The Preacher declared that the unbelievers be destroyed, in a land faraway where they mocked the Testament. Nameless workers—their names appropriated by the state when their status changed—mined coal deep in the barren earth and iron, mixing their blood in the coke. They hammered steel into steamflies for sky-flight and filled their bellies with uranium bombs and copies of the Testament carved onto steel sheets to survive the conflagration.
Eyes will burn. And they will at least see. We save them all.
The Preacher promised his people in the land that forgot its name that no enemy ship will chug over their cities. They shall be protected.
Doctor Faust remembered that last speech over the wireless, as he sat in the Pink Chipmunk, sipping a glass of wood alcohol and clutching the notice-of-death telegram in his hand. Explosions rattled the building. He covered his drink to keep it free of falling dust. He didn’t recall his walk from the Ministry or even entering the cabaret.
Poison Sumac leaned over the table, posed her cigarette holder pert in her painted rosy lips. She leaned her leg on the table side, exposed through the split in her midnight satin gown, showing her garter strap.
“Got a light, Herr Doctor?” she said.
He scanned the showroom of the humble club. The tables waited empty, their candles dead. Only he, the drag queen and the record player patronized the cabaret. The third guest sung Marlena Dietrich in a dull drone, skipping on the record scratches.
The mechanism in Faust’s mechanical leg wheezed, playing background to Marlena. He’d lost it in the early bombings of the war.
Never releasing the sallow telegram, Doctor Faust turned the crank on the side of his gas lighter, held the silver flare to the performer’s smoke.
“I adore a gentleman,” the drag queen said, sucking in the miasma then blowing the acrid smoke in a thin spout from her puckered lips. Faust’s stomach twisted from the ersatz cigarette, rife with chemicals, sulfur, tar, maybe a hint of tobacco.
“I don’t know how you managed to get tobacco with a war on,” Doctor Faust said.
“A lady has her ways,” Sumac said.
The high notes of her feminine voice dropped at the end of her sentence, reflecting the deep roots of her vocal cords.
The showroom of the Pink Chipmunk trembled after another detonation. Photos of guests and previous drag queens who once graced the stage rattled, some slipping from their nails and cracking on the floor. The pink flame from the gas spouts flickered.
“All my lovely boys are at the front,” the transvestite said. “My lovely lovely boys coming back missing bits and pieces, limbs blown up, stumps and gouges. Still my lovely lovely boys.”
She paused for another explosion to play out, this time closer. They listened to the grumbling of a low flying steamfly. It’s boiler sputtered and chugged.
“I had such a fine man you know,” Sumac said, putting her leg up on a chair and leaning on her knee. Leg stubble grew back up her shin, piercing the worn, white stockings. Everyone had to make do. “My man is coming home, stomach full of lead, won’t open his eyes. Not much good now.”
She blew another smoke stream into Doctor Faust’s austere mug—skin so tight down his forehead and cheeks, it looked ready to split. In the dull, gas lighting of the club, his eyes drained of any color, all the life long since fled. He removed his spectacles and rubbed the lenses with a handkerchief. He sipped his drink.
“My son comes home today,” Doctor Faust said. “He so wanted me to be proud.”
His mechanical leg sputtered. He reached below the table, pulled up his pant leg and tightened a copper coil. A vapor stream released from the exhaust pipe, burning his palm. He didn’t flinch, didn’t pull his hand back by reflex. It felt like a tale of pain told to him by a stranger.
“Coming home by ship?” Sumac said.
“In a box.”
“He has my congratulations,” Poison Sumac said, pulling up her stockings. Their thin fabric couldn’t conceal the masculine design of her thigh muscles. Her short dress bounced. “He’s won. Victorious. Gone and gone. No more pain for him. Isn’t that the purse? The kitty?”
Doctor Faust slurped the rest of his drink then slammed it down on the table, cracking the crystal.
