Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Attic Window and Others, by Randolph Carter

I love that spectral photograph of Grandpa--he looks both haunting & haunted.

Been reading over the new 10,000 word addition to "Uncommon Places," seeking yem typos that escaped my notice.  Usually they are wrong words or incomplete words; like, I just found one where I typed "image" instead of "imagine"; & I found one sentence where I used "particularly" and "particular," so I'm altering the 2nd to "peculiar" so to avoid repetition.  Proofing is a bore, but not catching the mistakes & having them infiltrate one's book is too grotesque.

Reading over the entire sequence of 25,000 words, I find it far more Lovecraftian than I remember'd -- or intended -- it to be.  When I added the new portion of 10,000 words it was my aim to be totally Mythos, since the majority of the segments form'd a semi-sequel to J. Vernon Shea's "The Haunter of the Graveyard."  What I did was I wrote one segment that was a portion of the short story, and then I followed it with an arty prose poem that was related to the story I was telling.  Here's an example, with a wee portion of the story, followed by the prose poem inspir'd by it:

Uncommon Places Part XXII (climax)

And then I heard a cry from somewhere in the trees just beyond me, and at their sound a night wind rose, cool and smooth, that played with my length of hair; and as if in answer to the cry a dark cloud melted in the sky and thus was revealed the moon that had been secreted behind it, and I blinked as its dead light fell onto my eyes.  Another sphere arose, as if from buried earth, small and delicate, with black pits where a human face would have worn eyes, and a scarlet mouth that parted.

"Ses yeux profonds sont faits de vide et de tenebres..."

The figure stopped its recitation and cocked its head.  I watched as it hopped from the tabletop slab on which it stood and walked a few steps nearer, and I noticed that this stranger also held a book.

"I suppose you don't know French, judging from your dumb expression.  Let me translate and sing the verse again, thus:
'Her eyes, made of the void, are deep and black;
Her skull, coiffured in flowers down the neck,
Sways slackly on the column of her back,
O charm of nothingness so madly decked!'
Delicious, is it not?  And how clever of Luna to shew her form just now, so as to aid with ghastly light.  One should always read poetry in moonlight, don't you agree?"

"Certainly, if the poet is Baudelaire."

"Ah!  An educated soul."  The voice was high and nasal, yet masculine.  His eyes were concealed behind round black lens of what looked like antique wire spectacles.  His fantastic mauve hair was piled high upon his dome in thick tube-like coils, and moonlight shimmered on the crimson gloss with which his simpering lips had been coated.  "I've been looking for mine kindred dead, many of whom are planted here."  He looked at me from behind his queer spectacles and did not smile as he spoke his name.  "Randolph H. Carter, from Boston.  And yes, I am ruefully related to the writer and man of mystery.  Have you read his famous book?"

"I've inherited an edition, but haven't scanned it yet.  What was his mystery?"

"He had many, actually.  There is the mystery of what happened to his friend and mentor, Harley Warren, who was last seen with Randy on the day of Warren's disappearance.  I actually know a direct relative of Warren's here in town, a fabulous painter who has a studio on French Hill.  It was she, actually, who told me of this place; she often paints it and its denizens.  Just now she is conjuring a life-size doppelganger of Obediah Carter, who was whispered to have been a wizard."

"That was his tomb you were standing on just now."

"I thought it might have been, although I couldn't quite make out its faded inscription."

"Perhaps," I ventured, "you should remove the shades..."

