Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Miss Jekyll's Serum (Wermspittle)

Sometimes, just sometimes, it would be easier to be someone else. Or maybe not...

"Human beings are not our enemy. Our enemy is not the other person. Our enemy is the violence, ignorance, and injustice in us and in the other person. When we are armed with compassion and understanding, we fight not against other people, but against the tendency to invade, to dominate, and to exploit."
Thich Nhat Hanh,

Art thrives upon restriction. All that evil needs to flourish is for good men to do nothing. Those are two statements that bear an uncanny appropriateness to the fate and final disposition of Eustace Jekyll. That such a lovely, if haunted, some would even say Odd, young woman should ever have studied science or medicine was a mistake. Her disposition towards obsessiveness led her into all manner of academic controversies and her radical insistence upon pursuing the 'truth' no matter what the consequences took her to many a strange meeting in lonely places where she was exposed to heretical teachings, suppressed transmissions, clandestine attunements and discredited teachings. Miss Jekyll took to these things like a fish to water. Bizarre theories and outre hypotheses she collected as though they were trading cards or porcelain dolls. But, as her instructors warned her repeatedly and often; such things should be left to the clear conscience of an impersonal investigator for, in the hands of an idealist or a madman, they would surely lead to tragedy and terror. And in the case of the unlucky Miss Jekyll, they certainly did lead to horrors unforeseen and heartbreak most keen. Those who would follow in her footsteps along the particular path to damnation first revealed by Miss Jekyll's unsanctioned explorations into the nature of good and evil would do well to heed her example as to how she ended her career even more so than how she began it. But alas, most such earnest and eager students only look at how it all began, and few ever look past the events of that tragic night when Miss Jekyll first beheld the face and form of the one she called 'Wilhemina' in her bedroom mirror.

Strong Mind, Stronger Opinions
Miss Eustace Jekyll had been extraordinarily precocious as a child. Her parents found themselves unable to control the exceptionally head-strong girl, so they sent her off to the Academy in Wermspittle where she studied sorcery, alchemy and surgery. Her parents had hoped that she might become some sort of engineer, brewer, or something respectable that she could take-up when she came back to her ancestral estate in Wollstonecraft, but instead Eustace became caught-up in student politics, academic Hermeticism, and the pursuit of the once-forbidden arts. For the space of a full year she was the rising star, the belle of the ball and the most gifted student to ever grace the hoary halls of half the laboratories and libraries she found opened before her like treasuries with their doors cast wide before her progress. But as is ever the case with such things, Eustace eventually was caught-up in scandal, slandered by her rivals, and brought low by the secret hatred and poisonous jealousies of those she had out-shone in her innocence and naivete. Politics are fickle and popularity can go rancid like butter left too long on the table. It was a hard lesson for the young girl -- she was a Prodigy of barely thirteen when everything went terribly, horribly wrong and she left the Academy in disgrace amid wicked whispers and salacious gossip.

Disrepute and Dissolution Denied
Life is harsh for those who fall from grace and good standing. Eustace was incredibly ill-equipped to handle her rejection, her failure, her upset and displacement from the only life she had ever known. Within a space of three weeks she was evicted, penniless and abandoned by all but a few of her friends and colleagues, but even they could do little to help her for fear of retribution. Her family had turned their backs upon her. She had been disinherited over the muttered allegations of vague scandals that horrified her parents almost as much as the not-so-veiled threats of her enemies to bring ruin to the family if they did not cut her out like a cancerous growth. Eustace was summarily removed from the rolls. Her memberships were revoked. She was marked. She had been black-listed. It was social suicide to retain the acquaintance. Openly associating with her could dash one's career aspirations. So she was on her own in the middle of Winter in Wermspittle.
Some enemies can be incredibly cruel in their vindictiveness. But few know the depths of hell quite like a young woman scorned and who has already had everything that ever mattered to her taken away.

No Retreat, No Surrender, No Redemption
Eustace was a brilliant student. She had rocketed up the ranks as an apprentice and made an indelible impression on more than just her enemies and detractors. One such person was her first master under whom she served her first apprenticeship. She had proven a very adept forager and always seemed to know how to find the best Wet Spot samples, the richest Sallow Stain deposits, and the most viable bits of Black Corruption taken from Loathsome Masses no other apprentice had spotted or realized were just under their noses. More than once it was remarked that the girl seemed to have an uncanny affinity for the stuff, or at least a tremendous talent for locating and acquiring the best for her master.

Old Nick was only too happy to have little Eustace back on his pay-roll. In just a few short weeks she had more than doubled his working supply and began to help him to improve his distillation processes. Within a month Eustace was running the rig and Old Nick left her well enough alone.

It didn't take long after she had lulled her old master into a false sense of complacency that Eustace began to conduct her experiments with all the illicit substances available to an unlicensed distiller who produced Black Liquors for the Corruption Trade.

