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.


  1. Fantastic, I love the heroic thinkers in your stories. This is a great piece, tragic, but great. Keep up the good work, I always look forward to reading your new works.

  2. My sole complaint would be that it lacks the descriptive quality of 'Travels'. I wasn't as caught up in the sensory descriptions; it didn't paint a scene for me and get me indulged. I'd say that some more emotion to ease the sort of... formalness of it, and perhaps some more vivd details and a slower pace would do well towards forming a more immersive piece.

    Other than that -- as good as I'd expect from you in all of the same ways, really.

  3. Hello Destron, I allowed myself to stalk you from the travelogue and just read this.

    I like the idea, but it is like it lacks all the interesting bits. You could've wrote years next to each paragraph if you wished to, would've made it a proper life index. I wouldn't complain about lack of emotional core, or name dropping, more the use of names in case of the later. The story feels like an epilogue, where the character is followed through a protracted dénouement up to his death. If this was Destron, it would be fine. Destron is defined, not as much emotionally, as intellectualy; you can drop a line about Destron meeting Marx or fighting alongside the POUM in Zaragoza and it is sufficient, each reader can imagine Destron's thoughts, reasons and assesments. But when this constitutes the main body of work presenting the character, "in full", it's like drawing crayon lines without ever letting you discern a form. Adam has the general mild proclivity for social justice of all modern uncontroversial heroes and he fits in the century too well. Scholars lashing out and engaging in discovery all the way from the west to Asia, which still had its aura of revelation even at the beginning of the XXth century of course, were a dime a dozen as the parisian intellectuals you mention. Adam lives longer, but nothing different from any of those; his life is actually quite conventional by their standards. All the name dropping would turn in your favor amazingly if we'd delve deeper, all the historical personalities ... lived in a society, they met others, and the simple fact that one of the others met all of them is not interesting in itself. Adam does not need an universal message, that's cliche, and he does not need to "prove" himself the equal of his interlocutors either, but he must be allowed not to have, that's old and hinges upon that "universal message" we talked about, but create an opinion. If you want to let him do that, you automatically have to sketch a context, facts, dialogues each time.

    If you'd expand, you'd probably have two options. To actually revive a world around Adam and let him engage. Close to the travelogue? Perhaps, but it is an absolutely remarkable feat each time a writer manages to do it well. I think perhaps the perfect example is Marguerite Yourcenar's the Abyss. Zenon and Adam could prove similar. Or you could use Adam to reflect upon the eras you outlined from a more distant perspective. He could stumble upon events and asses them with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps in journal form, but providing broad analysis. I am thinking something along the lines of The Sicilian Vespres by Steven Runciman, but with an "on the ground" added touch. More than a century described from multiple angles, in-depth, uncovering obscure ties between facts, intellectual movements, personalities. In both cases, probably best to rewrite it without Adam openly announcing what he is, it would pose problems throughout the work.

  4. Good points, Palestrina. However, I want to keep this relatively short; what you're suggesting would expand it to novel length. At least, I would need to greatly expand it in order to cover all those elements that you suggested.

    Writing a good short story is actually very difficult to do. As you can all see by A Creature in Full, I've still got quite a ways to go before I become proficient at it. Hopefully, I will improve with practice.

    After all, the earlier sections of the travelogue looked pretty shoddy compared to the later ones (or at least they did; I went back and edited all the old ones. The only problem is that now you can't see how much I've improved).

    I have another idea for Scratched Nerve which I'll put up this month or the next. It's more of a character piece than a story, per se, but I think it belongs here.

  5. This is somehow reminiscent of some of Mary Gentle's works.

  6. Well, I do like the basic idea. And I will say that I don't think the Historical name-dropping is a problem in and of itself. That said, I do think you should work either expand or narrow the focus.

    There is actually a lot of potential to develop an emotional core in this story. However it mostly involves the reader actually getting to know more about Adam's inner life. I agree with Palestrina, it does read a little too much like the biographical notes in a critical edition.

    I think you might be able to fix some of these issues with a shift in perspective. For example if you wrote it as an excerpt from "Homage to Catalonia" that might help provide it with more of an emotional core. It seems that by the time of the Spanish Civil War, Adam would be thinking more about the implications of his creation and existence and might be inclined to open up to Orwell.

    This is a pretty good idea, you shouldn't abandon it. I say this one definitely deserves another draft.

    Make adjustments, go get it energized!

  7. I am late to the party and I apologize. I enjoyed this, though I feel largely the same as several others in regards to it reading biographically. I really feel like I could like Adam as a character if he was presented to me as one. As a legend he seems interesting but as a living character of dialog and action I think I could be enthralled by him. I agree that this works best as a short story. But my interest in it would lie more in an more animated look at any one of his adventures rather than an overview of them as a whole.

  8. No worries, Cole.

    Yeah, I might revisit this story sometime to flesh it out; as it is, it's much too distant and perfunctory. By the way, the second story in the blog is kind of weak, but the third and fourth are solid, so feel free to skip the second.