From the author: "Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful." - 'Frankenstein,' Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
Tina lays on her stomach in the loungeroom, the evening news programme sounds in the background, slowly flipping through the pages of her book. The fish tank hums in the corner of the room. The ceiling light flickers above. She’s been reading Frankenstein for about an hour before her cousin Jonathan walks through the door. Jonathan comes around once a week to have a few beers with her dad and watch football on TV. Tonight, her dad is at Uncle Joe’s helping him after his knee surgery.
Jonathan pulls off his boots and falls onto the lounge, stretching out with his hands behind his head. With his pointed elbows and long limbs, Tina thinks he looks like slightly inhuman. He doesn’t acknowledge her presence until halftime when he lazily rolls off the lounge to get a beer.
“What are you doing?” he asks.
“Frankenstein, hey? Aren’t you a little young for that? What are you, 9?”
Tina shakes her head. “I’m 12.”
Tina returns her attention to her book. Her parents told her people who swore were idiots who couldn’t think of smarter words to use. She doesn’t mention that to Mathew. She loves to read about how Dr Frankenstein, surpassing his most sanguine expectations, brought his monster to life through galvanism. She knew, however, that you couldn’t really animate an entire body back to life, as a living body depended on the correct working of many, many systems, and too many things have shut down and begun to rot soon after death. The idea started her fascination with electricity and power. A type of power she could use, where she had been so long denied another.
Jonathan walks into the kitchen, grabs a beer from the fridge, and returns to his spot on the lounge, stomping on Frankenstein, crushing the spine. Tina sticks out her chin in defiance but says nothing. Complaining would be futile – it always is with Jonathan.
Jonathan turns off the TV and beckons Tina forwards with a gritty finger.
Tina could never tell what Jonathan was thinking. He stares at her malignantly, and for a second she wonders if there is anything inside him apart from the vast and endless void of nothingness. While she wants to look away, she can’t. Staring at him was like standing at the precipice of a black hole, a nameless void that could suck her into itself and swallow all the happiness from her soul.
Tina places a scrap of paper in her book to mark her page. She hates when people interrupt her when she’s reading. Jonathan tosses the book across the room and pulls her onto his lap, running his fingers through her hair. His tongue is wet as he sucks on her earlobe. Tina thinks of Uncle Joe. Did her dad really need to be with him at the hospital?
With one quick motion, Jonathan pulls the belt from its loops on his jeans. He always wears the same black jeans whenever Tina sees him. They’re old and frayed at the bottom. They drop to his ankles, and he hastily kicks them off.
“Today was hectic,” he groans. Tina looks over to her book; its spine is broken, pages crumpled. She wants to pick it up and read in her room by herself, but fear holds her still.
Tina closes her eyes as Jonathan pulls off his shirt, stands up, lifts her over his shoulder, and takes her into her parent’s bedroom.
Jonathan throws her on the bed and softly strokes her cheek. His fingers are dirty and cold. Tina turns her head and looks at the wedding photograph of her parents. They stand in front of the church hand in hand, smiling. Staring at their faces, Tina feels unusually excited, but not in the way one would in the days leading up to a birthday party or a wedding. Her excitement is a stab to the stomach with a sharpened blade, like the peeling of the skin from a piece of fruit; the physiological arousal leaving her body both burning with anticipation and rotting from disgust.
Jonathan lifts her skirt and pulls down her underwear. Tina doesn’t cry anymore. She isn’t sad about it. In fact, she doesn’t know what she feels. Perhaps nothing at all. Yet feeling nothing was still a type of pain. She grits her teeth as Jonathan parts her lips and presses his fingers down her throat until she gags. This time she’s ready for the saliva that runs down her chin.
Tina wants the world to be mysterious, although she doesn’t really know what that means. As her life pours out of her, seeping through the cracks of her skin, she wonders if Jonathan’s own life is miserable. Every atom within her feels weighed down with stones, as though her body has been tossed from a boat, and into the sea, an anvil tied to her ankles.
Jonathan’s palm is sweaty as he withdraws his fingers from her mouth and covers her lips with his hand. Tina believes her cousin died a long time ago, yet he is tethered to the world for some reason or other. Perhaps to torment her? His bony hips are hard as he slams then against her own. Tina wonders if he, perhaps, was tortured in some other way. Maybe his obsession with her keeps him alive? Maybe his happiness soured to bitterness, and the power he exerts over her keeps his heart furiously beating?
Pages of Frankenstein she’d been reading flickers through her mind like a light bulb struggling to live. Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful. Tina isn’t scared of Jonathan anymore. In fact, he is but a formless mass who leaves no imprint on the world. She knows within him is a vacancy where his heart ought to be. There is nothing, but an empty stretch of canvas stained with the absence of a soul. To her, he does not exist.
