(The Conversations of Demons)
by Alan Jackson
part 1 of 2
Howard Phillips Lovecraft
10 Burnes Street,
Providence, Rhode Island
16th September 1927
Master August William Derleth
Sauk County, Wisconsin
My dearest young friend,
You haven’t heard from me for some time, for which I am truly sorry, but I felt the need to put pen to paper today to lay before you an event that has transpired which goes beyond the realms of what might be considered normal human comprehension. An event so strange and unsettling to me that I fear for my tenuous grip on my sanity and pray daily for the constancy of my wits. I would even go so far as to admit to you that I begin to dread that it may imperil my mortal soul itself. I know that when I describe the circumstances to you that your keen intelligence will grasp the portents and you will appreciate the effects this occurrence has had upon my mental health and well being.
My health, as you well know, had not been excellent for some time since Sonia and I separated. I had been consistently unable to work and so I spent the summer recuperating; visiting some of the stuffy old Van Buren Phillips’ relatives up in Cambridge Massachusetts. I had been mildly diverted for a while frittering away my days with constitutionals around the Harvard campus, and spending many an hour in the cramped old bookshops around the town. It was into one such bookshop that I happened to stray on that fateful day, Starr Books on Arrow Street. Up until then the place had kept me quietly bemused for many happy hours rooting amongst its three floors of musty tomes. The shopkeeper knew of my literary dabblings and was kind enough to indulge me.
I’d discovered their occult section some days before, and had to admit to a secret covetousness of the number and quality of the volumes they had for sale. Most of them were highly collectable items that any owner of a library of natural philosophy would lust after, but all were far beyond my meagre means to purchase. So I’d planned that day to spend a surreptitious hour or two poring over some of the more esoteric manuscripts that I wished I could have in my collection.
I was thus pleasantly engaged, and well into my second hour of critiquing Richard Boulton’s A Compleat History of Magick, Sorcery, and Witchcraft (a fund of boring historic minutiae of witch trials of the seventeenth century, by the way). In front of me, for later reading after a pipe refill, lay Sir E.A. Wallis Budge’s Amulets and Superstitions, when I was jolted from my reverie by a bad tempered voice over my shoulder.
‘Balderdash, poppycock and the drivellings of a mind completely given over to the salts of quicksilver!’ I fairly jumped at the unexpected intrusion. ‘Boulton was a quack of the first order, and you sir would do better than to waste your time on his insipid outpourings.’ My visitor wagged a long knobbly finger in my upturned face. He was a tallish, slim, older gentleman sporting a, yellow-tinged, long grey beard, and although his words initially sounded harsh he had a smile upon his countenance and a mischievous twinkle in his rheumy eyes. For some unknown reason I took to him immediately, perhaps because I was rapidly coming to the same conclusion about Boulton myself after struggling with his execrable prose.
‘Do I take it that you are student of the ancient arts yourself sir?’ I asked. ‘You seem familiar with the texts.’ I gestured to the chair opposite mine and he sat stiffly.
‘I consider myself a scholar, young man, but of far older philosophies than those contained in the nonsense you read here,’ he waved a dismissive arm towards the books on the table in front of us, ‘much of my life has been devoted to the study of alchemy, divination, and Hermetic philosophy. I am an initiate of the Kabbalah of the Sefardi and Mizrahi. I first studied in the Kabbalistic tradition under Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel the Maharal of Prague.’ He paused momentarily and inclined his head, I gained the impression that he gauged whether to reveal more to me, weighing some quality of my suitability to receive the information, ‘I have read the forty-two sacred writings of Hermes Trismegistus which, according to Clement of Alexandria, encapsulate all the knowledge of the ancient priests of Egypt, ‘he smiled smugly at me as if we shared a joke at Clement’s expense. A momentary pause to draw breath, and, ‘I am also the sole recognised expert on Hellenistic writings of Greco-Babylonian astrology. So, yes, one could say I am a student of the arts.’
