Mentor to a Monster

This story is paired with Chapter 17 of Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free. 


 

“These hands have done things that this mind should have never allowed.”

The words hung inside the hearing chamber, as cameras flashed from the press area in a dizzying cascade of light. Once they were finished immortalizing the moment for all to see, the lead congressman finally spoke.

“Dr. Steinson, does that conclude your opening statement?”

“Yes, it does,” he replied, his eyes never leaving the floor beneath him.

“Dr. Franklin Nicholas Steinson,” the congressman continued. “Are you aware of why you have been called before this committee and the charges that have been brought against you?”

“Yes,” the doctor replied, still looking down at his feet.

“Good,” the congressman replied while taking off his glasses. “I see that you have waived the right to counsel, but you will still be granted a full and fair hearing. Before we begin, however, would you care to explain to us…in your own words…what led up to the events on August 30, 2023?”

Dr. Steinson considered the question seriously for a moment. The committee had all the evidence that it needed to obtain a conviction. There was no use in defending himself. Still, he thought it might be best to explain why he’d abused the laws of man and God in such a craven manner. The tale would do nothing to exonerate him, but perhaps it might give answers to those who simply considered him a monster.

“I just wanted to fix my own mistake,” Dr. Steinson replied, looking up for the first time since he’d entered the room. “It all began with an accidental finding.”

*   *   *

May 7, 2022

“Will, you idiot!”

Dr. Steinson loved his teaching assistant like a son, but the boy’s tendency to mess up the simplest things could anger him to a degree he’d never experienced before. This most recent error, however, had caused him to become more enraged than ever.

After storming across the main courtyard of Miskatonic University and climbing the stairs of the main student housing building, physical exhaustion had amplified his anger even more. He took out his initial frustrations on Will’s door, banging his hand against it so hard that it threatened to come off its hinges.

“What’s wrong, Dr. Steinson?” Will asked as he stumbled out of his dorm room.

“You are to come down to the lab with me this instant!” Steinson replied through gritted teeth.

Will didn’t ask why; he knew better. Instead, he simply got dressed and followed his professor back towards the main research facility. It was Sunday and near the end of the semester, which gave the normally bustling campus and eerie, deserted feeling.

The pair walked in silence, Will afraid to ask why he was being called into the lab during the weekend. He was sure, however, that it was yet another stupid mistake on his part. He’d always been the type of person who could fix anything type of electronic device, but often forgot to plug it back in afterwards. His work in the neuroscience lab had been no different.

“Here!” Dr. Steinson shouted while handing him a tablet and pointing to Bobby, the lab’s monkey. “Tell me if you notice what you did wrong.”

“Well…I’ll try…” Will responded with a slight tremble in his voice. “Hemispherectomy was performed on Subject 001, aka ‘Bobby,’ on March 12, 2022. The left hemisphere of the subject’s brain was successfully removed, which led to a decrease in seizure activity of approximately 78%. On April 28, 2022, Subject 002, aka ‘Red Shirt,’ had his entire brain removed. The left hemisphere of Subject 002’s brain was detached and successfully bonded to the right hemisphere of Subject 001’s brain on May 1, 2022.”

“Read the additional notes on the operation,” Dr. Stein said, still glaring at Will.

“The still intact brain of Subject 001 is not as symmetrical as anticipated. Corpus callosums and fornixes are greatly at odds, requiring micro-surgery and stem cell replacement to make them compatible. This surgery was successfully completed, however, allowing both cerebral hemispheres to be properly bonded.”

“Yes,” Dr. Steinson said with a pained smile. “That was quite brilliant how you managed to do that. Your skill in neural microsurgery is the greatest I have ever seen. Unfortunately, it was also completely unnecessary…because you used two right hemispheres!”

A cold chill ran down Will’s spine as the realization of his blunder became clear. He tried to stammer out an apology, but Dr. Steinson wasn’t finished.

“Once again, you have torpedoed your brilliance with complete inattention to the type of detail that a lobotomized toddler would have caught! Did you even consider…for one damn second…that you may have accidentally taken out the wrong cerebral hemisphere?! That the corpus callosums and fornixes weren’t lining up because they were both for the same side of the brain?!”

