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(The Conversations of Demons)

by Alan Jackson

Part 1 appears
in this issue

‘You trip yourself up in your own deceit my friend,’ I interrupted, ‘if it made its creator mad, why are you still sane? If sane you are. I remain unconvinced.’

‘Hermetic philosophy offers the adept, such as myself, certain methods of personal ascension from the constraints of the physical being,’ he replied calmly, ‘in short, I am not susceptible to its powers.’ He returned to his history, ‘The Necronomicon is not a book of the dead, my friend, such as the Egyptians would know or the Tibetan ‘Bardo Thodol’. It is quite simply a perverse manual which describes the various methods by which the Old Ones may be allowed entry into our universe. The Old Ones pre-date any of our deities, and in fact are neither matter nor spirit, they just are. ‘ He leaned forward and stared me full in the face, never blinking. ‘Pope Gregory IX banned the book for its evil and ordered all known copies destroyed. The Necronomicon was secret once and it should remain secret. In uneducated hands it is the most dangerous book in existence, and you must destroy any reference to it in your work.’ His finger pointed directly between my eyes like the barrel of a pistol. I snorted laughter at this.

‘You sit there and decry my attempts at penny-dreadful stories, and then expect me to accept fanciful tales of gods and demons from you?’ I enjoyed the look of surprise on his face at my reaction. ‘Tell me then, if I didn’t conjure it forth from my imagination, how do you explain my knowledge of your, so called, secret book? Answer me that sir,’ pleased with my question, I lounged back in my chair. The old doctor tweaked his bearded chin for a moment in contemplation.

‘There is only one possible explanation,’ he was still firm in his assertion, ‘the Great Old Ones wished you to know of the book’s existence. They wish you to publicise its existence to a public greedy for fantasy, myths, and legends; in this way the knowledge contained within it would be sought again by curious, dangerous, men.’ He paused and then intoned the following as if in quotation from the texts.

‘The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, they walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen. Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They had trod earth's fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread. By Their smell can men sometimes know Them near, but of Their semblance can no man know.’ 1

‘It was the Old Ones who caused your madness Mister Lovecraft,’ he said, ‘they made you mad so that you could know them and so that you could know of the Necronomicon. They have restored your sanity only for you to be a tool to assist them in breaking through again.’ The old man slumped in his chair as if expended. He looked merely old and very frail, not threatening at all. ‘If you help them, you will ultimately destroy all human kind. If you do not help them, well,’ he shrugged leaden shoulders, ‘your sanity is theirs to take at any time as they have already proved. Who can say, your soul may be forfeit also. It is not beyond their reach. That is all.’ I sat and tried to take in the enormity of all that he had said. My mind was awhirl. The old man did not speak again, merely gazed at me with an almost pitying expression.

‘I’ll hear no more of this,’ I shouted. I jumped to my feet and headed for the street to clear my head. I took the stairs three at a time and was out on the sidewalk in the bright summer sunlight in a matter of moments. I was in turmoil as I paced back and forth in front of the shop arguing with myself sotto-voce. Could there be some truth or logic in the old man’s ramblings? Could the idea of this book really have been planted in my mind whilst I was out of my wits? Was I about to jeopardise mankind’s future? Was my sanity only mine at the whim of some extra-dimensional deity? How could this perfect stranger know so much about my circumstances, even down to the contents of my imagination? I resolved there and then to brace the old fool as a charlatan and a confidence trickster. If he would not admit to it I would call a constable. I turned on my heel and walked determinedly back into the shop. I would face down this jackanapes.

I returned to my nook in the occult section. The chairs were empty and no one was in sight. Strange, no one had exited the shop whilst I was pacing outside, and no one had passed me on the stairs. With my dander up, I angrily searched the shop from top to bottom for my target. There was no sign of the old man anywhere. After some time the shopkeeper spotted my frenzied searching and gave pause to ask me what was the cause of my distress. I explained that I searched for the old man with whom I had chatted for the past half hour. He seemed unaware of my companion’s presence. When I described the man’s physical appearance the shopkeeper denied ever have seen him. I began to think the poor man might be in on the conspiracy, I started to babble out what I remembered of the doctor’s name and credentials.

‘I’m Massachusetts born and bred Mister Lovecraft and I’ve never heard of any town called Arkham,’ he shook his head, puzzled, ‘we supply books to Harvard and to every other University in the East, and I’d swear on a stack of bibles that there is no Miskatonic University, not in my ken anyhow.’ Could it be that every man was now turned against me? Was this simple fellow, also a part of this grand plot to scare me out of my wits?

‘You must be aware of a Doctor John Dee though?’ I pleaded. ‘The man said he was a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. Are you going to tell me now that establishment is imaginary?’ I was rapidly approaching my wits end. A look of enlightenment came over the man’s face, and he said he had a reference somewhere that we could check that particular piece information. I brightened immediately and insisted that he go and find his document forthwith. I buzzed and fizzed with pent up excitement whilst he searched his stock room. Now we would have the fellow. The shopkeep returned scratching his head reading from a great ancient dusty bound folio.

‘You’re not going to like this Mister Lovecraft, you’re really not. Someone is taking a rise out of you for sure,’ he mumbled, ‘there was a John Dee who was a Trinity Fellow alright,’ I waited with baited breath. ‘but he was a founding Fellow, it was way back in 1546.’ I couldn’t quite register what this date meant. ‘He was Good Queen Bess’ personal astrologer.’ The chap looked concerned as he held the book out for me to see. ‘Look sir, here’s a woodcut of him,’ he pointed to the page. As I looked, unbelieving, I saw the trim grey beard and the twinkling gentle eyes of the old gentleman I’d just been conversing with not ten minutes before.

It was the last image I recall seeing as the room spun as my senses left me.

A few days later they shipped me back to Butler Hospital here in Providence, where I spent the last month. Doctor Whillett there says that this kind of aberration is not unusual in cases such as mine, and occasionally sufferers do relapse and recover their senses over a period of time. He went out of his way to be positive and reassuring. I’m not sure I subscribe to that view personally, I consider myself to have been warned of worse yet to come.

I sit now with my manuscript in my lap and a roaring fire in the hearth, even though the day is a particularly fine one. I may yet make use of its cleansing flame, if I could just summon up the courage. What to do my friend? Risk my own eternal happiness, or publish and the world be damned? How can a mere mortal be expected to make such a momentous decision. I write this letter now only so that, should any harm befall me, you will be aware of the history behind these events. You must carry on our quest for understanding of the many, many, things yet beyond our knowing.

yours, as ever, your friend

Howard Phillips Lovecraft

1 ‘The Dunwich Horror,’ by H.P. Lovecraft, originally appeared in Weird Tales, April 1929, pp. 481-508.

Copyright © 2006 by Alan Jackson

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