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Alone With the Horrors

The Great Short Fiction of Ramsey Campbell, 1961-1991

by Ramsey Campbell

Paperback, 448 pages, Tor Books, List Price: $26.99 |


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Alone With the Horrors
The Great Short Fiction of Ramsey Campbell, 1961-1991
Ramsey Campbell

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NPR Summary

A collection of short works written by the award-winning author of Gathering the Bones over the course of 30 years is complemented by the writer's personal account of how the stories were written and an assessment of their flaws and merits.

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Also by Ramsey Campbell

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Alone With The Horrors

The Tower from Yuggoth


Of late there has been a renewal of interest in cases of inexplicable happenings. From this it seems inevitable that further interest be shown in the case of Edward Wingate Armitage, who was consigned to St Mary's Hospital, Arkham, in early 1929, later to be taken to an institution. His life had always been, by choice, the life of an outcast and recluse; for the greater part of his life outside the institution he had been interested in the occult and forbidden; and his supposed finding of incontrovertible evidence in his research into certain legendary presences outside Arkham, which sent him into that period of insanity from which he never recovered, might therefore have been a seeming triviality, portentous only to his already slightly deranged mind. Certainly there were, and still are, certain Cyclopean geological anomalies in the woods toward Dunwich; but no trace could be found of that which Armitage shudderingly described as set at the highest point of those strange slabs of rock, which admittedly did bear a certain resemblance to titan stair-treads. However, there undoubtedly was something more than the vast steps that Armitage glimpsed, for he had known of their existence for some time, and certain other things connected with the case lead an unbiased outsider to believe that the case is not quite so simple as the doctors would have it believed.
Edward Wingate Armitage was born in early 1879 of upper-class parents. As an infant, nothing peculiar may be noted concerning him. He accompanied his parents to their weekly attendance at the Congregationalist church; at home he played, ate, and slept with regularity, and in general acted as a normal child would. However, the house's welfare was naturally attended by servants, most of which, in the manner of servants, had a tendency to talk more to children than the elder Armitages; and so it was that a three-year-old was noted to show unaccountable interest in what fell out of space on the Gardner farm in that year of 1882. The elder Armitages were forced to speak more than once to the servants on the subject of what was fitting for discussion with Edward.
A few years later, after a period in which Edward declined to leave the house except for walks with his parents, a change was seen to occur. It was in the summer of 1886 that this became particularly noticeable. He would indeed leave the house, but could not be seen playing anywhere nearby, though servants often saw him leave with a book from the house library under his arm--that library which had been partially built up of books from the inherited property of a grandfather. Certain of these books were on subjects occult and morbid, and Edward had been warned not to touch them--his father often considering their destruction, for he was a definite Congregationalist, and disliked such books' being in the house; but never did he put this idea into practice. None of these books appeared to be missing while Edward was away, but the father was unsure quite how many there were; and the boy was never met returning, so that he might have returned whatever books he had taken. He invariably said that he had been "out walking"; but certain newspaper items, dealing with curious signs found scratched in the soil of graveyards, and certain peculiar erections, together with bodies of various wild creatures, found in the woods, gave the parents cause to wonder.
It was at this time, also, that the boy began to be avoided by all the children in the vicinity. This inexplicable avoidance began immediately after a young girl had accompanied Edward, or rather followed him, on one of his silent trips. She had seen him enter a grove of trees outside Arkham, where a peculiar arrangement of stones in the centre, somewhat resembling a monolith, caught her eye. Characteristic of the cold-bloodedness of children in those times, she did not cry out when he procured a small rat, tied helpless near the monolith, and slit its throat with a pocket-knife. As he began to read in some unknown and vaguely horrible language from the book, an eldritch shadow seemed to pass across the landscape. Then came a sinister muffled roaring sound; sinister because, the girl swore, the roaring followed the syllables shrieked by Edward Armitage, like some hideous antiphonal response. She fled, telling her friends later but not her parents. Both the parents of the various children and Edward's parents inquired into the resultant avoidance, but could elicit no information. Only tales handed down through various families now make this tale available, and it is doubtful how much of it can be believed.
As time passed, Edward's father contracted typhoid fever, further complications assured that it would be fatal, and in 1913 he was taken to St Mary's Hospital (later to see another Armitage's consignment there) where, on the twelfth of May, he died.
After the funeral, Edward was left in the care of his mother. Bereaved of her husband, she had now only her son on whom to lavish affection. Edward's upbringing after this stage was much less strict: he was able to read and use whatever books in the library he wanted; his mother did not object to this, but she disliked his frequent trips at night, whose destination he refused to reveal. It was noticeable that after one of these nocturnal trips the morning paper would be missing; and Edward, who rose before anyone else in the house, denied that it ever arrived on these occasions. One maid who showed a tendency to speak of certain nocturnal atrocities reported in the missing papers, was dismissed after the boy had told his mother of certain thefts which could only have been committed by this maid.
