"An Inhabitant of Carcosa" (first published in the San Francisco News Letter and California Advertiser of December 25, 1886, also published as part of Tales of Soldiers and Civilians & Can Such Things Be?) is a short story by 19th-century journalist, short-story writer and occasional horror-story author, Ambrose Bierce.
The story concerns a man from the ancient city of Carcosa who awakens from a sickness-induced sleep to find himself lost in an unfamiliar wilderness.
Bierce may have been inspired by Gustave Naudad's poem "Carcassonne", about a man's failure to reach the beautiful city of Carcassonne before death.
The Carcosa Mythos?
This story is the first mention of Carcosa in a published work. Robert W. Chambers references the city in his own stories within The King In Yellow, and it is a staple part of the related Mythos. These concepts were further expanded upon by H. P. Lovecraft.The influence of Bierce's short story is still felt today as modern authors continue to contribute to The Cthulhu Mythos.
The copyright on the text of the short story has expired, and the story has therefore passed into the public domain. It can be found HERE and in numerous other places on the Internet.
Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.
A man from the city of Carcosa, contemplating words of wisdom concerning the nature of death by the sage Hali, wanders through an unfamiliar wilderness. He knows not how he came there, but recalls that he was sick in bed. He begins to fret, worrying that he has wandered out of doors in a state of insensibility. He relaxes some as he surveys his surroundings. He is aware that it is cold, though he does not exactly feel cold. Looking around, he comes across a lynx, an owl, and a strange man dressed in skins and carrying a torch. For the first time, the man becomes aware that it must be night, as through a gap in the clouds he can see the Hyades and Aldebaran, though he can see as clear as day. Exploring further, he discovers a copse that was evidently a graveyard of several centuries past. Looking at the stones that once marked graves, he sees his name, the date of his birth, and the date of his death. He then realizes that he is dead, and is amidst the ruins of the "ancient and famous city of Carcosa." A footnote at the end of the story states, "Such are the facts imparted to the medium Bayrolles by the spirit Hoseib Alar Robardin (see also Alar)."
Importance To The Carcosa Mythos
Besides the obvious point that it is the origin point for the mythos and Carcosa, An Inhabitant of Carcosa introduces some of the concepts later used by Robert W. Chambers (Aldebaran and the Hyades) and the names (albeit used in other contexts) of Hali and Alar. In addition, it should be noted that it places Carcosa in the ancient past of earth - the visible stars indicate a location on earth, as does the 'seance' context of the text, which couple with the 'caveman' image to convey a origin for the city long before established historical city building. Alternatively, a Dionysian interpretation of the figure clad in skins would, or could, place the events of the story in, or close to, the Classical era; the figure embodying Dionysian ideals rather than the general state of human development. Potentially this could put the flourishing of Carcosa in the Bronze Age; for consideration, the city of Mycenae flourished in the late Bronze Age and, following the Greek Dark Ages, was reduced to impressive ruins by the Classical era.