~ luminous Hastur, entombed beyond time, is dreamt again… ~
My belly is full of thunderous spirits, wrestling for the leash on my heart. I fail to keep water down, and sustenance is impossible. Wilting on this cot, its rusted frame the picture-board displaying painterly skin-splotches of my still-life odalisque, I have lost hope for any recovery; the poison is in the mind’s eye, without antidote or amputation. My only mystery is the length to which death tarries.
Aunt Camilla’s funeral was preamble to mine, approaching. And like a plague victim’s open-casket, we each seem doomed to spread the sickness which took us. I am too weak to reach the shelf where her copy of that damned play shrugs over the edge, an ominous dun cover chewed by the world’s whole bluster, a gargoyle at the gates of the Temple of the Dead Dawn. When they find my corpse, that play will be among the possessions gifted, unsuspecting. I carry us all across the threshold of that ruinous gate, in matrimony to my traitorous Lord, the King in Yellow. Let these few letters be my whimpered warning of our destiny, that you might treat your last days with some relish, despite:
It was late September, and the train splattered flames of foliage across the window to my right. I was reading, tears pooling timidly yet refusing to fall, that book handed to me by the assessor who had noticed it caught behind the bookshelf, unclaimed at the estate. “This should be yours, at least.” A consolation for a relative who was written into nothing. At that moment, it was precious to me. So, I hoped to stand beside the play’s performers, and see my Aunt Camilla somewhere in the rows beneath the stage. I felt, as I read, that I became each player — I read it as if discovering the lines I spoke to that audience of a ghost. Camilla sits in the theater of my mind, knowing how this play ends, yet the lights are too brilliant for me to read her sour expression.
In that languorous, somber fall train-ride, the flash and rumble became a distant mantra, a drone and guttural hum from encircled figures, hooded by the skulls of beasts, long spears dangling tattered cloth from almandine bronze points. They had wished this iron mammoth into being, long ago. These geared creatures around me now were a summoning, the ritual arcing across centuries as all True spells do. Airplanes, zeppelins, even the steam furnaces beneath the pavers of New York, are a kind of beast brought here from that other place. They are the mounts and hounds of a terrible army, traveling now to us through the portal of our minds. This cursed play is their battering ram.
Late in that train car, the sunset dimming into royal purple scarves of tumbled clouds, I hadn’t even noticed missing the dinner-cart, which mattered little — as I read further, there was a sort of heat in my stomach, almost a fullness. Not a satiated belly, though. It felt distinctly as if a thick worm or viper were coiling, twisting, engorged and trapped in the bag of my gut. It was a sickening fullness, a heat that drove me to pull my shirt over my ribs to fan the seething pit in my chest. “Something rotten in this play,” I mumbled to myself, thinking of it for a moment as if I had swallowed the page, and was suffering from intestinal-poisoning. A compound in the ink? Musty fungal spores? I wanted to vomit, but as I stood and looked around the train-car with the last slips of sunlight glancing from between the shadowed boughs, this car seemed to widen, and the arrangement of doors had shifted.
It was at this moment I realized — the scenery was hanging still outside, the train has stopped somewhere! Yet, that deep drone mantra of the engines continued. Are we idling at some station I had forgotten existed? I moved to the door and opened onto… a porch? I looked into the indigo shade of the brush and low branches, some forest, a cabin. “A dream, asleep on the train?” Without reason or good sense, I felt quite confident in the face of these inexplicable circumstances, energized and hopeful. I stepped out into this unknown autumn woods, without looking around myself to gather a bearing for my return. My belly was tugging feet to their destination, oblivious, and I abided this marionette in a kind of timid glee, like a child who can barely keep their playmate’s secret.
The air was cold, not crisp. It felt stale, heavy, like Aunt Camilla’s cellar when I was young. I shrugged the memory aside, turning my thoughts upwards. The stars were all wrong, inverted on a kind of iridescent sky, like droplets of ink in a pond, wafting and diluting into a halo of shadows. I felt I had seen them like this many times before. “It was when I lived as a…” My attention was torn by the lantern of a carriage darting onto the forest path ahead of me.
I had been walking deep into the grove in darkness, unable to see and yet treading confident and steady. When the horses thumped and twisted their way onto the path, my spell was broken. I looked around in astonishment and confusion, while an old man at the seat of the carriage made a raspy “Eehhhk!” and spat in my direction, before whipping the pair of steeds viciously and cursing a God I had never heard.
They sped down that forest path ahead of me, the lantern giving dim glances of the road beyond, hill rising in the distance. Something in his expression reminded me of Aunt Camilla, even as she lay dead in the cask. I felt that expression reflected in the muscles of my lips and brow, staring down that road to the sturdy villa where the carriage now came to rest. I could hear the whinny of the horses as they were jerked into a stable, and I vaguely prophesied that this old man had been rushing into the villa to warn them of me, to gossip and soil my reputation before I could mount proper defense of myself. That old man is a liar!
