The old Victorian house of Doctor Albright sat at the bottom of the hill between fourth and fifth avenues. It was out of place and stubbornly holding onto the land against the push of updated housing and storefronts. The old story went that the Doc inherited the place from his father. They each ran their practices out of the lower floors, with the upper ones as the residence.
We had stories, growing up, and invented reasons to ride our bikes faster past the place. The lights were on into the small hours of the morning. We would catch odd sounds coming from deep inside the building. Every Halloween we set up a stakeout, from across the street, to see what would happen. Our young minds would find something scary, no matter how large or small.
Not that Albright was a scary person himself. At one time he was a fertility doctor and pediatrician of prominence. In the diner on Main Street, a row of black and white pictures adorns the wall. One of these is the doctor, shaking hands with the governor and receiving an award for his work. He looks out from the frame, young and handsome.
As we grew up, the house and the doctor followed. He turned into an angry old man, wealthy from his work, and retired into that massive house. As time passed around the house, we noticed that he barely left and never took any visitors until one Saturday morning.
I was outside playing catch with my son when a red BMW pulled up and parked. A woman no more then twenty five years old stepped out of the car and made her way to the house. She wore a button up white shirt and skirt with both being too tight. Her red heels matched the car. She looked up the street from behind her black sunglasses at us for a second. The image burned in my mind as I returned to our game of catch.
A few weeks later my wife came home from the grocery store with a story.
“Guess who I ran into?” she asked while we unloaded the bags.
“Albright’s new wife.” I raised my eyebrows.
“He has a wife?”
“She was his student. She took a job out here and an apartment until she found his home. They went out and, a little later, here they are. She’s really young for him.”
“He has to be eighty at least.”
“Well, if the machinery still works, then good for him.” She punched my shoulder at that comment and we finished with the bags.
One night, out of a fitful sleep, the sounds pulled me up from bed. I went to the window and pulled back the curtain. From our room we could see down the street and, at the corner, the entire first floor of Albright’s house lit up with quick lightning blasts through the darkness. The memories of our nights sitting outside the house, watching and waiting, flashed back into my mind. I watched for another second and returned to bed, content to write it off as a dream.
The next day, as I left for work, I drove past the place. His wife was sitting on the porch holding a cup of coffee. She waved at my car with a vacant expression. I caught a flash of tear reflected in the morning sunrise.
Work consisted of our financial advisory office, opened by my friends and I, after college. We decided to return to town to put down roots and families. I sat at my desk and waited until the other two guys arrived.
“He’s at it again,” I said, as Zane put down his briefcase in the corner.
“I know, the market is a mess.”
“Not the market moron, I’m talking about the past. A guy we grew up with.” He laughed.
“Who is this now?”
“Isn’t he dead?”
“No, he’s more then alive. He’s back to doing his work.” Tommy, our other coworker, walked in.
“Get this, Bill here says that old Doc Albright is up to his schemes again,” Zane said.
“Isn’t he dead?” Zane turned to look at me with a glance of accomplishment at Tom’s repetition of his question.
“No, he’s not dead. Last night, I…well, I heard something.” They laughed. Zane threw a pen at me.
“Whatever, look, if you don’t believe me, come over and find out.”
After work, we stood on my front lawn in a loose triangle. We shed the ties and rolled up our sleeves.
“What do you propose we do?” Tom asked.
“Look in the windows.” I said.
“Yeah and why don’t we park our bikes outside and ride to the store for bubblegum,” Zane said, “this is so ridiculous.”
“Indulge me for a second.” We started to walk to the house. I couldn’t help but feel my nerves rising. We looked in the windows and saw no sign of the guy. I knew he still kept to the upper levels so, if we did anything, it would need to be quick. I went first, crouching and maneuvering my way to the side of the house. The other two followed. I thought of the scene a police officer would witness, three men in business casual wear looking into house windows. This motivated me to keep it as fast as possible.
Under the shade of a pair of large oak trees, I looked up to a first floor window. The walls of the room were lined in boxes with modern labels. He obviously kept items shipping into his office. I wrote this off as a coincidence until I made out the shape in the corner. It was a chair, padded and steel, with the stirrup legs fully retracted. The cranks on the bottom and side dated the thing at least to the sixties. I was willing to bet he kept his first chair where he made his reputation as a leading fertility doctor. I wondered how many children were created in that very chair.
I moved to the next window and the guys followed. A cage sat next to the window and I hand to stretch higher to see inside. A body, thick with fur turned and a wolf bared its fangs at me. Its eyes latched onto my expression and I heard the growl from outside. Just as I reached away, a face appeared. The doctor looked out at us. We ran back, as fast as possible to my house. The guys jumped into their cars and sped away. I stood inside the front door and looked down to the house. He was on his porch, meeting my gaze.
