It is true that I have sent six
bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to show by this
statement that I am not his murderer. At first I shall be called
a madman--madder than the man I shot in his cell at the Arkham Sanitarium.
Later some of my readers will weigh each statement, correlate it with the
known facts, and ask themselves how I could have believed otherwise than
I did after facing the evidence of that horror--that thing on the doorstep.
Until then I also saw nothing
but madness in the wild tales I have acted on. Even now I ask myself
whether I was misled--or whether I am not mad after all. I do not
know--but others have strange things to tell of Edward and Asenath Derby,
and even the stolid police are at their wits' ends to account for that
last terrible visit. They have tried weakly to concoct a theory of
a ghastly jest or warning by discharged servants, yet they know in their
hearts that the truth is something infinitely more terrible and incredible.
So I say that I have not murdered
Edward Derby. Rather have I avenged him, and in so doing purged the
earth of a horror whose survival might have loosed untold terrors on all
mankind. There are black zones of shadow close to our daily paths,
and now and then some evil soul breaks a passage through. When that
happens, the man who knows must strike before reckoning the consequences.
I have known Edward Pickman Derby
all his life. Eight years my junior, he was so precocious that we
had much in common from the time he was eight and I was sixteen.
He was the most phenomenal child scholar I have ever known, and at seven
was writing verse of a sombre, fantastic, almost morbid cast which astonished
the tutors surrounding him. Perhaps his private education and coddled
seclusion had something to do with his premature flowering. An only
child, he had organic weaknesses which startled his doting parents and
caused them to keep him closely chained to their side. He was never
allowed out without his nurse, and seldom had a chance to play unconstrainedly
with other children. All this doubtless fostered a strange secretive
life in the boy, with imagination as his one avenue of freedom.
At any rate, his juvenile learning
was prodigious and bizarre; and his facile writings such as to captivate
me despite my greater age. About that time I had leanings toward
art of a somewhat grotesque cast, and I found in this younger child a rare
kindred spirit. What lay behind our joint love of shadows and marvels
was, no doubt, the ancient, mouldering, and subtly fearsome town in which
we live--witch-cursed, legend-haunted Arkham, whose huddled, sagging gambrel
roofs and crumbling Georgian balustrades brood out the centuries beside
the darkly muttering Miskatonic.
As time went by I turned to architecture
and gave up my design of illustrating a book of Edward's demoniac poems,
yet our comradeship suffered no lessening. Young Derby's odd genius
developed remarkably, and in his eighteenth year his collected nightmare-lyrics
made a real sensation when issued under the title Azathoth and Other
Horrors. He was a close correspondent of the notorious Baudelairean
poet Justin Geoffrey, who wrote The People of the Monolith and died
screaming in a madhouse in 1926 after a visit to a sinister, ill-regarded
village in Hungary.
In self-reliance and practical
affairs, however, Derby was greatly retarded because of his coddled existence.
His health had improved, but his habits of childish dependence were fostered
by over-careful parents, so that he never travelled alone, made independent
decisions, or assumed responsibilities. It was early seen that he
would not be equal to a struggle in the business or professional arena,
but the family fortune was so ample that this formed no tragedy.
As he grew to years of manhood he retained a deceptive aspect of boyishness.
Blond and blue-eyed, he had the fresh complexion of a child; and his attempt
to raise a moustache were discernible only with difficulty. His voice
was soft and light, and his unexercised life gave him a juvenile chubbiness
rather than the paunchiness of premature middle age. He was of good
height, and his handsome face would have made him
a notable gallant had not his
shyness held him to seclusion and bookishness.
Derby's parents took him abroad
every summer, and he was quick to seize on the surface aspects of European
thought and expression. His Poe-like talents turned more and more
toward the decadent, and other artistic sensitiveness and yearnings were
half-aroused in him. We had great discussions in those days.
I had been through Harvard, had studied in a Boston architect's office,
had married, and had finally returned to Arkham to practise my profession
- settling in the family homestead in Saltonstall Street since my father
had moved to Florida for his health. Edward used to call almost every
evening, till I came to regard him as one of the household. He had
a characteristic way of ringing the doorbell or sounding the knocker that
grew to be a veritable code signal, so that after dinner I always listened
for the familiar three brisk strokes followed by two more after a pause.
Less frequently I would visit at his house and note with envy the obscure
volumes in his constantly growing library.
Derby went through Miskatonic
University in Arkahm since his parents would not let him board away from
them. He entered at sixteen and completed his course in three years,
majoring in English and French literature and receiving high marks in everything
but mathematics and the sciences. He mingled very little with the
other students, though looking enviously at the "daring" or "Bohemian"
set--whose superficially "smart" language and meaningless ironic pose he
aped, and whose dubious conduct he wished he dared adopt.
What he did do was to become
an almost fanatical devotee of subterranean magical lore, for which Miskatonic's
library was and is famous. Always a dweller on the surface of phantasy
and strangeness, he now delved deep into the actual runes and riddles left
by a fabulous past for the guidance or puzzlement of posterity. He
read things like the frightful Book of Eibon, the Unaussprechlichen
Kulten of von Junzt, and the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad
Arab Abdul Alhazred, though he did not tell his parents he had seen them.
Edward was twenty when my son and only child was born, and seemed pleased
when I named the newcomer Edward Derby Upton after him.
By the time he was twenty-five
Edward Derby was a prodigiously learned man and a fairly well known poet
and fantaisiste though his lack of contacts and responsibilities had slowed
down his literary growth by making his products derivative and over-bookish.
I was perhaps his closest friend--finding him an inexhaustible mine of
vital theoretical topics, while he relied on me for advice in whatever
matters he did not wish to refer to his parents. He remained single
- more through shyness, inertia, and parental protectiveness than through
inclination--and moved in society only to the slightest and most perfunctory
extent. When the war came both health and ingrained timidity kept
him at home. I went to Plattsburg for a commission but never got
So the years wore on. Edward's
mother died when he was thirty four and for months he was incapacitated
by some odd psychological malady. His father took him to Europe,
however, and he managed to pull out of his trouble without visible effects.