“You must break the rigor mortis,” she said. “Don’t you see? It’s all a comedy. This war will never end. Our fearless leader lives by this war. To make peace would be to die.”
Doctor Faust searched the room to ensure they were alone. Such words would quickly have them both sucking down volts in a static throne.
“He sorted paperwork at the Ministry of Defense, exempt from conscription,” he said. “Only joined the army because I told him it was his duty. I couldn’t tell him how proud I was. I always made him fight for it, held it over his head just out of reach.”
Sumac set her leg down, leaned over and kissed Doctor Faust, clutching his jowls in her gloved hands. She tasted of skunk stink, the residual smoke flowing into Faust’s mouth.
“You are a skilled surgeon from what I read before your disgrace,” she said, still holding his cheeks. Her furry, left eyebrow slipped its glue and dangled from her forehead. “Why not sew up all the holes, make your son all pretty?”
“No animation. No life. He is not a ragdoll. Not a toy.”
“Life is merely a little extra spice. He’s better off without it.”
The walls shook from more local explosions.
“I cannot think,” Doctor Faust said.
Visions of his son invaded the clarity of the doctor’s cogitations: Wilhelm’s body shredded by shrapnel, burned by poison gas. The body sinks into the mud, forgotten. A flock of doves land in the trench and peck and chew at his flesh. The vision shattered his mind.
“Darling, come with me.” Poison Sumac extended her gloved hand.
Weak in will, an evaporating oil puddle, Doctor Faust took it. Sumac lead him thrown the torn, burgundy curtains hanging over the small stage to a backroom of ropes, curtains, pyramid props from previous shows.
Poison Sumac took off her wig of silvery curls, revealing her shaved head. Without the wig, her feminine delusion thinned with the evidence of his angular nose and stern brow.
“You need a little ragtime, darling,” she said. “You’ll be dead when you’re still sucking down oxygen. Makes you so cold you strip down naked to banish any heat.”
Sumac wrapped her arms around the old Doctor’s shoulders, pressed him down on his knees, rubbing the worn tweed on his knees further into holes. She tapped on his head.
“Don’t go away now,” she said. She swayed off then returned pushing a cart, ferrying a child’s coffin. It looked miniaturized like comedy prop, a coffin from a little world. She set it on the floor in front of him and opened the latch. She held out her palm.
“Ragtime isn’t free.”
He fished the wallet out of his tweed jacket, slipped a few bills into her hand. She blew him a kiss.
“A wealthy man, older, owns his own business, knows how to take care of a lady,” she said. “I just might have to marry you.”
She pulled the alembic components from the coffin, setting them on the floor between them. She attached the silver pipes to cast iron balls, opened the valves, set to work building the boiler and pipe venue in the coffin. She attached a central bong and placed it on a stand.
Doctor Faust cranked his liter and ignited the burner beneath the bong.
Sumac slipped a leather bag from a concealed pouch in her dress bust. She held it before his eyes.
“Essence of life—the passage to death. I am your priest. Do you accept?”
“He trusted me,” Faust said.
“Ground from the dried frontal lobes of our war dead, neurotransmitters regulated in small dosages—too much and madness, addiction. The gift of the gods, a taste of paradise, but only a taste so you’re desperate for more. Will you drink the wine of the dead?”
“I drink in the name of my son, for Wilhelm Faust.”
She fed the crimson powder into the boiler and flipped several valves. The fluid in the bong popped and sputtered and buzzed. The pipes expanded from the pressure. Sumac worked the gears, a master at her craft. She let the alembic boil and cook.
“My poor disgraced physician,” she said. “Not even the war office wants your madness.”
She folded back his pant leg. She ran her finger along the aluminum, moaning as she fondled the gears and wheels and springs, smearing her hand in oil.
“Your handiwork?” the drag queen asked.
“That’s the only reason the ministry doesn’t toss me in the Tower. I craft replacement parts for our soldiers. I own a company. This is an advanced model, doesn’t require a boiler attachment to power it. I’d build more for the wounded, but the Ministry won’t shell out the extra money. There’s a war on, they say.”
