were sitting on a dilapidated seventeenth-century tomb in the late afternoon
of an autumn day at the old burying ground in Arkham, and speculating about
unnamable. Looking toward the
giant willow in the cemetery, whose trunk had nearly engulfed an ancient,
illegible slab, I had made a fantastic remark about the
spectral and unmentionable nourishment
which the colossal roots must be sucking from that hoary, charnel earth;
when my friend chided me for such nonsense and
told me that since no interments
had occurred there for over a century, nothing could possibly exist to
nourish the tree in other than an ordinary manner. Besides, he added, my
constant talk about "unnamable" and "unmentionable" things was a very puerile
device, quite in keeping with my lowly standing as an author. I was too
fond of ending my stories with
sights or sounds which paralyzed my heroes' faculties and left them without
courage, words, or associations to tell what they had experienced. We know
things, he said, only through our five senses or our intuitions; wherefore
it is quite impossible to refer to any object or spectacle which cannot
be clearly depicted by the solid definitions of fact or the correct doctrines
of theology - preferably those of the Congregationalist, with whatever
modifications tradition and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may supply.
this friend, Joel Manton, I had often languidly disputed. He was principal
of the East High School, born and bred in Boston and sharing New England's
self-satisfied deafness to the
delicate overtones of life. It was his view that only our normal, objective
experiences possess any esthetic significance, and that it is the
province of the artist not so
much to rouse strong emotion by action, ecstasy, and astonishment, as to
maintain a placid interest and appreciation by accurate,
detailed transcripts of everyday
affairs. Especially did he object to my preoccupation with the mystical
and the unexplained; for although believing in the supernatural much more
fully than I, he would not admit that it is sufficiently commonplace for
literary treatment. That a mind can find its greatest pleasure in escapes
from the daily treadmill, and in original and dramatic recombinations of
images usually thrown by habit and fatigue into the hackneyed patterns
of actual existence, was something virtually incredible to his clear, practical,
and logical intellect. With him all things and feelings had fixed dimensions,
properties, causes, and effects; and although he vaguely knew that the
mind sometimes holds visions and sensations of far less geometrical, classifiable,
and workable nature, he believed himself justified in drawing an arbitrary
line and ruling out of court all that cannot be experienced and understood
by the average citizen. Besides, he was almost sure that nothing can be
really "unnamable." It didn't sound sensible to him.
I well realized the futility of imaginative and metaphysical arguments
against the complacency of an orthodox sun-dweller, something in the scene
afternoon colloquy moved me
to more than usual contentiousness. The crumbling slate slabs, the patriarchal
trees, and the centuried gambrel roofs of the
witch-haunted old town that
stretched around, all combined to rouse my spirit in defense of my work;
and I was soon carrying my thrusts into the enemy's own
country. It was not, indeed,
difficult to begin a counter-attack, for I knew that Joel Manton actually
half clung to many old-wives' superstitions which sophisticated
people had long outgrown; beliefs
in the appearance of dying persons at distant places, and in the impressions
left by old faces on the windows through which they
had gazed all their lives. To
credit these whisperings of rural grandmothers, I now insisted, argued
a faith in the existence of spectral substances on the earth apart
from and subsequent to their
material counterparts. It argued a capability of believing in phenomena
beyond all normal notions; for if a dead man can transmit his visible or
tangible image half across the world, or down the stretch of the centuries,
how can it be absurd to suppose that deserted houses are full of queer
sentient things, or that old graveyards teem with the terrible, unbodied
intelligence of generations? And since spirit, in order to cause all the
manifestations attributed to it, cannot be limited by any of the laws of
matter, why is it extravagant to imagine psychically living dead things
in shapes - or absences of shapes - which must for human spectators be
utterly and appallingly "unnamable"? "Common sense" in reflecting on these
subjects, I assured my friend with some warmth, is merely a stupid absence
of imagination and mental flexibility.
had now approached, but neither of us felt any wish to cease speaking.
Manton seemed unimpressed by my arguments, and eager to refute them, having
that confidence in his own opinions which had doubtless caused his success
as a teacher; whilst I was too sure of my ground to fear defeat. The dusk
fell, and lights
faintly gleamed in some of the
distant windows, but we did not move. Our seat on the tomb was very comfortable,
and I knew that my prosaic friend would not mind
the cavernous rift in the ancient,
root-disturbed brickwork close behind us, or the utter blackness of the
spot brought by the intervention of a tottering, deserted
seventeenth-century house between
us and the nearest lighted road. There in the dark, upon that riven tomb
by the deserted house, we talked on about the
"unnamable" and after my friend
had finished his scoffing I told him of the awful evidence behind the story
at which he had scoffed the most.
had been called The Attic Window, and appeared in the January, 1922, issue
of Whispers. In a good many places, especially the South and the Pacific
coast, they took the magazines
off the stands at the complaints of silly milk-sops; but New England didn't
get the thrill and merely shrugged its shoulders at my
extravagance. The thing, it
was averred, was biologically impossible to start with; merely another
of those crazy country mutterings which Cotton Mather had been
gullible enough to dump into
his chaotic Magnalia Christi Americana, and so poorly authenticated that
even he had not ventured to name the locality where the horror occurred.
