The goose stared back at her with beady, hateful eyes. It opened its beak slowly. Then it let out a rasping angry hiss and lunged forward, trying to snap at her face. The girl held it at arm’s length and laughed.
“Bet you wish you’d been nicer to me now, Mr. Goose!”
The bird turned its head sideways, staring at her with a wide, unblinking eye. For the tenth time it wiggled and tried to flex its wings, but she held it tight. It hissed again.
“You’re just as fat and mean as old Burgos himself.”
She wrinkled her nose at the mention of her nemesis.
Franz Burgos was one of the richest, fattest, and meanest men in the village of Vasaria. His son, Fritz, called her “sweet” one time and she imagined them getting married ever since. As soon as Herr Burgos found out that his son was becoming friends with Cloestine Hussman, “The Monster Girl”, he managed to get his son accepted into the medical school at Goldstadt and hurried him out of town.
He wouldn’t even let Cloestine say goodbye.
When she showed up at the Burgos’ door, with a wrapped present for Fritz in her hands, mean, fat Burgos spat on the ground at her feet, crossed himself, and slammed the door in her face.
So, naturally, when it was time to feed her only other friend in Vasaria, it was pure justice that she should steal one of Burgo’s prize geese for his dinner.
“Would you like to go for a swim, Mr. Goose? Hmm?”
With a laugh she threw the goose as far out over the pond as she could. The surly beast squawked and flapped its wings furiously, but with its feathers clipped it had no choice but to fall in the water with a loud splash. It thrashed and fluttered about for a few seconds before righting itself to swim in angry circles. It churned the water with its webbed feet, spread its wings in a fruitless attempt to fly, and hissed at her again.
“Now comes the best part.” Cloe whispered as she hunkered down to watch.
After a little beak clacking, the goose settled its ruffled feathers and began bob on the surface of the water. Its head swiveled as it examined its new surroundings.
The long, deep pond was formed when the owners of Frankenstein Castle built a dam to divert Vasaria’s small river and turn the turbines that provided the castle with electrical power. The dam flooded a long narrow ravine that led to the falls next to the castle. Almost a hundred feet at its deepest point, right at the base of the dam, “Frankenstein’s Pond” was a cursed and haunted locale. Dead trees, drowned by the rising water, still stood along the sides of the ravine, their leafless branches rising out of the water like skeletal hands. Thick skins of algal scum stained the stagnant waters with long green patches. Water-reeds clogged the water near the banks, which themselves had once been treacherous clifftops lining the ravine.
Suddenly there was a disturbance in the water beneath the goose. The surface of the water bulged slightly as something big forced its way up from the deepest part of the pond. Two huge mitten-like hands, long webbed fingers ending in talons like hooks, inches long, shot up to either side of the goose and grabbed it in a vise-like grip. The goose let out one loud squawk of panic, then disappeared with a splash, dragged beneath the water in an instant.
Cloe pressed her knees together and clasped her hands across her young breasts. A shivery feeling rippled through her belly. Her legs trembled.
“Have a nice dinner, Mr. Monster!” She cooed.
With a sigh she stood up and looked around to make sure no one was watching her. She needn’t have worried. No one would follow her out past the burned out ruins of Frankenstein’s castle. No one had cared much about where she went for years now, not even her dear father who could barely rise from his sickbed anymore and was half a prisoner of her cousin Ernestine. She could barely walk through town during the day without drawing jeers and taunts and sometimes even worse. But at night, after dark, when all the fools were behind their locked doors, quivering by their fires, Cloestine Hussman owned Vasaria!
She waved to her friend in the pond, then walked back toward the ruins. She had another acquaintance that she wanted to visit.
Beneath the now still surface of the pond, unblinking dark eyes watched her go. A wide mouth opened and closed in steady rhythm. The gills that ran like lace frills along the sides of its neck rippled and fluttered. The cold trickle of respiration thrummed through its throat. When the feathered body in its claws shuddered once more, it twisted its hands and broke the bird’s remaining bones. Slowly the Creature sank back into the murky deep hole that was its home.
Something warm was stirring deep inside it. The same pulsing emptiness that had ached for von Bruno’s bride-to-be, for Pretorious’ cold-hearted mermaid, even for the stitched together she-corpse Ludwig’s father made, now began to beat at the sight of the strange, dark-haired girl who came in the night to offer food to it.
In long forgotten tropical summers, that hungry need would have driven it to grab an Indian girl from the river banks and sate its needs in blood-churned waters. Its kind had long used the naked air-mammals to perpetuate their existence. The undying Devonian seed would propagate in nearly any living thing. The Creature found humans to be the most satisfying surrogate mates.
