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Excerpt for Santastein Or the Post-Holiday Prometheus by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Santastein

Or the Post-Holiday Prometheus

Brian K. Morris

RISING TIDE Publications



Copyright © 2014 by Brian K. Morris

Editing by Cookie Morris

Cover is © 2014 by Trevor Erick Hawkins

Published at Smashwords

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Brian K. Morris / Riding Tide Publications

Lafayette, Indiana

www.RisingTide.pub



Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.


Book Layout © 2016 BookDesignTemplates.com


Santastein/ Brian K. Morris. – 2nd ed.

ISBN -13: 978-0-999039295

ISBN-10: 0999308297


CONTENTS


CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

ALSO BY BRIAN K. MORRIS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR



CHAPTER ONE

Christmas was a time of joy … somewhere else. Certainly not in early 19th Century Geneva.

Elizabeth Lavenza pulled her scarf over her button nose and what were normally scarlet lips. However, tonight, just two days before Christmas Day, the latter were understandably tinged with blue from the frigid air that rolled down from the dark mountains surrounding all of Geneva.

The finest wools of Germany comprised her long coat and the softest ermine covered her ears, but the latter failed to restrain the flow of Elizabeth's long naturally-blonde hair over her shoulders. Highly polished black leather boots pressed lightly into the freshly-fallen snow that covered every horizontal surface of the village from brick walkway to rooftop.

The days of December moved towards the holiday season with all the speed of an iceberg, but only half of the enthusiasm of the boat waiting to meet it. During this time every year, Elizabeth opened her usually warm and optimistic heart even wider to the glories of the season. She delighted in the act of giving for its own sake, never desiring reciprocation, and to see the faces of those she cared for light up with gratitude and surprise. She reveled in the music of a child's laugh as well as the angelic joy in their eyes. Recognizing a young boy she'd seen from the market, Elizabeth called out to him in cheerful greeting.

The child looked up from manipulating the snow at his feet with a pair of trembling hands barely covered by a set of threadbare gloves. His eyes appeared haunted, wide and dark. While traveling with the Frankensteins, her adoptive family, Elizabeth remembered a similar sight as a child; a painting suspended from the wall of her hostel room. It was a painting of a small child with eyes like midnight, immortalized upon a canvas of dark velvet. It complimented the room's other painting, also in ebony velvet, of a youthful, dark-haired truck driving troubadour of whom the legends claimed sang of not being cruel, returning mail to the sender, blue suede footwear and something called "hound dogs."

Elizabeth shivered, but not from the cold. She averted her gaze, hoping she wouldn't cry at the thought of the boy's unhappiness. He glanced up at Elizabeth, a moment later resuming his efforts to shape a replica of his favorite dachshund from the gray snow that fell from the even-grayer clouds. After several awkward attempts to form a tail whose weight didn't prevent it from binding with the rest of the statue, the boy sullenly tossed the snowdog upwards. Gravity then pulled the chilly construction back into the fallen precipitation that covered the rest of the village.

The boy frowned and contemplated calling out for his parents before remembering that boys his age didn't mourn for dogs made of snow. That's what babies did. As the youth contemplated further, he realized the identities of his mother and father were a total mystery to him as the author of this book didn't award any of them with either names or occupations. Nor could the boy remember what to call his three siblings, nor their genders. He rose to his feet, not even bothering to brush off his clothing before trudging home to his loving parents, What's-his-name and Oh-yeah-her-too.

Moving with renewed purpose towards her fiancé Victor's home, Elizabeth found her smile returning from whence it hid. Victor! The very thought of him renewed her spirit and gave her heart the wings of an eagle. Suddenly, in her vision, the snows turned as ivory as an angel's heart and the buildings became mansions to rival the proudest castles in all of Switzerland. The children sang carols of the season in perfect non-castrato harmonies, their bellies bulging with roast goose and stuffing and jellied cranberries.

Elizabeth couldn't wait to be taken into Victor's powerful embrace, to press her lips to his, and to take her medications, the ones that kept at bay the visions of snow, architecture, children, hymns, and all things culinary.

At the outskirts of Geneva, near the edge of a dense forest, the mansion awaited her. Each window held a single candle, each wick lit with a flame that beckoned the lovely young woman to enter the abode.

