PodCastle 602: Franken-Puppy
Rated PG-13, for revivified urges and the joys of transgression.
By Derek Künsken
In the third yard, the puppy darted a suspicious look back at its tail. Then, as if remembering what he’d been doing, he swung his head forward, panted, and sat in the grass. Beyond the ratty picket fence, patched skyscrapers stood in the hazy blue distance like uneven teeth. The puppy delighted himself with a high bark. The red bricks of the house behind him were re-mortared, but straight. The puppy’s tail thumped the ground. He lay down, rolled onto his back, then looked at her, barking as his tail resumed thumping. Child fingers — some bright pink, others brown, sewn with tiny stitches to a strong dark hand — brushed wonderingly at the soft fur before wriggling and tickling.
“Who’s a good boy?” Francesca said.
The puppy stretched, then playfully wrapped his paws over her wrist and nipped at the tough skin with teething canines. Francesca giggled and yanked her hand away. The puppy yipped and followed her fingers, his swinging tail swaying his whole body. Two skinny arms, scarred and mismatched, lifted and hugged him. Her brown hair brushed the top of the puppy’s head. The puppy wriggled a bit, his tail stilling. One arm was across his belly and one was under his snout. He struggled uncertainly, his mouth opening wide.
“I love you sooooo much!” Francesca said, eyes closed, cheek against the softness of his head as she hugged him with all the love in her revivified heart. A snap sounded and the puppy stopped struggling. She loosened her grip. The puppy was limp.
“Mommy!” Francesca wailed.
“Oh no!” her mother said from the kitchen doorway. “Francie, I told you to be careful with real puppies! Dennis! It happened again!”
“This is the fourth one!” Melanie said. “Why do you keep getting the cheap ones?”
Dennis stood in the middle of the kitchen, a trail of oily steps leading from the garage behind him. His gray shirt was clean, buttoned to the bolts on his neck, sleeves ripped off at the shoulder seam, leaving his wiry, mismatched arms showing.
“Puppies aren’t cheap!”
Melanie eyed him skeptically from under hair piled into a dark beehive.
“Mommy!” Francie pleaded. She sat teary-eyed at the table, the plastic straw spearing her unsipped Mummy’s Curse juice box. Melanie wiped Francie’s tears with her palm.
“Puppies are filthy anyway!” Melanie said. “We might as well build a dog!”
“Don’t be crude in front of Francie, dear.”
Francie tugged on Melanie’s arm.
“Mommy. No! Pleeeeeease. I want a puppy, not a big grown dog!”
Melanie watched Dennis defiantly. “Why don’t you build one?” she said.
“Sew an animal? Don’t say adult stuff in front of Francie!”
Melanie’s muscled shoulders, both pale with a slight grayish tinge, slumped a bit.
“What happened to us, Dennis? We were wild once.”
Dennis waved his arms at the kitchen, with its neat skeleton wallpaper, linoleum flooring, range and stove, and big white fridge with its polished femur-bone handle.
“We grew up. We’ve made a good life!”
“You changed, Dennis.”
“What does that mean? You want me to build a puppy?”
They glared at each other as Francie looked from one to the other, one hand gripped tight in Melanie’s apron frills.
“I didn’t change!” Dennis said, stabbing his thumb at his chest. “I’ll build a damn puppy!”
“Yay!” Francie said.
Roshni was peeking over Dennis’s fence, straining her neck to better see the crackling blue welding light spilling from the garage into the evening. Roshni came to the foot of the driveway, then to the garage door. Two hanging bulbs lit dusty benches scattered with parts and tools. Roshni straightened her name tag. She smoothed her hair over a wide, hairless skin graft reaching almost to the crown of her head. Dennis was forcing the tip of the welder into small metal cervical joints, his welding mask lifted high so he could better see.
“Is that a dog skeleton?” Roshni said.
Dennis started, spinning to block the view with his body. The welder dropped. So did one of the metal legs attached to what looked like a spine.
“What? No! Hi, Roshni. How’s Suresh?” Dennis flushed.
