Feb 17, 2022
Charles takes the lead again, recounting the adventures of an unfortunate uncle.
Music by incompetech.com and a-mclassical.com
Editing and Sound: Julie Hoverson
Cover Design: Julie Hoverson / Brett Coulstock
"What kind of a place is it?
Why it's Charles' study again, can't you tell?"
THE SHUNNED HOUSE (Lovecraft 5, #6)
OLIVIA [opening credits] Did you have any trouble finding it? What do you mean, what kind of a place is it? Why, we've returned to Charles' comfortable brownstone, can't you tell?
SOUND MUSIC PLAYS
CHARLES I should warn you all from the outset that this is a rather more mundane story than most of those brought to this gathering.
EDWARD As long as you feed me this well, Charles, I'd listen to a story about a dog.
RICHARD Oh? I know this fellow in Andalusia... A friend of a friend.
CHARLES [cutting in] My story involves... a vampire.
EDWARD And you tell us? Right up front? That's poor narrative framing.
CHARLES No, no, there's a perfectly good reason to get it out in the open right away.
HERBERT Vampires? Haven't they been adequately explained by contemporary science?
WARREN The existence of vampires has been .. debatable... for several centuries.
HERBERT The vampire myth is almost certainly explainable. Most simply by common or garden anemia--
WARREN Or any number of similarly communicable diseases, for example, consumption--
WARREN --which, until very recently, were often attributed to supernatural origin.
HERBERT But now, with our understanding of germs and the vectors of infection, vampires must be relegated to the vast list of creatures that have been debunked.
CHARLES [aside] I'll give Warren and Herbert one more minute.
RICHARD I'm just stunned that they seem to be on the same side. Science and History are usually at odds.
EDWARD Fiction can go either way.
WARREN It's fascinating to consider the mindset that created a myth such as that of the vampire.
RICHARD Created? You think someone sat down and designed them, like a new model of automobile?
WARREN Created it to account for otherwise inexplicable events.
EDWARD More like a detective, trying to piece together a crime from the clues.
WARREN Do you know that in historical folklore, vampires were said to always return and prey on members of their own family before passing to others?
HERBERT Again, a simple disease contagion statistic. With the substandard hygiene of past eras, it was almost inevitable that those in close proximity to a dying person were the most likely--
[moment of silence]
CHARLES Thank you for the erudite exposition. I'm quite sure we'll come back to this throughout the lecture.
EDWARD [laughing] Please raise your hand if you have any questions.
RICHARD Over here?
CHARLES [chuckling] The chair recognizes the commissioner for art. Richard?
RICHARD Thank you. My question - does the name Stoker come into this story anywhere?
CHARLES No. Despite the nature of the central creature involved, or supposedly involved, the story has a long and verifiable history, which began well before any of such contemporary novels appeared on bookstands.
EDWARD I dunno - there have been similar creatures haunting Gothic novels for nearly two centuries.
WARREN Aren't they all explained away by the end of the book?
EDWARD Only in Radcliffe.
RICHARD You need a gavel, Charles, so you can call us to order.
CHARLES My story is about a house.
EDWARD A vampire house? [laughs]
CHARLES Well.... A cursed house.
WARREN A curse? AND a vampire?
EDWARD Do you mean a house in the sense of a family line or a physical house?
CHARLES The latter. This house happens to be in Providence. And while I could lie and tell you this was another personal experience, in truth, it happened to a cousin of mine.
EDWARD Your cousin is a vampire house?
HERBERT You forgot to raise your hand, Edward.
CHARLES This particular area of Providence was haunted by Poe in his day. Sometime in the 1840s, he was wont to pass by this very house on visits to the poetess Mrs. Whitman.
RICHARD Whitman? Should we know her?
EDWARD We certainly know Poe.
CHARLES She was an ardent spiritist and something of an early suffragette. I haven't come across any of her writings myself. Almost as much a draw as the lady, though, St. John's churchyard was also along Poe's route.
EDWARD Is Poe in this story?
CHARLES He's merely making an appearance for historical perspective. Setting the time and place.
CHARLES The point - the irony is this - the world's greatest master of the terrible and the bizarre regularly passed a particular house on the eastern side of the street; a dingy, antiquated structure perched on the abruptly rising side hill. There is no evidence that he even noticed it. And yet that house, to certain persons, equals or outranks in horror Poe's wildest phantasy.
EDWARD [avid] Now we get into it!
CHARLES The house was - and for that matter still is - of a kind to attract the attention of the curious. It followed the colonial lines of the middle eighteenth century - the prosperous peaked-roof sort of farm house; two stories; dormerless attic; Georgian doorway and interior paneling.
RICHARD All the best accoutrements of the mid 1700s?
CHARLES Ayup. Facing south, it's buried to the lower windows in the hillside, and exposed to the foundations on the street.
