Mount Tambora, Indonesia
A low hum and the hovels begin to quiver. The sun melts over the west, an egg yolk broken; a thunderous boom, timid at first and then certain provoking fear in the villagers.
Ash rains then a swath of lava engulfs the land.
The last sunset they’d see.
Waterloo, The Netherlands
The carriage moved slowly over the dried grass. He sits back, smoking a pipe of finest opium while Dr. Polidori looks on.
“Imagine, all this, strewn with the livid remains of men…”
And the hallucinogen, as if on command, takes hold. Dr. Polidori laughs wickedly. The world is cast in various shades of gray: beneath the pewter and steel cast of the sky, Lord Byron believes he can see the outline of 25,000 men whose blood has been consumed greedily by the earth.
The wheel of the carriage snaps over something.
“Carrion?” Dr. Polidori asks, then a sound like wood cracking over flesh.
“Suppose Napoleon freed Amunet from her tomb during his excavation of Egypt.”
“The goddess of the underworld?”
“Suppose the world between the spirits has thinned,” Lord Byron posited.
Dr. Polidori raised his eyebrow, “you can’t be serious?”
“Why else would the world seem so bleak and lifeless?”
…10 Days Later
Villa Diodati, Lac Geneve, Suisse
“There she is,” he seems to hum, tapping his knee.
“Who?” Polidori asks.
He watches wistfully, almost haunted, as Claire turns around. Her dark tendrils reveal a white silk ribbon that trails down her back and her neck is naked. His eyes trail down to her bosom and her skin blossoms with fresh blood to her cheeks.
“Do you remember me?” she asks knowingly.
“But of course,” he murmurs, kissing her hand.
The air seems to tingle with electricity. A storm is on its way and the lake outside looks like a pie plate. The wind picks up and the lake ripples tremulously.
“Ah, Mary Godwin! How good it is to see you again!”
Lifting herself up from the chaise lounge she meekly reaches out her hand to be kissed. The shadows in the ballroom seem to deepen.
“Mary, meet Dr. John Polidori,” from beneath the shadows he moves toward her, his dark eyes consume her. Her skin becomes livid at his touch while his lips press against her hand.
“I believe you’ve met my fiancé, Percy Shelley,” she says, clinging to his side.
But Percy cannot see, he watches Lord Byron lead Claire off to his suite. As if sensing his desire, Lord Byron looks back at him and Percy stiffens, aching with delicious tension.
Lightening flashes through the windows and a sudden chill seizes the room.
After dinner, Claire sips the claret flirtatiously. Every so often her laughter echoes over the room, vacillating strangely with the errant crackling from the fireplace. Lord Byron helps himself to her bosom and from Mary’s angle it looks as though he is biting into it (impossible).
He stands up suddenly, kicking off his boots.
“I am the devil,” he proclaims.
Claire throws her head back and cackles evilly.
“Nonsense,” Mary proclaims.
“Then why do I have a cloven hoof?”
The undulating firelight reveals his mangled foot. Claire walks seductively toward him.
“What care have I of your ghastly foot?” she murmurs.
A long, livid finger brushes against Mary’s arm. She turns with disgust.
“My, what magnificent skin you have,” Dr. Polidori says.
Acid rises to her throat.
“Percy, my love, I think we should turn in.”
“Not tonight,” Lord Byron proclaims.
“What is tonight?” Mary argues.
He shoots her a glare and Percy laughs.
Claire inhales opium from his pipe.
“Why don’t you try some Mary?” she coos.
But Mary walks away, turning back only once. Claire seems to become one with Lord Byron, a four-armed beast. Soon too, Dr. Polidori joins and his slender arms seem to sprout thighs. Firewood pops and she feels a breath at her neck.
“Let us retire,” but the voice is unfamiliar. A hand rests on her elbow and she softens.
Strange laughter clings like velvet to the walls.
The morning air is frigid and sterile. The sky is cerulean, if only for a few hours. Mary sits on the terrace. The lake resembles a mirror.
