Blood Flow by David A. Hill Jr. – First Chapter Preview!

The synopsis:

Vampire democracy sucks. Literally. When it’s one vamp, one vote, the worst monsters can swing elections by turning random people off the streets into new vampires. Dylan is one of those random people. The power players in the city want his vote, but he just wants to be left the hell alone. Most of all, he wants to stop murdering people. That’s easier than it sounds when some people are seriously asking for it.

Dylan’s life as a vampire is gross, terrifying, disgusting, frustrating, sexy, painful, and that’s all just in the first night out.

Content Warning: This novel has graphic depictions of assault, murder, sex, bodily fluids, and sexual assault.

Author David A. Hill Jr. has very kindly agreed to share the first chapter with Examining the Odd readers!


CHAPTER ONE: GET RICH OR DIE TRYING

You know that story about the kid who put his finger in a hole in a dam to stop the flood? Bullet wounds don’t work that way. A finger, a hand, a shirt, it doesn’t matter—the blood flows hard. When it’s coming from your chest, every second feels like your last. You scramble. You panic. You spout off all the sobbing nonsense your oxygen-deprived brain can come up with. Your friends and family eat it up, and they spout the same bullshit right back at you. How it’s going to be okay. How the dead guy next to you is going to a better place.

I’m bleeding out. I grab at my chest, trying everything I can to stop the flow. Everything hurts—not just the bullet wound. The August pavement burns into my back. My back hurts because of fucking course my back hurts. I scraped my knee when I fell to the ground. I’m hungry. I wish my body could just focus on the gunshot. I wish it was like those stories where the guy gets stabbed but doesn’t know it until someone tells him.

The pain magnifies every sense. Sirens down the street sound like concert speakers pressed against my ear, and look like tie-dyed shirts off in the distance. Every time someone grabs my arms and legs, it feels like a punch in the face. My blood smells like the welding room back at the Honda plant I worked at a few years ago. Guys in blue jumpsuits lift me onto a stretcher. I feel a thousand pounds pushing down on my lungs. I feel like I’m drowning, and I tell them I’m not going to make it. They tell me to stop talking, that I need to try to relax. Save my breath, they say.

The next few minutes bleed together. The ambulance shakes hard. They shove an oxygen mask in my face. The lights blind me. They strap me down. Why do they need to strap me down? I struggle. They jab something in my arm. I tell myself I’m going to make it, and go limp. The breaths stop hurting. The bullet wounds stop burning. My vision blurs just a little more. I forget everything but my hunger. I’d murder for a burrito full of pastrami, mustard, pickles, and french fries. I have no idea how I’d eat it when my hands are covered in blood. But I want it. Then I don’t. My stomach turns over, and I want to throw up all over the EMTs, but I can’t. I can barely even open my eyes.

Minutes later, they’re carrying me they’re saying plenty. But I just hear shitty big budget action movie barking they run away from a CGI explosion. I try to look around, but it’s just white walls and blue jumpsuits as far as my eyes can see. I try asking, but it comes out as groaning and drooling.

They bring me into a room and swarm. Eight, maybe nine faces. They pull lamps like spotlights to beam down on me. It’s blinding. They’re hot as sun on the boardwalk. I feel like carnitas under the grocery store heat lamp. I groan. They spin the same bullshit. “You’re going to be fine.” They all tell me that. “Keep fighting!” That one’s my favorite. Fight. Tied down. Barely conscious. Numb. Bleeding out. But somehow, I’m supposed to fight. Do I tell my arteries to stop pumping? Do I slow my breath to conserve oxygen? I wiggle my toes. I feel like a badass. A fighter.

My eyes close. My eyes open. Every time they open, I see a little more blood on their scrubs and gloves. Every time my eyes close, they stay closed a little longer than the last. I hear the beep, the long beep like on TV. I wonder if they’re going to use those paddle things. They don’t. One of the women says, “We’re losing him.” I try to open my eyes. To tell them they’re not losing me.

They do.

###

I wake up in a dark, tight space. Something is on my face. I reach up and out. I am in a bag. I scream. I panic. I punch. I fight. Nobody answers, and after a few minutes I realize nobody’s going to answer. So I feel around the bag, and grab the zipper. It takes a moment of struggling since the zipper wasn’t made to open from the inside. It was still dark outside the bag. I kick out, and opened a door. Light cracks in.

I slide out on a metal shelf. Naked. Like a filing cabinet for corpses, just like on TV. What isn’t like TV is the bag. White, with blue trim. I expected a heavy black bag. Why wasn’t I dead? Don’t they embalm people down here? Do they do that before filing them away, or after?

San Jenaro does a lot of things well. Street cleaning? Great. Feeding the homeless? We’re better than average. But the hospitals are the pits. Filthy. Smelly. Disorganized. Underfunded. I poke around in the morgue. There’s no hint of life. This is fortunate, since my cock decided to raise full mast. This is the kind of bulging, bordering on painful erection I’d usually stop to do something about, but, morgue. I have a brief flashback to being on the ER table. I pat my chest, feeling for the bullet wounds. They’re gone. Replaced by the erection of a lifetime. Great.

Worse? Everything’s still bloody, caked with dry, filthy blood. Old blood and motor oil and cigarette ash and dust and whatever else was on the streets. I smell like a 7-Eleven dumpster. Without even thinking about it, I hit the nearest sink, and scrub my hands and arms until the skin hurts. But I still stink. My skin is caked with filth, and it’s so deep I feel like a boiling bath is my only answer.

