The man kept glancing over his shoulder as he ran, looking up at the darkening clouds with consternation. He mustn’t be too late. His boots squelched in the mud as he hurried along the country lane, his long black coat flapping madly behind him. His step hardly changed as he got to the stile. With one hand on the gatepost, he stamped his left foot down on the bottom step and launched himself over with one heave, twisting his body to land firmly on both feet, facing the way he had come. Wasting no time, he spun round and carried on running across the field. He saw his destination, the small village huddled down in the valley, and he quickened his pace, taking advantage of the downward slope of the land. He wasn’t accustomed to such exertion though, and he had to pause for breath as he reached the gate at the bottom of the field. But he couldn’t rest, he had to get to the tavern as quickly as possible. He wiped the sweat from his forehead, then, pulling his hat more firmly down on his head, vaulted over the gate and carried on running, now on the dirt and stone track that led into the village.
The rough track changed gradually into a cobbled street as he entered the village. Buildings of wood and stonework lined the street on either side, empty shops now closed for the night, or family homes where the occupants were supping together, or saying their prayers. He hurried past, his thoughts focussed on his destination. He hoped the priest was there, he would know what to do. The wind picked up, and he felt the first spots of rain on his face. The cobblestones glistened in the light of the streetlamps, and he slowed his pace slightly. The wet stones could be treacherous if he wasn’t careful. The street opened out onto the village square, and across the square he saw the tavern, its windows lit with a welcoming glow. On another occasion the sight would warm his heart, but he knew the mood would be sombre tonight, and his news would do nothing to lighten it.
He crossed the square to the tavern, and pushed open the front door. He immediately felt the warmth of the fire in the hearth, and took in the soft flicker of the electric lamps on the walls and the low murmur of conversation around the room. He took off his hat, and raised his hand in greeting to the barman, who returned the gesture before turning back to carry on his conversation with the customer at the bar. His eyes scanned the room, sweeping over the tables until they alighted on the face of the priest. He was sitting at a table on the far side of the room, the light of the lamps exaggerating the creases in his worn face, his expression sombre. He was dressed in black, a travelling cloak wrapped round him, and he was nursing a sherry in his right hand. He was not alone at the table. He appeared to be deep in conversation with a smartly dressed man a few years his junior. Sitting next to this man was a startlingly attractive young woman, her long dark hair fashioned in an elaborate plait. She wore a black dress; her eyes were downturned towards the table, her hands clasped together in her lap. A young man completed the company at the table. He was also smartly dressed in a white shirt and black waistcoat, small round glasses perched on his intense clean-shaven face. He was holding a cigarette in one hand, and was following closely the conversation of the two older men.
The newcomer walked quickly across the room to the table, and stood before the priest, his hat clutched tightly in his hands. The priest broke off his conversation and looked up, sensing the man’s agitation.
“Jeramiah, what is it? What is troubling you?” the priest asked. He spoke calmly, but there was an urgency in his voice.
“I’ve seen him, father,” the man replied, his voice breathless from his previous exertion. “He’s going to do it, I think tonight! He looked like a man possessed, father, I wasn’t able to talk him out of it, so I ran straight here to find you. We have to stop him!”
The expression on the priest’s face darkened, his anger becoming almost a physical presence at the table.
“It is blasphemy,” he snarled, “only the good Lord has the power to give life. He cannot be allowed to proceed.”
The man who was previously talking to the priest stood up. All colour had drained from his face, and he leaned his hands on the table for support.
“I loved Elizabeth as much as any man can love a daughter,” he said in a quiet but firm voice, “but she has been taken from us, and nothing can change that. He must not be allowed to bring her back.”
The woman looked up now, the lantern light illuminating her soft features, her dark brown eyes trained on the man now standing.
“But father, I don’t understand” she cried. “Elizabeth is dead, I saw her fall from the horse myself. How can there be any talk about bringing her back? How could that be possible?”
The man exchanged a glance with the priest, then turned to the young man who so far had not spoken. “I think you know the answer to that, don’t you, Anthony?”
The young man was silent for a short moment, drawing on his cigarette and exhaling a stream of smoke before he answered. “He wouldn’t dare. The procedure was outlawed by Vienna in ’47”
“What procedure?” the woman exclaimed, her face now turned to towards the young man.
He took off his glasses and cleaned them on a handkerchief, his cigarette hanging from his mouth, and replaced them carefully before answering.
