What precisely was found when we burst into the laboratory of Dr. Finnegan Moss, late Professor of Neurology at Miskatonic University, has never been publicly acknowledged. A sanitized version was released: the professor was found dead, victim of an unfortunate laboratory accident.
These many years later, my body riddled now with cancer and disease, the time has finally arrived to reveal the full account of the death of Professor Moss.
* * *
It began the previous day. Finnegan had summoned us to his laboratory – Lucinda Minh, Professor of Psychiatry, and myself, Dean of the Medical School – with the promise of a breakthrough in his research. We arrived to find him standing before a domed object attached to a chair, like a hair dryer from a ladies’ beauty salon.
He touched a switch at the base of the machine; it hummed to life, emitting a pale blue glow. Static electricity pulled the hair on my arms erect.
Assuring us that the device was perfectly safe, he gestured for Lucinda to take a seat. After some hesitation, she climbed into the chair. Finnegan positioned the domed machine over the top of her cranium and fastened it with a chin strap.
“Before we begin,” he asked, “a simple question: do you believe in God?”
This odd question was not entirely unexpected. A rising star in the emerging field of brain mapping, Finnegan had made a name for himself researching the neurological underpinnings of religious experience.
Lucinda chuckled. “You mean, the ‘God’ that was invented by humans as a means of social control? That God?”
“I’ll take that as a ‘no.’” Finnegan poised his hand above a button on the side of the machine. “Prepare to answer that question again in a moment. And now…”
He pressed the button. The machine emitted a series of rapid clicks that continued for a span of five or six seconds. Finnegan released the button and, just that quickly, it was over.
“And now, professor,” he asked again as he removed the chinstrap and released her from the machine, “do you believe in God?”
“Hold on a second.” Lucinda sat up, her tone bemused, like an audience member baffled by the trick of a stage magician. “What just happened?”
“You tell us. What did you experience?”
She paused, seemingly at a loss for words. “I felt…something was in the room with us. A presence. An overwhelming presence.”
Realizing what I had just observed, I shook my head in admiration. “You’ve found a way to stimulate the ‘God spot!’”
Finnegan grinned. The “God spot,” that fabled part of the brain responsible for feelings of religious ecstasy, had been the focus of his research for years. His crucial breakthrough had come, he explained, from an unexpected source: the archived papers of Crawford Tillinghast, a radio wave scientist from early in the century who claimed to have invented a machine capable of stimulating the brain’s perceptive capacities. Based on Tillinghast’s notes, Finnegan had managed not only to reproduce the machine, but also to focus its effects more precisely. The recreated machine, he claimed, induced the feeling of direct contact with the divine.
Finnegan offered me a turn, which I declined; the machine made me uneasy, even then. Lucinda, however, eagerly volunteered for another go. “It was over too quickly,” she said. “If I just had more time…”
“Just one more turn,” Finnegan said, strapping her back into the machine. “A bit longer this time, but no more than twenty seconds. I fear that overexposure could trigger a psychological break.”
Approximately fifteen seconds into her second round, Lucinda began to scream.
I jumped, startled by the violence of her response. Lucinda writhed in place, howling wordlessly. Finnegan released the button and rushed to her side, trying to restrain her. I joined in, holding her right arm as he held her left. She continued to fight for a long moment, then collapsed into stillness. I caught an acrid odor and realized with embarrassment that Lucinda had wet herself.
Finnegan removed the device, revealing the look on Lucinda’s face: a mask of utter terror.
“What did you see?” Finnegan asked. When she failed to respond, he shook her insistently. “Tell me, woman, what did you see?”
Shocked to see Finnegan, my friend and colleague, acting in such an unhinged manner, it took me a moment to intervene. When I finally pulled him away from her, he flashed me a look of such utter rage that it left me questioning his sanity. Wrenching his arms free from me, he turned his attention back to the machine.
“Perhaps the signal was too strong,” he mused, tinkering with a set of dials.
“Perhaps?” Furious and, by now, mortified at my own role in this little caper, I escorted Lucinda to the locker room down the hall, where she replaced her soiled clothing with a spare lab coat.
I insisted on driving her home; who knew how the machine may have affected her brain. She stared out the passenger window silently as we maneuvered through the narrow lanes of the central campus toward French Hill.
Pulling up to her home, I asked, gently, what had caused her reaction. What had she experienced in the machine that second time?
She looked at me with unfathomable sadness. “Pray you never know,” she replied, and then slipped out into the night.
* * *
I confronted Finnegan the following day, determined to convince him that this line of research must be abandoned. I had begun to worry, selfishly, about my own exposure. If Lucinda had been harmed, and if anyone knew I had allowed Finnegan to test the device on a human subject without going through the university’s proper protocols, my career could be threatened.
I caught up with Finnegan, predictably enough, in his laboratory, still wearing the same clothing as the night before. He seemed genuinely perplexed at the suggestion that he stop testing the machine on human subjects. “Whatever for?”