The towers at each corner of the castle rose proudly into the darkening skies. One, however, appeared taller than the others, almost as if daring to part the clouds in order to gaze more clearly upon the Throne of Heaven. As Elizabeth surveyed the tallest tower from the ground, one windowsill of that spire appeared to have been scored, as if some form of intense heat had struck it. But what could burn stone so thoroughly, save for lightning?

Of all the people in the village, only Elizabeth seemed to be able to gaze upon this edifice and not wish to be elsewhere beyond its long shadows. Since Victor returned from his medical studies in Germany several months ago, the building seemed to gather darkness around its foundation, even during the brightest of days. No birds nested in the property's trees, no dog or cat willingly crossed onto the land, and the children avoided the estate as if spirits implored them to play elsewhere.

Even the sun almost refused to shine upon Victor's family home where she'd been raised after his parents adopted her as a child. The only evidence of nature extending its touch towards this building came a few nights ago when a terrifying rainstorm pelted the village and slashed at the castle's spires with the most fearsome lightning anyone could recall seeing. Only ash-colored snow seemed to embrace the haunting mansion at all on this late December morning.

However, Elizabeth knew only that the man of her dreams lived inside this mansion. His smile could warm her heart and his laugh could summon the sun at midnight. But for the last few weeks, she'd found him for only a few minutes at a time, possessed as he seemed to be with some secret project that he allowed no one to see. Not her, nor his brothers or even his best friend, could pull Victor from his laboratory for any longer than it took him to grab a hasty meal, offer his sincerest apologies, promise fervently that he would emerge soon, and leave the room with a grin that found no mirror in his eyes.

Still, she managed to force a smile onto her frozen lips when she considered the poetry to soon be found in her new name, Elizabeth Frankenstein, the wife of Geneva's newest family physician. Across the whole of civilized Europe, the Frankenstein name brought respect as it had for generations. It was a name she would be proud to pass on to her children, the number of which would be determined by her husband as well as by the level of good behavior demonstrated by the last one to emerge from her womb.

A set of three stone steps elevated visitors to the sturdy oak door upon which hung a lovely wreath of juniper berries, pine cones and what appeared to be wolfsbane. Typical male, Elizabeth thought, no sense of design.

Elizabeth reached into the center of the wreath for an iron circlet and slammed it hard against a plate, also forged in iron. She knew this was as much her home as his – and would be even moreso once they wed – but she felt compelled to announce her presence to give him time to prepare himself for her arrival. She turned the door latch and allowed herself inside.

Perhaps this time he would remove the filthy lab coat that he hadn't removed for the last month. Maybe he would greet her as the gentle, compassionate, loving man she knew him to be. She stamped the snow from her boots onto a rug of soft bearskin, a gift from Victor's own father and a testament to the man's hunting ability.

Elizabeth's breath no longer could be seen. Safe from winter's attack, she removed her soft armor and hung it neatly on a nearby clothing peg next to Victor's leather jacket and fur-lined hat.

The foyer, as always, was fully lit by several lamps in Victor's hope that his lifelong love would enter and humble those bright flames with her perfect smile.

But no smile crossed Elizabeth's lips as she cast her glance from one side of the entryway to the other. With ever widening eyes, she put her hand to her lips as if to scream …

CHAPTER TWO

Elizabeth screamed, "Where did all the furniture go?"

Once, the entryway held a full set of matching solid wood furniture made by local Swiss craftsmen out of timber taken from the majestic forest that surrounded Geneva. A matching pair of chairs used to frame the doorway as a sofa on the far side of the room welcomed couples into its embrace. All the cushions on those seats were a vivid scarlet with royal purple and gold lace trimmings. Lush matching carpets imported from Turkey recently protected the hardwood flooring from the heels of careless visitors.

Now the room was barren except for a half dozen oil lamps that hung from the plain white walls as well as a coat rack left standing and unburdened in a far corner of the room. Beside the rack was what appeared to be a chair, covered from its top to the floor by a bedsheet. What the fabric's original color was would be anyone's guess. Now the cloth lay across the sole sitting surface, in dire need of several severe cleanings. Worse still, it didn't appear to have as high a thread count as Elizabeth was used to.

