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#68

The Monster's Name




The Monster’s Name

            The Monster stood on the widow’s watch at the top of the Doctor’s ancient house and looked at the stars, wondering how much longer he should look at them. He wrapped his mottled, mismatched hands around the iron railing and clamped his teeth down on his pipe, sending a burst of smoke out through his nostrils. Some of his teeth were dog teeth, but the Monster didn’t mind. They worked fine. He looked at the stars and felt nothing but a rising impatience. As usual, he didn’t get it.

            The Doctor’s house was perched on top of a steep, tree-covered hill and below it lay the sleeping town, a clump of low, shabby homes and businesses with crooked chimneys and black mold in their basements.  The Monster gave up on the stars. He opened the hatch in the roof and went down the steps into the attic. The second smallest toe on his right foot had worked itself loose. He needed the Doctor to reattach it. Keeping his body parts in order was important to the Monster even if it wasn’t to the Doctor.

           

As the doctor, freshly shaven and sweating from the light workout that the Monster had interrupted, stitched the Monster’s toe back onto his foot, the Monster sat on the Doctor’s examination table with his trouser leg rolled up around his off-center kneecap and tried to decipher the Doctor’s mood. Making no progress on this front, the Monster finally blurted, “Doctor, why did you make me?”

            The Doctor didn’t look up from the stitching. “To see if it could be done. To prove that I could do it.”

            “But why else?” asked the Monster, holding his foot as still as possible.

            “That was it,” said the Doctor. “No other reasons.”

            The Monster remembered the first thing he’d seen when he’d come to life: the Doctor’s beaming face, bending over him and shouting, “Live! Live! You’re alive! You’re living!” It was an exciting way to come into the world. Those first few days, the Doctor had run the Monster through a vast number of tests, enthusiastically checking his vital signs every twenty minutes, asking him to taste various foods, making him lift weights and do the shuttle-run where he’d cleared a space in the dusty, unused wine cellar. But that had been over two months ago. Since then, the Doctor had grown increasingly distant, diving headlong back into his passion for potions and elixirs. The Monster, once proud to be the Doctor’s crowning achievement, now felt more like a burden.

            “There,” said the Doctor. “That toe shouldn’t give you any more trouble, but I noticed the littlest one looks like it might come loose soon. I’m not sure you really need it, but if it bothers you, let me know.”

            The Monster wiggled his toes. The three biggest had all come from the same foot, but the smallest two had come from other feet. They’d both lost their nails weeks ago and the Monster wondered if they were more trouble than they were worth.

            “What am I for now?” asked the Monster. “Now that I’m alive, what do I do next?”

            “Whatever you want,” said the Doctor.

            “What do I want?” asked the Monster. “How do I know?”

            “I made you,” said the Doctor. “I assembled your parts and brought you to life. I didn’t really plan beyond that, Monster. Whatever you do is your responsibility now. That’s the curse of being alive.”

            The Monster went to his room and closed the door. He laid down on his bed and smoked his pipe until he fell asleep with ash smoldering on his ghastly pale face.

           

The next morning, the Monster knocked on the Doctor’s laboratory door.

            “What do you want?” The Doctor’s voice was muffled by his protective mask and the thick wooden door.

            “I want to help you,” answered the Monster.

            After a short silence, the Doctor opened the door, looking the Monster up and down. “Where did you get that lab coat?”

            “I made it out of a bed sheet,” said the Monster.

            “I don’t need your help,” said the Doctor. “Why do you want to help?”

            “It’s what I want to do with my living,” said the Monster, looking over the Doctor’s shoulder at the fizzing beakers and test tubes.  “I want to serve you.”

            “You don’t know anything about chemistry,” said the Doctor.

            “Then I’ll cook and clean for you,” said the Monster.

            “No, Monster,” said the Doctor. “You aren’t my servant. You can’t just want to do what I want. You have to do what you want. Now stop disturbing me. I have elixirs to tend to.” He closed the door.

            The Monster stood in the dark, empty hall and resented elixirs with all his might.

 

Over dinner one night, the Monster looked up from his steaming potato soup and said, “Doctor, I know what I want.”

“I’m glad,” said the Doctor, perusing the town newspaper, which was only two pages front and back.

“I want a partner,” said the Monster. “I want a bride.”

