“You made the assumption that what you were seeing was granado epitope or ischemic residue because it agreed with your preconception that the virgule before you was a granadilla, ischemia telecine, or some other member of the dapple class. But if you had perceived the situation clearly, unclouded by prior judgments, you would have noticed the faint aroma of frustum in the air.”
In the thrilling conclusion to “The Powers of Deduction,” Lamenter Heaps and our narrator Obelus Dampwire approach the loggia of a certain wringer from the Swimsap Torrential…
Lamenter Heaps consulted his tergumscorer. “We have only twenty-eight scrapes remaining to recover the twinned gemsbok.” A gemsbok he had told me, only microabrasions before, could not possibly exist. Our telestrator rattled toward an unknown address on Hysterash Theoretical, and I knew that I was about to be treated to another demonstration of my friend’s famed “powers of deduction.”
Read Part 1 of “The Powers of Deduction” on Trop today!
“Damn it, it wasn’t quite fresh enough!”
“It wouldn’t do not to answer it anyway, and it may be a patient–it would be like one of those fools to try the back door.”
“We’d better both go,” he whispered.
A certain number of these failures had remained alive–one was in an asylum while others had vanished–and as he thought of conceivable yet virtually impossible eventualities he often shivered beneath his usual stolidity.
A fainter trail led away toward the woods, but it soon gave out.
A few persons had half seen it in the dark, and said it was white and like a malformed ape or anthropomorphic fiend.
A larger man guided his steps; a repellent hulk whose bluish face seemed half eaten away by some unknown malady.
A sort of mad-eyed monstrosity behind the leader seized on Herbert West.
A strange headline item had struck at him from the crumpled pages, and a nameless titan claw had seemed to reach down through sixteen years.
A struggle, a needle, and a powerful alkaloid had transformed it to a very fresh corpse, and the experiment had succeeded for a brief and memorable moment; but West had emerged with a soul calloused and seared, and a hardened eye which sometimes glanced with a kind of hideous and calculating appraisal at men of especially sensitive brain and especially vigorous physique.
A touch of colour came to cheeks hitherto chalk-white, and spread out under the curiously ample stubble of sandy beard.
About seven o’clock in the evening she had died, and her frantic husband had made a frightful scene in his efforts to kill West, whom he wildly blamed for not saving her life.
Accident victims were our best hope.
After a number of calculations West decided that it represented some secret chamber beneath the tomb of the Averills, where the last interment had been made in 1768.
After about three-quarters of an hour without the least sign of life he disappointedly pronounced the solution inadequate, but determined to make the most of his opportunity and try one change in the formula before disposing of his ghastly prize.
After that experience West had dropped his researches for some time; but as the zeal of the born scientist slowly returned, he again became importunate with the college faculty, pleading for the use of the dissecting-room and of fresh human specimens for the work he regarded as so overwhelmingly important.
After the clock had struck three the moon shone in my eyes, but I turned over without rising to pull down the shade.
After the entombment we were all somewhat depressed, and spent the afternoon at the bar of the Commercial House; where West, though shaken by the death of his chief opponent, chilled the rest of us with references to his notorious theories.
After the scientific slaughter of uncounted small animals the freakish work had ostensibly stopped by order of our sceptical dean, Dr. Allan Halsey; though West had continued to perform certain secret tests in his dingy boarding-house room, and had on one terrible and unforgettable occasion taken a human body from its grave in the potter’s field to a deserted farmhouse beyond Meadow Hill.
Age has more charity for these incomplete yet high-souled characters, whose worst real vice is timidity, and who are ultimately punished by general ridicule for their intellectual sins–sins like Ptolemaism, Calvinism, anti-Darwinism, anti-Nietzscheism, and every sort of Sabbatarianism and sumptuary legislation.
All the servants were asleep in the attic, so I answered the bell.
All this research work required a prodigious supply of freshly slaughtered human flesh–and that was why Herbert West had entered the Great War.
Also, an attempt had been made to disturb a new grave in the potter’s field, as if by futile and spadeless clawing at the earth.
Altogether, the nervous strain upon West must have been tremendous.
Always an ice-cold intellectual machine; slight, blond, blue-eyed, and spectacled; I think he secretly sneered at my occasional martial enthusiasms and censures of supine neutrality.
Among these sounds were frequent revolver-shots–surely not uncommon on a battlefield, but distinctly uncommon in an hospital.
An Italian woman had become hysterical over her missing child–a lad of five who had strayed off early in the morning and failed to appear for dinner–and had developed symptoms highly alarming in view of an always weak heart.
And for seventeen years after that West would look frequently over his shoulder, and complain of fancied footsteps behind him.
And now Sefton Asylum has had the mishap and West has vanished.
And then had come the scourge, grinning and lethal, from the nightmare caverns of Tartarus.
And then, as the breach became large enough, they came out into the laboratory in single file; led by a stalking thing with a beautiful head made of wax.
And yet its timbre was not the most awful thing about it.
And, as I have implied, it was not of the dead man himself that I became afraid.
Apparently this acidulous matron was right; for about 3 a.m. the whole house was aroused by cries coming from West’s room, where when they broke down the door they found the two of us unconscious on the blood-stained carpet, beaten, scratched, and mauled, and with the broken remnants of West’s bottles and instruments around us.
As I have said, it happened when we were in the medical school, where West had already made himself notorious through his wild theories on the nature of death and the possibility of overcoming it artificially.
As I have told the police, there was no wagon in the street; but only a group of strange-looking figures bearing a large square box which they deposited in the hallway after one of them had grunted in a highly unnatural voice, “Express–prepaid.”
As West proceeded to take preliminary steps, I was impressed by the vast intricacy of the new experiment; an intricacy so vast that he could trust no hand less delicate than his own.
As it disappeared I saw that the blue eyes behind the spectacles were hideously blazing with their first touch of frantic, visible emotion.
At last fate had been kind, so that on this occasion there lay in the secret cellar laboratory a corpse whose decay could not by any possibility have begun.
At midnight the doorbell rang, startling him fearfully.
At that moment, as I say, I was elated with the conviction that the one great goal had been attained; and that for the first time a reanimated corpse had uttered distinct words impelled by actual reason.
At the college we used an incinerator, but the apparatus was too costly for our unauthorised laboratory.
At times he actually did perform marvels of surgery for the soldiers; but his chief delights were of a less public and philanthropic kind, requiring many explanations of sounds which seemed peculiar even amidst that babel of the damned.
Before a month was over the fearless dean had become a popular hero, though he seemed unconscious of his fame as he struggled to keep from collapsing with physical fatigue and nervous exhaustion.
Besides human tissue, West employed much of the reptile embryo tissue which he had cultivated with such singular results.
Besides, the body would not be even approximately fresh the next night.
Besides–I could not extract from my memory that hideous, inhuman shriek we heard on the night we tried our first experiment in the deserted farmhouse at Arkham.
Between then and the next January we secured three more; one total failure, one case of marked muscular motion, and one rather shivery thing–it rose of itself and uttered a sound.
Bodies were always a nuisance–even the small guinea-pig bodies from the slight clandestine experiments in West’s room at the boarding-house.
Bolton had a surprisingly good police force for so small a town, and I could not help fearing the mess which would ensue if the affair of the night before were ever tracked down.
Briefly and brutally stated, West’s sole absorbing interest was a secret study of the phenomena of life and its cessation, leading toward the reanimation of the dead through injections of an excitant solution.
Burials without embalming were made in rapid succession, and even the Christchurch Cemetery receiving tomb was crammed with coffins of the unembalmed dead.
But I might not be mad if those accursed tomb-legions had not been so silent.
But West’s gentle enemies were no less harassed with prostrating duties.
But at the time of the scream in the cellar laboratory of the isolated Bolton cottage, our fears were subordinate to our anxiety for extremely fresh specimens.
But in that triumph there came to me the greatest of all horrors–not horror of the thing that spoke, but of the deed that I had witnessed and of the man with whom my professional fortunes were joined.
But my wonder was not overwhelming, since for the most part I shared the materialism of my friend.
But that evening two items in the paper, wholly unrelated, made it again impossible for us to sleep.
But what actually absorbed our minds was the secret laboratory we had fitted up in the cellar–the laboratory with the long table under the electric lights, where in the small hours of the morning we often injected West’s various solutions into the veins of the things we dragged from the potter’s field.
By H.P. Lovecraft
By the time help could be summoned, every trace of the men and of their mad charge had vanished.
By then we had calmed ourselves a little with rational theories and plans for investigation, so that we could sleep through the day–classes being disregarded.
Certainly, the nerves were recalling the man’s last act in life; the struggle to get free of the falling aeroplane.
Christchurch Cemetery was the scene of a terrible killing; a watchman having been clawed to death in a manner not only too hideous for description, but raising a doubt as to the human agency of the deed.
College had all but closed, and every doctor of the medical faculty was helping to fight the typhoid plague.
Dangers he met unflinchingly; crimes he committed unmoved.
Despite the obvious danger of attracting notice and bringing down on our heads the dreaded police investigation–a thing which after all was mercifully averted by the relative isolation of our cottage–my friend suddenly, excitedly, and unnecessarily emptied all six chambers of his revolver into the nocturnal visitor.
Detectives have questioned me, but what can I say?
Dr. Halsey in particular had distinguished himself in sacrificing service, applying his extreme skill with whole-hearted energy to cases which many others shunned because of danger or apparent hopelessness.
Dr. West’s reanimated specimens were not meant for long existence or a large audience.
Dr. West had been avid for a chance to serve as surgeon in a great war, and when the chance had come he carried me with him almost against my will.
During the excavation of this cellar the workmen had struck some exceedingly ancient masonry; undoubtedly connected with the old burying-ground, yet far too deep to correspond with any known sepulchre therein.
Eight houses were entered by a nameless thing which strewed red death in its wake–in all, seventeen maimed and shapeless remnants of bodies were left behind by the voiceless, sadistic monster that crept abroad.
Especially were we apprehensive concerning the mind and impulses of the creature, since in the space following death some of the more delicate cerebral cells might well have suffered deterioration.
Ever since our first daemoniac session in the deserted farmhouse on Meadow Hill in Arkham, we had felt a brooding menace; and West, though a calm, blond, blue-eyed scientific automaton in most respects, often confessed to a shuddering sensation of stealthy pursuit.
Every now and then he applied his stethoscope to the specimen, and bore the negative results philosophically.
Fear was upon the whole pitiful crowd, for they did not know what the law would exact of them if the affair were not hushed up; and they were grateful when West, in spite of my involuntary shudders, offered to get rid of the thing quietly–for a purpose I knew too well.
For it had been a man.
For it had come from the large covered vat in that ghoulish corner of crawling black shadows.
For that very fresh body, at last writhing into full and terrifying consciousness with eyes dilated at the memory of its last scene on earth, threw out its frantic hands in a life and death struggle with the air; and suddenly collapsing into a second and final dissolution from which there could be no return, screamed out the cry that will ring eternally in my aching brain:
For that visitor was neither Italian nor policeman.
For this ghastly experimenting it was necessary to have a constant supply of very fresh human bodies; very fresh because even the least decay hopelessly damaged the brain structure, and human because we found that the solution had to be compounded differently for different types of organisms.
Forbidding me to touch the body, he first injected a drug in the wrist just beside the place his needle had punctured when injecting the embalming compound.
Friends had held him when he drew a stiletto, but West departed amidst his inhuman shrieks, curses, and oaths of vengeance.
From the Dark
From the hour of reading this item until midnight, West sat almost paralysed.
From the revolver I knew that he was thinking more of the crazed Italian than of the police.
Ghastly as our prize appeared, it was wholly unresponsive to every solution we injected in its black arm; solutions prepared from experience with white specimens only.
Gradually I came to find Herbert West himself more horrible than anything he did–that was when it dawned on me that his once normal scientific zeal for prolonging life had subtly degenerated into a mere morbid and ghoulish curiosity and secret sense of charnel picturesqueness.
