June Contest Winner: The Yellow Sign
Each month we hold a writing contest for our members, by our members. Writers are given parameters, such as a word count and/or a prompt. Entries are judged and discussed blindly. For this month's contest, writers were asked to write a story of up to 2,000 words revolving around the Cthulhu myth and Lovecraft-ian monster The King in Yellow.
The Yellow Sign
by J.H. Schiller
“Have you found the yellow sign?”
Lacey chugged her water, enjoying the blessed cool of the concrete wall against her bare back. Even at street level, she felt the rattling thrum of the bass line, though the music itself was barely audible. She turned a withering glare on the random guy interrupting her break from the dance floor.
“The yellow sign,” he said, shifting back and forth like a tweeker in need of a fix. “Have you found it?”
“No idea what you’re talking about.”
“Do you pop the molly?” He said the words carefully, like he wasn’t sure he was getting them right.
“You a cop or something?”
“Do I look like a cop?”
Lacey eyed him. He was her age, maybe a little younger–closer to twenty than twenty-five. Too young to be a cop, but definitely not part of the scene.
She stood, brushing dirt from her hot pants. “‘Pop the molly.’” She snorted and shook her head. “Take your ass home, kid.”
A hand the approximate temperature and dampness of melting ice gripped her forearm. Lacy spun, yanking free of his grasp, and the guy stepped back with both hands raised.
“Look, there’s this secret club,” he said, his voice a rapid-fire whisper. “It’s like a speakeasy. No name. No website. You have to find the yellow sign to get to the club, and you have to be, um… rolling to see the sign.”
“I don’t know what your deal is,” Lacey said, “but I’m not–”
“You’re talking about Carcosa, right?”
She looked over her shoulder. Logan and Hailey stood behind her, both of them streaked with sweat that made their glittery face paint drip and run.
“I’ve been hearing about that place for weeks,” Logan continued, “but no one knows how to find it.”
“I know how.” The guy held out a hand so pale it glowed in the lobby’s black lights. “My name’s Alec.”
“Logan.” A grimace of disgust washed over his features at the touch of that clammy skin, but he shook it. “That’s Hailey,” he said, hooking a thumb toward their friend, “and this charming creature is Lacey.” He stepped closer to Alec and lowered his voice. “You have to be rolling to find Carcosa? How does that even work?”
“It sounds like bullshit to me,” Lacey said, crossing her arms.
Hailey propped her hands on protruding hipbones that framed a glittering belly chain. “Well, I think it sounds like fun.” She slid a finger into her bandeau top and pulled out a Ziploc bag containing several pastel discs. “And I’ve got the party favors right here.”
Lacey stared at the Easter egg-colored tablets, each stamped with a question mark. Her mouth went dry with a combination of desire and disgust. She shook her head once, firmly. “You know I don’t do that shit anymore.”
Hailey lifted a shoulder in a careless shrug. “Suit yourself.”
She popped a tablet in her mouth–pink, of course–and handed the bag to Logan. He took a yellow one and looked up.
“Moment of truth, Alec,” Logan said. “You here to party or–”
The guy grabbed two and shoved them in his mouth.
“Slow down, man!” Logan laughed. “I hope you’ve done this before, or you’re gonna be totally off your face.” He turned to Lacey, glanced down at the bag, and raised his eyebrows. “You sure?”
One green tablet. One question mark.
Would it be so bad to just–
Yeah. It would.
Logan pulled out the last tablet, bit off half of it, and gave the rest to Hailey. He crumpled the baggie and tossed it on the litter-strewn floor. “So where do we start?”
Alec pulled out his phone. “I’ll call an Uber,” he said. “We’re headed to Druid Hill Park.”
The park was a straight shot up the Jones Falls Expressway. It should’ve been a ten-minute drive, but between the crowds pouring out of a Taylor Swift concert and Baltimore’s usual weekend traffic, it took closer to half an hour. Alec sat in the front seat, and Lacey was stuck in the back with Logan and Hailey, who were making out like it was their job. Hailey was going to hate herself in the morning.
Fuck this. She should bail. Let them do their lame-ass scavenger hunt. She lived on Reservoir Hill, so depending on where the car dropped them off, she could walk home in a few minutes. Shit, she could probably just give the driver ten bucks and he’d deliver her to her doorstep. She opened her mouth to ask, but then Hailey unlatched her lips from Logan’s neck and rested her head on Lacey’s shoulder.
“Love you, girl,” Hailey sang.
Lacey couldn’t leave her with Logan, whom she wouldn’t trust to water a plant, and some random dude. Like it or not, she was along for the ride–at least for a little while.
A few minutes later, the Uber pulled over and the four of them piled out. Alec bounced on his toes, his face slick with a sheen of perspiration. The molly was already hitting him hard. Jesus, this was such a bad idea.
“Which way?” Lacey asked.
Alec shrugged. “All I know is the yellow sign is somewhere around the lake.”
She heaved an irritated sigh and started walking. “This trail circles the lake. We’ll walk it once, but I’m telling you right now, if we don’t find anything by the time we finish the loop, I’m out.”
Lacey herded them onto the path, heading east around the street-facing edge of the water rather than west, which would take them deeper into the shadowed park. Even in daylight, Druid Hill could be sketchy. Best stick to the light as long as they could. She hugged herself, shivering in the midnight air. But Hailey–whose ensemble consisted of gossamer angel wings, furry white leg warmers, and a two-piece getup that was essentially a bikini–fanned her face.
