|This article does not cite any references or sources. (October 2008)|
|Genre(s)||Horror short story|
|Published in||Night Shift|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Followed by||"'Salem's Lot"|
Setting and style
"Jerusalem's Lot" is an epistolary short story set in the fictional town of Preacher's Corners, Cumberland County, Maine, in 1850. It is told through a series of letters and diary entries, mainly those of its main character, aristocrat Charles Boone, although his manservant, Calvin McCann, also occasionally assumes the role of narrator.
Charles Boone, in a series of letters addressed to an acquaintance nicknamed "Bones", describes the arrival of himself and his manservant, Calvin McCann, at Chapelwaite, the neglected ancestral home of Charles's estranged late cousin, Stephen. While running errands, Calvin finds that many people in the nearby town of Preacher's Corners think them mad living in the mansion. The house is said to be "a bad house", with a history of sad events, disappearances, and mysterious noises which Charles attributes to "rats in the walls". Not long after their arrival, Calvin finds a hidden compartment in the library. It contains an old map of a nearby deserted village called Jerusalem's Lot, a mysterious area the townsfolk avoid. Their curiosity piqued, Charles and Calvin set out to explore the village the next day.
The two men find a quaint-yet-severely decayed Puritan settlement; the village, in Charles' words, is "sour". It is clear that no one has set foot in the town since its abandonment; not looters, collectors, children, nor animals. As Charles and Calvin explore a church described on the map, they discover an unspeakably obscene parody of the Madonna and Child, as well as an inverted cross. At the pulpit, they find a book filled with Latin and Druidic runes entitled De Vermis Mysteriis, or "The Mysteries of the Worm". When Charles touches the book, the church shakes and the two men sense something gigantic moving in the ground beneath them. The evil of the place overcomes both men, and they quickly leave the town.
Later, in Preacher's Corners, Charles becomes feared and cursed by all, to the point of being chased away from one house with rocks and guns. Charles turns to the Chapelwaite's former maid, who gives him information about its connection with Jerusalem's Lot. She reveals that a long-standing rift in Charles' family was caused when his grandfather, Robert Boone, attempted to steal De Vermis Mysteriis from his brother Philip, presumably to destroy it. She explains that Philip was a minister who was heavily involved in the occult. On October 31, 1789, Philip vanished along with the entire populace of Jerusalem's Lot. Charles attempts to dismiss it all as superstition, but he is unable to forget what he saw in the church.
Calvin discovers a diary in the library, encrypted with a Rail Fence Cipher. Before he can translate it, Charles has him venture into the cellar to check for rats, due to the continuing noise in the walls. Two days pass before Charles has recovered enough to describe what they found hidden behind the walls: the ancient, undead corpses of two of his relatives, Marcella and Randolph Boone, whom Charles recognizes as "nosferatu". The two men flee the cellar, and Calvin immediately seals the trapdoor to prevent any pursuit from the creatures.
As Charles recovers from the encounter, Calvin cracks the cipher. He is able to translate the diary, which contains a history of Jerusalem's Lot and a record of the events leading up to its abandonment in 1789. It is revealed that the town was founded by one of Charles' distant ancestors, James Boon, who was the leader of a cult of witchcraft and inbreeding that had split from the Puritans. The journal explains how Philip and Robert Boone took up residence in Chapelwaite, how Philip was taken in by Boon's cult, and how he acquired De Vermis Mysteriis at Boon's behest. Philip descended into madness. Philip and Boon are said to have used the book to call forth a supernatural force referred to by Philip as "The Worm". In his final entry, Robert curses the Whip-poor-will birds that have descended upon Chapelwaite.
Charles feels compelled to return to Jerusalem's Lot. Calvin does his best to prevent it, but he eventually gives in and accompanies his master to the village. Returning to the church, they discover a horribly butchered lamb on the altar, lying on top of De Vermis Mysteriis. Charles moves the lamb and takes the book, intending to destroy it, but a congregation of evil undead entities begins to emerge, including James Boon and Charles' great-uncle, Philip. Charles becomes possessed and begins to chant, summoning forth the Worm with an ancient spell. Calvin knocks down Charles, which snaps him out of his possessed stupor. Charles then sets fire to the book. The gigantic Worm lashes out from below, killing Calvin, and then disappears. Before Charles can recover Calvin's body, James Boon emerges from the Worm's hole, forcing Charles to flee the Church once more. In his final letter to Bones, Charles announces his intention to commit suicide, thereby ending the Boone family line and its connection to the evil of Jerusalem's Lot.
The book concludes with an "editor's note" that attributes Charles' letters (as well as the death of Calvin McCann) to insanity, dismissing his claims of supernatural occurrences in Jerusalem's Lot. Finally, the editor notes that Charles was not, in fact, the last of his line; that a bastard relative still exists—the editor himself, James Robert Boone. He has moved to Chapelwaite, hoping to clear the family name, and notes that Charles was right about one thing: "This place badly needs the services of an exterminator. There are some huge rats in the walls, by the sound". The note is dated October 2, the same date as Charles's first letter.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations