One variable went unchecked. No, actually. Many variables went unchecked but as it stood, the formula, the plan, the idea, and the motion were all relatively sound. There were the more immaterial aspects of artificial reincarnation; where does the soul go, is he who is brought back a mindless husk- this question was answered more times than anyone really needed to ask- and could, with enough dedication, refining and hard work and possibly financial backing, this be a perfected science? Would and when would the accolades come pouring in, the rewards, the respect, the power of no longer being a diamond in the rough? Maybe with the introduction of some neutralizers, the test subjects would be less aggressive and more willing to be controlled, be reasonable. Megan’s father was capable... Changes have to be made. The reagent will be feared by some, but loved by many and seen as a great triumph of mankind. When death is conquered, all odds will stand beneath-
“You really should take a break sometime. I’m worried about you.”
No sound of footsteps descending the stairs, just a voice. A familiar voice, yet still an alarming enough voice to make Herbert quiver enough to drop his pencil into a pool of blood, rendering it temporarily useless. He swallows hard and looks up, down, left, and right before turning himself around enough to see Dan covering his eyes with his hands; presumably still adjusting to the light. It was as though Herbert could see his pupils dilate from afar.
“No time. I can’t allow myself to be distracted from my work when I’m so preoccupied with this.”
With a relatively unsteady hand he puts down his clipboard and readjusts his glasses- which become slightly bloody, making a hand gesture to welcome Dan to what had now become his necromancy testing zone. Strewn across the floor are various examples of bodily carnage; hands, arms, legs bent in unnatural positions, torsos and waists. The smell has become otherworldly and for this reason Daniel wears a flu mask; Herbert takes this as a direct insult but finds the resolve within him never to comment. “I’m glad you came down because I have to ask you some questions about... Just... things that confuse me. I need definitive answers.”
“I didn’t come down here for that,” Dan says, carefully traversing so he won’t slip on the multitude of blood splatters, most fresh. He sees a discarded ear, hastily cut off on the floor and has to suck in a gag he feels coming on; “You haven’t left this dump in days. You really need to get out. I’m not bringing you food anymore.”
“It’s not a dump,” Herbert says, quickly, fiercely. The way he invests the word ‘dump’ leads Dan to believe he has no idea what that actually means. “This is my place of work and I’m very proud of my creations.” Sprawled on a metal table is the torso and legs of a human combined with the upper body of a German Shepherd. It makes vague movements, groans in pain and whimpers at intervals. The torso’s skin is purple and waxy as if it’d been covered with a sheet of shrink wrapping; possibly rigor mortis. “I want to see if I can-”
“The last time you said ‘if’, it was ‘if I can use 20 cc’s of reagent at the exact second of death, they might enter a transcendental state’. And that worked so well.”
“The-” His voice falters. “The reagent is not perfected and I need to test it in every scenario I can think of and even ones I can’t. I’d like your ideas, your input.”
Dan pauses, taking a hard look at the disheveled state his roommate is in; tinted red dress shirt which, of course, is unbuttoned and is very oversized. Has he lost weight? His tie is somewhere; it’s certainly not around his neck. Sagging, moist pants that aren’t done up and are rolled up to his knees. The sleepless, bloodshot eyes that reflect his gaze; skin with pallor that hasn’t been exposed to sun in north of a week. As of late he’d been asking about the human soul, trying to find out if that was relevant enough to include in his studies and whether or not one needs one to fully come back to life. It, at first, seemed irrelevant but after a mildly civil debate over fast food he seemed fully interested. Whenever Dan looked in or came down with food, he was merely distilling their conversation and trying to convert it into something irrational enough to attempt on a person.
“The soul is too immaterial to use a syringe on, goes right through them” were Herbert’s exact words. He sounded close to tears, as well.
It was mildly sad, just thinking about it. He was rigid, constant. Nothing could convince him to leave the basement once he went down or even, perhaps, reconsider his priorities because his own life didn’t seem to be one- he’d told Dan over Chinese take out one night, out of nowhere, ‘if I die, use the reagent on me immediately, record the results and donate my body to science’. The longer this kind of talk went on and the longer they shared lodging the more of a genuine concern grew within Dan for him. He was much too selfless, dangerously so, recklessly so. He and his... occasional absence of humanity, but there is a person down there. Somewhere.
“Right, right. Is this”- he makes a hand gesture, waving his hand in a circle referring to the entire room- “what your whole life has been dedicated to? The whole thing?”
