The Thing on the Doorstep, by H.P. Lovecraft

Chapter 6

It was about Christmas that Derby broke down one evening while calling on me. I was steering the conversation toward next summer’s travels when he suddenly shrieked and leaped up from his chair with a look of shocking, uncontrollable fright — a cosmic panic and loathing such as only the nether gulfs of nightmare could bring to any sane mind.

“My brain! My brain! God, Dan — it’s tugging — from beyond — knocking — clawing — that she-devil — even now — Ephraim — Kamog! Kamog! — The pit of the shoggoths — Ia! Shub–Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young! . . .

“The flame — the flame — beyond body, beyond life — in the earth — oh, God!”

I pulled him back to his chair and poured some wine down his throat as his frenzy sank to a dull apathy. He did not resist, but kept his lips moving as if talking to himself. Presently I realized that he was trying to talk to me, and bent my ear to his mouth to catch the feeble words.

“Again, again — she’s trying — I might have known — nothing can stop that force; not distance nor magic, nor death — it comes and comes, mostly in the night — I can’t leave — it’s horrible — oh, God, Dan, if you only knew as I do just how horrible it is . . . ”

When he had slumped down into a stupor I propped him with pillows and let normal sleep overtake him. I did not call a doctor, for I knew what would be said of his sanity, and wished to give nature a chance if I possibly could. He waked at midnight, and I put him to bed upstairs, but he was gone by morning. He had let himself quietly out of the house — and his butler, when called on the wire, said he was at home pacing about the library.

Edward went to pieces rapidly after that. He did not call again, but I went daily to see him. He would always be sitting in his library, staring at nothing and having an air of abnormal listening. Sometimes he talked rationally, but always on trivial topics. Any mention of his trouble, of future plans, or of Asenath would send him into a frenzy. His butler said he had frightful seizures at night, during which he might eventually do himself harm.

I had a long talk with his doctor, banker, and lawyer, and finally took the physician with two specialist colleagues to visit him. The spasms that resulted from the first questions were violent and pitiable — and that evening a closed car took his poor struggling body to the Arkham Sanitarium. I was made his guardian and called on him twice weekly — almost weeping to hear his wild shrieks, awesome whispers, and dreadful, droning repetitions of such phrases as “I had to do it — I had to do it — it’ll get me — it’ll get me — down there — down there in the dark — Mother! Mother! Dan! Save me — save me —”

How much hope of recovery there was, no one could say, but I tried my best to be optimistic. Edward must have a home if he emerged, so I transferred his servants to the Derby mansion, which would surely be his sane choice. What to do about the Crowninshield place with its complex arrangements and collections of utterly inexplicable objects I could not decide, so left it momentarily untouched — telling the Derby household to go over and dust the chief rooms once a week, and ordering the furnace man to have a fire on those days.

The final nightmare came before Candlemas — heralded, in cruel irony, by a false gleam of hope. One morning late in January the sanitarium telephoned to report that Edward’s reason had suddenly come back. His continuous memory, they said, was badly impaired; but sanity itself was certain. Of course he must remain some time for observation, but there could be little doubt of the outcome. All going well, he would surely be free in a week.

I hastened over in a flood of delight, but stood bewildered when a nurse took me to Edward’s room. The patient rose to greet me, extending his hand with a polite smile; but I saw in an instant that he bore the strangely energized personality which had seemed so foreign to his own nature — the competent personality I had found so vaguely horrible, and which Edward himself had once vowed was the intruding soul of his wife. There was the same blazing vision — so like Asenath’s and old Ephraim’s — and the same firm mouth; and when he spoke I could sense the same grim, pervasive irony in his voice — the deep irony so redolent of potential evil. This was the person who had driven my car through the night five months before — the person I had not seen since that brief call when he had forgotten the oldtime doorbell signal and stirred such nebulous fears in me — and now he filled me with the same dim feeling of blasphemous alienage and ineffable cosmic hideousness.

He spoke affably of arrangements for release — and there was nothing for me to do but assent, despite some remarkable gaps in his recent memories. Yet I felt that something was terribly, inexplicably wrong and abnormal. There were horrors in this thing that I could not reach. This was a sane person — but was it indeed the Edward Derby I had known? If not, who or what was it — and where was Edward? Ought it to be free or confined — or ought it to be extirpated from the face of the earth? There was a hint of the abysmally sardonic in everything the creature said — the Asenath-like eyes lent a special and baffling mockery to certain words about the early liberty earned by an especially close confinement! I must have behaved very awkwardly, and was glad to beat a retreat.

All that day and the next I racked my brain over the problem. What had happened? What sort of mind looked out through those alien eyes in Edward’s face? I could think of nothing but this dimly terrible enigma, and gave up all efforts to perform my usual work. The second morning the hospital called up to say that the recovered patient was unchanged, and by evening I was close to a nervous collapse — a state I admit, though others will vow it coloured my subsequent vision. I have nothing to say on this point except that no madness of mine could account for all the evidence.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:49