RICHARD [knowing] I've seen a few of those.
CHARLES Its construction, over a century and a half ago, followed hard upon the rerouting of the nearby road. Benefit Street - at the time called Back Street - wound through the graveyards of the first settlers. It was straightened only when the removal of the bodies to the North Burial Ground made it decently possible to cut across the old family plots.
HERBERT A house built over the miasmatic remains of a graveyard? Simply begging for some festering disease to seep in through the foundation.
WARREN Uh... May I?
WARREN When you speak of this being a "vampire", do you specifically speak of a walking corpse that drinks blood, or the more classic creature of folklore which is something like a stealer of soul or essence?
HERBERT Warren! You sounded almost impartial before, and now this?
WARREN Whether or not I believe in such a creature, it's important to uncover what the people involved believe, regardless of the underlying source.
CHARLES I may have to leave the ultimate decision up to you as to what particular phylum this entity falls into.
HERBERT Don't try to make taxonomical jokes. It doesn't suit you.
CHARLES Moving on. I should point out that while I was not a witness to all the events of my story, I have been to - and in fact, been in - the house in question.
EDWARD Do tell?
CHARLES Boys will be boys, and visits in my youth to my cousin--
EDWARD The one who witnessed these events?
CHARLES Ayup. Visits with his family every summer. And many boyish dares ended with someone venturing into the empty, foreboding edifice.
WARREN Empty? Providence isn't a place where houses generally stand empty for long.
CHARLES Precisely. And this one should have been occupied, except for--
EDWARD The vampire? Or the Curse? The Curse of the Vampire?
CHARLES Not precisely. You see the house wasn't associated with anything like that at the time, it was simply thought... unlucky.
HERBERT [very snide] Oh, yes. That's much more classifiable.
CHARLES People just kept dying in the house. Individually, they were generally attributed to something more along the lines you've suggested, Herbert - bad air, foul fungus in the basement, something material and accountable, and yet...
CHARLES That's for later. There's quite a tragic history to the house, which I will touch upon, but let me finish with my own impressions first - the facts, anyway.
HERBERT Well, I can agree with that.
CHARLES It was the dank, humid cellar which exerted the strongest repulsion on us - even though it was wholly aboveground on the street side, with only a thin door and window-pierced brick wall to separate it from the busy sidewalk. We scarcely knew whether to haunt it in spectral fascination, or to shun it for the sake of our souls and our sanity.
HERBERT Facts, he says. Hmph.
CHARLES For one thing, the bad odour of the house was strongest there; and there were white fungous growths which occasionally sprang up in rainy summer weather from the hard earthen floor.
HERBERT What kind of fungi?
CHARLES I'm no expert. Something between toadstools and Indian pipes? They rotted and became slightly phosphorescent; so that nocturnal passers-by sometimes spoke of witch-fires glowing behind the broken panes of the foetor-spreading windows.
RICHARD [shudder] Interesting. [musing] True phosphorescence is a colour that's so hard to capture...
CHARLES We never - even in our wildest Hallowe'en moods - visited this cellar by night, but in some of our daytime visits could detect the glowing of the fungi, especially when the day was dark and wet. And something else... [trails off]
WARREN [sincere] It really bothered you, didn’t it?
CHARLES Distressing events have so much more influence when one is impressionable ...and young. [shaking it off] Lets have a bit more of vampires while I regain my composure - meaning while I fetch myself something to drink. Warren, if you would?
WARREN Oh, well... Some basic facts, then. Vampires were originally believed to be a form of revenant - the returning spirit of a recently deceased person, not a physical manifestation at all.
EDWARD Really? Not bloated corpses returning to gorge on the gore of gorgeous...um, gamines?
RICHARD [laughs] Gratuitous. I believe it was Stoker who started a lot of what most people think of as "vampire traditions?"
WARREN I confess I am not particularly conversant with the novel. I'm not much for such sensational fiction.
EDWARD I am.
RICHARD I am.
HERBERT Don't look at me.
EDWARD Go on.
RICHARD [prompting] They drink blood?
WARREN Probably attributable to either anemia, as Herbert suggested, or to any number of wasting diseases that plagued people.
EDWARD But what about the bite marks?
HERBERT Disease sores. Or the predation of rats. Which, in turn, spread disease.
WARREN Very likely. Rats have lived cheek and jowl with humans since the dawn of civilization.
RICHARD Stoker did make the connection between his vampire and rats - he was supposed to be able to summon and control them.
HERBERT If you consider the "vampire" as symbolic of disease, then its presumed connection to rats is fairly logical.
RICHARD But Dracula also couldn't enter a home without being invited?
CHARLES [drink - ahh] On the other hand, we boys could, and did. Why don't I take my narrative back up?
WARREN Go ahead.
CHARLES I won't be able to adequately describe the place to convey the depth of the horror we felt in its presence.
EDWARD We promise to laugh quietly.
CHARLES No need. [deep breath, bracing himself] There was this sort of cloudy whitish pattern on the dirt floor - a vague, shifting deposit of mould or nitre which we usually seemed to be able to trace out amidst the sparse fungous growths near the huge fireplace of the basement kitchen.
EDWARD Something carved into the floor?
CHARLES Floor was dirt. No. This patch... it bore an uncanny resemblance to a doubled-up human figure.
RICHARD Like some sort of primitive grave-marking?
CHARLES [growing haunted] On one certain rainy afternoon I fancied I glimpsed a thin, yellowish, shimmering exhalation rising from the nitrous pattern toward the yawning fireplace. [brisk] Shortly after, my cousin and I broached this to our uncle.
WARREN Perhaps you could put names to these people?
CHARLES Of course. My cousin - well, I'll just call him Randolph, and our uncle's name is Elihu Whipple. Doctor Elihu Whipple.
WARREN Whipple? I know him - or have met him, but didn't he recently--?
CHARLES [cutting him off] Yes, yes. I'll get there.
EDWARD Ooh! A mystery.
CHARLES Uncle Elihu never pooh-poohed our concerns about the house. As it turned out he'd done a good deal of research on it, himself.
RICHARD The house is still standing, is it? Might be worth making a day trip to Providence - or rather a night trip.
CHARLES Probably futile - the house has been cleaned and is once more gainfully employed.
EDWARD A happy ending? To a vampire story? Say it isn’t so!
WARREN [grim] Not as happy as all that, I warrant.
EDWARD Not fair! You know something!
RICHARD How do you mean the house has been cleaned?
CHARLES Everything natural around the house used to be ... wrong. From the aforementioned fungus to the tree roots that grew into the cellar, and the weeds that flourished in the back yard - everything was twisted and flabby and somehow unnatural. And now--
EDWARD All better?
CHARLES Yes. But at a cost.
WARREN [serious] Yes.
CHARLES The history of the house is long-winded, statistical, and drearily genealogical, but there runs through it a continuous thread of brooding, tenacious horror and preternatural malevolence. My cousin and uncle apparently became obsessed with charting every death possibly attributable to the house.
WARREN [carefully choosing his words to not give anything away] I never fancied Whipple as an historian?
CHARLES A physician and amateur antiquarian. And yet, he approached the problem much as Herbert might - as a technical one. Hygiene and germs.
HERBERT Oh. A realist. In your family?
CHARLES Yes. Well, every herd has its black sheep. Now, the origin of the house, amidst a maze of dates, revealed no trace of the sinister. It was built by a merchant, William Harris.
EDWARD Built on a recently moved graveyard?
CHARLES A recently-straightened part of the street, anyway.
EDWARD But there must be something?
CHARLES Actually, from what I understand, the land the house stands upon was never marked for graves.
EDWARD Why bring up the graves, then, if they're not relevant?
RICHARD Setting tone.
WARREN Of course, vampires were supposed to be buried in unhallowed ground, like suicides, so the LACK of a consecrated churchyard is possibly just as significant.
CHARLES The following spring, sickness occurred among the Harris children, and two of the four died within a month.
HERBERT Children are particularly susceptible to many kinds of disease.
CHARLES And one of the two servants died of it in the following June. The remaining servant, Eli, constantly complained of weakness.
WARREN Servants have traditionally been drawn from the lower classes, who in turn tend to be more superstitious, and therefore more inclined to give credence to, and in turn be affected by, such things.
CHARLES Eli died the next year, as did the master of the house and a third of the four children.
CHARLES The widow fell victim to insanity, after such a series of tragedies, and was thereafter confined to the upper part of the house. This was in 1768.
EDWARD This story is starting to sound oddly familiar. Was there a meteorite involved?
HERBERT [scoffing] In Providence?
CHARLES The widow's sister, Mercy Dexter, moved in to take charge of the family. Mercy was a plain, raw-boned woman of great strength, but her health visibly declined from the time of her arrival.
EDWARD Now it sounds like Luella Miller.
HERBERT You would think that by this time they would have the sense to move out.
EDWARD Or get in an exorcist.
HERBERT Nonsense. It's more likely something toxic in the groundwater - arsenic, perhaps. Slight traces can cause anemia and wasting as it builds up in the body's vital organs.
CHARLES So many deaths and a case of madness, all within five years, started strange rumours.
RICHARD Rumors? Nonsense. This is a definite pattern. Herbert? You agree?
HERBERT [definite] Arsenic. Or one of the other heavy metals. Perhaps Thallium? Did anyone suffer from hair loss?
CHARLES There were other symptoms. The poor widow, in her madness, gave voice to dreams and imaginings of the most hideous sort.
HERBERT Fever rantings.
