1927 The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Written 1927.01-03, published posthumously in Weird Tales 1941.05/07.

Opening Statement:
     'The essential Saltes of Animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious Man may have the whole Ark of Noah in his own Studie, and raise the fine Shape of an Animal out of its Ashes at his Pleasure; and by the lyke Method from the essential Saltes of humane Dust, a Philosopher may, without any criminal Necromancy, call up the Shape of any dead Ancestour from the Dust whereinto his Bodie has been incinerated.' 
            - Borellus 
What in Brown Jenkin's Name..?
     Charles Dexter Ward becomes obsessed with the alchemical lore surrounding one of his notorious ancestors, a certain Salem warlock named Joseph Curwen. Eventually his investigations lead him to identify with his diabolical ancestor more closely than he'd like. 
  • I. A Result And a Prologue: 
    • Charles Dexter Ward, a seemingly prematurely-aged patient at a mental hospital, is reported to have escaped from a high window after speaking with his doctor, Dr Willett. Years earlier, he had become obsessed with his ancestor Joseph Curwen’s grave and the occult. 
    • As a youth, Ward was an antiquarian. He discovers some “buried” notes about his notorious ancestor, Joseph Curwen.
  • II. An Antecedent and a Horror
    • Curwen had fled Salem during the witchcraft panic. While in Providence he never seemed to age, although he was later shunned for his strange alchemist ways and his interest in occult methods of organic preservation and resurrection.
    • In order to elevate his social standing, Curwen marries a young woman (Eliza Tillinghast), earning the enmity of the girl’s original suitor, Ezra Weeden.
    • After a mysterious “breakthough”, Curwen seems to be able to learn secrets from the dead. Curwen begins accumulating coffins, and has many strange “conversations”. During one heavy mudslide, “things” are seen floating down the river and going over the falls, staring or crying out.
    • A naked man rushes through town and his body his later found. He is recognized as someone who’d died 50 years prior. Strange letters regarding corpse resurrection are intercepted.
    • The townsmen decide to confront and attack Curwen’s compound. From afar, odors, sounds, explosions and gunfire can be felt, as 2 flaming figures are cut down and a loud incantation booms from the sky. An inhuman corpse is later discovered.
    • A theory arises that Curwen himself was actually killed by uncontrollable occult forces, called forth in an attempt to fight off the town mob. However it is hinted that Curwen laughed as he screamed.
  • III. A Search and an Evocation
    • Charles Ward is intrigued by the partial records surrounding Curwen and discovers information about Curwen’s alchemical allies in Salem as well as a letter from Curwen mentioning the Necronomicon and Yog-Sothoth. He also learns of Curwen’s old address.
    • At Curwen’s old house, Ward discovers Curwen’s portrait, which resembles his own face. Behind the portrait in the wall he discovers Curwen’s diaries, notes and letters (some of which is seemingly addressed to his descendents).  
    • Studying the notes, Ward begins building a chemical lab in his parents’ attic and searches for Curwen’s grave. 
    • Dr. Willett reads a passage from Curwen’s diary which hints at outside forces which will draw forth “One who is to Come”, who will think on “past thinges”. For the next four years, Ward travels through Old Europe, staying at old castles and libraries (later revealed to be the homes of Curwen’s still-living Salem accomplices). He eventually returns to Providence.
    • Back in his attic lab, Ward’s experiments involve strange chants and hallucinogenic gases. One night, Ward’s efforts seem to cause a lightning bolt and storm around the house. In the Spring, he brings Curwen’s coffin in and opens it. 
    • One day (Good Friday) another lightning bolt strikes, with an unearthly booming chant similar to the one heard at the Curwen compound during its long-ago raid. The sky briefly darkens and Ward’s mother hears a second screaming/laughing voice coming from her son’s room/lab. Later Ward is seemingly heard to be urging a reanimated Curwen to continue writing something down (his parents assume it is a form of mimicry). Afterwards, Ward appears contrite and disappears back upstairs with an armful of books related to modern technology and current events. Curwen’s portrait is seen to have fallen apart into dust.
  • IV. A Mutation and A Madness
    • Weeks pass and Ward takes a greater interest in the Curwen properties. One night Ward steals Ezra Weeden’s corpse and seemingly reanimates it (and probably tortures it). Ward often goes out at night, and reports of apparent vampirism arise amongst the sleeping townspeople (probably Curwen’s victims). 
    • Eventually Ward buys the old Curwen building and (Curwen) moves most of his lab there. Ward is joined there by a strange servant and a secretive “Dr Allen” (hidden by beard and dark glasses). The police eventually discover that “anatomical specimens” (exhumed corpses) had been sent to the Curwen lab. Dr Willett eventually receives a panicky letter from Ward asking that he destroy the Curwen compound and dissolve “Dr Allen” with acid (and not to burn it). Ward had apparently come to regret his researches and learned of a threat to the “solar system and universe”.  Willett visits Ward’s parents home, but Ward is not there. Willet learns that Ward had spoken roughly with someone (Curwen) on the phone. Afterwards he had seemingly left and then returned. After sounds of a struggle upstairs, he had then left again.
    • Dr. Allen calls the Ward home and insists that Charles Ward must stay at the Curwen property. Additional notes “from Ward” are seemingly written in an antiquated style. Willett eventually visits Ward at the Curwen bungalow, and finds Ward a changed man, with an “alien” mind. Dr Allen has seemingly disappeared. Meanwhile trucks bearing meat and blood continue to be delivered to the house, and strange underground noises are heard by the neighbors.
