I have seen the dark universe yawning
Where the black planets roll without aim,
Where they roll in their horror unheeded,
Without knowledge or lustre or name.
investigators will hesitate to challenge the common belief that Robert
Blake was killed by lightning, or by some profound nervous shock derived
from an electrical discharge. It is true that the window he faced was unbroken,
but nature has shown herself capable of many freakish performances. The
expression on his face may easily have arisen from some obscure muscular
source unrelated to anything he saw, while the entries in his diary are
clearly the result of a fantastic imagination aroused by certain local
superstitions and by certain old matters he had uncovered. As for the anomalous
conditions at the deserted church of Federal Hill - the shrewd analyst
is not slow in attributing them to some charlatanry, conscious or unconscious,
with at least some of which Blake was secretly connected.
For after all, the victim was a writer and painter
wholly devoted to the field of myth, dream, terror, and superstition, and
avid in his quest for scenes and effects of a bizarre, spectral sort. His
earlier stay in the city -a visit to a strange old man as deeply given
to occult and forbidden lore as he - had ended amidst death and flame,
and it must have been some morbid instinct which drew him back from his
home in Milwaukee. He may have known of the old stories despite his statements
to the contrary in the diary, and his death may have nipped in the bud
some stupendous hoax destined to have a literary reflection.
Among those, however, who have examined and correlated
all this evidence, there remain several who cling to less rational and
commonplace theories. They are inclined to take much of Blake's diary at
its face value, and point significantly to certain facts such as the undoubted
genuineness of the old church record, the verified existence of the disliked
and unorthodox Starry Wisdom sect prior to 1877, the recorded disappearance
of an inquisitive reporter named Edwin M. Lillibridge in 1893, and - above
all - the look of monstrous, transfiguring fear on the face of the young
writer when he died. It was one of these believers who, moved to fanatical
extremes, threw into the bay the curiously angled stone and its strangely
adorned metal box found in the old church steeple - the black windowless
steeple, and not the tower where Blake's diary said those things originally
were. Though widely censured both officially and unofficially, this man
- a reputable physician with a taste for odd folklore - averred that he
had rid the earth of something too dangerous to rest upon it.
Between these two schools of opinion the reader must
judge for himself. The papers have given the tangible details from a sceptical
angle, leaving for others the drawing of the picture as Robert Blake saw
it - or thought he saw it - or pretended to see it. Now studying the diary
closely, dispassionately, and at leisure, let us summarize the dark chain
of events from the expressed point of view of their chief actor.
Young Blake returned to Providence in the winter of
1934-5, taking the upper floor of a venerable dwelling in a grassy court
off College Street - on the crest of the great eastward hill near the Brown
University campus and behind the marble John Hay Library. It was a cosy
and fascinating place, in a little garden oasis of village-like antiquity
where huge, friendly cats sunned themselves atop a convenient shed. The
square Georgian house had a monitor roof, classic doorway with fan carving,
small-paned windows, and all the other earmarks of early nineteenth century
workmanship. Inside were six-panelled doors, wide floor-boards, a curving
colonial staircase, white Adam-period mantels, and a rear set of rooms
three steps below the general level.
Blake's study, a large southwest chamber, overlooked
the front garden on one side, while its west windows - before one of which
he had his desk -faced off from the brow of the hill and commanded a splendid
view of the lower town's outspread roofs and of the mystical sunsets that
flamed behind them. On the far horizon were the open countryside's purple
slopes. Against these, some two miles away, rose the spectral hump of Federal
Hill, bristling with huddled roofs and steeples whose remote outlines wavered
mysteriously, taking fantastic forms as the smoke of the city swirled up
and enmeshed them. Blake had a curious sense that he was looking upon some
unknown, ethereal world which might or might not vanish in dream if ever
he tried to seek it out and enter it in person.
Having sent home for most of his books, Blake bought
some antique furniture suitable for his quarters and settled down to write
and paint -living alone, and attending to the simple housework himself.
His studio was in a north attic room, where the panes of the monitor roof
furnished admirable lighting. During that first winter he produced five
of his best-known short stories - The Burrower Beneath, The Stairs in
the Crypt, Shaggai, In the Vale of Pnath, and The Feaster from the
Stars - and painted seven canvases; studies of nameless, unhuman monsters,
and profoundly alien, non-terrestrial landscapes.
At sunset he would often sit at his desk and gaze dreamily
off at the outspread west - the dark towers of Memorial Hall just below,
the Georgian court-house belfry, the lofty pinnacles of the downtown section,
and that shimmering, spire-crowned mound in the distance whose unknown
streets and labyrinthine gables so potently provoked his fancy. From his
few local aquaintances he learned that the far-off slope was a vast Italian
quarter, though most of the houses were remnant of older Yankee and Irish
days. Now and then he would train his field-glasses on that spectral, unreachable
world beyond the curling smoke; picking out individual roofs and chimneys
and steeples, and speculating upon the bizarre and curious mysteries they
might house. Even with optical aid Federal Hill seemed somehow alien, half
fabulous, and linked to the unreal, intangible marvels of Blake's own tales
and pictures. The feeling would persist long after the hill had faded into
the violet, lamp-starred twilight, and the court-house floodlights and
the red Industrial Trust beacon had blazed up to make the night grotesque.
