“…the gulfs… Someday you too may traverse them, but if you are wise you will beware such folly, for of those mortals who have been and returned, only one preserves a mind unshattered by the pounding, clawing horrors of the void.”
HP Lovecraft – The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath
Here in sunny Ladywell, south east London, we have been having streetscape improvements. They involve street closures and a lot of road and pavement digging. This has caused distress to those folks who like to use our local streets as a motorists’ rat run to avoid the horror that is the A2. It has caused less distress to those of us who like to walk in our neighbourhood without dodging white vans.
The works have taken longer than planned. Lewisham Council dutifully sent residents a helpful newsletter to keep us up to date with progress. In doing so, they unwittingly provided a clue to the links between Ladywell and the works of H P Lovecraft, one of the most influential (and weirdest) of Twentieth Century horror writers. Links that have until now been completely unsuspected.*
The newsletter explained that there were various reasons for the delay to the the excavation and renewal of the road junction. Most of the causes were mundane (like the poor spring weather). But my attention was snagged by one phrase, and it has played on my thoughts ever since, causing me to look at my local area in a completely new light. Work had been delayed, we were told, because of the discovery of a ‘large void’ beneath the road.
A large void.
Not an awkward cavity. Not corroded Victorian water mains.
A void. A large one.
This got me thinking. All these years I have walked these streets to the station to get the train to work, driven past taking my son to his football matches, or wandered through on the way to the park or a local cafe. It never occurred to me to think about what was beneath my feet. Now I thought of little else.
Those who have read any of my fiction (see for example Spiderman’s Sister on 10 September last year) may suspect that I am not slow to spot the darkness that may lurk beneath the everyday. As Colin Barnes put it in the introduction to his excellent Urban Occult anthology:
Behind urban life, weird and horrific things fester… the occult is all around us: in town houses, in mansions, and in your very own street.
Well, yeah. But it isn’t really, is it? That’s just stuff you make up, Chris. For some reason, which normal people can only guess at, you choose to imagine what these pleasant London streets would be like with monsters in the basements, witch doctors behind the scenes at the library, suicidal fanatics infecting themselves with deadly viruses and sitting next to you on the train.
Meanwhile, people with better things to do (and – frankly – more stable personalities) carry on with their lives. They know that a library is just a library; a leaf falling against your window at night is not the soft tap of a claw seeking a way in; and that the shabby-looking man next to you at the bus stop did not mutter anything in any ancient language, you just misheard him.
And H P Lovecraft was just a New England nutter with a clunky writing style and a made-up philosophy, who found it hard to take much pleasure in life:
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.
So I put the void out of my mind.
Until a recent evening when I was again on the hill above the street with the roadworks. Looking up, I saw a feature on the top of one of the houses that I had never noticed before. Here it is:
And now I’m thinking about that void again.
A large void.
Maybe I need a holiday.
(*And which even now remain largely spurious and invented by me).