Here, in this cold, distant land, that need had only driven it to pain and misery. The Creature choked down its feverish yearnings and contented itself instead by cramming crushed goose into its distended mouth, down its elastic throat, and into its awaiting gullet. The heavy sensation of warm meat in its belly would be enough for now. For at least another night.
To Cloe’s surprise, she wasn’t the only one in the ruined castle that night. Firelight, dull and red, flickered in one of the empty windows. Quietly she crept in through a breach in the wall and tip-toed down a stone stairway until she was just outside the ceilingless room where the campfire was crackling. Crouched in the shadows she heard voices.
“I turn into a wolf.” Said one voice, in a mournful monotone.
“You’re kidding me!” Croaked another, raspy voice.
A “Wolf” had killed the barmaid, Vasec’s daughter just a night ago.
Cloe shivered. She had found the camp of the murderers, lurking in the ruins of Frankenstein Castle, where no one but herself normally dared to venture. Her heart beat faster, pounding in her chest.
Her breath caught in her throat.
She had to hear more!
The first man’s accent marked him as an English-speaker, probably an American, or at least someone educated in America. Cloe recognized the accent easily from all the times Dr. Frankenstein’s, Ludwig von Frankenstein’s, brother Wolf had visited. The older brother was sent to America, for his education, and to keep him “safe” from the Curse his father had brought upon the once respected and proud House of Frankenstein.
Cloe always thought it unfair that Wolf, the precious elder brother and heir, had been removed from harm’s way while the younger son, Ludwig, had been left to fend for himself and weather the danger as best he could.
The second man’s voice was deeper, hoarser, suggesting a much bigger man but one who hasn’t spoken in a long time. His accent was coarser. It sounded Magyar, Hungarian maybe. Something about it sounded familiar but it also frightened her for some reason.
The first man went on and on about wanting to die and the “Secret of Death” and eternal peace and so forth.
Cloe found him annoying.
If you wanted to be dead so badly, why not just do something about it?
In Cloe’s experience dying wasn’t something that was difficult to accomplish. Quite the contrary, some days it took extraordinary effort to avoid it, especially when gangs of kids were chasing you with rocks and clubs, shouting about you being “The Monster’s Girlfriend” and similar rubbish. You had to be fast and clever and strong to survive. You only had to be clumsy or stupid to die.
After awhile, the first man went off to sleep, wrapping himself in a worn blanket. The other sat near the fire and mumbled occasionally to himself. He sounded quite mad, going on about “the strength of a hundred men” and ruling the country. He also seemed obsessed about someone who “played him a trick.”
When the big man finally fell silent, Cloe dared to creep closer to get a good look at the pair of criminals. Peeking around the corner Cloestine received quite a shock.
Sitting in front of the fire was her childhood friend, the huge black-clad giant who had retrieved her lost ball for her and carried her off in the night for adventures.
She was the only one in the town who knew that Frankenstein’s giant did not die in the fire that destroyed Ludwig Frankenstein’s sanitarium and gutted the adjacent castle. The giant had fled deeper and deeper into the sub-basements beneath the asylum until he finally stumbled into the ice caves under the castle. Ludwig used the pocket of buried glacier to store perishable foodstuffs and medicines, to preserve anatomical specimens, and occasionally to hide away the less than successful results of surgical experiments. There the giant succumbed to smoke from the fire or the soporific gas seeping down from above. Water from ice melted by the heat of the fire covered him, then froze solid again, entombing the giant for all the long years since that nightmarish night.
Cloe was the only one who knew about the giant in the ice. She discovered him several years ago while poking around in the ruins. She never knew if he was alive or dead under all that ice, but she came here to talk to him, to speak her griefs at being scorned by the villagers for his sake, and to share her dark dreams about what the two of them would do if he ever again awoke.
That day had finally come!
Cloe held her breath, her heart-beat seemed to pause as she gingerly stepped out into the room, into the light from the fire.
Her giant friend didn’t notice her at first. He held his hand out, feeling for the heat of the fire, and added scraps of wood to the blaze.
Then he paused, he lifted his face, eyes squeezed shut, and tilted his head from side to side. A ghastly grin crept onto his black lips.
“There is someone there.” He croaked.
Abruptly he rose to his feet, towering his full eight foot height. He drew back his shoulders and imperiously jabbed a finger at the ground before him.
“Come… Hee-yere!” He commanded.
Cloe froze in place, afraid to even breathe.
“I know you are there. You cannot defy me! You cannot play me your tricks! Come here.”
Cloe crept a little closer. Something about her old friend seemed terribly wrong. He’d never spoken a word when she knew him before.
“Don’t you recognize me?” She whispered at last.
The giant turned his head toward her. A sly smile tugged at his lips.