I follow the signs to the stairs. As I round the last corner, the old steel door out of here, a security guard walks through. I I scramble back. I run tip-toed back to the morgue. I tuck behind support pillar. I close my eyes, hoping like hell he doesn’t come through. Then my mind focuses on him. He’s got fifty pounds on me, but I can probably take him. He’s healthy. Alive. Vibrant. As he walks toward the morgue, I hear every step. He opens the door, and I hear his breathing. Heavy. Maybe asthmatic. Then I hear his heart. It beats fast. Once and a half a second. About as fast as Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love”. The sound both soothes and exhilarates. I smile. I bob like I’m in a drum circle trance. I forget all the stress. I forget all the worry. I forget that minutes ago, I was dead on a slab. Everything in my universe existed for that sound. That beat. I wanted to take it within me. I wanted to move with his heart and get lost in it. And then the stomach growled. I growled. He heard me. “Is anybody flashlight across the morgue.

Wait. I growled?

“Fuck. I’m a vampire.” He definitely heard that.

“What? Who is that?” The guard says, and rapidly to every corner.

hunger kicked in. My in here?” He shone a

pans his flashlight

I hold my breath. I think about vampire things. I push my tongue to my teeth. Fangs? Check. They feel shorter than I expect. But I cut my tongue on them, so they can do the job. The job? Why am I thinking of biting this security guard? That’s sick. Are vampires immune to Hepatitis? And he’s a big guy. If he struggles, it’s going to make a hell of a mess. Or maybe my bite’s like in that game I played in high school, and he’ll get all orgasmic while I’m drinking his blood. Do I really want that big sweaty guy orgasmic in my arms? Not into bears. But it’s not a sex thing. Is it?

Fuck it. As the guard passes by my pillar, I turn on heel, grab him, and bite. The motion is way too comfortable, like I’ve been doing it all my life. Once I bite, I feel my fangs push up into my jaw, and I just start drinking like I’ve never drank before. It’s great. It’s like every terrible metaphor you can think of for good things. It’s like running into the bathroom on a cold day and pissing after you’ve been holding it in for an hour. It’s like you’ve just came inside someone, and you’re not quite ready to pull it out, so you just kinda sit there and everything tickles and you wonder if you can go again, and they clench up and squeeze your cock a little and life is perfect. It’s like that. And more. He didn’t seem orgasmic, but he also didn’t fight. He just kinda clenched up. He waved his arms a little bit and knocked over a tray table. But when I finally pull my face off his collar, everything in his face says scared. If that’s his orgasm face, I feel bad for anyone he takes home.

The heartbeat sound dies down, and I lower the guard to the ground. I see his little name badge. It says Tom Jones. Like the old actor. Or was he a musician? I don’t know. Tom Jones gasps. Whimpers a little. He’s alive, but his eyes keep drooping like I imagine mine did in that emergency room. I pick up his radio, and put my thumb on the button. I consider calling it in. But then I remember that I’ve still got to make it out. Besides, we’re in a hospital, right? If you’re going to get attacked by a vampire, a hospital’s the best place for that to happen. If he’s gonna live, he’s in the best place to do it.

In a fit, I grab Tom Jones’s pants, put them on, and pull the belt extra tight. I grab his shoes. On the wall near the door, I spot a hoodie, and toss it on. It’s all way too big. Like a kid in daddy’s work clothes. It smells terrible. But at least my erection’s gone.

###

It’s the dead of night. I check my pockets. Tom Jones graciously left me $65 and some change. Who carries that much cash? People who can’t get bank accounts, that’s who. Did I just murder someone who couldn’t even get a bank account? Fuck.

No. I didn’t murder him. I have no reason to think he’s dead. He’s in a hospital. That’s where people go to not die.

Unless they’re me.

I hop on a bus, and start home. My senses flare, and as the bus starts moving, everything becomes too much. The engine. The lights. The voices. The blonde girl closest to me talks into an iPhone. Last year’s model, with some Japanese cartoon girl on the case. From the phone, I hear some guy laughing. I know, just know, that he’s laughing at me. I want to kill him. I want to show him that nobody laughs at me. I grit my teeth. My fangs extend. This reassures me. Those fangs? They’re a gun in my hand. They’re power. I could grab and kill any single person on this bus, and nobody could do shit about it.

Holy shit, why am I thinking this? What in the fuck did these people even do? Calm down, Dylan. Besides, what are you going to do? Bite the iPhone? Crush it while hissing menacingly? You’d look like a jackass alpha male baboon, and she’d have to go argue about her phone insurance policy tomorrow. Does AppleCare cover bite damage?

The blonde’s conversation goes darker. She keeps trying to talk. He keeps cutting her off. She rolls her eyes, and pulls the phone a couple of inches from her ear. Whatever he’s saying, he’s pissed. I can hear every word, but I can’t understand them. He’s rambling. He’s guilty. He’s lying. But I don’t know the words he’s saying. He calls her Lyndsay. I can’t help but to watch her.

She’s had a long day; her makeup’s cracking around the corners of her eyes. Her eyeshadow’s a soft shimmering gunmetal over a black base, and it’s creasing bad. She looks at me and raises an eyebrow; I realize I’m creeping out on her so I turn my head. I can’t help it, and my eyes wander back over. The magenta on her lips is fading away. The dark liner is a little too obvious; I picture her clubbing or bartending or something in the dark.

Then my mind wanders. I imagine myself walking up to her in a bar, saying something clever. That magenta lipstick rubs off on a drink I bought her. We laugh, and I take her to a hallway. We start fucking, standing up, the way it happens in the movies but totally doesn’t work in real life. She’s wet, and warm, and perfect. I’m nailing her hard, lifting her up every time, and she throws her head back and tells me not to stop. I run my fingers through her hair and tug her back a little more. I bite down on her neck and keep on fucking her, and god damn it the erection’s back. I cross my legs.

