Professor Ellery thought of himself as an honest man, though he had to admit to himself that he had just lied to the students. What’s done is done, that’s true, but to say it cannot be undone, that is something else entirely. It is far from certain that what was considered irrevocable in years past must continue to be so in the future. He was aware of recent discoveries showing that a mold - a mold! - might well be able to eliminate most diseases. He had no doubt that one day polio would be cured. These views were not uncommon among learned men. Indeed, in the modern era, to consider anything permanent and ever lasting seemed a sign of an outdated and antiquated world view, or of a weak or ignorant intellect unaware and unobserving of the incredible progress being made in every field of Science, as well as in culture and society at large. The automobile and assembly line had already begun to change the face of the nation’s economy; what learned man thought that their progress would stop where it was now, or stop at the arbitrary borders of nations? None, no one could possibly think such a thing and still be considered a reasonable man. Why, then, did so many of them have their thoughts stop at still other arbitrary borders? What was it about their minds that made them unable to correlate all its contents and follow them to their natural, logical conclusion, and join him in his beliefs and aspirations? Before the invention and discovery of the chemicals used in the embalmer’s arts, the body of a loved one would surely decay as fast as any other meat. But now it could be preserved, almost indefinitely! And it had been demonstrated to the satisfaction of surely anyone who cared to look that electricity, when applied to the limbs of a live man or a dead man alike, made them twitch and leap about as surely as any intentional motion, albeit significantly more clumsily. Who then could doubt that the mind controlled the body by means of electrical stimulation? A motion, a flow of electrons carried from the brain via the nerves to the muscles, made more precise by the tiny size of the nerves and their ability to be layered precisely within the muscles, unlike their crude approximation with electrodes - what more was needed to explain how the brain controlled the body?
What remained, then, was to determine how the mind controlled the brain. Some men, mechanistic, deterministic atheists, of a sort that Prof. Ellery found distasteful, considered there to be no such separate thing as a mind. They thought that what was perceived as a mind was simply the operations of an incredibly complex machine. Their explanations of this he might have perhaps found convincing, were it not for a number of objections he had argued at length with some of them. How could one explain qualia, then? The subjective experience of a mind, which surely did not extend beyond the body during waking life, but which seemed to wander through this world and others during sleep? Who had not dreamed of unknown Kadath, so vivid in sleep, so inaccessible when waking, yet surely no less real than the waking world? Who had not had signs sent to them in sleep, visions of the future, of distant galaxies unseen as yet by waking man, of great alien beings dancing in the darkness to mad, soundless piping? James Ellery had long been fascinated by dreams, and kept a dream journal which he wrote in every morning immediately upon waking. He had started this as a young man shortly before going to University, and had found that after a week he could always remember his dreams, whereas before he had often forgotten them within a few minutes of waking. A few weeks later he had become able to lucid dream-to have dreams wherein one realizes one is dreaming, and is able to control oneself. This seemed to him so eerily similar to the primitive concept of so-called “astral projection” that he felt he had no choice but to read more on the subject. He had attended Miskatonic for his education, in part because he had formed a friendly relationship with some of the faculty, his father being a friend of Dr. Allen Halsey, the aged Dean of the Medical School, and in part to gain access to the locked vaults of the forbidden section of the library, which contained numerous books that he had discovered, in his research concerning astral projection, as rarely but influentially cited primary documents on the subject. Upon becoming a student, he had read all that he could gain access to without arousing suspicion, which to his frustration was not all of them. When he graduated with honors, went to a different Massachusetts university to attain his doctorate, and then returned to Miskatonic as first an adjunct and then tenure track and now full Professor, he had access to all of the books he wished, and plenty of time to read them (thank heavens for hard working lab assistants; he only needed to describe the setup of experiments and then could almost leave them be).