“Oh. You.” He rasped, waving his hands in her general direction. “Oh yes. Of course! I know you!”
He nodded his head vigorously.
“You must forgive Yg…your old friend. You see, a man tricked me and now I don’t see so good. Come closer. Let me give you a… hug, my little friend.”
The giant shuffled toward her, arms out, head twitching from side to side, trying to pinpoint her location.
That terrible sly smile stayed on his face.
“I don’t trust you.” Cloe said, deciding to trust her gut over her childhood memories.
She danced lightly out of his way and slipped toward one of the doors out of the ruined room.
“Come here!” The giant raged, snarling fiercely.
“I have the strength of a hundred men! I will crush you if you don’t obey me!”
He lumbered forward, swinging his arms wildly about, trying to find her by feel.
“Run, Child.” Whispered a woman’s voice, husky and dry as parched flowers.
Cloe turned to see a horrid little Gypsy woman standing right beside her. Beside her! No one could sneak up on Cloe. All the village children had tried. But somehow this skeleton-thin little stick of a woman had managed to get beside her without Cloe having any inkling of her presence.
The woman’s face was wrinkled and withered like a mummy’s. A garishly colored cloth covered her greasy gray hair. She stank of strange spices and pungent musks. Golden bangles hung around her neck and her wrists.
“Run for you life, you foolish Child!” She repeated with a hiss. Her eyes glittered like daggers.
Behind her the giant who was no longer her friend roared angrily.
She knew that she should go to the Constable, tell him what she knew. But she lost her nerve and shied away every time she came close. She couldn’t betray her old friend, she told herself, even if he seemed different than she remembered. Maybe he was only sick and would get better! Besides, a stubborn part of her mind insisted, the knowledge of the murderers’ lair was her secret. She kept her secrets, all of them. If she spoke about this one, then the Constable might ask her why she was sneaking around in the Frankenstein ruins, or perhaps what she knew about all the geese and chickens and piglets that went missing around the village. He might ask her what happened to the Burgomaster’s awful, mean little dog, or who had pushed snotty Manfred Blasko down the well after he smacked her and called her “The Monster’s Whore.” Those were questions that she didn’t care to answer.
So, she kept her silence and watched from the shadows as strange things happened around the village of Vasaria. She was at the station to welcome the Baroness Frankenstein back and give her flowers. Elsa Frankenstein was one of the few people who had always treated Cloestine kindly. Cloe fought through the crowd of other children and townspeople to offer her flowers directly to the Baroness. She was a little hurt when the Baroness took her flowers and smiled and showed no sigh that she even recognized Cloe as she hurried from the station.
She was horrified when she saw the sad moaning man who wanted to die sitting with the Baroness during the Festival of the New Wine. And curious when another man with an English-speaker’s accent joined them.
She was the only person in the village who wasn’t surprised when the Monster came lumbering into town during the Festival. The giant passed within three feet of her during its rampage. He even turned his head in her direction, eyes open and blinking. The ghastly smile returned to his lips and she held her breath as he walked away, more concerned with other matters at that moment.
All the time Dr. Mannering and Mr. “Taylor” spent cleaning and repairing machinery in the castle’s old laboratory, working under a canvas roof since the ceiling had fallen ages ago, Cloe watched from the shadows.
She followed the Baroness when she came to visit the ruins to nervously wring her hands and whisper with Dr. Mannering. Cloe thought that Frank Mannering was very handsome and since he was apparently a friend of her old friend, the giant, perhaps, she imagined, he would be friendly to her too. If she dared to speak to him, which she didn’t.
One time she stole one of Elsa Frankenstein’s ornate silver brushes, full of strands of beautiful blonde hair. She picked the hairs carefully from the brush and used it to brush her own hair, staring at herself in the mirror, dreaming what it would be like to be rich and beautiful and respected. She carefully gathered all the long blonde hairs and kept them in a locket that she wore around her neck. It was her talisman, she decided, the token of her own inner “Frankensteiness.” After all, wasn’t she the one who kept the Frankensteins’ secrets all these years? She was practically caretaker of what was left of the castle, gathering books and papers and moving them out of the weather, setting up fallen furniture and the like. She fed Ludwig’s Monster in the pond, when no one else even knew about it. She thought of it like taking care of someone’s fish in a fishbowl while they were away.
Hadn’t she earned a place, however humble, in the great House of Frankenstein by her faithfulness?
On the night of the Great Experiment, Cloestine was hidden behind an almost forgotten piece of laboratory equipment. It was a great boxy cabinet of gray metal mottled with crusts of rust. It was crowned with a great hoop made of coiled copper wires, now thickly shrouded with spider webs. There were dozens of dials on the front and holes where huge power cables had been connected in the back. The device proved to be too damaged to repair and was shoved out of the way into an alcove near a doorway clogged with debris.
