The Dunwich Horror
By H.P. Lovecraft
Yet all this was only the prologue of the actual Dunwich horror. Formalities were gone through by bewildered officials, abnormal details were duly kept from press and public, and men were sent to Dunwich and Aylesbury to look up property and notify any who might be heirs of the late Wilbur Whateley. They found the countryside in great agitation, both because of the growing rumblings beneath the domed hills, and because of the unwonted stench and the surging, lapping sounds which came increasingly from the great empty shell formed by Whateley’s boarded-up farmhouse. Earl Sawyer, who tended the horse and cattle during Wilbur’s absence, had developed a woefully acute case of nerves. The officials devised excuses not to enter the noisome boarded place; and were glad to confine their survey of the deceased’s living quarters, the newly mended sheds, to a single visit. They filed a ponderous report at the courthouse in Aylesbury, and litigations concerning heirship are said to be still in progress amongst the innumerable Whateleys, decayed and undecayed, of the upper Miskatonic valley.
An almost interminable manuscript in strange characters, written in a huge ledger and adjudged a sort of diary because of the spacing and the variations in ink and penmanship, presented a baffling puzzle to those who found it on the old bureau which served as its owner’s desk. After a week of debate it was sent to Miskatonic University, together with the deceased’s collection of strange books, for study and possible translation; but even the best linguists soon saw that it was not likely to be unriddled with ease. No trace of the ancient gold with which Wilbur and Old Whateley had always paid their debts has yet been discovered.
It was in the dark of September ninth that the horror broke loose. The hill noises had been very pronounced during the evening, and dogs barked frantically all night. Early risers on the tenth noticed a peculiar stench in the air. About seven o’clock Luther Brown, the hired boy at George Corey’s, between Cold Spring Glen and the village, rushed frenziedly back from his morning trip to Ten-Acre Meadow with the cows. He was almost convulsed with fright as he stumbled into the kitchen; and in the yard outside the no less frightened herd were pawing and lowing pitifully, having followed the boy back in the panic they shared with him. Between gasps Luther tried to stammer out his tale to Mrs Corey.
‘Up thar in the rud beyont the glen, Mis’ Corey—they’s suthin’ ben thar! It smells like thunder, an’ all the bushes an’ little trees is pushed back from the rud like they’d a haouse ben moved along of it. An’ that ain’t the wust, nuther. They’s prints in the rud, Mis’ Corey—great raound prints as big as barrel-heads, all sunk daown deep like a elephant had ben along, only they’s a sight more nor four feet could make! I looked at one or two afore I run, an’ I see every one was covered with lines spreadin’ aout from one place, like as if big palm-leaf fans—twict or three times as big as any they is—hed of ben paounded daown into the rud. An’ the smell was awful, like what it is around Wizard Whateley’s ol’ haouse…’
Here he faltered, and seemed to shiver afresh with the fright that had sent him flying home. Mrs Corey, unable to extract more information, began telephoning the neighbours; thus starting on its rounds the overture of panic that heralded the major terrors. When she got Sally Sawyer, housekeeper at Seth Bishop’s, the nearest place to Whateley’s, it became her turn to listen instead of transmit; for Sally’s boy Chauncey, who slept poorly, had been up on the hill towards Whateley’s, and had dashed back in terror after one look at the place, and at the pasturage where Mr Bishop’s cows had been left out all night.
‘Yes, Mis’ Corey,’ came Sally’s tremulous voice over the party wire, ‘Cha’ncey he just come back a-postin’, and couldn’t half talk fer bein’ scairt! He says Ol’ Whateley’s house is all bowed up, with timbers scattered raound like they’d ben dynamite inside; only the bottom floor ain’t through, but is all covered with a kind o’ tar-like stuff that smells awful an’ drips daown offen the aidges onto the graoun’ whar the side timbers is blowed away. An’ they’s awful kinder marks in the yard, tew—great raound marks bigger raound than a hogshead, an’ all sticky with stuff like is on the browed-up haouse. Cha’ncey he says they leads off into the medders, whar a great swath wider’n a barn is matted daown, an’ all the stun walls tumbled every whichway wherever it goes.