“Byronic soul transfer”, he said grimly. “The soul of a person or creature is separated from its body and contained in a Byronic field, before being transferred directly into the subject body by means of a powerful electrical discharge. The procedure is hideous, and obviously fatal for the poor creature who is ‘donating’ his soul. I read about the experiments carried out, before it was outlawed. The results were terrifying.”
A silence descended over the company after these words, and the room seemed to close in around them, as though they were alone in the darkness, and the only sound was the rain now hammering against the window pane.
The woman broke the silence. “But he loved Elizabeth,” she sobbed, “why would he treat her so monstrously?”
“That’s true,” her father said grimly, “but he is also a proud and stubborn man. He is a genius in his field, but once he gets an idea in his head, he will see it through to the end, regardless of the consequences.”
“But I don’t understand how he would have the means,” the young man said, “the procedure requires an enormous source of electricity, far more than we have here for the entire village.”
At that moment a flash of lightning illuminated the sky outside the window, shortly followed by a long roll of thunder. The men looked at each other, as understanding dawned on their faces.
“We must stop him, before it is too late,” cried the priest. “Charles,” he said, addressing the older man, “what is the best way to get there quickly?”
Charles thought quickly, then turned to Jeramiah, who had been following the conversation, and now stood there in some distress. “The carriage would be quickest for all of us. Are the horses ready?”
“I can get them ready in next to no time, sir”, he said, and proceeded to run out of the inn, determined to prove his words.
He then turned to his daughter. “Anne, you must stay here, I don’t want you to witness this.”
“No!” she cried, “I’m coming too, maybe I can help him.” She stared defiantly at her father, who, after a short pause, nodded in acquiescence.
They stood up and departed from the inn in haste, and hurried around the back to the stables. Jeramiah was as good as his word, and was just finishing harnessing the horses to the four-seater. He jumped up onto the coachman’s seat at the front, and the other four climbed quickly on board. He cracked the whip, and the horses set off at a bound, the sound of the hooves echoing loudly on the cobbled road.
Jeramiah turned back to shout to the people in the carriage. “I ran across the fields to get here, but we’ll be quicker with the horses, even though we’ll have to take the long way around.”
Charles nodded, his face set in grim determination. They thundered out of the village, passing by the field and gate which Jeramiah had leapt over, and carried on going till they came to a fork in the road. Jeramiah guided the horses to the left. Passing over a narrow bridge, the road now plunged into the forest. For a while no-one spoke; the world narrowed to the sound of the horses drumming a path along the muddy track and the heavy rain beating down on the trees all around them. The road left the forest, and a sudden burst of lightning illuminated the sky, throwing their destination into stark relief. The building stood large on top of the hill, a tall spire for a roof reaching up into the sky. Their eyes were drawn to a huge shape sailing high up in the air above the house.
“Good God, do you see that?” cried the young man, leaning forward in his seat as if he could get a better look.
“It’s a barrage balloon,” replied Charles, “it must be how he intends to harness the lightning. The cable is made of steel, but I’m sure he’s run a copper conductor up as well.”
Jeramiah urged the horses to go faster, and shortly they pulled into the stables at the back of the house. He jumped down, then turned to help the others out of the carriage. “I’ll take care of the horses sir,” he shouted over the noise of the rain, “you get in there as quickly as possible, and end this madness!”
They ran to the front of the house, and pulled sharply on the bell chain till a light came on in a downstairs window. The door was opened shortly afterwards by the housekeeper. The woman looked shocked to see this strange company appear so suddenly out of the storm, and took a step backwards.
“Your master,” shouted the priest, “where will we find him?”
“He’s upstairs in his laboratory,” the woman replied with faint warble in her voice, “but he instructed me to let no-one disturb him.”
“Never mind that now,” said Charles, pushing past the woman and into the hall, “we are here on urgent business.”
The others followed Charles as he raced down the hall. They walked quickly through the dining room, and hurried up the main staircase. Bookshelves lined the walls; great tomes of historical knowledge accompanied thin volumes containing the latest scientific literature and discoveries. They passed through rooms with cabinets holding large glass containers and bottles. All manner of creatures and parts of creatures were preserved in these, entire brains floated in cloudy solutions, all carefully annotated and classified. Rows of scientific apparatus were stacked on shelves; test tubes and Bunsen burners, beakers and evaporating glasses, pipettes, condensers and all sizes of reagent glasses. Charles ran through these rooms with barely a glance at the contents, till he came to another steep narrow staircase. He took the stairs two at a time, holding onto the bannister for support, till he came to a short corridor with closed wooden door at the end. Inhuman animalistic shrieks could be heard coming from the inside. He rattled the handle but the door was locked.
