The Arkham Terror, by Pete Rawlik

Arkham Horror Rawlik Watermark 72dpi
Art by Nickolas Gucker: http://www.nickthehat.com – click to enlarge

For the record, my name is Stuart Asa Hartwell. I reside and work at Number Twenty-Nine Crane Street. The expansive three-story house with its basement and sub-basement has served the Hartwell family as both home and storefront for generations, though not always in a medical capacity. My father, like my grandfather and his father before him were butchers and it was through his hard work that I was able to attend nearby Miskatonic University from which I obtained a degree in medicine and became a doctor. Given the heinous acts of which I am accused, it is perhaps better that my parents were lost in the summer of 1905, victims of the madness and typhoid fever that had enveloped Arkham. Shortly before that dreaded year my sister married a man named Kramer and moved to Boston. I have not heard from her or her family in more than fifteen years. Once again, perhaps it is better this way.

My involvement with the creeping horror would begin in that dread summer when even the lowliest of medical students were pressed into public service. The typhoid fever that had come to the city had grown to such an epidemic that both physicians and morticians were overwhelmed. The practice of embalming was forgone and services for the deceased were held en masse. In some cases, a single oversized grave and a hastily erected stone were the only niceties that could be mustered to mark the passing of entire families. Miskatonic University itself had shut its doors. Every member of the medical faculty was in service battling the plague, while non-medical faculty and staff were likewise pressed into carrying out the most menial but necessary tasks. It was not uncommon to see freshly graduated medical students or even nurses directing seasoned professors of literature in the fine sciences of sterilizing medical instruments or changing linens. It is my understanding that in a precedent-setting coup, the entirety of the Miskatonic’s science faculty commandeered the kitchen facilities of the student cafeteria and through the careful rationing of stores and application of modern manufacturing was able to supply not only the university but both the staff and patients of St. Mary’s Hospital for more than a month on a supply that was estimated to meet the needs of less than two weeks. Of all the acts of sacrifice that occurred during those sick days, those of Dr. Allan Halsey, the dean of medicine, were particularly distinguished. A skilled physician, Halsey walked where others feared to tread, taking on cases that appeared hopeless or that had overwhelmed lesser men. Driven to near physical and mental exhaustion, Dr. Halsey recruited me apparently at random, to serve as his driver and assistant. For the whole of July and the beginning of August the two of us crisscrossed the city to treat victims of all stations from the lowest of dockworkers to the daughter of the mayor. Dr. Halsey refused no one, and no act, whether administering injections or cleaning bed pans, was beneath him. That summer I am proud to say I learned much about being a doctor, and I am even prouder to have learned it from Dr. Halsey.

It was on the twelfth of August that Halsey, complaining of exhaustion and a migraine, promptly collapsed into the passenger seat of our commandeered Pierce Arrow automobile. We had spent the last sixteen hours administering to the thirty or so occupants of a rundown tenement on the south side of town, so the fact that he quickly fell into a deep sleep was to be expected. At his home on Derby Street, I could not rouse him from his slumber, and was forced to carry him from the Arrow to his bed. After a brief repast of water and bread, I took up my usual position on the couch in the parlor and quickly fell into a dreamless state of exhausted sleep. It was only the next morning, when I found Dr. Halsey unmoved from the position in which I had left him, that my concern was raised. Unresponsive to my verbal or physical attempts to rouse him, I quickly discovered his breath to be shallow and his heart rate dangerously low. I sent his houseboy, a young lad named Soames, to fetch help, but Doctor Waldron could do nothing but confirm my own diagnosis. Dr. Halsey had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, apparently brought on from the stress of the last several weeks. He lay silent and immobile for the whole of the day, and in the wee hours of the fourteenth his body succumbed to the injury and the great Dr. Allan Halsey passed away.

A funeral service was hastily assembled for the next morning and the entirety of the medical school faculty and remaining students attended. Flower wreaths and other tributes were sent by a number of Arkham’s elite as well as by the city administration. Following the service, the body was allowed to rest within the receiving vault, while the attendees tromped morosely through the streets to the Commercial House and held an impromptu wake that lasted through the afternoon and well into the evening. It was a somber, respectful affair punctuated by bouts of drunken melancholy that served only to drive our mood deeper into depression.

Most vociferous was the newly graduated Herbert West. Over the last two years, as the young West carried out the final phase of his education, years in which the student determines his own course of independent study, research and specialization, he and Halsey had clashed vehemently. West had become an adherent of certain theories, gleaned from the writings of certain European researchers, most notably Gruber and Muñoz, but not widely credited beyond a small circle of eccentrics. Halsey had attempted to counsel West on the futility of such radical theories, and when such warnings went unheeded, had banned West from carrying out experiments involving the administration of various reagents into the bodies of recently deceased animals. At the time West had called Halsey overly sentimental, but the entire campus understood that Halsey was by no means an anti-vivisectionist, but had prohibited West’s experiments on the grounds that his voracious use of subjects as outlined in his experimental design would have quickly devoured the entirety of available subjects, leaving none for use by other students.

