This story starts with a bang. The opening sentence has the narrator, Daniel Upton, announcing to us that he has just put six bullets into the head of Edward Pickman Derby, his best friend. Our storyteller then goes on to assert that he did not kill Edward Derby.
The story takes place in one of Lovecraft’s fictional locations, the city of Arkham, and opens in the Arkham Sanitarium, in the room of Daniel’s best friend, who he has just been shot six times in the head. We immediately go into flashback for most of the story, as Daniel feels the explanation will help us understand how he did not just kill his best friend.
Edward Derby and Daniel Upton began their friendship many years ago, when Edward was 8, and Daniel 16. It seemed an odd friendship on the surface, but Daniel explains that Edward was mature for his age.
As he matured, Edward became known for his writing ability and steeped himself in exotic and obscure books that some might call “occult”, not the least of which was the Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred. (The Thing on the Doorstep is part of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu universe)
Daniel tells us of Edward’s love, Asenath Waite, a peculiar girl with peculiar traits and talents from a peculiar family. Opposites in a lot of aspects, Asenath and Edward shared their interest in magical and exotic things and their differences complemented each other well, both at home amongst the “intelligentsia” of the local university.
Their bond was a strong one and they were married in a brief ceremony before a justice of the peace. Only a few years in to their marriage, Asenath seemed to age in an accelerated manner. Many years younger than Edward when they married, she now appeared to be the elder in the relationship. Edward, however, seemed to remain his juvenile and awkward self.
Now just beyond three years into their marriage, Edward seemed to be losing himself and his visits with Daniel occurred less frequently. Asenath was rarely seen, only as a figure glimpsed through the curtains of their home.
One day, Edward appeared at a nearby farm, frenzied and babbling rather incoherently. After Daniel calmed him down and let him rest, they headed for Arkham to return Edward home. The trip there was an adventure of its own, with Edward raving on about Asenath and things Daniel couldn’t understand.
In the middle of his ranting, Edward suddenly stopped, then seemed to undergo a physical transformation that might be better described as a seizure of sorts. Daniel knew he was losing his friend. Daniel no longer recognized Edward. After recovering from the seizure, Edward seemed completely transformed in posture, manner, and even voice. It seemed as if Asenath was manipulating Edward with some of her peculiar talents. Daniel was relieved to arrive at Edward’s home.
Months later, Edward appeared to visit with Daniel. Edward’s appearance and demeanor was back to his normal self. Edward revealed to Daniel that Asenath had left him and would probably be seeking a divorce. During the visit, Edward confided in Daniel that Asenath had indeed been using her peculiar talents to possess him, but he had developed certain defences against it, learned from his exotic and obscure books which frustrated Asenath to the point of leaving.
For the first time in years, things seemed about as normal with Edward as one might expect from him.
So with everything seemingly alright, how do we get to the story’s opening scene? How does Daniel get to the point of emptying his gun into his best friend’s head as he languishes in an asylum, and just what IS the thing on the doorstep?
You will have to read the story to find out.
First published in Weird Tales from January 1937, this writing is in the Public Domain for countries in which copyright is Life +70. It’s a good, heavy read for just under an hour.
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