Gradually I had come to be his inseparable assistant, and now that we were out of college we had to keep together.
Gradually we equipped our sinister haunt of science with materials either purchased in Boston or quietly borrowed from the college–materials carefully made unrecognisable save to expert eyes–and provided spades and picks for the many burials we should have to make in the cellar.
He felt that he was needlessly and irrationally retarded in a supremely great work; a work which he could of course conduct to suit himself in later years, but which he wished to begin while still possessed of the exceptional facilities of the university.
He grew sterner of face, but never elderly.
He had chosen the place for purely symbolic and fantastically aesthetic reasons, since most of the interments were of the colonial period and therefore of little use to a scientist seeking very fresh bodies.
He had come in an aeroplane piloted by the intrepid Lieut. Ronald Hill, only to be shot down when directly over his destination.
He had had much trouble in discovering the proper formula, for each type of organism was found to need a stimulus especially adapted to it.
He had refused a stimulant, and had suddenly dropped dead only a moment later.
He had slowly tried to perfect a solution which, injected into the veins of the newly deceased, would restore life; a labour demanding an abundance of fresh corpses and therefore involving the most unnatural actions.
He had wild and original ideas on the independent vital properties of organic cells and nerve-tissue separated from natural physiological systems; and achieved some hideous preliminary results in the form of never-dying, artificially nourished tissue obtained from the nearly hatched eggs of an indescribable tropical reptile.
He had, he told me excitedly, in all likelihood solved the problem of freshness through an approach from an entirely new angle–that of artificial preservation.
He half felt that he was followed–a psychological delusion of shaken nerves, enhanced by the undeniably disturbing fact that at least one of our reanimated specimens was still alive–a frightful carnivorous thing in a padded cell at Sefton.
He hoped at last to obtain what he had never obtained before–a rekindled spark of reason and perhaps a normal, living creature.
He injected new blood, joined certain veins, arteries, and nerves at the headless neck, and closed the ghastly aperture with engrafted skin from an unidentified specimen which had borne an officer’s uniform.
He ordered them burnt as soon as possible in the capacious fireplace.
He seemed calm even when he thought of that clawed grave and looked over his shoulder; even when he thought of the carnivorous thing that gnawed and pawed at Sefton bars.
He then sought extreme freshness in his specimens, injecting his solutions into the blood immediately after the extinction of life.
He used to make shuddering conjectures about the possible actions of a headless physician with the power of reanimating the dead.
He usually finished his experiments with a revolver, but a few times he had not been quick enough.
He was a loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms which I could not help calling fore legs, and a face that conjured up thoughts of unspeakable Congo secrets and tom-tom poundings under an eerie moon.
He was a menacing military figure who talked without moving his lips and whose voice seemed almost ventriloquially connected with an immense black case he carried.
He was calmer than I as he forced a large quantity of his fluid into a vein of the body’s arm, immediately binding the incision securely.
He was clad in dressing-gown and slippers, and had in his hands a revolver and an electric flashlight.
He was ready, I think, to see proof of his increasingly strong opinion that consciousness, reason, and personality can exist independently of the brain–that man has no central connective spirit, but is merely a machine of nervous matter, each section more or less complete in itself.
He was, West nervously said, a congenial stranger whom we had met at some downtown bar of uncertain location.
Herbert West needed fresh bodies because his life-work was the reanimation of the dead.
Herbert West, whose associate and assistant I was, possessed scientific interests far beyond the usual routine of a village physician.
His condition was more ghastly.
His expressionless face was handsome to the point of radiant beauty, but had shocked the superintendent when the hall light fell on it–for it was a wax face with eyes of painted glass.
His interest became a hellish and perverse addiction to the repellently and fiendishly abnormal; he gloated calmly over artificial monstrosities which would make most healthy men drop dead from fright and disgust; he became, behind his pallid intellectuality, a fastidious Baudelaire of physical experiment–a languid Elagabalus of the tombs.
His pleas, however, were wholly in vain; for the decision of Dr. Halsey was inflexible, and the other professors all endorsed the verdict of their leader.
His views, which were widely ridiculed by the faculty and his fellow-students, hinged on the essentially mechanistic nature of life; and concerned means for operating the organic machinery of mankind by calculated chemical action after the failure of natural processes.
Holding with Haeckel that all life is a chemical and physical process, and that the so-called “soul” is a myth, my friend believed that artificial reanimation of the dead can depend only on the condition of the tissues; and that unless actual decomposition has set in, a corpse fully equipped with organs may with suitable measures be set going again in the peculiar fashion known as life.
Human it could not have been–it is not in man to make such sounds–and without a thought of our late employment or its possible discovery both West and I leaped to the nearest window like stricken animals; overturning tubes, lamp, and retorts, and vaulting madly into the starred abyss of the rural night.
I can see him now as he was then–and I shiver.
I can still see Herbert West under the sinister electric light as he injected his reanimating solution into the arm of the headless body.
I cannot express the wild, breathless suspense with which we waited for results on this first really fresh specimen–the first we could reasonably expect to open its lips in rational speech, perhaps to tell of what it had seen beyond the unfathomable abyss.
I did not like the way he looked at healthy living bodies; and then there came a nightmarish session in the cellar laboratory when I learned that a certain specimen had been a living body when he secured it.
I did not like those rumours of a fight which were floating about.
I did not wholly disagree with him theoretically, yet held vague instinctive remnants of the primitive faith of my forefathers; so that I could not help eyeing the corpse with a certain amount of awe and terrible expectation.
I do not remember many particulars–you can imagine my state of mind–but it is a vicious lie to say it was Herbert West’s body which I put into the incinerator.
I do not yet know whether I was answered or not, for no sound came from the well-shaped mouth; but I do know that at that moment I firmly thought the thin lips moved silently, forming syllables I would have vocalised as “only now” if that phrase had possessed any sense or relevancy.
I had always been exceptionally tolerant of West’s pursuits, and we frequently discussed his theories, whose ramifications and corollaries were almost infinite.
I had been on a long visit to my parents in Illinois, and upon my return found West in a state of singular elation.
I had known that he was working on a new and highly unusual embalming compound, and was not surprised that it had turned out well; but until he explained the details I was rather puzzled as to how such a compound could help in our work, since the objectionable staleness of the specimens was largely due to delay occurring before we secured them.
I had not entered the army on my own initiative, but rather as a natural result of the enlistment of the man whose indispensable assistant I was–the celebrated Boston surgical specialist, Dr. Herbert West.
I knew what he wanted–to see if this highly organised body could exhibit, without its head, any of the signs of mental life which had distinguished Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee.
I lay still and somewhat dazed, but before long heard West’s rap on my door.
I looked at the closed eyelids, and thought I detected a quivering.
I reached down and hauled the contents out of the grave, and then both toiled hard to restore the spot to its former appearance.
I shall never forget that hideous summer sixteen years ago, when like a noxious afrite from the halls of Eblis typhoid stalked leeringly through Arkham.
I should not call that sound a voice, for it was too awful.
I shudder tonight as I think of it; shudder even more than I did that morning when West muttered through his bandages,
I speak of West’s decadence, but must add that it was a purely mental and intangible thing.
I think the climax came when he had proved his point that rational life can be restored, and had sought new worlds to conquer by experimenting on the reanimation of detached parts of bodies.
I think we screamed ourselves as we stumbled frantically toward the town, though as we reached the outskirts we put on a semblance of restraint–just enough to seem like belated revellers staggering home from a debauch.
I told them of the vault, and they pointed to the unbroken plaster wall and laughed.
I was West’s closest friend and only confidential assistant.
I was by this time his active and enthralled assistant, and helped him make all his decisions, not only concerning the source of bodies but concerning a suitable place for our loathsome work.
I was going to run, but he stopped me.
I was held to him by sheer force of fear, and witnessed sights that no human tongue could repeat.
I was pouring something from one test-tube to another, and West was busy over the alcohol blast-lamp which had to answer for a Bunsen burner in this gasless edifice, when from the pitch-black room we had left there burst the most appalling and daemoniac succession of cries that either of us had ever heard.
I was with him on that odious occasion, and saw him inject into the still veins the elixir which he thought would to some extent restore life’s chemical and physical processes.
I was with him when he studied the nitrous, dripping walls laid bare by the spades and mattocks of the men, and was prepared for the gruesome thrill which would attend the uncovering of centuried grave-secrets; but for the first time West’s new timidity conquered his natural curiosity, and he betrayed his degenerating fibre by ordering the masonry left intact and plastered over.
I wonder even now if it could have been other than a daemoniac dream of delirium.
I wondered what sights this placid youth might have seen in inaccessible spheres, and what he could relate if fully restored to life.
I, myself, still held some curious notions about the traditional “soul” of man, and felt an awe at the secrets that might be told by one returning from the dead.
If this man could not be restored to life, no one would know of our experiment.
If, on the other hand, he could be restored, our fame would be brilliantly and perpetually established.
In 1915 I was a physician with the rank of First Lieutenant in a Canadian regiment in Flanders, one of many Americans to precede the government itself into the gigantic struggle.
In Bolton the prevailing spirit of Puritanism had outlawed the sport of boxing–with the usual result.
In a dark corner of the laboratory, over a queer incubating burner, he kept a large covered vat full of this reptilian cell-matter; which multiplied and grew puffily and hideously.
In a moment of fantastic whim I whispered questions to the reddening ears; questions of other worlds of which the memory might still be present.
In college, and during our early practice together in the factory town of Bolton, my attitude toward him had been largely one of fascinated admiration; but as his boldness in methods grew, I began to develop a gnawing fear.
In his brief conversation the stranger had made it clear that he was unknown in Bolton, and a search of his pockets subsequently revealed him to be one Robert Leavitt of St. Louis, apparently without a family to make instant inquiries about his disappearance.
In his experiments with various animating solutions he had killed and treated immense numbers of rabbits, guinea-pigs, cats, dogs, and monkeys, till he had become the prime nuisance of the college.
In his latest affliction the fellow seemed to have forgotten his child, who was still missing as the night advanced.
In one triumphant demonstration West was about to relegate the mystery of life to the category of myth.
In saying that West’s fear of his specimens was nebulous, I have in mind particularly its complex nature.
In the end, though, luck favoured us; for one day we heard of an almost ideal case in the potter’s field; a brawny young workman drowned only the morning before in Sumner’s Pond, and buried at the town’s expense without delay or embalming.
In the light of our dark lanterns we carefully covered it with leaves and dead vines, fairly certain that the police would never find it in a forest so dim and dense.
In the next moment there was no doubt about the triumph; no doubt that the solution had truly accomplished, at least temporarily, its full mission of restoring rational and articulate life to the dead.
In the radical theory of reanimation they saw nothing but the immature vagaries of a youthful enthusiast whose slight form, yellow hair, spectacled blue eyes, and soft voice gave no hint of the supernormal–almost diabolical–power of the cold brain within.
In the small hours of the morning a body of silent men had entered the grounds and their leader had aroused the attendants.
Indeed, the greatest problem was to get them fresh enough–West had had horrible experiences during his secret college researches with corpses of doubtful vintage.
It also bore the inscription, “From Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, St. Eloi, Flanders”.
It had at first been his hope to find a reagent which would restore vitality before the actual advent of death, and only repeated failures on animals had shewn him that the natural and artificial life-motions were incompatible.
It had become fiendishly disgusting by the time he disappeared; many of the experiments could not even be hinted at in print.
It had been a sturdy and apparently unimaginative youth of wholesome plebeian type–large-framed, grey-eyed, and brown-haired–a sound animal without psychological subtleties, and probably having vital processes of the simplest and healthiest sort.
It had been a vigorous man; a well-dressed stranger just off the train on his way to transact some business with the Bolton Worsted Mills.
It had ended horribly–in a delirium of fear which we gradually came to attribute to our own overwrought nerves–and West had never afterward been able to shake off a maddening sensation of being haunted and hunted.
It had lost an arm–if it had been a perfect body we might have succeeded better.
It had not left behind quite all that it had attacked, for sometimes it had been hungry.
