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 sound 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 idea of Violet’s existence, Violet knew everything about her. She had observed Elvina from a distance for years, had longed to be more like her. Violet knew Elvina’s favorite color, where she hid her most precious keepsakes, that a silver four-leaf clover was attached to her keychain. After all, Elvina’s husband, Professor Dekle Thatcher, had created Violet using his wife’s DNA as one of the main ingredients. Like Elvina, Violet had pleasing features and a pale complexion, though Violet’s miniature human physique stood no more than twelve inches tall. Violet also carried the DNA of damselfly, pampas grass, and violets. With her wings and white tresses of hair, Violet resembled a fairy.
Violet had always 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 main house, and the room beneath had provided a cool place to store canned preserves and root vegetables. Now the cellar was the Professor’s dungeon-like workspace…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. Dekle’s larger, main laboratory was concealed in the bayou. No one knew of its existence.
With a pang of sadness, Violet watched Elvina make her way through the room, knowing that at one time Professor Thatcher’s wife and daughter had been the pride and joy of his life. Shame quickly replaced Violet’s sadness. She was quite aware that she herself was part of the problem. Eight years ago, when Violet had emerged from her gestation vessel, Dekle spent the next two years of Violet’s life 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 slowly, mournfully. 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. They were also part human. Violet more so than them. She had human emotions and desires—all unfulfilled. Elvina came to an abrupt stop in front of the small cages. Her mouth opened as if to gasp, but nothing came out. The scent of fear exploded into the air around her as she took in the sleeping Mal Rous, the horns sticking out of their hideous heads and faces, the fangs protruding from their mouths.
The Mal Rous carried none of Elvina’s DNA. Instead, the Professor had combined his own DNA with that of rats, lizards, snakes, poisonous plants, and insects. Dekle’s DNA gave the Mal Rous’s bodies a humanoid appearance, while their faces and the curious shapes of their heads exposed the rest of their molecular makeup.
Dekle had assigned the Mal Rous the Latin name Cerophagous Cautelosus. Cerophagous, meaning flesh-eating, Cautelosus, meaning treacherous and 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.
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 as they formed a burial shroud-like mist above her head. Violet could imagine the scenes of Dekle maniacally mixing lethal potions that must be churning through Elvina’s mind.
Violet’s damselfly wings flicked nervously back and forth as Elvina turned back and settled her gaze on Violet’s enclosure. She wondered if Elvina would be charmed by her fairy-like appearance or notice that their faces looked vaguely alike. Or would Elvina only see her as a transgenesis—a strange genetic mutation—and think her abominable?
Elvina suddenly took a step back, quivering like a locust ready to take flight, as she registered that unlike the rest of the cages, Violet’s was unlocked.
“I will not harm you,” Violet said quietly, her soft floral breath accompanying her words. “But they will.” She glanced at the Mal Rous. They’d been stalking the woman for years. Even while asleep, the tentacles that covered Datura’s rodent-shaped head pulsed as if breathing in Elvina’s presence. “Your scent and the smell of your perfume will linger, and they’ll know you have been here. Dekle will know, too.”
Elvina made a choking sound.
“You should leave,” Violet continued. “Leave Belle Fleur and take your daughter with you. Before Dekle harms you.” Violet gestured at the cages around her. “Or worse…before he allows them to attack you.”
Next to Violet, Ivan began to stir. The fragrance of Violet’s breath was quickly overpowered by the stench of his filthy cage. Elvina covered her mouth.
In a panic, the woman turned and raced up the stairs. The cellar door banged closed behind her, its 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.
Violet looked at Ivan as he stretched to the full length of his nineteen-inch body. His leathery skin and the scattering of horns on his head, the tips of his ears, and his chin indicated the presence of horned lizard DNA. The Mal Rou yawned, and Violet found herself enveloped in 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.
Each of the five Mal Rous was clever, but Violet regarded them as her intellectual inferiors. Refusing to be educated, they spent their time hunting and 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.
In the cage on the far side of Ivan’s, Datura roused herself and stood, the influence of her rat and newt DNA evident on her face and body. Pointed tentacles extended from her head, reaching up well beyond her sixteen-inch stature. Some she used to suck blood from prey, while others swelled with the poisonous sap of the thornapple plant. A number of them had the ability to detect odors, and now suspiciously investigated the scent in the air around them. Datura’s long, bulbous nose pulsed at the information her tentacles relayed. “Elvina,” she snarled. “That vile woman. She stinks like you, Violet.”
