Thursday, August 5, 2010

Crossed Paths

All the sins in the world condensed into one night, and Jason didn't know what to say. There he stood, a slight and solitary figure in the middle of the trashed living room, an open can of Sprite warm in his pale hand. The faces of his peers, made red and grotesque by drink, leered in the hot haze. Jason closed his eyes, trying to reorient himself; the entire house smelled like sweat and booze, and the music whined like drills in his ears.

Target-rich environment, thought Jason.

All the old horror stories about college life had warned about such parties, wild bacchanals where even the most devout could lose his way amidst the beer and soft sighs. Like any red-blooded American male, he listened to the youth pastor for reasons other than what the man intended, dreams of firm breasts and taut bellies making welcome intrusions on Jason's pious fears.

Sometimes he imagined himself bravely withstanding temptation and bringing others back into the light. Other times he dreamed of letting himself go and casting his cares to the side, plunging headlong into sin. He always prayed for forgiveness for such thoughts afterwards, knowing full well he'd do it again.

He looked to the big couch to his right, its original color buried under an avalanche of stains. A pink-faced girl leaned into an athlete's pecs, mumbled words and drool spilling from her lips. A foolish smile split the guy's face, his thick fingers stumbling over themselves in a drunken fondling attempt.

Jason's sheltered upbringing led him to think of sin in grand, Manichean terms, a pulsing and jet-black force threatening to consume the light of the Lord. Even as the elders preached about the dangers of drunkenness and hate, fornication and greed, the idea of little devils hopping around in a Black Mass never strayed far from Jason's mind. The reality came as an almost crushing disappointment.

Why am I even here?

He knew better than to think he'd convert anybody, and fully expected to return to the student church empty-handed. Still, planting the seed of doubt in lives of sin might at least start something. But where to start? More or less at random, he walked across the room to a thin blonde guy in a Nickelback shirt, doing something on his cell phone.

"Hey!" said Jason.

His target looked up, blinking bloodshot eyes.

"Uh, hey."

"Cool party, huh?"

"Yeah. I'm trying to text my friend, so if you don't mind..."

"Oh, right. Sorry."

Jason tried again, this time going to a group of revelers gathered in a circle, a Smirnoff Ice in every hand. He talked without thinking, his words never registering. They knew each other, and did not know him. Hoping for a charmed third time, he walked up to a bored-looking girl, thin dirty blonde hair framing her thick face, her blue eyes bored and foggy. She leaned against the wall, near the closed bathroom door.

"Hey!" said Jason, trying to sound cheerful. No better way to start a pitch than with a happy face.

"Um, what?" she slurred. Starting to lose her balance, she caught herself at the last moment, still wavering.

"You okay?"

"I need to—"

She finished the sentence by bending forward and loosing a torrent of wine cooler and half-digested Lays all over the floor and on Jason's shoes. The raw stink of vomit soon competed with the odor of alcohol and sweat for dominance in the room.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she mumbled.

"It's okay. Here, let me get you some water."

"Thanks, that's sweet." She sat down on the carpet, a few feet away from the festering puddle. Shouts of joyous disgust rang out as people noticed the commotion. Jason navigated his way to the kitchen, managing to find one somewhat clean glass on the shelves and filled it with water from the dispenser. Taking it back, he found the girl all but asleep.

"Here, take this."


"Drink the water. You'll feel better."

She took the glass with weak hands and drank the entire thing, half the contents spilling out onto her face. His face warm with embarrassment, Jason helped her up and escorted her to an unoccupied chair.

"Are you going to be okay?"


"Good. Um, if you lie down, be sure to do it sideways."

"Aw, that's sweet. I know how to do this."

She sighed, snuggling into the seat and putting her head on the armrest. She reminded Jason of a newborn child, red-faced and weak, but the thought inspired no feeling of affection.

Jason shuddered in delight as he stepped out into the night, the cool air seeming to wipe away the grime and stink.

God's gifts are great.

Nothing to do but go home, he figured, to his tiny apartment a few blocks down from campus. He'd already spent a school year and a month without bringing anyone into the faith; one more night probably didn't make much of a difference.

Jason heard the door open and shut behind him as another person left the party. He turned to look, noticing her even and sober steps, the slenderness of her body, her bright eyes twinkling in a face colored like cinnamon, the light blue shawl wrapped around her head. Raising a cell phone to her ear (the shawl's fabric clinging to its curves) she waited for a few moments.

"Hey, Stacy? How's it going? Are you busy right now? Turns out I need to get picked up a little earlier than I thought— yeah, Jenna told me it was going to be all, like, quiet. Then I go in and everyone's drunk! Yeah, I guess she didn't know. Anyway, totally not my scene," she laughed. "Five minutes? Oh, thank you so much! Bye."