“No,” said the Doctor, dropping the newspaper on the table, one corner sticking to a bowl of jelly. “We’re confirmed bachelors. No brides.”

“But you told me to want what I want,” said the Monster. “Not what you want.”

“You don’t want a bride,” said the Doctor. “Besides, what woman would have you? You’re a monster cobbled together from parts stolen from dead bodies.”

“Make another Monster,” said the Monster. “Like me except she’s a woman.”

“I’m not interested in making more Monsters,” said the Doctor. “I proved I could do it and that’s enough. I’m into potions and elixirs again now. I don’t have time to gather up all those parts and assemble them and hook it up to the machine again. Gaah, just the thought of it makes me tired.” He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.

“What if I do all the leg work?” asked the Monster. “What if I get the parts and put them together? Will you hook it up to the machine and bring it to life?”

“Where are you going to get the body parts?” asked the Doctor. “I’m not using my connections so you can pursue this folly.”

“You won’t have to,” said the Monster. “I’ll find them myself.”

“I don’t have time to teach you how to assemble the parts,” said the Doctor.

“I’ll teach myself! I won’t bother you at all!”

“Fine,” said the Doctor. “If you somehow manage to get the parts you need and put them together properly and you stay out of my hair while you’re doing it, I’ll bring your bride to life. But do not come to me begging for help until you’re ready for the last step, OK?”

“OK,” said the Monster. He could tell the Doctor didn’t believe he could do it. But he could. He knew he could. Or, he thought he knew he could. It was something.

 

The Monster pored over the Doctor’s anatomy books for hours. As he learned more and more about how bodies are put together, he began to conduct minor operations on himself, detaching and then reattaching small parts here and there. Once he felt he had a good grasp of the basics, he began to make semi-regular forays into the town cemetery under the cover of night, the Doctor’s second best shovel propped over his shoulder and a smile on his drooping, purple lips.

The Doctor didn’t pay him much attention, but the Monster didn’t mind so much now that he had a goal to occupy his time. Looking down into the open graves, gaping black and exhaling age and thick decay, the Monster felt the way he thought looking at the stars was supposed to make him feel. And nothing excited him as much as finding a useful body part: a femur, a pair of pretty ears, a sturdy ribcage. He ate well, he slept well, he hummed a melody he’d never heard before while he worked. The nights grew cold. The Monster looked down, not up.

 

The Monster’s bride was fully assembled, stitched together with the most care he could manage with his crooked, reanimated fingers. The Monster had clothed her in a frilly Victorian dress and laid her out on the dilapidated sofa in the upstairs lounge for the Doctor’s inspection. The Doctor was surprised when he saw her and at first refused to believe the Monster had put her together. But he finally accepted that there was no other possible explanation.

“We can bring her to life now?” asked the Monster, smiling with excitement.

“I’m at such a crucial stage with my potions…”

“You promised,” said the Monster. “You said you’d bring her to life with your machine.”

“Fine,” said the Doctor. “Carry her down to the basement lab.”

The Monster waited impatiently in the laboratory for close to an hour before the Doctor finally arrived, his brow furrowed with irritation. He grumbled to himself as he strapped the Monster’s bride down to the table, attaching wires to her head, neck, chest, and limbs. The Monster didn’t think the Doctor looked like he was being very thorough, but of course he hadn’t seen how the Doctor had brought him to life, so there was no way to compare the two procedures.

“What can I do to help?” asked the Monster.

“Nothing,” said the Doctor. “Stay out of my way.”

He went over to the controls to his machine and pressed some buttons. He shot a strange look at the Monster over his shoulder and then pressed some more buttons. Then he pulled a lever. The machine rumbled and hummed, vibrating the air in the room, rattling the stray bits of equipment that were piled in every corner and scattered across the floor. Then the noise receded and the machine was still. The Doctor pushed the lever back into its original position. “Is she alive?”

The Monster rushed over to the table to welcome his bride to life. She was not alive. She was nothing more than a bunch of body parts stitched together into the shape of a woman, cold and inert. “Try it again,” said the Monster. “She’s not alive yet.”

“It won’t do any good to try it again,” said the Doctor. “You must not have put her together correctly.”

“I did!” said the Monster. “I was so careful! I checked my work dozens of times!”

“Nope,” said the Doctor. “You screwed up somehow.”