Lindsay hangs the phone up and puts it in a purple faux snakeskin purse. I notice her shirt. A white, button-down blouse that’s been bleached a few too many times. It smells like dish water. Her hands are dry, and the red on her short fingernails is chipped all to hell. Black slacks. Definitely service work.

“Boyfriend troubles?” I say to her. God damn it, Dylan, you sound like an asshole. You look like a creep, in your stolen pants and XXXL hoodie.

“Yeah? I mean, kinda? Maybe?” She shakes her head. “I don’t know.” She sighs and looks across the bus, not at me.

“Sorry to hear it. Had a hard day myself. I’m Dylan.” Had a hard day myself? Dork. I hope I get vampire hypnotism or something, because I am so not smooth.

Wait. Hypnotism? That is not helping with the creepy factor.

“It happens.” She says with a shrug. “Look. My stop’s coming up.” She stands and forces the same smile I’m sure she forces a hundred times a night in whatever bar she works at.

“That’s cool. I just… I don’t want to sound like an ass, but since I stepped on the bus, I kept telling myself I had to try to talk to you. So…” Instinctively, I stand too. I look her in the eyes, like they do in the movies. Not trying to hypnotize her or whatever, I just can’t help but to look at her. “I just wondered if I could get your number? If not, that’s totally cool and I respect that choice.”

She looks either way. Away from my eyes. Then sighs, and pulls up her purse and takes out her phone. “You know, why not? Give me yours instead. I’ll text you.”

It worked all natural. Just Dylan smooth. Or did I accidentally hypnotize her? Maybe she would have given it to me anyway. Except there’s no fucking way, because I look like the Unabomber and I smell like… he used fertilizer bombs, right? I guess I smell as bad as him, too. But I don’t have my phone! It must be back at the hospital. I pat my pants, remembering I have Tom Jones’s phone. I pull it out, an old Nokia flip phone, hand shaking, and begin looking for the number in the settings. I notice the phone says it’s Thursday; it was Tuesday when I ate that bullet.

“I’ve got to get off here.” Lindsay says, sighing and edging toward the door. “What’s your number?”

“Sorry. I don’t call myself.” I find the settings. “It’s 555-555-5555.”

She dials and steps off the bus. “I’m Lindsay.” She says as the door’s closing.

“I know.” I say back, waving. I know? Oh my god I sound like a cretin. Worse off, I missed my stop. Lindsay’s stop was my stop. Maybe it’s for the best. I’ve filled my creep quota for this year already. Tom Jones’s phone buzzes. I look. “It’s Lindsay :)”

I take a deep breath and step off at the next stop.

###

Twenty minutes walking, and I’m home. I look at the old white house and march up the steps like I have a million times before. I put my hand to the doorknob. Mom’s car is in the driveway. I freeze. I can’t go back— I’m dead. Two days ago, the doctors or cops or whomever told her that she lost her baby. She’s probably not stopped crying once.

Then again, maybe it’ll help her if she knows I’m alive. Maybe I’ll walk in and she’ll hug me and everything will be all better. No fucking way. They file paperwork. I have a death certificate. How am I supposed to argue that? I don’t even know if vampires can go out in the sun, and government offices aren’t open at night. I shake my head and turn around.

But, it’s 4am. I stop. She’s asleep. Least I can do is get some of my stuff. Get out of these bags and into something that fits and doesn’t stink like formaldehyde. I pull the spare key out of the potted plant next to the door. The same key I’ve told mom to hide somewhere better a million times. I slip in and upstairs to my room. As I suspect, everyone’s in bed.

It’s silent in here. Sometimes a car passes by outside. But, it’s quiet enough that I hear every heart. Every breath. Mom’s in her room. Geena’s in hers. They’re through thick walls, but it still distracts me for a moment. Usually I can barely hear if Geena’s fucking her stupid boyfriend, let alone her breathing. I shake it off, and grab some clothes, and stuff them in my backpack. I look around, taking inventory. What else should I take? I grab my iPod; that might help distract me from all the fucking heartbeats. That’s it. Nothing worth taking. I worked my ass off to fill this room with shit, and now none of it means anything. The only thing I want—my bank card—is probably sitting in the morgue or in an evidence locker somewhere. And don’t they close your accounts when you die?

The room explodes with sound. Blaring. I jump and look around. A voice breaks out. “Lord knows, I can’t chayayayayaynge!” Fucking Freebird? Seriously? Then I realize; it’s coming from my pocket. I pull Tom Jones’s phone. The screen says “Mercy Medical”. Guess they haven’t found him yet. I hang up on them.

Freebird? Really? At least I don’t have to feel bad about killing

him.

Damn it, Dylan. No, no, no. Killing people is wrong, even if they have a Freebird ringtone. And you don’t get to play that cool if that ringtone’s coming from the phone you just stole from the guy you just murdered.

I return to the moment, to my house, to Freebird, to my mourning family. I run. I hear movement in the other rooms. Mom. Geena. Both waking up. Coming to see who the hell is blasting Freebird in their dead son or brother’s room. I bump a lamp in the hall. That god-awful woodcarving of a giraffe that mom thinks is so “real” despite being made in China. I catch it as it falls, and I just fucking throw it. The cord rips out and it splits in half right next to mom’s door. I keep running, and I go out the back because knowing my luck, cops are already out front ready to take me to vampire jail.

“Dylan?” Geena shouts out her bedroom window. I look back. She sees me. “Dylan?!” She shouts again. I shake my head, and I run. I tell myself I’m not Dylan. I’m not the guy she’s looking for. I’m the guy who broke in and stole some clothes and an iPod.

That’s me. A burglar in my own fucking house.

