“He is dead,” Willem said, looking up from the corpse.
“Then let us begin.” Doktor Muething injected the vampire blood into the second dead Jew. This one was an older man than the first, with a face that had been careworn even before the Nazis had come. Willem studied the man’s features as they waited for the vampire blood to take effect.
“Do you ever wonder about the lives they led before we took them?”
“Always.” Doktor Muething nodded. “Many insist that we shouldn’t think of such things, that concerns such as those have no place in the advancement of science. But yes, I do think of them.”
Willem stared at the dead Jew, and then it began.
With the shock of the first experiment behind him, Willem was now able to concentrate on the details. They were much the same as the last time. The second dead Jew’s eyes formed the same commanding stare as the first one, but now Willem was already wearing the Crucifix and thus felt none of the compulsion he had experienced before. He was able to watch without fear as the second dead Jew opened his mouth, revealing canine teeth that had certainly not been there before. He didn’t even notice the Doktor standing close behind him.
“Yes,” Doktor Muething whispered. “Yes…see the world through new eyes, my friend.” Willem was startled at the words, and he was not sure if they were meant for him or for the second dead Jew.
Now that Willem was protected from the vampire Jew’s horrible gaze by the power of God, it seemed to him that there was something else in that gaze, something beside malevolence and bloodthirst. What was it, though? Longing? Sadness? A passionate yearning for freedom? Willem pondered that gaze, and it was then that the reaction began to sour.
This, too, was much like the first experiment: the vampire Jew convulsed violently, hurling his body against the double set of bonds; his shrieks pierced the air which filled with the stench of rot.
“Damnation!!” Doktor Muething slammed his palm against the wall. “This cannot be!”
The vampire Jew’s convulsions became so ragingly brutal that the surgical table itself began to rock against its moorings. The shrieks were so loud and so piercing that Willem’s ears hurt even with his hands clasped over them. He looked at the Doktor, who was already moving for the window. A flood of golden sunlight, several moments of horrible decay, and it was over. The vampire Jew was dead, just as before.
“I don’t understand,” Doktor Muething said. “I don’t understand. It has to work. I can’t think of anything else to try!” He clenched his fist, and his body trembled. His calmness, his icy detachment was gone. Was it the voice of a man who keeps falling short of a goal years in the making? or was it something more than that? Why this goal, and not some other?
Willem stared at the dusty remains of the dead Jew as sirens began to blare outside.
“We are confident that our local forces will be able to turn the Americans and the British troops aside,” Commandant Reger said. “Until then, we will step up the pace of our operations here.” Thus he ordered the round-the-clock operation of the ovens. They would burn twenty-four hours a day until they were shut down by the Allies themselves. The Allied armies were sixty or seventy miles away; soon they would be at Hamerstadt – unless the tattered remnants of Der Fuhrer’s army were able to turn them aside. Noting the mournful expression on Commandant Reger’s face, Willem concluded that any such outcome was so unlikely as to be impossible. Doktor Muething had been right: the thousand-year Reich would die in mere weeks.
Willem paid almost no attention at all to the meeting. His thoughts kept returning to the pleading desperation that had formed in the Doktor’s eyes after their failure that morning. Why was this so important to him? And most importantly, what were they doing wrong?
After the meeting adjourned Willem went to the laboratory, where he learned that the Doktor had gone to town again on urgent family business. There he found all of Doktor Muething’s notes and journals from all his years of research. Unable to resist, Willem began to read. He found one book particularly interesting: it was Doktor Muething’s personal journal of all the experiments he had conducted, in all the camps, in the course of the war. He had performed a hundred such experiments on Jews from all over Germany. At the end of the notes on each experiment Doktor Muething had written, “God forgive me.” Was he seeking absolution even as he plumbed the depths of death?
And why did it always fail?
Willem studied for hours, reading all of the old accounts of how vampires had created their….”offspring”. Perhaps there was something in these papers, something even the Doktor’s brilliant mind could not remember; perhaps there was a missing connection somewhere. Perhaps a pair of young, fresh eyes coupled with a young mind could find whatever it was that had been overlooked. But as the hours went by, Willem despaired of finding any such master stroke. There was nothing here that he could see – but there had to be! Why couldn’t he see it?
