I wrote this short story for a Lovecraft-themed/influenced literary journal. It was supposed to be about drawing influence and style from Lovecraft’s short story “Pickman’s Model,” about the truth regarding a peculiar artist’s influence. It’s a nasty and interesting little bit with a twist that I like, albeit being a little predictable to modern sensibilities.
Anyway, it was rejected, and since I did it specifically for that submission there’s really no other place I’d want to show it to anyone, might as well share it here. I like it, I specifically tried to mimic the style of older epistolary 19th-century fiction as best I could in framing it as a letter.
So here it is, “Porter’s Window.”
My Dear Friend Legrasse,
My Old Friend, I bid you well. It has been a long time since we spoke, since I came to New Orleans and we spoke, colleague to colleague, policeman to policeman. I write this to you with a heavy heart, already laden down with the death of my beloved Alfred, my poor boy and knowing of your own recent troubles.
But larger things than our own griefs are at play here Raymond, and I feel I must begin at the start.
Some six months ago, I was called to the scene of a particularly ordinary murder, a boarding-house in one of Boston’s mostly-Italian immigrant communities. It was, to be honest, notable as a place where men and women lived as dogs, children ran wild, and lives ended violently. Just the week before we had been called to that very area to the sight of a horrific killing, a young woman murdered in the alley behind that boarding-house. It was a truly horrific sight, my friend, and I cannot bring myself to give you any details other than the poor woman’s soul rests better, considering what unspeakable things her mortal flesh must have been dealt that dark night.
Myself and several constables ascended to the second-floor room where two men had, we determined, murdered each other over a few scraps of gold, no doubt stolen from some uptown house at the other side of the city. As per the routines our department were beginning to establish, we started rousting and questioning the rest of the inhabitants of the building, seeking answers. I myself knocked on one door, the only room occupied on the third floor above us, finding the door unlocked, though the room clearly inhabited.
What compelled me I cannot say, but something drew me into the room. I feel now that it was perhaps a connection to evil, a sense that something must be found in there, but I cannot say for sure. Regardless, Legrasse, I entered the room, revolver at the ready, but found nothing. It was a filthy squalor, one of those places where even the brightest of sunlit days can only barely bring warmth and light. Clearly, it was an artist’s abode, with stacks of wrapped canvases against one wall, a dirty unmade bed in the center of the room, and small books, sketchbooks, were stacked everywhere. There was an easel against the wall by that dirty window, and I looked out, looking down at the street through the grimy glass. It was, I realized with a shock, the rear of the boarding-house, looking down at the alley where that poor woman had died the week before!
I wondered, as I heard an officer approach me through the door, if the inhabitant of this room had witnessed that murder. As I picked up one of the sketchbooks, dirty pages splattered with black ink in shapes I could barely comprehend, I ordered the constable to question the landlord as to who rented this room. The entirety of the place reeked of desperation, but also, I thought to myself, of hermitage, of solitude. There were empty plates clearly once-used for food, empty bottles of wine, and many candles about for light. On the bed, I found shears and a suit, an outfit that a man of some means would wear about-town. Whoever this room belonged to, they clearly had some means. Who had lived here? I turned back to the sketchbook I held as the men reappeared, telling me that a “Porter” had rented this room. I ordered the sketchbooks collected as evidence to be taken with us, and for this Porter to be found and brought in as soon as he returned to the room. The canvasses against the wall, I realized, were blanks, and the sketchbook I held still, as I started at the pages, I realized were the same thing over and over.
Whoever Porter was, the man had been at the window, drawing over and over, the alleyway below, as if figuring out the look of it. But why, I asked myself.
Lord forgive me for asking, my friend, for the answer was too much for me to bear!
One of the men, while leaving the room, asked me what I wanted done with the package under the bed. I came to my senses, telling the man I would look at it myself before joining the rest of them downstairs. Leaning down to slide the paper-wrapped rectangle, possibly a wrapped canvas painting, out from out under the bed into my hands, I stood up. I snatched up the rusty shears, cut the wrapping, and shuddered as the paper and twine came away.
