There's No Place Like Home
Willie huddled in the dark back seat of Julia's car, watching out the window. He seemed mesmerized by looming shadows of boulders and trees along the road to Collinsport as they raced by. The young man couldn't remember the last time he had been outside the gated security of Wyndcliff Sanitarium.
The boss and his wife sat quietly in the front seat.
"Willie?" Julia broke the silence. She was watching him in the rearview mirror, her face illuminated by the dashboard. "How are you doing back there? Is everything alright?"
"Yes, ma'am," he answered softly.
"Do you have your seatbelt on?"
"Yes, ma'am," he lied.
"Are you glad to be going home?"
"I guess so. It was just kind of sudden. I was waiting for you to come to see me for a long time, then after a while I kind of forgot."
"We were very busy, you know that. Many things have happened since you went away."
"You got a new car." He looked around. "It's nice."
"I couldn't very well drive that old pickup."
"M-my truck? Is it…?"
"I have no idea if it still runs or not."
Barnabas snorted. "It is decorating the rear garden like a monument of rusting rubbish."
"Well, what are you waiting for? Come in."
Willie stepped hesitantly over the threshold and stood, clutching his duffle bag, in the middle of the foyer. The Old House was so different from Wyndcliff. It was chilly and quiet and dark, even as Barnabas and Julia moved routinely from entrance to parlor, lighting candles as they went.
"Well, you're going to have a big day tomorrow," Dr. Hoffman addressed the servant with a friendly smile.
"Yes, of course," Barnabas answered, looking up from the candelabra. "It's about time you went back to work. There will be much for you to do."
"So get some rest," Julia said, producing a bottle of pills from her purse. "I forget what I prescribed for you at Wyndcliff, but this will do the trick." Then she recalled the boy's history of self-medication. "On second thought, I'll just give you one at a time."
Willie backed away slightly, shaking his head. They looked like the zombie pills. "That's okay, I don't need any; never got meds at bedtime," he lied, starting up the staircase.
"One more thing," Julia called after. "Pick yourself out a bedroom on the second floor. It's so much nicer there, and close to everything. The third-floor servants' quarters have been closed off, since we have no use for them."
"Not our room of course," Barnabas chimed in from across the parlor, "Nor Josette's, mother's or father's. I suppose you may have the green guest room."
When Willie reached the top of the stairs, it was too dark to see anything but a shimmer of misty moonlight through the archway window. The young man sat on the top step, hugging his duffle as Julia and Barnabas talked below, and he overheard some of their conversation.
Willie was more docile now, they remarked, and that would make him easier to handle. But how he would adjust to his new situation and cope with the duties that would be expected of him would remain to be seen.
At length, Dr. Hoffman paced into the foyer. "We'll begin tomorrow morning with—what's that?" She squinted at the dark figure lurking in the shadows of the landing. "Willie, is that you?" He didn't answer. "What on earth are you doing? Go to bed."
"It's too dark. I can't see."
"For goodness sake, come here and get a candle." He slowly descended the stairs, whereupon Julia handed him a single taper in a small holder with ring handle. "And take some wood for your fire. Don't you want to be warm?"
With a Duraflame log tucked under his arm, Willie went back upstairs holding his candle in front to light the way.
Even by the meager illumination, the cobweb covered hallway was in obvious need of maintenance and repair. No wonder they closed off the third floor; Barnabas and Julia were terrible housekeepers. The railing was loose, and nothing had been dusted in ages. The sconces were empty, so the servant was forced to make do with what little light he had.
But the candle's range was not far reaching and the blackness that lay beyond exacerbated Willie's fear of the dark. His anxiety compounded at the row of closed doors, behind any one of which could be danger or death. With a trembling hand, he reached for a knob.
The first door gave way to a large room with an elaborate canopy bed, next to which stood a mahogany coffin. The tall windows had been left open and a damp fog was rolling in, almost obscuring the floor. He closed the door. The next bedroom he didn't recognize, but the window was broken and the beamed ceiling housed a colony of bats. Then there was Josette's room, which stirred a flood of memories, so he quickly moved on. Light and buzzing sounds emanated from beneath the door of Aunt Abigail's room turned laboratory: skip that. The nursery looked sad and neglected. The wooden rocking horse lay on its side, the dollhouse was covered in a sheet and the toy box sat unused. Sarah used to always leave her things scattered about for Willie to put away, but the little ghost was nowhere to be found.
