Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Chapter One

Chapter One

When I think back on my life, I think it began with that long, suspenseful drive through crowded Manhattan streets in the backseat of my guardian’s limousine. I can barely recall, now, the non-descript foster homes that came before or my grief at the death of my parents. That life seems to have happened to a different girl.
I still don’t know the details of how he found me. I think that it is his particular gift, an inborn magic, to find and collect girls like me, girls with odd and unusual gifts. Dangerous gifts.


Before my guardian and his limousine entered my life, I was a rather ordinary inmate of the Frank Seeley Home[1] for Girls in New Haven, Connecticut. This was a squat, grey post-war[2] building as colorless as the hopes and dreams it inspired in its unwilling inhabitants. At 17, I was nearing the end of my depressing existence as a state ward and contemplating an equally grim future as an unskilled and lonely adult. There was never any expectation of a sudden adoption on my part, and the summons I received to report to the director’s office filled me with a nameless dread.


Since I was well passed the age when girls look to improve an institutionalized existence by trading it for an artificially familial foster situation, I had resolved to wait out the remainder of my sentence until matriculation in the cold comfort of the austere Frank Seeley Home. So, I thought that the summons to the mount the dark, back stairway to the director’s office could not be occasioned by a potential new circumstance and must have something to do with my own unnatural peculiarities. I had taken great pains to hide myself and my unwanted power from the administrators and from my former foster families, but curses like mine have a way of betraying themselves.


The day before the summons to the director’s office, I had been on a group field trip to a neighboring cineplex[3] where a vicious dog slipped its leash in the parking lot and attacked one of the girls in our party. Under the gaze of at least ten of the home’s girls, I put out my hand and stopped the dog before his teeth closed on the girl’s leg. She could feel his breath on her and the slightest pressure of teeth that did not break her skin. The dog looked at me a long moment and then walked meekly back its mystified and embarrassed owner with its tail between its legs.


The girls looked at me with awe and a little fear. No one spoke about it for the rest of the trip. But, I could sense their fear. I could almost read it from the animal parts of their souls. True to my nature, I communicate better on a dumb, animal level with the people around me than on a human level. I had no force of personality to laugh off the act, and no bravado with which to bury its significance in self-praise. I just spoke quietly and obviously with the dog and left the girls to draw their own conclusions.


It has been my burden since infancy to speak to animals.


At the time of my incarceration at the Frank Seeley home, I had never admitted it to any living soul. But sitting in the Cineplex, surrounded by the other laughing and average girls, I felt like I had screamed out my secret shame and was about to be exposed.


So, it was on trembling knees that I made my way up the dark stair that led to the director’s office that overcast afternoon.


Anastasia Grimme, the director of the Frank Seeley Home for Girls answered my brisk knock at her office door with a sharp command.


“Enter!”


Ms.[4] Grimme was a haunted-looking woman with severe gray hair pulled into a painful-looking bun at the nape of her neck. She affected to wear old-fashioned black dresses as a sort of ghoulish uniform and could put a chill into the heart of even the sunniest inmate at Frank Seeley.


I was far from the sunniest inmate at Frank Seeley and always felt a visit to her office like an icicle stabbed into my heart.


I opened the ever creaking, heavy oak door and found to my surprise that Ms. Grimme was not alone in her office.


“Here she is, Mr. Lyons. The girl you were asking about.” Ms. Grimme’s gray eyes looked like flashing malachite as she glared at me from behind her desk. Her expression was the same one I had often seen on sadistic cats casually shredding the skin of mice that were, to my ears, begging piteously for mercy.


My attention was immediately drawn to Mr. Lyons, the man destined to be my last guardian. He wore a sober gray suit and a felt hat that shadowed his eyes dramatically in the glaring fluorescent light[5] of Ms. Grimme’s office.


“Take her and do what you will!” Ms. Grimme spat out in such a tone of vile distaste that I paled and trembled in my worn, state-issued sneakers[6].