“Don’t be embarrassed. I’m with the Frankensteiner church.”
Roshni picked up the leg from the floor and handed it to Dennis.
“Is your wife upset you’re building a dog?”
Dennis took the stiff skeletal limb, his fingers tracing nervous lines on it.
“She, uh . . . she experimented with xeno-grafts in college,” Dennis said carefully. “Just for medical research, of course.”
Awkwardly, Dennis turned to test the torque on a silver drill.
“Have you thought of letting Frankenstein into your heart?” Roshni said. “The Sewn Baptismal Church of Frankenstein opens its—”
“Look, I really have to build a puppy. I’d appreciate it if you kept this quiet. I didn’t tell anybody about that thing in your pool.”
Dennis positioned the drill bit against a metal vertebra. Roshni scratched at skin flaking around the bolts in her neck. Dennis’s muscles bunched as he leaned into the spinning drill. Steel shavings peeled off. It looked like the drill was going to get through and maybe pierce his hand when the vibrations shook off another leg.
“It’s so transgressive!” Roshni said, admiring Dennis’s work.
“We’ll keep it inside. No one will know,” Dennis said distractedly.
“Are you sure you don’t already believe in the Frankenstein?”
Dennis selected a long, crooked needle threaded with old electrical wiring and tried to figure out how to sew the fallen leg back into the joint where the weld had broken.
“You can make a puppy-sized body out of steel, but it’ll short circuit during the revival process,” Roshni said.
Dennis eyed her.
“My father sewed me together himself at night after the other factory workers went home. He taught me how to sew.”
Dennis lowered the needle and leaned the two-legged dog skeleton against the wall.
“Melanie and I killed fresh humans to make Francie. We sewed and electrified her together.” He looked at the needle and repurposed wire. “Now we seem to be angry a lot.”
“You made your own daughter with the same process the creator used to make the first sewn people. Why are you an atheist?”
Dennis put on his reading glasses and examined the hip joint.
“Come see the sanctity of the Frankenstein.”
“I have to build a puppy,” Dennis said.
He succeeded in forcing the needle through the small steel hole, but then the spine snapped. It all collapsed. Roshni touched Dennis’s arm.
“I’ll help you.”
Dennis and Roshni drove to the human town outside the city in a rust-colored Streamliner with a broken windshield. The sun shone bright as they pulled up to the high wooden palisade surrounding the settlement. Humans in the fields scattered. Dogs barked. Pitchforks and torches were brandished defiantly at the gates. Dennis stepped out, balancing coffee, sunglasses, and keys as dogs retreated.
“They must have sturdy dogs here,” Dennis said as they walked toward the gates.
“Anything not sewn breaks pretty easily,” Roshni said.
A human threw a torch.
The dogs cowered and tried to slink away from Dennis. He handed his coffee to Roshni and bent to examine one of them. He felt at its internal organs. The dog flinched and yelped and scrambled to run. Dennis let it.
“Even adult dogs are flimsy. Maybe if I sewed two together . . .” Dennis surveyed the pack still barking. “Grow stronger dogs!” he yelled at the humans. He took his coffee.
“Maybe check the free-range humans?” he said to Roshni. “Their dogs might be tougher?”
It seemed like a futile hope.
“Do you honestly believe one of these made us?” Dennis said, gesturing at the cowering humans.
“That’s why they call it a miracle.”
Dennis took one of Roshni’s forearms, looking at it through his reading glasses.
“This might make a good puppy foot.”
Roshni pulled away her arm.
“The church and law say the same thing: only sew with human parts. The sewn are sanctified because we have intelligence, but . . .” Roshni began whispering “. . . we’ve made some re-live animals.”
Dennis swatted Roshni’s arm.
“They’re at the freak show at the Bible Camp. Do you want to see?”
“Only perverts go to freak shows.”
One dog came close, barked loud enough to scare itself, and ran off.
“Yes,” Dennis said.
