An essay by Captain Jack Passerday, as told to Dave D’Alessio
Art by Luke Spooner
11 Nov 1824
My dear Wilhelm:
I am writing to you as my solicitor in order that I may place into your hands certain information that may someday have value to the public at large. I ask you to retain this privately in the event that I meet with some form of malicious misadventure, at which time you may place it into the hands of the authorities as you see fit.
You are certainly aware, Wilhelm, that I, and my ship and crew have recently returned from our unsuccessful attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage. This failure, and the hardships it entailed, has been described at length in the Annals of the Explorers Society and so I will not bore you with it. Instead, I wish to describe for you an unusual event that we met with at the outset of our voyage.
As you know, we put forth from Dover in June of 1821. At the time, the prevailing winds were such that I decided to take the ship into the North Sea, up the Scandinavian coastline. It was while we were in easy view of Tromso that we spied a single boat, quite small and inappropriate to the rigors of the open sea, and apparently empty. As we closed on it, however, we saw a man lying insensible in the bottom who, by dress, was clearly no Norwegian fisherman, as he wore a black cutaway jacket and top hat rather than the usual heavy sweater and knit cap.
He was brought aboard, where our ship’s doctor, the estimable Surgeon Kaye, pronounced his condition the result of starvation and exposure. The unfortunate man found a large and powerful hot toddy more than stimulating, and after he had consumed it in its entirety, along with a good handful of ship’s biscuit, he felt sufficiently revived as to tell us why we had found him as we had.
After introducing himself as a physician from London, one John Polidori, he explained that his intention had been to row north until he was lost at sea and perished. I asked what might drive a reasonable and sane man, for he seemed both reasonable and sane at the moment, to such an act, and his exact response was, “I can no longer bear the secret that I hold within my breast.” Thus he began, and from there went on with a story so unlikely that if my Lieutenant and Surgeon had not also heard very much the same, I would have doubted my own sanity.
As a fellow medical man, it was Dr. Kaye who bore the brunt of intercourse with Dr. Polidori. I requested that Dr. Kaye transcribe the man’s strange story, so at this point, I will allow him to continue in his own words.
Doctor Polidori said:
It was in June of 1816 that I was installed in the household of George Gordon Noel Byron, that is, Lord Byron, the preeminent poet of our age. He was currently summering at the Villa Diodati overlooking Lake Geneva, a large and open building with a broad veranda well sited and designed for enjoying the vista of the lake as surrounded by the Alps.
Alas for all of us, you recall the summer of 1816 was particularly dreadful in terms of weather. Rain accompanied by thunderstorms was general, and when there was no rain, skies were none-the-less overcast for the largest part. At times the precipitation was so precipitous that we were confined entirely to the Villa and left to our own devices in terms of entertainment.
In that latter regard, we were in great and good company. A former paramour of Lord Byron’s, the aspiring actress and singer Claire Clairmont, joined us, and had brought with her her step-sister and, for lack of a more delicate term, her step-sister’s lover. He was Percy Bysshe Shelley, known as the author of Queen Mab, and Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude, and a rising literary light. As for the step-sister herself, she was perhaps even more formidable. At the time, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was of but eighteen years of age, but like her name, she was clearly the product of two formidable parents, her father, William Godwin, the radical philosopher, and her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, the noted essayist on the rights and abilities of women.
It was, of course, I who filled our party out to five.
To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Summer 2019 collection.
Captain Jack Passerday, RN, Member of the Explorer’s Society, served with distinction during the Napoleonic Wars, being promoted from Ensign to Commander. Following his unsuccessful voyage in search of the Northwest Passage (1821-1824), he and his crew disappeared during a search for Hawaiki, the legendary home of the Polynesian peoples (1827-?), presumably during a tropical typhoon. The attached manuscript was found among the papers of Wilhelm Cheatham, Esq., upon the dissolution of his firm Howe, Dewey, Cheatham Associates in 2018.
Dave D’Alessio is an ex-industrial chemist, ex-TV engineer, and ex-award-winning animator currently masquerading as a social scientist. His more than twenty previously published stories include “The Twenty-Year Reich,” finalist for the Sidewise Award for best alternative history short story of 2017, and “Jack the Giant-Killer: A Species Traitor?” in Mad Scientist Journal, Volume CXCVIII, August 2015.
Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.
“Godwin, or The Modern Prometheus” is © 2019 Dave D’Allessio
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Luke Spooner