An essay by Max Frankenstein, as provided by Richard Zwicker
Illustration by Katie Nyborg
There’s a certain justice in not being able to escape your own past. You make your bed, you sleep in it, I always say. It seemed less equitable, however, that I was doomed to sleep with my great-uncle Heinrich Frankenstein, or rather, in his bed. But then again, why should I refuse the inheritance of a large sum of money and a castle in eastern Germanyjust because my great-uncle was a direct descendant from the infamous Victor? Why? Because only someone who’d never watched Creature Feature would move into that castle and resume the Frankenstein experiments. But I fell for it, hook, line, and lightning bolt.
At the time I received the notice of my great-uncle’s death, I was a career student in western Massachusetts, working on a double major of organic chemistry and comparative literature with a minor in German. With twelve years of full class loads, I had amassed a student debt large enough to make myself known to the International Monetary Fund. I needed money and, in lieu of that, a place to hide, so the Frankenstein castle held an appeal for me. It had been in the family since Centurion Frankenstellini needed something to keep his military unit busy. After erecting it, he had them say his name ten times fast.
I should add that I have not kept the name Frankenstein. To have done so, with my large-sized build, size 13 shoes, and somewhat clumsy lope, would have made me a magnet for cruel humor. I go by Maximillian Stein. The shortened last name left me vulnerable only to the biergarten japes, “Hey, Stein! How about another stein?” and “Thank a million, Maximillian.” These I could deal with.
Within days of receiving the letter, I took incompletes in my classes and bought a ticket to Berlin. I initially had difficulty finding my property. The letter stated it was the only castle in the hamlet of Tubin and that once I got off at the train station, I should “ask around.” But the German equivalent of “castle” earned me nothing but blank looks from the townspeople, all of whom, even the women, seemed to be with mustache. Finally, a heavy set, older man with an uneven beard and limp gray hair said, “Oh, you mean the ruin. It’s on Nachdunkel Hill, ten kilometers west of the village.”
There’s something about the word “ruin” that doesn’t connote rising real estate values. The old man went on to tell me my castle had a caretaker, a Dr. Schwenden, once the most admired medical mind in Tubin. Tragically, his reputation was destroyed by his inclination to prescribe opium regardless of what plagued his patient. Words of wisdom from Dr. Schwenden: “Stubbed your toe, did you? Here, fire this sucker up.” One day, his life’s profession on the line, Schwenden got up in front of an angry crowd of ex-patients gathered in the market square. “I tell you there is nothing harmful about opium, and to prove it to you, I will administer it to myself.” Schwenden lit a thick opium cheroot and calmly smoked it down to a one-inch butt in front of the fruit and vegetable throwing crowd. He then finalized his trip into medical oblivion by falling off the platform and landing on top of the mayor’s teenage daughter. Heinrich took pity on the man and offered him the caretaker job. Rarely leaving the castle’s crumbling walls, Schwenden cultivated his habit. The old man finished his story by saying, “I hear he doesn’t even call himself Dr. Schwenden any more. He prefers the name ‘Schweinhund’.”
To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Autumn 2012 collection.
Max Frankenstein is a career student with a college debt larger than some mismanaged small countries. The direction of his life–away from his creditors–takes a different turn when he inherits his great uncle’s castle in Germany.
Richard Zwicker is an English teacher who lives in Vermont with his wife and beagle. His hobbies besides writing are reading, playing piano, and fighting the good fight against middle age. His short stories have appeared in “Stupefying Stories,” “Mindflights,” “New Myths,” and “Flagship.” Despite the fact that he lived in Brazil for eight years, he is still a lousy soccer player.
Katie Nyborg’s art, plus information regarding hiring her, can be found at http://katiedoesartthings.tumblr.com/