The Threshold is a ten-part Weird Fiction story told in 1,000-word bites, give or take a few words. In the tale, Doug, a millennial everyman, finds himself exploring increasingly horrifying worlds trying to return home.
The Threshold is a ten-part Weird Fiction story told in 1,000-word bites, give or take a few words. In the tale, Doug, a millennial everyman, finds himself exploring increasingly horrifying worlds trying to return home. Visit The Threshold’s Installments Page for a list of all installments in this New Pulp Tale.
Part 9: The Court of the King in Yellow
Doug and Ward followed Cassilda down a spiral staircase. He’d been unable to get a good look at the woman’s visage. It remained obscured behind her yellow hood. Their guide glided down the smooth steps with no difficulty, but Doug struggled to avoid slipping. A steady stream of black water cascaded along one side of the stairs, making the entire surface slick. He kept using the wall to stabilize himself. The few windows they passed revealed a landscape covered in dark clouds. He thought he could just make out a golden spire in the distance of one window, but he wasn’t entirely sure.
Another twist of the tower brought Doug around to face a missing section of the wall. Wind whipped in through the opening, and inky raindrops stung his face. Behind him, Doug heard the squeak of Ward’s lost footing. He turned to stop her slide before she sent them both to their deaths, but she collided with him before he could get his feet set and they both tumbled out of the hole.
Doug scrambled to grab onto anything as he fell, but his fingers slid off wet stones.
They landed with a splash. Doug swam to the surface and looked up at the breach in the tower. They’d only fallen a few feet into an overflowing fountain. A decrepit statue jutted up from the middle. He had no idea what the eroded golden nub had once represented. His companion surfaced next to him.
Ward spat out a mouthful of water. “I hope this king has dry clothes.”
“Me too.” Doug swam to the fountain’s edge and pulled himself out and onto paved cobblestones. “Where’d our guide go?”
“She’s right there.” Ward clambered out to sit next to him.
Cassilda stood at the entrance to the tower, awaiting them. Doug surveyed the city they found themselves inside. Unlike the other two worlds he’d visited, this one didn’t look remotely like his own. There were no suburban houses, modern skyscrapers, or old colonial universities. Instead, he saw towers and domes of gold. Their architectural styles didn’t seem remotely familiar as some of the tall structures seemed far too thin for anyone to fit inside. The domes had a wave-like quality to their structure that reminded him of lava formations he’d seen on the Discovery Channel. A tremendous crash of thunder and lightning drew his gaze to the sky.
The rain stopped abruptly, and the black clouds shifted to a dull orange. After a moment, they swirled into a vortex that revealed a purple sky above. Twin suns blazed overhead. Doug felt his moist skin and clothes begin to dry as soon as the heat of the stars reached him.
“I don’t think this is another version of Earth.” Ward stood up and held out a hand.
Doug used the assistance to get to his feet. “You can say that again.”
Cassilda walked past them. “This is Carcosa.”
Doug and Ward looked at each other for a moment before they followed her again. As she’d passed, he got his first good look at their guide’s face. She wore a mask displaying female features, snow-white skin, emerald eyes, ink-drawn black eyebrows and lips. The dimness of the castle and the storm had hidden it well, but in the light of the two suns, the mask was shown to be a mere imitation of humanity. Her faded yellow robes now glittered as veins of silk were illuminated.
They walked through alleys and tunnels, twisting and zagging through the streets of Carcosa. If there were any inhabitants in the city besides them, they did not make themselves known. The silence was only broken by their footsteps and the occasional crash of thunder in the distance.
His mind drifted back to his sister’s last moments in Miskatonic as they progressed. She’d been exploded from the inside out. He couldn’t stop seeing her blood dripping down the Living Void’s body. His brain played the moment on a loop. While he felt gutted over the loss, every time he looked at Ward, he felt greater sorrow. While he’d known an Ellen his entire life, he’d only known the Ellen of that world for a day. Ward had been her lover. Now she was stuck here with him and the knowledge that the last thing she saw in her own world was her girlfriend being murdered.
“Wait here.” Cassilda stopped before two enormous doors, they seemed to be carved out of sapphire.
Their guide continued walking, circumventing the entrance. Doug and Ward stood in place before a domed structure that had several spires sticking out of the top. Lightning struck the tallest and an arc of electricity shot between the others. Orange clouds swirled in from the distance and formed a column through which he could momentarily see a night sky filled with stars.
