A Lovecraft fanfiction inspired by the real-life town of Catawba, New Jersey.
The Dark Acts of George West, Esq.
The following is a fragment from an unnamed journal, found in the rubble of a Massachusetts asylum that collapsed in 1948.
“I will never return to the woods of New Jersey; in fact, I may never venture from within these walls again, for that which so repels me has roots far and wide, and so I fear the world. For posterity, I record here what I learned while I still held my job as a private investigator.
“Hidden away in the woods, there can yet be found the hidden hatch that leads to the cellar. That cellar, once a part of the large, elaborate home of one George West, Esq. West settled in a largely uninhabited area with his wife, Amy, and had three children: James, George Jr., and Joseph. They were happy for a time, and others were drawn to the house and the family, and a village was born. Disaster followed the building of the local church building, a proper Methodist establishment.
“George West, who had taken up the podium of that church, took holiday with his wife in 1926. By that time, their sons had been sent to a prestigious boy's school in Europe, and the two vacationed often. They headed up to the Massachusetts coast, taking a beach home just south of Innsmouth, the town that became famous in 1928 for the acts of the so-called Esoteric Order of Dagon after the FBI raided the gold refinery and discovered the cult's despicable work. It has been guessed by many that the Wests found themselves in that very town for some time, because they returned to Catawba with strange ideas.
“After a time, West began strange new practices in his church, and the common people became wary of him, his family, and his followers. It became practice among the good and wholesome folk to avoid the Methodist church and the West estate, and to keep one's head down altogether while out-of-doors. The lives of the people grew separate and strained, and slowly the townspeople became a community of hermits, self-sufficient and estranged. After a time, doubtless, they began to die, but no one took notice.
“On the other side of life, West's followers thrived. They held meetings and gatherings, celebrated special occasions, and generally ignored those who were not among them. At night, there could be seen from the Methodist church strange lights, and heard strange sounds, so that not even the creatures of the night would dare approach. While the other villagers grew old and died, West's followers seemed free from time, as though some dark power preserved them from even death.
“In April of 1929, West and his wife once again visited the Massachusetts coast. Upon their return, they spent some time hidden away in their large home. Their followers, who had waited eagerly for their return, were surprised and somewhat angered by this seclusion; but after a month, the Wests reemerged and announced that their worship would be moved from the Methodist church to their estate. In conjunction with the move, the West invited his followers to move into the house. After a time, the townspeople who did not follow West's teachings returned to the empty church, but they found it a desecrated and befouled place, and had it boarded up.
“The others living in Catawba noticed a marked change in the abhorred worship after it was moved to the West estate. No longer were the sounds of revelry heard, nor was food and strong drink shipped in by the crate. The estate, and the town it dominated, lost its dark and corrupted atmosphere and took on an air of tense fear, a sort of terror of itself, and the people in it became all the more reclusive.
“In 1928, when George Jr. and Joseph West, the eldest sons of George West (who were, by that time, at college abroad), heard of the raids on Innsmouth, where their parents were suspected to have sheltered, and what was found there, and became concerned. The two boys decided to pay a visit to their parents across the sea, and they took their younger brother, who was still at the boys' school they had all attended, with them.
“Their return would prove disastrous, however; from the start, they were received badly. The servants (all followers of George West, as all others had long fled or vanished mysteriously) would not even allow them into the house, because they could not prove to be – and were not – members of the vile cult of those within, and because they did not recognize one another. George West himself was called to the gates, and his sons thought this would solve the problem; but George concurred with his servants instead, and denied them entry unless they agree to convert to his dark sect.
“The boys were, of course, skeptical, but they agreed to their father's terms, hoping the chance to investigate what had happened in their absence might offer the chance to set things right. For a time, they stayed at the estate; but by the middle of that summer they had become fearful of their father and his followers and their beliefs. James, the youngest, attempted to escape the house in August, but was recaptured by the faithful.
“The remaining sons became suspicious and frightened after their brother's death, and found no time to mourn. They had been discovered conspiring to destroy the cult and end its evil deeds the month before, and were confined to their room, and never saw James again after his escape. It was later revealed to them that James had died suddenly, not two weeks after his attempt to flee; no explanation for his death was offered.
“These things I know for certain, for they were told to me exactly as I have put them down by Joseph West himself, a year or so later, when he came seeking my help. I inquired as to what dark deeds the cult had committed, but the question put a sinister look in his eye, akin to the look one might see in a rat disturbed from a promising meal, and said he could not speak of them. I asked what had become of the rest of the family, and how he had come to me, and he continued his story.
“He told me that George Jr., the eldest brother, decided to confront his father in the 'honorable fashion,' and that he had not been privy to their conversation. George Jr. was taken by force a few nights later (the 3rd of September, specifically) to attend one of the cult's services. The servant who had been sent to take him there said that his father had invited him to see what the cult was truly about, to show him that his impression was wrong, and try to make amends, but George Jr. was never seen again.
“Less than a week passed before Joseph West became overcome with fear for his life and a desire for vengeance. After pretending to desire a deeper understanding of his father's sect, Joseph manufactured and took an opportunity to attack his father with a letter opener; the wound proved fatal three days later, when George West, Sr. died on September 10th, 1929.
“After the death of its leader, the cult fell into chaos; and though Amy West tried vainly to fill the place left vacant by her husband, she had neither the charisma nor the strength of conviction he had wielded, and was attacked and killed by a group of enraged and desperate followers on the 15th.
“With no leader, the cult eventually split up, a violent and chaotic process that gave Joseph West the opportunity to escape the estate. More than likely, the cult members found new homes in other daemonic cults scattered across New England, like that in Innsmouth or those who make horrible predictions of the future and the return of the Great Old Ones and their Priest, Cthulhu.
“After many years on the run, Joseph eventually found his way to me. Though he had destroyed the cult and its people, he worried that relics from their worship might be hidden in those woods, and so hired me to investigate the area and what was left of the estate of George West. It was in this capacity that I found that hatch that leads to the cellar of the West estate – the hatch that led to my destiny.
“It was heavy, made of solid wood bound with iron bands, and the handle was large and rusted, but it yielded when I pulled it open. Some earth around it fell into the darkness, but made no noise; indeed, the climb down the rickety latter was a long one, and through total darkness. It was only when I reached the bottom that I was able to turn on my pocket torch and see what was around me. The narrow beam of light revealed horrors I could not have imagined: stone carvings of dark beings and evil creatures that should not exist, carvings of daemonic symbols on the walls. One wall was covered in bookshelves, but I dared not read any titles, and another bore an enormous tapestry of some unknown street in a dark, sub-aquatic city. But the most horrible image among them was far simple and more conventional: in the center of the room stood a stone altar, undecorated and awful. The very air around it thickened, and I dared not get too close.
“The farthest wall from where I had entered held an arched doorway, and I passed through. The other side held something I had not expected: a machine of some kind. The far wall was dominated by a ring of metal, at least ten feet tall at its apex, and the room was dotted with jars of fluid, control panels, and pillars, all connected to one another and the metal ring by thick cable. I was holding my light close to one of the fluid-filled jars to try to determine its contents when I began to perceive a red glow in the room. Approaching its source, I found that one of the control panels had a single button still lit after those many years. Curiosity got the better of me, and I pushed it down.
“Instantly, the metal ring against the wall was illuminated by a bright green light, and the very air felt charged with energy. The jars of liquid illuminated in turn, each a different color, and the green glow intensified. From this point my memory becomes fogged; I remember only a few, disjointed moments. There was a large shadow that passed between myself and the glowing ring, and I felt the most intense fear and dread one can imagine and more.
“My memory resumes over ten years later. I have no recollection of the time between; indeed, I believe that I was not in control of myself, though what was, I cannot say. I am told that my pursuits were less than wholesome, and that I was taken to the Arkham asylum after a violent encounter with a policeman. I woke up here one day, feeling absolutely as if it was but a few seconds after my collapse in the cellar of George West.
“I have been in the asylum ever since. I am happy enough here, as it is not the woods of New Jersey, and I feel safe behind the walls. They are good enough to me, but I fear I will die here, and soon. That is why I have put this story down on paper, finally. I hope my life can go on, free of its influence. It is a thing of the past.
“I never heard from Joseph West again.”
Author's Note: This story was inspired both by the works of H. P. Lovecraft and the real-life town of Catawba, New Jersey. Catawba was a small town in Egg Harbor Township, just south of Mays Landing. It was founded in the 1800's (not the 1900's as in the story) by George West, a lawyer and Methodist minister. George had three sons: James S. West, born on April 7, 1810; George S. West, born May 7, 1806; and Joseph E. West, whose birth date is unknown. Joe West followed his father's footsteps into the legal field, but he was widely known to be corrupt and ruthless to his enemies. His family all died in 1829 under mysterious circumstances, within two months: James on August 24, George S. on September 3, the patriarch on the 10th, and his wife, Amy, on the 15th. Joe West, the only survivor, married and lived in luxury on his family's wealth and that gained by his many unscrupulous pursuits. He was jailed briefly, but was released early and seemingly disappeared. Speculation as to the true events leading to the West family's demise range wildly, with the most prominent theories being either that Joe killed his family to gain their wealth, or that they were claimed by tuberculosis. The truth behind this intriguing mystery remains, well, a mystery. There is no evidence that George West or anyone in Catawba was involved in a cult, and the estate, which is now almost completely gone, did not have a cellar that can still be accessed. Historical accounts are very limited, but they include no indication that West's sons schooled in Europe, and it would be unlikely; his wealth and the size of his manor are much exaggerated in this story. The towns of Innsmouth and Arkham, Massachusetts are the creations of H. P. Lovecraft, as are the Esoteric Order of Dagon, the cults of Cthulhu, the city of R'lyeh (pictured on a tapestry in the cellar), and the beings of Yith (alluded to as a "large shadow").
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