Maria was Mary, the Virgin Mother. Milagro was the Spanish word for “miracle.” Hoyos meant “holes” in the vernacular, but it also indicated “sepulcher.” A mausoleum. A hole in the ground. But he called her Elena: his Bright Star, his Shining One.
Taken altogether: she was his miracle, his bright shining miracle, his virgin and his final destination. He was not yet aware how apt her family name, Hoyos, would become. Womb to Tomb. Hoyos.
Using Himmler’s money, he rained jewels down on Elena from his open palms. Tanzler bought her clothing, more jewelry, a constant march of flowers, even a bed, and brought medicines he created himself in feverish midnight labors under a dim electric bulb in his ramshackle laboratory in the sticky Florida heat.
But now, in 1931, she was dying.
He applied more techniques, using electrodes on her body to cauterize the disease. He brought in a Tesla coil and vacuum tubes. Even inserted one of the tubes down her throat and increased the voltage until it burned. Everything worked briefly, and then the symptoms would return, relentless and mocking.
He was going to have to face facts. Her body would succumb to the disease, there was no other way.
But maybe that was a good thing. Maybe—with his knowledge of esoterica and electricity—a dead body was easier to cure than a living one. He knew that no one really died. He had seen the shades of the dearly departed so many times in his life that physical death held no terrors for him. He was an alchemist of the life-force, a man with medical training who was also an initiate of the great mysteries.
And besides … what would Himmler give him if he, Count von Cosel, discovered the key to reanimation of dead matter? If that secret could be found and if it could be employed on a massive scale—something a Henry Ford would design—then the German army would never have to suffer a humiliating defeat again as it had in the last war. Imagine it! An army of the Undead! Or, at least, the Recently Dead.
Then, as if in answer to his prayers, he received a letter from H. P. Lovecraft saying he would be in Key West that very summer.
Lovecraft was back living in Providence where he was happier than anywhere else on the planet. He still enjoyed traveling, however, and visited Quebec, Savannah, Georgia, and New Orleans, and even went back to New York City on a number of occasions, but now the time had come for him to visit Florida.
He had a number of correspondents down there, including a man who was an expert on Caribbean religion. There was one aspect of the Cthulhu File that had disturbed him when he read it, the convocation of voodoo worshippers around the statue of that alien god. He didn’t understand the connection between a bunch of deranged and murderous savages in the Louisiana bayous of 1907 and the ancient cult of Cthulhu that had its origins in Mesopotamia. Perhaps Reverend Whitehead could clarify that for him. There might be a secret buried in that detail that the good man, an Episcopal minister who was schooled both in the Bible and in voodoo, would recognize at once.
Whitehead lived in Dunedin, outside Tampa on the Gulf Coast of Florida, but he had another correspondent he intended to visit: a man of European origin living in Key West. He would try to visit both. The European correspondent seemed to understand a great deal in his writing that was unstated or only hinted at, and he found that compelling. Whitehead was obviously a well-traveled and cultured older man, and he reminded him somewhat of his own beloved late grandfather. The letters from the European, a man by the name of Tanzler who said he was a German nobleman, were articulate and profound. These two men had qualities that Lovecraft admired.
So, in late May of 1931, Lovecraft embarked on this fateful trip to Florida. He had no idea that this visit would generate repercussions for decades to come.
His visit with Whitehead from May 21 to June 10 was very helpful. The 49-year old Anglican minister cleared up a great many mysteries concerning the weird rites of the African and Caribbean religions and did so from an educated point of view, which Lovecraft approved. Whitehead had lived in St Croix, in the Virgin Islands, in the 1920s and had observed first hand the hideous incantations of the notorious voodoo worshippers. He began publishing stories about what he saw in Weird Tales, the same publication Lovecraft graced with his own prose, and the two became friends, eventually including another writer, Robert H. Barlow, in their circle. To make matters more interesting, Whitehead was also a personal friend of the soon-to-be President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and had photos of himself and Roosevelt in his comfortable home. Lovecraft was interested in this strange connection between an Anglican minister who was also a specialist in voodoo—as well as an author of horror stories—and the American president. It was not the sort of relationship that would occur to most people.
