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THE EDUCATION OF ELOISE

THE EDUCATION OF ELOISE
By E.C. McMullen Jr.
Copyright 2016

leo-paulrobert

It was directly because of Eloise’ spider phobia that she threw herself into education and study of the brain.

Was it all psychological? A mere veneer of electrical static over the cerebral cortex? Eloise pursued the idea that phobias, like her arachnophobia, were physical in nature and a physical change to the brain could alleviate the suffering of people like her.

Even better, in late 19th century, the constantly scrubbed, sterile environment required of medical research assured virtually no spiders: Certainly not on the scale of the farm where she grew up.

In 1890, at the age of 14, while her brothers and sisters were busy outside, Eloise told her parents of her plans.

Her Mother’s tone was dismissive, “What is science for a young lady?”

“Marry wisely and you could share your own farm,” her Father advised.

“And give us plenty of grandchildren,” her Mother added.

Eloise brought out her diary and firmly (though respectfully) let the leather slap upon the table. She read through page after page of how, through the years and with her learned and innate cleverness, solved seemingly insurmountable problems on the farm thanks to her ingenuity and her knowledge of science. She knew that university would be costly, but she would repay her parents many times over for this opportunity.

Then Eloise froze. Sunlight through the window fell upon a discreet spiderweb in the high corner where two walls met the ceiling. She did not see the effect her words had upon her Mother and Father, and how they glanced at each other in a silent shared pride. This moment was expected, as they long knew their daughter before she’d known herself.

With the fragile interruption of, “Excuse me,” Eloise hurried outside to wet a mop and remove the web.

The spider was small, no bigger than a dot with legs. ‘Oh my God. It is small enough to get in our hair, nose, ears, anywhere while we sleep.’

Which reminded her: she needed to scrub her room down today and bleach her sheets and pillow cases. Her Mother drew the line at washing her already clean clothes, though Eloise always gave them a vigorous shaking, turned them inside out and gave them a second shaking, then back to propers and one final shaking, before getting dressed.

Her phobia consumed her immediate attention on the tiny spider and its home, so that she didn’t hear her parents give her their blessing or begin busily figuring out the coming four years of work and savings to make their daughter’s dream come true.

It was easy for young women to enter college in 1894. Less easy for their studies to be any more serious than servile: legal secretary, nurse, housekeeper. Yet Eloise was determined and her dogged pursuit relentless. After all, in 1847 American Astronomer, Maria Mitchell, discovered a comet and was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts. That was nearly half a century ago. Moreover, if Maria S. Sklodowska could graduate as Top Student at the great science university, Sorbonne in Paris – and Maria did do it – then Eloise could do it too.

This despite the sacrifices: Eloise was not accepted into anywhere near so prestigious a University as the Sorbonne. The lab equipment was bland even by Eloise’ inexperience (she was aware of better, as she read with a voluminous hunger). Of what there was,  the boys always got first crack at everything. Having access to only basic microscopes and other mundane lab equipment, Eloise was limited to doing brain lobe research. Ah, but such research!

With persistence and politics – for one gets nowhere without allegiances – Eloise achieved her research Ph.D with the highest honors in 1899.

There of course, were stark episodes during that time. Eloise secret phobia nearly outed her fears on more than a few occasions. Fortunately her male peers merely considered her frights a “Woman’s Weakness” and not a deeper, nearly uncontrolled psychological disorder.

Eloise constant cleaning would also have been a bit much under normal circumstances, but it was tolerated and even slightly appreciated among her fellow researchers. She was admired for her “immaculate meticulousness”, though the coined phrase was also an affectionate but knowing joke among her peers.

In 1900, the esteemed brain researcher, Santiago Ramón y Cajal, came to America and Eloise’ place of intern residency to lead a symposium. Years of studious use of the most powerful microscopes in the world, of which there were only three, allowed the famed Cajal to use one at his leisure, so that he might see and visually record, with his detailed drawings, the structure of a brain cell.

His presentation included acetate projections of his latest drawings. On the high wall of the dark theater, they towered brightly over the audience. Doctor Cajal compared the structure of brain cell dendrites to the branches and root systems of trees.

Only Eloise didn’t see trees.

There in the dark, her face lit only by the projection and its contents, screamed an uncontrolled Eloise embraced in an overwhelming horror that would never release her.

As the oppressively massive projection of giant dendrites loomed over her, Eloise saw the true physical nature of her arachnophobia.

