Don't believe everything you read
“Oh, wow!” Dougie exclaimed. “My great-great-uncle was at the Salem witch trial. How cool is that?”
“You’re kidding,” Rina said skeptically. “The Salem witch trials were in the 1600’s.”
“No, this was a different one. It says here he knew Daniel Spofford, the guy who was accused of mesmerism in 1878. And the trial was right here in Ipswich. There’s a bunch of stuff about it in this journal.”
“Mesmerism? Like hypnosis?”
“Yeah, and Mary Baker Eddy was involved, too. She had this crazy theory about malicious animal magnetism. One of her followers claimed Spofford was controlling her mind.”
Rina wasn’t surprised that Dougie knew about this stuff. He’d been fascinated by the occult since high-school. Pudgy and unpopular, Dougie had gotten a little too wrapped up in the Dungeons & Dragons community and they’d drifted apart. Still, they’d been friends since kindergarten and he was the best when it came time to dream up a costume for Halloween.
They’d climbed up to his late great-uncle Edmund’s attic in search of period clothing for a Lovecraft-themed party at Rina’s sorority house. Rina had offered Dougie an invite in exchange for help with her costume. She also wanted him to meet some 'normal' people.
While Rina searched through dusty trunks to find an old-fashioned gown, Dougie was skimming distractedly through the handsome leather-bound book. He’d found it turned sideways in the back of an ornately carved bookcase that he suspected was from well before Edmund’s time.
“So, that’s your great-great-whatever’s journal?”
“Yeah, Roderick Rochester, on my mother’s side it seems. No one ever told me about him.”
“Well, your mom was never very happy about your . . . hobbies,” Rina said, trying to be tactful.
“No, and uncle Edmund wouldn’t let anyone visit him when we were kids. This is the first time I've actually been inside. Maybe he didn’t want this book found,” Dougie said in an ominous tone.
“Oh no,” Rina thought with dismay. “This is exactly what he doesn’t need.”
“Come on,” she said brightly. “You can read that later. Help me find a dress for the party. And you need a cool suit. I know a girl who really goes for the old spooky look.”
“I don’t know about the party, Rina. I won’t know anyone and I wouldn’t really fit in with frat guys . . .” Dougie trailed off, embarrassed at letting his insecurity show.
“Don’t worry, that’s what Halloween’s all about. You can dress up and be anything you want! It’ll do you good, you’re not going to meet anyone interesting living at home and going to community college.”
“Yeah, I don’t know . . . maybe,” Dougie said doubtfully. “But we can find you something anyway. This stuff has probably been up here for a hundred years or more. My great-uncle Edmund was the oldest in a big family. He inherited this house before Grandma Rose was even born. She says the attic was full of old stuff when she was a little girl, and Edmund stopped letting her come up here when she was only eight. He was a real hermit, I only met him a couple of times when Grandma coaxed him out for a family reunion.”
* * * * * * *
“Spofford asserts that Mesmer's method can be enhanced by the effect of various soporific compounds. Even the pedestrian demon rum may be of use in gaining power over another’s will. This revelation may well be the final key to achieving my aims.”
Dougie felt a thrill of excitement as he read through the journal and realized that Roderick had been more than just Spofford’s friend. He soon confirmed that Roderick had gone far beyond hypnosis.
“Spofford is a timid fool. We stand at the doorway to great power but he refuses to pass through and claim a greater destiny. His pious remorse only draws suspicion. I will conduct further experiments on subject L by myself.”
The journal contained detailed accounts of Roderick’s occult research and the many experiments that eventually led to his success. Roderick had learned to bend other people’s will to his own purposes. He hadn’t shared his success with Spofford, but did allow him to serve as a scapegoat. Spofford had thought he was being honorable by protecting Roderick, never suspecting that he’d been influenced by supernatural means.
“The mental exercises are straightforward, yet powerful. I can now implant my commands into another’s mind yet leave them with the belief that they act of their own accord.”
Dougie was thrilled. It seemed impossible, but he wanted to believe. Roderick’s method was much like hypnosis, but with additional mental exercises that seemed too simple to be as effective as the journal promised. He practiced Roderick’s method over the next several days until he felt ready to try it out on a real person.
* * * * * * *
"Good morning, Douglas. You're up early."
"Yeah, gotta finish some homework this morning."
“Mom, you’d like to make me some waffles, wouldn’t you?” Dougie looked deep into his mother’s eyes, concentrating hard to create a mental link as described in Roderick’s journal. If this worked, his desire would be implanted in her mind and she’d think it was her own idea.
“Sure . . . why not?” his mother replied slowly. “Waffles sound good.”
She looked slightly puzzled, but then moved briskly, mixing batter and setting the table. It wasn’t until she’d served Dougie that she came back to herself with a little start.
“Oh no, I’m late for work! Why did I stop to make waffles?” She hurried out without any further questions.
“It worked!” Dougie thought excitedly. But as he finished the waffles, a doubt arose. “Mom actually likes to make waffles, so all I really did was make her late for work. A better test would be to make someone do something they don't want to do.”
There was only one person who came to mind, so after lunch Dougie texted Rina.
“Coffee? Java Joint? On me?” It was a little bit out of the blue, but he knew Rina liked her mocha lattes.
“What’s up?” Rina texted back.
“Changed my mind, party invite still on?”