‘An’ he says, says he, Mis’ Corey, as haow he sot to look fer Seth’s caows, frightened ez he was an’ faound ‘em in the upper pasture nigh the Devil’s Hop Yard in an awful shape. Haff on ‘em’s clean gone, an’ nigh haff o’ them that’s left is sucked most dry o’ blood, with sores on ‘em like they’s ben on Whateleys cattle ever senct Lavinny’s black brat was born. Seth hes gone aout naow to look at ‘em, though I’ll vaow he won’t keer ter git very nigh Wizard Whateley’s! Cha’ncey didn’t look keerful ter see whar the big matted-daown swath led arter it leff the pasturage, but he says he thinks it p’inted towards the glen rud to the village.
‘I tell ye, Mis’ Corey, they’s suthin’ abroad as hadn’t orter be abroad, an’ I for one think that black Wilbur Whateley, as come to the bad end he deserved, is at the bottom of the breedin’ of it. He wa’n't all human hisself, I allus says to everybody; an’ I think he an’ Ol’ Whateley must a raised suthin’ in that there nailed-up haouse as ain’t even so human as he was. They’s allus ben unseen things araound Dunwich—livin’ things—as ain’t human an’ ain’t good fer human folks.
‘The graoun’ was a-talkin’ las’ night, an’ towards mornin’ Cha’ncey he heered the whippoorwills so laoud in Col’ Spring Glen he couldn’t sleep nun. Then he thought he heered another faint-like saound over towards Wizard Whateley’s—a kinder rippin’ or tearin’ o’ wood, like some big box er crate was bein’ opened fur off. What with this an’ that, he didn’t git to sleep at all till sunup, an’ no sooner was he up this mornin’, but he’s got to go over to Whateley’s an’ see what’s the matter. He see enough I tell ye, Mis’ Corey! This dun’t mean no good, an’ I think as all the men-folks ought to git up a party an’ do suthin’. I know suthin’ awful’s abaout, an’ feel my time is nigh, though only Gawd knows jest what it is.
‘Did your Luther take accaount o’ whar them big tracks led tew? No? Wal, Mis’ Corey, ef they was on the glen rud this side o’ the glen, an’ ain’t got to your haouse yet, I calc’late they must go into the glen itself. They would do that. I allus says Col’ Spring Glen ain’t no healthy nor decent place. The whippoorwills an’ fireflies there never did act like they was creaters o’ Gawd, an’ they’s them as says ye kin hear strange things a-rushin’ an’ a-talkin’ in the air daown thar ef ye stand in the right place, atween the rock falls an’ Bear’s Den.’
By that noon fully three-quarters of the men and boys of Dunwich were trooping over the roads and meadows between the newmade Whateley ruins and Cold Spring Glen, examining in horror the vast, monstrous prints, the maimed Bishop cattle, the strange, noisome wreck of the farmhouse, and the bruised, matted vegetation of the fields and roadside. Whatever had burst loose upon the world had assuredly gone down into the great sinister ravine; for all the trees on the banks were bent and broken, and a great avenue had been gouged in the precipice-hanging underbrush. It was as though a house, launched by an avalanche, had slid down through the tangled growths of the almost vertical slope. From below no sound came, but only a distant, undefinable foetor; and it is not to be wondered at that the men preferred to stay on the edge and argue, rather than descend and beard the unknown Cyclopean horror in its lair. Three dogs that were with the party had barked furiously at first, but seemed cowed and reluctant when near the glen. Someone telephoned the news to the Aylesbury Transcript; but the editor, accustomed to wild tales from Dunwich, did no more than concoct a humorous paragraph about it; an item soon afterwards reproduced by the Associated Press.
That night everyone went home, and every house and barn was barricaded as stoutly as possible. Needless to say, no cattle were allowed to remain in open pasturage. About two in the morning a frightful stench and the savage barking of the dogs awakened the household at Elmer Frye’s, on the eastern edge of Cold Spring Glen, and all agreed that they could hear a sort of muffled swishing or lapping sound from somewhere outside. Mrs Frye proposed telephoning the neighbours, and Elmer was about to agree when the noise of splintering wood burst in upon their deliberations. It came, apparently, from the barn; and was quickly followed by a hideous screaming and stamping amongst the cattle. The dogs slavered and crouched close to the feet of the fear-numbed family. Frye lit a lantern through force of habit, but knew it would be death to go out into that black farmyard. The children and the women-folk whimpered, kept from screaming by some obscure, vestigial instinct of defence which told them their lives depended on silence. At last the noise of the cattle subsided to a pitiful moaning, and a great snapping, crashing, and crackling ensued. The Fryes, huddled together in the sitting-room, did not dare to move until the last echoes died away far down in Cold Spring Glen. Then, amidst the dismal moans from the stable and the daemoniac piping of the late whippoorwills in the glen, Selina Frye tottered to the telephone and spread what news she could of the second phase of the horror.
