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Authors: Patrick Carman

Phantom File

BOOK: Phantom File
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I’m Will Besting, and I’ve already told the unbelievable story of how I came to be cured. I’ve explained about Rainsford, the one who lives forever, the person who at once fixed me and cursed me in the space of seven days. And I’ve documented the insane fears of the Seven, an exclusive club I am, unhappily, a card-carrying member of. All of our fears were blown away by the power of one man.

Before the cure, I couldn’t step into a room full of people without feeling like we were all crammed tightly into an elevator. I would hear my dead little brother’s voice in my head:
This is bad. Better run before it’s too late
. And so I’d move away into the comfort of empty space. Once I was by myself, I could breathe again

But how does Rainsford do it? How did it begin? Where did this terrible power come from?

I have a knack for finding hidden things, probably because I spend a lot of time searching. It’s an obsession. But even I’m surprised when I discover the truth. I have found the story of his beginning, and while I still hate him for what he did to me and my friends, there is a tiny corner of my soul that feels sorry for him, too.

The power he wields came with a price.

Before being cured by Rainsford, I spend a lot of time alone because I was afraid to be around other people. Now I just spend time by myself because I’m obsessed with discovering every detail about the person who cured me. I think I do it because I’m searching for a way to destroy him, but sometimes I wonder if it’s just morbid curiosity, because really, I don’t think he can be turned off. I don’t think Rainsford will ever come to an end.

My memory of past events is clearer on some details than others, and this has made the material stored on my Recorder more important than ever.

My Recorder, filled with material by Rainsford’s mortal enemy, Eve Goring. No one hates Rainsford like Mrs. Goring does (I run a distant second). Some of the files Mrs. Goring put on my Recorder when I left Rainsford’s domain are there because I was supposed to find them. But there is one file, a phantom file, I am certain I was not meant to see. I think she put it there by accident, erased it, and thought it was gone.

I’m smarter than that, Mrs. Goring.

If it’s been on my Recorder, deleting it won’t help you.

A phantom file remains.

No one knows the Recorder like I do, because I built it with my own hands. I know how to find things hidden in the dark corners of the flash memory, things other people assume are dead and buried.

It took me three months, but I found it.

Here is the story of Rainsford’s beginning, told by the only living person who could have known.

Found file: Rainsford.origin

Author: e.goring

Origination date: 06/23/1971

Stored at 9:21AM 08/12/2011

Removed at 9:27AM 08/12/2011

My mother, who died of bitterness and spite, taught me one thing well before she keeled over: a man is likely to betray you; be prepared to make him pay.

I was a quiet child, always watching, always listening. I knew my mother was plotting against my simpleminded father long before he did. She would go through his pockets like a thief, searching for things that could be turned against him, should the need arise. If she discovered something juicy, my mother would squeal with delight, as if she couldn’t wait for the day this thing could be wielded in opposition. A receipt for bottles of booze, tickets from the horseracing track, random phone numbers scribbled on tiny pieces of paper—these were little treasures neatly organized, for my mother was a recorder of many things. If my father arrived home late with beer on his breath, she wrote it down. Date, time, infraction, all dutifully lined up in columns and tidy paragraphs designed to blow up in his face at the moment of her choosing.

He never hurt me, but there were times when I hurt myself, as all children do now and then. If I fell down and cut myself or bruised an elbow, my mother would photograph the injured place and carefully paste the photo in the recording book. Date, time, infraction—my father would be held to account, even if he had been down at the corner bar when I’d fallen off my bike. When I walked through a closed screen door and bloodied my face, I had never seen her so happy. She was positively shaking with delight as she snapped the picture.

She knew, and that is why she did these things. She knew her man was double timing her with another woman, and that was not to be tolerated. My father would have been better off if he’d come clean at the start, before the evidence of his betrayal—real or fabricated—piled up. My mother’s record book was exhibit A at the divorce proceedings and it left no need for any other evidence.

I never saw him after that and only heard whispers that he had been lost. I didn’t cry for the loss, for my mother had taught me well. There is no comfort for the wicked, only shame and regret. These many years later I have to wonder what a different person he would have been without the specter of my mother’s shadow hanging over him all his days. I do confess, now that I am much older, that I miss him.

Let this be a lesson to you, men of power and might: the world is full of lies. They can be used to inflict pain. A woman with the will to do it will turn the world against you.

Is it my mother’s influence from the grave that made me search the hidden corners of my husband’s life, the places he would not willingly show me? Or was I simply destined to discover the truth? Either way, I too began to keep a record of things.

I have discovered something about Rainsford, something I should not know. I had my suspicions, and they have led me to the truth. Fort Eden, this place he called
Eden, holds many secrets, but one is the foundation of them all.

Rainsford is old, old beyond any imagining. My procedure made me wonder, but my eyes have shown me the truth.

The story I share now is not fiction. It is a story written by a famous person of the past; her name is Mary Shelley. This story contains other famous people: her husband, the poet Percy Shelley, and the man Lord Byron. In the deepest part of Fort Eden, where I am not allowed to go, that’s where I found it. On yellowed paper at the bottom of a drawer, in the bleakest part of the bottom level of the fort. I found it! It is but one piece of evidence. It is the story of his beginning, and the very heart of the madman.

