A VIOLET NOVELLA
Prequel to the Romantic Horror Triology Sweet Desire, Wicked Fate
Louisiana – 1959
The cellar door creaked open. Violet gripped the bars of her small, bird-like cage as the sound of cautious footsteps faltered on the stairs. She peered into the shadows, troubled by the flowery perfume that drifted down into the musty, chemical-scented air of her laboratory home.
The flow of a knee-length skirt made its way into the room, its soft floral pattern a stark contrast to the dank environment.
Violet glanced over at the five compact cages stacked on the shelves next to hers. Within them, her so-called siblings were asleep.
She looked back at the skirt, now weaving through the vines that hung from the ceiling like serpents. A slender woman came into full view, her fingers trailing over the length of the lab table.
“Elvina, what are you doing here?” Violet whispered under her breath.
Though Elvina had no knowledge of Violet’s existence, Violet knew everything about her. Her favorite color, her favorite food, that a silver four-leaf clover was attached to her keychain.
Violet had spent her life observing Elvina from a distance, had strived to emulate her. After all, Elvina’s husband, Professor Dekle Thatcher, had created Violet using his wife’s DNA as one of the principal ingredients. Like Elvina, Violet had pleasing features and a pale complexion, though her miniature human physique stood only twelve inches tall. She also carried the DNA of damselfly, pampas grass, and violets—Elvina’s favorite flower. With her wings and white tresses of hair, Violet resembled a fairy.
She had assumed it was only a matter of time before curiosity would tempt Elvina to disobey Dekle’s wishes. Eventually she would want to see what her husband would not allow her to be a part of, to discover how he spent all those hours, years, hidden away in the cellar beneath the garage.
In the 1800s, the structure had been a kitchen, separate from the house; the room beneath had provided a cool place to store canned preserves and root vegetables. Now the cellar was the Professor’s dungeon-like laboratory. And it stored monsters.
Not a soul was allowed inside. Ever. Including Elvina. In spite of the love Dekle had once felt for his wife, Violet knew the man would beat Elvina to an inch of her life if he discovered she had been inside the cellar.
Violet watched Elvina make her way through the room. At one time, Professor Thatcher’s wife and daughter had been his pride and joy.
Aware that she herself was part of the problem, Violet felt heat rise up her neck and face. Eight years ago, when she had emerged from her gestation vessel, Dekle had spent his days obsessively teaching her to speak, cultivating her mind, educating her—entirely ignoring his family.
Dekle had deemed Violet a Bellibone, a variation of the long-forgotten French term belle et bonne that meant “a female excelling in beauty as well as goodness.” He’d once told Violet he often called Elvina a Bellibone while courting her back in England.
Violet exhaled. Things had changed. Dekle had changed.
In the past, he’d declared Violet his experiment of a lifetime. Now he lavished his devotion upon his other genetic experiments: the Mal Rous.
Unlike Violet, they carried none of Elvina’s DNA. Instead, the Professor had combined his own DNA with that of rats, lizards, snakes, poisonous plants, venomous insects, along with newt DNA—and the micro-animal tardigrade, to insure the Mal Rous were capable of surviving extreme conditions.
The Mal Rous physiques were a frightful combination of human and vermin; their faces and the curious shapes of their heads exposed the rest of their molecular makeup.
The Professor had assigned the Mal Rous the Latin name Cerophagous Cautelosus. Cerophagous, meaning flesh-eating, Cautelosus, meaning treacherous, cunning. But he preferred using the nickname he’d bestowed upon them: Mal, for evil, Rou, from a Cajun tale about rougarous; part human, part animal beasts.
Elvina gasped as she stopped in front of the small cages. The scent of her fear exploded into the air around her as she took in the sleeping Mal Rous; the horns on their hideous heads and faces, the fangs protruding from their mouths.
With a halting movement, Elvina turned away. She eyed the rows of test tubes on the lab table, following the upward movement of their swirling vapors that formed a burial shroud-like mist above her head.
