A Herbert West Series Supplement
A Portal to the Herbert West Series
Published by Audrey Driscoll at Shakespir
Copyright 2016 by Audrey Driscoll
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
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Cover art by Audrey Driscoll, using Canva
Alchemy sulfur symbol courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
a portal to the Herbert West Series
55 Church Street
May 11, 1915
Mrs. Willamina Devlin
1600 W. Linden Avenue
My Dear Willa,
Greetings in the name of Nodens, Lord of the Great Abyss!
You are probably surprised to be reading a letter from your old professor, Augustus Quarrington, twenty years after you were his student at Miskatonic University. I am equally surprised to be writing to you, in fact, but it is necessary for me to communicate a matter of the first importance to one who is wise, broad-minded, capable of action, and is besides one of the Initiated in the virtues of the Inner Temple. That individual, dear lady, is you.
So – to answer the question you are doubtless asking now: What does the venerable Professor Q. want from me? I shall proceed to do so, but my answer will be lengthy. Get yourself a cup of tea, my dear – no, an entire pot of tea, and perhaps something stronger – and find a comfortable chair.
I had my 101st birthday in January, and I have an idea I will not see another one. I have had my share of years, and I am ready for the next world. This letter is, in a way, my Last Will and Testament, for matters of a spiritual sort. Preserve it and re-read it once a year, and if you perceive certain things I shall presently describe, do not hesitate to take appropriate action.
I must tell you a story, one that began many years ago. As a young man (do not worry – I am not about to launch into a tedious autobiography encompassing an entire century), I (like you) was drawn to the world of occult wisdom, after reading certain books, even while pursuing studies in my chosen field of Philosophy. Eventually, I became an initiate of the Church of Starry Wisdom in Providence, because it appeared to offer an avenue to the knowledge of the Ultimate Things. I did not realize what price was required for that knowledge, until I had progressed sufficiently in the hierarchy of the Starry Wisdom as to become privy to its central secrets. One of these was that of the Shining Trapezohedron and the thing summoned thereby. I need say no more of this, except that this summoning required the ultimate sacrifice.
I was not a participant, nor was I involved in selecting the victim. The deed was done when I was away from the city. No trace was found, and I knew none would ever be. “Missing” was the official conclusion. Call me a coward, but once I realized the truth, the only thing I could do was to remove myself from the scene. I was glad indeed when I heard, years later, that the Providence sect was disbanded. But it was only one of many.
I left Providence and wandered the world for a time, in a state of discontent and anxiety. After many years, I allowed myself to be drawn to Miskatonic University in Arkham. Emerging from my fog of disillusion, I resolved to oppose the minions of him who is known by many epithets, one of which is “Haunter of the Dark.” Another is “the Crawling Chaos.” I was not alone in this effort. Collectively, our Fellowship took as its protecting entity Nodens, Lord of the Great Abyss.
In 1870, not long before I settled in Arkham, but while I was still a rolling stone, I rolled to Egypt, ancient land of marvels and secrets. Truly, one could spend a lifetime there and discover only a fraction of the wisdom that land contains.
After exploring Alexandria and the Nile Delta, and a brief sojourn in Cairo, I sought the wonders of Upper Egypt – ancient Thebes and the Western Necropolis, beneath the peak of el-Qurn. While in Cairo, I had received a message summoning me to a Congress of scholars in Luxor. The scholars included archaeologists, paleographers, geologists, botanists, chemists, artists, poets – and one philosopher! We were all transported to that town among the ruins of the ancient civilization.
Transported, I say. The organizers of the Congress had arranged for a river boat large enough to accommodate us all. The vessel’s saloon served as conference chamber as well as dining room. We became acquainted as we were propelled upstream by efficient engines. I found it heartening that even scholars of warring nations laid aside any nationalistic differences and concentrated on the exchange of ideas and the search for knowledge.
