Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
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I never wanted to be a doctor. Nothing about the profession spoke to me. I was too selfish. I aspired for fame and recognition, for my name to rise wherever it was heard. I wanted to create something that would survive the petty criticisms of today and live beyond me. I wanted to be an artist.
I trained with a canvas, practiced with sculptures, even dabbled with sewing, but a steady hand was not enough to produce more than a masterpiece of mediocre design. And so from one scalpel to the other I evolved, putting both my mind and hands at work with a medium more to my character. I was successful, wealthy, everything the world said I should be, but gone were the days of my youth where I dreamed of holding anything close to artistic liberty.
I’ve heard that an artist is only limited by his imagination, a doctor only by his mind. But that is not so. The truth is he is also limited by nature – his health, his patient’s health. He is limited by his equipment – what is provided, what is not. He is limited by his service – his support, his adversaries. He is limited by the knowledge and practice of those who came before and he is limited by the standard upholding that practice, even to a fault…
It is only human to hold ideas. Throwing them away makes you numb. Dissolve all thoughts and you become idle, hollow, inanimate.
So what then? Do we censor censorship? Ha. Do not riddle yourself with paradoxes, these are like the Hippocratic Oath – hypocritical. Lines in the sand always forfeit by the tide. They will be redrawn, of course, again and again, but as long as you defend the edge you are sure to lose ground. So step off your beach of ideals and find where the earth is solid. Only there should we base reality.
In reality, we know so little – little of ourselves and less of the world. Who can say what is right or wrong when we don’t even know why we’re here? Make no mistake, ignorant morality is but pretentious authority.
Fact. Humans live, and humans die. That is nature. And nature does not have emotions or ethics to guide itself, it simply is. Religious propaganda aside, there is nothing to say whether we “deserve” life. Rather, by chance, we were born to it. And by chance, we were born aware of it. And from that awareness comes a history self-diluted in mysticism, madness, and mere incompetence.
Yet I hold faith that one day soon, humanity will strive for more, that it will yearn to understand. And when that day comes, when the world steps out of Plato’s Cave and reforges its perceptions, the truth will come to light…
Over the course of my life I’ve allowed myself to explore some… unconventional theories. Before the microscope the universe was composed of wonder. No study was too foolish, no theory a waste. But as discoveries are magnified our view turns narrow; We’ve dug so deep into the world, we think we know it all. Yet mysteries surround.
The problem is, modern science only extends in one direction. But any true scientist will tell you that this is not enough. You can not infer a patient’s health only by their heartbeat, nor can you describe the interconnected universe only by the periodic table. However you choose to phrase it, there are undoubtedly “exterior elements” to our interpretation of the world. Yet so often we disregard questions of “why” or “how” and merely move on. Imagine if a skeletal model were missing its skull and we called it a “complete human”. Ironic. For only the mindless would agree…
My time at Mount Adeth University was not without some of the… speculative education cautiously shared between the more tenured professors. A minor into religious studies taught me many things not least pertaining to some esoteric theologies and The 40 Steps. And given access to some of our library’s unsanctioned materials, I have come to the conclusion that the miracles of modern science have yet to be fully realized.
Before it was practiced, before it was taught, before it was recorded, distributed, and preached around the world, Evolutionary Science was but a fanatical idea. But from that idea we have cultivated a deeper appreciation for our existence. Not all ideas grow to fruition – and perhaps this is the test. For some ideas are drafted on illusion, some ideas fail to inspire. And some ideas are forgotten, lost either to fiction or fantasy or somewhere within a weathered volume half signed in blood…
The fact is, everything, every new invention, every new design, starts with an idea. And that starts with what we know. There was not always a scale to measure reality. And before we had atoms to quantify, we had but two eyes to verify. Observation was the very first form of proof. But passed down, this spoils into rumor, fairy tales, and magic. Suddenly, theories seem theatrical; insight, insanity. But what keeps these records from rejection are the men and women who transfuse their wisdom with the modern imagination.
Sometimes, madness and innovation share the same seed.
What harvest could there be if nothing’s ever sown? What soil is fair that chooses not to yield? A mind that is rich is one that will grow – one that is willing to know.
