Victor tapped the skull with a stylus, waiting for it to blink again. Perhaps he’d imagined it. At times h
e felt the anchors of his sanity slipping away along with the minutes. The serum. Missing ingredient. Time running out.
On every available surface around his hunched figure, flasks bubbled, flames flickered, and specimens implored in reedy croaks for finality. Their voices reminded him that Mina had come by. Then he recollected that she was dead. Thus it must have been Lucy uttering some forgotten inquiry.
“Leg…itches,” the head moaned from its acid bath. Victor’s machinery dutifully recorded this.
“You have no leg,” he said. “No body. A shoddy vessel. Only the mind matters.” As if in repudiation, the dozens of torsos covering the benches and lining the walls began wailing a dolorous chorus: “Legitches…legitches…”
As the litany subsided, he tried to recapture his focus. Missing ingredient. Hours of sanity left. Serum. Thinking in circles, unable to refrain from speculations long discar
ded. A gnawing suspicion hinted he had wasted time refusing to accept that the body was mere life-support. Absently, he nudged the skull in the tray, inhaling the acrid reek of the chemicals in which it floated.
More voices. The Ravenous, clawing at the door, their screeches twining in hideous unison with a shrill resurgence from the specimens. So infuriating, these frequent interruptions as he verged on making a vital connection. Frequent? Incessant. No remembrance of all the good he’d accomplishe
d. Sourly, he recalled how they’d laughed at his notion of defying mortality – like his lung-pox vaccine or when he’d vowed to disprove Barcellius’ Third Theorem. Missing ingredient.
The howls outside rose in volume. Didn’t the fools know scientific progress was founded on heaps of failure and sacrifice? They called it a Contagion, but perhaps it was the serum, a truth serum baring false natures that had tainted a once great race for generations.
He barely stifled the impulse to slam the drifting bulk of his condenser into the racks of boiling fluids. It was the Contagion coursing through his veins. With monumental effort, he forced his ire down. So close to a serum. He was Victor Lazarin! Success had always been his destiny!
His shadow on the wall twisted strangely as he bent over the tray and murmured, “I’m so close. You believe, don’t you?”
Mina’s watery eyes softened. The sweet fragrance of the sugarblossoms cushioning her head that he’d foolishly taken for a tray was overwhelming. “So... close,” she croaked.
He kissed her for what felt like eternity, until the scent of petals reverted again to acid. He forced his eyes open to find his gaze met by the oozing sockets of the skull in the tray, black tongue lolling grotesquely, rotting cheeks still wet from his saliva. The gallery of specimens and Ravenous alike echoed his howls of rage as he clawed and crushed the skull to a bloody pulp.
And suddenly, with stunning clarity, he realized the missing ingredient.