Of all the distant objects on Federal Hill, a certain
huge, dark church most fascinated Blake. It stood out with especial distinctness
at certain hours of the day, and at sunset the great tower and tapering
steeple loomed blackly against the flaming sky. It seemed to rest on especially
high ground; for the grimy façade, and the obliquely seen north
side with sloping roof and the tops of great pointed windows, rose boldly
above the tangle of surrounding ridgepoles and chimney-pots. Peculiarly
grim and austere, it appeared to be built of stone, stained and weathered
with the smoke and storms of a century and more. The style, so far as the
glass could show, was that earliest experimental form of Gothic revival
which preceded the stately Upjohn period and held over some of the outlines
and proportions of the Georgian age. Perhaps it was reared around 1810
As months passed, Blake watched the far-off, forbidding
structure with an oddly mounting interest. Since the vast windows were
never lighted, he knew that it must be vacant. The longer he watched, the
more his imagination worked, till at length he began to fancy curious things.
He believed that a vague, singular aura of desolation hovered over the
place, so that even the pigeons and swallows shunned its smoky eaves. Around
other towers and belfries his glass would reveal great flocks of birds,
but here they never rested. At least, that is what he thought and set down
in his diary. He pointed the place out to several friends, but none of
them had even been on Federal Hill or possessed the faintest notion of
what the church was or had been.
In the spring a deep restlessness gripped Blake. He
had begun his long-planned novel - based on a supposed survival of the
witch-cult in Maine - but was strangely unable to make progress with it.
More and more he would sit at his westward window and gaze at the distant
hill and the black, frowning steeple shunned by the birds. When the delicate
leaves came out on the garden boughs the world was filled with a new beauty,
but Blake's restlessness was merely increased. It was then that he first
thought of crossing the city and climbing bodily up that fabulous slope
into the smoke-wreathed world of dream.
Late in April, just before the aeon-shadowed Walpurgis
time, Blake made his first trip into the unknown. Plodding through the
endless downtown streets and the bleak, decayed squares beyond, he came
finally upon the ascending avenue of century-worn steps, sagging Doric
porches, and blear-paned cupolas which he felt must lead up to the long-known,
unreachable world beyond the mists. There were dingy blue-and-white street
signs which meant nothing to him, and presently he noted the strange, dark
faces of the drifting crowds, and the foreign signs over curious shops
in brown, decade-weathered buildings. Nowhere could he find any of the
objects he had seen from afar; so that once more he half fancied that the
Federal Hill of that distant view was a dream-world never to be trod by
living human feet.
Now and then a battered church façade or crumbling
spire came in sight, but never the blackened pile that he sought. When
he asked a shopkeeper about a great stone church the man smiled and shook
his head, though he spoke English freely. As Blake climbed higher, the
region seemed stranger and stranger, with bewildering mazes of brooding
brown alleys leading eternally off to the south. He crossed two or three
broad avenues, and once thought he glimpsed a familiar tower. Again he
asked a merchant about the massive church of stone, and this time he could
have sworn that the plea of ignorance was feigned. The dark man's face
had a look of fear which he tried to hide, and Blake saw him make a curious
sign with his right hand.
Then suddenly a black spire stood out against the cloudy
sky on his left, above the tiers of brown roofs lining the tangled southerly
alleys. Blake knew at once what it was, and plunged toward it through the
squalid, unpaved lanes that climbed from the avenue. Twice he lost his
way, but he somehow dared not ask any of the patriarchs or housewives who
sat on their doorsteps, or any of the children who shouted and played in
the mud of the shadowy lanes.
At last he saw the tower plain against the southwest,
and a huge stone bulk rose darkly at the end of an alley. Presently he
stood in a wind-swept open square, quaintly cobblestoned, with a high bank
wall on the farther side. This was the end of his quest; for upon the wide,
iron-railed, weed-grown plateau which the wall supported - a separate,
lesser world raised fully six feet above the surrounding streets - there
stood a grim, titan bulk whose identity, despite Blake's new perspective,
was beyond dispute.
The vacant church was in a state of great decrepitude.
Some of the high stone buttresses had fallen, and several delicate finials
lay half lost among the brown, neglected weeds and grasses. The sooty Gothic
windows were largely unbroken, though many of the stone mullions were missing.
Blake wondered how the obscurely painted panes could have survived so well,
in view of the known habits of small boys the world over. The massive doors
were intact and tightly closed. Around the top of the bank wall, fully
enclosing the grounds, was a rusty iron fence whose gate - at the head
of a flight of steps from the square - was visibly padlocked. The path
from the gate to the building was completely overgrown. Desolation and
decay hung like a pall above the place, and in the birdless eaves and black,
ivyless walls Blake felt a touch of the dimly sinister beyond his power
There were very few people in the square, but Blake
saw a policeman at the northerly end and approached him with questions
about the church. He was a great wholesome Irishman, and it seemed odd
that he would do little more than make the sign of the cross and mutter
that people never spoke of that building. When Blake pressed him he said
very hurriedly that the Italian priest warned everybody against it, vowing
that a monstrous evil had once dwelt there and left its mark. He himself
had heard dark whispers of it from his father, who recalled certain sounds
and rumours from his boyhood.
There had been a bad sect there in the old days - an
outlaw sect that called up awful things from some unknown gulf of night.
It had taken a good priest to exorcise what had come, though there did
be those who said that merely the light could do it. If Father O'Malley
were alive there would be many the thing he could tell. But now there was
nothing to do but let it alone. It hurt nobody now, and those that owned
it were dead or far away. They had run away like rats after the threatening
talk in '77, when people began to mind the way folks vanished now and then
in the neighbourhood. Some day the city would step in and take the property
for lack of heirs, but little good would come of anybody's touching it.
Better it be left alone for the years to topple, lest things be stirred
that ought to rest for ever in their black abyss.
After the policeman had gone Blake stood staring at
the sullen steepled pile. It excited him to find that the structure seemed
as sinister to others as to him, and he wondered what grain of truth might
lie behind the old tales the bluecoat had repeated. Probably they were
mere legends evoked by the evil look of the place, but even so, they were
like a strange coming to life of one of his own stories.