Cloe used this partially blocked entrance to sneak in and out of the laboratory. She had to wiggle on her belly over the blocks of fallen stone to get in, but with practice she was able to slither silently in and out of the laboratory at will, stealthy as a long white snake with pigtails.
She was apprehensive and full of dread as Dr. Mannering set the dials and checked the cables on the brand new equipment he had brought in to connect to Ludwig Frankenstein’s original devices. All the conversation she overheard between Mannering and the Baroness suggested that he was going to try to kill both the giant and the ever-more impatient Man Who Turns Into A Wolf, draining off their energies like a housefrau straining a bowl of noodles. But at the same time he kept assuring the giant that he was going to make him strong again. The Monster followed him about the laboratory, arms outstretched, head tilted up, trying to supervise the operation he couldn’t even see. The giant was suspicious but could do little but trust what Mannering said. He kept running his clumsy fingers over the new machines and trying to figure them out, which made Mannering shout and curse his clumsiness.
Cloe frequently held her hands over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud at their antics.
If she believed that Mannering really meant to keep his word to the Baroness and the village elders, that he was going to destroy the Frankenstein “Monster,” Cloe would have sabotaged the equipment, to slow his efforts. But there was something about Mannering’s face when he read Heinrich Frankenstein’s volumes full of notes on the details of the Monster’s creation that made her think that he couldn’t really do it. There was a hungriness in his eyes, a feverish look of amazement on his face, which revealed that he was being seduced by the wonders of Henry Frankenstein’s achievement. The furtive glances he gave the Baroness when she wasn’t looking at him were not the looks of a man who meant to keep his word.
So, Cloe hid and watched, night after night, and crossed her fingers.
She didn’t pray.
She stopped doing that long ago.
Her fingernails were in her mouth as Dr. Mannering hooked up all the electrodes, did the final checks, and prepared to fire up the generators. She felt sick to her stomach with worry.
Then, the magical moment of truth came!
“I can’t do it.” Whispered Mannering, just a few feet from Cloe’s hiding place. “I must see Frankenstein’s creation at its full power!”
He hurriedly rushed over and switched the polarities on the electrodes. Cloe rocked back and forth and wiggled her feet with glee. She let out a few happy squeaks, but the ear-shattering whine of the generators drowned out any noise she might make.
“Frank, what are you doing? You’re making him strong again!” Elsa cried from the doorway.
If Mannering responded to her shout, Cloe couldn’t hear his reply over the crackle and whine and clatter of the machinery. She plugged her fingers in her ears. The noise was so loud, so horribly pitched that made her teeth ache and her spine itch.
She risked a quick peek around the side of the cabinet to see what was happening.
Frankenstein’s giant, strapped to his table, was jerking and twitching as the current flowed into him. Smoke rose from where cables connected to the bolts on his neck. Crackling blue sparks flickered over the exposed metal of the bolts. The Monster opened his eyes, blinked. Dull and cloudy at first, they became clear and bright, revitalized by the energy flowing into his gigantic form. His black lips twitched, then curled into the most terrifyingly evil smile Cloe had ever seen.
The smile, the eyes, the oddly accented voice, all of it suddenly clicked with Cloe’s childhood memories. They were so unlike the friendly giant she remembered, but they were exactly like the horrible, dirty man with the crooked neck who came to town with the giant. There was talk of brain transplants that Cloestine had been too young and too scared to comprehend at the time, but now became terribly clear to her. That wasn’t her old friend on the table. That was the sly, evil one named Ygor inside her friend’s body.
Now she was truly frightened. She let out a scream of pure terror. Mannering and the Baroness gave no sign of hearing her, but the Monster glanced in her direction. The evil smile on his lips took on a deeper, more depraved quality. As those disturbingly keen eyes met hers a dark and dreadful promise flashed between them.
Cloe was ready to run, but in that moment the Man Who Turns Into A Wolf let out an agonized snarl and began thrashing against his straps. As she watched hair extruded from his pores, growing all over his face at an impossible rate. His body heaved and writhed. It seemed to subtly melt and reform itself into something less than human. He turned not into an actual wolf, but into a hideous monster, halfway between man and animal and far more horrifying than any mere wolf could ever have been.
With a bone-chilling howl, the Wolfman broke free. The Frankenstein Monster did the same seconds later, shrugging out of the wide leather straps as if they had been mere strands of yarn.
Mannering and the Baroness fled, bolting out the door at a run. Cloe wished she could leave as quickly, but her exit required climbing and scrabbling. At the moment she was frozen with horror, and filled with a dreadful fascination as the two monsters clashed in deadly battle.
