Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Paul Krempe, Victor Frankenstein, Hans Kleve, Elizabeth Frankenstein Krempe.
Setting: Two years after The Revenge of Frankenstein.
Summary: Victor Frankenstein pays a visit to an old friend...with a singular means of vengeance in mind.
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Hammer Films, and/or Mary Shelley. I'm simply playing with them.
Notes: I began this story sometime in 2000-2001, in my earliest days as a Peter Cushing devotee. The basis for it is simple: Victor Frankenstein doesn't strike me as a fellow who leaves any unfinished business in his life (lives?), and I was interested in exploring how he might tie up his perceived loose ends from The Curse of Frankenstein. However, my attention shifted to other projects, and the story sat unfinished for nearly a decade--until ScarletSherlock asked for Hammer Frankenstein in the Fandom Stocking fic exchange. Always glad for an excuse to complete an old story, I dusted it off and wrote the rest of it.
The clock at the end of the hall was solemnly tolling when Paul Krempe stepped through the door. Seven, eight, nine chimes he counted; but he knew it was later than that. Absently he shed his cloak and hung it on its hook, then threw himself into a chair with a despairing sigh.
Elizabeth was dying. In the three weeks since Doctor Hessel had taken her into his house to give her his constant care, she had grown only worse, not better. Spending his days at her bedside, Paul had struggled to maintain hope, but today she was so weak that he could no longer deny the inevitable.
He could not sit still for long. Abruptly he stood up, moved to the cabinet across the room, and poured himself a glass of wine.
"I see you've been making rather free with the contents of my cellar."
The wine glass fell from Paul's hand as he turned, feeling the hairs rise at the back of his neck. That voice! As cold and precise as a scalpel in the hands of its owner, a voice he had believed he would never hear again...
A tall, gaunt figure stepped from the shadow of the staircase, and Paul felt his blood run cold.
"Come now, Paul. You haven't forgotten me--no more than I could have forgotten you, in these last five years." Stepping forward, his once-friend casually picked up the fallen glass, and turned to the cabinet to refill it for himself.
A wild impulse of self-preservation overcame Paul. He steeled himself to move, to seize the uninvited visitor while his back was turned--if this was not indeed some resurrected phantom.
A broad hand, flesh and blood and all too real, closed over Paul's shoulder from behind. Twisting in its grasp, he met with the countenance of a lean, blue-eyed young man, his face handsome and intelligent but filled with cunning shadows. There was steel in his grip, and a powerful build beneath his finely made clothes; the outcome of any resistance was clear.
"Ah. I see you've met Hans." The visitor turned languidly to regard Paul with a brief, wry gaze, but he addressed the other man. "Let him go, Hans."
Released from the younger man's grip, Paul staggered back, collapsing into his chair.
"But... but you're dead..."
His guest responded with a knifelike smile. "That is one possible definition--but I am here, nevertheless, to talk to my old friend."
And with that, Victor Frankenstein calmly drew up a chair.
Paul's mind whirled with incredulity. Victor lived. Victor sat before him, his chin resting thoughtfully on a slender hand, regarding Paul with glacial blue eyes--while Hans stood close by, unarmed, yet vaguely threatening by his mere presence.
"Please forgive my manners," Victor said courtly, with a cavalier gesture to his accomplice. "Doctor Hans Kleve, permit me to introduce Paul Krempe. My mentor, friend, stumbling block... and, at the last, the man whose silence condemned me to the guillotine." On this conclusion, his gaze narrowed.
"How do you do," Hans said tonelessly.
Paul's shock had slowly begun a transformation into anger. "You look remarkably healthy for a dead man, Victor."
"And you, I'm afraid, look rather unhealthy for a live one." Victor took a sip of his wine, frowning at his glass like a contemplative connoisseur. "You've been living to great excess with my fortune, I observe. But then, that is why you married Elizabeth, isn't it?"
"I married her because I love her. That's something you never did." Paul leaned forward, clutching the armrests of his chair. "Why have you come back? Hasn't Elizabeth suffered enough by you already? Or is it me you've returned to punish?"
Victor smiled--an expression of indulgence and quiet menace.
