Monday, June 17, 2019

Weekly Story #50: On the Phone With the Danger Zone

Sometimes I'll say something is the stupidest thing I've ever written, but this one I think really is the stupidest thing I've ever written, and I love it for that. It was originally written last summer, when I'd first resumed begun writing weekly stories again. I wound up liking it enough to start shopping it around to actual editors. Then recently I took another look and decided it was better off here.

For best results, imagine H. Jon Benjamin as the voice of the asteroid.

ON THE PHONE WITH THE DANGER ZONE

"Hey."
Dr. Keith Mailer looked up from the decades-old Bausch & Lomb microscope on the antique store table and turned to the younger man beside him. The man looked back and said, "Did you say something?"
"I thought you did," Dr. Mailer said.
"Nope, not me," the man said.
"Hey." That voice again! It sounded so close, yet there was no one else in this section of the antique store. If this other fellow hadn't heard anything, Dr. Mailer would have thought he was starting to lose it. Too many late nights at the observatory, probably.
"Hey you. Can you hear me?" the voice said.
"Is that your phone?" the man next to Dr. Mailer said.
Dr. Mailer slipped his smartphone out of his pocket. It wasn't a terribly good phone, so it took a moment just to load the home screen. But when it did, all it showed was the time and wallpaper—a nebula photographed by the Hubble Telescope. No messages, no missed calls, no voicemails.
But the voice came back.
"Is anybody there?" The voice made the phone hum in Dr. Mailer's hand.
Dr. Mailer put the phone to his ear. "Hello?"
"Oh hey, can you hear me?" It was a dry, almost bored voice. "Finally."
"Can I help you?"
"Yeah," the voice said, "I don't suppose you could get out of the way, could you?"
Dr. Mailer walked to a more isolated corner of the store. "Okay. Does that help?"
"You moved?"
"Of course I did. Where are you? Who is this?"
"Okay, right. Sorry about that. I'm an asteroid."
Dr. Mailer checked the screen again. It had gone to sleep, and when he woke it up, it still only showed the time and wallpaper. If he could have, he would have hung up right there. "What kind of prank call is this?"
"What's a prank call?"
"You can't be… why am I wasting my time with this? Goodbye." He put the phone back in his pocket and resumed browsing the shelves and display tables. That was a nice Underwood typewriter they had here. He'd always wanted to try his hand at writing, and he knew from a friend of his that he could still get ink ribbons for these things.
"Hey!" The voice rang out louder, breaking the quiet of the antique store. Other customers turned their heads. "I need you to listen to me!"
Dr. Mailer took his phone back out and switched it to airplane mode.
"Come on," the voice said.
Dr. Mailer powered the phone off.
"Look, I'm trying to help you here."
Dr. Mailer hissed into the inactive phone, "How are you doing this? Are you a hacker?"
"What's a hacker? I told you, I'm an asteroid. That's the word for things like me, right? I'm a solid mass of rock and metal in space."
"Asteroids can't talk."
"But that's what I'm doing. I'm talking to you, aren't I?"
Dr. Mailer figured he might as well humor whoever this was. "How?"
"Beats me," the voice said. "All I know is, I've been hurtling through space for billions of years, I've been orbiting the inner part of the solar system for the last million, and right now there's a blue planet in my path, covered with little autonomous bits of carbon. So can you please get out of my way?"
"Out of—" A devastating, fiery image entered Dr. Mailer's mind. "You're saying you're going to crash?"
"Yeah, that sounds right."
"How far away are you?"
"I'd say about ten times the distance from your satellite. Give or take."
"So about 4 million kilometers. How big are you?"
"I don't really know how to answer that. I've never compared myself to anything before."
"Well, how are you contacting me? You're just a piece of iron."
"Just a piece of iron? Sure, and you're just a lump of carbon. Your planet just has water on it. Look, I tried asking your planet, and she said I was better off calling one of her inhabitants, so here I am."
"So then… are… are you asking us as a species to move out of your way?"
"Maybe. She didn't seem concerned about getting hit, but she wasn't sure about you."
