The Genome Kunstler | By: Austen Brauker | | Category: Short Story - Horror Bookmark and Share

The Genome Kunstler


By Austen J. Brauker


(Genome = a complete set of chromosomes in a gamete

Kunstler = German for an artist)


   Crane wasn’t sure exactly why, but he stayed in Germany after the war. He had come to know the countryside quite well as a driver, and the differing characters of the little towns along the way. He enjoyed finding new places and often just wandered aimlessly. One place in particular caught his eye. He stumbled upon it by sheer accident, while exploring, lost and happy to be that way. A lush green park led past a river to some old buildings with strange and interesting architecture. It was a University, complete with expansive botanical gardens, which amazed him. Plants were friends. He had learned many of the different herbs from walking in the Michigan woodlands with his Grandma. The garden piqued his interest.

    It had been slowly getting easier for Crane to get along in this foreign environment. His German was improving, but Crane found out that it was more beneficial to try to speak the language in a real situation. He became a regular at a local butcher shop and eventually gained a job there. It was hard to study in written German, at first, but the butcher at the shop where he worked always had uplifting words that helped him to gain insight. The man was a bohemian.

    “A good butcher sharpens his knives sometimes. A poor butcher sharpens all the time. A great butcher lets the knife do the work, lets it flow to the perfect place and invites the flesh to separate. The greatest butcher of all never has to sharpen.”

    He pointed his knife blade upward to the ceiling, indicating god, and then brought his blades together and sharpened them off of one another as if it were a genuflection. He winked at Crane and laughed deeply. The metal made a tone of C sharp. The butcher’s chuckle made Crane respond with a laugh of his own, in the same key.

    “What kind of butcher will you be?” the carving master added, still laughing.

    Crane continued working, holding a smile on his face. He had skinned animals with regularity since he was a boy. It was second nature. After working at the small butchery, he had become quite good at the job. The butcher saw a natural skill in him. Crane cut the meat into precise little chunks. He did it at a blurring speed. The knife only lightly touched the wooden block before it rose again for the next cut.

    “There you go.” the butcher said, pointing to Crane’s work. “You’re on your way!”

    He pointed the blade toward god again and laughed all over.

    Crane smiled back and kept carving. He was glad to have met the butcher, though their relationship extended no further than the workplace. The man’s wife made it clear that she did not want the Indian at their home. She avoided the shop when Crane was working, never knowing why he scared her.

    There must have been thousands of plants in the gardens, each with a small tag indicating its species. The common and Latin names were listed. Crane came upon a particularly pungent plant, which sparked a memory in him. He was away in his mind, hunting at home where he and his uncle Al used skunk cabbage to block their human scent, before setting out for deer. That is what this plant reminded him of, the spray of a skunk from slightly down wind. The leaves were long serrated fingers reaching out an invitation. Crane looked for the identification tag but couldn’t find it. Across from him, on the other side, a student was measuring one of the large tertiary buds of the same plant.

    “Excuse me.” said Crane. “Could you tell me the name of this plant?”

    “Cannabis Sativa.” Said the student, noticing Crane’s American accent and dark skin.

    “Are you an American Indian?” He had only seen pictures.

    He stared at Crane’s brown face and pitch-black hair.

    “Yes. I am an Odawa.” stated Crane.

    “Fascinating.” Said the student. “I have never met a real Indian before.”

    The young man’s name was Wilhelm. He was studying plant medicines, looking for a panacea. His sand blonde hair held onto his glasses, draped over his head and perched on his ears. Wilhelm’s blue eyes gleamed in response to Crane’s interest in what was one of his favorite plants. Science and philosophy were Wilhelm’s passions. He eagerly began a dissertation of his knowledge about Cannabis properties and potentials, for Crane’s benefit.

