I am a monster. At least that’s what I’ve been told by the man who gave me life. Viktor. No, he is not my father. I have no father. Nor a mother. I was born in a laboratory during a storm, an amalgamation of body parts stolen from various graveyards. He told me that I should be grateful that he chose only the prettiest of corpses so that I would be beautiful and I guess I am. Beautiful, that is, or at least that’s what I’m told. I am, however, not thankful to be born a slave without a name. He calls me creature when he’s pleased with me and abomination when he is not. I have no other name, at least not that he knows of. Secretly I have adopted one, one that only I know. Katerina.
He has given me other gifts such as an education. He’s taught me to read and to write and insisted that I spend as much time in his library as I can. I have discovered that I enjoy learning and have absorbed as much as I can about history and philosophy and, especially, literature. I have read all of what he calls masterpieces. Novels that create worlds that I can only imagine, having never been outside the wall of the prison that he calls his home. At least not until today…
Today is a monumental occasion. Today I have freed myself from his grip and have begun a journey, one that has no set destination other than the freedom to go where I please and discover not only the world outside the walls of Viktor’s castle, but that within the confines of my carefully sewn together flesh.
It is fast approaching dawn and I have left a trail of footsteps in the snow that will be easy to follow. Not being truly alive I have the advantage of not tiring, at least not easily, and have made good time, my pace literally inhuman. Still, I don’t take my newly won freedom for granted and do not linger, despite my wonder at the beauty of the world around me.
The snow is freshly fallen and pristine, illuminated by the fading light of a full moon. Settled on the branches of the forest canopy above my head, it gives the illusion of small clouds hovering almost within reach. The soft cooing of an owl makes me smile. What magnificent creatures. I catch a glimpse of it. Snow white and regal as it regards me from its perch. An arctic breeze brushes my cheeks. If my lifeless flesh felt the effects of the cold I would be shivering. Thank goodness for the small mercies of being born of the laboratory and not of the womb. I am, indeed, as Viktor called me. A creature.
Nearby a stream burbles over moss-covered stones, guiding me toward my destination. A town that had been marked on the map I’d memorized before fleeing, one that sat near the shore of a vast sea, something I’d read about but had never seen. The only human habitation I’d been able to view through the telescope in the northwest tower had been a small village from which he purchased supplies and sometimes hired workers to help with manual labor or various repairs around the estate. Of course, he always kept me locked up when they were on the grounds so that, other than Viktor and his assistant Igor, a mishappen man whom he abuses nearly as much as me, I have never interacted with another human being. The thought of doing so for the first time both excites and frightens me.
It begins snowing and I can’t help but feel a sense of joy at the sight of crystalline flakes fluttering down from the heavens. Not only are they pretty, but they will help obscure my tracks. Perhaps he would be unable to follow. I can’t count on it though, so I push on, picking up my pace as best I can. I have calculated that, if all goes according to plan, I will be in Belhaven by evening. I take a moment to reassure myself that I still have the small purse of purloined coins that I had stolen. I will need them if I am to disappear from my old life forever. Hopefully, it is enough to book passage on a ship that will take me far from here. I care not where it will be bound, only that I will be free for the first time in my relatively short life.
Nothing that I have read could have prepared me for the reality of being in a city. It is crowded and busy and noisy and full of strange sights and smells. I feel overwhelmed, although I do my best to hide it, not wanting to draw attention to myself. I had put a lot of thought into what to wear before leaving Viktor’s estate. It was quite simple to cover the scars of my stitched-together body and, while the blond wig I wear is quite realistic, I thought it prudent to wear a shawl and scarf. Thankfully, my face is unmarred, as are my fingers and glove-covered hands. Thankfully, despite my pale flesh, I don’t look out of place as I make my way down the main thoroughfare. Despite that, I am unable to calm my nerves whenever someone’s glance lingers too long.
I make my way towards the docks, using the tall masts that I can see in the distance as a guide. Fortunately, the gates I entered are close to my destination. As I get closer, the crowds grow larger. Market stalls and street vendors and merchants line the cobbled streets, most loudly hawking their wares. Unable to quench my curiosity I pause at several, eyeing some of the more exotic – at least to me – offerings. Goods from other ports and faraway nations, places that I have only read about. Bolts of colorful fabrics catch my eye but I am only truly tempted when I pass a stall selling books. Unfortunately, I have no money to spare so, with much regret, I continue on my way. Although I have no soul, or so I am told, I can’t help but send a silent prayer to the god of my maker, Viktor, asking that I find refuge upon one of the great ships before he finds me and drags me back to the home that I have come to abhor and makes me prisoner once more.
