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 8: Miskatonic Tunnels
Doug followed his sister and Ward as they rushed across the campus quad toward the Orne Library. The building’s grandeur belonged to an ornate time in America’s architectural history that had long since vanished. Inside, Ward paused to exchange words with a receptionist at the front desk. Doug surveyed the endless rows of books spanning multiple levels. Some students browsed, while others hunkered over open books scrutinizing the pages.
“Your pass gets you access, but I’ll have to check with Dr. Sanders before I let your guests through,” said the receptionist, a well-dressed work-study student with an expensive-looking blazer.
Ward smiled. “That’s fine. We’ll wait here while you check.”
The receptionist left the desk, and as soon as he was out of sight, Ward gestured for them to follow her. She pulled a badge from her pocket and flashed it past an electronic lock, which beeped. The group filed through the doorway down a flight of stairs into a dimly lit tunnel.
Ward acted as a tour guide as they hurried forward. “There are miles of these passages. Some are filled with books, and some are filled with objects. One of the alcoves holds a freestanding doorway that only appears when the stars are in a very specific alignment.”
“How come you never told me about these before?” asked Ellen.
“I was sworn to secrecy, babe. Besides, how believable would my story have been without the proof of your dimensionally displaced brother here?”
Doug felt his overindulgent breakfast catching up to him as he tried to maintain the pace of his female companions.
Ward continued the tour as they made a right turn into a new corridor. “Of course, the professors here have studied the doorway to death, but no one ever felt brave enough to cross the threshold.”
“Well, I wasn’t brave, I just assumed my friend had played a weird practical joke on me. Nothing looked odd on the other side of the doorway.” Doug replied.
“Nothing looks odd on the other side of this one either, but the door gives off harmless levels of radiation, mild heat, and occasional rays of light.” Ward led them around another turn into a long recess where they came face to face with the topic of discussion.
This freestanding doorway didn’t look as cheaply made as the one Doug had encountered in his apartment. Instead of a wood frame, it had coal colored stones outlining a frosted glass door tinted a deep yellow. A short distance set it apart from the brick wall behind it, and the air felt much warmer around the object.
Ellen immediately reached out to grasp the door’s handle, but Doug snatched her arm back. “Careful. You don’t want to end up like me.”
“Adventuring across dimensions? That’s exactly what I want. You think it’s fun to live an ordinary, dull existence working for a corporate giant while my arts degree rots in a frame on my wall?” Tears formed at the edge of Ellen’s eyes.
Doug tightened his grip on his sister’s arm. “You can’t be serious. I told you about all the horrors I’ve seen since the door popped up in my life. It’s been a nightmare. You’re the only good thing I’ve found so far.”
Ward pushed the siblings apart. “We don’t have time for this. Listen.”
A clatter of footsteps reverberated off the stone floor behind them.
Ward turned to Doug. “I don’t know if this doorway will lead you back to your world, but this is probably the only chance you’ll have to try. The stars will be out of alignment in a day, and they won’t be back in position for eighty years. You have to choose between the unknown and staying here with us.”
A yell flew down the hall toward them. “Stop. This area is restricted.”
Doug looked to his sister, a family member he’d grown distant from in his world. Arkham wasn’t the city he knew, but it was better than the other reality he’d glimpsed when he first crossed the threshold into the orange sky world inhabited by a tentacled beast. This version of earth was different, but he could make a home here. Yet, he didn’t know if he could fully commit to saying goodbye to everyone he’d ever known or loved back in his reality.
Someone flew past him, and a sickening crunch snapped Doug out of his deliberation. The receptionist lay against the wall with his head crushed in. Doug averted his gaze before he could fully glimpse the head which now resembled a closed accordion.
“What is that?” yelled Ward.
Doug spun to stare back the way they’d come. Memories of the asylum rushed back to him in a painful flood. Clack, Clack. Clack, Clack. The lights in the hall started blinking furiously, struggling to work. A man wearing jeans, sneakers, and a grey pullover with the hood covering his face approached from the other end of the hallway. Two dead bodies lay at his feet, each bore a hole in their chest. The person who’d killed them and thrown the receptionist was the being Doug had come to know as the Living Void.
It called to the group in a quiet voice as it approached. “Tasty, tasty treat. I just couldn’t stay satisfied with my last meal. You were so much fresher; I could smell you from the asylum.”
Trapped, Doug spun toward the glass door in a panic. Ward and Ellen were frozen in fear. He knew he couldn’t leave them here for the thing to kill. Doug spun back to grab his sister and Ward. “We’re trapped. You both have to come with me.”
The Living Void’s voice cracked the walls. “You’re my aphrodisiac. You smell of other worlds. You can’t leave. My children will be born of your flesh.”
Ellen and Ward broke from their terror trance and turned toward the door. In that instant, the Living Void flashed out of existence. The lights returned to normal.
Doug let out a sigh of relief. “He’s gone. I don’t know why, but he left.”
“Very unlikely that it’s actually gone,” said Ward.
“It’s our chance. Let’s get the hell out of here.” Ellen started running back the way they’d come before Ward or Doug could stop her.
Blood flew everywhere as Doug’s sister exploded in a million directions. The Living Void reappeared in the space she’d died with a crimson coating. The lights resumed their flickering.
Ward let out a scream of despair. Doug felt his center vanish. He’d only really known the Ellen of this reality for a day, but she’d been a better, closer sister then he’d ever had back home. Now she was a pile of pulp through which a monster padded. Numbness flowed into his body, and he felt relieved to flee his emotions.
It was all too much. His nerves were overwhelmed and burnt out in the surge of grief.
The Living Void reached out its handless arms for Ward. It would reach her and do something just as horrible to his sister’s lover, and then it would eat Doug. No, Doug thought, that thing’s taken enough. He grabbed the back of Ward’s shirt collar and yanked her backward as he spun to pull them both over the threshold of the freestanding glass door.
The being behind them let out a cry of childish agony as they emerged into warm yellow sunlight. Doug pushed Ward behind him as he turned back to slam the door before the Living Void could reach it. His force shattered the glass into trillions of tiny shards. The hallway of Miskatonic University’s lower levels vanished as a castle wall appeared in its place. A single window displayed the sky outside, where twin suns were setting.
“She’s dead. She’s dead. She’s dead.” Ward had collapsed onto the stone floor. “She’s dead. She’s dead. She’s dead.”
Doug’s numbness made surveying their new surroundings seem pointless. He sunk next to Ward and pulled her into a hug of mutual despair as the tears came to both of their eyes in rivers. They sat together until the lights vanished, and it wasn’t until the suns rose again that either of them talked or moved.
“The doorway might still be open. The physical representation is destroyed, but the link between worlds could still exist.” Ward whispered.
Approaching footfalls reached their ears a moment later. In the light, they saw that the coal-like threshold stood in the middle of a stone room. Doug’s first impression was that they’d wound up in a castle, and the morning confirmed that assumption. The only entrance to the room, aside from the dimensional gate they’d used, was a wooden door with a brass ring in the center. The steps stopped. The door opened.
A woman garbed in a faded yellow robe entered. “Welcome to Carcosa. My name is Cassilda. Our King would like an audience.”