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Sweeping Ashes Into the Sea

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Having spoken at some length about his determination to immolate himself on a funeral pyre and rid the world of himself and his evil, the Creature sprang toward my cabin window.

Without thinking, I reached out and gripped his arm. "No."

Perhaps you will think this strange, Margaret. Indeed, I was baffled by my own actions. I have spoken at length of Victor Frankenstein and of his glorious spirit, and I had sworn to him as he lay dying to destroy the Creature he had created. And yet I could not strike the Creature, for all its hideous visage; I could not permit a soul sunk in despair destroy itself.

The Creature stared at me, and I forced myself not to glance away. "You do not understand, Captain Walton," he said at long last. "My death will rid your world of the contamination of my existence. And is not death the rightful punishment for murderers?"

"If this were a court of law, I might accept such a sentence," I said, not removing my hand from his yellowed and mummified arm, though I knew he could break my grasp with ease any second. "But it is not. You have judged yourself unworthy of life or hope--"

"Am I not?" he said, his eyes burning. "Hast thou ever heard of a fouler beast than I?"

"Often," I said bluntly. "I have known many men who had no more conscience than a pebble, and fewer morals than a bacterium. They did not suffer the vast agonies of guilt that you do, or, in fact, any guilt at all. You possess a sense of right and wrong, an awareness of your wrongdoing, remorse for your crimes...why, you even mourn for the man you call your enemy, and wish that you might have begged his forgiveness! Strange behavior for a mere beast."

He blinked, as if the thought had never occurred to him. "Perhaps you are right," he said, falling back on the English mode of speech rather than the German. "Perhaps I am not a beast. But neither can you truly name me a man."

I did not like the way that sounded, nor the way he kept eyeing the window. "Please," I said, motioning him to a chair. "Sit down."

He did not move. "Why does it matter to thee, Robert Walton?" he said to me. "Dost truly believe that the world is better for my having lived in it? Or hast thou forgotten those who would have died were it not for me?"

"No," I said quietly. "I have not."

"Then let me do what I must." And again he moved toward the window.

I do not know what befell me then, but, for a moment, as I looked at him, his ugliness seemed to retreat, lessening in importance until all I saw was the anguish and bewilderment of an abandoned child. A child with a bloody knife gripped tightly in boyish hands—but a child still, and one who had been flung into the street unloved, untaught and unguided when still a babe.

All this flashed through my mind in an instant, and I cried out to him in a desperate voice. "Please! Don't!"

He turned away from the window and gazed at me in an attitude of amazement, though whether it was my tone or the word "please" that so astonished him, I do not know. I did not give him the chance to ask, but plunged forward, even though I had only the vaguest notion of what I was going to say. Even so, the words that came out of my mouth surprised me.

"If you wish to atone for your crimes and misdeeds, there are better ways than death—ways that would do the world more good." I looked up at the Creature. "I say that you are not free to die until you have improved twice as many lives as those that you have taken."

"Twice as many?" I could see the despair settling over his features again; to his mind, that was an impossible task.

But I stood firm. "Twice as many. Then the world will be better for your existence. If you aid only as many people as you have slain, you will have done nothing but restore the balance to what it was before you were...born." The wrong word, truly, and yet how could I say "created" without stressing that he was other than a man, something inhuman and alone? I would have to use the wrong word until it became, to my mind, the right one.

"You ask much of me." He did sit down now, turning the chair away from the window and his ice raft directly below. "And how am I to work this miracle, when all the world spurns, loathes and despises me?"

"I don't," I said, and once again, my mind was split in twain. I felt as if I were Victor Frankenstein's Judas, betraying him by not hating the Creature I was honor-bound to destroy, and yet...how could I hate someone so lost?

"You do not hate me, you say," he scoffed. "And yet you shrink when I do draw near; nay, you are even repulsed by my very glance."

"True," I said. Unpalatable as the facts were, yet I could not bring myself to lie to the Creature. He had had a bellyful of lies, if I was any judge. "Yet you are not the sole ugly man I have ever met. I have served with others who were hideous, and they felt no better loved than you."

"They were at least human," said the Creature, and buried his face in his hands.

"You were formed from flesh and bone," I said carefully, for Frankenstein's forays in grave robbing still chilled my blood. "Human flesh and human bone. The heart in your chest is a human heart, not a bear's. Your fingers are fingers and not eagle's talons; your jaw is not the mandible of a giant beetle. There may be beastliness in you, but you are not unique in this; that has existed in mankind since the time of Adam."

"And what wouldst thou have this human do to atone for his sins?" he demanded. "Perhaps I should nurse the elderly? Or mayhap become a schoolteacher, as I am so tender and loving toward children."

And then, Margaret, it was as if you were there, whispering a solution that I had been too foolish and that Victor had been too angry to think of.

"Perhaps," I said slowly, "you could come with me. My crew is heading south once more...and much as I would like to continue on my journey, I need a better ship and better equipment and"--a glance in his direction to make certain that he knew I meant this--"better men."

"I...I know nothing of sailing," he said quietly.

"You know how to survive in the Arctic, and where to find food and shelter," I retorted. "Do you believe that is valueless? Because that could save my life—and that of every person on the expedition. On any expedition, in fact. Do you think anyone will care about your looks if you can bring them home alive?"

He gazed at me with a strange expression—not as if he were growing hopeful, but as if he was fighting against hope itself. At first I did not understand...and then I did. He had hoped too hard and too often, and each time he had been flung aside or betrayed. He could not bear to hope again. It hurt too much.

"I mean it," I said solemnly. "And here's my hand on it." And I held out my hand for a handshake.

The Creature looked incredulously at me, and made no move to shake my hand. "Do you customarily make bargains with nameless monsters, Robert Walton?"

"No," I said. "But I do make bargains with my men. And if you're going to be one of my men, you'll need a name. Have you any preferences in that regard?"

The answer took some time. "Not Frankenstein. And not Victor. Something completely different."

"Adam?" I suggested.

A bitter smile. "Adam had an Eve. I have none."

I mentally cursed myself for bringing up that issue. "Someone from Adam's family, then." I knew of no better way to tell the Creature that he was a person. "One of his sons. Seth. You could be Seth Newman. It would be...appropriate."

"Seth," he murmured, tasting the name. "Seth Newman. Yes. I could...live with that." Tentatively, he took my hand. And I gripped his firmly and shook it.

 

***

That was three weeks ago, Margaret.

Seth Neumann—we have settled on that spelling to explain his slight accent and his Germanic turns of phrase—has joined the crew. Officially, he is an explorer who was lost on the ice and who we have rescued. It is not true, of course, and yet it is close enough to the truth so that I cannot count it as a lie.

Seth speaks but little, and does not know how to take jokes. He fears the other men's reaction should they find out the truth, and he fears his own rage and despair even more. He is still struggling, and the struggle may last—indeed, I suspect will last—for years, if not his entire life.

And yet...I see glimmers of hope. I see some of the men taking the time to show him how to do a task better; I see Seth pitching in to help others, and—once or twice—humming as he does so. I have seen him smile now and then and seen men respond to the spirit and not the appearance of the smile.

These are but small details, and how much power they have, I cannot guess. Nevertheless, I feel that I have fulfilled my pledge to Victor.

For I have not seen the Creature—that wretched offspring of rage and despair—since the day that Seth shook my hand.

True, much of the time, I do not see Seth—a wholly human and humane being—either. Generally, Neumann is merely struggling to be who he wishes to be. So some might say that my vow is still unfulfilled, and likely to remain so.

And yet...I put it to you, Margaret. Do we not destroy a monster when we teach him to see himself as a man?