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 4: Tasty, Tasty Treat
The setting sun sent searing rays into his eyes. Doug didn’t know how long he’d been locked in the asylum. He spent so much time sleeping; he sometimes missed the sun’s rise and fall. The days and nights swam together like mud and shit. Must be at least a week, he thought. Maybe two?
“Won’t be long now,” said the inmate across the hall. “I’m ascending tonight.”
Doug cuddled closer to the wall to avoid the blinding light. “That’s great Howard. I’m really happy for you.”
He wasn’t. Doug didn’t feel much of anything anymore. Talking to Howard was all he had to do, but every interaction made Doug feel less connected to reality.
On the first night, Doug screamed and railed against his confinement. By the middle of the next day, he’d decided his only way out was to play nice. No nurses ever came to evaluate him though, and the orderly who shoved food through the small slot at the bottom of the door, once a day, wore headphones to avoid conversation. It wasn’t long before he decided to start responding to Howard’s daily assertions and inquiries. It was all he could do besides eat, sleep, and use the toilet.
First, Howard explained how the asylum wasn’t actually an asylum. Doug pressed him on what it really was, but the inmate wouldn’t elaborate. Next, Howard went into a long technical rant involving dark energy, black mass, and the atomic inverse formula, Doug comprehended almost none of it, but the thrust of the confined man’s ramblings seemed to argue that they’d both crossed into a dark inversion of the world they’d been born into. The skin of their planet had been sliced open, turned inside out, and stitched back together to form this one. Doug had almost believed that the man was once a physicist, as he claimed, but that night Doug watched Howard drink his urine and rip out his hair for a snack.
“No questions about the ascension? That’s not like you. You were so inquisitive when we first met.”
“Howard, I just want to sleep until they let me out of here.” Doug stared at the thousands of tiny tally-marks the previous occupant had made. “If they ever let me out of here.”
“But you’ll get to see it for the first time tonight. It’s beautiful and stark, but the wrapping is just a façade. Don’t forget that.”
Doug chuckled. “I won’t.”
Sleep throttled his waking mind.
Clack, Clack. Clack, Clack. Steps. Someone’s finally coming. Moonlight now illuminated his cell. Doug scrambled out of bed so fast he fell to the floor, surprising a rat who dashed into the darkness under his cot. At least one rodent snuck into his room through the food slot every night. He got up to peer out of the barred window in his door.
The fluorescent lights reflecting off the tile floors dimmed and went out. Doug’s eyes tried to adjust. Clack, Clack. Clack, Clack. The steps continued to approach in the blackness. A sound, like a dog whose tail’s just been trampled, penetrated his ears from a faraway cell.
“Howard, what’s happening? Is this the ascension?”
The lights burst back into life and died again before adopting a continuous flicker. Down the hall, a living void of midnight walked toward Howard’s cell. After a disbelieving blink, the form looked familiar, human. The man wore jeans, sneakers, and a grey pullover with the hood covering his face.
Clack, Clack. Doug focused on the man’s footwear. The sound didn’t make sense with the rubber soles. The clacks sounded like they belonged to a woman in high heels. The bizarre dissonance unnerved him more than the imagined shape had. His stomach tightened, and a voice in the back of his mind told him to hide, to climb under his bed and cower with the rat, but this was the first person he’d seen without headphones since the nurse had left him here. He needed to try to get his attention.
Doug gently knocked on his door. “Excuse me, would you have a moment to talk?”
The approaching figure stopped in his tracks two doors down from where Howard and Doug’s cells stared across the hall at each other.
“What the hell are you doing?” Howard hammered on his door. “I’m ascending tonight. I’ve been here for months. You’re not ruining this for me.”
Clack, Clack. The hooded figure took two steps forward. Clack, Clack. The man took two more steps. His idiosyncratic walking made Doug wonder if he was an escaped patient.
Now that the man stood closer, Doug noticed that no hands resided at the end of either sweatshirt sleeve. Clack, Clack. He stood between Howard and Doug’s rooms and raised an arm to each side.
A hot flow of air, like a dog’s breath, caressed his face through the bars. A deep sniff came from inside the hoodie’s sleeve. Doug’s heart pumped faster as he fought against the urge to dive under his bed.
“Oh,” said the man in the hall. “You both smell of other worlds.” The voice sounded like it came from far down the hall.
Howard slammed his head against the bars. “You want me. I’ve been here longer.”
The hood turned toward Howard. “Yes, but you’ve lost a good deal of the other world’s fragrance. It’s an aphrodisiac you know. Tonight will ensure I sire new children within the next eon. Why wouldn’t I want more of that?” The hood turned toward Doug.
He stood frozen in the eyeless gaze of the stranger outside the cell. The man wore a white mask with only a smile and a nose carved into the ivory-like material. Doug backed away from the door. He couldn’t look away, but it was all he wanted to do. He hit the wall before he realized, and the white mask began to bubble and drip as It lost its solidity. A wiggling piece of grey flesh emerged from the man’s sleeve, and it split apart into several tendrils as it stretched past the bars of his door.
Behind the thing, Howard hocked up a phlegmy wad and spat it at the hood. It stained the sweatshirt, and where the saliva darkened the cloth smoked. All the lights reached a sudden crescendo of luminosity and burst. Freed from the horror of sight, Doug dove under his bed. He felt the rat’s fur against his forehead. The animal had lost control of its bowels nearby. In the fetal position, he closed his eyes tightly as the metal of his door was rent asunder with a horrible twisting screech.
“Tasty, tasty treat, why do you hide?”