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Excerpt from Frankenstein Theory by Jack Wallen
Act One: A Beginning of Sorts
O N E
I awoke in a pool of my own sick and sweat. The cause? A nightmare—of blood and offal, skeletal puzzles and ribbons of muscle and vein. For a man immersed in the culture of surgical medicine, it seemed at odds to be frightened by incorporeal visions and murder most wretched. But that was my lot—a study in polarity. Like a symphonic melody in counterpoint to its accompaniment, I existed between worlds; a coward with dreams of a modern-day Prometheus. I feared what I would create, loathed the mire of human clay I would mold. As I stared into my shaving mirror, my cheeks flushed and my pupils pinprick tight, a flood of emotion drowned me.
“Who are you, Frankenstein?”
The whispered voice spilled from between my lips; unfamiliar, though I had heard its pitch and rhythm since childhood.
A flash of lightning shot shadows across the walls and floor of my room.
“One, two, three, four, five…”
A crack of thunder rattled my nerves.
“Get hold of yourself, Victor.”
The bed begged for my return. I complied. The puddle of sweat, warm as it left my flesh, was now cold and uninviting. Thunder lulled me, tricked me back into the realm of sleep.
“Victor Frankenstein,” the hollow voice shouted. “What have you to say for your actions?”
I stood in the center of the operating theatre, a classroom of eyes glaring down. Before me, on a cold surgical table, lay the unsealed corpse.
My final examination.
“Of what actions do you speak?” I called out.
From the darkened seats of the theatre, laughter spilled. As the sound rose to a fever pitch, a long, pale hand shot out to hold a mirror up to my face. The reflection in the looking glass was as horrific an image as I had ever beheld.
My face was smeared with blood. The thick, viscous liquid poured from between my lips as I made to speak.
“Sir, I have no idea—”
“Lies do not become you, Frankenstein. Now, confess your deeds or be doomed to a life of poverty, sickness, and certain misery.”
I opened my mouth to speak. From between my bloodied teeth, something fell and hit the ground with a soft hiss. Before my voice could be heard, a lump formed in my throat. The form forced itself upward until something pressed against my soft palate. My lips were forced open. To my horror, another, larger foreign body escaped and fell to the marble floor.
A beating heart.
Again, the laughter assaulted me.
Still, the heart beat.
My eyes gazed into the cadaver’s open chest.
“You will find, Frankenstein, there is no heart but the one you just expelled from your very gut. If you are to pass this exam, you must reattach that heart and give it life.”
“But, sir, that cannot be. The tissue of the heart is necrotic, and the blood in the corpse has already soured. I am not God.”
The audience went silent.
“Are you not?” the mysterious voice challenged.
“No, sir. I am Victor Frankenstein.”
“Frankenstein. Frankenstein.” The audience chanted my name over and over.
“Victor, wake up, you insufferable lout. We’re going to be late for anatomy.”
The harsh beam of the morning sun was nearly as painful as the voice of my roommate.
“Good God, Henry, can’t you see I am still asleep?”
“Were asleep; were being the operative word. Now come on, then, get dressed and let’s be off. I cannot afford to fail yet another exam because of you.”
“At this moment, Henry, I loathe you.”
He tossed me my coat and breeches.
“And at this moment, Victor, I do not care.”
We barely made it to class. Had Henry indulged me in a bit of coffee, we would have had the surgical theatre door slammed in our faces. Instead, we sat in the almost-painful wooden pews of the classroom.
I gazed about the room. Every student so sure of themselves, ready to stand and recite the answer to any question with ease. It was then that the realization struck me…I had, once again, failed to prepare myself for another final examination.
“Victor Frankenstein,” the voice shocked me to attention, “please make your way to center stage.”
I swallowed hard, hoping to return my overzealous heart to its bony cage.
“Frankenstein, would you care to join us?”
I stood. With shaky legs, I made my way to the circular stage floor. In the center of the room stood a table. On the table, as expected, a cadaver. My legs shuddered. With a cautious step, I made my way over to the wooden slab. In a flash, the nightmare returned to my conscious mind. I could see the open chest, the blood-stained surgical tools.