Violet didn’t respond. Datura’s insults were nothing new. She, after all, was part damselfly, just as Datura’s genetic makeup included a substantial amount of mosquito DNA. Damselflies considered mosquitoes the tastiest of snacks, and no matter how many times the Professor reassured Datura that Violet wouldn’t harm her, Datura vehemently hated the Bellibone.
The fact that Violet was well-spoken, proper, and educated didn’t help. But Violet knew that it was her genetic link to Elvina that Datura really couldn’t tolerate. Datura longed to replace Elvina and had often encouraged Dekle to be rid of her. But in that respect, the professor was weak. He needed his wife. 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, and then the occupants of the other cages. Elvina didn’t understand. The Mal Rous were the monsters, not Violet. Yes, like them she had the ability to breathe in the scent of a person’s pheromones, chemical substances released through the skin that allowed Violet and the Mal Rous to detect human emotions like fear, anger, joy, and desire. But her genetic makeup did not include poisonous insects and plants, so Violet found no joy in inflicting pain on unsuspecting victims, nor did she feed on the smell of their fear. Violet also looked nothing like the Mal Rous, whose physiques were a frightful combination of human and vermin. The main thing she did have in common with the Mal Rous was that she, too, was created in a test tube and incubated in a life-giving elixir.
“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 accidently kill her. Dekle would understand. It would be like self-defense. We’d tell him she snuck into the cellar and done come after us, intent on destroyin’ us. We did the only thin’ we could so she wouldn’ be able to tell others ‘bout us.” Datura switched her attention to Violet.
“Violet, unlock our cages. Now!”
Violet let out a deep sigh, knowing Dekle loved the Mal Rous more than his wife and would believe anything they said, especially once he realized Elvina had disobeyed him.
“Let us out!” Datura snapped again.
Ignoring Datura’s demands, Violet looked toward the small cellar window, its glass painted a muddy brown so no one could see in. She left her cage, unlocked the window, and flew out in the direction of 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 agitated words slid out of the open bedroom window. Violet could see Elvina gripping the bedpost to steady her trembling legs. Her voice transitioned to a painful ache. “Dekle, you had such an extraordinary mind. When we met, your dreams were so noble. At Cambridge, your aspirations were to break the code of life, to discover the information hidden in strands of DNA…not…not…” Her words trailed off as she started to pace back and forth.
“And he did,” Violet whispered. Dekle had often told her how his colleagues at Cambridge had only gained recognition for genetic manipulation after stealing his research findings and 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 excitement with the world. But he couldn’t, not without endangering the safety of Violet, and soon after, the Mal Rous. He had no choice but to keep all of his scientific breakthroughs a secret.
Year in and year out, Violet had observed the way his frustration grew and 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. “He won’t let them hurt me. He is my husband. He loves me.” Elvina’s voice cracked with uncertainty. Violet’s heart ached with sympathy for the woman. She had seen the dark bruises on the woman’s arms, had heard Dekle brag to the Mal Rous of his abuses toward his wife. That isn’t love!
The sound of a truck on the drive stopped any further speculations. Amelia’s gleeful voice rang out from down the hall. “Papa’s home!”
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. Almost immediately, his body tensed and his tongue flicked out, lapping up the lingering fragrance of Elvina’s perfume. Datura caught Dekle’s eye and gave him a nod, confirming what he already knew.
Grief flashed over Dekle’s face, quickly replaced by an angry flush. Then a low guttural sound emerged from his chest. Moving over to his desk, he read aloud the words he had meticulously printed in bold letters: “Book 4: 1959 DNA/Genetic Testing, by Professor Dekle Thatcher.”
Cradling the book in his arms, he left. His truck rumbled to life, then quickly faded into the distance.
The high-pitched trill of crickets filled the night air as Violet waited for Dekle’s return. For hours the Mal Rous had speculated in lurid detail about ways Dekle could punish Elvina. The entire time, Violet longed to lash out at the Mal Rous. But she knew better. If she did, they’d come after her when she’d least expect it. It was safer for her to keep quiet. At the sound of Dekle’s truck pulling into the garage overhead, the Mal Rous, along with the crickets, went silent. Moments later, the lock on the cellar door clicked, followed by a loud thud as the door was kicked open. Groaning, Dekle hauled a large container down the stairs. Violet wrinkled her nose at the stench that seeped from it. The odor was familiar, but she couldn’t place it.
One at a time, Dekle lugged down more containers, along with oversized stoneware jugs and an ice cooler. 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, and it wasn’t above him to strike out at his beloved creatures.
Still, Violet climbed out of her cage and warily fluttered closer to the Professor, determined to learn his intentions. His clothes held the musty aroma of a journey along the bayou mingled with a stronger chemical smell—telltale signs that he’d spent the last few hours in his primary laboratory.
“What is this?” she asked, hovering near one of the vessels. “What is it for?”
“The six of you are my greatest achievement,” he replied, his brusqueness making his British accent even more pronounced. There was movement in the cages as 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.
Apprehension caused Violet’s wings to contract, forcing her to sink onto the table as she considered the meaning of the Professor’s words.
Safe. It was that same fear that followed her everywhere. Being seen meant possible harm, abduction from the only home she’d ever known, even death. But there was more to it. Dekle was also concerned for 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.
Dekle opened several of the containers, and their pungent waftings invaded the room. Violet found herself overcome, surprisingly not by the smell, but by the full memory that it unleashed.
The elixir. Liquid placenta…liquid air.
Six years earlier, Dekle’s genomic experiments had resulted in a different pack of cruel, feral creatures. But they were uncontrollable. Unwilling to destroy them, Dekle had taken the same steps Violet had just observed—the same stoneware jugs, the same distinctive smell. He’d explained to Violet that it was the germination formula he had developed years before, the one she had gestated in. Then one day Dekle sealed the creatures in the jugs, said they would survive for years, and Violet had not seen them since. She was certain he’d buried the loathsome things somewhere in the swampy bayou.
For what purpose? Violet wondered. Those monsters were only good for feeding 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 sweetly while considering her options. She wasn’t about to be forced into a jug and risk being stranded in perpetual hibernation.
“No,” he said gruffly as he walked over to the ice cooler and removed several containers. His tone made Violet reconsider her approach. It would be better to stay out of the Professor’s way. She retreated to the darkened stairwell to watch and to 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, sang along with the record in a series of painfully vile screeches. Along with the Professor’s DNA, each of the Mal Rous carried newt DNA, and tardigrade, a micro-animal capable of surviving extreme conditions. Rat, lizard, black widow, and the poisonous spurges plant completed Tig’s DNA composition.
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 with a soothing voice.
None of the Mal Rous replied.
With wings outstretched, Violet glided over and looked 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. “I would never harm you. After all, I am one of you.”
Violet remembered well the day Datura’s blood entered Dekle’s veins. Kindness left his soul and malevolence took root. It was the day the Mal Rous desires, became his desires, too.
Dekle reached his hands into Anders’s cage and pulled out 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.
The Professor removed Tig, then Ivan, then Datura and placed each of them into what would be their new quarters. Esere was last.
“Sit,” the Professor said to the Mal Rous as they peered up at him from the stoneware jugs. “Sit, or 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 remaining 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 well 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. You could live for years in this solution.”
The Professor poured more solution over Esere, who hacked and coughed as the dense liquid flowed into his beak-like nose.
“Everything is going to 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. “And now for you, Violet,” he said.
“I was hoping to talk with you first,” Violet lied, moving off the table and hiding herself in 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 the room for the small Bellibone. “Violet, I’m not in the mood for games. I promise, you won’t be in the container for more than a few weeks. As soon as I clean out this room and eliminate Elvina, I’ll come back for you.”
Eliminate Elvina? Dekle’s words reverberated in Violet’s head like a gunshot. He…he plans to kill her?
“You must trust me, Violet.” His soothing tone belied a growing impatience.
Dekle stepped closer. Violet jerked back as Dekle’s hand thrust into the vines, his fingers inches from her. Panic sent heat rippling through her wings, causing them to curl. She lost her balance and dropped toward the floor. Violet strained to force her wings to unfurl, struggled for them to beat before she hit the ground. Then Dekle’s hands clamped around her and held her tight, 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 container, she raised her wings above the liquid.
“Trust me,” Dekle repeated, his voice silvery smooth, though Violet detected a jagged edge.
Violet inhaled a deep breath, worrying it might be her last. Letting out a convincing sigh of resignation, she relaxed her shoulders 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 Dekle’s hand. He had given her the necklace and its heart-shaped pendant years before. This was the first time she had ever removed it.