    • After Ward’s bank checks come under suspician for their “wrong” signatures, Willet and other doctors transport Ward to a private hospital for further observation. Willett notices that Ward has developed the physical features (scars, etc) of the believed long-deceased Curwen. A letter is intercepted from a still-living accomplice of Joseph Curwen from his Salem days, addressed to Curwen. Another letter from another old Salem friend warns Curwen about Ward becoming troublesome, and hints at “Legions fom Underneath”.
  • V. A Nightmare and a Cataclysm
    • Ward’s father and Dr Willett agree that Curwen and his Salem friends have been  reanimating the dead in order to learn secrets from the past, and then putting them back to rest with additional spells. Willett descends down a secret trapdoor found in the Curwen house.
    • Willett hears strange howling and discovers an underground complex. He finds Ward/Curwen’s papers as well as a sacrificial, blood-stained altar.
    • Willett discovers wells with grated trapdoors. Below are strange mutated half-human creatures. Half-maddened, Willett escapes the sacrifice hall.
    • Further explorations lead to a room where Curwen had stored “essential salts” of great thinkers and his guards, to be reanimated as needed. He also recognizes a Koth dream- symbol which his friend Randolph Carter had warned him about. He then finds two formulas, one for resurrection and one for dissolution. In the next room he accidentally mutters the resurrection incantation, and some powder begins to swirl into a figure.
    • Later Ward’s father discovers an unconscious Willett in an upstairs bed. Willett wakes and finds that the cellar trapdoor to the underground complex has been sealed over. Willett discovers a scrap of paper in his coat and later learns that it is in a thousand-year-old script. The note recommends the destruction of Curwen with acid. When Willett confronts Ward about his experiences, Ward begins acting like a hunted man. Later, Willett learns that Ward/Curwen’s accomplices in Old Europe have been destroyed by unknown forces. He assumes that whatever he had conjured up had given him the task of dealing with Curwen, and had gone off to handle Curwen’s  Salem friends.
    • Still somewhat ignorant of the obvious, Willett and Ward’s father look for Dr Allen, thinking that Allen is the mastermind. Eventually they realize Allan was Ward in disguise. They also deduce that on the day that Ward had sent his letter to Willett with the “solar system” warning, Curwen had called him, found him troublesome, visited Ward at his home pretending to be Ward, and then “replaced” him. Willett apparently discovers Charles Ward’s remains in the Wards’ attic and burns them in the fireplace.
    • Willett secretly buries Charles Ward’s ashes in an unmarked grave. He then visits Curwen at the hospital, confronting him with the truth. As a last resort, Curwen begins invoking a mystical spell to call for help from the gods, but Willett interrupts with the “dissolution” spell he had learned while exploring the underground complex. Curwen reverts to sand (essential salts). 
Essential Saltes:
Castle Ferenczy 
7 March 1928. 
      Dear C.:- 
      Hadd a Squad of 20 Militia up to talk about what the Country Folk say. Must digg deeper and have less Hearde. These Roumanians plague me damnably, being officious and particular where you cou'd buy a Magyar off with a Drinke and Food. 
      Last monthe M. got me ye Sarcophagus of ye Five Sphinxes from ye Acropolis where He whome I call'd up say'd it wou'd be, and I have hadde 3 Talkes with What was therein inhum'd. It will go to S. O. in Prague directly, and thence to you. It is stubborn but you know ye Way with Such. 
      You shew Wisdom in having lesse about than Before; for there was no Neede to keep the Guards in Shape and eat'g off their Heads, and it made Much to be founde in Case of Trouble, as you too welle knowe. You can now move and worke elsewhere with no Kill'g Trouble if needful, tho' I hope no Thing will soon force you to so Bothersome a Course. 
      I rejoice that you traffick not so much with Those Outside; for there was ever a Mortall Peril in it, and you are sensible what it did when you ask'd Protection of One not dispos'd to give it. 
      You excel me in gett'g ye Formulae so another may saye them with Success, but Borellus fancy'd it wou'd be so if just ye right Wordes were hadd. Does ye Boy use 'em often? I regret that he growes squeamish, as I fear'd he wou'd when I hadde him here nigh 15 Monthes, but am sensible you knowe how to deal with him. You can't saye him down with ye Formula, for that will Worke only upon such as ye other Formula hath call'd up from Saltes; but you still have strong Handes and Knife and Pistol, and Graves are not harde to digg, nor Acids loth to burne. 
      O. sayes you have promis'd him B. F. I must have him after. B. goes to you soone, and may he give you what you wishe of that Darke Thing belowe Memphis. Imploy care in what you calle up, and beware of ye Boy. 
      It will be ripe in a yeare's time to have up ye Legions from Underneath, and then there are no Boundes to what shal be oures. Have Confidence in what I saye, for you knowe O. and I have hadd these 150 yeares more than you to consulte these Matters in. 
      Nephreu - Ka nai Hadoth  
       Edw. H. 
      For J Curwen, Esq. 
* * * * * 
* * * * *
     "This is no common case - it is a madness out of time and a horror from beyond the spheres which no police or lawyers or courts or alienists could ever fathom or grapple with. Thank God some chance has left inside me the spark of imagination, that I might not go astray in thinking out this thing. You cannot deceive me, Joseph Curwen, for I know that your accursed magic is true!"
From Dr. Armitage's Notes:

The Horrible Conclusion:
     The madness out of time had subsided, and the case of Charles Dexter Ward was closed. Opening his eyes before staggering out of that room of horror, Dr. Willett saw that what he had kept in memory had not been kept amiss. There had, as he had predicted, been no need for acids. For like his accursed picture a year before, Joseph Curwen now lay scattered on the floor as a thin coating of fine bluish-grey dust. 
Read it here.

Follow'd by "The Colour Out of Space"