“I’m…I’m sorry sir,” Will whimpered as tears filled his eyes.

“Damn right you are,” Steinson shot back. “It’s not as if monkey brains are available at the local corner store! It’s bad enough that we’ve got PETA up our asses, but now the board of trustees will be, as well. Miskatonic finally lets me do some real neuroscience research, and a bumbling T.A…”

“But sir,” Will interrupted while pointed to the monkey’s cage. “Bobby is still alive…and look at what he’s doing right now.”

Dr. Steinson whirled around to see that the monkey was imitating his gestures and facial expressions perfectly. If it had been a person, he may have felt insulted. The scientist in him, however, was fascinated by this new development.

“That’s incredible,” Steinson whispered as they both leaned in towards the cage. “The theory of brain lateralization was debunked years ago, but the right brain functions of our little Bobby appear to have amplified.”

“The part of the brain which recognizes faces, gestures, and emotions,” Will added.

“And neuroplasticity takes care of the rest,” the doctor replied. “Once again, Will, you have proven yourself to be brilliant despite your severely absent-minded nature. This might not be a completely lost cause after all. Let’s get to work.”

*   *   *

November 11, 2022

“Dr. Steinson!” Will yelled over his shoulder. “Can you feel that, sir?!”

“Yes I can, my boy,” he said while staring into Bobby’s large, brown eyes.

The monkey often looked at them like that, watching their every movement and facial expression before mimicking them perfectly. Today, however, the animal had just sat and gazed at them intently, as if he were trying to transmute a message to the scientists out of thin air.

It was Will who’d felt it first. The sensation wasn’t made of words, but the intent was so precise and well-formed that language was rendered completely unnecessary. Bobby was communicating to them through pure empathy and emotion, its meaning so crystal clear that it startled and excited both men beyond anything they had ever studied before.

The monkey had already shown considerable ability in most areas typically associated with right brain functions. He’d even begun to create beautiful portraits of the people who worked inside the lab. They may have been created with smeared feces, but the likenesses and attention to detail were uncanny. Communication through thought, however, was not something that anyone had anticipated.

“Will,” Steinson said as a smile stretched across his face. “I know I am very hard on you sometimes, but that is only because I worry about your brilliance being undone by careless mistakes. In this instance, however, it appears that one of your errors has led to something quite incredible.”

Will smiled, happy to experience the rare statement of approval from his mentor. Dr. Steinson may have been tough on him, but he’d also shown much more care and concern for his well-being than his quick-tempered father ever had.

“Thank you, sir,” Will replied with a grin. “I’ll keep working overtime, though. I won’t feel right about all this until I’ve made up the troubles I caused you during my first year of school.”

Steinson considered telling him not to worry, but quickly decided against it. Will had grown into a very capable research assistance, skilled at both microsurgery and neurological modulation. He would still leave the freezer door open once in a while after leaving the lab, but his absent-minded mistakes had drastically decreased in volume since the monkey brain incident back in May.

“That’s very much appreciated, my boy,” he said with a firm pat on Will’s shoulder.

*   *   *

February 16, 2023

Dr. Steinson’s hands trembled as he held the note, his eyes continually darting over to where Will’s body sat slumped in the corner. Part of him irrationally thought that if he didn’t read Will’s final words, then none of this would be real. Eventually, the scientist in him forced the words on the page he held to come into focus.

Dear Dr. Stein,

I know you will hate me for what I’ve done, but I cannot bear this burden any longer. It was exhilarating when Bobby first began speaking to us telepathically, but it has begun to cause me suffering without end.

His thoughts follow me outside the lab now, into my dorm room and even when I go home to visit my folks. He constantly asks why nothing seems like it should, why he is in cage, and what we are doing to him. I can’t actually hear the words, but their intent and force weights so heavily upon my heart that I cannot bear to feel them any longer.

Please tell my family that I’m sorry.

Sincerely,

William Reed

“This is my fault,” Dr. Steinson thought as he placed the letter on a nearby table. “I pushed the poor boy too hard…made him stay here in the lab too long.”

He looked over at Will’s body, its neck tilted to one side with a gaping bullet wound in the right side of his head.