I was willing. And so willing I traced through the depths of delirium, scouring the hypothetical, the purely insensible, for any thread of truth. I consumed the mad revisions of The Malleus Maleficarum, the condemned drafts of The Speculum Astronomiae, Trithemius’ Fourth Book of The Steganographia, and the infamous memoirs of Kerigan Frost. But even more, within these forsaken scriptures are hints to those who might rival the Archangel’s Hymn:
The Qerioxikalus, The Black Veil, and The Blood Imp’s Compendium.
The latter I found referenced in a decrepit journal, recorded sometime within the late 17th century. Regarding its aforementioned affiliation, it might have been a rough draft, or a bastardized copy. If what I know of the Compendiums to be true, it is likely neither and both.
The author’s name was never mentioned – likely for fear of persecution – but they were a surgeon, philosopher, and early metaphysicist. In some ways the Doctor seemed ahead of his time, with a fine knowledge of anatomy and even drafting some methods for human transplantation. However, his other notes betray a creeping insanity. Many of the pages were torn out, others stained black and brown. And what thoughts pierce through these bouts of madness are ones solely coveted by asylum-seekers and necromancers. Beyond practical science were conspiracies of blood, its deeper meaning, its potential. There showed an obsession with the Golem of Prague. He spoke of Demons and Devils and The Sorcerer Zygfryd. Mad diagrams rendered the Earth with twisted veins, tunnels of flesh, and enormous beating hearts.
And then there was… a theory.
It was a procedure, in a sense, an experimental process for which he believed one could surgically remove and transfer… the human soul.
The idea seemed but one of his many feverish nightmares. There was not a shred of evidence to support him – more to the contrary; his facts were based in alchemical science, his methods marred with rituals of blood, all staged within a procedure so intense that death was required…
Yet the illustrations were precise – a near diorama of the subject with every incision and every graft measured to the edge of a blade. It was a perverse vivisection, a method meant only to shear the flesh, to shuck the physical form until all that remained was a kernel of spirit.
It was torture in the costume of science.
But he claimed it could work.
His spartan supposition was that the nervous system served as the connective filament between body and mind and thus was necessary to sever before the soul could be withdrawn. Like the roots of a plant they were the veins of consciousness. Pulled too soon or too hard and the force of life would evanesce.
But evidently his method of severance took to barbaric extremes. Rather than trimming those connections, his strategy was to burn them, to shock and strain each of the senses so that the essence of the soul retreated to its core…
Finally, the extraction could begin.
With the heart comes the soul. However, in this state the spirit is weak, insecure – it cannot transfer without preparation. A seed needs fertile soil to grow, and if implanted into another living being it would lose in competition to those presiding.
First, the new vessel would have to be exorcized.
This process simply translates… to euthanasia.
Now if the heart were feeble or sick, there outlined a method of transplanting the soul without needle or thread. Using a cocktail of alchemical ingredients, the heart may be dissolved into a sort of mineral plasma. The substance could then be injected into the vessel and used as a reanimating agent. It was this very substance, the surgeon believed, that brought golems and gargoyles to life…
After reading the procedure in its entirety, I was left to wonder. I shuddered with such futures in mind, of a world where it might be possible. Imagine, humans trading bodies – it could mean eternal monarchs, a new fashion of flesh, a world where identity is fallacy and the familiar, forgot…
A riveting science fiction, for sure…
But what if it were possible?
Just imagine, humans trading bodies – it would mean great minds are never lost, it would be a cure to gender dysphoria, a world where no disease or ailment can conquer. We would be judged by our skin no more than our clothes, we would know each other’s mind and personality more than our faces, we would begin to elevate beyond petty identity politics and onto something more, we would be taking history by the reins into an unforeseen future.
It was all very compelling. However, the question remains:
“Could it be done?”
Science fiction is, afterall, fiction. But this theory, this accursed journal, I hold it in my hands – it is as real and present in this world as the author once was. What did he see? What did he know that these pages could not capture?
The surgeon’s methods were diabolical, yes, and his penchant for the occult only clouds his analyses. However, from his work, one gleans a sort of primitive intuition; wayward and convoluted but strangely self-possessed.