Violet’s damselfly wings flicked back and forth as she imagined the scenes of Dekle maniacally mixing lethal potions that must be churning through Elvina’s mind.
Elvina turned; her gaze settled on Violet’s enclosure. Violet wondered if Elvina would be charmed by her fairy-like appearance, notice that their faces looked vaguely alike, understand that Violet had human emotions and desires—all unfulfilled.
Or would Elvina only see her as a transgenesis—a strange genetic mutation—and think her abominable?
Elvina took a step back as she registered that, unlike the rest of the cages, Violet’s was unlocked.
“I will not harm you,” Violet’s soft floral breath accompanied her words. “But they will.”
Violet glanced at the Mal Rous. They’d been stalking the woman for years. Even now, while asleep, the tentacles that covered Datura’s rodent-shaped head pulsed, breathing in Elvina’s presence.
“Your scent, the smell of your perfume, will linger; they’ll know you have been here. Dekle will know, too. You and your daughter should leave Belle Fleur before Dekle harms you.” Violet gestured at the surrounding cages. “Or worse…before he allows them to attack you.”
Next to Violet, Ivan stirred. The fragrance of Violet’s breath was overpowered by the stench of his filthy cage.
Elvina made a choking sound, her body quivered like a locust ready to take flight. In a panic, the woman raced up the stairs. The cellar door banged closed, the key and lock rattling with Elvina’s revulsion.
Violet shrank down to the bottom of her cage. The person she longed to emulate thought she was a monster.
She looked at Ivan as he stretched to the full length of his nineteen-inch body. His leathery skin, along with the scattering of horns on his head, chin, and tips of his ears, indicated the presence of his horned lizard DNA.
The Mal Rou yawned—Violet found herself enveloped in his breath, reeking of the poison ivy sap that flourished in his saliva. Ivan reached for a nearby rag and bit into it, releasing the excess of coral snake poisons that had accumulated in his fangs while he slept.
In the cage on the far side of Ivan’s, Datura roused herself—standing, the influence of her rat and newt DNA were evident on her face and body. Pointed tentacles extended from her head, reaching up well beyond her sixteen-inch stature.
Datura’s genetic makeup included a substantial amount of mosquito DNA, allowing some tentacles the ability to suck blood from prey, while others swelled with the poisonous sap of the thornapple plant. Several of them, that could detect odors, started investigated the scent in the air. Datura’s long, bulbous nose pulsed at the information her tentacles relayed. “Elvina,” she snarled. “That vile woman stinks like you, Violet.”
Violet didn’t respond. Datura’s insults were nothing new.
After all, Violet was part damselfly. In nature, damselflies considered mosquitoes the tastiest of snacks. No matter how many times the Professor reassured Datura that Violet wouldn’t harm her, Datura hated the Bellibone. That Violet was articulate, proper, educated, didn’t help—but it was her genetic link to Elvina that Datura couldn’t tolerate.
Datura longed to replace Elvina; she often encouraged Dekle to get rid of her. In that respect, the professor was weak. He had Datura for companionship, but he would always need Elvina for releasing his sexual urges. And to raise their daughter, Amelia.
Datura rattled her cage door.
Violet glared at Datura, then at the occupants of the other cages. Elvina didn’t understand. The Mal Rous were the monsters, not Violet.
Yes, she possessed the same ability as them, to breathe in a person’s pheromones as they were released through the skin—the chemicals enabled Violet and the Mal Rous to detect the human emotions of fear, anger, joy, desire. Where the Mal Rous fed off the foul smell of fear as they inflicted pain on their unsuspecting victims, Violet found no joy in hurting humans.
The main thing she had in common with the Mal Rous was that they were all created in a test tube, incubated in a life-giving elixir.
All five of the Mal Rous were clever, but Violet regarded them as her intellectual inferiors. They refused to be educated; instead, they spent their time hunting, inflicting pain, preferring to prey on humans.
