Content Warning: This story deals with the historical death of a child and imagines a supernatural take on the events afterwards.
My dearest Thomas, my baby is dead—will you come to see me as soon as you can. I wish to see you—It was perfectly well when I went to bed—I awoke in the night to give it suck it appeared to be sleeping so quietly that I would not awake it. It was dead then, but we did not find that out till morning—Will you come to my aid now—you are so calm a creature & my Poet is of no use for what I must now do—for now I am no longer a mother but I have heard tale of a man that may be able to provide a solution – I dare not ask my Poet to come where I must go.
When Thomas arrives to be at Mary’s side, the little house that his friend shares with her Sister and her Poet is cold and empty aside for the woman herself who greets him at the door with a wan smile and a brisk handshake before ushering him inside.
“What of –”
Mary shakes her head, cutting him off before he can say her Poet’s name. “He has taken my Sister out for a walk,” she says, the words slipping out around a sneer that twists her mouth. “A walk! They go for a walk to escape this tomblike home while I sit here, consumed by fear over a plan that may not work.”
Thomas startles, gaze flicking around the room as if he expects to see the shrouded body of his friend’s infant somewhere in the main room. He sees nothing out of the ordinary and so, squaring his shoulders before asking, “Where is the infant?”
“In the nursery upstairs,” Mary says, the twist to her mouth taking on a sharper note. “Where else would I leave her?”
Mary turns on her heel, walking towards the stairs without another look back at Thomas. At the foot of the stairs, she pauses before speaking. “I will bring her down in a moment. Please, make yourself comfortable.”
How Thomas is supposed to make himself comfortable while waiting for his friend to return with the cold body of her infant daughter, he does not know. He mumbles something that must sound like acquiescence to Mary’s words and drifts into the crumbling room that must serve as her new family’s sitting room.
By the time that Mary does return, the weak fire in the hearth has cooled down to a bank of smoldering embers and Thomas, even in his heavy suit, cannot refrain from shivering from the temperature.
She sweeps down the stairs dressed in a mourning dress in a subdued cut and a deep purple.
Inwardly, Thomas frowns. His expectations for Mary had been thus: Mourning colors, mourning fabric. He expects the neat knot of her ruddy hair and her pale face to remain hidden behind a long veil of lace that would obscure both her and her burden.
Instead, Mary wears no veil. No mark of mourning to show her loss.
In her arms, she cradles a bundle half-obscured by its own dark covering. When she shifts, as the cloth moves in the wind created by her approach, Thomas catches a glimpse of a small face tinted blue and a single curl of ink-dark hair sweeping an unwrinkled brow.
“Is that –”
Thomas cannot bring himself to name the thing in Mary’s arms.
The corpse of her daughter.
He does not have to.
Dark head dipping in a nod, Mary clutches her daughter closer. “Yes,” she says, in a strangely subdued tone, “We may leave now… If you wish.”
Thomas frowns. “Where are we to go?”
Mary does not answer Thomas’s question. Not directly.
“It is near enough that we may walk there in a matter of minutes,” Mary says, her voice still quiet. “No need to call for a carriage. It would be better to walk, besides. Faster.” With that, she starts towards the door, only pausing long enough for Thomas to come to his senses and rush to open the door for her, ushering her through the doorway and onto the street.
Thomas tries again. “Perhaps it would be wiser to wait for your Poet to return,” he says, still speaking even as he follows Mary onto the crowded street, his stride just long enough to be proper rather than a full out run. “Surely you would rather wait for his support than have mine alone.”
Mary’s stride only lengthens, carrying her forward with such speed that Thomas finds himself doing the same in order to make his way back to her side. When he dares to touch her shoulder, she glares up at him with such a baleful look on her face that Thomas nearly loses his footing from fear.
“When I wrote to you,” Mary says, speaking just loudly enough to be heard above the bustle of the crowds around them, “I asked you for your aid. I asked you to travel with me where my Poet could not. If that request is too… difficult for you, I suggest you turn back now.”