    “This plant contains certain alkaloids, which when smoked, produce a state of euphoria. It is a psychoactive plant, but has mostly been cultivated for its utilitarian purposes such as for rope and oil.” He stopped for a moment. “I’m sorry, let me introduce myself.” He held out his arm. “My name is Wilhelm.” He said, and shook Crane’s hand.

    “Crane.” He responded and shook back.

    Wilhelm was amazed at the practical knowledge Crane had of plants. He had actually been taught the uses of plants in a hands-on way, which Wilhelm found to be of profound interest. It was fascinating for him to learn the various native uses for the same species he was already familiar with. Wilhelm relished Crane’s stories about his Grandma, and the adventures that surrounded their collection of plants. He listened intently.

    Crane met Wilhelm regularly in the gardens. The German was smelling the flower of a blossoming plant when the American approached. Wilhelm held his eyes closed, savoring the distinct odor. He was practicing, teaching his nose to discern the different aromas. Sometimes, he tested himself by placing different kinds of flowers into teacups, closing his eyes and trying to guess which was which. He was improving daily.

    “Purple Coneflower.” He said out loud to his friend.

    Crane was carrying something in his hands, wrapped in a piece of soft cloth. He held it reverently. It was the book. The only item he ever kept from his war days, something he had found in the depths of a vile human experimentation lab, but the book was far older than that. Someone like Wilhelm would have more use for it than he did. Crane had trouble understanding some of the words, his proficiency at reading German fell behind the level at which he spoke it, and the book was an archaic dialect, which made translation even harder. The thing had strong memories for him too, bad memories of death and gunfire. Crane unwrapped the tome from the black cloth and held it up so that Wilhelm could see the cover. The presentation was semi-formal in nature. The book held power.

    “I think you could use this more than I can.” Said Crane, as he handed it over to Wilhelm. “This book saved my life. I was shot at. It slowed down the bullet. That’s why I kept it, but its not mine anymore. It’s a little damaged from the bullet hole…” He trailed off for a moment, remembering the painful, hot metal in his gut. “…And the blood.”

    Wilhelm leafed through the pages and his eyes widened. He grew excited by whatever it was he read and leafed further into the chapters, animated by its contents.

   “Thank you, Crane, thank you!” he said emphatically, shaking his hand. “I must go home immediately and have a look!”

    It became more than a look. A hypnotic gaze engulfed him. The focus of his intent on this obsession both fueled and drained the enchanted man, repeatedly. Wilhelm was nearly manic, having started several of the experiments at once. He paced back and forth, upstairs in his home laboratory. The nights and days blended together from the isolation of his darkened cave. He rarely ventured out to talk with Crane in the gardens anymore. The book consumed Wilhelm and all other things in his previous life faded in its presence.


    Crane had always been an excellent swimmer, sometimes floating down the Platte River, all the way from Honor, out to the beach at Lake Michigan. Crane remembered, as a boy, wondering if he could swim all the way to South Manitou Island, but he remembered the legend of the drowning bears and thought better of it. There was a river near the University, at the City Park, where he liked to swim after a day of work at the butcher shop. Crane came out of the water and climbed into the sun of a pleasant German afternoon.

    He shook his hair back and opened his eyes, surprised and embarrassed to see Wilhelm with a beautiful girl at his arm.  She was formally dressed with a parasol over her shoulder, her curly blonde hair shining with light. The woman was bathed in golden illumination. Crane wore long pants, but no shirt. The frau stared at his brown body and giggled, putting her hand over her mouth, like a shy schoolgirl.

    “I wouldn’t be swimming in that sewer if I were you!” laughed Wilhelm.

    He looked pale from having been crouched inside, hovered over the book. Even as he spoke, his thoughts were focused toward several ongoing experiments. He drifted away. His world existed within the flasks and tubing of his home lab. That’s where he lingered now, though his body stood by the riverbank. He was far away wrestling poetic equations and visualizing the marriage of chemicals with distinct personalities. He could feel the book from where it sat, alone on his table, yearning. He had almost brought it with him, next time he would. He remembered a large leather satchel that it would probably fit inside.