The Wolfman snapped and slashed at the Monster, tearing fearful lacerations into its dead gray skin. A black fluid oozed from some of the deepest wounds, but the Monster seemed barely to notice. It swatted the Wolfman aside, tossing him about like a rag doll. But each time the hideous human animal landed in a crouch and leaped back to renew its attacks with ever increasing ferocity.
Battered and flung about, the Wolfman leaped atop a tall stack of machinery to gather itself for another furious attack. The Monster lumbered toward it, black lips contorted in a snarl of rage. Just then, Cloe heard a dull thump from outside the castle. A huge detonation shook dust from the ceiling and rattled the machinery. There was a cracking sound, then a roar that grew steadily louder.
Vasec, the rotund innkeeper, had just set off a bundle of dynamite sticks on the dam that held back the pond above Frankenstein Castle. Water channeled through tunnels at the base of the dam turned the turbines that powered the castle’s old generators. Now, with the dam shattered, a wave of water as tall as the castle keep itself was about to crash down on the ruins.
The Creature in Frankenstein’s Pond lolled about on the muddy bottom of the pond, occasionally twitching with sluggish irritation. The young she-thing that regularly brought food animals to it had not been by for some time now. The pond was well stocked with fish and visited regularly by water fowl, so the Creature was in no danger of hunger. Rather, it missed the stimulation of her visits. The lurking beneath the clear surface—close enough to see the banks but too deep to be seen itself, the way its heartbeat quickened when it spotted her picking her way down the weedy trail to the pond, the curiosity as to what type of food animal she would bring this time, the anticipation of the kill, and the shivery way she would react it it—which always awakened a hungry, thudding echo within its own cold-blooded body, these were the things the Creature missed. Without her visits there was little for it to do but swim lazy laps around the pond, float in the still waters, or lurk in the deepest, darkest holes, which were right behind the dam that formed the pool.
Occasionally it would seek out the next largest inhabitant of the pond, a great gray Wels catfish that was nearly as long as itself. The Creature would stalk the bottom-feeder, edging closer, using rocks and weeds and sunken logs for cover, then pounce upon it once it was within range. The catfish always thrashed and twisted, churning up the silty bottom in its struggle to throw off the grip of the Creature. The Gill-Man would latch on with its claws, wrap its scaled legs around the slick body of the fish and ride out the carp’s desperate thrashing. Once the catfish tired of the struggle and became sluggish, resigned to its fate, the Creature would let go and dart off to corkscrew through the water, revitalized by the thrill of the battle. The great Wels bore a hundred scars along its oily gray skin from all the past times the Creature had grabbed it. The catfish was far too large to eat and served the Creature’s needs better as a diversion than a meal.
But it was bored with wrestling catfish, and tired of hunting ducks. It felt lonely and abandoned and it sulked in the dark.
The Creature was therefore in no way prepared when the wall of logs and mortar and stone blocks beside it erupted in an explosion. The dam shattered and crumbled in an instant. The concussive shock pounded every organ in the Creature’s body and stunned it senseless. Its gray-green body was still and motionless, half-curled in a fetal spasm, when the waters bore it out of the ruptured pond, raised it high in a curling muddy crest, then flung it headlong at the stone walls of the ruined castle below.
Just as the Wolfman gathered himself for a new attack on the gray-skinned, black-clad giant below him, the stones behind him burst and a wall of cold water crashed into him. The Wolfman gave an “rrh-RARH-rrr” snarl that turned into a panicked yelp. He was thrown, tumbling and thrashing, by the water which carried him almost over the head of the Frankenstein Monster.
The Monster grabbed at the Wolfman. His fingers snagged the gray clothes the werewolf was wearing, but he could not maintain his grip as the wall of water smashed into him. The Monster stumbled, staggering back a few steps but miraculously held his footing, standing upright despite the hundreds of pounds of water that smashed into him and flowed over him. The Monster was engulfed by the flood, completely submerged as the waters thundered through the laboratory, shorting out equipment, overturning machinery, and shaking the stone walls to their foundations.
Cloe was lifted like a twig and thrown against the wall. She almost managed to nab the edge of the debris-clogged doorway she came in through, but the water curled against the wall, lifting her up out of reach and against what was left of the ceiling. She was turned end over end, riding the wave along the wall, then was dragged outward with the rebounding surge. She was pulled, tumbling, into the center of the flooded laboratory.
To her horror she saw that the waters were dragging her straight into the waiting arms of the Frankenstein Monster. The Monster’s face was split wide with a devilish, leering grin. Its eyes crinkled with delight.
“Come here, Little One. I will catch you!” Cooed the horrible croaking voice.