She pulled the final piece from a compartment in the coffin bottom. The silver mask glowed in the dull light from the gas wall sconces. A hollow shaft ran from the lips. She attached it to the bong.
“Wear this face over your mask.”
“Anoint me,” said the good doctor.
She pressed the cool metal to his face, a perfect fit in the contour of its cheeks and brow and chin. She wrapped a leather strap from the edges around his head and tightened it in a buckle. The metal cut the circulation from his face.
“A sacrifice,” she said. “It burns away the tadpoles of your taste buds, but you’ll no longer care. Food will do little to satiate you after your first dose.”
She set her hand on the steam release valve.
“Trust me?” the transvestite said.
“Of course not.”
She twirled the valve. A jet of boiling vapor shot up the shaft, striking Doctor Faust in his mouth. He yelled from the searing steam, burning away the mucus membrane, his gums, the surface of his tongue and roasting his throat. Then the pain assuaged.
He floated, bobbing in low, ocean waves. The doors in his head opened simultaneous. Circuits connected. Valves turned. The vivacious essence of his thought in synergy with the plasma of his soul flowed in pleasurable current to the muddy parts of his mind.
“The fog lifts?” said Sumac.
“Ja! I am a god.”
She grinned, pleased that she’d poisoned another mind. She worked her art with pride, pleased to unleash her chaos into a world obsessed with spurious order.
“Ja darling. You are Anubis, the jackal.”
When the high court had stripped his medical license, had decreed him a monster, a hack for his work, Doctor Faust buried the files of his reanimation research in his mind’s cellar. The boiling steam pouring into his blood cracked its hinges. It could be done. It must be done. This is why he’d been woman born, sent to this world to save the savages from death, to lead them on the road to divinity.
“Now I understand why my son had to die,” he said.
“You’re going to cover the world in darkness,” she said. “I must love you.”
“All the equipment is still in my home, the cathedral. With sound, vibration I will renew, invigorate. I will tell him how proud I am, how wrong I was. He will wrap his hands around my neck and kiss my cheeks. I will make him immortal.”
She clapped like a child, pleased by the clowns in the show.
“How terribly cruel,” she said.
The transvestite wrapped her legs around his waist, pulled up her dress. Doctor Faust panted from the ragtime. Swamp sweat drenched skin, soaked his tweed pants and jacket.
“Drill a hole in me. Fill me with your insanity.”
Doctor Faust wore the silver mask as they made love.
Across the broken road in the low south end of the city, Doctor Faust watched a lithe lady, long in limb in shadow spirit, dancing in the jaundiced light of the gas lamps. He gazed upon the shadow puppet twirling on the surface of the brick buildings, watching through the shattered torso of a silvery-blue angel, depicted in the stained glass portals of the derelict cathedral.
The price of the vaulted, stone castle had come cheap after the Preacher’s faith had been named the state’s. Many of the grand buildings had been torn down to make way for cheap apartments. At night, Doctor Faust would stare up to the arches holding high the marble buttresses, now the nest of bats and fouler night things, and he’d marvel in nature’s perfection, the arch bearing its load without a whimper, devised and set to a purpose by a mathematician’s rites.
The enemy ships exhausted their bombs an hour since, leaving the streets in an orange glow from buildings burning like torches. Crews fought with mechanized pumps to suck the oxygen from the fires, depriving them of sustenance, but the city continued to burn.
When at last the dancer’s shadows faded into the darkness, Doctor Faust strolled the aisle up the broken pews, to the ancient altar, thick with dust and tarnish. There, he had laid out Wilhelm’s body, nearly in pieces, held together by thin tendrils of flesh. They’d stripped him of his gray, tunic uniform, to be recycled and given to a new soldier.
“Forgive me, son,” he spoke to the vapid flesh. “Tell me you forgive me, my son. I must know.”