During our upstream journey, I took special note of two individuals in our group. One of them was very young – a Russian who could not have been twenty. At first, I assumed he had accompanied an older relative, but no – young Liadov was a scholar in his own right, a linguist and paleographer. His father owned a shipping company, and the family was in some way related to the musical Liadovs. He made a most favourable impression on me; he listened more than spoke, and when he spoke to me, it was to ask about my ideas regarding invisible forces. At his request, I sent him several of my books on my return to America. Although I have not seen him since, I believe he carries one of the threads of the tapestry whose weaving I have made my life’s work. (Bear with me, please; I recall your dislike of the laboured metaphor).
The other individual – this one is directly connected to the point of this letter. (Yes, my dear, I am approaching the point. It is in sight, if only on the horizon). His name was Lawrence Dexter, an Englishman in his twenties, from one of the great universities. He was studying anything and everything to do with Egypt, he said. Perhaps so, but I thought his reason for doing so was not a thirst for knowledge, but mere , an itch to ferret out secrets for the thrill of it. Not the best motivator for scholarship, in my experience. Such individuals lack the perseverance to slog through the dull and tedious – but necessary! – aspects of learning. He was also very good-looking, displaying his classical profile, blond locks and expressive grey eyes with a deliberation that was both amusing and annoying. I suspected he was what some call a “ladies’ man,” and eventually I was proven right. More about that later.
With our ship secured at Luxor, a number of feluccas were arranged to take us across to the West Bank and the Valley of the Kings. I had read about the discoveries made among the tombs and temples and was eager to see the place with my own eyes. Disembarking, we clambered about the rocks of the limestone valley, peering into openings that were at once inviting and sinister. The entire valley is said to be as full of caves and tunnels, both natural and man-made, as a Swiss cheese is full of holes. The archaeologists among us speculated about the number of tombs the place contained; the consensus was dozens, most of them unexplored. I thought I could feel their influence – a kind of tension in the air, a rippling of the atmosphere produced by undiscovered secrets. It was intoxicating. No wonder so many have devoted their lives to exploring this stony place!
We had an unexpected guide to the Valley. It’s possible he had been hired to provide local knowledge, and his dramatic arrival was part of the arrangement. We were standing about in a number of very European looking groups, when a man on horseback galloped up to us, halting his mount before any damage was done, apart from startling a few of us. The horse was white; the man who dismounted was dressed in black. Most Egyptians wore galabeyas in dull white, grey or faded blue, but this man’s was black, as was his turban.
“Welcome to the Necropolis,” he said, gesturing widely with his arms. “I will show you this place, if you wish. I know it well.”
He exuded a peculiar power, perhaps because of his imposing height, the length of his arms, and the keen glances from under that black turban. Summoning a boy from a group of youths gathered some distance away, he turned the horse over to him and motioned to us to follow. And we did, without visible hesitation.
He certainly knew his way around the valley and the tombs. Over several hours, he showed us around, pointing out tombs that had been excavated, and allowing us to enter a few of them, lighting lanterns which must have been kept within for touring purposes. In the faint, flickering light, the pictures and hieroglyphics appeared to move, an effect at once pleasing and uneasy. Our guide declared there were many more tombs to be discovered. “There is much work to be done here, many secrets to be revealed, by scholars such as you. You will be instruments of progress.”
Lawrence Dexter hung on the fellow’s every word, and young Liadov observed him intently. “Our guide looks like one of the pharaohs himself,” Liadov said to me, as we trudged back toward the river along the narrow, dusty road. “I wonder if he lives in that village someone told us was full of bandits and dealers in forged antiquities.”
“Qurna? I’ve heard its inhabitants are descendants of the old tomb-workers.”
Liadov laughed. “Tomb-workers and tomb robbers. Both, I suspect.”
“Perhaps so, but they are part of this place, and have been for a very long time. But this man – I don’t think he’s one of them.”
At the boat landing we were greeted by the sight of a white tent that had not been there when we arrived. Our black-clad guide opened his arms toward it, and then to us in a gesture of welcome. “I hope you will refresh yourselves before your river crossing,” he said. “I arranged for tea and delicacies to sustain you after our tour.”