Afterward he seemed to feel a sort of grotesque exhilaration, as if of
partial escape from some unseen bondage. He began to mingle in the
more "advanced" college set despite his middle age, and was present at
some extremely wild doings--on one occasion paying heavy blackmail (which
he borrowed of me) to keep his presence at a certain affair from his father's
notice. Some of the whispered rumors about the wild Miskatonic set
were extremely singular. There was even talk of black magic and of
happenings utterly beyond credibility.
Edward was thirty-eight when
he met Asenath Waite. She was, I judge, about twenty-three at the
time; and was taking a special course in mediaeval metaphysics at Miskatonic.
The daughter of a friend of mine had met her before--in the Hall School
at Kingsport--and had been inclined to shun her because of her odd reputation.
She was dark, smallish, and very good-looking except for overprotuberant
eyes; but something in her expression alienated extremely sensitive people.
It was, however, largely her origin and conversation which caused average
folk to avoid her. She was one of the Innsmouth Waites, and dark
legends have clustered for generations about crumbling, half-deserted Innsmouth
people. There are tales
of horrible bargains about the year 1850, and of a strange element "not
quite human" in the ancient families of the run-down fishing port--tales
such as only old-time Yankees can devise and repeat with proper awesomeness.
Asenath's case was aggravated
by the fact that she was Ephraim Waite's daughter--the child of his old
age by an unknown wife who always went veiled. Ephraim lived in a
half-decayed mansion in Washington Street, Innsmouth, and those who had
seen the place (Arkham folk avoid going to Innsmouth whenever they can)
declared that the attic windows were always boarded, and that strange sounds
sometimes floated from within as evening drew on. The old man was
known to have been a prodigious magical student in his day, and legend
averred that he could raise or quell storms at sea according to his whim.
I had seen him once or twice in my youth as he came to Arkham to consult
forbidden tomes at the college library, and had hated his wolfish, saturnine
face with its tangle of iron-grey beard. He had died insane--under
rather queer circumstances--just before his daughter (by his will made
a nominal ward of the principal) entered the Hall School, but she had been
his morbidly avid pupil and looked fiendishly like him at times.
The friend whose daughter had
gone to school with Asenath Waite repeated many curious things when the
news of Edward's acquaintance with her began to spread about. Asenath,
it seemed, had posed as a kind of magician at school; and had really seemed
able to accomplish some highly baffling marvels. She professed to
be able to raise thunderstorms, though her seeming success was generally
laid to some uncanny knack at prediction. All animals markedly disliked
her, and she could make any dog howl by certain motions of her right hand.
There were times when she displayed snatches of knowledge and language
very singular--and very shocking--for a young girl; when she would frighten
her schoolmates with leers and winks of an inexplicable kind, and would
seem to extract an obscene zestful irony from her present situation.
Most unusual, though, were the
well-attested cases of her influence over other persons. She was,
beyond question, a genuine hypnotist. By gazing peculiarly at a fellow-student
she would often give the latter a distinct feeling of exchanged personality
- as if the subject were placed momentarily in the magician's body and
able to stare half across the room at her real body, whose eyes blazed
and protruded with an alien expression. Asenath often made wild claims
about the nature of consciousness and about its independence of the physical
frame--or at least from the life-processes of the physical frame.
Her crowning rage, however, was that she was not a man; since she believed
a male brain had certain unique and far-reaching cosmic powers. Given
a man's brain, she declared, she could not only equal but surpass her father
in mastery of unknown forces.
Edward met Asenath at a gathering
of "intelligentsia" held in one of the students' rooms, and could talk
of nothing else when he came to see me the next day. He had found
her full of the interests and erudition which engrossed him most, and was
in addition wildly taken with her appearance. I had never seen the
young woman, and recalled casual references only faintly, but I knew who
she was. It seemed rather regrettable that Derby should become so
upheaved about her; but I said nothing to discourage him, since infatuation
thrives on opposition. He was not, he said, mentioning her to his
In the next few weeks I heard
of very little but Asenath from young Derby. Others now remarked
Edward's autumnal gallantry, though they agreed that he did not look even
nearly his actual age, or seem at all inappropriate as an escort for his
bizarre divinity. He was only a trifle paunchy despite his indolence
and self-indulgence, and his face was absolutely without lines. Asenath,
on the other hand, had the premature crow's feet which come from the exercises
of an intense will.
About this time Edward brought
the girl to call on me, and I at once saw that his interest was by no means
one-sided. She eyed him continually with an almost predatory air,
and I perceived that their intimacy was beyond untangling. Soon afterward
I had a visit from old Mr. Derby, whom I had always admired and respected.
He had heard the tales of his son's new friendship, and had wormed the
whole truth out of "the boy." Edward meant to marry Asenath, and had even
been looking at houses in the suburbs. Knowing my usually great influence
with his son, the father wondered if I could help to break the ill-advised
affair off; but I regretfully expressed my doubts. This time it was
not a question of Edward's weak will but of the woman's strong will.
The perennial child had transferred his dependence from the parental image
to a new and stronger image, and nothing could be done about it.
The wedding was performed a month
later--by a justice of the peaoe, according to the bride's request.
Mr. Derby, at my advice, offered no opposition, and he, my wife,
my son, and I attended the brief ceremony--the other guests being wild
young people from the college. Asenath had bought the old Crowninshield
place in the country at the end of High Street, and they proposed to settle
there after a short trip to Innsmouth, whence three servants and some books
and household goods were to be brought. It was probably not so much
consideration for Edward and his father as a personal wish to be near the
college, its library, and its crowd of "sophisticates," that made Asenath
settle in Arkham instead of returning permanently home.
When Edward called on me after
the honeymoon I thought he looked slightly changed. Asenath had made
him get rid of the undeveloped moustache, but there was more than that.
He looked soberer and more thoughtful, his habitual pout of childish rebelliousness
being exchanged for a look almost of genuine sadness. I was puzzled
to decide whether I liked or disliked the change. Certainly he seemed
for the moment more normally adult than ever before. Perhaps the
marriage was a good thing--might not the change of dependence form
a start toward actual neutralisaton, leading ultimately to responsible
independence? He came alone, for Asenath was very busy. She had brought
a vast store of books and apparatus from Innsmouth (Derby shuddered as
he spoke the name), and was finishing the restoration of the Crowninshield
house and grounds.
