"I'm sorry, but I've got to get rid of this stuff somehow, and you gets lots of change, right?" The Horror Enthusiast carefully counted out four dollars and eighty cents in pennies, nickels, and dimes. He placed these clinking stacks of treasure on the counter, trying hard not to look the Circulation employee in the eye.
"That's okay, dear." The large pear-shaped woman in the faded red skirt and white knit sweater gave him a cavity-sweet smile, her eyes taking on the glow of a nocturnal predator who has sensed warm prey.
"There you go." He forced a smile as he deposited the last coin, then added, "Have a nice day!" before scooting out the door.
"You, too!" Her voice followed him as the librarian began hauling the twelve-high pile of overdue paperbacks away. He was glad he didn't have to see her look of wholesome contempt when she glanced at the cover of "The Doom that Came to Sarnath"...
Returning home, The Horror Enthusiast found a letter awaiting him from William Mayhew, an old friend and fellow Arkham devotee. At first he thought it was a joke, or some new writing exercise in imitation of their idol Howard Phillips. As he continued to read, however, the nightmarish grins of abyssal fiends leapt wolfishly about his reeling head, the subdermal extrusions of his fear condensing in salty droplets on the back of his hands. Who would send such things in jest to a friend? William must have been extremely conscious of his tone and style. He wrote of their old conversations regarding how real some of the stories about Providence were, and said that he was in the hospital after... an attack? "A creature of some kind. A force of nearly infinite malice, loose upon the world." What the hell had happened? As he rushed out the door, The Horror Enthusiast kept running William's fearful closing, "I hope that this is not the last you shall hear of me," over and over in his mind...
Letter From A Friend
May 1, 2002
My Dear Friend And Fellow Horror Enthusiast,
I find myself quite entirely shaken by recent events; I apologize that I have not written in so very long, but I feel that I have only very recently returned to my senses. It has been a harrowing several weeks, I'm afraid.
I have been hospitalized since April 22nd, and I fear that my condition is stable at the best of times -- the doctors tell me that I am weakening by the day. It is as though some cold, nameless presence has taken root deeply within me, and...
I'm sorry, in any case, to write you like this; I can assure you that it is only because I am concerned for your well-being that I attempt it. In my... state... it is difficult. You see, it was no ordinary encounter that has laid me so low... no, it was a... a creature of some kind. A force of nearly infinite malice, loose upon the world. For all I know, it has you already; but no. No, I must not think such thoughts. Not now...
I am so lonely here. No one has written me. It is as though they have forgotten I exist. Or... why should they remember? After all, I am not even certain what has become of me. Perhaps... perhaps there is some other me, some alter ego whose body is not blackened and scarred with the burns, whose mind...
Do you remember? Do you remember when we talked of whether it could be possible for something to be unnamed, unnamable, impossible to name, impossible to know? How can I tell you what has befallen me when I can find no name for... for what? In truth, I cannot tell you. But beware.
I hope that this is not the last you shall hear of me. It would be grimly appropriate, in a way, if I were simply to disappear. But may the mind not venture there; may all the powers forbid it. And pray this missive finds its mark.
Yours From A Lightless Room,
Your Faithful Friend,
The Morning Paper
The Horror Enthusiast woke up late. He had stayed up late into the night doing something contrary to his nature: he was talking on the phone. He had gone out in the evening to get a phone book for the first time in years, trying to remember names, numbers, and information that he might use to get in contact with William Mayhew's friend and relations. Try as he might though, he found it nearly impossible to even remember who William's friends and relations were, let alone how to contact them. With some luck, a few rare epiphanies about names, and some hard work, he managed to track down some mutual friends from the Church of Christ Scientist, which William had attended - though he could not get a hold of William's family. Sadly, it seemed that others had forgotten about him. Most had no idea that William had ever entered the hospital, and none knew which hospital, where, or what room. He would have to wait and hear more.
This day, The Horror Enthusiast sought answers about his friend in the comfortable texts that they had shared between them. Immediately understanding the message about the impossible to name entity in William's letter, The Horror Enthusiast pulled from his shelf a copy of H.P. Lovecraft's story "The Unnamable." As he finished reached the final scene, he thought he had a better clue as to what had befallen William Mayhew. Perhaps time's fickle fancy's had turned them both into more than readers, into characters in some twisted storyline. He got up and sought out inspiration.
The H.P. Lovecraft Memorial sat among some delicately flowering, pink-puffing trees, in front of Brown University's John Hay Library, across from the eerie Carrie Tower.
Location: The Lovecraft Memorial
A small stone triangle with an iron plaque on the front commemorated the life and work of the author, the father of cosmic horror. The Horror Enthusiast stood musing when the sounds reached his ears, a strange piping coming from nearby, sounds of shuffling and scraping, and then... footsteps.