It was a painting, the view from the window down at the alleyway below, set at night, dark blues with black shot through it to give the impression of nighttime, a dark and moonless night. Ever brush stroke must have been carefully applied for it appeared more of a photographic image than a painting to my eye, so detailed and perfect. I must confess I am a simple man, and known nothing of what the modern “upper crust” consider art, but this, this was almost painfully unique, too horrific to be amazing but “amazing” being the closest I can come to describing it.
A…good god, a woman, a woman in a in a blue dress is in the painting, passing by a shadow in the alley, a shadow emerging from two other buildings, and an arm is reaching from the shadow, long and furred with thick fingers, grasping her in the hand and a waterfall of red emerging from between those monstrous digits. Lord forgive me, but it was Hell on canvas, a sight of horror and murder, exquisitely portrayed as if it had truly happened, as opposed to being a creation of the artist’s mind’s eye. The limb and the gaping maw from the darkness were so detailed, musculature and even what appeared to be rank froth from a foaming beast’s lips were visible
It was the woman murdered here the week before, it had to be!
I put the painting down and, though I dreaded it, my friend, I left the building, telling the officer downstairs to not allow anyone besides police officials, not even any of the building’s inhabitants. I crossed the street, towards the alley, looking up at the window to make sure I was at the right window. Upon securing my position, I looked towards the smaller side-alley, and in my mind’s-eye, I could picture the painting, the arm, the mouth and eyes, the screaming woman. I stepped forth towards the little odd bend in the walls, a sort of alley-within-the-alley, as it were, and I froze. The walls here were new, as if just shorn back up, the back of some large building, no doubt one of the newfangled cold warehouses built up over the old homes and other buildings that, like our murder scene, once made up this part of Boston.
I reached out and touched the wall, leaning close towards it, my ear tilted and listening for anything. May the Lord above protect me Legrasse, but…I cannot!
No, no I must. My good friend, you must know, for I know that you must add it to the black book you keep, the account of those horrific things that fascinate you so.
Legrasse, I could hear a titanic beast breathing, gnashing, living behind those walls! There was still a spot where the newly-repaired wall was wet, and in a sudden frenzy of fear and rage, I pulled and tore at it with my hands, yanking one, two wet and cement-covered bricks away, and…the stench, the wet thick rot of animal and blood, I nearly very retched, right at that moment! As if…as if something, something foul and unwashed, from the bowels below civilization, from the center of precious mother-Earth under Heaven, was there. It was…it was the beast, my friend, the one from the painting! Within the walls!
I do not remember much from then, and the other officers from the scene told me that I stumbled back to them and fainted, and I was taken to rest at the local hospital. I lay, in a fever of nightmares and prayers, for a full month, before I could recover. My dreams, from what I’ve been able to remember, have bene plagued with horrific visions of giant limbs and tooth-filled mouths, gaping maws of unholy hell that consume both red human flesh and precious human souls.
I knew for sure that I must return to the site, I remembered that much for certain, that we must make a search for this “Porter” man and do a thorough search of the boarding-house, to say nothing of arming some men with stout rifles and looking at the off-alley where I swore I knew the beast dwelt and slept. Alas, it was all too late. By the time my mind and body both returned to me and I could return to that little dirty room overlooking that blood-soaked and secret-filled alleyway, it was gone!
The buildings and alleys, upon my inquiry (and a good deal of using my official police identification to bully answers, which I feel a twinge of shame over) were revealed to have been purchased and torn down, both the boarding-house as well as the warehouse! The sketchbooks my men collected from the boarding-house room remain, but the paintings are all gone, rubble turned into the detritus of the local city dump, if not turned into firewood for the hearth by someone. There is no trace left of this Porter. I implore you, if you find him, if you find this man, this “P” or whatever he calls himself, for obviously Porter was a false name. You must seize him, and find out what he knows. What are these beings that he painted, how did he know it was there?
Find him, Legrasse. Find this devil-sighter, this prophetic artist, if that is what he calls himself, of monsters!
Yours In Friendship –