    “Come join us for a minute, my friend.” Wilhelm beckoned.

    Crane sank down beneath the water. His half-dressed state made him uncomfortable. The girl giggled again at his shyness, but didn’t avert her gaze. She was looking harder now. She noticed that he had a belly button. It rode amid a hex of squares in a hairless plane. She hated to see it go so quickly. He could feel her lingering on him, even through the water.

    “It’s okay Crane.” Wilhelm assured. “This is my cousin Ingrid. She won’t bite you!”

    Ingrid smiled and brought her teeth together in a mock nip.

    She had other thoughts on the matter. Over the next few months, their relationship began to blossom. There was an instant attraction, from the moment their eyes met, in that first encounter by the riverside. They began to spend their time together, walking in the gardens and picnicking at the park. They fell in love. The two shared stories and drank exotic herbal teas in the afternoon shade.

    “You mean children were taken right from their homes? That can’t be true. Can it?” She didn’t want for it to be but knew in her heart that it was. “Who took them?”

    “Priests mostly, and Indian agents.” He didn’t know why she was so interested in such horrible things. “What kind of bread is this?”

    “But, didn’t they try to stop them? Why didn’t anyone do anything?”

    Crane thought about the furnaces and the ditches full of bodies, the ancient book. The question answered itself. Ingrid looked down at the loaf.

    “Dill and sesame.” She murmured.

    “Its good.” Said Crane. It still didn’t change the subject.

    “Have some more.” She cut another piece.

    The wind blew her hair and a strand became caught in her mouth. She pulled it away with a finger as she buttered the next slice with the back of a spoon. The subject finally changed and Ingrid never mentioned boarding schools again.


    Their love blossomed and they grew closer over the following months, though people would gawk at the strange couple, walking arm in arm through the foliage of the park, brown and white. Crane sometimes heard the obvious whispers of disapproval.  He tried to ignore it but the stares were intense enough even to cause Ingrid to take notice. Crane had picked up on it long ago. Smell from the brew intoxicated his senses, making him forget again.

    “Don’t worry about them, Crane.” Ingrid said with soothing accuracy.

    She flicked the end of his nose with her finger, being playful. She rolled over on the blanket and handed him a cup of tea. It was white cedar with honey. Ingrid remembered the combination. It was from a story he had told her about his Grandmother, how she made cedar and honey tea for the kids. She handed him the steaming cup. It tasted like the woodlands of his far away home. He could see the wrinkled smile lines of Grandma’s face. Would she approve of Ingrid? He was sure she would.

    “Thank you.” said Crane. He took another drink.

    Another couple passed by and pointed at them. The woman put a shocked hand over her mouth in disgust, furrowing her brow. They quickened their pace as they walked past, looking back several times over their shoulders.

    Crane looked into his tea and wondered if it was a good idea for Ingrid to be with him. She was the one who would probably suffer the most.  He was beginning to have stronger feelings for her. Maybe they should stop this charade before it went any further, before it hurt them both. The rest of the world did not accept them together. He didn’t want for Ingrid to feel the non-acceptance that he sometimes felt. She had no need to experience that.

    Crane smelled the tea again and imagined the sand dunes in his mind. Michigan was a real place somewhere in a distant life. The lake crashed on the beach and he tasted of the spring morels. Crane was from a different world than Ingrid, yet something had drawn them together. Her blue eyes made him forget about the outside world’s disapproval, if only for a moment.

    Wilhelm kept his experiments a secret from Crane. He descended into the book’s ancient pages. It read him ragged. Wilhelm spent many long nights studying the alchemical manual. It was enthralling but the revelations were a hypnotic manacle. The stinking smoke of chemicals was seeping to the downstairs rooms and settling on the drapes and furniture. Upstairs there were flames and bubbling mixtures and arcs of blue electricity. Moonlight was allowed to enter and caress a chunk of mashed plants. It soaked the rays while the remains were burned to ash and then added back to the original flask. The potion changed color while he stirred in a gelatinous resin of clear clots.

