by Martin Bolton
My wife, Rene, had suffered from severe depression all her life and became increasingly delusional. I had studied her condition and tried to treat it, but I ultimately failed to save her. In the autumn of 1870, my beautiful Rene hanged herself. She was the love of my life, and my heart carried with it a shadow for the rest of my days.
When the former home of the late Professor Gabriel Monroe, an eminent psychiatrist and a pioneer in his field, came up for sale, I immediately made an offer. I moved in to the house in the spring of 1878.
It was on my first exploration of the cellar that I found a curious contraption languishing beneath a layer of dust on a large desk to the rear of the chamber. The thing resembled a phonograph, the sound recording device invented by Thomas Edison the previous year. Its construction comprised a wooden box with a cone shaped loudspeaker and wires leading to an apparatus designed to be worn on the head.
The light from my lantern also revealed a loose collection of papers which, upon closer inspection, I was excited to find were the handwritten notes of the late professor himself, entitled Psychograph – Professor Gabriel Monroe. According to the professor’s scruffy hand, his Psychograph was the only one of its kind in existence. Why he had left it here I couldn’t guess. Certainly what I read on those yellowing sheets of parchment seemed somewhat fanciful in its nature, and I began to understand why this invention, if indeed it was genuine, had never seen the light of day.
Professor Monroe’s jagged scrawl claimed that the human mind was an even deeper, darker world than previously thought, and that aspects of that murky realm could manifest themselves and communicate independently. Indeed he believed that his machine was a link to the subconscious. In short, he had created a device through which voices from the mind of the wearer of the head piece could speak through the loudspeaker, and the professor could answer. Not only were Professor Monroe’s theories about the human mind contrary to all conventionally accepted ideas in the field of psychology, but his claims that he could communicate with manifestations from the minds of the insane were nothing short of outrageous.
Having read Professor Monroe’s far fetched ideas, I wanted to take them seriously, the man had inspired my own career and, besides Freud, there was no one in the field I admired more. The poor man had clearly succumbed to dementia. I resolved to tell no one of my discovery, lest I besmirch his good name, the last of his blood line, and I left it in the cellar.
During the next few days I explored the countryside surrounding my new home. I walked through verdant dales and fragrant meadows, past babbling brooks and beneath the canopies of sun dappled woodland, alive with birdsong and the buzzing of insects. My mind wandered too, free from the distractions of a working life in the city. But something lurked in the dark recesses of my consciousness, and periodically my mind’s eye would stumble upon it. The professor’s machine, waiting in the cellar.
The more I thought about that sinister contraption, the more my natural curiosity grew, and I found myself increasingly preoccupied by it. But some unexplained instinct gave me a feeling of dread whenever I contemplated returning to the cellar to closer examine of the thing.
One night, having spent the evening in my study writing my memoirs, I lay awake in bed. The moon was bright. A shaft of white light pierced the drapes like an icy blade, and the night outside was still and silent. I could not seem to close my eyes, and my alertness drove me to distraction. I knew then I would not sleep until I had satisfied my curiosity. I donned my nightgown, took a candle and made my way to the cellar.
My excitement grew as I sat at that mouldering desk and picked up the head piece, placing it over my head. Taking a breath to steady my nerves, I wound the handle on the side of the box, and it began to vibrate, making a high pitched whirring sound. After a moment of silence, I felt a jolt so forceful I stood, knocking my chair to the floor and involuntarily taking a step backwards. What followed was a sharp, painful whistling in my ears causing me to double over, ripping the head set off and casting it aside. The whistle quickly became a shriek. Then I saw her face.
My poor, sweet Rene, her translucent skin taut to her skull, her black, bulging eyes staring, her lank, greasy brown hair hanging in tatters, her lips peeled back over yellow teeth, and her creased, rope burned throat heaving. A mixture of pain and anger was her expression as she shrieked and shrieked.
I destroyed that accursed machine and burned Professor Gabriel Monroe’s notes. If smashing the psychograph closed whatever hideous door I had opened, it did not banish the thing I had emancipated from the damnable chaos beyond.
It will not stop, I can still hear it, and I cannot leave this house, for some twisted part of my being clings to the belief that a ghoulish semblance of my wife still shrieks, down there, in the cellar.