Her home--in that town--was a
rather disgusting place, but certain objects in it had taught him some
surprising things. He was progressing fast in esoteric lore now that
he had Asenath's guidance. Some of the experiments she proposed were
very daring and radical--he did not feel at liberty to describe them -
but he had confidence in her powers and intentions. The three servants
were very queer--an incredibly aged couple who had been with old Ephraim
and referred occasionally to him and to Asenath's dead mother in a cryptic
way, and a swarthy young wench who had marked anomalies of feature and
seemed to exude a perpetual odour of fish.
For the next two years I saw
less and less of Derby. A fortnight would sometimes slip by without
the familiar three-and-two strokes at the front door; and when he did call
- or when, as happened with increasing infrequency, I called on him--he
was very little disposed to converse on vital topics. He had become
secretive about those occult studies which he used to describe and discuss
so minutely, and preferred not to talk of his wife. She had aged
tremendously since her marriage, till now--oddly enough--she seemed the
elder of the two. Her face held the most concentratedly determined
expression I had ever seen, and her whole aspect seemed to gain a vague,
unplaceable repulsiveness. My wife and son noticed it as much as
I, and we all ceased gradually to call on her--for which, Edward admitted
in one of his boyishly tactless moments, she was unmitigatedly grateful.
Occasionally the Derbys would go on long trips--ostensibly to Europe, though
Edward sometimes hinted at obscurer destinations.
It was after the first year that
people began talking about the change in Edward Derby. It was very
casual talk, for the change was purely psychological; but it brought up
some interesting points. Now and then, it seemed Edward was observed
to wear an expression and to do things wholly incompatible with his usual
flabby nature. For example--although in the old days he could not
drive a car, he was now seen occasionally to dash into or out of the old
Crowninshield driveway with Asenath's powerful Packard, handling it like
a master, and meeting traffic entanglements with a skill and determination
utterly alien to his accustomed nature. In such cases he seemed always
to be just back from some trip or just starting on one--what sort of trip,
no one could guess, although he mostly favoured the Innsmouth road.
Oddly, the metamorphosis did
not seem altogether pleasing. People said he looked too much like
his wife, or like old Ephraim Waite himself, in these moments--or perhaps
these moments seemed unnatural because they were so rare. Sometimes,
hours after starting out in this way, he would return listlessly sprawled
on the rear seat of the car while an obviously hired chauffeur or mechanic
drove. Also, his preponderant aspect on the streets during his decreasing
round of social contacts (including, I may say, his calls on me) was the
old-time indecisive one--its irresponsible childishness even more marked
than in the past. While Asenath's face aged, Edward--aside from those
exceptional occasions--actually relaxed into a kind of exaggerated immaturity,
save when a trace of the new sadness or understanding would flash across
it. It was really very puzzling. Meanwhile the Derbys almost
dropped out of the gay college circle--not through their own disgust, we
heard, but because something about their present studies shocked even the
most callous of the other decadents.
It was in the third year of the
marriage that Edward began to hint openly to me of a certain fear and dissatisfaction.
He would let fall remarks about things "going too far," and would talk
darkly about the need of "gaining his identity." At first I ignored such
references, but in time I began to question him guardedly, remembering
what my friend's daughter had said about Asenath's hypnotic influence over
the other girls at school--the cases where students had thought they were
in her body looking across the room at themselves. This questioning
seemed to make him at once alarmed and grateful, and once he mumbled something
about having a serious talk with me later. About this time old Mr.
Derby died, for which I was afterward very thankful. Edward was badly
upset, though by no means disorganized. He had seen astonishingly
little of his parent since his marriage, for Asenath had concentrated in
herself all his vital sense of family linkage. Some called him callous
in his loss--especially since those jaunty and confident moods in the car
began to increase. He now wished to move back into the old family
mansion, but Asenath insisted on staying in the Crowninshield house to
which she had become well adjusted.
Not long afterward my wife heard
a curious thing from a friend--one of the few who had not dropped the Derbys.
She had been out to the end of High Street to call on the couple, and had
seen a car shoot briskly out of the drive with Edward's oddly confident
and almost sneering face above the wheel. Ringing the bell, she had
been told by the repulsive wench that Asenath was also out; but had chanced
to look at the house in leaving. There, at one of Edward's library
windows, she had glimpsed a hastily withdrawn face - a face whose expression
of pain, defeat, and wistful hopelessness was poignant beyond description.
It was--incredibly enough in view of its usual domineering cast--Asenath's;
yet the caller had vowed that in that instant the sad, muddled eyes of
poor Edward were gazing out from it.
Edward's calls now grew a trifle
more frequent, and his hints occasionally became concrete. What he
said was not to be believed, even in centuried and legend-haunted Arkham;
but he threw out his dark lore with a sincerity and convincingness which
made one fear for his sanity. He talked about terrible meetings in
lonely places, of cyclopean ruins in the heart of the Maine woods beneath
which vast staircases led down to abysses of nighted secrets, of complex
angles that led through invisible walls to other regions of space and time,
and of hideous exchanges of personality that permitted explorations in
remote and forbidden places, on other worlds, and in different space-time
He would now and then back up
certain crazy hints by exhibiting objects which utterly nonplussed me -
elusively coloured and bafflingly textured objects like nothing ever heard
of on earth, whose insane curves and surfaces answered no conceivable purpose,
and followed no conceivable geometry. These things, he said, came
"from outside"; and his wife knew how to get them. Sometimes--but
always in frightened and ambiguous whisper--he would suggest things about
old Ephraim Waite, whom he had seen occasionally at the college library
in the old days. These adumbrations were never specific, but seemed
to revolve around some especially horrible doubt as to whether the old
wizard were really dead--in a spiritual as well as corporeal sense.
At times Derby would halt abruptly
in his revelations, and I wondered whether Asenath could possibly have
divined his speech at a distance and cut him off through some unknown sort
of telepathic mesmerism--some power of the kind she had displayed at school.
Certainly, she suspected that he told me things, for as the weeks passed
she tried to stop his visits with words and glances of a most inexplicable
potency. Only with difficulty could he get to see me, for although
he would pretend to be going somewhere else, some invisible force would
generally clog his motions or make him forget his destination for the time
being. His visits usually came when Asenath was way--"away in her
own body," as he once oddly put it. She always found out later -
the servants watched his goings and coming--but evidently she thought it
inexpedient to do anything drastic.