"Oh, but it tempts me to repay you as you deserve, old friend. To reward you for your silence as they led me away to die..."
"I couldn't vindicate you, Victor. Not after what you'd done."
"Don't try to deceive me," Victor said sharply. "There wasn't even the most twisted notion of justice in your head. What you wanted was Elizabeth, and my estate--and you got them both, while my name was forever branded as evil, and I scarcely escaped with my life."
Paul chose not to dispute Victor's assessment of his motives. Under the precarious circumstances, all that really mattered now was what Victor intended to do--not why.
"And yet you claim you aren't here for revenge. What, then?"
Victor's chameleon demeanor changed again, from fierceness to conciliation, with the treacherous ease Paul had witnessed in no other man. He subsided in his seat, blinking mildly, as if surprised that Paul even found it necessary to ask.
"Why, for dear Elizabeth's sake, of course."
"For Elizabeth?" Paul choked. He lurched up from his chair, heedless of Hans; the young man took a step forward, but halted his advance at a small dismissive gesture from Victor.
"As I said, Paul." Victor set aside his wine glass and rose fluidly. "And you will agree with me, once you've heard what I have to say."
"No I won't." Paul turned away, and encountering the watchful gaze of Hans, he stalked off toward the fireplace with a frustrated hiss. There he leaned his hand upon the mantelpiece and stared into the flames. "She's dying, Victor."
"I know. And that is precisely why I am here."
A new shock went through Paul, forged in the darkest of suspicions, but his face reflected only anger as he met Victor's gaze. "How touching of you to come for her funeral."
Victor shook his head, and for the briefest of moments, there was something far deeper than mere denial in the gesture--something like regret. When he spoke, his voice was a shade gentler, and he seemed almost the man Paul had known before the horrors of the years past.
"There will be no funeral, if you will trust me and help me. I can save her. I am the only one who can."
And there were the words Paul had anticipated.
Some part of him believed it at that very moment. In spite of everything, his awareness of the brilliance that burned in Victor had never faded. Yet the monstrous memories of five years before--of Victor's crimes either direct or through inaction--compelled him to a harsher response.
"In God's name, no, Victor! I'll sooner die than see you lay hands on her, or see her become like the thing you created and destroyed--"
"That was merely a learning experience." Victor stepped closer, his expression difficult to read; there seemed to be in it an incongruous blend of bitter pride and earnest appeal. "I've done so much more, Paul. I've succeeded. And if you only knew what I've achieved, you would regret your quickness to judge me five years ago."
Paul drew a deep breath. "Then show me, Victor. Show me this triumph that's worth the lives you've destroyed."
A shadowed smile twisted across Victor's lips. He spread his hands slightly, holding Paul's gaze for a long moment before he answered.
"You're looking at it, Paul."
For a moment, the full meaning of those words eluded Paul. Then something in Victor's face brought him a shock of perfect clarity... and with it, the most profound horror he had ever known.
With perfect nonchalance, Victor turned to retrieve his wine glass from the table. "I see I have your attention, now."
Slowly Paul shook his head. "How... When?"
"In Carlsbruck, nearly two years ago. I spent three years there after my... alleged demise here." With a slight roll of his eyes, Victor sat down comfortably, in the manner of a storyteller who knows he has engaged his audience. "Allow me to give you a piece of advice: should you ever take it into your head to commit suicide, don't do it by provoking a wardful of patients into beating you to death. It's rather untidy, and quite unpleasant."
Paul staggered to his own seat and dropped into it. "You... you had yourself killed?"
"I should have preferred something less painful, but a sort of organized murder seemed the best way to settle the minds of the police. Through no error of mine, I'm afraid my previous effort had gone for the worse. My patient damaged himself when he failed to obey my instructions, and the results were... unfortunate."
Another life destroyed by Victor? Paul's mind questioned--but Victor's words now held him speechless in grisly fascination.
Victor held up his glass, gazing idly at its red contents in the firelight. "But it was enough to prove to me that I was right, provided the patient was given adequate time to heal without excitement. The operation itself was a success--and it could be repeated. I taught the procedure to Hans, and as you see, he proved to be a most worthy student."
Paul smiled grimly. "Then perhaps the success was his, Victor. Not yours."