The snow from Elizabeth's boots lay just inside the doorway, rapidly turning into chilled, dirty water. Warm air pumped into the room from a fireplace in the main hall through a venting system that Victor brought with him from Germany. Just like a scientist, she thought, always needs the latest toys. Elizabeth shrugged off her coat and placed it upon the coat rack, followed soon by her hat. Before Elizabeth could venture into the main hall of the great house, the door swung towards her swiftly, propelled by her fiancé, Victor von Frankenstein.

For a moment, Elizabeth didn't recognize her life-long best friend and soon-to-be husband. His hair was tousled and wild. His clothing appeared to be the same set of trousers, shirt, vest and laboratory coat as she'd seen during her previous visits over the last several weeks. He no longer took measured breaths but panted as if he'd sprinted down from one of his towers to greet her at the door, which he probably did. And that magnetic gaze that once burned with vast intelligence now darted about the room, almost in a feral manner, as if looking for enemies. Dark circles framed his eyes, giving evidence to a lack of sleep and an overabundance of obsession.

"Elizabeth, my darling." He grabbed her upper arms almost painfully and drew her in for a chaste kiss on her perfect cheek. "How wonderful to see you. I trust you are well, my love? How long has it been? A day? The longest, most hellish day a man in love should ever have to endure."

The young woman wanted to move in closer to find his lips with her own. However, his firm grip proved to be a deterrent to her wishes. She could no more move towards, or away, from her love than she could shrug off a mountain. She wrinkled her nose and not in that manner that often tempted married men to leave their spouses. "Victor von Frankenstein, I swear that you absolutely reek of your dreadful chemicals."

For a moment, Victor's eyebrows met at the intersection of puzzlement and partial offense. "Chemicals?" Then his expression brightened as if she'd just entered the castle anew and for a fleeting moment, Elizabeth recalled the man who'd won her heart when they were children. "Elizabeth, my darling, why aren't you at home, planning our wedding?"

"Well, since I grew up here, I believe this is my home." Elizabeth attempted to lift her hands to caress Victor's face. However, her fiancée’s grip still prevented her arms from moving. "And I don't care if I'm living with some friends at the inn until our wedding. If the castle isn't my home now, it soon will be." The corners of her mouth moved downward and even in disappointment, her frown was more of a smile than most humans could manage in a bliss-filled lifetime. "Besides, I need cheering, my love. Christmas fast approaches and I still don't feel the usual merriment and joy of the season." By this time, Elizabeth was certain she also could no longer feel her fingers.

Victor chuckled almost too loudly for his mirth to be natural. "Really? And here I thought Christmas Day was only for giving us poor doctors a day off."

"You are such a soulless beast." Elizabeth grinned lovingly.

However, Victor released her arms and took a step back. His gaze turned feral and he crouched as if to take flight. "Soulless beast?" Then he laughed again and mopped his brow with the back of his sleeve, leaving a slightly green tinge above his brow. "Oh, you didn't mean me!"

Elizabeth almost launched a soft mock punch against Victor's shoulder as she always did when teasing him and his oh-so-serious ways. Even as the blood flow resumed in her arms, she managed to restrain herself for fear of whatever now discolored the usually-white fabric of Victor's lab coat. Obviously, it was some chemical, probably of her fiancé’s own devising, that left a stain whose color and aroma she could not identify.

Also, Victor's personally-tailored clothing now hung on his frame loosely, as if he'd recently begun eating only to maintain his strength in order to continue his secret project. But rather than complain, she chuckled softly like a spring breeze at her husband-to-be's obsessive behavior. The warmth of her gentle laugh was just enough to draw a similar response from Victor and to inspire as close to a sincere smile as he'd managed in weeks.

However, Elizabeth could conceal nothing from her intended, least of all her feelings. "No, seriously, the streets should echo with holiday carols and laughter. The chill winds should carry the smell of home cooking and every window in every house should glow from the fires that gather families to their warmth. Instead, the streets are dark and eerily cold, just as many of us are inside."

She glanced into her love's eyes, finding the same darkness as she saw outside his threshold. "Oh, Victor. You must think me overly-sentimental and childish." Elizabeth averted her gaze towards the chair.

