From the Malafarina Files, ‘What Is A Man?’ a short story by the master of terror Thomas M. Malafarina

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By: Thomas M. Malafarina

© 2018 Thomas M. Malafarina

 The good man is the friend of all living things.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” – Marcus Aurelius

 “Death may be the greatest of all human blessings.” – Socrates

The massive creature sat silently, hunched on the chill, damp cave floor. The beast listened to the hypnotic drip, drip, dripping of water somewhere deep in the blackness, painstaking forming stalactites and stalagmites as it had done for millions of years before. He could hear the steady thump, thump, thumping of his own oversized heart sounding like the rhythmic beating of tribal drums echoing in his mind as the water reverberated in the near silence of the cavern.

Lining the walls surrounding him were bookshelves reaching ten feet tall, overflowing with thousands of volumes containing the most significant writings in human history. Wooden creates and skids held stacks upon stacks of even more books; classic fiction, historical accounts, religious essays, and scientific journals. He had read them all, most more than once. He had acquired them over many years, and they were among his most prized possessions.

In the darkness of a nearby alcove, an old-fashioned gramophone complete with hand crank stood ready for use along with stacks of hundreds of classic orchestral albums. When not reading, the creature loved to listen to music. On any available wall space remaining in the cavern, not occupied by bookshelves, priceless works of art by some great masters and ancient tapestries hung for his viewing pleasure.

Near his feet, a small collection of hot coals burned, the remnants of his former fire. He would rebuild the fire again soon, not for heat but for light so that he might read throughout the night. Presently, his massive muscular arms rested on his knees, allowing his shovel-sized hands to dangle down over tree-trunk-like legs. His bucket-sized head hung low as his chin rested on his barrel chest below massive shoulders more than five feet across. Although the cave was quite cold, the chilly temperatures never bothered him.

The monstrous hulking creature might appear to have been sleeping to an uninformed onlooker, but he was not. He never slept because he didn’t need to sleep. He hadn’t slept in years, perhaps decades. This particular restive position was the closest he ever came to sleeping. He thought of it as his thinking pose, and although his frightening physical appearance might suggest otherwise, the thinking was what he enjoyed doing most.

He suddenly sat bolt upright, his eyes glowing like the embers in his fire. He remained motionless now, silent in the shadows, carefully listening to the shuffling noise coming from the front of the cave near the entrance. He immediately recognized the familiar gate he had heard so many times before. It was another one of those wretched things; the dead ones. Somehow one of the creatures must have inadvertently found its way into his cave. Adam could feel his anger growing. How dare this abomination enter his home! He would be sure to guarantee this encounter would not end well for the intruder.

Adam wondered how many of those mindless shambling creatures remained in the world. Hundreds of them? Perhaps thousands? Possibly millions? He suspected millions might be an accurate assumption from a national perspective, but maybe only a few hundred locally. Humankind had done an exemplary job of eradicating the monsters over the past twelve years.

The shambling creature slowly made its way across the cave and into the minimal light cast by the dwindling fire. Adam studied the thing carefully. It appeared to have once been a male, but decomposition had taken its toll, which made distinguishing its gender almost impossible. Its clothing was in tatters, and it made that same low guttural growl they all made. The vile stench coming off the unholy beast was beyond appalling. This one had been decomposing for quite some time.

Adam knew well what these undead creatures, these zombies did whenever they encountered living humans. They ripped their victims to pieces, devouring their flesh and innards. He fumed at the very notion of one of these wretched things tromping about in his home, his anger continuing to grow.

The undead monster advanced, stumbling about the cave, apparently unaware of his presence. Adam stood and rose to his full height of eight feet, yet still, the creature ignored him. Then again, they always ignored him. It seemed like he was invisible to them. This phenomenon, too, caused him incredible frustration. Perhaps for personal reasons, he felt it better not to consider why he was so angry.

He bellowed in a booming angry voice, “Do you not see me, you disgusting pile of rotting meat? Here I am, standing right before you. Am I not made of human flesh and blood? Do you not wish to partake of my body, you revolting spawn of Hell?”

