Conversation with Victor Frankenstein


When deprived of sensory input, humans experience miraculous, spiritual things

“Mercifully, the whole ‘monster’ business is so over-told that no one is much interested anymore.”

“I don’t believe that. People don’t ask?”

“Oh, it’s the first thing they ask if they figure out who I am. But I answer and they realize they’ve heard it all before. An awkward silence follows, then they ask me what I’m working on now.”

“What exactly is it? That you’re working on,” Kevin asks.

“I’ve gotten quite involved in physics.”

“Higgs-Boson stuff?”

Victor purses his lips, then relaxes, lays his head against the wall of the cave, his legs crossed. A small electric lantern illuminates the two men seated on the floor, their backs to opposing walls.

“Why haven’t I heard about the immortality thing? Why isn’t everyone talking about that?”

“Oh, I haven’t been around that long. And I stay out of view, change names. You’d be surprised how bad people are with dates.”

“People are going to figure it out sooner or later.”

“Some do. I hope more don’t. It’s the least interesting thing they could want to talk about. I think I’d rather go back to answering questions about the monster—do you think he had a soul, that sort of thing.” Victor frowns.

“How on earth could immortality not interest you?”

“Because frankly, I don’t understand it. I have no idea what caused it, how it works, or when it started. I don’t even know that it is immortality. I just don’t seem to have aged in a suspicious number of years.”

Kevin’s eyes widen. “Maybe your story? Somehow you’ve gained immortality through the power of your story.”

Victor rolls his eyes but his tone is patient. “It’s important not to confuse figurative language and physical reality. The attainment of a kind of endurance, even immortality, by a piece of literature or art has no bearing on the actual, living subjects of that art. My story is no more a part of me than this shirt is,” he says, plucking the garment between a finger and thumb.

The men sit in the faint lantern light, Victor slowly scratching his chin with a thumbnail.

“Physics then. Why that?”

“Because it infuriated me,” Victor says and pauses to brush something off the front of his shirt, which is quite stylish yet, somehow, blue collar; what Ralph Lauren might wear to a coal mine. “It’s a bit of an embarrassment to science. I felt someone needed to put it right.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, think about it. You have all the leading thinkers in the field, supposedly the smartest people in science today, and they’re inventing invisible matter to explain why their formulas don’t work? And no one is questioning this? It’s intolerable. Someone needed to restore our credibility.”

“Oh,” Kevin nods and scratches his own chin. “Any progress?”


“Meaning what?”

“It’s not really anything of use to a layperson.”

“Meaning I wouldn’t understand.”

“Meaning the things I’ve learned don’t yet have any practical application.”

“That just sounds evasive.”

Victor sighs. He adjusts his uncomfortable position. “Here’s an example. I’ve determined that the current model of particle physics, where all matter is made up of combinations of particles that spin around each other in suspiciously planet-like orbits, is wrong. It’s really a kind of optical illusion created by the limitations of our instrumentation and imaginations. So when matter,” Victor says, making air quotes with his fingers, “is viewed through this filter, the information we are able to perceive causes us to believe that what we have is tiny particles spinning around each other and ricocheting madly about.”

Kevin stares at Victor, thinking. “When in fact…”

Victor rubs his forehead. “Well, it’s more of a great mesh of elements in fixed positions, not actually moving at all, but changing states in relation to each other.”

“Like pixels on a screen?”

“No. But that could be a helpful way to think of it.”

Kevin does think about it. The lantern hums. “So what does that mean then?”

“That’s what I was saying. So far it doesn’t mean much of anything. Knowing that this is how the fabric of the universe behaves doesn’t allow me to turn lead into gold or cure disease. It’s a starting point. But it’s far less valuable than knowing how to, say, build an efficient water de-salinization process.”

“But if you’re right, this is an enormous step forward in human understanding. Why am I only hearing this now?”

“Because the scientific community does not adapt well to change.”

“People aren’t listening?”

Victor waves a hand. “I know better than to try telling people about this before it’s complete. I’d rather toil in obscurity for another fifty years, then set this loose on the world, than spend the next fifteen years arguing with people at conferences.”

“No.” Kevin jabs a finger at Victor. “I can make the world listen. I have a website—it gets a lot of hits—and it’s all about ideas outside of the mainstream. This would be perfect for it.”

Victor shakes his head slowly. “I don’t think there’s any danger of us telling the world much of anything at this point. I estimate the quantity of rock between us and daylight as being at least fifteen feet thick.”

“We’re going to get out of here.”

“I see no reason to believe that. I certainly didn’t tell anyone about this place, and since you only discovered it by following me here, it’s unlikely that you did either.”

“We’re going to be fine.”

Victor sighs. “This is something I’ve never been able to adjust to. This fad of unreasonable optimism. As far as I can tell it started out as a convenient lie to justify an economic system that favours some over others. But it’s almost become a religion now. It has a life of its own.”

“Believing in yourself is the greatest strength a person can possess. It’s what makes difficult things possible.”