Blood Flow by David A. Hill Jr.
Blood Flow by David A. Hill Jr.

You can buy it in print or digitally through Amazon.

Blood Flow is a modern gothic, a weird take on a vampire novel by David A Hill Jr. It’s an examination of democracy, modern culture, consent issues in vampire fiction, and what it takes to adapt to a rapidly changing world.

5 Days of Lovecraft – 3: Sweet Ermengarde

Sweet Ermengarde
Or, the Heart of a Country Girl
By Percy Simple [H. P. Lovecraft]

Chapter I.
A Simple Rustic Maid
Ermengarde Stubbs was the beauteous blonde daughter of Hiram Stubbs, a poor but honest farmer-bootlegger of Hogton, Vt. Her name was originally Ethyl Ermengarde, but her father persuaded her to drop the praenomen after the passage of the 18th Amendment, averring that it made him thirsty by reminding him of ethyl alcohol, C2H5OH. His own products contained mostly methyl or wood alcohol, CH3OH. Ermengarde confessed to sixteen summers, and branded as mendacious all reports to the effect that she was thirty. She had large black eyes, a prominent Roman nose, light hair which was never dark at the roots except when the local drug store was short on supplies, and a beautiful but inexpensive complexion. She was about 5ft 5.33…in tall, weighed 115.47 lbs. on her father’s copy scales—also off them—and was adjudged most lovely by all the village swains who admired her father’s farm and liked his liquid crops.
     Ermengarde’s hand was sought in matrimony by two ardent lovers. ’Squire Hardman, who had a mortgage on the old home, was very rich and elderly. He was dark and cruelly handsome, and always rode horseback and carried a riding-crop. Long had he sought the radiant Ermengarde, and now his ardour was fanned to fever heat by a secret known to him alone—for upon the humble acres of Farmer Stubbs he had discovered a vein of rich GOLD!! “Aha!” said he, “I will win the maiden ere her parent knows of his unsuspected wealth, and join to my fortune a greater fortune still!” And so he began to call twice a week instead of once as before.
     But alas for the sinister designs of a villain—’Squire Hardman was not the only suitor for the fair one. Close by the village dwelt another—the handsome Jack Manly, whose curly yellow hair had won the sweet Ermengarde’s affection when both were toddling youngsters at the village school. Jack had long been too bashful to declare his passion, but one day while strolling along a shady lane by the old mill with Ermengarde, he had found courage to utter that which was within his heart.
     “O light of my life,” said he, “my soul is so overburdened that I must speak! Ermengarde, my ideal [he pronounced it i-deel!], life has become an empty thing without you. Beloved of my spirit, behold a suppliant kneeling in the dust before thee. Ermengarde—oh, Ermengarde, raise me to an heaven of joy and say that you will some day be mine! It is true that I am poor, but have I not youth and strength to fight my way to fame? This I can do only for you, dear Ethyl—pardon me, Ermengarde—my only, my most precious—” but here he paused to wipe his eyes and mop his brow, and the fair responded:
     “Jack—my angel—at last—I mean, this is so unexpected and quite unprecedented! I had never dreamed that you entertained sentiments of affection in connexion with one so lowly as Farmer Stubbs’ child—for I am still but a child! Such is your natural nobility that I had feared—I mean thought—you would be blind to such slight charms as I possess, and that you would seek your fortune in the great city; there meeting and wedding one of those more comely damsels whose splendour we observe in fashion books.
     “But, Jack, since it is really I whom you adore, let us waive all needless circumlocution. Jack—my darling—my heart has long been susceptible to your manly graces. I cherish an affection for thee—consider me thine own and be sure to buy the ring at Perkins’ hardware store where they have such nice imitation diamonds in the window.”
     “Ermengarde, me love!”
     “Jack—my precious!”
     “My darling!”
     “My own!”
     “My Gawd!”
[Curtain]
Chapter II.
And the Villain Still Pursued Her
     But these tender passages, sacred though their fervour, did not pass unobserved by profane eyes; for crouched in the bushes and gritting his teeth was the dastardly ’Squire Hardman! When the lovers had finally strolled away he leapt out into the lane, viciously twirling his moustache and riding-crop, and kicking an unquestionably innocent cat who was also out strolling.
     “Curses!” he cried—Hardman, not the cat—“I am foiled in my plot to get the farm and the girl! But Jack Manly shall never succeed! I am a man of power—and we shall see!”
     Thereupon he repaired to the humble Stubbs’ cottage, where he found the fond father in the still-cellar washing bottles under the supervision of the gentle wife and mother, Hannah Stubbs. Coming directly to the point, the villain spoke:
     “Farmer Stubbs, I cherish a tender affection of long standing for your lovely offspring, Ethyl Ermengarde. I am consumed with love, and wish her hand in matrimony. Always a man of few words, I will not descend to euphemism. Give me the girl or I will foreclose the mortgage and take the old home!”
     “But, Sir,” pleaded the distracted Stubbs while his stricken spouse merely glowered, “I am sure the child’s affections are elsewhere placed.”
     “She must be mine!” sternly snapped the sinister ’squire. “I will make her love me—none shall resist my will! Either she becomes muh wife or the old homestead goes!”
     And with a sneer and flick of his riding-crop ’Squire Hardman strode out into the night.
     Scarce had he departed, when there entered by the back door the radiant lovers, eager to tell the senior Stubbses of their new-found happiness. Imagine the universal consternation which reigned when all was known! Tears flowed like white ale, till suddenly Jack remembered he was the hero and raised his head, declaiming in appropriately virile accents:
     “Never shall the fair Ermengarde be offered up to this beast as a sacrifice while I live! I shall protect her—she is mine, mine, mine—and then some! Fear not, dear father and mother to be—I will defend you all! You shall have the old home still [adverb, not noun—although Jack was by no means out of sympathy with Stubbs’ kind of farm produce] and I shall lead to the altar the beauteous Ermengarde, loveliest of her sex! To perdition with the crool ’squire and his ill-gotten gold—the right shall always win, and a hero is always in the right! I will go to the great city and there make a fortune to save you all ere the mortgage fall due! Farewell, my love—I leave you now in tears, but I shall return to pay off the mortgage and claim you as my bride!”
     “Jack, my protector!”
     “Ermie, my sweet roll!”
     “Dearest!”
     “Darling!—and don’t forget that ring at Perkins’.”
     “Oh!”
     “Ah!”
[Curtain]
Chapter III.
A Dastardly Act
     But the resourceful ’Squire Hardman was not so easily to be foiled. Close by the village lay a disreputable settlement of unkempt shacks, populated by a shiftless scum who lived by thieving and other odd jobs. Here the devilish villain secured two accomplices—ill-favoured fellows who were very clearly no gentlemen. And in the night the evil three broke into the Stubbs cottage and abducted the fair Ermengarde, taking her to a wretched hovel in the settlement and placing her under the charge of Mother Maria, a hideous old hag. Farmer Stubbs was quite distracted, and would have advertised in the papers if the cost had been less than a cent a word for each insertion. Ermengarde was firm, and never wavered in her refusal to wed the villain.
     “Aha, my proud beauty,” quoth he, “I have ye in me power, and sooner or later I will break that will of thine! Meanwhile think of your poor old father and mother as turned out of hearth and home and wandering helpless through the meadows!”
     “Oh, spare them, spare them!” said the maiden.
     “Neverr . . . ha ha ha ha!” leered the brute.
     And so the cruel days sped on, while all in ignorance young Jack Manly was seeking fame and fortune in the great city.