Jonathan wraps a hand around her throat. Tina gasps as Jonathan wraps a hand around her throat, shaking her. Her head lolls around as though devoid of muscle and bone. She wonders why humans are so fragile. Perhaps it was their irrationality? The systematic use of reason was supposed to be the ultimate way to live. Rationality was supposed to replace superstitious, religious, mythological, and supernatural thinking with rational, scientific, philosophical, and naturalistic thinking. Tina is silent as Jonathan empties himself inside her. He is nothing but an empty husk without rational thinking. He does not employ intelligent thought in his life. His mind is debased by his overwhelming desire to destroy her in any way he could. He is not human. He is a monster.
Tina lays on the bed in silence as Jonathan leaves the room. She listens as he resumes his place on the lounge and flicks through the channels on the TV. She thinks of her copy of Frankenstein laying broken on the floor. She, too, lays broken. However, while her body aches after ever intrusion, today she feels something else. Something deep inside her she had not yet discovered. Something more primal. Tina’s life, as miserable as it was, was dear to her, and the only thing she had. There was anger within her the likes of which Jonathan, nor anyone else, had ever seen. She was benevolent, yes, but benevolence could only last so long.
With a furrowed brow of determination, Tina pulls her underwear from her mouth and gets up from the bed. Jonathan laughs at something on the TV. She does not understand how an adult such as himself, who knew the difference between right and wrong, could choose to indulge in such heinous acts. And if he was miserable, as Tina suspected, undoubtedly the bitterness of his grief was enough to persuade him to stop? But what could stop such determination? Surely, she, a mere girl, had not the intellect nor the strength to do so? However, while she could choose to be alone and miserable, she could also choose to be resolute and stand firm, rekindling the brightness in her eyes and the fire in her heart Jonathan tried so hard to distinguish.
Tina strides naked into the loungeroom and stands in front of the TV. Jonathan looks up at her. Tina suspects he only locks eyes with her because that’s what humans are supposed to do. But he tries too hard. His eyes, instead of conveying emotion, were empty. But did that nothingness have a substance? Tina didn’t know.
“I’m not afraid of you.”
Jonathan smirks. “You’re a liar.”
Tina shakes her head. “It’s true. Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.”
Jonathan rolls his eyes and scoffs. “You’re nothing but a piece of shit. You’re aware your dad knows, right? And he doesn’t give a fuck.”
Tina grits her teeth. She hadn’t expected him to say that. Her stomach turns as she thinks of all the times her father left her in her cousin’s care.
She shook her head. “That’s not true. You’re the liar. I see you for what you are.”
“It’s true,” Jonathan replies, smirking. “Nobody wants you. You’re trash.”
Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.
“You’re not a real person,” Tina says defiantly. “I don’t know what you are or where you came from, but you’re not real! You’re a monster!”
Tina knows Dr Frankenstein is the real monster in the book. She knows he is the one to fear, not Frankenstein’s Monster. Jonathan grins. While his body was structurally identical to Tina’s, there was something about him that made him different from other people. Was he even capable of understanding empathy at all?
Jonathan stands up from the lounge and walks over to her. He is taller than Tina and looks down at her with a stare as empty as a lifeless ocean.
“You’re crazy, just like your mother.”
Tina stands resolute. Though her insides are quivering with fear, for the first time in her life, she feels free. However, her heart twinges with the nostalgia of a life she’s never lived, of the happiness she’s never experienced, of the loving motherly hugs her she’s never felt. She has never been a particularly joyful girl, but she knows that joy lives within her, somewhere. Tina knows her father had broken her mother, sending her crazy until dumping her in the nursing home to die. But she was not her mother.
Tina looks around the room, her stomach rumbling with the anticipation of power. The TV cords. The AV outputs. The laptop charger. The phone charger. Her eyes linger on them all, imagining them wrapped around Jonathan’s neck.
Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.
At once the cords spring to life, shooting across the carpet like slithering snakes, latching on to Jonathan’s ankles with the ferocity of a boa constrictor. They wind their way up his legs so quickly he falls over, screaming. Tina looks over at the fish tank, fists clenched, and gasps as it explodes, sending water and shards of glass shooting out into the room. Jonathan screams as the water collides with the cords. His body convulses as the violent electrical current pulses through him.
Tina wrinkles her nose as the scent of burning flesh drifts into her nostrils. It is not an unpleasant smell. Jonathan’s body spasms on the ground, his eyes wide and unseeing, his tongue lolling from his mouth. His body turns bright red as its temperature rises. His flesh swells and his skin stretches to the point of breaking.
It takes longer than she expects for him to die. Tina stands rooted to the floor until he is still. Her body relaxes. The door swings open and her dad stumbles in, beer in one hand, the arm of a tall blonde woman in the other. At the sight of Jonathan’s mangled body, the woman screams and runs from the house.
Tina looks at her father and smiles. “You’re next.”