At the end of the corridor was a comparably modest, unremarkable room, which may or may not have been decorated in green.
The eyes of a wild animal glowed in the darkness as Willie gave a yell and backed away into the hall. He almost went backwards over the loose rail, but caught himself, turned and grasped the broken banister. Below, the talking abruptly halted.
"What's going on up there?" Barnabas bellowed.
"Nothing! I'm okay!" Willie picked up the candle from the floor and cautiously re-entered the room.
Mounted on the wall was the head of a large wolf, fangs bared and glass eyes which glowed in the candlelight. Thank you, Barnabas, for putting me in a room that comes with its own nightmares. Willie poked the nose of the stuffed creature.
"Fuck you, Fido. You're coming down first thing in the morning."
The servant brushed away cobwebs spanning the fireplace and opened the flue before throwing his log onto the grate and, with the flame of his candle, set it ablaze. He retrieved his duffle from the hallway and looked around his new quarters. Howling wind rustled the musty drapes through cracks in the window frame. The flames threw dancing shadows on the wall.
Willie pulled the dust sheet from the bed and climbed under the coverlet, still dressed. When he tried to pull it up, the blanket disintegrated in his hands. The bed curtains crowning the canopy obliterated too much light. The pillow smelled questionable. Just then the young man had a flashback memory, something about bugs in the mattress, and scrambled from the bed.
With his terrycloth robe for a blanket, and his hoodie for a pillow, Willie settled down in front of fire, wrapping his arms around just like he was wearing a straightjacket.
Hours later, as the fire and candle lay dying in their berths, Willie awoke disoriented and confused. He had been playing poker with Jackie, Angela and Stanley, laughing, eating M&Ms out of pill dispensary cups, using condoms for betting chips. Bug Eyes circled behind them, peaking at the cards and signaling his advice.
Something eclipsed the light. He could feel its breath. A dark silhouette hovered over him.
"Was'matter?" he asked drowsily.
Barnabas swiftly rose and stepped away. "I merely brought a fresh candle and log for your fire."
The young man rubbed his eyes. "I woke up and forgot where I was."
The vampire seemed preoccupied with brushing lint from his jacket. "Go back to sleep. I will see you this evening."
Willie couldn't recall any time in the past when the boss expressed concern about his relative comfort, but he shrugged it off as another lapse in memory.
It was well after sunrise when Willie woke again. Outside his window, a foggy mist rose from the cliffs. Summer was approaching, or the Maine version of it. There were four seasons in Collinsport: clammy, chilly, cold and frozen.
It was deadly quiet. There were no doors banging, chairs clanging or crazies howling for attention.
Bug Eyes used to pop his head in their room. "It's the big one! Grab your helmets; this is not a drill!"
Followed by Angela: "Hurry up, you freaks. Free blow jobs before breakfast!"
Then Roberta would sing her prayers to the greater glory of God. She actually had a lovely voice when she wasn't screaming at sinners.
No more standing in loony queues at mealtime or med time. No more monitors watching him use the bathroom. All of a sudden Willie was free to do whatever he liked.
The young man looked out his window to the garden below where his truck sat forlorn and abandoned. There were weeds growing from the rear bed. Pulling on his sneakers, Willie wandered out the rear servants' entrance.
His white truck was now gray. The tires were sunk in dried mud and the inside smelled of mildew. He climbed in, felt the vinyl upholstery and looked in the glove compartment, where he found the keys. Willie turned the ignition, but the battery was dead.
"Where do you think you're going?" Julia snapped, swinging open the driver's side door.
"Nothing! Nowhere…" Willie jumped at her sudden appearance. "I-I just wanted to sit in my truck."
"Barnabas ordered you not to leave the house."
"No, he didn't."
"Come back inside before someone sees you." She yanked Willie from the cab.
