“Electric Executioner, The“

“Electric Executioner, The“
   Short story (8,050 words); ghostwritten for Adolphe de Castro, in July 1929. First published in WT (August 1930); first collected in Cats;corrected text in HM
   The unnamed narrator is asked by the president of his company to track down a man named Feldon who has disappeared with some papers in Mexico. Boarding a train, the man later finds he is alone in a car with one other occupant, who seems to be a dangerous maniac. This person apparently has devised a hoodlike instrument for performing executions and wishes the narrator to be the first experimental victim. Realizing he cannot overwhelm the man by force, the narrator seeks to delay the experiment until the train reaches the next station, Mexico City. He first asks to be allowed to write a letter disposing of his effects; then he asserts that he has newspaper friends in Sacramento who would be interested in publicizing the invention; and finally he says that he would like to make a sketch of the thing in operation—why doesn’t the man put it on his own head so that it can be drawn? The madman does so; but then the narrator, having earlier perceived that the lunatic has a taste for Aztec mythology, pretends to be possessed by religious fervor and begins shouting Aztec and other names at random as a further stalling tactic. The madman begins shouting also, and in the process his device pulls taut over his neck and executes him; the narrator faints. When revived, the narrator finds the madman no longer in the car, although a crowd of people is there; he is informed no one was ever in the car. Later Feldon is discovered dead in a remote cave—with certain objects unquestionably belonging to the narrator in his pockets.
   The story is a radically revised version of a tale called “The Automatic Executioner,” published in de Castro’s collection, In the Confessional and the Following(1893). Part of the characterization of the madman is drawn from a somewhat more harmless person HPL met on the train ride from New York to Washington on a recent journey—a German who kept repeating “Efferythingk iss luffly!” “I vass shoost leddingk my light shine!” and other random utterances (see “Travels in the Provinces of America” [1929]). The madman in “The Electric Executioner” does in fact say at one point, “I shall let my light shine, as it were.” Later, in the course of uttering the names of various Aztec gods, the narrator cries out: “Ya-R’lyeh! Ya-R’lyeh!… Cthulhutl fhtaghn! Niguratl-Yig! Yog-Sototl—.” The spelling variants are intentional, as HPL wished to give an Aztec cast to the names so as to suggest they were part of that culture’s theology. Otherwise, HPL has followed de Castro’s plot even more faithfully than in “The Last Test”—retaining character names, the basic sequence of incidents, and even the final supernatural twist (although sensibly suggesting that it was Feldon’s astral body, not the narrator’s, that was in the car). HPL was paid only $16 for his work, but de Castro sold the story for $175.

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