Jason watched, torn between going on his way and saying something. Had she really not had any alcohol? Overhearing her conversation felt like vindication, that at long last someone else thought the whole thing idiotic. Jason looked at her headscarf again. Probably a Muslim, he figured, which explained why she didn’t drink. She looked relaxed though, like she'd simply brushed off an annoyance and was headed on to better things.

"Yeah, I'm a little astonished at how much the people drink here. I don't drink either," he said, his voice coming out at an unnaturally high pitch.

"I know. I totally don't get it either. It's like, why would you want to drink something that supposedly tastes bad just to act stupid and crazy? And they all get really red and weird-looking too," she laughed, pantomiming a drunk.

"Agreed. Uh, my name is Jason." He offered his hand.

"Oh, I don't shake hands, but my name's Fatima." She made a little wave, accompanied by a bold smile.

"Glad to meet you. Are you a student here?"

"Uh huh, second year Poli Sci. How about you?"

"Second year, English. Well on my way to becoming unemployable," he joked, and instantly regretted making the joke.

"English? Oh, you can be like an editor or something. You'll be fine. What do you like to read?"

"Classics, mostly. Heart of Darkness, the Red Badge of Courage, stuff like that. The Bible," he added.

"I used to read a lot of adventure books, like Harry Potter. Now I mostly read nonfiction."

"Yeah, I read the Harry Potter series back in the day." Jason remembered biking to a library three miles away to read it in a dark corner, always keeping an eye out for anyone from his family or church as he turned the pages with sweaty palms, his anxiety bleeding into the book's plot and making it all the more intense. It was one of the only times he'd ever gone against his parents' wishes.

"What about you? Do you want to be a politician?" he asked.

"Probably not a politician exactly, but I'm just so fascinated with the way the world works. It can lead into a lot of other things, so we'll see," she said, smiling again. She's ready for anything, thought Jason.

"Yeah, I might change majors myself."

"To what?"

"Oh, not sure yet. Maybe business, maybe law of some sort. I'm ready for anything."

"That's spirit! So why are you here?"

"A friend invited me, but it's not really my sort of thing. I don't know, all these big crowds kind of get to me." That wasn't quite a lie; Tom, from Jason's US history class, had invited him as a reward for helping Tom out on the last test. Jason had just attended for reasons besides levity.

"I don't mind big groups, but places like this are kind of... I don't know, sad. Like they hate their lives so much so they have to drink it away."

"That's exactly how I feel!"

A dark blue sedan pulled up in front of the house, twice sounding out the horn. Jason caught a glimpse of a girl with long hair behind the wheel.

"Here's my ride. Nice meeting you, I'll see you around campus or something!"

"For sure. Take care!"

Jason walked home, feeling a lightness in his step that had never been there before.

During the week, he went from one gray lecture to another, a lone listener in a crowd of students lost in their iPods and cell phones, indifferent to the bored professors who repeated the words they'd said a hundred times before. Scrawled notes meandered across Jason’s paper as he wondered again why he hadn't gone to Biola or Vanguard. Not too late to change, he reflected. He knew he never would.

The old relief he once felt at attending meetings of the Evangelist Christian Student's Club faded gradually to dread. Every week he entered the bare room in the student center empty handed, nothing to show for his minimal efforts. It wasn't as if the other students brought newcomers very often, and when they did the newcomers almost never stayed for more than a meeting or two. They prayed and held hands, asking the Almighty for strength to stand up against a world that did not care. The sentiment moved him, if nothing else.

A few days after the disastrous party, the presiding speaker at the club talked about his own college days, wallowing in lurid stories of his many sins, warning the other students not to do what he did.

The students gobbled up his words, eyes wide as he described the latter-day Roman orgies, shuddering when he talked about waking up hung over and alone and sick, nodding and sobbing when he described his salvation. Jason mimicked the crowd, not really able to care. He never felt close to Jesus during such public confessionals, and some part of him suspected that the whole thing was designed to titillate, the narratives bathed in sin like the old Cecil B DeMille flicks and justified by wholesome endings.

Don't be a Pharisee, he told himself, as the meeting adjourned.

Jason recognized the contempt he felt and talked about it to church counselor, one Patrick Schumacher. Pat, as he liked to be called, was a good guy, a man driven to make sure that no one in his charge would fall victim to darkness.

"It's good that you recognize this. That's how Christians bring themselves closer to God; by self-examination and changing. You just need faith to change, and faith to bring this change to others."

"Yeah. It's hard for me to do that," admitted Jason.

"To tell your peers about the Word?"

"They never seem to listen."

"People are closing their ears. In this world, where we're all so rich and comfortable, it's easy to forget about God, and that means we need to try all the harder. Keep at it. There is no greater thing you can do for a person."

"I know! It's just that I always feel like a bother."

"Well, if you have to be a bit of a pest, so be it. You need to bring people in. We all do. Everyone struggles with it, but to not do it at all is to ignore God's gift to us, his own begotten Son in sacrifice."