Closing her eyes, she remembers the dream: a field strewn with dead sparrows, their spines cracking under her hands, the metallic scent of blood. She stares at one, moving languorously, slowly it stands up and flits its wings.
A foot thumps and drags across the stones. The rhythmic pounding unsettles her. He sidles slowly behind her. Looking up at him, his tousle of dark hair moves handsomely in the wind. He is seduction incarnate.
An unspoken agreement; a Faustian bargain.
At once, the silence breaks as Claire rushes up to him, wrapped only in a bed sheet. “Come back to bed, I hate the daylight,” she murmurs. Lord Byron tentatively removes his gaze from Mary.
“We’ll speak in the evening,” he says. Claire’s sheet swishes across the parquet floors before limply evading her form. A shroud abandoned.
“It’s a Serbian word,” Dr. Polidori says. Mary stares abjectly at the roast pheasant on her plate.
“What does it mean? What does it do?” Claire asks.
“Vampire?” Dr. Polidori repeats.
“John, shall I tell her?” Lord Byron asks.
Dr. Polidori smiles seductively and nods.
“In Bulgaria and Serbia they exhume the bodies of those they believe to be undead,” at once Lord Byron seizes her hand. “They believe the vampire uses seduction as a means to consume the flesh and blood of the young and beautiful…”
Fear strikes her eyes and her skin grows frigid. He brings his lips closer to a lavender vein that throbs on her arm and he bares his teeth. She inhales sharply as his teeth sink deeper into the vein.
Mary watches with fascination.
Slowly, Lord Byron kisses the vein and moves away. Blood rushes to the surface of her skin. Claire blushes crimson as he moves back toward her, grazing her bosom and the arch of her neck.
“The favorite places for a vampire to draw blood are the bosom, the neck, the wrist, and the loins,” Dr. Polidori says. He stares at Mary’s alabaster breasts. With agitation, she moves away from his cavernous gaze.
Percy watches with some disdain as Lord Byron kisses Claire’s neck.
“How strange to feast on the flesh of another,” he murmurs.
Schloss Frankenstein, Darmstadt, Germany
They had passed it on the way.
The castle ruins loomed ominously over the city.
“An alchemist lived there, Johann Conrad Dippel, he used to frighten the townsfolk with his bizarre experiments,” Percy had told them.
“What sort of experiments?” Mary asked.
“A sort of elixir. A person could be dead or on death’s door, and all they’d need was two drops of Dippel’s mysterious elixir and they’d be reinvigorated.”
“Fascinating!” Claire cooed.
“Quite. Rumors also persisted that he dabbled in anatomy, sometimes exhuming the bodies of hanging victims and bringing them back to life.”
Mary stared at the foreboding walls of the castle.
Days later, while Percy wrote at the inn and Claire shopped for ribbons, Mary found herself drawn to the castle ruins, the sky that day was an ominous gray, a storm was coming. As if possessed, Mary began to touch the stones. The electricity of lightening seemed to illuminate everything. A drop in her stomach seized her and she began to perspire, aroused and at once frightened. Closing her eyes, she felt the obscure presence of another form watching her.
Villa Diodati, Lac Geneve, Suisse
At night she dreams…
The bloated torso bears an incision. The head is separate and the eyes bear cataracts. He attaches the head to the torso, cleaves the bulging neck to the form. Then at once the arms, stiff with rigor mortis, he stitches with crude materials.
He kisses his creation.
It begins to twitch.
Mary stands in the doorway of the laboratory, shuddering. Dippel’s thin lips curl into a smile.
She stirs a lump of sugar in her tea. Claire whispers something in Lord Byron’s ear. He grimaces and then follows her out, his cloven hoof beating against the floors.
Dr. Polidori sits beside her.
“I do admire you, Miss Godwin,” he murmurs.
She avoids his gaze and swirls the spoon in her tea and corrects him:
“I prefer to be called Mrs. Shelley, thank you.”
He laughs: “you aren’t married yet, my dear.”
She eyes the gold leaf filigree on her teacup.
“Those creatures you mentioned… the vampire, was it?”
