It was one of those bitter winter nights where the wind howled mercilessly as it whipped against the windows in incessant repetition as if it too sought refuge from the cold. I saw nothing but the most beautiful bright light that forced me to shield my eyes against its magnificence. There was a raucous gayety that filled my ears, happiness and celebration. I felt cold, there was cold all around me, pressing in from all sides. The air around me, the long metallic slab beneath me, all cold. There was a man there, the source of all the ruckus. He leapt around the room, sometimes moving out of the bright light that loomed over head and formed a circle around me, into the deep and endless shadows that seemed to creep on forever just outside of the light’s reach, but I could always hear him, I always knew his glee.
I sat up, shivering and naked. Everything was knew to me, but it all seemed so familiar. It was as if I knew nothing and everything all at once. I glanced at my hands, pale and supple, unburdened by the work of man, the skin and smooth and pale as a newborn’s. Was I a newborn? It served to think so, as there was no memory what came before the few moments I had been awake. Yet, I knew what things were, I knew how many of them worked, the language, the knowledge, it filled my head, all rushing forth as if some mental damn had collapsed under the weight of it all, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t know why. I only knew what.
The man rushed towards me, inches from my face, his sour breath permeating the air around me as his bloodshot eyes gazed intensely into my own, “You’re alive!” he said to me, softly…lovingly. He wrapped his arms around my neck and pulled me into a tight embrace which I reciprocated in no way or form.
“Who…are…you?” I spoke, hoarsely, as if the inside of my throat has been rubbed with sand. It felt weird, speaking. Every movement of my jaw, and throat, and muscles, it was all very foreign, but once again completely familiar.
“What? Do you not recognize me?” He blurted out, incredulously. He stared at me, this time even more intensely than before. “Why, it’s me. It’s me, Signus Kristeva. Your father. You know that?”
My eyes peered into his own, I could sense his elation, his confusion, and the hopefulness that sprang forth from then was abounding. Like a merchant on the verge of a big sale he prodded me to take his bait, “You have to remember. What’s your name? You know, don’t you?”
I searched my mind, but it returned only a question mark. I could not recall my own name, or if I had ever had a name. I could not remember.
“No,” I replied, just as hoarsely and foreign as before.
“It’s Misia. Artemisia, to be exact,” he stated, softly, as the hope slowly drained from his eyes and they shied away from my visage. “Then what was the point. I have no use for a mindless doppleganger, it is my daughter I wanted back. You look like…but…you’re not my daughter.”
When he turned to me again there was nothing but defeat, it was painted across his face and it pressed down on him like some invisible weight, slumping his shoulders and bowing his head.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I don’t know why. I wasn’t. I did not know this man, nor did I care of his sorrows. Yet, something inside me told me that’s what I should say, and so I did.
“No, no…not at all,” He replied with a pitifully dismissive wave of his hand. “It’s no fault of yours, you have no reason to apologize. It is I who made the mistake. I was a fool for going this far. This was outside of my territory. For I am only a man, and a poor substitute for a god. I should have known I could not bring her back. I should have understood that. It would appear that I’ve allowed emotion to supersede logic in this matter.”
He paced for a moment contemplating the depths of his heart, and then he looked upon me again. This time there was no disappointment, that hopeful spark was back, and burned brighter than it had before. “But still,” He began, before pacing faster and muttering to himself like a mad man. “I’ve gone further than any other man has before. I’ve created life! Not that other human beings could not, but not like this. Humans mate, and the female cultivates life within herself, but I have done so completely separate.”
His eyes were aglow with excitement and he shot to a small desk nearby. He rustled through the mounds of papers, and the odd instruments until he found a pen and a blank sheet where he began jotting something down in manic fashion. Then he looked up to me, to my pale, shivering body, unprotected against the cold, as the world. I gazed at him, and for a moment he gazed back.
“Oh, my poor dear,” He breathed, rushing into the darkness, he came back with a white blanket in hand and wrapped it around me. It was soft, the tiny fibers were so gentle against my skin, so warm. I liked it. “Come, let’s get you out of this lab.”
I moved my legs off the table and stood, but found myself lying against the cold, lifeless ground. There were drawings there, symbols, so intricately crafted in an odd white dust. A brief look revealed that it these lines and symbols surrounded the entirety of the table, forming complex angles and arcane runes within their boundaries. Signus rushed to my aid, helping me back to my feet and rewrapping the blanket tightly around my shoulders. “You are still weak, do not rush. There’s plenty of time,” he assured me. He supported me through the darkness and slowly up the stairs, which wound in meandering spirals carved from hardened dirt and mud. We were underground. Judging from the amount of time it took to ascend the stairwell, quite a ways underground.
Torches burned brightly against the sienna walls, their flames flickering with the slightest breeze and casting long, wicked shadows that danced like demons in the night upon the walls. When we reached the top, Signus opened a hatch and helped me through. It was as if we’d stepped into a completely different world. There were no more mud walls, but beautifully painted red ones, adorned with long stripes that dropped from the ceiling and disappeared behind the polished wood paneling. The same dark, amber colored wood covered the floors, which was in turn covered by intricate rugs that ran through the halls with the most gorgeous floral patterns traversing their length. The walls were lined with pictures, some were paintings of scenery with the bluest of lakes, and the greenest of forests. Others were of people, old and gray, distinguished and elite. Some were of a darker nature, and as we walked it was those that drew my eye most. Flames engulfing man, blood and gore, violence and love and betrayal all so concisely expressed in their frames.
The room we ended up in was no less exquisite than any of the others, with deep scarlet lengths of satin tumbling down around the posters of the bed, and a lighter red silk hanging between. There was a wooden desk, so polished it was almost as if it had never been used. Maybe it hadn’t. There was a chandelier in the middle of the room, its wonderful crystals caught the light in an exuberant display of beauty. There was one large window, draped in satin to match the bed, and most of the wall adjacent to the bed was blanketed with bookshelves, stocked neatly and precisely. Someone had taken great care in the upkeep of this home. It was almost familiar, yet just outside of reach.
Signus helped me to the bed, and from a great, dark armoire gathered a frilly pink night gown. “Here,” he said, thrusting it toward me. “Put this on. It was you…my daughter’s.” He turned away as I shed the blanket and shimmied the gown over my head. It was an ugly thing. The shade of pink was bright and offensive to my eyes, and the white frills sprouted out around the hem and cuffs and burst forth from the neck in a gaudy display of horrible taste. Though I had no memory of the life he claims I led, I knew that this nightgown was something I would not have liked.
When he turned back around he began to stare again, as if lost in the moment. His countenance was one that I could not place. He seemed to be an odd man.
“Well…you should rest for now,” he mumbled, breaking his gaze. “In the morning, I should like to run some tests, if you wouldn’t terribly mind.”
“Ok,” I replied. I was indifferent to the matter.
“Goodnight,” he whispered softly, before turning off the light and exiting the room.
I lay there for a long time, peering into the blackness that surrounded me. I could not sleep. I had just woken. I attempted to tap into the well of knowledge that spring forth in my mind, trying to evoke some kind of spark that could ignite the flame of memory but there was nothing but questions. Who am I? Am I Artemisia? What did Signus mean he created me? Am I even human? Question after question bombarded my mind for hours and hours until eventually sleep slowly drifted over me, and there was nothingness.