I'm seriously trying to get a story in Weird Tales ("The Unique Magazine"!) the greatest and longest running of all the old pulp magazines, the Valhalla of the literary heroes I adored when I was a wee little kid; Ray Bradbury, H P Lovecraft, Robert E Howard and others. Names to conjure with. I want to be there with them, I want to be able to tell people I was once in Weird Tales, so I've been schooling myself in horror fiction specifically to get a notion of what this genre looks like when it’s done right. Who are the good writers today? Who are the old masters? What do they sound like? How do you scare someone really? Do you build up suspense like Edgar Allen Poe or go for the gross-out like Stephen King? I've especially been reading Ramsey Campbell who pioneered erotic horror which would be my natural trajectory.
One of Weird Tales most often anthologized classics is H P Lovecraft’s early story "The Rats in the Walls", considered his best story. I take heart from the fact that Lovecraft was an unknown who fell flat during his short lifetime, but was rediscovered and developed a modern cult following long after his death. I'll take what I can get.
According to omniscient Wikipedia, "Rats in the Walls" was more or less inspired by contemplation of the cracks in Lovecraft's wall paper. Writers I suspect secretly spend a lot of their productive time staring into cold cups of coffee, cracked wall paper, brown grass or out the window. This mental loafing is one of the most important investments of your time you can make.
So here’s the least you need to know about “The Rats in the Walls”:
The present day (this would be 1923) descendent of the de la Poer family has moved into his ancestral home of Exham Priory in England. This is a shunned place, despised for generations of townspeople for whispered and unspecified hellacious shenanigans, but he is of course ignorant of this and uses his wealth to restore the place to its former dark glory. After moving in he and his several cats become aware of strange scurrying sounds behind the ancient walls of the priory. He discovers the priory is built on a satanic cult temple going back to Roman settlements, which is built over a secret underground city which had been maintained in the distant past by his degenerate ancestors in which cannibalism was practiced, with human cattle bred for slaughter.
Human cattle. Think about that for a minute. They are described as "quadrupeds" in Lovecraft's baroque voice, but implied to be human beings who had tumbled backwards down the evolutionary ladder over generations of in-breeding and degenerated into some mindless and debased form of humanoid life upon which people (and giant rats) fed.
Huh. That's interesting.
Excuse me while I turn and stare at the wall paper for a while. Let's stare at it together.
Cannibalism is as old as our species. There are many reasons why different groups of people turned to it. Religious ceremony. A profound gesture of respect for loved ones or fallen enemies. Desperation when no other food could be found.
Human beings, as a general thing, have always been good eating as any large carnivore would testify. Alone and unarmed a human is a relatively easy kill and more good meat and fat on his bones than a deer or a pig. Paul Theroux, who spent some time among cannibals, said that it is reputed to taste very much like Spam, and was referred to by islanders who would know as "long pork".
But human cattle on purpose?
What is this notion of breeding human beings for a purpose, much like the Morlocks who bred the Eloi in H G Wells’ novel "The Time Machine"? How far can you go before you hit the wall of human decency? If you bred them for food, would you also breed them for sex? Taking it upon yourself to grow your herds as it were? Or for status symbols if you could breed an especially beautiful woman or handsome man? Slavery, another institution that goes back to the dawn of time, was different in a fundamental way in ancient times from modern slavery. Slaves were not intentionally bred like human cattle.
Up until the last few centuries slavery was common and almost universal among civilizations. Usually slaves were your own countrymen who had fallen into poverty and sold off to pay debts, often as children. Or were born of parents who were slaves themselves, or convicted criminals condemned to work until they dropped dead, or people of conquered lands who had been enslaved by the victors. By the time of the fall of the Roman Empire the population of slaves outnumbered the population of free Romans. Artistically gifted Greeks were often Roman slaves. Hebrews were slaves of the Egyptians for generations until Moses came along. Slaves were often educated and invested in to perform highly skilled work. No one regarded them as anything less than human only socially unequal.
What if . . . .
. . . say, Neanderthals or Homo Erectus were still around? Lovecraft's "quadrupeds"?
Anthropologists tell us there were, at one time, as many as six genetically distinct species of Hominids living simultaneously here on God's foot stool. This is the common condition of almost all animals, to have several species of one family co-existing at the same time. Hominids are an exception in that all species except Homo Sapiens have gone extinct for reasons that aren't all that clear.
What if . . .
. . . a species, clearly regarded as inferior or less developed than Homo Sapiens had survived to the present day? Say, Homo Erectus. Or maybe they'd gone extinct but advanced DNA science had brought Homo Erectus back without necessarily making us Homo Sapiens any kinder or wiser?
Could you have a Hominid of another species for a personal pet?
We have lived with domestic animals bred for utilitarian purposes since the dawn of civilization. Cows to milk; horses to ride and pull; sheep to eat; dogs to hunt and guard; cats to patrol for pests. But we've never had a domestic companion that was not human (e.g. Homo Sapiens) but close enough to be used as a human.
Yes, sex. We’re talking about sex here.
Close enough to human to fuck any time, any manner, on demand as often as we want without having to feel bestial about it. We might make a Homo Erectus male or female part of the household menagerie as a sex toy or a brute servant. We might breed them for specific qualities, like body type, phallus size, breast size, sexual appetite, docility or loyalty. Parade them for prizes in breeding pageants. Pass them down to our sons and daughters when they reach puberty. That troublesome Facts of Life talk, but augmented by a hairy lab partner - "Here, son. Watch how I do this - whoa! Oh yeah! Just like that. See? Now, you try it, kid."
Here's an interesting question; which came first, Slavery or Racism?
Remember slavery has been around pretty much forever. It’s around now. According to Amnesty International there are more slaves in the United States at this time than before the Civil War. Think about that. In the past, Romans and other slave owning societies did not regard their slaves as in any way racially or physically inhuman or inferior. They were simply people society and circumstance had given into your hand to exploit. There were complex laws regarding their rights and protecting them from violence or gratuitous abuse. This was never true about slavery in modern times.
Indigenous peoples, black people and even Asians were conveniently declared as subhuman half way through the Twentieth Century, well within my lifetime. Consequently white folks felt they had a free hand to treat them like brute animals, or even worse than animals like Lovecraft's quadrupeds. These were Christian people. These were people who regarded themselves as right with God. Racism appeared after the fact of modern slavery as the necessary justification for a civilized conscience, to explain using human beings worse than you would use a dog. Worse than you would even be allowed to use a dog. Myths were made up about Africans and Indians, their mental inferiority, their physical prowess, they didn't feel cold and heat like we did, they didn't attach themselves to their offspring like we did. This is how a morally aware person lives with evil.
And make no mistake - if your body and all of its most intriguing orifices are someone's legal property in front of both God and Man and Church to dispose of, sex will not be far behind.
Now that's horror.