The sign above the driveway said: The Sewn Baptismal Church of Frankenstein. A number of buildings with off-white siding and cheap windows ringed a small lake with rickety boats, a listing dock, and a new volleyball net. Everyone was dressed like Roshni. Black slacks, white shirt, and collar with the sleeves torn, and name tags. Men had added black polyester ties. A group of sewn children were playing a game under the supervision of overly cheerful teens with whistles. A wooden effigy of Frankenstein stood in the middle of the camp.
“Capture the flag around statues to mythical humans to bring spiritual enlightenment?” Dennis said. “Really?”
“We’re a fully experimental Bible Camp!”
They walked past the grass parking lot, to a fair tent with a sun-beaten wooden sign that said Freak Show. Dennis peeked his head inside and whistled. Roshni looked in, grinning with pride. Big wooden tables lined the perimeter of the tent, stacked to bending with big jars of formaldehyde and floating animal specimens, many of which were sewn together.
“Imagine if we could recover lost arts, remake legendary monsters!” Roshni said.
Dennis bent close to a jar of preserved piglets, each sewn from pieces in a symphony of mismatches.
“No one knows you’ve been sewing animals?”
“We don’t want bad press,” Roshni said, “but if we brought back a real monster, who’s going to argue with our methods?”
“Wait a minute!” Dennis said. “They don’t have bolts. None have been electrified. They’re just corpses with swapped parts!”
Roshni looked sheepish.
“Trial and error. We need your help. You need ours.”
“So, you don’t know how to make puppies.”
Dennis stormed out of the tent.
“We want to! We really want to!” Roshni called after him.
Melanie lay in bed, propped on pillows, wearing a sheer night gown that revealed her many seams and scars. Dennis paced under the bare lightbulb. Wolves howled at a full moon.
“They didn’t know anything, Mel! Their freak show was a joke.”
He leaned on the windowsill, looking out at Roshni’s stupid pool, now filled with dirt. Melanie put a hand on his back.
“What kind of idiot walks around with a name tag?”
“What freak show?” she asked.
“They just want to look scandalous to get converts to feel dangerous.”
He turned. They were very close. She curled a finger around one of his bolts.
“Tell me you’re going to sew animals,” she breathed in his ear.
He pulled the cord on the bulb, leaving just the moonlight.
“I’m going to sew animals.”
“You’re such a monster!” she teased.
Their silhouettes merged.
Dennis hadn’t put on his tie. Melanie was still in her housecoat with her hands on his shoulders. He noted the latest answer from his calculator on the sheaves of paper laying on the table. Francie poured milk on her Mummy-Os cereal.
“There’s still too much resistance for the puppy’s body to take a full charge,” Dennis said. “It’ll cook.”
“You can’t do it?” Melanie said.
“Only a full-sized dog body could take revival voltage.”
“Daaaaddy! I want a puppy!”
“The grafting specimens gave me some ideas though,” he said.
“If we go to church, can I see the freak show?” Melanie asked.
“The Baptist church?”
“We’ll call it date night.”
“I don’t want date night at church.”
“Yes, you do.”
Francie giggled, not understanding. She watched her mother look strangely at her father, and then finally whisper in his ear. His expression became increasingly shocked.
“What are you saying, Mommy? Mommy, what are you saying?”
Dennis patted Francie’s hand. “Quiet honey. Mommy has some good ideas about . . . puppy-making.”
“Yay!” Francie said.
The clapboard walls of the church looked damaged and repaired and damaged and repaired. The sturdy pews had solid braces where pieces had been fixed. A painting of Victor Frankenstein glowered down from behind the pulpit. The pews filled with bare-armed, sewn people in their Sunday best. To the side was a confessional booth, and at the back stood tables stacked with pamphlets on “Letting Frankenstein into Your Heart.” A beaming Roshni pressed one into each of their hands.
“I feel silly,” Dennis whispered. “There wasn’t really a Frankenstein.”
“When do we see the monstrosities?” she whispered.
“See the paintings of the Igors and Draculas and wolfmans?” Roshni said. “Imagine if we could remake the angelic beings who helped the Frankenstein.”
“Some date night,” Dennis whispered.