His reading had convinced him fully of at least one thing: that the concept of a “soul” pointed at a real, tangible thing. Tangible may seem like a poor choice of words, but he was convinced it was not. There was a real, actual, physical reality to the soul. Others had done experiments and determined that it even had a precise mass: 21 grams! The soul was not made of the same sort of material as everyday matter. It was not made of protons and electrons. It could not be held in one’s hands. But the soul is hardly the only physical thing that that is true of. Oortz and Zwicky have conjectured that there is a sort of “dark matter”, invisible to humans, incapable of touching ordinary matter, but which still exerts a gravitational pull that can be felt by ordinary matter. Perhaps this is the stuff souls were made of? Professor Ellery was not an expert astrophysicist, he could not say the hypothesized properties of dark matter for certain, but he had consulted with those who were. He had his own theories, as well. If this is what souls are, then it must have electro-magnetic properties. We know already that the body is controlled by electricity, and the body by the brain, and the brain by the soul. This must mean that the soul is either able to exert electrical or magnetic forces (for really, they are the same) on the body, or that the brain has some sort of organ able to sense the soul, and which the soul can interact with it by. But given that the brain, such as it is, seems to be made entirely of ordinary matter, and that surely the brain cannot be directly controlled by means of gravity - if the gravity around one’s head were to change regularly, that would surely be a hair-raising experience! This left either the nuclear forces or the electro-magnetical. The nuclear forces it seemed clear to Ellery were not the ones responsible. Those only showed up either in the molecular interactions of regular quotidien chemistry, or in the unimaginably small-scale forces of the particles making up the atom. These it seemed to Ellery were both too small and too large to be the mechanism of action for the soul. They were too small, they could only affect the very smallest of components in their immediate vicinity, and they were too large - fine control like the motion of electricity necessary for control of the muscles seemed impossible, given the huge amounts of energy needed to break or form their bonds. This, combined with the pre-existing evidence of the fact that muscles were controlled by electricity, led Professor Ellery to the conclusion that the means by which the soul harnessed the body and set it into motion were most likely to be the electro-magnetic forces. And so that was where he concentrated his investigations.
With the aid of some students eager for extra credit, even if that meant being the subject of strange science, he had performed a series of experiments. Though they seemed to straddle the divide between chemistry and biology, he had his tenure now and could do as he liked. Plus, he had other, more mundane experiments being performed by his assistants, and as long as he kept churning out publications at a regular rate, the University didn’t mind what he did. Indeed, his papers soon became so well received that he found himself moving up the ladder, and with the retirement of his predecessor, he found himself Chair of the Chemistry Department. Though he now had almost unfettered freedom and a budget large enough to perform any experiment he wanted, he still kept the true nature of his beliefs secret to nearly all, save his wife Marcia. He knew from bitter experience that talk of astral projecting and of using science to study souls was not well received, in the scientific or theological communities. There were some in the esoteric circles he occasionally visited that took to his work, but they were usually far too ignorant to be of any help or interest to him.
The experiments he performed were as such: he built a series of contraptions which would hook onto a person’s head. There were two types. The first contained electrodes placed in various parts around the head, which, when the device was hooked to the control panel he had developed, allowed for the conductance of electricity throughout the brain. The second device was quite similar, save that it used magnetic field generators instead of electrical ones. In this instance, a powerful, well organized magnetic field was directed through various parts of the brain, again at the control of the panel that he had developed.
The results were astonishing. Depending on the location, intensity, and which end was north and which end south (for the magnets; the electrical equivalent was which end was a cathode and which an anode), he was able to implement a wide variety of effects. At first these were only the very crude: he actually knocked his guinea pig unconscious with his first effort. Soon it became more precise, though still only destructive (the fact that all the harmful effects seemed negative was one point he was eternally grateful for. He doubted if even tenure could save him if he had killed a student). By stimulating precise areas, he was able to increase or decrease ability in certain fields, such as arithmetic. Most fascinatingly, he could induce temporary blindness. One of the most fascinating aspects of this, and which to him seemed sure evidence that he had demonstrated the separateness, the divisibility of the soul and the body, was that after a great deal of tinkering, he could induce what was perceived by the explicit, verbal mind, as being blindness - that is, if asked, the student would declare they could see nothing - but which seemed to the body to be regular sighted ability! He discovered this by accident one day, when he dropped the wrench he was using to adjust the panel, and the supposedly blind patient’s arm jerked out of the way. He tested if further, eventually going so far as to show them a picture, say of a cat, ask them what it was (“I can’t tell, I can’t see anything”) and then asking them to draw it. While still insisting the entire affair an exercise in nonsense - how could one draw something without knowing what it was or being able to see it? - they still produced legible, if crude, drawings of a cat. The drawings were always imitations of the one shown. This told him that the thing which was doing the drawing was the body itself, which could see, and could hold a pen, but could not access the mind - the soul - ‘s conception that it was a drawing of a cat, and so could not draw a different cat, or the same cat from a different angle. These effects persisted no matter what variables he attempted to control for, and he continued his experiments until he became overwhelmingly convinced that he was on to something powerful, incredible, and fundamental. He did not have any definite, practical applications of this yet, but he was certain they would come, and in the meantime, he was sure that his findings were going to revolutionize the way in which the body and mind were understood by science.