Location: Carrie Tower
"Horror Enthusiast," said a black-cloaked figure emerging from the shadows of Prospect House, "I have a story you might like to read..."
When he returned home from the memorial, the promise of the cloaked stranger, sinister and alluring, still rang in his ears. A story was waiting for him. But first he opened up the master's tale entitled "He." The Horror Enthusiast shivered long into the night, his eyes glued to pages old and new.
The Doom That Came To Sarnath
The Shadow City
Finally, wearily, The Horror Enthusiast turned to the story that awaited him, the dubious gift of the black-cloaked stranger. He peeled open the nondescript package warily...
The Shadow City
The Morning Paper
The Horror Enthusiast was not at all surprised to find more of The Shadow City awaiting him when he returned home. He turned to the new pages avidly, but as he read, his hands began to shake; a murder? Could it be real?
The Shadow City
He immediately turned to the morning's discarded paper; the obituaries opened to him like a flower, and there staring up at him was the same name mentioned in the story. Samantha Jonnet. There was nothing for it but to go to the scene of the crime, the Annmary Brown Memorial, and see what clues he could gather; but it was not without a sense of being manipulated, of being controlled. What horrors would the next day's story bring? Would all of it be true?
Location: Annmary Brown Memorial
Location: Scene Of The Crime, Annmary Brown Memorial
The Morning Paper
Of all the daily rituals to add to his life, The Horror Enthusiast did not want this to continue. After returning from the Annmary Brown Memorial, another installment of the hideous story awaited him. How did the dark-shrouded man get in? He had no mail slot, and after yesterday's fright, he had stuffed some of his dirty laundry under the door to completely seal his abode. Yet the chapter awaited him, sitting on the foot of his bed! He barely dared to read.
The Shadow City
Scanning the obituaries for the name, the Horror Enthusiast was not scared so much as nauseous when he found it: Thomas Weinstein, eminent psychologist, had died. Or if the story was to be believed, he had been gruesomely murdered, his office ransacked and torn through. The last people to see him -- alive or dead -- were a pair of artists and the investigating officers. There was nothing to do but find out the truth.
Location: Brown University Psychological Services
The Horror Enthusiast got home from a day full of exploring. He was getting tired of being jerked around, and it was only chapter three. He knew how stories like this worked, and he wanted out. Maybe he ought to talk to the cops. He wasn't sure he wanted to wait for another chance to get control.
Contact: The Police
Time And A Meeting
The Horror Enthusiast sat up all night awaiting the impending chapter of "The Shadow City," staring at door, window, every aperture in his room, quaking. Too much death, too little control, hopelessness -- he felt hounded by "The Unnamable" hideously true title for the monster haunting him. No clawed attic-dweller, tomb-wight fury, his monster bled when pricked, and he ended to prick it. At least, he intended to summon up the proper authorities and torpedo Devil's Reef, if that made sense.
When he awoke, he felt that the clock had only danced its red numbers forward a few minutes, but that had apparently been enough. The Horror Enthusiast burst open the door to his room, scanned the hallway, uprooted every bit of furniture, and even checked that he could not pry up the rug. Surely a hidden camera, a tape recorder, some sort of surveillance equipment had him bound, for someone had been able to penetrate his abode and leave a ghastly gift, chapter the fourth. He scanned the text. So they thought he would arrive just a moment too late this time? Where was the clue then? There -- blood-red vine, distorted growths by a house on Benefit Street. Too easy, didn't they know he was a Lovecraft fan?
When he got to the real-life inspiration for Lovecraft's "The Shunned House," a terrifying spot on Benefit Street that truly could have housed a vampiric patch of fungus, he was pleased to find no one dead. The current occupant and landlord stood gangly-walker towering above him, but hunched forward in black, antique clothing, his stripped-skull visage pale and bony. A few guarded words, delivered in the most perfectly haunted voice, explained that the previous owner, one Dr. Dexter, had fallen victim to horrific foul-play perpetrated by a madman now incarcerated in Arkham Asylum. His son, Phillip, had sold the house to the new owner. Did he know where Phillip Dexter lived? Why certainly, he hadn't moved from his crumbling vine-wrapped vault on Benevolent Street in years. The door creaked closed as The Horror Enthusiast rushed away.
At the home of the eccentric Phillip Dexter, the Horror Enthusiast found a note under the front mat to some expected guest telling him to go around back. The promised key was missing. In back he knocked on the door, heart beating, mind willing the old man to greet him with suspicion, paranoia, hatred even, as long as the emotion came from a living soul. At the second attempt at knocking, his hand froze. A sound had caught his attention. From deep within the ivy-veined core of the house came the sound of maniacal laughter, and a hint of idiot piping, flitting into empty space.