Thomas, so caught up in his friendship with Mary and his fear for her brave, but fragile soul, shakes his head. “I would not dream of abandoning you, Mary,” he promises.
Mary nods, almost as if to herself. “Good,” she murmurs. “We’re not far now.”
Mary leads Thomas along a winding trek whose path seems to double back upon itself as they travel.
Within moments, despite the fact that they cannot possibly be far from the place where they started, Thomas feels as though they are hopelessly lost.
Mary however, strides onward, marching down one particular alley with a sort of stiff-backed resolution that puts Thomas in mind of a soldier. She never looks back, not once, not even when Thomas bangs his head on a low-hanging awning or narrowly misses being splashed with waste from a chamber pot.
Her goal reveals itself near the end of the alley, a darkened doorway marked only with a knocker in the shape of a bull’s head that Mary reaches for confidently, knocking three times before standing back with her burden cradled in her arms.
“What sort of place have you brought me to?” Thomas asks, his eyes wide and his pulse pounding in his chest like a drum.
Mary does not answer.
She does not have the time to.
Before them, the door opens with a creak of under-oiled hinges, revealing the dimly lit interior of an empty parlor devoid of all decorations aside from a mirror hanging on the right side of the entrance.
Mary flinches backward at the sight of the open door, nearly stumbling backwards in the process. However, as Thomas opens his mouth to suggest that they retrace their steps and head back to the quiet and cold little home that she shares with her Sister and the Poet, he watches Mary steel herself and stride forward, still clutching the cold body of her daughter in those deceptively thin arms.
Thomas has no choice but to follow her into the darkness.
Thomas does not know what to expect.
In her letter, Mary had mentioned finding a man to provide her with a solution. What kind of a man offers a grieving mother a solution for the loss of a child that does not lead to their swift burial? What kind of a man would appeal to Mary’s pragmatic, sensible soul and send her off into madness?
The empty parlor leads to an empty hallway which leads to well-appointed sitting room lit by lamplight.
The sitting room is far from empty.
Two figures rise from seats across from the fireplace. One, a tall and androgynous creature with a cool look of detachment icing over their pale, fine features, turns away from the doorway and goes to fuss with the fire. The other, a gentleman with dark hair and eyes and a kindly, but fretful look on his thin brown face, addresses Mary as she and Thomas move deeper into the room.
“What tragedy has brought you to my home, Miss?”
“My daughter, sir,” Mary says, speaking quietly as if not wishing to wake the babe bundled in her arms. She walks towards the man in short, halting steps that make her appear to be drawn towards him. “My daughter died in the night and I heard – I was told that you could help.”
The strange man utters a soft, sympathetic noise and inclines his head in a mysterious nod.
“And just what were you told that I was capable of?” Soft though they are, the words still take on an air of menace that rings strongly to Thomas’s ears. When he looks at Mary, hoping that he would see his own discomfort mirrored on her face.
Alas, he only catches a glimpse of an eagerness that seems desperate.
“I was told, by some practitioners of the strangest of sciences, that you had ways of rescuing the dead from their fate,” Mary says, tone hushed at first before it strengthens. “I thought nothing of the rumors at first, of course, but my daughter—” Mary chokes on a sob that jackknifes through her slight frame, shaking around the fragile treasure in her arms. “Please – I have money.”
The man’s thin mouth curves upward with a smile.
“I have no need of money, miss,” he says, still smiling. “I have, however, been looking for a challenge.” He pauses to eye Mary and Thomas, his gaze penetrating and searching at once. “No one has ever asked me to reanimate a being so young.”
Thomas starts. “Are you saying –“
“Yes,” the strange man says, “I will try to bring your child back to life. With your help, of course.”
