It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to shew by this statement that I am not his murderer. At first I shall be called a madman—madder than the man I shot in his cell at the Arkham Sanitarium. Later some of my readers will weigh each statement, correlate it with the known facts, and ask themselves how I could have believed otherwise than as I did after facing the evidence of that horror—that thing on the doorstep.
Until then I also saw nothing but madness in the wild tales I have acted on. Even now I ask myself whether I was misled—or whether I am not mad after all. I do not know—but others have strange things to tell of Edward and Asenath Derby, and even the stolid police are at their wits’ ends to account for that last terrible visit. They have tried weakly to concoct a theory of a ghastly jest or warning by discharged servants, yet they know in their hearts that the truth is something infinitely more terrible and incredible.
So I say that I have not murdered Edward Derby. Rather have I avenged him, and in so doing purged the earth of a horror whose survival might have loosed untold terrors on all mankind. There are black zones of shadow close to our daily paths, and now and then some evil soul breaks a passage through. When that happens, the man who knows must strike before reckoning the consequences.
I have known Edward Pickman Derby all his life. Eight years my junior, he was so precocious that we had much in common from the time he was eight and I sixteen. He was the most phenomenal child scholar I have ever known, and at seven was writing verse of a sombre, fantastic, almost morbid cast which astonished the tutors surrounding him. Perhaps his private education and coddled seclusion had something to do with his premature flowering. An only child, he had organic weaknesses which startled his doting parents and caused them to keep him closely chained to their side. He was never allowed out without his nurse, and seldom had a chance to play unconstrainedly with other children. All this doubtless fostered a strange, secretive inner life in the boy, with imagination as his one avenue of freedom.
Out of what crypt they crawl, I cannot tell,
But every night I see the rubbery things,
Black, horned, and slender, with membranous wings,
They come in legions on the north wind’s swell
With obscene clutch that titillates and stings,
Snatching me off on monstrous voyagings
To grey worlds hidden deep in nightmare’s well.
Over the jagged peaks of Thok they sweep,
Heedless of all the cries I try to make,
And down the nether pits to that foul lake
Where the puffed shoggoths splash in doubtful sleep.
But ho! If only they would make some sound,
Or wear a face where faces should be found!
—H. P. Lovecraft
“Efficiunt Daemones, ut quae non sunt, sic tamen
quasi sint, conspicienda hominibus exhibeant.”
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.
It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten. Mine were an old people, and were old even when this land was settled three hundred years before. And they were strange, because they had come as dark furtive folk from opiate southern gardens of orchids, and spoken another tongue before they learnt the tongue of the blue-eyed fishers. And now they were scattered, and shared only the rituals of mysteries that none living could understand. I was the only one who came back that night to the old fishing town as legend bade, for only the poor and the lonely remember.
Then beyond the hill’s crest I saw Kingsport outspread frostily in the gloaming; snowy Kingsport with its ancient vanes and steeples, ridgepoles and chimney-pots, wharves and small bridges, willow-trees and graveyards; endless labyrinths of steep, narrow, crooked streets, and dizzy church-crowned central peak that time durst not touch; ceaseless mazes of colonial houses piled and scattered at all angles and levels like a child’s disordered blocks; antiquity hovering on grey wings over winter-whitened gables and gambrel roofs; fanlights and small-paned windows one by one gleaming out in the cold dusk to join Orion and the archaic stars. And against the rotting wharves the sea pounded; the secretive, immemorial sea out of which the people had come in the elder time.
xiii • Introduction (Vampires) • (1987) • essay by Alan Ryan
1 • Fragment of a Novel • (1816) • short story by Lord George Gordon Byron [as by George Gordon, Lord Byron]
7 • The Vampyre: A Tale • [Lord Ruthven] • (1966) • novelette by Dr. John William Polidori [as by John Polidori]
25 • Varney, the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood (excerpt) • [Varney the Vampyre (excerpts)] • (1847) • short fiction by James Malcolm Rymer
36 • The Mysterious Stranger • (1854) • novelette by Karl von Wachsmann (trans. of Der Fremde 1844) [as by Anonymous]
71 • Carmilla • [Martin Hesselius] • (1872) • novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu [as by J. Sheridan Le Fanu]
138 • Good Lady Ducayne • (1896) • novelette by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
163 • Dracula’s Guest • [Dracula] • (1914) • short story by Bram Stoker
175 • Luella Miller • (1902) • short story by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman [as by Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman]
188 • For the Blood Is the Life • (1905) • short story by F. Marion Crawford
203 • The Transfer • (1911) • short story by Algernon Blackwood
213 • The Room in the Tower • (1912) • short story by E. F. Benson
225 • An Episode of Cathedral History • (1914) • short story by M. R. James
241 • A Rendezvous in Averoigne • [Averoigne] • (1931) • short story by Clark Ashton Smith
255 • Shambleau • [Northwest Smith] • (1933) • novelette by C. L. Moore
282 • Revelations in Black • (1933) • novelette by Carl Jacobi
301 • School for the Unspeakable • (1937) • short story by Manly Wade Wellman
311 • The Drifting Snow • (1939) • short story by August Derleth
322 • Over the River • (1941) • short story by P. Schuyler Miller
334 • The Girl with the Hungry Eyes • (1949) • short story by Fritz Leiber