Derby had been married more than
three years on that August day when I got that telegram from Maine.
I had not seen him for two months, but had heard he was away "on business."
Asenath was supposed to be with him, though watchful gossip declared there
was someone upstairs in the house behind the doubly curtained windows.
They had watched the purchases made by the servants. And now the
town marshal of Chesuncook had wired of the draggled madman who stumbled
out of the woods with delirious ravings and screamed to me for protection.
It was Edward--and he had been just able to recall his own name and address.
Chesuncook is close to the wildest,
deepest, and least explored forest belt in Maine, and it took a whole day
of feverish jolting through fantastic and forbidding scenery to get there
in a car. I found Derby in a cell at the town farm, vacillating between
frenzy and apathy. He knew me at once, and began pouring out a meaningless,
half-incoherent torrent of words in my direction.
"Dan, for God's sake! The pit
of the shoggoths! Down the six thousand steps... the abomination
of abominations... I never would let her take me, and then I found
myself there--Ia! Shub-Niggurath!--The shape rose up from the altar, and
there were five hundred that howled--The Hooded Thing bleated 'Kamog! Kamog!'--that
was old Ephraim's secret name in the coven--I was there, where she promised
she wouldn't take me--A minute before I was locked in the library, and
then I was there where she had gone with my body - in the place of utter
blasphemy, the unholy pit where the black realm begins and the watcher
guards the gate--I saw a shoggoth--it changed shape - I can't stand it--I'll
kill her if she ever sends me there again--I'll kill that entity--her,
him, it--I'll kill it! I'll kill it with my own hands!"
It took me an hour to quiet him,
but he subsided at last. The next day I got him decent clothes in
the village, and set out with him for Arkham. His fury of hysteria
was spent, and he was inclined to be silent, though he began muttering
darkly to himself when the car passed through Augusta--as if the sight
of a city aroused unpleasant memories. It was clear that he did not
wish to go home; and considering the fantastic delusions he seemed to have
about his wife--delusions undoubtedly springing from some actual hypnotic
ordeal to which he had been subjected--I thought it would be better if
he did not. I would, I resolved, put him up myself for a time; no
matter what unpleasantness it would make with Asenath. Later I would
help him get a divorce, for most assuredly there were mental factors which
made this marriage suicidal for him. When we struck open country
again Derby's muttering faded away, and I let him nod and drowse on the
seat beside me as I drove.
During our sunset dash through
Portland the muttering commenced again, more distinctly than before, and
as I listened I caught a stream of utterly insane drivel about Asenath.
The extent to which she had preyed on Edward's nerves was plain, for he
had woven a whole set of hallucinations around her. His present predicament,
he mumbled furtively, was only one of a long series. She was getting
hold of him, and he knew that some day she would never let go. Even
now she probably let him go only when she had to, because she couldn't
hold on long at a time. She constantly took his body and went to
nameless places for nameless rites, leaving him in her body and locking
him upstairs--but sometimes she couldn't hold on, and he would find himself
suddenly in his own body again in some far-off, horrible, and perhaps unknown
place. Sometimes she'd get hold of him again and
sometimes she couldn't.
Often he was left stranded somewhere as I had found him--time and again
he had to find his way home from frightful distances, getting somebody
to drive the car after he found it.
The worst thing was that she
was holding on to him longer and longer at a time. She wanted to
be a man--to be fully human--that was why she got hold of him. She
had sensed the mixture of fine-wrought brain and weak will in him.
Some day she would crowd him out and disappear with his body--disappear
to become a great magician like her father and leave him marooned in that
female shell that wasn't even quite human. Yes, he knew about the
Innsmouth blood now. There had been traffick with things from the
sea--it was horrible... And old Ephraim--he had known the secret,
and when he grew old did a hideous thing to keep alive--he wanted to live
forever--Asenath would succeed--one successful demonstration had taken
As Derby muttered on I turned
to look at him closely, verifying the impression of change which an earlier
scrutiny had given me. Paradoxically, he seemed in better shape than
usual--harder, more normally developed, and without the trace of sickly
flabbiness caused by his indolent habits. It was as if he had been
really active and properly exercised for the first time in his coddled
life, and I judged that Asenath's force must have pushed him into unwonted
channels of motion and alertness. But just now his mind was in a
pitiable state; for he was mumbling wild extravagances about his wife,
about black magic, about old Ephraim, and about some revelation which would
convince even me. He repeated names which I recognized from bygone
browsings in forbidden volumes, and at times made me shudder with a certain
thread of mythological consistency--or convincing coherence--which ran
through his maundering. Again and again he would pause, as if to
gather courage for some final and terrible disclosure.
"Dan, Dan, don't you remember
him--wild eyes and the unkempt beard that never turned white? He
glared at me once, and I never forgot it. Now she glares that way.
I know why! He found it in the Necronomicon--the formula.
I don't dare tell you the page yet, but when I do you can read and understand.
Then you will know what has engulfed me. On, on, on, on--body to
body to body--he means never to die. The life-glow--he knows how
to break the link... it can flicker on a while even when the body
is dead. I'll give you hints and maybe you'll guess. Listen,
Dan--do you know why my wife always takes such pains with that silly backhand
writing? Have you ever seen a manuscript of old Ephraim's?
Do you want to know why I shivered when I saw some hasty notes Asenath
had jotted down?
"Asenath--is there such a
person? Why did they half-think there was poison in old Ephraim's
stomach? Why do the Gilmans whisper about the way he shrieked--like
a frightened child--when he went mad and Asenath locked him up in the padded
attic room where--the other--had been? Was it old Ephraim's soul
that was locked in? Who locked in whom? Why had he been
looking for months for someone with a fine mind and a weak will? - Why
did he curse that his daughter wasn't a son? Tell me? Daniel
Upton--what devilish exchange was perpetrated in the house of horror
where that blasphemous monster had his trusting, weak-willed half-human
child at his mercy? Didn't he make it permanent--as she'll do
in the end with me? Tell me why that thing that calls itself Asenath writes
differently off guard, so that you can't tell its script from -
Then the thing happened.
