Andrew Magenti ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(This short story was published in Necrology Shorts Magazine and is a re-post on my website.)
For as long as I live I won’t forget the night the young master was born. It was during a night of the worst thunderstorms I ever witnessed in all my life. All the fury of the heavens was unleashed upon us. The rain, thunder, lightning and wind tore at the old house on the outside, and the mistress’s screams tore at the inside. I don’t know which was more terrifying.
The mistress had the midwife with her and two women from the town. All night long the women toiled over the mistress and silently wept to witness her agony. Around three o’clock in the morning, at the height of the storm, the mistress was delivered of the child. Those of us who had heard her screams through the long night and seen the bundles of bloody rags being brought from her room were at a loss to explain how the mistress could still be alive. Toward dawn, while the storm was still raging, the women placed the tiny bundle in the mistress’s arms and withdrew without a word.
When the master was sure his wife was safely delivered of the child and the women had left, he went into his wife’s room. Thinking her asleep, he crept to the bed without making a sound and pulled back the coverlet. The room was dark—a sudden flash of lightning afforded him his first look at the newborn child. He recoiled as with an electric shock and bellowed like a wounded animal at what he saw. He ran downstairs and out of the house and was insensible and unable to speak for several hours.
Grotesque as the child was, we all thought it would die right away but, in spite of all our predictions to the contrary, it lived and began to grow. The mistress nursed it as she would a normal child. When it was three or four weeks old, it began to grow a coat of lustrous brown fur all over its body. Those of us who had seen the child every day from the beginning were less horrified at its appearance than we had been at the first, and all agreed that it was better looking with the fur than without. The mistress named it Andrew after a beloved departed uncle and told all of us firmly that, when referring to the child, we would use the personal pronouns he and him, rather than it. We all liked the name Andrew and it seemed to go well with the last name, which was Magenti.
When the mistress looked at Andrew, she didn’t see the monster that other people saw. He was fine just as he was—her darling boy. She had him moved into her room from the nursery so she could be with him and watch out for him all the time. Being of a religious bent, she believed that he was the way he was because God made him that way—for a reason. God knew the reason, even if she didn’t, and it was not up to her to question the workings of the Lord. It was her job to be a mother to the poor little thing and protect him from those who would hurt him.
The master didn’t like being in the same room with Andrew. He avoided looking at Andrew or having any kind of contact with him. By mutual consent, he never shared the mistress’s bed again. He believed she was responsible for Andrew, saying loudly and frequently that there never had been any freaks in his family but she obviously had some dark taint in her lineage that she should have told him about before he married her. If he had only known, he would have followed a different path.
As Andrew became older, his appearance changed. His head, which had been very large and elongated at birth, became rounder and more proportionate to his body. His face took on definition and didn’t seem the half-formed face that it once was. His amber eyes, which had once looked like expressionless fish eyes peering out of raw slits that never closed, became very large and expressive and had about them a haunting quality that was part human, part animal—eyes unlike any I had ever seen before or will ever see again.
There were times when the master and the mistress argued over Andrew’s fur. The master wanted all of it shaved off, believing that shaving was the one thing that could be done to give Andrew at least the appearance of being human, but the mistress wouldn’t hear to it. She knew that underneath the fur was pale pink skin like that of a pig and shaving it off would be a cruel denuding and a thwarting of nature. She did agree, as a concession, to have the fur trimmed around Andrew’s mouth and over his eyes to give him, she said, a more civilized appearance.
The mistress had all of Andrew’s clothes custom-made at great expense, including a long cloak with a cape attached in which he could place his hands that were like an animal’s paws but nevertheless as flexible as human hands. With the cloak was an odd tri-cornered hat with an opaque black net attached that could be let down when necessary, allowing Andrew to see where he was walking but keeping anyone from seeing Andrew’s face underneath.
The mistress believed that Andrew should not be kept prisoner in the house, that he should see something of the world, if only a small part of it. She was fond of taking him on little excursions in her closed carriage—visits to an old aunt and uncle in the next county—or to witness the beauty of the countryside in the spring or fall. Occasionally she would take him with her on shopping trips to town, where he, never leaving her side for a second, would draw the stares and gasps of the curious, swathed all in black as he was from head to toe.