Yet even with this concession, the procedure, the theory as a whole, was nearly too radical to entertain. And this is because it was, at its face, just a theory…
I see no point in attempting to “validate” the mystical – doing so only obscures the factual. Yet where there are uncertainties we are certain to uncover some truth. So why not pioneer these realms? Why hide behind the veil?
My proposal was not to indulge some pseudo-scientific reverie. It was to form a historical interpretation, a review and study of these ancient deductions, to carefully and mindfully reconstruct the mad surgeon’s theory so as to glean his abstruse rationale.
This is how we learn, how we advance as a society, by looking towards the future while studying the past, by bridging the two worlds as one…
I brought forth this idea for consideration. The procedure was far too cruel to test with hardly any basis, but maybe that basis could be vetted. We could study the history and origins of this theory. We could examine the elements and reactions. We could work on cadavers. We could refine the process by scrubbing any mysticism with the scientific method. There was, as they would say, a plain and humane way to develop this research.
But I was rejected.
They didn’t care how diligent or cautious or measured I was; their objection was entirely political. They called my presentation “behavior and thinking unbecoming of a doctor,” and that it wasn’t, quote, “in the interest of the public chasing Mary Shelley’s next novel”.
Had my colleague, Adryan Hubert, not spoken in my defense, I might have lost my position at the hospital. But after stoning my pride and deriding my ideas, they permitted me to stay…
Reduce an artist to a paintbrush and nothing is ever painted.
Reduce a doctor to his hands and that is how he operates. He does not paint. He does not choose. He only performs. He’s an actor, playing the part of a social servant; a mime. A tool.
The artist is his own instrument. He doesn’t need permission to create. He is not regulated or mandated by anyone other than himself. He is free and he is remembered for all time because his work does not decay, it does not spoil, nor rot, nor bleed, nor break. His work cannot die…
Promised within these notes, this infernal research, were the means to immortality. In some ways, it was art – an unfinished canvas waiting for life.
However, a doctor does not paint…
But I never wanted to be a doctor…
I stole my materials from the hospital, smuggling tools and sedatives in indiscernible increments. I needed space to work, unobserved, and so with my status at MAU I secured my own office. My “laboratory” was the former residence of an introductory anatomy class. Here I was guaranteed privacy for what the administration believed was an innocuous “pet project”. Yet even with this assurance, I was careful to only operate at night, when the risk of a wandering tattletale was less certain.
My notes were scattered among several journals and encoded. Nothing was stored digitally. And in-between sessions I concealed my materials, disposing of any damning evidence.
Once a week, at midnight, I would arrive at the empty building, venture into the basement, and conduct my research…
I began using the blood soaked journal as my reference. Even now I fail to appreciate its vexing invitation; its scripture and illustrations in their excruciating detail bind the mind upon the rack, pulling at unseen ideas like a masochistic manuscript. Surely bred from that Blood Imp’s Compendium, it is a nauseating and intoxicating madness.
Yet I would not indulge its fantasy of pain.
I put forth hours and months of study into the independent parts of this surgery. Just as I promised, I formed a comprehensive assessment of the theory before putting it to practice. I would not risk valuable life.
Not until it was necessary…
For my first experiments, I used rats. They were naturally caught, and a bit aggressive, but easy to excuse as the subjects of a harmless study. In place of butchering the animal I tried my own theory of sedation. Rather than isolating the conscious self by torture, I believed one could instead numb the senses through a sequence of injections. I also forwent any seedy rituals or potions – instead applying their medicinal counterparts for what steps I thought were based in logic.
Even with preparation, and even working from a simplified method, the procedure was demanding. The details were precise and only compounded by the disparity of species. Given this discrepancy it took a few tries to exact the right measurements. Sadly, I am not a veterinarian, so there were many attempts left disposed…
Weeks and many more dead-ends failed to warrant this insanity. I have no shame in admitting defeat, but I regret the needless killing. Even if they’re only rats, I derive no pleasure in their death, and so I nearly conceded…
But then… a breakthrough.
I was preparing one of the rats for surgery and pulled it from its cage, when my innocent victim scored revenge. Its rabid fangs found my hand, instantly drawing blood. I nearly lost the creature but held my grip. And before it could push the attack, I had it subdued.
