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Chapter 5 The Horror From the Shadows

  • Many men have related hideous things, not mentioned in print, which happene_n the battlefields of the Great War. Some of these things have made me faint,
  • others have convulsed me with devastating nausea, while still others have mad_e tremble and look behind me in the dark; yet despite the worst of them _elieve I can myself relate the most hideous thing of all — the shocking, th_nnatural, the unbelievable horror from the shadows.
  • In 1915 I was a physician with the rank of First Lieutenant in a Canadia_egiment in Flanders, one of many Americans to precede the government itsel_nto the gigantic struggle. I had not entered the army on my own initiative,
  • but rather as a natural result of the enlistment of the man whos_ndispensable assistant I was — the celebrated Boston surgical specialist, Dr.
  • Herbert West. Dr. West had been avid for a chance to serve as surgeon in _reat war, and when the chance had come, he carried me with him almost agains_y will. There were reasons why I could have been glad to let the war separat_s; reasons why I found the practice of medicine and the companionship of Wes_ore and more irritating; but when he had gone to Ottawa and through _olleague’s influence secured a medical commission as Major, I could no_esist the imperious persuasion of one determined that I should accompany hi_n my usual capacity.
  • When I say that Dr. West was avid to serve in battle, I do not mean to impl_hat he was either naturally warlike or anxious for the safety o_ivilisation. Always an ice-cold intellectual machine; slight, blond, blue-
  • eyed, and spectacled; I think he secretly sneered at my occasional martia_nthusiasms and censures of supine neutrality. There was, however, somethin_e wanted in embattled Flanders; and in order to secure it had had to assume _ilitary exterior. What he wanted was not a thing which many persons want, bu_omething connected with the peculiar branch of medical science which he ha_hosen quite clandestinely to follow, and in which he had achieved amazing an_ccasionally hideous results. It was, in fact, nothing more or less than a_bundant supply of freshly killed men in every stage of dismemberment.
  • Herbert West needed fresh bodies because his life-work was the reanimation o_he dead. This work was not known to the fashionable clientele who had s_wiftly built up his fame after his arrival in Boston; but was only too wel_nown to me, who had been his closest friend and sole assistant since the ol_ays in Miskatonic University Medical School at Arkham. It was in thos_ollege days that he had begun his terrible experiments, first on smal_nimals and then on human bodies shockingly obtained. There was a solutio_hich he injected into the veins of dead things, and if they were fresh enoug_hey responded in strange ways. He had had much trouble in discovering th_roper formula, for each type of organism was found to need a stimulu_specially adapted to it. Terror stalked him when he reflected on his partia_ailures; nameless things resulting from imperfect solutions or from bodie_nsufficiently fresh. A certain number of these failures had remained alive —
  • one was in an asylum while others had vanished — and as he thought o_onceivable yet virtually impossible eventualities he often shivered beneat_is usual stolidity.
  • West had soon learned that absolute freshness was the prime requisite fo_seful specimens, and had accordingly resorted to frightful and unnatura_xpedients in body-snatching. In college, and during our early practic_ogether in the factory town of Bolton, my attitude toward him had bee_argely one of fascinated admiration; but as his boldness in methods grew, _egan to develop a gnawing fear. I did not like the way he looked at health_iving bodies; and then there came a nightmarish session in the cella_aboratory when I learned that a certain specimen had been a living body whe_e secured it. That was the first time he had ever been able to revive th_uality of rational thought in a corpse; and his success, obtained at such _oathsome cost, had completely hardened him.
  • Of his methods in the intervening five years I dare not speak. I was held t_im by sheer force of fear, and witnessed sights that no human tongue coul_epeat. Gradually I came to find Herbert West himself more horrible tha_nything he did — that was when it dawned on me that his once norma_cientific zeal for prolonging life had subtly degenerated into a mere morbi_nd ghoulish curiosity and secret sense of charnel picturesqueness. Hi_nterest became a hellish and perverse addiction to the repellently an_iendishly abnormal; he gloated calmly over artificial monstrosities whic_ould make most healthy men drop dead from fright and disgust; he became,
  • behind his pallid intellectuality, a fastidious Baudelaire of physica_xperiment — a languid Elagabalus of the tombs.
  • Dangers he met unflinchingly; crimes he committed unmoved. I think the clima_ame when he had proved his point that rational life can be restored, and ha_ought new worlds to conquer by experimenting on the reanimation of detache_arts of bodies. He had wild and original ideas on the independent vita_roperties of organic cells and nerve-tissue separated from natura_hysiological systems; and achieved some hideous preliminary results in th_orm of never-dying, artificially nourished tissue obtained from the nearl_atched eggs of an indescribable tropical reptile. Two biological points h_as exceedingly anxious to settle — first, whether any amount of consciousnes_nd rational action be possible without the brain, proceeding from the spina_ord and various nerve-centres; and second, whether any kind of ethereal,
  • intangible relation distinct from the material cells may exist to link th_urgically separated parts of what has previously been a single livin_rganism. All this research work required a prodigious supply of freshl_laughtered human flesh — and that was why Herbert West had entered the Grea_ar.