Exasperated, I reminded him of Lucinda’s terrified reaction the previous night. Clearly the machine was not working as intended?
He waved off my concern, turning his attention back to an open panel on the side of the machine. “On the contrary, good Dean, that is precisely the reaction one should expect from prolonged exposure to the divine. Where do you think the expression ‘God-fearing’ comes from?”
Realizing that this line of argument was going nowhere, I decided to pull rank. As Dean, I reminded Finnegan, one of my duties was to ensure that all safety protocols were properly followed. If he did not voluntarily abandon his work with the machine, I threatened to use my authority to have it removed from his possession.
Fully expecting him to erupt in indignation, I was surprised when he changed tack and began to beg. He was on the verge of a major discovery, he claimed, a paradigm shift that would “change everything,” in his words. He just needed a bit more time. A few days, even.
“What kind of ‘discovery’ could possibly arise through research of this kind?” I asked.
He looked at me incredulously. “Proof of the existence of gods, of course.”
At that moment, I realized that Finnegan had been using the machine himself. He must have been; how else could he claim knowledge of how it functioned? His prior words echoed in my mind: too much exposure could cause, how had he put it, a “psychological break”? Looking now into the unfocused, bloodshot eyes of my one-time friend, I barely recognized him as the man I knew. How long had he been exposing himself to this infernal device before dragging Lucinda in with him? How much damage had been done already?
Knowing then what must be done, I backed away calmly. He could keep the machine, I reassured him, until the end of the week. A few more days to finish his research, and then no more until the safety of the machine had been properly demonstrated.
Thanking me profusely, Finnegan escorted me out. “Until the end of the week,” he said, then shut the door and locked it firmly behind me.
There was no time to lose now. Concerned for Finnegan’s well-being, I hurried to the university’s facilities building and summoned the duo of security guards on duty. They followed me back to find the laboratory door still locked tight.
I placed my ear to the door. Sure enough, I could discern the telltale humming and clicking sound of the machine. Finnegan was using it on himself that very moment.
One of the security guards produced a key and unlocked the door. It still refused to budge, however; barricaded, apparently, from the other side.
I pounded on the door. “Professor Moss. Finnegan. Please let us in.”
The clicking sound paused and Finnegan’s voice called out. “Is that you, Dean? Here to supervise my research?”
“We can’t open the door,” I called.
“Shall I dictate what I’m experiencing?” Finnegan’s voice bristled with passionate emotion. “There are stages, you see. Stages of experiencing the divine. The first stage… awe.”
The security men had begun to shove harder on the door, lowering their shoulders and slamming against it with force.
“The second stage… you begin to discern details about the nature of the divine.” He issued an audible, choking gasp. “I feel… Hunger. Need. Multitudes.”
One of the guards discerned that the door handles were secured on the other side with rope; inserting a pocket knife through the slit, he began to saw.
Finnegan emitted a loud cry that may have signified terror, maybe ecstasy. “The third stage…newly discovered … when you gaze upon the gods long enough, they gaze back.”
What follows next defies explanation. I will undertake to describe the sounds emerging through that closed door as simply as I can. First, Finnegan’s voice, raised in a terror-stricken shriek. Second, a murmuring sound, rising in a crescendo, a sibilant sound like a congregation of snakes chanting together with inhuman voices that mocked the cadence of speech. Third, one final cry from Finnegan, sharp, panicked. And finally, as abruptly as a needle lifted from a record … silence. From cacophony to stillness in a fraction of an instant.
At that moment, the rope gave way. The door swung open; the security men and I burst into the laboratory.
Finnegan was, incredibly, nowhere in sight. I called out his name to no avail. We checked every corner of the small room; there was no back door, no window, no ventilation panel large enough to have enabled the professor’s escape. The only means of exit was the door through which we had come.
Mystified by the implausibility of the professor’s disappearance – we had all heard his screams mere seconds before – we were about to call off the search when one of the guards noticed a final, chilling detail: three round objects lying at the base of the machine in a spreading pool of blood. Upon closer inspection, fingertips. Three human fingertips, still warm, sliced midway through the nail as neatly as if severed by a guillotine. * * * 7 The human mind can accept only so much variance from the accepted realm of experience before imposing its own logic, however flawed. Over the years, I have entertained every potential explanation: a hidden wall panel, overlooked in our hasty search; a concealed loudspeaker rigged to broadcast an alarming series of noises, all in service of some elaborate prank. But how then to explain the fingertips…? As my body weakens, I am haunted by a recurring dream: Finnegan, reaching out to me in a frantic attempt to escape some unspeakable horror. Just as I raise my own hand to him, an invisible door slams shut; his severed fingers plop to the ground, writhing like worms. Part of me yearns for that warm, loving tunnel of light reported to be felt at the moment of death. But another part coldly realizes: that will only be stage one.