The wound was superficial but animal-borne diseases are not. This “little accident” was going to take a serious examination. For the moment, however, I merely cleaned the wound and continued with the experiment. Apart from this rebellion, the procedure carried on as expected. I performed the sedation and extraction (claiming the heart of my fiercest adversary), dissolved the seed into a minimal concoction, and then injected the substance into the second, also deceased, rat.
Unsurprisingly, the animal laid still.
I waited twenty minutes before finally stamping the attempt as yet another failure. I went to my notes, marking my observations, and in doing so observed something odd.
A flicker of movement, less than a fly kicking the air, twitched at my side. I turned, studying the two dead rats for something I might have missed… but found nothing.
I went back to my notes.
And as soon as my hand met the page, it moved again.
I looked at the two, unstirring creatures, then at my hand. Light gauze concealed the vampire’s kiss but exposed a clue. I drew my pen in circles, closely examining the second rat. Composing in this way, its front paw… began to move.
My mind swung for the strings that held this trick together, but the illusion kept on. With a flick of my wrist, its arm convulsed – a spasming puppet. I tried to move its other hand but found that my persuasive powers were limited. And slowly draining of energy, its response weakened, until death resumed…
This was groundbreaking. But what did this prove? Was human blood responsible? Would more reanimate the whole host? Could the phase be prolonged? And could the living control the dead?
I would need more data.
More experiments would follow this discovery – replication draws reason. And for this reason I put aside my skepticism to further these findings.
I made more attempts with human blood. The quality and quantity of such were carefully measured, tested, and then compared to deduce any new evidence. The results from each experiment were staggering but always too varied to infer an explanation. Sometimes the process would revive the whole rat or only the tail – for half an hour or half a second. Sometimes the creature was susceptible to my influence, more often it stayed inert or rallied against its skin. One thing, however, was clear; by some yet unknown factor, human blood had a significant effect. It might have been biological – perhaps a hidden treasure to the human DNA. Or perhaps there was something more to be said of the nameless doctor and his mad ideas.
My research continued. For months I traced this line of logic, resurrecting a graveyard’s worth of rats, but never to full effect, never so long or so completely to prevail over doubt. My steepest critics would look for anything, any far-fetched plausibility which deflected the truth; a delayed expiration, a post-mortem contraction, fabricated evidence. There were countless ways to discredit me and only one way I stood to vindicate.
I had to elevate my research… with a human trial…
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I was against it, initially. Though I was committed and confident in my work, I could not excuse such escalation. Slim as it were, there stood a chance that my experiments with the rats was enough, that I could convince my peers – maybe just one – that this study held some merit.
One person, that’s all I’d need…
Adryan. We once shared several classes at MAU, including a course on Occult Studies. He was a doctor himself and shared an open mind. He might have rejected my claims at first, but before the board he redeemed my chances. Maybe he was persuaded. Maybe he would listen.
Without disclosing anything, I called on him. I necessitated a meeting, urging discretion – for what I wished to share would put our friendship at risk.
It was a gamble of trust. But he agreed.
Within my secret lair we held our rendezvous.
The hour was late, prime for nightmares and conspiracy. I enlisted both and confessed everything; my disaffection with the board, my secret designs, all my recent findings – the occult books, mentions of the Forty Steps, their Archangel’s Hymn, and others. Adryan listened. His expression was engraved, but his eyes were pulling at curtains, either keen or concerned.
Up until now, I had kept the journal a secret. Even in front of the board, I presented my sources hazily. I knew defending a recipe for death and torture would only destroy my case, and thus I had fought for a broader factfinding. I used to wonder whether shrouding my facts only served an obstruction. But this dispute was settled with Adryan.
I showed him the journal. A moment of intrigue flared before he opened the book and beheld a foul mind. The pages cut at his statued disguise. He asked if it were real. I told him so and watched the flaking leather-back slither from his hands.
I redressed, reminding him where we came from – from apothecaries and plague doctors, from blind religion and a hand-held Cross. There was a time when methods outside of the Church’s purview were labeled as defiant. I asked, if it were true, if new manners of healing could cure and improve, should we not refine them?
I seized his uncertainty and drew forth a cage. Inside was one of the dead rats from a new experiment. I had several serums prepped for this very moment. The instant Adryan looked at me, he understood. He knew what I was capable of, he knew what I had done, what I was going to do. We were past theorizing now and on to something more, something both terrifying and wonderful.
He told me to stop.
He was afraid. He wouldn’t say it of course, yet his emotions now were vibrant and clear as stained glass. He held up the journal. This, he said, this needs to stop. He called it bloody madness! Ha!
“Oh yes, it was madness,” I said. “Madness that we took it all for granted. The cursed and damnable fact of our mental frailty is that we prefer it! What shadowy secrets hide in the smog of rumor? Lost and blind we will choke in it but I raise a lantern. Is this madness? Some say the Devil plays fiddle in Saint Augury’s Ward yet a cancer cell takes millions. Voices travel over countries and sea but can’t be heard inside your mind? What is madness? We live in fear of death yet when I say the dead can live they cast me out! And you call it madness!
Madness is assuming the world was ever sane.”
Yet any convincing him had long gone.
Adryan turned to leave… and that’s when I caught him.
Using a hammer I had wrapped in a towel, I struck him over the head. He fell down, and I instantly got to binding his arms and legs. I checked his injury and then administered a minor sedative to keep him unconscious.
I was taking no risks with Adryan. I had hoped for a more receptive outcome, but it seemed I overestimated his judgment. I would not allow him to expose my work, not when I was so close. Adryan would have reported me, the board would have stripped me of my license, thrown away my research, and buried me under six feet of violations for medical malpractice.
All of this could have been avoided.
All of this was avoided, but now with less civility…
A few days passed before a driver found Adryan’s abandoned vehicle parked along the old mountain highway. Given its grim reputation, police were swift to assume that Mr Hubert had wandered into the steep and frozen hellscape willingly. Throw two empty bottles of whisky in the passenger seat and the fiction was all too tangible.
True to his word, Adryan had told no one of our secret meeting. His family suspected foul play, but with so little to go on, their private investigation went nowhere.
While authorities combed the mountainside for his whereabouts, I was scrubbing the crime scene. The day he went missing – the day I betrayed him – I performed the unthinkable. Once I had Adryan sedated, I removed his clothes and prepared the room… for operation.
After working so long with smaller prey, scaling to the human form felt too easy. It was harder, bearing the gravity of my vice, but thankfully I had mastered the procedure and tuned it to be entirely painless.
Adryan was still alive and dreaming, when I cut out his heart.
It was over before he knew it…
I should thank him. Even if he wasn’t going to help me, Adryan served indispensable to my research. Finally, I had a human heart, one flawlessly extracted with the soul, and with it I produced a more perfect serum.
I was closer to success than ever before, but still only halfway there…
Today, grave robbing is wildly out of fashion, but in the late 1800’s it was little less than legal. Medical schools and doctors were in need of organic materials, and graveyards were a hardware store for discounted anatomy.
The final part of the procedure demanded a vessel, in good condition, and the content quality of a cemetery lacked assurance. I feared, after embalming and dissolving, that these husks were equivalent to paper mâché.
Conveniently, Saint Augury’s Hospital has beneath its ground, a private mortuary. The bodies were kept in cold storage, preserved, unspoiled. The security was outdated and my access permitted all throughout the floor. Better yet, no shovel required. And so, armed with the serum and formidable intentions, I made my next move…
Prior my humanly heist, I scanned our intake of refrigerated residents. While none were exactly “in their prime” I weighed my chances with one Mr. A.J. Burk.
Manner of Death: Allergic Asphyxiation.
According to our records Mr. Burk had neither spouse nor children. His only surviving relative is a brother, who had opted for the funeral home’s most affordable service.
Direct cremation is an excellent choice for those grieving to find financial flexibility. There is no visitation, no viewing, no embalming.
They may request the ashes, or they may not. Sometimes, rarely, a body is displaced. Confusion proliferates between two hundred documents and uncertainties arise. A mixup may decide if a body is buried, burned, or donated to a class for students to dissect. More often the issue is resolved sooner than too late. Sadly, however, there are some who go unclaimed. Men like Mr. Burk who die alone and alone disappear untraced.
I suited the cadaver in a body bag and placed him on a gurney. Disguised as one of the nurses, I led him through the back corridors. By standard, anyone wheeling a corpse owns a certain decorum, solemn and undisturbed, unnoticed.
