A problem resided with the arms. The muscles felt strong, almost as powerful as the legs, and the skin enveloping them pulled tight and smooth. They were an exceptional design. Ask any expert and they would have agreed that the arms were the peak of anatomy.
The problem with the arms proved to be the weight.
Starting at the shoulders the burden slithered along the scars, across the multicolored flesh, through the abrasive steel shackles at the wrists, pooling finally at the massive hands. One hundred and sixty-two chain links connected the shackles to the concrete wall and back again. The arms should be able to break them. They were designed to break more. If only they were not hindered by the immovable weight.
A cord of tangled, greasy hair brushed across his pointed nose and he scratched the itch against his shoulder.
No, not his nose. Not his shoulder. This body belonged to many, but not an inch of flesh was rightly owned by him.
Yet, he commanded this grotesque form. The arms were under his control. The itch had irritated him. This body housed more than the brain of Maninder Bandyopadhyay. It held his soul. And it would be home to him until Shiva saw fit to end his torment.
Slowly decaying in a dank prison on the northwestern corner of Dr. Quinlan’s underground laboratory and struggling to retain his sanity was not a part of his ten-year-plan. He should have been in his dorm room preparing to take the MCATs, surrounded by text books, flash cards, and empty cans of energy drink. He should be listening to The Black Keys, not the quiet hum of ventilation and fluorescent lights.
A first year pre-med when Dr. Quinlan snatched the brain from his skull and placed it in the horrible body he now resided within, he had given up all hope of attending Columbia University and becoming a great surgeon. His former body had long ago been incinerated along with his dreams.
He squeezed every drop of solace out of the fact that he was not part of Dr. Quinlan’s plan either. The very first creature built, he was not supposed to retain sentiency. A fluke the doctor avoided for the second creature and dozens after. He was the odd monster out. Such uniqueness bought him a lifetime residency as a research subject.
Movement arrived outside the thick steel door. The soulless ones were bringing food, but the stomach told him that feeding time was still a few hours away.
"Quick! You hide inside and I’ll lead them away."
The voice indicated it was not creatures that stood outside the door.
"I won’t let you face them alone."
He had driven away the whispers and accusations weeks ago. They must have been waiting for him to let his guard down.
"They can’t touch me."
Both were young; the first, female, a sweet and crisp sound, and the other, male, baritone with a hint of a Boston accent.
"Don’t forget about me."
"I’ll be back as soon as I can."
The bolt on the door clicked open.
It’s just noise. They aren’t really there.
A black man slipped into the cell. After the door had closed and locked again he collapsed to the ground. He had a long face without blemish that seemed to rebuke him with its mere existence, and arms and legs that hung from him like a spider’s. He had come to trap Maninder’s mind in a web of madness.
The hallucination sat rigid as boots clomped towards the door. The thunderous creatures rumbled past and the man waited ten seconds before choosing to relax.
He refused to engage the illusion. The voices had spit insults and obscenities to elicit a response and he was able to shut them out by keeping his mouth shut. This hallucination would be no more successful.
Then, before the mind could stop it, the treacherous lungs pushed out a low, guttural growl.
The hallucination did not, despite his hope, miss the noise. Color dropped from the man’s face. His eyes bulged as they crossed the ten foot gap of the prison to perceive the monster sitting before him.
With cool frustration, the man blurted, "Fuck."
Employing determined speed, the man stood up, clutched the door handle, and tugged. It did not move. He used more force. After two more increasingly frantic attempts, he turned back to the creature before him and smiled sheepishly.
"All right, before things turn violent and I undoubtedly end up staining the floor like spilled chili, I’d like to present an alternative: the two of us sitting here peacefully until my spectral friend returns, at which point I’ll leave you alone and comfortable in your... cell? Why are you in a cell? And chained within a cell?"
Stay quiet. Don’t let it draw you in.
"I thought I had bad. You don’t even have padding."
You’re playing on my curiosity. I am smarter than that.