It is by that satanic scourge that most recall the year, for truly terror brooded with bat-wings over the piles of coffins in the tombs of Christchurch Cemetery; yet for me there is a greater horror in that time–a horror known to me alone now that Herbert West has disappeared.
It is natural that such a thing as a dead man’s scream should give horror, for it is obviously not a pleasing or ordinary occurrence; but I was used to similar experiences, hence suffered on this occasion only because of a particular circumstance.
It is uncommon to fire all six shots of a revolver with great suddenness when one would probably be sufficient, but many things in the life of Herbert West were uncommon.
It is, for instance, not often that a young physician leaving college is obliged to conceal the principles which guide his selection of a home and office, yet that was the case with Herbert West.
It likewise became clear that, since the same solution never worked alike on different organic species, he would require human subjects for further and more specialised progress.
It may have been wholly an hallucination from the shock caused at that instant by the sudden and complete destruction of the building in a cataclysm of German shell-fire–who can gainsay it, since West and I were the only proved survivors?
It might mean the end of all our local work–and perhaps prison for both West and me.
It was I who thought of the deserted Chapman farmhouse beyond Meadow Hill, where we fitted up on the ground floor an operating room and a laboratory, each with dark curtains to conceal our midnight doings.
It was West who first noticed the falling plaster on that part of the wall where the ancient tomb masonry had been covered up.
It was a repulsive task that we undertook in the black small hours, even though we lacked at that time the special horror of graveyards which later experiences brought to us.
It was a very foolish hysteria, for the boy had often run away before; but Italian peasants are exceedingly superstitious, and this woman seemed as much harassed by omens as by facts.
It was about two feet square, and bore West’s correct name and present address.
It was agreed to call the whole thing a chemical laboratory if discovery should occur.
It was almost a public affair, for the dean had surely been a public benefactor.
It was better than human material for maintaining life in organless fragments, and that was now my friend’s chief activity.
It was disturbing to think that one, perhaps two, of our monsters still lived–that thought haunted us shadowingly, till finally West disappeared under frightful circumstances.
It was here that he first came into conflict with the college authorities, and was debarred from future experiments by no less a dignitary than the dean of the medical school himself–the learned and benevolent Dr. Allan Halsey, whose work in behalf of the stricken is recalled by every old resident of Arkham.
It was in July, 1910, that the bad luck regarding specimens began to turn.
It was in those college days that he had begun his terrible experiments, first on small animals and then on human bodies shockingly obtained.
It was not easy to find a good opening for two doctors in company, but finally the influence of the university secured us a practice in Bolton–a factory town near Arkham, the seat of the college.
It was not long after the faculty had interdicted his work that West confided to me his resolution to get fresh human bodies in some manner, and continue in secret the experiments he could no longer perform openly.
It was rather ironic, for he was the officer who had helped West to his commission, and who was now to have been our associate.
It was this circumstance which made the professors so carelessly sceptical, for they felt that true death had not occurred in any case.
It was, in fact, nothing more or less than an abundant supply of freshly killed men in every stage of dismemberment.
It would have been better if we could have known it was underground.
Just as the building was wiped out by a German shell, there had been a success.
Keep off, you cursed little tow-head fiend–keep that damned needle away from me!”
Like most youths, he indulged in elaborate day-dreams of revenge, triumph, and final magnanimous forgiveness.
Looming hideously against the spectral moon was a gigantic misshapen thing not to be imagined save in nightmares–a glassy-eyed, ink-black apparition nearly on all fours, covered with bits of mould, leaves, and vines, foul with caked blood, and having between its glistening teeth a snow-white, terrible, cylindrical object terminating in a tiny hand.
Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, D.S.O., was the greatest surgeon in our division, and had been hastily assigned to the St. Eloi sector when news of the heavy fighting reached headquarters.
Many men have related hideous things, not mentioned in print, which happened on the battlefields of the Great War.
Memories and possibilities are ever more hideous than realities.
Moreover, he had in the past secretly studied the theory of reanimation to some extent under West.
Most of the other possibly surviving results were things less easy to speak of–for in later years West’s scientific zeal had degenerated to an unhealthy and fantastic mania, and he had spent his chief skill in vitalising not entire human bodies but isolated parts of bodies, or parts joined to organic matter other than human.
Most of the students went home, or to various duties, as the evening advanced; but West persuaded me to aid him in “making a night of it”.
Much was expected of it; and as a few twitching motions began to appear, I could see the feverish interest on West’s face.
Neither was its message–it had merely screamed, “Jump, Ronald, for God’s sake, jump!”
Nor did any sound come from the box, after all.
Not for many weeks did we hear of anything suitable; though we talked with morgue and hospital authorities, ostensibly in the college’s interest, as often as we could without exciting suspicion.
Not more unutterable could have been the chaos of hellish sound if the pit itself had opened to release the agony of the damned, for in one inconceivable cacophony was centred all the supernal terror and unnatural despair of animate nature.
Now he has disappeared.
Now that he is gone and the spell is broken, the actual fear is greater.
Now, with the eyes closed, it looked more asleep than dead; though the expert test of my friend soon left no doubt on that score.
Of Herbert West, who was my friend in college and in after life, I can speak only with extreme terror.
Of his methods in the intervening five years I dare not speak.
On account of the general alarm and precautions, there were only two more victims, and the capture was effected without major casualties.
On an improvised dissecting-table in the old farmhouse, by the light of a powerful acetylene lamp, the specimen was not very spectral looking.
On the night of which I speak we had a splendid new specimen–a man at once physically powerful and of such high mentality that a sensitive nervous system was assured.
On the third night frantic bands of searchers, led by the police, captured it in a house on Crane Street near the Miskatonic campus.
Once a student of reanimation, this silent trunk was now gruesomely called upon to exemplify it.
One March night, however, we unexpectedly obtained a specimen which did not come from the potter’s field.
One thing had uttered a nerve-shattering scream; another had risen violently, beaten us both to unconsciousness, and run amuck in a shocking way before it could be placed behind asylum bars; still another, a loathsome African monstrosity, had clawed out of its shallow grave and done a deed–West had had to shoot that object.
Only an open window told what had become of our assailant, and many wondered how he himself had fared after the terrific leap from the second story to the lawn which he must have made.
Only greater maturity could help him understand the chronic mental limitations of the “professor-doctor” type–the product of generations of pathetic Puritanism; kindly, conscientious, and sometimes gentle and amiable, yet always narrow, intolerant, custom-ridden, and lacking in perspective.
Our experiences had often been hideous in the extreme; the results of defective reanimation, when lumps of graveyard clay had been galvanised into morbid, unnatural, and brainless motion by various modifications of the vital solution.
Our fear of the police was absurdly great, though we had timed our trip to avoid the solitary patrolman of that section.
Our practice was surprisingly large from the very first–large enough to please most young doctors, and large enough to prove a bore and a burden to students whose real interest lay elsewhere.
Outwardly he was the same to the last–calm, cold, slight, and yellow-haired, with spectacled blue eyes and a general aspect of youth which years and fears seemed never to change.
Outwardly we were doctors only, but beneath the surface were aims of far greater and more terrible moment–for the essence of Herbert West’s existence was a quest amid black and forbidden realms of the unknown, in which he hoped to uncover the secret of life and restore to perpetual animation the graveyard’s cold clay.
Part of it came merely from knowing of the existence of such nameless monsters, while another part arose from apprehension of the bodily harm they might under certain circumstances do him.
Partly it was the police he feared; but sometimes his nervousness was deeper and more nebulous, touching on certain indescribable things into which he had injected a morbid life, and from which he had not seen that life depart.
People did not seem to notice his glances, but they noticed my fear; and after his disappearance used that as a basis for some absurd suspicions.
Quickly he said, “It’s the finish–but let’s incinerate–this.”
Reticence such as this is seldom without a cause, nor indeed was ours; for our requirements were those resulting from a life-work distinctly unpopular.
Scores of rabbits and guinea-pigs had been killed and treated, but their trail was a blind one.
Servants found me unconscious in the morning.
Several times he had actually obtained signs of life in animals supposedly dead; in many cases violent signs; but he soon saw that the perfection of this process, if indeed possible, would necessarily involve a lifetime of research.
Six Shots by Midnight
Six years before, in Flanders, a shelled hospital had fallen upon the headless reanimated trunk of Dr. Clapham-Lee, and upon the detached head which–perhaps–had uttered articulate sounds.
Slightly later, when a change and a gentle tremor seemed to affect the dead limbs, West stuffed a pillow-like object violently over the twitching face, not withdrawing it until the corpse appeared quiet and ready for our attempt at reanimation.
So I told them no more.
So as the hour grew dangerously near to dawn, we did as we had done with the others–dragged the thing across the meadows to the neck of the woods near the potter’s field, and buried it there in the best sort of grave the frozen ground would furnish.
So on the night of July 18, 1910, Herbert West and I stood in the cellar laboratory and gazed at a white, silent figure beneath the dazzling arc-light.
So taking the solitary acetylene lamp into the adjacent laboratory, we left our silent guest on the slab in the dark, and bent every energy to the mixing of a new solution; the weighing and measuring supervised by West with an almost fanatical care.
So we both went down the stairs on tiptoe, with a fear partly justified and partly that which comes only from the soul of the weird small hours.
So without delay West had injected into the body’s wrist the compound which would hold it fresh for use after my arrival.
Some nameless accident had befallen this man.
Some of these things have made me faint, others have convulsed me with devastating nausea, while still others have made me tremble and look behind me in the dark; yet despite the worst of them I believe I can myself relate the most hideous thing of all–the shocking, the unnatural, the unbelievable horror from the shadows.
Something fearsome and incredible had happened at Sefton Asylum fifty miles away, stunning the neighbourhood and baffling the police.
Still more shocking were the products of some of the experiments–grisly masses of flesh that had been dead, but that West waked to a blind, brainless, nauseous animation.
Subsequent terror drove them from my mind, but I think the last one, which I repeated, was: “Where have you been?”
Such a quest demands strange materials, among them fresh human bodies; and in order to keep supplied with these indispensable things one must live quietly and not far from a place of informal interment.
Surreptitious and ill-conducted bouts among the mill-workers were common, and occasionally professional talent of low grade was imported.
Taking advantage of the disorganisation of both college work and municipal health regulations, he managed to get a recently deceased body smuggled into the university dissecting-room one night, and in my presence injected a new modification of his solution.
Terror stalked him when he reflected on his partial failures; nameless things resulting from imperfect solutions or from bodies insufficiently fresh.
That afternoon we found the new grave, and determined to begin work soon after midnight.
That same night saw the beginning of the second Arkham horror–the horror that to me eclipsed the plague itself.
That the psychic or intellectual life might be impaired by the slight deterioration of sensitive brain-cells which even a short period of death would be apt to cause, West fully realised.
That the tradition-bound elders should ignore his singular results on animals, and persist in their denial of the possibility of reanimation, was inexpressibly disgusting and almost incomprehensible to a youth of West’s logical temperament.
That time we were almost caught before we incinerated the thing, and West doubted the advisability of repeating his daring misuse of the college laboratory.
That was seven years before, but West looked scarcely a day older now–he was small, blond, clean-shaven, soft-voiced, and spectacled, with only an occasional flash of a cold blue eye to tell of the hardening and growing fanaticism of his character under the pressure of his terrible investigations.
That was the first time he had ever been able to revive the quality of rational thought in a corpse; and his success, obtained at such a loathsome cost, had completely hardened him.
That was why, when establishing his practice in Bolton, he had chosen an isolated house near the potter’s field.
That we could not understand, for we had patted down the mould very carefully.
The Bolton Worsted Mills are the largest in the Miskatonic Valley, and their polyglot employees are never popular as patients with the local physicians.
The Great War, through which both of us served as surgeons, had intensified this side of West.
The Horror from the Shadows
The Scream of the Dead
The Sefton tragedy they will not connect with West; not that, nor the men with the box, whose existence they deny.