In record time, my bags were packed and situated in the trunk of Mr. Lyons waiting limousine. And he and I were driven from Connecticut to Manhattan by a shadowy and indistinct figure in the front seat. The dividing screen was a tinted glass that rendered this third person completely obscure to me.


Mr. Lyons maintained a studied silence for the length of our long drive to Manhattan and I was too completely frightened to risk any questions.


As soon as we entered the borough of Brooklyn, it became apparent that a great electric storm was erupting over the city of New York. We were treated to a symphony of thunder, and the ghastly shocks of lightening caught our faces in awful green attitudes of apprehension. For Mr. Lyons seemed almost as nervous and shy of me as I was of him. The thoughts I could understand from his animal body were all of cold, threatened sweat and accelerated heartbeats. And the electrical storm made his eyes brighten with fear in a way I found unsettling.


Finally, once we emerged from the Brooklyn tunnel[7] and entered the glittering city, Mr. Lyons broke his long silence and turned to face me.


“You’ll be wondering why I’ve adopted you and taken you from Ms. Grimme’s care in such a presumptive manner,” he began, hesitantly.


I found his manner of speech charmingly dated and archaic. But, along with my ability to clearly communicate with dumb beasts, I have, myself, always spoken as if I were a character in one of Fanny Burney’s 16th century romances[8] for some unaccountable reason. So I felt immediately at home with Mr. Lyons.


It was as if we had some strange communion of spirits, brought about by darkness, fear of nature, and the stifling aura of mystery cloaking our sudden relationship.


“I run a home for girls like yourself,” he told me.


“How do you mean ‘like myself’?”


“You are a very special girl.”


At his response I began to worry that I was begin driven toward a situation of a much ruder character than I had originally supposed.


“Don’t suppose I have any physical interest in you. I do not. Not in you or any woman.” He continued, reading my mind as if he had my own abilities to speak telepathically with animals and I was an animal. “My purpose in collecting you and bringing you to my house on the upper east side of Manhattan is to protect you. And to protect the power you were born with.”


Despite this interesting latter proclamation, I was a bit intrigued with his former puzzling utterance.
“What do you mean ‘not me or any woman’? Do you mean you don’t like women?”


“Not at all. I mean that I was rendered incapable. When we get to my house, you will find that I have six girls of various ages in residence. One of these girls is forever to be locked away from the presence of virile men. Her name is Havana and her power, which I happened upon unaware, is the withering of a man’s desire. She does this completely and once it is done, it can never be undone.”


“Do you collect girls with power, then?


“Yes, I do. Having been denied my own natural, masculine power by the spite of Havana, I choose to collect and store female power, such as your own.”


“I see.” I really didn’t see, as his story was somewhat incredible, but I felt like I should fill the silence following this remark with some sort of social nicety.


“You will meet all the girls momentarily,” he continued, oblivious to my sudden confusion, “and the one you must most dread and most avoid is the strange creature known as . . . Creatina.”


At the moment that Mr. Lyons pronounced that ill-fated name, an enormous roll of thunder crashed against our ear drums, a passing carriage horse screamed[9], and the world shook with the detonation of a massive electrical charge in the near vicinity. And before our horrified eyes, the lights of Manhattan winked out completely.


The blood drained from Mr. Lyons’ face.


“God help us,” he whispered, “She is somehow responsible for this! That creature Creatina has caused this!”
“I am sure it is only a blackout that we may safely attribute to the violence of the electrical storm, sir.” I offered.


“It is Creatina!” he insisted. The very heavens seemed to answer with a distant peal of thunder.


***********************************************


We arrived at Mr. Lyons’ house on the Upper East Side after a torturous ride along darkened streets, without the comforting benefit of street lamps. The streets were lined with frightened people, chastened in the wake of the most thorough blackout the city had seen in decades.