    Crane walked in the park. There were downed branches scattered about, from the terrific wind, which had accompanied an angry thunder. The electric rampage had split a walnut tree down the middle. Part of its once lofty boughs still angled painfully into the sky, defying gravity. It smoked from the center where the scorched black was most intense. Ozone exuded from its woody heart and filled Crane’s nostrils with a fresh clean air, sterilized from the intensity of the heat. He remembered what his Grandmother had said about a lightning struck tree.

    “A young man is supposed to make a flute when he falls in love. It has to be made from a lightning struck tree, so the power in the wood adds to the power of the love. You can feel that flute vibrating, just like the heart in your chest will be, vibrating from the girl. Then you practice by yourself until a song comes to you. You’ll know when you’ve played it. Think of her image, until it shapes itself into the music. Everything you feel for that girl comes out in that song, as beautiful notes. Then you play it for her, and she feels your love, sees your gentleness. She will love you forever.” his Grandmother’s voice stopped and the tree spoke.

    The trunk creaked loudly, its hard wood straining under the weight of the hanging branch. It ripped asunder and fragmented into several pieces as it hit the ground. A perfect chunk of center-wood, about as big as Cranes arm, rolled smoking and stopped at his feet. He picked it up and held it in his hands. It was still warm. He held it aloft to the sky.

    “Thank you creator, for answering my confused feelings, and showing me my path.”           

    Crane left a bit of tobacco at the bottom of the tree and began carving his flute. When he had finished, weeks later, it looked, and played, like he had carved them all his life. He thought of Ingrid’s face and his heart began to want in a melodious manner. The songs sprang from him as blossoming flowers. The flute was creating them in his hands. Out of his breath, life was born.

    There were many moods and colors to choose from. Crane fingered at the holes without thinking and they led him to the place where only a few tunes remained. Three songs overlapped. He felt for the right one and mastered its essence, bringing it back with him from the bigger world. The others were all forgotten.

    “Where has Wilhelm been lately?” asked Ingrid.

    She smelled of lilacs.

    They sat together on a blanket, near the spot where they had first met. Crane had picked the location for a specific reason. That place was where the first spark of love had kindled between them. It was a magic spot and he intended to draw upon it for magical purposes.

    “I haven’t seen him.” Answered Crane. “Since last week when he was gathering herbs in the garden. It was something for one of his experiments.”

    “Hey may have been under the weather.”

    “We’re all under the weather.” She added.

    They laughed at this obvious truth.

    Crane had seen little of his best friend since he had given him the book.

    “You mean sick though. Really?” she redirected.

    “Yes he had bags under his eyes and looked…” he paused. “Well, paler than usual.”

    She laughed at his subtle joke. It seemed like they were always laughing together.

    “But really, Ingrid. I think he may be ill.” Crane sounded concerned.

    “Oh, Crane, scientists are passionate that way about their work. Our family has been full of them. Myself included. Sometimes they, or we, get lost in it, lose track of time, forget to eat. Their excitement blinds them. But it will pass when the experiment is over.” She said it with a confidence that made Crane a bit more at ease about his friend.

    She broke a bread roll in half and offered the larger portion to Crane.

    “But if it will make you feel better, we can go together to see him, make him take a walk with us. It will do him some good to get some air. How about this very evening?”

    “Yes.” Said Crane. “Let’s drop in on him.”

    “Especially if he has bags under his eyes.” She laughed.

    They were silent for a while, watching the rippling surface of the amber water. Crane reached into the picnic basket and fumbled around for something. His heartbeat quickened. How did the song begin? Ingrid turned her gaze from the river and watched him. The knot at the top of the bag was hard to untie but it finally came loose.

    “I have something for you.” He held on to the hand carved wooden flute, slightly shaking. She looked at it in awe and touched it lightly on the grain with her fingertips.