I stomped up the first rise of the hill, to that level ridge where this refined and reserved mansion sat ensconced at the edge of the grove. The windows were all shuttered, with only knife-fine scrapes of light darting between the slats. Where the golden blades struck the ground, I could see scattered, tiny bones. They snapped underfoot, brittle and hollow chickens. The inhabitants of the multistory estate heard none of it over their energized conversation. The old man was working them up into a fever at this very instant! Surely, in minutes, they would grab their weapons and rush out after me. I became liquefied in a tub of fear, my feet sweating-through and my hands wavering in front of me as I hunched onto the ground.
My fingers grasped at the shattered bones, brushing the layers back as my palms skidded under me. There were piles of teeth, a gravel of them, beneath. That sick worm in my chest leapt out, then, bile splattering across my outstretched arms. I rolled to my side and curled as the thrashing of my belly shuddered me. The voices within that noble house were growing louder, adamant. I knelt and then stumbled up to the stable, my attention fixated on the stomach-worm as my hands deftly grasped and untangled locks and harnesses on their own. My hands will take me there, that place on the hill.
I was riding without remembering how I had managed to climb onto her, a slate mare with a sad expression. There was no moon, yet I had little trouble cutting further into the woods, away from the road, to the safety of the high hill. Only moments later I heard shouting from the villa behind me, and horses squeaching as they were yanked into pursuit of me. That bastard!
I slanted up the steep, root-folded hillside, small tokens glinting among the rocks and branches like the bangles and metal ear-rings of a Babylonian dancer. These were the marker-signs. I was soon to approach that sacred Gate. My ears began to ring in a pinch of pain, hissing like the last burls of boiling water in a scorched pot. I ducked my head into the hollow of my shoulders, pulling the reins with me, and my horse stopped.
My head twisted about looking for the source of the eerie, piercing whistle. There beneath a great slab of stone jutting from in the hill, seated under its cover, was a young man dressed in yellow with blotchy robes and hood. He turned to me, “I welcome all who are sent to me. Gather your things here, and we shall enter.” I saw a pile at his feet, almost illuminated by the color of his robes, tumbled and stretching in front of him. Miner’s tools. I knew these from the other time, when I lived in… I was shaken by the thought of something distant, beyond reach, a vague generation I could not place. Yes, I died in a mine collapse, once. I was sure of it.
Here, as I hoisted the pack and followed the King deep into his immense hillside Hall, I noted the rows of errant, scrambled sculpture-forms ensconced along the passage walls like Cathedral Apostles. Some of these Revered almost-men were vermin, clearly, others the abortions of a rotted herd, or the tangled remnants of sharks’ feast. They held grim, fronded polearms in their gauntlets and rose-shaped shields at their armor-plated hips, that symbol of their faith and fealty in brassy yellow on the boss of them. The Yellow Sign. As I stood struck by it, the King turned to me — I seemed to rise above a syrup of suffocating drunkenness, a gasp of clarity as I observed Him. The torn robes, drooped and ruffling around him like a bundled-stand of furry limbs, were golden, now, with an oily sheen. A lion with a dozen paws, molten. Ah, it IS the King!
Luminous Hastur wore a vast crown: the form of a trident-head made of brass over his brow, arms of the weapon wide and grasping like antlers, numerous fingers and hooks along their length. The substance of the crown emitted a drab glow from within, a lamplight behind grease-paper windows. Though I was sure of some metallic solidity and encumbrance to that crown, given the way Lord Hastur turned his hooded head and lurched ponderously beneath it — Yet! I swear that hefted sculpture would quiver and sway in each shuffling breeze and breath, a wisp of the ferns.
Beneath Hastur’s cowl, he wore an expressionless, inscrutable mask of spalled and blasted shale, cracked and flaking. The wide openings of the eyes were jet pits, nothing looking back. The mask’s mouth was like the bloodless gash of a butcher. “I have gifts for you, child.” Hastur lurched and straightened, ascending well over a yard above my head, a filamentous giant. “When you return, you will have power over others. They will fear your sadness, and lust to hear your anger. They will weep when you evade justice, joyous. I will make you a Lord of Pity.”
In a cascade of lightning-flashes, a drowning of laughter and chants and podiums before flags, I saw myself. I became a senator, somehow! I see what I am doing, leaving the train, applying at the county registrar, cajoling friends into my scheme. Yes, while I dream here now, looking into the dread eyes of my Lord Hastur, my living body is his glove. I have been in this dim land for months, already. “Your Aunt Camilla is proud of you.” Hastur’s mask was rigid, while that slight, coy lilt in his tone told me he was smiling.
We had been walking through those halls for unfolding ages. A narrow grove of petrified trees, strung with catgut and carved into bulged-belly bass instruments and drums, encircled the high-domed audience-chamber. Though none of those trees had players at their strings and skins, I remembered exactly how they sound. A hollow, churning, maddening susurration — at the edge of audibility, with a melody blurred and distorted into indistinguishable whispers.
Meanwhile, throughout the chamber, like the imprint of a flash on the back of my eyes, figures seemed drawn by lines of vapor and shadow, hovering.
Hastur reached out with wooden claw-fingers, cupping the hands of these phantoms, addressing them in turn, and explaining to each, “Yes, this here is your murder. A very successful individual, really — you should be glad. Your life will be remembered by all as a chilling mystery, you have enough to be satisfied. Or would frustration and obscurity be preferable?”
His crown was coiled and flared in a tumble of thorns, reaching like the lick of flame from dozens of oil lamps, sinuous flickers of moving metal above Him, tracing veins of light like the backs of two old hands. Those antlers were buried beneath the edge of Hastur’s hood, among oily grey locks. The veins engorged along his throat, blistered, seemed to climb into the folds of the mask itself, as if spilling onto a wine-mark. His neck torqued to glare at me, looking for my reaction, coiling upon itself like an eel.
“They are glad to serve you. Don’t you see?” “Yes,” I huffed, “but when will I return to live in the world, as your emissary and guard, dear Lord?” Hastur grumbled, boulder-deep, “Ooh? Oh! We’ll see then, won’t we! Look again at this.” Hastur tore the embroidered curtains from the wall beside him, revealing a mirror into another room. I am practicing my speeches, before donors and representatives of various interested groups. I cannot hear the words, but on my expression I see all the crazed viciousness of a rabid hound. These are my soldiers, conscripts to the Yellow King. I rally their wounding hearts.
In my private oration, I make reference, allusion, assembling choice words to mime that sacred text still kept as I crawl the campaign trail — the King in Yellow, the play. My followers succumb to that same lunacy as my dead Aunt Camilla. Their cunning, hungry glare, and the furl of snarling lips. They give others as their own sacrifice. I remember how that happened to me, and the thought brings me around, looking away from the visions of the mirror. “Was this how I was…before?” “Of course, child! Always. This is who you are, with me. Now, for this.”
In feathered yellow head-dress, fronds gorging an umbral flame, a Colossus eclipsed, Hastur extended his left hand to me, open — either inviting me to grasp and follow, or demanding some cruel payment. Yet, he then bent those fingers into crude lumps, which separated and wandered across the surface of his upturned palm. “My family,” Hastur explained lovingly, presenting the knuckle-bones roving everyway beneath his papery skin. His fist flickered, closing-shut with a wretched crunch, as blood wicked into the gutters of his fingers, bones back in place. “They still die long ago.” He sighed.
We wandered city streets, dug through that deep mountain Hall. Fountains circled crystalline statues in the dim plaza of this world within a world. While I felt the presence of many, passing through their throng vaporous, I yet ached with a homesick loneliness. Aunt Camilla! I know you can hear me, please, let me out!
Hastur’s crown, flaring above us to light the way, swept and swayed like a lover’s hair fanning across the pillow. A field of wheat in blonde bounty, ready for the harvest-blade’s hungry lapping. I hastened to return to His side, looking up in admiration. “Think,” He intoned, “Of what you become without desire or disgust? I offer liberty from wishes, the tarnish of the Mind’s Eye. Creep with me now, to the Newt-Henge.” This, I knew, was the completion of the task. My body would soon work Hastur’s will, as I watched from his Tomb-Hall. And yet, I am still in that dark room, beneath the old house.
There, watching a splintered yellow beam lengthen under my fractured nails, scraping a keyhole sighting of the wide, white sunlight outside, I stood in that cellar. Auntie! I look through the slat-gap to a parade, a victory speech. My election. Those words! No jubilation at all: instead a bizarre murmur and confusion. No victory speech — this senator is quoting directly from an obscure, uncouth, wretched old theatrical play! The audience’s agitation rises, shoving each other and tossing pamphlets, paper cups. This is it! THIS.
Some scatter, carrying the mad virus of thoughts to town with them. Others erupt in violence among the crowd, hissing and clawing at eyes, wrenching jaws loose of their anchor. Corpses tumble from the edges, sprawling and still clutching for their assailant. Hastur tilted his mask my way, to suckle the moment’s emotions with me. His glistering antlers wended above me like the rivulets of the wave on sands skittering to sea. I was home, now. I could rest.
Hastur gathered me into his arms, carrying me to the final place within his Temple. Here, the walls were gold in coiled symbols, rows high to the slanted crest of the ceiling. Ancient forms carved and painted, animals of myth reduced to icon. These were history to the inhabitants of this land. I was mining here, once, and found them. I remember how the commotion and crowds came, and how I trapped them all with me in the cunning collapse. This time, I am starving in my luxurious senatorial retreat, awaiting trial or death, alone in my library with this cursed text.
Yet, in these delirious natives’ pictographs, arcane, where Hastur now beckons my gaze, I quickly recognized those very same events and characters of Aunt Camilla’s play, the King in Yellow. How?! The unfortunate natives had worshiped Him here, long ago. Had they prophesied all that would come, or had they sought to escape destiny… by fleeing into the past?
Art by MidJourney, of course!