For the 1953 collection of stories and essays by Zealia Bishop The Curse of Yig (book)
Background[edit | edit source]
Bishop supplied the story idea and some notes, paying Lovecraft to flesh it out in 1928. It could be said the tale was "ghost-written"; however, others class it as a "collaboration". Bishop then sold the story under her own name to Weird Tales magazine. It was published first in the November 1929 issue (Volume 14, Number 5) on pages 625-36.
Synopsis[edit | edit source]
Based in Oklahoma around 1889, a newly arrived couple learn about the local legends surrounding a "Snake God", Yig, who takes vengeance on anyone who kills a serpent by killing them or turning them into a half-snake monster. The husband has a snake phobia which isn't helped by the wife disturbing a nest of rattlesnakes.
The husband and wife go through rituals to keep Yig away, but in the end it fails and in fear the woman kills her own husband in the dark, thinking he is Yig. She is taken to an asylum, and dies there... But not before giving birth to a half-snake creature.
Plot Summary[edit | edit source]
While researching snake lore in 1925 the Narrator finds that while most of the residents of Oklahoma are unwilling to talk there is a rumor that Dr McNeill is keeping a terrible relic in the Guthrie Asylum.
He is well recieved by the aging doctor who reveals that the relic is in fact a live victim of the curse of Yig. After being taken to see it in the basement the horrified narrator is gently led back to the doctor's plush office to hear the full story from the afternoon till late at night. After explaining the local customs surrounding Yig the Doctor moves on to the story of Walker and Audrey Davies.
In the spring of 1889 public land was opened in Oklahoma and the Davises left Arkansas to settle north of the Wichita River with all of their worldly possessions and Wolf (an ancient dog) in a covered wagon pulled by 2 mules. They made slow progress but given the time of year they were unaffected by Walker's crippling fear of snakes. However after hearing the Legend of Yig from a settler in Okmulgee he became obsessed with protecting himself against the Serpent god and its minions.
22 days in they were forced to shelter from the wind against a cliffside. Searching the rocks Audrey found a nest of newborn rattlesnakes which she promptly crushed with a rifle butt but rather than being reassured Walker was petrified. He believed that she had angered Yig and so sought out a Wichita Chief who taught him a long protective charm to ward off evil.
Finally arriving at their plot north of the Wichita River they began ploughing their land before building a wide-chimneyed 1 room log cabin. They soon found friends in the surrounding area including the nearby Comptons. Sally Compton told Aubrey a story from Scott County about a man who was bitten by so many snakes that his body popped. By midsummer they had managed to raise a barn, dig a well and take in a fair crop without encountering many snakes. Though he would often go to the main Wichita village for advise they were far from reassuring and warned him to keep up his prayers when the autumn con harvest came.
With the constant ritualistic drumming from the village and Walker's chanting, his paranoia began to wear on Aubrey who became increasingly aggrovated. The harvest-home festivities and the fiddle playing of Lafayette Smith brought a welcome respite until a Halloween celebration on Thursday 31st of October when the long hot spell came to an end. By 4 in the afternoon a large party including Laffayette, the Comptons and the Rigbys crowded the Davises' cabin. After hours of dancing their guests returned home at 10 o'clock, leaving the Davises alone. After this point Dr McNeill admitted that the details would become more vauge.
Awaking from a dream where Yig appeared to her as the devil Aubrey found Walker sitting up, listening to a distant cricket-like singing mixed in with the tom-toms. Walker decided that the sound must be varmints outside and lit a lantern to deal with them only to find that the floor was covered in an innumerable mass of rattlesnakes. Fainting, Walker fell to the floor and left Aubrey alone in the pitch dark. Panicking she felt helpless to save Walker and Wolf, wondering why she hadn't been killed first before realising that as per the curse she was to be turned into a snake. As time ticks by she is unable to utter any protective chants but still the snakes don't attack. Though she had come to despise itover the preceeding months she found that when the drumming stopped the defence against evil was gone. Emerging from the covers to look out of the window she heard the pop of Walker's venom filled corpse and watched as a figure began to block the light of the window and stumble towards her. Terrified she begs for her life before lashing out with a nearby axe, cutting down the lumbering shape.
The next morning Sally Compton went to investigate the inactive cabin and found the door unlocked. The light of day reavealed that the popping sound had been the bite covered body of Wolf and not Walker, who in fact hadn't been bitten once, but had instead been hacked to death with an axe. Aubrey lay on the floor lay mindless on the floor hissing and writhing.
In the following years she showed brief signs of sanity but before her death she gave birth to four abominations, only one of which survived in Room B 116 by 1925.
Characters[edit | edit source]
1925[edit | edit source]
- The Narrator - A young American Indian ethnologist who travelled through Guatemala before ending up in Oklahoma in 1925 looking for snake lore.
- Dr McNeill - The old, well read director of the Guthrie Asylum.
- Major Moore - One of the settlers who pointed the Narrator towards Dr McNeill.
- The Thing - The only surviving "child" of Audrey Davies, held in room B 116 of the basement of the Guthrie Asylum's east wing. In addition to a terrible stench it was described as a prone, hairless humanoid with speckled brown skin on its shoulders and a flat head with beady black eyes.
- Stevens - One of the three men trusted to feed the Thing and clean out its quarters until his death a few years before.
Circa 1889[edit | edit source]
- Walker Davies - A tall thin settler from Franklin County, Arkansas, described as having being sandy with grey eyes. Despite being fairly brave he was mortally afraid of snakes having been warned by an old Native American woman as a child.
- Audrey Davies - Walker's wife, a short, lean woman with straight dark hair. After killing accidentally her husband her hair greyed and fell out, leaving patches of blotchy skin.
- Old Wolf - Walker's dog, an ancient coyote/shepherd mix.
- Joe Compton - The Davises' neighbour and fellow ex-Arkansan who lived 2 miles away and helped Walker to dig his well.
- Sally Compton - Joe's wife and a font of gory snake stories. Known as Grandma Compton by 1925.
- Clyde Compton - The Compton's infant son who would later go on to be a prominent figure in the state.
- Lafayette Smith - A fiddler from southern Missouri who lived 3 miles east of the Davis homestead.
- Tom Rigby - One of Davises' neighbours.
- Jennie Rigby - Tom Rigby's wife.
- Zeke - The Rigby's collie.
- Chief Grey Eagle - The local Wichita leader who tried to help Walker.
Locations[edit | edit source]
1925[edit | edit source]
- Guthrie - Home to an insane asylum in central Oklahoma.
- Binger - A small village in Caddo County with a railway line passing through.
Circa 1889[edit | edit source]
- The Ozarks, Franklin County - The starting point for the Davises.
- The Indian Territory - A vast area of Oklahoma belonging to the Native American population opened up for settlement by the American Government. The landscape was made up of roadless red sand and rolling hills.
- Okmulgee, Creek County - An early stop on the Davises' journey
- Kickapoo County
- The Canadian River
- The Wichita River - A waterway south of the Davis homestead.
- New Reno - The nearest town to the Davises, 30 miles down the track to the northeast.
Republication[edit | edit source]
The story has appeared in a number of horror anthologies, including:
- A Treasury of American Horror Stories, ed. Frank D. McSherry, Jr., Charles G. Waugh & Martin H. Greenberg, Bonanza/Crown Books 1985
- Tales of the Dark #3, ed. Lincoln Child, St. Martin's Press 1988
- The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions, H. P. Lovecraft, Arkham House 1989