This story is paired with Chapter 13 of Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free.
Joanna reclined like overripe fruit on a worn, green chaise in the center of a large gray room. Stretching her neck, she stared overhead where the stained, plaster ceiling pressed upward, threatening to break through the roof. Then the walls could crash down.
“This room seems dimensionless, somehow,” she said to no one in particular, even though her two brothers, David and Rupert, shared the sepulcher-like space with her. At times Joanna saw others interrupting the siblings’ cozy triumvirate. She assumed the occasional interlopers must be ghosts, since the spirits never lingered for too long. A quick patter of feminine footsteps ran by, trailing a sterile odor and cold wake.
The orange glow from the fireplace ignited her fine features. Joanna always felt prettier and more mysterious bathing in fire light. She wished she had a mirror, but there were none in the house, not even a hand mirror. Joanna once remarked to her brothers that maybe their parents had been afraid of reflections. She watched the fire. Fire fascinated her and she fantasized about playing in the flames.
Rupert sat down in a nondescript chair, just a series of parallel and perpendicular lines that held his weight. David, his identical twin, took a seat opposite him, with a lone tall window, draped in heavy fabric between them. Lightening could be glimpsed in the dark crack where the curtains met in the center, and thunder rang down the flue and stirred the embers. David started to twitch.
Joanna thought of catching some of the mad mice scratching away inside the walls, and roasting them in an iron skillet over the fire.
She uncoiled from the lounge. Her blue dress, a satiny crisp shell from Paris, had a large wine stain on the bodice. The hem brushing the dull parquet while she walked made a sweet sound. Joanna stood between her younger brothers, and pulled back the curtains to watch the storm dance through the night. If only she could grab a spear of lightening and hold it in her hands. The glass panes rattled from the thunder. She reached for the latch.
“Going for a walk, sister?” Rupert asked her in a, greasy tone.
Joanna lowered her hand to her side and let the curtains fall back to hide the outside.
“Let’s play a game.” David’s index finger tapped nervously on the chair’s graceful, gullwing arm. David didn’t like all of Rupert’s games. Just the degenerate ones, Joanna thought.
“What game do you want to play?”
Rupert pulled a small black case from his pocket and opened it. A shiny needle and ampule rested in black velvet. “Tell our fortunes, Joanna.” Rupert held out the case. Joanna smiled and took the offering. She returned to the chaise and expertly stuck her arm. The rush surged like a storm.
Joanna felt liquid and flew to the mountain peak where she could see things. The summer day on the roof where she peeked at her brothers, hidden from everyone but the sun and their sister’s prying eyes. David and Rupert beaten and locked in separate closets, by Father. The letters back-and-forth with relatives. Hurried arrangements made. An ocean to separate the brothers. The house in flames. Joanna stepping into the inferno. Her parents bones, blackened and the marrow boiled inside the blazes. The graveside, and the laughter afterward behind doors. Another door opened.
Through the haze of memories and heavy eyelids she watched Rupert push the slim syringe into David before turning it to his own arm.
The ceiling fell away like a whisper, and the walls still stood. Above her stretched Nyx’s fathomless shadow. Joanna saw a ship, riding on a comet, like the needle plunged into the depths of space.
Rupert and David walked toward her. The room’s veils dropped away revealing a dark forest, the fireplace turned into a rocky spring spewing liquid fire before completely transfiguring into cool water. The brothers sat in front of her, their worn suits were gone, and they looked handsome as Greek youths fashionable in white chitons. Rupert lay his head in his brother’s lap. “Tell us our fortune, Joanna.” She gazed at the needle in space.
“In the future, men with shiny skins will fling themselves from the Earth in metal ships; hurling toward the moon, sun and stars.” Her voice seemed far away, not her voice at all.
“An age of romance and skies, Joanna?”
“The most glorious age ever imagined, Rupert. A truly hypnotic era. Brothers, in one of those tiny silver ships, shooting into the center of the cosmos. Twin brothers. A fine strong pair, much like yourselves.” David stroked his brother’s hair.
* * *
The rogue comet caught the ship on the edge of the sun’s heliosheath, just as it was about to slip through the curtain of solar wind and into the gap between stars. The instrument panels flared to life, indicators turned red and a gong sounded throughout the ship. It didn’t take long for the oxygen generators to go offline after the capsule passed through the comet’s odd magnetosphere.
Déjvid and Vadim Feorov jumped into pressure suits and pulled themselves along the catwalk to the command capsule. Spinning red globes flashed on the bulkhead the length of the main passageway that cut through three decks. Shit!
“Oxygen generator, offline.” Zhanna’s voice flowed over the ship’s speakers.
Vadim pulled himself into the control pod, through a tangle of Zhanna’s scanners. The computer released the controls to him, and he killed the alarms.
“What is it?” Déjvid’s voice echoed up through the claustrophobic shaft that housed Zhanna’s main interface.
“The comet’s EMF interfered with the ship,” Zhanna said through a floating woofer. “Navigation and life support are offline.”
In the end, after shaking down the system, rebooting, and running scenarios Zhanna calmly informed us that the generator was beyond repair. “There’s only enough air for one. The easiest way would be for one of you to be ejected into space.”
