Categories
Literary

Beyond the Wall of Sleep – H.P. Lovecraft

Beyond the Wall of Sleep is one of H.P. Lovecraft‘s greatest short stories. It begins with a quote from Shakespeare: “I have an exposition of sleep come upon me.” It then goes into a wonderful mini-essay on the nature of dreams.

Whilst the greater number of our nocturnal visions are perhaps no more than faint and fantastic reflections of our waking experiences—Freud to the contrary with his puerile symbolism—there are still a certain remainder whose immundane and ethereal character permits of no ordinary interpretation, and whose vaguely exciting and disquieting effect suggests possible minute glimpses into a sphere of mental existence no less important than physical life, yet separated from that life by an all but impassable barrier. – H.P. Lovecraft

I think this is why it’s one of my favourite Lovecraft stories – there must be more to dreaming than we know. Do we really go somewhere else when we dream? Can we connect with other people and other beings?

From those blurred and fragmentary memories we may infer much, yet prove little.

Sometimes I believe that this less material life is our truer life, and that our vain presence on the terraqueous globe is itself the secondary or merely virtual phenomenon.

I found this incredible music which I believe is based on the story. It’s beautiful and eerie – well worth a listen! There’s a nine minute track which you can listen to for free.

Read the full story here.

Categories
Film

Strange and Poetic – There Will Be Blood

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (giving an almighty performance) and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. There Will be Blood.

Release Date: Dec 26, 2007 (yes, it really is nearly nine years old already!)

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Rating: R

There-Will-Be-Blood-LB-1

There Will Be Blood follows a man who moves to Little Boston with his son to try his luck in the oil trade. Most people I’ve met who have seen this film love it, but I have to say: hardly anyone I know has seen it!

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There Will Be Blood is ferocious, and it will be championed and attacked with an equal ferocity. When the dust settles, we may look back on it as some kind of obsessed classic. – David Ansen, Newsweek

Boldly and magnificently strange, There Will Be Blood marks a significant departure in the work of Paul Thomas Anderson. – Todd McCarthy, Variety

I remember seeing this in the cinema a week or so after seeing the equally incredible No Country for Old Men and thinking: something magical has happened in the film industry. From now on, all films will be this amazing. Unfortunately I was wrong, but it was an exciting, fleeting moment.

SYNOPSIS: The film follows the rise to power of Daniel Plainview – a charismatic and ruthless oil prospector, driven to succeed by his intense hatred of others and desperate need to see any and all competitors fail. When he learns of oil-rich land in California that can be bought cheaply, he moves his operation there and begins manipulating and exploiting the local landowners into selling him their property. Using his young adopted son H.W. to project the image of a caring family man, Plainview gains the cooperation of almost all the locals with lofty promises to build schools and cultivate the land to make their community flourish. Over time, Plainview’s gradual accumulation of wealth and power causes his true self to surface, and he begins to slowly alienate himself from everyone in his life.IMDB

I’ve only seen it once since the cinema and that was a while ago, but the DVD is on its way for a new viewing. At 158 minutes, There Will Be Blood is a looong film and it’s not fast-moving, so if you have a low attention-span, this is not the film for you! Many critics have stated that the length of this film is indulgent, but it should be. It’s a piece of poetry. Daniel Plainview (the main character) is one that you want to watch for hours, no matter how much you may come to dislike him. What he wants is oil. Craftily working his way up from dusty prospector to roving oilman, Plainview, with his bristling moustache and courtly manner, drives the hardest of bargains. “I’ve built up my hatreds over the years little by little,” Plainview confides in a rare moment of enlightenment. With Day-Lewis’s powerhouse performance dominating, there’s very little room for anyone else to thrive. – Sky

I hate most people. – Daniel Plainview

As well as Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano delivers an excellent performance in this film. He was not as ruthless as Daniel Plainview, and he seemed a bit more in touch with his human side. – Mr Rumsey’s Film Related Musings

Categories
Film

The Stunningly Surreal World of Jan Svankmajer

Prolific across the arts, he is best known for the dark, surreal visions and macabre comedy of his films. Combining live action, puppetry and a rich range of animation techniques, he is widely recognised as one of the most original and influential film-makers in world cinema. Cine City

Svankmajer is a Czech visual artist as well as a director, although he’s most well known for his films. These include Lunacy, Surviving Life and Alice, amongst others, with sex and death nearly always present. Lunacy, starring Anna Geislerova, is a poetic and disturbing piece which draws upon the work of Sade and Poe, using Svankmajer’s trademark of live action mixed with stop-animation.

Lunacy

Loosely based on two short stories by Edgar Allen Poe, with a leading character inspired by the Marquis de Sade, Lunacy is an allegory for the crazy world we live in. Young Jean, plagued by maddening nightmares after his mother’s funeral, is invited by a Marquis to spend the night in his castle. MIFF

Jan Svankmajer’s LUNACY – trailer. Warning: it’s always safe to assume that anything to do with Svankmajer is not safe for work. Although, I always think this depends on where you work.

