The Horror at Red Hook by H. P. Lovecraft

The Horror at Red Hook
by H. P. Lovecraft
Written 1-2 Aug 1925
Published September 1926 in Weird Tales, Vol. 8, No. 3, p. 373-80.
Not many weeks ago, on a street corner in the village of Pascoag, Rhode Island,
a tall, heavily built, and wholesome-looking pedestrian furnished much
speculation by a singular lapse of behaviour. He had, it appears, been
descending the hill by the road from Chepachet; and encountering the compact
section, had turned to his left into the main thoroughfare where several modest
business blocks convey a touch of the urban. At this point, without visible
provocation, he committed his astonishing lapse; staring queerly for a second at
the tallest of the buildings before him, and then, with a series of terrified,
hysterical shrieks, breaking into a frantic run which ended in a stumble and
fall at the next crossing. Picked up and dusted off by ready hands, he was found
to be conscious, organically unhurt, and evidently cured of his sudden nervous
attack. He muttered some shamefaced explanations involving a strain he had
undergone, and with downcast glance turned back up the Chepachet road, trudging
out of sight without once looking behind him. It was a strange incident to
befall so large, robust, normal-featured, and capable-looking a man, and the
strangeness was not lessened by the remarks of a bystander who had recognised
him as the boarder of a well-known dairyman on the outskirts of Chepachet.
He was, it developed, a New York police detective named Thomas F. Malone, now on
a long leave of absence under medical treatment after some disproportionately
arduous work on a gruesome local case which accident had made dramatic. There
had been a collapse of several old brick buildings during a raid in which he had
shared, and something about the wholesale loss of life, both of prisoners and of
his companions, had peculiarly appalled him. As a result, he had acquired an
acute and anomalous horror of any buildings even remotely suggesting the ones
which had fallen in, so that in the end mental specialists forbade him the sight
of such things for an indefinite period. A police surgeon with relatives in
Chepachet had put forward that quaint hamlet of wooden colonial houses as an
ideal spot for the psychological convalescence; and thither the sufferer had
gone, promising never to venture among the brick-lined streets of larger
villages till duly advised by the Woonsocket specialist with whom he was put in
touch. This walk to Pascoag for magazines had been a mistake, and the patient
had paid in fright, bruises, and humiliation for his disobedience.
So much the gossips of Chepachet and Pascoag knew; and so much, also, the most
learned specialists believed. But Malone had at first told the specialists much
more, ceasing only when he saw that utter incredulity was his portion.
Thereafter he held his peace, protesting not at all when it was generally agreed
that the collapse of certain squalid brick houses in the Red Hook section of
Brooklyn, and the consequent death of many brave officers, had unseated his
nervous equilibrium. He had worked too hard, all said, it trying to clean up
those nests of disorder and violence; certain features were shocking enough, in
all conscience, and the unexpected tragedy was the last straw. This was a simple
explanation which everyone could understand, and because Malone was not a simple
person he perceived that he had better let it suffice. To hint to unimaginative
people of a horror beyond all human conception - a horror of houses and blocks
and cities leprous and cancerous with evil dragged from elder worlds - would be
merely to invite a padded cell instead of a restful rustication, and Malone was
a man of sense despite his mysticism. He had the Celt's far vision of weird and
hidden things, but the logician's quick eye for the outwardly unconvincing; an
amalgam which had led him far afield in the forty-two years of his life, and set
him in strange places for a Dublin University man born in a Georgian villa near
Phoenix Park.
And now, as he reviewed the things he had seen and felt and apprehended, Malone
was content to keep unshared the secret of what could reduce a dauntless fighter
to a quivering neurotic; what could make old brick slums and seas of dark,
subtle faces a thing of nightmare and eldritch portent. It would not be the
first time his sensations had been forced to bide uninterpreted - for was not
his very act of plunging into the polyglot abyss of New York's underworld a
freak beyond sensible explanation? What could he tell the prosaic of the antique
witcheries and grotesque marvels discernible to sensitive eyes amidst the poison
cauldron where all the varied dregs of unwholesome ages mix their venom and
perpetuate their obscene terrors? He had seen the hellish green flame of secret
wonder in this blatant, evasive welter of outward greed and inward blasphemy,
and had smiled gently when all the New-Yorkers he knew scoffed at his experiment
in police work. They had been very witty and cynical, deriding his fantastic
pursuit of unknowable mysteries and assuring him that in these days New York
held nothing but cheapness and vulgarity. One of them had wagered him a heavy
sum that he could not - despite many poignant things to his credit in the Dublin
Review - even write a truly interesting story of New York low life; and now,
looking back, he perceived that cosmic irony had justified the prophet's words
while secretly confuting their flippant meaning. The horror, as glimpsed at
last, could not make a story - for like the book cited by Poe's Germany
authority, 'es lässt sich nicht lesen - it does not permit itself to be read.'