“On the contrary, it’s a form of blindness. From what I’ve seen, it’s a means of denying difficult but necessary truths so that a person can live within the comforting cloud of make-believe.”

“So you believe you’re going to die?”

“I have no idea what I’m going to do, but having spent a few hours trying to pry rocks loose with our bare hands,” Victor holds up his raw, bloodied palms, “and having searched the limited confines of our prison quite extensively, I am inclined to think that whatever it is, I am going to do it within this cave.”

“You’re giving up. You see, you’re just giving up. We have to get out of here. I still have things to do.”

“And your need will cause these rocks to part?”

“At least I’m trying.”

“No, you’re doing the same thing as me. Sitting here, trying to be as comfortable as possible. A feat that I think will get a good deal harder when the battery in this lantern runs out.”

Kevin rubs his eyes with both hands and sits silently, hands covering his face. Victor shifts his position again, sighing quietly, inspecting the ceiling.

“I can’t really stop thinking about the immortality,” Kevin says. “The how. How it started.”

“No one sees themselves aging. It’s tiny things that add up to critical mass over a period of years, and then you suddenly realize you’re getting older. So it takes a few of those checkpoints to pass before you start to notice, and even then you just think you have outstanding genes. But yes, in answer to what you’re thinking, the timing might coincide with the time I was with the monster. Really though, it may have taken twenty years for me to even start to suspect. There’s just no way to know.”

“But what else could it have been? Other than something to do with creating the monster, with creating life?”

“Anything,” Victor says. “Anything at all. It’s a very common fallacy to think that the things we deem important are the things that actually matter.”

Kevin grimaces and pinches his nose. “You are extremely frustrating to talk to.”

“That’s because facts are hard and unyielding objects with no concern for our emotional needs.”

Kevin picks up a rock and throws it angrily into the darkness.

“Okay. By all accounts you’re a genius. And a genius who’s been around for something like two hundred years. You must be able to get us out of here.”

“Kevin. I don’t want to cause you undue distress but we both have to accept a certain degree of finality here.”

“Stop accepting this! Do something. It’s… you’re immortal so you don’t give a fuck because it’ll work out for you, but I’m going to die in here if you don’t help me.”

“It’s just the opposite. The fact that I might not die actually makes my predicament considerably worse. We’re stuck here. You will be leaving in the near future, even if your exit will be difficult. I face the possibility of sitting here, in absolute darkness, for a very difficult to imagine period of time. If I am immortal, Kevin, and I am one day unearthed, what do you suppose I might be at that time? If I am to guess, I’d say it would be something considerably less human than the monster ever was.”

The lantern flickers and both men look at it.

Kevin takes one deep breath, then another. “You always talk about it in the past tense. It really is dead then?”

“Oh, yes. When someone does figure out who I am, they always ask this one. It is quite dead.” Victor watches the shadows above. “They never ask if I regret it.”

Kevin forgets his breathing exercises.

“At first it was a relief to be rid of it but now, inevitably, I desperately wish that it wasn’t.”


“Of course. Wisdom is purchased with poor choices, Kevin.”

Twice, the lantern flickers and then reasserts itself.

“Have you tried to kill yourself?” Kevin asks without looking up.

Victor pauses. “No. I’ve held my breath, to see what that would be like.”

Kevin looks up.

“It felt the same as it always did. That panicky awfulness. I couldn’t sustain it.”

“So you could be killed?”

“Possibly. As I said, I have no idea what exactly this is.”

The men stare at the floor.

“I don’t want to die,” Kevin says.

Victor watches him.

The lantern flickers again and this time, when it steadies, it is noticeably dimmer. “Will we run out of air?” Kevin asks.

“I’ve been trying to decide. It seems likely, based on our investigation of this space, that there isn’t sufficient ventilation.”


“I’ve always been terrified of being smothered.”

“Oh,” Victor says, brightening, “it wouldn’t be like that at all. We’re talking about a scenario where carbon monoxide gradually replaces the oxygen. We’ll continue to breathe comfortably. We’ll just get… dozy.” Victor smiles brightly. “It’s a bad outcome, but an easy road. At no time would we feel like we’re being suffocated.”

Tension leaves Kevin’s face. The lantern dims further.

Kevin closes his eyes and begins breathing, loud and rhythmically. Victor watches him, then stares off into the darkness, hands resting fingertip to fingertip.

The light flickers violently and, with a small crackling sound, is gone.

“Oh God,” says Kevin.

Victor sighs heavily and Kevin, were he not so preoccupied with his own predicament, would hear the way Victor’s breath shakes.

“What do we do now?” Kevin’s voice is panicky, strained an octave above its previous pitch.

The darkness is absolute.

“Even less than before,” Victor says. His voice is quieter. A subconscious shift towards whispering.

“Meaning what? What the fuck are we supposed to do?”

“There wasn’t anything we could do before and there is still nothing. It’s just worse now. My only recommendation is that we remain calm.”

“Is that supposed to help?”