“Just try it one more time,” said the Monster. “Please, please.”

“Stop begging!” shouted the Doctor. “I gave you your chance and it didn’t work! That’s what living is like! You should be happy your bride doesn’t have to come to life to experience these kinds of disappointments! Now put her back in the ground before she stinks up the whole house!” He stalked out of the lab and slammed the iron door behind him with a deep, resounding clang.

Crushed, The Monster fingered the wires attached to his bride’s body. They felt strangely slack. He pulled on the wires and their loose ends, connected to nothing, slid out from behind the Doctor’s machine. His bride had never had a chance at life.

 

The Monster went out into the night and dug a hole in the yard behind the Doctor’s house. He laid his bride inside and shoveled the black dirt back on top of her. It was the second burial for all of her parts, but the first burial for her. Soon the hole was filled. The Monster patted down the loose soil with the back of the shovel. All those hours spent cramming his brain with knowledge, all that back-breaking digging in the dark cemetery and rooting around inside rotting coffins, all those clumsy hours working the needle and thread to build his bride: it had all amounted to nothing. He had thought he’d had something to do, but he hadn’t. Having done something did not mean he’d had something to do.

The Monster made a cross out of a board that he broke in two and nailed together, but when he went to paint his bride’s name on the cross like he’d seen on the grave markers in the cemetery, he realized that she didn’t have a name. And then he realized that he didn’t have a name. The Doctor had always just called him “Monster” or “The Monster.”  Setting his brush and the can of blue house paint on the ground next to his bride’s grave, the Monster went back into the house.

The Doctor was already back upstairs in his laboratory, absorbed with his potions.

The Monster entered without knocking. “Why don’t I have a name?”

“You don’t need a name,” said the Doctor, dumping a pink powder into a clear liquid.

“I want one,” said the Monster.

“Ridiculous,” said the Doctor. “Look at yourself. You’re enough of an affront to nature without having a man’s name too.”

“I wish you’d never made me!” shouted the Monster.

“You think I don’t wish the same?” asked the Doctor. “You’re the single greatest regret of my professional life!”

In the silence that followed the Doctor’s outburst, there was a pounding at the front door. It was after midnight and the Doctor never received visitors regardless of the hour. But, eager for a way out of the conversation, he hurried out of the room and down the stairs to the front door. The Monster followed. When the Doctor answered the door, he found a mob of two dozen angry men with pitchforks and torches standing in his front yard.

“What do you want?” he asked.

The mob’s spokesman, a burly man with long blond hair, said, “Give us the Monster!”

“Why?” asked the Doctor. “What’s he done to you?”

“He’s been digging up bodies in the cemetery and we won’t stand for it! He’s an unnatural creature and he must be put to death!” The mob murmured their agreement, their faces hard and frightened in the eerie torchlight. The Monster, realizing how much danger he was in, ducked behind an easy chair in the living room where he could still hear what was happening.

“Listen, men,” said the Doctor, stepping out onto his front porch and speaking in a loud but soothing voice. “He didn’t mean any harm. He just doesn’t know any better.”

“Of course he doesn’t,” shouted the spokesman. “He’s a horrible, unnatural creature like I said! He needs to be put to death! He’s a monster!”

“He’s not a monster,” said the Doctor. The Doctor turned and called back into the house. “Thomas, come out here and introduce yourself to the mob.”

It took the Monster a moment to realize that the Doctor was talking to him. Trembling, he stood up. As he walked to the door, he could see the Doctor’s sorrowful face, and behind him the nervous, angry mob intent on ending his life.

The Monster stepped past the Doctor and out onto the porch. He heard the front door close behind him and the click of the lock. The mob edged forward, leading the way with the points of their pitchforks.

“Hello, everyone,” said the Monster. “My name is Thomas.”

 



Discussion Questions

  • Are you going to be able to sleep after listening to that? Or are you going to sleep but be afflicted with nightmares?



  • Are you dissatisfied like the Doctor or dissatisfied like the Monster?



  • Would you name a Monster? If so, what would you name him or her? What if the Monster preferred a different name? Would you oblige him or her? How much influence does a Monster deserve concerning his or her own name?



  • Would a monster bride really have cured the Monster of his ennui?



  • Think about happier possible endings for this story. Do you have one? It doesn’t work!