To Malone the sense of latent mystery in existence was always present. In youth
he had felt the hidden beauty and ecstasy of things, and had been a poet; but
poverty and sorrow and exile had turned his gaze in darker directions, and he
had thrilled at the imputations of evil in the world around. Daily life had fur
him come to be a phantasmagoria of macabre shadow-studies; now glittering and
leering with concealed rottenness as in Beardsley's best manner, now hinting
terrors behind the commonest shapes and objects as in the subtler and less
obvious work of Gustave Doré. He would often regard it as merciful that most
persons of high Intelligence jeer at the inmost mysteries; for, he argued, if
superior minds were ever placed in fullest contact with the secrets preserved by
ancient and lowly cults, the resultant abnormalities would soon not only wreck
the world, but threaten the very integrity of the universe. All this reflection
was no doubt morbid, but keen logic and a deep sense of humour ably offset it.
Malone was satisfied to let his notions remain as half-spied and forbidden
visions to be lightly played with; and hysteria came only when duty flung him
into a hell of revelation too sudden and insidious to escape.
He had for some time been detailed to the Butler Street station in Brooklyn when
the Red Hook matter came to his notice. Red Hook is a maze of hybrid squalor
near the ancient waterfront opposite Governor's Island, with dirty highways
climbing the hill from the wharves to that higher ground where the decayed
lengths of Clinton and Court Streets lead off toward the Borough Hall. Its
houses are mostly of brick, dating from the first quarter to the middle of the
nineteenth century, and some of the obscurer alleys and byways have that
alluring antique flavour which conventional reading leads us to call
'Dickensian'. The population is a hopeless tangle and enigma; Syrian, Spanish,
Italian, and Negro elements impinging upon one another, and fragments of
Scandinavian and American belts lying not far distant. It is a babel of sound
and filth, and sends out strange cries to answer the lapping oily waves at its
grimy piers and the monstrous organ litanies of the harbour whistles. Here long
ago a brighter picture dwelt, with clear-eyed mariners on the lower streets and
homes of taste and substance where the larger houses line the hill. One can
trace the relics of this former happiness in the trim shapes of the buildings,
the occasional graceful churches, and the evidences of original art and
background in bits of detail here and there - a worn flight of steps, a battered
doorway, a wormy pair of decorative columns or pilasters, or a fragment of once
green space with bent and rusted iron railing. The houses are generally in solid
blocks, and now and then a many-windowed cupola arises to tell of days when the
households of captains and ship-owners watched the sea.
From this tangle of material and spiritual putrescence the blasphemies of an
hundred dialects assail the sky. Hordes of prowlers reel shouting and singing
along the lanes and thoroughfares, occasional furtive hands suddenly extinguish
lights and pull down curtains, and swarthy, sin-pitted faces disappear from
windows when visitors pick their way through. Policemen despair of order or
reform, and seek rather to erect barriers protecting the outside world from the
contagion. The clang of the patrol is answered by a kind of spectral silence,
and such prisoners as are taken are never communicative. Visible offences are as
varied as the local dialects, and run the gamut from the smuggling of rum and
prohibited aliens through diverse stages of lawlessness and obscure vice to
murder and mutilation in their most abhorrent guises. That these visible affairs
are not more frequent is not to the neighbourhood's credit, unless the power of
concealment be an art demanding credit. More people enter Red Hook than leave it
- or at least, than leave it by the landward side - and those who are not
loquacious are the likeliest to leave.
Malone found in this state of things a faint stench of secrets more terrible
than any of the sins denounced by citizens and bemoaned by priests and
philanthropists. He was conscious, as one who united imagination with scientific
knowledge, that modern people under lawless conditions tend uncannily to repeat
the darkest instinctive patterns of primitive half-ape savagery in their daily
life and ritual observances; and he had often viewed with an anthropologist's
shudder the chanting, cursing processions of blear-eyed and pockmarked young men
which wound their way along in the dark small hours of morning. One saw groups
of these youths incessantly; sometimes in leering vigils on street corners,
sometimes in doorways playing eerily on cheap instruments of music, sometimes in
stupefied dozes or indecent dialogues around cafeteria tables near Borough Hall,
and sometimes in whispering converse around dingy taxicabs drawn up at the high
stoops of crumbling and closely shuttered old houses. They chilled and
fascinated him more than he dared confess to his associates on the force, for he
seemed to see in them some monstrous thread of secret continuity; some fiendish,
cryptical, and ancient pattern utterly beyond and below the sordid mass of facts
and habits and haunts listed with such conscientious technical care by the
police. They must be, he felt inwardly, the heirs of some shocking and
primordial tradition; the sharers of debased and broken scraps from cults and
ceremonies older than mankind. Their coherence and definiteness suggested it,
and it shewed in the singular suspicion of order which lurked beneath their
squalid disorder. He had not read in vain such treatises as Miss Murray's
Witch-Cult in Western Europe; and knew that up to recent years there had
certainly survived among peasants and furtive folk a frightful and clandestine
system of assemblies and orgies descended from dark religions antedating the
Aryan world, and appearing in popular legends as Black Masses and Witches'
Sabbaths. That these hellish vestiges of old Turanian-Asiatic magic and
fertility cults were even now wholly dead he could not for a moment suppose, and
he frequently wondered how much older and how much blacker than the very worst
of the muttered tales some of them might really be.
It was the case of Robert Suydam which took Malone to the heart of things in Red
Hook. Suydam was a lettered recluse of ancient Dutch family, possessed
originally of barely independent means, and inhabiting the spacious but
ill-preserved mansion which his grandfather had built in Flatbush when that
village was little more than a pleasant group of colonial cottages surrounding
the steepled and ivy-clad Reformed Church with its iron-railed yard of
Netherlandish gravestones. In his lonely house, set back from Martense Street
amidst a yard of venerable trees, Suydam had read and brooded for some six
decades except for a period a generation before, when he had sailed for the old
world and remained there out of sight for eight years. He could afford no
servants, and would admit but few visitors to his absolute solitude; eschewing
close friendships and receiving his rare acquaintances in one of the three
ground-floor rooms which he kept in order - a vast, high-ceiled library whose
walls were solidly packed with tattered books of ponderous, archaic, and vaguely
repellent aspect. The growth of the town and its final absorption in the
Brooklyn district had meant nothing to Suydam, and he had come to mean less and
less to the town. Elderly people still pointed him out on the streets, but to
most of the recent population he was merely a queer, corpulent old fellow whose
unkempt white hair, stubbly beard, shiny black clothes, and gold-headed cane
earned him an amused glance and nothing more. Malone did not know him by sight
till duty called him to the case, but had heard of him indirectly as a really
profound authority on mediaeval superstition, and had once idly meant to look up
an out-of-print pamphlet of his on the Kabbalah and the Faustus legend, which a
friend had quoted from memory.
Suydam became a case when his distant and only relatives sought court
pronouncements on his sanity. Their action seemed sudden to the outside world,
but was really undertaken only after prolonged observation and sorrowful debate.
It was based on certain odd changes in his speech and habits; wild references to
impending wonders, and unaccountable hauntings of disreputable Brooklyn
neighbourhoods. He had been growing shabbier and shabbier with the years, and
now prowled about like a veritable mendicant; seen occasionally by humiliated
friends in subway stations, or loitering on the benches around Borough Hall in
conversation with groups of swarthy, evil-looking strangers. When he spoke it
was to babble of unlimited powers almost within his grasp, and to repeat with
knowing leers such mystical words or names as 'Sephiroth', 'Ashmodai', and
'Samaël'. The court action revealed that he was using up his income and wasting
his principal in the purchase of curious tomes imported from London and Paris,
and in the maintenance of a squalid basement flat in the Red Hook district where
he spent nearly every night, receiving odd delegations of mixed rowdies and
foreigners, and apparently conducting some kind of ceremonial service behind the
green blinds of secretive windows. Detectives assigned to follow him reported
strange cries and chants and prancing of feet filtering out from these nocturnal
rites, and shuddered at their peculiar ecstasy and abandon despite the
commonness of weird orgies in that sodden section. When, however, the matter
came to a hearing, Suydam managed to preserve his liberty. Before the judge his
manner grew urbane and reasonable, and he freely admitted the queerness of
demeanour and extravagant cast of language into which he had fallen through
excessive devotion to study and research. He was, he said, engaged in the
investigation of certain details of European tradition which required the
closest contact with foreign groups and their songs and folk dances. The notion
that any low secret society was preying upon him, as hinted by his relatives,
was obviously absurd; and shewed how sadly limited was their understanding of
him and his work. Triumphing with his calm explanations, he was suffered to
depart unhindered; and the paid detectives of the Suydams, Corlears, and Van
Brunts were withdrawn in resigned disgust.
It was here that an alliance of Federal inspectors and police, Malone with them,
entered the case. The law had watched the Suydam action with interest, and had
in many instances been called upon to aid the private detectives. In this work
it developed that Suydam's new associates were among the blackest and most
vicious criminals of Red Hook's devious lanes, and that at least a third of them
were known and repeated offenders in the matter of thievery, disorder, and the
importation of illegal immigrants. Indeed, it would not have been too much to
say that the old scholar's particular circle coincided almost perfectly with the
worst of the organized cliques which smuggled ashore certain nameless and
unclassified Asian dregs wisely turned back by Ellis Island. In the teeming
rookeries of Parker Place - since renamed - where Suydam had his basement flat,
there had grown up a very unusual colony of unclassified slant-eyed folk who
used the Arabic alphabet but were eloquently repudiated by the great mass of
Syrians in and around Atlantic Avenue. They could all have been deported for
lack of credentials, but legalism is slow-moving, and one does not disturb Red
Hook unless publicity forces one to.