Ward remarked on the phenomenon without amazement. “This place is obviously some kind of spatial and temporal nexus. Nothing seems to be consistent here. It’s amazing anyone manages to live in this world.”
The sapphire doors swung open to reveal yellow stairs leading up to a darkened room filled with ancient, petrified trees. Doug grabbed Ward’s hand for his own comfort. They ascended together and followed an amber carpet to a sandy beach. A great lake stretched to the edge of the horizon, and he looked around to confirm they were still inside the dome. The structure opened to form a gigantic space. For a moment, Doug thought they’d come into a normal-looking area of Carcosa, but a closer inspection revealed that the blue sky and white clouds were actually colored walls. He saw a few areas where the paint had peeled to reveal grimy stone underneath. Out of the water in front of them, a form rose.
Doug took a step back, but Ward remained in place. They were still joined at the hand. The figure wore a yellow robe, like Cassilda’s, but a crown of thorns sat upon the head, and the mask covering the face was white and featureless aside from the mouth and eye slits. The robes billowed loosely, and the sleeves hung without arms inside. Doug was reminded of the sheet ghosts that people put on poles for Halloween.
Cassilda walked up behind them. “You are in the presence of the greatest entity of Carcosa. The Un-nameable. Bow in reverence.”
Doug and Ward acted as instructed.
Cassilda moved to stand between them and the being in the water. “The Un-nameable does not degrade himself with conversing, and he usually doesn’t deign to traffic with lower forms, but this is a special moment for Carcosa.”
Ward leaned close to Doug and whispered. “Of course, this thing still thinks of itself as a man and has a woman to do his work.”
“You have traveled to this world without a summoning, and you’ve performed no ritual to arrive. This makes you trespassers, but in your foolishness, you’ve led in an offering for the Un-nameable.” Cassilda gestured behind them.
They both turned.
The Living Void approached. The being that had been trying to eat Doug for days walked quickly over the yellow carpet and through the long-dead forest. The creature threw off its grey pullover and stepped out of its jeans as it progressed. The articles of clothing were still soaked in his sister’s blood. Without the disguise, the Living Void’s form became that of a night’s sky in human outline.
“You were right, the gate between worlds wasn’t closed when the glass door shattered. It followed us.” Doug wrenched Ward to the right so they could try to avoid being sandwiched by the two entities.
Cassilda gestured to the sand behind her, and two stone seats rose. “Due to the magnitude of this food, which you’ve directed right to us, you will be given the honor of watching the un-nameable feast. Your mind will be rendered useless, but no lower form has ever been gifted such grace.”
Doug spotted the outline of a door against the far wall, behind the two stones, and started pulling Ward toward it. The sight of their follower had frozen her feet to the ground.
The shadowy form of the Living Void continued toward them without regarding the two figures in yellow. “Tasty, tasty treats. Don’t run any further. I’ve already pursued you here. Let me get my fill. I want the children you will inspire me to create. Be my aphrodisiac.”
Ward and Doug are drenched by a tremendous wave of water that explodes out of the lake. Their recently dried clothes are soaked again. Out of the tumultuous churn rises the yellow-crowned king, but Doug sees that instead of two legs, the un-nameable has a massive white tentacle puppeteering his robes. The appendage leads to a huge gelatinous body. More tentacles slithered out of the form’s central mass toward the Living Void. A tremor ran through Doug’s body. Blood trickled from his nose. A primal part of his nervous system, something left from when his ancestors ran from lions in the jungle, told him that looking any longer would mean death.
Doug turned away and charged toward the door on the far wall, dragging Ward through wet sand. Cassilda glided around to block their escape. She stretched out her arms like a scarecrow. Behind him, he hears a titanic struggle as water splashed and old trees splintered apart.
“If you don’t move, I’m going to punch that stupid mask right off your damn face,” Doug shouted.
Cassilda retorted, “But I wear no mask.”
Ward leaped forward, suddenly coming to her senses, and made good on Doug’s threat. Her fist penetrated Cassilda’s face, and the robes collapsed in on themselves, revealing no one inside. Doug followed Ward to the door. They pushed together, and the stone slab fell forward to reveal a grassy hill topped with a stone archway. Through the arch, Doug saw a shimmering vision of his apartment building.
“That might be my home, and even if it isn’t, it will be better than here. Come on.” He shouted over the chaotic sounds of battle behind them.
Doug and Ward dashed up the hill.