The Return of the Sorcerer (Variant Conclusion)

Clark Ashton Smith

I seemed to know with a loathly prescience the sight that awaited me beyond the sill. But the reality would have put to shame the foulest enormities of the neither pits. Carnby-or what remained of him - was lying on the floor; and above him stooped an unbelievable thing - the nude, headless body of a man, already blue with incipient putrefaction, and marked with earth-stains. At wrist and elbow and shoulder, at knees and ankles and hip, there were red sutures where the sundry limbs had been knit together in some hellish fashion, by the power of a will that was more than mortal. The thing was holding a bloody surgeon's saw in its right hand; and I saw that its work had been completed . . . .

Surely, it would seem, I was viewing the climax of all conceivable horror. But even as the thing knelt with its ghastly tool suspended above the remains of its victim, there came a violent crash from the cupboard, as if something had been hurled against the door. The lock must have been defective; for the door burst open, and a human head emerged and bonded to the floor. It rolled over, and lay facing the medley of human remnants, that had been john Carnby. It was in the same condition of decay as the body; but I swear the eyes were alive with malignant hate. Even with the marks of corruption upon them, the features bore a manifest likeness of [sic] those of John Carnby; and plainly they could only belong to a twin brother.

I was beyond horror, beyond terror; and I do not believe I could have stirred again if it had not been for the thing that happened now. As if the animating and uniting powers had been removed wit the completion of its task, the headless cadaver toppled to the floor, scatted in all its original proportions. The life had gone out of the eyes of that terrible head; and there was nothing but a heap of mouldy members, besides the fresh segments of that other.

The spell was broken. I flet that something had withdrawn from the room - the overpowering volition that had held me captive was gone. It had released me, even as it had released the corpse of Helman Carnby. I was free to go; and I fleed from that ghastly room and ran headlong though an unlit house, and into the outer darkness.

We present below [above] Smith's original ending to "The Return of the Sorcerer" (1931; Out of Space and Time), as preserved in the H. P. Lovecraft collection of the John Hay Library of Brown University. The text below replaces the ending of the published version. From the paragraph which begins "Again I paused, and could go no further" to the tale's conclusion.
Smith sent the carbon for the first version of "The Return of the Sorcerer" (which also bears the earlier titles: "Dismembered", "A Rendering form the Arabic", and "The Return of Helman Carnby") to Lovecraft in early January 1931. In response to Lovecraft's reaction to the story, Smith wrote: "I was greatly gratified by your reaction to 'Carnby' - a tale to which I devoted much though. The more veiled ending you suggest as possible was my original intention - certainly it would have been the safest and most surely successful method . . . if the tale is rejected as to gruesome, I can try the other ending" (Letters to H. P. Lovecraft, letter #20); the "other ... more veiled ... ending" eventually became the ending of the published version. It seems, however, that Smith did not wait for a rejection before scrapping the story's original, more explicit conclusion.

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