"Hardly." Victor gave her hands a gentle squeeze that carried her heart beyond the very clouds themselves. He swung his body around, standing between her and the chair, as he lifted her chin to lock her gaze with his. "Your warmth and compassion are a balm to my obsessive and amoral scientific ways."

"Dear Victor." Elizabeth smiled her perfect smile. "Your self-effacing manner makes me swoon."

To prove her point, Elizabeth moved towards the chair while her knees, which Victor imagined were also as perfect as her smile, could carry her weight.

However, before she could reach the chair, Victor seized Elizabeth's upper arm and pulled her into his embrace. His arms surrounded her not so much like a lover's embrace, rather as a way to keep her from falling onto the hard, wooden floor. Her eyes met his, finding not the loving concern she expected to find. Instead, they were fearful, nervous, wary.

"No!" He took a deep breath, realizing he'd spoken more loudly than he intended. He forced the corners of his lips upward. "That chair is … part of my secret project. You would have sat upon something I just put together and … it's still not ready …" Victor licked his dry lips as his eyes darted around the barren room as if looking for the best words to utter next. "Um … as in ready for your delicate frame yet. Splinters, you know."

Elizabeth looked into Victor's eyes as if she could stare directly upon his inner struggles. "Did you go to Germany to study medicine or was it wood working?" Her eyes narrowed. "You didn't get your degree in – dare I say it?" She could barely whisper the words. "Liberal Arts?"

Victor managed his warmest smile. "Darling Elizabeth, I know I might have little to no moral compass, but even I could not sink to those Mephistopholian depths."

If Elizabeth intended to disagree, those words would go unsaid as an enthusiastic knock sounded from the front door. Victor broke the embrace to greet whoever was at the door, but it swung open, allowing the cold and snow inside, along with a visitor who stood in the inky shadows of the night.

Victor's jaw dropped at the sight of this visitor. And with ever widening eyes, Elizabeth put her hand to her lips as if to scream …


CHAPTER THREE

Victor could have screamed in frustration. The last person he wanted to see in this world at this particular time just crossed his doorstep, entering as if he too lived in the Castle of Frankenstein. But then this person always had a knack for arriving at the times he seemed to be the least needed or wanted.

Henry Clerval pushed into the room. He possessed the manner of a used riding coach salesman and dressed in a similar manner. His plaid Inverness coat flew onto the coat rack, barely missing Victor, while he executed a direct route to Elizabeth's hand. He leaned over, kissing it none-too-gently. In turn, she grimaced as if offered a chance to aid a cow, bare-handed, with a breech birth.

"Sweet Elizabeth, your beauty is wasted on my best friend's fumbling attentions." He winked at Victor. Victor did not return the wink as he noticed Henry had not released Elizabeth's hand. "Run away with me instead."

With a nearly unladylike display of strength, Elizabeth liberated her hand from Henry's clutches. "How about I allow you two gentlemen to fight over me?" She directed a look at Victor that seemed to say, Don't lose!

Victor took his fiancé’s hand tenderly in his. He gazed at the perfect flesh and kissed it softly, reverently. He looked up into Elizabeth's eyes and for a moment, she saw once more the man she intended to marry. "Soon, I shall reveal my surprise. May you find it as welcome as I find every glance you deign to grant me."

"All I could ever want is you," Elizabeth said, her eyes welling with happy tears. She squeezed his hand and moved to the coat rack where Victor held her winter garments at the ready. She slid into them, aided by her loving fiancé who next walked her to the door. She glanced back at Henry who wiggled his fingers in what he doubtlessly believed to be a wave of fare-thee-well. Instead, it looked like some form of obscene gesture … which he probably intended to give in the first place.

Once Elizabeth moved into the icy night winds of Geneva and with the door secured behind her, Victor allowed his shoulders to slump from fatigue. He couldn't remember how many days ago he'd last known sleep or a decent meal.

"I came as soon as I got your note, Victor." Henry patted Victor on the shoulder. He touched a stain on the lab coat that made a slightly flatulent sound when it came in contact with his skin, one that smelled like an uncleaned chicken coop on the warmest summer day. "What is so urgent?"

Victor ran a shaking hand through his tousled dark hair, recalling the note he'd hastily scribbled and sent by personal messenger three days before. So much for urgency. "I cannot contain myself another moment. I must share my news with someone. And all I could think of was my old frat brother."

Henry raised a finger. "You mean 'best friend,' don't you?"

"Sure, whatever." Victor slung an arm around Henry's shoulders and led him towards the blanket-covered chair. "I have some glorious news that only my … best friend should hear."

Also, Victor reasoned, the one person in all of Geneva whose reputation would ensure that he would not be believed.

Henry's eyes focused on a scene birthed from deep inside his imagination. It was a fantasy setting where he and the most prominent member of Geneva's most beloved family broke bread and shared the contents of an excellent wine cellar on a nightly basis. Also, the beautiful Elizabeth tended to laugh at his every joke and winked whenever he thought Victor wasn't looking. "You mean your only friend, right?"

"Would you like to hear my news or clarify our relationship to the point where you are purchasing your own drinks from the local inn?" Victor's eyes narrowed in direct proportion to his dwindling patience.

Henry nodded, his attention now clearly focused on his friend's every word. "Is this … this secret the reason you've shut yourself off from almost all human contact for the last several weeks?"

"I had to." Victor drew a hand over his unshaven chin. "No one would understand my intentions. They never have. I've heard all the old dogma before."

"Oh, I understand." Henry counted off the arguments on his fingers. "Unnatural, crime against nature, an affront to God – I like the sound of that one, myself – a violation of all that's holy –"

"Yes," Victor interrupted, "I have heard all those and more."

"More?" Henry's finger count had to begin again as he'd run through ten different descriptions while Victor spoke. "Practicing the Dark Arts, consorting with Satan himself, sodomizing Mother Nature –"

"Yes!" Victor cleared his throat as he recovered his composure. "As I said, I've heard them all before."

"Even the one about Mother Nature? I thought that one rather original, if I were to say so myself."

Victor sighed and nodded sadly. "Can we focus here, Henry?" The doctor drew himself to his full height. "I've spent years of my life studying the chemistry of the body, the galvanizing effect of harnessed lightning upon human musculature, the very alchemy of life itself."

"Good Lord, Victor!" Henry shuddered. "Are you still obsessed with life from beyond the grave? That old thing?"

The scientist slowly advanced upon his friend, the light of sanity dimming in his dark eyes. He raised his slender hands towards his old friend.

Warm sweat gathered under Henry's collar as he found himself backing towards the outside door. He knew that even if he could reach the door in just a couple of seconds, unlocking it would give Victor enough time to seize him.

Meanwhile, in another part of Geneva …

And as she approached her temporary home, with ever widening eyes, Elizabeth put her hand to her lips as if to scream …

CHAPTER FOUR

The frigid Geneva nights were soooo irritating to Elizabeth's delicate sinuses, she could simply scream. Instead, she brought her hand to her face before calling up a fragile "Achoo!" that took to the wind in a tone that was softer than the still-falling snow that blanketed the village. She picked up her pace towards the inn and hoped her darling Victor was all right with that loathsome jackass Henry.

"Okay, Victor," Henry cautioned as he slowly backed towards the door. "I'll remind you that I won my last fight by five hundred yards."

Victor von Frankenstein moved closer, one slow step at a time, his unblinking eyes never leaving his guest's terrified stare.

"The last man who sought to do me harm died." Henry swallowed. "He had a heart attack while attempting to keep up with me."

Henry trembled as Victor's hand continued to rise … coming closer to his throat … closer … closer …

Until those hands landed on Henry's shoulders and shook him playfully. Victor's strained laughter filled the entryway. Henry sighed with relief, but still thanked the Lord God that he thought to wear dark trousers this evening.

"Oh, my friend." Victor grinned. "You should see your face."

Henry harumphed. "Instead, I think I should inspect my undergarments."

Victor tilted his head backwards and laughed again. "Oh, friend Henry. It feels so glorious to be able to tilt my head backwards and laugh again. I grant you that I used to be obsessed with the construction of life, to find that divine spark of existence. In my studies over the years, I've explored a dozen sciences, both modern and arcane, in order to unearth – so to speak – what remained in the province of Our Maker."

Henry racked his tortured mind. "Communicating via combustible hedgerows like Moses?"

"No, you poor, naive man." Henry paused, then stated casually, "I sought to create a living being from the scraps of the dead."

Looking thoughtfully at his friend, Henry again attempted to conjure up a worthy activity for both the Supreme Architect and his obsessive companion who stood before him. His own intellect, admittedly, stalled at chess and traditional schnitzel recipes. "Please console me and promise that you've given up this insane pursuit. No wonder the teachers at our college denounced your activities."

Henry briefly reflected on his own scholastic career which seemed to consist of a series of hangovers over the space of six years in college that resulted in the failure to secure his own medical degree. In fact, he couldn't clearly recall what he did for a living to finance his frequent visits to the inn. Nor could anyone else in the village.

Victor put his arm around Henry's shoulders. Henry hoped that acrid smell emanated from Victor himself and not his coat. "No, dear Henry. I am freed of my obsession and I have my dearest Elizabeth to thank for that."

Henry smiled. "You realized that you were in love with a beautiful young woman who grew up in your home as your sister?" Henry became aware of the flavor of his stomach acid as his vitals churned, mirroring his repugnance at the notion of wedding a family member of sorts.

Laughing again, perhaps a little too loudly, Victor began to stroll across the foyer, drawing Henry along with him. "Almost as good, Henry." His perfect teeth shone in the lamplight that filled the room. "She reminded me of the importance of someone whose presence is the reason we celebrate this blessed season."

Henry thought he heard the music of a distant choir at that moment. Or perhaps it was the sound of the walls of cynicism giving way to the feeling of the holiday season. "Do you mean … God?"

"No." Henry looked at his friend with a smirk. "I did even better than that."

Halting in his tracks, Henry shook off Victor's arm. He regarded the doctor sternly. "Are you insane, Victor? Just curious, you know. Not that I'm judging you," he said while silently judging his friend.

Victor bit his lip and his eyes darted around the room as he walked over to the blanket-covered chair. Henry could see the man's doubts emerge from the depths of his haunted gaze. Then Victor nodded slowly. "Perhaps I am insane, Henry." Then the death's-head grin returned and Victor stopped blinking until his eyes appeared to be as dry as billiard balls. "But soon, I shall be vindicated." He clapped his hands together. "No, more than that! I shall be … merry!"

The doctor then leveled a finger at Henry who at that moment also stopped blinking, as well as swallowing and breathing, fairly well in that order. "And before this night is out," Henry continued, "all the people of this village shall be merry as well … whether they want to be or not." All the shadows in the room appeared to congregate in Victor's eyes as his lips peeled back in a leer. "No one shall be excluded from happiness, no matter how miserable it makes them."

A midnight chill ran from the base of Henry's spine up to the base of his brain. "Dear heavens, Victor! Have your years of forbidden study finally paid off? Don't tell me you've created … life!"

Madness poured lava-like from Victor's volcanic eyes. His grin seemed too large for a sane man's face to carry. He gripped the chair's covering with both hands. "More than mere life, Henry Clerval! I, Victor von Frankenstein, have created –!"

Elsewhere, Elizabeth put her hands to her lips as if to scream … then scratched her perfect nose, rolled over and returned to sleep, unaware of the horror that her fiancé prepared to unveil.

CHAPTER FIVE

"What horror," Henry asked melodramatically, "have you unveiled?"

"Nothing yet." With a grand gesture, Victor proclaimed, "Before I was so rudely interrupted, I have created more than just a living being … I have created … SANTA CLAUS!"

With this announcement, Victor pulled the sheet free of the chair with a flourish.

Henry gasped, his senses spinning like a dreidel.

Resting in the chair was a … thing, one unlike any being Henry had ever seen before.

Long, dark strings of matted hair fell onto the creature's collar and concealed most of his face. Scars and freshly-sewn stitchwork ran up and down its hands like the carriage paths that wound through the mountains surrounding the village. The creature's clothing was red, threadbare in places and trimmed with ivory fur, but badly assembled and hastily sewn by an obviously unskilled hand. It was too tight around the thing's chest and one sleeve almost covered one pale hand as the other one barely extended past the elbow.

