My journey commenced on September 24, 1997. The trip began auspiciously enough. I was reading S. T. Joshi's Lovecraft: A Life on the airplane. To my surprise, one of the flight attendants asked if I were enjoying the book, and said that she had read a lot of Lovecraft stories when she was younger.
Massachusetts, as first viewed from the air, appears to be a very wet country, with oblong and oddly shaped ponds and waterways scattered haphazardly about the scene. My first glimpses of Boston were of old-looking houses nestled together on low hills. As the plane taxied down the runway, I noticed that the grass was a bit sickly and not nearly as luxuriant as one would expect for a wet climate; a fact perhaps explained by what appeared to be rather sandy soil.
It was dark by the time I got outside the terminal building to await the shuttle bus to the rental car. It was pleasantly cool, but the claustrophobic concrete architecture and constant stench of exhaust made an unpleasant impression. This only deepened after I started out in my rental car and began the drive to my hotel in Danvers. The area just north of Logan airport seems a quintessence of modern urban blight, full of dirty but otherwise nondescript concrete structures.
I followed the 1A, which I expected would become a true highway and take off through the countryside. Instead, it remained a surface street that wound through a continuous series of small business districts and residential areas. The houses were all of a vaguely Victorian type, clapboarded and a bit rundown. Most were a good deal obscured by tall old trees with broad green leaves. There could be no doubt that I was far from my native Southern California.
I had reservations in Danvers, just north of Salem and reputedly one of the inspirations for Lovecraft's Arkham. I arrived there much more quickly than I expect, but once in Danvers, I quickly got lost. Then I was surprised to discover that the first two gas stations I stopped at did not sell any maps. However, the fellow at the second one was able to give me directions.
The Days Inn where I was staying looked like an innocent enough place from outside. But the lobby door was decorated with Halloween signs with warnings like "Keep Back! Danger within!" A fish tank inside had skeletons pasted to it, and numerous other decorations attested to the fact that the local people get into the Halloween mood well over a month in advance.
The man behind the desk sported white hair and a certain corpselike pallor as he shuffled back and forth. Was that his real face? Or was it some kind of mask? I noticed as well, as I saw more people, that they tended to be fatter, paler, and more deeply wrinkled than the people back at home. Out in the parking lot, a huge white bus loomed like a giant maggot, disgorging little clusters of wizened, gnomelike old people on holiday.
I made my way to the Denny's next door and read the local Peabody newspaper, a throwaway that contained no actual news, only a large number of photos of disturbingly healthy-looking local teens and profiles of outstanding students. I learned that the local High School football team is called the Salem Witches.
I retreated to my room and bolted the door behind me. The place felt empty without Karen, who had been unable to accompany me. I thought of the narrator in The Shadow Over Innsmouth staying alone in the Gilman House. I thought of Lovecraft perhaps doing the same on one of his antiquarian travels. However, unlike their hotels, this one featured HBO.
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© Copyright 1997, 2004 by Joseph Morales