“This is his main laboratory,” he told the others, “we have to get this door open.”
His daughter strode resolutely forwards and hammered with the palm of her hand against the door. “James, I know you’re in there! Please, let us in!” she cried. She hammered on the door again, but there was no reply. The inhuman screaming continued, and she turned and looked with desperation at the other men. The young man came forward now, drawing a pistol from the inside of his coat and signalled to the others to stand back. He fired a single shot at the lock, smashing the mechanism, then kicked the door open.
It took time for their senses to comprehend the scene which played out before them as they stepped into the room. What struck them immediately was the huge iron grid which divided the room from wall to wall, and which now separated them from the chaotic events further inside. The source of the inhuman cacophony was immediately obvious. On one side of the room a large mandrill was ensnared in an iron cage, and was leaping from side to side, screeching with fear. The cage itself was connected by a large number of wires and copper coils to one end of a large complex looking apparatus suspended from the ceiling by chains. Copper wires extended from the apparatus up into the high ceiling and disappeared from view.
Elizabeth’s body was lying on a high metal bench, which was also connected by an abundance of copper coils to the other end of the apparatus. The rest of the room was filled with benches covered with a large assortment of laboratory equipment. Rain lashed against large windows occupying the east and west walls. The room was lit by flickering electric lamps, with flashes of lightning casting the grotesque scene into sharp relief. James was hunched over some form of control panel, but looked up when he saw them enter, his face contorted with intense emotion.
The priest was the first to recover his voice. “Stop this madness, you fool!” he cried, “You are meddling in things which man was not meant to control. This can only end in disaster!”
“You’re wrong!” shouted James, “I can bring her back, you mustn’t stop me!”
“Bring her back by replacing her soul with that of a monkey?” retorted the priest, “This is an obscenity to God! You will turn her into an animal!”
“No!” James replied, “the soul is merely a spark which gives life to inanimate matter, a mere battery and nothing more. The real person is in the mind, the brain, which houses all our experiences and thoughts and emotions. When I revive her with the spark from that dumb creature, she will be whole again!”
Anne leapt forward and clutched at the bars. “No, please, don’t do this to my sister, I beg of you! Let her rest in peace!”
“James, I’ve read the reports”, the young man cried, joining Anne, “the experiments were a failure, they created monsters! That’s why it was outlawed by Vienna, and why you must stop now!”
James started to reply, but his voice was drowned out by a terrific clap of thunder directly overhead. Lighting flashed simultaneously, and the room was suddenly alight with an eerie glow, as the apparatus started to oscillate with a strange pulsating blue light, accompanied by a loud humming noise which drowned out almost everything else. He leapt back to the control panel and quickly cast his eyes over the numerous dials. Grabbing a lever, he looked up at the company with a wild expression of triumph in his eyes, before pressing it firmly down.
The creature in the cage let out an unearthly scream, then dropped motionless to the floor. A pulse of yellow light burst forth from the machine, and engulfed the body of Elizabeth. Her body arched up, and her head stretched backwards as she drew breath with an awful raking gasp. The apparatus suddenly fell silent, and all eyes turned towards Elizabeth. She sat up slowly and looked around her, confused and uncertain.
“James?” she whispered, her voice husky and questioning as she caught sight of the man standing nearby.
He hurried over to her and took her face in his hands, his eyes shining with love. “Elizabeth! My dearest, I brought you back!”
Her eyes though only shone with confusion and horror. “What have you done?” she cried, panic shaking her voice. Suddenly her face contorted in pain, and she let out a terrifying scream that turned the blood cold of the people who heard it. With inhuman strength, she gouged her hands deep into his face, then flung him to the floor like a rag doll.
She leapt up and screamed again, her voice thick with despair and pain. Her body was contorted in agony, and a madness glinted behind her eyes. Suddenly she became aware of the company, and she turned towards them. The young man lifted his pistol once more, and aimed through the bars at the young woman.
“No!” her father cried, pushing his arm down.
At the sound of her father’s voice, Elizabeth turned to him. Out of the madness in her eyes, a brief glimpse of understanding shone through. She held her father’s gaze for a few brief seconds, then she turned and fled. Without looking back, she ran to the window and hurled herself through the glass and into the storm. Her body was buffeted by the wind and rain as she fell, until she hit the ground far below, and the spark of life, so fleetingly restored to her body, was once more extinguished.