The affair made us rather nervous, especially the stiff form and vacant face of our first trophy, but we managed to remove all traces of our visit.
The arms stirred disquietingly, the legs drew up, and various muscles contracted in a repulsive kind of writhing.
The awesome quest had begun when West and I were students at the Miskatonic University Medical School in Arkham, vividly conscious for the first time of the thoroughly mechanical nature of life.
The awful event was very sudden, and wholly unexpected.
The awful thing was its source.
The bodies had to be exceedingly fresh, or the slight decomposition of brain tissue would render perfect reanimation impossible.
The body had not been quite fresh enough; it is obvious that to restore normal mental attributes a body must be very fresh indeed; and a burning of the old house had prevented us from burying the thing.
The body must have looked even worse in life–but the world holds many ugly things.
The body now twitched more vigorously, and beneath our avid eyes commenced to heave in a frightful way.
The body on the table had risen with a blind and terrible groping, and we had heard a sound.
The body, as might be expected, seemed to West a heaven-sent gift.
The distance was greater than we wished, but we could get no nearer house without going on the other side of the field, wholly out of the factory district.
The embalming compound had worked uncannily well, for as I stared fascinatedly at the sturdy frame which had lain two weeks without stiffening I was moved to seek West’s assurance that the thing was really dead.
The end of Herbert West began one evening in our joint study when he was dividing his curious glance between the newspaper and me.
The experiment would be a landmark in our studies, and he had saved the new body for my return, so that both might share the spectacle in accustomed fashion.
The fall had been spectacular and awful; Hill was unrecognisable afterward, but the wreck yielded up the great surgeon in a nearly decapitated but otherwise intact condition.
The fiends had beaten, trampled, and bitten every attendant who did not flee; killing four and finally succeeding in the liberation of the monster.
The first horrible incident of our acquaintance was the greatest shock I ever experienced, and it is only with reluctance that I repeat it.
The grave was not very deep, but fully as good as that of the previous specimen–the thing which had risen of itself and uttered a sound.
The head had been removed, so that the possibilities of quasi-intelligent life in the trunk might be investigated.
The hideous occurrence itself was very simple, notable only for what it implied.
The incinerator contained only unidentifiable ashes.
The laboratory was in a sub-cellar secretly constructed by imported workmen, and contained a huge incinerator for the quiet and complete disposal of such bodies, or fragments and synthetic mockeries of bodies, as might remain from the morbid experiments and unhallowed amusements of the owner.
The manager of a circus at the neighbouring town of Bolton was questioned, but he swore that no beast had at any time escaped from its cage.
The match had been between Kid O’Brien–a lubberly and now quaking youth with a most un-Hibernian hooked nose–and Buck Robinson, “The Harlem Smoke”.
The matter of the presumably weak heart, which to my mind imperiled the success of our experiment, did not appear to trouble West extensively.
The mill-hands were of somewhat turbulent inclinations; and besides their many natural needs, their frequent clashes and stabbing affrays gave us plenty to do.
The negro had been knocked out, and a moment’s examination shewed us that he would permanently remain so.
The next day I was increasingly apprehensive about the police, for a patient brought rumours of a suspected fight and death.
The next night devils danced on the roofs of Arkham, and unnatural madness howled in the wind.
The number it had killed was fourteen; three of the bodies had been in stricken homes and had not been alive.
The old deserted Chapman house had inexplicably burned to an amorphous heap of ashes; that we could understand because of the upset lamp.
The pale enthusiast now applied some last perfunctory tests for absolute lifelessness, withdrew satisfied, and finally injected into the left arm an accurately measured amount of the vital elixir, prepared during the afternoon with a greater care than we had used since college days, when our feats were new and groping.
The peak of the epidemic was reached in August.
The phantasmal, unmentionable thing occurred one midnight late in March, 1915, in a field hospital behind the lines at St. Eloi.
The place was far from any road, and in sight of no other house, yet precautions were none the less necessary; since rumours of strange lights, started by chance nocturnal roamers, would soon bring disaster on our enterprise.
The process of unearthing was slow and sordid–it might have been gruesomely poetical if we had been artists instead of scientists–and we were glad when our spades struck wood.
The rattling continued, growing somewhat louder.
The result was wearily anticlimactic.
The results of partial or imperfect animation were much more hideous than were the total failures, and we both held fearsome recollections of such things.
The scene I cannot describe–I should faint if I tried it, for there is madness in a room full of classified charnel things, with blood and lesser human debris almost ankle-deep on the slimy floor, and with hideous reptilian abnormalities sprouting, bubbling, and baking over a winking bluish-green spectre of dim flame in a far corner of black shadows.
The scream of a dead man gave to me that acute and added horror of Dr. Herbert West which harassed the latter years of our companionship.
The shell had been merciful, in a way–but West could never feel as certain as he wished, that we two were the only survivors.
The situation was almost past management, and deaths ensued too frequently for the local undertakers fully to handle.
The solution had to be differently compounded for different types–what would serve for guinea-pigs would not serve for human beings, and different human specimens required large modifications.
The speaker had asked for the custody of the cannibal monster committed from Arkham sixteen years before; and upon being refused, gave a signal which precipitated a shocking riot.
The specimen, as West repeatedly observed, had a splendid nervous system.
The students all attended the hasty funeral on the 15th, and bought an impressive wreath, though the latter was quite overshadowed by the tributes sent by wealthy Arkham citizens and by the municipality itself.
The tension on our part became very great.
The thing actually opened its eyes, but only stared at the ceiling with a look of soul-petrifying horror before collapsing into an inertness from which nothing could rouse it.
The thing was finally stopped by a bullet, though not a fatal one, and was rushed to the local hospital amidst universal excitement and loathing.
The trunk had moved intelligently; and, unbelievable to relate, we were both sickeningly sure that articulate sounds had come from the detached head as it lay in a shadowy corner of the laboratory.
The victim had been seen alive considerably after midnight–the dawn revealed the unutterable thing.
The waiting was gruesome, but West never faltered.
The walk through the town had been long, and by the time the traveller paused at our cottage to ask the way to the factories his heart had become greatly overtaxed.
The walk was a trifle long, but we could haul our silent specimens undisturbed.
Their disappearance added horror to the situation–of them all West knew the whereabouts of only one, the pitiful asylum thing.
Their outlines were human, semi-human, fractionally human, and not human at all–the horde was grotesquely heterogeneous.
Then I saw a small black aperture, felt a ghoulish wind of ice, and smelled the charnel bowels of a putrescent earth.
Then came a period when luck was poor; interments fell off, and those that did occur were of specimens either too diseased or too maimed for use.
Then came the steady rattling at the back door.
Then the headless thing threw out its arms in a gesture which was unmistakably one of desperation–an intelligent desperation apparently sufficient to prove every theory of Herbert West.
Then the lids opened, shewing eyes which were grey, calm, and alive, but still unintelligent and not even curious.
Then there was a more subtle fear–a very fantastic sensation resulting from a curious experiment in the Canadian army in 1915.
Then there was another–our first–whose exact fate we had never learned.
Then they all sprang at him and tore him to pieces before my eyes, bearing the fragments away into that subterranean vault of fabulous abominations.
There followed a few spasmodic muscular motions, and then an audible breathing and visible motion of the chest.
There he worked like a butcher in the midst of his gory wares–I could never get used to the levity with which he handled and classified certain things.
There was a solution which he injected into the veins of dead things, and if they were fresh enough they responded in strange ways.
There was also that Arkham professor’s body which had done cannibal things before it had been captured and thrust unidentified into a madhouse cell at Sefton, where it beat the walls for sixteen years.
There was bright moonlight over the snowless landscape, but we dressed the thing and carried it home between us through the deserted streets and meadows, as we had carried a similar thing one horrible night in Arkham.
There was hope that this second and artificial life might be made perpetual by repetitions of the injection, but we had learned that an ordinary natural life would not respond to the action.
There was no sound, but just then the electric lights went out and I saw outlined against some phosphorescence of the nether world a horde of silent toiling things which only insanity–or worse–could create.
There was some talk of searching the woods, but most of the family’s friends were busy with the dead woman and the screaming man.
There was that first specimen on whose rifled grave marks of clawing were later seen.
There was, however, something he wanted in embattled Flanders; and in order to secure it he had to assume a military exterior.
There were reasons why I would have been glad to let the war separate us; reasons why I found the practice of medicine and the companionship of West more and more irritating; but when he had gone to Ottawa and through a colleague’s influence secured a medical commission as Major, I could not resist the imperious persuasion of one determined that I should accompany him in my usual capacity.
There were some strange garments in the room, but West upon regaining consciousness said they did not belong to the stranger, but were specimens collected for bacteriological analysis in the course of investigations on the transmission of germ diseases.
These were the usual results, for in order to reawaken the mind it was necessary to have specimens so absolutely fresh that no decay could possibly affect the delicate brain-cells.
They did not stop to view the matter closely and reasoningly.
They dressed its wound and carted it to the asylum at Sefton, where it beat its head against the walls of a padded cell for sixteen years–until the recent mishap, when it escaped under circumstances that few like to mention.
They filed out of the house with a jerky tread, and as I watched them go I had an odd idea that they were turning toward the ancient cemetery on which the back of the house abutted.
They had organised the quest with care, keeping in touch by means of volunteer telephone stations, and when someone in the college district had reported hearing a scratching at a shuttered window, the net was quickly spread.
They imply that I am a madman or a murderer–probably I am mad.
They knew, indeed, that West had been connected with activities beyond the credence of ordinary men; for his hideous experiments in the reanimation of dead bodies had long been too extensive to admit of perfect secrecy; but the final soul-shattering catastrophe held elements of daemoniac phantasy which make even me doubt the reality of what I saw.
They suspected that I was holding something back, and perhaps suspected graver things; but I could not tell them the truth because they would not have believed it.
They were hard to get, and one awful day he had secured his specimen while it was still alive and vigorous.
They were removing the stones quietly, one by one, from the centuried wall.
This assurance he gave readily enough; reminding me that the reanimating solution was never used without careful tests as to life; since it could have no effect if any of the original vitality were present.
This circumstance was not without effect on West, who thought often of the irony of the situation–so many fresh specimens, yet none for his persecuted researches!
This late winter night there had been such a match; evidently with disastrous results, since two timorous Poles had come to us with incoherently whispered entreaties to attend to a very secret and desperate case.
This much was clear despite the nauseous eyes, the voiceless simianism, and the daemoniac savagery.
This need for very fresh corpses had been West’s moral undoing.
This terror is not due altogether to the sinister manner of his recent disappearance, but was engendered by the whole nature of his life-work, and first gained its acute form more than seventeen years ago, when we were in the third year of our course at the Miskatonic University Medical School in Arkham.
This work was not known to the fashionable clientele who had so swiftly built up his fame after his arrival in Boston; but was only too well known to me, who had been his closest friend and sole assistant since the old days in Miskatonic University Medical School at Arkham.
This, I now saw, West had clearly recognised; creating his embalming compound for future rather than immediate use, and trusting to fate to supply again some very recent and unburied corpse, as it had years before when we obtained the negro killed in the Bolton prize-fight.
This, he said, was to neutralise the compound and release the system to a normal relaxation so that the reanimating solution might freely work when injected.
Those victims who could recall the event without hysteria swore that the creatures had acted less like men than like unthinkable automata guided by the wax-faced leader.
Those who found the body noted a trail of blood leading to the receiving tomb, where a small pool of red lay on the concrete just outside the gate.
Though not as yet licenced physicians, we now had our degrees, and were pressed frantically into public service as the numbers of the stricken grew.
Thoughts of the police and of the mad Italian both weighed heavily.
Through the fevered town had crept a curse which some said was greater than the plague, and which some whispered was the embodied daemon-soul of the plague itself.
Thus it remained till that final hellish night; part of the walls of the secret laboratory.
To establish the artificial motion, natural life must be extinct–the specimens must be very fresh, but genuinely dead.
To hear him discussing ways and means was rather ghastly, for at the college we had never procured anatomical specimens ourselves.