Some nights Jason lay awake in bed, sick in his heart as he thought about the unsaved and their eventual fate. All he needed to do was say something, and God would help it along. But when he did say something the words plodded along, devoid of any confidence. By November, he'd started to avoid most other students, fearing the guilt he'd feel at not being able to save them. If he didn't know them at all, at least he wouldn't care that much.

Fatima proved the exception. Not to say the old dread didn't focus on her in the night's lonely hours, but that he could forget it when they talked. Happiness seemed as natural as breathing to her, her bright face always blessed by a welcoming smile. Jason hardly ever found her alone, Fatima's breezy ebullience having earned her the friendship of what seemed like half the student body, but that didn't matter. He never felt himself shunted to the side or ignored, being just as important as everyone else in her eyes.

Talking to her put him in the same ease he felt back in high school, surrounded by friends he'd known since elementary. Through their conversations, Jason learned more about Fatima as winter approached with its skies clear and cold. He learned of her love for old movies, and her worries about her brother, serving with the 173rd in Afghanistan. Drifting through to the end of the semester, enduring the long weekends of half-hearted studying, Fatima and her friends offered a lone bright spot. He got to know some of her friends a bit better, and even spent time with a few. They could never make him forget his obligation the way she did.

In time, neither could she. Faith preserved Jason through the pain of adolescence, but offered nothing more than consuming guilt after that. His one duty, to spread the Word, weighed on every thought. Why was he charged with the one thing he did not know how to do? Every time he went to the congregation he heard the same message, to bring more into the fold, until the other lessons faded into the background. What did faith and mercy matter if he let others burn in Hell? And in the face of this horror he shrank away, too afraid to save a soul, callous and selfish beyond belief.

"I try, Pat, but I just don't know what to say," he often said, refusing to let the tears come. Pat encouraged people to weep and yell if that's how they felt, but such emotionalism never sat well with Jason.

"It might be that shyness is your cross to bear. You have to remember that God's backing you up on this. There are Christians in some parts of the world who risk their lives to bring the Word to others. I don't want to make you feel bad, but are you really that afraid of suffering a little embarrassment? Since that's the worst that can happen."

"I know, it's pathetic—"

"Hey, don't be so down on yourself. Everyone faces these kinds of problems on their walk with God. It's just a matter of learning to have faith."

Maybe I don't really have faith, wondered Jason, though he said nothing.

Winter break offered little relief. Old friends came back, their time in college somehow making them seem less interesting. The religious ones talked happily about the progress they made with the Lord, while the secular ones bragged of their misdeeds and somehow made sin seem boring and pretentious.

Pious Cody, the hope of the congregation (who'd nonetheless gone to a secular college), took Jason aside one day towards the end of break and started talking about all the girls he'd slept with that year, laughing about it and going into too much detail. Moments earlier he'd been telling the church how he'd gotten closer to God.

"So what you were talking about to the church just now was all lies," sighed Jason. Why is he telling this to me? Is it a confession in disguise?

"That's my old stupid high school self talking, the high school self that I want my parents to believe I still am."

"You're ashamed."

"Hell no! I don't want trouble, is all. They'll probably cut my tuition if I tell them. I'm just amazed how much of my life I wasted not having fun."

"That's what college is for, right? None of that learning nonsense."

"I barely go to class, and it's easy to cheat."

The exchange soured Jason, though none of his other co-religionists gave him any indication to think that they'd turned from the path. But hearing Cody nurtured an awful little doubt that wouldn't go away, even though Jason knew the doubt was unfair and unjustified. Jason talked to his other friends and told them his troubles. They repeated what Pat had said, though with more sympathy.

Classes resumed, as did his meetings with Fatima, a touch of social warmth on the cement campus. He'd never met someone so disinterested in sin, the temptation to do wrong just going by without touching her. Surely that counted for something in the divine scheme.

He read Romans 9:15: "For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." How indeed could He not have mercy for Fatima? Maybe it didn't really matter what Jason said. For one second that thought flowed through him like a cleansing stream, breaking away all the fear and dread. The feeling didn't last. He could bring it up to Pat, see what he thought, but Jason already knew the answer.

Besides, he realized his belief in Fatima's perfection to be wishful thinking on his part. Sin touched all people, even her, and Fatima did not know forgiveness. He didn't even know her that well, not really. They never spent time together outside of school, rarely saw each other more than once a week, sometimes not even that. Without anything else in his life though, she seemed like much more.

Hellfire intruded on Jason's dreams all through January, his stomach churning into knots at the idea of Fatima in such a place, burned and flayed and alone, without hope or recourse. Something in his power to change if he but tried a little harder, and tears flowed from his eyes at the thought of angering her, his one real friend. More than a friend, he hoped, his body shivering at the thought of embracing her, of seeing the thick black hair beneath her hijab, of having the love of this living saint.

