Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2001
Adult Winners

Second Place

Our second place winner in the Adult category is Stephen R. Wilk of Saugus. Mr. Wilk has various prior publications including his recent book Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon. Mr. Wilk was also a winner in the first year of this contest.

The Modern Epimetheus

Stephen R. Wilk

I was halfway through my dinner of Mall Food when I looked up from my book and saw The Man in the Cape staring back at me. It made me stop, with my plastic fork halfway to my mouth, and stare back. I wasn't even aware I was doing this until he saluted me with a finger to his temple. I immediately dropped my eyes in embarrassment.

He looked weird . It wasn't immediately obvious why, but he made you feel uneasy. It wasn't like he was wearing a black satin Dracula cape. It was a black and white hound's tooth cloak, and if I'd only looked quickly I would have thought it was just a coat. But it was a cloak, without sleeves or pockets. Who wears a cloak to the Food Court at the Square One Mall?

I looked up, and he was still staring at me.

"What?" I asked. More belligerent and terse than I usually am, but, damn it, he was the one staring at
me! Let him explain himself.

He paused a moment before answering, then raised his cane by the carved grip to point at the over of the book I was reading.

"That... tome you are reading. Do you find it satisfying? Does it fire your imagination?"

I flipped the book over to look at the cover he'd been gesturing at, although I knew perfectly well what I was reading. I suppose I just wanted to see what had caught his eye. It was my hardcover edition of Frankenstein , the one with the Berni Wrightson illustrations, and cover, too. It freaks some people out. Well, he asked about it, so...

"It's one of my favorites," I told him. "I've read it all the way through more times than can remember." There. Maybe that would out-weird him .

"Really?" He said, with real surprise in his voice. "And what do you think of that ?" He gestured with a waving motion of his cane. I followed the motion, and couldn't see at first what he meant, since he didn't seem to be pointing at anything in particular.

Then I did see. Halloween at Square One Mall. Aluminized Mylar balloons with Universal Studios-endorsed Frankenstein heads. Articulated paper cutouts of Halloween characters, including Frankenstein. A kid with a Frankenstein mask. The Monster Culture version of Frankenstein's monster, light years apart from the image and intent of Mary Shelley's book.

I shrugged. It was a weird question to get from a strange guy in the mall, but it didn't seem to be threatening, or any sort of come-on. I don't get to discuss my love of this stuff with too many people, so why not talk to him about it?

"It's pop culture. The image started seventy years ago with a very popular movie, and everyone refers to that, instead of to the original book. It's the dumbed-down version, without the philosophy and the complexities of the book. But it did get me interested enough to track down the book and read it."

He considered this for a while. He didn't move rapidly in anything, it seemed. His thoughts and motions seemed dignified and graceful. They seemed to come from somewhere else. Not from Saugus, though.

"Ah, I understand. You are saying that even such poor fare can produce an appetite for real nourishment. Even for such things as that ." He sank into silence. I could have simply gone back to my Chicken Curry, but felt a need to break the silence.

"Have you read it?"

Once again, the considered pause. When he replied, his voice started segueing into a foreign accent. German, maybe.

"Long ago. Too long ago. You see, the reason I stared at you for so long was the title of your book. What you have been presenting to me as you dined was a book cover bearing my own family name."

"Frankenstein? Your name is Frankenstein? Or do you pronounce it Fron-Kon-Steen?"

His face wrinkled in a puzzled expression once again.

"Why would anyone wish to pronounce it thus?" he finally asked. This, I decided, was no act. Frankenstein really was his name, and he had never seen Young Frankenstein . I even felt a bad about saying it. I was confusing someone who was apparently a foreigner - that explained his odd clothes, his aura of being different - and even making fun of his family name.

"I'm sorry. It's from one of those movies."

"So. I should have expected that. From what I have seen... What Victor Frankenstein what you would call a good man?" He pronounced "Victor" so that it was almost "Fictor".

He said "Victor", not "Henry". This man went by the book, not the movies. So, I decided to answer according to the text.

"He was ...irresponsible. He abandoned his Creation as soon as it awoke, and hoped it would go away. He certainly didn't deserve to have all the bad things that happen to his friends and family. Just about everyone associated with him dies a horrible death. But it's true that it wouldn't have happened if he'd been more on the ball. He made no provision for his Creature at all."

The Stranger suddenly flashed into life, swift indignation replacing his former grace. He brought the cane down sharply on the tiled floor, making a Bang that attracted everyone's attention.

"Damn the Book! He did pay attention to it. He taught that Creature to walk and to move. He could no more walk than a newborn Babe. He performed all the offices of cleanliness, until the Wretch could do it himself. The Brute could not even feed himself until I showed him how to do so!"

I felt very uncomfortable now, for a lot of reasons. People were staring at us in the wake of this outburst. Furthermore, the things the Stranger talked about with real indignation weren't in any book or movie that
I knew of. And I couldn't overlook the switch from "he" to "I". This guy really did believe that he was Victor Frankenstein - and as "Fictor Frankenshtein", not "Fronkonsteen". He had sunk himself so deep in the legend that he couldn't crawl back out into the Real World.

He did, however, resume his formal, Old World manner. Perhaps he was crazy, but he was an agreeably sort of crazy.

"You must forgive me, again. I can tolerate many of the inaccuracies that have crept into this story through the years, but I am still incensed at these claims that I abandoned my Trust. A True Philosopher of Nature would not transgress upon his duties so. No doubt you are convinced that you are in the presence of a madman?"

Those lessons in manners they gave us in grade school didn't cover this situation. I tried to be tactful.

"It would not be polite to say so, even if I felt that way." I considered getting up and backing away. He didn't seem to have any weapons, except maybe for the cane.

"That was nicely done. You would have a lot of company in that opinion. My grandchildren feel they must keep close attendance on me. I have slipped my lead, however."

How old
was this guy? He had no obvious, visible wrinkles. But now that I looked, I could see that his hair was white with age, only it had been colored. The white roots gave it away. Aside from that, he could be any mature age. Why not try the direct approach?

"So how old are you, Doctor Frankenstein?"

"Oh, no, no. I never did complete the requirements for ant recognized formal degree. I do not pretend to unearned titles. I am only a Herr . You would say Mister , or Master perhaps. But you may answer your own question, if you are truly familiar with that tome. The Godwin girl did not err in all things."

"You would have to be over 200 years old," I replied. "You look pretty good for someone your age."

"That is true. Have you never reflected that I, who by that account you hold have discovered the secrets of Life and Death, am never depicted as taking any advantage of that discovery? Despite the Godwin girl's claim that I leapt directly to the creation of my Wretch, I did, in fact, carry out a regimen of experiments to learn the breadth of my discovery. I felt that I could, with safety, extend my mortal span."

"So how long will you live?" I was impressed with this lunatic. He was consistent and clever. I doubted that he would try anything, but I kept the image of he cultured yet sociopathic Hannical Lekter in the back of my mind.

"That I do not know. How long will you live? The Wretch destroyed my private laboratory long ago, and he has not yet died."

"He's still alive? Where is he?" Even if this was a madman's dream, it had startling details like this. How long could he keep this up?

"He is sometimes here, sometimes there. He is never far from me." He sat in silence again. "If all you know of him is gathered from that (he indicated the book), then you do not know him at all. He was a child, and is one still. Long I labored to teach him. His mind was the tabula rasa of a child, but his body was that of a miner, and he was in greater danger of injuring himself than anyone else. I was safe from his excesses, but he had great strength, and little patience. His tantrums were terrible to behold. In the course of one particularly violent tantrum he broke through the door of our Ingolstadt boarding house and charged down the street. As he did not wish to be found, it was hours before I was able to find him. By the time I did so, four good citizens were dead. We were forced, of necessity, to leave the university town. Of this incident, the most painful aspect was that he felt no remorse for this act, but instead too a perverse joy in it."

"It was my fault that this was so. I was the only human he had known, and he did not consider other people as persons. All that the Godwin Girl wrote about the Wretch finding his way across the border to Geneva, and having the perverse fortune to find and destroy my own family is rubbish, of course. But I still feel the horror of those four deaths as if they were my own family. I brought him with me into Switzerland, and tried to train him to a civilized existence. He learned to read, and write, and he really did read Paradise Lost and philosophical works. But he was no debater, and did not show that fine sense of logic the Godwin girl credits him with. He did what he felt was right, and rationalized it afterwards. As do we all."

