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Conan Doyle loved writing about the supernatural. Unfortunately (or fortunately) he found his greatest success in
his Sherlock Holmes mysteries, so perhaps he had many more great creepy stories within him that were never put to paper. That would be too bad, because he had
a knack for the metaphysical. It even found its way into some of his Sherlock tales, such as The Hound of the
The Parasite is a short story that can be read in a couple hours, and as all great tales of the paranormal, there is a strong element of truth and possibility here, which makes it all the more eerie. It was written in 1894.
The story is narrated by Professor Austin Gilroy, a young man appointed to a university post of high esteem, especially for one his age. His area of specialty is physiology, and he shuns (and somewhat mocks) his friend Wilson, a psychologist, which, at the time was not considered a serious or provable science. Gilroy is engaged to Agatha Marden. And it is this very night that he is to attend a get-together at Wilson's, where Agatha and her mother will be present. Gilroy doesn't particularly want to go, and is afraid Wilson will have "some new mesmerist or clairvoyant or medium or trickster of some sort whom he is going to exhibit to us." He considers it entertainment, and nothing more.
But in this case, it is more. Miss Penclosa is a friend of Wilson's wife, and they are both from the West Indies Island of Trinidad. Upon their introduction, she is anything but what Gilroy had expected. She is frail and pale, with light hair, and is crippled. Gilroy finds her "insignificant" and a bit repugnant. But it is when she puts Agatha into a mesmerized spell that Gilroy begins to change. He also sees a change in Miss Penclosa, who expands—grows in power, becomes more youthful, fills with color, when she begins her work on Agatha.
Gilroy observes a glaze come over Agatha's eyes, then sees her fall fully under the trance. He is directed to attempt to wake her, which he cannot. Finally, Miss Penclosa whispers something in Agatha's ear, then commands her to awaken. As they leave the gathering, Gilroy is uneasy. Miss Penclosa slips a paper into his hand, which directs him to read it at a certain time the following day.
At 9:30 the next morning, Agatha enters Gilroy's house. There is something strange about her, as she announces that their engagement is off, without explanation. He tries to reason with her, but she is adamant, and leaves the house. At 10 o'clock, Gilroy reads the note as directed, where Miss Penclosa explains that Agatha will break their engagement at the precise time, and will then forget. Gilroy hurries to her house, where she has no recollection of having visited him, and believes she has dozed off while reading.
It is at this point that Gilroy is now convinced of Miss Penclosa's authenticity, and wants to explore her gift with himself as the subject. She tells him point blank during a conversation, as he pries her for answers, that those who are able to do what she does, have certain powers.
For example, it is possible for an operator to gain complete command over his subject—presuming that the latter is a good one. Without any previous suggestion he may make him do whatever he likes.
For some reason, whether Gilroy trusts her, or what, he does not take heed of the warning she is giving him. He proceeds to
work with her on a regular basis, making notes of each session, He is warned to break off with her by another friend, Charles Sadler, who knows Miss Penclosa
is dangerous, but even then Gilroy does not take the warnings seriously.
Until he realizes that she is falling in love with him, and making him behave as if he loves her. When he is away from her, he is repulsed, and determined to keep away, but when their usually meeting time comes, he cannot resist going to her. And what is worse, the Wilsons are out of town, leaving just the two of them together for their sessions.
Things come to a head one day when he suddenly feels he has been released. He finds she has been very ill, and her powers are not strong in her weak physical state. He tells her of his loathing.
After she recovers, she is out for revenge, and she is quite able of gettting what she wants. Gilroy begins acting strangely during his lectures, and becomes the subject of mockery at the university, then loses his lectureship. Gilroy feels his life slipping out of control, but is still determined to be free.
And I won't say whether he is able to do that. You will have to read this thrilling short story to find out yourself. And remember, it is free from Project Gutenberg!
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