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“Animation is, so far, the only way of breathing life into inanimate things” – Jan Svankmajer

Categories
Literary

As Far as They Had Got – A “Follow-My-Leader” Story

I just read a very silly story by E. Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946), William Pett Ridge (1859–1930), Arthur Morrison (1863-1945), Horace Annesley Vachell (1861–1955), Barry Pain (1864-1928), Charles Andrew Garvice (1850-1920) and Richard Marsh (1857-1915). It was originally published in The Strand magazine.

In our May number we published an article entitled “A ‘Follow-my Leader’ Picture,” and in the following pages the same method is applied to the writing of a story, with an extremely interesting result. The story was opened by Mr. E. Phillips Oppenheim, who alone of the contributors was not required to have a complete story outlined in his mind. This opening was then sent to Mr. Pett Ridge, who wrote the next chapter, and also sent a brief statement of the manner in which he thought the whole story might have been completed. These two chapters were then sent on to Mr. Arthur Morrison, who, in the same manner, added his instalment and his idea of the whole story: and so on, chapter by chapter, till the whole was completed. It should, of course, be remembered that each writer had before him merely the preceding chapters of the story, and knew nothing whatever of his predecessors’ proposed methods of ending it. These explanations are given as footnotes to each chapter, and will be found most interesting as throwing light upon the methods of work of the various eminent fiction-writers, and the way in which a story evolves itself in such widely divergent manners in different minds.

I’m not a writer by any means, but if anyone would like to try a project like this, by all means get in touch (jamiesnelling@gmail.com or comment below) and I’ll get it set up!

Categories
Literary Visual art

Fluxus Poetry Art

"Zalop Concerto in No Particular Key" by IUOMA members Cheryl Penn (South Africa) inspired by a performance score and Fluxus word by Ruud Janssen (Netherlands) and ZALOP video by Eduardo Cardoso (Portugal).
“Zalop Concerto in No Particular Key” by IUOMA members Cheryl Penn (South Africa) inspired by a performance score and Fluxus word by Ruud Janssen (Netherlands) and ZALOP video by Eduardo Cardoso (Portugal).

Cheryl Penn’s venture into musical composition is so noteworthy I had to blog it. Most of the IUOMA members are aware of Cheryl’s group for the study and advancement of Ruud Janssen’s Fluxus word “ZALOP,” given legs by the enthusiasm of visual poet Eduardo Cardoso of Portugal.International Union of Mail Artists

Well-known Fluxus artists include George Maciunas, Joseph Beuys, Emmett Williams, Yoko Ono and Nam June Paik. It was Maciunas who got the movement started. Many of these artists were creating Fluxus-style work before they got together and Maciunas created the movement.

When it comes to poetry, Fluxus concentrates on visual poetry; where the language is not necessarily representative and the visual appearance is more important, and concrete poetry; again, visuals are more important than content, but where visual poetry is often visually artistic/aesthetic, concrete poetry tends to focus more on shape, placement and typography.

Fluxus was inspired heavily by Marcel Duchamp and artist and composer John Cage, particularly drawing upon their chance methods and the intention to create something with no purpose or pre-determined idea.

In September 1962, that was Wiesbaden and that was the beginning of Fluxus as performance festival. It was simply performance… What distinguished me was that I belonged to the European faction, because my friends were Europeans, and soon after Dusseldorf, George Maciunas went back to the United States and started the Fluxus thing in the United States… I remained in Europe, and Fluxus became something very important in Europe, much more so than in America, thanks to Beuys, Vostell, Ren≠ Block and other people who believed in Fluxus in a much more serious way than in the United States. These were very accomplished artists, and they were involved in Fluxus and people took note. They explained what Fluxus was, different from what I thought or what Dick thought, and it remains a very very European phenomenon. George was Lithuanian-born himself and had spent the first part of his life in Europe, shaped by these things… He was the “immigrant boy”… No one called himself or herself a Fluxus artist in New York who could match a Vostell or a Beuys or a Kopke or others who remained in Europe and had an entirely different approach. People who made Fluxus created a glorious scene in Europe–Eric Anderson, Kopke, and we did not come out of nowhere, because we had been doing things… My Opera was first done in the 1950s, and so much of my work was done before Fluxus. I knew Vostell, Spoerri, Beuys, Filliou, Ben Patterson and Nam June before there was a Fluxus… I was very close to Spoerri and Filliou. The first performance of Opera in 1959 was with Spoerri and Klaus Bremen and myself in the Keller Club in the Castle in Darmstadt. Daniel was very active in theater at the time, he comes from ballet–the poetry that has come to be identified with me as Fluxus was all there before. It was my work that many people regard as Fluxus work that La Monte saw and that caused Maciunas to phone me and say that I’m coming over to talk about Fluxus. So many of the Americans allegedly came out of John Cage’s class. – Emmett Williams

I recently posted my own Fluxus poem on Examining the Odd. My method involves using chance methods to select words from an article and display them in a poetic form. The chance method is used to decide the article, each word, how many words and how they’re placed.