I shut the curtain and leaned against the wall, wiping the sweat from my brow. The face stuck into my mind. The skin pulled itself back as if in rebellion to his aging form. His hair ran in thin wisps across his head. His eyes were green and alert, taking us in. I hoped he chalked up our invasion as a childish thing and didn’t feel the need to call the police. I imagined explaining that citation to Val when she arrived home from work.
More time passed and, each time we saw Albright’s wife, her name was Natalie, at the store or walking around town, she grew a larger stomach. People started to talk.
“Can you believe she’s pregnant?”
“It can’t be his.”
“Good for him.”
“What a slut.”
The circles of friends and neighbors rotated these words. As she grew larger, circles of dark bags ran under her eyes. Bruises, though faint, appeared on her wrists and ankles. People talked more and, one night, I even noticed a police car parked outside the place. The officer never put his lights on and left smiling and shaking the hand of the doc. The next time they would return was the night of the summer block party.
We held a block party and cookout at the end of the summer from dusk till whenever. The invitations even had the little question mark in the time field. It was an occasion for everyone to gather at the middle of the street and spend time together. We held them every year and most of the neighbors attended.
We were gathered near a row of grills and tables, talking and laughing. Zane and Tom even came over to enjoy the occasion. The township dropped off two barrels and we lit fires, creating more heat in the already humid night. A stereo played a mix of old and new summer music. As we talked, a scream came from down the street.
They only stopped those at the edge of the group in their conversation. Faces looked around nervously and, at the second scream, the rest of us picked it out. The noises were coming from the corner. A shotgun blast made everyone jump and the front door to the Victorian slammed open. A small figure bounded out and into the street followed by Albright moving faster then we could imagine. He held the gun and panted breath into the already strong heat. The thing on the ground, shrouded in yellow streetlight, turned its head towards us up the hill.
I’ll attempt to describe what made its way in our direction since I only caught glimpses as it moved from light to light. The arms and legs were long, giving the thing an animal-like gate. My mind went to the wolf but there was no chance. The head ruled that out. The head was one of a fetus, bald and covered in birth blood and material. Its eyes were open enough to pick out the light from our fires. Though the legs were new, they thrust it towards us. People stood still, some frozen in terror while other ran for their houses, screaming. Albright took position in the street and raised his gun again. Before the thing made our tables he squeezed off another shot, precise and on the mark. The head of the thing vanished into a red cloud of material. It dropped to the ground. Police sirens sounded in the distance.
A search of the house revealed materials described in the papers over the next few days. They found all the instruments of a pediatrician. The chair was used and blood covered. They found a wolf without its reproductive organs in its cage. They found Natalie, wondering down the highway outside of town. She stumbled in the center of the lanes, wearing the scrubs of a patient, blood coating her legs. After examination, they wrote her up as a sexual assault and moved to put Albright in prison for the rest of his days.
No paper mentioned the body. We watched him walk up the street and take it into his arms. He cradled it, back and forth, singing a soft lullaby. A tear dripped from his eye and onto the thing, mixing with its horrible form. He took it as his own, into his sanctuary of a house.
The police taped off the house. It fell into disrepair as they moved everything to Evidence at the local police department. Boxes of journals went with the medical devices. Rumors spread that he was involved in genetic manipulation. They said he wanted to go beyond humanity. They said he lured Natalie to his place with the promise of money and affection for her help. They found enough tranquilizers to keep her cooperative for years.
Last I heard, Natalie was in a mental hospital up north. Doc Albright spent his final days in jail, always denying his crime but never denying his new son. He spoke daily of his creation, writing furiously to committees for recognition. Their reply was simple. Since no body was found, nothing could be confirmed. They said this gave the old man no more reasons to live and he just wasted away.
My son is at the point now where he wants to know what happened. He wants to look and I hear him and his friends planning runs to the house. They talk of breaking in and dare each other to stay the night. I tell them to forget about it. Some things are just so wrong that they leave a mark on a place.
At night, on the ones thick with darkness, I hear noises. I hear screams and howls. I hear banging and finally shotgun blasts. I look out the window and see Albright cradling his baby. He sings it to sleep and I shut the curtain, say it’s a dream and ready myself for the new day.
Matt Shaner is a writer outside of Philadelphia, PA. He has eighteen short stories online and in print, a novella and a novel published by Eternal Press. He spends nights working in an Emergency Room and days dreaming of writing the next great novel.