Yet, Dekle had made it clear to Violet that he considered the Mal Rous, not her, his ultimate achievement in genetic engineering.
“This is our chance,” Datura said to Ivan, her shrill voice waking the remaining Mal Rous. “We could go after Elvina right now, tear into her like we did that-there boy at the cottage. Mess her up good. Maybe accidentally kill her. Dekle would understand. We’d tell him it was self-defense. The woman snuck into the cellar and done come after us, intent on destroyin’ us. We did the only thin’ we could so she wouldn’t be able to tell others ‘bout us.” Datura switched her attention to Violet.
“Violet, unlock our cages. Now!”
Violet knew Dekle loved the Mal Rous more than his wife. He would believe anything they told him once he realized Elvina had disobeyed him.
“Now!” Datura snapped again.
Violet looked toward the small cellar window, coated in a muddy brown paint so no one could see in; ignoring Datura’s demands, she left her cage, opened the window, then flew toward the manor. Squinting in the bright sunlight, she went from window to window, looking for Elvina until she found her in her bedroom.
“Monsters…He’s created monsters…” The tangy odor of Elvina’s panic seeped from her pores, then slid out the open window as she gripped the bedpost to steady her trembling legs. “Dekle, you had such an extraordinary mind. Your aspirations were to break the code of life, to discover the information hidden in strands of DNA…not…not…” Elvina’s words trailed off as she paced back and forth.
“He did,” Violet whispered. Dekle often told her how his colleagues at Cambridge had only gained recognition for genetic manipulation after stealing his research findings, then dismissing him. Elvina’s inheritance of Guyon Manor had allowed him to leave England and continue his research in secret.
From the day Violet drew her first breath, she could smell Dekle’s longing to share his excitements with the world. But he couldn’t, not without endangering her safety, and soon after, the Mal Rous. He was compelled to keep all of his scientific breakthroughs a secret.
For years Violet observed his frustration, wondered if he was conscious of the gradual changes in his personality. Did he know he’d stopped loving Elvina? Was his unbalanced mind aware of how he abused her?
“Dekle was a good man when he married you,” Violet lamented. “He was a good man when he created me.”
“I must be calm,” Elvina began again, unknowingly interrupting Violet’s hushed affirmation. “Give him no reason to suspect that I know. That horrible creature is wrong.”
Violet cringed at the accusation. She wasn’t horrible.
“Dekle won’t let them hurt me,” Elvina’s tone carried a painful ache of uncertainty. “He’s my husband. He loves me.”
Violet had seen the dark bruises on the woman’s arms, heard Dekle brag to the Mal Rous of his abuses toward his wife. That isn’t love!
The rumble of a truck on the drive stopped any further speculations.
“Papa’s home!” Amelia’s gleeful voice echoed from down the hall. Violet hurried away, the beating of her wings muffling the twelve-year-old girl happily repeating her announcement. “Papa’s home!”
By the time Dekle entered the cellar, Violet was back in her cage. Immediately, his body tensed, his tongue flicked out, lapping up the lingering fragrance of Elvina’s perfume.
Datura caught Dekle’s eye; she gave him a nod, confirming what he already knew. Grief flashed over Dekle’s face, quickly replaced by an angry flush—a low guttural noise emerged from his chest as he went to his desk.
“Book 4: 1959 DNA/Genetic Testing, by Professor Dekle Thatcher,” he read aloud the meticulously printed bold letters on his journal.
With the book cradled in his arms, he left. His truck groaned and rattled, then faded into the distance.
The high-pitched trill of crickets filled the night air as Violet waited for Dekle’s return. Hours passed, while the Mal Rous speculated in lurid detail about ways Dekle could punish Elvina. Violet longed to lash out at the cretins but knew better. If she did, they’d come after her when she’d least expect it. It was safer to keep quiet.