Victor did not react, but Hans scowled down at the older man. "I operated from the Doctor's theories and knowledge, just as I learned from him. I didn't create the achievement; I only repeated it."
"I congratulate you on finding such a willing lap dog, Victor."
Hans drew back his open hand, but Victor interceded, with a staying gesture. "Never mind, Hans." He smiled darkly at Paul. "Hans is a very loyal assistant... and a friend. He takes our work as seriously as I--unlike you."
"I take murder very seriously indeed," Paul growled.
"There is no murder in this." Victor stretched out his hand, flexing slim and agile fingers. "I was a practicing doctor in Carlsbruck. I saved lives. Only those who could not be saved were the foundation for my true work. Don't you see, Paul? I've learned from my past mistakes."
"And what of Professor Bernstein?"
In an instant, Victor's gaze grew icy, and slowly he rose again from his chair. "You know that was your own fault."
"You always did believe that. And what about Kleve?" Paul glanced at the young man, gesturing toward the staircase. "Your idol pushed the old man over that very banister. Throw back that rug; you might still find the bloodstain."
Hans shook his head slowly. "Doctor Frankenstein only meant to preserve the Professor's brilliance for years to come. I know what happened was the consequence of your own meddling. If not for you, Professor Bernstein would still be giving new generations the benefit of his wisdom today."
"Oh, you're no use, you young fool," Paul muttered between his teeth, and pushed himself up from his chair. "Listen to me, Victor--"
"No. You listen to me, Paul," Victor commanded, with a sharpness that silenced his former mentor. "I came here to place these facts before you, and this I have done. Whatever you may think of the path I took to my knowledge, you cannot deny the truth of what you see with your own eyes." He gestured to himself. "After such an achievement as this, merely removing a disease from the body is a simple thing. That is your only hope--and Elizabeth's only hope."
Leaving those words to hang heavy in the air, Victor glanced at Hans, and the two men moved toward the french doors that opened onto the terrace. At the threshold, Victor turned to look once more at the stunned and silent Paul.
"Go to Elizabeth in the morning. See her suffering, and know that I can heal her. Then await me here tomorrow night with your decision."
Then Victor Frankenstein was gone, as a gust of cold wind fluttered the candles and whipped the curtains of the open doors.
After a long night that brought not a moment of sleep, an offensively bright, fresh dawn awaited Paul--and a visit with Elizabeth, just as he had done each day since she was taken to Doctor Hessel's house. He could hear her terrible, choked coughing as he climbed the stairs to the room where she lay. When he opened the door and met her gaze, her face was more pale and drawn than ever, but her eyes lit up with love and relief at the sight of him.
"Paul," she breathed faintly.
"Shh." Paul sat down at the bedside, taking her thin hand in his. "You mustn't talk. Just let me look at you."
It was difficult to look at Elizabeth now, beautiful though she had been before her illness. The disease in her lungs was wasting her whole body away; she looked as fragile as spun glass, and Paul almost thought her faded skin could be seen through just as easily. It was as if the only life left in her was in her eyes, gazing up at him bravely through the pain.
He would give anything to take that pain away from her.
Anything, perhaps, but...
"You look upset," her brittle voice whispered, as she studied his face. "What's wrong, Paul?"
"What's wrong?" He forced a wan smile. "How can you ask that, my dearest? You know it's only that I can't bear to see you suffer this way. Now please, lie quietly, and don't disturb yourself."
"No... it's something more." Her face grew more shadowed, her feeble grip on his hand anxiously tightening. "You're afraid of something. I can see it. Paul, what is it?"
Paul drew a deep breath, and caressed her cheek, gently shaking his head.
"The only thing I'm afraid of in this world is losing you," he said softly... and in that moment, he knew that it was true.
A violent thunderstorm raged that night, and the heavens burned with blue-white lightning bolts, as hailstones rattled the windowpanes. The fireplace was the only light in the house--save for the slashes of electricity from the sky, a monstrous reminder of the powers Victor had bent to his will in his laboratory five years before.