"Don't be absurd."  He began to move away from me through the high dead grass, and so I held my lantern higher to light his way.  We both saw the tree at the same time, and I could not suppress a shudder.  "Some fool hanged himself on that tree last year."  He turned and frowned at the expression on my face.  "How sad you look; but then, who wouldn't dressed like that?  You look like some Gothic hobo.  Well, I should depart, morning classes at Miskatonic come so early.  What are you reading?"  I told him.  "Ah," and he winked, "be on guard for the little people.  This is their kind of demesne, I imagine."  I watched him saunter toward the trees and disappear into their darkness, and suddenly I felt alone and vulnerable.  Turning, I found my way homeward, climbed over the stone wall and examined my house.  It looked a grotesque thing in the sallow moonlight, with its cupola, widow's walk and many gables.  Lunar light feasted on the face of the gargoyle that Elmer Harrod had added as Gothic touch, and which had been featured in the opening shots for many of his episodes where he was seen before the house in his outlandish outfits and ghoulish make-up, costumes (such as the one I now wore) that usually had some connection to the horror film that he would introduce and mock throughout.  Standing as it did at the end of a dead end street on which most of the decaying houses had been abandoned and uninhabited, the Victorian pile seemed especially desolate, a classic haunted house; and so it was, haunted by myself and my strange imagination, my conjurations, my spectral dreams.

Entering the lonesome place, I went to the library and found the collection of horror stories by Randolph Carter, The Attic Window and Others, which had been published by private hands some years after his strange vanishing act in 1928 had caused a sensation, resulting in his early and unpopular book being reprinted by a New York publisher.  The new edition had been an enormous success.  I was pleased to see that Harrod's copy was the original first edition.  I began to read, oblivious to the subtle keening of windsong that emanated from the graveyartd next door; but soon my eyes grew heavy, and my long day came to an end in the cozy armchair of my quiet room.


She climbed the winding wooden steps that led to the small door, pushed it open and coughed into the dry air that, issuing from the attic room, assaulted her face.  Her candle's feeble flame threw shadows into the room among the litter of antiques, the wooden crates, the shrouded figures.  She was curious to see that their dark sartorial camouflage resembled her own, and she wondered if they, too, had hoped to conceal themselves from the world of men when roaming the streets at night.  Pressing her hand against the breast of one still thing, she felt its torso of twisted wire; and then she lifted her face to its sad mask, the expression of which filled her with such remorse that she drifted from the thing, to the attic window.  Bending before the small panes of glass, she gazed into their latticework at her peculiar wavering reflection, upon which shadows frolicked.  She watched one patch of shadow sink into one particular reflected eye, and her eye of flesh experienced a bothersome tugging sensation, as if some playful thing were pinching it.  She did not like how dark that eye looked on the window's glass, and so she brought her candle very near it, until its lashes were slightly singed.

The contents of the attic room began to spin, like leaves caught in a dance of wind, inviting her to trip the light fantastic; and so she rose and pirouetted around the place, one hand holding her taper, the other at her breast, beneath which she could feel a latticework of dainty bone.  She gazed again at the dark shrouded ones who watched her with their awful masks and saw that on each mask one eye-hole was larger than the other, giving each faux countenance a slight distortion of feature.  Raising a dainty hand, she stroked the rough surface of one mask, and then she gasped as the thing loosened from its mannequin and slipped into her hand, which grasped it.  Gently, she lifted the mask to her face and pressed its rough surface to her soft soft skin, against which it adhered.  Gracefully, lifting her free arm in imitation of the figures that began to move about her, she joined in their danse as candlelit shadows on walls watched unmoving.  She capered until exhausted, and then fell once more upon her knees near to the attic window, toward which she turned so as to behold the reflection of her mask; but it was not the stiff papier-mache veil that appeared there, but rather a misty countenance that wore a beguiling and sinister smile.  Setting her taper on the floor, she crept to the attic window and touched her finger to one of the small squares of glass, and she shivered as the image behind the window lifted its mouth so as to kiss her hand, which experienced sharp pain.

Falling away from the attic window, she lifted her hand and marveled at how the beads of blood that spilled from the slit thereon shimmered in the candlelight, like rarest gems.  Beyond her hand she could espy the wavering of night's mist and the face within it, the face with a blemished eye and bloodstained mouth.  It was a face that seeped through the reality of glass and wood and floated just before her, joined by spectral arms in antiquated dress that reached for her with hands that, taking hold of her mask, lifted it away.

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