The Monster’s Vision of Heaven ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
The same thing every night. They stood the monster on a tiny stage, chained by the ankles and wrists, and when they opened the curtain people in the audience gasped and drew back. He flailed his arms menacingly and showed his teeth and growled like an animal. People drew in their breath; someone usually screamed. The best nights were when a woman fainted; crowds were always bigger the next night.
They gave him daily injections that calmed him down and made him feel weak and tired all the time. If they didn’t give him the injections, he would overpower them and get away. He was seven feet tall and as strong as ten—or maybe twenty—men. They gave him raw or barely cooked meat and lots of wine because they believed that is what would make him happy and make him not want to escape.
He liked the wine and the meat but he wasn’t happy and desperately longed to escape. He hated being locked in a cage and made to feel like an animal. Being made up of the body parts of cadavers didn’t mean he wasn’t a man and didn’t feel. He longed to go back to the castle in the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania where he was created and to his master and Dr. Pretorius. He wasn’t sure where he was or how far he had to go to get home, but he knew that once he got out he would find his way. He waited and watched for his chance to escape. He wasn’t as dull and stupid as they thought he was.
There were other attractions in the show, of course—since it was a Traveling Freak Show—but he was kept apart from them. He saw them from his cage, though, and heard them: Albertine the Fat Lady, who minced and simpered like a temperamental star and who ate enough food for ten people; John Elbow, billed as the Great Contortionist, who could bend his body into any shape and, as an added attraction, slithered off the stage exactly like a snake at the end of his act; Flora and Fauna the Siamese Twins who, with their three legs, did a specialty dance routine; Ivan the Octopus Boy who recited “The Raven” while juggling oranges with his four arms and tap dancing with his four legs; Pansy the Pinhead who proudly wore a tiny wreath of baby yellow roses on the point of her head; Beverly, the Half-Man-Half-Woman who read the shocking confessions from his-her diary to anybody who would listen; Andriotti the Midget Strongman, whose arms and shoulders were developed out of all proportion to the rest of his body; Chauncey the Wolf Boy, who played the violin beautifully even though he was covered all over with thick fur and had paws instead of hands.
One night about midnight, after the last performance of the evening, when the show had shut down for the night and all the freaks were locked up, a fire broke out. The monster was the first to smell the fire; he began kicking the side of his cage and grunting to try to get the attention of one of the handlers, but they had all retired for the night and heard nothing. With all the wood, canvas and straw, the fire spread quickly. When the freaks realized what was happening, they began screaming for somebody to come and let them out.
The monster knew that he was the strongest of all the freaks, and he had no intention of burning to death inside a cage. Luckily the handlers had forgotten to fasten his leg chains, so he could move about freely inside the cage. He lay on his back facing the door and gave a powerful kick with both legs. The lock broke and the door swung open. He picked up a sledge hammer and ran to the freaks’ cages and began breaking down the doors to let them out. One by one, the freaks ran to a little clearing in the woods a safe distance away from the fire; those who couldn’t run were led or carried by the others. They were frightened and some of them were sobbing but they were all unhurt.
The monster ran with his sledge hammer to the caravan where the handlers and owners slept, but the caravan was already an inferno and he knew that nobody in there could still be alive. When he knew it was too late to save anybody else, he went to the clearing in the woods where the freaks had gone.
The freaks were gathered around in a circle; they all seemed to be talking at the same time. When they realized the monster was standing a few feet away, they fell silent and turned and looked at him. The monster backed away, thinking the freaks were going to blame him for the fire, but they all came toward him with smiles and cheers. The men wanted to shake his hand and the women to kiss him. If the monster hadn’t been so big, they would have picked him up and carried him around in a circle on their shoulders.
“If it wasn’t for him, we would all be dead,” said Ivan the Octopus Boy, who had become the unofficial leader of the group.
“Hurray!” said Albertine the Fat Lady, and the other freaks picked up the cheer until they had all joined in: “Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!”
“He is our savior and our hero!” said Beverly, the Half-Man-Half-Woman, and they all cheered again.
The monster was confused and frightened at first. He had never had anybody pay him a compliment before or have kind words for him, but he soon understood the intent of what they were saying, if not the words, and he began to smile self-consciously and to try to hide his face under his coat with modesty.
After the fire had died down, some of the freaks decided to go back to see if there were any other survivors or anything in the wreckage that could be salvaged. In a half-hour they returned, burdened down with what they had found. The mess tent was the least affected by the fire and they found plenty of food and wine and, what’s even better, nobody left to tell them they couldn’t take it.