Decide how many words long you want your poem to be. Draw that number of words from the linen bag, making sure to arrange the words in the order that you drew them from the bag. You may alter your poem in three ways. You may remove up to three words from your poem. You may rearrange the order of two words. You may add any word of your choosing to your poem. Draw one more word from the bag to title your poem. Copy down the poem into this booklet, and add any extra art if you like. Please return the words to the bag. – An alternative method from Fluxuslab

Categories
Visual art

Baffling Beetles

Titan Beetle – World’s Largest Beetle

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The titan beetle is the world’s largest species of beetle. It has been mistakenly classified as a giant cockroach by some people, but it is a pure beetle, with a genus of its own, Titanus. It is a member of the Cerambycidae family, or “longhorn beetles”. Adults grow as long as 16.7 cm (6.5 in) and their mandibles are strong enough to snap a pencil in half, or cause damage to a person’s flesh. Fact Zoo

I’ll admit, I’m scared of spiders and cockroaches, but I love beetles! Perhaps it’s because I live in the UK, so I don’t tend to run in to scary ones. But they’re better in photos anyway, so they can be seen in all their glorious detail.

This lovely North American beetle has the fantastic name: the Eyed Elater! It’s far too cute to be scary. I know the “eyes” aren’t eyes, but they do make it look as though it’s amazed by everything is sees.

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Chalcosoma caucasus Fabricius, 1801
(Scarabaeidae)
Indonesia, Sumatra I.

Chalcosoma_caucasus

Chalcotea neglecta Ritsema, 1882
(Scarabaeidae)
Malaysia, Perak, Cameron Highlands

Chalcotea_neglecta

Chrysina costata (Blanchard, 1850)
(Scarabaeidae)
Mexico, Xicotepec de J. Puebla, VII-VIII. 1998

Chrysina_costata

Coilodera diardi Gory & Percheron, 1833 (Scarabaeidae) Malaysia, Perak, Cameron Highlands
Coilodera diardi Gory & Percheron, 1833
(Scarabaeidae)
Malaysia, Perak, Cameron Highlands
Dicronocephalus wallichi Hope, 1831 (Scarabaeidae) Thailand
Dicronocephalus wallichi Hope, 1831
(Scarabaeidae)
Thailand

Enoplotrupes sharpi Jordan & Rothschild, 1893
(Scarabaeidae)
Thailand

Enoplotrupes_sharpi

Euchroea coelestis Burmeister, 1842 (Scarabaeidae) Madagascar, Beharasy, V.1998
Euchroea coelestis Burmeister, 1842
(Scarabaeidae)
Madagascar, Beharasy, V.1998
Eudicella gralli Buquet, 1836 (Scarabaeidae) Zair, Kivu Lake
Eudicella gralli Buquet, 1836
(Scarabaeidae)
Zair, Kivu Lake
Goliathus cacicus Olivier, 1789 (Scarabaeidae) Ivory Coast, Tsi forest, X.2001
Goliathus cacicus Olivier, 1789
(Scarabaeidae)
Ivory Coast, Tsi forest, X.2001
Golofa claviger Linnaeus, 1771 (Scarabaeidae) Peru
Golofa claviger Linnaeus, 1771
(Scarabaeidae)
Peru

Golofa pizarro Hope, 1837
(Scarabaeidae)
Mexico, Veracruz, San Pedro Soteapan, VII-VIII. 1996

Golofa_pizarro

Categories
Literary

The Mezzotint by M.R. James

The Mezzotint is a ghost story by M.R. James, another author whose work is in the Public Domain, so I read it for free on my Kindle. It’s part of a collection of short stories, so plenty more to read there too!

Or listen to it for free here with theme music by The Eldritch Light Orchestra or here.

The classic “Jamesian” ghost story includes the following elements:

  1. a characterful setting in an English village, seaside town or country estate; an ancient town in France, Denmark or Sweden; or a venerable abbey or university
  2. a nondescript and rather naive gentleman-scholar as protagonist (often of a reserved nature)
  3. the discovery of an old book or other antiquarian object that somehow unlocks, calls down the wrath, or at least attracts the unwelcome attention of a supernatural menace, usually from beyond the graveGhost

The Mezzotint offers a charming view of life at Uxbridge College in older times, as well as being a great, classic ghost story. I really enjoyed it and recommend giving it a read (or a listen).