The next day all the countryside was in a panic; and cowed, uncommunicative groups came and went where the fiendish thing had occurred. Two titan swaths of destruction stretched from the glen to the Frye farmyard, monstrous prints covered the bare patches of ground, and one side of the old red barn had completely caved in. Of the cattle, only a quarter could be found and identified. Some of these were in curious fragments, and all that survived had to be shot. Earl Sawyer suggested that help be asked from Aylesbury or Arkham, but others maintained it would be of no use. Old Zebulon Whateley, of a branch that hovered about halfway between soundness and decadence, made darkly wild suggestions about rites that ought to be practiced on the hill-tops. He came of a line where tradition ran strong, and his memories of chantings in the great stone circles were not altogether connected with Wilbur and his grandfather.
Darkness fell upon a stricken countryside too passive to organize for real defence. In a few cases closely related families would band together and watch in the gloom under one roof; but in general there was only a repetition of the barricading of the night before, and a futile, ineffective gesture of loading muskets and setting pitchforks handily about. Nothing, however, occurred except some hill noises; and when the day came there were many who hoped that the new horror had gone as swiftly as it had come. There were even bold souls who proposed an offensive expedition down in the glen, though they did not venture to set an actual example to the still reluctant majority.
When night came again the barricading was repeated, though there was less huddling together of families. In the morning both the Frye and the Seth Bishop households reported excitement among the dogs and vague sounds and stenches from afar, while early explorers noted with horror a fresh set of the monstrous tracks in the road skirting Sentinel Hill. As before, the sides of the road showed a bruising indicative of the blasphemously stupendous bulk of the horror; whilst the conformation of the tracks seemed to argue a passage in two directions, as if the moving mountain had come from Cold Spring Glen and returned to it along the same path. At the base of the hill a thirty-foot swath of crushed shrubbery saplings led steeply upwards, and the seekers gasped when they saw that even the most perpendicular places did not deflect the inexorable trail. Whatever the horror was, it could scale a sheer stony cliff of almost complete verticality; and as the investigators climbed round to the hill’s summit by safer routes they saw that the trail ended—or rather, reversed—there.
It was here that the Whateleys used to build their hellish fires and chant their hellish rituals by the table-like stone on May Eve and Hallowmass. Now that very stone formed the centre of a vast space thrashed around by the mountainous horror, whilst upon its slightly concave surface was a thick and foetid deposit of the same tarry stickiness observed on the floor of the ruined Whateley farmhouse when the horror escaped. Men looked at one another and muttered. Then they looked down the hill. Apparently the horror had descended by a route much the same as that of its ascent. To speculate was futile. Reason, logic, and normal ideas of motivation stood confounded. Only old Zebulon, who was not with the group, could have done justice to the situation or suggested a plausible explanation.
Thursday night began much like the others, but it ended less happily. The whippoorwills in the glen had screamed with such unusual persistence that many could not sleep, and about 3 A.M. all the party telephones rang tremulously. Those who took down their receivers heard a fright-mad voice shriek out, ‘Help, oh, my Gawd! …’ and some thought a crashing sound followed the breaking off of the exclamation. There was nothing more. No one dared do anything, and no one knew till morning whence the call came. Then those who had heard it called everyone on the line, and found that only the Fryes did not reply. The truth appeared an hour later, when a hastily assembled group of armed men trudged out to the Frye place at the head of the glen. It was horrible, yet hardly a surprise. There were more swaths and monstrous prints, but there was no longer any house. It had caved in like an egg-shell, and amongst the ruins nothing living or dead could be discovered. Only a stench and a tarry stickiness. The Elmer Fryes had been erased from Dunwich.