These creatures attended a tumbledown stone church, used Wednesdays as a
dance-hall, which reared its Gothic buttresses near the vilest part of the
waterfront. It was nominally Catholic; but priests throughout Brooklyn denied
the place all standing and authenticity, and policemen agreed with them when
they listened to the noises it emitted at night. Malone used to fancy he heard
terrible cracked bass notes from a hidden organ far underground when the church
stood empty and unlighted, whilst all observers dreaded the shrieking and
drumming which accompanied the visible services. Suydam, when questioned, said
he thought the ritual was some remnant of Nestorian Christianity tinctured with
the Shamanism of Thibet. Most of the people, he conjectured, were of Mongoloid
stock, originating somewhere in or near Kurdistan - and Malone could not help
recalling that Kurdistan is the land of the Yezidis, last survivors of the
Persian devil-worshippers. However this may have been, the stir of the Suydam
investigation made it certain that these unauthorised newcomers were flooding
Red Hook in increasing numbers; entering through some marine conspiracy
unreached by revenue officers and harbour police, overrunning Parker Place and
rapidly spreading up the hill, and welcomed with curious fraternalism by the
other assorted denizens of the region. Their squat figures and characteristic
squinting physiognomies, grotesquely combined with flashy American clothing,
appeared more and more numerously among the loafers and nomad gangsters of the
Borough Hall section; till at length it was deemed necessary to compute their
numbers, ascertain their sources and occupations, and find if possible a way to
round them up and deliver them to the proper immigration authorities. To this
task Malone was assigned by agreement of Federal and city forces, and as he
commenced his canvass of Red Hook he felt poised upon the brink of nameless
terrors, with the shabby, unkempt figure of Robert Suydam as arch-fiend and
Police methods are varied and ingenious. Malone, through unostentatious rambles,
carefully casual conversations, well-timed offers of hip-pocket liquor, and
judicious dialogues with frightened prisoners, learned many isolated facts about
the movement whose aspect had become so menacing. The newcomers were indeed
Kurds, but of a dialect obscure and puzzling to exact philology. Such of them as
worked lived mostly as dock-hands and unlicenced pedlars, though frequently
serving in Greek restaurants and tending corner news stands. Most of them,
however, had no visible means of support; and were obviously connected with
underworld pursuits, of which smuggling and 'bootlegging' were the least
indescribable. They had come in steamships, apparently tramp freighters, and had
been unloaded by stealth on moonless nights in rowboats which stole under a
certain wharf and followed a hidden canal to a secret subterranean pool beneath
a house. This wharf, canal, and house Malone could not locate, for the memories
of his informants were exceedingly confused, while their speech was to a great
extent beyond even the ablest interpreters; nor could he gain any real data on
the reasons for their systematic importation. They were reticent about the exact
spot from which they had come, and were never sufficiently off guard to reveal
the agencies which had sought them out and directed their course. Indeed, they
developed something like acute fright when asked the reasons for their presence.
Gangsters of other breeds were equally taciturn, and she most that could be
gathered was that some god or great priesthood had promised them unheard-of
powers and supernatural glories and rulerships in a strange land.
The attendance of both newcomers and old gangsters at Suydam's closely guarded
nocturnal meetings was very regular, and the police soon learned that the
erstwhile recluse had leased additional flats to accommodate such guests as knew
his password; at last occupying three entire houses and permanently harbouring
many of his queer companions. He spent but little time now at his Flatbush home,
apparently going and coming only to obtain and return books; and his face and
manner had attained an appalling pitch of wildness. Malone twice interviewed
him, but was each time brusquely repulsed. He knew nothing, he said, of any
mysterious plots or movements; and had no idea how the Kurds could have entered
or what they wanted. His business was to study undisturbed the folklore of all
the immigrants of the district; a business with which policemen had no
legitimate concern. Malone mentioned his admiration for Suydam's old brochure on
the Kabbalah and other myths, but the old man's softening was only momentary. He
sensed an intrusion, and rebuffed his visitor in no uncertain way; till Malone
withdrew disgusted, and turned to other channels of information.
What Malone would have unearthed could he have worked continuously on the case,
we shall never know. As it was, a stupid conflict between city and Federal
authority suspended the investigations for several months, during which the
detective was busy with other assignments. But at no time did he lose interest,
or fail to stand amazed at what began to happen to Robert Suydam. Just at the
time when a wave of kidnappings and disappearances spread its excitement over
New York, the unkempt scholar embarked upon a metamorphosis as startling as it
was absurd. One day he was seen near Borough Hall with clean-shaved face,
well-trimmed hair, and tastefully immaculate attire, and on every day thereafter
some obscure improvement was noticed in him. He maintained his new
fastidiousness without interruption, added to it an unwonted sparkle of eye and
crispness of speech, and began little by little to shed the corpulence which had
so long deformed him. Now frequently taken for less than his age, he acquired an
elasticity of step and buoyancy of demeanour to match the new tradition, and
shewed a curious darkening of the hair which somehow did not suggest dye. As the
months passed, he commenced to dress less and less conservatively, and finally
astonished his new friends by renovating and redecorating his Flatbush mansion,
which he threw open in a series of receptions, summoning all the acquaintances
he could remember, and extending a special welcome to the fully forgiven
relatives who had so lately sought his restraint. Some attended through
curiosity, others through duty; but all were suddenly charmed by the dawning
grace and urbanity of the former hermit. He had, he asserted, accomplished most
of his allotted work; and having just inherited some property from a
half-forgotten European friend, was about to spend his remaining years in a
brighter second youth which ease, care, and diet had made possible to him. Less
and less was he seen at Red Hook, and more and more did he move in the society
to which he was born. Policemen noted a tendency of the gangsters to congregate
at the old stone church and dance-hall instead of at the basement flat in Parker
Place, though the latter and its recent annexes still overflowed with noxious
Then two incidents occurred - wide enough apart, but both of intense interest in
the case as Malone envisaged it. One was a quiet announcement in the Eagle of
Robert Suydam's engagement to Miss Cornelia Gerritsen of Bayside, a young woman
of excellent position, and distantly related to the elderly bridegroom-elect;
whilst the other was a raid on the dance-hall church by city police, after a
report that the face of a kidnapped child had been seen for a second at one of
the basement windows. Malone had participated in this raid, and studied the
place with much care when inside. Nothing was found - in fact, the building was
entirely deserted when visited - but the sensitive Celt was vaguely disturbed by
many things about the interior. There were crudely painted panels he did not
like - panels which depicted sacred faces with peculiarly worldly and sardonic
expressions, and which occasionally took liberties that even a layman's sense of
decorum could scarcely countenance. Then, too, he did not relish the Greek
inscription on the wall above the pulpit; an ancient incantation which he had
once stumbled upon in Dublin college days, and which read, literally translated,

  'O friend and companion of night, thou who rejoicest in the baying of dogs and
  spilt blood, who wanderest in the midst of shades among the tombs, who longest
  for blood and bringest terror to mortals, Gorgo, Mormo, thousand-faced moon,
  look favourably on our sacrifices!'