To the police we both declared ignorance of our late companion’s identity.
To the vanished Herbert West and to me the disgust and horror were supreme.
Toward the last I became acutely afraid of West, for he began to look at me that way.
Two biological points he was exceedingly anxious to settle–first, whether any amount of consciousness and rational action be possible without the brain, proceeding from the spinal cord and various nerve-centres; and second, whether any kind of ethereal, intangible relation distinct from the material cells may exist to link the surgically separated parts of what has previously been a single living organism.
Very little time had elapsed before I saw the attempt was not to be a total failure.
We approached the house from the field in the rear, took the specimen in the back door and down the cellar stairs, and prepared it for the usual experiment.
We both inserted the whole unopened wooden box, closed the door, and started the electricity.
We buried our materials in a dense strip of woods between the house and the potter’s field.
We carried spades and oil dark lanterns, for although electric torches were then manufactured, they were not as satisfactory as the tungsten contrivances of today.
We carried the thing down to the laboratory–listening.
We chose our house with the greatest care, seizing at last on a rather run-down cottage near the end of Pond Street; five numbers from the closest neighbour, and separated from the local potter’s field by only a stretch of meadow land, bisected by a narrow neck of the rather dense forest which lies to the north.
We could not get bodies fresh enough to shew any trace of reason when reanimated, so had perforce created nameless horrors.
We did not separate, but managed to get to West’s room, where we whispered with the gas up until dawn.
We finally decided on the potter’s field, because practically every body in Christchurch was embalmed; a thing of course ruinous to West’s researches.
We followed the local death-notices like ghouls, for our specimens demanded particular qualities.
We followed them to an abandoned barn, where the remnants of a crowd of frightened foreigners were watching a silent black form on the floor.
We found that the college had first choice in every case, so that it might be necessary to remain in Arkham during the summer, when only the limited summer-school classes were held.
We had all been rather jovial, and West and I did not wish to have our pugnacious companion hunted down.
We had at last what West had always longed for–a real dead man of the ideal kind, ready for the solution as prepared according to the most careful calculations and theories for human use.
We had fair luck with specimens in Bolton–much better than in Arkham.
We had met years before, in medical school, and from the first I had shared his terrible researches.
We had not been settled a week before we got an accident victim on the very night of burial, and made it open its eyes with an amazingly rational expression before the solution failed.
We had that afternoon dug a grave in the cellar, and would have to fill it by dawn–for although we had fixed a lock on the house we wished to shun even the remotest risk of a ghoulish discovery.
We kept track of all the deaths and their circumstances with systematic care.
We knew that there was scarcely a chance for anything like complete success, and could not avoid hideous fears at possible grotesque results of partial animation.
We retired about eleven, but I did not sleep well.
We were frightfully overworked, and the terrific mental and nervous strain made my friend brood morbidly.
We were not much displeased, however, since there were no people between us and our sinister source of supplies.
West and I had graduated about the time of its beginning, but had remained for additional work at the summer school, so that we were in Arkham when it broke with full daemoniac fury upon the town.
West and I had met in college, and I had been the only one to sympathise with his hideous experiments.
West and I were almost dead, and Dr. Halsey did die on the 14th.
West and I were doing post-graduate work in summer classes at the medical school of Miskatonic University, and my friend had attained a wide notoriety because of his experiments leading toward the revivification of the dead.
West clashed disagreeably with Dr. Halsey near the end of our last undergraduate term in a wordy dispute that did less credit to him than to the kindly dean in point of courtesy.
West could not withhold admiration for the fortitude of his foe, but because of this was even more determined to prove to him the truth of his amazing doctrines.
West did not resist or utter a sound.
West had a private laboratory in an east room of the barn-like temporary edifice, assigned him on his plea that he was devising new and radical methods for the treatment of hitherto hopeless cases of maiming.
West had greedily seized the lifeless thing which had once been his friend and fellow-scholar; and I shuddered when he finished severing the head, placed it in his hellish vat of pulpy reptile-tissue to preserve it for future experiments, and proceeded to treat the decapitated body on the operating table.
West had never fully succeeded because he had never been able to secure a corpse sufficiently fresh.
West had soon learned that absolute freshness was the prime requisite for useful specimens, and had accordingly resorted to frightful and unnatural expedients in body-snatching.
West had still another source of worry, for he had been called in the afternoon to a case which ended very threateningly.
West liked to think that before his recent disappearance, but there were times when he could not; for it was queer that we both had the same hallucination.
West said it was not fresh enough–the hot summer air does not favour corpses.
West told me how he had obtained the specimen.
West was a materialist, believing in no soul and attributing all the working of consciousness to bodily phenomena; consequently he looked for no revelation of hideous secrets from gulfs and caverns beyond death’s barrier.
West was experimenting madly to find something which would start man’s vital motions anew after they had been stopped by the thing we call death, but had encountered the most ghastly obstacles.
West was gone.
West was more avid than I, so that it almost seemed to me that he looked half-covetously at any very healthy living physique.
West was not even excited now.
West was then a small, slender, spectacled youth with delicate features, yellow hair, pale blue eyes, and a soft voice, and it was uncanny to hear him dwelling on the relative merits of Christchurch Cemetery and the potter’s field.
West’s head was carried off by the wax-headed leader, who wore a Canadian officer’s uniform.
West’s landlady saw us arrive at his room about two in the morning, with a third man between us; and told her husband that we had all evidently dined and wined rather well.
West’s last quarters were in a venerable house of much elegance, overlooking one of the oldest burying-grounds in Boston.
West, in reality, was more afraid than I; for his abominable pursuits entailed a life of furtiveness and dread of every shadow.
West, in the midst of a severe battle, had reanimated Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, D.S.O., a fellow-physician who knew about his experiments and could have duplicated them.
West, who had his hand on the pulse of the left wrist, suddenly nodded significantly; and almost simultaneously a mist appeared on the mirror inclined above the body’s mouth.
West, young despite his marvellous scientific acquirements, had scant patience with good Dr. Halsey and his erudite colleagues; and nursed an increasing resentment, coupled with a desire to prove his theories to these obtuse worthies in some striking and dramatic fashion.
What followed, I shall never positively know.
What had most disgusted the searchers of Arkham was the thing they noticed when the monster’s face was cleaned–the mocking, unbelievable resemblance to a learned and self-sacrificing martyr who had been entombed but three days before–the late Dr. Allan Halsey, public benefactor and dean of the medical school of Miskatonic University.
What he wanted was not a thing which many persons want, but something connected with the peculiar branch of medical science which he had chosen quite clandestinely to follow, and in which he had achieved amazing and occasionally hideous results.
What he wanted were bodies from which vitality had only just departed; bodies with every cell intact and capable of receiving again the impulse toward that mode of motion called life.
What we wanted were corpses interred soon after death and without artificial preservation; preferably free from malforming disease, and certainly with all organs present.
What would happen on reanimation, and whether we could hope for a revival of mind and reason, West did not venture to predict.
When Dr. Herbert West disappeared a year ago, the Boston police questioned me closely.
When he and I obtained our degrees at the medical school of Miskatonic University, and sought to relieve our poverty by setting up as general practitioners, we took great care not to say that we chose our house because it was fairly well isolated, and as near as possible to the potter’s field.
When I say that Dr. West was avid to serve in battle, I do not mean to imply that he was either naturally warlike or anxious for the safety of civilisation.
When I slammed the door after them West came downstairs and looked at the box.
When the pine box was fully uncovered West scrambled down and removed the lid, dragging out and propping up the contents.
When we had patted down the last shovelful of earth we put the specimen in a canvas sack and set out for the old Chapman place beyond Meadow Hill.
When we reached the door I cautiously unbolted it and threw it open, and as the moon streamed revealingly down on the form silhouetted there, West did a peculiar thing.
Whenever the morgue proved inadequate, two local negroes attended to this matter, and they were seldom questioned.
While he was with me, the wonder and diabolism of his experiments fascinated me utterly, and I was his closest companion.
I often fantasize about taking a hand-crank drill and opening a small hole in my skull, directly between my eyes. I imagine it as a release of pressure, like letting a little air out of a taut balloon. I guess this is a little bit like a prefrontal lobotomy. My cousin, who died of schizophrenia, might have had the same thoughts before he went. Schizophrenia can feel like a massive increase in intracranial pressure. I wouldn’t know, unless of course this is exactly what I’m experiencing now.
It happens the most when I’m unable to sleep. Insomnia is like a crushing wave of aimless guilt. It’s not the same as a lack of tiredness; you’re exhausted, your brain pulses pain, the lightless air caresses your open eyes like sandpaper. But sleep, the ultimate release, won’t come, affording you plenty of opportunity to meditate upon your own shortcomings.
Is this what I’ve become, though? A nonfiction writer? A memoirist, for crying out loud? I won’t accept it. I used to have what felt like boundless reserves of creativity, and goddammit, I worked it until it could no longer walk straight. But it seems that sense for the absurd has left me. I blame it on whatever illness makes me think of puncturing my skull, the flat area between my stomach and pelvis, the base of my penis, and only those three spots, over and over as I dry up in the dark like a used paint-roller.
It’s pointless, though. There’s the rub: it’s all become pointless now. Nothing comes naturally anymore, not least the things that are supposed to bring me pleasure. My days have become tackleboxes filled with carefully rationed activities, not because there’s anything I want to do, but because I have to do something until I’m too tired to keep myself awake anymore. And not a single fucking point to be found among them.
This has been a transmission from the reality police band. You may now resume your regularly scheduled programming.
In honor of the holiday, here’s a full-chapter excerpt from my unpublished novel, My Friend Velociraptor.
As I might have mentioned before, Thanksgiving was Velociraptor’s favorite holiday. What I probably didn’t touch upon was the fact that he didn’t consider himself a mere enthusiast, blithely gnoshing the stuffing and gravy with no appreciation for the finer details of the holiday. No, he considered himself an expert. He even made himself a little badge that said “Thanksgiving Expert: Ask Me About Thanksgiving,” which would have been all well and good, except he couldn’t find anywhere on his scales to pin it so he made me wear it, as part of an ensemble including an “I’m With Stupid” shirt pointing in his direction. The problem was that people kept coming up to me anyway, asking me stupid questions about cranberry/walnut salad or whether they should brine or deep-fry their turkey. Most of the time I just shrugged my shoulders and pointed my thumb at Velociraptor, whose suggestion 99.98% of the time was “eat it raw,” which got me a lot of nasty looks. I tried underlining the “Stupid” part in sharpie, but it didn’t help much; I have a feeling that some people, especially Trevor Bandersnatch, did understand the shirt thing but liked bugging me anyway. He must have approached me like seventeen times, always with the same question: “How is your mom like Thanksgiving?” To which the correct response was, apparently, “Your mom lol!” Yes, Trevor actually said “lol” out loud. He lolol’d. He was a lololer. After the fifth time, I would just rotate my upper body ninety degrees every time I saw him coming, which allowed me to pretend I didn’t notice him and pointed my shirt-arrow in his direction, for a little tasty passive-aggressive revenge. Meanwhile, Velociraptor bemoaned the fact that people didn’t “get” his “vision,” as he put it, and kept referring darkly to “that time with the beef collars.”
I didn’t realize how serious he was about his area of expertise until Ms. Terner tried to teach us about the history of Thanksgiving. She had just gotten to the part where the settlers are starving, freezing, disease-ridden, and dying in a foreign land, which was apparently some sort of curse that the Native Americans were about to inherit–remember, kids, never share maize with a stranger–when Velociraptor stood up on his desk with his arm extenders held high. “Did you have a question, Velociraptor?” Ms. Terner asked politely.
“No, but I have an answer!” Velociraptor huffed. It was difficult to believe, but I think he was actually indignant. I’d never seen him like that before, and I’ve only seen it once since. If he were one of those frilled lizards, his frills would have been quivering; if he had been wearing a beef collar, he would have achieved a perfect medium-rare of anger. But since his neck was undecorated, the only way you could tell was by looking in his eyes, which, once you did, you would realize was a place that you really didn’t want to be looking. “The answer,” he continued, “is this: how long are you going to keep telling these lies?” I think it was around this time that I tried to see if I could literally sink my face through my desk. I couldn’t.