Cloe screamed and tried to paddle against the current that carried her toward those wriggling gray fingers. She screamed and nearly gave up any hope of escape when another body tumbled through the broken wall, carried in by the still rushing waters. Seven feet of gray-green, heavily scaled Gill-Man crashed into the Frankenstein Monster from behind. The impact made the Monsters stumble, waving his arms to the side for balance. Cloe was swept right under his left hand and borne away by the current, which was now rushing out through the open doorway that Mannering and The Baroness had fled through.
The jarring impact of slamming into the Frankenstein Monster caused the Creature to awaken from its stupor. It lashed out with its claws and instinctively wrapped its legs around the Monster’s waist. One huge webbed hand covered the Monster’s face. The other tried to rip open the cold hard flesh of its neck.
With a furious shout of anger, the Monster reached behind its back, fingers digging into the rubbery scales it found and tore the Creature loose. He dragged the Gill-Man off his back and flung it far out into the churning water. Long shreds of gray skin were ripped from his face when the Monster tore the Creature off. A ragged gouge opened in his neck and a spurts of red-black fluid gushed out before the skin resealed itself. The Monster’s face became a contorted mask of rage. He beat upon the waters with his fists, raising huge splashes of water.
Cloestine, choking and gasping, caught the edge of the doorway with her fingers and held on for dear life. Water filled her eyes, nose, and mouth, so it took her a moment to shake her head and blink her eyes open. She gagged, vomited, and sneezed all at the same time. Her vision was still blurry when she saw something dark moving through the water toward her. She blinked some more. This time with clearer vision, she looked at the dark object and recoiled in horror.
The Wolfman, hair plastered tight against his face and skull, was thrashing near her. He was struggling against the waters with a ludicrously inept dog-paddle. Cloe didn’t know whether to laugh or to scream. She almost felt sorry for the poor, water-logged, soggy beast. But then she looked into its face and saw the pure animal hatred glaring out of its eyes, and the snapping, frothing chatter of its fangs.
Before the Wolfman could come within arm’s reach, Cloe let go of the door-jamb and let the swirling water carry her away through the door. She was swept into the next room, which was pitch dark. The water rolled her around twice, and she came up sputtering just before she struck the far wall with bone-jarring force. The air was knocked out of her. The water pressure pushed her flat against the wall and held her there, as if with a giant wet hand.
As the water climbed up her chest toward her chin, mouth, and nose, she felt a surge of displaced water beneath her, as if a large heavy objet was moving unseen just below her. She remembered the Creature in the pond and the curved, cruel talons on its claws. A cold fluttery tingle went through her belly, which suddenly felt terribly exposed. A weak trickling sensation tingled in her crotch and she felt a terrible need to pee.
She was distracted from the danger from below by a nearby splashing accompanied by a snuffling sound. There was a growl as something caught the scent it was looking for. Then the splashing increased with renewed vigor. It was close enough that drops of water kicked up by the splashing pelted Cloe in the face.
In seconds she could feel the hot breath of the Wolfman on her skin and the splashing pounded her face. She squirmed against the wall, but could barely move against the pressure of the surging water.
She felt the displacement of water beneath her swell upwards, then something brushed her bare legs. Cold and rubbery, a scaled body rose up between her and the approaching Wolfman. Water exploded all around her, a growling snarl turned into a yelp of pain, then hot, fresh blood showered down around her. There was another splash as two bodies, locked in a raking, clawing, biting tangle sunk together and were dragged away by a cross current in the water.
Just then there was a rumble that ran through the wall at her back. A terrible crack sounded, followed by the crash of falling stones. Part of the floor in the flooded laboratory gave way and collapsed under the weight of the water. The sudden hole in the floor sucked in water like a drain in a bathtub or a hole in a bucket. No longer did water pressure force Cloe against the wall. Instead she was dragged away from it and sent spinning as the floodwater poured down the newly opened waterfall into the lower floors of the ruins.
She was pulled back through the doorway, on her back in the water. Looking up she could see the full moon beyond the tarp roof which was torn and slowly flapping in the wind, like the wings of a giant lazy bat. The harsh bright lights illuminating the laboratory were still on, though they dimmed and sputtered. She was dragged limp above the overturned operating tables. Her dangling hand brushed the top of one of them. Then a shadow loomed above her.
The twisted gray face of the Frankenstein Monster was looking down at her. The black lips twitched in a smirk. He smiled, baring flat yellow teeth. His breath, which carried the smell of rotted meat and the sting of ozone, blasted in her face.
‘A little flower, floating on the water.” He murmured. The Monster tilted his head slightly. “I almost remember that, from somewhere.”
