Of Such Dreams
by E. B Fischadler
Victor Frenchstone had been earning straight A’s for two years of medical school. When he flunked the pathology exam cold, he realized he needed help. His nightmares were costing him badly needed sleep.
In some, he suffered or died, like the nightmare that had just wakened him. In others, he killed. Occasionally he would dream of being pursued by an angry crowd. In the crowd were men dressed in lederhosen, obviously from some place other than Boston, where he now lived.
“I need to stop having these nightmares. They’re having a serious effect on my studies.” Victor was sitting in the office of Irwin Moses, psychiatrist.
Moses asked, “How long have you been having these nightmares?”
Victor considered a moment and then replied, “I've had them for several years, but only rarely. This semester, for some reason, I get them more often than not.”
“Tell me about the nightmares. What happens in them?”
Victor described the hanging nightmare: being led to the gallows, the ropes around his wrists and neck, then falling.
“And do you feel the rope choking you?”
Victor tried to remember. “No, I don’t recall ever experiencing that.”
“So you don’t feel your neck break nor do you feel yourself strangling?”
“No. The dream ends as I fall.”
“Have you ever been hypnotized?”
“I’d like to try to induce a hypnotic state. It may give us some insight into your dreams and a way to stop them.”
Under hypnosis, Victor went back to the dream of being hanged. He repeated to Dr. Moses the words that were being said to him, condemning him to death for his crimes. He relived the noose being placed around his neck, the trapdoor dropping from beneath him.
The fall was interrupted by the voice of Dr. Moses. “Victor, I will count down from ten. When I reach one you will be fully awake.”
As the doctor counted down, Victor emerged from the hypnotic state.
“That was good,” said the doctor. “One question, though. Did you ever live in another country?”
“Ah. You were speaking in German. Does the dream take place where you lived in Germany?”
Victor thought for a moment. “I’m not sure. The setting looks vaguely familiar.”
“Do you recall what was said? Can you translate for me?”
“Someone, he appeared to be an official, was on the platform with me. He said, ‘Axel Schroeder, you are about to die for your crime. Do you have anything to say?’”
“Does the name Axel Schroeder mean anything to you?”
“Not at all.”
“And did you say anything?”
“I don’t recall that I did.”
“We’ll try another dream. You said once you’ve dreamt of killing someone?”
Again the doctor induced hypnosis. Victor found himself on a path in a village. The setting looked vaguely familiar. A man came along the path toward him, Victor and the man exchanged words, then Victor grabbed the man and strangled him.
After he brought Victor out of hypnosis, Dr. Moses said, “Again you spoke in German. Do you know what you said?”
Victor couldn’t recall what he had said.
“You mentioned the name Georg. Do you know someone named Georg?”
“No, I can’t say that I do.”
“Well, it appears that in your nightmares you are Axel Schroeder. You killed someone named Georg and you were hanged for it. Where do you suppose that came from?”
Victor was not about to mention the murders of Elizabeth, William and Clerval. Even if he thought the psychiatrist could overlook them, how could he explain that he had killed someone almost 200 years ago?
“I don’t know.”
Dr. Moses shifted in his seat, then said, “Please tell me if I am speaking out of turn, but you do have an unusual scar on your neck. Did you have surgery there? Was your neck injured in some way?”
Victor reached up to his neck. His makeup covered many anomalies in his appearance, but apparently not all the scars left by his creator.
“I... I did have some surgery.”
“Perhaps your dreams relate to it in some way. You’re reliving the procedure that left your neck scarred.”
“But I would have been under anesthesia.”
“I’ve heard of cases where people remember things about surgical procedures when they should have been insensible. Perhaps your situation is like theirs.
“Our time is up for today. This would be a good starting point for our next session. In the meantime, I’d like you to think about who Axel Schroeder and Georg are.”
Session Notes, Monday 21 September
Patient appears lucid, rational. His fantasy of being another in his dreams is remarkably detailed, set in the town where he was raised. Patient has created detailed bio of alter self including home, occupation, family, and acquaintances. Patient is high functioning, a medical student with excellent grades until this semester. Dreams are interrupting his sleep, affecting academic performance significantly. Psychosis unlikely as patient distinguishes dreams from reality. No other delusions apparent.
Possible diagnosis PTSD arising from previous trauma. Recurring dream of strangulation may be from event leading to significant scarring of neck.
* * *
At their next session Victor took the initiative. “Doctor Moses, I had another dream.”
“Tell me about it.”
“I’m in church, talking with a priest.”
