‘It is a mistake to fancy that horror is associated inextricably with darkness, silence, and solitude. I found it in the glare of mid-afternoon, in the clangour of a metropolis, and in the teeming midst of a shabby and commonplace rooming-house.’
A foul-smelling leak from the apartment above leads our protagonist to hear about the reclusive Doctor Munoz. A famed physician from Barcelona, he now spends his days in his rooms, only occasionally venturing out onto the brownstone’s roof.
One day, the narrator suffers a heart attack and seeks assistance from Doctor Munoz. He is surprised by “a rush of cool air” which hits him after the doctor opens the door to his apartment. Doctor Munoz saves the narrator’s life, telling him that he is “the bitterest of sworn enemies to death,” and needs to keep his apartment below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
‘Relieved of my seizure in a marvelously short while, I left the shivery place a disciple and devotee of the gifted recluse. After that I paid him frequent overcoated calls; listening while he told of secret researches,’
I love that phrase, “overcoated calls”, something surely only H.P Lovecraft could come up with! (His prose isn’t all “creeping, lurking, vast, unfathomable horrors,” after all 😉
Grateful for the doctor’s life-saving intervention, the narrator spends more and more time with Doctor Munoz, fascinated by his tales of unconventional research. Unfortunately, the doctor’s condition seems to be worsening on a daily basis. He drops the temperature in his apartment to uncomfortable levels and asks the narrator to pick up rare chemicals from the local druggists.
‘Then, in the middle of October, the horror of horrors came with stupefying suddenness. […] the pump of the refrigerating machine broke down, so that within three hours the process of ammonia cooling became impossible.’
I will end my summary here and leave you to imagine what happens next.
“Cool Air” is a short tale by Lovecraft and well worth reading. It doesn’t feature any cosmic horror so common to some of Lovecraft’s more famous stories. Instead, it’s a story of secrecy and isolation, of pushing the boundaries of medical science.
It is worth noting that the character of Doctor Munoz is reinterpreted by Alan Moore in the first issue of his Lovecraftian comic “Providence,” (see my review of “Act One” here.)
Have you read “Cool Air“? Do you have a favourite story by Lovecraft? Please let me know in the comments. And thank you for reading.
[*Here is a link to the full text of the story: “Cool Air.”]