Contest (167) -Theme: "Creation and Destruction" courtesy of @Keitsumah. Congratulations @Lancie for "Isabella the Second" barely edging out the second place story. @Wreybies will get your SILVER medal to you soon. Send me another PM with a theme for the next contest. All three stories scored votes in this contest. Coming in just one vote behind was @lustrousonion with "Twist" which really did have a twist throughout and especially the ending. Very original. And @qp83 was once again in the running but not quite on top. But your stories are definitely of good quality. Thanks again to all the forum members who entered and who voted. _________________________________ Isabella the Second [2615 words] Bringing her back to life seemed easier at first than just making her from scratch. Yet there was something so fundamentally wrong with her every time that after the third creation, I decided to let her rest. It was worse watching her gasp for air and not knowing who I was, than watching her slip away from me the first time Finally, that last time, she clawed my wrist with her brittle fingers and rasped no more. Sixteen years of my life dedicated to bringing her back and for what? I had nothing. From the window of my study I could see the ancient oak trees she loved so much leading along a path meandering between sweeping hills. In the distance I could see the mausoleum of grey stone. A tiny temple to the woman too beautiful and too clever for the likes of me. I stayed in my study, in a catacomb of books and notes. I couldn't leave the safety of my study. I couldn't bare rattling around my big, dark house on my own. We'd had no children. We hadn't had time before she got sick. As the days bled into each other I rose and fell into drunkenness, rotting away at the bottom of a whiskey bottle. I preferred sleeping because I would see her as she was. Her clear blue eyes fluttered at me. You don't need me. You just need someone. When I woke, her words rang around my mind. The dark was hazy. A small candle still burned at the corner of my desk, somewhere in among the piles of books. I stumbled towards the light and began to sift through my papers; notebooks stuffed full of equations, sketches and diagrams. Scientific journals muddled with religious tomes, pages intersected with my own notes and designs. The idea engulfed me. I sent my man servant out to fetch supplies. He was the type that didn't ask questions if I filled his pockets with enough gold. He, in turn, hired some thugs and thieves and procured me the desired materials. Clay to build a skeleton, accurately made from the latest anatomy books. Organs, skin and muscle crafted from the dead women of the city arrived at my back door. Supplies of blood and finally, electricity. Lots of vibrant, life giving electricity. In the midst of crackling blue and gold light, wires and tubes, glass beakers and metal domes she was born. She didn't look exactly like my wife. One of her eyes was smaller than the other; one blue and one hazel, but the nose was the same delicate, slim line shape and the lips too were a good match. I couldn't get the same hair; those unruly curls, pale like champagne, would have to haunt my dreams. Instead she now had arrow straight honey blonde hair. It was good enough. I slipped her silver and emerald wedding ring onto her finger and kissed her knuckles. “Hello,” I said softly as her head turned towards me. Her mis-matched eyes blinked out of sync, one then the other. “Can you speak?” A crinkle of a frown line appeared between her eyebrows. She croaked twice. Her mouth opened and closed as though she didn't trust the voice trying to come out. “Do you know who I am?” I asked her. Her eyes searched mine for a long time. “I'm you're husband,” I told her. “Husband?” she slurred uncertainly. I sighed with relief. Her voice was flatter than I'd have liked but at least she wasn't a mute. “Husband,” she said again. “I have missed you, so very much.” “Missed you...” she said. I paused. Had I succeeded in bringing my wife back, or was this creature simply repeating what I was saying? I sighed sadly, guessing it was the latter. “Come now, can you sit up?” I eased an arm around her and lifted her body up off the table. She looked at me bleakly. “You've come home.” “Husband,” she mumbled again. “That's right,” I took her face gently in my cupped palms. “You're doing very well,” I tilted her left and right, admiring the quality of the skin and the fine stitching around her jawline. “Much better than before.” I said. She looked at me hopelessly. I patted her cheek. “You are Isabella the Second. Can you say Isabella?” “Second?” I shook my head. “No, Isabella.” I waited, then coaxed again. “Isa-bella.” She remained silent. “Never mind. Let's see if you can stand.” I pulled her off the table and held her upright. She was a little lumpy in the middle, her figure more rectangular than what I'd been used to, but I didn't mind. I