A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR
Of chief interest among her papers was a series of letters addressed to her great-grandmother Kay Whelan, also of Rhode Island, written by Ms. Whelan’s fiancée, a Mr. Sullivan Prescott. I have presented Mr. Prescott’s letters below. They have been reproduced exactly as written. The reproduction is truthful and accurate. I can’t overstate how truthful this is.
June 2, 1882
My dearest Kay,
As I had foreseen, Ellsditch is a squalid, small place - a rustic fishing village about which little can be remarked. Nonetheless, I will apply myself to the task so I may provide you with the full picture of my deeply unsatisfactory surroundings.
Ellsditch is found on the Cape Ann peninsula of Massachusetts, surrounded by the wide Atlantic Ocean. I believe the population cannot exceed a few hundred fisher-men, all of whom, thus far, appear sorely uneducated and lacking in the basic hygienes. Accordingly, the village offers few amenities - merely a post office, a general store and a small chapel for one’s worship, all of which are rendered insignificant by the large fishing shacks that teem with the village’s lobstering men. I have seen no library nor town hall - I get the impression that the men of Ellsditch have pared down their existence to the bare necessities, so as to be almost completely self-sufficient. It offends me.
I have rented a small room at the local Inn for the week. The innkeeper is an old and stuffy fellow of the name Amadeus Clay. He is a visually disturbing man. Most risibly, he claims to also serve as the village’s mayor. Ha - I wouldn’t deem him to fit to lick the desiccated bones of Increase Sumner!
The other residents of Ellsditch fared little better in my eyes. Have you ever spoken with a rural fisher-man? Of course you have not - as your fiancée, I would know if you had & naturally be most concerned. Kay, these people are dull as ditch-washers, and ugly. I am surprised I do not find their rotted-out teeth littering the village streets. They all walk with a peculiar, shuffling gait and suffer a pallid, grey complexion. As these men pass me by, they maintain their sunken eyes strictly downcast and do not respond to my hallo. I find this pretty improper.
The circumstances by which I have found myself in Ellsditch are unfortunate. It is a course requirement of M.U. that its medical students must work a full week with a qualified, practicing doctor in order to gain real world experience. Most students choose to study at practices in Salem, Boston, Newburyport & the likes. On the day of registration, how-ever, I was late to mark my preferred placement as I was at a delightful minstrel show. Once this concluded, only one placement remained available to me - with Dr. Silas Culver of Ellsditch. He is quite known in certain circles for accompanying research expeditions to the Antarctic.
I have not yet had the pleasure of Dr. Culver’s acquaintance. How-ever, if the residents of Ellsditch are any indication of his doctoring, I am not sure what he can teach me other than how to appear physically unpleasant.
I plan to locate Dr. Culver to-morrow. I am eager to complete this experience quickly, so that I may finally obtain my medical degree, and begin my own local practice as an ear, nose, throat and brain man. Lately I have been reading on the study of phrenology. Are you familiar? Once we are married, I will be happy to instruct you on this & other subjects as I assume the burden of your advanced education.
Some dismiss phrenology as having little proven connexion to medical science, but I find it interesting to ponder. Phrenology posits that one’s individual and mental attributes can be determined outwardly by the measurements of one’s skull. For example, the slight bump three inches north of your left temple would indicate to the trained phrenologist that you are perfect & lovely. And were that same phrenologist to examine the measurements of my skull, he would quickly deduce that I am quite in love with You.
I remain, your darling intended,
June 4, 1882
For dinner last night at the inn, I was served a bowl of grimy vegetable soup and stale bread. I found it revolting. While the cook’s dull gaze was averted, I attempted to pass the wretched soup to the dog - a horrid, mangy mutt - but I missed and spilled the soup on the dog. Now both the cook and the dog are mad at me.