Victor announced in a voice too loud for Henry's comfort, "I have given life to the spirit of the holidays, assembled from the bodies – as well as the wardrobe – of the unliving." He caressed the creature's expressionless face lovingly, almost fatherly.

The being raised its head slowly until its dull yellow eyes could meet Henry's. Victor's friend staggered back in disgust and silently gave a quick prayer for his own safety. He could see what appeared to be metallic strips driven into the creature's skull like spikes through a railroad tie, each one holding the creature's scalp tightly. The translucent flesh could not totally conceal the thing's pulsing muscles nor the relentless and rapid flight of its corpuscles.

All Henry could think to say was, "Good God, what an abomination." He rubbed his eyes as if the act could erase the unholy vision before him. "How on God's green Earth did you accomplish this, Victor?"

"I gave in to my youthful obsession, then relieved some of the local cemetery's burden of storing the freshly-deceased." Victor sounded almost proud of his grave robbery, much to Henry's disgust. "I took the least decayed of the various body parts. Limbs, organs, miles of intestines and blood vessels, I stitched them all together patiently, marinating them in an alchemist's brew of chemicals, many of which have no true names."

Victor turned towards his creation, gazing at it in the same adoring way he looked at Elizabeth a few months ago. "Then a few days ago, the weather turned warm for this season and a lightning storm arrived. With those fortuitous bolts from above, I started my creation's heart and filled his limbs with the power of the Titans themselves." He stroked the creature's oily hair. "I saw it as an omen, a sign that The Almighty endorsed my venture." That icy grin formed on his lips once more. "And who am I to deny the will of the Supreme Surgeon himself? After all, didn't He give us fire, beer, and that awesome oom-pah-pah tuba music our parents hate?"

"No," Henry growled, "a corruption such as this could only have sprung from the brow of Satan himself."

With that declaration, the creature's features twisted into what had to be a scowl. With painful slowness, Victor's creation moved its misshapen head towards Henry. One corner of its mouth rose as did its left hand. Hovering over his thighs, the creature allowed its bony fingers to fall, then rise only to plummet again, an apparent victim of gravity's cruelty.

Henry gasped as the rusted gears of his mind turned. He turned towards his friend. "Look at how this monster gestures towards its unmentionables. This thing is not only a violation of all the natural laws, it's a pervert!"

Victor chuckled and spoke with deliberate caution, choosing his words carefully, eliminating most of the ones above three syllables. "No, dear friend. My creation wants only for you to sit upon its lap and tell it all your Christmas desires."

Drawing himself to his full height, Henry stated with all the dignity he could summon upon such short notice, "My … desires have no reason to be made public while sitting on another man's knee … despite all that you might have heard in the university dormitories." He took a cautious step backwards. "My senses reel at the thought of resting upon that patchwork lap."

Victor looked at this friend as if he'd been physically stung by Henry's words. Pressing the moral advantage while remaining outside the creature's reach, Henry moved towards Victor. "To whom did that knee once belong? A rapist? A pedophile? A murderer?"

Opening his lab coat, Victor reached into his back pocket to pull out a leather-bound book. Henry could see the pages were worn, discolored from the chemicals and the some of the blood that no doubt now filled this jigsaw monstrosity. The doctor flipped through the pages like a parishioner thumbed through his Bible, desperately attempting to find the priest's chosen verse before the sermon began.

"Let me see now … brains … coccyx … gizzard … heart … intestine, both large and small … hmm, almost there … larynx, liver … oops, too far … back, back, back … ah, knees!" Victor pointed at the entry on a particularly bloodied page. "That particular knee belonged to a novelist, one who specialized in irreverent holiday fare based on purloining plots from classic horror literature. He was also an avowed avid advocate for active alliteration, the ass."

Cringing at the vile, corrupt source of the body part, Henry almost choked on his unbridled disgust. "Okay, you're re-purposing the scum of the Earth now. But why in the world did you have this creature concealed in this room under a bedsheet?"