It was in 1916 that Edward left home to enrol at Miskatonic University. For a short time he gave most of his leisure up to study mathematics; but it was not long before he gained access to the restricted section of the library. After this step, his former leisure studying was eclipsed by a feverish perusal of those books residing in the library and about which so much has been written and conjectured. The hellish Necronomicon engulfed his attention in particular; and the amount of time which he spent in taking notes and copying passages from this tome of terror was only cut short by the repeated adjurations of his tutors to devote more time to his mathematical work.
However, it is obvious that he still found time to peruse these monstrous volumes; and toward such evidence is the curiously hinting tale of his tutor. Calling at the student's study while he was away, the mathematics tutor was constrained to enter and examine a few notebooks scattered over the bed. One of these was taken up with notes on the orthodox studies Edward was following; the tutor glanced through this, noting the care with which the notes had been prepared. A second was composed of passages copied from various sources--a few in Latin, but most in other, alien languages, set off by certain monstrous diagrams and signs. But the notebook which startled the tutor more than the cabalistic signs and non-human inscriptions was that containing certain speculations and references to rites and sacrifices performed by students at Miskatonic. He took this to the principal, who decided not to act as yet, but, since there were numerous references to an "Aklo Sabaoth" to be performed the next night, to send a party of tutors to spy on these proceedings.
The next night certain students were observed to leave their rooms at different hours and not to return; several of these were followed by tutors asked by the prinscipal to report on that night's proceedings. Most of the students made their way by devious routes to a large clearing in the otherwise almost impenetrable woods west of the Aylesbury Road. Edward was noted to be one of those who seemed to be presiding over the strange gathering. He and six others, all wearing strange and sinister objects around their necks, were standing on a huge, roughly circular slab in the centre of the clearing. As the first ray of the pallid crescent moon touched the slab, the seven standing upon it moved to stand on the ground beside it, and began to gibber and shriek strange half-coherent ritual invocations.
It is only believed by one or two of the watching professors that these invocations, in languages meant for no human tongue, elicited any response. Undoubtedly it was a disturbing sight, those seven students yelling sinister syllables at that slab of stone and moving further from it on each chorused reply from the encircling watchers. This being so, the impressions of the hidden tutors may be understood. Probably it was simply an atmospheric effect which made the vast slab appear to rise, slowly and painfully; and it must merely have been nervous tension which brought one savant to hint at a huge scaly claw which reached from beneath, and a pale bloated head which pushed up the slab. It must certainly have been the marks of something natural which were found by the next day's daylight party, for such marks would lead one to believe that the reaching claw had seven fingers. At a chorused shriek from all the participants, a cloud passed over the moon, and the clearing was plunged into abysmal darkness. When the place was again illuminated, it was totally empty; the slab again was in position; and the watchers stole away, disturbed and changed by this vague glimpse of nether spheres.
The following day saw a terrible interview with the principal, by Edward, among others. His mother, perplexed, was summoned across the city; and after she and Edward had visited the principal's office, when the door was locked, they left the university, never to return. Edward had to be escorted from the office by two of his former, non-decadent fellow-students, during which he screamed curses at the unmoved principal, and called down the vengeance of Yog-Sothoth on him.
The crosstown trip was utterly unpleasant to Mrs Armitage. Her son was continuously mumbling in strange accents and swearing that he would see the principal "visited." The disturbing interview at Miskatonic University had brought on a sickening faintness and weakness of her heart, and the pavement seemed to hump and roll under her feet while the houses appeared to close in on her and totter precariously. They reached their extensive house on High Street only barely before the woman collapsed in her reaction to that terrible interview. Edward, meanwhile, left her in the front room while he repaired to the study. He seemed to be bent on discovering a certain formula; and he returned in a rage when all the forbidden books in his library would not yield it.
For some days after Armitage, now eighteen years old, went about the house in a state of morbid introspection. From various hints dropped in what little conversation he had, it became obvious that he was mourning his loss of access to the blasphemous Necronomicon. His mother, who was fast succumbing to that heart weakness started by the unpleasant affair at the university, suggested that he should take up research into things a little nearer reality. Showing contempt at first for his mother's naïveté, he began to perceive possibilities, apparently, in this system, and told her that he might pursue research "a mite closer to home."
It was perhaps fortunate that, on November 17, Mrs Armitage was rushed to the hospital, taken with a bad fit of heart failure, the aftermath of Edward's dismissal. That night, without regaining consciousness, she died.
Freed from her restraining influence, unaffected by long university hours, and having no need to work because supported by the extensive estate he had inherited, Edward Wingate Armitage began that line of research which was to lead to the revelation of so many unsettling facts, and, finally, to his madness in 1929.

Copyright © 1993, 2004 by Ramsey Campbell