At the sound of Dekle’s truck pulling into the garage overhead, the Mal Rous, along with the crickets, went silent.
The lock on the cellar door clicked, followed by a loud thud as the door was kicked open. With a groan, Dekle hauled a large container down the stairs. Violet wrinkled her nose at the fumes that seeped from it. The odor was familiar, but she couldn’t place it.
One at a time, Dekle lugged down more containers, an ice cooler, and oversized stoneware jugs. The Mal Rous watched quietly, as if not wanting to distract their Professor. Or agitate him, Violet thought. He wasn’t in the best of moods; he wouldn’t hesitate to strike his beloved creatures.
Eventually, climbing from her cage, Violet fluttered closer to the Professor, determined to learn his intentions. His clothes held the musty aroma of a journey through the forested wetlands, combined with a strong chemical smell; telltale signs that he’d spent the last few hours in his primary laboratory, concealed in a salt cave in the bayou.
“What is this?” Violet hovered near the vessels. “What is it for?”
“The six of you are my greatest achievement,” he replied, his brusqueness making his British accent more pronounced; hearing his declaration, the Mal Rous cooed with pride. “Now that you’ve been seen, I need to keep you safe.” He skimmed through the handwritten pages of a notebook.
Violet considered the Professor’s words; her wings contracted, forcing her to sink onto the table.
Safe. It was that same fear that followed her everywhere. Being discovered meant grievous harm, abduction from the only home she’d ever known. Even death.
She believed Dekle was also concerned about his safety. Knowledge of his experiments could lead to his being locked up for insanity or incarcerated for all the ills his vile creations had inflicted on the townspeople. The Professor’s actions were as much for self-preservation as for his beloved Mal Rous.
He opened several of the containers—their pungent wafting’s invaded the room. Violet found herself overcome not by the smell, but by the full memory that it unleashed. The germination formula he had developed, the one she had gestated in.
The elixir. Liquid placenta…liquid air.
Six years earlier, Dekle’s genomic experiments had resulted in the first pack of Mal Rous. They were feral, uncontrollable. Unwilling to destroy them, Dekle had taken the same steps Violet had just observed—the same stoneware jugs, the same distinctive odor. One day he sealed the creatures in the jugs, declaring they could survive for years… possibly decades, while he discovered a way to humanize them.
Violet hadn’t seen them since. She was certain he’d buried the loathsome things somewhere in the swamp. For what purpose? She wondered. Those monsters attempted to feed on townspeople. Violet looked over at the five caged Mal Rous. These barbarians aren’t much better! Not as deadly, but still vicious and conniving.
“May I take notes for you?” Violet offered hoping to appear supportive, while considering her options. She wouldn’t be forced into a jug—risk being stranded in perpetual hibernation.
In a gruff manner, he said, “No,” then walked over to the ice cooler and removed several containers. His tone made her reconsider her approach. She retreated to the darkened stairwell to watch and think.
With intense focus, the Professor worked late into the night, accompanied by the soft strains of Rosemary Clooney albums. The singer’s rich voice was bizarrely uplifting, considering the circumstances.
“You’ll never know just how much I miss you, you’ll never know just how much I care…” Tig, the more sadistic of the Mal Rous, with her black widow and spurges plant DNA, sang with the record in a series of vile screeches.
Alchemist that he was, Dekle heated and cooled substances, toying with them, transforming them into a clear, runny gel. Then a satisfied expression eased the lines on his face. He walked over to the Mal Rous’s cages.
“Who wants to be first?” he asked in a soothing voice.
None of the little monsters replied.
With wings outstretched, Violet glided over to look into the jugs. Each was now half-full of the liquid placenta. Silently, she moved to the far end of the lab table.
“Don’t be frightened, my little darlings,” Dekle soothed. “You must have faith in me. After all, I am one of you.”
Violet remembered the day Datura’s blood entered Dekle’s veins. Kindness left his soul; malevolence took root. It was the day the Mal Rous’ desires became his desires, too.
