Friday, October 26, 2007

Dreams in the Witch-House

Yesterday, while surfing through Mike's Amazing World of DC Comics I suddenly noticed that the first issue of Detective Comics (the abbreviation of which was soon to become the official moniker for the popular publishing empire) was dated March, 1937. It's a sad occasion for pulp literature fans, as it was on the Ides of this very month that weird fiction author H.P. Lovecraft passed away.

I frankly doubt the likes of Batman (introduced in Detective Comics a couple of years later) or the Crimson Avenger would have much interested the author, who took a dim view of the hack-for-hire world of pulp publishing. After all, his own (and most accomplished) works were regularly rejected by editors in favor of stories he'd ghostwritten for others.

Still, with luminaries like Julius Schwartz, Forrest Ackerman and Caped Crusader co-creator Bob Kane (apocryphally) having personal ties with Lovecraft himself, I can't help but imagine an alternate universe (Earth-2?) Lovecraft who never got cancer bouncing a pair of grandkids on his knee and presenting each with a signed copy of his own DC title The Amazing Azathoth for Halloween, or turning up at a comic convention in the seventies sitting next to an elderly, but very much alive Robert E. Howard discussing the finer points of the Cthulhu mythos (the lucrative rights to which he now fully owns).

Anyhow; the dream. I'm lucky if I dream about Lovecraft more than once a year, and luckier still if there's any actual discourse between us. Last evening, however; and with Halloween just around the corner, I had a whopper.

In the dream, I found myself talking to a young Hal Holbrook about hauntings. I was complaining miserably about a haunted spice-rack I seemed to have inherited, when he quite obligingly drew me a map to the former residence of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Conveniently enough, the place was within walking distance, so after thanking him (and leaving him to deal with the demonic kitchen feature), there I headed, excitedly trotting along the sidewalk, under the sprawling elms of a gentrified block of upscale homes, down a shaded cul-de-sac to the very last house. Its muddy terrace was overgrown, and through the tangle of trees I could only make out the barest hint of a weathered belvedere.

To my left was the side garden of the neighboring residence, and I tried to make myself scarce, having been alerted to the sounds of conversation. Two women were speaking, and they were talking about the house! Indeed, Lovecraft had lived here many years ago, a virtual hermit and the subject of rumor and innuendo over these long years among the residents. Then - one of the voices addressed me, beckoning me over. A fortyish woman was tending to a very elderly lady on the patio. I assured them that I wasn't a murdering psycho, and that I was sorry for bothering them. The younger woman assured me it was no trouble, and that young men (usually college students) would often loiter in front of "That House".

The old woman gradually faded out of the dream as I was drawn into conversation with this seated, sunhatted blonde woman who may have once passed for a Bond girl. She drank (Long Island Ice teas, I think), and we moved closer together. I was dying to find out more about the house, though I had already gleaned that it was nominally occupied by a businessman who spent most of his time abroad. Then the no-longer-a-Bond-girl blonde looked at me and informed me sadly that it was the anniversary of her tragic separation from her lover - a man apparently named "Tuesday" - and would I mind terribly if she kissed me...

After some awkward, vodka-sodden oddness, I pulled back and informed her that I was leaving. The sky was turning a dark, purple-grey, and I bolted from the women's garden. A dapper man with a yellow vest and pinstriped jacket greeted me from the gate of the house I'd come to investigate. He told me that tours of the Lovecraft family home had been discontinued, but he felt he could make an exception. I never did learn his name, but I couldn't help wondering if this wasn't the lost lover "Tuesday". He led me down a side path tangled with creepers and bound by a cracked and ruined stone perimeter fence, and here I began to see the house in all its mortified glory. It was a gothic monstrosity blackened from age, chimney soot, and something else - an intangible yet manifest atmospheric carbonization. Where timber and masonry should have stood, there was petrified beams and blasted shingles. I shuddered at the sight of its towers' leering peaks and peeling, slate-grey gables.

We rounded the garden, and there, I saw the man in the blood-red cricket sweater. It was H.P. Lovecraft.

He did not engage us, exactly. His nervous eyes darted, and his large, sloping jaw was working in a manner suggestive of a man who murmurs too often when he is alone. He seemed to fret and pace for a time, as if considering a reply to our intrusion, then quickly turned and headed through the rear entrance of the house. As I watched him go, it occurred to me that I had never seen the back of him, nor even a proper profile; the only pictures we fans have to judge him by are a few grainy, black and white posed photos. His shoulders and back were broader than I had expected, and his neck longer, slightly lending to him the appearance of a vulture.

We entered the house, and it was neither in darkness nor lit up. Only a moodless phosphorescence illuminated the interior. Lovecraft walked ahead of us, agitated.
I found myself laying my hand on Tuesday's elbow. There were few rooms I could make out, only darkened doorways. In fact, the layout of the house was maddeningly...migratory, somehow. There was little else but staircases, landings, mezzanines, more stairs, another landing and a gallery that led to still more stairs. People were crowding around us now. They were in fancy dress and as they rushed past gaily, I could feel the swish of satin against my legs. Tuesday did not seem to notice them, but they were having a terrible affect on Lovecraft. He became more agitated and ran far ahead of us, till I eventually lost sight of him.

We passed by a narrow passage that looked as if it had been carved from the bowels of the house with an enormous industrial bore. It had rough stone steps that led down to a set of closed double doors. They were fastened with a small gold padlock.
I paused, intrigued, and my guide bounded past me, down to the locked double doors. He plunged off the bottom step into a small pit of water that came up to his waist, and began to gasp. Even in the gloom I could see his face drain of blood, and it became obvious that the water was fatally frigid. The doors seemed to collapse against his weight and he started slipping through the gap. I was halfway down to him when I heard a gasp from behind me...from the top of the stairs Lovecraft was gaping down at us, terror-stricken.

He hissed "That Damnable Thing!" and fled. As I realized the stairs were collapsing under me into some kind of underground cistern full of heart-stopping, arctic seawater, I woke up.

I suppose I should know what H.P. Lovecraft was referring to by his horrified exclamation (since it was my dream, after all), but I don't. Was he talking about the water? He hated the ocean, and mortally dreaded the cold. Or maybe the passageway, or the doors, or Tuesday? Or me? It's a mystery, but I do know that I haven't woken up with a panicked start like that in ages. Well, at least since the other night, when a Harley cruised by my bedroom window and I bolted out of bed thinking it was a bloody great tiger.

Thanks for another scare, H.P. You've still got it.


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