When he read this he shuddered, and thought vaguely of the cracked bass organ
notes he fancied he had heard beneath the church on certain nights. He shuddered
again at the rust around the rim of a metal basin which stood on the altar, and
paused nervously when his nostrils seemed to detect a curious and ghastly stench
from somewhere in the neighbourhood. That organ memory haunted him, and he
explored the basement with particular assiduity before he left. The place was
very hateful to him; yet after all, were the blasphemous panels and inscriptions
more than mere crudities perpetrated by the ignorant?
By the time of Suydam's wedding the kidnapping epidemic had become a popular
newspaper scandal. Most of the victims were young children of the lowest
classes, but the increasing number of disappearances had worked up a sentiment
of the strongest fury. Journals clamoured for action from the police, and once
more the Butler Street Station sent its men over Red Hook for clues,
discoveries, and criminals. Malone was glad to be on the trail again, and took
pride in a raid on one of Suydam's Parker Place houses. There, indeed, no stolen
child was found, despite the tales of screams and the red sash picked up in the
areaway; but the paintings and rough inscriptions on the peeling walls of most
of the rooms, and the primitive chemical laboratory in the attic, all helped to
convince the detective that he was on the track of something tremendous. The
paintings were appalling - hideous monsters of every shape and size, and
parodies on human outlines which cannot be described. The writing was in red,
and varied from Arabic to Greek, Roman, and Hebrew letters. Malone could not
read much of it, but what he did decipher was portentous and cabbalistic enough.
One frequently repeated motto was in a Sort of Hebraised Hellenistic Greek, and
suggested the most terrible daemon-evocations of the Alexandrian decadence:
Circles and pentagrams loomed on every hand, and told indubitably of the strange
beliefs and aspirations of those who dwelt so squalidly here. In the cellar,
however, the strangest thing was found - a pile of genuine gold ingots covered
carelessly with a piece of burlap, and bearing upon their shining surfaces the
same weird hieroglyphics which also adorned the walls. During the raid the
police encountered only a passive resistance from the squinting Orientals that
swarmed from every door. Finding nothing relevant, they had to leave all as it
was; but the precinct captain wrote Suydam a note advising him to look closely
to the character of his tenants and protégés in view of the growing public
Then came the June wedding and the great sensation. Flatbush was gay for the
hour about high noon, and pennanted motors thronged the streets near the old
Dutch church where an awning stretched from door to highway. No local event ever
surpassed the Suydam-Gerritsen nuptials in tone and scale, and the party which
escorted bride and groom to the Cunard Pier was, if not exactly the smartest, at
least a solid page from the Social Register. At five o'clock adieux were waved,
and the ponderous liner edged away from the long pier, slowly turned its nose
seaward, discarded its tug, and headed for the widening water spaces that led to
old world wonders. By night the outer harbour was cleared, and late passengers
watched the stars twinkling above an unpolluted ocean.
Whether the tramp steamer or the scream was first to gain attention, no one can
say. Probably they were simultaneous, but it is of no use to calculate. The
scream came from the Suydam stateroom, and the sailor who broke down the door
could perhaps have told frightful things if he had not forthwith gone completely
mad - as it is, he shrieked more loudly than the first victims, and thereafter
ran simpering about the vessel till caught and put in irons. The ship's doctor
who entered the stateroom and turned on the lights a moment later did not go
mad, but told nobody what he saw till afterward, when he corresponded with
Malone in Chepachet. It was murder - strangulation - but one need not say that
the claw-mark on Mrs. Suydam's throat could not have come from her husband's or
any other human hand, or that upon the white wall there flickered for an instant
in hateful red a legend which, later copied from memory, seems to have been
nothing less than the fearsome Chaldee letters of the word 'LILITH'. One need
not mention these things because they vanished so quickly - as for Suydam, one
could at least bar others from the room until one knew what to think oneself.
The doctor has distinctly assured Malone that he did not see IT. The open
porthole, just before he turned on the lights, was clouded for a second with a
certain phosphorescence, and for a moment there seemed to echo in the night
outside the suggestion of a faint and hellish tittering; but no real outline met
the eye. As proof, the doctor points to his continued sanity.