The delivery door was in the back, where a rental van was waiting.
From there we drove to my lab…
I bound Mr. Burk to a make-shift operating table. Worse than the experiment failing was for a rampaging zombie to reign through the school. After he was secured, I prepared the serum.
The procedure called for an intracardiac injection. Slowly, I guided the needle straight into his heart and emptied the syringe.
The seconds stacked on, one by one. A numb sensation spread at my hand, anticipation, growing.
For the first thirteen minutes and eleven seconds the experiment showed no reaction, but then…
The body pulled against the slab! Strangled by their bonds, every muscle contracted, veins swimming with snakes and nearly tearing through the skin! Eyes, clouded, spun in the mud of their sockets, the mind reeling for traction!
The serum was working!
But the flesh seemed ill-fit. It shriveled and recoiled, then twisted into rags. His hands bled clenched from daggered nails, his bones snapping with joints! BURSTING with a bellowing cry! Broken through teeth, it was a howl freed from hell, engorged with such rage no soul could contain! And imploding, all of his wrath compressed into an instant-!
His chest LURCHED-!
… and then deflated…
… and then everything was still…
The silent relief… meant only one thing. The experiment had failed… Under the intense strain of the procedure, his heart gave out. It physically erupted.
Such an outcome was worthless. It proved less reliable than my experiments with the rats. What was the point in reanimating the dead if they only lived to riot for a few moments?
Maybe the measurements were off. Maybe the serum was insufficient.
My one chance, wasted. Adryan murdered, for nothing…
Fear and doubt are dreadful fiends. They corrupt the mind, sending it into a spiral of self-destruction. But with all great things they accompany, they challenge – they push and provocate. They are the adversity, an ultimatum:
Submit and leave all for nothing… or raise the stakes…
The procedure could still work – it did work, but it needed modification, and for that I needed more evidence, more testing, more materials…
I needed more bodies…
A terrible but brilliant idea took form, one so frightfully obvious. The answer to my conundrum was right in front of me. It looked like Mr. Burk. It looked like everyone in Saint Augury’s morgue…
It looked like any one of my patients…
They will never understand my motives. For anything beyond their moral compass is too profound for them to fathom. My actions will look devious to them, sadistic, monstrous. They will categorize and dehumanize me. They will think I derive some “pleasure” from my wickedness – it is more consumable that way. It’s easier to believe that someone like me feels no remorse. It’s easier to believe that someone like me isn’t like them, as though they could spot it.
Maybe they were right…
Fact. Humans live, and humans die. That is nature. And nature does not have emotions or ethics to guide itself. For that there are doctors.
A doctor’s purpose is to challenge nature, to care for life in a world that does not. We protect our patients. We offer our skills, our expertise, so as to heal and comfort them, to stall off death… but that is all we can do.
Because even with the most advanced care, even with all the treatments and surgeries and life-saving medicines, all of our patients, eventually, die.
And when it is time, when the battle has reached its end, it is then upon us to deliver the final verdict. We stamp their time of death and offer our praise. We say, “It was a noble fight,” for in truth they had very little chance. There is heartbreak, there are tears, but there is never any dispute, because what is there to question? By all appearances this patient has died. What reason is there for a doctor to lie? Why would anyone try to fabricate their death? And who would ever assume, in a sane state of mind, that they would be taken alive for a hideous experiment?
I do try to be fair. Old, young, man or woman – I only took those who were likely to die, those who may not be missed or who may be forgotten and disappear without anyone ever knowing.
They never suffered, no more than Adryan had suffered. One moment they’re slowly dying in their hospital bed, the next… they’re gone. To anyone else it echoes a peaceful death. The drugs in their system sustain the delusion. Their breathing is slow, almost undetectable, their heart rate stalled to a practical stop. The equipment has been sabotaged to produce a false reading, and in nearly every case I am there to misdirect.
Once they “pull the plug”, the unconscious body is removed. It’s stored down below and there they wait. Come midnight I infiltrate the morgue and… pay my respects…
It may come as a shock to some of my opponents, but I do in fact respect my patients. After I have removed their body, after I have smuggled them to my lab, exploited their flesh and studied their soul, I stitch their wounds. I clean and polish their outer appearance to the degree that they deserve. I dress them as they would, a memorial service to who they were even when others forgot.
I do this because I am thankful for their life and their death. Without them, my work wouldn’t be possible, and it is only right to honor my contributors…
For months and on I kept a steady course. Striking sporadically speaks of a sociopathic urge, but this was carefully measured. If I killed every one of my patients I would show like the plague. Diligence and purpose are what guide my hand. Yet even with such care I couldn’t but come by a certain reputation…
In private, some of the nurses were calling me “The Angel of Death”. Ironically, it was meant as a compliment. For they noticed that when my patients died, they usually died at peace, as though an angel had quickly and quietly delivered their soul.
I discouraged the nickname. Not only was it immature for our staff but it was a little too close to the truth.
And the truth is, I was close.
Over four hundred years ago a pilgrimage began – a quest for the soul. Now I hold the torch and the spirit is revealed, nearly in reach. Foreword, the horizon sets an eldritch line, but from this journal of blood, riddles possess. Perhaps, for the fate of my predecessor, it was too much. Perhaps, the truth overwhelmed him, changed him…
I began reapplying some of my own blood into the serum. I could not manipulate human subjects as well as the rats, but I could, to a degree, coerce their strength. The patients were prone to violent seizures, breaking their bonds with extraordinary force. Against me, however, they were weak, frail, evincing a form of semi-possession.
In the deeper delusions of his book, the nameless doctor had posited such a theory. He spoke of the Ituph, of a prehistoric tribe characterized by their hideous society. They were a distant breed of man, cannibals, ghoulish lepers that ruled over slaves more than themselves. And instilling their reign was a cult of death – blood, the book supposed, is what enabled these fiends to dominate.
I have no interest in commanding thralls, but I envisioned a way to subdue the spirit. With that I might ease the procedure and lessen the literal soul-shock dealt upon the body. I could keep them alive.
Using my blood, I extended their lives for minutes or more. Yet still they fought, rebelling against life.
So I gave more.
I performed partial transfusions, collecting and storing my own blood in-between experiments. Substituting with another donor only reduced the effects. While they would revive, I could not so easily sustain nor restrain them. Thus I was limited, draining myself for as much as I could sacrifice.
Before long Sydney Aveline, one of my nurses, had asked if I was sick.
The question caught me by surprise. Pretending to know, I told her I was fine… but then I went before a mirror. Coming closer, I found for the first time a withering reflection. Nothing incredible – a pronounced vein here or there, almost pallid skin. Not at all concerning for what could be a mild fever, except for how I felt – a lack of feeling…
I delayed my next experiment.
Progress remained steady and confirmed that more of my blood assisted in the procedure. Yet I was cautious, utterly conservative for my health. I kept well within the limits of my body, well enough that I should heal. But by all appearances, I was getting worse.
Black and blue ridges stained against the white of my skin. The tips of my fingers turned discolored. I concealed what I could but it was a pale disguise. Sydney’s concerns grew over me. She worried that my midnight shifts were taking their toll. Behind my back, the others stared. There were rumors that I was dying.
But I was not dying. Inversely, I was immune – to nausea, fatigue, pain. Whatever sickness this was, it affected less of my mind and more of me. My pupils became hyper dilated and remained that way, regardless of light. My nails grew longer, harder, crude. Some of my teeth began to rot. These symptoms could not be traced to any disease, but when my hand regrew a certain mark… I suddenly understood…
I was suffering from the rat. I was suffering from my experiments, from all of those who I brought back, from whom I gave my blood. This was the cost of my success. Veins and needle marks, scars from where I sacrificed parts of my essence, festered black. How much of me was gone? How much of me was left?
I did not feel as ruined as I looked, and so perhaps there was a trade. For pieces that I gave I shared and so then received. Linked with their souls I owned a part of them; a rotten, decrepit part of death…
It was only conjecture, but like the journal and all of its seething insanity, it had the ominous shape of truth…
I could no longer use my blood – not without giving more of myself – yet neither could I stop. I did not come this far only to go back, I did not murder only to seek forgiveness. I would risk my life for this research, but before I died I would see it done…
Art by Fabio Ramacci
Therisa Simons and Holly Granger, the last two brush strokes to my chef-d’œuvre and the last two patients who I had killed.