"Never mind. I brought you breakfast."
The doctor led Willie inside to the kitchen and unloaded a paper bag containing a banana, hard-boiled egg and a bagel. "I took a few things from Collinwood but after this you'll be able to manage on your own."
"Okay." Julia paced the room as Willie sat alone at the large wooden work table and tucked in. He noticed for the first time how exhausted she looked.
"Well, where shall I start? There is a woman, Mrs. Strickland, who comes in once, sometimes twice a week. She will clean the first floor and do your grocery shopping. If you want something in particular, leave her a note on Monday; it will be delivered on Thursday. Try not to speak to her more than necessary. The less she knows, the better. You must never leave her alone in the house and under no circumstances is she to go upstairs. Now, you will be in charge of the second floor, and everything you need will be there. Do you understand so far?"
"I guess so."
"Hurry up and finish." She patted his back with an unconvincing smile. "I have a lot to show you."
Willie hesitated outside the door to the laboratory, formerly known as Aunt Abigail's bedroom.
"What's the matter?" Julia asked impatiently. "Come along."
"The thing, is it still in there?"
Dr. Hoffman pushed Willie through the door, but what he saw was not the pile of pulsating organs he remembered. On the examination table was a grotesquely oversized human body, stitched together, breathing.
"Oh, shit, it's alive."
Julia blocked his exit. "Yes, it's alive, but don't worry, it's not conscious. It can't hurt you."
"I want to go home."
"Don't be ridiculous. Wyndcliff is not your home, this is, and there's nothing to be afraid of." She sat him down by the writing desk. "We talked about this long ago, creating a blood supply for Barnabas; do you remember?" The boy nodded, peering over her shoulder at the sleeping monster. "Now all you have to do is help me to take care of it."
"I don't know how."
"It's quite simple, really." Dr. Hoffman explained. "There are just a few things you need to manage: Nutrition, waste and blood. Everything is clearly marked.
At this point Julia proceeded to describe how the one green bottle and two clear ones contained the stuff that went in and, attached to its midsection was a brown bag and an almost clear one for output. Red bags were the payload. Willie was instructed how to hook up the intravenous tubes to the needles, dispose of the waste bags and store the blood.
"What if I get them mixed up?"
"You will have to stay focused. So, no drinking or drugs for you, especially sleeping pills." Willie's left leg started to bounce. "I know you can do this. You're a lot smarter than you pretend to be."
"At Wyndcliff they let me work in the library. Made it easy to steal books. I put most of them back…"
"What did I just say about focus?"
"Yes, ma'am. Sorry."
"You have your own room but can sleep here in the lab as well," Dr. Hoffman continued, pointing to Abigail's four poster bed. "As you can see the drips and bags must be closely monitored and changed consistently."
Willie frowned at the doctor. "Is this why you brought me back here?"
Julia sat on the edge of the desk and grasped the boy's hand. "Willie, please, this is a very responsible position. I can't do it all myself any longer and there's no one else I trust." She put her arm around his shoulder. "I trust you, Willie. Barnabas trusts you."
Willie did not like to be hugged by skinny witch doctors and the uncharacteristic emotion in her voice made him uncomfortable.
"Alright." He pulled away, realizing there was little alternative. He had no other job, no other home but this, no other family but a mad scientist and a vampire.
"We've tried to make you as comfortable as possible. See, there's new bed linens, also a small refrigerator, space heater and microwave, all hooked up to the generator.
"I'll explain how it works. Hopefully you won't be too bored and I'll step in for a few hours each day so you can have a rest. You may take books from the library downstairs or listen to music on this radio/cassette player; they call it a boom box, but I don't want you to take the name literally."
"I wish there was a television."
"We'll see." The servant was silent. "I went to a lot of trouble to arrange all this. You could show a little appreciation."
"Thank you," he said quietly.
"Do you have any questions so far?"
Willie looked at the body. "What's his name?"
"Name? It doesn't really have one."
"How about Frankenstein?"
"I'd rather not. You know, it's the first of its kind—why don't we call it Adam?"
Willie sat down next to what would be his constant companion for a very long time. Its name was Adam.