Then the tramp steamer claimed all attention. A boat put off, and a horde of
swart, insolent ruffians in officers' dress swarmed aboard the temporarily
halted Cunarder. They wanted Suydam or his body - they had known of his trip,
and for certain reasons were sure he would die. The captain's deck was almost a
pandemonium; for at the instant, between the doctor's report from the stateroom
and the demands of the men from the tramp, not even the wisest and gravest
seaman could think what to do. Suddenly the leader of the visiting mariners, an
Arab with a hatefully negroid mouth, pulled forth a dirty, crumpled paper and
handed it to the captain. It was signed by Robert Suydam, and bore the following
odd message.
  In case of sudden or unexplained accident or death on my part, please deliver
  me or my body unquestioningly into the hands of the bearer and his associates.
  Everything, for me, and perhaps for you, depends on absolute compliance.
  Explanations can come later - do not fail me now.
Captain and doctor looked at each other, and the latter whispered something to
the former. Finally they nodded rather helplessly and led the way to the Suydam
stateroom. The doctor directed the captain's glance away as he unlocked the door
and admitted the strange seamen, nor did he breathe easily till they filed out
with their burden after an unaccountably long period of preparation. It was
wrapped in bedding from the berths, and the doctor was glad that the outlines
were not very revealing. Somehow the men got the thing over the side and away to
their tramp steamer without uncovering it. The Cunarder started again, and the
doctor and a ship's undertaker sought out the Suydam stateroorn to perform what
last services they could. Once more the physician was forced to reticence and
even to mendacity, for a hellish thing had happened. When the undertaker asked
him why he had drained off all of Mrs. Suydam's blood, he neglected to affirm
that he had not done so; nor did he point to the vacant bottle-spaces on the
rack, or to the odour in the sink which shewed the hasty disposition of the
bottles' original contents. The pockets of those men - if men they were - had
bulged damnably when they left the ship. Two hours later, and the world knew by
radio all that it ought to know of the horrible affair.
That same June evening, without having heard a word from the sea, Malone was
desperately busy among the alleys of Red Hook. A sudden stir seemed to permeate
the place, and as if apprised by 'grapevine telegraph' of something singular,
the denizens clustered expectantly around the dance-hall church and the houses
in Parker Place. Three children had just disappeared - blue-eyed Norwegians from
the streets toward Gowanus - and there were rumours of a mob forming among the
sturdy Vikings of that section. Malone had for weeks been urging his colleagues
to attempt a general cleanup; and at last, moved by conditions more obvious to
their common sense than the conjectures of a Dublin dreamer, they had agreed
upon a final stroke. The unrest and menace of this evening had been the deciding
factor, and just about midnight a raiding party recruited from three stations
descended upon Parker Place and its environs. Doors were battered in, stragglers
arrested, and candlelighted rooms forced to disgorge unbelievable throngs of
mixed foreigners in figured robes, mitres, and other inexplicable devices. Much
was lost in the melee, for objects were thrown hastily down unexpected shafts,
and betraying odours deadened by the sudden kindling of pungent incense. But
spattered blood was everywhere, and Malone shuddered whenever he saw a brazier
or altar from which the smoke was still rising.
He wanted to be in several places at once, and decided on Suydam's basement flat
only after a messenger had reported the complete emptiness of the dilapidated
dance-hall church. The flat, he thought, must hold some due to a cult of which
the occult scholar had so obviously become the centre and leader; and it was
with real expectancy that he ransacked the musty rooms, noted their vaguely
charnel odour, and examined the curious books, instruments, gold ingots, and
glass-stoppered bottles scattered carelessly here and there. Once a lean,
black-and-white cat edged between his feet and tripped him, overturning at the
same time a beaker half full of a red liquid. The shock was severe, and to this
day Malone is not certain of what he saw; but in dreams he still pictures that
cat as it scuttled away with certain monstrous alterations and peculiarities.
Then came the locked cellar door, and the search for something to break it down.
A heavy stool stood near, and its tough seat was more than enough for the
antique panels. A crack formed and enlarged, and the whole door gave way - but
from the other side; whence poured a howling tumult of ice-cold wind with all
the stenches of the bottomless pit, and whence reached a sucking force not of
earth or heaven, which, coiling sentiently about the paralysed detective,
dragged him through the aperture and down unmeasured spaces filled with whispers
and wails, and gusts of mocking laughter.
Of course it was a dream. All the specialists have told him so, and he has
nothing to prove the contrary. Indeed, he would rather have it thus; for then
the sight of old brick slums and dark foreign faces would not eat so deeply into
his soul. But at the time it was all horribly real, and nothing can ever efface
the memory of those nighted crypts, those titan arcades, and those half-formed
shapes of hell that strode gigantically in silence holding half-eaten things
whose still surviving portions screamed for mercy or laughed with madness.
Odours of incense and corruption joined in sickening concert, and the black air
was alive with the cloudy, semi-visible bulk of shapeless elemental things with
eyes. Somewhere dark sticky water was lapping at onyx piers, and once the
shivery tinkle of raucous little bells pealed out to greet the insane titter of
a naked phosphorescent thing which swam into sight, scrambled ashore, and
climbed up to squat leeringly on a carved golden pedestal in the background.
Avenues of limitless night seemed to radiate in every direction, till one might
fancy that here lay the root of a contagion destined to sicken and swallow
cities, and engulf nations in the foetor of hybrid pestilence. Here cosmic sin
had entered, and festered by unhallowed rites had commenced the grinning march
of death that was to rot us all to fungous abnormalities too hideous for the
grave's holding. Satan here held his Babylonish court, and in the blood of
stainless childhood the leprous limbs of phosphorescent Lilith were laved.