The zombie stood and stared, not so much at Adam as through him. It was like the zombie was confused, uncertain as to what his next move should be. Adam believed the creature could hear him shouting but, for whatever reason, couldn’t sense him. He had tried this experiment on the undead countless times with the same futile results, and it was becoming maddening. Who was it who had said the definition of insanity was repeating the same thing over and over but expecting different results? Adam couldn’t recall, but the recollection was making him question his sanity.

A low moan came from the zombie’s throat, sounding not so much threatening as bewildered. It started to turn away. With one mighty swipe of his muscular arm, Adam severed the creature’s head from its body, sending the skull flying across the cave and slamming into a wall with a sickening crack. The body thudded to the cave floor. He wasn’t sure exactly why separating the head from the body or why, by simply making the brain inactive, killed the creatures; he just knew it worked.

He had accidentally discovered this fact many years earlier, more out of frustration than through any scientific process. He has come upon one of the monsters in the forest. It was a huge male, not as large as himself but still quite threatening in appearance. At that time, Adam was not only unaware the dead were reanimating, he also didn’t know that they paid him no mind. He thought the creature was a living, breathing man and, therefore, a potential enemy. His natural assumption was to believe the monster would try to attack him. After all, anyone coming upon him his entire life would attack first and ask questions later.

Reaching out, Adam had grabbed onto the thing’s left arm and pulled it from the socket. To his shock, no blood spurted from the stump, only a slight trickle of some viscous puss-like fluid leaked out. The creature didn’t seem even to notice his injury. Eager to end the encounter, Adam thrust his long arm outward toward his opponent’s chest, penetrating his flesh with surprising ease and pulling out what he assumed would be his attacker’s, still-beating heart.

To his dismay, Adam held a dead gray, bloodless thing that teamed with maggots in its advanced stage of decomposition. And still, the creature stood. It looked down at the hole in its chest for a moment, then let out a deep growing sound. Frustrated and unsure what to do next, Adam bent down, retrieved the severed arm, then swinging it like a war club, he struck the creature’s head. Its spinal column snapped with an audible crack, causing it to fall to the ground. He test-kicked the mass of flesh, and it remained inanimate. He made a mental note that if he ever came upon a creature such as this again, the head, probably the brainstem, would be the weak link. Little did he know he would battle many more of the beasts in the years that followed.

Now, Adam bent down, grabbing this latest zombie’s foot and dragging it toward the entrance of the cave. Then like a slow-moving soccer player, he used one of his own giant feet to pass the severed head along as well. At the cave entrance, Adam kicked the skull hard, sending it flying for several hundred feet out through the night and into the darkness of the forest.

Still holding the zombie’s foot, he began to swing the corpse around and around, gaining velocity so he could fling the disgusting thing as far away as possible. During one of the rotations, the corpse took off, flying hundreds of yards out into the darkness. Adam realized the body had taken off before he had let go. He looked down and saw the thing’s foot with exposed ankle bones jutting from tatters of moldering flesh still in his giant hand. He threw the foot as far away as possible with disgust and then wiped his hand on his pants.

His cave, the place Adam called home, was located high up on the side of a mountain hidden by countless pine trees. He hoped the stench accompanying the vile creatures would not be noticeable, but he had his doubts. He recalled a time not that long ago when the entire world stank of rotting flesh. Now the creatures were few and far between. These days, humans thought of them more as a nuisance than a threat.

He sniffed the air and could smell burning wood, not the scent of a nearby campfire but something much more intense. He looked out into the distance to where he knew a good-sized town stood many miles away. He could see the orange glow of a fire burning out of control.

“I can’t believe they are at it again,” he thought. “When will these people ever learn?”

Even now, after surviving a plague that practically wiped out humanity, these humans still felt the need to be at war. It was like people could only be satisfied if they were killing. And it didn’t matter if they were killing zombies or one another. He recalled several years after the initial outbreak when the then newly reformed federal government began offering the general public the opportunity to collect bounty money by killing zombies. Although the program had an official name, people began referring to it as a Dead Kill bounty; the idea being that you were killing something, which was already dead. Survivors suddenly realized instead of running and hiding from these deadly monsters; they could earn a decent living by killing them. That was the beginning of the end for the undead. Soon what was once an ocean of roaming undead became a river, then a stream, and finally just a trickle, a fraction of what they had once been.