Chapter IV.
Subtle Villainy
     One day as ’Squire Hardman sat in the front parlour of his expensive and palatial home, indulging in his favourite pastime of gnashing his teeth and swishing his riding-crop, a great thought came to him; and he cursed aloud at the statue of Satan on the onyx mantelpiece.
     “Fool that I am!” he cried. “Why did I ever waste all this trouble on the girl when I can get the farm by simply foreclosing? I never thought of that! I will let the girl go, take the farm, and be free to wed some fair city maid like the leading lady of that burlesque troupe which played last week at the Town Hall!”
     And so he went down to the settlement, apologised to Ermengarde, let her go home, and went home himself to plot new crimes and invent new modes of villainy.
     The days wore on, and the Stubbses grew very sad over the coming loss of their home and still but nobody seemed able to do anything about it. One day a party of hunters from the city chanced to stray over the old farm, and one of them found the gold!! Hiding his discovery from his companions, he feigned rattlesnake-bite and went to the Stubbs’ cottage for aid of the usual kind. Ermengarde opened the door and saw him. He also saw her, and in that moment resolved to win her and the gold. “For my old mother’s sake I must”—he cried loudly to himself. “No sacrifice is too great!”

Chapter V.
The City Chap
     Algernon Reginald Jones was a polished man of the world from the great city, and in his sophisticated hands our poor little Ermengarde was as a mere child. One could almost believe that sixteen-year-old stuff. Algy was a fast worker, but never crude. He could have taught Hardman a thing or two about finesse in sheiking. Thus only a week after his advent to the Stubbs family circle, where he lurked like the vile serpent that he was, he had persuaded the heroine to elope! It was in the night that she went leaving a note for her parents, sniffing the familiar mash for the last time, and kissing the cat goodbye—touching stuff! On the train Algernon became sleepy and slumped down in his seat, allowing a paper to fall out of his pocket by accident. Ermengarde, taking advantage of her supposed position as a bride-elect, picked up the folded sheet and read its perfumed expanse—when lo! she almost fainted! It was a love letter from another woman!!
     “Perfidious deceiver!” she whispered at the sleeping Algernon, “so this is all that your boasted fidelity amounts to! I am done with you for all eternity!”
     So saying, she pushed him out the window and settled down for a much needed rest.

Chapter VI.
Alone in the Great City
     When the noisy train pulled into the dark station at the city, poor helpless Ermengarde was all alone without the money to get back to Hogton. “Oh why,” she sighed in innocent regret, “didn’t I take his pocketbook before I pushed him out? Oh well, I should worry! He told me all about the city so I can easily earn enough to get home if not to pay off the mortgage!”
     But alas for our little heroine—work is not easy for a greenhorn to secure, so for a week she was forced to sleep on park benches and obtain food from the bread-line. Once a wily and wicked person, perceiving her helplessness, offered her a position as dish-washer in a fashionable and depraved cabaret; but our heroine was true to her rustic ideals and refused to work in such a gilded and glittering palace of frivolity—especially since she was offered only $3.00 per week with meals but no board. She tried to look up Jack Manly, her one-time lover, but he was nowhere to be found. Perchance, too, he would not have known her; for in her poverty she had perforce become a brunette again, and Jack had not beheld her in that state since school days. One day she found a neat but costly purse in the park; and after seeing that there was not much in it, took it to the rich lady whose card proclaimed her ownership. Delighted beyond words at the honesty of this forlorn waif, the aristocratic Mrs. Van Itty adopted Ermengarde to replace the little one who had been stolen from her so many years ago. “How like my precious Maude,” she sighed, as she watched the fair brunette return to blondeness. And so several weeks passed, with the old folks at home tearing their hair and the wicked ’Squire Hardman chuckling devilishly.

Chapter VII.
Happy Ever Afterward
     One day the wealthy heiress Ermengarde S. Van Itty hired a new second assistant chauffeur. Struck by something familiar in his face, she looked again and gasped. Lo! it was none other than the perfidious Algernon Reginald Jones, whom she had pushed from a car window on that fateful day! He had survived—this much was almost immediately evident. Also, he had wed the other woman, who had run away with the milkman and all the money in the house. Now wholly humbled, he asked forgiveness of our heroine, and confided to her the whole tale of the gold on her father’s farm. Moved beyond words, she raised his salary a dollar a month and resolved to gratify at last that always unquenchable anxiety to relieve the worry of the old folks. So one bright day Ermengarde motored back to Hogton and arrived at the farm just as ’Squire Hardman was foreclosing the mortgage and ordering the old folks out.
     “Stay, villain!” she cried, flashing a colossal roll of bills. “You are foiled at last! Here is your money—now go, and never darken our humble door again!”
     Then followed a joyous reunion, whilst the ’squire twisted his moustache and riding-crop in bafflement and dismay. But hark! What is this? Footsteps sound on the old gravel walk, and who should appear but our hero, Jack Manly—worn and seedy, but radiant of face. Seeking at once the downcast villain, he said:
     “’Squire—lend me a ten-spot, will you? I have just come back from the city with my beauteous bride, the fair Bridget Goldstein, and need something to start things on the old farm.” Then turning to the Stubbses, he apologised for his inability to pay off the mortgage as agreed.
     “Don’t mention it,” said Ermengarde, “prosperity has come to us, and I will consider it sufficient payment if you will forget forever the foolish fancies of our childhood.”
     All this time Mrs. Van Itty had been sitting in the motor waiting for Ermengarde; but as she lazily eyed the sharp-faced Hannah Stubbs a vague memory started from the back of her brain. Then it all came to her, and she shrieked accusingly at the agrestic matron.
     “You—you—Hannah Smith—I know you now! Twenty-eight years ago you were my baby Maude’s nurse and stole her from the cradle!! Where, oh, where is my child?” Then a thought came as the lightning in a murky sky. “Ermengarde—you say she is your daughter. . . . She is mine! Fate has restored to me my old chee-ild—my tiny Maudie!—Ermengarde—Maude—come to your mother’s loving arms!!!”
     But Ermengarde was doing some tall thinking. How could she get away with the sixteen-year-old stuff if she had been stolen twenty-eight years ago? And if she was not Stubbs’ daughter the gold would never be hers. Mrs. Van Itty was rich, but ’Squire Hardman was richer. So, approaching the dejected villain, she inflicted upon him the last terrible punishment.
     “’Squire, dear,” she murmured, “I have reconsidered all. I love you and your naive strength. Marry me at once or I will have you prosecuted for that kidnapping last year. Foreclose your mortgage and enjoy with me the gold your cleverness discovered. Come, dear!” And the poor dub did.

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.

The Shunned House – H.P. Lovecraft 3/5

Start from Chapter One.

Chapter Three.