“I’m afraid I don’t quite follow,” Ms. Terner responded calmly. “Are you saying you know something we don’t about the harsh New England winter?”
“No,” Velociraptor replied, with an icy calm that could only have come from a cold-blooded reptile. “But I know a little something about Thanksgiving.” He pointed to my shirt. “I’m the stupid Thanksgiving expert!”
“Well, perhaps you would like to teach the class for a while? We’re always open to different viewpoints here,” Ms. Terner said, with a small smile.
“Well perhaps I will!” Velociraptor shouted, stamping his indignant little feet in a tantrum that would have been cute if it hadn’t been so terrifying, or perhaps it was the vice versa. “Perhaps I certainly will!” Tossing his arm extenders aside, he leapt the space between his desk and Ms. Terner’s. She pulled her chair off to one side and sat with her hands folded in her lap, watching calmly. Velociraptor turned on the rest of the class, that cold fire still in his eyes. “Frankly,” he began, “I’m a little tired of nasty old Ms. Terner, no offense Ms. Terner, feeding you little tidbits all these lies! Feed us pies, not lies, I say! They don’t call me the stupid Thanksgiving expert for nothing!” I have to say, he wasn’t off to the best start. I’m pretty sure that one of the first thing they teach you in the Toastmaster’s society is that, when giving a speech, you aren’t going to win the hearts of your audience by referring to them as “tidbits.” Then again, he hadn’t yet referred to their hearts as “morsels,” and he wasn’t trying to physically win their hearts so that he could bake them into a “hearty meat-pie of truth,” so it couldn’t be considered the worst speech he’d ever delivered.
“What most people don’t realize about Thanksgiving,” Velociraptor went on, doodling on the whiteboard, “is that it is actually one of the oldest holidays in the history of everything. Of course, it wasn’t always celebrated the way it was today. We used to call it ‘Thanks, Giblets!’ and instead of mashed potatoes, we would eat mashed hamsters, which is the only way to eat hamsters. Especially with hamster gravy, which for those of you who’ve never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner before is the stuff that comes out of the hamster when you mash it. Anyway, that was back in Prehistoric times, and we didn’t write a lot of stuff down back then because we were too busy having fun, so alas the true meaning of Thanksgiving has been forgotten in the red mists of time.”
Constance Ruth tentatively raised her hand. “Uh, maybe you could tell us what it was all about? Since you were around back then?”
Velociraptor shot her an I-will-eat-the-entrails-of-your-favorite-puppy sort of glare. “It’s been forgotten,” he said emphatically. “But it was definitely something about giblets.” When I asked Sea Monster later about the historical accuracy of Velociraptor’s story, he gave me a “no comment” and a wink.
“Well, thank you very much, Velociraptor,” Ms. Terner said, rising from her chair. “That was very…enlightening.” And she returned to her lesson, Velociraptor returned to his desk, and everybody considered the matter forgotten, except for Ribsy McCracken who is just a naturally suspicious person. You might consider our attitude naïve, since trouble for Velociraptor is an irresistible lure, like a swimming pool full of lemurs, which he insists taste exactly like meaty Oreos, and who’s going to taste one to find out if he’s telling the truth? What I mean to say is that trouble is Velociraptor’s middle name, or, more accurately, D@##!t is his first name. But I prefer to think of our position as “imaginatively hopeful.” Besides, none of us could have really anticipated what would happen next, except for Ribsy McCracken, but he also anticipated that the school mayonnaise was infected with interdimensional soul-sucking parasites, so he brought his own mayonnaise from home. Anyway, this was before Mrs. Grammar made The Play, which changed everything.
Our first whiff of trouble was when she appeared at Friday assembly wearing a “historicoemotionally precise rendition of aboriginal garb.” Actually, it was more than a whiff, since the main component of her outfit appeared to be some sort of dung, which she called “earth of the great buffalo.” This set Velociraptor off on a long tangent about how if you want great buffalo you need to marinate it in pork gravy, which keeps it nice and tender and juicy, so I missed whatever else was said about the costume, but I did notice that the longer she talked, the further away from the podium the other teachers scooted their chairs. And she talked for a long time. Finally, after expounding on the “feather of the illustrious mallard” that she wore between her…um, let’s just call them her feather-supporters…she finally got around to the main point.
“Children,” she announced, “I have a titillating revelation for you all.” This earned a good round of giggles, especially from the other kids who had noticed her feather-supporters. Even Signore Botanico had to pretend he was dusting off his moustache. When the hilarity had subsided, she continued: “Earlier this week, on the night devoted to the primal deity Woden, I was haply visited by the muse of patriotic fervor in the form of this segment of root-vegetable-derived pastry, spiced with a blend of special herbs also of the earth.” She pulled a soggy, half-eaten slice of sweet potato pie from her bag. Now, I’m no expert on women, but I’ve lived with my grandmother long enough to form a sort of biological hypothesis. You know how some dinosaurs had their brains in their tails, and how Velociraptor’s brain is in his stomach, and men are supposed to keep their brains in their pants? I’m not really sure what’s meant by that last part, since the pockets of men’s pants are hardly big enough to fit a wallet, let alone a healthy adult brain. But it did get me thinking: if that’s true, then women have got to keep their brains somewhere else, since they don’t even always wear pants, and a lot of skirts don’t have any pockets at all. Of course, the most logical place to keep one’s brain would be inside of one’s skull, but I think if you’re debating where to put your brain in the first place then logic probably isn’t on your side. And if they’re going to keep them anywhere except in their logical place, it would have to be in their bags. Think about it: the more organized and on top of things a woman is, the smaller and more organized her bag tends to be. And the reverse is true as well: the larger and more chaotic a woman’s bag is, the loopier she’ll tend to be. I only mention all of this to say that Mrs. Grammar had the biggest bag I’d ever seen. It was almost not a bag at all, more of an open burlap sack in which could be glimpsed, on any given day: books large enough to be called tomes, bottles of some dark liquid or other, bits of twigs and feathers, half-digested fast food, and even, on one memorable occasion, a live cat. There’s still a lively debate about whether it was just a stray cat that wandered in there in search of hamburgers and couldn’t find its way back out, or whether she carried an entire menagerie around with her at all times and hired her bag out as a mobile petting zoo for a bit of extra income. There are also those who whispered that the cat was her familiar, but then Velociraptor said it didn’t look familiar to him, and Jaundice Jones said that Velociraptor wouldn’t recognize a cat if it was coming out of his own butt, to which Velociraptor replied that he could too and he was going to prove it, and then thankfully Mrs. Grammar walked in and the conversation was over.
“As I was luxuriating in this seasonal indulgence,” Mrs. Grammar continued, weighing the sodden pie as though she were judging the souls of the unworthy, “I became overcome by a vision so powerful that I found I could masticate no longer.” This got another round of giggles from the crowd, who had likely given up on straining for the actual meaning of the words and were latching like desperate remoras onto anything that sounded remotely dirty. It’s a blessing that her play didn’t require a skilled pianist, or that she didn’t start discussing its ramifications, or we’d probably still be sitting in that assembly. “I sat all night, in the luminous lunar luster, and inscribed the words that came to me. The product of this pastry-inspired atavistic regression will be performed in two weeks, immediately preceding the start of the Thanksgiving holidays. Auditions are open to all incipient thespians in the sixth grade.” While she was talking, she had removed her glasses to polish them, which left her eyes so crossed that you could use them to play tic-tac-toe. Which just made it more unsettling when she stared directly at me as she spoke these last words.
That look stayed with me long after Mrs. Grammar left the podium and Principal Loxburger returned to close the proceedings and disinfect the microphone. The way her right eye pierced directly into my soul, while at the same time her left eye pierced my ear…she had some sort of evil plans in store for me. I’d decided she was definitely evil after she had given my Edgar Allen Poe project a B, when it so obviously deserved an A++. I mean, I’d stayed up for hours trying to come up with a rhyme for “feline decapitation,” for pete’s sake.
Anyway, I figured that as long as I kept as far away as possible from those auditions, and kept my mouth zipped during English, I should be safe. It’s a well-known fact that Librarian Curses are only effective if you cast them while the victim’s tongue is in view; that’s why it’s so dangerous to talk in the reading room of your public library. Of course, there was still the problem of being called on during class; even armed with my knowledge of her occult ways, Mrs. Grammar had the power to ensnare me with a single pointed question about the theme of honor in The Old Man & The Sea. However, here was where my own craft came into play, for I had raised not being called on to the level of an art. Once you’ve got a reputation as a prodigy, the worst thing that can happen to you is to be asked a question you don’t know the answer to. I can’t divulge all my secrets, because one day I’m going to get it patented and publish a self-help book and go on tour giving speeches to less fortunate kids and pointedly not answering their questions, and then I’ll be able to retire hopefully before I’m out of high school. But for the time being, I’ll give you a few free pointers. First of all, avoid eye contact at all costs. I think all modern teachers come equipped with retinal scanners, so they don’t need to memorize names or seating order. But if you don’t make eye-to-eye, they won’t be able to pull up your ID file, which in addition to your name gives them DNA sequencing, favorite flavors of ice cream, and discussion topics most likely to cause a brain aneurysm. Without this stuff, they’re much less likely to pick on you. Here’s another freebie: teachers hate to call on you if you raise your hand all the time. Now, this is something of a gamble if you forgot to do the reading and don’t want to be picked on the entire day, but luckily there’s a way to raise your hand without actually raising it. Start out with steps one through four of the normal hand-raising technique, outlined in my book, but then on step five do a quick-feint into a hair manipulation maneuver or, if you’re lucky enough to have acne, a pimple-popper. Your goal is to bait them with the partial hand raise, then make them either so embarrassed or so disgusted that they physically have to look away. When practicing the hair manipulation technique, it helps to have lice. I know a place where you can order them online for cheap.
I spent all of first recess mentally brushing up on my question avoidance procedures, but it turned out to be no use, for reasons I’m about to tell you if you’ll just hold on a second. And no skipping ahead to the next paragraph, either, because that’s just plain cheating. Anyway, when lunch rolled around, I noticed a suspicious Velociraptor-shaped gap at my table. I was just about to get up and see if he’d brought out the sitting-rock again when he came hurrying up to me, breathless, a huge toothy grin on his face. “Guess what, Billy?” he asked. I told him I’d rather not, because if what I was guessing was right, then he’d better have a really good letter of apology prepared for the Springtree PD, and if I didn’t guess right, it was probably something worse. It turned out to be something from Column B. “Guess what, Billy? I signed us both up for the Free Pie Club today after school?”
“The what?” I asked.
“The Free Pie Club that Mrs. Grammar was talking about at assembly today! I hope they have grasshopper pie, it’s my very favorite! You gotta love that crunch when you get a leg…”
“Of course, Deer Steak & Kidney Pie is delicious too, and very seasonal. Ooh! I think otter season is open! I wonder if she’ll have otter pie?”
“Velociraptor, she’s not going to have any pie!” I cut in.
Velociraptor fixed me with a critical look. “How do you know?”
“Well, I suppose it’s possible she could have pie,” I conceded. “But that’s not what you signed us up for. That was the audition list for the school play. Now we’re going to have to go whether we want to or not.”
“Oh.” Velociraptor gazed thoughtfully into the distance, contemplating his gaffe. It was good to see him actually think about the consequences of his actions every once in a while. “Still, I wonder if she’ll have otter pie?” he mused.
“I can guarantee you that she…probably won’t have otter pie,” I said, remembering that it was Mrs. Grammar we were talking about. It was at least a fifty-fifty split. “Besides, since when do you care about hunting seasons? I thought you just sort of pitched a tent and ate whatever wandered by?”
Velociraptor shook his head like a disappointed tutor. “Billy, you need to get in touch with nature here.”