They built a big campfire and some of the women set about preparing the food, while the men sat under a tree and drank wine and swapped stories. When the food was ready, they all ate heartily, sitting in a circle on the ground. Chauncey the Wolf Boy managed to grab his violin as he was escaping the fire, and he began playing some sprightly tunes. Some of the freaks began dancing and soon they were all dancing and celebrating and singing the monster’s praises. Pansy the Pinhead made a wreath of flowers similar to her own, only much bigger, and placed it on the monster’s head.
They laughed and danced and sang and ate and drank until the sun was well up, and then they slept. When they woke up again around sundown, the celebration began all over again, and the realization began to dawn on them that, not only did they escape the fire, but they were no longer freaks in a Traveling Freak Show. They were free to go where they wanted and do what they wanted. Some of the freaks cried with this knowledge and began talking excitedly of their plans for the future. Albertine the Fat Lady was going to Paris, she said. There were plenty of men who liked big women. She would live like a queen in the romance capital of the world. No more freak shows for her.
When Fauna, one of the Siamese Twins, asked the monster where he would go and what he would do, he pointed to the mountains far off in the distance and said, “Home.”
The freaks decided it was time to be on their way. They divided among themselves the food that was left and, with tears and farewells and with promises to be careful and to write as soon as they got settled, they began leaving by ones and twos. Some headed east toward the mountains; some west toward the border. Those that were left went south toward the sea or north toward the city.
Before he left, Ivan the Octopus Boy took the monster’s hand in two of his own hands and said, “I don’t think I have to tell you how grateful we all are to you for saving our lives and setting us free. No matter what happens in your life, remember that you always have friends and people who think fondly of you.”
As the last of the freaks left, the monster stood by the side of the road and watched them until they were out of sight. He gave one final wave and a little whimper that no one heard and turned all the way around in a circle as if he didn’t know what to do. Finding his resolution, he lifted his head and smelled the air and set off in the direction of home—or what he believed to be the direction of home.
He walked until the sun came up and then he found a clump of bushes and hid himself away and slept. He knew that the only way he would ever make it home was to not be seen; anybody who saw him would wish him harm, if only because of the way he looked, and he would probably have to end up killing them. He had seen his reflection many times and he knew he was horribly ugly and frightening to people, whether he wanted to be or not. He also knew that it took a freak to see through the ugliness and know there’s something more underneath.
He traveled for three nights and hid out in the woods during the day. After he ate the small amount of food the freaks gave him, he killed the occasional small night creature and ate it raw, not daring to build a fire to cook it. He drank from mountain streams common to the region.
Three days passed and he was beginning to feel discouraged and lonely when he saw the mountains not far in the distance that he recognized. Another few hours of night travel and he would be home.
He waited anxiously for nightfall and when it came he set out for what he hoped would be the last leg of his journey. The way was lit for him by a full moon. He came upon some men hauling a load of vegetables to the nearest town to sell at market, but they were drunk and making so much noise that he had time to hide in the brush before they saw him.
Finally he saw the castle at the pinnacle of a hill that he recognized as home. It seemed exactly like heaven to him. He ran the last mile or so, and when he reached the door of the castle he hit it with his fists and kicked at it to be opened.
No one came to open the door for him. He thought the master must be in the laboratory working and couldn’t hear him, so he hit the door even harder with his fists. It rattled on its hinges and dislodged dust from its seams, but still no one came.
After what seemed a very long time, the door was opened timidly a few inches. Somebody was looking out at the monster but he couldn’t see who it was.
“Master?” he said.
With this one word, the door opened farther and the monster saw Fritz, the master’s hunchback laboratory assistant, standing just inside peering at him from behind a tiny light.
“I was waiting for you to come,” Fritz said, motioning the monster inside.
“Tell the master I have returned,” the monster said.
Fritz took the monster to the kitchen and set him down at the table and gave him bread and meat to eat and wine to drink.
After the monster had eaten as much as he wanted and no more, he said again to Fritz, “Tell the master I have returned.”
Fritz sat down at the table across from the monster. “I am the only one here,” he said with a crazed look in his eye.
“Where is the master?” the monster asked.
“Everybody thought you were dead,” Fritz said, “but I knew you were alive and would come back. The master knew it too. He and I talked about it many times.”
“Where is he?” the monster said again, and Fritz knew that the monster could rip his head off with one blow from his powerful fist if he wanted to.
“He’s been committed to the Asylum for the Criminally Insane for his experiments with the dead.”
“Is Dr. Pretorius there, too?”
“Dr. Pretorius is dead. He died right after the master went away. I found him dead in his bed one morning when I went to wake him. His body is in the crypt down below where it is kept cool and dry.”
“Where is this asylum?”
“Not far from here. I’ll take you there after you’ve rested.”
“You’ll take me there now.”