“You already know that,” Herbert says, standing up and tapping his luminescent green bottle with his fingertips. He straightens his posture and stretches then, and his expression melts into something that looks like confusion, but is quickly replaced by exuberant happiness. “I like dying and I’m sure by the time this is done, this is complete, I’ll be able to do it more than once.”
Dan sighs through his mask. He says nothing.
"I'm making death less of an inevitability, and more of an option."
Herbert notices his expression and approaches him, putting down the reagent carefully and patting it once to secure its stability on the counter. “I have to observe what multiplies. Soon the boundary between the living and the dead will be... as simple as crossing the street.” He says this with an appalling glee. He crushes a dismembered hand as he walks; it makes a loud crunch. “But you, you have special privileges. You can have anything you want, anyone you’d like back amongst the living. You and I will be like gods.” His eyes dart between Daniel’s face and a twitching leg on the floor. His expression sinks when it stops thrashing and finally quits movement.
“We’re grave robbers, Herbert.”
“Not for long. When my work is recogn-”
“We steal corpses from a morgue. That hurts families.”
“Yes, for scie-”
“You want a critique?”
“I- Oh. Well, yes, I suppose.”
“You’re leaving this basement right now and I’m taking you outside so you can do something with yourself that isn’t monumentally unethical.”
Herbert retracts himself, stepping back. He’s, quite frankly, startled the authoritative tone that he’s never heard Dan use before; they’ve had screaming and yelling bouts more times than either could count but this is the first time he’s been demanded something. His hands fidget with each other as he stays suspended in empty motion; before it hits him that he feels... dumb and makes a strange sound under his breath to express this. Everything is blown out of proportion and if anything the situation has become awkward; has the air always tasted this thick, how long has Dan been this tall?
“But my work,” he says, incredibly softly. His words crawl around the room and the more he reflects on having had saying this the more mutely unbearable it becomes. His arm twitches. He wonders if methane gas could be introduced to his reagent but shoots down the idea as quickly as he has it. The German Shepherd wails in pain but since it’s vocal cords have been twisted out of proportion, it wheezes instead.
“It can wait for a few hours.”
“No, it, can’t.” These words are spaced out very widely and Herbert continues stepping back, slowly but surely until he loses his footing by mistake and nearly knocks himself out on the table- but Dan catches him, using his open position as a way to hold onto him and pull him towards the stairs.
“I’m trying to change things...”
“Yeah? I’m trying to change the fact that you haven’t eaten anything in the last, what, how many hours?”
“But I- But my- But the-”
It takes a minuscule struggle and a few extra minutes of effort to extract Herbert from the basement, which leaves Dan feeling drained and more exasperated than concerned by the end of the ordeal. With fair light instead of mainly broken, unhinged ceiling lights from below, he looks worlds worse; essentially debilitated. Petulantly he starts swinging back and forth attempting to escape his roommate’s metallic grasp but he fails after some time and his limbs go numb as he thinks of the yell from earlier. It was somewhat calming, despite being a direct insult towards everything he stood for and the harshest negative criticism he’s ever received save being actually expelled.
Dan lets go and slides off his mask before locking the basement door. Herbert slinks away, withdrawing himself to a corner of the living room, sliding down the wall and bundling himself up. Silence manifests itself and expands before he speaks up; “I’m not speaking until I’m allowed to do my work again.”
“Can you shower?”
“I don’t want to and nor do I need to. I hate water.”
“I’m disregarding my body to make the lives of others better.” Herbert sounds mildly annoyed as he says this; as annoyed as someone like him can. “Without struggle there is no progress! I wish you would see that! Some people might get hurt, I might get hurt, but for a worthy cause!”
“Uhhhhh-huh. Okay, meatball. Well, I’m going to go on a grocery run.” Dan turns on his heel but freezes in place, craning his head around; “You can come with me, if you want.”
“I’m never eating again, ergo, I don’t need to go grocery shopping.”
“Want me to put a movie on for you or something, then?”
“I don’t like movies.”
“You said you liked horror movies a while ago, though.”
“I changed my mind. I don’t like any movies at all, regardless of genre.”
A half-grin spreads across Dan’s face; sardonic, somewhat pleased. Whenever Herbert didn’t get what he wanted he’d start acting distinctly childish; which, after the first few months of living with him, came suit with his intelligence, his haphazard uncharacteristic mood swings and everything else in his bundle. Maybe childish wasn’t the word, rather, moody or pettish. Something about it reminded him of Meg, how uppity she’d make her voice when they played around. Though he wasn’t at all proud of it or happy about it so many things Herbert did reminded him of Megan, to the point it became... uncanny.