Just the idea of Planet Earth having a point of view made Dr. Mailer dizzy. "All right. Except, depending on how big you are, that might not really help."
"How so?"
"If you're small, you'll probably burn up in our atmosphere. If you're larger, depending on your composition, you might explode, but still not harm anyone. If you're big enough and make it to the surface, millions of people could still die just from the aftereffects. We could even go extinct."
"Is extinction bad?"
"From our perspective."
"Okay. Huh. I was mostly just trying to be polite. Didn't realize it was a life or death situation."
Dr. Mailer's heart began to pick up speed. If this was serious, then the fate of humanity really was at stake. "The best we could potentially do is try to move you out of the way."
"You could do that?"
"I said potentially. We'd have to fire a missile, and maybe detonate something. These missions usually take months of planning. But that's going to be hard on such short notice." Dr. Mailer calculated in his head. If the asteroid is 4 million km away, then depending on its speed, it could collide in about one to three days. That wouldn't give them much time. "Can you tell where on Earth you're about to collide?"
"Is that what you call it? Nice name." The meteor murmured to itself. "I can't really make out any landmasses from here, but I know we're both coming toward each other. Your planet is turning to the right. And the entire left side is totally dark."
"The entire left side?"
"That's what I said. It's like half and half."
"Are you coming from above or below?"
"Neither."
That actually did help. The asteroid—assuming this was actually an asteroid—was flying toward the nightline, and roughly level with the tropics. It was about 2 PM now, Eastern Standard Time, in late summer. That meant the sun would be rising in Asia right about now.
Dr. Mailer knew some people at NASA, and a colleague in Beijing. He could put in some calls, have people point their telescopes and see if they could find this asteroid. Then they could verify whether anything really was on a collision course with Earth.
"Can you give me a minute?" Dr. Mailer said. "I need to make some phonecalls."
"What's a phonecall?" the asteroid said.
"It's sort of like how you're speaking to me now."
"Gotcha."

Dr. Kate Jeffries had just poured her morning coffee in her apartment in Hawaii when Dr. Mailer called her on Skype. "You heard from the asteroid too, huh?" she said.
Dr. Mailer didn't know how to respond. He had thought it was just him. "Um—"
"Sounded awfully casual for something trying to warn us about our impending deaths, didn't it?"
"I… that is, I'm not really sure it understands the concept of urgency. It spoke to you, too?" Dr. Mailer cleared aside some of the scattered papers on his desk. He'd headed straight to his office at the observatory after he left the antique store.
"About an hour ago. I nearly threw my phone out the window." Dr. Jeffries took a long gulp from her coffee. "I wonder how many people have done that today. I wonder how many it spoke to."
"I was wondering why it would only talk to me," Dr. Mailer said. "Yet it spoke as if it was."
"Same with me. We're already dealing with a profoundly alien intelligence, from something that shouldn't have intelligence. Maybe holding simultaneous one-on-one conversations is one attribute it has."
"It told me it even spoke with planet Earth."
"Me too. I tried asking what Earth is really like, but it had trouble answering." Dr. Jeffries hunched over her desk. "Assuming we survive, this could be the most profound scientific discovery in history. Who else have you spoken to?"
"I've called Dr. Igleed at NASA," Dr. Mailer said. "They're training satellites in what we're hoping is the asteroid's direction."
"How did you explain it?"
"I just said I found an irregularity last night, took a while to review my notes, wanted them to look at it."
"Right. I can help process data. Contacted anybody in Asia? Seems if anyone's in the best position to check with a ground telescope, they'll be there."
"Just Dr. Guan in Beijing. He and Igleed both said they'd reach whoever they can on that hemisphere. Beyond that, I think I've done what the asteroid asked."
"Same here. It's a pain with the limited resources we have, but…" She took another sip of her coffee. "This still doesn't feel real. We could be going the way of the dinosaurs in only a few days, yet here I am with my coffee as usual."
"I'm ready to knock back a cold one, myself." Dr. Mailer's pit stains had spread down to his sleeves.
"Just beer? Right, you never were much for liquor, were you?"
"Too rich for my blood." Dr. Mailer took out his phone and laid it on his desk. "You think it's still listening?"