A huge gray fist snagged her by her soaked blouse. The wet cloth ripped open. He lifted her with one fist, twisting the cloth around it. As he did so, her young round breasts and flat white belly were exposed.
The Monster’s eyes opened wider, his leer deepened.
“Not so little a flower anymore, eh Cloestine?”
The Monster lifted her level with his face.
“Oh yes. I remember you. You were almost here.” He tapped his square brow with a finger.
“Instead of me. He still remembers you too. He liked you. He wanted the two of you to be…together. Now, we will all be together! Eh?”
With one hand he pulled her out of the water, which was rapidly receding past and through his legs.
Whatever the Monster meant to do after that, Cloestine would know only in nightmares. Because at that very moment, the rest of the laboratory floor gave way.
The Frankenstein Monster’s eyes went wide as he tottered backwards. He dropped Cloestine and flailed about for something to catch hold of, but there was nothing in reach. The whole floor gave way underfoot as tons of stone and more tons of water crashed into the next, lower level of the castle.
Cloe was briefly knocked unconscious, but she woke abruptly with nose and throat full of water. She was being carried around the walls of this new room by a swirling whirlpool. More water continued to thunder down through the hole above, crashing onto the mound of broken stone and machinery in the middle of the room. Cloe could still glimpse the full moon overhead and the stuttering lights were still on, though now they were swinging back and forth in wild, irregular circles. The water that carried her was about chest deep. Cloe felt that she could have maybe resisted its pull, if she hadn’t already been battered half to death and near drowned. As it was, she could barely move her arms or legs. Her limbs felt like they were made of lead and were dragging her down.
A Something fell through the hole, down the waterfall from above. A dark body hit the water with a loud splash. Whatever it was, it sunk immediately and was rolled around by the current.
Cloe clawed at the stone wall but she was still being dragged along. Looking up she saw where the water was taking her. A wide set of stone stairs led to the levels deep beneath the castle, to the dungeons and storerooms and to the Ice Caves far, far below. She scrabbled and pushed with her feet but barely did more than slow the drag of the current that was inexorably pulling her toward those stairs.
There was a splash, then a flapping, shaking noise. Droplets of water flew everywhere, several pelted on Cloe’s face. Back on his feet, standing in the chest deep water, rose the dark silhouette of the Wolfman. He shook his head and shoulders once more. From Cloe’s point of view, he was just a black figure, backlit by the fading light from above. But his eyes gleamed in the dark. They shone red from the reflected light, like embers burning in a coal-black face. The Wolfman squared his shoulders and snarled. A growl rumbled deep inside his chest. With blood-chilling intent, he began to slog through the water toward her.
Cloe screamed and stopped trying to fight the drag of the water. Instead she dove ahead, letting the current add its speed to her own in a desperate attempt to escape the claws of the Wolfman. She plunged forward, pulling at the water with her arms. In a moment or two her feet lifted off the floor. The water picked her up and pitched her down into the white-water rapids of the staircase.
Behind her the Wolfman howled with frustration. A loud splash-splash-splash followed her as the werewolf tried to run after her.
Cloestine found herself tumbling end over end down the flooded stairs. She could barely gulp at the air whenever her roll brought her head above water. Her elbows, shoulders, and shins stuck stone in successive high speed cracks. She spread her arms, clawing at the steps with her fingers, and somehow managed to stop her tumble. Now she was sliding, gliding down the stairs on her back, riding the cataracts into the freezing depths below.
Cloe lifted her head, tried to get her bearings. What she saw was the Frankenstein Monster standing in water up to his waist on a flat landing below. In the dim light he was just a black shape with gray blobs for face and hands. He spread his arms, prepared to snatch her up when the water carried her to him. She couldn’t see it in the gloom, but she was sure that the Monster’s leering smile was back on its face.
Just before she reached the Monster, Cloe heard a fierce snarl. Something dark catapulted over her, leaping from a step far above. The Wolfman landed on the Frankenstein Monster’s face and began a ferocious assault with flailing claws and snapping teeth. The Monster staggered back, grunting. Cloe tucked in her arms, closed her eyes, and slid neatly between the Monster’s legs. She jetted past him as the Monster was once again locked in battle with his implacable foe, the Wolfman.
Long seconds later, the cascade dropped her in a deep pool of ice-cold water. She hit and sank immediately. Her torn blouse and ripped skirt billowed around her like the bedraggled wings of a drowned angel.
Some faint bluish light illuminated the water. Some unknown, unknowable thing below the ice glowed faintly. She was surrounded by rippling blue. Chunks of ice broken loose by the deluge bobbed like corks around her, floating slowly toward the surface above.
