Don’t you know there was a mill on Copp’s Hill in 1632, and that half the present streets were laid out by 1650? I can shew you houses that have stood two centuries and a half and more; houses that have witnessed what would make a modern house crumble into powder.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Pickman’s Model”
A story doesn’t have to reference Richard Upton Pickman by name to invoke “Pickman’s Model.” When you boil Lovecraft’s story down to its essence, the soul of it’s core message is simple and perfect: there are monsters in the earth, and they eat the dead. So that is what Victoria Dalpe takes a her premise. No Necronomicon, no blasphemous artwork—just a bunch of art school kids renting a space in an old mill in Boston that’s been converted into illegal housing.
The art school kids tell each other stories, urban legend-building in real time, Dalpe working from her Lovecraftian substrate and layering on all the hints and suggestions. The girl who died in the elevator. The guy that got mugged. Where’s Pete? If this was drawn out to novella length or adapted to film, we might get the full Lovecraftian investigation, the secret history unveiled one onion skin at a time. The inexplicable rendered down, explained, pre-digested for the audience.
“A Creak In The Floor” is a short story. It doesn’t have time for that. Everyone knows what it’s about, or they should. Dalpe ends the story by going for the jugular. And she didn’t need a single reference to Pickman to do it, barely uses the g-word. Compared to a lot of Lovecraftian pastiche, it’s refreshing to see someone that can invoke the Mythos without calling the old names. It is reminiscent of “Pugelbone” (2010) by Nadia Bulkin in that way, though Dalpe’s tale hews a little closer to the Lovecraft canon.
If the things-beneath-the-mill are the crux of the story, Where is Pete? is the key to the plot. It is what drives the protagonist Charlie Chan deeper into the darkness. Pete is the reason Charlie is there. Pete is the boy Charlie is in love with. The human connection draws Charlie inexorably in after his friend, his hinted-at one-time lover. The missing Pete’s interpersonal connections with his flatmates is woven in and around the urban legends that Dalpe builds, much as Pickman himself has been built up from Lovecraft’s ghoulish artist, drawing bits of legend to his own personal Mythos as writers weave their stories around him—like “Pickman’s Other Model (1929)” (2008) by Caitlín R. Kiernan, or “Pickman’s Modem” (1992) by Lawrence Evans-Watt.
Victoria Dalpe turns the page before we see what crimson end is in store for Charlie, and that is appropriate. While his story could have gone on, the story that Dalpe was telling really ends with the final revelation. In a twist of irony that only Lovecraft readers will get, it once again involves a photograph from life…
Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)