I've been in quite a Lovecraftian mood lately and as such I've decided to revisit his work. As it just so happened, the first story I read was one of his first written and (if I'm not mistaken) his first published: The Alchemist. Written in 1908 when he was around 18 years old, it was published in the November 1916 issue of United Amateur.
The Alchemist is a terror tale written in the first person. the Narrator, Count Antoine de C-, relates how his ancestors befell a terrible curse when in a fit of rage Henri Comte murdered an old alchemist, named Michel Mauvais, believing that he had kidnapped his son, Godfrey. Mauvias' own son, Charles Le Sorcier places a curse upon Henri and his heirs, stating that non shall live past his current age of 32. Le Sorcier then splashes a clear liquid from a vial in Henri's face, killing him and vanishes into the night.
As promised, each of Henri's heirs die shortly after turning 32 (it's kinda like the "Curse of 27" with musicians, I guess). Arrow, drowning, undefined causes....but all upon each of them turning 32. As Antoine draws ever closer to his deadly birthday, he searches for an answer and perhaps a counter to this curse. He spends much of his time studying the occult until finally resigning himself and accepting his accursed fate. With his last days in sight, Antoine takes to to exploring the ruins of the castle that he called home. It is in the decrepit bowels of the castle that he discovers the truth behind The Alchemist's curse.
This short (being one of Lovecraft's first) is not yet steeped in rich the rich Mythos of Cthulhu and other Elder Gods. Instead what we have here is a very Poe-esque tale of revenge and murder with a few dabs of the unknown thrown in. Though The Old Ones have not yet been explored by Lovecraft, you can see the seeds of what will come in his early writing. It is clear that his fascination with the occult runs deep.
As always, his prose are evocative and atmospheric. While not his best work, it's still a worthy read....especially if you are a fan of Lovecraft's work and want to see it's roots and trace the evolution of the world that he created. The Alchemist is available in most (if not all) of the Lovecraft anthologies and omnibuses.