This story is paired with “The King in Yellow (Suite)” from The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free.
If I could just get there. Then everything would be fine.
I’m pacing along the worn carpet, the flats of my feet sliding over lumps and imperfections. I was just looking out the window, gazing at the cracked cement and strangling ragweed inhabiting the parking lot below.
It’s sitting on the bed. It’s gazing at me. Staring up from the pilled and faded comforter, nestled against the mismatched blanket complete with cigarette burn. I want to go back to it. But I pace the floor and pretend to glance out the window at the pock-marked and pitted ground.
I’m playing it cool. Cool. Cold. I’m so casual that I could be in a Gap ad. I’m so blasé that I’m getting bored with myself.
I glance over my shoulder at the clock on the wall. At least, that’s what I pretend I’m doing. I don’t even note the time as I let my eyes fall on the book, splayed open like some whore on my bed.
There’s a faint snap inside my brain. It’s like a dry twig being crushed by a heavy hunting boot. Snap. And before I can acknowledge the sound or the hollow feeling it brings with it, I’m already back on the bed. My legs are folded, childlike and anxious, and the blanket with the crisp hole is slung about my shoulders. My coffee is cooling on the nightstand and I barely remember setting the pot to brew. I can’t be bothered to remember something so mundane and common with this book in my hands. I caress the pages like a pale and fragrant lover. But there’s a twitch settled deep within my crooked digits that I’m trying to ignore. There is a frantic desire to turn the page that leaves my joints stiff.
If I can read fast enough I can figure out a way in.
I snicker to myself when I fully realize my intent, as it had been unclear to me until this very moment. I wish to enter Carcosa.
I sit in my comfy—if depressingly sparse—bedroom hunched over a cautionary tale rife with madness and death and I crave it. They’ve been so wrong, so misguided! These fools wishing to usurp His throne! Or even worse, fearing what they don’t—what they can’t—grasp. These idiots fumble towards the sublime gates and falter before them.
Why steal the crown when I can wear my own? Why fear the uncharted emptiness of eternity when I can inhabit it? Legs crossed and folded like a child, I place the book in my delicate lap.
Why dethrone The King when I can become The Queen.
I’m sure that all it will take is a clear expression of my intent. So I sit on the edge of that same bed and I stare at the wall. I build the scared place in my mind. I picture the lakes and the silence. I let The King know that I am here, waiting, and I wish to enter.
Surely I’m worthy because I am not afraid. Because I desire to not only see the mask, but to wear it. I am done with the place from whence I came.
Done with the car payments, and that woman at the post office, and the fact that I can barely afford a gallon of milk. There’s never anything on TV, and my mother only calls to nag. If I could just have a week where something doesn’t break or need to be replaced. The noise my microwave makes when I run it for more than a minute at a time is horrifying; I can’t even defrost a burrito. And that fucking cat tries to sneak into my apartment every time I crack the door. I swear it waits until I have an armful of shit before it muscles its way past me. Meowing so loud it sounds like it’s screaming. Meowing even louder when I toss it back outside only to sit on my doorstep continuing to beg entrance with that same ragged mew.
That’s why I’m different. I tell myself I’m different because I’m done with the intense irritation of this mortal coil. And I believe it as I send my intentions off to Him.
Make me your queen.
It happens pretty quickly after that. I abandon the book because it was just the gateway. The holy place lives within me now. I just have to wait patiently to be granted entrance. I know the way will reveal itself when it’s time.
I can feel it surging within me. Upon waking one morning I feel as though I’ve been poured into a new body. My skin feels electrified and if someone were to touch me I’d fry them like a moth in a bug zapper. I can feel it coursing under my skin. My new self is curing and forming. I’m being readied to walk the shores of Carcosa.
I’m not afraid to say the words aloud. I’m not afraid of anything. This can’t hurt me because I’m already hurt. The King will mend my fractures.
For a brief moment I wonder if I’m being foolish, but am immediately distracted by the way the light shines off the pile of dishes in the sink. They aren’t earthly rays and I know they’re shining from afar for me. I know.
I stop going to work after the incident.
It hadn’t exactly been smooth sailing in the days leading it up to it either. I had begun planning for my ascension, and apparently the tone and cadence of my voice had rubbed some the wrong way. But if I am to be a Queen, I must begin to speak like one, so they can go fuck themselves.
It was just a matter of time before I stopped the act anyway. Bills would lapse, and I’d most likely be evicted, but by then I’d be gone. There was no point in playing nice with morons; let them order their own lunch.
The morning in question, when I could no longer ignore it, started like all the days since I’d invoked The King in Yellow. I awoke, my lungs filled with foreign air and my skin speckled with otherworldly dew drops. I had been spending my nights traversing unchartered territory. I vibrated over the linoleum floor and coasted to the hulking refrigerator. The door seemed to open of its own accord and I reached my regal hand into its cool interior. Plucking the plastic clam-shell from off the top shelf, I turned to the cupboard for a bowl. It seemed weightless in my palm. I used the corner of my fingernail to pry open the container and the top popped like it had been designed to give me entrance.
I turned on the tap and the spray tickled my face like the roaring ocean waves. I ran the plump berries under the water. The fruit was the color of a maiden’s blush. Pink, purple, red, and the deep blue of suffocation. The droplets clung to the swollen raspberries. They were like moist diamonds collected in a Pyrex bowl.
I reached in and took one between the pads of my pointer and my thumb. The wiry protrusions pricked my delicate skin. I could feel its life. The thin organic tendrils that reached from the crevices of the fruit seemed to be burrowing into my fingertips. I dropped it back into the bowl.