My brain reeled at this overwhelming verbal onslaught, and my new companion obviously noted my momentary distress. ‘How remiss of me. I become rude and verbose in my old age. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Dee, Doctor John Dee, Professor Emeritus of Miskatonic University in the town of Arkham, Massachusetts and onetime Fellow of Trinity College,’ he offered his hand, which I took. ‘At your service,’ he said. I introduced myself hesitantly, but he waved my words aside, saying, ‘I know exactly who you are Mister Lovecraft, this is not a chance meeting today. I came to speak to you directly about a matter of some import.’ He hunched forward, both gnarled hands clasping the head of his upright walking cane.
I confess that I was a little shocked at this strange turn of events, and must have muttered something to the effect of being unaware of ever having met, or heard of, the gentleman before today. ‘That is of no consequence,’ he interjected, ‘what matters is that I know of you, and I know of your writing, your most recent writing.’
‘It has been some time since I had a work of fiction published. I have been distracted lately,’ I was puzzled, what piece could he mean? The doctor did not seem like a connoisseur of ‘Weird Tales’ magazine, ‘are you referring to one of my earlier articles in the Scientific Gazette?’
‘I haven’t come all this way to talk about penny-dreadful stories,’ he appeared much more serious and a trifle brusque, ‘I mean the manuscript which currently sits on your bureau, the one which you completed shortly before you came to Cambridge.’
‘My story entitled “The History of the Necronomicon”? How could you possibly know of that?’ I was taken aback. ‘No publisher has even seen the draft,’ I felt ill at ease thinking that perhaps I was being spied upon in my lodgings. Someone must certainly have rooted through my belongings. How else could this stranger know of my latest work? I was flustered and becoming angry, ‘I insist that you tell me immediately how such information comes to you.’ I started to rise from my chair.
‘You have recently recovered from a debilitating illness have you not?’ he asked quietly. I sank back down into the seat. After a moment I admitted grudgingly that I had. That at least was fairly common knowledge. He nodded. ‘What exactly was the nature of that illness?’ I dumbly shook my head, I was unhappy with the tack that these questions seemed to be taking.
‘What infernal business is that of yours?’ I spluttered, uncomfortable with this line of questioning. He raised both hands, palms towards me in a placating gesture, and once more a smile softened his features.
‘Let me tell you then what I already know to be true, and you may confirm or not as you wish,’ he raised a quizzical brow. I said nothing. ‘You suffered a brain seizure, did you not? You have had problems with your nerves since childhood, but recently you experienced what can only be described as a breakdown. Is that not correct?’ he queried. Again I sat sullen and volunteered nothing more. ‘While you were in this situation, and to some great degree divorced from the reality around you, you created your latest work.’ I was dumbfounded. How could he know these things about me? Not even my immediate family were aware of the source of this last story.
‘You speculate sir,’ I tried to rally myself to repel the deep personal intrusion I felt, but was probably not very convincing, ‘any doctor or employee of the institution I was resident in could have passed that information on to you.’
‘Could any of them tell me about the story’s dark and mysterious content?’ he replied. ‘Could any doctor tell me that you have written a tale about an ancient book, which you believe to be totally fictitious, called the Necronomicon, which drives the unsuspecting reader quite mad?’ he sat back, satisfied. I was stunned. How could this complete stranger accost me and tell me things about my own creation which I had never divulged to another living soul.
‘You are guilty of deception and espionage, sir,’ I said finally, when I had calmed my breathing, ‘I deduce that you must be, for there is no other possible source for your knowledge in this.’ I slammed my open palm down hard on the table between us, ‘I demand an explanation!’ The echo of my blow hung between us for a few moments.
‘Very well. I am happy to explain my position,’ he leaned back in his chair, eyed me down his long patrician nose, before beginning thus. ‘You did not invent the Necronomicon Mister Lovecraft, it already exists,’ he raised a palm towards me to halt my protestations, ‘it exists. It was originally written in Damascus around 730 AD by a man called Abdul Alhazred, its original title was “Kitab Al Azif” and it drove the writer completely insane. The Greek translation, which gave the book its current title, was made in Constantinople circa 950 AD. The sanity of those later translators was also damaged irreparably, even unto death. I myself have completed the only English translation.’
Copyright © 2006 by Alan Jackson