The lips refused to spin. The eyelids declined to part. The body looked right somehow, sans animation, as if life was the aberration. Death was the goal, the cure from this sickness. Still, Doctor Faust would infect him.
He lifted the body in his arms, carried him as he had a sleeping child to his bed. He rolled out the body onto the back of the pipe organ. In his previous work, shut down by the Ministry, he’d fused the keys with gold electrodes. They alternated in negative and positive charge.
The crown of pipes rose overhead from the organ belly, climbing two stories, shrinking in diameter as the pipes reached the higher rows, feeding through the stone walls. He’d welded lodestones to the pipes, fed iron powder into the bellows below. Beneath the organ in the church crypts, a machine waited all these years, a generator designed to harness and enhance magnetic fields at specific frequencies, to match those in the body, the brain.
The Ministry had deemed his work a perversion of nature, and he had recanted as any good son seeking the love of his father. Then the Preacher began this war, and the doctor understood. Government desired to be the only body to hold power over life and death.
He understood the pragmatic condition of matter called life, its secrets, the fields and electrons that composed it in specific equation. Life was his. Life was ragtime.
He examined his son’s body. The lung would be easy to replace, either with a pristine organ or one of his machines. Pumps were simple. The bone in the hip could be crafted from plaster. He could replace the eyes with lenses, improve the boy’s sight. He’d waited to examine the head. The fine wires of the brain resisted duplication and could never be replaced precisely. The back of the Wilhelm’s head hung like a flap from his neck. He turned the body over, prodded around inside the head with a poker. The medulla was smashed beyond repair. Bits of the cerebellum still clung to the sides. The frontal lobe looked intact. The primitive parts of the brain could be replaced. As long as the frontal lobe had not been damaged, his son, everything that he ever was, ever could be, could return to this world.
“I will rebuild you,” he said. He threw a switch on the wall. It sparked, and electric lighting illuminated the shelves behind the altar at the head of the cathedral. An array of devices, all spilling out tubes and wires, enlivened, demonstrating his work. The mechanized legs danced and kicked. The hearts pounded in silver skin and rising airbladders. The arms waved. The special model even loaded a rifle and pointed it, which it repeated as part of the demonstration. Less animated were the brain components that could replace the inner mechanisms. He’d not perfected them, and the machines though tiny still required a connection to a boiler to power them.
It wouldn’t do. So much of his son’s brain had been left in the trenches, food for foxes. To replace all the mechanisms, his son would need to be attached to a substation, a steam engine. He’d be allowed no mobility, and thinking through metal and wire and steam impaired the mind. Though the brain functioned, the personal essence was lost.
Doctor Faust could replace the parts with fresh components, flesh components. He couldn’t go to the Ministry though, to harvest the parts of dead soldiers. They’d deem it desecration of the dead.
No. He’d have to go out into the world, to harvest and borrow and replace. He loathed the idea of mutilating the healthy. The Ministry would surely burn him alive if he was caught. But would anyone notice? The city bled with injured. Bricks and glass buried people, hiding their bodies. It must be done. His son deserved his freedom.
He carried his son’s body down to the crypt, opened his ammonium freezer. He wrapped the body in a blanket and slid him inside, among the ice and slowed time. He laid atop the icebox and tossed and turned through the night, tomorrow’s grim work heavy on his mind.
Doctor Faust banged on the backdoor to the Pink Chipmunk. On the third knock, Poison Sumac answered, wearing a pink satin robe with frills along the neck and a pair of black panties beneath, showing through the sheer garment.
“You come late,” she said, inviting him in.
“Just a little to clear my head,” he said. “A little of that old ragtime. I have grave work ahead. I’m selling my soul.”
She led him through the back passages behind the stage, into her temple. She’d set a wrought iron table, adorned with metal sculpted roses and two chairs. The ragtime alembic waited, already setup and boiling.
She waited at her chair. He pulled it forward, and she sat, crossing her bare leg over her thigh. She lit an ersatz cigarette.