More than ten years since the dreaded Zombie Virus of 2043, also known as the Z43 Virus, started the zombie apocalypse. Yet now, years after the so-called zombie wars, humanity was still killing his fellow man, even though the act of doing so created more living dead. The Z43 virus still existed inside every living human, remaining dormant until the time of death when it activated. Years earlier, the government created preventive measures to dispose of any new deceased properly. These measures prevented the dead from returning. But in the case of war, there was no guarantee all the dead could be accounted for and would remain deceased. There was an excellent chance whatever skirmish had just occurred in that city miles away would create new monsters rising from the ashes.

It troubled Adam how humans still seemed to have this need to kill each other. From his observations, there were two facets of human survivors: the so-called civilized people who lived safely behind the walls of fortified cities and those called outlanders who lived like lawless savages in the wilderness outside the cities. The outlanders had turned their backs on civilized society in favor of a life free of legal restraints. The outlanders set up their cultures like tribes, with the most potent members leading the groups. Without laws to control their behavior for more than a decade, these survivors lived like savages, not unlike those not seen since the dawn of man. Most had even abandoned formal language, replacing it with monosyllabic gibberish nearly unintelligible. Not only were these outlanders at constant war with the humans inside the cities, but rival tribes constantly fought among themselves.

Adam wondered with a heavy heart just how many humans of both factions might have died in this latest conflict. The world had become a much different place than the one he had once known. So much had changed since his birth in 1792, or perhaps re-birth would be a better description. It was a hard fact to comprehend now in 2055, more than two and a half centuries later.

Adam didn’t know if he carried the Z43 virus. True he was a man, but not a man like other men. He was not only different but unique. Perhaps this made him immune to the virus. It seemed to make him uninteresting to the dead ones, so maybe that idea might be accurate. Or it might be the circumstances of his creation that caused the walking corpses to leave him alone. He wasn’t sure, but he hoped someday to find an answer. He suddenly heard groaning noises coming from the forest far off to his right. He realized more of the undead creatures must have followed the first.

His night vision was exceptional, and the bright moon further helped him see them coming. There were ten or more of the zombies in this cluster. If he simply stood still, Adam knew they would ignore him and walk by, but that would never do. They might find their way into his cave and fill it with their revolting stink. His shelter was not much, but it was his home and had been for decades. He could not allow these things to defile his domicile.

Adam charged headlong into the mass of rotting walking corpses using arms, legs, hands, and feet to dismantle the creatures. In a mad frenzy of savage destruction, Adam cut his way through the crowd, leaving not one of them standing.

One of the creatures had shuffled toward Adam, appearing to try to pass through him like he wasn’t there. Adam slammed his massive hands against both sides of the zombie’s head in a thunderous clap, sending brains exploding out of the creature’s squashed mouth and eye sockets, like someone stomping on an open tube of toothpaste.

Two others were staggering about aimlessly. Adam raced at them, driving his fist through the face of the first monster and out the back of the creature’s head. He pulled his muscular arm back, and the head separated from the thing’s body but remained stuck on his hand. Adam slammed the decapitated head into the skull of the other zombie, succeeding in breaking that creature’s neck and cracking open the zombie skull attached to his massive hand.

Two more zombies stumbled into view, one male and the other female. Adam walked up to them, palming their heads like an NBA all-star. He lifted them both up by their skulls more than two feet off the ground as they squirmed and struggled to get free. Then he began to close his hands, squeezing ever tighter. Within seconds their skulls crushed inward, sending shards of broken bones deep into their decomposing brains. Puss and grey matter oozed onto Adam’s fingers.

