The Saturday Night Special: “The Terrible Old Man” by H.P. Lovecraft (1921)

          It was the design of Angelo Ricci and Joe Czanek and Manuel Silva to call on the Terrible Old Man. This old man dwells all alone in a very ancient house on Water Street near the sea, and is reputed to be both exceedingly rich and exceedingly feeble; which forms a situation very attractive to men of the profession of Messrs. Ricci, Czanek, and Silva, for that profession was nothing less dignified than 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, despite the almost certain fact that he hides a fortune of

H.P. Lovecraft, 1915

H.P. Lovecraft, 1915

indefinite magnitude somewhere about his musty and venerable abode. He is, in truth, a very strange person, believed to have been a captain of East India clipper ships in his day; so old that no one can remember when he was young, and so taciturn 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. These folk say that on a table in a bare room on the ground floor are many peculiar bottles, in each a small piece of lead suspended pendulum-wise from a string. And they say that the Terrible Old Man talks 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 in answer. Those who have watched the tall, lean, Terrible Old Man in these peculiar conversations, do not watch him again. But Angelo Ricci and 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, and they saw in the Terrible Old Man merely a tottering, almost helpless greybeard, who could not walk without the aid of his knotted cane, and whose thin, weak hands shook pitifully. They were really quite sorry in their way for the lonely, unpopular old fellow, whom everybody shunned, and at whom all the dogs barked singularly. But business is business, and to a robber whose soul is in his profession, there is a lure and a challenge about a very old and very feeble man who has no account at the bank, and who pays for his few necessities at the village store with Spanish gold and silver minted two centuries ago.
      Messrs. 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 waited for them and their presumable metallic burden with a covered motor-car in Ship Street, by the gate in the tall rear wall of their host’s grounds. Desire to avoid needless explanations in case of unexpected police intrusions prompted these plans for a quiet and unostentatious departure.
      As prearranged, the three adventurers started out separately in order to prevent any evil-minded suspicions afterward. Messrs. Ricci and Silva met in Water Street by the old man’s front gate, and 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 very old and very feeble, and there were two visitors. Messrs. 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 lighted window and heard the Terrible Old Man talking childishly to his bottles with pendulums. Then 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 than ordinarily tender-hearted, 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? Very 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 old man died before revealing where his treasure was hidden, and had a thorough search become necessary? Mr. Czanek did not like to wait so long in the dark in such a place. Then he sensed a soft tread or tapping on the walk inside the gate, heard a gentle fumbling at the rusty latch, and saw the narrow, heavy door swing inward. And in the pallid glow of the single dim street-lamp he strained his eyes to see what his colleagues had brought out of that sinister house which loomed so close behind. But when he looked, he did not see what he had expected; for his colleagues were not there at all, but only the Terrible Old Man leaning quietly on his knotted cane and smiling hideously. Mr. Czanek had never before noticed the colour of that man’s eyes; now he saw that they were yellow.
      Little things make considerable excitement in little towns, which is the reason that Kingsport people talked all that spring and summer about the three unidentifiable bodies, horribly slashed as with many cutlasses, and horribly mangled as by the tread of many cruel boot-heels, which the tide washed in. And some people even spoke of things as trivial as the deserted motor-car found in Ship Street, or certain especially inhuman cries, probably of a stray animal or migratory bird, heard in the night by wakeful citizens. 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.

###

A short, animated version of “The Terrible Old Man” can be found on Youtube at
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHpuAAnHdEc.  Four minutes, eighteen seconds in length, it is an abbreviated version of Lovecraft’s 1,200 word story.  It cuts out a lot of the descriptive text and adds a couple of minor touches of its own, but, as far as horror and Lovecraft go, it is a relatively charming tale.   I find the story more enjoyable because of Lovecraft’s unique narrative style.

 

The Saturday Night Special: “Red is the Color of Blood” by Conrad Aiken (1918)

RED is the color of blood, and I will seek it:

I have sought it in the grass.

It is the color of steep sun seen through eyelids.

 

It is hidden under the suave flesh of women–

Flows there, quietly flows.

It mounts from the heart to the temples, the singing

mouth–

As cold sap climbs to the rose.

I am confused in webs and knots of scarlet

Spun from the darkness;

Or shuttled from the mouths of thirsty spiders.

 

Madness for red! I devour the leaves of autumn.

I tire of the green of the world.

I am myself a mouth for blood …

 

Here, in the golden haze of the late slant sun,

Let us walk, with the light in our eyes,

To a single bench from the outset predetermined.

Look: there are seagulls in these city skies,

Kindled against the blue.

But I do not think of the seagulls, I think of you.

 

Your eyes, with the late sun in them,

Are like blue pools dazzled with yellow petals.

This pale green suits them well.

 

Here is your finger, with an emerald on it:

The one I gave you. I say these things politely–

But what I think beneath them, who can tell?

 

For I think of you, crumpled against a whiteness;

Flayed and torn, with a dulled face.

I think of you, writing, a thing of scarlet,

And myself, rising red from that embrace.

 

November sun is sunlight poured through honey:

Old things, in such a light, grow subtle and fine.

Bare oaks are like still fire.

Talk to me: now we drink the evening’s wine.

Look, how our shadows creep along the grave!–

And this way, how the gravel begins to shine!

 

This is the time of day for recollections,

For sentimental regrets, oblique allusions,

Rose-leaves, shrivelled in a musty jar.

Scatter them to the wind! There are tempests coming.

It is dark, with a windy star.

 

If human mouths were really roses, my dear,–

(Why must we link things so?–)

I would tear yours petal by petal with slow murder.

I would pluck the stamens, the pistils,

The gold and the green,–

Spreading the subtle sweetness that was your breath

On a cold wave of death….

 

Now let us walk back, slowly, as we came.

We will light the room with candles; they may shine

Like rows of yellow eyes.

Your hair is like spun fire, by candle-flame.

You smile at me–say nothing. You are wise.

 

For I think of you, flung down brutal darkness;

Crushed and red, with pale face.

I think of you, with your hair disordered and dripping.

And myself, rising red from that embrace.

###

This poem is from Gothic Romantic Poetry, which adds this note about Conrad Aiken:

“Conrad Aiken came from a  wealthy, and well known family who were from New England but moved to Savannah, Georgia. His father was a respected physician and surgeon however for no apparent reason Conrad’s father

Conrad Aiken October 3, 2013 (photographer unknown)

Conrad Aiken
October 3, 2013
(photographer unknown)

suddenly  seemed to change his temperament and became difficult to get on with and violent. Then early in the morning of February 27, 1901, he murdered his wife and shot himself. Conrad (who was eleven years old) heard the gunshots and discovered the bodies. After this tragedy he was raised by his great-great-aunt in Massachusetts.

“To read more about the life of Conrad Aiken read his autobiographical novel Ushant (1952), one of his major works which is an excellent source of information. In this book he speaks candidly about his various affairs and marriages, his attempted suicide and fear of insanity.”

New Prose Poetry: “Remains” by Larry Thacker

I am bound to only the portions of books you’re paging through, a forced patience as you deliberate over the aged leather bindings and titles, of chapter and verse, of gradual plot developments and story arcs, the lovingly slow conflicts unraveling over black on beige onion skin thinness, so hauntingly unrushed even for me with the bottomless well of time in this shaded condition. Long uninterested in my own company.
 
I hear your steady breath mouthing words as you read and it still aggravates hell from me. I would gladly hover here, over your shoulder for years, as this slightest presence, a forever company in poetry and story, word, letter, and pen, if I could but accomplish something more than some slightest benign breeze on the curtain. An afterthought after a boring day. An aftertaste after a sip of tepid wine.
But sometimes, when you have finally given in to sleep’s call in the early morning dark and startle suddenly awake to find that book turned to a different page than you remember, it is then I have just barely mustered enough of a whisper to turn the page, yet you have missed it and I am exhausted in this lost state. Again, undetected. Again, left to my own retched company.  
###
 Larry D. Thacker is a writer and artist from Tennessee (US). His stories can be found in past issues of The Still Journal, Fried Chicken and Coffee, Dime Show Review and The Emancipator. His poetry can be found in journals and magazines such as The Still Journal, The Southern Poetry Anthology: Tennessee, Mojave River Review, Broad River Review, Harpoon Review, Rappahannock Review, and Appalachian Heritage. He is the author of Mountain Mysteries: The Mystic Traditions of Appalachia, the poetry chapbooks, Voice Hunting and Memory Train and the forthcoming full collection Drifting in Awe. He is presently taking his MFA in poetry and fiction at West Virginia Wesleyan College. More stuff at:www.larrydthacker.com
 

New Fiction from Alyson Faye: “The Doll Man”

‘Mummy! Look what I’ve found!’
Amy tugs impatiently at her mum’s sleeve, while Janey taps on her iPhone.  ‘In a minute. Just let me finish.’
 Amy shrugs, skips back to her ‘discovery’, pokes it then pulls at the filthy trousered leg. It jerks. The
white plastic bag, wrapped around the bony fingers, floats upwards. Tugging to escape, in the skin
slicing January winds.  Amy, pink cheeked, rearranges the man’s fingers, so he can better hold the cup of tea she pretends to present to her ‘guest.’
 ‘Nice cup of tea Mister, that’ll warm you up.’
 She’s noticed how cold the man’s hand feels. ‘Proper chilled.’ As her Nan would say.
 ‘Nippy at this time of year Mister.’ Amy parrots the words Janey had tossed at the neighbour earlier.  ‘Here’s my scarf.’
She unwraps her fleecy scarf, carefully wrapping it around the man’s neck, like her mum does for
her. Amy pats his shoulder. ‘That’ll warm you up.’
 She wonders what else she might do to help. Regretfully she peels off her furry red mittens, a gift
from her Nan. Nan’s always saying it’s good to help others.
 Amy gently pulls the man’s dirty fingers into her mittens. Her eye falls on the undone laces of his
solo trainer.
 ‘I’m not very good at laces, but Mummy says I need to practise more.’
 Amy pokes out her tongue, concentrating. ‘…over and under..one loop….oops, nearly..’ she mutters.
Her guest wears a cap which covers the top half of his face. Amy can only see his lips. They look
blue. It seems rude to lift his cap when he’s having a sleep, but she really wants to see his eyes. He
hasn’t moved at all. Trying to be bold, Amy reaches out towards the cap’s brim.
 ‘Come on Amy it’s time to go.’ Janey shouts.
 Amy hovers, uncertain, then pats his shoulder instead.
‘Bye Mister. See you tomorrow.’
 She crawls out from under the slide, turning her face towards her Mummy, she waves happily.
 Mitten less.
 Only the plastic bag bobs a goodbye.
###
“The Doll Man” was previously published by The Casket of Fictional Delights.
As noted by The Casket of Fictional Delights: “Alyson is an ex teacher, from Norwich via Birmingham now living in West Yorkshire, with a son and 3 cats. She writes in her spare time when she’s not singing or swimming.”
Alyson has appeared a couple times previously on this website, when I have re-blogged works of hers from The Drabble.

Fiction from “The Drabble”: “Sleep on Needles” by Intrudesite

Slattery’s note:  This is not what most would consider “horror” per se, but the ending has such a chilling quality that might bring it into the realm of horror ultra-lite.

###

By intrudesite She was just a baby when they diagnosed her with acute leukemia. She did not understand all the words, she feared the pricks given countless times and drawing blood to see if cells s…

Source: Sleep on Needles