Another Lovecraftian tale: this time a British graduate student has the misfortune to take a sabbatical at the Miskatonic University in Arkham, MA. The mellifluous narration is by Dr David Hipple.
Lovecraftian ghost stories are never true ghost stories: there's no afterlife in Lovecraft's bleak mythos and no souls, but there are disembodied intelligences and gruesome resurrections. The whipporwills (nightjars) are, according to New England folklore, psychopomps who accompany a death with their nocturnal singing. Lovecraft features them in his story The Dunwich Horror (1929).
It’s a privilege to exchange the dreaming spires of Oxford for the gambrel roofs of Arkham, Massachusetts; the floral Isis for the darkly muttering Miskatonic River.
Here I could research remote New England communities in their moss-covered cottages. Degenerate these people were, but where else might a scholar observe a séance mingling Calvinism with the rites of the long-vanished Pocumtucks, whose stones litter these hills?
The congregation assembled in a barn off the Aylesbury Pike, with the whippoorwills chorusing outside. Two sisters presided: Dinah and Dorcas Burroughs. Missy Dinah declaimed from the Old Testament and apocryphal texts of doubtful authority. Her sister writhed on the floor. Suddenly, she sat upright and declared:
“Ah see Earl Sawyer an’ there’s a treasure fer his wider. Eff’n yew dig in the field behind Bishop’s farm, ah calc’late yew’ll find suthin’ ye’re lookin’ fer!”
Earl Sawyer’s widow seemed glad of this ghostly intelligence. I interviewed the sisters, finding Missy Dinah articulate but her medium sister a sullen mute.
Dinah said, “We’m more to show ye, eff ye durst to larn!”
When the congregation broke up, I accompanied the sisters to an old cemetery where the whippoorwills screeched. Missy Dorcas scrabbled at the putrid earth beneath an illegibly decayed tombstone. Dinah excavated bones and strings of gelatinous flesh. My disgust struggled with scholarly fascination as the sisters concocted a “shewbread” from this necrotic filth. They chanted in fragments of Hebrew and odder tongues, then broke the shewbread and consumed fragments before offering it to me.
“Aold Wizard Whately knew his letters, but Dorcas kint channel him good. We needs larnin’ sich as yewers to read the Eibon Book.”
Nausea gagged me, but my curiosity was inflamed and the whippoorwills’ cries reached a daemonic crescendo.
I remember little of what followed. Certainly, I did eat. Did I accompany the sisters to a cavern underground? Did I read by candlelight from a crumbling book, pronouncing hideous syllables in a voice that was not my own? Did the earth shake at the name of Yog-Sothoth?
I rehabilitated in Danvers Sanatorium. When I recommenced my studies, my health was broken. My grades, once exemplary, were mediocre. Moreover, my tutor, the celebrated Henry Armitage (Ph. D. Princeton) had passed away.
“A sad loss to academia,” his secretary informed me. “To think of the learning he has taken with him.”
I licked my lips.
“Do you perhaps know where his body is buried?”