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 5: Escape
Pain drove Doug out of unconsciousness. His first thought was a bug bite, but when he opened his eyes, he saw a rat attempting to make a snack of his right nostril. The rodent dashed over his face before his hand connected with it. Blood trickled from the small wound onto the rotted linoleum floor. Doug tried to sit up and smacked his forehead on the frame of his bed. His mind struggled to recall how he’d ended up here.
Moments from the night before flashed through his mind, but he couldn’t concentrate on any. It felt like they’d been sent through a paper shredder. Without knowing why, a lesson from undergraduate psychology class floated into his thoughts. The mind forgets to protect itself. Doug slid back out from his hiding place and found his room destroyed.
Instead of a toilet at the back of the cell, there now stood the remains of his door. The solid metal was compressed on the outer edges. It looked like a giant had squeezed it several times. The bars were all ripped out and lay twisted and scattered across the floor. One had pierced his pillow. The image of a grey hooded man approaching down the hall shot into his mind’s eye. He nearly screamed in terror, but he didn’t know why.
Doug ignored the thought and turned to confirm that the entrance remained unbarricaded. The way was open, and the position of the sun outside the barred window indicated he’d have a good amount of time before the headphone wearing orderly delivered his sustenance for the day. Escape was suddenly possible.
Proceeding to the door, he leaned out slowly to confirm the hallway was empty. It was. Silence filled the asylum as dawn trickled rays of light throughout. Doug stepped outside, and he noticed that Howard’s cell was also missing its door.
“Howard?” Doug whispered. “You in there?”
He stepped closer and heard a squeak. Then another as he took another step. Dark red liquid entered his vision as he leaned his head over the threshold. The realization of what he looked at took a long moment. He followed the trail of blood as it curved around the linoleum floor like a river viewed from space. When he finally reached its end, he wished he’d not checked on his former cellmate.
The corpse that used to be Howard was covered with fur. Doug’s eyes adjusted to the dim light of the cell. The fur seemed to move, and then Doug made out small, beady eyes, teeth, and claws amongst the throng of brown hair. Rats swarmed over Howard’s body, ripping flesh away in small bites. One squeaked at another as they fought over his index finger. Doug wanted to look away, but as he did, his gaze landed on Howard’s head. The man’s eyes were gone, and Doug felt himself start to feel truly sick, but when a rat climbed out of the empty skull, he spewed the minuscule amounts of food he’d been able to eat since being imprisoned.
“Stay right there!”
Doug looked up to see an orderly who’d just entered the hallway from the far end. It was the man who brought him food, holding three stacked trays of disgusting hospital fair, but he hadn’t put his headphones on yet. Doug didn’t have time to think, so he let instinct take over and charged forward. The orderly dropped the food and attempted to flee back to the door he’d entered from. The man pulled out a set of keys and slid one into the door lock. Doug collided into him with all the strength he could muster. The orderly’s head slammed off the steel bars. The crack reverberated throughout the room. Doug let the man fall to the ground with his keys. It was only as he lay unconscious on the ground that Doug noticed how young he seemed. Probably no older than twenty.
“I’m sorry.” Doug kneeled to pick up the keys. “In a normal…” Doug struggled to avoid laughing at the absurdity of the unfinished statement. “Normal. What the hell does that mean anymore? Listen, kid, I hope you’re okay, but I can’t take another day in here.”
He picked up the keys and tried each one until the door opened. Just beyond the threshold, he spotted an empty guard station. Inside a hooded jacket hung on a rack. Doug hoped it would be enough to disguise him on the way out. He stepped out of the hall and shut the door behind him. Doug locked it for good measure.
A walkie talkie broadcast a static message from inside the room. “Have you fed the livestock yet Williams?”
Doug entered the guard station and dawned the coat. He zipped it up to cover the top of the white scrubs he’d been asked to dawn upon his arrival. The small slip-on-shoes would be a dead giveaway, but he hadn’t thought the orderly’s small sneakers would fit his feet.
“Dammit, Williams I hate staying here a second longer than necessary. Feed those lunatics and get back to the car.”
He surveyed the room for the walkie talkie and found it sitting next to the surveillance computer. The small communications device looked brand new, but the pc next to it looked ancient. A thick layer of dust coated it. Everything in the room but the jacket and the walkie seemed outdated. Doug grabbed the device and turned the volume down before heading away from the guard room.
The closest door opened to reveal a staircase. Doug descended and paused at the first large window. Outside, an old fence surrounded the grounds, but the forest had encroached on it severely. Several sections were rusted or bent over. The state of the place was horrendous. Doug continued down and used the keys to gain access to another long hallway. He didn’t spot anyone residing in any of the adjoining cells. Each was empty, and the furniture inside was ancient, rusted, and dusty.
“Williams?” The voice from the walkie echoed down the hall.
Doug ducked into the closest room. He dashed behind the door but ensured it didn’t shut. Footsteps grew closer. Whoever the other man was picked up his pace and started running.
“Come on, dude. I hate this spooky ass place. Answer your god damn walkie.”
The steps passed and started to grow fainter. Doug waited until he heard the door to the stairs open and shut before he crept out of his hiding spot. The mystery man had left the door he’d entered from wide open. Fresh air rushed in from outside. The sound of chirping birds greeted Doug’s ears, and best of all, he heard a running motor. Doug sprinted to cross the asylum’s threshold and escape.