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Created: February 2017
| Updated: February 2017
"Ashes" is a horror short story by author H.P. Lovecraft and C. M. Eddy, Jr. It first appeared in the March 1924 issue of Weird Tales. It is one of the few short stories by Lovecraft that has a happy ending.
The narrator, identified only as "Prague", is paid a visit by his dear friend Malcolm Bruce who proceeds to recount a harrowing ordeal that he has just experienced.
Malcolm has recently been the lab assistant to Professor Arthur Van Allister, a former teacher of Prague's and an independent chemist who works from a home lab. Bruce is introduced to Van Allister's secretary and assistant, Marjorie Purdy, who proves to not only be a beautiful and capable secretary, but also a capable amateur chemist. She and Brice develop a friendship as the Professor becomes more and more withdrawn in his own secret project.
Eventually, Van Allister reveals his reveals his completed chemical invention in a rather gruesome fashion. He pours his chemical formula, a colorless liquid, on a live rabbit subject in a glass box. The rabbit is instantly reduced to a "fine white ash". He then funnels the ash into a small vial for storage. He describes his plan to implement the chemical as a military weapon of mass destruction. All of this is too much for Marjorie's constitution and she flees the room, followed by Bruce.
Once outside, she faints and Bruce catches her. As she falls into his arms, he is overcome by his emotions and he begins to kiss her. She awakens with his kiss and the two proceed to "make love" there in the lab. Once they get a hold of their emotions they realize the professor could find them at any time and they compose themselves to complete their workday. That night they resume their passion filled exercises and Bruce proposes.
After two days of this torrid romance, Marjorie disappears while Bruce has stepped out of the lab. Her hat and coat are gone, but the servants of the household report that do not know where she has gone. In a state of stress, wondering what could have become of his beloved, the professor calls him to his private lab. There he sees a casket sized glass vat of the deadly liquid, and a new vial of white ash. To his horror he sees Marjorie's coat and hat on a chair in the corner.
In horror and rage at the death of his fiance, he overpowers the professor and it is unclear whether he has killed or simply rendered Van Allister unconscious. He then proceeds to place the body in the vat of the chemical, reducing the body to ash and consuming the mysterious liquid.
Horrified at his actions, he rushes to Prague's house to find someone to confess his guilt to.
The narration returns to the present and Prague presses Bruce on whether or not he was certain that the ashes were those of Marjorie. In doubt they return to the house and lab and eventually find Marjorie locked in a wooden chest. Once she comes to she reveals that the ashes Bruce found were those of a dog and that the professor overpowered her and revealed that he planned to keep her as a witness to the experimentation of the liquid on Bruce. Marjorie fainted and awoke locked in the chest. When she asks what happened to the professor, Bruce can only point to the pile of white ashes in the glass casket.
S.T. Joshi described Ashes as “perhaps the single worst tale among H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘revisions’”.