©2007 by Richard S. Crawford; 1,596 words
I hear the car’s tires crunching on the wet asphalt as it drives up the road to the house, so I run to hide in the secret passage beside the foyer. Just in time, I slip into my hiding spot behind one of the portraits and open the door so I can peer out through the painting’s eyes.
From here I see the front doors open, and a family steps into the house: a Mom, a Dad, and a little girl. The daughter’s maybe eight years old or so, real cute, with pigtails and a blue dress. They’re all damp and windswept by the storm. They look around the place, holding hands, eyes wide. Dad sets down the small suitcase he’s carrying, takes off his fedora and wipes rainwater from his forehead with the back of his hand.
“Whew!” he says. “That’s sure one heck of a storm out there. I didn’t think this house would be so hard to find.”
The mother lets go of her daughter’s hand and lowers the hood of her jacket. She takes a step forward, glancing nervously at the paintings on the walls, at the improbably massive chandelier suspended over the foyer on a disturbingly thin chain, at the windows rattling in the wind. “I don’t know, Ward. This place looks awfully dangerous and desolate.”
Dad, whose name is apparently Ward, scoffs. “Hush, Alice. This house is perfectly safe. My uncle would never have lied about such a thing.”
“Oh, so we’re trusting werewolves now?” Mom rolls her eyes. “Honestly, Ward, you’re a good man but far too trusting.”
“How can we not? He’s my uncle no matter what those Gypsies did to him.”
“Well, we’re not letting him in our home again, not after what he did to the carpet.”
Watching them, I think Alice has a point. Actually, I remember Ward’s uncle. Name was Ebenezer. Ebenezer Talbot. Lived in this house for fifty years and never even went into the basement. I suppose he’s a werewolf now, which explains why I haven’t seen him around. Werewolves have their own agenda. Who knows what he might have been up to?
I step away from the peephole and close the little wooden door. Master’s going to want to know about this particular development. I make my way down the passage, through the kitchen, and down the stairs to the basement. The union rules sign on the wall reminds me that I’m required to lurch in the Master’s presence, so I start dragging my foot and raise one shoulder up higher than the other. The squinting is easy. The acid scars all over my face make it natural.
In the basement, Master is leaning on the table, head down, shoulders hunched over. I cry out to him and jump up and down to get his attention. I have to do for for a full minute before he finally notices me. He looks up at last, despair and annoyance mingling on his face.
“What on earth is it, Igor?” he says.
“Master! A family! A family has arrived in the house! A family!”
Master sighs. “And what of it, Igor? How can that possibly ease my pain? How can their presence even begin to bring solace to a mind frustrated in its pursuit of pure knowledge by a lack of suitable donors?”
“But Master! They may be able to help you!” Master has been very depressed lately. These days, it’s hard to find freshly executed murderers that haven’t been embalmed. It was much easier years ago, before the Zombie Union forced some new legislation. Embalmed zombies don’t rot as fast.
“Oh, Igor, your naive innocence is such a breath of fresh air to my tired and pathos-laden ears. But you know that living people cannot help me. Not when the very purpose of my scientific quest is to reanimate the dead and bring them back to life!”
“But, Master, it’s easy! We can kill them! Then they wouldn’t be living people anymore. And you can do the brain transplant experiment you’ve always wanted to do.”
Master looks surprised, as if he hasn’t already thought of this himself. “Such an act would be truly monstrous, Igor. I cannot condone such heinous behavior. Never speak of it again in my presence!” Yet he winks at me, so I know what it is that I must do.
So for the rest of the evening, I keep an eye on the family. At length they retire to the spare bedrooms on the second floor, and I follow. Mom and Dad decide that they’re going to share the larger room, and, foolishly, they let their young daughter sleep in the smaller room just across the hall from them.
When their lights go out, I keep listening outside the door until their breathing is calm and smooth. I sneak up to the parents’ door and shove the bookcase in front of it so that they can’t open it from the inside. Then, as quietly as I can, I open the door to the girl’s bedroom and tiptoe inside, locking it behind me.
The daughter is very young, very young, very small, and very delicate. You’d expect such a young, delicate girl to be very demure, very quiet and sweet. But this is not the case. She wakes as I approach her, and immediately she opens her mouth and starts screaming. She jumps off her bed and to her feet and runs past me to the door. I try to shush her, but she just keeps screaming. The door is locked, so she cannot open it. I approach her, trying to calm her, and she runs again and curls up against the far wall. Sighing, I go over to her and twist her head sharply to the left. Once that’s done, she expires in the demure and quiet manner that I expect from her.
But before I can leave the room to take care of the parents, I hear a loud crash from the hallway outside. I turn quickly, and the bedroom door crashes inward. A big, black, furry, kind of man-like shape with lots of teeth and claws, huge, bursts through, looks around. I try to keep completely still, hoping the creature doesn’t see me. But then it leaps, and crashes right into me. I’m thrown against the far wall, and then everything goes black and cold.
I wake up on my back, feeling sore. I can hear voices, soft and low. I lift my head and open my eyes. Although everything’s blurry, I can still make out Mom and Dad and Master. We’re in the basement. My head’s swimming.
“Ward, you should have told me your uncle bit you,” Mom says.
“Hush, Alice my dear. I simply didn’t want to worry you or Ginny.”
Mom sobs. “Well, I’m not sure how comfortable I am being married to a werewolf. And Ginny’s still dead, Ward. Some safe house this turned out to be.” She wipes her nose daintily with a Kleenex from her purse. “Oh, my poor little girl! We should never have believed your uncle!”
Master coughs. “Don’t worry, Mr. and Mrs. Talbot. Your daughter’s sacrifice will not be in vain.” He turns and approaches me. “How are you feeling, Igor?”
I open my mouth to tell Master that I feel fine and that I’m sorry I failed him, but all that comes out is a tiny squeak. I raise my hands up to my throat, but instead of the rough, bumpy flesh I’ve lived with all my life, there’s nothing but smooth skin and tiny fingers. “What’s happened to me, Master?” My voice sounds strange to me, like I’ve been sucking on one of the Master’s strange cylinders again.
Master turns back to Mom and Dad. “There, you see? Because of your daughter’s noble sacrifice, not to mention Igor’s, we know now that it is possible to transplant a brain from one corpse to another and bring it back to life!”
“Hm,” Dad says. He’s tapping his chin, looking thoughtful. “I’m not sure I approve of this. You’re sure you couldn’t have preserved our daughter’s own brain?”
Master shakes his head. “Oh, heavens, no. You mauled the other body quite beyond usability.”
“Well,” Mom says, “that may look like our Ginny, but it’s definitely not her. Ward, we’re going to leave her here. I can’t imagine going on with that… person, and I certainly won’t have her in my car. Having a werewolf for a husband is quite enough of a burden, I’m sure.”
“Quite right,” Dad says. He turns to Master. “You’re a heinous man, sir. I hope that our paths never cross again, or I’m afraid I may find it much harder to control my temper.”
Master nods. “Of course. And I certainly can’t find it in my heart to blame you.”
Mom and Dad leave, and I heard their car drive away. Master comes up to me and leans over me. “Well, Igor,” he says. “Looks like you’re stuck here for now. You’re probably too small now to dig in graves and carry the bodies of executed murderers back to the lab, but I’m sure we’ll find other uses for you.” He sighs. “Looks like I’ll have to revise my mission statement yet again.” He shakes his head and walks away slowly.
I play with my pigtails and pout. Master’s always been good to me before, but now I start to wonder if I should get in touch with my union rep. I may just have to file a grievance over this.
“A Most Heinous Man” was originally published in Issue #33 of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, which was pretty spiffy. It also made it into their “Best of Horror” for that year. The accompanying illustration was done by Lewis Morley who did some of the conceptual designs for the Matrix movies, which is also spiffy. Click to embiggen.
The people listed in the “Cast” section of the illustration are “Kirsten Andrews” (it was supposed to be “Kristin Andrews”, my mother, but there was a typo); “Jennifer Crawford”, my wife; and “Keith Phemister”, my good friend.