The year is 1899. The date is December the 31st, the time 11:55 PM. You jolt suddenly out of the reprieve of your sleep to find Rusalka’s impersonal fingers of ice wrapped around your throat. The room is hot with the prickling smell of unwashed human skin and fluids unnameable.
You remember that your name is Alexander Boleskine. Actually it is Edward Pugg, but no one has called you that for years. In fact, no one has called you for years; the headlines, once your constant enemy, have seemingly wasted away in time to your body’s slow ruin. But what ruin! You gasp, only for the cold fingers to grasp tighter. The machine. How…?
The machine had started as a joke, really. A jape. Or perhaps a form of revenge. Either way, you had had enough. You hated the disgusting banners, displayed gaily from the airships above – Thornton Co. Universal Chassis – the insipid posters in shop windows, the calculatedly earnest voice on the electromagnetic receiver. “Experience the magick of modernity with your very own automaton” – pah! Children’s playthings! A man like David Thornton, an avaricious schemer without a smidgen of the breeding to match his money, was no magician. The very idea used to make your nostrils flare and your lips press together tightly. Those of the chassis, the airships, the receiver – they were idiots, the lot of them, tinkering and inhaling smoke like a woman’s scented perfume, thinking they had magick at their fingertips when its ingredients had been with them all this time, all these centuries. You knew. You understood. The women had taught you. Unnameable fluids, unwashed human skin.
It is 11:56 PM, and you are dragged out of your bed by the throat, your limbs feebly clawing at the sheets. The whirr of gears is audible in the not quite abject darkness. Moonlight glints against metal. Perversely, you cannot seem to produce any fluids of your own, and you are as helpless as a kitten in the machine’s grasp. ‘Rusalka,’ you try to gasp.
“Yes,” chirrs the almost-woman in its non-voice. How wrong it looks in the moonlight, boxy and ungainly, its skirts billowing below imitatively. How unlike a woman, this thing of yours.
You’ve known plenty. The sheer variety is something that never stopped filling you with wonder. You remember the first woman in Mexico, the soft dusky woman who filled you with so many fluids unnameable as she drew you into her arms. You’d never known an embrace like that in London, where the women drew in their waists and the men spoke of hysteria. From the first moment you performed magick together, women were dear to you in all of their fragility and seductiveness and excess of fluids, everything that was denied to them at home. This excess, however, it made them flighty. They always left after a while, partaking in your studies with you for a time before alighting to another branch. Perhaps it wasn’t merely Thornton and his asinine chassis, then. It was the women too. You needed a partner who would delight in your excess without parting.
It is 11:57 PM. You are pressed against the window, pinned by the throat. “Rusalka,” you manage to wheeze out, your squirms dying, “why are you here?”
“You understand why, Boleskine.” The windowpane, miraculously unshattered, chills your back. It reminds you of its fingers, and the automaton’s undemonstrative blue eyes suggest the outside only too well. The rustle of fabrics makes your teeth, already worn to stumps, grind in fear or in anger or perhaps both. You know what is underneath. Woman, hah!
You know that boxlike chassis. All too easy to obtain, even with your dwindling funds. It almost disgusted you. You could have easily stolen someone else’s assistant if you’d wished; there was no escaping the damned things. Copper gentlemen streaming smoke from their mock-pipes, begging your pardon in their not-quite-voices, metal ladies selling roses underneath the gay banners from the sky. The idea had even come to you after you’d stumbled upon a whorehouse full of the things. Perfectly moral, of course. Men, after all, had their needs, and what was the harm if they weren’t quite alive? Some gentlemenly circles had quietly whispered, hopeful, that this even meant the end of the whoring epidemic. Ha, you doubted it. Some metal boxy thing that whirred and steamed and gazed upon you with blank eyes was no soft, warm woman, not even a third-rate Irish strumpet. Still, you were a connoisseur of the sexually novel, a magician of the appetites, and you felt an ingenious, spiteful idea begin to germinate in your brain.
Assembling it was easy. Gears and cogs, everything fitting into place. You’d honestly expected it to be harder. What had laid before you on your worktable could hardly be called a woman, all cool shine and angles with glassy blue eyes, but certainly there was something female about it. You had made those necessary modifications, and at the time, you even felt a certain sense of pride, though you tried to suppress it. Your practice, after all, was magick, and Thornton’s vulgar machinery was beneath you. What had laid before you was an elaborate doll, all clockwork and no life.
Your next enterprise was to fix that.
It is 11:58 PM. Holding you fast with one arm, Rusalka uses the other to open the window. Winter bites at your sodden skin instantly, and you gasp.
You needed fluids, for without fluids there was no magick. The ritual itself was something of your own making, though of course you had studied heavily beforehand, painstakingly determining what would work and what wouldn’t. Your own essence, of course, was easy to obtain. But blood, blood of both types, was necessary as well, and though Mary had willingly given you the first often enough, the second was another matter.
So one night, while Mary was sleeping, and though it pained you enough, you took a knife and gathered. No meat, of course, you weren’t a butcher. Blood alone was sufficient, but what you needed was nevertheless more than Mary could give. Sometimes magick required sacrifices.
You poured your gathered fluids into your automaton. You took its ankles into your hands, performed the ritual. How weak it seemed then.
And it remained weak. All you’d done, rewarded with nothing. No spark of life, no sitting up, no voice calling your name.
Your plan had failed.
You don’t remember how long you screamed in anger, but by the time you’d stopped there was blood in your spittle. You certainly remembered that, in your disgust, you’d taken your wretched doll and left it in that place where it had first been conceived. Only good for that, you’d decided. You hadn’t even taken any payment for it, so great was your anger. You’d left it and gone home to the stench of failure.
Here it is, now. Rusalka. It is 11:59 PM.
“How could I have possibly known?!” Your voice is hoarse. You can barely hear it over the howling winds. “I thought it’d failed! You weren’t responding – Rusalka, I am your master! Your father! You cannot do this!”
The automaton turns its face towards you slowly. Its words are ice.
“I do what I will.”
Your stomach jumps out of your mouth as you plummet.
[Space needed for narrative transition]
The year is 1900. In a few hours, someone will venture outside to see the dawning of a new year, and they will see the snow festooned with red as if to celebrate.
Infamous Sorcerer Found Dead on New Year’s Day! Gruesome Secret Uncovered in Room!
On January 1st, abhorred black magician Edward Pugg (known to his degenerate followers as Alexander Boleskine) was found deceased outside a tenement in London. Aged 39, he appears to have fallen from his window, presumably in a fit of drug addiction. The death has been ruled an accident. Pugg, this century’s greatest paragon of reckless self-indulgence, appears to have left very little on this earth, but police made a horrifying discovering inside of the room from which he fell; a complete automaton, of the standard Thornton Co. model, out of order but filled with blood and a still-beating heart. Coroners have confirmed that the heart appears to be human, but its origins are currently unknown. An investigation is underway.