Derby's voice was rising to a thin treble scream as he raved, when suddenly
it was shut off with an almost mechanical click. I thought of those
other occasions at my home when his confidences had abruptly ceased--when
I had half-fancied that some obscure telepathic wave of Asenath's mental
force was intervening to keep him silent. This, though, was something
altogether different--and, I felt, infinitely more horrible. The
face beside me was twisted almost unrecognizably for a moment, while through
the whole body there passed a shivering motion--as if all the bones, organs,
muscles, nerves, and glands were adjusting themselves to a radically different
posture, set of stresses, and general personality.
Just where the supreme horror
lay, I could not for my life tell; yet there swept over me such a swamping
wave of sickness and repulsion--such a freezing, petrifying sense of utter
alienage and abnormality--that my grasp of the wheel grew feeble and uncertain.
The figure beside me seemed less like a lifelong friend than like some
monstrous intrusion from outer space--some damnable, utterly accursed focus
of unknown and malign cosmic forces.
I had faltered only a moment,
but before another moment was over my companion had seized the wheel and
forced me to change places with him. The dusk was now very thick,
and the lights of Portland far behind, so I could not see much of his face.
The blaze of his eyes, though, was phenomenal; and I knew that he must
now be in that queerly energized state--so unlike his usual self--which
so many people had noticed. It seemed odd and incredible that listless
Edward Derby--he who could never assert himself, and who had never learned
to drive--should be ordering me about and taking the wheel of my own car,
yet that was precisely what had happened. He did not speak for some
time, and in my inexplicable horror I was glad he did not.
In the lights of Biddeford and
Saco I saw his firmly set mouth, and shivered at the blaze of his eyes.
The people were right--he did look damnably like his wife and like old
Ephraim when in these moods. I did not wonder that the moods were
disliked--there was certainly something unnatural in them, and I felt the
sinister element all the more because of the wild ravings I had been hearing.
This man, for all my lifelong knowledge of Edward Pickman Derby, was a
stranger--an intrusion of some sort from the black abyss.
He did not speak until we were
on a dark stretch of road, and when he did his voice seemed utterly unfamiliar.
It was deeper, firmer, and more decisive than I had ever known it to be;
while its accent and pronunciation were altogether changed--though vaguely,
remotely, and rather disturbingly recalling something I could not quite
place. There was, I thought, a trace of very profound and very genuine
irony in the timbre--not the flashy, meaninglessly jaunty pseudo-irony
of the callow "sophisticate," which Derby had habitually affected, but
something grim, basic, pervasive, and potentially evil. I marvelled
at the self-possession so soon following the spell of panic-struck muttering.
"I hope you'll forget my attack
back there, Upton," he was saying. "You know what my nerves are,
and I guess you can excuse such things. I'm enormously grateful,
of course, for this lift home.
"And you must forget, too, any
crazy things I may have been saying about my wife--and about things in
general. That's what comes from overstudy in a field like mine.
My philosophy is full of bizarre concepts, and when the mind gets worn
out it cooks up all sorts of imaginary concrete applications. I shall
take a rest from now on--you probably won't see me for some time, and you
needn't blame Asenath for it.
"This trip was a bit queer, but
it's really very simple. There are certain Indian relics in the north
wood--standing stones, and all that--which mean a good deal in folklore,
and Asenath and I are following that stuff up. It was a hard search,
so I seem to have gone off my head. I must send somebody for the
car when I get home. A month's relaxation will put me on my feet."
I do not recall just what my
own part of the conversation was, for the baffling alienage of my seatmate
filled all my consciousness. With every moment my feeling of elusive
cosmic horror increased, till at length I was in a virtual delirium of
longing for the end of the drive. Derby did not offer to relinquish
the wheel, and I was glad of the speed with which Portsmouth and Newburyport
At the junction where the main
highway runs inland and avoids Innsmouth, I was half-afraid my driver would
take the bleak shore road that goes through that damnable place.
He did not, however, but darted rapidly past Rowley and Ipswich toward
our destination. We reached Arkham before midnight, and found the
lights still on at the old Crowninshield house. Derby left the car
with a hasty repetition of his thanks, and I drove home alone with a curious
feeling of relief. It had been a terrible drive--all the more terrible
because I could not quite tell why--and I did not regret Derby's forecast
of a long absence from my company.
The next two months were full
of rumours. People spoke of seeing Derby more and more in his new
energized state, and Asenath was scarcely ever in to her callers.
I had only one visit from Edward, when he called briefly in Asenath's car
- duly reclaimed from wherever he had left it in Maine--to get some books
he had lent me. He was in his new state, and paused only long enough
for some evasively polite remarks. It was plain that he had nothing
to discuss with me when in this condition--and I noticed that he did not
even trouble to give the old three-and-two signal when ringing the doorbell.
As on that evening in the car, I felt a faint, infinitely deep horror which
I could not explain; so that his swift departure was a prodigious relief.
In mid-September Derby was away
for a week, and some of the decadent college set talked knowingly of the
matter--hinting at a meeting with a notorious cult-leader, lately expelled
from England, who had established headquarters in New York. For my
part I could not get that strange ride from Maine out of my head.
The transformation I had witnessed had affected me profoundly, and I caught
myself again and again trying to account for the thing--and for the extreme
horror it had inspired in me.
But the oddest rumours were those
about the sobbing in the old Crowninshield house. The voice seemed
to be a woman's, and some of the younger people thought it sounded like
Asenath's. It was heard only at rare intervals, and would sometimes
be choked off as if by force. There was talk of an investigation,
but this was dispelled one day when Asenath appeared in the streets and
chatted in a sprightly way with a large number of acquaintances--apologizing
for her recent absence and speaking incidentally about the nervous breakdown
and hysteria of a guest from Boston. The guest was never seen, but
Asenath's appearance left nothing to be said. And then someone complicated
matters by whispering that the sobs had once or twice been in a man's voice.
One evening in mid-October, I
heard the familiar three-and-two ring at the front door. Answering
it myself, I found Edward on the steps, and saw in a moment that his personality
was the old one which I had not encountered since the day of his ravings
on that terrible ride from Chesuncook. His face was twitching with
a mixture of odd emotions in which fear and triumph seemed to share dominion,
and he looked furtively over his shoulder as I closed the door behind him.