349 • The Mindworm • (1950) • short story by C. M. Kornbluth
362 • Drink My Blood • (1951) • short story by Richard Matheson (variant of “Drink My Red Blood …”)
371 • Place of Meeting • (1953) • short story by Charles Beaumont
376 • The Living Dead • (1967) • short story by Robert Bloch (variant of Underground)
382 • Pages from a Young Girl’s Journal • (1973) • novelette by Robert Aickman
415 • The Werewolf and the Vampire • (1975) • novelette by R. Chetwynd-Hayes
441 • Love-Starved • (1979) • short story by Charles L. Grant
451 • Cabin 33 • [Count of Saint-Germain] • (1980) • novella by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
505 • Unicorn Tapestry • (1980) • novella by Suzy McKee Charnas
562 • Following the Way • (1982) • short story by Alan Ryan
574 • The Sunshine Club • (1983) • short story by Ramsey Campbell
579 • The Men and Women of Rivendale • (1984) • short story by Steve Rasnic Tem
588 • Bite-Me-Not or, Fleur de Feu • (1984) • novelette by Tanith Lee
You know I’m a huge fan of everything “Lovecraftian”. As I read more and more into the occult, what it means, its sources, the culture surrounding it, I realize that many of our greatest writers—from Arthur Machen, to Algernon Blackwood, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Howard Phillips Lovecraft—wrote about subjects steeped in the idea of forbidden knowledge, that which is “hidden”—which is what the term “occult” really means.
Here is a brief yet fascinating look at occult elements in the work of Lovecraft. Read on worshippers, read on!
Lovecraft & the Occult
A major component of cosmic horror in general, and of Lovecraft’s work in particular, is the element of the occult. In many ways, Lovecraft’s occult aspects are true to the origins of the word: much of what various characters in his stories seek is that which remains hidden or concealed from view. By uncovering and practicing secret rituals and speaking ancient words, these characters reveal powerful knowledge and cosmic truths, both awesome and terrifying in their implications and scope. For decades, scholars have explored Lovecraft’s real-life connections to the occult, based on his fiction, his correspondence, and his personal life, in order to unravel whether he had some truly esoteric link to realms beyond ours, or was simply an imaginative dreamer from Providence. He may very well have been a little of both.
Above: Lovecraft’s “Elder Sign” in Various Manifestations (Pinterest).
Lovecraft’s correspondence with others in his circle of friends suggests that, while he was well-read on the subject, he was not a personal practitioner of magick.6 Much of his knowledge of the occult seems to have come from books on European witchcraft, written by people outside those witch-groups and colored by the perceptions of non-Christian religions during his time, as well as colonial American witchcraft, as described by witch hunters of Salem like Cotton Mather.6 Some of these latter sources contain alleged accounts from accused witches, although the credibility and interpretation of such accounts would necessarily be, at best, somewhat questionable.
A movement toward freer expression of religion in the 1970s has given us some insight, however, into magickal systems. We have come to see that while some of the details of actual occult practice, both modern and traditional, are often misrepresented in Lovecraft’s work, there is much that Lovecraft incorporates that is, surprisingly, close enough to give actual practitioners pause. An examination of the specific words used by Lovecraft suggests that he was not intimately aware of actual occult practices for raising demons or demonic gods, since his language in the rituals more closely resembles protective spells, which include the invocation of various names of the Judao-Christian God (or slightly altered versions of those names), such as Hel, Heloym, Emmanvel, Tetragrammaton, and Iehova, as well as names of archangels, such as Sother and Saboth, referenced in “The Horror at Red Hook” (2, 6). These names are generally used in protective sigils by practitioners of magick against entities summoned against their will for service or information. Such usage would seem counterproductive in the raising of those entities themselves.
I. OSIRIS IS AVENGED
Hushed were the streets of many peopled Thebes. Those few who passed through them moved with the shadowy fleetness of bats near dawn, and bent their faces from the sky as if fearful of seeing what in their fancies might be hovering there. Weird, high-noted incantations of a wailing sound were audible through the barred doors. On corners groups of naked and bleeding priests cast themselves repeatedly and with loud cries upon the rough stones of the walks. Even dogs and cats and oxen seemed impressed by some strange menace and foreboding and cowered and slunk dejectedly. All Thebes was in dread. And indeed there was cause for their dread and for their wails of lamentation. A terrible sacrilege had been committed. In all the annals of Egypt none more monstrous was recorded.
Five days had the altar fires of the god of gods, Osiris, been left unburning. Even for one moment to allow darkness upon the altars of the god was considered by the priests to be a great offense against him. Whole years of death and famine had been known to result from such an offense. But now the altar fires had been deliberately extinguished, and left extinguished for five days. It was an unspeakable sacrilege.
Hourly there was expectancy of some great calamity to befall. Per-haps within the approaching night a mighty earthquake would shake the city to the ground, or a fire from heaven would sweep upon them, a hideous plague strike them or some monster from the desert, where wild and terrible monsters were said to dwell, would rush upon them and Osiris himself would rise up, as he had done before, and swallow all Egypt in his wrath. Surely some such dread catastrophe would befall them ere the week had passed. Unless—unless the sacrilege were avenged.