He had finally decided that he had enough data to write up what he had been doing and submit it to a prestigious academic journal, and was out on the town celebrating with his wife, when it happened. They had eaten at a new seafood restaurant that had opened recently and which her friends had been telling her was wonderful. She had had crab for the first time in her life. She had always wanted to try crab. During the meal she felt slightly uncomfortable, but tried to hide it - this was a special night celebrating his accomplishment, and she did not want to tarnish it in any way. Eventually it became too much for her to conceal, and when he asked her what the matter was and she told him, he cut their dinner short so as to take her home to rest. As they were walking home, hand in hand as they always did, she collapsed in his arms. This was no mere faint. He held her, cried out to her, called for help, and laid her down in the street and did the chest-compression exercises he had seen as a means for rescuing her. Her breathing came in ragged gasps, growing every fainter. Her face was swollen and covered in red hives. Her whole body was swelling, filling her well tailored clothes grotesquely. When the chest compressions failed, and no one answered his cries for help, he picked her up - he, a man crippled by polio, picked up his wife, who weighed two stone more than him and had stood a head higher - and ran with her six city blocks to the hospital. By the time he got there his mangled leg was an agonizing inferno of fire and needles, like knives heated in a kiln and shoved through him at every angle. He hardly noticed. He carried her in to the hospital, where the nurses and doctors leapt up and took her from him, and as he collapsed he refused to answer questions about himself, and would only tell them what had happened to her. He lost consciousness when she was being wheeled away into the emergency room.
He awoke the next day in a hospital bed, his leg re-set into a brace. He had dreamed that the two of them were walking along when a horrible, red tentacled monster, with skin like a rash and a shell covering its body, its tentacles covered in claws, had grabbed her and pulled her away from him into Outer Space. She screamed for him to help her as she was dragged away, until she reached the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere, where the lack of pressure robbed her of her voice and made her blood vessels expand horribly, puffing out her body and tinting it a terrible bloody color. He screamed her name until she disappeared. When he regained consciousness, for a brief, blissful moment he thought that she had never really died, that the entire day before had been part of his dream. Then he realized she wasn’t lying next to him, and that he was in a hospital bed, instead of his traditional four-poster mahogany that she had chosen for them during their engagement. He cried out for a doctor, and a nurse ran into the room to ask what was the matter. He tried to clamber out of bed, but his leg was bound in place and he stumbled. He asked over and over where Marcia was, whether she was okay, what had happened, what had happened, what happened, but this nurse didn’t know. She hadn’t been there when he had arrived with Marcia, she didn’t even know he was there on behalf of his wife. How could she not know? How could it not be plain that Marcia was the most important thing here, in this hospital, on this whole planet? In all of the planets, on all of the worlds in all of the universe, Marcia was the most important thing, how was that not obvious? The nurse went and found the doctor who had admitted Marcia. When he entered, Professor James Montgomery Ellery saw the look on his face, and he knew that Marcia Jessica Ellery nee Schwartz, Marcia of the black hair and green eyes, Marcia who knew the only place he was ticklish, Marcia who could always beat him at chess, Marcia who made apple pies even better than his mother, Marcia who was 3/4ths done with her first novel that would surely have been a hit even if they had had to publish it under his name, but now it would never be done, he couldn’t finish it, he couldn’t write fiction, he didn’t understand how, he didn’t even know the ending, she had insisted that she wouldn’t tell him until she had written it, Marcia, Marcia, his beloved Marcia, this fool of a Doctor was trying to tell him that he would never see her again, that he would never get to speak with her or hold her and feel her hold him back, that she was cold and would always be cold (she hated the cold! She always wore two sweaters, even indoors!), that she would never be warm, that he would never again hear her laugh, this Doctor, who does he think he is, what medical school did he go to, he’s a quack, obviously a lunatic, James Ellery was also a Doctor, he should be let in to see her, what do you care if he has a Doctorate in chemistry, he’s done things with living and dead organisms that your feeble mind could not even comprehend much less invent on your own, let him, let him in, let him see her, for all of the mercy in God’s creation, let him see her one last time!
And then he did, and he broke down and cried, and would have cried forever if he had not remembered something very important.