A sewn man in robes mounted the pulpit. Dennis didn’t know many of the scriptural words, but the congregation only had to answer a few lines each time.
“Come back, Frankenstein!” they bellowed around him.
Dennis leaned to Roshni. “I—”
“Rage, children of transgression!” the preacher yelled, raising a fist.
The congregation roared like a herd of bulls. Dennis saw that even Melanie was getting into it. It was cute when she did.
The preacher’s sermon went on. It sounded like complaining, but when the congregation had to yell back, he tried to fit in, yelling, “Build us a family, Frankenstein!” before loud-whispering, “This is stupid, honey. We’re yelling at a painting.”
“Shhh, it’s date night.”
“As the creator took the power from god, so must we take the creator’s power!” the preacher said lifting a jar, sloshing with green liquid.
“Come back, Frankenstein!” the congregation said.
“The Frankenstein transgressed against nature for personal glory and then abandoned us!”
The congregation roared.
“Life comes in the marriage of tonics and voltage and flesh! The Frankenstein gave us superiority over every thing upon the Earth.”
“Make more of us, Frankenstein!” the congregation answered.
“Grace is in the revivification. Creating sewn people is an act of communion!”
The congregation roared.
“The Frankenstein looked upon the thing he created and wept!”
As if that was a cue, the roar within the church changed. The congregants wrenched and tore and hit the pews, the floor, the walls, bellowing, trying to rip up anything they could to smash. Dennis helped Melanie rip the pew out of the floor. They heaved together, barely missing a family punching the pulpit. Dennis and Melanie smiled in a sudden stillness encompassing only the two of them. Melanie tugged him by the hand.
“Let’s violate the confessional!”
Dennis looked around the confusion. No one was watching them. He followed her into the dark box.
The church was a shambles, as it probably was each week. Pews were smashed. Walls bore dents. Birds flew through broken windows. Everything was damaged except the painting of Frankenstein. A sewn man in coveralls with fine fingers swept the floor and barely looked up at the emerging couple. No one else was here.
“. . . wrecking the church felt good, but what’s the point?” he continued. “If there ever was a real Frankenstein, he’s dead and we don’t need him now.”
“We should go terrorize a human village,” Melanie said. “We haven’t done that in years!”
They held hands under the Frankenstein painting.
“Society says sewing animals is perverted, but I think people are just worried that if an animal can be sewn, what’s left about us that’s special?”
Her shoulders slumped a bit, but she smiled at him. “You don’t have to sew a puppy, honey. Francie will get over it. I just . . . I just got frustrated with asking, ‘Is this all there is?’”
He looked at her fingers, uneven, mismatched, different skin colors, all sewn to muscular hands. They were magnificently ugly, unnatural, and beautiful.
“Being sewn doesn’t give us grace,” he said. “Transgression does.”
“We take grace,” she said, smiling, “like everything else we’ve seized from nature and creators.” She kissed him again.
Dennis stood at the front door with Melanie. On her knees, Francie vibrated with excitement in the middle of the lawn. Roshni and a few neighbors looked over the fence, their scarred foreheads sweaty in the sun.
“Are you ready, pumpkin?”
“Yes, yes, yes!”
Dennis opened the door.
A big ghoulish dog bounded onto the lawn. Francie’s eyes widened in confusion at its deep chest and its wide mouth in its huge head, sewn onto a big neck, the skin still showing where he’d shaved the body parts.
It was a big dog’s body, capable of taking a full revivication charge without burning. The only problem had been that the vertebrae of different dogs hadn’t fit properly, so the massive head was actually sewn on upside down, the big wet tongue flapping from its snout, slapping one eye.
But it was puppy too. Four puppies. Every one of the puppies Francie had accidentally loved too hard. He’d sewn the upper bodies and heads of each of the puppies to the ankles where big dog feet would have been. As the dog bounded, the little heads yipped and barked and panted, squeaking in confusion, their faces smushed into the grass.