West was a charismatic figure and had attracted a small cohort of similarly minded researchers including the weak-willed Daniel Cain, the flamboyant and adventurous Canadian Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, and the diminutive Geoffrey Darrow, who despite his tendency to spend his days sketching anatomical details revealed during autopsies, was considered by many to be one of school’s most eligible bachelors, being the sole heir to the prestigious Darrow Chemical Company. Also present were Paul Rigas, Henryk Savaard, Richard Cardigan and Maurice Xavier. Like West, this band of miscreants had all come into conflict with Halsey or with Arthur Hillstrom, the president of the Miskatonic Valley Medical Society, but in a series of magnanimous gestures, all proposed toasts to the good doctor, and none denigrated his good name. Even West took time to praise the man, though in the same breath he espoused a course of action which hinted at blasphemy and spawned a low and uneasy murmur throughout the room. It was then that I and my sometimes companion Chester Armwright, finding the atmosphere of the room suddenly unsavory, bade our farewells and departed for the evening. Given events to come, our departure was perhaps the most prudent of actions.

The next morning I slept in, the last several days having apparently taken their toll on me, and it was only the smell of my mother’s hash brown casserole that stirred my weary mind and body into action. Over breakfast my father and I listened as the radio announcer reported on two tragic events that had transpired in the night. The first detailed a gruesome discovery. Sometime after midnight the watchman of Christchurch Cemetery had been viciously assaulted and dismembered; a trail of blood led from the body to the gate of the receiving vault where it formed a small pool. A fainter trail led away from the tomb and into the woods where neither man nor dog could follow it. Police had questioned the proprietor of a traveling circus currently in Bolton, but all of the exhibits were quickly accounted for.

The second news report, while not as ominous, struck closer to home. At approximately three in the morning, the police had been summoned to a disturbance at a Water Street boarding house. After forcing a door, the police discovered Herbert West and Daniel Cain unconscious, the victims of a brutal attack from an unidentified stranger that the two claimed to have met in a downtown bar. After an hour, the stranger had suddenly turned violent and began pummeling, clawing and biting his two hosts before vandalizing the contents of the room. While West and Cain had sustained minor injuries, the police wondered how their assailant had fared after leaping from the second-story window to the lawn below.

This then was the beginning of the horror that would come to eclipse that of the typhoid plague. For while neither the police or the newsmen had drawn the connection, it was obvious to me that the stranger that had so brutally assaulted my colleagues was the same person that had so mercilessly slaughtered the cemetery night watchman. That night the streets of Arkham were filled with a preternatural howling, and something monstrous leapt from rooftop to rooftop shattering windows and breaking down doors. That night the beast invaded eight houses, butchering fourteen, and gnawing at the already deceased bodies of three plague victims. Those who had seen the killer, those who had lived, swore that while the thing stood on two legs it was not a man but some sort of hairless and malformed simian with sickly pale flesh and blazing red eyes.

The human mind can tolerate only so many traumas, and the creature that actively hunted through the streets of our fair city had overshadowed the massive but equally passive horrors of the typhoid plague. And so they were pushed aside, ignored, forgotten to make way for this new terror. In the light of day the able-bodied men of the city made plans. A net of volunteer telephone stations were established throughout the city and search parties were organized, armed, and in the evening deployed. Each search party was comprised of a single police officer and four men from the neighborhood in which they were stationed. Thus the searchers were not unfamiliar with the streets that they were patrolling, and I as one of those searchers was not far from my family home.

I remember that night. I remember the hot dry breeze rolling down the streets carrying with it the stench of humanity, and the stink of death. It was low tide and even in the college district I could smell the river. Insects, mostly mosquitoes, gnats and moths with the occasional beetle, were thick that night. They swarmed about the street lights, at windows, and around our heads like clouds of dust, drifting purposefully into our ears, our noses and our eyes. The howling that had filled the night before was gone, replaced by a thin drone that worked its way into my teeth, through my jaw and finally drilling down to the deep recesses of my brain. As time progressed the denizens of the night revealed themselves: a pack of thin feral dogs marched down the street as if it belonged to them; cats, black cats, fat cats, thin cats, calico and tortoiseshells that stalked unseen prey in front yards and along the sidewalks; and then came the rats, lean grey things that skittered and skulked along the curbs and sewers, seemingly unapologetic as they rummaged through the refuse that had accumulated there. Watching these creatures go through their nightly routines, wandering amongst our streets, our yards, and between our homes, made me wonder how much more went unseen in the streets at night, and how much of it impacted our lives during the day. Given time and effort, how much of the plague could be traced to the actions of these unseen and ignored residents of Arkham?

