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Tales from Miskatonic part 4

On Aesop

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 Indeed, in the modern era, to consider anything permanent and ever lasting seemed a sign of an outdated and antiquated world view, or of a weak or ignorant intellect unaware and unobserving of the incredible progress being made in every field of Science, as well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.

Hospital "Jewelry on the Corpse"

On Wellington Street

“When they brought me in to identify the body, I was unsure what they were expecting of me. The body was badly burned, almost to a cinder. The only thing that gave it away was the necklace around her neck. The intermittent stones, the malformed gold draped around her was her, I was sure of it. I had seen it around her neck when I kissed her goodnight. I had first seen it around three months before when I gave it to her as a anniversary gift. When asked if I could think of who would want to hurt her, I had to admit I didn't know anyone who would want to. But I knew someone who was willing to start a fire.

They picked him up soon after that. His hands were badly burned, but he had not gone to seek medical treatment. Said that he barely felt it at all. I knew his history, an it was only for that reason that I believed him. He had lost sensation in his hands years earlier, when his family had been killed in a fire. Back then, I had taken up his care during and after his stay in the hospital. I was at the trial when he was accused of arson.

A new therapist was assigned to the boy. He was brought in to try and substantiate that the boy was insane at the time of the act. His testimony was loose, but it drove the point home. When asked later if I had anything I wished to say, I suggested that instead of prison, the boy be kept in a institution. It wasn't about my desire to see him receive treatment. I knew that if he was sent to prison there would be a chance at an appeal. If they were convinced that he had a long standing, mental ailment, he would be kept under observation for the rest of their life. Treating him as a criminal was foolish. The truth was he was insane.

His lawyer informed me after the trial that I was going to be a character witness...that I was the one most qualified to speak on the boys inclinations. I thought about the years I had spent talking with the boy, about his family and his childhood. And I thought about the years I had spent with my wife, about the day when we first met, and the condition of her body when I was asked to identify her.

I had to bury what was left of my wife in a casket, though at that point they might as well had just gone all the way and cremated her.

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