Whether fortune smiles upon me or my prayer is answered, eventually I find a captain who begrudgingly grants me passage upon his ship. It is a berth that costs me dearly in coin. I am sure that, had I not been a woman the price would have been much lower, but sailors are a superstitious lot, or so I have read and the presence of a female aboard creates an air of discontent. Nevertheless, I look forward to the voyage. Upon first light I shall be free of this city and of Viktor, or so I hope. I insist upon staying the night upon the ship which is called The Annabel Lee, distrustful that I will be left behind otherwise. The looks cast upon by the crew are dark with suspicion, but I pay them no mind as I retire to the hold. I am to travel with the cargo which suits me fine. Here I will be alone in the dark, a state that I have grown quite comfortable with. In fact, it is preferred. I find that I enjoy the gentle rocking of the ship as it sits upon the water whilst enjoying an entirely new emotion. Hope.
We set sail at first light as was promised. I brave the glares of the crew to stand upon the deck and watch Belhaven as we depart. In the crowd, upon the docks, I glimpse a shock of blonde hair and baleful eyes as the anchor is drawn and the sails raised. Viktor. I am sure of it. Triumph wars with fear within me as he makes a fist, impotent to do more than curse me. I am, for the first time in my short life, truly free. When I return to the hold and make myself comfortable amongst the crates and barrels, I allow myself the luxury of contemplating the journey before me. That night, and the next, and the one after that I keep to myself, hoping that the crew will forget that I lurk in the hold. Remaining invisible, a ghost, will serve me well until The Annabel Lee makes landfall upon a foreign shore…
On the fourth night, we are caught in a violent storm. I shudder, recalling my ‘birth’ as thunder shakes the timbers and lightning turns the night into a hellish scene while the ship is tossed about on the waves. I remember the agony that wracked my body. It was as though I was filled with fire. Like a babe, I had screamed until my throat was raw. Held down as I was by thick leather straps I could not escape it. Trapped like an animal I simply endured and hoped that I would not go mad. Eventually, the ordeal ended and I was introduced to my creator, Viktor. At the time I thought he was beautiful but I would soon discover that, while outwardly he was quite handsome, an ugliness lay deep-rooted within him…
The storm eventually passes, leaving The Annabel Lee floating once more upon mild waters. My relief is short-lived, however.
The few times I venture upon the deck, the scowls of the sailors follow me as do the murmurs of having a woman aboard being bad luck. I ignore them and do my best to return to my state of invisibility, but with little success. Eventually, they grow braver and a quintet of them confront me in the dim hold. I can tell that they had been drinking, for their speech is slurred and their movements clumsy. One of them holds a lantern that casts garish shadows. He holds it like a weapon, forcing me slowly back. I doubt he can have been aware of my one great fear. That of fire. How could he know Viktor’s favorite punishment, when he was feeling especially cruel, was to torment me with a burning brand? The scars left by the stitches that attached the various limbs of freshly recovered corpses together so that he could create a mockery of life weren’t the only marks upon my pale flesh.
Had they left me alone as I beg them to the remainder of the voyage would have been uneventful. I bear them no malice nor ill will. I simply wish to be left alone. It is not to be. Drunk not only on rum but with power, the leader of the gang that confronts me begins to undo his breaches. I know what he intends. Viktor had done the same on more than one occasion leaving me sobbing in the dark after he’d violated me. I was simply a creature, after all, and he felt little guilt as using me as he would while in his drunken rages. The last time he’d burned me as well with an iron poker from the fireplace. I had vowed vengeance but my fear of him was too great. Instead, I had fled into the wilderness and, eventually, to The Annabel Lee. I will not be cowed again. Not by Viktor and certainly not by these men. I am a creature, after all. An abomination devoid of humanity. I am a monster. I feel a rage grow within me fueling an inhuman strength. I put aside my fear and give into my anger, advancing upon them with a bestial snarl and, like a monster, I tear them limb from limb until I am painted with their life blood.
In the mayhem and chaos, the lamp spills oil and flame upon the timbers. The blaze spreads, slowly at first, and then more quickly. I flee the hold, emerging from the hatch, covered with gore and screaming with all the repressed rage I’d been holding in my entire existence, the glow of the conflagration following me, spreading panic amongst the crew as the ship began to burn in earnest…
Only I survive. Those who did not burn or drown in the frozen waters were no match for my unnatural strength. I lost count of how many died at my hand, the flames lighting the night like a bonfire, burning timber and cloth and flesh. I found myself clinging, dressed in blackened rags, to the charred remains of a mast amongst the remains of The Annabel Lee and her crew. Unlike them, the elements would not kill me. Nor would thirst or starvation. I would survive...
For six days and six nights, I simply exist, helpless, hopeless. A corpse clinging to the burnt remains of a ship. And then, on the seventh day, upon the horizon, I spy a shape. The current draws me closer until I recognize a vast field of ice and, in the distance, snow-covered mountain. For the first time in my short life, I weep, not with sorrow or despair, but with joy.