"I'm afraid to find out," Dr. Jeffries said. "I left my phone in the next room."
Dr. Mailer leaned over his phone. "Excuse me, asteroid. Are you there?" He was so glad he wasn't on video right now.
"Huh? Yeah? What?"
"I'm not disturbing you, am I?"
"No, no, not at all. I've been busy talking with this guy named Chadha. He's trying to see if he can find me from where he is."
"Chadha." Dr. Jeffries said. "I went to grad school with a Chadha."
"Oh hey, Kate," the asteroid said. "How's it going? You sound a little far away."
"You can hear me? All right then. Basically, we're trying to verify your location and trajectory to make sure whether you're really on a collision course with Earth."
"I'm pretty sure I am, though."
"We still want to make sure."
"This is sort of unusual for us," Dr. Mailer said, "so we want to try and check for ourselves."
"Have you not been hit by an asteroid before?" the asteroid said.
"Well, we haven't. But the creatures that were here before us have. It's the reason they're not around anymore."
"Oh. Well."
"Right now," Dr. Jeffries said, "all we can do is wait for the data to come in. Then we can decide what to do about it."
"What about you?" Dr. Mailer said into his phone. "Aren't you worried?"
"About what?" the asteroid said.
"About crashing into us. You'll almost certainly be destroyed."
"Hm. I guess I hadn't thought about that. Honestly, I haven't really thought about anything until now. I've always just noticed. Like, hey, the sun's over there now. Hey, there's that stripey gassy planet. I've never really considered who I am or where I'm going."
"So how do you feel about that coming to a stop?"
"I dunno. All this thinking is actually kind of annoying." The asteroid paused for a moment. "I don't have to keep this up if I miss you, do I?"
"I can't answer that. But once you've started, I doubt you'll stop."
"Then if crashing into you will stop this thinking, maybe it won't be so bad."
Dr. Mailer and Dr. Jeffries looked at each other through their screens in horror.
"You can't be serious," Dr. Mailer said.
"I don't even know what 'serious' is. All I know is, I've gone billions of years without having to think a thing, and now it won't stop. Maybe I shouldn't have tried calling you. I kinda wanna crash now."
"What about us?"
"Figure something out."
The phone went silent.
"Asteroid?" Dr. Mailer didn't get a response. "Asteroid!"
Dr. Jeffries lifted her coffee and took a big chug.
#
The next eight hours were a frenzy of international phonecalls, data processing, and analysis. Telescopes in China and India, and later in Austria and Italy, confirmed the existence of the asteroid, now provisionally designated as 2019 QH, and which Dr. Mailer had privately nicknamed "Jon." An orbital telescope managed to take a photograph.
After further observations and calculations, the astronomers of the world knew Jon's trajectory.
Alone in his office, Dr. Mailer spoke into his phone. "Asteroid?"
No answer.
"Asteroid!"
"What? I'm trying to enjoy some peace and quiet here."
"We have answers now. Do you want to hear them?"
"Might as well."
Dr. Mailer clenched his fist.  By now the news had leaked to the press and caused a panic on the Internet. Jon could at least try not to act like a spoiled teenager. But no, Dr. Mailer could hold in his frustration. "You're not going to crash into the Earth."
The asteroid made what sounded like a sigh. "Dammit."
"Not yet, anyway. You're going to enter our orbit, and if we don't do anything, you'll definitely crash into us in about fifteen years."
"Only fifteen years? That's awesome! I can take another fifteen years."
Remarkable, Dr. Mailer thought, considering it took only an hour for Jon to get sick of thinking. "You realize that gives us plenty of time to try to divert you? Or destroy you?"
"The second one."
"We may go with the first one. Less chance of us having to deal with your debris." And either way, with all that time, there were more chances of budget cuts, red tape, and general bull-headedness that could scuttle the mission, giving Jon exactly what it wanted. Dr. Mailer almost wished this were still an immediate emergency.
"If you're not going to destroy me," Jon said, "couldn't you at least, like, send me somewhere that can?"
"Hm."
"What? Can you?"