Dekle reached into Anders’s cage and removed the slim, seventeen-inch-tall creature. Anders’s DNA also included strains of the poisonous oleander plant, centipede, and Komodo dragon. His powerful jaws could have easily bitten off the Professor’s hand, but the Mal Rou completely trusted the man.
“Your new home,” Dekle purred, as he lowered Anders into one of the large jugs—followed by Tig, and Ivan, then Datura, and Esere—each in their own stoneware vessel.
“Sit.” The Professor motioned to the Mal Rous as they peered up at him. “Better yet, curl up in the fetal position. Get comfortable, so you can sleep soundly.”
Esere remained standing as his siblings sank down, disappearing from view. He seemed suspicious. Violet wasn’t sure if Esere’s cautious nature came from his vulture or calabar bean DNA.
The Professor poured the solution over the curled Mal Rous, filling each jug near to the brim.
Then the Professor pressed on top of Esere’s head, trying to force him down into the large container. Esere jerked back. Violet noticed the Professor kept his hand away from the horn on Esere’s chin where Esere carried a paralyzing venom derived from his scorpion DNA.
“I’m going to put you in a place where you’ll be safe,” Dekle murmured, coaxing Esere into a fetal position. “You’ll be fine.”
The Professor poured more solution over Esere; he hacked and coughed as the dense liquid flowed into his beak-like nose.
“Everything will be all right, Esere. You’re going to be all right.”
Esere’s body stilled.
The Professor gazed into each jug, studying the small, curled forms within before pressing the lids in place. “Now for you, Violet.”
“I was hoping to talk with you first,” Violet lied, moving from the table into the vines that hung from the ceiling.
“What about?” Dekle asked as he began to hermetically seal the five jugs housing the Mal Rous.
When Violet didn’t respond, Dekle looked around for the small Bellibone. “Violet, I’m not in the mood for games. I promise you will only be in the container for a few weeks. Just until I clean out this room and eliminate Elvina.”
Eliminate Elvina? He plans to kill her?
“You must trust me, Violet.” His soothing tone belied a growing impatience.
Dekle stepped closer. Violet jerked back as he thrust his hand into the vines, his fingers inches from her. Panic sent heat rippling through Violet’s wings, causing them to curl—losing her balance, she dropped toward the floor. She strained to force her wings to unfurl, struggled for them to beat before she hit the ground. Then Dekle’s hand clamped around her, crushing her wings against her back.
“All right!” she shouted. “All right,” she repeated more calmly. “I’ll go willingly. I know you’re doing this for my own good.”
She relaxed in his grip, intent on gaining his trust as he placed her in the ceramic jug.
“I would never harm you,” Dekle’s voice was silvery smooth; though she detected a deceptive, caustic odor in his breath.
Violet inhaled deeply, worrying it might be her last. She released a convincing sigh of resignation as she raised her wings above the liquid and looked up at Dekle with a smile, her blue irises glimmering with the faith that he demanded.
He smiled back.
“Remove your necklace, Violet. I can’t be certain that the solution won’t damage it. Then curl up and get comfortable.”
Violet nodded, her wild pampas grass hair bouncing as she unlatched the tiny clasp and placed the necklace in his hand. He had given her the heart-shaped pendant years before—she had never removed it.
Dekle picked up the container of the liquid air solution; using both hands, he tipped it forward until the thick fluid flowed out.
Violet crouched down as if to settle in, then sprang upward, her wings beating rapidly as she raced to the small window and stole into the dark night.
The hinges on the side door of the garage screeched. The Professor stomped into the yard as Violet flew to the oak tree at the back of the house. Tucked behind the leaves, she stayed hidden from the beam of Dekle’s flashlight as it darted through the trees like a miniature spotlight.