Following me clumsily to the
study, he asked for some whiskey to steady his nerves. I forbore
to question him, but waited till he felt like beginning whatever he wanted
to say. At length he ventured some information in a choking voice.
"Asenath has gone, Dan.
We had a long talk last night while the servants were out, and I made her
promise to stop preying on me. Of course I had certain--certain occult
defences I never told you about. She had to give in, but got frightfully
angry. Just packed up and started for New York--walked right out
to catch the eight-twenty in to Boston. I suppose people will talk,
but I can't help that. You needn't mention that there was any trouble--just
say she's gone on a long research trip.
"She's probably going to stay
with one of her horrible groups of devotees. I hope she'll go west
and get a divorce--anyhow, I've made her promise to keep away and let me
alone. It was horrible, Dan--she was stealing my body--crowding me
out--making a prisoner of me. I lay low and pretended to let her
do it, but I had to be on the watch. I could plan if I was careful,
for she can't read my mind literally, or in detail. All she could
read of my planning was a sort of general mood of rebellion--and she always
thought I was helpless. Never thought I could get the best of her...
but I had a spell or two that worked."
Derby looked over his shoulder
and took some more whiskey.
"I paid off those damned servants
this morning when they got back. They were ugly about it, and asked
questions, but they went. They're her kin--Innsmouth people--and
were hand and glove with her. I hope they'll let me alone--I didn't
like the way they laughed when they walked away. I must get as many
of Dad's old servants again as I can. I'll move back home now.
"I suppose you think I'm crazy,
Dan--but Arkham history ought to hint at things that back up what I've
told you--and what I'm going to tell you. You've seen one of the
changes, too--in your car after I told you about Asenath that day coming
home from Maine. That was when she got me--drove me out of my body.
The last thing I remember was when I was all worked up trying to tell you
that she-devil is. Then she got me, and in a flash I was back
at the house--in the library where those damned servants had me locked
up--and in that cursed fiend's body that isn't even human... You
know it was she you must have ridden home with--that preying wolf in my
body--You ought to have known the difference!"
I shuddered as Derby paused.
Surely, I had known the difference--yet could I accept an explanation as
insane as this? But my distracted caller was growing even wilder.
"I had to save myself--I had
to, Dan! She'd have got me for good at Hallowmass--they hold a Sabbat up
there beyond Chesuncook, and the sacrifice would have clinched things.
She'd have got me for good--she'd have been I, and I'd have been she -
forever--too late--My body'd have been hers for good--She'd have been a
man, and fully human, just as she wanted to be--I suppose she'd have put
me out of the way--killed her own ex-body with me in it, damn her,
as she did before--just as she, he, or it did before--" Edward's face
was now atrociously distorted, and he bent it uncomfortably close to mine
as his voice fell to a whisper.
"You must know what I hinted
in the car--that she isn't Asenath at all, but really old Ephraim himself.
I suspected it a year and a half ago, and I know it now. Her handwriting
shows it when she goes off guard--sometimes she jots down a note in writing
that's just like her father's manuscripts, stroke for stroke--and sometimes
she says things that nobody but an old man like Ephraim could say.
He changed forms with her when he felt death coming--she was the only one
he could find with the right kind of brain and a weak enough will - he
got her body permanently, just as she almost got mine, and then poisoned
the old body he'd put her into. Haven't you seen old Ephraim's soul
glaring out of that she-devil's eyes dozens of times--and out of mine when
she has control of my body?"
The whisperer was panting, and
paused for breath. I said nothing; and when he resumed his voice
was nearer normal. This, I reflected, was a case for the asylum,
but I would not be the one to send him there. Perhaps time and freedom
from Asenath would do its work. I could see that he would never wish
to dabble in morbid occultism again.
"I'll tell you more later--I
must have a long rest now. I'll tell you something of the forbidden
horrors she led me into--something of the age-old horrors that even now
are festering in out-of-the-way corners with a few monstrous priests to
keep them alive. Some people know things about the universe that
nobody ought to know, and can do things that nobody ought to be able to
do. I've been in it up to my neck, but that's the end. Today
I'd burn that damned Necronomicon and all the rest if I were librarian
"But she can't get me now.
I must get out of that accursed house as soon as I can, and settle down
at home. You'll help me, I know, if I need help. Those devilish
servants, you know--and if people should get too inquisitive about Asenath.
You see, I can't give them her address... Then there are certain
groups of searchers--certain cults, you know--that might misunderstand
our breaking up... some of them have damnably curious ideas and methods.
I know you'll stand by me if anything happens--even if I have to tell you
a lot that will shock you..."
I had Edward stay and sleep in
one of the guest-chambers that night, and in the morning he seemed calmer.
We discussed certain possible arrangements for his moving back into the
Derby mansion, and I hoped he would lose no time in making the change.
He did not call the next evening, but I saw him frequently during the ensuing
weeks. We talked as little as possible about strange and unpleasant
things, but discussed the renovation of the old Derby house, and the travels
which Edward promised to take with my son and me the following summer.
Of Asenath we said almost nothing,
for I saw that the subject was a peculiarly disturbing one. Gossip,
of course, was rife; but that was no novelty in connection with the strange
menage at the old Crowninshield house. One thing I did not like was
what Derby's banker let fall in an over-expansive mood at the Miskatonic
Club--about the cheques Edward was sending regularly to a Moses and Abigail
Sargent and a Eunice Babson in Innsmouth. That looked as if those
evil-faced servants were extorting some kind of tribute from him--yet he
had not mentioned the matter to me.
I wished that the summer--and
my son's Harvard vacation--would come, so that we could get Edward to Europe.
He was not, I soon saw, mending as rapidly as I had hoped he would; for
there was something a bit hysterical in his occasional exhilaration, while
his moods of fright and depression were altogether too frequent.
The old Derby house was ready by December, yet Edward constantly put off
moving. Though he hated and seemed to fear the Crowninshield place,
he was at the same time queerly enslaved by it. He could not seem
to begin dismantling things, and invented every kind of excuse to postpone
action. When I pointed this out to him he appeared unaccountably
frightened. His father's old butler--who was there with other reacquired
servants--told me one day that Edward's occasional prowlings about the
house, and especially down cellar, looked odd and
unwholesome to him. I
wondered if Asenath had been writing disturbing letters, but the butler
said there was no mail which could have come from her.