“Men are such fools,” she said. “You no longer have a soul to sell. You’re full of ragtime now, better than a soul. A soul is a debt from God. Cast it off. You’ll be free.”
She held out her hand.
“Sans a soul, I’ve only my body to sell.”
He dug for his wallet, fetched some notes and proffered her the money.
“Oh no, darling,” she said. “That won’t do it all.”
“It’s all the money I have.”
Her lip curled into a grin.
“There are other ways to compensate. You have a thriving business.”
“Never,” he said.
He found his top hat, got up from the table. His legs filled with cement. He couldn’t lift them to walk out of the dismal pit. He couldn’t face the daylight, especially with the task ahead.
“I can sell you a few shares,” he said.
“No darling. The whole thing if you please.”
“It’s all I have,” he said. His head bowed.
The alembic popped, gurgled. He heard it like a siren song. A hole ripped in his body, in his deeps, a black hole expanding, tearing the fabric of space-time. He needed the key on his back wound like a clockwork toy.
“What does it matter?” she said. “Your son will come back to you, and you can leave all this behind.”
“I had a premonition last night that this will be my end.”
“In either case, what does your company matter then?”
He hesitated, trying to push his legs again but failing. He sat back down.
“I have a contract already drawn up.”
She held out a fountain pen and slid the paper forward across the table. He signed then snapped the pen between his thumb and pointer finger. She smothered him with the silver mask, the ersatz face that fits all faces.
Doctor Faust waved the nation’s flag as he walked behind the throngs. People massed on the sidewalks, waving their flags and cheering the parade of fresh soldiers marching down Main Street, marching to war.
A red palm adorned the white flags, the Preacher’s symbol, the heart of their nameless nation, of the empty people. The conscripted children marched in rows of six, carrying their rifles over their shoulders, dressed in red tunics studded with silver buttons. Each face appeared uniform. The emotion had been sucked out of them, making them tools for the Preacher’s will.
He searched the right candidate, someone whose absence wouldn’t be conspicuous. He searched for the lonely, someone who’d come to watch the parade by themselves, with no one to share it with. He hurried, the ragtime euphoria already thinning. After observing the crowd for sometime, he found an obese woman, her shoulders pouring out of her blouse’s sleeves. Her hand never reached to touch the people around her. She wobbled a bit, fighting to keep her balance. He sniffed the cloud of liquor floating from her breath.
He took out the capacitor cell from his inside, jacket pocket. He spun the crank on it till his fingers numbed, charging the device. He sensed the act’s immorality, but it felt like a dream, beyond his control. He’d numbed himself with ragtime, acted without rational thought, his need made manifest. Like a frog catching a fly with a quick tongue, he pressed the capacitor to her bulbous neck. She dropped into his arms. He nearly went down with her, struggling to keep her up.
“You’ll excuse my wife,” he said to the curious crowd. “My wife celebrates a little too much. I just need to get her home.”
The soldiers marching down the street were replaced by steamtanks. They chugged down the road, vapor shooting from their mufflers. They crawled down the road like hungry beetles, their stubby limbs rowing them forward. The buildings shivered from the vibration from the anthropoid vehicles, the mammoth tanks off to murder and main.
For the next time he’d bring a cart to deliver them to his cathedral. He dropped her three times on the trip home, struggling to drag her down back alleys.
Finally home, he laid her out on the altar and rolled out his tool belt. He’d adjusted the pipe organ into an air pump, and he fed a tube down her throat into her lungs. The bellows on the organ sighed and wheezed, alternating between intake and output.
He gripped his chisel and hammer and aimed at the side of her skull. He cracked the bone in one strike, then he used his pliers to chip away the cracked shell. He sliced away the bits of brain he needed, just part of the medulla. He didn’t dare take all the required brain matter. Someone might notice and inform the Ministry. No. His work was far from done this day.