There was a great thump. Something heavy hit the surface. Two struggling figures sank past Cloe. Sheets of silvery bubbles streamed off them. The Frankenstein Monster and the Wolfman, locked in a titanic struggle, hit the bottom and bounced slightly. The battle ended in seconds. The Monster stood on the ice-covered floor of the cave and shoved the Wolfman to the ground. The giant planted a huge square-booted foot on the Wolfman’s hairy chest, pinning him to the bottom. The werewolf thrashed, struggled, ripped the Monster’s ankles and lower legs to shredded ribbons on bare bone, but the Monster wouldn’t let up. Finally the Wolfman kicked, convulsed, and then shuddered into immobility. A single huge silver bubble emerged from his mouth and undulated upwards.
Cloe watched it rise past her with hypnotized fascination. Despite the icy cold and the numb certainty of her own imminent death by drowning, a squirming tingle tickled up from between her legs, through her belly and wiggled up her spine. She shivered.
Nothing left to do, she closed her eyes and smiled.
The water seemed to become warmer, almost hot against her bare skin.
Something large surged by her. She was spun around by a hand on her waist. She opened her eyes just a crack. It was difficult. She was so tired.
Huge dark, unblinking eyes stared into her own. A great frog-like mouth gaped open, then snapped shut. Gills like lace rippled to either side of its face.
The Creature planted a webbed hand over her face, sealing her mouth and nose beneath its cold, rubbery grip. The hand around her waist held tight and the Creature began to kick. They rose quickly through the icy water. Slanted beams of blue light streamed past from below.
A black shadow loomed up, flickering with the ripples in the water. A long, long arm in a tattered black suit-sleeve reached up and a gray hand grabbed the Creature by the ankle. The Gill-Man kicked and twisted, but could not break the Monster’s grip. It might as well have been chained to the bottom.
The Frankenstein Monster’s face leered up at them, sneered. His eyes were half-closed. His face was growing puffy in the water, bloated and striped by the scars left from the Wolfman’s claws. The Monster opened his eyes wider, one last evil gleam left in them. He stared into Cloe’s eyes and shook his head. There would be no escaping this watery grave. They would all be together under the water, under the ice, beneath the earth.
The Monster smiled.
The Creature gathered its strength, muscles like coiled iron beneath tire-rubber scales. With all its might it surged up. When it reached the limit allowed to it by the Monster’s arm, it shoved Cloestine upwards. It threw her to the surface.
She rocketed up, broke the surface, and rose waist high out of the water. She fell backwards with a splash and began breathing with great chest-rattling heaves. She commanded her numb arms and legs to push against the water, unable to tell whether or not they complied. For a long moment she wasn’t sure that she was moving at all, then her head struck a stone step. She whirled around and dragged herself up the stairs. Water still ran down them in an ankle deep stream, but she was able to push up against it.
What seemed like hours later, a bedraggled, water-logged and shivering young woman stumbled out into the relatively warm night air.
As she stood, hands on her knees, gathering herself for the walk back into town, she heard the scratch-whoosh of a match being struck. A lantern was lit and a faint yellow glow appeared near her. The ancient wrinkled Gypsy woman’s face appeared out of the dark. Lit from below it looked more skull-like than ever. Eyes like obsidian chips regarded her coldly.
“What’s the matter, Child? You look frightened.”
The little Gypsy woman’s voice was a whispery monotone, but was almost hypnotic with its subtle power.
“Perhaps, perhaps you have heard stories? Stories about how Gypsies carry off children. Carry off girl-childs, to teach them to dance wild dances. To learn strange secrets. To turn them into witches.”
The woman smiled. The corners of her mouth turned up as if pulled with hooks. Her lips smiled, but her eyes were cold and probing.
“The stories are true.” She said at last. The smile became a smirk. There was a challenge in her eyes.
“They are all true.”
Maleva paused, waited patiently for Cloestine to react.
Cloe met her stare head-on.
She had won through flood and terror, had been among horrific monsters locked in deadly battle. She did not scare easily. She raised her chin, arched her eyebrow. Her trembling hand rose to the locket with Elsa Frankenstein’s hair inside, where it still hung around her neck. He hand ceased trembling the moment it touched the silver locket.
She didn’t feel afraid anymore. She felt strong. Strong and curious and hungry for something she had never known and therefore never learned a name for.
She smiled at the little Gypsy woman. It was a defiantly proud smile. It promised harm to any who would try to hurt her.
Maleva’s face softened. Her smile relaxed, turned genuine. There was understanding, deep understanding, sympathy and affection in those eye now.
“Take my hand, Child.”
Cloestine did, without a moment’s hesitation.
Maleva sighed, feeling the weight of her years.
“There is much I must teach you, and I fear there is very little time for you to learn. We must go.”