Ain’t no such word as “slomp” Jessey had scolded me just yesterday. But a crawdad pokin’ outta the deep mud ditch alongside the river always made kind of a slomp sound to my ears. That’s... [+]
Heavy dark clouds were accumulating above the city, the precursors of a violent electric storm. Horse-drawn buggies in the streets were seeking shelter. Igor swept dust motes and dried cockroach casings from the cracked linoleum floor in the steam room of the abandoned factory in south Philadelphia. He was angry because the Irish cleaning lady hadn't been there in a week, and his broken body ached from all the heavy lifting. The lab, lit by state-of-the-art gas lamps, hummed with the sounds of a High Amperage Pyrogeyser and a Baritron Generator.
A white operating table held a grotesque figure. The human form was cobbled together from corpses Igor had collected during grave-robbing outings at the Laurel Hill Cemetery overlooking the Schuylkill River. The test subject's upper torso, arms, and head were of a Scandinavian boxer who had pummeled his opponent to death in the ring.
Dr. Ludwigstein bustled about the lab, double-checking the equipment. Lightning from the approaching storm would form the spark of life for his creation, in the city where Franklin had first captured lightning in a bottle with a kite and string.
"Behold, Igor. Tonight we will witness the ultimate victory of science over matter—of life over death!"
Igor, flicking a fly, reflected boredom on his misshapen face, but his master took no notice.
"The world of conventional science, the pompous gentlemen in their corrupt, antiquated academies will cease their laughter. There will only be praise for Dr. Ludwigstein!"
Igor grunted his opinion. "Hmmm!" Was there to be no praise for Igor?
"And tell me, Igor, do you know why this monster will pose no danger to me, will love me as does a duckling its mother, though he was convicted of manslaughter and hanged yesterday in the execution hall at the Eastern State Penitentiary? It is the phenomenon the new science of psychology calls ‘imprinting.' Dr. Wundt of Leipzig has demonstrated, the newborn mind is molded by whichever living thing it first experiences. The electric shock will scour the creature's brain of all life's past experiences. My face will be imprinted on his soul the moment he opens his eyes. This behemoth of a man will be as pliable in my hands as a spring lamb searching for its mother's teat."
"Hmmm!" It occurred to Igor that perhaps the creature might imprint upon him instead. Then he could have someone to lord over.
The storm had enveloped the metropolis. Bolts of lightning marched across the landscape like a conquering army.
Ludwigstein deployed the aluminum rods Igor had pilfered from the junkyard, tipped with a lightning rod stolen from the neighboring St. Lazarus Church steeple. A heavy black cloud expelled a blinding bolt of lightning searching for ground, embracing the lightning rod and antenna like a desperate lover. Snapping sparks and hissing ozone accompanied the electric current being converted and discharged through a metal receptor plate and electrodes into the cranium of the waiting subject.
Igor cowered, shielding his eyes with his lame hand, frozen with fear. Ludwigstein's body, standing in too-close proximity to the subject's head, attracted a finger of the raw electricity from the Tesla Coil. He was knocked backward by the blast... He fell, his head banging the operating table as he went down.
The creature opened its eyes. Minutes passed. Fingers twitched. It began to move its arms. Its hands explored its torso, traveling to its head, feeling the copper sphere with the metal contacts attached to its temples. Igor, intent upon his plan to be the first face the awakened subject would see, grabbed Dr. Ludwigstein by the feet, tugging the dead weight until he managed to conceal him behind the wall of equipment.
The creature sat up and tore the metal plate and electrodes from its shaved skull. The impossibly huge head with the smashed nose and scarred cheeks surveyed its surroundings. Igor began to inch toward the creature, but froze in place when the heavy door to the lab was pulled ajar. He shrank back into the shadow, fearing discovery. The door was pushed further back, a curtain of light piercing the dim space.
The Irish cleaning lady Annie Lee entered. This block of rundown factories had been her beat during the heyday of the city's industrial glory. She had always done her work and returned home to her loving family in time to prepare dinner. Except now the cottage was empty; dear Henry deceased; daughter gone off to Oregon with that no-good gambler; her son a tradesman on the Barbary Coast. Every day was a vacuum of memories.
She noticed a human form surrounded by tubes and a clutter of machines. Edging closer, she saw a rugged man studying her, confusion on his face.
"Hello, you sleep here last night, did ya?"
He didn't answer.
"Are you cold? Looks like you could use some warm soup. I'll be done here in a minute, you can come along and we'll get you fixed up. Likely to catch a chill here."
She quickly swept around the table, emptying the waste bin of the crumpled note pages full of Ludwigstein's priceless scribbles.
Finished with her chore in the space, Annie Lee approached him, moved by his lost-child eyes.
"There now, what's your name, laddie?"
The rough-hewn man scratched his head, tried to speak, stuttered something. He looked in her eyes, struggling to form a word. He reached out a massive arm, hand gnarled from years of pounding heads.
Annie Lee stepped back, disarmed, sorry for the poor creature.
"There now, you're confused is what you are. Better come along with me; nobody here to look after you."
She helped him to stand. He steadied himself on her slight frame. She took her mop, bucket and broom. "Come along now."
Responding to human kindness, the creature followed her voice. He shielded his eyes from the sun at the threshold to the lab, hesitating. She sensed his fear, tugged at his cuff.
"Nothing to be afraid of."
He stepped into the unknown, fixated on the form of the little woman.
Igor heard him utter the word again.