Fetal Alchemy Syndrome [Short Story Sample]

Below is the first couple pages of a horror short story that I wrote earlier this year. If you’re interested in reading the rest of it, or perhaps listening to an audio version, please visit patreon.com/PierreManchot where you can purchase the piece for as little as $1.  Thanks!

Fetal Alchemy Syndrome

by Pierre Manchot

Paris, 1856

A letter from Benoît Marquis to Hugo Undeig

Translated by Brenda Undeig, University of Kansas, 1979

I know now that heaven cannot help me. Man cannot help me. I’ve created something beyond both and I fear that its rapacious hunger will not only end my own life but potentially all of France and perhaps even the world in its entirety. I write this as a confession, in part. I am aware that this screed in no way absolves me of the sin I’ve brought into this world. Forgiveness is not an option for me. I only hope that you, once a dear friend of mine all those many years ago, might understand the gravity of my actions and, if fate can shine more benevolently upon you than it has myself, you might destroy the culmination of my foolish ambitions.

You won’t find my name preserved in history anywhere but this document. My success in the collegiate arena of ideas has been marred by my lifelong fascination with the alchemic arts. Despite holding the title of Professor at Grenoble in the sciences of chemistry and physics, my own word capsized my career after my second year. I had written a sequence of articles during my fledging academic stay at university praising the works of such alchemists as Jean Haville, the German Herst Groundlewerg, and the American George Prowell. That was enough to diminish my works in the honorable sciences right there, but it appears that I could not help myself and submitted two published articles on the theories of the ancient Egyptian Tiem Lazara who was able to conjure unearthly metals out of nothing but sand, water, and primitive electrical conduits. My professorial duties were revoked and my academic record expunged. With the knowledge that my pursuits would lead to what it has, I hold no blame for the institutions themselves.

Yet, wounded by the fragility of the central-thinking university system, I pursued the forbidden sciences with an even more fervent vigor. I furthered my understanding of the metallurgic arts and became familiar with hematology, what that I could. When my mother died, I was drawn back to Paris and, after the good woman was buried, I proceeded to pervert her apartment into a laboratory of my own design. I have little faith that a God, benevolent or otherwise, would welcome her to heaven— and it would only serve as a cruel jape to have my mother bear witness to the fruit borne from my evil obsession. I only hope that she passed into some eternal dream, blind to the mockery that obsession had made of her own home.

Where my mother’s duvet once sat, a table now stands, now covered with vials containing metals, acids, bases, and more— the duvet was still there, only perched on its arm, leaning uselessly against a wall. There are texts, ranging from the scientific to the religious, spread out half-read throughout the floorspace. The kitchen rarely produced a meal as I was more interested in boiling lead and mercury and notating the properties. I had converted what was once a charming flat into an alchemic prison. I couldn’t see that, no, not yet, my friend.

You might be considering that what I am telling you might be the exaggerations of a man locked in a room of malodorous fumes and foul humors, a man who might have lapsed into the loathe madness of milliners and brim shapers. I respond to your supposition without contempt, for I wish that it were so! I have sought treatment for nerves and exhaustion after desperately convincing myself that my mind had been made feeble from exposure to my craft’s metals. I desired nothing less than to assume all that I had seen was simply a waking dream or some grand deceit designed by some malicious fever or poison rooted inside my brain. The fledgling science of the mind could give me no answers and, lest I be subject to the horrors of the sanitarium, I withheld the more colorful details of this evil experience. Physicians, while slightly more competent, were no more able to provide me relief. Alas, the memory of blood and destruction always returned and I knew that it could not be false.

[To finish this story, please visit patreon.com/PierreManchot where you will be able to pay for the full piece.]

 

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Pierre Manchot, Now on Patreon

Well hey there, gangsters.

Supposing you like my fiction and you’d like to get more of it (and help support me in the process) I’ve started a Patreon to distribute pieces of short fiction and audio narration. If this is something that interests you, please visit this page to learn more.

Words, love, and hugs

Pierre

Exploring the Novel

Exploring the Novel

I hear it all the time: “Pierre, you’re such an interesting-looking creature, why don’t you pursue an acting career as a bent-faced, chain-smoking gambler in the upcoming Gun Shooty Bang Robot Boom reboot?”

And I always say, “Naw, babe. I love novels too much.”

And I do. A lot of people do. You ask people who don’t even read what their favorite book is and they’ll still tell you a couple of novels that have stuck with them over the years. So let’s talk about novels. More importantly why novels are, specifically, so important to the human experience? Maybe how.

