Something in the darkness moved, and Herr Bruegel awoke.
A large, rough hand stole over his mouth, stifling the cry before it could begin.
“Do not cry out, Herr Anwalt,” a voice said. “I mean you no harm, but I will cause it if needed. Do you understand?”
The old lawyer nodded.
“Danke,” the voice said. “Now I will introduce myself. Remember, no sound.”
The hand moved away, and Bruegel caught a whiff of sulfur. The sound of chemical ignition accompanied a flare of light, and Bruegel saw his visitor’s face. Although Bruegel had never seen him before, he knew who it was. The elderly lawyer clamped his teeth together to capture a scream.
“You recognize me,” the visitor said, and smiled.
Bruegel nodded. He’d read Mary Shelley’s book, heard the stories in the taverns.
“I apologize for this unorthodox approach, but it is necessary,” the monster said. “The ravages of my existence are obvious.”
“What do you want, creature?” Bruegel asked. “I live alone but for a few servants, and have little to interest you.”
“To hire you,” the creature said. “Your reputation in matters of estate law and inheritance precedes you. I wish to stake a claim to my father’s estate.”
Bruegel goggled at his midnight visitor. The temerity of such a demand!
“That you would ask such a thing, especially from someone who knew Victor Frankenstein, beggars belief.”
“It is that foreknowledge I rely upon, Herr Anwalt. Why should I not claim his property? I am his creation; a singular offspring, alive through will and engineering, and all that remains of Victor. True, I have procured enough riches for myself and thus have little need of more, but his research and his library are invaluable, and his estate would be a refuge.”
Bruegel shook his head, and surprised himself by laughing softly. “What you ask….” Is impossible, Bruegel thought to add, but kept his counsel. No sense antagonizing the brute, after all. Besides, a voice chimed from the depths of Bruegel’s long study and experience of the law, there are possibilities. Quite a thorny legal issue, but perhaps if one…forcibly, Bruegel drew his attention back to the problem at hand, fascinating conundrums be damned.
“No, sir,” the creature said, “what I demand.” The creature gestured at the open window. In the moonlight, a shadow in the shape of a large trunk squatted. “Do you see that iron chest there?”
“I will tell you something that Shelley’s whimpering prose did not capture. In his last days, Victor and Walton’s crew surrounded my location as the pack ice closed around their keel. It was within my power to escape, but Frankenstein indicated on his honor that he wished to speak with me. Despite my fury, I was intrigued. So, for the last days of his life, we spoke at length, of philosophy and regret, science and darkness.”
“You claimed to know Victor. Were you privy to his work? Did you learn that he discovered certain types of information — call it instinct, or racial memory — are passed down through biological processes from parent to child?”
Bruegel shook his head. Frankenstein’s unholy science was of no interest.
The creature nodded. “I see. Well, through his experiments, he expanded on these processes, and discovered how to transmit individual memories and knowledge from one person to another. As we discussed and refined his ideas, we found the fundamental techniques were simple, even routine.”
“Before he passed into delirium and death, Victor implanted one of my memories into his consciousness, a recollection of a particular meadow outside Geneva. All one needs is a sturdy hypodermic syringe, a detailed knowledge of the brain, and… well, no need to go further into family secrets.”
The creature stood, looming impossibly tall over Bruegel’s bed in the night. He turned, crossed the room in two strides, and hefted the iron trunk without effort. He placed the chest by Bruegel’s bed. Sawdust and cold wafted from it.
“There is another important component I can reveal, Herr Bruegel,” the creature said, “a relatively fresh donor brain. Preferably alive, but with careful application of cold and certain preservatives, even a severed head is useful for some time.”
The creature sat on the chest and leaned close to Bruegel. “There are other ways to achieve my goals, but using the law to absorb Frankenstein’s earthly holdings, rapprochement or not, has an elegant irony, and such elegance is far too scarce in my existence to let go. Take on this task, and I will reward you handsomely, both with funds and with a solemn vow to leave you and yours be as long as your professional discretion remains intact. I suspect you’ve read Shelley’s book; you are thus aware I am an entity of my word.”
Bruegel nodded. That much was true, even if the outcomes were less than honorable.
“And if I do not?” Bruegel asked.
The creature shrugged. “If you do not… well, I brought tools, and I am certain there is room in my own brain for new skills, and in that chest for the magnificent head upon your shoulders. However, I cannot guarantee all the knowledge I require would be available, and clearly, appearances before the court would be difficult. There are many variables, and I cannot control for them all.”
Bruegel’s heart pounded in his chest. The creature’s eyes seemed to burn in the midnight shadows.
“I am, however, willing to try.”
Bruegel took a deep breath to calm his nerves. Carefully, mindful of the possible repercussions, the elderly lawyer weighed his options. Helping the creature in any fashion was abhorrent, and even a slow death would not take long for a man of his years, Bruegel knew. On the other hand, without this midnight visit, would he have ever had such a chance again? Could there be a basis on which to stake such an extraordinary claim? Were there other options?
The elderly lawyer looked at the creature, and decided that he had to know.
Brandon Nolta lives in north Idaho with his wife and two children. His poetry and fiction has appeared in The Centropic Oracle, Stupefying Stories, The Pedestal Magazine, Every Day Fiction, and in anthologies from JayHenge Publishing, Digital Fiction, and Mad Scientist Review. His novel Iron and Smoke was published by Montag Press in 2015.