He paused every day or so to let his pursuer close the distance between them. Frankenstein would never be able to catch him, of course; the frailty of his Creator’s flesh simply could not support such a speed. But if he was too efficient in running away, he feared that his Creator’s other frailties – his terror, his rage, and his remorse – would be overwhelmed by an animal hurt.
He found himself unwilling to abandon the pursuit, though he be its quarry. There was something comforting in knowing that Frankenstein was forever at his back, his wavering figure a few hours’ journey through the blinding snow.
He turned to look back. The wind had picked up speed, and he could barely see the outline of the horizon, so strong was the light glancing off the snow. What a strange place this is, he thought, so empty and devoid of life; the landscape a blank canvas they had sought out to do their bleeding across. With the wind this strong, and the sun and the snow all ablaze, all he could see was an endless shifting whiteness before him and behind him and all around him.
He thought about stopping. The landscape was traitorous like this, each footstep difficult and uncertain. Vertigo struck him and he fell to his knees, pressing his gloved hands against the compacted snow to feel out the line of earth beneath him. This is the ground, he thought, and dug harder, deeper, clawing at the snow until he felt more anchored. The world is a spinning top, and what small accident of science or fate has kept me on its skin wears thin out here; or it feels as though it does. It is an impression, nothing more. I will not be lost if I let go. And yet the fear remained. Looking up did not solve his quandary, for ‘up’ yielded nothing more than snow and wind and the glare of the sun. Trapped between the thin crust of snow and the vague impression of the sun above, he closed his eyes and thought about pausing. Surely he could rest here. There was time and space enough between him and Frankenstein to leave him these few minutes’ of rest.
And, a moment later – I am a fool. For if he was lost, where was his Creator, but in the centre of that blinding whiteness? With his little human heart and little human mind, so easily stopped and terrified, how easily he could find himself panicking and stumbling into a crevasse. How easily the weight of his intellect could be lost! No: there would be no rest today.
Slowly, painfully, the creature turned in his tracks and looked to whence he had come. An hour, he guessed; maybe two. And once he had found Frankenstein – once he had seen for himself that his Creator had not been swallowed up soundlessly by the whiteness – then he could progress again northwards.
Shouldering his pack, he started picking his way across the snow, keeping one hand on the ground. His eyes stung and his nose ran and prickled with the cold, and his lungs felt as if an iron bar had tightened across his chest. Slowly, methodically, he retraced his steps.
He was so warm. It had been weeks – no, maybe months – since Victor had last been this warm. He was warm, and somewhere quiet and still, surrounded by a hot white light. It rather felt like a warm summer’s day, trapped between the sheets. “Elizabeth,” Victor sad, drowsy. Surely, if he was in bed, his wife would be near? Surely he was married, now, with his limbs so pleasantly heavy. “Elizabeth,” he said again, almost a sigh. He tried to turn to look for her, but he was extraordinarily tired and could not summon the energy. Tomorrow, then, he decided. First, he was going to sleep for a little while.
He exhaled slowly, his chest settling.
He found Frankenstein slumped, the sled of provisions still tied to his back. In truth, it was the sled he had spotted, for the man was all but invisible in his snow-covered parka. He did not stir when he was pushed, or prodded, or pinched, so finally the creature pulled him onto the sled, and tied it around his own torso, pulling back towards the last shelter he had seen.
Awareness came slowly. His skin prickled and hurt, and his instinctive jerk of limbs brought no relief but a firmer pressure on his skin, driving the prickling feeling deeper still and making him gasp out in pain.
“You suffer the cold more than I seem to,” someone said close to his ear, and Victor could not recall where he knew that voice from. “How odd, that you could create someone more resilient than yourself.” Thick, fumbling fingers pressed against the hinge of his jaw and forced his mouth open painfully. Water splashed across his chin and down his throat and he lapped weakly at it, trying to swallow past the fingers still pressed into those exquisite centres of pain on either side of his face. “No need to struggle. I’m just making sure you don’t swallow your own tongue along with the water. You have been ill, you see.”
Something sweet was smeared on his mouth, and the pressure on his jaw eased. He closed his mouth, gasping, and licked across his lips. Sweet, sweet, sticky and warmed by his own heat, soothing the pain he had not yet noticed.
“I have looked through your provisions,” the voice said, and brought back more honey, and smeared it across his mouth again. Victor licked it off his lips helplessly, chasing the taste on the retreating fingers and allowing himself to be soothed. “You have not packed wisely. I had expected more, from a scientist.”
“’M tired,” Victor slurred. His head lolled, and he felt his limbs being moved and rearranged until he was wrapped up in someone warm, just like a child in mother’s lap. All of a sudden that struck him as absurd and wrong, and he giggled.
“You’re sick. You have not eaten enough, nor have you kept yourself as warm as you should have. And for what? To keep pace? Even if you had caught me in your present state, you would not be able to do anything. You cannot even keep your head up unsupported,” the voice said. It sounded disgusted.
Victor opened his eyes to a fuzzy sort of darkness. He blinked, and licked the sweetness from his lips again. “Like a baby,” he said.
The hand that had been brushing back his hair hesitated. “Yes,” the voice said, and now it sounded uncertain; pensive. “I suppose so.”
The mystery thus solved, Victor blinked again, then promptly feel asleep, eyes closed and mouth open, honey still smeared across his cracked and bleeding mouth.
He was asleep. A true sleep, this time, not the stiff, dozing darkness the creature had discovered him in and despaired of. What a fragile creature, for all his intellect! If he had not retraced his steps, this great mind would have expired on a snowy plain, metres away from shelter.
After a moment the creature reached down and gently tugged Frankenstein’s jaw forward again, leaving his airway clear.
He would have to wait until Frankenstein was recovered before setting off again, that much was clear. And he would have to do something about the inadequacy of his provisions as well. That rankled: he had not anticipated having to hunt for two. Could not his Creator provide for himself, if for no one else? And yet - what were his options? To abandon the hunt, or to abandon Frankenstein to his fate. Both were equally unacceptable to him.
No: he would have to be careful in future. He would keep his pursuer in sight at all times, and make sure his diet was adequately supplemented by fresh meat and fish. He would pause for rest periods, and not move during snow storms. He would be mindful of how easily his Creator’s brief light could be snuffed out, and make his tread light and his touch gentle, no matter the depth of his feelings.
And if his Creator were to stumble again, well.
The creature pressed his hand against Frankenstein’s bruised face, stroking the mottled and snow-burned skin.
He would just have to make sure that nothing like that happened. He could afford to lose no part of himself out here, in the snow.