For obvious reasons, Andrew wasn’t able to go to school the way other children did, so the mistress undertook to educate him herself. She set aside an attic room as a schoolroom, and there she spent three or more hours every day teaching him to read. (He learned to read and to write in a peculiar scrawl, but I never knew of him to speak a word, other than to make sounds in his throat.)
She bought picture books for him so that he could know about places like Africa, China, and the South Pole. He especially liked books about elephants, tigers, and curious animals like anteaters and lemurs. She read to him from the novels of Charles Dickens and the poetry of John Keats. On his birthday she presented him with a leather-bound volume of Keats’s poems for his very own to keep always.
The master awoke one morning in the spring saying he had a funny feeling in his head. When he tried to go about his daily business, he collapsed on the floor and we carried him upstairs to his bed. The doctor came as soon as he was called, but there was nothing he or anybody could do. The master died that night of what turned out to be a massive hemorrhage to the brain. He was barely forty-five years old.
He was laid out in the parlor in his elegant mahogany coffin banked with lilies and roses, looking more handsome and spruce than he ever had in life. A tiny smile on his lips and a hint of roses in his cheeks told us that dying might not have been what he would have chosen for himself at that particular time in his life, but, now that it had come upon him, all was well. Happy I live and happy I die.
A photographic studio in town offered a service they called postmortem or memento mori photography, meaning they would travel to wherever you wanted them to go (for a handsome fee) with their photographic equipment and photograph a deceased person before he or she was laid to rest. This gave friends and family the chance to own a likeness of the person in death without having to rely entirely on memory. The marriage of death and photography made perfect sense and proved a lucrative enterprise for those engaged in it.
The mistress engaged the photographer and his assistant to come to the house and photograph the master in his coffin on the day before the funeral. The men set up their equipment and took one shot of the master from the front and another from an angle and a third one from the doorway so that the whole room was included. Then they took a photograph of the mistress standing in front of the coffin in her fancy black silk dress with her hand resting on the satin edge of the coffin. When the photographic assistant asked the mistress if she wanted any other photographs taken, she brought Andrew down from upstairs and stood him in front of the coffin where she had stood.
Dressed in his black wool suit and stiff white collar and black cravat, perfectly tied, Andrew looked like something that wasn’t real but only imagined. To the photographer and his assistant, he appeared to be half-child and half-beast, but neither of them flinched or made a move to indicate that they were not accustomed to seeing such sights every day. Andrew looked straight into the camera with his strangely luminous eyes, his huge incisors slightly overlapping his lower lip, waiting for the man to take the photograph that would have unexpected consequences for him, the mistress and all of us.
Two weeks after the master’s death, the picture of Andrew appeared on the cover of a cheap periodical called The Nocturne, a paper that catered to the vulgar tastes of the masses. We discovered later that the photographic assistant had stolen a copy of the picture from his employer and sold it to the highest bidder, making enough money that he was able to go to the city and begin his own photographic establishment.
Many people who saw Andrew’s picture on the cover of The Nocturne wanted to know if it was a hoax or if such a creature really did exist. If he did exist, they wanted to see him with their own eyes. The Nocturne didn’t go so far as to publish Andrew’s name or where he lived, but many who knew about the master and mistress’s strange freak child —but had never seen him—knew it had to be the same child.
A newspaper reporter appeared on the doorstep, waving a copy of The Nocturne as though it was his pass to enter. He wanted to write a story for his paper, he said, about the life of the strange child that everybody was talking about. We turned him away without his story, but he swore he would be back.
Next came two men claiming to be doctors. They wanted to examine Andrew and explain to the world from a scientific standpoint how such a phenomenon had come to be. When we asked to see their credentials, they blustered and threatened to bring the law into the matter and force us to let them examine Andrew.
After the episode with the “doctors,” there came many other people, curiosity-seekers and the ghoulish who just wanted to laugh and marvel at Andrew as if he was a feature in a freak show. People would gather on the lawn and stare at the front door, hoping to catch a glimpse of something they could tell their friends about. The mistress said she had never wished more fervently in her life to own a shotgun and to know how to use it.