"I don't know. We don't usually send something to another planet specifically to be destroyed. Not to mention, you're about five kilometers across. That's a pretty big payload."
"What about your moon? I've checked. Nobody's there. Same for that red place."
"Not sure that's a good idea. We were kind of hoping to visit them at some point."
"Man, you are no fun. How about that cloudy one? You know, the one a little closer to the sun?"
"We don't plan on visiting, but I'm still not sure about crashing anything there. Hm. How about Jupiter?"
"What's Jupiter?"
"The big one."
"With the stripes and the red spot? I like that place. Haven't seen it in eons."
Dr. Mailer could run it by Igleed. They'd both been teenagers on opposite sides of the country when Shoemaker-Levy 9 crumbled and crashed into Jupiter, leaving pockmarks all over its atmosphere that cleared up in hardly any time at all, cosmically speaking. The spectacle had inspired both Mailer and Igleed to become astronomers, a fact that made them fast friends when they worked together at Houston. Surely that planet could handle a five kilometer asteroid. "It would take you a long time to get there."
"Fine, I guess I'll manage. As long as it happens eventually. Think you can steer me away soon?"
"If by 'soon' you mean some years, then possibly." Mailer and Igleed would have to answer a lot of questions, such as the scientific purpose or the ethical ramifications, even if this was a planet that would suffer no long-term effects. The rocket would have to be designed, the launch planned. Politics would have to be navigated around. But all that was so far ahead. "We'll do what we can. In the meantime, there's so much I still want to know."
"Dunno what I can tell you."
"Well, you're an asteroid. We've never encountered a talking asteroid before."
"And I've never encountered little carbon things like you before."
"Do you have any idea how you're able to communicate with us?"
"I dunno. I'm kinda just looking at your planet, and expressing myself. That's about all there is to it, right? Your planet told me you'd have a lot of questions. And you're about the chattiest one, ever since Chadha went off to… what'd he call it? Sleep?"
"But I still don't understand. Are you really alive? Is Earth alive?"
"I'm not really sure what you mean by 'alive.' And honestly, I don't really care. I could use some rest, and I'm gonna do my best to get it until you get me to Jupiter. That sound fair?"
"But—" It knew the meaning of "fairness" and "fun" but not "alive"? "But—"
"Look, I'm gonna go. You have a lovely planet. Too bad I can't come visit."
"Can I please just ask a few more questions?"
"Good day, sir."
"Just one more!"
"I said good day!"
Dr. Mailer spent the next day yelling into his idle phone to try and reach the asteroid he called Jon. He never got any answer. Neither did Dr. Jeffries, nor Dr. Chadha. Jon passed by the Earth, still refusing to respond.
On some nights, Dr. Mailer would lie awake with more questions he wished he could have asked Jon. To know that piece of interplanetary rock was alive… to communicate with it… There was so much Jon could have taught him, and the rest of humanity.
But Jon never spoke again.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Weekly Story #49: The Cadaver: A Tale of the Frankenstein

After Pascha, it seemed fitting to write a story springing from the word "Resurrection." And as I've said before, my tendency for writing villainy or corruption is to take something good, admirable, even holy, and twist it into something wicked. With only three stories left, this is the last one related to Lent/Easter.

I submit to you, the reader, that in the history of English-language literature, no one has ever come up with a name better than "Frankenstein." It's fun to say. It's evocative—I'm pretty sure you're thinking of test tubes, electrodes, and neck bolts right now. In its own way it contains within itself the entire genre of science fiction—the perils of scientific innovation, and the promise. I'd just reread the original Mary Shelley novel last year, so the story's relatively fresh in my mind. Frankenstein was never my favorite monster (that will forever be Godzilla), but when I saw a chance to write a Frankenstein story, I knew I had to take it.

In this story, I worked in a few nods to the movie versions, my verdict on calling the Creature "Frankenstein," and what I hope is a respectful portrayal of disability.

The next two weekly stories will be pieces I originally wrote last year as part of this series, but tried to shop around for a short time. One was written in January 2018, the other in July. Following them will be one last original story, a follow-up to something I've written before. To anybody who's actually been reading these, I'm very grateful.



THE CADAVER:
A TALE OF THE FRANKENSTEIN


It was a dark and stormy night. Teresa Yeung parked her car as close to Professor Warner's cabin as possible. The gate was open, but there were two flights of stairs leading up to the porch. The Professor knew perfectly well what kind of trouble she had with stairs. All she knew so far was that this somehow had something to do with Frankenstein. Her boyfriend Marco sprang out of the passenger seat with the umbrella, and came around to Teresa's side as she opened her door. Taking the umbrella, she said, "Thanks. I'm sorry to make you do this."
"Well, you were right, this whole thing is sketchy." He took her place in the driver's seat while she stayed outside. "I'll be ready to go as soon as you are."
"I'll give you a signal if it turns out it's okay. If I don't, and I'm not out in ten minutes, get out of here, call the police."
"Got it. God forbid."
"I really appreciate this, Marco." She gave him a kiss, and as she backed away from the car, said, "I love you." Then muttered to herself, "This is so not worth a PhD."
Professor Warner was one of the top biologists in the country, no, the world. Which is what made it so much more unusual that he'd call Teresa up and practically order her to come out to the country on such a lousy night on such short notice.
She hiked up the staircase embedded in the hill, up to the front porch, where she closed the umbrella and knocked on the door. She was already exhausted. Her left thigh ached.
Professor Warner answered, his hair uncombed, his skin pale. "Ms. Yeung. So nice to see you. Come in."
"Yes, I made it." Teresa stepped into the warm and dry living room. Clothes and notebooks lay scattered all over the floor, and the smell of rotting garbage hung in the air. Electrical diagrams, anatomical drawings, and assorted sketches hung pinned on the walls. "How long have you been up here?"
"Since Sunday. I'm on the verge of performing the most important experiment of my life, probably anyone's life. I have no time to waste. Are you familiar with the work of the Frankenstein family?"
"I'm vaguely familiar," Teresa said. "I've seen one of the movies. Didn't the whole thing turn out to be a hoax?"
"Oh, it's not a hoax, not a hoax at all." Professor Warner wiped his newly-formed beard with his palm. "You thirsty? All I have is 7-Up, is that okay?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah, that's fine." No alcohol. She supposed that was a good sign. He was already crossing enough lines right now without getting her drunk. He ran to the kitchen, and she followed him to the doorway. "Listen, the other grad students and I are worried about you."
"I'm sure. I'm sure," the Professor said. "But I'll have some free time once this is done."
Teresa glanced over at the dining table, and spotted three old leather-bound journals stored in plastic bags, with thick spiral notebooks beside them. Names were written on each bag, with the same names on each notebook: Victor Frankenstein; Heinrich Frankenstein, Friedrich Frankenstein. The Professor seemed to have developed a Frankenstein fixation. "So why did you demand I come all the way out here?" she said.
"Well, you are my top student. I've always felt like we had something of a rapport." He brought her a can of 7-Up, as promised. She opened it herself. At this point she was more worried about her professor's health than anything else. This was the worst he'd gotten ever since the divorce.
Too much longer and Marco would leave and call the police, so Teresa went to the window and gave him a wave.
The Professor continued, "I know what this probably sounded like when I called you. Professor, grad student, alone in the woods. No, I brought you here for something far more important." He brushed past her to the table and picked up one of the bagged notebooks. "I have here the notes of three generations of Frankensteins, along with my own translation. I've been studying them for years, since I myself was an undergrad."
"And they're real?" Teresa said.
"Quite real. And they make for the most fascinating reading. Follow me."
He took her up the stairs. "You see, Heinrich and Friedrich both started out trying to disprove Victor's theories. They considered him a madman—a disgrace. But as the journals go on, they start to find him more compelling. They start to carry out their own experiments. They refine them. And they succeeded. They all brought the dead back to life. That is why I brought you here."
He pulled a chain, and the lights flooded on, revealing a crowd of machines packed together in a small loft. Medical equipment connected to computers that connected to tubes that connected to something on the other side of the door. The Professor had managed to assemble so much in one small cabin.
It was all equipment they had used in the lab back at the university, for their own experiments. Experiments on cadavers, and human tissue.