The voice of professor Waldman pulled me from my reverie, his thick Bavarian accent harsh against my ears.
“I’m very sorry, sir, could you repeat the question?”
A nervous laughter spread across the room.
“I am not fond of repeating myself, Frankenstein. Mr. Clerval, would you please repeat my question for your dear friend?”
The room fell cold with silence.
“Yes, sir,” Henry replied.
Through the gloom of the theatre, I could see Henry stand. The look on his face was cast in shadow; I could only sense the fear in his voice.
“You asked Victor to determine the cause of death in the cadaver.”
Without hesitation, I stepped up to the surgical table. The cold steel of the table joints brushed against my leg to send an electric chill through my flesh. Everything looked familiar—too familiar. The second my eyes beheld the torso, the open chest, it all flooded back to me.
I turned away from the body and vomited. The spill of sickness on the marble floor was a hollow splat against the gasping audience.
“Frankenstein, I would ask that you depart this classroom immediately and wait for me after class.”
I had no choice but to comply. I left the classroom in a wake of shame and regret.
“Waldman is failing me,” I shouted. “I am to leave my post and never return to the school again. The headmaster insists I have absolutely no competence as a surgeon. His only concern is that I am bringing down the good name of this university.”
Henry came at me, his hands grasping my flailing arms.
“Victor, I am certain we can talk the headmaster into giving you another chance.”
“No. Even if I thought there were a chance, I wouldn’t grace that bastard’s sight with my visage. I am done, Henry. How foolish was it of me to think I could ever follow in the footsteps of my father? I haven’t a fraction of the man’s gift.”
“Untrue,” Henry corrected. “I have seen you wield a scalpel; your skills are as precise as any. You only need apply those same skills to the books and laws of medicine.”
I forced my arms from Henry’s grip. “That’s just it, Henry, I cannot live within the boundaries of the common. I see and feel things much grander than what lies within the pages of books and the teachings of the rusting masters.”
My dearest friend merely stared at me, confusion lining his cheeks and eyes.
“Don’t you see? We surgeons should rise above the cautionary tales and techniques passed down to us from those who would claim to be scholars and doctors. We are more than that. We are gods. Our hands wield the power to give and take life. Shouldn’t we think beyond mending wounds and slowing down the tick and tock of Father Time? Henry, there is nothing we cannot do. This university, its rules and ethics, slows down the evolution of the surgeon’s art. I want more, and I plan on getting it.”
I stopped my tirade long enough to grab a trunk and begin to pack.
“Leave with me, Henry. Shrug off the shackles of control these simpletons have over you and discover with me a far deeper truth about life and death.”
Henry blinked rapidly. “Victor…I cannot…”
“You can, my friend. Together there is no limit to what we could accomplish. I want to show you something.”
I bolted the door shut and pulled the window shades closed before I turned my attention back to Henry. From a locked trunk, I retrieved my most prized possession. “This was my father’s. He handed me this book before I left home for this wretched place. From his own lips he spoke ‘To thine own self, be true.’”
“’And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.’ Shakespeare; I know the quote, Victor. What you are asking me goes against the dearest wishes of my family; a family to whom I owe—”
“Do not offer up some sentimental drivel about familial loyalty, Henry. I have been your closest friend for nearly a decade. Your family has betrayed your trust more times than you care to admit. You only agreed to come to university so as to be out from under their control and vicious treatment. Your father is a drunk and would beat you as a dog…or worse.”
Henry’s protests fell silent. I inched nearer and placed a cautious hand on the man’s shoulder. He didn’t flinch.
“Imagine the possibility, unfettered from the rules of the common man. You and I could become the standard by which all future surgeons are compared. New treatments, techniques…we could even develop the means to bring back the dead. Join me. We are the future of medicine. We can mock man and God with a single, righteous breath.”
Slowly, almost painfully so, Henry nodded.
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