After finishing the remainder of the herd in a fashion equally repulsive, Adam decided it was time to clean up. He tossed the remains into the woods to join those of the others. This cleanup was a challenging task not only because of the number of creatures Adam had slaughtered but because of the savage way he had dismembered them. He expected such carnage after he found himself in the throes of a rampage. The forest floor looked like a charnel house.

Adam stood for a moment, smelling the disgusting stench of the beasts. He looked down at his hands and clothing finding them covered in blood, puss, and bits of flesh from his savage onslaught. Adam needed to get clean. Walking along a path he knew well, Adam made his way through the woods to a lake where he stripped naked a waded into the shallows to rinse both himself and his clothing. His flesh, a patchwork of thousands of scars connecting flesh of varying hues, seemed iridescent in the moonlight. He examined himself for injuries but found none.

Seeing himself bared to the world made Adam think about his past and his life. He recalled as he often did about the man he thought of as his father. That man had been a scientist. No, he had been much more than a scientist; he had been a creator, a genius, and in Adam’s opinion, a god. Yet, he had also been a cold-hearted, unfeeling man who had rejected Adam and hated him. Adam found it more than ironic that he should possess a kinder heart and more respect for humanity than the man responsible for giving him life.

He wondered not for the first time, what exactly was humanity? What is a man? Was he, himself not a man? Indeed, he must be as he was made from man. His father and creator had seen to that. And was he, Adam, not a good man? He considered himself an intellectual, perhaps not at the level of genius his father had attained. Still, he was knowledgeable and possessed a love for art, science, mathematics, music, and literature.

He was generally kind to his fellow man. Yes, he had killed in the past, both zombies and living humans as well. Early on, his killing had been out of frustration, rage, ignorance, and misunderstanding. Later he learned to control his impulses and kill only in self-defense.

His father had not thought of him as intelligent, just the opposite. He had even refused to give Adam a name, referring to him instead as “the monster,” “the wretch,” “the ogre,” and other such derogatory terms. And when news of his existence became public, the townspeople had called him “an abomination,” “a devil,” and “a thing.” They had tried unsuccessfully to destroy him on more than one occasion.

But in his heart, he believed he was a man. No, he knew he was a man, despite what others said to the contrary. Yes, perhaps he was a different sort of man, unique compared to any that had come before him, but still a man. He felt his father had slighted him greatly, and as such, he had chosen to give himself a name.

He recalled the day his father had been screaming obscenities at him and referring to him as something which the bowels of hell spit upon the earth. In one of his first fits of anger, Adam had risen in defiance and had shouted at his father, “I ought to be thy Adam!”

He decided right then to take the name, Adam. And in further rebellion against his heartless father Victor, he chose to use his father’s surname. He proclaimed himself Adam Frankenstein. He hoped that single act would do more to frustrate his creator than any other torture he might have imagined. And he was correct. Since then, the story of his creation had gained legendary status; most people now referred to him simply as Frankenstein. Despite his life of solitude, his knowing this fact seemed to make it all worthwhile somehow. His father had died in disgrace, and the world that had shunned Adam was now essentially dead as well.

Since the time he had last escaped persecution, he had led a life of isolation, knowing how people would react to the sight of him. If his height and massive size were not enough to instill terror, his thousands of scars from where his doctor/father had stitched together body parts were enough to horrify even the most tattooed and pierced of humans. Through the centuries, people around the world had claimed to see him lurking in the shadows. However, anyone who had the misfortune of actually meeting him face to face would take that knowledge to the grave with them. Adam was not happy about killing humans, but on occasion, it was something he had to do and which he had reluctantly accepted.

Even in 2053, in a world ravaged by a zombie apocalypse where rotting remnants of humanity still feasted on the flesh of the living, he knew he would be considered a horrible monster. He read rumors stating that the Z43 virus was mutating in living outlander humans during the past year. Rather than waiting until death to activate, the virus was causing living humans to mutate into an assortment of strange inhuman creatures, some of which supposedly were as big as he was.

Perhaps in another few decades, things would change. Maybe the virus would continue to mutate, creating a new race of creatures so disturbing in appearance that Adam would not seem so frightening. Until then, he had his cave, his literature, and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge to keep him occupied.

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