Sunday, August 22, 2010

J. VERNON SHEA

That's J. Vernon Shea and Bho Bloch, such snappy dressers!  Among those members of the Lovecraft Circle (people who knew H. P. Lovecraft and corresponded with him) that I came to know when I became an obsess'd Lovecraft fanatic in 1973, Vernon was my dearest pal among yem.  We had a long correspondence and spoke often over the 'phone.  I loved him and miss him still, and often think about him when I am writing my wee Cthulhu Mythos fiction.  Vernon was one of the first to really encourage me in my writing, and although he was too kind to those early tales that I have now discarded, disown'd and destroy'd, he gave me the confidence to try and write weird fiction.  The chapbook to the left was publish'd by Necronomicon Press and I imagine it's difficult to find these days.  Vernon had a story, "The Haunter of the Graveyard," in Derleth's original Arkham House edition of Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos.  When the wanker Jim Turner re-edited the book, he ruthlessly dropped Vernon's charming tale from the contents.  I don't think the tale has ever been professionally reprinted, but it should be.  Vernon told me that he was writing it when Augie sent him an invitation to write a new tale for the anthology, and although Vernon hadn't intended the tale to be a Mythos yarn, he changed course midway and, voila!, a Mythos tale were spawn'd.  I've been thinking of Vernon and "The Haunter of the Graveyard" all day because I've been listening to a 1978 recording of a Lovecraftian panel on which Vernon was a panelist along with Fritz Leiber and a very youthful S. T. Joshi.

Well, I've been working on expanding "Uncommon Places."  Its first publication, in the 15,000 word version (there is an earlier 10,000 version) will be in The Tangled Muse at ye end of next month.  Because I am calling my next collection for Hippocampus Press Uncommon Places, I've decided to try and expand the thing by another 10,000 words, and I have a perverse yen to make these final segments rather Lovecraftian.  It came to me that I could write three or more new segments using Vernon's story as inspiration.  I am basing the writing of these new segments on these entries in Lovecraft's Commonplace Book:
[98] Hideous old house on steep city hillside -- Bowen St. -- beckons in the night -- black windows -- horror unnam'd -- cold touch and voice -- the welcome of the dead.
[112] Man lives near graveyard -- how does he live?  Eats no food.
[165] Terrible trip to an ancient and forgotten tomb.

I first envision'd I cou'd tell ye tale in three related segments, but now my imagination is running wild, and I fancy it may take many words to convey ye tale that bubbles in me brain.  Here is ye first segment, just compos'd:

"Uncommon Places" -- Part XX

I never solved the mystery of how my Uncle Silas came to own Elmer Harrod's house in Arkham, but I suspect it had something to do with my uncle's love of campy horror films.  Harrod had a fine collection of such films, as well as his personal home-made films that had been shot in the nearby cemetery.  My uncle used to love to show me those home-made films when I visited him as a young teenager, and I confess they had an eerie appeal for me as well; and I recall how something caught my attention, something reflected in Elmer Harrod's shadowed eyes -- momentary expressions of authentic mental disturbance, bewilderment, fear.  Harrod's fame, such as it was, came from his occupation as television horror host, but I was too young to remember his ghastly make-ups and muggings before his Victorian house on the television screen.  He was less renowned for the books of horror fiction that he had edited for various paperback publishers, short-lived titles with lurid covers, or for his one novel, Underneath the Witch Town, which, as an adolescent, I had found enthralling after having found a box of copies in Harrod's house after my uncle had purchased the building and its contents.  It was the library of the house that really influenced me, for it was stuffed with the horror host's extensive collection of weird phantasy.  I spent summer after summer pouring over those books, and it was under the spell of their authors that I became determined to join their ranks and write horror fiction professionally.  It was while stumbling through Old Dethshill Cemetery that I came up with my pen-name, Deth Carter, for there were many Carters buried in the place.  I had been particularly drawn to the hidden grave of one particular fellow, Obediah Carter; for his long tabletop tomb, dated 1793 to 1887, was decorated with a faded photograph of the elderly gentleman that was beneath an oval of glass that had been fastened to the slab of stone.   There had long been legends that the Carters of Arkham had been tainted with witch blood, and one could well believe it when examining the stern and satanic countenance of Obediah.

I came to inherit the queer Victorian residence after my uncle's insane suicide, and I happily made the move from my small and cramped apartment to the spacious abode, where I was surrounded by elements of ghastly horror collected from around the world by the two previous owners, things that I knew would aid my career as weaver of weird tales.  I was ruthless enough to bask in the notoriety that came my way, to the aid of my creative reputation, by the scandal that arose from my uncle's suicide; for the local papers carried sensational stories of how my uncle's corpse had been discovered hanging from a strong length of vine attached to a hideous tree in Old Dethshill Cemetery, and how the end of the vine that had tightened around his broken neck had implanted itself into the flesh of the ravished throat.

I found, during my first months of residence in Arkham, that Uncle Silas had gained a curious reputation in the town; for it was whispered that he never ate, was never known to shop for groceries or dine out, and the fact that he was often seen haunting the abandoned cemetery at night gave way to rumors of vampirism and other such nonsense.  It was when I discovered my relation's own home movies that I learned how uncanny truth can eclipse the wildness of paltry rumor; for Uncle Silas had followed Elmer Harrod in the practice of being filmed within the wild confines of the haunted burying ground, but where the horror host had brought in a film crew to record his outlandish behavior among the tombs, it seemed that my uncle's was a one-madman's crude operation.  On one spool of film he had recorded himself dancing among the tombs and speaking the most outlandish gibberish I have ever heard, in what must have been a language of his own invention.  He seemed almost to chew upon his lips as he drooled and muttered such phrases as "Kloolhu Rally" and "Ne'er-lahtep."  On one film he had recorded himself reclining on the slab beneath which Obediah Carter rotted, and the dim electric light that he had somehow set up caught to perfection the weirdness of his expressions, with which he mimicked the actual visage of the sorcerer as he muttered what seemed to be snatches of eighteenth century verse.  But perhaps the most disturbing images were caught on the three rolls of film that showed him dancing in front of the unwholesome tree on which he ended his life.  On one spool of celluloid he had wrapped the hanging vines around his arms and ankles and then pirouetted like some deranged puppet; and it was eerie to see how the withered old tree, in the uncanny light of uncle's source of illumination, seemed more like a giant bestial claw than any dendroid inhabitant of the necropolis.  My uncle's experiments with filming seemed to incorporate some kind of trick photography near the end, for on the last spool of film he was seen close up, dangling from the vines of the tree, vines that resembled cloudy veins through which a dark substance moved in the direction of my uncle's upraised limbs, into which the vines penetrated.  Uncle Silas did not regard the camera as he muttered, "More, more -- my arms are hungry."

I could watch these films but once, and then I stored them away and tried to forget them; but the memory of their images haunted my dreams, and I knew that the only way I could expel them was to use them as fictional fodder.  Thus it was that I composed my first novel, Beneath Arkham, the publication of which brought me a modicum of fame and fortune.

2 comments:

  1. I am quite a fan of THE HAUNTER OF THE GRAVEYARD, which surely should NEVER have been removed from TALES OF THE CTHULHU MYTHOS. So many fantastic moments in that story... I am currently painting a picture of the climax, with those silhouettes in the sky above the trees, searching the ground below "as a bird searches for insects."

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