Off The Record
From her extensive personal diaries, journals and very detailed records from each of her experiments, comes a fairly complete account of the descent of Miss Eustance Jekyll into infamy, insanity and the hideous exchange of personalities that led to her development of the strange serum of misanthropic metamorphism for which she will now and forever be known. But the popular account is by no means the full story, nor the complete truth of the matter. There are things that Miss Jekyll held back, things that she kept in a set of smaller, sorcerously-locked personal journals to which only a very few have ever had access. Unfortunately, being the strong-willed and politically-oriented young woman that she was, Eustace took steps to insure that her most private journals would only ever fall into the hands of like-minded students. She was meticulous in transcribing no less than five different copies of her secret journals, each one having slight differences in what she revealed or shared, knowing full well that each would in time find its way to another student, that her work might have a chance to live on through some one else. To this day the Librarians at the Academy and the various private libraries that surround it continue to keep a look out for these mysterious, ensorcelled journals in the vain attempt to keep them from re-igniting Miss Jekyll's madness and plunging yet another soul into the black gulfs of her sanity-blasting experiments.

We Have Met the Enemy...
Buried with an otherwise unassuming collection of formulae, notes, and a dozen or so minor spells, there are the working secrets of Miss Jekyll's infamous serum...and her cribbed notes detailing a different line of inquiry for each journal. Not only did she leave behind the missing piece to re-assemble her work, or to replicate her experiments, but she made sure to provide specialized instructions and guidance for how to take things farther, deeper, along even more rarefied paths only a very few have ever attempted to explore.

As she reveals candidly in her private journals, Miss Jekyll would never have pursued the peculiar ambitions awakened in her by her betrayal and ruin wrought by her rivals and enemies. Nor would she ever have made the progress she did without access to the materials only a producer of Black Liquors have at hand.
The other essential ingredient to making Miss Jekyll's serum work is not something that anyone can swallow or put into a bottle. The one thing that most of those bumbling about with her other records and notes almost always overlook or miss entirely is the pivotal role her full-length mirror played in the process of metamorphosis brought on by her serum. A mirror. Without a suitable reflective surface, the psychological tensions brought on by the serum's revision of the subject's nervous system and then entire corpus, from the inside-out, they inevitably are driven insane. And not just casual loopiness, but full-on frothery most foul, the kind and sort of madness no one comes back from, as indeed those attempting the use of Miss Jekyll's serum without the adjunct of a mirror before them never, ever recover.
Ah, but with the use of a suitable mirror! Miss Jekyll's serum not only restructures the subject's body, it completely transforms their essential self, bringing forth all manner of repressed or suppressed traits, tendencies, truths and more. The experience is excruciating, liberating, cathartic and ultimately destructive beyond all imagining, at least to the subject who is now transformed into a completely Other identity that can be of any gender, size, shape or appearance save one--they can never, ever be changed back to who or what they were previously.

It is curious that in her private journals, Miss Jekyll never mentioned Wilhemina, whom some conjecture was either a spirit guide or her alter ego or 'other self.' Instead each of the five private journals is signed 'Helen.'

Dangerous Knowledge
The private journals of Miss Jekyll are rare magical books that will only appear before a suitable candidate; some lonely prodigy harassed by her peers and more often than not something of an outsider -- the classic profile all authorities fear and keep an eternal vigil against lest they somehow do something terrible, because all know that the darlings of the social scene would never, ever do terrible things. Snort.

Vicious Rumors, Esoteric Exaggerations
Miss Jekyll may or may not have 'died' in the course of her work on her serum, but dozens of less gifted or just plain unlucky students who've tried to follow in her footsteps have paid a terrible if not the ultimate price for their not reading her notes thoroughly and realizing that she left an essential piece out so as to prevent anyone too stupid to come up with the serum in the first place all on their own from turning it over to unscrupulous third parties. It wasn't altruism that made her do this, far from it. Miss Jekyll considered herself to be beyond good and evil. She wanted to make sure that her legacy survived long past the fleeting notoriety and fame that her rivals and peers might have achieved. And in that she succeeded quite well. To this day Miss Eustace Jekyll is still whispered about, egregiously slandered and a figure around whom a great deal of urban folklore and student mythology has grown up. She outlived her enemies, outshone her detractors, and has become both a romantic, tragic figure adopted by dozens of socially awkward girls (and a few boys as well) that she would never willingly have associated with during her tenure at the Academy. There are even little shrines and lonely make-shift memorials set up for Miss Jekyll or Wilhemina scattered about the campus. Whatever her ultimate fate, Miss Jekyll's legacy, her reputation, and her work live on.
It is a shame and a tragedy, quiet unrelated of course, how so many of the class-mates of Miss Jekyll have suffered tragic accidents and gruesome deaths. It is as if they were somehow cursed, but of course there is no sign of any of the standard forms of maleficia being involved.

Inspirational Reading: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, first published in 1886 and available online via Project Gutenberg, The Literature Network, The University of Virginia, or you might prefer the Annotated Version available at Wikisource. There are also a ton of resources related to this famous text available via the Internet Archive, some of them illustrated, if that matters. The morbidly curious might find the Hammer horror movie Doctor Jekyll, Sister Hyde (1971) of some interest. Though the trailer might well cure that particular ailment. In any case, don't blame me if you go and watch the whole movie; you could just sit through the movie adaptation of Carrie instead, but who really needs to see that movie ever again? You might instead read a bit of Mary Shelley's work or watch the movie version of Virginia Woolf's Orlando (with Tilda Swinton), if you'd like to get some clue of what might lay ahead for 'Wilhemina,' and one could do worse than to consult Mr. Machen's Great God Pan for some hints as to what could potentially be in store for 'Helen.' Enjoy.

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