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 7: Back to School
Doug followed his sister out her back window. They made their way around the apartment complex to determine who knocked at her front door. They both peaked around a nearby wall to spy on his sister’s front stoop. A tall, blonde man in a long grey coat, jeans, and a checkered dress shirt stood waiting for someone to answer.
Ellen whispered. “Do you know him?”
Doug whispered back. “No idea. He might be the other guy from the asylum.”
“We should just conf—”
The man withdrew a pistol from inside his coat.
Ellen motioned for Doug to follow and took off jogging in the other direction. She led him to her nearby car, a blue hatchback with Dr. Who and Harry Potter stickers covering every inch of the bumper. Doug got in and turned back as Ellen accelerated away. The blonde man raced to the edge of the street and raised his gun to fire at them. His sister turned the car off the block, and the man vanished behind suburban houses.
Doug took in panicked breaths. “That guy was going to shoot at us.”
“Just chill. He should have no way of knowing where we’re going.” Ellen focused on the road as they merged onto the highway toward downtown Arkham.
The campus of Miskatonic University came into view as they ascended college hill a little past sundown. Doug noticed the ornate marble façade of the Orne Library before any other buildings. It practically shined in the darkness. Ellen parked the car in the visitor lot next to a large concrete dormitory. It didn’t fit in at all with the rest of the campus, which looked somewhat reminiscent of Hogwarts.
Doug turned to his sister. “What are we doing here?”
“My girlfriend is staying in the dorms while she attends a conference.” Ellen opened her car door.
“What does that have to do with my problem?”
“She’s smart, and she knows all about higher level dimensional gateways.”
“Just come on.” Ellen got out of the car and headed for the door.
Doug let his head slide down into his hands. He felt so tired after the day of frantic travel, the reconnection with his sister, and three slices of pizza. When he looked up, his sister had vanished from view, but he didn’t have the energy to get out and chase her. Instead, he put his seat back and closed his eyes.
A crack of shattering glass jolted Doug back to waking life. The sun glared down on the car now, and he felt the spray of cool wind across his face. Adrenaline pumped into his system as the blonde man with the gun came into focus just a few feet away, outside the smashed driver’s side window of his sister’s car. Doug tried to dart out his side, but the seatbelt halted his attempt. He frantically went for the button to free himself, and a deafening blast rang through the car. The shot destroyed the buckle and blood gushed from his hand.
The blonde man leaned into the window. “Don’t move. You’re food for the living void.”
Doug could smell the onions on the man’s breath, and his body froze up in fear. He now knew how deer felt when they saw oncoming cars. There was nothing he could do.
The man reached in and opened the door from the inside while keeping his gun pointed at Doug. He reached his free hand in to feel for car keys. There was an odd popping sound, and the blonde man started shaking. His face contorted into an expression of rage and he collapsed onto the seat next to Doug. Two small wires trailed out of the blonde man’s butt to a security guard behind him.
Doug felt his body freed from paralysis, and he dashed out of the car to scramble into a heap on the university common.
The security guard walked over to Doug. “You okay?”
Doug looked down at his hand and saw the blood trickling out slower than at first glance. The bullet had just grazed the tip of his ring finger. Relief flooded into his body. He looked up at the security guard, who wore a gray uniform and a little badge displaying his name, Juan Ramirez.
“I think so.”
“Cops are on their way. That was the first time I got to use my stun gun.”
Two women approached the scene, and Doug turned to confirm one was his sister.
Ellen ran toward him. “What did you do to my car?” She noticed the passed-out man and stopped. “Damn.”
Doug got back to his feet. “Why didn’t you come to wake me?”
The new girl joined the gathering. “We did, but your sister felt like you needed the rest, so we let you sleep. We were just coming back down to get you for breakfast when we heard the shot.” The woman had frizzy hair sprawling out in all directions and an assortment of necklaces with different symbols at their ends, stars, moons, leaves, crosses, and keys. “Professor Ward, extra-dimensional mathematics and occult studies, primarily.” She offered her hand.
Doug shook it in a daze. Cop lights appeared in the distance, and the sirens brought students filing out of the nearby dormitory to investigate. Ramirez walked back over to keep an eye on the incapacitated man.
Ellen whispered something to Ward, and then she turned to Doug. “Just let us do the talking when the cops get here.”
He struggled to stay still as his fight or flight instinct came back. “What if they put me back in the asylum? What if they ask me about how I got out? I can’t go back there. I can’t.”
“Leave it to me.” Professor Ward walked toward the parking police cars with a smile.
Doug, Ellen, and Ward sat in the Miskatonic cafeteria four hours later. He ravished a plate piled high with mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, a tuna sandwich, and a bowl of mint chocolate ice cream. Ward’s conference entitled her to free meals at the cafeteria, and Doug hadn’t eaten anything besides the asylum food and pizza in longer then he could remember. The incongruous tastes somehow melded into a slice of divinity within his mouth.
Ellen stared at him. “Can you stop eating for a second so we can discuss our next move?”
Doug nodded in the negative and continued shoveling food into his mouth.
Ward smiled. “The cops should leave us alone for now. I told them you’d been too shook up at the time to give a statement, and I assured them you’d drop by the station tomorrow. The shooter seemed to have a lengthy record, and I don’t think they were surprised to find him attacking a stranger. Mercifully for us, they had no information on you.”
Food fell out of his mouth. “But I got picked up by the police a few days ago. They didn’t note that?”
Ellen gave her brother a disgusted look. “I’d bet the blonde asshole is part of some kind of conspiracy with fingers in the Arkham Police.”
Doug took a long sip of soda from his straw and sat back, content with the food he’d consumed. “So, what’s the next move?”
“Well,” Ward stood up, “obviously, I bring you back to the Threshold.”