    “It’s beautiful Crane, but I could never play that thing.” She giggled.

    “No, this is for you.” He took a breath and played the most wonderful music she had ever heard. Blurred birds and slanted seraphim danced with colored ribbons

    She watched Crane inhale and exhale into the mouthpiece. The most soothing and fluid notes she had ever heard were floating to her ears. His fingers tickled the openings as the pitch changed, taking her far away in dreams of flight, with wisps of feathers caressing her cheek. She swam in that world, until he had finished the last note, lost in a splendor she had never known. Ingrid reached out and touched his hand when he finished.

    “Oh, Crane!” she leaned forward and kissed him. She had a tear in her eye but was smiling a bright beam. He kissed her back. Ingrid melted slowly and tugged him with her. Stalks from the grass poked up through the thin blanket but she didn’t care. His weight was a welcomed presence on her body. The couple made love in the tall grass of the riverbank. They dressed afterward, silently, smiling at one another. Ingrid took Crane’s hand and he kissed her again, deeply. Then suddenly, they heard voices approaching.

    “That savage was raping her by the river bank!” it was a woman’s voice.“Over there!”  It was the same couple who had expressed disapproval at Crane and Ingrid when they were holding hands in the park. They must have been spotted while they were engaged and unaware.

    “There they are!” There was an authoritative whistle.

    “We see them!” There were two uniformed officers with clubs.

    The police ran straight for Crane. They each had a walnut axe handle, hollowed out at one end and weighted with lead.  Ingrid touched his abdomen with the palm of her hand.

     “Run Crane!” she pleaded. “Go now!”

    Crane looked at her and then at the approaching policemen. He squeezed her head to his belly with both arms.

    “I will meet you later at Wilhelm’s, now go!” she implored and then pushed him away.

    He ran off into the bushes and disappeared. Crane ran all the way to Wilhelm’s and pounded on the large wooden door.

    Wilhelm had succeeded. The homunculus had features that crudely matched the maker. The biggest difference was mostly in the sharpness of the teeth and the long claws which protruded viciously from the ends of his fingers, along with the obvious difference in size. It was half the height of Wilhelm but banded with muscles. It was ugly and leathered, bruised gray in color. It looked around the room and saw rows of rabbits in wooden cages, meant for experiments.

    The creature was hungry. It jumped from the table and tore through the cages, devouring every one of the fluffy white morsels inside. Blood and white fur covered the lab floor. The pleasurable noises were appalling. The bunny heads crushed under its bite.

    Wilhelm stood aghast, horrified by the efficient killing. He maneuvered a metal cage over the monster’s head and dropped it in place. The thing was taken by surprise. The man tipped a heavy wooden table onto the top, to hold the trap down. The creature fought against the weight and then Wilhelm heard something else coming from downstairs. There was a pounding at the door.

    The homunculus growled from underneath his confines, clawing at the metal. Wilhelm added a heavy pile of books to the stack of weight. The creature watched every move the man made. Evil mirrors taunted from its gaze. The face was a gored rodeo clown caricature of Wilhelm and the man wanted to throw up whenever he looked directly at it. The homunculus was somehow a manifestation of himself. It repulsed him. Sinister tidings shone within its design.

    The blackened lips were wet. The creature was smiling a terrible grimace, licking its blood-covered chin with a dark, pointed tongue. The pounding at the door grew more intense. Wilhelm couldn’t remember if he had shells for the gun that hung over the fireplace. Whoever was at the door was not going away. Wilhelm checked the heft of the over turned table and the creature hissed at him, biting at the bars. He jumped back from the surprise and then stacked more stuff on the cage. The homunculus backed to the far corner and curled in a ball, growling.

    “Just a minute.” Wilhelm hollered from the upstairs rail and straightened his hair and clothes as he ran to the door. He started walking halfway down so that he could gain his composure. It was strange for him to have callers, but this was a strange day. He opened a sliding grate and peered out into the daylight. His eyes were bloodshot and bulged out. He was sweating and looking shiftily from side to side like a paranoiac, trying to see who was there.