CHARLES Her terrors periodically necessitated her remaining son's residence with a cousin. He improved during these visits, and, had Mercy been as wise as she was well-meaning, she would have let him live away permanently.
WARREN What sort of direction did this madness take? Paranoia?
CHARLES Now, William, the one remaining child of this unfortunate house, broke away from the place in his teens by enlisting - what with the [ahem] trouble with Great Britain.
EDWARD What trouble?
WARREN [hinting] Consider the year?
EDWARD I don't know what year we're at. I haven’t been taking notes.
EDWARD Oh, of course.
CHARLES William was away for the duration, married, and returned to his family home to find tragedy.
RICHARD No "Mercy"?
CHARLES Mercy was still there, but her once robust frame had undergone curious decay, so that she was now a stooped and pathetic figure with hollow voice and disconcerting pallor.
HERBERT Did feeblemindedness run in the family as well? Wasn't this a clear enough hint?
CHARLES William, now an adult witnessing these events, quickly arranged for the building of a new and finer house... across town.
CHARLES And closed the house on Benefit Street.
WARREN Probably for the best.
EDWARD Are we nearing 1800 yet?
CHARLES Almost. William and his wife passed away in the yellow fever epidemic of 1797, leaving their child in the care of a cousin, Rathbone Harris.
RICHARD Now there's a name!
CHARLES Rathbone was a practical man, and rented the Benefit Street house despite dead William's wish that it remain vacant. He did not concern himself with the deaths and illnesses which caused so many changes of tenants, or the steadily growing aversion with which the house was generally regarded.
EDWARD He's lucky no one held him responsible.
HERBERT As if one could sue over poor living conditions!
CHARLES In 1804, the town council ordered the place fumigated with sulphur, tar and gum camphor due to several more deaths - presumably caused by the passing fever epidemic.
HERBERT [dismissive] Might as well wear pointed masks and wave nosegays.
WARREN I'm sure they did the best they could with the science they had.
CHARLES Several generations passed, with the house standing empty.
HERBERT And yet, whether operating under rank superstition or sound scientific principals, it never occurred to them to simply tear it down, clear the ground, and begin anew with clean pipes from a municipal water source?
CHARLES No, indeed, but it never rented again after the series of deaths culminating in 1861.
EDWARD So when you braved its depths, it had lain fallow for some ... 50 years?
CHARLES I'm a bit older than that, but that's a good round number to work with. Fifty years empty - and fifty years hungry.
RICHARD So we are now at the present, and your cousin Randolph enters the stage?
CHARLES Carrington Harris, last of the male line, had meant to tear the place down and build an apartment house on the site--
HERBERT Finally, another sane one.
CHARLES But Randolph convinced him to allow them to look into it first.
EDWARD With the history you've given - I'll agree it shows a pattern of misfortune, but what, precisely, made you think of vampires, and not ghosts or curses, or poison, or any of the other various explanations we've found?
CHARLES Well, it was one of the original servants who started talking vampires. She was a superstitious Exeter woman, and you know how they can be.
ANN Some remnant must lie nearby, mayhap under this very house! Doomed to sup off the blood or breath of god-fearing folk! My own grand-dam told me time and again, Ann, she said, to destroy such a hellion, ye must find its earthly shell, and burn its black and festering heart!
EDWARD Not a stake through the heart and cutting off its head?
RICHARD Perhaps that was "plan B".
CHARLES As she was sacked and left the house relatively unscathed, this servant Ann's stories spread far and wide.
WARREN So that is one.
CHARLES One what?
WARREN Reason to bring up vampires.
HERBERT Hardly a credible witness.
CHARLES Ah yes. There was also the raving.
EDWARD The widow?
CHARLES Rhoby Harris. Hers, and others. Among the people who died in that house, a large percentage were subject to such ranting.
HERBERT Again, not unnatural in certain kind of fevers.
[CHARLES BEGINS TO BUILD FROM HERE]
CHARLES In their more lucid moments, several of the afflicted went on about sharp teethed, glassy-eyes creatures that crouched on their chests and scratched at their necks?
RICHARD Fuseli's "Nightmare" comes to mind. An imp sitting on the chest of a sleeping woman? Though it always looked a bit more bemused than threatening to me.
EDWARD And then there's cats who steal the breath from babies.
WARREN Some demonic images are universal - at least among the various Christian branches.
CHARLES In the last throes of their disease, many of these afflicted even began to foam and bite and scratch at their caretakers!
HERBERT Hydrophobia? Perhaps rabid rats lurking in the walls?
[CLIMAX OF CHARLES' POINTS]
CHARLES And all of them ranting in guttural French? A language not ONE of the afflicted was familiar with?
[moment of silence]
RICHARD [hesitant] oh. Um... are they quite sure it was French?