Through the tempest Paul sat alone by the hearth, numbed to the depths of his soul, waiting in an endless dread as the clock chimes marked off the hours. He did not think; he could not think. The intention in his heart was unthinkable. Its horror froze his mind--but he was torn between one horror and another, and the choice of which one he would endure seemed to come from some force beyond himself.
He never heard the french doors open, but he was suddenly aware of Victor, standing at the threshold like a fragment of darkness torn from the bitter night beyond.
"A frightful evening... but not too great a hardship to keep me from my old friend." Briskly Victor shed his black cloak that was streaming with rainwater, and strode uninvited to the cabinet to pour two glasses of brandy.
Paul stared unseeingly at the glass offered by Victor's slim hand, and finally raised his haggard head to meet the other's coldly indulgent eyes. After a long moment, he took the brandy, and drank it down at a gulp.
"You must save Elizabeth," he rasped, and heard the words as if they had come from another man's lips.
For only a moment, a harsh, triumphant smile lit Victor's severe face. Then his features swiftly relaxed again, and he settled in the chair opposite Paul, taking a leisurely sip of his own drink.
"Why, of course, dear Paul--it would be my sincerest pleasure. My equipment is ready, in a place not far from here. It can be done as soon as you have her removed from the doctor's house... and as soon as you obtain the necessary raw materials, of course."
The last words, casual and offhanded over the rim of the brandy glass, made Paul's blood run cold.
Victor raised calculating eyes from his drink. "Elizabeth is suffering from a disease of the lungs, is she not? Very well then. The transplantation of a new pair of lungs is prescribed--and you must obtain them."
"But... but I thought you--or that bulldog Kleve of yours..."
In his horror, Paul betrayed his weakness; his belief that his eyes would not see, nor his hands touch, the guilt of what he proposed. Even as he spoke, he knew already what a foolish assumption that had been. He knew Victor. He knew the twisted turns of Victor's mind.
And now he knew the diabolical form of Victor's revenge.
"Ah, but at this particular moment, neither Hans nor myself are actively engaged in medical practice." Victor smiled blithely. "You see, our access to certain resources through legitimate channels is somewhat limited--and I'm sure you wouldn't wish us to do anything on your behalf that might possibly be illegal. Besides, you're undoubtedly eager to make some small contribution of your own to Elizabeth's welfare."
"But... how?" Paul gasped dumbly.
"That is your own affair." Victor waved a hand dismissively. "Go to your local medical council, if you have faith in their willingness to provide subjects to such an accomplished and respected researcher as yourself. Go to the hospital morgue with a scalpel--or go to the churchyard with a spade. You know what we need. Only see that it's healthy and fresh."
Paul's heart was pounding and his mouth was dry. He leaned forward in his chair, his fingers tightly gripping the armrests.
"You're hell's own devil, Victor."
Frankenstein merely inclined his head in graceful acceptance of that assessment, and rose.
"Hans and I will keep a careful watch on the house. When we see you bring Elizabeth here, we'll know you're ready to proceed." He turned and stepped into the shadows by the french doors, to gather his damp cloak from the table there.
"I won't do it, Victor!" Paul snapped, clutching desperately at the last remains of his courage.
A flare of lightning caught Victor in sharp relief as he looked back at Paul, his cloak drawn over one shoulder. In his eyes there seemed to burn the same deadly blue light that filled the sky, and his lips were twisted in a smile of ice that put the hail to shame.
"We shall see."
A second wakeful night held Paul captive through the hours of darkness. He lay tossing on his bed, haunted by Victor's malevolent face--and Elizabeth's pale, pain-filled one. Forced to face the unholy realities of what Victor offered, he found a new weight in the scales of life and death, yet even this could not seem to tip the balance.
Perhaps it was not such a terrible thing, he argued with himself in one moment. Merely the dead tissue of a body from whom life had passed, in exchange for Elizabeth's life.
But there was no guarantee that the lungs from a dead body might not harbor disease of their own. And even if he did find a suitable subject to harvest from, what assurance did he have that Victor would keep his word? In his spite, he might cut out Elizabeth's soul with the disease, turn her into such a walking horror as that thing pieced together from corpses that had never possessed a soul at all...
Yet to put Paul's hand to this unconscionable work might be enough to satisfy Victor. He might genuinely spare Elizabeth. She was his cousin, after all--at one time his wife. He had shielded her from his work then, and surely he could bear her no grudge now. He might even like to atone for having wounded her by accident.
All these things were speculation, but one fact was incontrovertible: if nothing was done, Elizabeth would die.
Light had barely broken when Paul rushed out into the damp gray dawn, on a course for Doctor Hessel's house... with some horrific part of him hoping to find that Elizabeth had already died in the night, taking this hellish choice out of his hands.
When the housekeeper let him in, he found Doctor Hessel on the staircase, as if he was just on his way down from Elizabeth's room. His face was grave, and Paul froze at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at the doctor with a wildly beating heart.
Hessel raised a hand. "Not yet. You know that strong will of Elizabeth's; somehow she's still clinging to life. But... I'm afraid the end may come at any time." He looked gently at Paul. "She's asleep. Do you want to see her?"
Paul hesitated for a long moment, and then slowly shook his head.
"Not now," he said, in a grim, quiet voice. "There's something I have to do."
In the next hours, Paul made many careful but anxious inquiries, seeking hope for himself from the tragedy of others--but he found his search to be futile. He learned that only two burials had recently taken place in the churchyard, both of them old men, and there were no patients near death in the hospital. Ingestodt was a small place, and death was not such a frequent visitor... at least while Victor had been gone.
It was as Paul was walking home in despair that he saw the lame beggar-girl.
She was a fixture on that street by the church, sitting on her corner and begging for alms. A pretty little thing, not yet nineteen, her young body undernourished but otherwise healthy--except for that twisted leg of hers. Even with a crutch, she could scarcely walk. Yet in spite of that, she had a smile for all who passed by, her sweet soul harboring no bitterness for the injustices of nature.
Paul stopped on the corner opposite her, and regarded her furtively for a long time.
The poor child had nothing to look forward to, surely. Pain would be her one companion in life. With her infirmity, she would never win the love of a man; never be the mother of children. She would grow old on that corner, subsisting on the kindness of others, forever unable to repay that debt by achieving a productive life.
Elizabeth wanted children. She could still have them. She could have fine, strong sons, who would grow up to do great things.
Feeling as though some unseen and unknown power moved his feet, Paul crossed the street to the girl.
Doctor Hessel objected to Elizabeth's removal from his house--late in the evening, no less. He relented only when Paul insisted that he wanted death to find her in her own home, in familiar and peaceful surroundings. Bundled in blankets to protect her from the night chill, she was taken out to the carriage, and Paul spirited her away.
She was unconscious when they arrived home. He carried her inside to the warmth of the fire, fervently praying in silence.
God spare her just a little longer--don't let it be for nothing now...
Hardly ten minutes afterward, Victor and Hans emerged from the night once more. Victor's stride was purposeful as he stepped in through the french doors... but when his gaze fell upon Elizabeth's ashen face, Paul was sure he saw a hesitation.
It passed like a shadow, and then Victor turned brusquely to Paul.
"We're ready. My operating room is not far. Let Hans take her out to the carriage, while you show me your... contribution."
Paul's jaw worked silently as he watched Hans gather Elizabeth in his arms and carry her out. To see that man touch her, let alone Victor, made him almost mad with disgust; but he swallowed hard, shutting up his fury inside him, and led Victor down to a cellar that added one more horror to the unspeakable history of that house.
When Paul removed the sheet from what lay on the table there, Victor was silent for a brief moment. Then he raised his eyes to meet Paul's, with a chilling smile.
"Such a fortunate chance. A police case, naturally."
"Naturally," Paul murmured faintly through his clenched teeth.
Victor swiftly made a more thorough examination, and then straightened with a curt nod. "The lungs should be quite ideal. We'll remove them at the operating room. Come along quickly--time is vital."
Nearly dazed with horror and dread, Paul drew up the sheet. He took in his arms the too-tangible weight of a guilt that would never be lightened from his soul, and followed Victor.
A second and slightly longer journey followed, with Kleve handling the reins. Paul neither knew nor cared where they were bound. He had eyes only for Elizabeth in his arms, her breaths growing more weak by the moment--and just when he thought with a flash of panic that he could no longer detect her breath at all, the carriage came to a halt. They had arrived at an old barn that stood in a long-abandoned field.