The Morning Paper
The Horror Enthusiast fled sobbing from the vine-hugged building on Benevolent Street, laughter following him, tucked deep within his mind and driving him completely insane.
Location: Dexter's House
He wanted to curl up in a ball on his bed and wait for the end, the last
installments of the story. He wanted to check into Arkham Asylum himself,
wanted to seal himself up behind bars and wait for some doctor to dispel
him into a pile of bluish-grey dust. The only thing that kept him going
on the flight back were the repetition of two names mixing about with
twenty years of neural connections in his head.
The Shadow City
Considering the correspondence between his current predicament and the
plotlines of several H. P. Lovecraft classics, The Horror Enthusiast resolved
to get one step ahead. Looking up a Web site that offered a full range
of Lovecraft tales online, he searched out a name: Dexter. What he found
Haunter Of The Dark. Looking more closely at the story, one detail
was quite striking -- when Robert Blake was finally taken by the Haunter
at the end of the story, there were witnesses who beheld it. Allegedly,
"students in the Psi Delta house, whose upper rear windows looked into
Blake's study, noticed the blurred white face at the westward window"
-- it was they who alerted the police. Perhaps, thought the Horror Enthusiast,
some other details or information may have been retained by the students
of the Delta Psi fraternity, even though the story in question took place
such a long time ago. It was time for a trip to King House, the residence
of this fraternal order.
Location: King House
The Morning Paper
The Horror Enthusiast felt Robert Blake growing inside his mind. One could not stop sleepwalking into a nightmare that eventually destroyed him, the other felt himself getting pulled deeper into a waking night-terror, drawn by the packages that yanked him from his room into a world he had only wanted to read about, a twisted mirror-image of Providence that writhed in black rivers beneath the old winding streets. He lay down, unable to care about anything except the next horrific package.
When it came, he thought he would be sick. It was too awful to think about. His only comfort lay in the fact that no hospital's merciless name ever got mentioned in the story.
When he turned the package over, read the return address penned neatly onto the back, he was sick.
The sizzling, putrid contents of his stomach lay on his floor unheeded, as the Horror Enthusiast dashed out the door, hoping beyond all reason that somehow he could avoid the mad rush of fate's black-cloaked minions.
The Shadow City
The Horror Enthusiast finished making his statements to The Police Officer, who once again offered his sympathies on William’s death. Nodding without comment, The Horror Enthusiast returned to his home. He didn’t expect that he would be helped by the planned raid on the so-called Order of Starry Wisdom. After talking to the cops for long enough, after having read the conclusion to “The Shadow City,” and after learning of William Mayhew’s death, he saw no reason why Justinian Whelt’s fate should not become his own. He had accepted the story given to him, had played spectator and active character according to their rules, had let the black-cloaked villains beat him simply by telling them that he would play. Only one thing remained: the ending.
The Shadow City
The Horror Enthusiast began plotting as soon as the door closed. How did the protagonists win in Lovecraft stories? Did they stay alive? No, you could be alive and still hopelessly enchained to a dark fiend from the outer reaches of space, that was certainly not winning. Did you stay sane? Maybe, but he wasn’t willing to accept suicide before sanity just yet. It seemed like the only rational way for him to win was to choose what horrific fate awaited him and to walk at it smiling, because they couldn’t take his ending away from him. That was it. He needed a way to ensure that his ending to this gruesome tale would linger on and preserve him, hold him up beyond the reach of these perverted sickoes and their mad story.
Long into the night, past the time that sirens would surely be blaring over by the Samuel B. Mumford house on Prospect Street, The Horror Enthusiast sat up writing his ending. As he put the finishing touches on his masterful work, seal of his victory, the phone rang.
“Well, my dear Justinian, it is time for you to come calling. Your friend The Police Officer has ruined our scheme for now, but I fear it was too little too late for you. We’re waiting for you, and you know that even if you run we can find you. We’ve already written that ending, too. So what do you say? Come over to Samuel’s place for a little fun? Or do we need to track you down like William Francis Mayhew of Room 415?” The line went dead.
The Horror Enthusiast hung up, walked out to the park behind his apartment and began digging. After reaching a depth of a few feet, he dropped his carefully penned ending in and covered the hole back up. Straightening, he muttered, “They can’t touch immortal literature, can’t rewrite what’s beyond their power to touch.” He walked back into his apartment, grabbed his trench-coat, and walked out the door, heading for Prospect Street.
“Besides, it’s my story, and ‘That is not dead which can eternal lie, / And with strange aeons even death may die.’”