WARREN How could they mistake French? Unless it was, say, Belgian.
RICHARD I've traveled in Europe. If you speak NO languages but English, all languages are equally incomprehensible - at least, at first.
HERBERT What makes you think that no one around the afflicted spoke French?
RICHARD Charles specified that none of the victims spoke any French. How many people can live with, or even around, a speaker of another language and not pick up a few words?
CHARLES Bravo, Richard!
RICHARD And, unlike, say, New Orleans, in New England, French speakers have traditionally been a bit light on the ground.
CHARLES Oddly, that leads me to the next part of the story.
WARREN The French?
CHARLES Following up on the French connection, Randolph and Elihu uncovered historical references to a French family who settled in the area long before this house was built.
EDWARD And were buried there, right?
CHARLES A lease from 1697, showed a small tract of ground being let to an Etienne Roulet.
WARREN Roulet? Why does that sound familiar?
CHARLES And yes, the Roulets had laid out their graveyard behind their cottage, and no record of any transfer of graves existed.
EDWARD Hah! And why were they in the area? On the run from witch trials?
CHARLES The Edict of Nantes, actually.
EDWARD The what?
EDWARD [louder] What?
WARREN French protestants, driven out of France after the country declared itself definitely Catholic. And it wouldn't be the Edict that drove them out - that was earlier.
EDWARD Wasn't there something about Huguenots in a moving picture?
RICHARD Intolerance. Right next to the Babylonian orgy scenes.
CHARLES Ahem. The Roulets were unpopular, and had already been not-so-politely asked to leave East Greenwich. Apparently their sort of Protestantism didn't quite fit with the standards of New England society.
EDWARD I thought all protestants were pretty much the same?
RICHARD To misquote Wilde, they're one church separated by a common religion.
HERBERT Religion is such a futile waste of time.
CHARLES Etienne Roulet wasn't much of a farmer, but he could read and write and figure - the words "drawing queer diagrams" appear in one of the accounts, but without details. So Roulet was employed in a clerical post at Pardon Tillinghast's wharf.
HERBERT Tillinghast? Huh. [recalling "from beyond"]
RICHARD Small world.
CHARLES New England, especially. Everyone's always related to everyone, and knows everyone else. Everyone important, anyway. So the Roulets, being so entirely ...other... were never accepted.
RICHARD Roulet! I have it!
RICHARD I don't know any of the dates, but I think it was in the reign of Henri the fourth of France. I don't know why, but I associate it with "Boy bitten by lizard" and a couple of particularly gruesome beheadings of John the Baptist. [explaining] Paintings. There was a Roulet accused of being a ... [falters, not sure] a werewolf?
WARREN I knew there was something! Yes of course -a Jacques Roulet. An indigent accused of the horrid murder of a young man. From what little I can recall, he claimed he had changed into a wolf and was therefore condemned to death, but ultimately commuted to life imprisonment in a madhouse.
EDWARD And you just know this, Warren, off the top of your head?
WARREN Well, I was going through a couple of books recently, looking for tales... well... that I might bring HERE.
RICHARD Any more salacious details? I seem to remember hints of cannibalism?
WARREN Without any notes, I cannot be precise, but I think he was found in a wood, covered in blood and flesh, shortly after the killing of a boy by a pair of wolves.
EDWARD But what would a werewolf in France have to do with a vampire or ghost in Providence?
HERBERT Or disease.
WARREN Actually, werewolves and vampires have often gone hand in hand - the werewolf being generally considered one who has sold his soul in a pact with the devil, and the vampire being the soulless revenant of someone who died either while under such a pact or as the victim of such a fiend.
EDWARD So being a werewolf in life makes one inevitably a vampire after death?
CHARLES Much like going to Boston Latin leads inevitably to Harvard.
CHARLES So. On to my relations and the house on Benefit street.
EDWARD That would make a good title for a story. [ominous] The House on Benefit Street.
CHARLES They went about the whole thing with an eye to scientific method. Truly. Even brought along various mechanical devices.
HERBERT Such as?
CHARLES [sigh] I was really hoping to pass over this. I don't know. Just say mechanical devices and leave it at that.
HERBERT Imprecision. Always imprecision.
CHARLES They brought the devices in during the day - and recall, they can walk directly in from the street into the dreaded basement.
EDWARD Or directly out, as the case may be.
CHARLES Randolph spent the day poking around, but found only the same depressing mustiness and faint suggestions of noxious odours.
RICHARD Well, if it was daylight, anything phosphorescent would lie unseen.
CHARLES Precisely. So he tried again, this time by night. And with somewhat more trepidation.
RANDOLPH One stormy midnight, I ran the beams of an electric torch over the mouldy floor. The place had dispirited me curiously that evening, and I was almost prepared when I saw a particularly sharp definition of the "huddled form" we recalled from boyhood.