The people would not stay away, no matter how discourteous we were to them. There were those who would have walked right through the front door without so much as a knock as if it was their right to do so. The mistress had a ten-foot-tall iron fence installed all the way around the house. She hired a detective agency to keep some of its agents on the premises at all times. She believed the interest in Andrew would eventually fade and die when the idle masses had something else to occupy their time.
The fence and the detective agency men were effective in keeping people away from the house. Life resumed as it had been before the master died and before Andrew’s picture was published in The Nocturne. The mistress believed that soon people would forget and she would no longer need to retain the men guarding the house. The fence would be enough to discourage unwelcome visitors.
On an evening in late summer, several months after the master had died, we had finished with dinner; the mistress and Andrew were in the parlor. The mistress was seated at the piano, trying to work out a difficult passage in the Chopin piece she was trying to learn by heart. Andrew was seated next to the open window looking through a picture book. The air was stifling and humid and had been all day, but a thunderstorm that was brewing had brought with it a welcome suggestion of cooler air.
About the time the thunder and lightning began in earnest and the rain began pelting the house, there was a knock at the door. The young maid, the one named Alberta, went to the door as she had been instructed to do.
When Alberta opened the door a few inches and looked out into the darkness to see who was knocking, she was knocked off her feet and slammed against the wall. She regained her feet and began screaming hysterically. We all went running to see what was the matter.
Two dark, hooded figures had come into the house, silent and swift. They seemed to know the layout of the house because they moved with certainty, without hesitation. They went into the parlor where Andrew was, while the rest of us stood in stunned silence and watched them. One of the figures picked Andrew up in its arms; the other stood back as if to keep us at bay, but we did nothing. We just stood and stared, so shocked were we at what we were witnessing.
When they were making for the front door, the mistress made to put herself in their way to keep them from leaving with Andrew, but the other figure—the one not carrying Andrew—grabbed her arms and moved her out of the way as easily as if she had been stuffed with straw. While he held her arms in his gloved hands, he leaned into her face and said one sentence: He belongs to us.
They went out into the night, into the pouring rain. We all went running blindly after them but there was no use. They were lost from sight immediately, as if they had vanished into the air. We went to get a light and followed them a half mile or so away from the house in the direction in which we thought they had gone, but the rain and darkness kept us from seeing anything at all. We discovered the detective agency men unconscious in a ditch but still breathing. We carried them into the house out of the rain and tried to revive them.
When we called the county sheriff and told him what had happened, he came at once, bringing with him eight men. The sheriff questioned each one of us in turn. We all told him what we had seen but we weren’t able to give him any kind of a description of the hooded figures because every part of them was covered. When he asked me what Andrew said or did when he was being abducted, I could only answer that Andrew made not a single sound. When he asked me if Andrew seemed to be a willing participant in his own abduction, I could only answer that of that I wasn’t sure.
The sheriff’s men searched the area for any clues but found none. In the daylight, after the rain had ceased, even more men were brought onto the scene. The search went on for several days, but not a single shred of evidence was ever turned up. After that, the mistress hired private investigators to try to find Andrew and bring him back, but their search also was fruitless. There was no trail to follow and nothing to go on; no basis for a real investigation.
Nothing of Andrew was ever turned up. One year after his abduction, the mistress sold the house and all her belongings. She turned over all her holdings to the church and went into a convent to escape the unhappy world. She died in the convent two years later of a heart ailment. She was laid to rest beside the master in the Cemetery of the Holy Ghost on the edge of town. An ornate granite monument marks their resting place.
Several years after the mistress died, the night watchman of the Cemetery of the Holy Ghost, who I had known since childhood, sent me a message and asked me if I could come to see him. When I went to his room, he handed me a little leather-bound book that I did not at first recognize. I opened the book and saw that it was a volume of the poetry of John Keats. Then I remembered that Andrew had once owned a volume of poems exactly like the one I held in my hand.
When I asked the night watchman what this was all about, he said the book was left on the mistress’s grave and he, knowing I was the mistress’s step-brother, wanted me to have it before it was ruined by being left outdoors in the rain. I asked him if he had seen who left the book and he smiled and nodded his head.
I knew then that Andrew was alive. I knew also that I had to find him and talk to him. I wanted to know what happened on the night of his abduction. Most of all, though, I wanted to know where he had been and what he had seen in the intervening years.
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp