|H. P. Lovecraft, Brooklyn, circa 1922?|
I saw him on a sleepless night when I was walking desperately to save my soul and my vision. My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration in the teeming labyrinths of ancient streets that twist endlessly from forgotten courts and squares and waterfronts to courts and squares and waterfronts equally forgotten, and in the Cyclopean modern towers and pinnacles that rise blackly Babylonian under waning moons, I had found instead only a sense of horror and oppression which threatened to master, paralyse, and annihilate me.What in Brown Jenkin's Name..?
When the narrator meets a stranger wearing antiquated clothing, he learns that the man's historical predilections may extend deeper than just his outfit (and that "He" may have in the past taken advantage of some of the original locals).Synopsis:
The narrator is disappointed with the urban, daylight face of New York City and prowls Greenwich Village at night in search of lost colonial beauty. A strange man in old-fashioned clothing offers to guide him to hidden locales of antiquity. Eventually he takes the narrator to his strangely-decayed apartment, where he relates that his “ancestor” had learned certain secrets from Native American Indians (who had subsequently - and suspiciously - died of alcohol poisoning after imparting this information). The strange man then causes the view from his window to change to different time periods, from the distant colonial past to a hellish future populated with flying demons. To the strange man’s dismay, the narrator screams in horror, after which knocking at the door is heard. The strange man yells at what he believes are the poisoned Indians, implying that he is himself actually hundreds of years old. When he tears off the window curtain, moonlight streams into the room and the man decays into a blackened husk, with only his eyes and head still alive. The door of the room bursts open and a flowing black mass ("starred" with eyes) bursts in and envelopes the ancient disembodied head. After the black mass withdraws, the apartment building collapses, allowing the narrator to escape back to “pure” New England.Essential Saltes:
“The full moon—damn ye—ye… ye yelping dog—ye called ’em, and they’ve come for me! Moccasined feet—dead men—Gad sink ye, ye red devils, but I poisoned no rum o’ yours—han’t I kept your pox-rotted magic safe?—ye swilled yourselves sick, curse ye, and ye must needs blame the squire—let go, you! Unhand that latch—I’ve naught for ye here—”
At this point three slow and very deliberate raps shook the panels of the door, and a white foam gathered at the mouth of the frantic magician. His fright, turning to steely despair, left room for a resurgence of his rage against me; and he staggered a step toward the table on whose edge I was steadying myself. The curtains, still clutched in his right hand as his left clawed out at me, grew taut and finally crashed down from their lofty fastenings; admitting to the room a flood of that full moonlight which the brightening of the sky had presaged. In those greenish beams the candles paled, and a new semblance of decay spread over the musk-reeking room with its wormy panelling, sagging floor, battered mantel, rickety furniture, and ragged draperies. It spread over the old man, too, whether from the same source or because of his fear and vehemence, and I saw him shrivel and blacken as he lurched near and strove to rend me with vulturine talons. Only his eyes stayed whole, and they glared with a propulsive, dilated incandescence which grew as the face around them charred and dwindled.
The rapping was now repeated with greater insistence, and this time bore a hint of metal. The black thing facing me had become only a head with eyes, impotently trying to wriggle across the sinking floor in my direction, and occasionally emitting feeble little spits of immortal malice. Now swift and splintering blows assailed the sickly panels, and I saw the gleam of a tomahawk as it cleft the rending wood. I did not move, for I could not; but watched dazedly as the door fell in pieces to admit a colossal, shapeless influx of inky substance starred with shining, malevolent eyes. It poured thickly, like a flood of oil bursting a rotten bulkhead, overturned a chair as it spread, and finally flowed under the table and across the room to where the blackened head with the eyes still glared at me. Around that head it closed, totally swallowing it up, and in another moment it had begun to recede; bearing away its invisible burden without touching me, and flowing again out of that black doorway and down the unseen stairs, which creaked as before, though in reverse order.From Dr. Armitage's Notes:
- Possibly 'proto-shoggoths'?
- Like "The Horror At Red Hook", written while living unhappily in Brooklyn.
The Horrible Conclusion:
I never sought to return to those tenebrous labyrinths, nor would I direct any sane man thither if I could. Of who or what that ancient creature was, I have no idea; but I repeat that the city is dead and full of unsuspected horrors. Whither he has gone, I do not know; but I have gone home to the pure New England lanes up which fragrant sea-winds sweep at evening.Read it here.
Follow'd by "In The Vault".