“You said you liked Videodrome. We watched that.”
Herbert’s face reads of nothing in particular and he looks around the room some before scratching his nape. “I do like... that movie. But I don’t like any other movies.”
“Oh yeah? Well, since you don’t like movies, how about I buy you a book when I’m out?”
“I don’t like books. I don’t like any literature. I’m never reading again.”
“Really? Okay, I’ll just take all your Kafka books and throw them out.” Dan tsks, putting his hands to his hips and staring up at the ceiling, attempting to conceal a grin. “That’s a shame. You really liked those.”
“No!” He shoots up, crossing half of the distance between himself and Dan before stopping in his tracks. “I- I mean, I don’t care. You can go ahead and do that. I’m never reading again, like I said.”
“If you insist.” On his word he walks down the hallway, footsteps silenced by the rug. Through his peripherals he can see Herbert lagging behind, playing with his hands again. Sifting through the once orderly bedroom he eventually finds a large stack of books; most of which were indited by Kafka under the bed, slides one out that was previously identified as being his favorite- as he talked about it nonstop for half of a week- and emerges with it. It was mildly endearing how extremely obsessive he’d get over things he was passionate about but his objects of affection were always horrifying or unorthodox or horrifyingly unorthodox. His roommate’s eyes widen. “In the trash this goes.”
It could be a trick of the light, but Herbert’s face seems distinctly more flushed. He tics for a minute, looking around like he does when he’s unsure of what to do, before stomping over and stopping just inches away from his counterpart. “I changed my mind. I don’t care about the other books, but that one’s for my... research. Give me it.”
“Nope. I’m gonna shred this one.”
“No! Don’t! It’s mine!”
The solution is simple; Dan raises the book, holding it above his head, waving it to and fro. “Here you go, Herb.”
For a minute, Herbert tries to grasp it, jumping, and finally attempting standing on his toes and reaching above him. His fingers graze it occasionally but no progress is made and he quickly gives up fruitless, his face a deeper shade of peach from anger. “This is humiliating and I don’t find it funny. I’d prefer it if you didn’t poke fun at my height.”
“I like your height. That’s why I’m poking fun at it.”
Herbert draws back, pulling away. He blinks once or twice, pushes up his glasses and stares up into Dan’s eyes; he can feel his blood draining south, components inside of him shifting around. Then, feeling too small and innocuous he looks away, stares out a window at the contemptible outside world and at his book. His throat feels distinctly garroted but he manages to swallow and ask, in a voice meeker than intended, “Really?”
“Uh-huh,” Dan says. With this he hands back the book, his expression softening. “Sorry.”
“If I said... I’d shower quickly, could I go to the market with you?”
“There’s a difference between saying and doing.”
“That’s rudimentary, I-!” One glance at the face Dan’s making is enough to make his own turn to concrete. “Oh, I see. This is funny, isn’t it? You just wait, I’m going to take that shower.”
“Don’t put what you’re wearing right now back on, either. I have no idea why you do that.” He scoffs. “Kind of kills the point.”
“Going to shower. Right now.”
“At the current... time.”
“Eight thirty-five PM on Sunday. Slight overcast.”
“Oh, my God. Do you want me to set it for you again?”
“...Yes.” Pause. Herbert then says, astonishingly quickly, “Because I don’t know how the knobs work for our particular shower and I’m quite sure they switch from time to time.”
“H is hot. C is cold.”
“It is when you use it.”
“You do know the hot water goes cold if you have it on for too long?”
“Oh.” Herbert blinks twice. “I thought- yes. I do know that.”
At times, more frequently than infrequently the more he got to knew him, the more it seemed like Herbert West was an extra-terrestrial. Maybe that was the case and he was some alien reproduction of how a human being thinks and acts and that’s why he’s so foreign to concepts like life, how death is and has been irreversible for as long as life slithered into creation and how to not eat hot pockets fresh out of the microwave because you’ll burn your entire tongue off (which did happen to him, and was objectively the funniest yet also most tear-jerking thing Dan’s ever experienced). Dan’s mind strayed to these ideas often.
Herbert tucks his book under his arm and tentatively returns the grasp of the hand outstretched to him. He was putting all of creation on hold to hold hands with his roommate. The part that shocked him the most was he wasn’t sure if he’d immediately say that was a bad thing.