EXCERPT: Blood & Stardust by Laird Barron

CATEGORY: Promethean Origination & Impacts

RULE 96.7: As You Sow, So You Shall Reap (or Even Geniuses Get What They Deserve)

SOURCE: Mary, laboratory assistant

VIA: Laird Barron

There is no Igor in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

There’s also no Igor in the 1931 Universal Studios’ Frankenstein, although there is a hunchbacked assistant named Fritz (whose shoddy work as a brain-snatcher provides most of what’s monstrous about the shambling monster). It’s not until 1953’s House of Wax that we get the devoted assistant with that famous moniker. Somehow, cultural memory has married the hunchback and the helper and given us the iconic gofer: Igor, dumb as a post and twice as ugly, practically enslaved by his mad employer.

In our next story, Laird Barron gives us a whole new Igor. She’s not your run-of-the-mill lab assistant and she doesn’t have a hunchback. Oh, and she hates her boss. But when you’ve been created for your job, a career change takes more than just a new resume. It’ll take  . . .  genius.

 

Blood & Stardust
by Laird Barron

Three years later, as I hike my skirt to urinate in a dark alley in the slums of Kolkata, my arms are grasped from behind. The Doctor whispers, “So, we meet again.” His face was ruined in the explosion—its severe, patrician mold is melted and crudely reformed as if an idiot child had gotten his or her stubby fingers on God’s modeling clay. I can’t see it from my disadvantaged perspective, but that’s not necessary. I’ve been following him and Pelt around since our original falling out.

Speaking of the Devil . . . Pelt slips from the shadows and drives his favorite dirk, first through my belly, then, after he smirks at the blood splattering onto our shoes, my heart. He grins as he twists the blade like he’s winding a watch.

“—and this time the advantage is mine.” I laugh with pure malice, and die.

***

Storms unnerve me. I hate thunder and lightning—they make me jumpy, even in the Hammer Films I watch nearly every evening. Regardless the patent cheesiness, it awakens my primitive dread. Considering the circumstances of my birth, that makes sense. Fear of the mother of elements is hardwired into me.

My nerves weren’t always so frayed; once, I was too dull to fear anything but the Master’s voice and his lash. I was incurious until my fifth or sixth birthday and thick as a brick physically and intellectually. Anymore, I read anything that doesn’t have the covers glued shut. I devour talk radio and Oprah. Consequently, my neuroses have spread like weeds. Am I getting fat? Yes, I’ve got the squat frame of a Bulgarian power lifter, but at least my moles and wens usually distract the eye from my bulging trapeziuses and hairy arms.

I also dislike the dark, and wind, and being trussed hand and foot and left hanging in a closet. Dr. Kob used to give me the last as punishment; still does it now and again, needed or not, as a reminder. Perspective is extremely important in the Kob house. The whole situation is rather pathetic, because chief among his eccentric proclivities, he’s an amateur storm chaser. Tornadoes and cyclones don’t interest him so much as lightning and its capacity for destruction and death. Up until his recent deteriorating health, we’d bundle into the van and cruise along the coast during storm season and shoot video, and perform field tests of his arcane equipment. Happily, those days seem to be gone, and none too soon. It’s rumored my predecessor, daughter numero uno, was blown to smithereens, and her ashes scattered upon the tides, during one of those summer outings.

***

Time has come for action.

My birthday was Saturday. I’m thirty, a nice round number. By thirty, a girl should have career aspirations, picked out a man, that sort of thing. I stuck the white candle of death in a cupcake, said my prayers, and ate the damned thing with all the joy of a Catholic choking down a supersized holy wafer. Then I doused my sorrows with a bottle of Glenfiddich and watched a rerun of the late night creature-feature.

I’ve decided to record my deepest thoughts, although I’m young to be scribing even this outline of a memoir. Some bits I’ve written in spiral notebooks with ponies and unicorns on the cover.

***

We live in a big Gothic mansion on a hill outside of Olympia. We being Dr. Kob, Pelt, and me. Pelt came to the U.S. with the Master. The old troll doesn’t talk much, preferring to hole up in his backyard tree house and drink Wild Turkey and sharpen his many, many knives. I call him Uncle, although so far as I know he’s no more my uncle than the good Doctor is my father.

Dr. Kob’s workshop is the converted attic in the East Wing. He’s got a lordly view of everything from Olympia to Mt. Rainier. When he’s in his cups, he refers to the people in the city as villagers. That’s exactly how he says it—with a diabolical sneer. I think he reminisces about the Motherland more than he should. His skeletons are banging on the closet door. He just keeps jamming in new ones. I wager it’ll bite him in the ass one of these fine days.

The housekeeper, chef, and handyman stay in bungalows in the long shadows of the forest on the edge of the property. The gardener and his helpers commute daily. They tend the arboretum and the vast grounds. Yet despite their indefatigable efforts to chop back the vines, the brambles, and the weeds, the estate always seems overgrown. It looks a lot like the thicket around Sleeping Beauty’s castle in the classic cartoons. Some rooms in the mansion leak during rainstorms. Like the grounds crew, our handyman and his boys can’t replace rotten shingles and broken windows fast enough to stay ahead of entropy that’s been gathering mass since 1845. There’s not enough plaster or paint in the world to cover every blister and sore blighting this once great house.

But Dr. Kob doesn’t care about such trivialities. He’s obsessed with his research, his experiments. Best of all, there are catacombs beneath the cellars; an extensive maze chock full of bones. Beats digging up corpses at the graveyard in the dead of night, although he waxes nostalgic about those youthful excursions.

I’m careful in my comings and goings despite the fact Dr. Kob crushes the servants under his thumb and virtually saps their will to live. He imported most of them from places like Romania and Yugoslavia. They’ve united in tight jawed dourness and palpable resentment. None speak English. They’re paid to look the other way, to keep their mouths shut. They know what’s good for them.

I worry anyway. I’m a busy bee, fetching and toting for the Master; coming and going, sneaking and skulking at all hours. Capturing live subjects is dangerous, especially when you’re as conspicuous as I am. There can be complications. Once, I brought home three kids I’d caught smoking dope in the park. The chloroform wore off one of them, and when I popped the trunk he jumped out and ran into the woods, screaming bloody murder. Luckily, Pelt was sober enough to function, for a change, and he unleashed a pair of wolfhounds from the kennel. Mean ones. We tracked the boy down before he made it to a road. The little sucker might’ve escaped if I hadn’t cuffed his hands behind his back.

***

In unrelated events:

A circus rolled through town one week in the fall; in its wake, consternation and dismay due to a murder most foul. An article in the Olympian documents the spectacular and mysterious demise of Niall the Barker. The paper smoothes over the rough edges, skips most of the gruesome facts. The reporters in the know talked to the cops who know this: While hapless Niall lay upon his cot in a drunken stupor, some evil doer shoved a heavy duty industrial strength cattle prod up his ass and pressed the button. His internal organs liquefied. A blowhole opened in the crown of his skull, and shit, guts, and brains bubbled forth like lava from a kid’s volcano exhibit at a science fair. His muscles and skin hardened and were branded with the most curious Lichtenburg Flowers.

Sometimes I go back and watch it again, just to savor the moment.

[End Excerpt]