Better, he thought, to be damned with her than to embrace the joys of Heaven while she suffered. God couldn't allow a pitiful, cringing wretch like him into His Kingdom while she suffered torment. Just let me trade places, he prayed, knowing as he said it that he didn't really mean it, that the fear of the endless flame burned hotter than his love.

"Damn me now, before I lose my nerve!" he whispered.

He remained on Earth.

January turned to February, exhaustion dogging every step, Jason too afraid to say what he needed to say. March arrived, the air warming up and hardscrabble flowers blooming on the chaparral hills around the school. He passed by Fatima as he left his Humanities discussion group and fell in beside her. Fatima's smile seemed guarded that day, but they started talking all the same. They took a seat outside the Student Union Cafe, the bright sun reflecting on the polished metal tables.

She started talking about Ibrahim, her brother, wounded by an IED. Her family had just found out over the weekend and Jason's mouth dropped in shock and sadness at the news.

"Little metal pieces up and down his entire leg, they said! He'll recover. I talked to him on the phone, and he said the leg wasn't broken, he was really far from the blast. He sounded scared though, the blast killed one of his friends. I just... I want him to come back home and not have to go back there."

"I'm so sorry."

"It's like I can't even think about anything else right now! I'm so glad he'll live but... I don't even know how to describe it. Like none of the words I have are good enough. I'm so angry at this war, at the Taliban and what they did to him, what they do to the people over there."

A horrible opportunity dawned, and Jason suddenly wished he'd never gotten out of bed that morning. His stomach dropped to his feet and he thought he'd be sick. Now is your chance, he realized, and wished it wasn't.

"I'll be here for you," he mumbled.

"Thanks." She fell silent.

“Um, when I feel scared like this, I usually read parts of the, uh, Bible. They’re really good at that, at helping.” Each word came out a squeak and he wanted so badly to stop, but didn’t know how, all the fears of the past months screaming for release inside of him.

"Oh. Okay."

“I could share them with you, if you’d like,” he continued, his heart twisting, “sometimes a new way of looking at things is best. You said how you hated the Taliban, and maybe the Bible—“

He stopped, seeing her eyes widen in disbelief. Fatima opened her mouth as if to say something. Instead she stood up, shaking her head at him. In one swift movement she grabbed her backpack and left the table, not taking a single look back. Jason sat there, hating himself and the world, knowing he’d tried to bring her to the Truth and failed in the worst way possible. He had just wanted to stop worrying about her soul, unable to endure the fear any longer.

Jason didn't see Fatima for the rest of the month. He spent as little time in campus as possible, going straight back to his apartment after class, too ashamed to talk to her. Sometimes he saw her in the distance and always turned away. He wanted so badly to apologize, but he didn't expect her to accept. Better to dream that she might, than confirm that she wouldn't.

He couldn't avoid her forever. They met again on a hot day in late April, their paths crossing in the campus park. He saw her from a distance, and knew that she'd seen him as well. Instead of turning, she kept walking forward. Resigned, he did the same.

They stopped once they were close, and he tried to read her expression, finding nothing. He looked to the ground, his cheeks hot with shame.

"I'm sorry, Fatima. I'm really, really sorry. I know I shouldn't have said that, I just—"

"I know you were trying to help back there, but what you said was just... how could you be so clueless?" she demanded. "I'm scared to death about my brother, and you try to convert me? That's crazy! I don't want to be a Christian, Jason. I'm proud of what I believe in, just like you are."

"I know. I mean, I should have known. God, I'm so sorry. You don't hate me, do you?"

"No, I don't hate you. I think you need to talk to somebody, a priest or something."


"Yeah. Or maybe a therapist. I just don't know how anyone could think that was appropriate."

"Right. I'll try to get help, I promise."

"Okay. I'm glad we talked, but I've got to go to class."

"Me too. See you around?"

"Sure." She said it fast and off-handedly, and Jason wondered if she really meant it. He supposed that was her business.

Alone, he made his way out of the park and onto the sun-cooked cement walkways of the university.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Creature in Full

Authors Note: As you may already know, I am Destron, the writer of Travels through Azeroth and Outland. This blog is where I will post some of my original fiction, in an effort to practice my skills.

I originally planned to publish this story, but I recently decided against it, as I think the story has many flaws. A reader pointed out the fact that it lacks an emotional core. Upon reading it again, I also think it indulges in far too much historical name-dropping. The subject matter is also probably too similar to the travelogue's, which is problematic in that I'm trying to differentiate myself from that style of writing. That said, I like the idea behind this, so I may rework this sometime in the future. However, I am still curious to hear your opinions.

Ironically, this story is still technically fanfiction, but the fandom in question is in the public domain, so it's sort of in a gray area.


A Creature in Full

It was during a hot spring of whispers and threats that a most peculiar visitor came to the café on the Rue de S. Conflict and contention seemed to attract the stranger; his massive form always lurking in the shadows when indignant merchants fumed over the latest decrees of Charles X. Had their fathers bled and died in the Revolution, in the wars of empire, to put such a fool on the throne?