    “Wilhelm, it’s me, Crane, let me in, please!” his voice was shaken and pleading.

    The unannounced arrival was too coincidental to be scientific, but there had to be logic to it. Wilhelm knew that lateral to the conventional answer there were sometimes several alternates, seeming just as viable. There was a reason this Indian had brought him the book. It was a measure in complexity, observership, predictable and unpredictable events under real and hypothetical situations. Maybe Crane was meant to help him kill it. After all, he was partially responsible for its creation by having given Wilhelm the means to make it.

    “Are you alone?” Wilhelm was pressed up against the inside of the door, wiping the wet salt from his face.

    “Yes, please, friend, let me in.” Shadowy shepherds were herding his thoughts.

    The heavy door swung open on its beefy metal hinges. Wilhelm reached out and pulled Crane inside by the arm, slamming shut the door and quickly bolting the latch behind them. They were both sweating profusely and out of breath. Wilhelm had blood on his hands from the maimed rabbits. Both men were fraught with their own agitation, so neither noticed the other.   

    “I’m in trouble Wilhelm!”  He slumped to the chair and spouted the tragedy with full detail. Crane proceeded to tell the story of his day in the park with Ingrid and the resulting debacle with the law. It wasn’t until after he had finished when Crane saw the blood on his friend, but he wasn’t at all shocked.

    “Are you hurt?” asked Crane, surprised by his own absent-mindedness. Wilhelm realized his hands were dripping red.

    “It’s nothing, just rabbit blood. Let’s worry about your problem for the moment.”

    They sat in silence for what seemed to be a long time, until another knock disturbed the surface of Wilhelm’s door. It could be Ingrid or it could be the police. A salesman could be soliciting. They looked at each other, both realizing how easy it would be for the authorities to find out where Crane was. He was probably the only Indian for a thousand miles. It wouldn’t take long to establish him as a student at the University, to discover their connection as friends and then to find Wilhelm’s home address. The fast heavy thump kept coming. Crane suspected that he was done for.

    “Hide.” Whispered Wilhelm and then slipped to the entryway.

    Crane was gone without making the sound of a footstep.

    “Who is it?” Wilhelm said, overly calm.

    He looked behind himself to make sure that Crane was out of sight. The woman’s voice was almost hysterical.

    “It’s Ingrid, let me in!” she was nearly hyperventilating.

    Wilhelm let her in and Crane emerged from his concealment. She looked defeated. There was a sad look on his face too, as if something had died. A funeral procession guided his first steps. Then they ran to each other’s arms and embraced. She was the only thing that mattered to him, with her soft spirit and those metallic blue eyes. They were very fast becoming full rivers. She spoke in bursts.

    “They think you raped me Crane!” Tears were rainbows.

    “They won’t believe that I love you.” Roy G. Biv.

    “They think you are a savage, attacking their white women.”

    Thinking of the traditional native language, AEIOU is present, but there is no f or x, no l either, and forget about r completely.

    “They wouldn’t believe me!” she sobbed on Crane’s shoulder.

    In Indian, D sounds like t, but not always. G is like k, but not always either, most of the time it exists somewhere in between.

    “They think you drugged me, or used some kind of Indian magic on me.” Even the most die-hard atheists made an exception about the reality of the black arts if it pertained to Indians. She continued to cry. Her world was crumbling.

    The unrelated voice popped in again. For some words, b sounds like p. Dialects change not only regionally, but among family groups living in the same area. Wilhelm’s serious tone broke through this meaningless stream of information.

    “If the two of you really love each other, you must leave at once.” He spoke with a cold finality, which broke any language barrier.

    “Crane, you have to go, no matter what.” He continued. Wilhelm looked at his cousin, already anticipating the course of the following events. He could see how it was going to play out. It was a classic case of forbidden love and forced exile. They would have to leave this place if they wanted to remain together.