CHARLES Even while he watched, he seemed to see the thin, yellowish, shimmering exhalation which had startled us years before.
RANDOLPH A subtle, sickish, almost luminous vapour rose, which seemed to develop vague and shocking suggestions of form, before passing into the blackness of the great chimney, leaving foetor in its wake. Refusing to flee, I watched it fade - and as I watched I felt it was in turn watching me greedily with eyes more imagined than visible.
CHARLES The upshot of this palpable manifestation was that they determined to both spend the night in the house. After papering the windows, to avoid the eyes of possible onlookers, they added camp chairs and cots to their accoutrements and settled in.
RANDOLPH We were not, as I have said, in any sense childishly superstitious, but scientific study and reflection had taught us that the known universe of three dimensions embraces the merest fraction of the whole cosmos of substance and energy.
HERBERT [interested] Scientific approach, indeed. I assumed you were exaggerating.
CHARLES I accept your apology.
HERBERT I didn't apologize.
RANDOLPH To say that we actually believed in the supernatural would be carelessly inclusive. Rather say that we were not prepared to deny the possibility of certain modifications of vital force and matter, of something that might exist only infrequently in three-dimensional space because of a more intimate connection with other spatial units.
EDWARD I'm not even going to ask.
HERBERT They were approaching the matter as if the potential creature was something that exists in an ...adjacent dimension. Interesting.
RANDOLPH The family of Roulet had likely possessed an abnormal affinity for outer circles of entity. Could not, then, some force drawn or created by this passion continue to function in the vicinity long after the original participants were dead and gone?
HERBERT Unfortunately, there is no way to prove or disprove such sloppy hypotheses. [musing] And yet, one might easily imagine an alien nucleus of substance or energy, formless or otherwise, kept alive by imperceptible subtractions from the life-force or bodily tissue and fluids of more traditional "living things".
EDWARD Which, I believe, would make it something called ...a "vampire"?
HERBERT [ignoring him] Such a thing might be actively hostile, or simply motivated by self-preservation.
EDWARD Back to Luella Miller.
RICHARD Regardless, in any good social circles, eating people is considered... unacceptable.
HERBERT Well, of course such a creature would have to be eliminated, and yet the concept is fascinating.
WARREN Perhaps such creatures, throughout history, formed the basis for many such myths.
CHARLES But this myth is the only one we're dealing with tonight. Randolph and Elihu were ready for anything they could be ready for.
RANDOLPH We had devised two weapons to fight it; a large Crookes tube operated by powerful storage batteries and provided with peculiar screens and reflectors, in case it proved intangible and opposable only by vigorously destructive ether radiations--
HERBERT Is this item available for an examination?
CHARLES I might ask him. But not for a couple of months. He's rather busy at the moment.
EDWARD Oh, no - don't tell me he's in a madhouse?
CHARLES [considering, then definite] Mm. No.
RANDOLPH We also had a pair of military flame-throwers of the sort used in the World War, in case the creature proved material and susceptible of standard destruction. We were prepared to burn the thing's heart out - if heart existed to burn.
HERBERT This is the sort of preparation sorely lacking in most of these so-called ghost stories. And nary a religious icon in sight?
CHARLES Um, no.
HERBERT I am impressed.
EDWARD You don't mind that they planned to "burn its heart out", so long as they didn't brandish a crucifix while they did it?
HERBERT Melodramatic, perhaps, but burning the heart out of any living creature is just as likely to be an effective way of destroying it.
RANDOLPH Our cellar vigil began at 10 P.M., daylight saving time. A weak, filtered glow from the rain-harassed street lamps outside, and a feeble phosphorescence from the detestable fungi within, showed the dripping stone of the walls.
CHARLES They left the street door unlocked, in case of a sudden need to depart. And they sat, playing stalking goat to a creature as potentially deadly as any man-eating tiger. They talked far into the night until Uncle Elihu, being the older, grew drowsy.
RANDOLPH Something like fear chilled me as I sat there in the small hours alone - I say alone, for one who sits by a sleeper is indeed alone; perhaps more alone than he can realize. Once, when the noisome atmosphere of the place seemed about to sicken me, I opened the door and looked up and down the street, feasting my eyes on familiar sights and my nostrils on wholesome air.
CHARLES He returned inside, ready to trade shifts with the elder man. But all was not well.
RANDOLPH As I turned my electric flashlight on him, all at once he commenced to mutter. The words were at first indistinguishable, and then, with a tremendous start, I recognized something about them which filled me with icy fear!
CHARLES Oui. Now, Uncle Elihu could read and write in a passable Gallic hand, and presumably COULD speak the tongue as well. So it might ... possibly be ... coincidence.
RANDOLPH Suddenly a perspiration broke out on the sleeper's forehead, and he leapt abruptly up, half awake. The jumble of French changed to a cry in English!
