Franz Westen, a writer of weird tales, has moved to a San Francisco apartment house following the death of his wife, Daisy, and a period of alcoholism. He has begun a tentative affair with Cal, a harpsichordist living in the apartment below whose music has a supernaturally healing influence. Still grieving, Franz avoids commitment with Cal, finding solace in his “Scholar’s Mistress,” a heap of occult books and weird pulp magazines, which he lines up every night on Daisy’s side of the bed.
While in an alcoholic haze, Franz had purchased two books: Megapolisomacy: A New Science of Cities, by Thibaut de Castries, and a diary written by one of de Castries’ disciples, whom Franz believes to be Clark Ashton Smith. De Castries and his book are imaginary, but Smith was an actual fantasy writer, a friend of H. P. Lovecraft, a writer of tales of cosmic terror. In his book, de Castries maintains that conglomerations of large buildings produce noxious residues and become breeding grounds for “paramental entities.” Franz gradually becomes certain that a pale brown dancing figure he sees from his window is such a being. When he walks to the Corona Heights area in pursuit, he is horrified to see the figure waving to him from the window of his own room.
Franz visits the sybaritic Jaime Donaldus Byers, a poet and authority on Clark Ashton Smith, who confirms that the diary is indeed by Smith. Byers, who also owns a copy of the rare Megapolisomacy, tells Franz about an anti-urban cult established by de Castries and describes de Castries’ mistress, a mysterious woman in a black veil. Examining Smith’s journal, Byers finds a cryptically written curse hidden between two pages.
Franz spends the day researching the history of the apartment building in which he lives, ultimately learning that Smith...
(The entire section is 471 words.)