Once Upon a Time
There was an island off the coast of France, remote and ruggedly beautiful. Its master – a wealthy old widower – lived in a jewel of a mansion set atop a treacherously steep cliff, together with his infant son and loyal servants.
Realizing that a life of isolation wouldn’t be ideal for a child, the wealthy widower began a careful and thorough search of people he could invite to live in his island. Those who wished for redemption, those whom life had unfairly dealt a bad hand, those who were lonely and had hope and joy stolen from them for all kinds of reasons – these were the people he chose because the wealthy widower knew that they would understand his secret.
And so letters were sent out, and soon boat after boat sailed into the shallow waters of St. Marianne. The newcomers were welcomed warmly by the servants, taken to their new homes, and shown around the island. There was a local school, a well-equipped clinic, a small plaza, and even the promise of an annual feast to celebrate the island’s patron saint, and all of it at the expense of the island’s owner.
For dinner, they were all invited to join the master in his mansion, and their first glimpse of the place left them awestruck. A sprawling, landscaped garden preceded the mansion, where rows upon rows of the most exquisite winter flowers bloomed. There was even a charming little bridge to cross, arching over a manmade lake whose shiny frozen surface promised endless hours of skating delight.
Once inside the mansion, the sights were even more splendid, enough to cast a spellbinding silence over its audience. Centuries of breathtaking art and furniture rich in history and priceless in value were all around them. And in the corner of the grand ballroom, a solemn-looking maestro played behind the grand piano. A famous classical piece, but one they couldn’t name, and it made the newcomers feel even more out of depth.
Why would a man, who owned a place as magnificent as this, be interested in helping them turn their lives around?
It was the question they all wanted to ask, but none of them had the courage to speak of. And when their host finally joined them, a bespectacled gentleman with a kind-looking face, they found themselves a little relieved but even more confused.
The host introduced himself simply as Monsieur Sauvage, a doctor and a widower. He then proceeded to regale them with funny snippets of island living, which they all lapped up eagerly even as their curiosity grew and grew. As their host entertained them, plate after plate of sumptuous food was served, but strangely absent was any presence of wine – or any kind of spirits for that matter. Perhaps the good doctor had taken a vow of abstinence?
When dessert was served together with coffee, Monsieur Sauvage said ever so mildly, “And now, let me address the questions you have been so courteous to keep to yourselves.” There was a brief smile. “It only proves that I have chosen well.”
The doctor began to tell them of his beloved wife, the only woman he had ever cared for. They had only been married for a few months when she had become enceinte. Both of them had been surprised but overjoyed, and the doctor more so when they found out it was a boy. They would talk for days about the life they would lead, of how happy they would be – but in the end, their words were nothing but words, dreams that would never come true.
His wife died delivering their child, and her hardships were such that not even the most skilled physicians could save her from the talons of death. Her loss devastated him, but worse was how he was then tormented by the fear that his son would one day leave him, too.
As days passed, his fear grew, turning into paranoia, while his grief, deep-seated and inconsolable, turned into insanity. The doctor locked himself up for months in his laboratory, determined to go beyond protecting his son. He might not have been able to save his beloved wife, but by God he would make sure that the same fate would not befall his son.
This time, Death would not win, for the doctor would make his son immortal.
And so it was one wintry night that the doctor injected his prized creation into the blood of his son. As the infant started to cry, the doctor took his child into his arms, and kissing his baby’s downy head, he whispered, “You have nothing to fear now.” The words were true, but in a way that the doctor did not intend.
The next day, a terrified scream woke the doctor from his nightmare-riddled sleep and when he realized it was coming from his child’s nurse, he started running, his heart beating hard. C’est impossible! It could not be, it could not be! The drug would never have killed his son. It should’ve been the opposite. It would have made him the strongest, the fastest, the most cunning—-