“Does the priest know you?”
“He addresses me as Axel.”
“What are you and the priest talking about?”
“I don’t recall the entire exchange, but I know at one point the priest is asking me to forgive Georg.”
“So do we know who Georg is?”
“No, but I said something to the effect that I cannot forgive what he did to her.”
“Yes. I was very angry. Perhaps he hurt her.”
“Do you know who? A sister perhaps?”
“I have no sisters.”
Victor just looked down. After a moment Doctor Moses said, “Oh, I’m sorry. What did Georg do to your mother?”
Still looking at the floor, Victor said, “I never knew my mother.”
After an awkward pause, Doctor Moses asked, “Do you recognize the church, Victor? Do you know where it is?”
“Where were you born?”
“My life began in Ingolstadt.”
“Does the church in your dream resemble the one in Ingolstadt?”
“I never attended church in Germany.”
“But this priest knows you.”
“Yes. Somehow it seems we’ve known each other for a long time.”
“What else did you say to the priest?”
“That I cannot let this happen again - to anyone. It... no, he must be stopped.”
* * *
A week later, Victor was again at Doctor Moses’ office.
“So, Victor, have you had any more dreams?”
“Yes, just last night”
“I am in a house. I am talking with a young lady.”
“I don’t know. She’s very upset and I can feel myself getting angry.”
“No, I don’t think so.”
Dr. Moses saw Victor wince and asked, “What are you talking about?”
“I don’t know. But after a bit, I storm out of the house. Looking back, I recognize the street.”
“Where is it?”
“Where you were born? Did you live there very long?”
“No, not more than a year.”
“I can’t help wondering why you become Axel in your dreams and why Axel lives in the town of your birth. Victor, are you dealing with a tragedy from your past?”
Victor was silent.
“You don’t have to tell me now. You’ll let me know when you’re ready.”
* * *
The dreams came more and more frequently, painting a detailed picture of Axel. Victor learned that Axel lived in the university town where Frankenstein first gave him life. He came to realize that Axel was a good man, a widower living with a grown daughter Dora. Victor could picture Dora and felt that he knew her somehow. All his dreams seemed colored by some tragedy. Victor knew that something terrible had happened to Dora, and that Georg was somehow involved. But he never learned just what it was.
* * *
In the 18th century a professor at the University of Ingolstadt addressed his class. “Tomorrow there will be an execution in the square. I expect all of you to attend. This will be an opportunity to observe a traumatic death and to learn some of the important differences between a death by trauma and death by disease.”
One of the medical students attending that lecture was a young man named Victor Frankenstein.
The next noon a crowd gathered in the square. Victor Frankenstein stood at the edge of the crowd, surrounded by other students and citizens of Ingolstadt. Among them were Axel Schroeder’s daughter Dora, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Frankenstein noticed her and said, “Dora? What are you doing here? What’s wrong?”
“They’re going to hang my father!”
“Axel? Why?” Frankenstein knew Axel and couldn’t imagine him doing anything to warrant hanging.
“For murder! He was avenging...” At this, Dora looked at her belly and broke down. Frankenstein hadn’t noticed Dora’s swelling abdomen before. Is this what Axel sought to avenge? He wanted to comfort her, help her through this ordeal, but didn’t know how.
The priest of Victor Frenchstone’s dream was with Axel, reciting Hail Marys, exhorting Axel to pray with him. The executioner approached Axel and said, “I’m sorry to have to do this. Are you ready?”
The priest turned to the man. “A moment alone, please.”
“Of course, Father.”
The priest faced Axel and said, “I know you killed Georg and that you did so deliberately. Know that God is all-forgiving. If you repent, if you believe that Jesus died for us, you will be in heaven this very day. Do you believe this, Axel?”
“If God knows what Georg did, what Dora endured, what his other victims suffered, then he can’t condemn me to hell. At least now Georg cannot violate another innocent girl.”
“Is there anything I can do for you, Axel? Any last wish?”
“Father, the only good that came of my life is Dora. I couldn’t protect her when she needed me. Now she must carry her shame the rest of her life. Perhaps in death I can make good to compensate in some way for my failure. Please, I beg you, make sure my corpse is sent to the University for the medical students to dissect.”
* * *
A few months later, Victor Frankenstein broke into a laboratory at the university seeking materials for his grand experiment. He found a jar containing a preserved brain with the label:
Brain - human.
Lifting the jar, Frankenstein said to himself, “Axel was a good man. He deserves to live again.”
Copyright © 2016 by E. B Fischadler