Friday, August 1, 2014

"The Magnum Opus" by Deina Furth (Novelette)

Genre: Steampunk Science Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  Creating the perfect companion is Rastigan's dream--maybe even his obsession. For years, he has tinkered and planned, pouring his heart into his work as intensely as he pours scotch into his glass. But every machine that he builds falls short of his expectations. His work completely consumes his thoughts and time, leaving him a homebound hermit with nary a connection to the outside world. As the years press on, Rastigan seems doomed to live out remainder of his life as a solitary eccentric who finds companionship only with his favorite brand of booze.

Then he creates Evangeline. She far surpasses anything he's ever built in terms of complexity, intelligence, and of course, beauty. She's his most lifelike invention to date, and to him, she is perfect in every way--that is, until she begins to develop her own desires. As she begins to question the world around her, Rastigan fears he's once more out of the picture, doomed to be alone forever.

Has Rastigan finally found the companion he's yearned for in Evangeline? Or has his obsession with building his magnum opus gone too far?


Piano music drifted from a record player as Evangeline entered the den. She wore the dress Rastigan had requested. Sheer white fabric draped loosely across her shoulders and waist in layers that shifted and fluttered with her slightest movement, and it was so long that she had to gather her skirts to avoid tripping. When he saw her, Rastigan clapped his hands together and smiled warmly, apparently pleased, then he reached out to her, beckoning. Evangeline clutched her skirts tightly and carefully shuffled forward, stopping about two feet short of his trembling, open arms. That sensation. That vexing repulsion at discovering something she wished she hadn’t, and the desire to push it as far from herself as possible. What was it?

“You look lovelier than ever, my doll,” Rastigan said a little too loudly. He closed the gap between them and wrapped his arms around her waist, his movements looser and less controlled than before. He fumbled around, trying to place his hands properly for a dance, while his legs wobbled with the pull of the liquor. “Go on, now, put your arms around me,” he commanded.

Evangeline let her skirts loose and did as she was told, folding her hands together around the back of his neck. It was slick with sweat, and his greasy hair fell against the back of her hands, leaving trails of residue as it swished with his movements. Rastigan swayed from left to right, and back again, burying his head in her neck with a sigh as the notes swelled louder, enveloping the pair in the piano’s melancholy song. The fire burned brightly behind him, crackling softly with the music and casting oversized projections of their dancing silhouettes onto the walls.

It was still there. This feeling, this desire to get him away. To hurt him.

Where did it come from? Was it his drunkenness, his sloppy attempts to turn her into his entertainment? Or was it something deeper?

“You dance well,” he said, groggily. His words leaked from his mouth, the Ss and Ls oozing into a single slushy syllable. Evangeline kept her head facing forward, her eyes fixed on the way the shadows stretched and shrank in the flickering light above the fireplace, rather than look at her dance partner’s wilting, alcohol-touched face. Rastigan pressed his lips to her cheek, trying to draw her attention. When she didn’t respond, he slid his fingers up her waist and across her shoulders. He pulled his body away from her, wobbling as he went, and looked directly into her eyes. Evangeline stopped moving altogether, clenching her hands into fists, making her body stiff and distant.

That unremitting feeling.

“Oh, Evangeline, you remind me so much of my—”

Thunder interrupted his words, a crash so loud that the windows vibrated, and the entire room ignited with a white-hot luminescence that snuffed out the fire’s soft glow. In this light, his features looked harsh, angular. His eyes were wide, bloodshot and red rimmed, and his mouth curled into a grimace at the intensity of the storm, revealing his uneven and stained teeth.

For the first time, Evangeline could clearly see the fear inside him, the same fear his trembling voice had harbored the night before. As the flash faded, he broke away from her, holding his hand to his heart, clutching at his threadbare shirt. The force with which he pushed himself away nearly sent her tripping over her dress. Now he cowered like a child, his eyes darting about the room as if searching for monsters in the shadows.

Fat raindrops pounded against the windowpane, and another rumble of thunder tumbled through the room, softer this time.

“You-you may go, Eva,” he said.


She raised her hand and pointed at her chest, trying to gain his attention, seeking clarification.

But Rastigan had already collapsed into an armchair next to the hearth. He wrapped a trembling hand around the bottle of scotch he had placed on the table and pulled it to his lips.

Evangeline backed away slowly.



Who was it that she reminded him of?

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