Note: This story was composed for a writer's challenge in which entries must be less than a thousand words.
“Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil among the unhallowed damps of the grave to animate lifeless clay?”
-Mary Shelley, "Frankenstein"
It started with the skin.
Elsa stayed up all night looking at it. Sometimes she got so close that the sleeping body would murmur and stir, fitful in dreams, and Elsa would have to stay absolutely quiet for a time so that it did not awake. But she would continue looking.
The skin seemed a whole, solid thing, but up close she saw millions of tiny pieces fitted together in a way too subtle for the human eye. How could it be whole and yet still move as it did? Why didn't it break? And when it did break, how did it make itself whole again? What a marvelous contraption it was.
A face was skin, and a face was an identity. That meant a person's identity was in their skin. Touch, that all-important, silent language of affection, was nothing but skin on skin. Even lovemaking.
Elsa loved the skin and the body. It loved her back. Life was good.
Something was wrong that morning. The other side of the bed was cold. The skin was pale and clammy. It did not move when she touched it and said its name. She wrapped herself around the unmoving form, trying to coax it back to life, but the face would not change a meaningful expression. The chest did not rise and fall with breath. It was simply dead.
Elsa examined every inch of it. The skin was still perfect. There were no marks or incisions. It was the body beneath the skin that had failed. Blood, bone, heart; these things were so unaccountable. So hidden.
But the skin could be saved. Should she fix the body too? No, she decided. Better to make a new body. A perfect body: tall; strong; indestructible. Start from scratch.
Scalpels. Chemicals. She had to work fast, before it's spoiled. She made the pieces as large as she could, knowing she’d have to put them back together later. All the while she planned, engineering the perfect body in her mind. The perfect formula. The perfect flesh.
Parts had to come from somewhere. Nothing from the old body could be trusted. Where to find materials? Elsa had to go shopping. She covered her skin with expensive fabrics, scented it with perfume, and accented it with makeup. She went out. She met people. People with muscle and sinew and bone beneath their skin. People with beating hearts and quick minds and strong bodies.
She talked to them. She drank with them. She danced with them, skin glancing against skin in the dark corners of a bar. Then they fell into bed together, gasping and giggling, clothes sliding away from skin like meat from the bone. Elsa's eyes took in every beautiful inch moving on her, against her, under her. So warm. So delicate. So needful.
Sometimes she found what she was looking for: A heart that beat steady when she put her ear against the chest, or arms that felt solid as they held her close, or lungs that took even breaths in spite of the heat, the sweat, the cries. Then came the needle. In it goes, quick and easy. The skin accepts it. Only a little dot of blood marked its passing. Then she carried the sleeper to the workshop. Time for the cutting.
How long did it take? Too many years. Her creation aged in reverse, coming closer to birth and further from death as time went on. Once the body was done the old, perfect skin had to be attached to it. And how to animate it? How to make the skin move and live again? It lay on the slab, powerful and imposing, but unmoving and unaware.
Elsa pondered. She remembered their touch; maybe the skin would remember too. She climbed onto the slab and straddled the body between her legs. She lay on top of it, her skin against its. It was pale and immaculate, like a statue. Or an angel. She kissed its unmoving lips and rubbed her flesh against its own. She ran her hands over its limbs, its hips, its thighs and stomach. She kissed its neck, its shoulders, and the hard protuberances of its nipples. She recreated the long nights and the warm mornings of years ago. She tried to make it remember.
It was subtle at first, but she felt it: a quiver, a trembling, like the vibration of a spider's web. Then it stirred. The ribs expanded with the first breath, and when the fingers twitched and twined around her own she whispered in furious exaltation:
"It's alive...it's alive!"
It stood. It walked. It lived and breathed and saw and knew and felt. It was perfect, unblemished, immortal. They would never be parted again.
Elsa threw her arms around it, but it did not return her embrace. She saw indifference in its eyes. Her heart ached, but it remained aloof.
Tears came. Elsa ran away. In the bathroom mirror she wiped her face and then she understood. She saw the wrinkles and the wear and all the marks of age. Her creation became whole over time, but she had fallen apart. Of course it did not care about her. It would not even recognize her.
Her body was still strong. Her skin had failed it. She would have to start over. Start from scratch. Her hand trembled as she pressed the scalpel blade against her cheek.