ELIHU My breath, my breath!
EDWARD Wait! You just used the past tense! [mimicking] "Uncle could read and write!" Did the vampire get him?
CHARLES As a matter of fact, he woke at this point, and recounted a dreadful dream he had been having.
WARREN A sort of race-memory?
CHARLES All the while, he said he felt a sensation of choking, as if some pervasive presence had spread itself through his body.
RANDOLPH I reflected that dreams are only dreams, and that these visions could be, at most, no more than my uncle's reaction to the investigations which had lately filled our minds to the exclusion of all else.
EDWARD Plausible denial.
RANDOLPH My uncle seemed now very wakeful, and welcomed his period of watching even though the nightmare had aroused him far ahead of his allotted two hours.
EDWARD He still went to sleep? After all that?
RANDOLPH It was not a pleasant sleep, and for a second I was not sorry for the echoing shriek which clove through the barriers of dream and flung me to a sharp and startled awakeness.
RICHARD Who was shrieking?
EDWARD His uncle? Your uncle, I mean?
CHARLES [grim] Yes.
RANDOLPH As I turned, I dreaded what I was to see; for the scream had been in my uncle's voice, and I knew not against what menace I should have to defend him and myself.
HERBERT Did he at least have the sense to arm himself with the flamethrower?
CHARLES I believe so.
EDWARD Not the BEST idea, considering his uncle might be in the line of ... um... fire.
RANDOLPH Yet after all, the sight was worse than I had dreaded. Out of the fungous-ridden earth steamed up a vaporous corpse-light, yellow and diseased, which bubbled and lapped to a gigantic height in vague outlines half human and half monstrous.
RICHARD A yellow blot upon the dark palette of the tenebrous cellar.
RANDOLPH I say that I saw this thing, but at the time it was to me only a seething dim cloud of fungous loathsomeness, enveloping the one object to which all my attention was focused. That object was my uncle!
EDWARD Why did it wait so long?
WARREN Maybe the apparition only appears at certain times of night.
HERBERT Maybe the dimensions only overlap at certain times.
CHARLES Maybe you should let me finish the tale.
RANDOLPH And then, my uncle, features somehow blackening and decaying, leered and gibbered and reached out dripping claws to rend me!
RICHARD All the more terrible for being a relative.
RANDOLPH Only a sense of routine kept me from going mad. Recognizing the bubbling evil as no substance reachable by matter or material chemistry, I threw on the current of the Crookes tube apparatus, and focused the strongest ether radiations.
HERBERT [eager] Yes?
RANDOLPH There was a frenzied sputtering, and the yellowish phosphorescence grew dimmer to my eyes. But I saw that the waves from the machine had no effect whatsoever.
CHARLES Then, in the midst of that daemoniac spectacle, he saw a fresh horror which sent him fumbling and staggering towards that unlocked door to the quiet street, careless of what terrors he might loose upon the world.
RANDOLPH In that dim blend of blue and yellow light, the form of my uncle commenced a nauseous liquefaction whose essence eludes all description, and in which there played across his vanishing face such changes of identity as only madness can conceive. He was at once a devil and a multitude, a charnel-house and a pageant.
CHARLES He said that dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of faces played briefly across the countenance of our dear uncle - showing, perhaps, all those whose lives had been tainted by the shadowy intruder.
RANDOLPH Toward the last, it seemed as though the shifting features strove to form contours like those of my uncle's kindly face. I like to think that he existed at that moment, and that he tried to bid me farewell before the final dissolution.
HERBERT [disbelieving] He... melted?
EDWARD Seems a bit extreme for an entity that took years and years to kill sister Mercy.
WARREN Consider that the thing had been starved for half a century. Where it might have been satisfied with a slow drain in the past, now it was forced to gorge.
RICHARD And poor Randolph fled into the night?
CHARLES Yes. He wandered aimlessly for a time, unsure of whom he might confide in.
EDWARD Naturally he thought of you.
CHARLES My taste in the ... unusual isn't much of a secret. He woke me early that morning and together we approached that evil dwelling.
RANDOLPH All residue was gone, for the mouldy floor was porous.
CHARLES I saw the cot, the chairs, the instruments, and even the yellowed straw hat of my uncle. But no sign of the figure in the floor.
RANDOLPH I tried to conjecture as nearly as sanity would let me just what had happened, and how I might end the horror, if indeed it had been real. It did not seem to be matter, nor ether, nor anything else conceivable. What, then, but some exotic emanation; some vampirish vapour such as those that rustics claim lurk over certain church yards?
CHARLES Randolph has always been a bit of a dreamer. Between us we quickly concocted a plan, and went to fetch digging implements, military gas-masks, and six carboys of sulphuric acid.
EDWARD That you just happened to have lying around?
HERBERT That's what those were for.