The afternoon sun came out from behind dispersing clouds,
but seemed unable to light up the stained, sooty walls of the old temple
that towered on its high plateau. It was odd that the green of spring had
not touched the brown, withered growths in the raised, iron-fenced yard.
Blake found himself edging nearer the raised area and examining the bank
wall and rusted fence for possible avenues of ingress. There was a terrible
lure about the blackened fane which was not to be resisted. The fence had
no opening near the steps, but round on the north side were some missing
bars. He could go up the steps and walk round on the narrow coping outside
the fence till he came to the gap. If the people feared the place so wildly,
he would encounter no interference.
He was on the embankment and almost inside the fence
before anyone noticed him. Then, looking down, he saw the few people in
the square edging away and making the same sign with their right hands
that the shopkeeper in the avenue had made. Several windows were slammed
down, and a fat woman darted into the street and pulled some small children
inside a rickety, unpainted house. The gap in the fence was very easy to
pass through, and before long Blake found himself wading amidst the rotting,
tangled growths of the deserted yard. Here and there the worn stump of
a headstone told him that there had once been burials in the field; but
that, he saw, must have been very long ago. The sheer bulk of the church
was oppressive now that he was close to it, but he conquered his mood and
approached to try the three great doors in the façade. All were
securely locked, so he began a circuit of the Cyclopean building in quest
of some minor and more penetrable opening. Even then he could not be sure
that he wished to enter that haunt of desertion and shadow, yet the pull
of its strangeness dragged him on automatically.
A yawning and unprotected cellar window in the rear
furnished the needed aperture. Peering in, Blake saw a subterrene gulf
of cobwebs and dust faintly litten by the western sun's filtered rays.
Debris, old barrels, and ruined boxes and furniture of numerous sorts met
his eye, though over everything lay a shroud of dust which softened all
sharp outlines. The rusted remains of a hot-air furnace showed that the
building had been used and kept in shape as late as mid-Victorian times.
Acting almost without conscious initiative, Blake crawled
through the window and let himself down to the dust-carpeted and debris-strewn
concrete floor. The vaulted cellar was a vast one, without partitions;
and in a corner far to the right, amid dense shadows, he saw a black archway
evidently leading upstairs. He felt a peculiar sense of oppression at being
actually within the great spectral building, but kept it in check as he
cautiously scouted about - finding a still-intact barrel amid the dust,
and rolling it over to the open window to provide for his exit. Then, bracing
himself, he crossed the wide, cobweb-festooned space toward the arch. Half-choked
with the omnipresent dust, and covered with ghostly gossamer fibres, he
reached and began to climb the worn stone steps which rose into the darkness.
He had no light, but groped carefully with his hands. After a sharp turn
he felt a closed door ahead, and a little fumbling revealed its ancient
latch. It opened inward, and beyond it he saw a dimly illumined corridor
lined with worm-eaten panelling.
Once on the ground floor, Blake began exploring in
a rapid fashion. All the inner doors were unlocked, so that he freely passed
from room to room. The colossal nave was an almost eldritch place with
its driffs and mountains of dust over box pews, altar, hour-glass pulpit,
and sounding-board and its titanic ropes of cobweb stretching among the
pointed arches of the gallery and entwining the clustered Gothic columns.
Over all this hushed desolation played a hideous leaden light as the declining
afternoon sun sent its rays through the strange, half-blackened panes of
the great apsidal windows.
The paintings on those windows were so obscured by
soot that Blake could scarcely decipher what they had represented, but
from the little he could make out he did not like them. The designs were
largely conventional, and his knowledge of obscure symbolism told him much
concerning some of the ancient patterns. The few saints depicted bore expressions
distinctly open to criticism, while one of the windows seemed to show merely
a dark space with spirals of curious luminosity scattered about in it.
Turning away from the windows, Blake noticed that the cobwebbed cross above
the altar was not of the ordinary kind, but resembled the primordial ankh
or crux ansata of shadowy Egypt.
In a rear vestry room beside the apse Blake found a
rotting desk and ceiling-high shelves of mildewed, disintegrating books.
Here for the first time he received a positive shock of objective horror,
for the titles of those books told him much. They were the black, forbidden
things which most sane people have never even heard of, or have heard of
only in furtive, timorous whispers; the banned and dreaded repositories
of equivocal secret and immemorial formulae which have trickled down the
stream of time from the days of man's youth, and the dim, fabulous days
before man was. He had himself read many of them - a Latin version of the
abhorred Necronomicon, the sinister Liber Ivonis, the infamous
des Goules of Comte d'Erlette, the Unaussprechlichen Kulten
of von Junzt, and old Ludvig Prinn's hellish De Vermis Mysteriis.
But there were others he had known merely by reputation or not at all -
the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the Book of Dzyan, and a crumbling
volume of wholly unidentifiable characters yet with certain symbols and
diagrams shuddering recognizable to the occult student. Clearly, the lingering
local rumours had not lied. This place had once been the seat of an evil
older than mankind and wider than the known universe.
In the ruined desk was a small leatherbound record-book
filled with entries in some odd cryptographic medium. The manuscript writing
consisted of the common traditional symbols used today in astronomy and
anciently in alchemy, astrology, and other dubious arts - the devices of
the sun, moon, planets, aspects, and zodiacal signs - here massed in solid
pages of text, with divisions and paragraphings suggesting that each symbol
answered to some alphabetical letter.
In the hope of later solving the cryptogram, Blake
bore off this volume in his coat pocket. Many of the great tomes on the
shelves fascinated him unutterably, and he felt tempted to borrow them
at some later time. He wondered how they could have remained undisturbed
so long. Was he the first to conquer the clutching, pervasive fear which
had for nearly sixty years protected this deserted place from visitors?