"He broke free again. He wanted a mate, as in the book, and I would not create another like him. There was no venery in him, you understand. He did not lust after a mate, but he had a Romantic need for a companion. There was never any question of them procreating a race of monsters. I merely wanted to avoid having my creations outnumber myself. I felt that I could master a single one, but not two. I am not the fool I have been thought to be."

"So he taunted me, and I chased him across the world to avoid having more of the blood of his victims on my hands. We culminated in a race across the Siberian wilds, and into the Arctic sea, where we really did encounter a polar explorer. But I did not die. I cannot die, save through great bodily harm. That is part of my curse, for, although I cannot die, I can certainly suffer. The hunger and the exhaustion were awful, and worse than anyone else could endure and not die, since my treatment denied me that release."

"He brought me back after that. Neither of us perished in the Arctic wilderness. He came to understand that I would not create his mate, and I think all his efforts since have been devoted to learn how to do so himself. I think that we are safe from that for the future that I can see. I am the only one who knows how to open the Gate of Life and Death, and have not written this knowledge down, and I will not tell him. It rankles him, but it has not embittered him, and he still stays close, as a faithful dog. But a dog that may yet bite."

"And where is he now?" I repeated.

In answer, I felt a great and heavy hand upon my shoulder. I turned to see an enormous figure standing over me, glaring down. He was not eight feet tall, but his nearly seven feet was enough to make him stand out. No flat-topped head, no neck bolts, no rotting grave clothes, no stitches. He had the black lips, however. This was due at least in part to Goth makeup. Black lip gloss. Black nail polish. His skin was pale, and the veins and arteries did show through. His eyes seemed lays on the verge of tearing up and crying. But the head was round as anyone's, topped by a headful of unkempt black hair in a mop cut.

His clothes were Goth, too. Black leather, with silver studs. This biker vision spoke to Frankenstein in an unexpectedly high-pitched voice. In French. I struggled to understand, without success. But in a minute, the creature withdrew.

I believed. Until now the story could have been a lunatics fancy, or a tall tale, but Frankenstein's Monster was a real thing. I felt sure that this was no play-actor, no imposter. Frankenstein's Monster was loose in the mall, dressed in fetish gear and speaking French with a Winston Churchill voice. It would be funny, if not for the four deaths, maybe more, and the sight of those powerful limbs, barely kept in control.

"What did he say?" I asked.

"That they're back. You might want to distance yourself from me if you wish to avoid a tableau."

But it was too late. Around the corner came a couple apparently looking for someone. They pointed at Frankenstein - the Master, not the Wretch - and briskly walked over.

"You had us worried," said the woman, helping Frankenstein to his feet.

"Come on, we're late already," said the man. He arranged the cloak to cover Frankenstein's chest, then hustled the older man out. Frankenstein made no effort o talk to me, and his Monster had disappeared into the crowd. This I considered an impressive feat, considering his height.

The couple with Frankenstein in tow had gotten perhaps fifty feet when the man let go and walked back to me - me!

"You were talking to him," he said. It came out as a statement, but was clearly a question. It begged for resolution.

"Yes," I said.

"Did he... umm," he began. "Did he say anything about being named Frankenstein?"

"Yes, he told a wild story?"

"Yes, that's the point. He has these episodes every now and then. He thinks he's Doctor Frankenstein, making Monsters with the help of Igor. I hope you didn't take any of it for real?"

"Monsters?" I replied. "Be serious."

"Yes, well? Don't worry about anything. He's being well taken care of."

"That's good to hear," I replied. "What about his tall friend?"

"What tall friend?"

"The tall guy that travels with him. The one in black makeup."

"I don't know what you're talking about. Grandpa's a recluse when he's on his medication. He doesn't have any big friends. He doesn't have any friends at all."

After they waked away, the big Monster guy stood up to his full height, becoming suddenly obvious. He looked directly at me. Then he smiled, and gave a "thumbs up" sign.

He could be another sad case of psychosis. Someone who was convinced that he was Frankenstein's monster. Someone reportedly capable of having big temper tantrums, and of killing four people in a rage.

Or he just
might be what he's advertised to be - a genuine Monster, about two centuries old, yet still as child capable of tantrums. Away from the restraining influence of his Master.

And I don't know which possibility is the scarier.

Continue to the 1st place story

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Copyright © 2001 & Stephen R. Wilk;
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