The Necronomicon

by Vernon Shea

(Vernon Shea was one of the less well-known members of the Lovecraft Circle. Like many of the others, he tried his hand at fiction, with varying degrees of success. The following story was written in time for Lovecraft himself to read it, and he made a small number of annotations to the manuscript, all of which I have noted below. To my knowledge, this story has never before been published in the English-speaking world: I have drawn the present text from a facsimile of the manuscript in a French publication, Dragon & Microchips: Le Seul Fanzine Qui Rêe. -- DC.)

At forty six Edward Stowescroft surveyed his literary life without regret, but with an undeniable melancholy. Its rewards had been damnably meagre -- meagre beyond his expectations, and from the first he had been sensible that to pursue his course without concessions would bring at best but a living wage. Throughout his career he had been discouragingly ill paid. Hack work in his twenties, revision and "ghost writing" in his thirties had sufficed while he nurtured and cultivated his art; yet that art, so sedulously practiced, in its flowering drew admiration from a woefully limited if fervent audience.

Stowescroft was a man of brilliant attainments. Modest to a fault in his ambitions, he aspired to be little else than a well-cultivated gentleman in the exacting New England sense of the term: that cultivation meant a thorough grounding in the classics, a comprehensive knowledge of the natural sciences, and more than a dilettante's understanding of painting and architecture, of economics and sociology, of history and biography and politics. So wide were his sympathies as revealed in his correspondence that people were disposed to grant him a truly encyclopaedic comprehension, although he himself was the first to decry such a description. An antiquarian of note, his most especial delights lay in visiting historical sites along the Atlantic coast. To explore a church such as Notre Dame des Victoires in Quebec or to revisit the Poe environs in Richmond gave him keener anticipation than a much-needed check from an editor.

Stowescroft's countenance was patterned severely along the lines of his New England heritage. To a stranger he might appear somewhat prim and humorless with his dark brown eyes deep-set above a formidably long nose, the tight line of his lips, and the stern chin, but in reality his wit was as renowned as his tolerance. He lived on the second floor of a venerable Georgian house in the city of his birth. His widowed aunt [note: here and throughout HPL has altered Shea's "maiden aunt" to "widowed aunt" -- DC] occupied the ground floor and helped with the house-keeping; his differences with his wife had been amicably settled by a divorce years before.

To his readers he might be a source of fascinated speculation, for the intensity of his writings in unusual fields hinted at delvings into black magic, but to his correspondents his views were well-known -- even the apparent contradictions in his nature, such as the military streak that made him love firearms and volunteer for a war his intellect assured him was senseless or caused him to espouse a fascism incompatible with his civility and gentle tolerance. For Stowescroft managed a correspondence such as has not flourished since the eighteenth century. In a script minute and instantly recognizable he wrote voluminously on myriad topics, casually developing a theme to essay-length before relinquishing it; by that time the correspondent had been edified and informed to an astonishing degree. So skillfully did he write that although Stowescroft had almost a hundred correspondents, he never once gave offence and almost never lost an argument. Although he wrote with unfailing felicity, his correspondence took so much of his time that he had difficulty in fulfilling his commercial obligations or -- more important -- in writing his own inimitable tales.

And those tales were distinctly worthy of the most eager expectations. Their range was restricted to the somewhat narrow field of the horror tale -- for Stowescroft had so long been a recluse that the more normal themes of literature were virtually closed to him, despite his great talent -- but within that field Stowescroft need yield to no one, even if his tendency toward self-disparagement might make him fancy that certain British writers, such as Blackwood and Dunsany and Machen, excelled him in craftsmanship. Truly, Stowescroft was as successful in depicting the faintly morbid and gloomy atmosphere of New England as ever was Hawthorne; and stylistically he had matched and then surpassed Poe. His portraits of Arkham (Salem) were unforgettable; there was a singing rhythm in his shorter tales that was verbally delightful; and in his longer tales he attained a degree of outsideness so convincing that their spell lingered in the memory for years. Even to the least impressionable reader there came during the progress of the tale a half-belief in dark demons such as Nyarlathotep and in planets of dread like Yuggoth and especially in that abhorrent book, the Necronomicon.