“You poor boy,” Steinson said as a tear fell down his face. “You couldn’t even do this correctly…but maybe that means I can still save you. And this time, I’ll make sure that you are protected from yourself.”

*   *   *

Arkham Police Department Report

Reporting Officer: Lt. Detective Swinburne

Location: Dunwich Village, Miskatonic Valley

Time/Date: February 17, 2023. 8:30 AM

Applicable Codes: 187 (Homicide), 217 (Assault with Intent to Murder).

Officer’s Description: John Doe was found by occupants of Dunwich Village, who claimed to be heading into Arkham for routine items. Call was received at 8:02 AM and given to dispatch, who directed me to the Dunwich General Store.

Subject appeared to have been dragged a short distance after a brief struggle. A needle mark in the subject’s neck indicates that some type of lethal injection was administered during the assault. Toxicology reports are expected to confirm and classify the substance used to kill John Doe.

After the subject was killed, the top part of his skull was cut open and the entire brain was removed. The tools used appear to have been surgical and precise.

John Doe was known to locals as a vagrant, but did not display any violent, lewd, or aggressive behavior. No known family or associates were available to identify the victim.

Investigation is still ongoing.

End Report

*   *   *

February 20, 2023

Will’s eyes fluttered and opened as if had merely been awakened from a dream. Maybe he had. Dr. Steinson made no claims about knowing what might happen to the soul after life was extinguished. What he saw before him, however, was a subject he was just beginning to understand: A return from death into being alive once again.

“Dr. Steinson?” Will asked, his brow furrowing against the stitches that ran across it. “What happened?”

“You were dead, my boy,” Dr. Steinson replied, unsure if he should (or could) tell him how that came to be. “I used your research notes to help bring you back…and now here you are.”

“How long was I dead?” Will asked, not seeming at all phased by such a shocking revelation.

“Approximately three days,” Steinson responded. “I put you in cryo-containment during that time and procured a…um…replacement…”

“What part of me did you replace?” Will asked, his eyes focused intensely on the doctor standing over him.

“That’s…a little hard to explain,” Steinson stammered. “For now, let’s just say that I was able to replace the right portion of your brain with a left…”

“Good,” Will interrupted. “The right portion was what caused me to kill myself. Emotions tend to have that effect. But were you not worried that would take away a part of my personality?”

“I just thought…well…if I removed that part of the equation, you wouldn’t do what you did again,” Steinson responded, unable to tell if Will was angry with him or not.

“Very good of you to think so,” Will replied flatly. “I will no doubt form emotions over time as the two hemispheres better adapt to each other. For now, however, this is excellent work.”

Will’s cold, clinical nature was something that Dr. Steinson found terribly unsettling. The boy had always had a big heart and a goofy demeanor. It may have led to some boneheaded decisions, but it was also quite endearing. Now, however, the man who lay before him on the operating table did not seem like Will at all.

“Come on now, doctor,” Will barked as he got up off the table and moved towards the research specimens. “We’ve got work to do.”

*   *   *

March 15, 2023

“Will, what on earth have you done?”

Dr. Steinson gaped in disbelief at Bobby’s cage, where the monkey’s headless body laid sprawled out across the artificial tree limb he was always perched upon.

“His thoughts were distracting me from our work,” Will responded without looking up. “We’ve learned all we can from him. He had nothing left to offer but delays and distractions.”

“But Will,” Steinson gasped. “This creature’s thoughts were the entire reason that you originally killed…ended your own life.”

“Exactly,” Will replied. “Before you brought me back, Bobby’s constant pleading to be released, to understand why he had another monkey’s memories, to understand where his place was in the world…all of it filled my mind to the point that my heart could no longer take it. Now, however, the creatures thoughts felt more like flies that refused to leave freshly made food at a picnic…so I got rid of them.”

Dr. Steinson stumbled back a bit as a cold knot of fear formed inside his stomach. He had not only crossed a huge ethical line in saving Will, but had altered him in a way that had changed him into a completely different type of man.

“Doctor, I do have one question,” Will stated as he finally looked up at him. “Where did you get the other left hemisphere to match with my own? I’ve begun to have dreams and even memories that seem resemble the town of Dunwich.”