Incubi and succubae howled praise to Hecate, and headless moon-calves bleated to
the Magna Mater. Goats leaped to the sound of thin accursed flutes, and Ægypans
chased endlessly after misshapen fauns over rocks twisted like swollen toads.
Moloch and Ashtaroth were not absent; for in this quintessence of all damnation
the bounds of consciousness were let down, and man's fancy lay open to vistas of
every realm of horror and every forbidden dimension that evil had power to
mould. The world and Nature were helpless against such assaults from unsealed
wells of night, nor could any sign or prayer check the Walpurgis-riot of horror
which had come when a sage with the hateful key had stumbled on a horde with the
locked and brimming coffer of transmitted daemon-lore.
Suddenly a ray of physical light shot through these phantasms, and Malone heard
the sound of oars amidst the blasphemies of things that should be dead. A boat
with a lantern in its prow darted into sight, made fast to an iron ring in the
slimy stone pier, and vomited forth several dark men bearing a long burden
swathed in bedding. They took it to the naked phosphorescent thing on the carved
golden pedestal, and the thing tittered and pawed at the bedding. Then they
unswathed it, and propped upright before the pedestal the gangrenous corpse of a
corpulent old man with stubbly beard and unkempt white hair. The phosphorescent
thing tittered again, and the men produced bottles from their pockets and
anointed its feet with red, whilst they afterward gave the bottles to the thing
to drink from.
All at once, from an arcaded avenue leading endlessly away, there came the
daemoniac rattle and wheeze of a blasphemous organ, choking and rumbling out the
mockeries of hell in a cracked, sardonic bass. In an instant every moving entity
was electrified; and forming at once into a ceremonial procession, the nightmare
horde slithered away in quest of the sound - goat, satyr, and Ægypan, incubus,
succubus and lemur, twisted toad and shapeless elemental, dog-faced howler and
silent strutter in darkness - all led by the abominable naked phosphorescent
thing that had squatted on the carved golden throne, and that now strode
insolently bearing in its arms the glassy-eyed corpse of the corpulent old man.
The strange dark men danced in the rear, and the whole column skipped and leaped
with Dionysiac fury. Malone staggered after them a few steps, delirious and
hazy, and doubtful of his place in this or in any world. Then he turned,
faltered, and sank down on the cold damp stone, gasping and shivering as the
daemon organ croaked on, and the howling and drumming and tinkling of the mad
procession grew fainter and fainter.
Vaguely he was conscious of chanted horrors and shocking croakings afar off. Now
and then a wail or whine of ceremonial devotion would float to him through the
black arcade, whilst eventually there rose the dreadful Greek incantation whose
text he had read above the pulpit of that dance-hall church.
  'O friend and companion of night, thou who rejoicest in the baying of dogs
  (here a hideous howl bust forth) and spilt blood (here nameless sounds vied
  with morbid shriekings) who wanderest in the midst of shades among the tombs,
  (here a whistling sigh occurred) who longest for blood and bringest terror to
  mortals, (short, sharp cries from myriad throats) Gorgo, (repeated as
  response) Mormo, (repeated with ecstasy) thousand-faced moon, (sighs and flute
  notes) look favourably on our sacrifices!'
As the chant closed, a general shout went up, and hissing sounds nearly drowned
the croaking of the cracked bass organ. Then a gasp as from many throats, and a
babel of barked and bleated words - 'Lilith, Great Lilith, behold the
Bridegroom!' More cries, a clamour of rioting, and the sharp, clicking footfalls
of a running figure. The footfalls approached, and Malone raised himself to his
elbow to look.
The luminosity of the crypt, lately diminished, had now slightly increased; and
in that devil-light there appeared the fleeing form of that which should not
flee or feel or breathe - the glassy-eyed, gangrenous corpse of the corpulent
old man, now needing no support, but animated by some infernal sorcery of the
rite just closed. After it raced the naked, tittering, phosphorescent thing that
belonged on the carven pedestal, and still farther behind panted the dark men,
and all the dread crew of sentient loathsomenesses. The corpse was gaining on
its pursuers, and seemed bent on a definite object, straining with every rotting
muscle toward the carved golden pedestal, whose necromantic importance was
evidently so great. Another moment and it had reached its goal, whilst the
trailing throng laboured on with more frantic speed. But they were too late, for
in one final spurt of strength which ripped tendon from tendon and sent its
noisome bulk floundering to the floor in a state of jellyish dissolution, the
staring corpse which had been Robert Suydam achieved its object and its triumph.
The push had been tremendous, but the force had held out; and as the pusher
collapsed to a muddy blotch of corruption the pedestal he had pushed tottered,
tipped, and finally careened from its onyx base into the thick waters below,
sending up a parting gleam of carven gold as it sank heavily to undreamable
gulfs of lower Tartarus. In that instant, too, the whole scene of horror faded
to nothingness before Malone's eyes; and he fainted amidst a thunderous crash
which seemed to blot out all the evil universe.