But how might it be avenged? That was the question high lords and priests debated. Pharaoh alone had committed the sacrilege. It was he, angered because the bridge, which he had spent five years in construct-ing so that one day he might cross the Nile in his chariot as he had once boasted that he would do, had been swept away by the rising waters. Raging with anger, he had flogged the priests from the temple. He had barred the temple doors and with his own breath had blown out the sacred candles. He had defiled the hallowed altars with the carcasses of beasts. Even, it was said in low, shocked whispers, in a mock ceremony of worship he had burned the carrion of a hyena, most abhorrent of all beasts to Osiris, upon the holy altar of gold, which even the most high of priests forbore to lay naked hands upon!
They have locked me in. A moment since, for what well may have been the last time, I heard the clanking of the triple-bolts as they were shot into place. The door to this barren white chamber presents no extraordinary appearance, but it is plated with impenetrable steel. The executives of the Institution have gone to great pains to ensure the impossibility of escape. They know my record. They have listed me among those patients who are dangerous and “recurrently violent.” I haven’t contradicted them; it does no good to tell them that my violence is long since spent; that I have no longer the inclination nor the strength requisite to make yet another attempted break for freedom. They cannot understand that my freedom meant something to me only so long as there was hope of saving Gratia Thane from the horror that returned from the flesh-rotting brink of the grave to reclaim her. Now, that hope is lost; there is nothing left but the welcome release of death. I can die as well in an insane asylum as elsewhere.
Today, the examinations, both physical and mental, were quickly dispensed with. They were a formality; routine gone through “for the record.” The doctor has left. He wasn’t the man who usually examines me. I presume he is new at the Institution. He was a tiny man, fastidiously dressed, with a narrow, flushed face and a vulgar diamond stickpin. There were lines of distaste and fear about his mouth from the moment he looked into the loathsome mask that is my face. Doubtless one of the white-suited attendants warned him of the particular horror of my case. I didn’t resent it when he came no nearer me than necessary. Rather, I pitied the poor devil for the awkwardness of his situation; I have known men of obviously stronger stomach to stumble away from the sight of me, retching with sick terror. My name, the unholy whisperings of my story, the remembrance of the decaying, breathing half-corpse that I am, are legendary in the winding gray halls of the Asylum. I cannot blame them for being relieved by the knowledge that they will soon shed the burden I have been—that, before long, they will consign this unhuman mass of pulsating flesh to maggots and oblivion.
Before the doctor left, he wrote something in his notebook; there would be the name: Claude Ashur. Under today’s date he has written only a few all-explanatory words. “Prognosis negative. Hopelessly insane. Disease in most advanced stage. Demise imminent.”
Watching the slow, painful progress of his pen across the paper, I experienced one last temptation to speak. I was overwhelmed with a violent need to scream out my now-familiar protest to this new man, in the desperate hope that he might believe me. The blasphemous words welled for an instant in my throat, sending forth a thick nasal sob. Quickly, the doctor glanced up, and the apprehensive loathing of his gaze told me the truth. It would do no good to speak. He was like all the rest, with their soothing voices and unbelieving smiles. He would listen to the hideous nightmare that is the story of Gratia and my brother and myself, and, in the end, he would nod calmly, more convinced than ever that I was stark, raving mad. I remained silent. The last flame of hope guttered and died. I knew in that moment, that no one would ever believe that I am not Claude Ashur.
Claude Ashur is my brother.
Although he had lived in Trinidad for more than fifteen years, Jason Cunard might as well have remained in Devonshire, his original home, for all the local background he had absorbed. He read only British newspapers, the Times and the Daily Mail, which he received by weekly post, and he even had his tea sent him from a shop in Southampton, unmindful of the fact that he could have obtained the same brand, minus the heavy tax, at the local importer in Port-of-Spain.
Of course, Cunard got into town only once a month, and then his time was pretty well occupied with business matters concerning his sugar plantation. He had a house on a rather barren promontory midway between Port-of-Spain and San Fernando which was known as Pistol Key. But his plantation sprawled over a large tract in the center of the island.
Cunard frankly admitted there was nothing about Trinidad he liked. He thought the climate insufferable, the people—the Britishers, that is—provincial, and the rest of the population, a polyglot of races that could be grouped collectively as “natives and foreigners.” He dreamed constantly of Devonshire, though he knew of course he would never go back.
Whether it was due to this brooding or his savage temper, the fact remained that he had the greatest difficulty in keeping house-servants. Since his wife had died two years ago, he had had no less than seven; Caribs, quadroons, and Creoles of one sort or another. His latest, a lean, gangly black boy, went by the name of Christopher, and was undoubtedly the worst of the lot.
As Cunard entered the house now, he was in a distinctly bad frame of mind. Coming down the coast highway, he had had the misfortune to have a flat tire and had damaged his clothes considerably in changing it. He rang the antiquated bell-pull savagely.
Presently Christopher shambled through the connecting doorway.