Steinson had held off on telling his pupil how the other half of his new mind had been acquired. The old Will would have never forgiven him for killing another human being, even if it was just a drifter that no one would miss. Steinson had experienced plenty of guilt over it about it, but not nearly as much as he’d felt about Will’s death. Saving him was far too important on both a personal and scientific level.

“I killed a drifter from that area,” Steinson said, hoping somewhere in the back of his mind that Will would chastise him for the act.

“Very good,” Will replied as he looked back down at his lab samples and continued to work. “That will make it much harder for them to trace any of this back to you.”

Dr. Steinson shuddered and started to leave the room before Will called him back.

“Doctor, I realize that my demeanor might be a bit unsettling, but don’t worry. The tests I am running now show a high probability that some degree of empathy will return as the neural pathways between the two same sided hemispheres adjust and correct themselves.”

Dr. Steinson nodded and turned again to leave, still unable to shake the uneasiness that had crept up from his stomach to his throat.

*   *   *

August 15, 2023

“I’m sorry, Dr. Steinson, but we cannot allow this,” the stern-faced trustee said with a sigh.

“So you’re going to cut all of my funding?” Steinson replied, trying to keep his voice from rising into a yell. “We are so close to figuring out things about the human brain that no one had even realized were possible!”

“We don’t have a choice, doctor. The allegations from the mental health community over your use of Arkham Sanatorium patients, along with continued protests from PETA, have put far too much pressure on Miskatonic University to allow your program to continue.”

There was more that Dr. Steinson wanted to say, but instead, he gathered up his papers and stormed off. Who were they to tell him what was ‘unethical?’ The trustees had no problem showering him with money back in June, when Time Magazine featured the school’s breakthrough cure for Alzheimer’s on its cover. If a few mental patients and feces flinging monkeys had to be sacrificed for the betterment of millions of people, then so be it!

“I’m guessing that they will keep expanding upon your Alzheimer’s research despite the ‘tainted’ means by which it was done,” Will said, rubbing the scars across his forehead.

“Your research, my boy,” Steinson replied with a sigh. “It was your brilliant mind that did most of the heavy lifting. Now it is I who has blundered and cost us everything.”

“Nonsense!” Will snapped back. “It was you who gave me this new mind and freed me from my previously foolish one. It was you who helped us procure human subjects from Arkham Sanatorium despite your own reservations. And now it is you who they are trying to punish for helping me cure one of our most terrible ailments. I will not stand for it.”

“Will, there’s nothing that can be done,” Steinson said as he put a hand on his pupil’s shoulder.

“Oh yes there is, my boy,” Reed replied with a wicked grin. “They will learn what happens when great minds are punished for doing great things.”

*   *   *

August 30, 2023

ARKHAM TOWNSHIP ALERT.

All residents of Arkham, including Miskatonic University and the Miskatonic Valley area, are urgently warned not to drink, bathe, or in any way use their water.

A virus has been discovered in the water supply that is considered extremely dangerous. The Center for Disease Control states that any residents who have ingested water from Arkham Water Systems should immediately seek medical attention.

Symptoms include vomiting, disorientation, lack of motor functions, aggressive behavior, and an urge to attack or bite others. If you feel that someone you know has been infected, seek shelter immediately. DO NOT attempt to approach or help them unless you are an armed emergency services worker.

Please stay tuned to this channel for more updates.

*   *   *

“After it happened, Will told me it was the only way to keep our research going,” Dr. Steinson said as the expressionless Congressional committee listened. “He claimed that the desperate measures would force the government to grant us the freedom we needed to do our work again. I grabbed him and screamed that I had to kill my own wife that morning. He simply replied that it was ‘worth the sacrifice’ to protect our work…and to show those who had attacked us what happened when our alleged ‘brilliance’ was not recognized.”

“Well, it seems that he got part of that right,” the committee chair responded as he shifted in his seat. “The Miskatonic Valley area has been quarantined, but there are reports coming out of Boston of infected people having made it into the area. Apparently, they had already left town before we’d established the perimeter.”

“This would all be much easier if it really was a ‘zombie’ infestation, as the news media is calling it,” a congresswoman to his right chimed in. “Unfortunately, this isn’t a case of the dead rising. These are living people who have been made sick by your assistant, who we now know is only alive because of your gross and despicable misconduct. It is up to both of you to find a cure before this becomes a full blown pandemic.”