Living within her head, festering inside her skull, every single one of her billions of tormented brain cells… were spiders!

END

Copyright 2016 by E.C. McMullen Jr.
Art: Arachnophobe’s Nightmare by Leo-Paul Robert


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Look for my story Cedo Looked Like People, in the anthology, FEAR THE REAPER, edited by Joe Mynhardt. Available from Crystal Lake Publishing and available in Print for $12.99 or eBook for $2.99.

Also available from Crystal Lake Publishing, the film making guidebook, HORROR 201: The Silver Scream. Reap the rewards of movie making experience from the likes of Myself as well as Ray Bradbury, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Tom Holland, Jeffrey Reddick, George A. Romero, Keith Arem, Richard Gray, and many more. $19.99 in Print or $3.99 in eBook.


THE RIDE OF YOUR LIFE

Photo from My-Walls.org

Photo from My-Walls.org

THE RIDE OF YOUR LIFE
Copyright 2012
by E.C. McMullen Jr.

With apprehension, Caleb looked away from the Oldster, to see the rising dust cloud over the mountain’s rocky crest. The horsemen were coming for him. How could they raise such dust on a rocky mountain?

Shaking his head, Caleb forced this question down. No distractions. Focus.

He was standing on a mountain. Rock! Could he really be feeling the ground shake from those things, those horses hoofbeats?

Damn it! His mind fought to betray him with needless, needling questions. He had to focus on the here. The Now. The Moment.

It was the horses with the Oldster. They pawed the ground in anticipation. It was their impatient hooves that rumbled the mountain.

“Your wish is now, Caleb,”  the Oldster intoned with deep gravity.

His wish: Caleb was closer than ever before to his wish. The very presence of the Oldster proved this.

Caleb’s wish would come true: Immortality. But the Oldster grants the wish with a price. Not all are worthy of their dreams.

“At the edge of the river,”  The Oldster said, “await the spirits of your wish, your eternal youth: the feline and canine, in a balloon.”

Caleb turned his head to look into the valley, and sure enough, a hot air balloon; bright colorful dot on the rugged desert landscape, was inflating.

“Your will, Caleb, and only your will alone, will get you there in time. Allow anything to slow you down, anything at all, and your life will leave without you.”

Caleb’s rational mind had so many questions. His brain wanted to pick apart everything the Oldster said, everything that was happening, and analyze it right down to the minutia. But that was his mind’s attempt to blur the moment, to procrastinate. No time in Caleb’s life ever required more concentration than now.

“Choose which horse you’ll have for your vitality, as you and the horse will become one.”

All the horses were eager to run, but only one was looking right at Caleb as if she knew him.

“Every minute you ride will be a year of your life, and the horsemen of time will chase you down, as surely as the storm of death behind them.”

Caleb looked back to the mountain’s crest. Of course. It wasn’t the dust of riders. That was a desert storm.

Caleb chose the horse that chose him. She took the bit without hesitation. He swung up and over her back, and with merely a nudge of his bare boots into her flank, she shot off so fast she nearly left him behind.

Down the mountain they went, watching only the switchback trail rushing toward them. The Horse had a mind of her own, and was quick to react and act, so Caleb didn’t need to steer her clear of the treacherous dangers of the path, he only needed to hold on.

The balloon ahead was upright and expanding. It would be rising soon. He had to reach it before it was beyond reach.

As fast as they rode, sound was still faster, and Caleb could hear the thunderstorm, and the horsemen behind them. They weren’t gaining, but they weren’t falling behind either.

Yet through all of this, every bit of it, Caleb was a man of reason. His rational, curious mind reeled with unanswered questions and demanded that he stop and analyze everything: Pick it apart and figure it out.

A part of his mind told him he was really still back in a dry river bed, dying from exposure and dehydration. No immortal ‘Oldster’ had come to save him. All of this was sunstroke hallucination.

His horse, which he hadn’t bothered to name in his rush, began to slow from exhaustion. The sound of his pursuers grew louder.

“No!”

The riders were fast approaching. Caleb was pursued by no ordinary cowboys, but heatwave hell furies riding out of the mouth of morning’s dark from a Lewis Carroll nightmare.

‘The teeth that bite, the claws that snatch!’

With fear’s icy panic, Caleb brought all of his knowledge to the fore. Instead of questioning anything, he forced himself to answer everything.