Indeed, there was tea and pastries and dates, and there were servants bustling about, handing out cups. It was pleasant enough, but the longer I observed and thought, the stranger all of this seemed. The servants were strangely subdued, moving like automatons and never speaking, even when addressed by the few Arabic speakers among us. Later, I inquired whether any of the others in the group knew who our guide was, and who had arranged for him to greet us. No one knew.
As we boarded the boats to return to Luxor, the man gave each of us a metal token. “A reminder of this day, in the hope you will return,” he said, handing me a disc engraved with the alchemical symbol for sulfur, which is called by some the Leviathan Cross. I no longer possess it (for I dissolved it in acid years ago), but I recall its appearance quite clearly. The symbol, although powerful, has no connection to Egypt, either ancient or modern. No one else was given this symbol; others’ tokens bore symbols associated with Egypt – the ankh, the feather of Ma’at, the wedjat eye. I was not in a position to ask the giver for an explanation; nor did I wish to do so.
That ended my Egyptian adventure. I returned to my academic life and fetched up at Miskatonic, where I became immersed in writing and teaching. Eventually I became the quaint eccentric I am today.
Miskatonic drew me, as I have said, because it is the locus of one of the few known copies of the Necronomicon, the fabled work of esoteric lore compiled in the Eighth Century by Abdul Alhazred, of Sana’a in Yemen. Contrary to commonly held opinion, the Necronomicon is not inherently “evil.” The lore it contains has been used for evil purposes, but with skill and intention, it can be directed toward benign ones. Rather like alchemy, which, as I hope you remember, is a perilous enterprise whose outcomes range from wonder to disaster. Because the Necronomicon has been for so long the focus of curiosity, despair and passion, the book has acquired its own power. It summons from afar those who are susceptible to its influences. It summoned me, and one other of whom I must speak presently.
Perforce, I had to establish a relationship with the University Library, since that is where the Necronomicon resides. Librarians came and went over the decades, and I made sure to become acquainted with them. I suggested changes to the housing of the volume, and advised its keepers to protect it by restricting access.
Willa, do you remember your fascination with Arkham? Of course, it differs in so many ways from your hometown of Chicago, but there was another reason. Arkham is a place of . It was not by accident that a copy of the Necronomicon made its way here. The nearby village of Kingsport is an outpost of one who reveres Lord Nodens, who has bestowed upon him the gift of prolonged existence. He dwells in an ancient house that clings to the edge of the highest cliff to the north of Kingsport. I have myself once ventured up to that house, and was invited within. Since then, I have been bound forever to this region.
Fortunately, I soon obtained a professorship in Philosophy at Miskatonic University, having managed to maintain credibility in my old field of study. Miskatonic tolerates eccentricity more than most universities. From my niche in academia I was able to reach out to researchers and – the curious, the mischievous, the brilliant, the lost, the insane. These others, some of them familiars of the Crawling Chaos and his followers, were the ones I was eager to watch.
I began to study intensively the forces that operate here – the climate, the plants, the creatures of the woods, fields and waters; and, of course, the town’s long and chequered history. Much strangeness has grown here, much evil, and yes – much good as well. I could write entire books – what am I saying? I have done that, but do not fear, this letter is not one of them. I have already digressed from my message. As an excuse, I could say I was setting the background for you, but I must admit you do not need as much as I have provided. You know enough of my work and are sufficiently cognizant of the Inner Secrets to consider what I am about to tell you in its proper context.
I maintained links with the Fellowship of Nodens and continued to fight the secret war against the Church of Starry Wisdom, recruiting to this cause any that had the necessary outlook and abilities.
For this reason, I retained an interest in Lawrence Dexter. As I had predicted, he abandoned Egyptology soon after the Congress of Luxor, seeking the greater excitement (as he no doubt thought) to be found in occultism. Not for wisdom, I suspect, but for “thrills.” You may accuse me of unfairness here, saying that I condemn the man from inadequate evidence. It’s true I was never close to him, but I observed his activities for decades, and base my assessment on these observations.