It was about Christmas that Derby
broke down one evening while calling on me. I was steering the conversation
toward next summer's travels when he suddenly shrieked and leaped up from
his chair with a look of shocking, uncontrollable fright--a cosmic panic
and loathing such as only the nether gulfs of nightmare could bring to
any sane mind.
"My brain! My brain!
God, Dan--it's tugging--from beyond--knocking--clawing--that she-devil
- even now--Ephraim--Kamog! Kamog!--The pit of the shoggoths - Ia!
Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young!...
"The flame--the flame--beyond
body, beyond life--in the earth--oh, God!"
I pulled him back to his chair
and poured some wine down his throat as his frenzy sank to a dull apathy.
He did not resist, but kept his lips moving as if talking to himself.
Presently I realized that he was trying to talk to me, and bent my ear
to his mouth to catch the feeble words.
"Again, again--she's trying -
I might have known--nothing can stop that force; not distance nor magic,
nor death--it comes and comes, mostly in the night--I can't leave--it's
horrible--oh, God, Dan, if you only knew as I do just how horrible it
When he had slumped down into
a stupor I propped him with pillows and let normal sleep overtake him.
I did not call a doctor, for I knew what would be said of his sanity, and
wished to give nature a chance if I possibly could. He waked at midnight,
and I put him to bed upstairs, but he was gone by morning. He had
let himself quietly out of the house--and his butler, when called on the
wire, said he was at home pacing about the library.
Edward went to pieces rapidly
after that. He did not call again, but I went daily to see him.
He would always be sitting in his library, staring at nothing and having
an air of abnormal listening. Sometimes he talked rationally,
but always on trivial topics. Any mention of his trouble, of future
plans, or of Asenath would send him into a frenzy. His butler said
he had frightful seizures at night, during which he might eventually do
I had a long talk with his doctor,
banker, and lawyer, and finally took the physician with two specialist
colleagues to visit him. The spasms that resulted from the first
questions were violent and pitiable--and that evening a closed car took
his poor struggling body to the Arkham Sanitarium. I was made his
guardian and called on him twice weekly--almost weeping to hear his wild
shrieks, awesome whispers, and dreadful, droning repetitions of such phrases
as "I had to do it--I had to do it--it'll get me--it'll get me--down there--down
there in the dark--Mother! Mother! Dan! Save me--save
How much hope of recovery there
was, no one could say, but I tried my best to be optimistic. Edward
must have a home if he emerged, so I transferred his servants to the Derby
mansion, which would surely be his sane choice. What to do about
the Crowninshield place with its complex arrangements and collections of
utterly inexplicable objects I could not decide, so left it momentarily
untouched--telling the Derby household to go over and dust the chief rooms
once a week, and ordering the furnace man to have a fire on those days.
The final nightmare came before
Candlemas--heralded, in cruel irony, by a false gleam of hope. One
morning late in January the sanitarium telephoned to report that Edward's
reason had suddenly come back. His continuous memory, they said,
was badly impaired; but sanity itself was certain. Of course he must
remain some time for observation, but there could be little doubt of the
outcome. All going well, he would surely be free in a week.
I hastened over in a flood of
delight, but stood bewildered when a nurse took me to Edward's room.
The patient rose to greet me, extending his hand with a polite smile; but
I saw in an instant that he bore the strangely energized personality which
had seemed so foreign to his own nature--the competent personality I had
found so vaguely horrible, and which Edward himself had once vowed was
the intruding soul of his wife. There was the same blazing vision
- so like Asenath's and old Ephraim's--and the same firm mouth; and when
he spoke I could sense the same grim, pervasive irony in his voice--the
deep irony so redolent of potential evil. This was the person who
had driven my car through the night five months before--the person I had
not seen since that brief call when he had forgotten the oldtime doorbell
signal and stirred such nebulous fears in me--and now he filled me with
the same dim feeling of blasphemous alienage and ineffable cosmic hideousness.
He spoke affably of arrangements
for release--and there was nothing for me to do but assent, despite some
remarkable gaps in his recent memories. Yet I felt that something
was terribly, inexplicably wrong and abnormal. There were horrors
in this thing that I could not reach. This was a sane person--but
was it indeed the Edward Derby I had known? If not, who or what was
it--and where was Edward? Ought it to be free or confined--or ought
it to be extirpated from the face of the earth? There was a hint
of the abysmally sardonic in everything the creature said--the Asenath-like
eyes lent a special and baffling mockery to certain words about the early
liberty earned by an especially close confinement! I must
have behaved very awkwardly, and was glad to beat a retreat.
All that day and the next I racked
my brain over the problem. What had happened? What sort of mind looked
out through those alien eyes in Edward's face? I could think of nothing
but this dimly terrible enigma, and gave up all efforts to perform my usual
work. The second morning the hospital called up to say that the recovered
patient was unchanged, and by evening I was close to a nervous collapse-a
state I admit, though others will vow it coloured my subsequent vision.
I have nothing to say on this point except that no madness of mine could
account for all the evidence.
It was in the night--after that
second evening--that stark, utter horror burst over me and weighted my
spirit with a black, clutching panic from which it can never shake free.
It began with a telephone call just before midnight. I was the only
one up, and sleepily took down the receiver in the library. No one
seemed to be on the wire, and I was about to hang up and go to bed when
my ear caught a very faint suspicion of sound at the other end. Was
someone trying under great difficulties to talk? As I listened I
thought I heard a sort of half-liquid bubbling noise--"glub . . .
glub . . . glub"--which had an odd suggestion of inarticulate, unintelligible
word and syllable divisions. I called "Who is it?" But the
only answer was "glub . . . glub . . . glub-glub." I could only assume
that the noise was mechanical; but fancying that it might be a case of
a broken instrument able to receive but not to send, I added, "I can't
hear you. Better hang up and try Information." Immediately
I heard the receiver go on the hook at the other end.
This, I say, was just about midnight.
When the call was traced afterward it was found to come from the old Crowninshield
house, though it was fully half a week from the housemaid's day to be there.