“Impossible physical feats are achieved because we believe!”  He howled to the sky. “Stamina and endurance because we believe!”

A part of his mind, as if a distant observer, dismissed his words as cornball.
‘You’re smarter than that,’  it sneered.

Yet Caleb shouted down his doubts even louder.

“The perfect Omnivore can be created by nothing more than a few thrown switches on the spiral ladder!”  he shouted.

Caleb’s yelling on the outside beat down the negative nattering voices within.

“So too Immortality is possible!”  Caleb roared. “It’s locked within our DNA!”

His horse ran faster, making time.

‘Think,’  his doubting side told him. ‘This is fantasy. Supernatural.’

“All reality is natural by definition!”  Caleb crowed. “So this too is real!”

The bow was sprung and the arrow of death flew toward his heart. Now was not the time to question but do. With immortality there would be time enough to research all of this: pull the veil of mystery from the truth.

Somehow, some way, with some one, the primitive creature that was the Oldster, made a deal for immortality. Eventually it outlived everyone it ever loved, then everyone it ever knew. Then everything it ever knew, and eventually its own species.

It saw another dominant species rise and thrive and eventually die. It saw humanity rise and thrive. Everything was eventual. Even the loss of hope: Caleb felt it with the Oldster. There was no human definition for the word ‘Alone’ as acute as the very presence of the Oldster.

Just learning what it endured in a life that spanned millions of years had, according to the creature, put every other human off the idea of its proffered gift. They chose instead to welcome death.

But not Caleb. His desire of knowledge, to see what was on the other side of everything, understand it, know it, and create from it, was unquenchable.

“My thirst is unquenchable!”   Caleb shouted.

His doubting side whispered ‘FAILURE!’

Thunder from behind. The lightening strikes and rider’s hooves shook the very air in shockwave.

Caleb laughed out loud at his terror. As Horse and Man they moved swiftly across the valley floor, toward the river and balloon.

So concentrated was his focus, that sometimes it felt as if he, and not the horse, was running across the valley floor on two legs. Then, just as swiftly, he could feel all four of his hooves galloping across the desert.

“…you and the horse will become one.”

Caleb laughed again and they gained speed. Yet as Caleb looked toward the balloon, he saw it skirt a bit across the ground. It was so light now that a mere errant breeze could move it – and it moved farther away.

Soon it would be rising beyond his reach.

Caleb kicked his boot heels into his flanks – the horse’s flanks – their flanks.

“Faster! Faster! FASTER!”

So it was that Caleb, man and horse, rode furiously toward water and clear blue skies: as eternal youth slowly rose before them, and death thundered from behind.

END

Story by E.C. McMullen Jr.

Photograph: Photographer Unknown. Stock image available for free at My-Walls.org.

Music: Ghost Riders In The Sky. Performed by Johnny Cash. Penned by Stan Jones.


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WILLOW BLUE.
It’s my second collection of critically acclaimed Supernatural and Drama Thriller short stories with all of the Weird Sex, True Love, Monsters and Mayhem, you’ve come to expect (or should by now). Available in paperback for $8.00 or in Kindle for only $1.99. Buy the paperback at Amazon and the Kindle eBook is free! The tales will last you longer than latte!

Want more? Buy

PERPETUAL BULLET: A Science Fiction Collection.
It’s a veritable trove of previously published Science Fiction Horror Thriller tales – plus bonus stories
Featuring: Weird Sex, True Love, Monsters and Mayhem!
Now on sale for $9.00 in Trade Paperback and in eBook for $1.99 and available for your Android Tablet, iPad, Kindle, Nook, and every other “E”!
Find it at (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Diesel, !ndigo, iTunes, KoboBooks, Smashwords, WHSmith, and more).
Buy the paperback at Amazon and the Kindle eBook is free!

Crave still more?

Look for my story Cedo Looked Like People, in the anthology, FEAR THE REAPER, edited by Joe Mynhardt. Available from Crystal Lake Publishing and available in Print for $12.99 or eBook for $2.99.

Also available from Crystal Lake Publishing, the film making guidebook, HORROR 201: The Silver Scream. Reap the rewards of movie making experience from the likes of Myself, as well as  John Carpenter, Tom Holland, Jeffrey Reddick, George A. Romero, Keith Arem, Richard Gray, also the late  Ray Bradbury, Wes Craven, plus many more. $19.99 in Print or $3.99 in eBook.