For some time, he was associated with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, but parted ways with them and flitted to the Church of Starry Wisdom. It had representatives in London and a well-established outpost in New York City, which may have explained Dexter’s decision to relocate there in the 1880s. And now I ask myself if it’s possible that he was influenced by whatever token he accepted from that mysterious pharaoh-resembling guide, in Luxor, in 1870. Those tokens were invitations, and that guide, I fear, was the Crawling Chaos himself, or at least one of his avatars.
Dexter did not long remain with the Starry Wisdomites. Whether he left them voluntarily or not, I do not know, but eventually he established his own society. A society of one, as far as I could tell. By then he was somewhat notorious, with a veneer of glamour. He travelled about giving lectures and published a number of books and pamphlets. Most of his followers, not surprisingly, were women attracted by his looks and charming manner. For he was charming; I do not deny that.
In 1895, he was murdered. My surveillance of the man indicated that soon after his move to America he became acquainted with the wife of a Boston businessman called Hiram West. Anna Derby West, the wife, became quite besotted with Dexter (or his ideas, but I suspect the former) after meeting him at one of his lectures. They began a liaison about 1885. It must have been episodic, partly because of geographical constraints, but also because the lady’s husband was known as “Hiram the Undertaker,” an epithet bestowed for reasons besides his family’s connection to the funeral trade.
Dexter was shot on the street one night and took several days to die. I’m told his deathbed was attended by the erring Mrs. West. The shooters were never apprehended, as far as I know, and Anna Derby West disappeared from public view about that time.
The interpretation of these events seems obvious: Dexter seduced a gangster’s wife and the gangster had him murdered, and then did away with the wife. Perhaps so. But when I first heard about it, I wondered if Dexter’s death was brought about for reasons other than his dalliance with Mrs. West, and if, in fact, the seemingly obvious reason was a smoke screen for something less obvious and more sinister.
Willa, you may or may not be aware of what I am about to reveal. If not, I ask that you keep it forever to yourself. (And if you are already privy to this knowledge, you would already know the need for secrecy). Among those of us who are the custodians of the Inner Secrets, there are those who do more than study ancient manuscripts and preserve ancient rituals. There is a body of individuals charged with the grave responsibility of carrying out missions assigned to them by the Inner Temple. Invariably, these missions are directed – after intense and prolonged study and debate – against those who constitute a threat, not only to us and our cause, but to the greater world. Yes – I speak of the Destroyers, the deliverers of death. They are individuals of integrity who strike gravely and reluctantly in situations of dire need.
In short (and yes, I hear you laughing, Willa!) – in short, I wondered if Lawrence Dexter was the target of such a mission. Why? Because, light-minded though I believed him to be, he may have somehow acquired a crucial bit of knowledge, or an artifact of power. He was, after all, at one time a member of the Starry Wisdom sect, and being as fickle as he was, he may have become a dangerous loose end. I am not in any way associated with the Destroyers or those to whom they are answerable. I am only speculating, and it is quite possible I am wrong. But recent events have brought this to mind in a more than casual way.
A decade after the murder of Lawrence Dexter, I stood before a new class of students registered for my “Philosophical Excursions” course. You must remember it; you excelled in it, as I recall. Among the eager young faces looking back at me was one that reminded me of Luxor more than 30 years before – classic features, blond hair, and light-coloured eyes that gazed into mine with a trace of insolence. His name was Herbert West.
Even without his striking appearance, young West would have caught and kept my attention soon enough. He was one of those students who delights in debate, constantly questioning the old professor, demanding proof of his every statement, and proposing alternative theories. His attitude was that of the absolute rationalist, insisting upon an objective explanation for every phenomenon under the sun.
