The creatures of Dr. Frankenbush.

Dubious and far-fetched ideas.
Oct. 18 2004 3:59 PM

The Scream

Or, the creatures of Dr. Frankenbush.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

May 23, 1972

Since earliest youth, when first I broached the dusty tomes of Paracelsus, natural philosophy has been my chief delight. To divine the secret of the vital spark has been my sole study; my sole ambition—too bold, too unholy to speak aloud!—to bring inanimate matter to life.

Last night, my studies bore fruit.

The events of which I write were set in motion by a summons I received, yesterday morning, from the Honorable Mr. B—, Member of Congress from the State of Texas, requesting my presence in his office. Upon my arrival, Mr. B— apprised me of the situation that had caused him to seek my aid. His son, a pilot with the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Texas Air National Guard, had, that very morning, met with a misadventure of the direst nature. While cleaning the cockpit of his aeroplane, he had, in a moment of abstraction, held the nozzle of the vacuum apparatus to his ear. In an instant, his cerebrum, cerebellum, and medulla oblongata—in short, the engine of reason in its entirety—had been sucked into the dust receptacle. Though heroic efforts were made to recover the lost gray matter, so thoroughly had it intermingled with soot, cigarette ends, and other refuse that all exertions were in vain.

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The chirurgeons who were summoned to the scene spoke with a single voice: In the eyes of Science, Lt. B— was dead. His relations, however, noting that the young man was, save for the absence of a brain, in the most perfect state of physical health, held out hope that some remedy might yet be found.

It was then, the elder Mr. B— informed me, that a much-beloved family friend, Mr. C—, had stepped into the breach. Rising to a pitch of beneficence scarcely to be credited in this benighted age—and which even now fills my soul with the tenderest and most exalted sentiments—he had agreed that a portion of his own brain should be forfeit to make good the young Guardsman's loss. It may readily be imagined, dear Journal, what my feelings were on being asked to perform this undreamt-of feat of medical Art! Though my triumph (if such it should prove to be) would never reach the ears of men, nonetheless, I readily gave my assent.

The patient was conveyed by aeroplane to the capital. Here, in my secret laboratory beneath the cobbled streets of Georgetown, with rain pattering dismally against the panes; with the aid of a Galvanic apparatus of my own design and the ministrations of my faithful servant, Karl—the Promethean deed was done. As, in the flickering light of the sconces that extended from the wall like so many groping human limbs, I gazed into the eyes of the creatures I had reanimated, I felt a deathly chill traverse my spine.

October 5, 1972

Alas—the fears which crept upon me in the hour of my triumph have proved all too prescient!

The convalescence of both patients is now complete; they walk, speak, pass unremarked among their fellow men. Mr. C— has returned to his official duties, Mr. B— to the Guard service from which he was forced to absent himself. Yet both are more like fiends or monsters than like any man of woman born.

For such is the bitter fruit of my labors: Of that portion of the brain which governs calculation, the arrangement of facts, and the deployment of language and logic, Mr. C— has retained a full share. Of the portion which governs social intercourse, feeling, and affability, he is now entirely bereft. For Mr. B—, the situation is the reverse.

The sole portion which is now common to both, yet apparently undiminished by being divided between them, is that which governs the pursuit of self-interest.

When I reflect that it is I who have loosed these creatures upon an unsuspecting world, I curse the day when the light of Science, like a will o' the wisp, first tempted me into its fatal realm!

February 12, 1995

With the passage of time, I have come to see that the fears which tormented me were distended beyond their true proportion, like shadows cast by firelight. Though the creatures I reanimated still appear monstrous to me, they do not appear so to others. Indeed, their very defects seem to ensure their success.

In Texas, the people are only too eager to embrace a politician who mangles language, ravages logic, and is innocent of all knowledge of the world. Mr. C—, for his part, has acquired an uncanny capacity to hint at obscure dangers, which can be avoided only by nestling in the lee of his calm and unsmiling bulk. If, as I have been told, his Uncle Lon inspired terror as "The Man of a Thousand Faces," Mr. C— has outstripped him a thousandfold by becoming "The Man of One Face"—or, indeed, of none.

Yet foremost among the circumstances, which have softened my self-reproaches, is one which, in the cool light of retrospection, seems to me to have been anticipated by Mr. C— himself. It is, that the portion of Mr. C—'s brain still lodged in his cranium continues to communicate, by some mysterious, etheric means, with the portion now housed in the corresponding part of the anatomy of his friend. While this leaves the Governor supine before the commands of Mr. C—, it confers benefit upon him as well; for it protects him from being utterly discomfited when he meets an opponent in debate, or is questioned by members of the Press.