Willem awoke with a start to find Doktor Muething standing over him. It was dark outside the laboratory, and the only light came from the streetlights. Sirens blared, and Willem hadn’t even heard them until now. Willem rubbed his eyes.
“It is not there,” the Doktor said. “Do not trouble to look for it. The experiments will not succeed, and our time is up. We have failed.”
“It must be here somewhere, Herr Doktor!” Willem straightened up and rubbed his stiff neck.
“There is no answer, Willem.” Doktor Muething shook his head. “The only conclusion possible is that Gunther’s hypothesis is wrong. The vampire blood is not sufficient to complete the transition. I’ve tested all the variables. It is over.”
“It must end now. I have failed, and there are things to be answered for. That monument to pomposity Commandant Reger won’t tell you, but I know that this camp will be liberated within two days. I spent today making my travel arrangements.”
Willem blinked. “Travel? Where are you going?”
Doktor Muething nodded. “I do not wish to explain this to the Allies. It will be difficult enough explaining it to God.” He looked at the notes on the table and sighed. “This wasn’t meant to be. There truly are areas where we are not meant to dabble. I see that now.”
“You don’t truly believe that!”
“The luxury of choosing what I believe is no longer mine.”
Willem groped for a reply, something to say that would convince the Doktor to reconsider. He was still thinking when a loud commotion arose from outside. A truck had pulled up, and there were shouting voices.
“Now what could that be?” the Doktor said, and the two went outside. In the middle of the street was a truck which was full to overflowing with prisoners. Guards no older than Willem stood about brandishing guns, and one officer – Willem recognized him as one of the Commandant’s key assistants – was barking orders at the others. This officer saw the Doktor, and marched right up to him.
“Stand aside, Herr Doktor,” the man said. “I am on the orders of Commandant Reger.”
“Of course you are, Lieutenant Spengler. We are all on someone’s orders.” The Doktor stood aside, allowing ten guards to go past and into the tiny barracks behind the laboratory that contained the remaining four of the six prisoners that had been originally assigned to Doktor Muething’s scientific program.
“What is happening?” Willem asked.
“They are taking our research subjects,” the Doktor said. As if on cue the guards began reemerging, pushing the prisoners ahead of them. “They will all be killed here, probably by mass firing squad. They won’t have time to gas them all. And the bodies will be left where they fall. No more neat, orderly stacks of the dead.”
They watched as the four prisoners were pushed, one by one, onto the truck. The last one was the young woman, the one Willem had thought would be lovely if she was not….No. She was lovely, even now with her hair roughly shorn and her body emaciated, even as she walked with the starved listlessness that afflicted every one of the other thousands of prisoners in the camp. A sick feeling formed in Willem’s stomach.
“Move!” Lieutenant Spengler shouted, and the truck began to move – before the young woman, being the last of the prisoners, had climbed all the way inside. Whether from the cold air or from he weakened state Willem could not be sure, but all the same she lost her grip. As the truck rolled away she tumbled off the back end, landing on the ground in a heap. In seconds three guards were around her screaming for her to get up, the remaining guards having jogged off after the truck. She tried to push herself back up but the ground was muddy and she slipped again. Willem took an involuntarily step forward, but Doktor Muething restrained him.
“Don’t,” the Doktor said.
Lieutenant Spengler came back now to see what was going on, and when he did he shook his head in frustration. He gestured for the guards to step back, and then he drew his pistol and shot the young woman in the back. She flattened to the ground. Willem felt his gorge rising. Doktor Muething shook his head at the bitter tragedy playing out just twenty feet away. Willem swallowed several times in succession, forcing the bile in his throat back down. The guards laughed and congratulated Spengler on a good shot as they walked away after the truck. Willem stared at the young woman’s body, her blood spreading across the ground. Her blood, spreading across the ground….
And there it was.