Dekle reached over and picked up the container with the remainder of the liquid air solution. Using both hands, he tipped it forward until the thick fluid began to flow out. Violet crouched down as if to settle in, then sprang upward. Her wings beat rapidly as she raced to the small window and stole out into the night.
The hinges on the side door of the garage screeched as the Professor stomped into the yard. Violet landed on a branch of the oak tree that stood between the garage and the back of the house. Tucked behind some leaves, she stayed hidden as the beam of Dekle’s flashlight darted madly through the trees like a miniature spotlight.
Abruptly, his searching stopped. Dekle’s attention had shifted to Elvina, who was watching him 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. Spinning back toward Elvina’s garden shed, Dekle muttered to himself, “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 of a rabid dog.
Violet watched as Elvina walked out of the kitchen and the light in the sitting room came on. Seconds later, Dekle strode from the shed carrying a rake, his expression stained with contempt.
Violet flew from tree to tree, silently following Dekle to the side of the house. Aiming his flashlight at the eaves, he reached into the air, caught the phone line on the rake’s long metal teeth, and yanked the line from the house. Violet shuddered as he tore the electric line free as well. The entire house went dark, and Dekle tossed the rake to the ground.
Amelia called out to her mother.
“I’ll light some candles, sweetheart. Just a minute.” Elvina’s calm, muffled voice could be heard through the open windows. She sounded completely unsuspecting of her husband’s state of mind.
Dekle spun around, his flashlight skimming over the trees before capturing Violet in its accusatory glow.
“And you, you bloody thing!” His voice was a growl. “You coward! I knew you were too mousey to fly off into the night. Always worried that 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 indignantly. Wreaking havoc and attacking people had nothing to do with courage; it was how they 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 any human who catches you. A timid thing like you would never survive. And I need you to live,” he muttered. “You’re proof of my brilliance.”
Violet wondered why he needed proof. Who had he planned to share his remarkable experiments with?
“I’m not going to hurt you.” Dekle’s tone had changed abruptly. Suddenly he was soothing, almost pleading. “I care about you and just want you to be safe. You were my first successful experiment. I’m not going to hurt you. Go back to the cellar. Please. I’ll be there in a few minutes and we can talk.”
Violet wished she could believe him—she often found herself missing their time together before the Mal Rous, when she and Dekle were confidants.
Dekle had said please. He never said please.
“Please,” he said again.
The last “please” resonated through Violet not as a plea, but as a warning. That settled it. She couldn’t trust him.
But his attention was already back on the house, his face hard. “First, I have to take care of Elvina. She can’t tell anyone about you.” He walked quietly toward the porch.
I have to warn Elvina!
A soft drizzle of rain began to fall as if Guyon Manor mourned Elvina’s coming fate. Breaking a small branch from the tree, Violet flew to Elvina’s bedroom window and peered into the dark room. Holding the branch like a jousting weapon, she rammed it through the screen, creating an opening. She slipped inside.
Violet 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. Violet went to the nightstand and picked up a small clock, wondering if it would be heavy enough to knock the man out.
“What’s wrong, Dekle?” Elvina asked.
Violet grimaced. Elvina knew damn well what was wrong. At least the woman was trying to appear innocent.
“I want your keys?” Dekle snapped in reply.
“My, my car keys?” Elvina asked in confusion as they made their way down the long hall. The narrow beam of Dekle’s flashlight grew brighter.
She won’t be able to escape! Dashing to the chest of drawers, Violet grabbed Elvina’s keys, thinking if ever a four-leaf clover could bring luck, now was the time. She rushed to the window and hid behind the curtain just as Dekle roared into the room. His light scanned the top of the chest of drawers. Grabbing Elvina’s purse, he dumped the contents onto her bed. He 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?” he thundered.
Dekle advanced toward Elvina and raised his hand.
Run, Violet thought. Run!
Elvina cowered, waiting to be struck.
“Papa…?” Amelia stood watching from the doorway, a flashlight in her hand. Dekle immediately dropped his arm, and 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. Silently, 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 she could put the keys. Somewhere that 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. Dropping the car keys into the robe’s pocket, Violet imagined Elvina trying to figure out how on Earth they had gotten there. Hopefully she’d find them tonight, take Amelia, and flee.