Shifting from paternal pride to schoolboy embarrassment, Victor rubbed one boot top on the back of his calf as if to shine it before an inspection. "Well," he said softly, "Would you believe that I wanted to give Elizabeth her Christmas gift and this was the room with the best light for wrapping it?"

At Victor's words, the creature grunted and raised a finger as if to call for silence. He fixed his gaze at Henry, his yellowed eyes almost able to count the beads of sweat upon the man's brow. Henry stared back, too frightened to run, his heart hammering inside his ribcage.

The creature reached behind the chair, stiff muscles turning and joints popping arthritically. As his gnarled fingers made contact with an object concealed by the chair that strained to hold his weight, Frankenstein's creation nodded slowly. Still staring at Henry, the creature's lips moved upwards, exposing its yellowed and crooked teeth in a gruesome parody of a smile.

As it pulled the object out from behind the chair, Henry's eyes widened in unreasoning terror.

Elsewhere, Elizabeth began a night's worth of dreams, each one filled with unicorns and fluffy clouds made of spun sugar threads. Underneath a bright summer's sun that winked at you if you stared at it for too long, she giggled at the curious sight of a dozen overweight men in togas dancing with various barnyard animals. Back in reality, Elizabeth took another sip from a bottle for which her fiancé was kind enough to write a prescription.

In her nighttime fantasies, she felt no need to raise her hands to her lips, nor to cry out, not even when a squirrel wearing nothing but a rusted tuba and a smile presented her with a train ticket to the Moon. "What a lovely gift," she thought, hoping Victor was already on the train, waiting just for her.


CHAPTER SIX

"Take it, Henry," Victor commanded his friend. "It's a gift. Just for you."

With what was supposed to be a smile, the creature held forward a package. Its wrapping held images of mistletoe and gargantuan pine trees, their branches heavy with shining ornaments and candles. The paper was wrinkled and didn't quite cover the gift completely. A length of blood-colored ribbon surrounded the paper, intersecting at odd angles and pressing the paper tightly against the offering as if it was being held hostage.

The creature gestured for Henry to accept his gift. It grunted as if vocalizing a question mark, unaccompanied by any consonants or vowels to comprise real speech. The creature patiently waited for the man to reach forward, perhaps to even smile and express his thanks as one human being might do for another.

Instead, Henry thrust his hands underneath his armpits. "I'd sooner take favors from Satan himself." He pulled his gaze from the grotesque sideshow version of Kris Kringle and turned towards Victor. "Please, my friend, you must slay this … this monster …"

The creature's smile faded swiftly. Cold fingers allowed the gift to drop onto the chair with a squeak that emanated from inside whatever the wrapping paper concealed.

With a violent thrust of his index finger, Henry gestured towards the creature. "We cannot wait … we must slay it immediately. Sooner if we could."

Victor stared at Henry in shock. He couldn't see his creation, but he heard it begin to snarl. It took in a huge lungful of air and expelled it in a violent, "NOOOOOO!" It took a step towards Henry whose eyes teared up, confident of his immediate demise.

Then with a speed that astonished both men, the creature bolted for the front door. It wrapped one misshapen hand around the latch before turning at the waist to face both his creator and Henry. Its unwanted gaze settled onto Henry who trembled as if stricken with the palsy.

One hand slowly rose, its gnarled index finger fully extended and directed towards Henry. Victor wondered if his creation could expel lightning, striking down his fraternity brother and only true friend. Half of him dreaded the possibility. The other half wanted to begin writing down his observations in his notebook.

Henry almost prayed his heart would give out as it painfully slammed again and again into his ribcage. Whatever plan for retribution this monster held in its twisted mind, Henry would have rather been embraced by the Angel of Death than to endure whatever hellish punishments might comprise this abomination's rebuke.

With a raspy, painful voice that spoke in tones not unlike that of a sarcophagus opening, the creature fixed its gaze upon Henry and said slowly and softly, "Naughty." Then it tore the outside door open, crushing the latch in its powerful grasp, before it sprinted into the night.

"After him!" Victor shouted, seizing Henry by the arm.

Henry shook his head. "No, it's too dark out there. And the snow is still falling." In truth, Henry would have preferred to slap a mountain lion on its snout while wearing a suit made of prime steak filets than to confront the patchwork being.


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