Friday, September 30, 2016

The Many Lives of Oliver Row (Monster/Frankenstein) Chapter 3

The one consistent element of the books that somehow changed their content every time he read them, Henry realized in the dead of night, when he had been struggling to find sleep, tossing for hours (it seemed to little avail), was the presence of the name Oliver Row.  This was impossible, or at the least highly improbable, because Henry happened to know a man named Oliver Row, and as a quick Google search confirmed, Oliver Row is not a common name now, and so to have found another man called that, two hundred years ago, at the time Victor Frankenstein was writing these elusive journals...

He poured over the books again, at random, just to be sure, so that it couldn't be dismissed as the trick of an overly tired mind.  And yet there he was, in a thousand references, sometimes in a kind of conspiratorial role, sometimes offhand, sometimes as the main thrust of whole paragraphs, as if he'd stolen the focus of someone else's narrative.  He was always there, and his presence alone wasn't the sole continuing element, but how it was represented, again and again, shifting from book to book, to be sure, so that passages were the same but found in different places.  It was deeply unsettling, to say the least.  Everything else changed, even the general thrust of what Frankenstein was trying to say, to accomplish, the experiments he wished to perform.

He was forced to consider something truly outrageous, that the man he knew was the same man his ancestor wrote about, and if he was going to get to the bottom of this, Oliver Row was going to have to tell him personally.  Henry couldn't bring himself to breach the topic with Sabin, whom he rarely saw these days, occupying the same spectral aspect his employer had occupied in the days before they finally met.

Of course, there was a problem with this conclusion as well: Henry hadn't actually seen Oliver in more than a decade.  In fact, he couldn't even be sure they were still friends.  Oliver was the kind of man who lost and gained friends easily, as if it were a sport.  When Henry first met him, Oliver complained about losing his previous circle of friends, feeling incredibly isolated, and yet the one thing Henry knew best about him was that Oliver was so desperate that he made it incredibly easy to alienate those around him, a classic vicious circle if there ever was one.  In these days of social media, it would be easier than ever before to reconnect with Oliver, but the trick of social media is that it makes friendships more superficial than ever.  Even if he were successful, it would be incredibly unlikely for Oliver to be particularly forthcoming about anything, much less dark secrets of the past.

Still, Henry made the effort.  He was what he still considered a relatively young man, in his thirties, an age when people are still capable, or so he hoped, of establishing themselves with the prospect of many productive years ahead.  He was innocent and na├»ve, obviously.  He waited around for minutes and then hours and then days, and finally Oliver replied with a flippant response, something designed to evoke their past relationship but brook no further conversation, nothing meaningful, at least.  So Henry became desperate.  He went to Sabin and told him what he'd discovered.

At first, the large man, whose features seemed to have been borrowed from someone else's body, only frowned at Henry.  Then he let loose a belly laugh, the first time Henry had seen any form of merriment from him.  It reminded Henry that everyone called Sabin the Monster.  Everyone seemed to have a different reason.  Henry's was beginning to be that Sabin never took the human element into account, which is to say he lacked any visible form of empathy, which is common enough among people, but not to the extent Henry had observed in Sabin. 

"You have no idea, even now," Sabin finally said, after regaining control of himself.  "You don't know what you've gotten yourself into.  You still haven't guessed.  Very well.  Oliver Row is not a single person but many persons.  There have been many people who answered to the name over the years.  The reasons are no longer important.  The man you call your friend is no doubt the current incarnation, assuming he hasn't already been replaced.  It's a dangerous occupation, being Oliver Row."

This didn't really clarify anything for Henry.  He said as much.  Sabin scoffed at him, and then said, "You poor miserable idiot.  Finish your genealogy.  Then try mine."

With that, he walked away, not even bothering to exchange pleasantries, which for him was perfectly normal.  Henry wondered if there would be an end to this. 

At this point, you'll no doubt have guessed that in this strange world where Victor Frankenstein was a real person and not a fictional character, where a man named Henry Grenoville was his descendant and still had no idea what the doctor had accomplished two hundred years earlier...Sabin was the Monster.  Pop culture has forgotten, because of the classic horror movies, that the Monster was not only intelligent, but exceptionally so.  His unnatural life put him in a curious position, which he chose to exploit near the fringes of society, in the most mundane way possible: at a university, where he gained tenure long outside the memories, as I've said, of the current faculty. 

What Henry doesn't know is that Sabin is about to lose his tenure, because his department is being eliminated.  What he's about to find out is that his friend Oliver Row, who has indeed been replaced since he last saw him, who in fact is Olivia Row now, has been hunting the Monster for two hundred years, at the behest of Victor Frankenstein himself.  How they put the charm on Frankenstein's books is a story for another time. 

When Henry returned to his research, trying to find something he'd overlooked, Olivia became alerted to his work.  The irony about Olivia Row is that she's dying, a tumor choking the life out of her brain a little bit at a time.  To know her is to have experienced her seizures, at which time she is totally incapacitated, but otherwise she's perfectly formidable, thank you.  Her wits work perfectly well, while they still exist, while she still exists.

Henry believes no one knows what he's been doing, but that isn't the case.  He thinks he shouldn't be paranoid, but he should.  Olivia is about to set a trap for him: the honey trap.  It's the best con in history, the one that caught Victor Frankenstein, too (history is always repeating itself).  Olivia should know.  She was there, after a fashion, right?