The approach and street that contained Mr. Lyons’ residence was curiously empty of the panicked Nuyorican throngs. His brownstone building was an ancient and ominous edifice with a positively medieval door bounded with utilitarian iron latticework.


To my surprise, Mr. Lyons’ pounded on the door with his fist rather than producing a key to unlock it.
He shrugged at my astonishment and said, “The housekeeper, Mrs. Forfanger, or the superintendent, my man Slupper, will answer my summons.”


We waited an unaccountably long time on the unnaturally darkened doorstep.


A passing pigeon muttered dire warnings at me.


“You don’t want to go in there!” he cried, flapping his wings frantically and landing on the street before us.
“Why ever not?” I thought back at him.


“I hear women scream in that house,” the mottled and dilapidated bird told me, fluttering over to land at my feet, where he quite earnestly and excitedly shat on the pavement.


Seeing my frightened expression and the gaze I had fixed on the bird, Mr. Lyons grew fierce.
“You are speaking to that pigeon!”


“No, I’m not,” I denied, unsettled by his anger.


“You are obviously speaking to that pigeon! What is he saying about me?”


“Why . . . why, only pleasant observances,” I managed to say. But the apprehension and torment on my face were enough to convince him of my deceit.


Mr. Lyons angrily stomped the pigeon to death before my horrified eyes. I heard the poor bird’s anguished final thoughts.


“Ahhhhh! Owwwww! Shit! Aaaaaaaaaa!” And so forth.


Then the door shuddered open on creaking hinges and the porch was bathed in harsh candlelight. The pigeon’s blood shone darkly in the too-revealing light.


A sorry-looking creature was revealed in the door with a hunched back and slobbering, toothless bald head.
“Master,” the vile man croaked seeing Mr. Lyons scraping pigeon gore from the bottom of his shoe onto the edge of the threshold.


“My man Slupper, what explanation can you give for the startling events we are witnessing? Is the girl Creatina safely abed? And have you kept her out of the forbidden room?” Mr. Lyons was so vehement in his last utterance that I jumped slightly at the crack of his voice.


The man Slupper was so distressed and anxious that he could not register or respond to Mr. Lyons questions. Instead he pointed frantically to the interior of the house.


“Oh, Master! Yonder Forfanger deals with such a mess as I never thought to see. That girl Creatina— Oh, woe— Woe, that we ever housed such a one!”


Mr. Lyons pushed passed the incapable wretch.


“Where is Mrs. Forfanger?”


“Begging your pardon, Master, she’s in the girl’s dormitory standing before the large wardrobe, not letting any of the girls near it! Such frightful goings on!”


“Wardrobe?” Mr. Lyons was obviously puzzled. “There is no wardrobe in the girls’ dormitory.”


“Begging your pardon, master,” this apology was accompanied by a great deal of sniveling and head knuckling. “But there is now.”


“Creatina,” Mr. Lyons’ whispered the name. “She has been in the forbidden room, I am sure of it now. May God have mercy on us!”


With this, he strode boldly up a magnificent curving stairway towards a well-appointed second floor landing. Not wishing to be left on the doorstep with the odious manservant, I found myself hurrying to follow in this wake.


The scene that met my eyes when Mr. Lyon threw open a set of double doors at the end of the hall excited my sensibilities greatly. I was astonished to find the room and the entire house well-lit, but a close look at a hallway wall sconce revealed that the curious home was lit with gas. What an extremely odd arrangement for such a luxurious New York brownstone, I thought.


I followed my guardian into a dormitory of sorts. Four girls cowered in a corner in night clothes, squealing in alarm and confusion. And a woman, harshly dressed in an old fashioned black velvet dress stood before a massive wardrobe that was oddly placed in the middle of the dorm room. The wardrobe set at an odd angle in the middle of the floor. A closer look showed me that the floorboards beneath the massive wardrobe were somewhat cracked and indented. It seemed as if this piece of furniture had fallen from a great height to its present place in the room.


Mr. Lyons strode immediately to a small open door set in the far wall. It looked as if the lock on the door had been broken open. The small room behind the door was about the size of a walk-in closet but filled with shelves containing hundreds of books. Mr. Lyons gazed and the violated door lock with an aspect of ill-concealed fury.


“Forfanger! Tell me that Creatina has not been in the forbidden room!”


Mrs. Forfanger’s face twisted in annoyance. “It was that girl, Alison, master. The one who has the talent for opening locked door and all manner of thievery. She opened the door for that creature Creatina! I told you not to house her and Creatina together and this is the wages of your stubbornness.”


One of the girls cowering in the corner blushed and looked at the floor.


“I will deal with Alison later,” Mr. Lyons coldly promised. “For now, we must figure out a way to stop this storm! What has that wretched girl created now?”


“The storm started when he showed up,” Mrs. Forfanger jerked a shoulder toward a dark corner of the room that I hadn’t previously noticed.


A man stepped forward into the fluttering gas light. He bowed to myself and Mr. Lyons.


And what a man! He was strangely dressed in mid-19th century gentleman’s attire, but that only served to enhance his arresting good looks. His hair was a gorgeous disarray of wild auburn curls and firm muscle was apparent beneath his frockcoat. His eyes were blue and voluminous like the Baltic Sea. My breath caught in my throat and I could barely breathe at the sight of him.


“Who is this?” Mr. Lyons frowned.


“I don’t know,” Mrs. Forfanger confessed, “but the electrical storm appeared when he did.”


“Sir,” the handsome and well-turned out newcomer said to Mr. Lyons, “I apologize. Allow me to introduce myself. I am--“


But he was suddenly interrupted but a thudding against the wardrobe door—against the inside of the wardrobe door! As if something were trying to get out. My supernatural senses flared and in the face of all reason, I knew that a great lion was in the wardrobe, nosing against the door.


“Quickly! It’s back!” Forfanger motioned to the girls and they ran to her side and threw their bodies against the wardrobe door, holding it firmly closed. The mysterious gentleman joined with them, throwing his weight in with theirs.


“What’s the meaning of this?” The confusion of his household obviously had poor Mr. Lyons baffled.


“There’s a great lion in this wardrobe, ‘thir!” the smallest of the house’s inmates, a bright little girl with yellow ringlet curls and a charming lisp said.


“A lion, Cindy? That seems incredible.”


“Not if you look at the stack of books on Creatina’s bed and see what she has been reading, master.” Mrs. Forfanger told him.


Mr. Lyons picked up a stack of books laying on the bed closest to the wardrobe and perused their titles.
“The Lion, the Witch, and the . . . Wardrobe[10]! Great Scott!” Mr. Lyons looked as if one of the rampant thunder bolts sounding outside had struck him. He looked through the book titles some more, paled, and then turned to regard the mysterious young man who had appeared with the electrical storm.


“What is your name, sir?”


The young man blinked uncertainly.


“Forgive me, sir. I am very confused as to how I got here,” the man said, his dazzling blue eyes peering around in evidence of bewilderment. “One moment I was in my laboratory readying the equipment to deal with sudden appearance of the electric storm I had been awaiting, and then suddenly I find both myself and the electrical storm transported to the vicinity of your house. I am at a loss. No scientific explanation seems possible.”


“Your name, damn you!”


The thumping against the wardrobe ceased and the girls and Mrs. Forfanger sighed and stepped away from the door in relief. The young man stayed hesitantly near the wardrobe.


Slowly everyone else in the room moved into a semi-circle and regarded the man in warm gaslight glow.
“Allow me to present myself, I am Victor Frankenstein[11] and am pleased to be at your service.”


Thunder sounded into the stunned silence that followed this unhappy introduction. And I felt my heart twist in my chest. For, as irrational as it seems, I already knew myself deeply in love with the slight, cerebral, yet devastating-looking young scientist. Despite the grave misgivings that seized me upon first learning that he was, alas, fictional.