I shall only hint what was found at that house--the upheaval in a remote
cellar storeroom, the tracks, the dirt, the hastily rifled wardrobe, the
baffling marks on the telephone, the clumsily used stationery, and the
detestable stench lingering over everything. The police, poor fools,
have their smug little theories, and are still searching for those sinister
discharged servants--who have dropped out of sight amidst the present furore.
They speak of a ghoulish revenge for things that were done, and say I was
included because I was Edward's best friend and adviser.
Idiots! Do they fancy those
brutish clowns could have forged that handwriting? Do they fancy they could
have brought what later came? Are they blind to the changes in that body
that was Edward's? As for me, I now believe all that Edward Derby
ever told me. There are horrors beyond life's edge that we do
not suspect, and once in a while man's evil prying calls them just within
our range. Ephraim--Asenath--that devil called them in, and they
engulfed Edward as they are engulfing me.
Can I be sure that I am safe?
Those powers survive the life of the physical form. The next day
- in the afternoon, when I pulled out of my prostration and was able to
walk and talk coherently--I went to the madhouse and shot him dead for
Edward's and the world's sake, but can I be sure till he is cremated? They
are keeping the body for some silly autopsies by different doctors--but
I say he must be cremated. He must be cremated--he who was not
Edward Derby when I shot him. I shall go mad if he is not, for
I may be the next. But my will is not weak--and I shall not let it
be undermined by the terrors I know are seething around it. One life--Ephraim,
Asenath, and Edward--who now? I will not be driven out of
my body... I will not change souls with that bullet-ridden lich in
But let me try to tell coherently
of that final horror. I will not speak of what the police persistently
ignored--the tales of that dwarfed, grotesque, malodorous thing met by
at least three wayfarers in High Street just before two o'clock, and the
nature of the single footprints in certain places. I will say only
that just about two the doorbell and knocker waked me--doorbell and knocker
both, plied alternately and uncertainly in a kind of weak desperation,
each trying to keep Edward's old signal of three-and-two strokes.
Roused from sound sleep, my mind
leaped into a turmoil. Derby at the door--and remembering the old
code! That new personality had not remembered it... was Edward
suddenly back in his rightful state? Why was he here in such evident
stress and haste? Had he been released ahead of time, or had he escaped?
Perhaps, I thought as I flung on a robe and bounded downstairs, his return
to his own self had brought raving and violence, revoking his discharge
and driving him to a desperate dash for freedom. Whatever had happened,
he was good old Edward again, and I would help him!
When I opened the door into the
elm-arched blackness a gust of insufferably foetid wind almost flung me
prostrate. I choked in nausea, and for a second scarcely saw the
dwarfed, humped figure on the steps. The summons had been Edward's,
but who was this foul, stunted parody? Where had Edward had time
to go? His ring had sounded only a second before the door opened.
The caller had on one of Edward's
overcoats--its bottom almost touching the ground, and its sleeves rolled
back yet still covering the hands. On the head was a slouch hat pulled
low, while a black silk muffler concealed the face. As I stepped
unsteadily forward, the figure made a semi-liquid sound like that I had
heard over the telephone--"glub . . . glub . . ."--and thrust at me a large,
closely written paper impaled on the end of a long pencil. Still
reeling from the morbid and unaccountable foetor, I seized the paper and
tried to read it in the light from the doorway.
Beyond question, it was in Edward's
script. But why had he written when he was close enough to ring -
and why was the script so awkward, coarse and shaky? I could make out nothing
in the dim half light, so edged back into the hall, the dwarf figure clumping
mechanically after but pausing on the inner door's threshold. The
odour of this singular messenger was really appalling, and I hoped (not
in vain, thank God!) that my wife would not wake and confront it.
Then, as I read the paper, I
felt my knees give under me and my vision go black. I was lying on
the floor when I came to, that accursed sheet still clutched in my fear-rigid
hand. This is what it said.
"Dan--go to the sanitarium and
kill it. Exterminate it. It isn't Edward Derby any more.
She got me--it's Asenath--and she has been dead three months and a half.
I lied when I said she had gone away. I killed her. I had to.
It was sudden, but we were alone and I was in my right body. I saw
a candlestick and smashed her head in. She would have got me for
good at Hallowmass.
"I buried her in the farther
cellar storeroom under some old boxes and cleaned up all the traces.
The servants suspected next morning, but they have such secrets that they
dare not tell the police. I sent them off, but God knows what they
- and others of the cult--will do.
"I thought for a while I was
all right, and then I felt the tugging at my brain. I knew what it
was--I ought to have remembered. A soul like hers--or Ephraim's -
is half detached, and keeps right on after death as long as the body lasts.
She was getting me--making me change bodies with her-seizing my body
and putting me in that corpse of hers buried in the cellar.
"I knew what was coming--that's
why I snapped and had to go to the asylum. Then it came--I found
myself choked in the dark--in Asenath's rotting carcass down there in the
cellar under the boxes where I put it. And I knew she must be in
my body at the sanitarium--permanently, for it was after Hallowmass, and
the sacrifice would work even without her being there--sane, and ready
for release as a menace to the world. I was desperate, and in
spite of everything I clawed my way out.
"I'm too far gone to talk--I
couldn't manage to telephone--but I can still write. I'll get fixed
up somehow and bring this last word and warning. Kill that fiend
if you value the peace and comfort of the world. See that it is
cremated. If you don't, it will live on and on, body to body
forever, and I can't tell you what it will do. Keep clear of black
magic, Dan, it's the devil's business. Goodbye--you've been a great
friend. Tell the police whatever they'll believe--and I'm damnably
sorry to drag all this on you. I'll be at peace before long--this
thing won't hold together much more. Hope you can read this. And
kill that thing--kill it.
It was only afterward that
I read the last half of this paper, for I had fainted at the end of the
third paragraph. I fainted again when I saw and smelled what cluttered
up the threshold where the warm air had struck it. The messenger
would not move or have consciousness any more.
The butler, tougher-fibred than
I, did not faint at what met him in the hall in the morning. Instead,
he telephoned the police. When they came I had been taken upstairs
to bed, but the--other mass--lay where it had collapsed in the night.
The men put handkerchiefs to their noses.
What they finally found inside
Edward's oddly-assorted clothes was mostly liquescent horror. There
were bones, to--and a crushed-in skull. Some dental work positively
identified the skull as Asenath's.