“Since when are you in touch with nature, Velociraptor?” I asked. “Last time I checked you were hunting the wild beef in the deli section of the supermarket.”
“What are you talking about?” he replied indignantly. “I’m full of nature! The world of meat is like…a meaty symphony of…meat. And tastiness. There’s a rhythm to it, and…something about cycles which I didn’t really get, unless it was about my Velociraptor velocipede…”
“Velociraptor, are you just repeating something Sea Monster told you?”
“Yeah,” he said guiltily. “But that doesn’t stop it from being true! The gristle of it is, if you time it right, you get more bang for your buck!”
“No pun intended,” I offered.
“What? Yeah. Like the time that I set up my tent at the top of the waterfall while the salmon were spawning…it was like nature’s seafood buffet!”
“Okay,” I said. “So, back on topic, what are we going to do about these auditions? You do realize she could turn us both into…something horrible with just a wave of her pencil.”
“Oh yeah. I keep forgetting she used to be a magical librarian.”
“It sound so silly when you say it like that…so what do we do?”
Velociraptor shrugged. “We’ll go, I guess.”
So we did. I was still worried about being turned into a toad or something, but it had to be better than being sent to the principal’s office for being absent to an after-school activity. Actually, now that Velociraptor had planted the idea in my head, I was weirdly certain that Mrs. Grammar was planning to turn me into an otter and then turn the otter-me into a pie. I’m not sure how I knew, but I knew.
When we arrived at the auditions, the room was predictably empty. Participating in a non-mandatory activity that puts you on a stage in a stupid costume in front of the rest of the school? Let’s just say you’d have a hard time taking out a life-insurance policy. Which isn’t to say that nobody showed up: there were always those too oblivious to see that they might as well be dressing up as ducks and riding treadmills back and forth across the stage, shooting-gallery style. Constance Ruth was there, though I wouldn’t have pegged her parents as the type to support something as bohemian as the theatre. So was Ollie Ringbald, who was large enough to do pretty much whatever he wanted without fear of bullying, and Trevor Bandersnatch had turned up to point and laugh and ended up being cast in the role of Farmer Rape-o’-the-Land. Horatio Valentine, the school’s resident theatrical whiz from one of the other homerooms, had made an unsurprising appearance, and was off in a corner doing vocal warm-up exercises like “Maybe my Mommy may go to Miami and maybe my Mommy may not.” Like I said, oblivious.
There was one sight, though, that made my heart stop the moment I walked into the room. And it wasn’t some of Mrs. Grammar’s dark magic. No, this was very, very good magic, birthday-candle wish type of magic. There was one other person at the audition, and it was the female type of person. A particular female type of person with hair the color of strawberries. A second-swing-from-the-left-sitting sort of person, although at this moment she was sitting on a bench, quietly looking over her lines. I couldn’t believe my luck. I almost grabbed Velociraptor and kissed him right then and there, except that might have looked weird in front of the girl I liked and Velociraptor has been known to mistake people’s lips for prosciutto.
So things were all rainbows and swingsets for all of, oh, .58 of a second, until Mrs. Grammar noticed us come in. Her face split open into an evil grin, the kind that you just know would go well with some cackling even though there’s no cackling going on at the moment. I nearly turned around and ran away, except that Velociraptor was directly behind me and underfoot, as he tends to be. So I just sort of stood there, mouth agape–how could I forget my curse defense at such a crucial moment?–and waited for Mrs. Grammar to make the first move.
“Oh my, what a serendipitous happenstance!” Mrs. Grammar trilled. This sounded an awful lot like a mystical curse to me, but when I glanced down to check, all of my parts still seemed to be in the right shape and position. “Children!” she denounced, addressing the thoroughly disinterested kids in the rest of the room, “these auditions are hereby concluded. For we have discovered our star player, against whose splendiferousness all else is moot!” She gestured grandly in my direction.
“M-me?” I stammered. I couldn’t believe that, out of all the kids in the school, she was singling me out for the starring role. Maybe she had just caught on to my natural charisma, which nobody else ever seemed to notice?
“No, of course not!” Mrs. Grammar said testily. “Step aside, child, and make way for a being who truly embodies the primal struggle of civilization versus bestial chaos which serves as this great work’s anchor and core! Children, allow me to introduce a creature who requires no introduction, your Noble Turkey!” Producing a bundle of dayglo-colored feathers from the jumble of her bag, she strode proudly forward and draped them across Velociraptor’s hindsection. He immediately spun around and tried to eat them.
“Wait a second,” whined Horatio Valentine. “You’re telling me you gave the lead role to this mouthbreathing primate?”
“Mouthbreathing reptile,” Velociraptor corrected, taking a momentary break from snapping at his own brightly-colored tailfeathers.
“Whatever. After I spent all fifth period practicing my gobbling?” He demonstrated a highly realistic ululation of the “93-year-old lady gargling marbles” variety. The volume was impressive, too; apparently he was really putting his diaphragm in it. I don’t think I need to repeat the part about oblivious. Besides, the gesture was wasted, since, as Trevor pointed out, nobody can out-gobble Velociraptor. He’s a born gobbler.
Once the situation had been explained to Velociraptor several times, with special emphasis placed on the fact that just because he was a turkey didn’t mean he was suddenly obligated to devour himself, Mrs. Grammar got started assigning the “auxiliary roles.” In spite of Horatio’s misgivings, there were, in fact, more parts than students present, so Mrs. Grammar declared that she would have to “don the mast of Thespis once again.” She cast herself as the Herald of Anamnesis, a.k.a. the narrator, which was a bit funny because the script didn’t have any lines for the narrator written. There were just a few bits here and there that said something like “Here the progression halts as the Herald of Anamnesis expounds upon the dramatic irony of the diaspora of the so-called pilgrims displacing, in turn, the indigenous peoples of the Americas” or “Herald of Anamnesis: extemporaneous ode to corn.” But somehow, whenever we were in rehearsal, it would turn out that the narrator had more lines than everybody else combined. Very strange.
Velociraptor’s and Trevor’s roles, as I mentioned before, had already been settled. Horatio was somewhat mollified to be cast as Chief Mudswallow, the only role outside of the turkey that was guaranteed to win him a month’s supply of swirlies. Inside the turkey, it was too dark to read, haha. Ollie Ringbald was, Mrs. Grammar said, the consummate Spirit of Fecundity, a weird little part that seemed to consist mostly of rolling around tossing flower petals and corn-husks on the ground and running away from Trevor. I got to be the Backhanded Underwriter, who from what I could tell was supposed to be a bad guy, but then again everybody except for the Noble Turkey seemed to be a bad guy in this thing. Most of my lines were about how I was going to divide the land into unnatural borders that disrupt the ley-lines, and how I would love nothing more than to turn all the fallow fields into supermarkets. This, at least, I could get behind, because who wants to spend months tending crops and stuff when you can just drive down to the Spring-Mart and pick up ears of corn three for a dollar.
To my chagrin, swing-girl was cast as Goodwife Rape-o’-the-Land, which meant she had to fake-kiss Trevor Bandersnatch, which left me with Constance Ruth as Mistress Underwriter. There was no fake-kissing involved between us, which was a huge relief: I wanted my first fake-kiss to be special, and I don’t think Mistress Underwriter would have gone for it anyway.
On the way to the bus, as I flipped idly through the script, and I was overjoyed to discover that I had one whole scene alone with Goody Rape-o’-the-Land, when she came to plead with me on her husband’s behalf to extend their farmland onto the neighboring aboriginal burial ground. The script even said that I touched her hand reassuringly, which meant I would get to touch her hand! Reassuringly! I imagined how I would stare into her eyes as I did it, and how she would know that I liked her without me having to actually say it, and how she would be so overcome by emotion that she would divorce Trevor on the spot and announce her love for me in front of the entire audience, and then we would go backstage and…it got a little blurry at that point, but in a way that was both enticing and provocative. The whole situation seemed too good to be true, which should have been my first indication that it was.
You see, as we were soon to discover in rehearsal, I had some sort of exotic speech impediment hitherto unknown to medical science. The kind of speech impediment that had hair the color of strawberries. It wasn’t stage-fright, because I could get my other lines out just fine, though Mrs. Grammar kept saying I needed to be more patriarchal, whatever that means. But whenever swing-girl was on stage, my semi-confident tenalto tones would revert to incomprehensible chattering noises that sounded like Horatio’s turkey-gobble with a bad case of laryngitis. It eventually got so bad that Mrs. Grammar had to write the scene out of the script. I approached her after rehearsal and shyly asked if I could still touch swing-girl’s hand reassuringly, but she said that drama was an all-encompassing ideal, and that I’d just have to touch my own hand reassuringly like the autoemotional priapic gender-model that I was. I’m guessing that she’d just had a bad day, or a bad pastry, because she seemed to have forgotten all about it by the next rehearsal. Still, I didn’t want to press my luck, or she might rewrite the whole thing to have me touching Trevor’s hand instead.
Velociraptor, meanwhile, was having problems of his own. The concept of scripted dialogue must have been post-Cretaceous, because no matter how many times we went over his lines, when it came time to rehearsal he would just wander onstage and start gnawing on the smoked turkey-leg that he wore around his neck “to help get into character.” On the few occasions we could get his attention focused on the play for more than ten seconds at a time, he would start complaining about how it was species discrimination to make him play the part of the turkey, how just because he looked and acted like a turkey in real didn’t mean they could make him look and act like one on stage. It all came to a head during Springtree Elementary’s annual Cranberry Festival, just a day before the big performance.
“Today, we will be harvesting our own cranberries, just like the pilgrims of old,” Principal Loxburger announced, with somewhat less enthusiasm than his position required. Not that I was 1/1 certain about it either. For one thing, I had a feeling the pilgrims of old didn’t harvest their cranberries out of an old wading pool. Plus, I’ll bet they didn’t do it in stupid construction-paper hats that kept falling into the “bog” and dissolving so that you had to spend all night washing pasty black and white clumps out of your hair, which is gross whether it’s bird poop or not. I’d actually discovered this principle a few years earlier, when I’d been reading my Wardrobe Man comics in bed and had accidentally dozed off. When I woke up, I found out that I had been using my emergency box of oreos as a pillow, which at least explained the eating-your-pillow dream for once. Anyway, to get back to my debunking of popular cultural myths, I’m willing to bet that the early settlers couldn’t collect twenty-five cranberries and trade them in for a hefty scoop of cranberry jelly, sort of like those cooking shows with the magic ovens that can cook a turkey in a few seconds. I’ll bet the pilgrims of old really had to work for their cranberry sauce; at the very least, the exchange rate had to be higher in those days, like a thousand cranberries per teaspoon of sauce.
Anyway, Velociraptor chose that moment to air all his grievances about the production. I tried to explain to him that stomping around in a crowd of children with cranberry juice smeared across his talons and mouth was perhaps not the best time to go into hysterics, as somebody might get the wrong impression and then we’d have to have to wait outside the school gates while Principal Loxburger had The Talk with animal control again. But I guess the thing about when somebody is in hysterics is that they’re not likely to listen to you when you tell them not to be in hysterics, no matter how logical your arguments are. Velociraptor wanted to vent, and I had to listen.
“I don’t want to be a tasty turkey!” he whined. “I’m too young to be tasty!” I could have pointed out that sixty-five million years old isn’t exactly the first bloom of youth, but that just might have made things worse, so I let him talk. “I mean,” he went on, “I worked hard for my reputation as the worst-tasting animal on the planet. You believe me that I taste awful, don’t you?”
“Of course I do,” I said, touching his red-stained talon reassuringly.
“That’s right! And what happens if there’s a great white shark in the audience? Has anyone stopped to consider what that would mean?”
“Well, for starters, it would mean that Springtree had been hit with a record tsunamai. But I see where you’re coming from. But just think, you get to be the center of attention, and represent the spirit of Thanksgiving, and…”
“Thanksgiving?” Velociraptor gaped incredulously, and somewhat messily; he hadn’t bothered to swallow the can of “crab-berry” sauce he was working on first. “Is that what this is supposed to be about? Okay, that’s it. This has gone too far. I won’t have someone stand around and tell me Thanksgiving is about knobbly turkeys and corn-fed herbivores…”
“You’d rather they took the turkey out of Thanksgiving?”
