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Literature / In the Vault

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"In the Vault" is a 1925 short story by H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft originally pitched it to the magazine Weird Tales, his usual outlet, but it was rejected for being too gruesome. It was instead published through the magazine Tryout, although Weird Tales eventually agreed to publish it as well when he tried them again a few years later.

The story revolves around a lazy and rather crude undertaker who finds himself trapped in a vault with several coffins of his own making. Trouble further arises when he tries to find a way out only for a certain act of pettiness that he had inflicted on one of the bodies filling those coffins to come back to haunt him.

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Tropes in this story include:

  • The Alcoholic: Birch is said to have enjoyed a good drink during the time frame of the story's events, but it is explicitly pointed out that he didn't become a true-blue alcoholic until after the events of the story.
  • Agony of the Feet: At the beginning of the story it is said that Birch suffered severe injuries to his ankles following a bad slip during his incident in the vault, and that these injuries rendered him lame for the rest of his life. As it turns out, these injuries were actually the result of bite wounds apparently inflicted on him by the undead corpse of Aphram Sawyer, in retaliation for Birch sawing off Saywer's feet.
  • Framing Device: The story is related to us by an unnamed doctor, to whom Birch was transferred following his previous physician's death.
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  • Kick the Dog: Almost literally. Asaph Sawyer is said to have stepped on a puppy once because it snapped at him. In the same paragraph, it is also said that he "ruined old Raymond thirty years after their boundary suit". Birch is described as being rather petty and vindictive, with the key example in the story being his decision to cut off Sawyer's feet to make him fit in a coffin that he had originally intended for a child, although given what a bastard the old man was Birch can perhaps be provided with a little bit of slack.
  • Pet the Dog: Birch may be lazy, crass, and generally unpleasant, but he does display a surprising inkling of kindness by choosing to give little Matthew Fenner a nice, respectable coffin rather than the half-assed one he had initially planned on.
  • Posthumous Character: Obviously the corpses, who play an important role in the story, but Birch and Davis are also said to have passed on by the time of the Framing Device.
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  • The Slacker: Birch is exceptionally lazy. Notably, he initially put off burying the coffins because of the weather, but then continued to delay it for several days after the weather had cleared up.

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