"You may take Elizabeth," Victor said airily to Paul as he stepped down from the carriage. "Hans, kindly collect our donor."
The grim procession made its way inside, with Victor going ahead to light the lamps for his two burdened companions. The sudden illumination sparked blinding reflections against metal; it took Paul's eyes a moment to adjust. As they did, he was greeted by a hauntingly familiar scene.
It might almost have been the same laboratory from five years before.
"Kindly put her on that table." Already Victor was moving with brisk, intent purpose from one gleaming machine to the next: adjusting tubes, connecting wires, igniting electrical currents. There was still the grace of something perversely artistic in his actions. He went about his arcane work with the effortless skill, the absolute self-assurance Paul remembered, and for a brief moment the older man felt a pang of regret. Such an extraordinary gift of talent, fallen into corruption; such a loss to science, to humanity.
Hans placed his tragic bundle on the table adjacent to Elizabeth's, and dispassionately began laying out a tray of surgical knives.
In the hours that followed, Paul was offered no part in the operation, and he sought none. He stood to one side, a mere observer... and he felt even then the uncleanness of blood on his hands, a stain no penance for his desperate deeds would ever wash away.
Victor and his partner in crime worked in practiced unison. It was Hans' task to remove the fragile lungs that were so recently stilled in their rightful owner, while Victor attended to Elizabeth, cutting her own diseased lungs from her chest as she lay connected to his mysterious array of machines. Paul watched with his heart in his mouth. From Victor's experiments of old, his one-time mentor understood some of the principles involved, but it was clear he had succeeded in refining his procedures beyond Paul's wildest imaginings.
Then, after the raw butchery was completed, Victor's electrical sorcery began: the flare of sparks, the hiss and pop of man-made lightning, while Elizabeth's body spasmed violently on the table. With crawling nerves Paul shrank back instinctively against the wall, and at the last he turned away, covering his eyes with his arm...
Only to turn back with a thrill of hope and dread, as he heard the first gasp of Elizabeth's new lungs.
Swiftly Victor turned to pull the switches and levers of the machines. The electric flashes faded and sputtered out. The room fell silent... except for the faint, soft breaths from Elizabeth's lips.
Trembling slightly, Paul approached the table. Elizabeth lay still, pale as death, a sheet drawn up to cover the incision in her chest that would need time to heal; but she was breathing. Breathing on her own, without the aid of Victor's machines--and without the terrible malignant rasp of her old lungs. The new organs were strong, healthy, perfect.
"In a few hours, she can be very carefully moved home." Victor looked pale himself, with shadows of strain on his face, and Paul realized for the first time that this unfathomable feat was not effortless to him after all. It was almost as if he had poured the power of his own iron will into his machines, leaving him spent and gaunt from the effort.
For dear Elizabeth's sake...
Perhaps some spark of feeling for his once-wife truly did survive in him, after all.
"My work is done," he concluded quietly, peeling off his bloody gloves and tossing them aside. "You can care for her incision on your own, no doubt."
Paul stared at Victor, and for a brief moment, he felt upwelling in his heart a flood of gratitude that words would be worthless to translate. He took a faltering step toward his former student.
The name froze on his lips. His single step had shifted into his view the other table, its burden covered futilely by a bloodstained sheet, and his stomach lurched. In the next instant Victor's eyes caught his, with a returning trace of their malefic blue ice... and he remembered what it was all really for.
For the rest of their lives, each time he held Elizabeth in his arms and felt the movement of her breath, he would think of the life he had traded for hers. He would remember that he did out of selfish love what Victor had proposed to do for the benefit of all mankind... and until his dying day, his own conscience would be the shadow of Victor Frankenstein.
Victor's vengeance was complete.
Something inside Paul turned hard and cold, the dying of a part of his soul that he knew would never live again. He turned away and closed his eyes, resisting the dizzy blackness of a faint that threatened to overtake him.
Frankenstein said nothing. For a moment he stood still behind Paul, and then his footsteps moved away, crossing the room to his machines.
2010 Jordanna Morgan