Categories
Film

The Gentleness & Vulgarity of ‘Crimes of Passion’

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I only got round to seeing Crimes of Passion… yesterday. Yes, yesterday. My excuse – I was minus two when the film was released. Crimes of Passion moves between a seemingly confident prostitute and Bobby, a generic man whose marriage is failing. In order to make some more money to keep Amy (the wife) happy, Bobby takes on some extra night work conducting surveillance on a woman – Joanna Crane (Kathleen Turner) – at the behest of Joanna’s employer. Cult Reviews

“Yikes!” – Kathleen Turner’s response to the mention of Ken Russell. I can’t imagine he was an easy man to work with – perhaps a little like working with Dennis Potter? A man who liked everything in excess.

In fact, Russell’s excessive style is strikingly similar to that of classic Hollywood melodrama, a connection that, despite its importance for understanding this filmmaker’s work, seems strangely unexplored. – from Ken Russell: Re-Viewing England’s Last Manneristedited by Kevin M. Flanagan

“I truly believe that he is a genius. But he was a genius that had to shoot himself in the foot. He wanted to be a hugely successful Hollywood director. But he also wanted to prove that he wasn’t Hollywood, so that meant doing a few awful things to his work… It was complicated making that film.” – Turner

Crimes of Passion (1984) was directed by Ken Russell and written by Barry Sandler. Turner reportedly slept for a whole day once the filming had finished. I got on the first plane home. My fiancee picked me up at the airport and 22 hours later he woke me up and said, “If you don’t wake up I’m taking you to the hospital.” – Kathleen Turner, who played the torn, powerful and pitiful lead role of China Blue/Joanna brilliantly. I was slightly distracted during the second half of the film once I realised that Turner voiced Jessica Rabbit.

Rabbit-wives aside, I really enjoyed this film and I can only imagine how I would have received it as an adult in the eighties. It’s more sophisticated than The Lair of the White Worm, on a par with Gothic and, although more mainstream, I found it easier to watch than the wonderfully surreal Altered States.

Crimes of Passion Clip from 1984 – China Blue (Kathleen Turner) with a customer.

Categories
Literary

The Shunned House – H.P. Lovecraft 5/5

Start from Chapter One.

Chapter Five.

I had been lying with my face away from my uncle’s chair, so that in this sudden flash of awakening I saw only the door to the street, the more northerly window, and the wall and floor and ceiling toward the north of the room, all photographed with morbid vividness on my brain in a light brighter than the glow of the fungi or the rays from the street outside. It was not a strong or even a fairly strong light; certainly not nearly strong enough to read an average book by. But it cast a shadow of myself and the cot on the floor, and had a yellowish, penetrating force that hinted at things more potent than luminosity. This I perceived with unhealthy sharpness despite the fact that two of my other senses were violently assailed. For on my ears rang the reverberations of that shocking scream, while my nostrils revolted at the stench which filled the place. My mind, as alert as my senses, recognised the gravely unusual; and almost automatically I leaped up and turned about to grasp the destructive instruments which we had left trained on the mouldy spot before the fireplace. As I turned, I dreaded what I was to see; for the scream had been in my uncle’s voice, and I knew not against what menace I should have to defend him and myself.
     Yet after all, the sight was worse than I had dreaded. There are horrors beyond horrors, and this was one of those nuclei of all dreamable hideousness which the cosmos saves to blast an accursed and unhappy few. Out of the fungus-ridden earth steamed up a vaporous corpse-light, yellow and diseased, which bubbled and lapped to a gigantic height in vague outlines half-human and half-monstrous, through which I could see the chimney and fireplace beyond. It was all eyes—wolfish and mocking—and the rugose insect-like head dissolved at the top to a thin stream of mist which curled putridly about and finally vanished up the chimney. I say that I saw this thing, but it is only in conscious retrospection that I ever definitely traced its damnable approach to form. At the time it was to me only a seething, dimly phosphorescent cloud of fungous loathsomeness, enveloping and dissolving to an abhorrent plasticity the one object to which all my attention was focussed. That object was my uncle—the venerable Elihu Whipple—who with blackening and decaying features leered and gibbered at me, and reached out dripping claws to rend me in the fury which this horror had brought.
     It was a sense of routine which kept me from going mad. I had drilled myself in preparation for the crucial moment, and blind training saved me. Recognising the bubbling evil as no substance reachable by matter or material chemistry, and therefore ignoring the flame-thrower which loomed on my left, I threw on the current of the Crookes tube apparatus, and focussed toward that scene of immortal blasphemousness the strongest ether radiations which man’s art can arouse from the spaces and fluids of Nature. There was a bluish haze and a frenzied sputtering, and the yellowish phosphorescence grew dimmer to my eyes. But I saw the dimness was only that of contrast, and that the waves from the machine had no effect whatever.
     Then, in the midst of that daemoniac spectacle, I saw a fresh horror which brought cries to my lips and sent me fumbling and staggering toward that unlocked door to the quiet street, careless of what abnormal terrors I loosed upon the world, or what thoughts or judgments of men I brought down upon my head. In that dim blend of blue and yellow the form of my uncle had commenced a nauseous liquefaction whose essence eludes all description, and in which there played across his vanishing face such changes of identity as only madness can conceive. He was at once a devil and a multitude, a charnel-house and a pageant. Lit by the mixed and uncertain beams, that gelatinous face assumed a dozen—a score—a hundred—aspects; grinning, as it sank to the ground on a body that melted like tallow, in the caricatured likeness of legions strange and yet not strange.
     I saw the features of the Harris line, masculine and feminine, adult and infantile, and other features old and young, coarse and refined, familiar and unfamiliar. For a second there flashed a degraded counterfeit of a miniature of poor mad Rhoby Harris that I had seen in the School of Design Museum, and another time I thought I caught the raw-boned image of Mercy Dexter as I recalled her from a painting in Carrington Harris’s house. It was frightful beyond conception; toward the last, when a curious blend of servant and baby visages flickered close to the fungous floor where a pool of greenish grease was spreading, it seemed as though the shifting features fought against themselves, and strove to form contours like those of my uncle’s kindly face. I like to think that he existed at that moment, and that he tried to bid me farewell. It seems to me I hiccoughed a farewell from my own parched throat as I lurched out into the street; a thin stream of grease following me through the door to the rain-drenched sidewalk.
     The rest is shadowy and monstrous. There was no one in the soaking street, and in all the world there was no one I dared tell. I walked aimlessly south past College Hill and the Athenaeum, down Hopkins Street, and over the bridge to the business section where tall buildings seemed to guard me as modern material things guard the world from ancient and unwholesome wonder. Then grey dawn unfolded wetly from the east, silhouetting the archaic hill and its venerable steeples, and beckoning me to the place where my terrible work was still unfinished. And in the end I went, wet, hatless, and dazed in the morning light, and entered that awful door in Benefit Street which I had left ajar, and which still swung cryptically in full sight of the early householders to whom I dared not speak.