The Necronomicon had been his most successful creation. Purporting to be the centuries-old and clerically banned work of a mad Arab, Alhazred, it had figured in most of his stories as the sourcebook of incantations and dread magic rites. It was casually mentioned in the most shuddery of allusions; and such was the skill of his writing and such the credulity of his readers that it was taken at its face value. Probably the readers felt a tinge of uneasiness at its every mention. Such books, if they really existed, should be destroyed, they thought; for, while they could read of the most fearsome abominations with enjoyment, the suggestion that there might be some basis in truth disturbed them greatly.

Stowescroft himself was far from deriding such literal interpretations, for in truth he himself could never laugh over the Necronomicon. The conception for the book had come to him in circumstances which had haunted his memory every since. All his life Stowescroft had been subject to nightmares of the most frightening potency; indeed, several of his most vivid dreams had furnished ideas for his tales. One night he had dreamed, and knew he dreamed, yet the knowledge that he was not awake did not rouse him from the dream, as is almost always the case. His dream was so terrifying that he struggled to escape into consciousness and found he could not. Yet in some manner it was vouchsafed him that if he did not awaken there would not be a living Edward Stowescroft to come presently to awareness. The military streak in his nature would not tolerate so abject a surrender; and by dint of the utmost endeavor he managed his release -- to find himself, not in his bed, but in an abandoned Providence cemetery near a grave whose mouldering stones gave the singular impression of having been recently disturbed. And in his mind ineradicably was the thought of the book, even the name. He had seized upon it for his stories, since much of the success of weird tales depends upon the choice of sinister-sounding and memorable symbols, things like Dunsany's lion-shunned Bethmoora, like Chambers' Yellow Sign, like Machen's Aklo letters [HPL writes in the margin: "ritual?", but Machen in fact writes of "Aklo letters". -- DC] -- but he confessed to himself a slight uneasiness in the appropriation.

The Necronomicon had justified its use subsequently. Few stories came from Stowescroft's gifted pen without some references to it, and other writers to whom he acted as mentor began likewise to use it in their narratives. Stowescroft's influence among younger writers was very pronounced. Of the contributors to the esoteric magazine in which the majority of Stowescroft's tales had appeared, there were few who had not become acquainted with the deceptively dour-looking writer, either personally or through correspondance. Many a promising talent had been fostered by his mentorship; a more scrupulously honest and yet encouraging critic could scarce be found, and it is to his everlasting credit that Stowescroft never once trod on the over-sensitive toes of egotistical young writers. In return, they helped to spread the fame of the Necronomicon. The very youthful Robert Blake [i.e., Robert Bloch: HPL had used the name "Robert Blake" for Bloch in the story "The Haunter of the Dark". -- DC] made especial use of it in his famed Ghoul and Doom tales; the Comte d'Erlette [i.e., August Derleth: named for an actual ancestor of Derleth's, the Comte d'Erlette supposedly wrote . -- DC], the brilliant Wisconsin novelist, in his "potboilers" made the Necronomicon much more poignantly vivid than his somewhat shop-worn themes; and the Egyptian painter and poet, Klarkash-Ton [i.e., Clark Ashton Smith. -- DC], had drawn a picture of it that was so disquietingly like the book of the dream, even to the exact position of a worm-hole, that Stowescroft had been unable to sleep for nights.

Consequently there was considerable of a stir amongst the "gang" of the magazine when, in a somewhat cryptic note, Stowescroft asked them to discontinue further reference to the book. The Comte d'Erlette, an indefatiguable worker, was forced to delete it from half a dozen tales he had written since his latest bi-weekly letter to Stowescroft, and to recall it from the proofs of several accepted manuscripts. Lounger, Jr. [i.e., Frank Belknap Long. -- DC], the closest associate of the writer, made a hurried trip to the Providence ménage. He was shocked to find that Stowescroft almost overnight had become the old man he had whimsically pretended to be in his correspondence.