Whitehead, however, was sick from a variety of illnesses, no doubt contracted during his lengthy sojourn in the Caribbean. He was not the dry, dignified sort of clergyman but a rather more outgoing type who reveled in the company of young boys that he would take on camping trips to the Adirondacks. He availed of Lovecraft’s visit to convince the author to do a dramatic reading of one of his stories to just such a group of boys. And in that manner Lovecraft passed almost two enjoyable weeks in Dunedin.
His visit to Key West, however, was rather more intense.
Count Karl Tanzler von Cosel met Lovecraft at the Florida East Coast Railway station, and the two men walked along the streets for awhile as they approached Tanzler’s dilapidated residence, Tanzler apologizing for the lack of transport by telling Lovecraft that his car had recently been stolen. The Count had a brief moment of dejà vu as he realized it was on a similar train platform that George Viereck had taken from him the bizarre manuscript he had stolen from the man he murdered, Professor George Angell: a man known to his guest.
For his part Lovecraft was amused at Tanzler’s weird appearance: the gaunt figure with the jutting beard, bald head and heavy spectacles. The old German’s accent was also amusing to Lovecraft, who did not like foreigners generally but who found Tanzler’s intensity fascinating. The “residence” however, was another story. A ramshackle building with no running water or other conveniences, it looked more like mechanic’s workshop than a home. Lovecraft knew he could not stay there, but did not have the heart to tell his host just yet.
Tanzler introduced himself as a nobleman from Dresden. A former soldier in the Kaiser’s army, he was now practicing as a medical man in Key West and an expert in radiology. There was a frisson of something that passed between the two men as Lovecraft mentally connected his old creation, Herbert West, with Key West and radiology with the strange and forbidden experimentation of Herbert West in the reanimation of the dead. Key West, after all, is the Anglicization of the Spanish Cayo Hueso, or “bone cay,” an island that was littered with the bones of the ancient people who originally inhabited the site. This idea appealed to Lovecraft, even as the presence of so many Cubans on the streets appalled him.
Tanzler put Lovecraft’s suitcase in a corner of his home, and the two men went in search of refreshments. Neither was very wealthy; in fact, both were counting pennies, so Tanzler suggested an open air cafe where they could eat simply and cheaply and plan the next few days in pleasant surroundings. Before they left, Lovecraft noted the unusual medical apparatus everywhere, including what looked like a Tesla coil and other, very heavy, electrical equipment for purposes he could only guess, including a rather massive organ with a moldy stack of sheet music. Had he actually met a mad scientist?
The pleasantries completed, the two were sitting at a small table on Duval Street drinking iced tea. It was hot, even for June, and they welcomed the arrival of their drinks with pleasure and anticipation. Tanzler liked his extremely sweet, a fact Lovecraft noted with some distaste. He watched the condensation form on his own glass as he took moderate sips, letting the bitterness and the cold adjust his mental processes to something approaching normal. He wondered if he could catch a ferry to Havana.
Instead of discussing the tourist attractions of Key West, however, Tanzler brought the subject around almost at once to the theme that obsessed him.
“My dear Lovecraft,” he began. “I have read your stories with fascination and appreciation. As a man of science, with a specialty in the field of the electrical stimulation of the life processes, I wonder if you are aware that there are those who are working on precisely the type of resurrection techniques hinted at in your work.”
Lovecraft looked up at Tanzler, not quite sure what he was getting at. “Forgive me, but my little stories are works of fiction and the
imagination. The resurrection—or, should I say, reanimation—of dead
matter is something horrible, of which no sane man would consider himself guilty.”
“Nein, mein Lieber Freund. There are those even now who, on a pleasantly sunny day such as we enjoy, are concentrating intently on this very goal.”
