1923 The Festival

Weird Tales 1925.01
Written 1923.10, published in Weird Tales 1925.01.

Opening Statement:
     I was far from home, and the spell of the eastern sea was upon me. In the twilight I heard it pounding on the rocks, and I knew it lay just over the hill where the twisting willows writhed against the clearing sky and the first stars of evening. And because my fathers had called me to the old town beyond, I pushed on through the shallow, new-fallen snow along the road that soared lonely up to where Aldebaran twinkled among the trees; on toward the very ancient town I had never seen but often dreamed of. 
What in Brown Jenkin's Name..?
     When the narrator visits his enigmatic, ancestral home, he becomes involved in a strange ritualistic ceremony which climaxes in an underground lake cavern.
     On Christmas, the narrator visits (for the first time) the ancient sea town of Kingsport where his relatives’ ancestors have kept up a centennial “festival” ceremony. He also relates that his ancestors had apparently immigrated there "from the sea". Arriving in Kingsport, he finds the town to be strangely silent. At his unknown relatives' house, he is greeted at the door by a strange mute couple whose faces seem to be covered by human-looking masks. Inside, he notices the Necronomicon (in Olaus Wormius’ Latin edition). Soon the old couple, draped in cloaks, lead the narrator outside to join a procession of other cloaked figures (who come across as being strangely soft and pulpy when jostled). 
     Inside a white, hilltop church, the procession descends a hidden staircase leading to an eerie underground beach, lit by an erupting column of green flame (the sound of flutes can be heard nearby). The group encircle and worship the flaming green column, after which they mount amphibious winged creatures and fly into the air. When urged to mount one of the creatures the narrator hesitates in horror, and when his host’s mask accidentally falls off, the sight of what lies beneath drives him to flee into the sea. Later, he awakes in an Arkham hospital, but Kingsport has now become a “normal” town, with no trace of the previous archaic architecture. He recounts a paragraph from the Necronomicon which describes secret "worm things" which have evolved into walking creatures in order to plague the earth. 
Essential Saltes:
     Out of the unimaginable blackness beyond the gangrenous glare of that cold flame, out of the tartarean leagues through which that oily river rolled uncanny, unheard, and unsuspected, there flopped rhythmically a horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged things that no sound eye could ever wholly grasp, or sound brain ever wholly remember. They were not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor vampire bats, nor decomposed human beings; but something I cannot and must not recall. They flopped limply along, half with their webbed feet and half with their membranous wings; and as they reached the throng of celebrants the cowled figures seized and mounted them, and rode off one by one along the reaches of that unlighted river, into pits and galleries of panic where poison springs feed frightful and undiscoverable cataracts... 
* * * * * 
     ...The flopping animals were now scratching restlessly at the lichens, and I saw that the old man was nearly as restless himself. When one of the things began to waddle and edge away, he turned quickly to stop it; so that the suddenness of his motion dislodged the waxen mask from what should have been his head. And then, because that nightmare's position barred me from the stone staircase down which we had come, I flung myself into the oily underground river that bubbled somewhere to the caves of the sea; flung myself into that putrescent juice of earth's inner horrors before the madness of my screams could bring down upon me all the charnel legions these pest-gulfs might conceal. 
From Dr. Armitage's Notes:
  • Kingsport is based on the real life locale of Marblehead.
  • "The Festival" further expands on the Necronomicon after “The Hound”, and references quotes and alternate translations of the book (Olaus Wormius’ Latin version). 
  • Some scenes in Arkham. 
  • 1st Ibn Schacabao (also referenced in "Charles Dexter Ward").
  • Genealogy horror.
  • Azathoth.
  • The flying animals seem similar to night gaunts ("The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath").

The Horrible Conclusion:
     "The nethermost caverns," wrote the mad Arab, "are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumor that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl." 
Read it here.

Follow'd by "Under the Pyramids / Imprisoned with the Pharaohs"