"Oh no. Don't tell me…" Teresa began to feel dizzy. "Our experiments… restarting that heart… that arm… we put together a working digestive system! Was that…?"
"Yes!" Professor Warner cried out. "To ultimately replicate the Frankensteins' experiments. I had to test it on smaller scales before I brought it all together in one."
The strength in Teresa's right leg gave out, and all her weight went onto the left. She leaned on the railing around the staircase and rubbed her left leg. Her thigh badly needed a massage, but she was in no position to take off the prosthetic to do so. "I… I thought this was to help people who need transplants." Not follow in the footsteps of grave-robbers who thought they were scientists.
"And it will," he said." "It already has. But if we can raise the dead, the sky's the limit. You won't just be contributing to life-saving medicine. You'll be part of a revolution!"
Teresa backed away. "Th-The medicine was enough… Wait! If you're trying to replicate a Frankenstein experiment, then where…"
"Over here." He went to a chest freezer in the corner. Nausea hit Teresa as soon as she s saw it. She knew what was in there right away. "Come here," the Professor said, "it won't bite you."
She could try to run, but down all those stairs, all the way to the car? The Professor would catch up before she got halfway down the first flight. So she limped over, her right knee unable to stay firm, her left aluminum knee unable to loosen up.
He opened the freezer. Even knowing what he was about to show her, the sight of a dead body still knocked the breath out of her lungs. It was a white male, middle-aged, naked with frosted skin, bald but physically fit. Autopsy incisions ran across his chest. His knees were bent to help him fit inside, making him look almost like he was taking a nap.
"Wh-where did you get that?" Terror stopped Teresa's voice, so the words only came out as breaths. What had the professor become?
"Pulled some strings at the med school," Professor Warner said. "He gave his body to science, and I'm here to oblige him." He laughed. "What, you think I killed him? No, this poor fella died of liver cancer."
"You're going to wake him up."
"Yep. I had to replace a ton of organs, but look, our experiments are paying off. The incisions of his chest are healing! I just need your help real quick. Grab his legs."
"No." Teresa backed away. "I'm leaving."
"On that leg?"
Now Teresa wanted to slap him. In all these years, Professor Warner had never made light of her disability this way. "All right, listen. My boyfriend's in the car outside. All I have to do is scream and then we are both out of here." She was partly bluffing. She and Marco had never planned for what to do if he heard screaming. He could take that as a cue to drive off and call the police. The police would come, but he would be gone. Or he could barge in, start a fight, and get everybody hurt. "I mean it! Here goes!" And she took a breath—
—and the Professor slapped her. "Shut up and grab his legs. We're taking him outside."
Teresa's heart pounded. There was nothing but noise left in her head, just the sting on her cheek, and all she could do was watch the Professor hoist the cadaver up by the armpits. "Now!" he said. She grabbed the ankles, and they lifted him up out of the freezer, and dangled him between them over to the door. The whole time Teresa got a full view of the poor cadaver's moles, wrinkles, genitals. She couldn't stop wobbling.
"Oh come on," the Professor said. "It's not like you haven't handled a dead body before."
"Well, no, but…" But they were cadavers, obtained legitimately, not through whatever bribes or threats the Professor had used, not lugged around like a sandbag. There were supposed to be procedures and protocols and equipment for this. Carrying the body like this, she now felt very much like a grave robber.
He brought her out to an open-air deck, currently being rained on, but with a tent on the far end. With no umbrella, there was nothing Teresa could do to avoid getting wet. Two thin steel towers rose high into the night sky on each side of the tent.
They carried the cadaver in and laid it on the table. Teresa could finally take her eyes off it. "Am I done now?" This was all so surreal, as if this wasn't even her, as if she were watching this from somewhere closeby. "Am I?"
"Of course not, I need a witness. There's supposed to be lightning tonight. All we need is to have it strike one of these two rods here."
"And then what happens?" Teresa said. "What are you going to do with this man after he comes back to life? Wh… What happened to the people the Frankensteins brought back?" The ones in the movies didn't exactly become flourishing members of society.