October 6, 2000

A ticket made in Heaven!—or, I might rather aver, in the Hell of my laboratory. For the electorate seems to grasp, on some darkling level, that these two creatures are in fact the severed halves of a single being. The prospect of seeing them united in the White House appears to hold a strange allure, like the joining of male and female half-souls described by the poet Aristophanes in the Symposium of Plato.

May Heaven smile upon their union!

September 23, 2001

The tragic events of the 11th of this month, while assisting my creatures beyond measure by providing a content, for the empty form of fear—a new wine, as it were, for the old vessel of Mr. C—'s visage—came perilously near to giving the game away. By some quirk of geography, abetted, perhaps, by a disturbance in the flow of the atmospheric ether the President was left for a full seven minutes beyond the range of the Vice President's telepathic powers. Since he was, on that fateful morning, appearing before an audience of a mental age equal to his own, the lapse proved, providentially, of little moment.

July 3, 2004

Justice, whither art thou fled?

To feel the filthy missiles of ignominy hurled at my head; to feel the words which would deflect them, and defend my good name, die in my throat unspoken, because forbidden!—is almost more than I can bear.

Since first I beheld the monstrous fruits of my experiment, I have been in the habit of taking a small quantity of laudanum before bed, in order to attain the calm of mind requisite for sleep. Though the unexpectedly happy fortunes of my creatures have somewhat allayed my disquiet, yet it must be considered that the labor of maintaining these two demis-cerveaux, in such a way as to give the impression that their bearers are ordinary citizens of the human race, must exact a heavy psychic price from him to whom it is entrusted. Add to this the misgivings which a Physician, whose escutcheon perforce bears the motto Primum non nocere, must feel about the torrents of blood now staining the waters of Babylon, and who can wonder that I have taken refuge in the arms of Morpheus?

Yet the jackals of the press, having sniffed out my foible, are now baying for my blood.

July 5, 2004

How, how shall I bear the disgrace?

My weakness—one that is shared, I hasten to observe, by such notable scientific personages as Dr. Freud of Vienna, Mr. Holmes of London, and Dr. Maturin of the Royal Navy—having come to the attention of the public, the Vice President has been obliged to make a show of discharging me from his service. It is, of course, the merest charade. Behind the gaudy stage sets of public life, I continue to perform the functions, which I alone am able to perform.

August 22, 2004

In the days after the nominating convention of the opposition party, the Vice President was—if one may use the language of human feeling, to describe the movements of a soul mechanical and dark as Erebus—deeply disquieted. The challenger had been painted in the most refulgent colors, as a war hero and a man of indomitable strength. Were these colors to persist, unfaded and unbesmirched, Mr. C—'s capacity to terrify and thus command the public might be fatally impaired.

It was my assistant Karl, notable as much for his roving or wandering left eye (the result, in the opinion of a Berlin ophthalmologist, of following poll numbers while engaged in other activities), as for his hunchback and lame right leg, who found the solution. Dragging from the shelves of my laboratory a forgotten volume from my student days in Ingolstadt, he opened it to a gravure plate of the notorious work of the Norwegian painter Munch.

"If heard screams, Master, are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter," said he, "a close-mouthed scream must needs be the sweetest, most terrifying of all."

"Do you mean—" I whispered—

"Yes, Master!" cried he. "Let us but inject the power of The Scream into The Man of No Face, and no force on Earth shall prevail against us!"

August 23, 2004

To transfer a portion of convolute tissue from one cranium to another, and with it the corresponding mental powers, is no mean undertaking; yet it pales before that which I have now accomplished. For I have taken the power of Art and, by transplanting it into Life, multiplied it a thousandfold!

The masterwork, purloined by our agents, arrived at my laboratory betimes; and the Galvanic apparatus, which I conceived and constructed for this task, performed most excellently.

With pride and shame inextricably mingled, I must confess, that as Mr. C— regained consciousness; as the silent power of the Scream, refracted and magnified by the lens of his closed and rigid mouth, burst like a Hurrican into the cavernous space; I myself, the creator of this supernatural power, fled in abject terror before it!

August 30, 2004

The nominating convention of the ruling party begins this morning. I have every confidence of our success.

Evan Eisenberg's essays and satire have appeared in The New Yorker, the Atlantic, and other publications. His books includeThe Recording Angel andThe Ecology of Eden.

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