An essay by an anonymous narrator, as provided by Ron Riekki
Art by Leigh Legler
As an EMT, we routinely come upon body parts. A finger gets severed by a pair of pliers. A toe gets cut off by an escalator. A leg gets ex-ed off in a sawing accident. An arm just decides to leap off a body. I don’t know how it happens. I just know that I end up with body parts. What good are they? With living people, I always return them. But if they’re dead, a toe can slip into a pocket. An arm can get covered by some bushes on the side of the road and be returned to later.
What did I start doing with the pieces? I’d read Frankenstein. You have to. Don’t tell me you haven’t. “He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.” It’s my favorite ending line. It made me want the story to continue. I wanted to step into the darkness and distance and find out what was there. I wanted my own monster.
I started assembling the parts in my basement. It was beautiful seeing a body slowly coming together. I was patient too. You have to earn a body. You can’t just steal one like a nineteenth-century medical body snatcher, digging up graves for medical school anatomy lectures. There’s no skill to that. You just need a shovel and a lantern. What I was doing was the equivalent of cultivating a garden. This wasn’t speed and power. This was the slow, steady dedication of science. When I came upon a wonderful ring finger, it made me feel warm with the realization of just how married I was to physiology. Ring fingers are golden and gorgeous and so rare in amputations. The middle finger, I found, was so common that I just ignored them. It would be flopped boringly in–appropriately–the middle of the room, flipping the bird at the world even in death and I would, honestly, sometimes, flip it off right back, continuing my search for something more valuable. And there were so many tips of fingers. It felt like finding a diamond when a finger was intact, separated beautifully from the rest of the world, waiting for me to cradle it in my palm.
It took me years to get a complete arm with hand and fingers. Seven different patients. A rainbow of rigor mortis.
When I was young, I drove a taxi. Now I’m a taxidermist. It’s a natural progression. I went from driving the living to driving the dying. I’m an EMT for a hobby, but my real job is when I am at home at night.
Just recently I finished my gorgeous corpse. I know that electricity won’t make it talk to me. I know that lightning would just heat the area to 50,000 degrees when the sun is a mere 9,941 degrees Fahrenheit. It would simply destroy the beauty I’d put together. No, sadly, I realized it might never walk and talk and be born into darkness and distance. Unless I could somehow conquer telekinesis.
I’ve been studying the great masters, learning how to do spoon bending, fork bending, knife bending, chopstick bending, napkin bending, fruit bowl bending. Anything used for eating, I’d try to bend it with my mind. And it works. Subtly. It seemed to. I’d stare for hours at a spoon. Hours. Literally. Littering my off-days with madness-inducing gazing at the same exact spot on a spoon until my body ached with concentration, unless my vision blurred, until I was convinced the spoon had curved, even for just a split second. It was all I needed. I wanted my corpse to just move for a moment. A second of life.
I began staring at the corpse for hours, for days, for a full week, canceling my shifts so that I could insist that the subatomic particles of this decayed thing would have the motion that we so tie with life. And there were moments where I swear it moved, where the body turned an eighteenth of an inch, where the skin seemed to have a moment of internal pulse, and then it would be gone.
I kept at it. I read and reread and memorized the words of Nina Kulagina and Uri Geller and Stanislawa Tomczyk, people whose names themselves seemed to levitate beyond the boredom of America’s prevalence of the monosyllabic Smith and Jones. I wished for an unpronounceable name, for the ability to stun the world with the incredible miracle of making a table move. What could be more glorious than making a chair rise?
One night I tied all the body parts together. Sewed. Crocheted. Stitched. Glued. Anything. Until I had a connected corpse. With a few parts missing. A head for example. Heads are not easy to come across. There would be times where we would be on scene and the head would be missing and then someone would eventually find it. Often it would be hidden underneath some branches, almost as if someone were trying to keep it from view. But we rarely gave up on searches for heads. You don’t want to frighten the public. So they would be found. And I would be denied the final piece for my Frankenstein’s monster. And, trust me, Frankenstein would just not be the same without a head. Could you imagine the movies if the beast were headless? The draw would just not be the same. You need Boris Karloff’s green skin and sad eyes to connect to the character. Otherwise there would just be total terror. And that’s what I had.
Until one night, the telekinesis seemed to work. The headless corpse with its multiple parts from multiple humans from multiple mass-casualty incidents finally rose from the floor and started to walk up the steps of the basement. One at a time. It moved awkwardly. Heavily. Uncomfortably. Sloppily. But it moved. And I was right behind it. So near that I could smell the skatole, the bloat, the perfect autolysis.
And the corpse kept walking out into the street, out into the town. Let’s call it a village. It was really a metropolis, one of the largest cities in the United States, but I always considered it to be a sort of hamlet, at least the little area downtown where my house was compact next to skyscrapers, my family’s refusal to sell so that they blocked our view of the sun and stars and everything with steel. Our Milky Way was reinforced concrete. Our sky was glass and stone. And now I was out underneath the missing moon, the night drowned by streetlights and the drunks of the city all around, dumbstruck, one of them yelling that I was, that I was–he didn’t have the words for it.
Apparently they thought that I was basically doing all of the walking for my corpse, that I was behind it lifting the arms and moving the legs with my legs so that it wasn’t really alive at all. This is what the police said when they came. They drowned my brain with violence. It was not pretty, the arrest. The cardiac arrest of my loved one, my Frankenstein that was alive for minutes, perfect minutes where we danced out into the street. And then the world had to end us with its brightness and nearness of prison, where I will horribly never be able to see my walking creation again.
The unnamed narrator of the aforementioned account wishes to remain unnamed. He is currently doing a twenty-six-year sentence in Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Bay State Prison, a Supermax prison in central Rhode Island. While imprisoned, he has been thoroughly rereading the works of Nina Kulagina, Uri Geller, and Stanislawa Tomczyk, and is convinced he should be able to escape by bending metal bars by late June of next year.
Ron Riekki’s books include And Here: 100 Years of Upper Peninsula Writing, 1917-2017 (Michigan State University Press), Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (Michigan State University Press, 2016 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal Great Lakes Best Regional Fiction), The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (Wayne State University Press, 2014 Michigan Notable Book awarded by the Library of Michigan), and U.P.: a novel (Ghost Road Press).
Leigh’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://leighlegler.carbonmade.com/.
“Or, The Modern Levitation of Frankenstein” is © 2018 Ron Riekki
Art accompanying story is © 2018 Leigh Legler