He called me into his chamber and I entered with a shudder. I found Mr King a repulsive character and much preferred to avoid his company. But, a command from one’s master cannot be refused.
Mr King sat with his back to me at a diptych upon which was sprawled some small, hairless creature. Completely bald, my master’s head was like a great pallid egg upon his shoulders. In his hand, he held a fleam, which he proceeded to jab smartly into the thing that lay upon his table, drawing a scarlet bead of blood. He held it up to examine it, then nodded and dripped the blood into the etna that bubbled away upon the workbench beside him. He often did such things, but they were the least of the reasons I loathed him.
“Anon,” he said, not turning his head, “the stars align and the lassitude of humanity shall be shaken away in a great tumult. Mankind shall be alike to a wherry on a storm-tossed sea.”
He raised the fleam as a pointer and indicated a mural on the wall. Unlike the grotesques that coiled upon the other walls of his chamber, this depicted a great, towering and seemingly-dispeopled city.
“Then, they shall find their way back to Carcosa,” he continued. “Those who survive.” He gave a short, sardonic laugh, then rose from his seat and turned to face me.
Mr King had a hideous visage and that was what I found most repulsive about him. His face was horribly pale with a peculiar texture to it, which almost gave the impression that he was wearing some frightful mask. His baldhead only served to emphasise the unpleasant cast of his face, the features being oddly underdeveloped. Wall-eyed, his gaze made me feel as if something unpleasant and cloying swept across me. I shuddered again.
Mr King tugged at the lapels of his oversized jacket. He always wore the same yellow jacket and, for as long as I’d known him, it had been tattered and faded, but he’d shown no desire to replace it.
“Have you got it, Atheling?” he asked.
For some reason, whenever he addressed me directly like this, he would always use my surname, despite there being only the two of us in the building. I had seen no-one, except him, in all the years since I had come to work for him. Sometimes, as today, he would speak of others, but I often wondered if we were alone in the world, and even whether the world outside still existed at all.
“Yes, Mr King, I have.” I aped his affectation. It was intended to be mocking, but at some point had slipped over into obsequiousness.
I held out the ledger to him.
Mr King smiled. At least, there was a slight rearrangement of the position of his thin, too-pale lips that I took for a smile. He took the ledger from me and tapped it.
“In here,” he said, “are the names of all those who have pledged themselves to me. They are the lucky ones, for they shall return to Carcosa. Your name,” he added, “is at the head of the list.”
Mr King often spoke of Carcosa. I was seldom able to follow his discursions about the various facets of the place. The best I could make of it was that it was like an urban Garden of Eden from which he believed humanity had been cast and a sort of paradise to which they would one day return. More than that was beyond me, and how much to credit the belief, I wasn’t certain; Mr King was a strange man, but he was one of particular erudition and it didn’t do to discount his words no matter how strange or confusing.
“Must the bulk of mankind suffer a terrible fate?” I asked him.
“Oh, be not lachrymose, Atheling,” he replied with a further sardonic laugh. “The human race is deserving of no ruth. Oh, they might try to gloze their failings, but if they had not been sullied by the sins of weakness and conformity, they would be in Carcosa yet. Only those who deserve the primal city will find their way there. Those who are lost, deserve to be.”
That was one of the many things he said that confused me. He treated me as a lackey and kept a list of those who had pledged to serve him, then spoke of the mass of humanity as lacking in the quality of independence. I had to assume there was some fine distinction I failed to grasp. Or, that the man was mad. Certainly, when I looked at him, I often could imagine that was true.
“If you say so, Mr King.”
“I do, Atheling, I do. Oh, do not look so glum.” He gave me a thin and unpleasant semblance of a smile. “We shall be safe here when the time comes – and it will be soon – and it is not as if you have formed attachments to those in the world outside.”
I had to admit that was true, not that I liked it. I hated being here alone with him, cut adrift from all other human ties; if you could call someone who seemed such a distorted parody human.
“Yes, Atheling, soon…” he muttered turning back to his table and settling down.
No longer needed, I hurried from his presence, grateful to be away. Had I hitched my cart to the devil’s horse in serving him? What if he was right and I found myself serving him for eternity in Carcosa? Could I bear to be caught in his pallid gaze for ever more? I shuddered, but knew my feelings counted for nothing; I was his for all time.
DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing, and has been published in Dialect Poetry (Palores Publishing), Memento Mori and both volumes of Bones (JWK Fiction), issues of Cyaegha, Carillon, The Pen, Scifaikuest, Tigershark and Anthology 29, and online on Poetry Bulawayo, Poetry Pacific, Siren’s Call and The Muse, as well as releasing several chapbooks, including the critically acclaimed Our Story.