This story is paired with Chapter 2 of Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free.
Knowledge is the key to science. Science is the key to life. Life is the key to knowledge.
* * *
“Will it have life?” you said.
Your eyes were on me, so firmly, as you stared up into my face. And I could see it—your imagination already calculating the possibilities. That beautiful, innocent imagination. It was what I loved about you.
“Yes, of course it will,” I said, putting the teeth into position. They were big teeth too, but that didn’t scare you. Instead, your chubby hand reached for the one I’d forgotten—a pointy incisor still on the work bench. “It will have just as much life as you and I.”
You hung about my studio all the time. Your mother got worried, thought that being exposed to this sort of operation at your tender age would impact on your brain and hinder some sort of neurological development. She tried to get you out of the house as much as possible, but you always preferred to spend time with me than traipsing about the shops.
I saw the light in your eyes brighten as you turned towards the drying rack. Your little fingers reached out for the scales, and you prodded one gently. Green wetness stuck to your skin, and you turned back to me, your mouth dropping into a small O. For several minutes, you just stared at your fingers.
“No, don’t lick them.”
Swiftly, I caught hold of you, cradled your small body against mine. You gurgled into my ear and the paint transferred to the side of my neck.
“She needs a name,” you decided promptly, reaching for her on the bench.
I set you down slowly, and held onto your shoulders as you stared at her face. Huge eyes watched us; they were like glass, so shiny and bright. The turquoise colour had been hard to get, and her blood had more yellow ochre in it than I’d have liked. That was why her tissues and muscles looked golden, I told you.
“Like the kissing sun,” you said.
Seconds passed. Minutes passed. Hours passed. You sat in your chair at the back of the studio, with your colouring pens and art book. I wiped the slick sweat from my brow and leant forwards, needle in hand. The sinew was tough to thread, but there was a hole that needed fixing, just behind her ear. I gripped her head carefully. It was slimy and wet. Her thin, semi-translucent skin felt too fragile in my hands. As quickly as I could, I stretched it over the muscles. The head was the last to do. The body lay on the floor, fairly near to where you were sitting. And the legs were hanging up, drying, just above the electrical box. The skin gasped as I punctured the needle through it. Your mother had given me sewing lessons for months, so I could get it this neat.
Yes. There. Perfect.
I rushed to the window and pushed back the handle.
The dragon’s body parts mustn’t sweat. That was what the guide said.
I turned back to find you poking her left eye with one careful finger.
“Good job, she isn’t alive yet,” I said.
Worry creased your brow. “Do dragons hold grudges?”
“Of course not.” I ruffled your hair. “Dragons never hold grudges.”
* * *
“You shouldn’t have him in there,” your mother told me that evening when we were alone. You’d gone to bed, tired out and were dreaming sweet dreams as your mother waggled her finger at me. “It will damage him. He shouldn’t be exposed to this, not at this age. Who knows what consequences this could have on his development? Don’t you care about our son? All this fixation and obsession, it isn’t good for him, or you. Or me.” The last bit was added in an undertone, eyes directly on me. “It’s selfish, John. Selfish. I’m your wife, and I barely see you. And when it does work, well—huh. I’ll never see you then.”
I just smiled.
* * *
She was really coming together, the dragon was. Beautiful, really. Pride surged within me, like a fountain had just been plugged in and the water couldn’t stop gushing out. I beamed, just looking at her.
“I think this foot’s on the wrong way round.” You trailed your fingertips along her leg.
“Don’t be silly,” I said. “Of course it’s not.”
You didn’t think so, and started mumbling about how the goblins would pick on her and all the awful things they’d say to her. She’d get upset, you said, and would cry and would never want to go out on her own. You’d have to look after her, and—although you didn’t mind—you didn’t know if you’d always have time.
Huh. Nobody ever had enough time.
“Not long now,” I said, my voice bright and cheerful. “She should be finished by the end of the month.”
Your mother grunted as she stood in the doorway. I turned to find her—a fine silhouette. “About time. Only lost three years of my husband.”
I started to turn towards her, but you pulled at my sleeve.
“No, Daddy, you need to fix this.” Those earnest eyes begged. “She won’t be able to walk properly.” You sniffed loudly. “How can she walk like that? And they’ll bully her.”
