“Hello. Can I help you with something?” Florian asked in a kindly tone.
“I’m sorry to bother you so late." The stranger seemed shy, keeping his eyes pointed at his feet. "But I’ve had an accident and was wondering if I could trouble you for some assistance?”
The remnants of sleep which still clung to Florian's mind quickly vanished as the thought of an accident entered it. “Oh, how dreadful, are you all right?”
The man was bigger than any other Florian had met, with shoulders wide enough to serve a meal on and a head so out of proportion that Florian couldn't help but wonder if it was on the wrong body.
“Yeah, Yeah, I’m pretty good for the most part." The stranger quickly responded. "It’s just that….well it’s my hand you see, it seems to have fallen off.” The stranger raised his arm to the light of the lantern Florian held aloft, revealing an oddly shaped stump with out of place stitches buried into the flesh.
Florian took a dazed step backwards, bumping his hip on the handle of the open door. The stranger saw the alarm in Florian's eyes and quickly began to speak.
“It's okay, it doesn't hurt and I don't need a doctor, just please give me a moment to explain. Now, I know this is going to sound absurd, but my hand was just sort of sewn on to my arm to begin with (and not very well at that), and as I was attempting to outrun some dogs, wouldn’t you know it, it fell off and landed in a bog.”
“A bog!” Florian stammered.
“Yeah, a bog." The stranger answered anxiously. "The dogs were right behind me so I left it and kept on running.”
“You left it?” Florian was becoming more flummoxed with each statement the stranger uttered.
“It’s not like I wanted to leave it. I had no choice, the dogs were closing in.”
An idea began to form in Florian's mind as he folded his arms in judgement. “Why would dogs be chasing you?”
The stranger shuffled nervously from foot to foot. “They were part of a posse that was hunting me down for this mix up with a little girl, but I can assure you I never touched her, this is all a terrible misunderstanding.”
Florian’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. “Wait a minute." He began. "Are you the monster that’s been ravaging the country side? The one they say Victor Frankenstein created in his laboratory out of body parts robbed from fresh graves?”
The stranger seemed to perk up at the thought of being recognized. “Well, ‘ravaging’ might be a bit of a strong word, but otherwise yes.”
Florian's mouth dropped open just long enough for a passing fly to land on his tongue, check for something edible, then hurry off to search for a delicious pile of dung.
“Oh my, isn't that interesting." Florian mumbled almost to himself. "Well how is it you think I can help?” He wasn't entirely sure he wanted to help, but a lifetime of compassion and kindness was impossible to disregard.
The stranger began to look around nervously, as if someone may be listening. “O.K. that’s the thing, you see, I’m missing my hand, my right one wouldn’t you know it, and you own a funeral home where people bring their dead. You probably have a body or two back there right now.”
“Well, yes there is someone here at the moment." Florian agreed. "Mr. Zimmerman, poor man, he slipped on some loose carpet and fell face first into his cats water bowl where he drown. Mrs. Zimmerman is inconsolable. The cat is fine."
The strangers eyes beamed with hope, “Oh, how wonderful! Uh, I-I mean, how sad for Mrs. Zimmerman, she must be devastated. Anyway, what I had in mind was this. You scurry into the back with a saw or an axe or something like that, and remove the right hand, I give you a couple of guldens, you give me the hand, and POW, we're both happy and I’m on my way.”
Florian took a moment to digest the odd request. “So, you want me to chop off his hand?”
“Yes, if it’s not too much trouble.”
Florian's voice raised several octaves in excitement. “Not too much trouble! I can’t just cut Mr. Zimmerman’s hand off! The funeral is an open casket, what would I tell his family?”
“You think they’d notice?” The stranger asked, already knowing the answer.
“Of course they would notice, are you joking?” Florian was getting visibly excited.
The stranger tapped the scruff on his chin with a dirty finger as he contemplated the problem. “O.K. how about this; we chop off the hand and put an oven mitt on the stump, it’s not like anyone will suspect it’s empty.”
Florian shook his head, “And how exactly do I explain his wearing an oven mitt to the family?”
The stranger seemed to contemplate this deeply. “Yeah, I guess your right; I didn’t really think that one through. Oh I know, we could hide his hands behind his head in a relaxed position, like he’s staring up at heaven contemplating the joy to come. Maybe we even form his mouth into a little smile." The stranger seemed pleased with his new idea.
“Look,” Florian spoke sternly but not without compassion, “I can’t just cut off one of his hands and give it to you, it’s very unprofessional.”