     The grease was gone, for the mouldy floor was porous. And in front of the fireplace was no vestige of the giant doubled-up form in nitre. I looked at the cot, the chairs, the instruments, my neglected hat, and the yellowed straw hat of my uncle. Dazedness was uppermost, and I could scarcely recall what was dream and what was reality. Then thought trickled back, and I knew that I had witnessed things more horrible than I had dreamed. Sitting down, I tried to conjecture as nearly as sanity would let me just what had happened, and how I might end the horror, if indeed it had been real. Matter it seemed not to be, nor ether, nor anything else conceivable by mortal mind. What, then, but some exotic emanation; some vampirish vapour such as Exeter rustics tell of as lurking over certain churchyards? This I felt was the clue, and again I looked at the floor before the fireplace where the mould and nitre had taken strange forms. In ten minutes my mind was made up, and taking my hat I set out for home, where I bathed, ate, and gave by telephone an order for a pickaxe, a spade, a military gas-mask, and six carboys of sulphuric acid, all to be delivered the next morning at the cellar door of the shunned house in Benefit Street. After that I tried to sleep; and failing, passed the hours in reading and in the composition of inane verses to counteract my mood.
     At 11 a.m. the next day I commenced digging. It was sunny weather, and I was glad of that. I was still alone, for as much as I feared the unknown horror I sought, there was more fear in the thought of telling anybody. Later I told Harris only through sheer necessity, and because he had heard odd tales from old people which disposed him ever so little toward belief. As I turned up the stinking black earth in front of the fireplace, my spade causing a viscous yellow ichor to ooze from the white fungi which it severed, I trembled at the dubious thoughts of what I might uncover. Some secrets of inner earth are not good for mankind, and this seemed to me one of them.
     My hand shook perceptibly, but still I delved; after a while standing in the large hole I had made. With the deepening of the hole, which was about six feet square, the evil smell increased; and I lost all doubt of my imminent contact with the hellish thing whose emanations had cursed the house for over a century and a half. I wondered what it would look like—what its form and substance would be, and how big it might have waxed through long ages of life-sucking. At length I climbed out of the hole and dispersed the heaped-up dirt, then arranging the great carboys of acid around and near two sides, so that when necessary I might empty them all down the aperture in quick succession. After that I dumped earth only along the other two sides; working more slowly and donning my gas-mask as the smell grew. I was nearly unnerved at my proximity to a nameless thing at the bottom of a pit.
     Suddenly my spade struck something softer than earth. I shuddered, and made a motion as if to climb out of the hole, which was now as deep as my neck. Then courage returned, and I scraped away more dirt in the light of the electric torch I had provided. The surface I uncovered was fishy and glassy—a kind of semi-putrid congealed jelly with suggestions of translucency. I scraped further, and saw that it had form. There was a rift where a part of the substance was folded over. The exposed area was huge and roughly cylindrical; like a mammoth soft blue-white stovepipe doubled in two, its largest part some two feet in diameter. Still more I scraped, and then abruptly I leaped out of the hole and away from the filthy thing; frantically unstopping and tilting the heavy carboys, and precipitating their corrosive contents one after another down that charnel gulf and upon the unthinkable abnormality whose titan elbow I had seen.
     The blinding maelstrom of greenish-yellow vapour which surged tempestuously up from that hole as the floods of acid descended, will never leave my memory. All along the hill people tell of the yellow day, when virulent and horrible fumes arose from the factory waste dumped in the Providence River, but I know how mistaken they are as to the source. They tell, too, of the hideous roar which at the same time came from some disordered water-pipe or gas main underground—but again I could correct them if I dared. It was unspeakably shocking, and I do not see how I lived through it. I did faint after emptying the fourth carboy, which I had to handle after the fumes had begun to penetrate my mask; but when I recovered I saw that the hole was emitting no fresh vapours.
     The two remaining carboys I emptied down without particular result, and after a time I felt it safe to shovel the earth back into the pit. It was twilight before I was done, but fear had gone out of the place. The dampness was less foetid, and all the strange fungi had withered to a kind of harmless greyish powder which blew ash-like along the floor. One of earth’s nethermost terrors had perished forever; and if there be a hell, it had received at last the daemon soul of an unhallowed thing. And as I patted down the last spadeful of mould, I shed the first of the many tears with which I have paid unaffected tribute to my beloved uncle’s memory.
     The next spring no more pale grass and strange weeds came up in the shunned house’s terraced garden, and shortly afterward Carrington Harris rented the place. It is still spectral, but its strangeness fascinates me, and I shall find mixed with my relief a queer regret when it is torn down to make way for a tawdry shop or vulgar apartment building. The barren old trees in the yard have begun to bear small, sweet apples, and last year the birds nested in their gnarled boughs.