And as to the way I amplified the bare jotting of the old mystic - that
was quite impossible, and characteristic of a flighty and notional scribbler!
Mather had indeed told of the thing as being born, but nobody but a cheap
sensationalist would think of having it grow up, look into people's windows
at night, and be hidden in the attic of a house, in flesh and in spirit,
till someone saw it at the window centuries later and couldn't describe
what it was that turned his hair gray. All this was flagrant trashiness,
and my friend Manton was not slow to insist on that fact. Then I told him
what I had found in an old diary kept between 1706 and 1723, unearthed
among family papers not a mile from where we were sitting; that, and the
certain reality of the scars on my ancestor's chest and back which the
diary described. I told him, too, of the fears of others in that region,
and how they were whispered down for generations; and how no mythical madness
came to the boy who in 1793 entered an abandoned house to examine certain
traces suspected to be there.
been an eldritch thing - no wonder sensitive students shudder at the Puritan
age in Massachusetts. So little is known of what went on beneath the surface
- so little, yet such a ghastly festering as it bubbles up putrescently
in occasional ghoulish glimpses. The witchcraft terror is a horrible ray
of light on what was stewing in men's crushed brains, but even that is
a trifle. There was no beauty; no freedom - we can see that from the architectural
and household remains, and the poisonous sermons of the cramped divines.
And inside that rusted iron straitjacket lurked gibbering hideousness,
perversion, and diabolism. Here, truly, was the apotheosis of The Unnamable.
Mather, in that demoniac sixth book which no one should read after dark,
minced no words as he flung forth his anathema. Stern as a Jewish prophet,
and laconically unamazed as none since his day could be, he told of the
beast that had brought forth what was more than beast but less than man
- the thing with the
blemished eye - and of the screaming
drunken wretch that hanged for having such an eye. This much he baldly
told, yet without a hint of what came after. Perhaps he
did not know, or perhaps he
knew and did not dare to tell. Others knew, but did not dare to tell -
there is no public hint of why they whispered about the lock on the door
to the attic stairs in the house of a childless, broken, embittered old
man who had put up a blank slate slab by an avoided grave, although one
may trace enough evasive legends to curdle the thinnest blood.
all in that ancestral diary I found; all the hushed innuendoes and furtive
tales of things with a blemished eye seen at windows in the night or in
deserted meadows near the woods. Something had caught my ancestor on a
dark valley road, leaving him with marks of horns on his chest and of apelike
claws on his back; and when they looked for prints in the trampled dust
they found the mixed marks of split hooves and vaguely anthropoid paws.
Once a post-rider said he saw an old man chasing and calling to a frightful
loping, nameless thing on Meadow Hill in the thinly moonlit hours before
dawn, and many believed him. Certainly, there was strange talk one night
in 1710 when the childless, broken old man was buried in the crypt behind
his own house in sight of the blank slate slab. They never unlocked that
attic door, but left the whole house as it was, dreaded and deserted. When
noises came from it, they whispered and shivered; and hoped that the lock
on that attic door was strong. Then they stopped hoping when the horror
occurred at the parsonage, leaving not a soul alive or in one piece. With
the years the legends take on a spectral character - I suppose the thing,
if it was a living thing, must have died. The memory had lingered hideously
- all the more hideous because it was so secret.
this narration my friend Manton had become very silent, and I saw that
my words had impressed him. He did not laugh as I paused, but asked quite
seriously about the boy who went mad in 1793, and who had presumably been
the hero of my fiction. I told him why the boy had gone to that shunned,
deserted house, and remarked that he ought to be interested, since he believed
that windows retained latent images of those who had sat at them. The boy
had gone to look at the windows of that horrible attic, because of tales
of things seen behind them, and had come back screaming maniacally.