He dropped the brain matter into an ethyl solution, then he inserted a device to replace it. He pushed the walnut machine into her brain and attached a tube to the input valve. He cut away a portion of the bone fragment to make room for the tube, then glued it back onto her skull.
“You’ll be right as rain,” he said to her, kissing her forehead. “I bet you won’t even notice the contraption in your head.”
He connected the tube end to a portable boiler, equipped with its own handle and wheels like a wheel barrel. He fed the boiler several coal chunks and lit a fire from his lighter. After several minutes, steam whistled from the muffler at the top. Her eyes shot open.
“I’m so glad you’re awake, my dear. You’ve had a bit of an accident, but you’ll be fine. I’ve patched you up good as new, better than new.”
“Accident?” she repeated, studying him with glazed eyes.
“Let me help you to your feet, careful though. You might be a bit dizzy.”
“You just need to make sure your boiler has plenty of coal and that you fill the water tank every morning. Isn’t science grand? Look at the marvels we can perform.”
He led her to the cathedral gate, pushing the boiler in front of them.
“Musical demon,” she sang in monotone. “Set my honey a’dreaming. Won’t you play me some rag.”
He walked her back to the parade and left her alone to push the boiler herself, attached to it until the end of her days. He searched for more donors, anxious to finish the grim work before the ragtime dissipated in his system. He heard her humming the soulless melody as he merged into the crowd.
The stained glass windows on the western wall blew out. Shards rained down inside the cathedral, blown out by a nearby explosion. Doctor Faust wrapped a handkerchief around his mouth to filter the ashy air, the reek of burning chemicals, the unique odor of crispy flesh that fried and cooked and burned to carbon.
He fused the neurons to the various, purloined brain matter, rebuilding his son’s automated nervous system, restoring to his body basic life functions. He worked with a thick magnifying glass lashed to his head with a leather band.
At last he finished. With a hand drill, he bored holes into his son’s skull then fed copper filaments into them. He attached the wires to the electrodes on the keyboard. He injected the revitalizing solution with a brass syringe, stabbing him deep in the heart and pushing the plunger.
“Aqua Vitae,” he said.
The building across the way exploded, showering the cathedral with brick shards and steel fragments. The old church shook most of it off, and he continued preparing. When it came time, he sat on the bench before the pipe organ, ready to play the electrodes, to harmonize the magnetic fields, aligning them to the precise frequency of life.
He leaned forward and whispered into his son’s hollow ear:
“Forgive your father.”
The steam generator chugged beneath him in the crypt. He could sense it shaking the floor, vibrations suffusing through his body. He set his hands to play but couldn’t command them to press a single key.
He wept, tears diluting the grease smearing his face. He fetched his coat and ran into the night, dragging his mechanical leg in the street, not caring to dodge falling bombs. When he reached the Pink Chipmunk, after several close calls, Sumac waited him at the front door.
“Come for the final dose of my beloved ragtime?” she said.
“Don’t waste my time with questions you already know the answer to,” he snapped.
“Business as usual then,” she said, leading him through the empty cabaret. Marlena again kept them company, playing counterpoint with the screeching bombs pulverizing the city. She wore her black gown once again, must have been the only dress in the drag queen’s repertoire. She’d already setup the apparatus.
“Why do you live like this? You must have a fortune.”
“I am content to live in squalor. I give all the money and property away.”
“I’d hate you, but I no longer feel hate,” he said.
She giggled, clapping her hands.
“The price has gone up,” she said. “But fret no more. This is the last dose. After tonight, you’ll no longer need my medicine.”
He studied the pipes of the alembic, curious as to its operation; perhaps, he could build one himself and obtain the narcotic’s ingredients. Though he didn’t have her connections—all her lovely boys.
“I have the deed to my property. The land itself is worth a fortune, especially after the war ends when the Ministry will look to rebuild.”
“This war will never end,” she said, overlooking the deed. “Our beloved leader lives for war, depends on it.”