The end.

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I hope you enjoyed it! See what I mean? It’s a reasonably cheery ending…

I’m not fond of generational begat lists—not in Genesis, not in One Hundred Years of Solitude, and not here. Still, I’ll forgive a great deal for a story that sticks the dismount. TOR

Download Shunned House as PDF

Or if audio is more your thing, go here.

Categories
Literary

The Shunned House – H.P. Lovecraft 4/5

Start from Chapter One.

Chapter Four.

On Wednesday, June 25, 1919, after a proper notification of Carrington Harris which did not include surmises as to what we expected to find, my uncle and I conveyed to the shunned house two camp chairs and a folding camp cot, together with some scientific mechanism of greater weight and intricacy. These we placed in the cellar during the day, screening the windows with paper and planning to return in the evening for our first vigil. We had locked the door from the cellar to the ground floor; and having a key to the outside cellar door, we were prepared to leave our expensive and delicate apparatus—which we had obtained secretly and at great cost—as many days as our vigils might need to be protracted. It was our design to sit up together till very late, and then watch singly till dawn in two-hour stretches, myself first and then my companion; the inactive member resting on the cot.
     The natural leadership with which my uncle procured the instruments from the laboratories of Brown University and the Cranston Street Armoury, and instinctively assumed direction of our venture, was a marvellous commentary on the potential vitality and resilience of a man of eighty-one. Elihu Whipple had lived according to the hygienic laws he had preached as a physician, and but for what happened later would be here in full vigour today. Only two persons suspect what did happen—Carrington Harris and myself. I had to tell Harris because he owned the house and deserved to know what had gone out of it. Then too, we had spoken to him in advance of our quest; and I felt after my uncle’s going that he would understand and assist me in some vitally necessary public explanations. He turned very pale, but agreed to help me, and decided that it would now be safe to rent the house.
     To declare that we were not nervous on that rainy night of watching would be an exaggeration both gross and ridiculous. We were not, as I have said, in any sense childishly superstitious, but scientific study and reflection had taught us that the known universe of three dimensions embraces the merest fraction of the whole cosmos of substance and energy. In this case an overwhelming preponderance of evidence from numerous authentic sources pointed to the tenacious existence of certain forces of great power and, so far as the human point of view is concerned, exceptional malignancy. To say that we actually believed in vampires or werewolves would be a carelessly inclusive statement. Rather must it be said that we were not prepared to deny the possibility of certain unfamiliar and unclassified modifications of vital force and attenuated matter; existing very infrequently in three-dimensional space because of its more intimate connexion with other spatial units, yet close enough to the boundary of our own to furnish us occasional manifestations which we, for lack of a proper vantage-point, may never hope to understand.
     In short, it seemed to my uncle and me that an incontrovertible array of facts pointed to some lingering influence in the shunned house; traceable to one or another of the ill-favoured French settlers of two centuries before, and still operative through rare and unknown laws of atomic and electronic motion. That the family of Roulet had possessed an abnormal affinity for outer circles of entity—dark spheres which for normal folk hold only repulsion and terror—their recorded history seemed to prove. Had not, then, the riots of those bygone seventeen-thirties set moving certain kinetic patterns in the morbid brain of one or more of them—notably the sinister Paul Roulet—which obscurely survived the bodies murdered and buried by the mob, and continued to function in some multiple-dimensioned space along the original lines of force determined by a frantic hatred of the encroaching community?
     Such a thing was surely not a physical or biochemical impossibility in the light of a newer science which includes the theories of relativity and intra-atomic action. One might easily imagine an alien nucleus of substance or energy, formless or otherwise, kept alive by imperceptible or immaterial subtractions from the life-force or bodily tissues and fluids of other and more palpably living things into which it penetrates and with whose fabric it sometimes completely merges itself. It might be actively hostile, or it might be dictated merely by blind motives of self-preservation. In any case such a monster must of necessity be in our scheme of things an anomaly and an intruder, whose extirpation forms a primary duty with every man not an enemy to the world’s life, health, and sanity.
     What baffled us was our utter ignorance of the aspect in which we might encounter the thing. No sane person had even seen it, and few had ever felt it definitely. It might be pure energy—a form ethereal and outside the realm of substance—or it might be partly material; some unknown and equivocal mass of plasticity, capable of changing at will to nebulous approximations of the solid, liquid, gaseous, or tenuously unparticled states. The anthropomorphic patch of mould on the floor, the form of the yellowish vapour, and the curvature of the tree-roots in some of the old tales, all argued at least a remote and reminiscent connexion with the human shape; but how representative or permanent that similarity might be, none could say with any kind of certainty.
     We had devised two weapons to fight it; a large and specially fitted Crookes tube operated by powerful storage batteries and provided with peculiar screens and reflectors, in case it proved intangible and opposable only by vigorously destructive ether radiations, and a pair of military flame-throwers of the sort used in the world-war, in case it proved partly material and susceptible of mechanical destruction—for like the superstitious Exeter rustics, we were prepared to burn the thing’s heart out if heart existed to burn. All this aggressive mechanism we set in the cellar in positions carefully arranged with reference to the cot and chairs, and to the spot before the fireplace where the mould had taken strange shapes. That suggestive patch, by the way, was only faintly visible when we placed our furniture and instruments, and when we returned that evening for the actual vigil. For a moment I half doubted that I had ever seen it in the more definitely limned form—but then I thought of the legends.
     Our cellar vigil began at 10 p.m., daylight saving time, and as it continued we found no promise of pertinent developments. A weak, filtered glow from the rain-harassed street-lamps outside, and a feeble phosphorescence from the detestable fungi within, shewed the dripping stone of the walls, from which all traces of whitewash had vanished; the dank, foetid, and mildew-tainted hard earth floor with its obscene fungi; the rotting remains of what had been stools, chairs, and tables, and other more shapeless furniture; the heavy planks and massive beams of the ground floor overhead; the decrepit plank door leading to bins and chambers beneath other parts of the house; the crumbling stone staircase with ruined wooden hand-rail; and the crude and cavernous fireplace of blackened brick where rusted iron fragments revealed the past presence of hooks, andirons, spit, crane, and a door to the Dutch oven—these things, and our austere cot and camp chairs, and the heavy and intricate destructive machinery we had brought.