Though silent, the patrons could hardly help noticing the stranger, a full head above than the tallest among them. He wore many coats in spite of the scorching heat, and a broad-brimmed hat plunged his face in shadow. He never ordered more than a single glass of wine, which he always nursed through the night.

When finally he did speak, it took the entire room by surprise. Even the impetuous Henri, who so usually dominated the floor, fell silent at the stranger’s voice. His tone deep and rumbling, he offered his own opinion, agreeing that the king’s rule had failed.

“Is it not the master’s duty to care for his people? To raise them as a father would his children? If the master has failed, then it is time for the people to take matters in their own hands,” he said.

“That the king is a fool and a tyrant there is no doubt,” agreed Henri, regaining his composure. “Yet the people are not always so wise. It was the people who brought the Jacobins and their reign of terror, the people who supported Napoleon and his wars.”

“Wars that made the nation great!” countered Luc, a veteran of the Corsican’s campaigns.

“Wars that ruined us and let the monarchy return to power!”

“And it is in us that the power lies! If we bring more Jacobins to power, than we shall tear them down. If we bring a new Napoleon, we will set him on the course of peace. It is we who must take responsibility!” argued the stranger, his nearly bestial voice commanding the room’s attention.

The stranger ended his silence that night, and it was like the breaking of a dam. He’d read everything from the classics to the moderns, and knew the history of the world as if it were an old friend. Knowledge alone would not have gotten him very far, but he coupled this with a sharp and original intellect. Whether speaking of Kant or Aristotle, Locke or Berkeley, he offered new insights and profound understanding.

Of course, Paris was full of such people, its scholars and mad thinkers as common as dirt. The stranger had something they did not: mystique. Even after he’d been there for weeks, nobody knew his name or his face. He deflected their many questions, sometimes with jokes, sometimes with hints that inevitably obscured more than they revealed. If there’s anything the intellectual set loved more than wit and ideas, it was novelty, and the stranger offered that in limitless amounts.

“I think he’s a subversive from the university, who else would know all this?”

“Probably just a showman with a good education.”

“He can be none other than Weishaupt. He’s got a bit of a German accent, don’t you think?”

Befitting a celebrity whose fame rested on a lack of identity, the stranger rarely grew close to any of his compatriots. No one could say where he lived, or what he did for a living. Henri was the closest thing the stranger had to a friend, and he did not really know more than anyone else.

Henri’s sanguine temperament proved a good match for the stranger’s aura of mystery. Yet, there may have been ulterior reasons on the stranger’s part. Everyone in the café knew Henri to be a man of connections, the sort who effortlessly hobnobbed with royals and rebels, professors and guttersnipes. Anyone worth knowing in Paris was probably acquainted with Henri.

As the months wore on, Henri invited his other friends to meet this fascinating newcomer. Nearly everyone was impressed, or at least intrigued. On a lesser man, the cloak of mystery would have seemed absurd, but the stranger wore it well. Perhaps it was his voice, vibrant and almost unearthly, that did the trick. There were also his arms, big enough to rip a man in two. The stranger brooked disagreement quite well, but nobody dared to actually insult him.

Then came the boiling summer, with its streets as hot as griddles. Burdened by the burning sun and foolish decrees, the body politic decided it could take no more. Starting at the offices of Le National, the July Revolution spread through the city like a brushfire. The dream of liberty filled the streets once again as bullets and roof tiles flew through the air. As usual, Henri knew just where to be at any given moment, and with him went the stranger. Even amidst the chaos, the stranger stood out, a titan garbed in black. He stood with the revolutionaries at the Palais de Justice and the Hotel de Ville, even raising the proud tricolor at the latter.

The July Monarchy followed the July Revolution. As the streets of Paris continued to seethe, the stranger found himself turned into an icon of freedom. Common Parisians hailed him on the street, remembering how he’d stood like a living bulwark against the (admittedly diffident) royalist guards. Some claimed that he’d saved their lives in battle, though in truth he’d done little more than be seen in just the right places. This is not to say he did not help; after all, a living symbol is of immeasurable value to any movement.

This living symbol finally showed his face at the height of the post-revolution festivities, when the streets swelled with carousers and patriots. Early one noisy evening, surrounded by acquaintances from his café days, the stranger called for quiet, his giant arms raised.

“My friends, in the past days it has been my honor to remake France alongside you. Now, in this time of hope and progress, I think it is only fitting that I reveal to you all my identity. I confess a feeling of some anxiety: I warn you now that I am an exceedingly hideous man, likely worse than you have ever before seen. I will not hold it against you if you turn away.”

With both hands he threw off his hat and pushed down his collar, and the entire crowd recoiled. His words failed to do justice to his awful face, the lumpen features outlined by deep scars and furrows. One could almost see the raw muscles and veins beneath his translucent skin, and rotten black lips framed a mouth of jagged teeth.