Having now thoroughly explored the ground floor, Blake
ploughed again through the dust of the spectral nave to the front vestibule,
where he had seen a door and staircase presumably leading up to the blackened
tower and steeple - objects so long familiar to him at a distance. The
ascent was a choking experience, for dust lay thick, while the spiders
had done their worst in this constricted place. The staircase was a spiral
with high, narrow wooden treads, and now and then Blake passed a clouded
window looking dizzily out over the city. Though he had seen no ropes below,
he expected to find a bell or peal of bells in the tower whose narrow,
louvre-boarded lancet windows his field-glass had studied so often. Here
he was doomed to disappointment; for when he attained the top of the stairs
he found the tower chamber vacant of chimes, and clearly devoted to vastly
The room, about fifteen feet square, was faintly lighted
by four lancet windows, one on each side, which were glazed within their
screening of decayed louvre-boards. These had been further fitted with
tight, opaque screens, but the latter were now largely rotted away. In
the centre of the dust-laden floor rose a curiously angled stone pillar
home four feet in height and two in average diameter, covered on each side
with bizarre, crudely incised and wholly unrecognizable hieroglyphs. On
this pillar rested a metal box of peculiarly asymmetrical form; its hinged
lid thrown back, and its interior holding what looked beneath the decade-deep
dust to be an egg-shaped or irregularly spherical object some four inches
through. Around the pillar in a rough circle were seven high-backed Gothic
chairs still largely intact, while behind them, ranging along the dark-panelled
walls, were seven colossal images of crumbling, black-painted plaster,
resembling more than anything else the cryptic carven megaliths of mysterious
Easter Island. In one corner of the cobwebbed chamber a ladder was built
into the wall, leading up to the closed trap door of the windowless steeple
As Blake grew accustomed to the feeble light he noticed
odd bas-reliefs on the strange open box of yellowish metal. Approaching,
he tried to clear the dust away with his hands and handkerchief, and saw
that the figurings were of a monstrous and utterly alien kind; depicting
entities which, though seemingly alive, resembled no known life-form ever
evolved on this planet. The four-inch seeming sphere turned out to be a
nearly black, red-striated polyhedron with many irregular flat surfaces;
either a very remarkable crystal of some sort or an artificial object of
carved and highly polished mineral matter. It did not touch the bottom
of the box, but was held suspended by means of a metal band around its
centre, with seven queerly-designed supports extending horizontally to
angles of the box's inner wall near the top. This stone, once exposed,
exerted upon Blake an almost alarming fascination. He could scarcely tear
his eyes from it, and as he looked at its glistening surfaces he almost
fancied it was transparent, with half-formed worlds of wonder within. Into
his mind floated pictures of alien orbs with great stone towers, and other
orbs with titan mountains and no mark of life, and still remoter spaces
where only a stirring in vague blacknesses told of the presence of consciousness
When he did look away, it was to notice a somewhat
singular mound of dust in the far corner near the ladder to the steeple.
Just why it took his attention he could not tell, but something in its
contours carried a message to his unconscious mind. Ploughing toward it,
and brushing aside the hanging cobwebs as he went, he began to discern
something grim about it. Hand and handkerchief soon revealed the truth,
and Blake gasped with a baffling mixture of emotions. It was a human skeleton,
and it must have been there for a very long time. The clothing was in shreds,
but some buttons and fragments of cloth bespoke a man's grey suit. There
were other bits of evidence - shoes, metal clasps, huge buttons for round
cuffs, a stickpin of bygone pattern, a reporter's badge with the name of
the old Providence Telegram, and a crumbling leather pocketbook.
Blake examined the latter with care, finding within it several bills of
antiquated issue, a celluloid advertising calendar for 1893, some cards
with the name "Edwin M. Lillibridge", and a paper covered with pencilled
This paper held much of a puzzling nature, and Blake
read it carefully at the dim westward window. Its disjointed text included
such phrases as the following:
Prof. Enoch Bowen home from Egypt May 1844
- buys old Free-Will Church in July - his archaeological work & studies
in occult well known.
Restoring the paper to the pocketbook and placing the
latter in his coat, Blake turned to look down at the skeleton in the dust.
The implications of the notes were clear, and there could be no doubt but
that this man had come to the deserted edifice forty-two years before in
quest of a newspaper sensation which no one else had been bold enough to
attempt. Perhaps no one else had known of his plan - who could tell? But
he had never returned to his paper. Had some bravely-suppressed fear risen
to overcome him and bring on sudden heart-failure? Blake stooped over the
gleaming bones and noted their peculiar state. Some of them were badly
scattered, and a few seemed oddly dissolved at the ends. Others were strangely
yellowed, with vague suggestions of charring. This charring extended to
some of the fragments of clothing. The skull was in a very peculiar state
- stained yellow, and with a charred aperture in the top as if some powerful
acid had eaten through the solid bone. What had happened to the skeleton
during its four decades of silent entombment here Blake could not imagine.
Dr Drowne of 4th Baptist warns against Starry Wisdom
in sermon 29 Dec. 1844.
Congregation 97 by end of '45.
1846 - 3 disappearances - first mention of Shining
7 disappearances 1848 - stories of blood sacrifice
Investigation 1853 comes to nothing - stories of sounds.
Fr O'Malley tells of devil-worship with box found in
great Egyptian ruins - says they call up something that can't exist in
light. Flees a little light, and banished by strong light. Then has to
be summoned again. Probably got this from deathbed confession of Francis
X. Feeney, who had joined Starry Wisdom in '49. These people say the Shining
Trapezohedron shows them heaven & other worlds, & that the Haunter
of the Dark tells them secrets in some way.