remained thoughtful as I said this, but gradually reverted to his analytical
mood. He granted for the sake of argument that some unnatural monster had
really existed, but reminded me that even the most morbid perversion of
nature need not be unnamable or scientifically indescribable. I admired
his clearness and persistence, and added some further revelations I had
collected among the old people. Those later spectral legends, I made plain,
related to monstrous apparitions more frightful than anything organic could
be; apparitions of gigantic bestial forms sometimes visible and sometimes
only tangible, which floated about on moonless nights and haunted the old
house, the crypt behind it, and the grave where a sapling had sprouted
beside an illegible slab. Whether or not such apparitions had ever gored
or smothered people to death, as told in uncorroborated traditions, they
had produced a strong and consistent impression; and were yet darkly feared
by very aged natives, though largely forgotten by the last two generations
- perhaps dying for lack of being thought about. Moreover, so far as esthetic
theory was involved, if the psychic emanations of human creatures be grotesque
distortions, what coherent representation could express or portray so gibbous
and infamous a nebulosity as the specter of a malign, chaotic perversion,
itself a morbid blasphemy against nature? Molded by the dead brain of a
hybrid nightmare, would not such a vaporous terror constitute in all loathsome
truth the exquisitely, the shriekingly unnamable?
hour must now have grown very late. A singularly noiseless bat brushed
by me, and I believe it touched Manton also, for although I could not see
him I felt him raise his arm. Presently he spoke.
"But is that house with the attic window still standing and deserted?"
I answered, "I have seen it."
did you find anything there - in the attic or anywhere else?"
were some bones up under the eaves. They may have been what that boy saw
- if he was sensitive he wouldn't have needed anything in the window-glass
unhinge him. If they all came
from the same object it must have been an hysterical, delirious monstrosity.
It would have been blasphemous to leave such bones in the
world, so I went back with a
sack and took them to the tomb behind the house. There was an opening where
I could dump them in. Don't think I was a fool - you
ought to have seen that skull.
It had four-inch horns, but a face and jaw something like yours and mine."
I could feel a real shiver run through Manton, who had moved very near.
But his curiosity was undeterred.
what about the window-panes?"
were all gone. One window had lost its entire frame, and in all the others
there was not a trace of glass in the little diamond apertures. They were
that kind -
the old lattice windows that
went out of use before 1700. I don't believe they've had any glass for
a hundred years or more - maybe the boy broke 'em if he got that far; the
legend doesn't say."
was reflecting again.
like to see that house, Carter. Where is it? Glass or no glass, I must
explore it a little. And the tomb where you put those bones, and the other
grave without an
inscription - the whole thing
must be a bit terrible."
did see it - until it got dark."
was more wrought upon than I had suspected, for at this touch of harmless
theatricalism he started neurotically away from me and actually cried out
with a sort of gulping gasp which released a strain of previous repression.
It was an odd cry, and all the more terrible because it was answered. For
as it was still echoing, I heard a creaking sound through the pitchy blackness,
and knew that a lattice window was opening in that accursed old house beside
us. And because all the other frames were long since fallen, I knew that
it was the grisly glassless frame of that demoniac attic window.
came a noxious rush of noisome, frigid air from that same dreaded direction,
followed by a piercing shriek just beside me on that shocking rifted tomb
of man and monster. In another instant I was knocked from my gruesome bench
by the devilish threshing of some unseen entity of titanic size but undetermined
nature; knocked sprawling on the root-clutched mold of that abhorrent graveyard,
while from the tomb came such a stifled uproar of gasping and whirring
that my fancy peopled the rayless gloom with Miltonic legions of the misshapen
damned. There was a vortex of withering, ice-cold wind, and then the rattle
of loose bricks and plaster; but I had mercifully fainted before I could
learn what it meant.
though smaller than I, is more resilient; for we opened our eyes at almost
the same instant, despite his greater injuries. Our couches were side by
side, and we knew in a few seconds that we were in St. Mary's Hospital.
Attendants were grouped about in tense curiosity, eager to aid our memory
by telling us how we
came there, and we soon heard
of the farmer who had found us at noon in a lonely field beyond Meadow
Hill, a mile from the old burying ground, on a spot where
an ancient slaughterhouse is
reputed to have stood. Manton had two malignant wounds in the chest, and
some less severe cuts or gougings in the back. I was not so seriously hurt,
but was covered with welts and contusions of the most bewildering character,
including the print of a split hoof. It was plain that Manton knew more
than I, but he told nothing to the puzzled and interested physicians till
he had learned what our injuries were. Then he said we were the victims
of a vicious bull - though the animal was a difficult thing to place and
the doctors and nurses had left, I whispered an awestruck question:
God, Manton, but what was it? Those scars - was it like that?"
I was too dazed to exult when he whispered back a thing I had half expected
- it wasn't that way at all. It was everywhere - a gelatin - a slime yet
it had shapes, a thousand shapes of horror beyond all memory. There were
eyes - and a
blemish. It was the pit - the
maelstrom - the ultimate abomination. Carter, it was the unnamable!