Behind us, deep in wardrobe, we heard the roar of the lion, distant now.


“And where has Creatina gone?” Mr. Lyons demanded. “How can we get her back here to reverse all the unthinking damage the careless child has done?”


“She’s gone through the wardrobe like Alice through the rabbit hole!” One of the girls said excitedly.
“Good lord, has been reading Lewis Carroll[12] as well?”


“No, Master,” Mrs. Forfanger assured him. “That one is still in the forbidden room.”


Mr. Lyons crossed his arms and fell into deep thought. He bestirred from his contemplative state with sudden determination in his eyes.


“Is Havana still secured in her room, removed from the vicinity of virile males?” my guardian asked Mrs. Forfanger.


“Yes, Master.”


“We can’t send her into the wardrobe after Creatina, or we risk visiting certain sterility on an unsuspecting fictional world. It’s a pity, because she is the most self-reliant of our empowered young women.”


If the other young women in his charge were insulted by this remark, I could find no evidence of it in their demeanors.


He suddenly turned to regard me. “If I had to select a second, capable power, my dear, it would yours. You are the girl least likely to be eaten by the lion behind this wardrobe door. In fact, you will able to befriend it and seek Creatina with its aid. Especially if you are partnered by her creation, which will naturally be drawn to her.” Here my guardian turned to regard Victor Frankenstein, the man of my, and Mary Shelley’s, dreams.
The next thing I knew my upper arms were firmly seized by the repellent man, Slubber, who had snuck into the room behind me. Mrs. Forfanger and Mr. Lyons threw open the wardrobe door while the girls seized Victor by the arms.


Inside the wardrobe, I saw a row of heavy winter coats. And behind the row of coats, the floor of the wardrobe contained a sprinkling of snow. There were trees and in the distance the light of a gas streetlight, faintly discernable.


“No!” I cried. “Release me! I don’t even know this child you call Creatina or what manner of girl she may be. How will I find her?”


“You will find her,” Mr. Lyons said firmly,” By following a trail of ever-changing, realized fictional stories until you meet its source. For the foolish girl has been given the power to bring to life anything she reads and has not the sense to read only liberal democratic political utopian theory as I would have her!”


With this appalling information, Victor Frankenstein and I were thrust unceremonious into the wardrobe and the doors were firmly shut.In the darkness that followed, we stepped forth and discovered ourselves in an entirely new civilization!

END CHAPTER

FOOTNOTES
[1] The Frank Seeley Home does not exist in Connecticut or in any of the surrounding states, including New York. Nor is there any listing for a Ms. Anastasia Grimme in the New Haven phone directory. It would seem that the narrator has, wisely, changed the names of places and people in the memoir to protect her privacy. It was pointed out by infamous occultist Alistair Crowley that a possible anagram for “Frank Seeley” is “Ye Feels Rank” and that may have been the reason for the narrator’s selection of this pseudonym.

[2] Scholars have debated for over a century which war the narrator refers to with this description. Mark Twain was firmly of the opinion that the reference was to the American Civil War and conjectured as much in THE WORKS INSPIRED BY CREATINA BY ONE OF THE AUTHORS NAMED THEREIN. F. Scott Fitzgerald held the opinion that the war referred to was the Great War (the first world war) and discussed the reference at some length in his preface to the Italian translation of CREATINA released in 1933. Although, Mr. Fitzgerald did feel that Mr. Twain’s theory had a certain merit, as the reference is clearly to a style of architecture, and the impact of the American Civil War was necessarily felt to a greater degree than that of WWI in terms of American architecture. Sylvia Plath was the first writer of note to postulate that the reference was in fact to the architecture style dominant after the second war world war and this is still the prevailing theory.
[3] This word was, obviously, unfamiliar to readers of any prior editions of CREATINA. Diversely, it has been annotated to refer to a temple of the Jesus Christ of Later Day Saint’s faith, a laundry, a theater of pantomime, and a modiste’s fashion display area for the exhibition of continental fashions for young ladies. One popular English edition of CREATINA (the edition published with a preface by Esther Rimbaud Gibson, Jean Etienne Rimbaud’s Victorian English descendent) erroneously annotates the word to refer to a local Greco-Roman ruin. As this is so unlikely as to be considered preposterous in such a location as Connecticut, it goes a long way to discredit Mrs. Gibson as an editor. Subsequent scholars working along these lines suggested that the word might have origins in a Native American expression and refer to ruins of a Native American culture. But, it is clear to the modern reader that reference indicates a motion picture cinema with a variety of screens.
[4] This title for the home’s director was long considered a mistake in the history of the CREATINA manuscript, as this form of female address, neutral as to marital status, did not come into common usage until the 1960s.