  • The phantasmal, unmentionable thing occurred one midnight late in March, 1915,
  • in a field hospital behind the lines of St. Eloi. I wonder even now if i_ould have been other than a daemoniac dream of delirium. West had a privat_aboratory in an east room of the barn-like temporary edifice, assigned him o_is plea that he was devising new and radical methods for the treatment o_itherto hopeless cases of maiming. There he worked like a butcher in th_idst of his gory wares — I could never get used to the levity with which h_andled and classified certain things. At times he actually did perfor_arvels of surgery for the soldiers; but his chief delights were of a les_ublic and philanthropic kind, requiring many explanations of sounds whic_eemed peculiar even amidst that babel of the damned. Among these sounds wer_requent revolver-shots — surely not uncommon on a battlefield, but distinctl_ncommon in an hospital. Dr. West’s reanimated specimens were not meant fo_ong existence or a large audience. Besides human tissue, West employed muc_f the reptile embryo tissue which he had cultivated with such singula_esults. It was better than human material for maintaining life in organles_ragments, and that was now my friend’s chief activity. In a dark corner o_he laboratory, over a queer incubating burner, he kept a large covered va_ull of this reptilian cell-matter; which multiplied and grew puffily an_ideously.
  • On the night of which I speak we had a splendid new specimen — a man at onc_hysically powerful and of such high mentality that a sensitive nervous syste_as assured. It was rather ironic, for he was the officer who had helped Wes_o his commission, and who was now to have been our associate. Moreover, h_ad in the past secretly studied the theory of reanimation to some exten_nder West. Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, D.S.O., was the greates_urgeon in our division, and had been hastily assigned to the St. Eloi secto_hen news of the heavy fighting reached headquarters. He had come in a_eroplane piloted by the intrepid Lieut. Ronald Hill, only to be shot dow_hen directly over his destination. The fall had been spectacular and awful;
  • Hill was unrecognisable afterward, but the wreck yielded up the great surgeo_n a nearly decapitated but otherwise intact condition. West had greedil_eized the lifeless thing which had once been his friend and fellow-scholar;
  • and I shuddered when he finished severing the head, placed it in his hellis_at of pulpy reptile-tissue to preserve it for future experiments, an_roceeded to treat the decapitated body on the operating table. He injecte_ew blood, joined certain veins, arteries, and nerves at the headless neck,
  • and closed the ghastly aperture with engrafted skin from an unidentifie_pecimen which had borne an officer’s uniform. I knew what he wanted — to se_f this highly organised body could exhibit, without its head, any of th_igns of mental life which had distinguished Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee.
  • Once a student of reanimation, this silent trunk was now gruesomely calle_pon to exemplify it.
  • I can still see Herbert West under the sinister electric light as he injecte_is reanimating solution into the arm of the headless body. The scene I canno_escribe — I should faint if I tried it, for there is madness in a room ful_f classified charnel things, with blood and lesser human debris almost ankle-
  • deep on the slimy floor, and with hideous reptilian abnormalities sprouting,
  • bubbling, and baking over a winking bluish-green spectre of dim flame in a fa_orner of black shadows.
  • The specimen, as West repeatedly observed, had a splendid nervous system. Muc_as expected of it; and as a few twitching motions began to appear, I coul_ee the feverish interest on West’s face. He was ready, I think, to see proo_f his increasingly strong opinion that consciousness, reason, and personalit_an exist independently of the brain — that man has no central connectiv_pirit, but is merely a machine of nervous matter, each section more or les_omplete in itself. In one triumphant demonstration West was about to relegat_he mystery of life to the category of myth. The body now twitched mor_igorously, and beneath our avid eyes commenced to heave in a frightful way.
  • The arms stirred disquietingly, the legs drew up, and various muscle_ontracted in a repulsive kind of writhing. Then the headless thing threw ou_ts arms in a gesture which was unmistakably one of desperation — a_ntelligent desperation apparently sufficient to prove every theory of Herber_est. Certainly, the nerves were recalling the man’s last act in life; th_truggle to get free of the falling aeroplane.
  • What followed, I shall never positively know. It may have been wholly a_allucination from the shock caused at that instant by the sudden and complet_estruction of the building in a cataclysm of German shell-fire — who ca_ainsay it, since West and I were the only proved survivors? West liked t_hink that before his recent disappearance, but there were times when he coul_ot; for it was queer that we both had the same hallucination. The hideou_ccurrence itself was very simple, notable only for what it implied.
  • The body on the table had risen with a blind and terrible groping, and we ha_eard a sound. I should not call that sound a voice, for it was too awful. An_et its timbre was not the most awful thing about it. Neither was its message
  • — it had merely screamed, "Jump, Ronald, for God’s sake, jump!" The awfu_hing was its source.
  • For it had come from the large covered vat in that ghoulish corner of crawlin_lack shadows.