Story of Orrin B. Eddy 1857. They call it up by gazing
at the crystal, & have a secret language of their own.
200 or more in cong. 1863, exclusive of men at front.
Irish boys mob church in 1869 after Patrick Regan's
Veiled article in J. 14 March '72, but people don't
talk about it.
6 disappearances 1876 - secret committee calls on Mayor
Action promised Feb. 1877 - church closes in April.
Gang - Federal Hill Boys - threaten Dr - and vestrymen
181 persons leave city before end of '77 - mention
Ghost stories begin around 1880 - try to ascertain
truth of report that no human being has entered church since 1877.
Ask Lanigan for photograph of place taken 1851...
Before he realized it, he was looking at the stone
again, and letting its curious influence call up a nebulous pageantry in
his mind. He saw processions of robed, hooded figures whose outlines were
not human, and looked on endless leagues of desert lined with carved, sky-reaching
monoliths. He saw towers and walls in nighted depths under the sea, and
vortices of space where wisps of black mist floated before thin shimmerings
of cold purple haze. And beyond all else he glimpsed an infinite gulf of
darkness, where solid and semisolid forms were known only by their windy
stirrings, and cloudy patterns of force seemed to superimpose order on
chaos and hold forth a key to all the paradoxes and arcana of the worlds
Then all at once the spell was broken by an access
of gnawing, indeterminate panic fear. Blake choked and turned away from
the stone, conscious of some formless alien presence close to him and watching
him with horrible intentness. He felt entangled with something - something
was not in the stone, but which had looked through it at him - something
which would ceaselessly follow him with a cognition that was not physical
sight. Plainly, the place was getting on his nerves - as well it might
in view of his gruesome find. The light was waning, too, and since he had
no illuininant with him he knew he would have to be leaving soon.
It was then, in the gathering twilight, that he thought
he saw a faint trace of luminosity in the crazily angled stone. He had
tried to look away from it, but some obscure compulsion drew his eyes hack.
Was there a subtle phosphorescence of radio-activity about the thing? What
was it that the dead man 's notes had said concerning a Shining Trapezohedron?
What, anyway, was this abandoned lair of cosmic evil? What had been done
here, and what might still be lurking in the bird-shunned shadows? It seemed
now as if an elusive touch of foetor had arisen somewhere close by, though
its source was not apparent. Blake seized the cover of the long-open box
and snapped it down. It moved easily on its alien hinges, and closed completely
over the unmistakably glowing stone.
At the sharp click of that closing a soft stirring
sound seemed to come from the steeple's eternal blackness overhead, beyond
the trap-door. Rats, without question - the only living things to reveal
their presence in this accursed pile since he had entered it. And yet that
stirring in the steeple frightened him horribly, so that he plunged almost
wildly down the spiral stairs, across the ghoulish nave, into the vaulted
basement, out amidst the gathering dust of the deserted square, and down
through the teeming, fear-haunted alleys and avenues of Federal Hill towards
the sane central streets and the home-like brick sidewalks of the college
During the days which followed, Blake told no one of
his expedition. Instead, he read much in certain books, examined long years
of newspaper files downtown, and worked feverishly at the cryptogram in
that leather volume from the cobwebbed vestry room. The cipher, he soon
saw, was no simple one; and after a long period of endeavour he felt sure
that its language could not be English, Latin, Greek, French, Spanish,
Italian, or German. Evidently he would have to draw upon the deepest wells
of his strange erudition.
Every evening the old impulse to gaze westwards returned,
and he saw the black steeple as of yore amongst the bristling roofs of
a distant and half-fabulous world. But now it held a fresh note of terror
for him. He knew the heritage of evil lore it masked, and with the knowledge
his vision ran riot in queer new ways. The birds of spring were returning,
and as he watched their sunset flights he fancied they avoided the gaunt,
lone spire as never before. When a flock of them approached it, he thought,
they would wheel and scatter in panic confusion - and he could guess at
the wild twitterings which failed to reach him across the intervening miles.
It was in June that Blake's diary told of his victory
over the cryptogram. The text was, he found, in the dark Aklo language
used by certain cults of evil antiquity, and known to him in a halting
way through previous researches. The diary is strangely reticent about
what Blake deciphered, but he was patently awed and disconcerted by his
results. There are references to a Haunter of the Dark awaked by gazing
into the Shining Trapezohedron, and insane conjectures about the black
gulfs of chaos from which it was called. The being is spoken of as holding
all knowledge, and demanding monstrous sacrifices. Some of Blake's entries
show fear lest the thing, which he seemed to regard as summoned, stalk
abroad; though he adds that the streetlights form a bulwark which cannot
Of the Shining Trapezohedron he speaks often, calling
it a window on all time and space, and tracing its history from the days
it was fashioned on dark Yuggoth, before ever the Old Ones brought it to
earth. It was treasured and placed in its curious box by the crinoid things
of Antarctica, salvaged from their ruins by the serpent-men of Valusia,
and peered at aeons later in Lemuria by the first human beings. It crossed
strange lands and stranger seas, and sank with Atlantis before a Minoan
fisher meshed it in his net and sold it to swarthy merchants from nighted
Khem. The Pharaoh Nephren-Ka built around it a temple with a windowless
crypt, and did that which caused his name to be stricken from all monuments
and records. Then it slept in the ruins of that evil fane which the priests
and the new Pharaoh destroyed, till the delver's spade once more brought
it forth to curse mankind.
Early in July the newspapers oddly supplement Blake's
entries, though in so brief and casual a way that only the diary has called
general attention to their contribution. It appears that a new fear had
been growing on Federal Hill since a stranger had entered the dreaded church.