Oh, and Kay, another interesting thing that happened to-day was that a leviathan of a Grampus whale appeared beached upon Ellsditch’s rocky shores. The whale had pretty much expired. It stood about as tall as the garden pavilion on my stepfather’s estate. To be sure, it is not the largest whale ever charted by man, but Kay you would never have a seen a whale like this at your sewing academy. I ventured down and looked the unwholesome thing in its dead eyes. I wonder what this creature would say to us if he could. What words would this rough beast choose to be its grim epitaph? “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m a whale.” Perhaps something to that effect. Its fishy skin was curiously hard to the touch - almost metallic - and liberally coated in a dark, viscous substance that stuck to my fingers and tasted foul.
Anyway, I endeavored to see Dr. Culver to-day. His “hospital” is a small house - I believe it may be his home - that could not be more than three rooms. I knocked on the door for what felt like five minutes and was exactly five minutes. I am highly precise in matters of time. No answer came. Plain curtains were drawn o’er the windows and thus I could not determine whether the doctor was inside.
Presently, a grotesque Ellsditch man asked me what I was looking for. I explained my situation to this greasy disaster and queried of him why the hospital was closed. He said that I ask too many questions. But I had only asked him one and in fact he asked me a question first. I fear this is typical of Ellsditch hospitality.
I continued to search for Dr. Culver in the after-noon and evening but to no avail. Nor would any Ellsditchian give me a straight answer regarding his whereabouts. I am sore about this as I do need to pass this course.
I took a nap this evening. I swore that I heard the hum of bees emanate from within my pillow. But Kay, there were no bees in my pillow. That is what I find so queer.
June 5, 1882
A most unusual occurrence this morning. I saw a man walk into the ocean! He was clearly not intending to swim or bathe, as he was in clad in his full dress! Apparently the people of Ellsditch are unclear about the basic principles regarding i) the ocean and ii) being in it. I saw the man submerge but I did not wait around for his return. I hope when he resurfaces that he realizes he really pulled a boner on that one.
More disturbingly, since last night, I have developed a vexing rash over both sides of my neck. It has turned my skin a quite peculiar shade of vermillion (red) and keeps me in constant agony. I feel a python has entered my body, coiled itself around my throat and become hopelessly entwined in the layer of muscle between bone and flesh - panicked, it twists with dreadful spasms. Its dying agitations burn through my fair skin. I am almost driven to release the evil beast by the cut of my surgical scalpel. I also have a little tummy ache.
Dr. Silas Culver still eludes me despite my best investigative efforts. I inquired of Mr. Amadeus Clay - putative mayor - about where I might find Dr. Culver, and he simply told me not to concern myself with the matter. Ridiculous. Clay is obviously not a college man or he would understand my plight. Later, I slipped a brief explanatory note under Dr. Culver’s door. As I did so, I saw a shadow pass across the crack of light visible at the bottom of the doorframe. I immediately pounded upon the door and exclaimed “Dr. Culver, your absenteeism threatens my wish to become a brain doctor!” I received no reply.
It appears I must wait to meet Dr. Culver a little longer. At least I have my books to occupy myself in the mean-time. I am reading Twain’s ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’. It is quite awful: a puerile celebration of the under-class.
The whale is still present to-day. I asked one of the fisher-men if the village had any inclination to move it. He told me to mind my own business. Now I admit to being unfamiliar with life in the provinces of Massachusetts, but I was raised in Providence, Rhode Island, and in Providence we had a saying: If you have to look at a dead, fat whale every day and nobody will move it, it is your business!!!
I am also curious to know why the whale shows no sign of decomposition. Admittedly, how-ever, I am not a whale doctor - yet!
I miss you terribly, my love. I will conclude this letter presently as I must prepare for bed. Outside my window I can hear the locals chanting. It sounds like - “yig soggruth”. “Yig soggruth”. I believe this is German - it means “pleasant dreams”.
June 6, 1882
A brief missive to-day. I awoke this after-noon after a long but fitful sleep, and slippery, disturbing dreams of snakes eating their way out of my skin. I find it hard to move. My neck burns like hell-fire. I have doused it in cold water but it offers no relief.
I am convinced that these wretched Ellsditch people attempted to break into my room at the inn last night. I was startled awake before the dawn by a sharp, persistent scratching at the door, soon followed by a sudden, violent thumping. Then I heard shouts. It was those words again - yig soggruth! yig soggruth!! they screeched it over and over like jackals, hooting and laughing, reveling in mad ecstasy. To be honest, Kay, I’m not certain it means “pleasant dreams” at all.