You may imagine what a spectacle Mr. West and I made for the rest of the class, as we thrashed out various points of contention. At times, I had to exercise my professorial authority to curtail our debates and keep to my lecture schedule. In truth, though, however irritating I found him, I was intrigued by Herbert West, and wanted to learn more abut him. Although he was nominally the son of Hiram “the Undertaker” West and his wife Anna Derby West, I was certain his father was actually the late Lawrence Dexter. His appearance and birthdate made that conclusion inescapable.
Since such a delicate family matter was, technically, none of my business, I said nothing about it to young Mr. West. What I did was deliberately to include him in that year’s group of students for my Profiles and Predictions study. This was, of course, contrary to my usual practice of random selection. I rationalized this breach of my principles by arguing that the tests I administered to my subjects might reveal valuable, indeed, crucial information about Herbert West.
The revelations were indeed crucial, even more so than I reckoned. There is no need to describe the tests I performed on him; they were exactly the same as those I administered to you and all my other subjects. But the results! They were even more spectacular than yours, which caused me to dub you a Nexus. So it was with young West, although he is a creature altogether different from you. Here is an extract from my notes:
He is an unstable element with great potential for good or evil. To avoid the pain of his invisible wounds, he has created for himself a cold veneer that separates him from others. To discover his excellence, it may be necessary to do him harm, .
There’s the nub. It may be necessary to destroy Herbert West. Ever since I wrote these words, I have watched him, especially since he entered the School of Medicine here at Miskatonic. More than once, his extracurricular experiments nearly got him expelled. I have observed no softening of his ultra-rationalism, that reduces the value of a human life to zero. He is devoid of empathy and lacks altogether a sense of wonder at the mysteries of the created world. I suspect him to be capable of committing murder, should he deem it necessary for the purpose of furthering his research into the phenomenon of death.
For several years, and especially in this past year, since war broke out in Europe, I have contemplated calling upon the Destroyers to remove Herbert West from the world.
And yet – Herbert West has “great potential for or evil,” and that may be discovered by extraordinary means. I do not want to assume responsibility for destroying one who may, after transforming experiences, become a positive force in the world, an instrument of light. My studies in alchemy have shown me how an element of power can change from destructive to benevolent (or the reverse) in the blink of an eye. And a good alchemist never wastes anything that may be useful in the completion of the Great Work, however worthless it appears at first. What element represents Herbert West? What element may diffuse his potential for evil? Alchemical sulfur is one of the three primes. What was the significance of that token I accepted in 1870 and destroyed on the assumption that it was an invitation to serve the Haunter of the Dark?
With these uncertainties, and knowing that my departure from this world is approaching, I created a bond. Using the Necronomicon as a catalyst, I forged a for West’s salvation.
I began haunting the Library again, spending hours in the Reading Room and even getting permission to visit the stacks. Perched in some quiet corner like an owl, I observed the librarians at their work. Earnest souls they are, loving order and precision, especially the cataloguers. Most of the time, they keep to their own realm, transcribing and typewriting descriptions of books and applying to their spines gummed labels bearing combinations of letters and numbers obscure except to the initiated.
One among them, a young fellow called Charles Milburn, caught my attention. Discreet inquiries revealed a background of family tragedy and fallen fortunes. This, apparently, had brought him to librarianship, and to Miskatonic. In him I sensed something beyond the ordinary. , I say, for his external appearance was perfectly ordinary.
In the winter of 1910, I learned that Milburn had been appointed by the University Librarian to be the custodian of the Necronomicon. This furnished an opportunity. I mentioned the book in a conversation with West. He was, as I’ve said, interested in death, and whether it may be scientifically reversed. , nota bene! I steered his attention to Alhazred, pointing out that the man had written much about death and life and the links between the two. I cited specific passages, and directed Herbert West toward Charles Milburn. Then I waited.
My experiment was successful. A friendship developed. I suspected West had recruited Milburn as his assistant in his revivification efforts, but that did not matter. To me, the key was the link between Milburn and West. Eventually, I hoped, Milburn would assume the role of protector and guardian which I had formerly carried out from a distance.