“I didn’t say that!” Velociraptor contested hotly. “But it’s not about turkey. It’s about turkey giblets. And the proud carnivores who have eaten them for thousands of generations!”
“Well, there’s not much you can do about it now,” I reasoned. “The play is being performed tomorrow, and you’ve barely memorized your lines as it is.”
“Oh, I’ll give her lines,” Velociraptor murmured darkly, guzzling another jar of gelatinous scarlet liquid.
“Velociraptor, I can hear your mumbling threateningly over there,” I sighed. “And it doesn’t even make any sense. You should be saying ‘I’ll give her turkey’ or something.”
“My turkey!” Velociraptor gasped.
“Oh.” His eyes darkened again. “I’ll give her metaphorical turkey. I’ll give her more metaphorical turkey than she can eat.” He looked up at me. “But I still get all the real turkey, right?” he asked.
“All you can really eat,” I said.
“Do the reassuring thing with your hand?” he pleaded. I grudgingly complied. Maybe if I put a red wig on him…
Then, before we knew it, it was the big night. Backstage, in my allegorical Hat of Industry and my allegorical Puffy-Sleeved Coat of Political Deceit and my unfortunately very real purple tights, I peeked out at the audience through a gap in the curtain. “Are there a lot of people?” asked Velociraptor, whose view was hampered by knees and ankles, mostly.
“Yeah,” I gulped. I had never seen so many grown-ups in one place before, especially ones that I sorta knew. There were Constance Ruth’s mom and dad, who I knew from Open House: they were the ones who always brought their own sack of carrot-sticks and fresh-pressed apple juice to the refreshments table. And Horatio Valentine’s dad, spread across three seats on the far right of the front row and already pink-nosed and guffawing loudly, and his mom, a delicate creature who reminded me of a stick-bug, seated on the far left of the front row and nearly squashed beneath an enormous handbag–uh-oh, another crazy one! I figured Trevor’s parents probably wouldn’t show, Ollie Ringbald’s mom was the one who had to sit on three cushions to see the stage, and…I tried to work out who swing-girl’s parents might be. After rejecting several Miss Americas and a handsome Teutonic Cary Grant type, I decided that it would be better to think of her as having sprung fully formed from a giant clam-shell or something. Perhaps Sea Monster could furnish an introduction. Speaking of Sea Monster, there was a particularly damp seat front and center where he had originally tried to sit, but he had apparently been asked to move to the back because of the way he loomed. I couldn’t see Grandma Millie anywhere, but that didn’t really worry me. It was dark, and besides, with her eyes she probably couldn’t see me either.
Then Mrs. Grammar had us all form a Power Circle backstage, which meant that the play was about to start. Luckily, I didn’t have much of a chance to get butterflies, because the first thing we did was Pass the Pulse, a game in which you hold hands in a circle and squeeze the hand of the person on your left when your right hand gets squeezed. I call it a game, but I’m not really sure there’s a point to it; I’ve never seen anyone lose, and the scoring system has to be some sort of Olympic-style thing based on wrist precision and squeezing technique. Anyway, it was supposed to get our energy up and make us forget our nerves, and it worked on that last point, although mainly due to the fact that I was standing to the left of Trevor Bandersnatch and I was too busy worry about him breaking my arm to worry about the play. Constance Ruth, holding Velociraptor’s claw, had similar concerns to deal with, particularly because of the way he kept sniffing at her leather skirt.
And then the play started, and it was an unmitigated disaster. Well, maybe it didn’t start out so bad. The Herald of Anamnesis talked longer and more confusingly than ever before, which gave us a good long opportunity to remember our next lines, and the Spirit of Fecundity got a pretty good laugh when he started throwing out banana peels instead of corn-husks. I tried to be as patriarchal as possible, which I had looked up and which meant having a really big beard, so I had painted one on with sharpie and stroked it whenever I spoke. It turns out the ink wasn’t quite dry all the way, so I ended up with very “hairy” black fingers for most of the play, but I figured that could only make me more patriarchal. Chief Mudswallow hammed it up as always, and it was particularly gratifying when one of the “flames of his ancestors,” a.k.a. a flashlight with orange crepe paper in front of it, refused to light and had to be whacked against the wall a few times before it finally flickered on. His duet with the Spirit of Anamnesis was truly nauseating. But one character in particular stole the show, and that was Goodwife Rape-o’-the-Land. She was so vibrant and captivating and not only did she know all of her lines by heart, she also knew most of Trevor’s, which was a good thing because he sure didn’t. It almost made the whole excruciating ordeal worthwhile to see her stomp on his foot every ten seconds as he fumbled through his dialogue, not to mention the time he sat down on the Sacred Squash and she ad-libbed that hilarious joke about squashing a squash.
I said it almost made the whole thing worthwhile. The part of the whole thing that wasn’t included in that almost was the part where the Noble Turkey took the stage. I knew Velociraptor was planning something, mainly because of the way he kept repeating “I’m planning something, I’m planning something” under his breath. For a species known for their stealth, he wasn’t very good at being secretive; either that, or he was just trying to motivate himself, like when you say “I will talk to her after the play, I will talk to her after the play.” Anyway, even with the foreknowledge that something was going to happen, I had no idea it was going to be such a big disastrous something. I’m not sure even Velociraptor knew: it’s possible he hadn’t gotten to the actual planning something stage of planning something, and was just winging it, puh-doomp-chah. In the interest of clarity, and because it sounds like fun, I’m going to change formats for this bit. In five…four…three…two…
Curtain opens on final act of The Play. FARMER RAPE., GOODY RAPE., BACKHND. UNDERWR. and MISTRESS UNDERWR. are huddled UR. B.U. is frozen in the act of grinding the SPIRIT OF FECUNDITY beneath his heels, while FARMER and GOODY R. poke SPIRIT enthusiastically with their pitchforks, esp. FARMER. MISTRESS U. stands somewhat apart from the others, bouncing a blanket containing a “BUSHEL OF MAIZE” in her arms (actually the MULTIETHNIC BABY-DOLL). UL, CHIEF MUDSWALLOW brandishes his medicine-stick menacingly, with accompanying PEALS OF THUNDER (marbles in an aluminum mixing bowl) performed by the HERALD OF ANAMNENSIS, C.
HERALD: Witness as this tragedy concludes
This archetypal tale of earth and blood
As Oedipal man in hubris thinks is won
His battle ‘gainst dam nature blindly waged
While he still suckles at her chainèd teat
And note the symbolism of the blood in the bushel of maize
MUDSWALLOW: I implore you in the name of the Great Mother, unchain this land’s spirit!
UNDERWRITER: Never! (strokes beard) We will lash it ‘til the yoke runs red with bloody clay! (strokes beard)
NOTE: this line was a killer to memorize. I’m still not sure what it means, but I think it’s part of an omelet recipe.
MISTRESS U: O husband, if you only knew what harvest this red clay has brought!
GOODY R: (dazzlingly) We do not fear you, nor your savage ways!
Long pause. GOODY R. jabs FARMER R. in stomach with pitchfork.
FARMER R: What? Oh. Uh…the fruit of conquest is sweeter when it’s…plucked by force and stuff.
MUDSWALLOW: You shall surely starve for your arrogance!
HERALD: (says something involved about foreshadowing that I didn’t really catch because I was trying to figure out what Velociraptor was doing offstage that was making so much noise)
Assembled pilgrims clutch convincingly at their bellies, esp. FARMER R. SPIRIT grabs a bucket of ICE WATER from offstage and dumps it on the FARMER’S crops, then rolls merrily away.
MISTRESS U: Wait! Please, accept this symbol of peaceful coexistence between our people in this…bushel of maize! (twitches aside the blanket to reveal a MULTIETHNIC BABY-DOLL)
MUDSWALLOW: By the spirit of the Great Divine Squash, I can not allow your people to starve, though it will be the death of mine.
MUDSWALLOW: I shall call upon my ancestors to form the spirit of the Noble and Holy Turkey, that we may enact an annual sacrificial harvest ritual to remind us of the cost of audacity and help usher Sister Sun back from the Underworld.
CHIEF M. waves his MEDICINE ROD impressively, and the NOBLE TURKEY enters from R, wearing a large pouch over his chest.
TURKEY: Behold, it is I, the Knobbly Turkey!
MISTRESS U: Let us feast and rejoice, for–
TURKEY: Your dress smells like hamburgers!
TURKEY chases a terrified MISTRESS U. around the stage as she tosses various props in his direction. She lands a stunning blow to the skull with the MULTIETHNIC BABY-DOLL, enabling her escape. Silence. GOODY R. steps forward, scoops up the DOLL, and hands it to UNDERWRITER.
GOODY R: Here. I’m sure your wife would have wanted you to have it.
UNDERWRITER: (strokes beard in silence)
TURKEY: Behold, it is I, the Knobbly Turkey!
GOODY R: You said that already. (to FARMER R.) Don’t you have something to say?
FARMER R: I…uh…this is stupid!
HERALD: Casting off the shackles of performatism is a commendable practice, but I implore you to follow the script!
GOODY R: (to FARMER R.) What was that? Did you say that you would engage yearly in this ritual to remind yourself that man is a bestial creature at heart?
GOODY R: (to UNDERWRITER) Didn’t you hear him say something like that?
UNDERWRITER: (strokes beard in silence)
HERALD: And now our pageant settles to a close
As we reflect upon…
MUDSWALLOW: Wait a second, are we skipping to the end? I didn’t get to say my best monologue yet! Ahem…though true in heart and harmonic with the earth, I find myself unable to resist the softnesses of White Man’s world, and…
FARMER R: This is so stupid. Good thing our families didn’t show, huh, Billy? (beat) What, you didn’t know? Oh yeah, that friend of yours that smells like the drainage ditch was saying your Grandma wasn’t able to make it, because of her arthritis. He said he wasn’t going to tell you until after the show, because he didn’t want to mess you up. Well, I guess I just whoopsed it up, didn’t I? Since we’re on the subject, though, what’s it like living with someone who needs a blender to chew her food? At least you don’t have to worry about being the only one in the house who wets the bed…
UNDERWRITER: (strokes his beard angrily)
TURKEY: Everybody be quiet! Especially you, Farmer Rack-of-Lamb, if that’s even your real name!
Everybody is quiet, esp. FARMER R.
GOODY R: It isn’t, by the way. It isn’t even his fake name.
TURKEY: I don’t care! You’re all so wrapped up in your petty squabbles that you’ve forgotten what’s really important! Thanksgiving isn’t about families or grandmas or who ate the turkey when nobody was looking and then stuffed the skin with mash potatoes! The really most important part of Thanksgiving is in here… (pats his chest)
MUDSWALLOW: (to the audience) Alas, how could we have forgotten? The most important part of Thanksgiving is in the heart–
TURKEY: What? No, no, the most important part of Thankgiving is in this pouch! (unclasps pouch from around neck, dumps out a large pile of turkey giblets) Giblets for all! (flings giblets very enthusiastically at the audience. Standing ovation as parents and relatives stampede for the exit)
HERALD lunges angrily for TURKEY with the mixing bowl held in bludgeoning position, but he dodges her attacks and continues spraying the stage and the empty seats with seasonal showers of giblets.
HERALD: D@##!t Velociraptor, come back her so we can make a feast out of you!(to audience, of whom only one member remains, applauding wetly) It’s all very meaningful, I promise!
TURKEY: Giblets for all!
TURKEY blinds HERALD with a particularly well-aimed shot of giblets, sending her wailing offstage. Notices that he is alone in the auditorium. Scoops up an enormous double-armful of giblets, flings them into the air. Stands C with jaws open wide, waiting for those that didn’t stick to the Fresnels to fall down to earth.
TURKEY: Giblets for all!