By Noel T. Cumberland
Doctor Mandible tightened his hands on the viewfinder. It was mounted, solid, to the console in front of the window, but the rage-shaking of his body made it look like the instrument might tumble from its perch and shatter on the floor. A rodent crossed the floor, then stopped and ran back through the crack in the wall where it had entered.
Without turning around, Doctor Mandible closed his eyes and counted to ten under his breath. His narrow, lanky frame, perfectly centered in the window, obscured much of the view, but the stars were just becoming visible as the sky darkened from inky blue to angry purple, making the ancient stone of the window frame appear colder than it was.
“…Eight…nine…ten,” he finished. “Bertram.”
“Yes, Doctor,” Bertram responded. “How can I serve?”
“Tell me, Bertram.” Doctor Mandible’s eyes narrowed, and his nostrils flared. “Where, exactly, is Cynthia?”
Flop-sweat dripped down Bertram’s brow. He crossed his arms and tucked his hands under his armpits as he took a small step back. “Uh, she should be in her cage, Doctor.”
Doctor Mandible turned from the window, slowly and with purpose, to face his cowering companion. Letting go of the death-grip he had on the viewfinder, his hands improved from ghostly white to sickly white as circulation returned to his fingers.
“How many subjects have I created, Bertram?” Doctor Mandible asked, grabbing Bertram’s ragged tunic and yanking him in close. Pulling his clammy, greasy hands from their hiding place in his armpits, Bertram feebly slapped and pushed at Doctor Mandible’s powerful fists.
“Um, seventeen,” Bertram said, ending his struggles. “Eighteen if you count the one that exploded.”
“Yes,” Doctor Mandible said. “The one that exploded. Mustn’t forget the one that exploded.”
Bertram blinked a couple of times and Doctor Mandible shoved him away, so Bertram returned to his chores.
“BERTRAM!” Doctor Mandible continued, “I’m not done with you. Of the seventeen subjects…”
“Eighteen,” Bertram reminded him.
“YES! EIGHTEEN! YES! Of the EIGHTEEN subjects, how many lived and developed the power of speech?” Doctor Mandible asked, his face reddening and his shaking, impotent fists darting back and forth at his sides.
“Oh, I know that one,” Bertram responded. “Only Cynthia. All the rest died horribly before you could teach them anything. I especially remember the one that had your face. You said it would be the best of the lot, but it was in—in—in…what’s the word I’m looking for?”
Doctor Mandible’s shoulders slumped. His breath slowed, and the blood drained from his face. Taking a deep breath, he replied, “Incontinent. The word you want is ‘incontinent.’”
“Right! So you fed that one to the piranha! They got sick and died.”
“Not the point, Bertram,” Doctor Mandible cut him off. “Where is Cynthia? Now. This minute, where is she?”
“I don’t know, Doctor, should I go look in her cage?”
A small moan escaped Doctor Mandible’s lips and his left eye twitched. He sat on the floor, in front of the viewfinder, and put his head in his hands. Gentle sobs shook his body, several at first, then fewer and fewer as his breathing evened out. He slumped over and fell into a deep sleep.
Looking past Doctor Mandible, Bertram watched a dark shadow cross the window, darker than the moonless dusk beyond. He tiptoed over to the window and called out in a stage whisper, “Cynthia, is that you?”
Two small, orange globes appeared hovering in front of the window. The light they gave off revealed a horrifying visage. The glowing spheres were eyes, set slightly too far apart. They framed a scarred and bent snout, which extended a full two feet to form the top of a mouth not possible in nature. Jagged, shark-like teeth were visible behind the scarred and leathery lips. Two tongues jockeyed for position as the terrifying maw dripped and ran with sticky ropes of saliva. The fur covering the face seemed to shift from black to gray to brown and back again, depending on the angle. The creature’s fetid breath caused Bertram to retch slightly, but he smiled a huge grin and approached the thing with a spring in his step.
“Cynthia,” Bertram said, still in his quiet voice. “Doctor Mandible was so angry, I thought something bad had happened to you.”
“Is it safe?” Cynthia said.
“Oh, yes,” Bertram said, “I gave him a dose of sleeping lotion. He’ll be out for hours.”
Cynthia climbed in through the window. Her body was even more hideous than her face, if such a thing were possible. The matted hair of a dozen animals made up her pelt in patches, each different swatch of hair fighting with its neighbors for a place to live. Her body looked a bit too short in the torso and her backwards bent legs ended in huge wolf-esque paws, but with six toes each. Bertram smiled and hugged her as she came fully into the room. They parted and Cynthia took a couple of steps, then gently removed the lab coat from Doctor Mandible and put it on.
“Okay, Bertram, let’s get him back into his cage,” Cynthia said, bending to lift Doctor Mandible’s slumbering front half.
“I’m really sorry he escaped again,” Bertram said, hefting up the back. “He’s been getting more and more delusional since the last brain-booster injection you gave him. I guess I’m the only human you’ve constructed that’s fully functional, huh?”
Cynthia smiled, and Bertram winced a tiny bit.
“I’m just glad you were able to humor him until you could put him to sleep,” Cynthia said with a chuckle, viscous spittle dripping from her nightmare mouth. “I really need to get the brain chemistry balanced better when I build humans. You become delusional much too easily. Hey, once he’s back in his cage, how about I get you some ice cream?”