The dog barreled down on Francie but fell over its own head-feet, crashing to its back and going still, the big head apparently confused that it was right side up, with all four of the puppy half-bodies lifted high in the air, panting and barking.
Francie jumped on the dog’s chest, laying her head in the fur while head-legs tried to grab and lick her. Francie squeezed so hard that the big dog head wheezed, eyes bulging, tongue hanging like overcooked fettuccine. Then, she relented, and the big head began snuffling at the grass.
“It’s awful!” said one of the neighbors.
“Mommy! I’ve got five puppies!” Francie said.
“It’s a monster,” another said.
The dog rolled over, uncertain about stepping on the wriggling puppy heads again, confused by the tilt of its head attached upside down. It craned its neck and licked Dennis’s shoe. Francie giggled and tried to catch the slippery tongue.
“It’s a miracle,” Roshni said.
One of the feet barked. Another, the head of the youngest puppy they’d gotten Francie, started dozing off.
“It’s genius,” a neighbor said.
“It’s like the Frankenstein walks among us,” Roshni said rapturously.
“Get the pitchforks!” the first neighbor said.
Dennis and Melanie put their arms around one another, watching Francie jump up and down on her dog’s belly between four gleefully licking puppy heads.
About the Author
Derek Künsken left molecular biology to work with street kids in Central America and eventually found himself working for the Canadian diplomatic world with refugees in Colombia. He now writes science fiction and fantasy in Gatineau, Québec. He has two published novels: The Quantum Magician and The Quantum Garden. He’s also creating comics. He has a YA webcomic called Briarworld at webtoon.com with artist Wendy Muldon, and a comic book version of “Franken-Puppy” on Comixology with artist Trevor Markwart in FLIP Vol 2.
About the Narrators
I’m primarily a science fiction and fantasy writer. I’ve been published in magazines and anthologies and have dabbled in things like RPGAs, chapbooks and other forms of writing. I’m shopping around novels, and I review fiction for BlackGate.com. And develop programming for Can*Con in Ottawa.
Other than writing, I’m also a high school teacher in Ottawa, Ontario, with a background in History, Social Studies and English. I don’t talk about it much here, but occasionally I feel compelled to reflect on my day job, which keeps me busy and entertained so much that I’m probably a teacher for life, too.
Photo by Jaclyn Canas.
J. M. Frey
J. M. is an author, screenwriter, and professional smartypants. With an MA in Communications and Culture, she’s appeared in podcasts, documentaries, and on radio and television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia. She also has an addiction to scarves, Doctor Who, and tea, which may or may not all be related. Her life’s ambition is to have stepped foot on every continent (only 3 left!)
Her debut novel Triptych was nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards, won the San Francisco Book Festival award for SF/F, was nominated for a 2011 CBC Bookie, was named one of The Advocate’s Best Overlooked Books of 2011, and garnered both a starred review and a place among the Best Books of 2011 from Publishers Weekly.
Her sophomore novel, an epic-length feminist meta-fantasy titled The Untold Tale, (book one of the Accidental Turn Series), debuted December 2015, and was followed up by The Forgotten Tale in 2016 and The Silenced Tale in December 2017. The Skylark’s Song, book one of The Skylark’s Saga, a steampunk action novel about a girl vigilante and her mysterious rocketpack, soared into book stores in 2018, and was followed up by The Skylark’s Sacrifice in September 2019.
The Skylark’s Saga was signed to a shopping agreement for an animation series in 2018, and her feature-length screenplay To A Stranger is currently in pre-production with a Toronto-based house.
She was the grateful recipient of a Toronto Arts Council Grant in 2018, and is enjoying the ability to really dig into the research needed for the project. You can follow her research blog here. Her Wattpad-exclusive queer time-travel novel A Woman of the Sea was named a winner of the 2019 WATTY AWARD for Historical Fiction.
Author photo by Ryan Fisher.
My name is Sylvain Neuvel. I was born in Quebec City and raised in a small Quebec town called L’Ancienne-Lorette.
I write science fiction. My first novel, Sleeping Giants, is available now from Del Rey. It revolves around a secret project to assemble the ancient body parts of a giant humanoid relic buried throughout the world by aliens. The sequel, Waking Gods, came out in April 2016, and the third book in the Themis Files trilogy, called Only Human comes out May 1st 2018. Click here for more info.
I have a B.A. in linguistics from Université de Montréal in 1999. I received my Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Chicago in 2003. My main interests are word-based morphology, computational morphology, as well as formal and lexical semantics and most of my work focuses on a formal characterization of polysynthesis, compounding and agglutination in word-based morphological terms.
I am currently Director of translation services and a software engineer for a Montreal company. I’m also a certified translator and an astronaut (ok, I made that last one up). You can link to my resume from this page, I’ve also made available abstracts and electronic versions of some of my papers.
I have a son, Théodore, who’s a real genius, and two cats, President Laura Roslin, not quite as smart, and the brave Jyn Erso. My personal interests include robotics as well as science-fiction in all shapes and sizes. I’m obsessed with Halloween and I’m currently building a working R2-D2 replica.
Author photo by James Andrew Rosen.
Jay is an artist, writer and television producer from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabe community in Quebec. In comics, Jay has worked for several independent publishers and created the web comic POWER HOUR for Kevin Smith’s Movie Poop Shoot site and also wrote and illustrated the graphic novel KAGAGI: The Raven, published by Arcana Comics.
More recently, Jay has also served as an Exectuive Producer, lead writer and designer on the animated series adaptation, Kagagi on APTN. Kagagi is a 13 episode, half hour series that is broadcast in Canada and can also be seen at aptn.ca/kagagi. Jay and his production company created three audio versions of Kagagi – one in English, one entirely in Algonquin and the one broadcast on television – English with 20% Algonquin dialog (with subtitles). Kagagi ranks among the only creator owned comics to be adapted for television (alongside Spawn, WildCATS, TMNT) and is one of the first, if not THE first Canadian produced and broadcast superhero television series.
In addition to his work in these fields, Jay is an activist, speaker and has worked in other creative endeavours such as children’s book illustrations, having illustrated seven books published for the first time in Ojibwe, written by author Robert Munsch and has provided illustrations for a reprinting of Clive Barker’s “The Midnight Meat Train.”
When Jay’s not working, you can find him spending quality time with his PS3 and PS4 or maybe back home in Kitigan Zibi, where he has spearheaded a graphic novel initiative at the K.Z school library – having donated over 150 graphic novels, available to any community member but especially valuable to students. Jay believes strongly in giving back to his community and working with First Nations youth and does so whenever his schedule permits.
KT Bryski is a Canadian author, playwright, and podcaster. She has stories in many short fiction publications, including Lightspeed, Nightmare, Augur, and PodCastle.
She’s won the Parsec and the Toronto Star Short Story Contest, and she has been shortlisted for the Sunburst and Aurora. KT co-chairs ephemera, a speculative fiction reading series occurring monthly in Toronto (or YouTube, depending on COVID-19).
When she’s not writing, KT can be found frolicking through Toronto, enjoying choral music and craft beer.
Charlotte Ashley is a writer and bookseller living in Toronto, Canada. Her short fiction appears in a number of anthologies and magazines, including the Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2017. She has been nominated for both the Aurora and Sunburst Awards. Charlotte recently published Archipelago, an alternate history swashbuckling portal fantasy told in three novellas, co-written with Andrew Leon Hudson and Kurt Hunt.
You can find more about her at http://www.once-and-future.com or on Twitter @CharlotteAshley.
Born and raised in India, Rati Mehrotra now lives and writes in Toronto, Canada. She is the author of the science fantasy duology Markswoman and Mahimata published by Harper Voyager. Her YA fantasy novel Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove is forthcoming from Wednesday Books in Fall 2022. Her short fiction has been shortlisted for The Sunburst Award and has appeared in multiple venues including The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed Magazine, Uncanny Magazine, Apex Magazine, Podcastle, and Cast of Wonders. Find out more about her at ratiwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @Rati_Mehrotra.