steadied her then let her go. To my amazement, she didn't crumble. I smiled. “Good.” I opened my arms. “Come here,” I instructed. She didn't move for a moment, she appeared to be looking through me. Finally, her feet shuffled forward and her body plopped into me. I held her. She had a peculiar smell; the scent of earth after the rain. Not entirely unpleasant. She wasn't as warm as I expected and she didn't put her arms around me either, but I carried on holding her. “I'm happy you're back.” I managed to lead her to her bedroom and left her with a nervous looking maid. When I returned in the morning she was standing looking out of the window. “Morning, my love!” I greeted her warmly. “Did you sleep well?” When she didn't acknowledge me, I asked the maid. “She didn't sleep at all,” she said quietly, without looking at me. “I tried sir, but she just stood where you left her. She wouldn't eat breakfast, either.” I felt a ripple of disappointmen but I quickly suppressed it. I held out a hand. “Come along, Isabella. Let's go for a walk.” “Husband,” she said and shuffled towards me. I was so pleased I managed to get two legs the same length. “That's right!” I took her hand and led her carefully down the stairs. She descended like a toddler with little uneven steps. I found it endearing. I kept an arm around her and babbled away gleefully. Years of silence, spiked only with the words of occasional servants, bubbled forth. I told her all about my experiments. She continued to shuffle along the path. Suddenly, she stopped. I tried to ease her forward but she stuck to the spot. “What's the matter, Isabella?” she pointed at a cluster of snow drops. Pale white and green hoods bowed solemnly. “They're flowers. Do you like them?” her arm dropped to her side. “If you like them, I shall plant them all around the grounds.” “Second,” she mumbled. “Flower,” I told her again. “Snow drops,” but she withdrew into silence. We continued walking round the grounds. “You're cold, Isabella,” I said, feeling the icy skin beneath my fingers. She looked up at me, eyes wide and wondering. “Let's get you warm.” I took her inside and gave her back to the maid. As she lumbered away I went back to my study, eager to enter her progress in my journal. By the end of the week, the maid had left in wild rage. “She doesn't sleep, she never sleeps!” she wailed. “She just stands there, starring. All night long no matter what I do! It's vile! I can't take it anymore, sir, I'm sorry! I must leave!” As she fled my house, Isabella stood half way up the stairs, watching helplessly. “Snow drop,” she lamented. I went up to her and guided her back into my study. “Never mind, my love. We don't need her. We just need each other.” I placed her in the window to get a better light and inspected the skin on her neck and arms. It was starting to turn a pale green around the stitching, like the snow drop flowers in my garden. “We shall have to fix that.” I sat at my desk and began to think of ways to re-energise her skin. Would she need new skin graft, a new covering every few weeks? Would I need to blitz her with more electricity? At first, she stood statuesque like she normally did, then she began to wander about, looking at all my trappings and ornaments. She peered at a glass dome encasing black and green flowers and stuffed humming birds, frozen mid-flight. She tapped the glass, that crease of a frown appearing on her brow again. “Snow drops,” she said softly. She continued to tap the glass, the frown line became deeper. “What’s the matter, Isabella?” She continued to tap the glass. “Snow drops!” “They’re stuffed birds and silk flowers, my love. They’re not real,” I told her. Her face began to pinch in distress. I removed my jacket and placed it over the ornament. “There. All better, yes?” I held her face. Her eyes were starting to look wet and milky. I wiped them with my handkerchief and smiled, but she only returned her usual bleak gaze. I let her carry on wandering about my study and I returned to my books. “I could probably bring those birds to life as well, you know, if that would make you happy,” I told her, flicking through another anatomy journal. “I don’t see why not. Many years ago I reanimated some frogs for a short while. And then of course doctors managed to revive a dead hanged man, shortly before the first Isabella died. I've come on leaps and bounds since then.” I found a page with some original designs for my second Isabella and smiled wistfully. “In you, my love, I have given birth. I have defied nature and the God who stole my first Isabella away.” “Second,” she said. “Yes, that’s right. You are my second Isabella.” I pointed to a painting that hung over the fireplace, of my first beautiful Isabella. “That’s her; my first wife. I based you on her but obviously you are quite different. You are completely unique, my love.” She looked up a long time, tilting her head. “Husband,” she whispered uncertainly. And