A Wrong Route

Horror exists in the feelings inspired by strange and threatening things, something H.P. Lovecraft demonstrated well in many stories where the precise threat remained ambiguously defined. “The Dead Valley”, a story by the architect Ralph Adams Cram, is commended by Lovecraft in his essay on horror fiction in which he says Cram “achieves a memorably potent degree of vague regional horror through subtleties of atmosphere and description.” An effective tale about a place in the forest that inexplicably saps the life out of anything that enters it, it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t an influence on “The Colour Out of Space”.

The story has a great contrast in tone. The beginning is almost disconcertingly innocent, a description of two affectionate friends who go together to buy a puppy because the thing is irresistibly cute.

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He was a round, woolly puppy, so funny that Nils and I sat down on the ground and laughed at him, until he came and played with us in so jolly a way that we felt that there was only one really desirable thing in life, and that was the little dog of the old man from across the hills. But alas! we had not half money enough wherewith to buy him . . .

When the two have the money to pay for the animal, the narrator describes idly looking at their journey as a dangerous adventure despite the destination not being especially distant. This adds the impression of cruelty and excessive punishment for youthful folly when something starts to go wrong and no-one can say why. Here’s a kind of terribly beautiful paragraph:

And the air was stagnant,—dead. The atmosphere seemed to lie upon the body like the weight of sea on a diver who has ventured too far into its awful depths. What we usually call silence seems so only in relation to the din of ordinary experience. This was silence in the absolute, and it crushed the mind while it intensified the senses, bringing down the awful weight of inextinguishable fear

The sense of awesome death pervades the strange encounter and it’s not hard to believe the story was written by a man who designed gothic revival architecture.

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A verdict held beneath a desert sun.
A gold reflective watch recounts the time.
The racing dust begins a daily run.
The furtive wind commenced a morning rhyme.
Reluctant teas inform the tongue of taste.
Aspired hats assemble bands and brims.
Wasabi comes in tubes of mushy paste.
The flashy car had wheels with glowing rims.
An elf is pressed to lee of bluer moons.
A sailing cup appeared beyond the flow.
A desp’rate word traversed the pallid dunes.
In time the tired men could only row.
Distracted clocks misplace a hand or two.
A silver second swipes a golden clue.

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Above painting by Caspar David Friedrich

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