Living in Pennsylvania meant long drives through the heart of New England. Usually, I traveled with the Good Lady Wife. But on several occasions, her work schedule interfered with travel plans and I ended up coming home alone.
I have never had a problem driving a great distance by myself. Sometimes, it was quite therapeutic. I could travel with the windows closed and the radio off and get lost in my own mind. It was sometimes very freeing. Silence can be very healthy.
It also meant side trips. Vermont is beautiful. Pine trees dot the landscape. New Hampshire has the best liquor stores in the East. They are huge and bountiful, and a visit to one should be on every Bucket List. Our family refers to them as “Booze Heaven”.
Massachusetts is both annoying and interesting. The annoyance is in the drivers. They are the second worst of any I’ve seen. Connecticut is the absolute worst. The only time I nearly got out of a car to try to strangle someone was in Stanford. They almost seem to drive badly on purpose.
But for history, Massachusetts is one of the best. Not only for Boston, but also for Lexington, Concord and Salem, just to name a few.
Equally famous is the triangle formed by the towns of Arkham, Dunwich and Innsmouth.
These towns have a long history of terror and fright, often chronicled by many historians, most notably H.P. Lovecraft and his students, such as Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Robert E. Howard and Frank Belknap Long. I never ventured to any of these towns, but did find myself in the center of the triangle, at a small village named Middlings.
Driving down the main street, curiously enough called Main Street, the village of Middlings looks like any normal New England town. The streets are lined with elm trees, the storefronts are old with weather-beaten brickwork, and the lamp posts and benches look like they were from the turn-of-the-century. For that matter, some of the people sitting on those benches looked like they were there when the bench was built.
It really is part of the charm of New England.
But beneath this façade is an undercurrent of darkness that most fail to find. Such small towns have their secrets, their tragedies, and their horrors. This town was no different. Having its three well-known neighbors, the place had no choice. And I was going to find them out.
I parked the car in front of an art gallery. The sign read “Pickman’s Gallery.” This looked like a good place to start. I noted that the sign along the curb gave me two hours of parking. Hopefully, that would be enough time. I looked at the front to find no portraits in the window. I made my way to the front door and entered.
The room was dark and had a slight smell of mildew. I walked a few steps and tried to get my bearings in the dark. Suddenly, all the lights came on and I was momentarily blinded.
“Hello!” a voice called. “Welcome to Pickman’s! Sorry about the light. I just got back from lunch and sometimes I don’t turn the lights on right away.”
The man walked toward me, his hand extended. He grabbed my hand with all the strength of ten-year-old and shook it.
“I’m Mr. Pickman and this is my gallery!” he said proudly. “Let me show you around!”
I identified myself and said I was with a horror website named BloodyWhisper.com and wanted to do a piece on the town.
He looked surprised.
“BloodyWhisper.com!” he said, excitedly. “I read that all the time!”
I was about to correct him, as I had done so many times before, but he got the name right.
“But, why would you want to do a story on our town?”
I mentioned the closeness of the town to the Triangle. This only seemed to make him laugh.
“Oh, those three! They have their own problems. Those things never come down here. But if you insist on doing a story, let me show you around the gallery.”
He was very proud of the fact that he painted everything in the gallery.
“Even the walls,” he quipped.
I had never seen such a collection before. There were portraits of puppy dogs, cats, small children jumping into piles of leaves and old couple enjoying the sunset. I was taken aback.
“Where are the portraits of monsters and other unearthly beings?” I asked.
“Oh, please,” he said, somewhat exasperated. “Who would want to buy that? I deal strictly in happy paintings. See this?”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a card with his photo on it. He was a member of the Bob Ross “Little Happy Cloud” Society.
“I could never shame the memory of Mr. Ross by making a sad or scary painting.”
I could see this was going nowhere. I thanked him for his time and headed back to the street. There had to be a story somewhere.
Then, I saw it.
Across the street was a sign that read “H. West, Re-animator.”
Paydirt! I thought.
I ran across to the building and knocked on the door. It was answered by a serious looking young man with black hair and glasses.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
I told him I was with a website called BloodyWhisper.com and wanted to do a story on the town.
“Did you say BloodyWhisper.com?” he asked correctly. “That’s at the top of my favorites list! Which writer are you?’
I told him my name and he seemed disappointed.
“Oh. I was hoping you were Brundlefly Joe. I really like his work. I can’t say I’ve read anything by you. You must be new.”
Putting all that aside, I was allowed entrance to the building.
“You’re just in time. My latest experiment is ready. Would you like to see it?”
I said I would.
He took me down a hallway to a large room with a curtain in front. I couldn’t help but notice that I was not alone. I seemed to be surrounded by small creatures. I wondered what hell spawn I had joined and what my fate would be. Would I return from this meeting with the unknown?
There was a whirring sound behind me. The room darkened further. The creatures around me stirred, as if readying themselves for some sort of carnal sacrifice. Suddenly, a beam of light shot from behind me and hit a white screen at the front. The small creatures seemed to cheer and speak in an unearthly tongue. Words formed on the screen. It said “Squirrely’s Adventure”, followed by the words “A Cartoon by H. West, Animator.”
A voice from the back called, “All right now, kids. Keep the noise down or I won’t make any more cartoons for you.”
Needless to say, the room became quiet.
At the end of the show, the lights came up and I found myself surrounded by children. One looked up at me.
“Gee, Mister, I didn’t know grown-ups like cartoons, too.”
The room cleared quickly. I think they all went down the street for ice cream. I, too, left. As I got out onto the street, I could see that I have misread the sign. I shook my head.
“Havin’ a bad day?” a man on a nearby bench asked.
I told him I appeared to be a reporter without a story.
“Well, if you want a story, you’ll have to see the rats. Follow me.”
The man introduced himself as Charles Dexter Ward, but he said that folks around here called him Charlie. I told him who I was writing for. He, too, knew the site and wondered if I could get him Cassie’s autograph. I told him that I had never really met her, but I would try. That seemed to make him very happy.
We walked about a block to an old mansion that had seen better days. There was a large group gathered. I asked him what was going on. He told me to watch. The crowd was quiet. From the house, there was a scratching noise. It seemed to be coming from the walls. We all could hear it.
Suddenly, the noise stopped. I watched as hundreds of rats seemed to come from every opening in the walls. They bounded through the front yard and headed for the assembled crowd. They all cheered as the rats jumped onto each person. Most perched on their shoulders. Many of the kids allowed the rats to sit on their heads. Everyone laughed and seemed to be having a great time. The door of the mansion swung open. An old woman came out onto the porch.
“Remember everyone. Same time tomorrow.”
Everyone waved to the woman, who smiled cheerily and waved back.
I looked at Ward.
“Oh, that’s the Rat Lady. She takes care of all the pet rats in town while people are at work or at school. They get very lonely, you know. She gives them company during the day.”
This was one of the worst trips I had ever been on.
I decided to get back on the road and head home. As I walked down the street, I noted a young lady wearing a Miskatonic University sweatshirt.
“Student?” I asked, hopefully.
“Fashion statement,” she said.
I continued to my car.
When I got there, I noticed a parking ticket. It was a perfect end to a perfect day. I got in and started the car. I figured I would turn on the radio for a while. The first thing that met my ears was an advertisement for the grand opening of “Tentacle World” where you could buy all things cephalopod.
I turned off the radio and headed for Route 90.