“Everything ends,” he said.
She hooked up the metal mask.
“Is your son dancing in the moonlight?” she said.
“I can’t do it. Wake him.”
She nodded, pulling a cigarette from between her bra cups. He offered her a light.
“Your property will not cover the bill.”
“This is all I have,” he said, grabbing her arm, tugging on it. She pulled away.
“For the third hit, the standard fee is the first born child, signed over to me, subject to my will and whims.”
He shot up from his chair, raised his arm to shatter the alembic, knock the pipes and valves and boilers from the table into the wall.
She grinned, her upper lip twisting over, revealing the white membrane in her mouth.
He lowered his arm.
“I have no choice,” he said.
“What does it matter? Your son will be alive. I’ll keep him for awhile, have my fun. I’ll soon get bored and release him to the streets. Better than the alternative. And it won’t be dull. Never dull.”
She growled like a mythical tiger, her eyes flaring, targeting Doctor Faust. A jet of steam shot from his mechanical leg.
“All my lovely, lovely boys,” she said.
He nodded. She slammed the silver mask to his face. As the ragtime flowed, infusing through his lungs, he felt a counterforce, a current, sucking him down the tube to fill the vacuum of released gas. It licked at his soul like a wolf lapping up blood.
“Mine, all mine,” she said.
At dawn, Doctor Faust played the electrodes, his fingers tingling from the current until they numbed. He knew each key, all the combinations and symphonies to generate the precise frequency of the magnetic fields, the secrets of life.
The pipe organ hummed and chanted, each pipe a singer in the choir, playing alto, tenor and soprano, weaving the electromagnetic mysteries of the cosmos—but mysteries no more. He’d liberated the knowledge from the gods and would give it to the people, end their mortality and know their praises through all time, loved more than their beloved Preacher.
The wires, diodes, lodestones draped and fused along the pipes buzzed and sparked. The organ radiated an aureate field, a nascent star igniting to life, warm against his skin.
All the hate fled from his heart. Ragtime had cut out his soul, gutted him like a fish and fused itself to his body. You cannot hate sans soul. Sweet, wonderful ragtime. No more did he require gods to worship. He’d been drained hollow and become a vessel for love, his debt to the divine invalidated.
His son’s hand twitched.
“Ja,” he said. “Come home to me. Come back to the bright world. Follow the music.”
His eyelids peeled back revealing milky eyes, vapid of life yet watching. His son turned his head, scanning his father, a perplexed look on his face. Crimson flooded his etiolated flesh.
“I’ve returned you to life,” Doctor Faust said. “I know the secret now. Ragtime. Nectar of the gods.”
Doctor Faust banged on the keys. His fingertips cracked and bled on the white electrodes. He knew the rage that was coming, his son’s first reaction after returning to the world. So numbed, he merely went through the motions, a robot made of gears and springs. He perfunctorily played the keys, waiting for the circuit to complete, for the inevitable to occur.
“Sweet melody,” his son whispered through petrified lips.
Tears streamed down the Doctor’s numb face.
“Forgive me, my son,” he said.
His son, still waking, still thawing, getting used to his muscles again but learning quickly, struggled to lift his arms. They flopped around like a fish dropped in a boat, not managing to hit their mark. Then the muscle memory renewed, and he moved his arms with purpose, aim. He clenched Doctor Faust’s throat, pushing his thumbs into his arteries.
Doctor Faust didn’t struggle, didn’t pull away from his son’s hold. His son drove his fingernails into the flesh, cracking his trachea. The doctor’s head slumped forward. The son released his grip then scanned the derelict cathedral.
Poison Sumac twirled at the gate. Her twirled in a white dress like dove feathers and silk gloves to match her outfit. She danced in the nascent light, graceful as a dove, her shadow caressing the weeping boy still clutching the neck of his father. She wiggled her pointer finger, beckoning Wilhelm forward.
“Happy birthday, darling,” she said. “Come to mother now.”