So I was reading the wee snatches of letters that H. P. Lovecraft wrote to Clark Ashton Smith that were published in DREAMS AND FANCIES, as I'm writing a prose poem sequence called "Letters from an Old Gent" in which I write imaginary letters to various of HPL's correspondents -- and I began working on a new one, & then I got this impulse to combine the inspiration from the letters to CAS with something inspired by -- gasp! -- "The Horror in the Museum." Now when I was a young Mythos kid, I loved that story, thought it was just great. I now consider it just plain silly -- yet I am always going back to it. So I pulled out my copy of the mammoth Centipede Press edition, MASTERS OF THE WEIRD TALE: H. P. LOVECRAFT, and I began to reread "The Horror in the Museum" for diabolique inspiration. Here's what I came up with:
"An Identity in Dream"
W. H. Pugmire
I wandered a ruined city that had been under the sea. My sense of gravity was timid, and I walked charily lest I awaken the attention of the star-strown abyss above me. I did not like the red ignition of those dead points of light, which I could feel so weirdly on those spools, my eyes. And so I stumbled up the sand-heaped streets until I came to the Museum of Forgotten Things, the queer underground place of which I had dreamt in my awakened state. I stepped down the crude rough-hewn flight to the obscure level and saw the door ajar. Squeezing through the narrow aperture, I entered into the chamber that was pregnant with an iconography of nightmare, in which I felt at home. I waltzed past the shapes furtively whispered of in cycles of subterranean legend, daemons pent in lore of lunacy by diseased visionaries. Ah, the poignant terror conjured by the suggestive silhouettes that bent to me as if in supplication. "Remember us," they seemed to whisper, "and speak our names." I was tempted to open my mouth in that vaulted museum chamber, yet some aspect of the hungry shadow surrounding me kept my lips from parting.
I came to a wall and its antediluvian ten-panelled door, which proved unlocked. It would not open smoothly, and I sensed that there was something weighty behind it that moved sluggishly as I pushed the worm-eaten wood. I entered what looked to be a work room, a place of tools and tables. The place was lit by the red illumination that oozed through the dusty window-slits that had been hewn into the ancient brick wall. This crimson light fell onto the heap of disjointed things that had been behind the door and slithered across the floor at my forceful entry, leaving as trail a dark thick stain. I supposed that the mound was damaged and discarded limbs of wax, doe they were certainly incomplete. How evocative was they stench that emanated from them.
I moved past the tables and their tools, to the circular brick curb of a well set in the stony floor. Bending to that well, I placed my appendages on its cool brick and bent over the circular rim, so as to peer into a pool of liquid shadow, wherein was revealed the ultimate horror in the museum. I did not understand the dark form revealed within that well, the formless face with its eyes that were like unto the crimson stars of some haunted heaven. I was confused by that void, its mouth, the lips of which parted so that a sound rose as bubbles that broke and spoke my name. It was the sound of that name that reawakened memory. Smiling, I dove into the well, sank beneath the swirling surface of the liquid void and fell homeward.