Fear ran through the crowd, but each of them knew that one man, however big, posed no real threat to them. At that moment, the mood could have gone to either rage or acceptance, like two sides of a spinning coin.

In that critical moment of indecision, Henri bounded towards the stranger and gripped his right hand, raising it as high as he could.

“Ugly or not, this man is a hero!”

And with that, the crowd cheered, suddenly enamored of their hideous savior. His deformities attained the quality of something beloved and familiar; the people would not want it any other way. Different cities and nations had their heroes, noble of face and mien, but only Paris had a monster, a strange and wondrous symbol that would be the fear and envy of its neighbors.

At first, no one knew what to make of the happy mob led by an abomination, but word spread with due speed. It was not long that Gerard Broussard, a writer for Le National, sought out the monster for an interview. By this point, the monster had chosen the name of Adam.

“Adam, your unusual appearance, coupled with your heroism, has made you among the most interesting citizens in Paris. But I, and probably everyone, want to know your past. How did you come to look the way that you do?” inquired Gerard.

“A good question, with a rather long and involved answer.”

The two were meeting in a small lodge over a bakery, which had been Adam’s residence since the July Revolution. When they found out that Adam had been living in the gutters, Henri and his friends immediately arranged a more respectable home for him. The baker was more than happy to have such a celebrity living above his business. The entire street rushed in every time Adam went downstairs.

“By all means, tell me everything!” urged Gerard.

Adam’s story defied belief. He started the tale from his first memory, lying on a cold slab while an individual, described by Adam as, “a thin and sallow man, his voice devoid of humanity or compassion,” first exulted and then screamed at the sight of him. Then came the long nights of loneliness and confusion, stumbling through the wilderness in search of someone, anyone.

“As wild and ignorant as a beast, I still sought out others so that I might end my isolation.”

He thought he’d found this in the form of the DeLacey family. Adam smiled when he spoke of them, though Gerard almost wished he hadn’t; Adam’s smile somehow exacerbated his ruined features. Even so, his story was a touching one. Through clandestine observation he learned of civilized mores, further educating himself with surreptitious readings from the DeLacey bookshelf. That Adam had enjoyed The Sorrows of Young Werther, Gerard knew, would only enhance his popularity.

“I owe my life to the DeLaceys,” said Adam.

Adam went on to describe how he finally showed himself to the DeLaceys, starting with the family’s blind patriarch.

“I wanted to pay my respects to the head of the family. At the time, I was not aware of my abominable appearance.”

The old man accepted him well. The rest of the family did not. Seeing him in conversation with the elder DeLacey, they assumed him to be some brigand or beast and chased him back into the wilderness.

“Words cannot do justice to the anger in my heart, a burning rage towards the entire world. I’d watched that family for so long, thinking myself one of them in all but name. Even Monsieur DeLacey himself took me in, until, for no reason I could tell, his relations cast me out! What was I to do?

“My mind turned to he who had created me, that cruel brute blinded by his own pride. I longed to feel my hands around his throat, to make him suffer as I had. But something pulled me back, just before I could set on vengeance’s lonely path.

“I saw my reflection in a mountain pool. A trifle thing, to be sure, but an important one all the same. It was morning, I remember, the sun bright and clear in that special way one only sees in the springtime Alps. Looking at myself, I finally realized how different I was in appearance from DeLacey and the others. I’d seen myself before, but had never really thought of it. My rage dimmed into understanding: No wonder they feared me!

“Then I remembered! Monsieur DeLancey spoke often of Paris, with its thousands of people. He’d not been there in ages, but he always talked of the beggars in the streets, their skins rotten with disease. There, I realized, I might find others like myself!”

Murmurs of assent came from around the room, all eyes still on Adam’s monstrous face, animated in conversation. None of them had ever seen such distortions of muscle and flesh, and they found themselves enraptured both by his words and by his appearance.

“Of course. I found that nobody in Paris paid me much mind as long as I kept my head covered and avoided conversation. I found plenty of castaways in the streets, those shunned by society through no fault of their own. Some shunned me in turn, others accepted me. At any rate, I began to learn more of the ways of the world. I continued reading whenever and wherever I could, until I daresay my knowledge matched that of any student in the Sorbonne.”

“What brought you to café society?”

“None other than necessity. My friends, crippled in body and mind as they were, would not find help through normal means. This world is set against them, and I resolved that the best way to help them was to win the respect of gentlemen like you. As I am an educated man, I would be better able to access the more refined circles of society.”

“Where are you friends now?”

“In the alleys by this building, in the catacombs beneath the streets, among the refuse heaps and gutters. Where are they not? They too lent their aid to the July Revolution; I saw them standing with the best of you. Do they not also deserve the respect that you have given me?”

With passion, rage, and awe, Gerard’s pen burned its way across the page and into the hearts of a city. Adam’s bizarre history combined pathos with the shock of the new. A few citizens even turned these energies to helping the castoffs.