The Italians whispered of unaccustomed stirrings and bumpings and scrapings
in the dark windowless steeple, and called on their priests to banish an
entity which haunted their dreams. Something, they said, was constantly
watching at a door to see if it were dark enough to venture forth. Press
items mentioned the longstanding local superstitions, but failed to shed
much light on the earlier background of the horror. It was obvious that
the young reporters of today are no antiquarians. In writing of these things
in his diary, Blake expresses a curious kind of remorse, and talks of the
duty of burying the Shining Trapezohedron and of banishing what he had
evoked by letting daylight into the hideous jutting spire. At the same
time, however, he displays the dangerous extent of his fascination, and
admits a morbid longing - pervading even his dreams - to visit the accursed
tower and gaze again into the cosmic secrets of the glowing stone.
Then something in the Journal on the morning
of 17 July threw the diarist into a veritable fever of horror. It was only
a variant of the other half-humorous items about the Federal hill restlessness,
but to Blake it was somehow very terrible indeed. In the night a thunderstorm
had put the city's lighting-system out of commission for a full hour, and
in that black interval the Italians had nearly gone mad with fright. Those
living near the dreaded church had sworn that the thing in the steeple
had taken advantage of the street lamps' absence and gone down into the
body of the church, flopping and bumping around in a viscous, altogether
dreadful way. Towards the last it had bumped up to the tower, where there
were sounds of the shattering of glass. It could go wherever the darkness
reached, but light would always send it fleeing.
When the current blazed on again there had been a shocking
commotion in the tower, for even the feeble liglit trickling through the
grime-blackened, louvre-boarded windows was too much for the thing. It
had bumped and slithered up into its tenebrous steeple just in time - for
a long dose of light would have sent it back into the abyss whence the
crazy stranger had called it. During the dark hour praying crowds had clustered
round the church in the rain with lighted candles and lamps somehow shielded
with folded paper and umbrellas - a guard of light to save the city from
the nightmare that stalks in darkness. Once, those nearest the church declared,
the outer door had rattled hideously.
But even this was not the worst. That evening in the
Blake read of what the reporters had found. Aroused at last to the whimsical
news value of the scare, a pair of them had defied the frantic crowds of
Italians and crawled into the church through the cellar window after trying
the doors in vain. They found the dust of the vestibule and of the spectral
nave ploughed up in a singular way, with pits of rotted cushions and satin
pew-linings scattered curiously around. There was a bad odour everywhere,
and here and there were bits of yellow stain and patches of what looked
like charring. Opening the door to the tower, and pausing a moment at the
suspicion of a scraping sound above, they found the narrow spiral stairs
wiped roughly clean.
In the tower itself a similarly half-swept condition
existed. They spoke of the heptagonal stone pillar, the overturned Gothic
chairs, and the bizarre plaster images; though strangely enough the metal
box and the old mutilated skeleton were not mentioned. What disturbed Blake
the most - except for the hints of stains and charring and bad odours -
was the final detail that explained the crashing glass. Every one of the
tower's lancet windows was broken, and two of them had been darkened in
a crude and hurried way by the stuffing of satin pew-linings and cushion-horsehair
into the spaces between the slanting exterior louvre-boards. More satin
fragments and bunches of horsehair lay scattered around the newly swept
floor, as if someone had been interrupted in the act of restoring the tower
to the absolute blackness of its tightly curtained days.
Yellowish stains and charred patches were found on
the ladder to the windowless spire, but when a reporter climbed up, opened
the horizontally-sliding trap-door and shot a feeble flashlight beam into
the black and strangely foetid space, he saw nothing but darkness, and
a heterogeneous litter of shapeless fragments near the aperture. The verdict,
of course, was charlatanry. Somebody had played a joke on the superstitious
hill-dwellers, or else some fanatic had striven to bolster up their fears
for their own supposed good. Or perhaps some of the younger and more sophisticated
dwellers had staged an elaborate hoax on the outside world. There was an
amusing aftermath when the police sent an officer to verify the reports.
Three men in succession found ways of evading the assignment, and the fourth
went very reluctantly and returned very soon without adding to the account
given by the reporters.
From this point onwards Blake's diary shows a mounting
tide of insidious horror and nervous apprehension. He upbraids himself
for not doing something, and speculates wildly on the consequences of another
electrical breakdown. It had been verified that on three occasions - during
thunderstorms - he telephoned the electric light company in a frantic vein
and asked that desperate precautions against a lapse of power be taken.
Now and then his entries show concern over the failure of the reporters
to find the metal box and stone, and the strangely marred old skeleton,
when they explored the shadowy tower room. He assumed that these things
had been removed - whither, and by whom or what, he could only guess. But
his worst fears concerned himself, and the kind of unholy rapport he felt
to exist between his mind and that lurking horror in the distant steeple
- that monstrous thing of night which his rashness had called out of the
ultimate black spaces. He seemed to feel a constant tugging at his will,
and callers of that period remember how he would sit abstractedly at his
desk and stare out of the west window at that far-off spire-bristling mound
beyond the swirling smoke of the city. His entries dwell monotonously on
certain terrible dreams, and of a strengthening of the unholy rapport in
his sleep. There is mention of a night when he awakened to find himself
fully dressed, outdoors, and headed automatically down College Hill towards
the west. Again and again he dwells on the fact that the thing in the steeple
knows where to find him.
The week following 30 July is recalled as the time
of Blake's partial breakdown. He did not dress, and ordered all his food
by telephone. Visitors remarked the cords he kept near his bed, and he
said that sleep-walking had forced him to bind his ankles every night with
knots which would probably hold or else waken him with the labour of untying.