“Of course.” Florian felt the conversation was over, and began to make his apologies when another idea struck him. “How about a foot?”
“A foot?” The stranger seemed momentarily interested.
“Yes, my wife’s second cousin lost his thumb in an accident so the doctors took his big tow and attached it to his hand. Voila, a new thumb. It works perfect but looks a little strange and grows thick black hairs on the knuckle, but otherwise it’s great. So maybe instead of a hand you could do the same with a foot, no one is going to notice a foot missing from Mr. Zimmerman.”
The stranger spent little time contemplating this suggestion. “I’m not so sure I like that idea. I mean, I just started learning the mandolin and I don’t see how I can continue the lessons, which are pre-paid by the way, with a foot. Not to mention how silly I’m going to look walking around with a sock on one hand.”
“Good point.” agreed Florian
The stranger then quickly suggested, “What if you just loaned me a hacksaw and shovel, point me in the direction of a fresh grave and I can do the rest.”
Florian’s wife could be herd shuffling around the darkness at the top of the stairs before her drowsy voice called out to her husband, “Florian, who are you talking to down there?”
“A kind of monster, my love.”
“What kind of monster?”
“The one that crazy Dr. Frankenstein made out of stolen body parts.”
“What does he want?”
“He needs a hand, my dear.”
“Well, help him out and come back to bed then, your letting in a draft.”
“No my dear, not that kind of hand. He wants an actual human hand from one of the bodies, to replace the one he lost.”
“Lost, what do you mean lost?”
“It fell off and disappeared in a bog when he was being chased by dogs.”
“A bog! He was in a bog?”
“Yes, my dear.”
“Well you tell him to take his shoes off; I don’t want him tracking mud through my house.”
Florian tried to hide his embarrassment by turning from the stranger. “It’s O.K. dear; he’s on the front step.”
“And you’re not giving him Mr. Zimmerman’s hand. My god, how would I explain that to Ursula?”
“I know my love, I already told him that.”
“Did you offer him a foot?”
“Yes, but he says it would interfere with his mandolin lesions.”
“Then you send him on his way and come back to bed. We're not running an abattoir here.”
“O.K., I’ll be right up, my love."
The sound of barking dogs floated into the house, bringing with it a sense of urgency, felt only by the stranger.
“So your not going to give me a hand, are you?” He asked shyly.
“No, I’m afraid I just can’t do that.” said Florian apologetically.
The stranger straightened himself out to his full height and puffed out his massive chest. “You know, I am technically a monster.”
“Yes.” Florian agreed.
“Well, being a monster, I could just pop your head off and take whatever I wanted.”
Florian seemed unconcerned with the threat. “I suppose you could do that, if you wanted.”
“Doesn’t that frighten you?”
Florian waved his hand in the air. “No, not really. I’m pretty old, and frankly, I’m getting tired of putting make-up on dead people. You should have seen how unappealing Mr. Zimmerman looked in life, and now I’m expected to make him look good in death? Fah, you can have it.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way.” With his head hung in dejection and a mumbled "Thanks anyway," the stranger turned and began a sad shuffle toward the darkness while Florian watched with sympathetic eyes.
“Wait, please” Florian’s words broke the strangers stride.
“Look, I feel bad about not being able to help you, but maybe there is one last thing you could try. Mr. Thorsten, the taxidermist lives on the other side of town. He has an amazing shop that’s really more like a museum than anything else. It’s full of beautifully stuffed foxes, deer, wolves, and the cutest little spider monkey you ever saw. He’s made it look like the monkey is trying to steal money out of the till, very precious. Anyway, Its hand might be just the thing you need. Granted, the hand on the monkey is much smaller then you are used to, but it has four fingers and a thumb and would certainly be a fine place holder until you found the real thing.”
The stranger perked up. “A spider monkey, you say?”
“Yes, and it’s for sale. You should try telling him that I sent you down, he might give you a discount.”
The strangers attitude seemed to perk-up. “It’s not quite what I had in mind but as they say ‘beggars can’t be choosers’, right?”
“Indeed.” Agreed Florian.
“So then, I’ll say good night and thank you for your time, and please apologize to your wife for the lateness of my arrival.”
“No need to apologize my friend." Florian assured him, "And good night to you.”
Into the mist he watched the stranger disappear, then up the creaking stairs he climbed to his warm bed, where his wife had already succumbed to the pleasantry of sleep.