Since I’ve started writing fiction again, which you can find here, I’ve used the Writing Excuses podcast to give me prompts which I, in turn, adapt to short story works in my fantasy world Atelinor. The latest episode highlighted Lovecraftian horror, a genre who’s waters I have never tested. Before I try my hand on the given story prompt, I wanted to check out some of H.P. Lovecraft’s work for myself. A friend inclined me towards starting with The Rats in the Walls, a creepy number which includes, not surprisingly, rats in walls. Kind of.
The short begins with Delapore narrating some backstory about the estate he reclaimed for himself, as it belonged to his ancestors three centuries prior, called Exham Priory. He soon learns that most people living nearby consider the place accursed, and his family name, who’s original spelling was de la Poer, is also one riddled with legends and scary, scandalizing stories involving ancient pagan cults and the like. Delapore either chooses to ignore what he learns, or chooses to abandon the notions as unfounded. One prominent myth about the place was that it was overrun by an army of rats.
But after he fixes up the old castle, odd things begin occurring. Namely the sound of rats in the walls. Which isn’t possible, as he just had them redone. The cats in the house are freaking out. And although the rat traps are being tripped, nothing is being caught. After a series of these events happening, he, and a group of others, delve into the basement cellar of the castle, only to find a hidden tunnel leading to… an ancient underground city – a city where terrible rites and cultish activity were the obviously intended goal. It dates back, potentially, ten thousand years, and was last in use as late as the 15th century. They farmed humans to a point where they devolved into quadrupedal beings.
But the worst are the pits full of bones. We soon find out that they draw individuals in and cause them to enter an orgy-like state of cannibalism – a frenzy. Our protagonist finds himself imprisoned because of it.
A) That was creepy as all hell. B) What the heck did I just read? C) Where did Lovecraft come up with all this? D) Wow. Now I can begin to understand why he’s such a noted figure in fictional horror. The guy knows how to keep you reading, despite all your common sense telling you that you should clearly stop.
One thing that is noted of him as a writer is his personal affliction with the fear of the unknown, and this often permeated his work. This story breathes that idea. He even uses those four words together: “fear of the unknown.” Just an interesting point I noticed. I’ll also say that Delapore was intelligently ignorant – he didn’t make clearly poor choices, as is a common trope with the genre. He just kinda gets caught up with the adventure. But if I was him I’d have left that house ages ago.
Gotta love the racism. Well… No, don’t love it. But it’s endearing in a “bless his heart,” sort of way. His cat is named Nigger Man, because he howls.