In his diary he told of the hideous experience which had brought the collapse.
After retiring on the night of the 30th, he had suddenly found himself
groping about in an almost black space. All he could see were short, faint,
horizontal streaks of bluish light, but he could smell an overpowering
foetor and hear a curious jumble of soft, furtive sounds above him. Whenever
he moved he stumbled over something, and at each noise there would come
a sort of answering sound from above - a vague stirring, mixed with the
cautious sliding of wood on wood.
Once his groping hands encountered a pillar of stone
with a vacant top, whilst later he found himself clutching the rungs of
a ladder built into the wall, and fumbling his uncertain way upwards towards
some region of intenser stench where a hot, searing blast beat down against
him. Before his eyes a kaleidoscopic range of phantasmal images played,
all of them dissolving at intervals into the picture of a vast, unplumbed
abyss of night wherein whirled suns and worlds of an even profounder blackness.
He thought of the ancient legends of Ultimate Chaos, at whose centre sprawls
the blind idiot god Azathoth, Lord of All Things, encircled by his flopping
horde of mindless and amorphous dancers, and lulled by the thin monotonous
piping of a demoniac flute held in nameless paws.
Then a sharp report from the outer world broke through
his stupor and roused him to the unutterable horror of his position. What
it was, he never knew - perhaps it was some belated peal from the fireworks
heard all summer on Federal Hill as the dwellers hail their various patron
saints, or the saints of their native villages in Italy. In any event he
shrieked aloud, dropped frantically from the ladder, and stumbled blindly
across the obstructed floor of the almost lightless chamber that encompassed
He knew instantly where he was, and plunged recklessly
down the narrow spiral staircase, tripping and bruising himself at every
turn. There was a nightmare flight through a vast cobwebbed nave whose
ghostly arches readied up to realms of leering shadow, a sightless scramble
through a littered basement, a climb to regions of air and street lights
outside, and a mad racing down a spectral hill of gibbering gables, across
a grim, silent city of tall black towers, and up the steep eastward precipice
to his own ancient door.
On regaining consciousness in the morning he found
himself lying on his study floor fully dressed. Dirt and cobwebs covered
him, and every inch of his body seemed sore and bruised. When he faced
the mirror he saw that his hair was badly scorched while a trace of strange
evil odour seemed to cling to his upper outer clothing. It was then that
his nerves broke down. Thereafter, lounging exhaustedly about in a dressing-gown,
he did little but stare from his west window, shiver at the threat of thunder,
and make wild entries in his diary.
The great storm broke just before midnight on 8 August.
Lightning struck repeatedly in all parts of the city, and two remarkable
fireballs were reported. The rain was torrential, while a constant fusillade
of thunder brought sleeplessness to thousands. Blake was utterly frantic
in his fear for the lighting system, and tried to telephone the company
around 1 A.M. though by that time service had been temporarily cut off
in the interests of safety. He recorded everything in his diary - the large,
nervous, and often undecipherable, hieroglyplis telling their own story
of growing frenzy and despair, and of entries scrawled blindly in the dark.
He had to keep the house dark in order to see out of
the window, and it appears that most of his time was spent at his desk,
peering anxiously through the rain across the glistening miles of downtown
roofs at the constellation of distant lights marking Federal Hill. Now
and then he would fumblingly make an entry in his diary, so that detached
phrases such as "the lights must not go"; "it knows where I am"; "I must
destroy it"; and "it is calling to me, but perhaps it means no injury this
time"; are found scattered down two of the pages.
Then the lights went out all over the city. It happened
at 2.12 A.M. according to power-house records, but Blake's diary gives
no indication of the time. The entry is merely, "Lights out - God help
me." On Federal Hill there were watchers as anxious as he, and rain-soaked
knots of men paraded the square and alleys around the evil church with
umbrella-shaded candles, electric flashlights, oil lanterns, crucifixes,
and obscure charms of the many sorts common to southern Italy. They blessed
each flash of lightning, and made cryptical signs of fear with their right
hands when a turn in the storm caused the flashes to lessen and finally
to cease altogether. A rising wind blew out most of the candles, so that
the scene grew threatening dark. Someone roused Father Merluzzo of Spirito
Santo Church, and he hastened to the dismal square to pronounce whatever
helpful syllables he could. Of the restless and curious sounds in the blackened
tower, there could be no doubt whatever.
For what happened at 2.35 we have the testimony of
the priest, a young, intelligent, and well-educated person; of Patrolman
William J. Monohan of the Central Station, an officer of the highest reliability
who had paused at that part of his beat to inspect the crowd; and of most
of the seventy-eight men who had gathered around the church's high bank
wall - especially those in the square where the eastward façade
was visible. Of course there was nothing which can be proved as being outside
the order of Nature. The possible causes of such an event are many. No
one can speak with certainty of the obscure chemical processes arising
in a vast, ancient, ill-aired, and long-deserted building of heterogeneous
contents. Mephitic vapours -spontaneous combustion - pressure of gases
born of long decay - any one of numberless phenomena might be responsible.
And then, of course, the factor of conscious charlatanry can by no means
be excluded. The thing was really quite simple in itself, and covered less
than three minutes of actual time. Father Merluzzo, always a precise man,
looked at his watch repeatedly.
It started with a definite swelling of the dull fumbling
sounds inside the black tower. There had for some time been a vague exhalation
of strange, evil odours from the church, and this had now become emphatic
and offensive. Then at last there was a sound of splintering wood and a
large, heavy object crashed down in the yard beneath the frowning easterly
façade. The tower was invisible now that the candles would not burn,
but as the object neared the ground the people knew that it was the smoke-grimed
louvre-boarding of that tower's east window.