Willa, I imagine by now you are appalled. What has old Quarrington come to? Madness, senility, or both? But as I recall, young Willamina Devlin was an adventurous thinker with a curious mind and a passionate heart, pulling on threads and following them to their sources. I called her a Nexus, because I thought she would draw together a diversity of people, thereby generating powerful conjunctions. And so you have.
Now, finally, to my request, the reason for this exceedingly long missive: I am 101 years old, and can reasonably expect soon to pass from this life. The war in Europe has drawn young Herbert West away from Arkham, and therefore from the benevolent influence of his friend Charles Milburn. I had hoped Milburn would prevail upon West to return. I wrote to both of them, but so far to no avail. I do not know what effect exposure to war will have on the thing I have perceived in West – the great potential for evil or excellence. It may be that violence and death on a gargantuan scale will create a creature upon whom the Destroyers must be called. Or perhaps his role as healer rather than combatant will have some sort of tempering effect.
And what do I expect you to do? Only to be of Herbert West. Read the Boston papers. Subscribe to the Arkham Advertiser. I know you love New England. Perhaps you and young Amelia may travel here from time to time (for I am certain West will return to Arkham). Be aware and follow your heart.
I am now trying to forge another link, one that transcends distance and time. You do not have to anything more than I have suggested here. Have no fear, either for yourself or your daughter. For I think of you as daughter, and of Herbert and Charles as my sons (although they know nothing of this). Having no children of my body, I have had to find substitutes among those whose minds have touched mine, with whom the Universe has forged bonds of love and compassion.
I remain, in all sincerity,
If you enjoyed this story, you may wish to read the rest of the books in the series.
Book 1. The Friendship of Mortals
Herbert West can revivify the dead – after a fashion. Librarian Charles Milburn agrees to help him, compromising his principles and his romance with Alma Halsey, daughter of the Dean of Medicine. West’s experiments become increasingly dangerous, but when he prepares to cross the ultimate border, only Charles can save his life – if his conscience lets him.
Book 2. Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey
To Andre Boudreau, Herbert West is The Doctor, who saved his life in the Great War. Andre will follow him into Hell if necessary. Margaret Bellgarde knows him as Dr. Francis Dexter, attractive but mysterious. One day she will be shocked by what she is willing to do for his sake. But who is he really? She doesn’t know – and the possibilities are disturbing.
Book 3. Islands of the Gulf Volume 2, The Treasure
Abandoned and abused, young Herbert West resorts to drastic measures to survive. At Miskatonic University, he becomes a scientist who commits crimes and creates monstrosities. Decades later, haunted by his past, he finds safety as Dr. Francis Dexter of Bellefleur Island, but his divided nature threatens those he loves and forces him to face the truth about his healing powers.
Book 4. Hunting the Phoenix
Journalist Alma Halsey chases the story of a lifetime to Providence, Rhode Island and finds more than she expected – an old lover, Charles Milburn, and an old adversary, renegade physician Herbert West, living under the name Francis Dexter. Fire throws her into proximity with them both, rekindling romance and completing a great transformation.
Supplement 1. The Nexus
Nearing the end of his long life, Miskatonic University professor Augustus Quarrington retraces the path to his entanglement with one of his most interesting – and dangerous – students: Herbert West.
Supplement 2. From the Annexe
Miskatonic University librarian Charles Milburn was Herbert West’s assistant and closest friend. He has already revealed much about their association in The Friendship of Mortals. But not everything. This is the part he left out.
Supplement 3. A Visit to Luxor
Reformed necromancer Francis Dexter (formerly known as Herbert West) and his servant Andre Boudreau visit Luxor, Egypt in the year 1935. A climb up el-Qurn, the sacred mountain behind the Valley of the Kings, leads to an encounter with bandits, and with one who “was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh.”
Supplement 4. One of the Fourteen
Dr. Francis Dexter arrives in London intending to atone for wrongs committed by his former self, Herbert West. A chance meeting in a pub leads to disturbing revelations by a veteran of the Great War, and forces Dexter to relive a terrible journey in the black region between death and life.