“Great! CU in 20”
“Grab a table and I’ll get the drinks. Mocha latte, right?” Rina nodded in answer and moved toward an open spot near the window.
“Roderick said alcohol helps,” Dougie poured some Creme de Cacao into Rina’s cup while adding sugar to his own. He’d brought the liqueur in a small flask, knowing that it would blend nicely with the latte.
Rina enjoyed the spiked drink, remarking that it tasted better than usual. Dougie thanked her for the invitation and made small talk for a few minutes to let the alcohol take effect. Then he decided to try something that Rina would never do in public, not even if she wanted to.
“Rina,” Dougie said forcefully. She looked up, startled, and Dougie locked onto her eyes, gradually changing his focal point while concentrating on creating the mental link. Rina gazed back blankly.
“You’d like to kiss me, wouldn’t you?”
“I . . . would like to . . . kiss,“ Rina leaned in slowly.
“It’s working!” Dougie thought triumphantly. He instinctively closed his eyes as their lips touched and Rina suddenly pulled back. He hadn't maintained the link quite long enough.
“Dougie! What the hell?” She looked puzzled and a little angry. “How did you do that?”
“Do what?” Dougie asked innocently. "It was your idea." But he definitely looked guilty to Rina.
“I’ve got some studying to do,” Rina said abruptly and walked away.
"Why would I suddenly want to kiss Dougie?" She wasn’t sure what had just happened but she didn’t like how it felt.
* * * * * * *
The party was in full swing by the time Dougie arrived. He hadn't spoken to Rina since the coffee shop, but he hoped she'd forgotten or at least forgiven it. The hulking football player guarding the door gave him a doubtful look but accepted the printed invitation and let him in. Dougie stood by the wall for a few minutes and watched the costumed revelers. Some were content with bowler hats and monocles, or slightly off-topic feather boas. The more ambitious were in full steampunk regalia or Edwardian fashions. A few were adventurous enough to dress as Cthulu or a fishy approximation of the Deep Ones.
Dougie nervously scanned the stylish sorority girls for a likely subject. He felt confident that Roderick’s method would work perfectly on a drunken party girl. And this time he was going for more than just a kiss!
“Dougie, welcome to Delta Gamma, this is Ramona,” Rina appeared suddenly with a slightly pudgy girl in tow. Ramona wore large-framed glasses that made her round face look a bit owlish. Rina obviously thought that she’d make a good match for Dougie.
“Hey cool, Edgar Allan Poe!” Ramona exclaimed enthusiastically. She’d already had a couple of glasses of the vodka-spiked Halloween punch.
She seemed impressed with Dougie’s costume. He’d grown out his wispy mustache and combed his lank hair to accentuate his broad forehead. He looked very much like the famous author. He was pleased that Rina’s tipsy friend had recognized his character.
“You could be my Lenore,” Dougie ventured gallantly.
Ramona smiled in return. Her dress wasn't as authentic as Rina's, but it went well with Dougie's attic suit.
“Okay, I’ll let you two get acquainted,” Rina said and went off to greet more new arrivals.
Dougie talked casually with Ramona while wondering when to make his move. They shared an interest in horror stories and the conversation flowed more smoothly than he might have hoped.
“Would you like to see my room, Mr. Poe?” Ramona suggested shyly, inhibitions eased by alcohol.
“Sure, that’d be great, Lenore,” Dougie quickly emptied his glass, hardly believing his luck.
They drifted slowly toward the back staircase and then hurried up when they thought no one was looking. Ramona led Dougie into her room for a make out session and soon found herself strangely drawn to his hypnotic eyes . . .
“Dougie! Stop!” Rina shouted. She was really furious this time. She’d had a nagging feeling since the coffee shop and had followed the couple just in case.
“Why am I naked?” shrieked Ramona.
“It’s not . . . I . . . uh,” Dougie stammered.
“Get out,” Rina said coldly and moved to help the shaken and puzzled Ramona.
Dougie went downstairs and drank some more punch to ease his conscience. He knew it was wrong, but the feeling of power was irresistible and he knew he couldn't stop. Dougie drained a second glass and left hurriedly when the two girls rejoined the party. The unaccustomed alcohol hit him hard by the time he got home and he fell onto his bed with his head whirling.
* * * * * * *
“Wha . . .” Dougie tried to groan, but nothing came out. As he returned to full awareness, he found himself looking down at his own hand. It was writing on what looked like a page of Roderick’s journal.
“This time the result is exactly what I hoped. Much better than with the teetotaler Edmund. Another foolish nephew found the sham journal and took the bait as planned. He never suspected its true purpose. Infusing it with my spiritual essence has indeed allowed me to create a link with a blood relative across the span of years.”
Dougie wanted to look away from the horror of his dawning realization, but his eyes refused to obey.
"This body is far from perfect, but it is young and will serve me adequately. Unlike Edmund, the idiot boy has been completely ousted and cannot interfere with my work. I can now move forward with a new generation of impressionable subjects to serve my needs.”
Dougie tried to stop writing, but he had no control over his hand. It just kept going as though there were no connection to his mind. He was completely helpless behind Roderick’s dominant presence. The panicked scream he badly needed to release never left his throat, never even sounded in what was now Roderick’s mind.
Dougie managed one last coherent thought as madness descended, “He doesn’t even know I’m still here . . .”