It may well be imagined how powerfully I was affected by the annals of the Harrises. In this continuous record there seemed to me to brood a persistent evil beyond anything in Nature as I had known it; an evil clearly connected with the house and not with the family. This impression was confirmed by my uncle’s less systematic array of miscellaneous data—legends transcribed from servant gossip, cuttings from the papers, copies of death-certificates by fellow-physicians, and the like. All of this material I cannot hope to give, for my uncle was a tireless antiquarian and very deeply interested in the shunned house; but I may refer to several dominant points which earn notice by their recurrence through many reports from diverse sources. For example, the servant gossip was practically unanimous in attributing to the fungous and malodorous cellar of the house a vast supremacy in evil influence. There had been servants—Ann White especially—who would not use the cellar kitchen, and at least three well-defined legends bore upon the queer quasi-human or diabolic outlines assumed by tree-roots and patches of mould in that region. These latter narratives interested me profoundly, on account of what I had seen in my boyhood, but I felt that most of the significance had in each case been largely obscured by additions from the common stock of local ghost lore.
     Ann White, with her Exeter superstition, had promulgated the most extravagant and at the same time most consistent tale; alleging that there must lie buried beneath the house one of those vampires—the dead who retain their bodily form and live on the blood or breath of the living—whose hideous legions send their preying shapes or spirits abroad by night. To destroy a vampire one must, the grandmothers say, exhume it and burn its heart, or at least drive a stake through that organ; and Ann’s dogged insistence on a search under the cellar had been prominent in bringing about her discharge.
     Her tales, however, commanded a wide audience, and were the more readily accepted because the house indeed stood on land once used for burial purposes. To me their interest depended less on this circumstance than on the peculiarly appropriate way in which they dovetailed with certain other things—the complaint of the departing servant Preserved Smith, who had preceded Ann and never heard of her, that something “sucked his breath” at night; the death-certificates of fever victims of 1804, issued by Dr. Chad Hopkins, and shewing the four deceased persons all unaccountably lacking in blood; and the obscure passages of poor Rhoby Harris’s ravings, where she complained of the sharp teeth of a glassy-eyed, half-visible presence.
     Free from unwarranted superstition though I am, these things produced in me an odd sensation, which was intensified by a pair of widely separated newspaper cuttings relating to deaths in the shunned house—one from the Providence Gazette and Country-Journal of April 12, 1815, and the other from the Daily Transcript and Chronicle of October 27, 1845—each of which detailed an appallingly grisly circumstance whose duplication was remarkable. It seems that in both instances the dying person, in 1815 a gentle old lady named Stafford and in 1845 a school-teacher of middle age named Eleazar Durfee, became transfigured in a horrible way; glaring glassily and attempting to bite the throat of the attending physician. Even more puzzling, though, was the final case which put an end to the renting of the house—a series of anaemia deaths preceded by progressive madnesses wherein the patient would craftily attempt the lives of his relatives by incisions in the neck or wrist.
     This was in 1860 and 1861, when my uncle had just begun his medical practice; and before leaving for the front he heard much of it from his elder professional colleagues. The really inexplicable thing was the way in which the victims—ignorant people, for the ill-smelling and widely shunned house could now be rented to no others—would babble maledictions in French, a language they could not possibly have studied to any extent. It made one think of poor Rhoby Harris nearly a century before, and so moved my uncle that he commenced collecting historical data on the house after listening, some time subsequent to his return from the war, to the first-hand account of Drs. Chase and Whitmarsh. Indeed, I could see that my uncle had thought deeply on the subject, and that he was glad of my own interest—an open-minded and sympathetic interest which enabled him to discuss with me matters at which others would merely have laughed. His fancy had not gone so far as mine, but he felt that the place was rare in its imaginative potentialities, and worthy of note as an inspiration in the field of the grotesque and macabre.
     For my part, I was disposed to take the whole subject with profound seriousness, and began at once not only to review the evidence, but to accumulate as much more as I could. I talked with the elderly Archer Harris, then owner of the house, many times before his death in 1916; and obtained from him and his still surviving maiden sister Alice an authentic corroboration of all the family data my uncle had collected. When, however, I asked them what connexion with France or its language the house could have, they confessed themselves as frankly baffled and ignorant as I. Archer knew nothing, and all that Miss Harris could say was that an old allusion her grandfather, Dutee Harris, had heard of might have shed a little light. The old seaman, who had survived his son Welcome’s death in battle by two years, had not himself known the legend; but recalled that his earliest nurse, the ancient Maria Robbins, seemed darkly aware of something that might have lent a weird significance to the French ravings of Rhoby Harris, which she had so often heard during the last days of that hapless woman. Maria had been at the shunned house from 1769 till the removal of the family in 1783, and had seen Mercy Dexter die. Once she hinted to the child Dutee of a somewhat peculiar circumstance in Mercy’s last moments, but he had soon forgotten all about it save that it was something peculiar. The granddaughter, moreover, recalled even this much with difficulty. She and her brother were not so much interested in the house as was Archer’s son Carrington, the present owner, with whom I talked after my experience.
     Having exhausted the Harris family of all the information it could furnish, I turned my attention to early town records and deeds with a zeal more penetrating than that which my uncle had occasionally shewn in the same work. What I wished was a comprehensive history of the site from its very settlement in 1636—or even before, if any Narragansett Indian legend could be unearthed to supply the data. I found, at the start, that the land had been part of the long strip of home lot granted originally to John Throckmorton; one of many similar strips beginning at the Town Street beside the river and extending up over the hill to a line roughly corresponding with the modern Hope Street. The Throckmorton lot had later, of course, been much subdivided; and I became very assiduous in tracing that section through which Back or Benefit Street was later run. It had, a rumour indeed said, been the Throckmorton graveyard; but as I examined the records more carefully, I found that the graves had all been transferred at an early date to the North Burial Ground on the Pawtucket West Road.
     Then suddenly I came—by a rare piece of chance, since it was not in the main body of records and might easily have been missed—upon something which aroused my keenest eagerness, fitting in as it did with several of the queerest phases of the affair. It was the record of a lease, in 1697, of a small tract of ground to an Etienne Roulet and wife. At last the French element had appeared—that, and another deeper element of horror which the name conjured up from the darkest recesses of my weird and heterogeneous reading—and I feverishly studied the platting of the locality as it had been before the cutting through and partial straightening of Back Street between 1747 and 1758. I found what I had half expected, that where the shunned house now stood the Roulets had laid out their graveyard behind a one-story and attic cottage, and that no record of any transfer of graves existed. The document, indeed, ended in much confusion; and I was forced to ransack both the Rhode Island Historical Society and Shepley Library before I could find a local door which the name Etienne Roulet would unlock. In the end I did find something; something of such vague but monstrous import that I set about at once to examine the cellar of the shunned house itself with a new and excited minuteness.
     The Roulets, it seemed, had come in 1696 from East Greenwich, down the west shore of Narragansett Bay. They were Huguenots from Caude, and had encountered much opposition before the Providence selectmen allowed them to settle in the town. Unpopularity had dogged them in East Greenwich, whither they had come in 1686, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and rumour said that the cause of dislike extended beyond mere racial and national prejudice, or the land disputes which involved other French settlers with the English in rivalries which not even Governor Andros could quell. But their ardent Protestantism—too ardent, some whispered—and their evident distress when virtually driven from the village down the bay, had moved the sympathy of the town fathers. Here the strangers had been granted a haven; and the swarthy Etienne Roulet, less apt at agriculture than at reading queer books and drawing queer diagrams, was given a clerical post in the warehouse at Pardon Tillinghast’s wharf, far south in Town Street. There had, however, been a riot of some sort later on—perhaps forty years later, after old Roulet’s death—and no one seemed to hear of the family after that.
     For a century and more, it appeared, the Roulets had been well remembered and frequently discussed as vivid incidents in the quiet life of a New England seaport. Etienne’s son Paul, a surly fellow whose erratic conduct had probably provoked the riot which wiped out the family, was particularly a source of speculation; and though Providence never shared the witchcraft panics of her Puritan neighbours, it was freely intimated by old wives that his prayers were neither uttered at the proper time nor directed toward the proper object. All this had undoubtedly formed the basis of the legend known by old Maria Robbins. What relation it had to the French ravings of Rhoby Harris and other inhabitants of the shunned house, imagination or future discovery alone could determine. I wondered how many of those who had known the legends realised that additional link with the terrible which my wide reading had given me; that ominous item in the annals of morbid horror which tells of the creature Jacques Roulet, of Caude, who in 1598 was condemned to death as a daemoniac but afterward saved from the stake by the Paris parliament and shut in a madhouse. He had been found covered with blood and shreds of flesh in a wood, shortly after the killing and rending of a boy by a pair of wolves. One wolf was seen to lope away unhurt. Surely a pretty hearthside tale, with a queer significance as to name and place; but I decided that the Providence gossips could not have generally known of it. Had they known, the coincidence of names would have brought some drastic and frightened action—indeed, might not its limited whispering have precipitated the final riot which erased the Roulets from the town?
     I now visited the accursed place with increased frequency; studying the unwholesome vegetation of the garden, examining all the walls of the building, and poring over every inch of the earthen cellar floor. Finally, with Carrington Harris’s permission, I fitted a key to the disused door opening from the cellar directly upon Benefit Street, preferring to have a more immediate access to the outside world than the dark stairs, ground floor hall, and front door could give. There, where morbidity lurked most thickly, I searched and poked during long afternoons when the sunlight filtered in through the cobwebbed above-ground windows, and a sense of security glowed from the unlocked door which placed me only a few feet from the placid sidewalk outside. Nothing new rewarded my efforts—only the same depressing mustiness and faint suggestions of noxious odours and nitrous outlines on the floor—and I fancy that many pedestrians must have watched me curiously through the broken panes.
     At length, upon a suggestion of my uncle’s, I decided to try the spot nocturnally; and one stormy midnight ran the beams of an electric torch over the mouldy floor with its uncanny shapes and distorted, half-phosphorescent fungi. The place had dispirited me curiously that evening, and I was almost prepared when I saw—or thought I saw—amidst the whitish deposits a particularly sharp definition of the “huddled form” I had suspected from boyhood. Its clearness was astonishing and unprecedented—and as I watched I seemed to see again the thin, yellowish, shimmering exhalation which had startled me on that rainy afternoon so many years before.
     Above the anthropomorphic patch of mould by the fireplace it rose; a subtle, sickish, almost luminous vapour which as it hung trembling in the dampness seemed to develop vague and shocking suggestions of form, gradually trailing off into nebulous decay and passing up into the blackness of the great chimney with a foetor in its wake. It was truly horrible, and the more so to me because of what I knew of the spot. Refusing to flee, I watched it fade—and as I watched I felt that it was in turn watching me greedily with eyes more imaginable than visible. When I told my uncle about it he was greatly aroused; and after a tense hour of reflection, arrived at a definite and drastic decision. Weighing in his mind the importance of the matter, and the significance of our relation to it, he insisted that we both test—and if possible destroy—the horror of the house by a joint night or nights of aggressive vigil in that musty and fungus-cursed cellar.