Abruptly, his search stopped. His attention shifted to Elvina, watching from the open kitchen window. The light above the sink illuminated her chestnut-colored hair while a dim glow crept out across the yard, not quite reaching Dekle as he muttered, “Don’t even think about calling your precious Dr. Whiting, my dear little wife.”
Dear. The word had passed over his lips with a snarl as he strode to the garden shed and returned with a rake gripped in his hands.
Violet flew from tree to tree, following Dekle to the side of the house. With his flashlight aimed at the eaves, he reached the rake into the air, hooked its long metal teeth onto the phone line and yanked it down, then tore the electric line free. The house went dark.
Through the open windows, Violet could hear Amelia call out to her mother.
“I’ll light some candles, sweetheart. Just a minute,” Elvina replied.
Dekle spun around, his flashlight skimming over the trees before capturing Violet in its accusatory glow. “And you, you bloody thing! You coward! I knew you were too mousey to fly off into the night; always worried a barn owl will pluck you from the sky. You’ve no backbone. Not like the Mal Rous.”
Backbone has little to do with the Mal Rous’s actions, Violet thought. Wreaking havoc and attacking people had nothing to do with courage. Their actions fed their biological needs. The scent of their victims’ fears nurtured their chemical makeup.
“Blast you, Violet! You need me,” Dekle continued in a threatening hiss. “Without my protection, you’ll have to fend for yourself against predators, and the scalpels of scientist if you were caught. You’ll never survive.” Dekle’s tone softened, while his expression remained hard. “I’m not going to hurt you. I care about you and just want you to be safe. You were my first successful experiment. Go back to the cellar. Please. I’ll be there in a few minutes, and we can talk.”
Dekle never said please. Violet wished she could believe him—she missed their time together before the Mal Rous, when she and Dekle were confidants.
“Please,” he said again. But his attention was back on the house. “First, I must take care of Elvina. She can’t tell anyone about you.”
Take care of Elvina… Violet needed to warn her!
A soft drizzle of rain began to fall, as if Guyon Manor mourned Elvina’s coming fate.
Violet broke a small branch from the tree and flew to Elvina’s bedroom window; holding the branch like a jousting weapon, she rammed it through the screen and slipped inside.
She could hear Dekle charging up the stairs, his angry footsteps interspersed with the sound of Elvina trotting behind, as if she was being pulled along.
“What’s wrong, Dekle?”
Violet grimaced; Elvina knew exactly what was wrong. At least the woman was trying to sound innocent.
“I want your keys!” Dekle snapped.
“My, my car keys?” Elvina asked as they made their way down the long hall. The narrow beam of Dekle’s flashlight grew brighter as Violet hurried to the chest of drawers. She clutched Elvina’s keys, thinking if ever a four-leaf clover could bring luck, now was the time.
Dekle roared into the room as Violet darted to the window and peeked out from behind the curtain. His light scanned the top of the chest of drawers—grabbing Elvina’s purse, he dumped the contents onto her bed, then aimed his flashlight at Elvina, the light exposing the worry in her eyes while leaving his face a dark mask of anger.
“Where are they?” With his hand raised, Dekle advanced toward Elvina.
Run, Violet thought. Run!
Elvina cowered, waiting to be struck.
“Papa…?” Amelia stood watching from the doorway, a flashlight in her hand.
Dekle dropped his arm. His expression shifted to concern, though Violet thought guilt would have been more appropriate.
Without saying a word, he went to Amelia, placed his hand on her shoulder, and guided her back down the hall. With timid steps, Elvina followed.
Violet had often wondered if Dekle would also harm their daughter. Thankfully, it appeared he would not.
When no one returned, Violet looked for somewhere to put the keys where Elvina would find them and Dekle would never think to look.
Violet inched open the closet door; Elvina’s yellow bathrobe hung from a hook. She dropped the car keys into the robe’s pocket, imagining Elvina trying to figure out how on Earth they had gotten there. Hopefully she’d find them tonight, take Amelia, and flee.