The needle trembled in his hand, though at the moment he was nowhere near the state of mind to wonder whether it was nerves or grief that compelled the movement. With his other hand he grabbed the dirty burlap sack from the adjacent table, and stuck the needle between his teeth as he wrestled with the knot.
He was regretting his choice in lightbulbs; the incandescent bulbs had been much cheaper, but the orange light they cast made the room seem dirty in an unnatural way, as if the very morals of the air had been defiled. The ragged ends of his coat sleeves, and the continued trembling of his appendages, did not help to put the matter to rest, and he cursed aloud at nothing at all, as if that would ease the uncomfortable weight that had begun to nest in a corner of his heart.
The knot came loose. Muttering, he straightened his glasses over his nose -- they were thin, wiry frames, encapsulating a pair of dirty lenses that did nothing to aid his vision -- and released his jaw's grip on the needle, allowing it to fall back into the palm of his hand. He kept his eyes downcast, kept them firmly on his work. Grim though it was, it was preferable to what awaited him if he were to peer into the corner of the room. If he looked there now, the ordeal would be over -- he'd lose his nerve at once, and all hope for the future would be lost. Yes. . . it was hope he had to cling to. Hope, and the needle.
A human arm dropped unceremoniously from the sack and onto the table. He studied it for a moment, contemplating the measurements, the way it would fit with what he had gathered thus far, and he allowed himself a bloodless smile. This was the last little piece; this, and the thing in the corner, and then he'd be done. And then. . .
Placing the empty sack back onto the table, he picked up a ball of string and stared hard at the work before him. The arm had landed on an empty section of the table, which was good. He didn't want the humours mixing too early, and he felt uncomfortable when the limbs were just piled one atop the other, like a makeshift abattoir. The incandescent light buzzed on, and he repositioned himself to avoid the irritation of working in shadow.
And there came his first mistake. For as he moved, his head twitched up, and his eyes made contact with the dreadful thing in the corner, from which electrodes protruded like the appendages of a rabid octopus. There, sitting in a jar of preservation fluid, was his wife's listless brain. A trickle of dread began to coalesce in his chest, and with a whimper, he began to talk in rapid erratic tones, drowning out his rising panic with meaningless words.
"Don't look at me like that," he gabbled. "Like that, with your. . . don't look at me. I said not to, didn't I? For your own good, is what this is. Never doubt it. For you, for you, for"-- he cursed aloud once more -- he'd pricked himself with the needle. Shaking off the blood, he reapplied himself with a few deep breaths. The stitching was easy work. He'd done it dozens of times before. He just needed to stay calm for an hour or so more, and then. . .
"Then I'll fix you, you understand?" He jabbed the needle into the dead flesh with perhaps a little too much force. "I'll make it alright. I'll fix you, and then Jeanine, and then. . ." He closed his eyes. Shuddered.
"I'll fix you right up."
He adjusted the angle of the arm, trying to make it more pliable to the requirements of the stump. The rest of his makeshift corpse was a jumble of wrinkled, discolored skin, patchworked together into what even a blind man, recovering his sight for the first time since his birth, would've recoiled to behold.
To him, though, it was beautiful.
"Just look at you," he whispered. "Just this arm here, and then we'll look at you. Oh, my sweet. Oh, my Paula. Just look. . . "
He glanced nervously at the brain. "I said just wait," he moaned, and then his words began to lose meaning even to himself -- he muttered things between breaths, pulling and pushing at the needle as he stitched together muscle, tissue, skin.
True, he'd have preferred to use his wife's original body for the task, but that wasn't how the manual had done it. And besides, after what the knife had done to her, and to Jeanine, this was by far the easiest way to get them back. The manual didn't describe the part with the brain, but he'd seen a few movies with something similar, and he'd reckoned he could make it work.
Half an hour passed in relative silence. The lights droned on, but his voice faded into first a mumble, then a whisper, then a wheezing, unnatural pace of breath. And suddenly a bright mood struck him, and he began to hum a tune, and the worry lines faded away from his forehead. The song he was singing was their anniversary song. It was country, a genre he'd never really liked, but Pauline had loved it, and for some reason he didn't much mind the sound of it any longer. He hummed, and then he broke out into song, and his hoarse, grating voice hiccupped through the chorus and various bridges. He finished up the stitching and, still feeling merry, placed a casual arm over the jar with the brain.
"Sweet dandelion, in the sun/
where you gone, now day is done?/
I seen you playin' in the grass/
Father say you ain't at Mass. . . "
He wheeled the jar around like a dancing partner, moving delicately so as not to tangle the electrodes. As the song came to a close, he placed the vessel onto the adjacent table, atop the burlap sack, and sighed a small sigh of genuine contentment as he beheld his gruesome handiwork. He just had to make sure everything was right -- he could always find more corpses, but he had only one shot with the brain.
"Manual," he said aloud. "Where've you gotten off to? Dandelion," he added, and giggled. After a few moments of crouching and muttering, he found it, wedged under one of the wheels of the adjacent table, and he pried it free with a grunt and no small effort.
Patting the dust from the jacket, he flipped through the greasy pages, looking for page 135, which held the picture he was looking for. He held it up closer to the light, and for many minutes there was no activity in the room save the motion of his eyes from the diagram, to the corpse, then back to the diagram. And the feeling of relaxation spread, because the manual had never led him wrong, and he had done everything it had asked.
He closed the volume affably. It had a queer name, for such an important work of science, and he said it aloud a few times, because it felt soothing on his tongue. "Frankenstein," he said, smiling, and then again, and again, as he wheeled the brain closer. He said it as he readied the electrodes, as he plugged the other end of the wires into the wall, as he jabbed them into the corpse's head with a grin and a blazing light in his eyes. He'd quite forgotten why he'd been so afraid. There was nothing now but the glory of the moment, the exhilaration of triumph, the boundless joy at seeing Paula wake again, and the prospect of embracing her once more, and hearing her gratitude at the salvation he had given her.
The electrodes hummed to life, then sparked, then faded.
He stayed where he was -- expectant, waiting.
And as the shadows began to collect their own thin veneer of dust, a great cry of grief and rage rang out through the neighborhood, rousing all the dogs and peering faces from their slumber. And soon the warm yellow lights turned on in darkened windows, and great howls were directed at the tranquil moon, until the silence of midnight was usurped by chaotic noise.