Immediately afterwards an utterly unbearable foetor
welled forth from the unseen heights, choking and sickening the trembling
watchers, and almost prostrating those in the square. At the same time
the air trembled with a vibration as of flapping wings, and a sudden east-blowing
wind more violent than any previous blast snatched off the hats and wrenched
the dripping umbrellas of the crowd. Nothing definite could be seen in
the candleless night, though some upward-looking spectators thought they
glimpsed a great spreading blur of denser blackness against the inky sky
- something like a formless cloud of smoke that shot with meteorlike speed
towards the east.
That was all. The watchers were half numbed with fright,
awe, and discomfort, and scarcely knew what to do, or whether to do anything
at all. Not knowing what had happened, they did not relax their vigil;
and a moment later they sent up a prayer as a sharp flash of belated lightning,
followed by an earsplitting crash of sound, rent the flooded heavens. Half
an hour later the rain stopped, and in fifteen minutes more the street
lights sprang on again, sending the weary, bedraggled watchers relievedly
back to their homes.
The next day's papers gave these matters minor mention
in connection with the general storm reports. It seems that the great lightning
flash and deafening explosion which followed the Federal Hill occurrence
were even more tremendous farther east, where a burst of the singular foetor
was likewise noticed. The phenomenon was most marked over College Hill,
where the crash awakened all the sleeping inhabitants and led to a bewildered
round of speculations. Of those who were already awake only a few saw the
anomalous blaze of light near the top of the hill, or noticed the inexplicable
upward rush of air which almost stripped the leaves from the trees and
blasted the plants in the gardens. It was agreed that the lone, sudden
lightning-bolt must have struck somewhere in this neighbourhood, though
no trace of its striking could afterwards be found. A youth in the Tau
Omega fraternity house thought he saw a grotesque and hideous mass of smoke
in the air just as the preliminary flash burst, but his observation has
not been verified. All of the few observers, however, agree as to the violent
gust from the west and the flood of intolerable stench which preceded the
belated stroke, whilst evidence concerning the momentary burned odour after
the stroke is equally general.
These points were discussed very carefully because
of their probable connection with the death of Robert Blake. Students in
the Psi Delta house, whose upper rear windows looked into Blake's study,
noticed the blurred white face at the westward window on the morning of
the ninth, and wondered what was wrong with the expression. When they saw
the same face in the same position that evening, they felt worried, and
watched for the lights to come up in his apartment. Later they rang the
bell of the darkened flat, and finally had a policeman force the door.
The rigid body sat bolt upright at the desk by the
window, and when the intruders saw the glassy, bulging eyes, and the marks
of stark, convulsive fright on the twisted features, they turned away in
sickened dismay. Shortly afterwards the coroner's physician made an examination,
and despite the unbroken window reported electrical shock, or nervous tension
induced by electrical discharge, as the cause of death. The hideous expression
he ignored altogether, deeming it a not improbable result of the profound
shock as experienced by a person of such abnormal imagination and unbalanced
emotions. He deduced these latter qualities from the books, paintings,
and manuscripts found in the apartment, and from the blindly scrawled entries
in the diary on the desk. Blake had prolonged his frenzied jottings to
the last, and the broken-pointed pencil was found clutched in his spasmodically
contracted right hand.
The entries after the failure of the lights were highly
disjointed, and legible only in part. From them certain investigators have
drawn conclusions differing greatly from the materialistic official verdict,
but such speculations have little chance for belief among the conservative.
The case of these imaginative theorists has not been helped by the action
of superstitious Doctor Dexter, who threw the curious box and angled stone
- an object certainly self-luminous as seen in the black windowless steeple
where it was found - into the deepest channel of Narragansett Bay. Excessive
imagination and neurotic unbalance on Blake's part, aggravated by knowledge
of the evil bygone cult whose startling traces he had uncovered, form the
dominant interpretation given those final frenzied jottings. These are
the entries - or all that can be made of them:
Lights still out - must be five minutes now.
Everything depends on lightning. Yaddith grant it will keep up!... Some
influence seems beating through it... Rain and thunder and wind deafen...
The thing is taking hold of my mind...
Trouble with memory. I see things I never knew before.
Other worlds and other galaxies... Dark... The lightning seems dark and
the darkness seems light...
It cannot be the real hill and church that I see in
the pitch-darkness. Must be retinal impression left by flashes. Heaven
grant the Italians are out with their candles if the lightning stops!
What am I afraid of? Is it not an avatar of Nyarlathotep,
who in antique and shadowy Khem even took the form of man? I remember Yuggoth,
and more distant Shaggai, and the ultimate void of the black planets...
The long, winging flight through the void... cannot
cross the universe of light . . . re-created by the thoughts caught in
the Shining Trapezohedron... send it through the horrible abysses of radiance...
My name is Blake - Robert Harrison Blake of 620 East
Knapp Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin... I am on this planet...
Azathoth have mercy! - the lightning no longer flashes
- horrible - I can see everything with a monstrous sense that is not sight
- light is dark and dark is light... those people on the hill... guard...
candles and charms... their priests...
Sense of distance gone -far is near and near is far.
No light - no glass - see that steeple - that tower - window - can hear
- Roderick Usher - am mad or going mad - the thing is stirring and fumbling
in the tower.
I am it and it is I - I want to get out... must get
out and unify the forces... it knows where I am...
I am Robert Blake, but I see the tower in the dark.
There is a monstrous odour... senses transfigured... boarding at that tower
window cracking and giving way... Iä... ngai... ygg...
I see it - coming here - hell-wind - titan blue - black
wing - Yog Sothoth save me - the three-lobed burning eye...