I frowned. “The guidebook says—”
“The guidebook says this should never be attempted again,” your mother interrupted. It was her warning voice, and we both knew it. You cowered behind me as she pointed her finger at my nose. “The guidebook says that it’s too dangerous. The guidebook says exactly what happened to the last scientists who made one. The guidebook says it’s illegal.”
Your mother took you away after that. You stared with watering eyes, from over her shoulder, that little hand of yours waving. I just smiled, and turned back to my work.
* * *
I dabbed the paint onto her nose, then stepped back a foot to survey my work. Hmm. I dragged a hand through my hair, leaving more paint there. Maybe a little more. Yes. That was it. A little more.
Another dab of paint.
She was immobilised, on the counter, but she was watching me. Her eyes never missed a thing. Intelligent, she was, and observant. Had an excellent memory. I’d let her speak a few times, and she’d recited back the entire works of Shakespeare that I’d played to her at the very beginning. The audio tape was still on my desk, somewhere.
I turned. Yes, there it was, underneath several chemical equation sheets. I grimaced, just looking at the offending documents. It had taken me eleven months to perfect the controlled-combustion mechanisms.
She blinked, and her long lashes cast delicate shadows across her immaculate scales. I’d repainted them since you’d touched them—a darker green. She could blend in more easily now.
I walked to the other end of the studio, and leant against the wall, still inspecting her. My spine clicked as I lifted my head up. My temples throbbed with the lack of sleep, but what did it matter? She was here. My beautiful creation. And such a clever one too.
You’d wanted to see her, now that she’d been put together, but I’d insisted you stay out of here for the time being. The guidebook said that new dragons could be unpredictable, and, at last, I’d listened to your mother. You’d begged and begged to come in. You’d said your mother needed never to know.
And I’d wanted you to see her. But your mother was right.
Your safety was still my first priority.
* * *
A journalist came for the grand unveiling. Your mother didn’t want her here. That was obvious.
“We’re going to get caught,” she told me in a fiery whisper. “This is illegal.”
“Yasmin won’t give out our name. She’s assured that we’ll remain anonymous,” I said.
Your mother snorted. “They always say that.”
At half-past one precisely we gathered in our living room. There weren’t many of us. Your mother stood on the far side of the room. I was at the door to the studio, just ten feet across the burgundy carpet from her. In between us, stood Yasmin and three of my friends on the pub. They stood there with their rosy cheeks, beer bottles in hand, swaying slightly. They thought I was mad, but had come along for a laugh.
But the joke was on them.
I didn’t know where you were—you’d been desperate to see the dragon; you’d even named her Shadow the Second, after your guinea pig—but there wasn’t time to find you. Everything had to be done at exactly the right moment. The sun only bathed the studio in silver light for ten seconds, and the dragon had to wake up at that exact moment from her nap. That was when Yasmin would take her photos, as many as she possibly could. And we’d get them framed—privately, of course.
Like I said, there wasn’t time to look for you.
I started the countdown with a cheery, “Ten!” and everyone caught on—except your mother.
The numbers fell down, pooling at my feet.
I thought of your delicate face, those beautiful eyes and the delight I’d seen when you realised what I was making. You should be here. But there really wasn’t time to look for you. You were probably in your room, sulking because I hadn’t let you have your own private view.
This really was it. I couldn’t help but grin. I wanted to run and scream and shout and kick my heels. I wanted to do crazy stuff like down a hundred shots and buy a yacht.
Your mother just watched me. You should have been here, watching me too.
Hardly able to contain myself any longer, my hand erupted towards the door handle. A quick twist. A push. The door flew open.
The silver light. Everywhere. Blinding. Burning.
I turned, trying to—
People, behind me, pushing forward. I stumbled in, tripped on something. An eye. On the floor.
Yasmin clicked her camera.
I stared at the eye. My body stiffened, lungs too heavy—couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t stop seeing. No.
Something rushed past me. Skin against skin. And scales. Sharp.
And—and the ground was bleeding.
Dragons never held grudges.
The echo of your scream ripped through my heart.
Madeline Dyer is a fantasy and science fiction writer whose short fiction has been published by Mirror Dance Fantasy Magazine, Iron Bound, Yesteryear Fiction and more. Her debut novel, UNTAMED, was released by Prizm Books as part of their YA fantasy/mainstream line.