    “Ingrid, you must decide if you want to go with him. You don’t have to go but…”

   “Yes.” She said firmly, without hesitation. “I want to be with Crane.” There was conviction in her vow. Wilhelm knew she would have it no other way.

    “Then we must get ready quickly. I will get your train tickets.” He pulled on his boots. “Then you can find a boat to America.” Wilhelm grabbed his coat and started at the buttons as he headed out the door to the station. A thought stopped him at the threshold. He looked back once more and they were again embracing.

    “I will be right back. Do NOT answer that door!” he commanded.  “And lock it behind me!”

    Wilhelm would lose Ingrid, for now and maybe forever, but at least the two lovers would be together. It was an extreme course but offered the only solace to be found in this confusing matter.                                      

    Wilhelm returned with the tickets. It was an hour before departure. He had also stopped at the bank and drained most of his available account. There was plenty there, in his substantial holdings but he was limited as to what amounts were liquid, most of it was tied up in insoluble investments. What he managed to get was still a sizable sum. He handed the money and the travel stubs over to Crane.

    “I can’t take this.” Crane refused the wad of bills and tried to push it back.

    “Take care of Ingrid. She is family.” His voice indicated that there could be no refusal.

    The implication that the money was for Ingrid made the acceptance more palpable for them both. Wilhelm pushed the money at Crane and he reluctantly put the roll in his pocket.

    “And so are you.” He continued. “Family. You can pay me back if you feel you have to, but take it for now. You are going to need it.”

   “Thank you Wilhelm.” Crane didn’t know what to say. “I will miss our walks.” He tried not to be formal but still managed to air it stuffily.

    “I will too.” Crane responded.

    A compulsion overcame Wilhelm to confess his deeds.

    “Before you go, I must tell you something. It’s about the book you gave to me.” Wilhelm looked at Ingrid. He didn’t want her to know.

    “Let’s go outside in the garden, Crane.”

    They walked behind the house and sat on a bench in the late afternoon sunlight. Crane soaked it in, feeling in his heart that it was the last moment he would share with his best and only friend. Wilhelm seemed uneasy. His hands wrung together. He looked at the ground, not knowing how to begin. He wanted to tell Crane about the monster, the homunculus he had created, the nature of the book, everything, but where to begin? The image of the book was towering in his mind like a black monolith, stuck in the sand, humming with energy.

    It didn’t want him to share the knowledge. He could feel the book working against him. His throat tightened. Speech was a distant ability that existed as a phantom memory. The monster’s face leapt through the dark surface of his mental tar pit and scared away the desire to tell anyone. Wilhelm felt like he was getting stabbed in the throat, but he forced the words through anyway.

    “Crane…” Wilhelm began to confess but was immediately cut off by a blood-chilling scream.

    The image of the book spread its pages and everything in the world sucked into the opening like a black hole. There was the sound of a pig grunting. Both men ran to the house. Crane was there first, with Wilhelm a few seconds behind. Furniture was being smashed. Glass was being broken. Crane finished the stairs but they were too late.

    Ingrid’s dismembered limbs were tossed about the room. There was no sign of the murderer. Arms and legs were scattered in eight separate places. Her torso still pumped blood from the missing pegs. The head was nowhere to be found and the stench of her burst stomach was overpowering. The bread and tea they had eaten at lunch seeped into Wilhelm’s wooden floor.

    “Nooooo!” screamed Crane and dropped to his knees. He pulled at his hair with both hands and stared at what remained of his lover. He couldn’t understand. He couldn’t comprehend what he saw. He pounded his clenched fists against the floor.

    Wilhelm knew that this was his fault. He stood there in an impotent man suit, his flesh merely a sack of meat and bone inhabited by the spirit of a monster. The homunculus was really a part of him, so he had done this. Wilhelm felt betrayed by science and god at the same time, though he had forsaken the latter long ago. This undeserved death was his wheel of justice. It had come rolling around at full force. He saw the situation getting worse as he imagined the events to follow, the lengthy investigation. He couldn’t bring himself to tell the truth now.