“Indeed, thirsty little bloodsuckers,” he laughs, bringing the blade of his fingertip to her neck.
Mary shudders. “Tell me, do you ever feel any commonality with them?”
His face drops while she sips her tea.
She gives in and has a hit of opium, reveling in the warm glow that imbues her bloodstream. At once she relaxes, hearing peals of thunder tremulously grasp the sky. Evenings become him.
“Reanimating a corpse, could you imagine it?” Mary asks the room.
“Like that dreary alchemist you were fascinated with? What’s his name?” Claire asked, languishing against Lord Byron.
“Dippel,” Mary responds.
“I don’t like it, not even a little. The dead should stay dead,” Claire murmurs.
Mary watches with fascination as Lord Byron plays with the lightening that flickers in from the windows. Rain beads the panes.
“What time is it?” Percy asks (his voice slurry with absinthe and opium).“I’ve lost track of day and night!”
But Mary elucidates this darkness, takes it within her.
“Tell me the story of Christabel,” Claire begs Lord Byron, sitting on his lap. Time slows as he recites the poem, firelight clinging to his clothes; Mary relaxes into the recitation, Claire reveals her breasts.
“A snake’s small eye blinks dull and shy;
And the lady’s eyes they shrunk in her head,
Each shrunk up to a serpent’s eye
And with somewhat of malice, and more of dread…”
A great gnashing of teeth and ferocious howl pierces through the villa’s walls.
“Those eyes!” Percy howls kneeling before Claire’s nipples.
“Those horrible eyes!”
Claire says nothing, playing with her nipples in a drunken stupor, all the while Percy shields himself from the blinking irises that cruelly would not veer away from his gaze.
“A contest,” Mary says.
Claire has fallen asleep on the chaise lounge and Percy had hidden himself in his suite with a pitcher of water.
Dr. Polidori stands at the mantle with Lord Byron. He puffs on his cigarette and scratches his scalp.
“To see who can write a better ghost story?” Dr. Polidori asks.
“Yes,” Mary replies.
“Huh,” Dr. Polidori guffaws. He ashes his cigarette and looks to Lord Byron for an answer.
“I like the idea,” Lord Byron answers.
“You do?” Dr. Polidori asks incredulously.
“What between you and your fascination with the vampire and Mary’s morbid curiosity with reanimating the dead, we should have plenty of material.”
Dr. Polidori creases his lips into a smile.
“The winner takes all,” he murmurs.
Mary avoids his gaze.
She dreams again of the castle. She is standing outside the ruins. There is a crevice and she slides her fingers through it, feeling a cold touch. The eyes peer at her from beneath cavernous shadows. Meanwhile, Dippel cries out in horror and the magnetic stones outside the castle walls hum and pull.
Her quill scratches against the paper. Logs in the fireplace burst and sputter. Rain beats against the roof while lightening pierces the sky in hairline fractures.
Dr. Polidori reads his story first. Dressed in his finest suit and appropriately maudlin following two hits of opium from a pipe he purchased in Java, he begins.
“…he had required, to enhance his gratification, that his victim, the partner of his guilt, should be hurled from the pinnacle of unsullied virtue, down to the lowest abyss of infamy and degradation,” at this, Dr. Polidori stared cunningly at Mary. Mary, who was seated between Percy and Claire, brought Percy’s hand in between the crevices of her dress and kissed Claire on the neck.
Dr. Polidori refrained from staring at her the duration of the reading.
Lord Byron, who rested dourly in a velvet upholstered armchair with his leg swung over one side, clapped solemnly.
“Mary,” he said, exhaling a plume of smoke, “it’s your turn.”
She rose from between Percy and Claire. Her silk dress billowed behind her as a gust of wind roared throughout the house. Standing resplendent in the firelight, she began.
Abigail Sheaffer is the editor-in-chief of Chicago Literati and The Vignette Review. Her fiction has appeared in Birds Thumb, Bluestockings, Crab Fat, Danse Macabre, Luna Luna, Literary Orphans, and more. She is a teacher of gothic horror at The Republic of Letters in Geneva, Illinois.