The new Citizen-King himself invited Adam to a meeting, eager to see the revolution’s malformed hero. Adam performed well in the king’s eyes, eventually convincing Louis Philippe to order the construction of a hospital for the cripples and madmen. A few months later, Adam stood proudly among the learned and the burghers at the unveiling of his namesake hospital, his hideous face beaming in the sun.

Intertwined with Adam was the tale of Victor Frankenstein, the monster’s creator. Overnight he became a despised figure in all parts of the city, the cruel monster who created and abandoned another human. Adam himself said little about the subject.

“Victor has it in his mind to be another god, creating men from the earth. I cannot imagine that such a man can ever be loved or happy. I have found a new home, made friends with my fellow humans, and am in many respects quite fortunate. Pity is the only emotion I can summon up for Victor.”

Knowledge of Frankenstein’s deplorable behavior spread across Europe, until a fuming mob descended on the doctor’s Geneva home. Rescued at the last moment by gendarmes (who themselves bore no love for the man), he was packed off to Paris to stand trial. Horrified at the revelation, his wife Elizabeth refused to speak with her husband, leaving him to face his fate alone.

No pen recorded the meeting between Adam and Victor, the latter behind bars. Perhaps Adam took pleasure in seeing his indifferent creator brought low, or perhaps he felt only the pity he claimed. Vengeance is seldom a concern for those who have found happiness, and Adam took the unusual step of pleading for Victor’s life. Of course, Adam may have well realized that this was the cruelest thing he could possibly do to Victor; whatever the case, the mad doctor did not survive for much longer, killed by influenza.

Decades passed as Adam, the monster, became a fixture in his beloved city. He showed an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time. Touring America during the bloody uprisings of 1848 proved especially fortuitous, and he did not say anything provocative upon his return.

Indeed, his only real passion lay in learning, and he roamed the world trying to meet the great minds and discuss matters of life and the world with them. He listened to Comte’s ideas of positivism in the philosopher’s latter days. During a trip to London, Adam managed to gain an audience with Marx, only to be rebuffed for his apathy regarding 1848. Pursuing the arts he befriended luminaries like Delacroix and Baudelaire. The former had already incorporated Adam (or at least a facsimile thereof) into his immortal Liberty Leading the People, while the latter found in him a rich source of inspiration for the most macabre entries in Flowers of Evil.

As time went on, Adam was seen less and less in Paris. There was a time that he’d visit Adam’s Hospital for the Monstrous on the last day of each month, as surely as clockwork, but by the 1860s, years had passed by without his presence. The occasional reports would place him in all manner of cities: Budapest one month, Buenos Aires the next.

Adam formed a million acquaintanceships, and not a single friendship. Those few who knew something of him described the monster as almost like a god in outlook, too elevated to concern himself overmuch with mortals. Certainly he possessed few of humanity’s physical weaknesses, being ageless and tireless. Others simply dismissed this as arrogance.

“I think that Dr. Frankenstein instilled in Adam some of his own arrogance,” said a weary Henri, late in his life. He had not seen Adam for over ten years, and was deeply in debt.

Adam hurried back to Paris once he heard news of the German guns rumbling towards the capital, but the war had finished by the time he’d crossed the Atlantic. His popularity had already been waning for some time, and the spits and jeers of angry Parisians demonstrated the level to which it had fallen.

And so Adam fled to the ancient deserts and mountains of Asia. Those few who still spoke to him before his departure described the monster as confused and disturbed. He did not know what he had done wrong; after all, hadn’t he hurried back home when he learned of the war?

No one can say for sure exactly where Adam went, or whom he saw. Scattered reports placed him in Tibet’s mountain fastness, a guest of the Panchen Lama. Rudyard Kipling, upon his return to India, swore that he saw the monster at the banks of the Ganges, among the dalits. The morbid Japanese writer Edogawa Rampo later said that one of his earliest memories was of seeing Adam, still strange and terrible, resting under a blooming Nagoya cherry tree.

Adam faded from Western memory, many thinking him dead. Peace reigned across Europe, the twin hopes of science and progress growing ever higher. Grand empires reached new heights of glory, the Union Jack waving across the world and the tricolor of France not far behind.

Perhaps this served Adam well, his return not attracting undue attention. A bored journalist from Le Temps conducted a brief interview, and the article describing Adam’s reappearance raising a few eyebrows at sitting rooms and dinner tables, but nothing more. Adam seemed content to live quietly. People sometimes saw him near the fine hotel that stood in place of his namesake Hospital for the Monstrous, long since fallen into ruin. His expression at such times seemed more thoughtful than sad.

A few took interest. Oscar Metenier begged Adam to take part in the Grand Guignol, though the monster wisely declined. A man hired by Thomas Edison also visited Adam, requesting to put the monster on film. Adam agreed to this, though he was apparently less than happy with the final result.