then, oddly, she looked at her hands. She held them to her face and studied her fingers. They belonged to three other women. I’d wanted to use as few donors as possible but sometimes the tissue and fibres wouldn’t fuse together. I didn’t know how aware she was of the things I said, but as she inspected her mismatched thumbs she seemed a sad figure. Maybe she understood perfectly well I had made her. Her arms fell and her attention shifted. Something had caught her eye. She walked towards the fireplace where my antique pistols sat mounted and began to reach for one. I leapt from my chair and pulled her back against me. “No, Isabella. You mustn’t touch those. They’re very dangerous.” I turned her round to face me. “Do you understand?” There was something new in the way she looked at me, a sudden spark of recognition. For the first time, an intelligent being seemed to inhabit my second Isabella. “Do you understand me?” I asked her again. Her mouth opened. It was so hard to get good teeth that would fit her frame and some were not the best quality; too big, too yellow. I made a mental note to fit her with better teeth. I thought for a moment she would say something profound. But all she managed to utter was, “Second.” By the following week, I was starting to do patch up work on her. Her hands were proving especially problematic. The skin cracking and flaking away. She had developed a habit of wandering off in the house. It was like playing hide and seek with a child unaware of their size. I’d find her standing in odd places in my big house. Then, one evening, I lost her completely. At first I wandered about with a candle calling her name but after an hour of this I needed a new candle and was beginning to worry. “Isabella?” I called out, walking up the stairs to my study. “Isabella?” I opened the study door and scanned the room. She stood at the desk, her back to me. “There you are Isabella, I don’t think you should be in here on your own,” I strode over and touched her arm. She turned. Had she been looking at the notebooks splayed on my desk? I noticed she held something black. I recoiled and shot a look at the fireplace. One of my antique pistols was missing. She had it, finger poised on the trigger. “Isabella, give me that. That’s very dangerous,” I held my hand out to her but she raised it. I frowned. She couldn’t possibly know how to use a pistol, and yet, she held it perfectly well. “Isabella, put that down immediately!” I commanded. As usual I got no response. “I made you, Isabella. You must not disobey me! Give that to me at once!” She took a step back and pointed the gun at my head. A cold dread began to fill my stomach. “Isabella, no…” “Second,” she whispered, a tear fell from her hazel eye. “Isabella, don't be upset with me. I didn't mean to shout at you,” I raised my hands to show her I meant no harm. “Shall I take the painting down? Is that what's upsetting you? Look, I'll take it down right now,” I backed away and waited for her to lower the gun. Her body was shivering yet she held it firmly. “Put it down, please?” I beseeched her as calmly as I could. Finally, she responded and her arm returned mechanically to her side. I smiled. “Good girl.” I turned around and reached towards the painting. “How on earth did you know how to hold a gun, anyway? You are fascinating,” I mused, shaking my head. “Maybe we can do some cognitive exercises once we've all calmed down.” As I balanced myself and tried to lift the heavy oak frame I heard a crack, followed by the smell of smoke. Pain exploded in my side. My balance faltered, my body began to topple backwards against my will. I clawed at the painting for support but it had already come away from the wall. A shrill wail escaped my lips. My first Isabella and I landed with a crack. I rolled over, trying to get the weight of the painting off my bleeding torso. I grunted, glaring across at my second Isabella. “What did you do?” I bellowed at her. My hands flew to my side. Thick, dark blood was oozing from my waist. I pressed hard against it. “Isabella!” She threw the gun to one side and turned away from me. I called to her again and again. Scrambling to get up I kept slipping, the volcanic pain erupting every time I moved. All I could do was double over and hold my wound. She lifted the candle I kept on my desk. “Isabella!” I howled at her. For a moment her eyes met mine. One blue, one hazel. One bigger than the other and yet, to me, she was still perfect. “Snow drop,” she said sadly, then hurled the candle down onto my papers. My work. My life work. Everything catching fire. The flames grew quickly, licking up and engulfing my books. I reached to her with bloodied fingers. “Isabella, please, don't.” She crouched down in front of me, the fire giving her fair hair an orange halo. “Please,” I whimpered. She stroked my face with a gracefulness I'd not seen before. “Snow drop,” she said softly and shuffled from the flaming room.