Artwork inspired by both H. P. Lovecraft’s story “Pickman’s Model” and Kiernan’s “sequel”, “Pickman’s Other Model.” Artist unknown. (Goodreads forum).
Pickman’s Other Model (1929)
Caitlín R. Kiernan*, 2011
First published in Paula Guran’s 2011 Lovecraft Mythos anthology, New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird*, “Pickman’s Other Model” is a masterful continuation of H. P. Lovecraft’s original story “Pickman’s Model” that was first published in Weird Tales magazine in October 1927. [Read about the original here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pickman%27s_Model
Read the original Lovecraft story here: https://thesanguinewoods.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/pickmans-model-a-story-by-h-p-lovecraft-1927/]
I have never been much for movies, preferring, instead, to take my entertainment in the theater, always favoring living actors over those flickering, garish ghosts magnified and splashed across the walls of dark and smoky rooms at twenty-four frames per second. I’ve never seemed able to get past the knowledge that the apparent motion is merely an optical illusion, a clever procession of still images streaming past my eye at such a rate of speed that I only perceive motion where none actually exists. But in the months before I finally met Vera Endecott, I found myself drawn with increasing regularity to the Boston movie houses, despite this long-standing reservation.
I had been shocked to my core by Thurber’s suicide, though, with the unavailing curse of hindsight, it’s something I should certainly have had the presence of mind to have seen coming. Thurber was an infantryman during the war—La Guerre pour la Civilisation, as he so often called it. He was at the Battle of Saint Mihiel when Pershing failed in his campaign to seize Metz from the Germans, and he survived only to see the atrocities at the Battle of the Argonne Forest less than two weeks later. When he returned home from France early in 1919, Thurber was hardly more than a fading, nervous echo of the man I’d first met during our college years at the Rhode Island School of Design, and, on those increasingly rare occasions when we met and spoke, more often than not our conversations turned from painting and sculpture and matters of aesthetics to the things he’d seen in the muddy trenches and ruined cities of Europe.
And then there was his dogged fascination with that sick bastard Richard Upton Pickman, an obsession that would lead quickly to what I took to be no less than a sort of psychoneurotic fixation on the man and the blasphemies he committed to canvas. When, two years ago, Pickman vanished from the squalor of his North End “studio,” never to be seen again, this fixation only worsened, until Thurber finally came to me with an incredible, nightmarish tale which, at the time, I could only dismiss as the ravings of a mind left unhinged by the bloodshed and madness and countless wartime horrors he’d witnessed along the banks of the Meuse River and then in the wilds of the Argonne Forest.
But I am not the man I was then, that evening we sat together in a dingy tavern near Faneuil Hall (I don’t recall the name of the place, as it wasn’t one of my usual haunts). Even as William Thurber was changed by the war and by whatever it is he may have experienced in the company of Pickman, so too have I been changed, and changed utterly, first by Thurber’s sudden death at his own hands and then by a film actress named Vera Endecott. I do not believe that I have yet lost possession of my mental faculties, and if asked, I would attest before a judge of law that my mind remains sound, if quite shaken. But I cannot now see the world around me the way I once did, for having beheld certain things there can be no return to the unprofaned state of innocence or grace that prevailed before those sights. There can be no return to the sacred cradle of Eden, for the gates are guarded by the flaming swords of cherubim, and the mind may not—excepting in merciful cases of shock and hysterical amnesia—simply forget the weird and dismaying revelations visited upon men and women who choose to ask forbidden questions. And I would be lying if I were to claim that I failed to comprehend, to suspect, that the path I was setting myself upon when I began my investigations following Thurber’s inquest and funeral would lead me where they have. I knew, or I knew well enough. I am not yet so degraded that I am beyond taking responsibility for my own actions and the consequences of those actions.