The alarm was raised just before midnight. Something large had scratched incessantly at the second-story windows of a house just a block from our patrol, methodically testing each of the windows, sending the residents of the home to seek shelter in the fruit cellar. The windows had been shuttered and so the beast had not only been deterred but had remained unseen as well, but it had whined in frustration, and slate had tumbled to the street below as the thing dashed across the roof.

By the time I and my fellow hunters arrived, the thing had moved on, but it had not traveled far, for we could hear the faint distant sound of wood splintering and a woman screaming. We ran down the street in the general direction of the disturbance. While my companions paused to gain a sense of direction, I sped on, fully cognizant of where we should be going. The screaming, which I recognized, and which drove me to new heights of frenzy, grew pitched and then suddenly ceased. Reaching the house which was the source of such terrified vocalizations, I cleared the front porch in a single leap and dashed through what remained of the shattered door and frame. Those brave men who followed me stumbled in the dark, tripped up by the furniture and lost in the dark inner rooms of the house. I had no such problems and weaved my way through with practiced grace.

It was in the kitchen that the final tableau was to play out. The gaslight sputtered, giving me only brief glimpses of the scene. On the floor, an older man, the owner of the house, lay in a bloody pulp. His head lolled horribly to one side, and though any semblance of life had long left that body, arterial blood still sprayed rhythmically from the place in which his left arm, the hand of which still held a large cleaver, had been ripped from its socket.

I screamed in outraged denial and was greeted by the sudden movement of another shape in the room, which as the lamp flickered back on was revealed as two figures, one clasped by the other. That the woman was dead was not in doubt, for she was held so tightly about her neck that if she had not died from asphyxiation, she surely had died from trauma to her spine or those fragile arteries that supply blood to the brain. The claws that clamped about her tender throat were pale monstrous things with broken nails caked with blood and filth. As I watched, the face of the beast rose up from behind the dead woman. There was a horrid ripping sound and the woman’s head fell forward as the monster’s own head jerked backwards, tendrils of bloody flesh and chunks of bone clenched between its teeth. It saw me then and I saw it for what it truly was. It dropped that poor woman, casting her aside as one would casually dispose of an apple core, and crouched back. It leapt through the air and I fired my revolver, hitting it squarely in the chest, all the time screaming and cursing the name of the man who had so obviously unleashed this monstrosity.

Though it took a bullet to the chest, the beast, the Arkham Terror, did not die that night. In truth I think it may not be capable of death, nor can it ever be truly alive, not as we know it. It was not until the next day, when nurses and guards at the asylum hosed the thing down, that they learned what I already knew, though they have tried to keep it a secret. Some, the bolder of our city officials, have called for an investigation; have gone so far to suggest a disinterment, to prove the matter once and for all. Most however are content to confine the Terror to the asylum and let the events of that summer become just another part of Arkham’s strange witch-haunted past. But I know the truth, for even in the flickering lamplight I recognized the face of the Arkham Terror; after spending so much time with its owner, how could I not? I do not blame the Terror itself; I curse Herbert West for what he did that summer, for regardless of his intentions, the results were a brutal uncontrollable beast that killed without need or mercy. It was a bestial thing that was once human which broke into my family home and killed my parents. A monster which, as it chewed hungrily on my mother’s cracked skull, I recognized as the late great Dr. Allan Halsey, reanimated by the mad and inept experiments of the deranged Dr. Herbert West!

Editor’s note: While it works wonderfully as a stand-alone story, The Arkham Terror is actually the first chapter in Pete Rawlik’s new Lovecraftian novel Reanimators.  Purchase it at this link; it’s available in print, Kindle, and audio editions.

Pete RawlikPete Rawlik has been collecting Lovecraftian fiction for forty years.  In 2011 he decided to take his hobby of writing more seriously.  He has since published more than twenty stories.  Reanimators, a labor of love about life, death and the undead in Arkham during the early twentieth century, is his first novel.  He lives in Royal Palm Beach, Florida, with his wife and three children.  Despite the rumors he is not and never has been wanted by maritime authorities for crimes on the high seas.

If you enjoyed this story, let Pete know by commenting — and please use the Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus buttons below to spread the word.

Story illustration by Nick Gucker.

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5 responses to “The Arkham Terror, by Pete Rawlik

  1. A soon as I read the first few lines I began to wonder when Herbert West would put in an appearance. The ending,( if you’ve read Herbert West, reamimator), was a little too easy to work out. All the same, a nice piece in the classic Lovecraft mould. Good stuff, Pete. I’m sure HPL would approve.

  2. An elegant alternative perspective on the tale; it was a pleasure to read. Most unexpected to see a Darrow reference; the man’s no Pickman, but there’s so much detail….

  3. I started reading the full “Reanimators” novel at lunch today, but it’s going to take longer than I thought to finish, as I attempt to dig out all the odd references Pete has crammed into this tour de force.

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