It was clear my control was growing. Even the fruit was drawn to me.
I left the bowl, the empty clam-shell container, and the wet paper towels sitting on the countertop. As the door slammed behind me, the place was erased from my memory.
I pulled into the office building’s cramped parking lot and nestled my car in between a Jeep and the curb. The sun danced off the windshields as I walked across the lot. The glass glistened like the crests of ocean waves. I got lost in the gleam for a just a moment. But it was long enough to begin slipping through the holes that now surrounded me. The fabric of this waking world was becoming as thin as cheese cloth. Carcosa was devouring everything I knew. The two worlds bled together and I saw glimpses of horror. Like if Escher sketched a slaughterhouse. Dizzy, I struggled not to shield my eyes as the ground lurched. The cars burned like flaming balls and bile clawed at my throat.
Feigning control and miming composure, I headed towards the glass entryway. I felt the thunk to my left more than heard it. But I heard it too, because it didn’t stop after the first wet plop.
Above me the drab little birds that took up residence in the oaks began to fall. Thunk, thunk, thunk. They rained down around me, their beady black eyes open wide and their bodies plump and juicy. They hit the ground like warm meatballs. Lifeless, but warm and staring straight at me. I pushed forward, trying to reach the building, but the closer I got the more birds fell. And people were starting to look at me.
My palms turned clammy and, without much thought, I retreated towards my car. Long, eerily graceful strides carried me away from the building. Away from the genocide. Behind me I could hear the rise of shrill panic as the nurses from the 2nd floor discovered the birds. I blocked out the raised voices and shrieks as I slid behind the wheel. Backing out of my spot as quickly as I could, my car thudded over the raised curb. It landed back on the pavement with force enough to shake me in my seat. I shut my eyes and exhaled, desperate to regain my composure. I opened them just in time to watch a swallow tumble onto my windscreen. I froze.
Its meaty body lay limp across the thick glass. Its wings sat so fine and delicate. The fact that such fragile beauty existed left me baffled. The feathers were like a painting of what someone dreamed feathers looked like. The simple perfection, and hopeless ruin, of this creature made my limbs cramp. I stared at the bird.
The fear coursed like ice water under my skin, but I pretended it didn’t. The confusion was like a plume of smoke hovering just around my face.
But I ignored it.
The Queen in Yellow makes birds die just by existing. I’d have to get used to it. So with one swift motion I slammed the car into drive and turned on the wipers. They pushed the bird around, leaving streaks and smudges on the glass. It was horrible. The wipers thrashed about struggling to push the dead thing off.
The swallow slid off when I screeched out of the parking lot and onto the road. I checked my rearview mirror repeatedly as I drove away. I had to be sure the little black speck stayed down.
You can’t be afraid of your destiny.
But I was. Even after I gussied it up and called it something different. Even after I painted its face and renamed it impatience.
I stopped leaving the house. No, not because of fear. Not because all my houseplants were dead and the raspberries lay rotting on the countertop.
Everything I needed was here.
He was here.
I saw him at night.
I lay on my back in bed, presumably asleep… At least I think I was asleep. I can’t be sure anymore. But it was dark and the only light seeped in through the crooked, plastic blinds. Slivers of orange shadow cut strange shapes onto the wall.
My eyes opened, or at least I think they did, and I saw the murky glow hanging about the room. He was above me. Hovering just above my face—a gray blur moving too fast, and yet too slow, to see. His form bucked wildly and it took a laughable amount of time for me to realize He had mounted me. He was rutting against me like some wild beast, and like a child raised on Princesses and happy endings, I assumed this meant I was in fact His queen.
I lay there, motionless, desperate to see Him in focus. Desperate to find some shape to the face mere inches from my own. I felt numb. Drugged. Devoured. I wanted to thrust back but couldn’t. I wanted to be a part of whatever was happening to me. But I wasn’t.
He didn’t have to use me but He did.
I woke with a start when the light in the room was replaced by the sun’s rays. I was afraid to look at my body in the mirror, so I broke it with my hairbrush.
No, not fear. The gates will open and welcome me home, and I will get used to the ringing in my ears and the trickle of blood that accompanies it.
On the last day I know it’s the last day as soon as I awaken. There is a breeze moving about the apartment, but all the windows are closed.
It’s coming from the closet in the bedroom.
The door is shut, but air leaks out from the cracks. My first thought it is to place blankets around the frame, but I stop midstride outside the linen closet. Barricading the entryway to Carcosa is something a fearful girl would do. I am royalty.
I fluff my hair in a shard of mirror sitting sharp and ominous in my sink. I put on a sundress that lay crumpled in a corner next to my bed. It’s wrinkled and my hair is knotted in clumps, but I feel regal, and perception is now more important than reality.
I stand for before the closed door until the sun dips out of sight. The constant stream of foreign air has chilled me to the bone. My flesh has turned blue.
When the door creaks open I start to cry.
I want to move but my legs have been replaced with marble.
There is nothing in my lungs and inside my closet is forever. My t shirts and blouses and the suitcase with the missing wheel are gone. A million stars sit next to a million tears and in the face of eternity I weep. In the face of a swirling forever dappled with colors that don’t exist on earth, I scream.
I was a fool. Those are my last fully formed thoughts. In Carcosa everything is nothing. Eternity can’t be comprehended. And I now know that hubris is punished with extreme prejudice.
Christine Makepeace is a New Englander by birth, a New Yorker by choice, and an Austinite by happenstance. She writes stories about people, places, and things; she likes her subject matter just as dark as she likes her coffee. Her debut novel, Wake Up, Maggie, can be found on Amazon.