“I am willing to try,” Steinson replied, “but I’m not sure that Will can be convinced to help me reverse engineer the virus. He’s already stated that he knows his life and mine are over once it’s been done.”

“Well then, Dr. Steinson, I urge you to find a way to control your monster,” the congresswoman shot back. Otherwise, we may all soon be dead.”

*   *   *

Arkham Prison Transcript.

August 25, 2023

6:20 PM

Subject: William Reed, Prisoner 3151937

Visitor: Dr. Franklin N. Steinson

Reed: What the hell do you want?

Steinson: What did I tell you about asking obvious questions, William?

Reed: You really still think you’re smarter than me, don’t you?

Steinson: I never said that. I—

(Cross talk)

Steinson: You know damn well why I’m down here, William! Please tell us how to fix this!

Reed: Oh, you mean how you fixed me, you sanctimonious asshole?

Steinson: I saved your life, William! Does that not afford me some measure to ask you to stop killing in my name? You said you wanted to show people what happened when they tried to interfere with great minds. Whether it was for my sake or not, this is not right.

Reed: And therein lies the problem, Dr. Steinson. You see, I know that it was wrong. I am fully aware during every waking second of my time in this cell that the actions I took were beyond monstrous. Unfortunately, I am completely unable to feel the anguish and guilt that should be washing over me because of them.

Steinson: Yes, but you still feel—

(Cross talk)

Reed: —me finish! Yes, I can still feel things, as evidence by how your mere presence here sickens me to my very core. But those feelings of hate, contempt, and arrogance are all that seem to come to me anymore. Things like empathy, love, and joy are but fleeting memories. I know what they should feel like. I even get flashes of them for the briefest of moments. But they never stay. All that’s left is this cold shell of a man that you created.

Steinson: I saved you William.

Reed: No, Dr. Steinson, you did not save me, nor did you ever have any interesting in doing so. If you had actually wanted to bring back the William Reed you knew, then you wouldn’t have used two left hemispheres in your little act of scientific black magic. The opportunity to fix me was just too tempting, wasn’t it?

Steinson: I thought—

(Cross talk)

Reed: Don’t talk to me about what you thought! Thoughts and the cold realizations that accompany them are all I have left! Even sadness and regret are rare visitors to my heart and mind…except when I think about how much I looked up to a monster like you.

(Approximately thirty nine seconds of silence)

Reed: Don’t worry doctor. The virus I unleashed may look unstoppable, but it has a very limited lifespan. The most basic of quarantine procedures will see it burn out within the next 48 hours.

Steinson: And then what, William? What happens to us?

Reed: That is where our paths will be very different, Dr. Steinson. I will surely be locked away for the rest of my life. Fortunately, the unfeeling creature you’ve turned me into represents quite an intellectual asset for the government. I’ll likely be put to work on projects that others may find a bit unsavory, but a heartless mind such as mine will thrive upon. You, on the other hand, have had your life and work ruined. Even if they don’t lock you away forever, the prison of being hated and feared shall follow you and your still beating heart for the rest of your miserable life.

(Approximately one minute of silence)

End Transcript.

Nick Nafpliotis is a music teacher and writer from Charleston, South Carolina. During the day, he instructs students from the ages of 11-14 on how to play band instruments. At night, he writes about weird crime, bizarre history, pop culture, and humorous classroom experiences on his blog, RamblingBeachCat.com. He is a television, novel, and comic book reviewer for AdventuresinPoorTaste.com. He can also be found on Twitter @NickNafster79, where he brings shame to his family on a daily basis.


NBR3-22NafpliotisphotoNick Nafpliotis is a music teacher and writer from Charleston, South Carolina. During the day, he instructs students from the ages of 11-14 on how to play band instruments. At night, he writes about weird crime, bizarre history, pop culture, and humorous classroom experiences on his blog, RamblingBeachCat.com. He is a television, novel, and comic book reviewer for AdventuresinPoorTaste.com. He can also be found on Twitter @NickNafster79, where he brings shame to his family on a daily basis.