Therisa’s heart was extracted and most of her blood siphoned. It was more blood than I had ever used and more than I would have used if not for my condition. But pressured by time, it was a necessary leap.
It forgoes any medical wisdom, mixing blood like some Transylvania cocktail, but nothing of this procedure lends to lucid opinion. Therisa was O+, Holly B-. Neither were compatible yet neither did it matter. The serum was the key agent and worked across all blood types, with any vessel. The transfusion, meanwhile, was mostly supplemental – a suspension of the soul. In layman’s terms, the excess blood served as “spiritual lubricant”. It could be applied topically, injected, or even – as evident with the rat in my very first breakthrough – ingested.
IV lines fed into Miss Granger’s corpse, another tube down her throat. Crimson life swirled through and around the wires, draining into the vessel. Therisa’s heart finished dissolving and the serum was mixed. I injected the needle and administered the essence…
I stood back, and setting the needle down went towards my notes when-
The body started shaking.
A light tremble in the fingers, a twitch at the knee, and then the throat began to heave! It had only been a few seconds but the reanimation was already starting! Another gag and it was coughing blood! Quickly I pulled out the tube, blood spilling over the subject and pooling at my feet. She tried to breathe but she was suffocating. I had to undo some of her restraints to tilt her over but by then she was hardly moving. I tried CPR, going between chest compressions and mouth to mouth when…
She bit down…
Now there was blood on both of us. I fell backwards, slipping over the floor, my hands covering my mouth. Even in my condition, I still felt it – pain so bright I was stumbling blind. I didn’t even see her escape.
A trail of gore led out of the lab and further down the hall. I was still clutching my face with one hand, the other firm with a scalpel.
She had managed her way outside.
Less than a handful of shadows moved around the campus, everything beyond a few lamps painted with the night. Yet one of the silhouettes stood out. It had a lumbering tilt and dragged a flimsy, fluttering shape. In the dark it looked like a parachute – the operating tarp and IVs were left dangling from her bloody, naked form.
Another shadow stood just ahead, witnessing this uncanny ghost shamble over the courtyard. By then, it was too late. Mrs. Granger tumbled a few yards from this bystander, coming closer, and then under one of the lights…
>> ||| <<
Their screams of horror were heard everywhere.
It traveled for miles and miles.
It traveled for days, months, and decades.
It traveled so far, you can still hear it now.
It’s heard at Mount Adeth University, in the old anatomy lab.
It’s heard at Saint Augury’s Hospital, in the underground morgue.
It’s heard around every October, and every campfire, and every kitchen-table podcast. And at the end of that scream is a name…
Following that scream authorities arrived. They found my lab and what remained of Therisa Simons. They found the operating table, the surgical tools, the blood. They found the other Therisa Simons, the one in Mrs. Granger’s body, dead from her wounds.
They found everything to prove what I had done…
But they never found me…
Today they still excuse Holly Granger as an embellishment. Not that she wasn’t one of my victims, but that her corpse was not in fact trudging around the campus late at night. An autopsy confirmed that she had died several hours prior and so it was, to them, an impossibility. Nevermind what one person saw, this was the modern age, and what can’t be proven can’t be true.
Some still think I was harvesting organs for the black market. Before I ran I secured my notes and the journal. They know nothing of my research. They know nothing of what I’ve done – of what I can do.
But one day, they will…
I’ll continue my research. I’ll study this journal until all of its secrets have been bled dry. In twenty years I’ve learned so much already. More of the mad doctor who seems less mad each day. More of his theories and mind. And more of the procedure and its… novel adaptations…
I have yet to cure my condition, and the scar upon my lip will never heal. Being a wanted man, it does not help for any disguise. I am an outcast, a wretch who is only fit to skulk in the dark of night.
Without patients or a morgue, my work has been slow. It’s regrettable, really. If I could only share my research, if they could only see what I have truly done, I wouldn’t be reserved to such nefarious means, nor to these substitutions.
But the truth cannot be forced. This shall be their own discovery.
I will leave them breadcrumbs where I can, and while supplies are short…
I’ll just have to work with mannequins…