I have typed out the entire story and carefully returned the tattered pages of the original into hiding.

I have done you proud, haven’t I, Mother? I have recorded this hidden thing.

I hope you’re happy.

I take you now to the very night of a famous encounter between three writers, in which a contest was set in motion: who could write the scariest story? Certainly not a seventeen-year-old, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, a woman who would soon become Mary Shelley.

Or could she?

These are her words, not mine. The maker of Frankenstein speaks! How is it that the man she speaks of still lives?

This man is my husband.

This man is Rainsford.


E. Goring.

The Villa Diodati, Genoa, 1816

I am Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and I do swear by the contents of this letter.

My story begins with a terrible dream in the middle of the night, Percy sleeping soundly as I lay staring at the tiled ceiling. He would be riding with Lord Byron come morning, and I didn’t want to wake him, and so I crept out of the bed, into my nightdress, and crossed the room in silence. The late evening was cool in the country and the windows were open, letting in the muffled sounds of night on a thick, rolling fog.

I took a stack of blank pages in my hand. Down the darkened stairs, lit with flickering candlelight, I turned for the kitchen in search of some comfort—an inkwell, some cold tea. But I was not to find the peace I had hoped for. Upon opening the kitchen door, I beheld the form of a man sitting at the long kitchen table. He was hidden in the deep shadows, still as death, and though I could not see his eyes, I felt him staring at me. I was terrified, but the man spoke calmly, drawing me into the kitchen with a voice not of doom but of sadness and regret.

I cannot sleep either. Will you join me?

I must go back momentarily, to a few hours earlier, for I had met this man already.

That evening, many terrible tales had been told, darker and more alarming as the hour grew late before the open fire, and I, taking my turn more than once, held my own against the men. There were four people besides myself: Byron, the Lord of the house; my beloved Percy Shelley; Claire Clairmont, who sat closer to Lord Byron than I thought sensible—she wouldn’t be the first to fall under his spell; and there was one other, though he was quiet to the point of rudeness. He was called Rainsford, I knew this much from Byron’s brief introduction, from which no other name or title was offered. Lord Byron called him a quiet old friend, traveling through, and we asked no more of him. After being introduced, Rainsford only brooded by the fire, sipping blood red port and, in turns, staring at the burning flames.

As I entered the kitchen and sat down across from him, only a candle lay between us. The night was much older now and it was only us two. He was still, as if he might frighten me away, and then he spoke once more.

You held your own tonight. How old are you? Twenty-three? Twenty-four?

His flattery put me off my guard, for there is nothing a writer likes so much as to be thought of as a capable storyteller among the giants. I felt a small thrill as I said no, I am younger. My eyes, growing accustomed to the soft light, saw his surprised reaction.

Really? And such a challenge. Are you worried?

Rainsford was speaking of the wager that had been placed a few hours before. Lord Byron, ever the gambler, had thrown down the gauntlet:
who among us can write the most terrifying tale?
My own Percy, certain of his power over words and fueled by too much wine, did more than take up the challenge. He persuaded me to try as well. I was by far the youngest, but I told Rainsford I believed I would fare just fine against the two men.

I believe you will.

He fell silent then and I thought our night in the kitchen was through. I sat, staring at the candlelight with no story to tell, not a clue of what I would present when the time came. What would the men think? They would question my intellect and my cleverness. They would assume I was dull, stupid, lazy.

Rainsford, having sat quietly as I troubled over my dilemma, saw my expression of concern. I expected him to say his good night and be on his way. But that was not to be.

I wonder,
he stammered, nervous in a way he hadn’t been before.
I’ve a story of my own. It’s a secret story. And very old. I’ve never told it to anyone.

My word, what had I done to this poor man? Was I his muse, come from the wood and into the Lord’s house to open his heart? He was, by all accounts, captivated by my youthful innocence (had he known my own story I doubt he would have been quite so enchanted). Well, if he wanted to tell, I was fine to listen. Maybe a thread of magic, a beginning, could be had from this mysterious creature.

To further encourage him, I got up and sat in a nearer chair. It was the closest look I’d gotten of Rainsford yet, but I still couldn’t place his age. He might have been thirty or sixty—it was impossible to say. His eyes, blue and deep like the sea, were timeless.

I will do my best, though I’m no Lord Byron.

I waved him off and told him, lying of course, that Lord Byron was a buffoon, and begged him to begin.

And so he did.

This story is about two boys I’ll call Andrew and Howard, who grew up a very long time ago. Their real names are something else, but trust me, calling them Andrew and Howard will make things simpler. These boys were the kind that were naturally driven to extremes, and so one might sit quietly from morning until night, thinking secret thoughts, only stopping to eat, while the other might crawl around in the dirt for hours searching for bugs. They were always this way, unnaturally focused and powerful of mind. The older of the two, who was Howard, was also the smarter of the two. He was drawn to science and animals and the natural world.

BOOK: Phantom File
8.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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