"You know, that's the part I was never able to crack." He stared off wistfully, as if he hadn't just slapped a woman half his age square in the face. "Friedrich Frankenstein talked about his creature adjusting fairly well, even learning to sing, but after a certain point, his diary just peters out." A dim thunder rumbled in the distance. "There we go. We don't have much time." He attached electrodes to the cadaver's chest, strapped on some tubing and wiring, and inserted IV needles. "Now we just—"
A man's screams echoed from downhill.
Teresa yelled back, "Marco!"
"Polo!" Professor Warner said.
"That's not funny!" Teresa ran out of the tent to the deck rail. "Marco! Marco!"
Next there were footsteps splashing up the steps outside the cabin.
"Who else is out here?" Teresa asked the Professor.
"You got me," he said. For the first time tonight, he seemed uneasy. "It's just you, me, and your boyfriend out there."
Then the cabin shook, the deck along with it. The footsteps tromped inside and up the stairs. At the same time, the Professor ran in. As soon as he got through the door, he let out a piercing scream and backed out.
A shape came out of the door with him. When it straightened its back, it stood seven feet tall, with the bulk of a heavyweight boxer, and skin like a dead field in the heart of winter. Scars suggested the seams in the skin where parts had been grafted on.
"Good," the shape said with an impossibly deep voice. "I'm not too late."
"All right, buddy," the Professor said, "I'm not here for a fight. You can have anything." He reached into his back pocket. "Here. Take it." He dangled his wallet in front of him. "It's yours."
The shape wrapped his giant hand around the Professor's wrist, and lifted him three feet in the air. The wallet fell to the floor. "Do you not realize who I am?"
Professor Warner sputtered without giving an answer. Still holding the man's wrist, the shape turned to Teresa. Her right knee gave out, and only the railing and her left leg kept her standing. "And you?" the shape said.
Teresa couldn't stop stuttering, but she managed to spit something out. "F-F-Friedrich's? Or Heinrich's?"
"Victor's." The creature slung the Professor to the ground. "Two hundred years damned to be a Frankenstein. Hard to die after coming back." He plodded around the Professor's crumpled body. "You said I could have anything? I'll take the cadaver."
"No!" Professor Warner lifted himself up and crawled in front of the Frankenstein. "My research! My revolution!"
The Frankenstein bent down to meet him face to face. "I'll take the journals, too. And that wasn't a request." He moved around the Professor toward the tent.
Professor Warner shot to his feet. "Don't you realize what you're doing? We could extend the human lifespan by years, decades, indefinitely! Treat illnesses that couldn't be treated! Do you have any idea how many people will die, and stay dead, if you do this?"
The Frankenstein froze at the entrance to the tent. "Do you have any idea what it's like to live life inside a corpse? This experiment is over. When the time comes for the dead to rise, they will." He entered, and came out a moment later with the body in his arms. "I'll take him where he belongs. Now, where are the Frankensteins' notebooks?"
"No dice," Professor Warner said. "You're not taking—"
"They're downstairs," Teresa said. "On the dining table!"
The Frankenstein nodded. "Much obliged."
"Teresa!" the Professor cried.
The Frankenstein kicked him in the shin, knocking him to his knees. He said to Teresa, "You may go. The others and I aren't quite finished here."
"Th-the others?"
"Heinrich's and Friedrich's."
Teresa sidled along the railing, keeping her distance from the creature. "Wh-what about Marco? My boyfriend? Out in the car?"
The Frankenstein adjusted the cadaver. "He saw Friedrich's and got frightened. He'll be fine."
As she reached the door, she asked, "And the Professor?"
The shape looked behind him, where the Professor was shivering in the rain. "I've killed before. It's since gotten tiresome. He'd be wise not to tempt me. Just go. And don't turn back."
And Teresa went, as fast as her mismatched legs could take her. She didn't see anyone else. Maybe the other creatures were hiding elsewhere around the cabin, or somewhere in the woods outside. She thought it best to trust the shape, and not to wait and see who else might appear.
She reached the car to find Marco shaking, ghostly pale, ready to seize her in his arms, and then drive as far away from here as possible.
All her work, all her study, all… for that.