By and large, people will read a novel once and only once. There are exceptions to the rule, but it’s different from, say, re-watching your favorite films or rediscovering an album from high school that friggin’ Jocelyn burned for you. Songs and scenes might get stuck in your head but it’s hard to capture in any directly relatable way what exactly got you with your favorite book, isn’t it? It’s less about the isolated moments that are so easily defined in music and film and more about the experience itself. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”

What sets novels apart from anything else is the participation of the audience to help create what’s being seen, said, smelled… it’s a sensory illusion that the reader, on some level, hypnotizes themselves to believe is a felt, interior reality– if the writer did their job right. It’s a collusion between the two to create the suspension of disbelief. And unlike other art forms, it requires active participation.

(Which isn’t to say that film and music are solely passive experiences– it’s just that reading cannot be so.)

That intermingling of minds has always fascinated me. There’s a strange intimacy there between the author and reader that isn’t experienced elsewhere. Films have a lot of hands that touch the project– and while that is a remarkable thing of itself, that a collaboration of people came together to create something potentially beautiful– it only takes a producer’s (or an actor’s, or a budget’s) soiled fingers to spoil the whole pot of soup. When it’s a singular vision (editors notwithstanding) conveyed directly to the reader, the experience becomes thinking with another person’s brain. This is likely why reading novels makes you a more empathetic person.

That author-reader relationship is only possible through the design of the novel. It’s strange to think about novels as technology, but in the historical context of formatting of stories, novels are sleeker and more easily digestible in its modern form than epic poems or the travelogues that birthed them. There’s no baby fat of repetition for repetition’s sake (like you see in fairy tales) or the loose skin of extraneous oration that bogs down Greek narratives.

While the rule of threes has been commonplace for centuries, the novel perfected the three act structure by shaving it down to its base components. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the novel was developed concurrently with the re-popularization of the triptych in western culture during the 1500’s. The Japanese invented the novel at least a good 300 years prior— and, not coincidentally, had been enjoying cohesive scroll ink paintings for at least a 100 years before that. Classical painting is emotionally and intellectually stimulating but is still more sensed through the lens of the viewer. Even with the triptych’s cohesive storytelling ability, a direct means of story remains elusive. That’s where the novel comes in as a continuation of that tradition– able to paint a picture in the reader’s mind and then able to explain the painting.

Speaking of the 1500’s, it’s also not a coincidence that the novel technology is also concurrent with the spread of literacy. Once a privilege held only by clergy and bards, the ability to read leaked out from the clouds above and pissed on all us sinners in a baptism of critical thinking. Without an interpreter, individuals were given the means of direct processing of written content. The result, of course, was an explosion of experimental writing (aaaand institutional upheaval), as well as a certain power regained by the common person: the ability to read and write your own stories. As much as the newborn readers found a sense of individualism with this new privilege, so did the authors– and it’s on that mental platform on which this medium was able to speak from the perspective of an individual and reach people on a personally affecting level, despite that thousands of people were reading the exact same content.

Now you might think I’ve forgotten about poetry. So what about poetry? Didn’t it have the same bloom along with the democratization of literacy? Sure did. I’m not talking shit. It’s just a different, more ancient, technology. My understanding is that poetry is the perfect distillation of emotion and moments into words. If the poet has done their job right. Poetry can be wonderful. But to me it often feels voyeuristic into the mind of the poet and the poet alone. The audience didn’t get there themselves. A journey’s missing. The crystalized truth within the poem often feels like an ill-gotten treasure.

So why obscure the feeling with arcane logic when you could just tell the reader what’s actually happening?

Some of the most powerful fiction I’ve ever read has been a short story. Still, I struggle to engage with a lot of it. Ideally, a short story identifies the moment before a life-changing event in a character’s life, not the moment itself. One of my all-time favorites is Jodi Angel’s A Good Deuce (Tin House Summer Reading 2011, issue #48) which takes place after the narrator’s mother has died from an overdose and ends right before the narrator has sex with an older woman in a car in an overtly oedipal exorcism of the tragedy. This is damn near as perfect of a short story as you can get– but it might’ve been untenable as a part of a full novel. The whole story has already been implied and would feel lopsided in the frame of a different story.

But more often, there’s the opposite problem. Short stories have the general policy of “you get what you get,” and often have the shortcoming of ending just a little too soon. In “Trouble Is My Business,” by Raymond Chandler, everything gets wrapped up just as the characters are beginning to flesh out. I didn’t feel cheated, necessarily, as I felt like the payoff was rushed and, as a reader, that I didn’t earn it. (It’s not unlike that Rick and Morty true crime spoof.)

Like a good (or bad) psychedelic experience, the books you read change you. Feel free to disagree, but I’ll forever maintain that novels are the most effective devices for changing you for the better.