    “Crane, you have to go. They will think you did this! They will execute you for murder! You must go. Run to the trains and don’t look back!”

    Crane grabbed his bag. It was filled with clothing given to him by Wilhelm. He headed out the back door and ran through the garden.  The gate swung shut behind him with a spring-loaded thud. Ingrid was still screaming in his ears. His mind swam, not fully registering what had happened. People around him became blurry as he passed them by, clutching his bag with white knuckles. He made it to the station and boarded.

    The train pulled away and Crane stared out the window, crying, trying to make sense of Ingrid’s death. A waterfall of twisted army jeeps crashed from the mountain of his temples to the thunderous valley of his fiery stomach. Ingrid’s last breaths repeated but now Crane heard another sound beneath it, almost to the house, there was another sound, then again when he was on the stairs. The tone was lower than hers, the texture guttural. Someone else was there.    

    Wilhelm mopped up the blood and then poisoned a plateful of raw meat, which he left by the back door. It was gone within the hour. He watched through the window from inside the house while the bony hand of the homunculus reached from the shrubbery to steal the steaks, one at a time. The atrocity could be heard devouring the deadly treat from beneath the bushes.

    Wilhelm bagged the remains of his cousin and drove them far away into the country. He placed her, unmarked and anonymous, where he knew there were already the bodies of hundreds of unidentified gypsies, those taken care of by the mechanical SS. Ingrid joined the restless music of their faceless accordions and forgotten guitars.

    The police traced Crane’s steps backward from the train station. Wilhelm admitted to helping Crane financially, claiming that his friend had said that he needed to get back to America for a death in the family. Wilhelm claimed that he knew nothing about Crane’s involvement with Ingrid, or where she could currently be found. He maintained that the couple knew that he would not approve of their relationship and had kept the matter hidden from him, to avoid turmoil. His story was reasonable as far as the two half hearted investigators were concerned.

    “What is that smell?” asked an officer. Wilhelm was a bit nervous.

    “That?” he pointed to the kitchen “Its, uh…” he faltered and then remembered Crane’s story about hunting with uncle Al. “Its skunk cabbage.”

    “You eat it? It doesn’t smell very appetizing.”

    “No. Its an air freshener. You burn it.”

    “Doesn’t smell very refreshing to me.” He complained.

    “Really does smell like a skunk though.” Said the second officer.

    There were hundreds of dried buds from the cannabis plant hanging throughout the kitchen on a spider web of strings. Wilhelm started smoking them shortly after the tragedy. He lit his Florence flask bong with a long stick match as soon as the two men were gone.

    The police finally assumed that the two who were seen in the park really were lovers, and that they had run away together. It was a lover’s flight, running from the persecution of a non-accepting world. The investigation was terminated. Ingrid’s death at Wilhelm’s house was never discovered. There was never any reason for the police to suspect her death.

     The stern of the freighter pushed away from the European shore like it was done at a poached dinner party. Crane had just enough money for a cheap steamer to the states, riding third class, somewhere next to massive machinery in the metal belly of the ship. He hid below most of the time. Late one night, he crept from the deep recesses and threw the wooden flute from the boat’s ass end, far into the oily wake, into some forgotten expanse of the ocean.

    It was all he could do to keep holding onto the rail and not join the water himself. Ingrid’s spirit was holding his feet to the deck. Crane watched the surface of the icy black swells churning the north Atlantic. The peeled aft rail did its job.  Crane turned away from the silver moon and curled up below deck, hiding in the safety of his bunk and swimming in his confused fever of thoughts.

    Wilhelm cried over Ingrid’s grave.

    Somewhere in the German night there shrieked a humanoid wail, not quite man and not quite beast.

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