Malone's dream, experienced in full before he knew of Suydam's death and
transfer at sea, was curiously supplemented by some odd realities of the case;
though that is no reason why anyone should believe it. The three old houses in
Parker Place, doubtless long rotten with decay in its most insidious form,
collapsed without visible cause while half the raiders and most of the prisoners
were inside; and of both the greater number were instantly killed. Only in the
basements and cellars was there much saving of life, and Malone was lucky to
have been deep below the house of Robert Suydam. For he really was there, as no
one is disposed to deny. They found him unconscious by the edge of a night-black
pool, with a grotesquely horrible jumble of decay and bone, identifiable through
dental work as the body of Suydam, a few feet away. The case was plain, for it
was hither that the smugglers' underground canal led; and the men who took
Suydam from the ship had brought him home. They themselves were never found, or
at least never identified; and the ship's doctor is not yet satisfied with the
simple certitudes of the police.
Suydam was evidently a leader in extensive man-smuggling operations, for the
canal to his house was but one of several subterranean channels and tunnels in
the neighbourhood. There was a tunnel from this house to a crypt beneath the
dance-hall church; a crypt accessible from the church only through a narrow
secret passage in the north wall, and in whose chambers some singular and
terrible things were discovered. The croaking organ was there, as well as a vast
arched chapel with wooden benches and a strangely figured altar. The walls were
lined with small cells, in seventeen of which - hideous to relate - solitary
prisoners in a state of complete idiocy were found chained, including four
mothers with infants of disturbingly strange appearance. These infants died soon
after exposure to the light; a circumstance which the doctors thought rather
merciful. Nobody but Malone, among those who inspected them, remembered the
sombre question of old Delrio: 'An sint unquam daemones incubi et succubae, et
an ex tali congressu proles nasci queat?'
Before the canals were filled up they were thoroughly dredged, and yielded forth
a sensational array of sawed and split bones of all sizes. The kidnapping
epidemic, very clearly, had been traced home; though only two of the surviving
prisoners could by any legal thread be connected with it. These men are now in
prison, since they failed of conviction as accessories in the actual murders.
The carved golden pedestal or throne so often mentioned by Malone as of primary
occult importance was never brought to light, though at one place under the
Suydam house the canal was observed to sink into a well too deep for dredging.
It was choked up at the mouth and cemented over when the cellars of the new
houses were made, but Malone often speculates on what lies beneath. The police,
satisfied that they had shattered a dangerous gang of maniacs and man-smugglers,
turned over to the Federal authorities the unconvicted Kurds, who befure their
deportation were conclusively found to belong to the Yezidi clan of
devil-worshippers. The tramp ship and its crew remain an elusive mystery. though
cynical detectives are once more ready to combat its smugging and rum-running
ventures. Malone thinks these detectives shew a sadly limited perspective in
their lack of wonder at the myriad unexplainable details, and the suggestive
obscurity of the whole case; though he is just as critical of the newspapers,
which saw only a morbid sensation and gloated over a minor sadist cult which
they might have proclaimed a horror from the universe's very heart. But he is
content to rest silent in Chepachet, calming his nervous system and praying that
time may gradually transfer his terrible experience from the realm of present
reality to that of picturesque and semi-mythical remoteness.
Robert Suydam sleeps beside his bride in Greenwood Cemetery. No funeral was held
over the strangely released bones, and relatives are grateful for the swift
oblivion which overtook the case as a whole. The scholar's connexion with the
Red Hook horrors, indeed, was never emblazoned by legal proof; since his death
forestalled the inquiry he would otherwise have faced. His own end is not much
mentioned, and the Suydams hope that posterity may recall him only as a gentle
recluse who dabbled in harmless magic and folklore.
As for Red Hook - it is always the same. Suydam came and went; a terror gathered
and faded; but the evil spirit of darkness and squalor broods on amongst the
mongrels in the old brick houses, and prowling bands still parade on unknown
errands past windows where lights and twisted faces unaccountably appear and
disappear. Age-old horror is a hydra with a thousand heads, and the cults of
darkness are rooted in blasphemies deeper than the well of Democritus, The soul
of the beast is omnipresent and triumphant, and Red Hook's legions of
blear-eyed, pockmarked youths still chant and curse and howl as they file from
abyss to abyss, none knows whence or whither, pushed on by blind laws of biology
which they may never understand. As of old, more people enter Red Hook than
leave it on the landward side, and there are already rumours of new canals
running underground to certain centres of traffic in liquor and less mentionable
The dance-hall church is now mostly a dance-hall, and queer faces have appeared
at night at the windows. Lately a policeman expressed the belief that the
filled-up crypt has been dug out again, and for no simply explainable purpose.
Who are we to combat poisons older than history and mankind? Apes danced in Asia
to those horrors, and the cancer lurks secure and spreading where furtiveness
hides in rows of decaying brick.
Malone does not shudder without cause - for only the other day an officer
overheard a swarthy squinting hag teaching a small child some whispered patois
in the shadow of an areaway. He listened, and thought it very strange when he
heard her repeat over and over again,
  'O friend and companion of night, thou who rejoicest in the baying of dogs and
  spilt blood, who wanderest in the midst of shades among the tombs, who longest
  for blood and bringest terror to mortals, Gorgo, Mormo, thousand-faced moon,
  look favorably on our sacrifices!'

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