An essay by Jeremy Kelsey, as provided by Megan Dorei
Art by Shannon Legler
Subject 42 is staring at me with greenhouse eyes, symmetrically accurate rainbow worlds suspended in crystal. They were brown when I met him, but the transmutation process liquefies ocular flesh, so I had to contain them in glass. The effect is mesmerizing, but it took quite a bit of work to fashion his new eyes, almost more than it took to create the being himself.
They match the lush tropics surrounding us, protected from the sheeting rain by a dome of tempered glass. By my calculations, it will turn to snow in a matter of hours.
We watch each other for a long time. His magnificent eyes are wide and lost, and he trembles. I can’t decide if he is cold or frightened. I feel a sharp urge to reach out and take him in my arms, to hold him till the shaking subsides, but I don’t. He is the only surviving member of his set, and I have no idea yet how he will react to human stimuli.
After a while, he holds his hands in front of his face. His fingers are skeletal, his skin so pale it’s almost translucent. The veins show through like rivers. His blood is gray.
Finally he looks at me.
“What … am I?”
I’m surprised by the question. I wasn’t expecting him to be quite so cognizant so soon after emerging from chrysalis.
“You are Subject 42 of the Lepidoptera series,” I say. “I created you.”
He frowns and edges away from me. “I don’t understand,” he says. His gaze darts back and forth, taking in the vivarium, the flowers and flitting creatures. “Everything is so bright.”
Slowly, I step forward. His gaze flickers back to me, his muscles tensing. “It’s okay,” I say. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
He tries to glare at me, but his attention does not hold for very long. The butterflies have appeared, surrounding him in a storm of color and the papery murmur of wings. After a brief examination, one of them lands on his arm.
He stares at it curiously. He reaches out to stroke it with one gentle finger.
His eyes widen, glistening.
“I can taste her.”
I smile, pleasantly surprised. “Butterflies hold their taste receptacles in their feet,” I say. “The data was against you inheriting this particular trait, but you seem to be defying all my predictions.”
“Is that good or bad?”
To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Summer 2017 collection.
Jeremy Kelsey was the son of former Congressman Thomas Kelsey. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in biochemistry and conducted groundbreaking research in genetic enhancement. When his father died of a drug overdose, he inherited his estate, the location of which he kept private. His disappearance in January still remains a mystery.
Megan Dorei lives in Lawrence, KS, with her fiancee and has been published in several anthologies. In between writing and thinking about writing, she enjoys long walks, summer nights, and contemplating how supermarkets could best be fortified in the likely event we piss off the extraterrestrials.
Shannon’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at http://shannonlegler.
“My Fragile Butterfly” is © 2017 Megan Dorei
Art accompanying story is © 2017 Shannon Legler