Stunned by the casual admission, Thomas can only watch, stunned, as the man reaches out to take Mary’s burden into his own arms. The Infant looks even smaller in his embrace, cold little face tucked up against the lapels of the man’s suit.
At the sight of the man so tenderly cradling Mary’s baby, Thomas feels as though he can hold his tongue for no longer.
“Will we not even provide us with your names?” Thomas spits out. “You promise that you can bring the Infant back from the dead, but we do not even know your name nor that of your companion to assure ourselves that your promises are worth anything at all.”
Thomas must think of their reputations in this. Mary, he thinks, must be too overwhelmed with her grief to note the strangeness of the scene, of the promise that the man before them makes with unshakeable confidence.
The man’s smile sharpens, the expression made all the more disturbing by the gentleness with which he cradled the Infant close.
“You may call me Henry Lennox,” he says. “And my assistant is Alaric. No surname.” He pauses, menace so present in his smile that Thomas flinches backwards before squaring his shoulders and glaring back at him. “Is that enough for you? The child is getting warm and I loathe to waste any more time appeasing your fears.”
When Thomas tries to speak, Mary spins around and pins him with such a ferocious stare that he immediately falls silent, shaking his head.
“Good. Alaric,” he calls out to the still-silent creature lurking off to one side of the fireplace, voice ringing in the sudden silence, “Fetch my supplies. I will take our guests to the workroom upstairs.”
The assistant takes three trips, arms laden with supplies of an unspecified nature, before Henry seems content enough to allow them a rest in a quiet corner of the workroom. The workroom appears to take up the entirety of the floor, almost appearing to take up more room than the space appears to contain from the outside.
Thomas has questions but knows that answers aren’t likely to be forthcoming.
For the most part, as Lennox prepares the tools of his trade, Mary and Thomas are left to their own devices. Thomas tries to sway Mary one last time, peering at her uncovered face over the tea that Alaric serves them with a scowl on their angular face.
“Mary, I cannot in good conscience allow you to continue on with this,” Thomas murmurs, speaking directly to his dear friend. “Not without trying to warn you away from these actions. What will you do if this – this madman succeeds.”
Certainly, Mary must know that her Poet will not welcome her and whatever unholy amalgam of science and mysticism this process ends with back to their home. It would not… be seemly.
The corners of Mary’s mouth droop with a weary frown.
“I should not have written to you,” she says. “I thought you would understand. That you would help.”
“I have helped,” Thomas says, shocked by the tone of Mary’s voice.
“No,” Mary says, “You have escorted me where I needed to go and I am thankful, but you have been rude to the one person that may be able to give me my daughter back and you have constantly questioned my decisions.” She pauses then to take a small sip of tea from a delicate cup, patting her mouth with a napkin before continuing. “I had thought that you would have been of more help than my Poet, but I must have been mistaken.”
“Mary, I –“
Lennox’s reappearance at Mary’s elbow silences Thomas before he can work towards an apology. The other man directs a solicitous smile down at them and then offers a hand to help Mary to her feet.
“Apologies for the interruption, but your assistance is needed,” Lennox says, appearing anything but apologetic.
Mary brushes her skirts into place with one hand and moves away from Thomas’s side. Despite the tangible feeling of her disappointment in him, Thomas scrambles up to his feet and trails after Mary and Lennox as they walk towards a heavy table upon which the cold little body of the Infant lies in the center of two circles filled with intersecting lines and complex symbols.
“I used sigils for returning life to the body and used chalk and wax to lay the symbols and circles,” Lennox says, gesturing at his work. “For a larger body, I would rely on electricity to make the process more manageable, but this is the first time I have ever worked with a body so small. Reanimation on this scale requires… modifications in lieu of using Galvanism.”
“Modifications,” Mary repeats.
Lennox nods. “I will require blood. Human blood.”
Before Thomas can say anything that she would find foolish, Mary stretches out her right arm, pushing back the sleeve of her dress until her forearm is bared to the light.