[5] Another unfamiliar term to early CREATINA readers. Nikola Tesla, who exhibited the first fluorescent lights at the Worlds Fair in 1893 in Chicago, IL, was rumored to have been a CREATINA devotee in his extreme youth. One of his granddaughters alleged in a 1915 memoir about her early life with her Grandfather that he named his invention, which was based on Heinrich Geissler’s induction coils, a “fluorescent light” based on this CREATINA reference.

[6] Prior to popularization of the term “sneakers,” this phrase was assumed to be a corruption or cant-term for the English “knickers,” which gives quite a different interpretation to the narrator’s manner of expressing herself. Indeed, many Victorian editions of CREATINA substituted the word knickers in place of sneakers and the narrator was thought to be a very fast and forward girl for her age and situation.
[7] The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel is the longest continuous underwater vehicular tunnel in North America. At the tunnel’s opening ceremony in 1950, the New York governor, Thomas E. Dewey, said, “And this is yet another prediction that that anonymous author of that famous French discovery got right! And the people of New York finally have our long-promised tunnel!”

[8] At the time of the manuscript’s discovery, Fanny Burney was already a popular authoress and deceased, so this reference occasioned no comment in early readers. From a modern perspective, it is somewhat extraordinary that an American girl of the narrator’s age would think first of Fanny Burney and not the more popular Jane Austen, who came after Fanny Burney-- especially given the long life Miss Austen’s work have had in the cinema. But throughout the manuscript, the narrator proves to be uncommonly well-read and not above making obscure literary references just to make superior-sounding analogies like this one.
[9] This reference to a passing carriage horse, while obvious and familiar to 17th and 18th century readers is strikingly unlikely to 20th and 21st century readers. The most agreed upon explanation is that Mr. Lyons’ limousine has passed from the Brooklyn Tunnel area and into the region near Central Park where horse and carriage rides are common tourist attractions.
[10] This passage remained obscure as late as 1950 until C.S. Lewis published the children’s fantasy novel of the same name. Although, he was not named as some other famous literary figures found themselves in this important chronicle, as an avid CREATINA reader, Mr. Lewis could not bear to have this referenced book not exist. As he told his autobiographer Cecil Willwarrington in 1960, “I felt that it fell to me to tell the story described in CREATINA. I can’t explain it. It was almost a spiritual decision.”
[11] Mary Shelley’s classic gothic tale was well known at the time of CREATINA’s discovery.

[12] Charles Lutwidge Dodson is alleged to have adopted the writing pseudonym Lewis Carroll in order to make it seem as if he were a mentioned writer, prophesied to greatness in CREATINA. However, the writer stubbornly maintained all his life that he was unfamiliar with the reference to his penname in this work and that his development of the Alice in Wonderland series was not influenced by this future history. It seems incredible that a man of Reverend Dodson’s learning could have been unexposed to the miracle of Herault before he authored the Alice series in 1865, but no proof has ever surfaced that he ever read this history or the mention of his work therein. See further notes on Samuel Clemens and Mark Twain in subsequent chapters.

1 comment:

Adam said...

YAY!!!! more book!

More!