Author: David Barber
The dry and sunny weather spoiled their holiday, confining them indoors until nightfall.
It was Lord Byron who proposed they pass the time by writing tales to entertain one another, and for two days the villa beside Lake Geneva was silent with their labours.
Doctor Polidori was the first to confess the reluctance of his pen.
“I have a notion,” he explained. “But it will not come right.”
Lord Byron was good enough to glance over the Doctor’s efforts.
“A conventional enough beginning, Dottori,” he adjudged. “You write about what you know.”
He flicked through more pages. “But vampires, blood feasts and the undead have been done to death. Perhaps you bit off more than you could chew.”
He paused for a moment, but no one acknowledged the wit.
Even worse, on reading the beginning of his own mundane tale of ruins, spectres and mystery, he frowned and tossed it into the fire.
It seemed Shelley’s story of a man turning into a beast had also foundered.
“I considered turning into creatures other than a wolf. Metamorphosing into a giant beetle perhaps. But the notion is hum-drum. I was bored with it.”
Instead, he mentioned a game he and his sisters played as children.
“Each of us would take turns continuing a tale. We called them round-robin stories.”
He held up a single page of manuscript.
“So I began with a mad scientist.”
“Really Shelley,” said Byron, unwilling to admit the worth of the notion. Still, an hour later he returned and read out the next chapter.
Shelley shrugged. “Gravedirt under the fingernails, body parts, reanimation and the like.”
“But this time the creature is a woman!” protested Byron.
“Well, there is no instinct like that of the heart.”
Next, Dr Polidori added some routine background; a remote castle, a laboratory and a lightning storm to provide the vital spark.
To Mary Godwin of course, fell the chore of completing the task. Had she and Shelley not speculated about this very thing? Also, she had dreamt about the story most vividly.
“Do not think ill of my poor efforts,” she said when she finished reading aloud.
“And though it is not explicit,” she explained. “The female creature sinks into Dr Frankenstein’s arms, with the implication that they marry and live happily ever after.”
A log collapsed in the fireplace, lofting a flurry of sparks.
“But that is for another hand to carry forward,” she added, unsettled by their silence.
It was Dr Polidori who spoke first. “I am uneasy with what we have done here.”
It was nearly the full moon and he admitted to a tickle in his bones, like water seething to the boil. “Perhaps it is just that which unsettles me.”
“No,” Shelly said. “We have created something new.”
He took the manuscript from Mary’s cold, undead hand.
“I do not know if the world of the Gothic is ready for this.” His voice grew solemn. “A tender romance. Two hearts that beat as one. It will be kisses next.”
Undecided, he went to the hearth, the firelight glinting on the bolt in his neck.
Lord Byron shivered, glad it would soon be dark and he could go out and feed upon elfin-folk.