As time passed he started establishing new connections. Basing his initial impressions on his novelty, he soon won hearts with his wit. Adam’s time in Asia had made him all the wiser, and he could discuss the Four Great Classical Novels with the Sinophiles of the Sorbonne.

Paradise is ever illusory and short-lived, and all too soon the countryside erupted with the boom of artillery and the screams of men. All France jumped at the chance to be heroes in this new war, and went to die in the trenches. Adam was among the first to volunteer. Some questioned if such a symbol, even a discredited and almost forgotten one, should be put at risk on the front lines. Adam solved the problem for them by refusing to be put anywhere else.

In war made by monsters worse than Adam, he proved his worth. Tireless and fearless fought in the trenches, a colossus astride the mud and the blood and the rats. Soldiers found comfort in his deep voice, steady even during the explosive chorus of artillery. A German soldier’s bullet pierced his chest at Verdun, to which Adam shrugged and returned fire, felling his attacker in one shot.

Journalists renewed Adam’s celebrity, declaring him a hero of France. The call came down from on high to award him with the Legion d’Honneur, the medal finally pinned on his coat in a trench near Ypres. Clandestinely, some tried to get Adam to return, though he refused. His fellow soldiers said he’d rather die than abandon them; others believed it a ploy to avoid losing face a second time. Only Adam knew the truth.

Adam survived the war, though photos of him taken after Versailles show his horrific features lost in a haunted expression. French patriots invited him into their circles, the monster never quite able to look excited or engaged at their dinners. In the streets and cafes, radicals called Adam their enemy, lambasting him in print in hopes of driving him away. But Adam stayed, his popularity steady throughout the post-war years.

Firsthand accounts describe Adam as increasingly diffident, uncaring about his new friends and spending much time alone. Many thought it the result of surviving the hell of the Great War, but no one could say for sure.

By the mid-20’s he was nearly as forgotten as he had been during his sojourn to Asia. People still came to see him, but his name had no real meaning beyond the refined circles of the literati. F. Scott and Zelda came for a visit one night, and the event ended in a drunken mess. Towards the end of the decade he briefly corresponded with HP Lovecraft, the strange American writer fascinated with Adam’s detached alienation and decidedly nonhuman nature.

Adam represented a source of fascination to the scientific community, an interest that he generally reciprocated. Though turning down any question as to his creation, he was happy to talk and learn. France’s scientists had long respected his disinclination to describe his origins, and besides, Adam knew little about the details.

So it was with no small annoyance that he began receiving requests and invitations all through the ‘30s, sent from scientists in Germany and the Soviet Union, all wanting to learn about his creation. The Nazis he already distrusted, and whatever sympathies he held towards the Soviets soon vanished. An agent sent from the Deuxieme Bureau came to Adam one night, informing him that Nazi and Soviet agents were combing the world to find the notes of Dr. Frankenstein.

“Dare I ask what for?”

“I am sure you already suspect the answer, Monsieur. They wish to create more of you. Hitler will make more Adams and give them blonde hair and blue eyes. Stalin will call his Adams the epitome of the New Soviet Man.”

Adam did suspect that, but his suspicions went far wider. If the Nazis and Soviets wanted it, than so too would the French, the British, and the Americans, if for no other reason than to stay competitive. Adam saw the writing on the wall, the promise of a worse war yet to come.

Adam vowed to track down and destroy any of his creator’s notes, assuming any survived. But a monster of his intelligence quickly realized the futility. He was but one, and there was no way for him to travel anonymously. If any holders of the information had reason to hide it from him, they could do so with ease.

Adam’s friends described him as increasingly melancholy and pessimistic. “Why should there be more like me?” he repeatedly asked. No one was entirely surprised when he fled south to Spain, on the eve of the civil war. He joined the ranks of the POUM without much thought. Adam met with George Orwell, the encounter memorably described by the English writer in Homage to Catalonia.

But the commissar’s shadow loomed large in Spain. Fellow soldiers told of how they saw him bounding through Barcelona late one night like a man possessed. The morning after, Soviet advisors told the militia fighters to keep an eye out for Adam, saying he was a deserter. This was followed as halfheartedly as any other order in the POUM.

Adam resurfaced a week later for a last and final time in the bloody tumult of the Barcelona May Days, under the flag of Anarchist Catalonia. He bellowed and roared as his ragged unit ran to attack the PSUC fighters besieging the telephone building, his voice audible over the crack of the rifles. In the end, a Spanish sniper did what the Kaiser’s best could not; Adam lay dead in the streets.

No one knows what happened to the monster’s body. Some say the Soviets took it back to Moscow. If they did, they evidently never succeeded in recreating Frankenstein’s experiment. Others believe that an anarchist friend (a lover, in some less probable legends) arranged for the body to be burned. After the restoration of democracy, decades later, a group of old anarchists arranged for the construction of a memorial to the monster. You can see it to this day on a hilltop near Barcelona, basking in the Mediterranean warmth.