The entire trunk contained many old books and several packets of papers, wrapped in twine. I picked up one of the books, opened it, and looked at the title page: The History and Present State of Electricity, by Joseph Priestly. The date was in Roman numerals, but I quickly figured the year of publication: 1767. The book I held in my hands was more than 200 years old—but the copy was as fresh as if it had just been published. But the smell of rot coming from the volume was almost more than I could bear. So I placed it carefully back in the trunk. There were other books, all dealing with chemistry and electricity, all old, all appearing to be new, all reeking with death.
I picked up another volume, a large, leather-bound book that said only JOURNAL on the cover. I slowly opened it and saw, in tiny, cramped handwriting, descriptions and drawings of scientific experiments. This occupied page after page after page, all in the same, tiny handwriting. Almost all of it was in German, so reading it was no problem for me. The experiments seemed to have something to do with chemistry, something with electricity. The dates were all in the 1790s. Yet—like the first book I’d looked at—the pages were clean and crisp … like new. And—also like the first book—they were sour with the stink of death.
I picked up a packet of papers wrapped in tightly-knotted twine. And like the lock, the moment I touched the knots, they fell away, the strings floating softly to the floor. The top sheet was a title page to what was probably the entire manuscript I held in my hand. It read: A History of the Family Frankenstein.
I wondered, Is this a novel? A book that was never published?
I was excited. I’d made a discovery! Maybe the newspapers would be interested. I turned the page. And nearly dropped the entire packet on the floor. There were only three words on this page, but no three words in the English language could have surprised me more:
by Henry Stone
Had my father written a novel? Hidden it in the basement? But why? Why would he bother to be so secretive? Why hadn’t he ever told me about it? I smiled as I thought of a possible answer: Maybe it contained things he didn’t think I was “ready” for, things you might find in a book by Stephen King or Anne Rice—violence, gore, bad language, sex.
I paged through it but found nothing objectionable—in fact, much of what I glanced at was, well, boring. Details about places in Europe. Lists of names and dates.
But the final pages contained something that absolutely riveted me. It was a drawing of the family tree of the Frankensteins. The earliest ancestors were in the middle ages—the thirteenth century!
With a finger, I traced my way down through the diagram to Victor Frankenstein, where I knew the family must end. In Mary Shelley’s story, he died in the Arctic, aboard Robert Walton’s ship.
But no … the diagram showed that Victor had a brother six years younger: Ernest Frankenstein. I’d forgotten about him in the book. Ernest, I could see from the drawing, had numerous descendants. One branch of his family was named Wahl. Aunt Claire’s name! What …? Is she related to the Frankensteins? An old photograph fell from the book. I bent to pick it up. It showed a young woman dressed in the fashion of the eighteenth century. She wore a smile, a smile I’d seen so many times in my own house. The woman in the picture looked exactly like Aunt Claire.
I slipped the photograph back between the pages of the manuscript and read on. I was about to experience another surprise, this one coming when I looked at what appeared under Victor Frankenstein’s name. The chart showed that he had married a woman named Margaret Saville in London, England, in 1796. So he hadn’t died in the Arctic? His new friend, Robert Walton, had covered it all up? Taken Victor back to England with him?
And Margaret Saville? Where had I read that name before?
I shuddered when I remembered. In Frankenstein, she was the married sister of Robert Walton, the one he wrote letters to, the letters about Victor Frankenstein, about the creature. The chart showed that her husband had died in 1790. When Victor met her, she was a widow.
The diagram continued, on through the generations. The marriages. The children. My father, Henry, was born in 1944. And Henry, so the chart said, moved to America in 1962, where he met and married Mary Waldman, who died in childbirth in 1984. They had only one child, Victoria.[i]
I felt my body tremble with the cold when I read these last entries. It was too strange, much too strange. These most recent Frankensteins—real or not—had names just like those in my family! My father’s name is Henry, my mother’s Mary, mine
Victoria. But I figured that my father had just used familiar names for his story, if this was a story. Maybe it was just out outline for a story he wanted to write. Maybe he was just playing around. Maybe—
I turned to the final page:
Victor Frankenstein, of course, changed his name to Stone when he returned to England. So all his descendants carried the Stone family name. None of them knew that their name had once been Frankenstein, one of the most hated and feared names in history. But I found the family papers. And so now I know. But I will hide them so that no one else will ever see them. One day, perhaps, I will find the courage to destroy them—I cannot seem to make myself do that, not yet—and thereby destroy the horrible history of my family. My daughter, Victoria, must never discover who she is!
“Vickie, are you down in the basement? Vickie? Where are you? Come upstairs—it’s not safe down there.”
Quickly, I returned all the items to the trunk—all except the family history. I closed the lid and replaced the lock, which closed with a click as soon as I put it in place. The glow was diminishing, so I picked up the flashlight and slipped back out of the hidden room.
“Vickie?” I could hear his voice, now at the head of the stairs. “Right now!”
“Yes, Father!” I cried. “I was just looking at my room. I’ll be right up.”
I went into my workshop and found one of my book bags. I put the family history in it. I had just closed my door when I heard it, the serpent’s thoughts. Victoria! Victoria! I felt a tone of warning in the “voice,” but I ignored it.
I then went upstairs, into the light, into the arms of my father.