“But my dear Count, that is not possible. Once the body dies it begins to decompose very quickly. Its internal systems collapse. The brain, deprived of blood and therefore of oxygen, shuts down and with it all consciousness disappears. There is nothing left to reanimate, I assure you. In fact, I understand that Tibetan monks, in that savage and inaccessible part of the Himalayan wasteland, carve up corpses with laughter and glee and quite sharp cleavers as they do not believe the dead body has any relationship any longer to the soul that inhabited it. They throw the severed cadavers on the snowy mountain tops like the detritus of a squalid restaurant and let the vultures consume them.” A strange gleam flicked briefly across the writer’s eyes at the thought.
“I would have to disagree, good sir. The ancients tell us of the portability of the mind, that it can travel out of the body and even, under
certain circumstances, inhabit or possess another body. The phenomenon of possession and exorcism surely suggests as much?”
“Nonsense, Karl. May I call you Karl? Thank you. It is nonsense to believe in any of this superstitious claptrap about spirits and ghosts and demons and such. There is simply no scientific basis for any of it. Religion is a curse upon humanity, Karl. It distorts reality at the hands of vain and venal men who wish to use fantasies to control the masses. It is way to lie without seeming to lie; in fact, it is a way to lie that demands no proof that the lie is, in fact, the truth. In that, it is the perfect lie!”
The German spy and occultist waited a moment before responding. His mind went to his beloved Elena, even now in the last few months of her life, and the cruelty with which Lovecraft denied all possibility of post- mortem existence was depressing him.
Then he thought of a way to bring the conversation around to the subject with which his superior was most interested.
“Would you be surprised if I told you that, even now, there are those among us who not only believe in the existence of ghosts, gods and demons but who actively seek to make contact with them?”
Lovecraft was a little startled at the intensity in the German’s gaze.
What had he gotten himself into?
“The foolishness of humanity is no surprise to me, my good Count.” “Do you, then, deny the value of psychology and psychotherapy in the
treatment of mental disorders?”
This was a bolt that struck home as surely as if it had been fired by William Tell himself.
“Are mental disorders then to be considered spiritual disorders? Is this what civilization has come to, applying scientific-sounding terms to superstitious beliefs?”
“Ah, then you do not believe that mental disorders exist?”
“Oh, but I do. I am surrounded in this world by morons, idiots, and the criminally insane. One only has to read a newspaper, or visit Congress, to be assured of that!”
It was a slick reply, one that Lovecraft had made before in other contexts, but the tone and direction of this conversation was cutting a little too close to home.
“Agreed, mein Freund. Aber consider the populations of our asylums. These are individuals who would have been cured of their disorders in the old days by the ritual of exorcism. But since we now live in a scientific world, exorcism is no longer employed as a remedy and thus the poor individuals must live the rest of their lives untreated and undiagnosed. A diagnosis of demonic possession would relieve one of their medical license, nicht war?”
“What you are characterizing as either a spiritual or a mental disorder may be nothing more than an organic condition, treatable by medicines and other appropriate methodologies. It is to the body we must look for both the cause and the cure of disease, not to the invisible and intangible spirit!”
As they were arguing, one of Tanzler’s agents—a German spy on his way to the shipyards in Virginia—went into Tanzler’s home and found Lovecraft’s suitcase. He opened it easily and rummaged through everything he could find. There was the usual collection of clothing and toiletries, and a notebook.
Thinking this might be the Cthulhu File, the agent opened it and flipped through its pages. Sadly, it turned out to be nothing but descriptions of places visited, snippets of conversation, and other ordinary scribblings. There was nothing about the Cthulhu Cult in the file, no references to arcane events or satanic conspiracies.
With a sigh, the agent put everything back in its place and quietly left the house. On the doorjamb he scratched a single line with a piece of chalk, indicating to Tanzler that the file was not there.
After having had two large glasses of iced tea each, the two men paid and got up from their table, still talking. Tanzler had a restaurant in mind for their dinner, one that would certainly cheer up his guest and perhaps make him more amenable to discussion about the things that mattered most to him: the Cthulhu File, of course, and the process of reanimation.
They walked down Duval Street to a restaurant that specialized in fresh seafood as well as more pedestrian fare. Tanzler had no idea what his guest would eat, so he chose a place that would have a little of everything. If Lovecraft was not a picky eater, he would order some Caribbean seafood delicacies. He felt certain that the New Englander would not turn down a