I could not seek leave of my bed on account of the overall pain I was in, so I lay absolutely helpless and in great fear, waiting for the door to yield against their battery. Eventually the noises ceased. I slept poorly after that.
Kay, please advise whether your cousin Boat has yet been released from jail following his spree. Your cousin is a mindless brute but there is a high chance I shall need to call upon him for protection from this savage lot. Please determine Boat’s availability post haste and, should I request it, have him meet me here in Ellsditch. I will reimburse his train fare & misc. expenses, but tell him not to push it - nothing fancy.
I still cannot leave my bed in order to send this letter. I do not trust Amadeus Clay to perform the task but I fear I have no choice. Unless - maybe the dog will deliver the letter for me?
I just checked - no he won’t.
It appears I must beg the help of the innkeeper after all. But if you do not receive this letter, Kay, send Boat.
June 7, 1882
When I awoke this morning I checked my rash in the bath-room mirror. The inflammation has subsided, but in its place there are two wide, red slits running down my neck. I probed these flaps of skin with my finger and to my horror I determined that they seem to be gills. This is bullshit and I hate it.
Don’t be too alarmed about this, how-ever. I think it will look alright. Maybe I will take to wearing a scarf or shawl of some kind. Please go ahead and make one for me. Could you prepare a few different versions for me to look at and I will approve the final one.
With great exhortation, I prepared myself for the day and walked around the village although I am suffering still from blinding head-aches and subnormal physical strength. Nobody seemed particularly bothered by my gills. I noted that the Grampus whale was gone, at least: a silver lining in the gill cloud.
As I took my mid-day meal at the inn, I demanded of Mr. Amadeus Clay whether he sent my letter to you yesterday. He merely smirked and claimed he “didn’t recall.” I have fully had it with this man and his obstructionism. Later, I asked him what “yig soggruth” meant. The question put him in a huff and he refused to serve me any dessert. I yelled at him that I didn’t even want any dessert because it was probably trash. I did want some though.
I undertook a feverish nap in the after-noon. I dreamed I was inside the Ellsditch hospital, its rooms completely bare of furnishings, and occupied by a gaunt, distinguished gentleman with greying hair, seated, and with a walking cane carved in the likeness of a snake. I had never seen this man before but I am convinced of his name - Silas Culver.
I must rest now.
June 8, 1882
I am quite shaken. More-so than when I discovered I had grown gills over-night. They are still there, by the way. I want you to draft a missive to your cousin Boat right away, but do not send it until I give you the signal at the close of this letter.
The Ellsditch men entered my room last night. I did not hear their approach - I suspect Clay furnished them with the key. I may have gone too far with my dessert remark. A gang of them - four or five - hauled me out of bed roughly and fastened a blind-fold across my eyes. Naturally I resisted, but was quickly over-powered by their mixed-blood savageness. Have I entertained you yet with my theories regarding the races? It is agreeable stuff. Remind me to revisit this topic with you.
Anyway, I was dragged through the streets by my arms, pulled into a house and across creaking floorboards. The air in this house hung thick with a sickly, foreign smell. In the scent I detected a rotting cock-tail of the body’s four humours - bile, blood and phlegm all together, and the musk of burning tar. I heard in the distance miserable gurgling noises and a low, steady hum and I knew immediately that I was in the Hospital. I was forced into a wooden chair, which I believe was the one from my dream although it could have been any sort of chair really.
Soon I felt a man’s fetid, wet breath upon my face. His voice was calm - measured and dispassionate, but severe. He told me that the blind-fold was for my own protection. I believe the man to be Dr. Culver. His diction was too precise to be an ignoble Ellsditch fisher-man. Culver, or whomever, said to me that it had already begun. I told him I didn’t know what that meant. He then shoved something firm and warm into the gills on the left side of my neck - such excruciating pain - and merely said, in an even tone, that I could not run, that it could only be embraced. I cried that I didn’t understand. The thing burrowed deep into my neck. He leaned in even closer and whispered:
What Don’t You Understand.
“Tell me what is happening to me,” I begged him, “I don’t understand.”
Culver backed his face away and withdrew the object from the damp slits of my neck. “Yig soggruth,” he answered.
I was picked up from the chair and the blind-fold ripped away. But I clenched my eyes shut. I did not look, Kay, I did not look. Two men ushered me out of the house and threw me out onto the muddy ground.
After that I walked in a dazed state back to my room, from where I now write you this letter. Kay, I have changed my mind about you sending Boat to Ellsditch. Reflecting upon these events I have decided that I must go back and confront the doctor myself. If he knows what is happening to me - the gills and so forth - then I believe he must know how to reverse it. I also believe that there is no time to waste. I must go soon - and thus, alone.
Should I perish in Ellsditch, Kay, my wishes are quite simple. You should not marry, nor fall in love with another man. I should like for you to have a tattoo of my face inscribed in some area upon your body... oh, what madness overtakes me, Kay; no lady should bear a tattoo. Instead, I suggest that you employ a qualified draughtsman to draw a picture of me on a piece of paper, and that you affix this paper to yourself with some sort of glue. Please do this.
June 9, 1882
A hic-cup in my plans. I forgot that the door to the hospital is locked. Were it not for my weakened state - in addition to the gills, my skin has begun to assume a scale-like texture; again, no need to concern yourself with this - I would have burst down the door using my strength. Instead, I chose to confront that blob Amadeus Clay in the lobby of his inn. I recalled that he was supposedly the mayor of this village, and might have access to all of its buildings. I ordered him give me the hospital key, but as I had foreseen, he was unhelpful and condescending to-wards me.
I calmly retired to my room upstairs and procured a surgical scalpel from my doctor’s bag. I returned to Clay in the lobby, took his right hand suddenly, and plunged the scalpel deep into it. Don’t overreact to this, Kay. I would never stab someone while we were married.
Clay found his stabbing disagreeable. He screamed like a stuck pig who has been stabbed with a scalpel. I kept pressure on the instrument and roared that he tell me exactly who Dr. Silas Culver is, and about the sordid work he is evidently conducting. The wretched innkeeper wept and claimed not to know who Culver is - claimed that nobody really did. He said to me that Culver had settled in Ellsditch almost ten years ago, and had set up operation as the village doctor, but without having much to do with Clay or any of the Ellsditch population. He described a man who evinced severe melancholia and who lived as much as he could in unhappy solitude - being generally distrustful, even fearful, of his fellow man. More recently, how-ever, about three years ago, Culver accompanied a research expedition to the Antarctic, and when the man returned to Ellsditch, he was not the same. Culver returned possessed of a certain energy, and when Clay saw this, he said, he knew that Culver had found what he had been looking for. What had he found? I inquired.
Clay said, “He found a way to feed him.”
Further details were not forthcoming, though I was able, at last, to procure the key to the hospital. When I announced my intention to use it, Clay gasped like a stuck pig who has been stabbed with alarming news. He said, with quite some urgency, that I could not go into the hospital - that I would not survive. I told him that I had already done so. He said yes, but did I see? I ignored him and he collapsed on the floor, wracked with pathetic sobs. I noted at this point that Clay also had gills upon his neck, and the more I looked around and thought about it, it seemed that everyone here in Ellsditch has them, and has done so from the start. But I am a busy man and cannot be expected to notice every little thing.
I write you now from my room. I believe Dr. Culver must know what is happening to me, and how to put a stop to it. I don’t even care about passing the course at this point really. I am just very peeved about this whole situation.
I shall return to the hospital after I finish this letter. If I do not write you within the next three days, send Boat without any delay. Perhaps the police, also.
I will always love you - forever.
June 11, 1882
My love my love
I have had many thoughts - and primarily what I need to do is burn down everything that I saw. To start with - the hospital - it must - must - be burned. Do you have fire? Then - all the buildings must follow. I have been trying to start a fire but - you have not been of any help. We will speak when I have done this - and not a moment before. If I die, bury me - I am in the same way!
When will we be married? I do not want to be married in your father’s house. Too dark - too many eyes - I have to see you. Tender your mouth and pretty your eyes. You are the moon. I would never be unfaithful to you. Always never. We are too wonderful. Tell me everything we will do together. Don’t tell me in the way you talk - so unsure - so weak - SO PATHETIC - my head is hurting, I’m sorry.
In the afternoon, I watch as crows cut the devil & swim to the period of the sea. Do you like this? The next step is only a long night-mare.
I am sorry for all this.
Very and truly sorry - I hate the way they look. I will burn for it.
June 15, 1882
MISS KAY WHELAN
THERE WILL BE NO BEGINNINGS. THESE ARE MY WORDS.
THE INSTRUMENT KNOWN TO YOU AS SULLIVAN PRESCOTT IS EXTINGUISHED. ITS MIND SHATTERED BY KNOWING. ITS SHELL NOW BELONGS TO ME. I WRITE YOU IN ITS HAND.
I AM UNKNOWABLE.
IN YOUR TONGUE, I AM YIG-SOGGRUTH. I AM THE STAR-BUILDER. THE DOOM PRINCE OF UN-KADDATH. THE MOUTH OF THE DREAMLANDS.
OUR KIND IS INFINITE. OUR KIND HAS EXISTED LONG BEFORE YOUR RACE LEARNED TO CRAWL FEEBLY ON THE CORNERS OF THE COSMOS, GRASPING BLINDLY AT UNDERSTANDING. WITHOUT REASON. WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE. WITHOUT SONG.
BEFORE YOU KNEW THE NAMES OF YOUR WORLDS, THEY MOVED UNDER OUR TOUCH. WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN. AND WE HAVE PERMITTED YOUR EXISTENCE BECAUSE OF ITS INSIGNIFICANCE.
FOR MILLENNIA WE HAVE LURKED IN DREAM-SLEEP, AWAITING THE DAY-BEYOND-ALL-DAYS, WHEN AT LAST THE EYES OF THE DEAD WORLDS WILL OPEN AGAIN.
YOU CANNOT COMPREHEND THE NATURE OF OUR KIND. THE CREATURE SULLIVAN PRESCOTT, IN ITS ARROGANCE, PRESUMED TO KNOW THIS ONE. IT KNEW THIS ONE’S NAME - YIG-SOGGRUTH - BUT IT HAD NOT SEEN MY FACE. I MADE IT SEE. I MADE IT SEE MY
THE MIND OF THE CREATURE FRACTURED. UNDERSTAND THIS. YOU SURVIVE ONLY THROUGH YOUR IGNORANCE. YOU SURVIVE ONLY THROUGH YOUR BELIEF THAT YOU AND YOUR KIND ARE THE SUM OF ALL EXISTENCE. THIS FALSE BELIEF COMFORTS AND SWADDLES YOU. IT SURROUNDS AND PROTECTS YOU. IT PROTECTS YOU FROM THE KNOWING. AT THE DAY-BEYOND-ALL-DAYS, IT WILL NO LONGER BE ENOUGH.
THIS INSTRUMENT IS MINE. YOU WILL NOT SEE IT AGAIN.
HOWEVER, I HAVE NO NEED OF ITS POSSESSIONS. THERE ARE SOME VALUABLE-LOOKING ITEMS AMONG ITS BELONGINGS, INCLUDING BOUND VOLUMES OF ‘THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER’, ‘MIDDLEMARCH: A STUDY OF PROVINCIAL LIFE’ AND ‘THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY’, ALL IN FINE CONDITION. IT ALSO POSSESSES A COLLECTION OF MEDICAL EQUIPMENT THAT APPEARS QUITE USEFUL.
I SHOULD LIKE TO RETURN THESE TO YOU. WOULD YOU PREFER THAT I SEND THEM TO THIS ADDRESS OR WOULD ANOTHER LOCATION SERVE YOU BETTER.
June 25, 1882
MISS KAY WHELAN
I RECEIVED NO REPLY TO MY LETTER TO YOU DATED JUNE 15, 1882. I AM JUST GOING TO THROW THIS STUFF IN THE GARBAGE.