Alec swept his gaze over the park as they walked, scanning their surroundings. He glanced back at Hailey and Logan. “Do you guys see anything?”
“I’m bored,” Hailey whined. “I wanna dance.”
Lacey perked up. “Let’s go back to my place,” she said. “We’re just three blocks away. We’ll put on some music and party.”
Please say yes, please say–
“What’s that?” Logan asked, pointing down the path.
She followed his finger to the octagonal grey structure at the southeast corner of the park. “Just some landmark thing. It’s called the Moorish Tower.”
“Does it always glow?”
Alec froze. He stared at the structure and, without a word, broke into a sprint. Logan jogged after him. Even Hailey, wobbling on her platform sneakers, picked up the pace as though the tower were reeling her in. Lacey rolled her eyes and hurried to catch up.
The three of them stood in a line, staring gape-mouthed at the arched doorway that had once admitted visitors into the tower. Lacey examined it for anything out of place, anything interesting, but it looked the same as ever. Once upon a time, there’d been a staircase inside that took tourists up to the top of the tower for a nice view of the lake, but it’d long ago rusted away to nothing. A decorative iron grate had blocked the door for decades. No way in.
“Do you see it?” Alec’s whisper broke the eerie silence.
Strange. A few minutes ago, the night had been noisy with the sounds of traffic, but now it was as quiet as the grave. And the streets were empty–no cars, no bikes, no people.
“I see it,” Logan said. “A circle with a U on top, right?”
Hailey shook her head slowly. “Taurus.” She reached out her hand, one finger tracing an invisible–at least to Lacey–symbol in the air. “It’s the zodiac symbol for Taurus.”
The sharp crack of Alec clapping his hands startled an undignified squeak from Lacey.
“The Hyades!” he shouted.
Hailey frowned and looked up at him. “The high what?”
“The Hyades. It’s a cluster of stars in the constellation of Taurus. Right there,” he said, pointing at a spot in midair, “at the base of the horns.” Alec was practically vibrating with excitement. “That’s where Carcosa is.” His eyes went wide and dreamy as he took Hailey’s hand. “That’s where he is.”
“He who?” Lacey looked from Alec to Logan and Hailey, who wore identical dopey expressions.
The three spoke as one. “The King in Yellow.”
“You guys are freaking me out.” Lacey could hear the tremble in her voice. “Hailey?” No response. “Logan?” She gripped his shoulders and turned him to face her. His head swiveled so his eyes could remain fixed on whatever the three of them were seeing. “What the fuck is going on?”
Logan ducked away from her and spun back toward the door of the Moorish Tower, clasping Hailey’s free hand. Alec extended a shaking hand toward the dark archway. The air rippled like a reflection on a pool of water as his fingertips pressed through the image of the grate. When he pulled his hand back, a shimmering black circle hung in the air. It would’ve been impossible to see against the dark interior of the Moorish Tower, except that blackness inside the circle was dotted with sparks of light.
Stars. More stars than Lacey had ever seen.
The circle stretched and expanded until it filled the arched doorway, revealing a bare, rocky plain under that starry sky. A blocky white edifice hulked on the horizon. The whole building lurched and shifted, but when Lacey looked closer, she saw that the alabaster stone hadn’t moved. In front of it, a lone figure strode toward them across the barren expanse.
“The King in Yellow,” Alec whispered.
It wasn’t a building–it was a massive throne.
The thing walked on two legs, but Lacey knew in her bones it wasn’t human. Alec lunged forward, stepping through the doorway. Though its gait was slow and measured, the figure grew closer with impossible speed. Ragged strips of yellow cloth streamed around its body, whipping in the breeze of its rapid passage.
A thinner strand lashed from its torso to meet Alec’s outstretched hand, but this one wasn’t yellow. It was the dirty white of maggots, and it was alive. It twined through Alec’s fingers and tugged him to his knees. Hailey, still gripping his hand, stumbled through the arch. The two of them stared rapturously up at the monster towering over them. Instead of a face, its head was no more than a pallid swath of flesh. Logan moaned and stepped through the hole, but Lacey grabbed his hand before it crossed the threshold.
More strands–no, tentacles–extruded from the creature’s body to wind around Alec’s limbs and lift him into the air. A vertical slit opened in its torso, gaping open to display row after row of jagged teeth. It yanked Alec in like a fish on a line, dragging Hailey and Logan after him. Lacey teetered at the edge of the archway, but her sweating hand slid free of Logan’s grip. The second his fingers left hers, the hellish vision vanished. Lacey withdrew her arms from between the metal bars of the iron grate, staring into the pitch black interior of the Moorish Tower.
“Hailey!” she screamed, rattling the bars. “Logan!”
The hollow echo of her voice inside the octagonal stone structure was the only reply. Then her ears popped, her vision dimmed, and the sounds of traffic roared back into her ears.
Lacey turned toward the voice. A hunched woman pushing a shopping cart trundled toward her.
“You got a cigarette?” she asked, rolling her cart a bit closer. “Or maybe a couple bucks?”
Lacey lurched forward and grabbed the woman’s jacket, wadding the reeking fabric in her fists.
“I don’t want no trouble now,” she said, raising both hands in the universal sign of surrender. “I just–”
Lacey pulled the woman closer. “Have you found the yellow sign?”