The Picture in the House – H. P. Lovecraft

debry

I decided to start my weekend by reading H. P. Lovecraft’s The Picture in the House, one of his shortest shorts. It’s a great little story which plays with one of society’s greatest fears… not just being killed, but what will happen to your body once your spirit has gone? It’s always fascinated me that people will dwell on this to such an extent.

Above is the page from Thomas Huxley’s Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature, which features heavily in The Picture in the House and describes the Anziques as cannibals, although Lovecraft references Pigafetta’s Regnum Congo. The engraving is by Theodor de Bry and is apparently not even close to being one of his most disturbing images (see heading picture). His interesting and indeed creepy work has been reproduced many times since the 16th century.

They have shambles for human flesh, as we have of animals, even eating the enemies they have killed in battle, and selling their slaves if they can get a good price for them; if not, they give them to the butcher, who cuts them in pieces, and then sells them to be roasted or boiled. It is a remarkable fact in the history of this people, that any who are tired of life, or wish to prove themselves brave and courageous, esteem it great honour to expose themselves to death by an act which shall show their contempt for life. Thus they offer themselves for slaughter, and as the faithful vassals of princes, wishing to do them service, not only give themselves to be eaten, but their slaves also, when fattened, are killed and eaten. It is true many nations eat human flesh, as in the East Indies, Brazil, and elsewhere, but to devour the flesh of their own enemies, friends, subjects, and even relations, is a thing without example, except amongst the Anzichi tribes. 

– from Chapter 5 of Regnum Congo

Today, the Anziques are known to be called the BaTeke and the claims of cannibalism are in some considerable doubt.

Anyway, back to The Picture in the House!

In the doorway stood a person of such singular appearance that I should have exclaimed aloud but for the restraints of good breeding.

-from The Picture in the House

Throughout the story I am amused by the snobbery of the narrator, commenting on his own “good breeding” and becoming seemingly bored by the old man once he realises that he possesses a child-like intelligence.

I’ve said before on this blog that I like a horror story which reaches the senses. My favourite parts of The Picture in the House are those which describe the surroundings, making me feel as though I can touch and smell the walls, books and other objects surrounding the narrator.

Inside was a little vestibule with walls from which the plaster was falling, and through the doorway came a faint but peculiarly hateful odour.

I love to be in an old building where the slightest touch causes bits to crumble from the wall, and smell is always my favourite sense to read. If anyone knows of a book or essay in which the portrayal of odour in fiction is discussed, please leave a comment! I must admit that I haven’t yet searched for it myself.

This 2009 well-made amateur film is a fun adaptation of the story and was an official selection of the American H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival of the same year. It’s nice to see short stories kept short when put on the screen and they’ve managed to produce an excellent, effective old-film feel. An Indie film for an originally Indie author!