RICHARD Herbert? Why on earth do you have sulphuric acid handy?
HERBERT It serves many purposes. But getting rid of organic ... remains... is a primary one.
CHARLES It took nearly an entire day to get everything organized. Randolph spent most of that time trying to take his mind off the horrors he had witnessed.
RANDOLPH I passed the hours in reading and in the composition of inane verses to counteract my mood.
EDWARD "inane verses"?
RICHARD [limerick] There once was an old man from Arkham...
CHARLES Just before noon the next day, we commenced digging - right where that stain had always been seen, though there was no trace of it there in the strong morning sunshine.
RANDOLPH As I turned up the stinking black earth in front of the fireplace, a viscous yellow ichor oozed from the white fungi it severed.
CHARLES With the deepening of the hole, which was about six feet square, the evil smell increased. We had arranged the great carboys of acid around and near two sides, so that when necessary they could be emptied down the aperture in quick succession.
EDWARD And the gas masks?
CHARLES originally to keep out the vapor itself, but we used them as much for the dreadful stench.
RANDOLPH Suddenly my spade struck something softer than earth. I shuddered and made a motion as if to climb out of the hole, which was now as deep as my neck.
CHARLES I was above at the time, taking some much-needed fresh air, but returned when he called out in horror.
RANDOLPH The thing I had uncovered was fishy and glassy - a kind of semi-putrid congealed jelly with suggestions of translucency. I scraped further, and saw that it had form -huge and roughly cylindrical; like a mammoth soft blue-white stovepipe doubled in two, its largest part some two feet in diameter.
CHARLES Abruptly, he leaped out of the hole, then began frantically unstopping and tilting the heavy carboys, and precipitating their corrosive contents one after another down that charnel gulf.
EDWARD Before you could even see it?
CHARLES I saw enough.
RICHARD A cylinder? So it was some sort of giant worm?
EDWARD A folded worm?
CHARLES Randolph had his own explanation for it, though I don’t know how much credit to give him, there in his abject terror.
HERBERT What did he think it was?
CHARLES All I saw was a blinding maelstrom of greenish-yellow vapour which surged tempestuously up from that hole as the floods of acid descended. People outside, seeing the hideous yellow fumes that soared up the chimney, attributed it to a dumping of waste in the river by some factory, but I know how mistaken they are as to the source.
HERBERT But you had apparently only uncovered part of the thing?
EDWARD I guess the acid found its way back to the rest of it.
CHARLES People also talk about the hideous noise which came at roughly the same time from some disordered water-pipe or gas main underground - but again I could correct them if I dared.
RANDOLPH It was unspeakably shocking, and I do not see how I lived through it. I did faint after emptying the fourth carboy; but when I recovered I saw that the hole was emitting no fresh vapours.
CHARLES I dragged him away and we waited until the fumes cleared. We still emptied the rest of the acid down the hole, just to be on the safe side.
RANDOLPH The dampness was less foetid, and all the strange fungi had withered to a kind of harmless greyish powder which blew ashlike along the floor.
HERBERT Probably from the fumes.
RANDOLPH One of earth's nethermost terrors had perished forever; and if there be a hell, it had received at last the daemon soul of an unhallowed thing. And as I patted down the last spadeful of mould, I shed the first of many tears with which I have paid unaffected tribute to my beloved uncle's memory.
EDWARD But what was it? What did he say he saw?
CHARLES Keep in mind that at two feet diameter, this cylinder would have made a very stocky man indeed.
RICHARD Portly, even.
HERBERT And difficult to double up that way, once obesity set in.
EDWARD What was it?
CHARLES Again, I never saw it, and only have Randolph's rather addled ideas to go by. And he insisted that if it had lain there all those centuries, eating and growing, it could be any sort of size.
CHARLES He said this thing - this huge bent thing- was ... the creature's ...elbow.
[moment of silence]
EDWARD [snickering] what?
CHARLES His words, not mine.
EDWARD But if it grew when fed, wouldn’t it have shrunk when starved? It should have been tiny.
WARREN Unless by devouring Charles's uncle - Oh, I say, I'm sorry - but perhaps that would have returned it to its... ahem ... former glory?
HERBERT It's ridiculous. I was perfectly willing to consider the possible existence of some such thing, but quite apart form the inanity of a thing which grows so large that it COULD achieve such stature - there's a simple issue of displacement of earth!
CHARLES I expect it happened very very slowly.
RICHARD Not to mention that if something that size were its elbow, its entire body would have been underneath most of the neighborhood. Why then, would it restrict itself to harming only those in that single house?
WARREN True. If it were going to have a single area to draw sustenance from, you might think it would be centered on, say, the mouth.
EDWARD Yeah. No one who's anyone eats with their elbow.
CHARLES [annoyed sigh] I'll make a point of telling Randolph the next time I see him.