Et in Arkham ego
We met at last in witch country. I found him on Flint Street, discoursing with a solid black cat of the old line, who might have been burned as a familiar in another century. He was cordial in his greetings rather than warm, but then I had known him only through his writings. As the midnight tom took his leave, we wandered down the tree-lined avenues of the Federal houses, and made our ambit of the old places. Down Charter Street to the Pickman House, and not far from there to pay our respects at the Memorial, and took a stroll through the lovely old boneyard. The Jonathan Corwin House was out of season, but we peeked through the windows at the museum, and he made light of how the house had been moved since last he saw it, and the gambrel roof which sheltered that terrible room had changed. Then we moved on.
There were other houses, and some museums still open. We paused for a moment before one display of an accused witch being pressed to death, the waxen head grimacing in frozen agony. He looked wistful at the sight, and I laid a penny on the rail next to his hand, which occasioned a smile.
“These poor unfortunates,” he said “They are only victims now. Yet once they were inspirations of holy terror, the devil’s lieutenants clothed in flesh, walking unseen among their neighbors. Then later they became initiates to that Old Religion, martyrs to a strange primeval faith handed down among secret families, the last of the virtuous pagans keeping alive the mysteries of the Horned God and the Triple Goddess, magicians whose powers came down from the stunted troglodyte race that had preceded true mankind, and which still dwelt for a little while in seclusion during the period of his dominance, and by rude custom joined with man, and so their alien powers might survive in strange, hybrid generations. Now we know better; Scratch seeded no serpents in this city on a hill, and the old Faith was no more than the daydreams of a silly woman. Yet look here,”
He pointed surreptitiously at two young women, in fishnets and tall heels, streaks of false silver in their hair, mass-market talismans on finger and wrist and breast. They were quiet, if not somber, and their eyes drank up the displays, and read every line of every placard.
“They acknowledge something greater than the weight of history, cloaked as it may be in hokum and mummery. They see these victims as their ancestors in the Craft, witches in truth if not in fact. For them, it is the story that is important. Not the people.”
So saying he slipped the penny in his pocket, and we went out into the sun once more.
We visited the graves then, the strange faded old tablets and obelisks in their uneven rows, smelled wet grass and new-turned earth, and joked of the ghouls’ larder left beneath the tumbled hills, where a consumptive virgin might be aged for a century before she was ripe enough for a refined palate. As the afternoon came to twilight we found a devil’s seat, as even in death some pour soul felt the need to contribute some small comfort to his fellow creatures, and I stopped to rest my weary legs, and fetch the vial from my pants pocket.
His eyes hardened at the sight, and I wondered at the story they used to tell of him in Brooklyn. He dropped an antique round of steel into my hand, that gleamed like silver in the darkness, with Liberty and One Cent on its face.
“Cancer.” I told him. “Of the pancreas. Not long ago, but the rates of recovery…”
He only nodded. “The illness is long, and painful?”
“Yes.” My voice fell as the word came out, like I had stifled a sigh.
We looked for Gallow’s Hill, but could not find it from where I sat and where he stood, and the light slowly failed us. There were no lamps here, only a pale sliver of moon and the aura of the city, which lit the horizon in a hazy glow.
“Where do we go, from here?”
“I can only speak for myself,” he said after a moment. “But I will walk down that path there, and out through the lichgate to witch-haunted streets with strange names, past houses with gabled roofs going slowly to ruin, torn down to make way for modern apartments to house the teeming multitudes, and along a dark river that drains into the sea. There are churches there older than this country, whose doors I never darken on a Sunday, but whose yards and burial grounds are well familiar to me. There is a campus there for the university, and a library that has received as gifts many old and strange books that I have learnt to read. It is a living place, where battles are fought in city chambers over raising up new buildings and razing others, to preserve a certain character about certain streets which have come to be beloved for the charm and quaintness that comes with age, and always there are those that come there as strangers, and fall in love with it, so they come back again and again, wishing they could stay.”
I laid the empty vial in the grass.
“I wish I could walk those streets with you.”
He smiled then, so like a cat in the darkness, like a piece of the night had come and bound itself to him forever.
“You already have, and will again.”