"Were you a bad cragdoll? Did you not obey your master?"
Don’t speak to me like I’m one of them. I am good. I am better.
"Are you defective? Brain damaged?"
You don’t know me. You’re just assuming the worst.
"Hidden away until you can be studied by top men?"
His next response escaped through his stretching lips. The man, once again, heard the sound.
"LEAVE ME ALONE! I DON’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU!"
The rage that he unleashed had never sprung from him before. He feared a door had been opened that the hallucination would exploit.
To his surprise, the hallucination did not jump at the opportunity. With bemusement, he drawled, "Okaaay."
They stayed in silence for several minutes. The man eventually sat back down and after another few minutes said, "You wouldn’t happen to be Sam, would you?"
Maninder. You know my name in Maninder.
No. Maninder died. The creature he was trapped in had no name.
"I ask because I might know some people that are looking for you." The man waited for a reaction, but none was given. "It’s easy. I’m Chris. And you are..?"
"You’re not going to talk now? Fine. I’ll call you Frank."
"Whatever." The larynx continued to betray him.
"Well, do you have a name or not?"
He rubbed his throat softly just under his rough, lengthening beard. "My voice has a name. My face has several names. I’m sure one part of me is named Frank."
But could he be Frank? A rose by any other name... right?
"How is it that you can--? That you’re--? Why aren’t you like the other cragdolls?"
I’m being punished. Tormented. Judged. It was simple karma.
"I’m just not. You ask too many questions. I told you I don’t want to talk."
Chris seethed. "Well too frakking bad. I’ve been put through a lot down here and I think I deserve some answers."
Frank would have told Chris everything he wanted to know, but part of him--the Maninder part--would not allow it. There was too much that Chris--or anyone, for that matter--would fail to understand. The only person he’d feel safe confiding the whole truth in would be a guru.
"I get it," Chris said, "You’re wallowing in misery. I’ve enjoyed a good misery wallow in my time. It’s good for one’s constitution. But you’ve been down here for--what? Six months? Eight?"
"Twenty." He’d lost an accurate count some time ago, but he felt... he believed... he was certain it had been more than a year and a half since he’d seen his family.
"Damn. You really need to get out of here."
Frank would’ve laughed at the notion if it weren’t so depressing.
"Where can I go when I look like this?"
"Anywhere! Everywhere!" Chris said with great enthusiasm. "Although the country clubs will only allow you through the rear entrance. You don’t have enough white skin amongst your patches."
Frank laughed at the joke. Wholeheartedly. It felt weird. Nice, but weird. His uncomfortableness must have shown because Chris then asked, "Would you rather be dead?"
What an inappropriately shrewd question. One he’d avoided asking himself the entire time he’d been alone in the prison. To die and hope for a better reincarnation, or to live his remaining years as a monster; Frank had his answer instantly. It was the easiest choice he’d ever been given.
"Do you want to die?" Chris asked again. Frank hadn’t realized that several minutes had passed since he asked the first time.
Confidently, he replied, "No."
"Then there is no reason to waste away down here. My Aunt Norea always told me life had a lot to offer, if one was willing to seek out its gifts. I never understood that until I died. My great mistake. If you want, come with me and I’ll show you what a monster can do in this world."
He’s dead? That settles it. I’m having a conversation with a hallucination. So, so stupid. That’s why I shouldn’t engage.
"You’re not a monster."
"That’s nice of you to say, but I’ve had more than my fair share of angry villagers chasing me with torches and pitchforks. And that was before I became a zombie."
The walking dead. That seemed infinitesimally more plausible.
Oh, wait, I’m a Frankenstein monster.
"I’m afraid I’ve finally gone crazy. Are you really here?"
"Believe me, I wish I wasn’t," he said. "I was born on April twenty-fifth and I died six days after I turned eighteen. Since then I have died and come back five times. You’re not crazy. The whole world is crazy. Are you ready to get back to it?"