The Constantine Affliction Online - T. Aaron Payton

Acts of Love

He called himself Adam, and all he wanted was love.

The man who was not quite a man walked across his laboratory, moving awkwardly on a leg still stiff from his accident in the Arctic long years before. His basement workspace was low, cramped, and crowded with shelves, tables, and the myriad tools of his myriad trades, but the unlovely setting only enhanced the luminous beauty of the woman on his examination table. Her hair was the color of a blackbird’s wing, her skin pale as snowy alpine peaks, her flesh still cold from the shards of ice she’d arrived packed in. There were no marks on her throat, which meant she had probably been smothered, or possibly poisoned. No matter. The chemical preparation he’d used to replace her blood had flushed away any toxins or disease she’d suffered in life.

Adam attached the hand-woven filaments of wire to her brow, and inserted a metal probe into a tiny bloodless incision over her heart. The wires ran back to a tall wooden shelf that held row upon row of earthenware jars, bubbling with caustic chemicals that combined to produce that modern marvel, captive electricity.

Others who’d attempted similar courses of scientific inquiry had been forced to rely on lightning strikes or tanks of electrified eels and fish to provide the necessary electricity, but science—that bloodless maiden, that haughty mistress, that fecund mother—had advanced since those dark days. Adam himself had perfected these batteries, which stored electricity in greater quantity and dispersed it in more controlled voltage than other designs generally available. He could easily have become wealthy by selling the innovation—the craze for electricity was still growing—but his researches were adequately funded by his patron, and beyond those needs, money did not interest him.

Truth did. Life did. Love did.

After double-checking the thick leather straps that held the slender woman to the operating table, he limped over to a pitted wooden lever fixed to the wall, at the nexus of a dozen wires. He pulled the handle down, and the room filled with a hum that tasted of lemons and a scent that sounded like chimes. Since his misadventures and near death in the Arctic sixty-five years ago, something had changed in him, and Adam’s senses were no longer like those of other men. Sound bled into taste and scent into sound, the result of strange cross-connections deep in the structure of his brain. Those changes were indicative of damage, perhaps, but he’d since lived a normal human span without suffering any further deterioration, and on balance, he considered his textured perceptions a blessing. He felt sorry for the mass of men, with their sequestered senses, seeing only the reflections of light, hearing only the vibrations of air—their experience of the world must be like listening to a single lonesome flute, while to Adam, the world was a symphony.

The woman on the table moved, limbs jerking, back arching as best it could against the bondage of the straps, but that movement alone meant nothing—a current passing through the corpse of a frog would make the beast jerk, muscles jumping and tightening, but such movement had nothing to do with life, no more than a dead branch that waved in the wind did.

After the appropriate interval, the seconds counted off in Adam’s metronomically accurate mind, he shut off the current, and the woman went limp on the table. Adam carefully removed the wires from her body and pressed his ear against her chest, between her breasts, and listened.

Her heart was beating again—the sound tasted like the brine of the sea—which meant this was, at least, not that kind of failure. Perhaps half the time, his experiments never even made it this far, the bodies of his subjects too damaged in subtle internal ways to be revived, and they simply remained dead on the table—later to be chopped up as food for the other kind of failure, or at least, the ones he kept.

He leaned forward, looking into the woman’s face, so tranquil and composed. “Arise,” he whispered, a ritual with no scientific basis, but one he indulged in nonetheless.

The woman opened her eyes. Her pupils were enormous, black chasms squeezing the irises into thin bands of impossible-to-ascertain color, but that didn’t necessarily mean she was—

“Unggaahhh!” she said, and though the pitch and timbre of her voice were individual, the quality of the moan was familiar, and brought a taste of ash and bile to his mouth. That moan was a sound of hunger, and