“It would only be right to use my blood,” Mary says. “Take as much as is necessary.”
Mary and Thomas are not allowed to watch the… ceremony.
Alaric ushers them back down to the sitting room before moving to stand guard at the foot of the stairs as if worried that Thomas and Mary might rush the stairs. The being’s eyes never leave the two as they sit, clustered together on a couch that hardly seems able to bear their weight.
Mary’s arm is wrapped in bandages from her wrist up to the bend of her elbow. When she moves even the slightest bit, pain tightens her features and makes her moan. However, she sits ramrod straight, gazed fixed on the stairway as if expecting to see Lennox appear with the infant in his hands.
“What will you tell him?” Thomas asks, speaking of the Poet without referring to him by name.
Mary’s head dips in a shallow nod. “I have been dreading the thought of his reaction,” she confesses in a dull, almost numb tone. “He was there when I woke to find her dead. He – he refused to touch her. If I return with her, I cannot be sure that he will accept us.”
And from her letters and the gossip thriving in society, Thomas knows that there are few people in the city that would even consider offering her aid and risk social ostracization.
If the Poet rejects her after this –
Because of this –
Thomas frowns, staring down at where he has his hands clasped in his lap.
“How – how may I help?” Thomas asks.
Mary’s silence feels poignant, painful.
After several minutes, she speaks.
“If this gives me back my daughter,” Mary says, “Then I – I will need you to speak with my Poet, to help him open his mind to-to this.”
Thomas would promise Mary the moon and the stars, but those would be easier to procure than the Poet’s genuine understanding in a situation such as this. Despite his own beliefs, the Poet will not take news of his child’s reanimation or of Mary’s role in the ritual very well.
It could be… disastrous.
“I will do what I can,” Thomas says, forcing himself to meet Mary’s searching eyes.
Movement from the stairs startles them.
Alaric moves toward them, an unreadable look on their face.
“Master Lennox is ready for you,” they say, voice carefully devoid of emotion. “The ritual is completed.”
The workroom is ice cold.
Filled with the cloying scent of coppery blood.
Lennox stands, half-slumped over the table that serves as his workstation, underdressed in a sweat and blood dampened shirt. He does not look up upon Thomas and Mary’s approach.
His reaction – or lack thereof – is ominous.
“Is my daughter—” Mary’s voice catches on a sob and she shakes, swaying so alarmingly that Thomas makes to reach for her before she settles. “Is she—”
Lennox shakes his head. “I’ve failed you,” he says, his voice soft. “She was – she was dead for too long and her body too small to survive the ritual return.”
A sob tears free from Mary’s throat and, before Thomas can think of catching her, she collapses, crumpling in on herself with a pitiful moan warbling in the air.
“I – I will of course handle a discrete burial for your daughter,” Lennox says, raising his voice to be heard above Mary’s hoarse, panting breaths. “This failure was my fault and I –“
“No,” Thomas says, eager to be helpful to Mary, “I believe that you have done enough, Lennox. I will ensure that Mary’s daughter has a proper burial. You needn’t concern yourself with our business any longer.”
With great effort, Mary manages to get to her feet.
“Let me see her,” she says. “Let me see my daughter one last time.”
Thomas doesn’t think the decision is wise.
However, he dares not cross Mary on this.
He watches, silently, as Mary walks towards the table and lifts the sheet serving as her daughter’s shroud, baring flesh smeared with blood, wax, and ash. When she gathers her daughter’s body, it is as if she is an angel taking the poor thing to heaven.
“Mary – “
“I would like to leave, Thomas,” Mary says, standing and staring off into the distance as if she sees through him. “Please give Mister Lennox something for his attempt and then, escort me back to my home. I will need to bathe her before I call for the priest.”
From the journal of Mary Shelley, several weeks later:
Dreamt that my little baby came to life again—that Lennox had succeeded and had brought my daughter back to me—I awake & find no baby—I think about the little thing all day.