"What is it, Edward?" he asked in tones of shock. Behind him the widowed aunt was walking about, shaking her head and muttering as to herself. There was not the wonted responding twinkle in Stowescroft's eyes as he weakly beckoned Lounger, Jr. to a seat. He was in the high-backed chair which commanded an excellent view of Federal Hill [note: here and throughout HPL has altered Shea's "Beacon Hill" to "Federal Hill". Beacon Hill is in Boston, whereas Federal Hill could be seen from the window of HPL's home in Providence. -- DC], a shawl about his shoulders, although the day was not chill. There was a deep resignation in his face. Lounger, Jr. received singularly an impression that he was dying, and the very thought fell upon him like an icy hand. He was somewhat reassured a moment later when Midnight, a venerable tomcat, came into the room and leaped upon Stowescroft's lap. The relaxation in the writer's face as he stroked Midnight restored the familiar appearance of the household, and made Lounger, Jr. dismiss the feeling of portent as beyond credence.

"It was fantastic of me, Nappy, I suppose," Stowescroft was saying slowly, "to ask you and the rest of the gang to stop the mention of the Necronomicon. And yet I must insist that you do precisely that. Oh, I can't explain why; it's against all the rules of natural science; it even sounds like one of my own tales; yet lately I have been receiving the intimation that the Necronomicon is more real than I had supposed. But how can that be? It is as if Cervantes were haunted by the ghost of Don Quixote. Still, were I to credit Yoga and the rest of that quackery of the Far East, I might believe that the very persistence of mention of the Necronomicon had created more than a mental image. The Yogas teach that many things can gain solid form through concentration."

That evening Stowescroft sat in his chair. Far away lights were springing up on Federal Hill. He sat in reverie, thinking of Lounger, Jr.'s reassurances, and wishing that he had had the courage to make a clean breast of the affair. Why had he not told him of how precisely Klarkash-Ton's painted book duplicated the Necronomicon of his dreams? Or of how the quotations from the book, with which he studded his stories, required not the slightest labor, but rather sprang to his pen as if by rote? Or even more alarming, of how even the quotations of the "gang", of Blake's and Comte d'Erlette's, which presumably would have to be invented by them, had sounded disturbingly familiar? He remembered with a sudden access of trepidation the visit of the Italian from Federal Hill, who excitedly had insisted that he burn the book, and when Stowescroft had assured him it was an invention, had declared that it was known to his grandfather, and that his grandfather after whispering of it had made the sign of the cross.

Was it possible that somewhere such a book did exist, and that by some curious communication he had been made aware of it in his nightmares? And, granting so impossible a speculation, how could it be found and its spell exorcised?

Stowescroft sat late in his chair that night, and when he went to his bed he was almost instantly asleep and dreaming. And in his dream the Necronomicon was seen with a greater clarity than ever before, and he fingered its mouldering pages that had a wormhole exactly where Klarkash-Ton had placed it in his painting. And for the first time the ancient script was sufficiently legible. He read in it, although it spoke of such abominations that he struggled without avail to awaken. And once and again his eye hesitated over words that were damnedly familiar, and he recognized them in his dreaming state as the quotations the "gang" had so inadvertantly used.

In the morning the words stood out in his memory as clearly as he had read them in his dreams. He shrank in horror from their import, and told himself realistically that such things could not and must not be, and that he was Edward Stowescroft of 66 College St., Providence, R. I., a very prosaic and obscure writer who specialized in outré tales for which he was ill paid.

There was only one way in which the reality of his visions could be tested. The military streak in his composition suggested the way. He spent the morning carefully cleaning and loading a pistol. He made a somewhat shamefaced visit to an old church on Federal Hill and received from the priest a rosary, a font of holy water, and a small crucifix. He gathered up more sinister things according to the instructions of the Necronomicon.

And presently he was ready. He stood in a circle, with his pistol and the holy implements outside it but within reach, and slowly intoned the incantation to Nyarlathotep. After some moments of breathless expectancy he could see a shadowy outline forming just beyond the smoke of his small flame. It became clearer as he watched, grouping itself into a shuddery malevolence that was ominously familiar....

"Go back!" he cried. "I only imagined you!"

The sound of a shot sent the widowed aunt scurrying upstairs. There was an acrid smoke in the room that blinded her for a moment. As it settled, she thought she saw Stowescroft huddled in a contorted heap.

There was a body there, definitely, curiously festooned by a rosary and crucifix, and the shreds of clothing that remained resembled the cloth of the suit Stowescroft had been wearing. But the widowed aunt would never be sure that it was he. Every bit of flesh on the frame had been stripped away, as if by some strong corroding acid.

(The end.)

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