Today would have been H. P. Lovecraft’s 124th birthday. Unfortunately, we simply don’t have the resources to bake all of you shoggoth cupcakes, so instead we’d like to offer you a treat of a more literary variety. Author Rand Burgess has asked a few friends–Brian Evenson, Alistair Rennie, Ann K. Schwader, Kyle Muntz, and Amanda Downum–to join him in a round-robin story, paying homage to “The Challenge from Beyond,” the 1935 weird tale that featured Lovecraft, C.L. Moore, A. Merritt, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long. And, to keep the party going throughout the day, we’ll be sharing this new round-robin story in pieces, one author per hour, until all six pieces have gone live. So, without further adieu, The Book of Cthulhu presents, “The Perplexity from a Place Abroad, Round One.” Enjoy, and Happy Birthday, HPL!
You must understand that I did not, to speak frankly, see anything. But even what I did not see was enough to send me scrambling for the door. How can I go back into that place now, having heard what I heard, and afraid now of what I would see? I have been told, by those who have since visited, that the room itself is deserted, that the only sign that it was ever occupied is a pile of clothing in the corner—Beckman’s clothing no doubt, or the clothing perhaps of a thing that near the end claimed to be Beckman, that for a time wore his face. One man, more astute than the others, claimed to have made out on very close inspection strange marks on the floor and walls, as if the residue of a kind of oily moisture—nothing, he claims it is (for he is not as astute as all that). And perhaps now it is nothing, but of what dark passage does it serve to record? No, I shall keep my distance.
My awareness of Rudolph Beckman began in my youth. He was the neighborhood eccentric, half-mad but basically harmless. He was a man, my father used to say, always running after shadows. My mother had known him since she herself was a child, and remembered him as being different then, as a kindly if sickly young man. He was obsessed with books of the more obscure sort, which he claimed to have purchased in certain muddy back streets of Providence, down near the wharfs. He would carry these muttering past on his way back to his single room in Gilman House as we children watched him. If he caught our attention, he would tell them that yes, this time he was certain he had it this time—certain! What it was, what he was certain he had, we had very little idea.
Very young myself, I thought he was ancient though he must have been still shy of middle age. As my parents passed and I approached middle age myself, my own obsessions having turned morbidly but inexorably in the direction of darker knowledge, I found my thoughts returning to Beckman and wondering, rather crudely, what he might do for me.
I had, you see, received a legacy from my uncle that arrived in a small, weather-beaten trunk. It had been found within the hold of the steamer upon which he had been taking passage across the Adriatic when he disappeared. My uncle was a strange man himself, and I never met him. My sister talked of him often as a man who had gone astray, and I suspect he had a thirst for hidden knowledge to rival that of Beckman. When he vanished, the conscientious steamer captain (hoping surely for a reward) arranged for his trunk to be shipped C.O.D. to the address lettered on its side, which was the house on Angell Street built by my grandparents, then later occupied by my parents and finally given over to me.
It was the contents of this trunk that led me to visit Beckman. Half-remembering his old obsessions, I believed he might be able to make some sense of the contents. I myself was baffled by what I found there. Among the ordinary shabby effects of a man dedicated to itinerancy—worn but sturdy clothes, desert gear, a small well-oiled knife with a curved blade (used perhaps for shaving I naively thought at the time), et cetera—there were two items of note that suggested a more arcane turn of mind:
Round Two of “The Perplexity from a Place Abroad” can be found here.
This portion of “The Perplexity from a Place Abroad” (c) 2014 Brian Evenson