     We had, as in my own former explorations, left the door to the street unlocked; so that a direct and practical path of escape might lie open in case of manifestations beyond our power to deal with. It was our idea that our continued nocturnal presence would call forth whatever malign entity lurked there; and that being prepared, we could dispose of the thing with one or the other of our provided means as soon as we had recognised and observed it sufficiently. How long it might require to evoke and extinguish the thing, we had no notion. It occurred to us, too, that our venture was far from safe; for in what strength the thing might appear no one could tell. But we deemed the game worth the hazard, and embarked on it alone and unhesitatingly; conscious that the seeking of outside aid would only expose us to ridicule and perhaps defeat our entire purpose. Such was our frame of mind as we talked—far into the night, till my uncle’s growing drowsiness made me remind him to lie down for his two-hour sleep.
     Something like fear chilled me as I sat there in the small hours alone—I say alone, for one who sits by a sleeper is indeed alone; perhaps more alone than he can realise. My uncle breathed heavily, his deep inhalations and exhalations accompanied by the rain outside, and punctuated by another nerve-racking sound of distant dripping water within—for the house was repulsively damp even in dry weather, and in this storm positively swamp-like. I studied the loose, antique masonry of the walls in the fungus-light and the feeble rays which stole in from the street through the screened windows; and once, when the noisome atmosphere of the place seemed about to sicken me, I opened the door and looked up and down the street, feasting my eyes on familiar sights and my nostrils on the wholesome air. Still nothing occurred to reward my watching; and I yawned repeatedly, fatigue getting the better of apprehension.
     Then the stirring of my uncle in his sleep attracted my notice. He had turned restlessly on the cot several times during the latter half of the first hour, but now he was breathing with unusual irregularity, occasionally heaving a sigh which held more than a few of the qualities of a choking moan. I turned my electric flashlight on him and found his face averted, so rising and crossing to the other side of the cot, I again flashed the light to see if he seemed in any pain. What I saw unnerved me most surprisingly, considering its relative triviality. It must have been merely the association of any odd circumstance with the sinister nature of our location and mission, for surely the circumstance was not in itself frightful or unnatural. It was merely that my uncle’s facial expression, disturbed no doubt by the strange dreams which our situation prompted, betrayed considerable agitation, and seemed not at all characteristic of him. His habitual expression was one of kindly and well-bred calm, whereas now a variety of emotions seemed struggling within him. I think, on the whole, that it was this variety which chiefly disturbed me. My uncle, as he gasped and tossed in increasing perturbation and with eyes that had now started open, seemed not one but many men, and suggested a curious quality of alienage from himself.
     All at once he commenced to mutter, and I did not like the look of his mouth and teeth as he spoke. The words were at first indistinguishable, and then—with a tremendous start—I recognised something about them which filled me with icy fear till I recalled the breadth of my uncle’s education and the interminable translations he had made from anthropological and antiquarian articles in theRevue des Deux Mondes. For the venerable Elihu Whipple was muttering in French, and the few phrases I could distinguish seemed connected with the darkest myths he had ever adapted from the famous Paris magazine.
     Suddenly a perspiration broke out on the sleeper’s forehead, and he leaped abruptly up, half awake. The jumble of French changed to a cry in English, and the hoarse voice shouted excitedly, “My breath, my breath!” Then the awakening became complete, and with a subsidence of facial expression to the normal state my uncle seized my hand and began to relate a dream whose nucleus of significance I could only surmise with a kind of awe.
     He had, he said, floated off from a very ordinary series of dream-pictures into a scene whose strangeness was related to nothing he had ever read. It was of this world, and yet not of it—a shadowy geometrical confusion in which could be seen elements of familiar things in most unfamiliar and perturbing combinations. There was a suggestion of queerly disordered pictures superimposed one upon another; an arrangement in which the essentials of time as well as of space seemed dissolved and mixed in the most illogical fashion. In this kaleidoscopic vortex of phantasmal images were occasional snapshots, if one might use the term, of singular clearness but unaccountable heterogeneity.
     Once my uncle thought he lay in a carelessly dug open pit, with a crowd of angry faces framed by straggling locks and three-cornered hats frowning down on him. Again he seemed to be in the interior of a house—an old house, apparently—but the details and inhabitants were constantly changing, and he could never be certain of the faces or the furniture, or even of the room itself, since doors and windows seemed in just as great a state of flux as the more presumably mobile objects. It was queer—damnably queer—and my uncle spoke almost sheepishly, as if half expecting not to be believed, when he declared that of the strange faces many had unmistakably borne the features of the Harris family. And all the while there was a personal sensation of choking, as if some pervasive presence had spread itself through his body and sought to possess itself of his vital processes. I shuddered at the thought of those vital processes, worn as they were by eighty-one years of continuous functioning, in conflict with unknown forces of which the youngest and strongest system might well be afraid; but in another moment reflected that dreams are only dreams, and that these uncomfortable visions could be, at most, no more than my uncle’s reaction to the investigations and expectations which had lately filled our minds to the exclusion of all else.
     Conversation, also, soon tended to dispel my sense of strangeness; and in time I yielded to my yawns and took my turn at slumber. My uncle seemed now very wakeful, and welcomed his period of watching even though the nightmare had aroused him far ahead of his allotted two hours. Sleep seized me quickly, and I was at once haunted with dreams of the most disturbing kind. I felt, in my visions, a cosmic and abysmal loneness; with hostility surging from all sides upon some prison where I lay confined. I seemed bound and gagged, and taunted by the echoing yells of distant multitudes who thirsted for my blood. My uncle’s face came to me with less pleasant associations than in waking hours, and I recall many futile struggles and attempts to scream. It was not a pleasant sleep, and for a second I was not sorry for the echoing shriek which clove through the barriers of dream and flung me to a sharp and startled awakeness in which every actual object before my eyes stood out with more than natural clearness and reality.