Wednesday, June 21, 2017

HP Lovecraft's "The Terrible Old Man"

Standard Introduction
           I am a fan HP Lovecraft.  Not his god-awful racism of course, but the fact that he wrote in such a stilted un marketable way.  I think it was Neil Gaiman (Though I can’t find the interview) that described HP’s work as "a churning morass of adjectives".  But the ideas in the stories, the mysterious and weird parts that lend themselves so well too modern horror are often great.
            The idea of humanity not being important at all, that the universe is chaotic and hostile, and that even knowing about these things leave the protagonists of the stories insane from the knowledge, those are all cool.
            What is also cool is that all of HP Lovecraft’s writings are public domain.  They can be re-printed, referenced, and even re-written by those (like me) who are fans of the ideas but want to make the writing cleaner, or tighter, or just less racist.  (Seriously, why did you name the cat that Howie?  Did you think it was funny?)

Today’s Entry
            I figured I would take one of his more accessible stories and rewrite it a bit as an experiment.  “The Terrible Old Man” is a classic horror set up.  Nothing too strange.  Aside from cutting out the word “very” a few times and reorganizing some sentences it is almost the same tale.  I hope you enjoy it.
            If you want to do this yourself, here is a link to HP Lovecraft’s complete works, or at least the horror ones.  I believe he wrote some romance stories too and I have no idea where to find those.  “The Terrible Old Man” also has an animated presentation I have seen on youtube using their own modifications, so check that out too if you wish.
            Anyway, here is the story.

He has also been a game character.

The Terrible Old Man
            It was the design of Ricci, Czanek, and Silva to call on the Terrible Old Man. The one that dwells all alone in an ancient house on Water Street near the sea.  The one reputed to be both exceedingly rich and exceedingly feeble; which forms a situation so attractive to men of the profession of Ricci, Czanek, and Silva.  Their profession was dignified trade robbery.
            The inhabitants of Kingsport say and think many things about the Terrible Old Man which generally keep him safe from the attention of gentlemen like Mr. Ricci and his colleagues.  Rumors swirling like leaf’s obscure the near certainty that the Terrible Old Man hides a fortune of indefinite magnitude somewhere within his musty and venerable abode.
            To hear accounts, the Terrible Old Man is a strange person.  Believed to have been a captain of East India clipper ships in his day; old, so old, that no one can remember when he was young; and so taciturn and recluse that few know his real name.

            Among the gnarled trees in the front yard of his aged and neglected place he maintains a strange collection of large stones, oddly grouped and painted so that they resemble the idols in some obscure Eastern temple. This collection frightens away most of the small boys who love to taunt the Terrible Old Man about his long white hair and beard, or to break the small-paned windows of his dwelling with wicked missiles; but there are other things which frighten the older and more curious folk who sometimes steal up to the house to peer in through the dusty panes.
            The rumors say that on the ground floor, in a bare room, a table sits with many peculiar bottles.  In each bottle, a small piece of lead hangs suspended, pendulum-wise from a string.  They say that the Terrible Old Man whispers to these bottles, addressing them by such names as Jack, Scar-Face, Long Tom, Spanish Joe, Peters, and Mate Ellis, and that whenever he speaks to a bottle the little lead pendulum within makes certain definite vibrations as if to answer.

            Those who have watched the tall, lean, Terrible Old Man in these peculiar conversations, do not watch him again.

            Angelo Ricci, Joe Czanek, and Manuel Silva were not of Kingsport blood; they were of that new and heterogeneous alien stock which lies outside the charmed circle of New England life and traditions.  They saw in the Terrible Old Man merely a tottering, almost helpless grey-beard.  A pitiable old recluse who could not walk without the aid of his knotted cane, and whose thin, weak hands shook with some withering condition of age.
            They really were quite sorry in their own way for the lonely fellow, whom was the source of deriding gossip and otherwise shunned, the ancient villager at whom all the dogs barked and snarled.
            But, as it is known with ironclad certainty, business is business.  To these robbers whose souls were in their profession, there is a lure and a challenge about an old and feeble man who has no account at the bank, and who pays for his few necessities each visit to the village store with Spanish gold and silver minted two centuries ago.

            Ricci, Czanek, and Silva selected the night of April 11th for their call.  Mr. Ricci and Mr. Silva were to interview the poor old gentleman, whilst Mr. Czanek would be waiting for them and their purloined burdens with a covered motor-car by the gate in the tall rear wall of their host’s grounds on Ship Street.  They desired to avoid needless explanations in case of unexpected police intrusions, a made these plans for a quiet and unostentatious departure.

            As prearranged, the three adventurers started out separately so as to prevent any evil-minded suspicions afterward.  Ricci and Silva met in Water Street by the old man’s front gate.  Although they did not like the way the moon shone down upon the painted stones through the budding branches of the gnarled trees, they had more important things to think about than mere idle superstition.
            They feared it might be unpleasant work making the Terrible Old Man loquacious concerning his hoarded gold and silver, for aged sea-captains are notably stubborn and perverse. Still, he was old and he was feeble, and there were two visitors with intent to ask the hard and probing questions.
            Ricci and Silva were experienced in the art of making unwilling persons voluble, and the screams of a weak and exceptionally venerable man can be easily muffled.  So they moved up to the one window on the house that cast light and heard the Terrible Old Man talking childishly to his bottles with pendulums. Then committed to their task, they donned masks, and knocked politely at the weather-stained oaken door.

            Waiting seemed very long to Mr. Czanek as he fidgeted restlessly in the covered motor-car by the Terrible Old Man’s back gate in Ship Street.  He was more tender-hearted than most robbers, and he did not like the hideous screams he had heard in the ancient house just after the hour appointed for the deed.  Had he not told his colleagues to be as gentle as possible with the pathetic old sea-captain?
            Nervously he watched that narrow oaken gate in the high and ivy-clad stone wall. Frequently he consulted his watch, and wondered at the delay.  Had the questioning proved too hard and the old man died before revealing where his treasure was hidden?  Had a thorough search become necessary?  Were floorboards, closet doors, and old furniture being pulled away and open in a mad search?
            Mr. Czanek did not like to wait so long.  He did not like waiting long for coffee in a café.  Here, in the dark, in such a place, any and all waiting seemed too long.  Then he sensed a soft tread or tapping on the walk inside the gate.  A gentle fumbling at the rusty latch.  He saw the narrow, heavy door swing inward.
            In the pallid glow of the single dim streetlamp Mr. Czanek strained his eyes to see what his colleagues had brought out of that sinister house which loomed so close behind.  But there he did not see his colleagues, only the Terrible Old Man leaning quietly on his knotted cane.  The Terrible Old Man smiling hideously.
            Mr. Czanek had never before noticed the color of that man’s eyes, but now in the dark they shone yellow.

            Little things make considerable excitement in little towns.  The rumors swirled.  The people of Kingsport talked all that spring and summer about the three bodies that had washed in with the tide.  They had been horribly slashed as with many cutlasses, mangled as by the tread of many cruel boot-heels, and were scarcely identifiable as human.

            Some spoke of things as trivial as the deserted motor-car found in Ship Street.  Some of inhuman cries they had heard late one night, probably of a stray animal or migratory bird, night owl citizens shared gossip too after all.  But in this idle village gossip the Terrible Old Man took no interest at all.  He was by nature reserved, and when one is aged and feeble, one’s reserve is doubly strong.  Besides, so ancient a sea-captain must have witnessed scores of things much more stirring in the far-off days of his unremembered youth.

            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

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