“Yes. If you do what I say it actually will help you feel better.” Several seconds pass. “You can control how you feel, to some extent, and reduce your discomfort.”

A pause. “That isn’t going to save us,” Kevin says.

“No. But it makes us feel a little better and preserves some dignity, which is really all we have now. The opportunity to behave admirably under difficult circumstances.”

The two men discuss past mistakes and oxygen to carbon monoxide ratios, lapsing into periodic silences.

“What was that?” Kevin asks. “Are you moving around?”

“No. I’m not.”

“Someone is moving around in here.”

“I don’t think that…” Victor pauses mid-sentence. “Hello?” he says.

In the dark, Kevin lashes his arms around frantically, as if trying to swat something away.

“Kevin, where are you?” Victor asks.

“I’m right here. I haven’t moved. Are you moving?”

“I’m not. But I’d swear someone is,” he says quizzically.

“Who’s here?” Kevin calls out angrily.

“There is no way anyone else can be here,” Victor answers, sounding unconvinced.

“What’s that?”

“What?” says Victor.

“Look. Tiny lights. See?”

“I don’t see anything.”

“Over there. To my right, I think. There are pinpricks of light moving around. Do you see them?”

Victor stares. With one hand he brushes an eye, as if checking to determine if it is actually open. “Maybe,” he says. “Maybe something.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know. Maybe some form of phosphorescence?”

There is a shuffling, dragging noise.

“Is that you?” Kevin asks. “Are you moving?”

“Yes,” Victor answers. “I’m going to see what it is. Oh!”

“What? What is it?”

“Something went right past me, I felt it.”

“Towards me?”

“I think so.”

“Jesus.” Kevin pulls his knees to his chest and holds his fists up.

“My God,” Victor says. “What is this? Can you see this, Kevin?”

“The lights are everywhere,” Kevin yells. “They’re getting bigger and bigger.”

“It’s like rain,” Victor exclaims. “Luminescent rain. And it’s warm.”

“It’s beautiful,” Kevin calls.

“There is someone here,” Victor says. “Standing right in front of me. I can’t feel them, but they’re right here.” He waves an arm slowly in front of him. “I believe I am putting my arm right in them.”

“There’s someone here, too,” Kevin says, calm now. “Next to me.”

A rumbling fills the air, then passes.

“Who are you?” Victor asks with wonder.

The cave seems to shake gently.

“Is that you, Mom?” Kevin asks.

“My God,” Victor says in a rapture. “Perhaps I am dying?”

There is a terrific, roaring vibration that causes Victor to fall to the floor, and an enormous gust of air washes over both men, accompanied by showers of rock and dust. For terrifying seconds, the noise is unbearable.

When the vibration stops the men stare at a large opening in the cave which looks out on a twilight pale sky. The sound of waves breaking on rocks rises up from the ocean a hundred feet below.

Victor crawls to the edge and peers down. Kevin, who is curled up in a ball at the back of the cave, cautiously unfurls himself, testing for injuries, and joins Victor on the ledge.

“What happened?” Kevin asks.

Victor breathes deeply, savouring the sea air. “It seems that the initial cave-in that trapped us left things in an unstable state. We are still trapped, but I feel that our situation is much improved.”

“It was God,” Kevin says. “He came into that cave and freed us.” Kevin sits next to Victor on the edge and smiles. “I felt his presence.”

Victor sits, dangling his legs in the empty space beneath them. The cool sea air gently blows his hair.

“There is a phenomenon that I’ve read about,” Victor says. “When deprived of sensory input, humans begin, quite shortly, to experience miraculous, spiritual things.”

Kevin watches Victor.

“It’s described as quite pleasant. Sometimes even as experiences of divinity.”

“Don’t try to tell me that didn’t just happen,” Kevin says. “You experienced it too. You said so.”

“I did, I certainly did.” Victor rocks back and forth, holding the lip of the ledge. “But what I experienced seems like what the sensory deprivation experiments described.”

“That was real. That was a profound experience. Don’t try to rationalize it away with some study of people locked in a closet.”

Victor returns his gaze to the sea.

Kevin hugs himself for warmth, although Victor does not appear to share his discomfort.

After some time, Kevin asks, “Do you think you’ll make another? Another creature?”

Victor shakes his head. “I imagine it’s like having children. For a while, the thrill makes all the hard work worthwhile. But eventually everyone reaches a point where they’ve had enough.” Victor pauses to study the sky. “Anyway, if you want to create life, cloning has proven itself a far more effective method than reanimation. Or you can just find a nice girl. That works too.”

Kevin thinks about this. Victor reaches over, pats the smaller man on the back, provoking a startled smile. Victor pushes hard and Kevin is gone.

Victor peers down the cliffside for several moments without expression. He sighs heavily. “I believe we have sufficiently tested the divine intervention theory,” he says quietly and rubs his brow.



David Milne lives in Calgary with his wife, Lindsay, and daughter, Paige. His fiction has previously appeared in Geist, Grain and Qwerty.


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