When they reached the gates of the Asylum for the Criminally Insane, Fritz scrambled over the ten-foot-high iron fence like a monkey and opened the gate to let the monster in. They crept around to the back of the asylum on the periphery of the grounds without making a sound. Fritz knew which room the master was in. Luckily the room was on the ground floor, but the window was covered with bars.
The monster dislodged and removed the bars as easily as if it had been a birdcage and opened the window soundlessly. The window wasn’t locked, so there was no need to break it to get in. He lifted Fritz through the window and then climbed in after him.
The room was suffused with moonlight, so they were able to see the master clearly in the bed. When the monster approached the bed, he saw that the master was tied at the wrists and ankles to the bed frame. He pulled the leather restraints loose with little effort and picked the master up in his arms. Fritz took the master’s feet and together they eased him out the window.
They returned to the castle by a different route, the monster carrying the master and Fritz going on ahead to keep watch. The master was unconscious but breathing. When the monster asked Fritz why the master didn’t wake up, Fritz told him he was sedated with a powerful drug; they would have to let the drug wear off and that might take days.
When they reached the castle, they bolted the doors and windows and hid the master away in a secret chamber that Fritz had outfitted with a bed and other necessities for the purpose of accommodating the master. After they had the master securely in bed and he was resting comfortably, Fritz went up to the ancient watchtower at the top of the castle and kept watch throughout the rest of the night and most of the following day.
The master’s health improved and his senses returned. He was happy to be in his own castle again, happy to see loyal Fritz again, and happy to see that the monster had returned. While everybody thought the monster was dead, the master believed in his heart that he would return to his home and to the only people in the world who loved and understood him. The monster wanted to tell the master about the freaks at that moment but decided to wait for a better time, when the master was more fully recovered.
When the police came to the castle looking for the master, it was up to Fritz to talk to them. When the police inspector told Fritz that the master had escaped from the Asylum for the Criminally Insane, Fritz seemed genuinely surprised. He laughed at the suggestion that the master was hiding in the castle.
“He wouldn’t come here,” Fritz said cannily. “He would know that this would be the first place you would look for him. He told me he would go to London as soon as he got out of that asylum. Try London.”
“When we come back, we search the place,” the police inspector said gruffly, as he and his men were leaving.
“That will be lovely,” Fritz said.
When the master was ready to resume his work, he and Fritz went below to the crypt and brought up the body of Dr. Pretorius. The body was extremely stiff but remarkably well preserved, considering that he had been dead for over a month.
Upon examining the body, the master discovered that a new heart was needed, so the next night he sent Fritz out to get one. The heart was supposed to come from the grave of a recently deceased person, but the master was not going to ask questions about where it came from as long as it was a good heart.
The heart that Fritz brought back (no questions asked) was a youthful, vibrant heart, and it worked splendidly in the aged body of Dr. Pretorius. In a very short time after the heart was inserted, Dr. Pretorius was up walking about, guzzling whiskey, and singing songs. He planned to write a book, he said, about the stimulating conversations he had with the Prince of Darkness while he was dead.
One day not long after, when the master and Dr. Pretorius were in the laboratory studying the notes of the master’s father (who had pioneered the techniques for reanimating the dead), the monster walked in unexpectedly. Dr. Pretorius looked at the monster and turned to the master and tapped him on the wrist to get his attention.
“The poor fellow is looking forlorn,” Dr. Pretorius said. “I think he’s lonely. I think he longs to have a companion, a being just like himself made up the body parts of cadavers. Someone who will find him beautiful instead of horrifying. Someone who will not scream and faint dead away at the sight of him.”
“A mate?” the master said.
“Precisely so,” Dr. Pretorius said. “A mate for the monster.”
The monster smiled and clapped his hands together silently the way a child would do and sat down on the wooden bench against the wall to wait. After he had watched the two mad scientists at work for a while, he could see that the mate wasn’t going to be forthcoming anytime soon, so he lay down on the bench and went to sleep.
When he awoke it was to the sound of voices, but the voices were not those of the master and Dr. Pretorius. They were angry female voices.
Beverly the Half-Man-Half-Woman and Flora, one of the Siamese Twins, were having an argument, while Fauna, the other Siamese Twin, was trying to calm them down. Flora hit Beverly in the eye and Beverly was screeching with indignation.
The monster sat up in his cage and looked around, confused at first, surprised to find he was chained at the ankles and wrists. He rattled the chains and growled but no one heard him. The handlers were busy getting the other freaks ready for the next performance.
The monster knew he had been having a dream so real that he had difficulty separating the dream from reality. A dream that real could only be a prophetic dream—a dream of what was to be—a dream that he would remember for as long as he had a borrowed brain that allowed him to think.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp