey on the hopes of a man who has lost the great love of his life. But they must count on that nagging splinter of doubt which I found tugging at the back of my mind to budge potential customers. It did the trick. Before long I found myself motoring back to the graveyard, those cages and bells still fresh in memory.
I’d paid handsomely for Annika’s little Baker electric carriage to be fished out of the water, repaired and reupholstered. Everything she’d ever touched was to remain immaculate, for however long I could keep it that way. I’d finally found the limits of my desperation when, upon noticing one of her recent footprints in the garden, I considered making a plaster impression of it.
The little buggy is somewhat embarrassing to drive. The primary market for electrics these days is women, and it shows. The cockpit is like a little sitting room, comfortable plush seating all around, small ornate electric lanterns completing the feel of piloting an unusually cramped tea house down the road at a modest twenty miles per hour. It still smells of her perfume.
What would I find there? What could I possibly find? Some ruse to tug at the wreckage of my heart, sucking the money from my bank account like hungry little ticks. How the vultures eagerly circle when the wife of a wealthy man passes away. Yet I drove onward, soon arriving at the squat two story brick building across the street from the cemetery.
“Welcome! I expected you sooner. Traffic?” He glanced over my shoulder at the Baker electric. “Nevermind. Come in! Let me take your coat.” He introduced himself as Roderick Beady, one half of the titular Beady and Scholls. My inquiry as to where the other half was hadn’t fully escaped my lips before the fat bearded fellow entered the room.
The two made a comical sight. Scholls portly to the point of hanging over his belt, Beady every bit as stickly thin as his name would lead a stranger to visualize. It’s satisfying when a name fits somebody so well. With the three of us seated, Beady began his spiel.
A brief history of the company, the basis in mythology for humans returning from the dead, that sort of thing. “Did you know the pyramids were intended as sun powered resurrection machines, to cast the spirits of dead pharaohs into the sky?” a song and dance I knew to anticipate.
“You said something about a demonstration.” His eyes lit up. “Oh yes! Just a moment.” He scampered off like an excitable little goblin and returned with a dead frog on a plate. I groaned. Did he take me for some sort of rube? Voltaire’s experiments with using electricity to momentarily animate the muscles of frogs are known to every schoolboy.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was based on early misunderstandings of those experiments, as some mistook them for proof that electricity is some sort of life force. Vital principle. Prana, or Qi, as the Orientals refer to it. But, he produced no battery or wires. Instead, with a grunt, he heaved a odd looking contraption up onto the desk from the space under it.
“This was our original prototype” he offered. As he plugged it into the wall, confirming electricity still played some part, I again wondered if it wouldn’t be smoke and mirrors. A rudimentary deception to exploit men with more money than brains. “Just a few more treatments are needed”, I imagined them promising their gullible patron, before disappearing soon after with the advance deposit.
He opened a hatch in the top of a glass cylinder filled with what looked to be saline solution. Depositing the limp frog into the fluid, he shut the hatch, made airtight by means of a rubber seal around the rim. Then, satisfied that he’d captured my attention, he flipped a switch. A pump rattled to life and as I looked on, a cloudy black fluid issued forth into the cylinder, billowing outward as it mixed with the salt water.
Once fully saturated, the water appeared hazy and fog-like. I could just make out the form of the frog, floating motionless inside. Beady toggled a second switch. A loud hum sounded, and brilliant blue arcs of electricity spread through the liquid, sending the frog into violent spasms.
As I thought. The trivial application of current, to give the appearance of life to a dead animal. Before I could ask that they spare me any further insult to my intelligence, Beady turned off the current. Yet, the frog continued moving. Thrashing about frantically within the cylinder as if in need of air. I blinked in disbelief.
“I can imagine what you must’ve thought when you read our card. We encounter a great many skeptics. But the demonstration never fails to make believers out of them.” He opened the hatch, and seized the still frantic animal from inside.
It croaked loudly several times before settling down. “They’re frightfully strong when freshly reanimated. The glass has to be very thick or they’d smash through it. That initial buzz will taper off in time. Of course, without regular injections it eventually de-animates.”
Injections? Scholls produced a leather case from within his vest. Inside, a neat row of syringes, all filled with the same thick black fluid I’d seen enter the cylinder. I demanded to know what was in them.
“Oh come now. As a man with a background in business, surely you know that we cannot freely share our proprietary formula. As of yet, we have no competitors, and I’d like to keep it that way.” He flashed me a knowing grin. I did not reciprocate.
“I can tell you it’s adulterated somewhat, with additives that help keep the revived organism in good condition” he offered. “Preservatives mainly, of the sort commonly used for embalming.” I balked. “Poisons! Surely they would only return one to the grave if ingested?” He laughed.
“There is much about the physiology of a resurrected creature that defies conventional understanding. They have no need to breathe, but do so out of reflex. No need or ability to digest victuals. Their hearts do not beat unless electrically induced, for which we include a small device. It’s necessary to maintain bloodflow for a minute or so, in order to circulate the injected materials throughout the body.”
My stomach began to churn. A feeling familiar to me as instinctive warning of unseen danger. As yet I did not believe anything except that they had resuscitated a frog. Perhaps one they’d put into a deep sleep by refrigeration, making a big show of startling it back to wakefulness? Yet, the splinter in my mind only grew stronger. I now dared to hope. However foolish, however certain my disappointment.
So it was that I descended with them into the building’s basement where I found a subterranean tunnel, with a small electric tram positioned as if to enter it. “All aboard the grave-y train! Do you get it? A little levity helps in this line of work.”
Why he imagined I would laugh under such conditions is a mystery to me. I piled into one of the precarious steel carts. As he twisted a knob, I heard the electrical whine of a motor under load, and we began to move.
I experienced my first pangs of hesitation as the train entered the tunnel. Had I done the right thing in coming here? Might they be abducting me with the intent of seeking ransom from my father? But as the little train trundled noisily down the damp, pitch black corridor, I pictured Annika ahead. The light at the end of the tunnel. The impossible possibility which drew me here. I had to know.
Buy The Resurrection Men here