It seemed an insurmountable obstacle. After all, we were twins. The mission had been planned that way. We were spare parts for each other; interchangeable to mission control. We cut the vidlink to Earth. This mortal decision had become a private matter.
We argued, each offering to sacrifice, but in the end we sat at the table with the oxygen slowly leaking away. There was only one emergency pod online. The mission was one of delicate balance and decimal points where every point in time had been calculated. Except no one expected a rogue comet with unusual electro-magnetic field.
Vadim slammed his fist on the table. Déjvid looked at him.
“There is a way, Déjvid.”
* * *
The great hall glowed with light. The beams cast shadow, while smoke from a hearth fire formed a column and disappeared like a devil’s brigade up into the louver. The open timber work arched with grace above the winding, laughing crowd of nobility. Two long narrow tables, along the walls were filled with food and torches burning in iron sconces lined the walls.
Large, peaked windows on the south wall, looked out upon a black lake. Servants opened the transoms, admitting the night air to the party. Heralds were draped in the same colors of silk as the hall. A clutch of revelers dressed as demons hovered around a cask of wine, dipping their cups and admiring each other with loud and sloppy toasts.
In an open gallery, just off the top of the stairs musicians played. Below the drummers and pipers, nobles and servants dressed in costumes and masques danced.
All around hung tapestries with scenes of exotic hunts and abstract designs. A dark blue silk embroidered with pearls hung behind the royal’s table. The furnishings, usually piled with books, were clear and cleaned for the ladies to sit and hold sway over the many brocaded and velvet foxes, centaurs, and other demonic and mythological man-creatures.
A loud crash from the gallery stopped the masked partiers and they turned to look. Joanna was glad for the distraction. A moment before, she witnessed the young drunken queen in an alcove with Louis of Orleans, the king’s own brother.
She could just see over the tall, conical sea of silken hennins. A tall man with long, dark hair, wearing the mask of Nebuchadnezzar II, stood at the top of the stairs, surveying the great hall and its worshipers. He was covered entirely with gold dust. The crowd applauded at the unknown man’s charade. The cymbals continued to crash and drummers joined in.
The Babylonian swayed to the rhythm and the party goers, found themselves rocking in time with him. One by one, servants moved around the walls extinguishing the torches and even placing a screen around the central hearth. The hall was dim, except for the living, golden statue at the top of the stairs.
Deep drums rolled like thunder, and wood savages leaped from the dark behind him. They were wore masques and robes of linen covered with resin and flax. The shaggy wild men capered and howled. They spewed curses and danced themselves into frenzy. Chained together, they growled and pawed at the laughing crowd.
Behind her, Joanna heard the queen giggling. The shaggy dancers charged at her and she held her hands up in a mocking, frightful gesture. Before she knew what was happening, the drunken Louis had grabbed a torch from the alcove that had been overlooked by the servants, and held it to one of the dancers.
The fire found new life and the men in the masks begin to scream. Several of the guests were seared; some trying to flee the burning men and others trying to extinguish the roaring flames. Four of the darting men kept dropping charred fingers and other parts while the blood sizzled and poured from them.
* * *
Déjvid eyes flew open. He could still feel his body burning from the dream fire. The screams of the merry-makers faded back into the black corner of his mind where monsters lurked. Instead of the smell of roasting flesh, there was a faint antiseptic odor. The young astronaut had been bent and crunched into the hyperbaric pod. Zhanna had been programmed to run the ship’s surgery, and did a magnificent job.
His twin’s head was jammed next to his. Vadim’s neck had been attached to Déjvid’s chest, just above their shared heart. Déjvid touched Vadim’s throat with a spared hand, and ran a dozen fingers down their torso. The staples were like tracks.
We’re a monstrosity. An odd number of limbs, attached at odd angles.
“You should trim your toenails, Déjvid.”
“And you shave our balls,” Vadim replied. The rest of the equipment was his. My penis, along with other various parts, were in red bio-hazard bags in the cryo. Maybe they could separate us, when we were finally rescued.
* * *
“That’s how they found them. Clutched into one body. Still breathing.”
“And their…spare parts?”
“Useless. More iron than flesh, David. There would be no separating those two.” The last, she said in a ticklish fashion, with a cool glint in her eyes.
David sat tied to a metal folding chair in front of the clanging radiator. A nurse in crisp white, accompanied by a gorilla-like orderly, floated around dispensing pills. Rupert wandered around, staring through the ceiling toward heaven. He mumbled. A dead roach was drying in the blue fuzzy slippers that Joanna wore. She reached down and picked at it.
“Imagine David, being tied to Rupert. Being tied to your brother, body and soul.”
“You bind us, Joanna.”
Somewhere, in one of the wards, down one of the corridors, a somnambulist screamed.
Roger Lovelace calls North Alabama home, and currently lives in Athens, Alabama. He enjoys the slow pace but not the humidity. Always an avid reader, he has recently turned to writing, concentrating on short stories and flash fiction. He shares his home with his Chiweenie dog, Dixie. It gets quirky sometimes.