By Samuel Patchin
There are things worse than death; Emmerson knew that now. As he awoke to the screaming pain of the blade embedded in his chest, he wished he did not. He reached to the hilt of the combat knife and pulled, feeling it buck, lodged partially through a rib. He dropped his head back to the wet carpet with a scream. His fatigues were glued to the floor with blood. Something had been cinched around his wrist. He tugged and heard a metallic rattle. He pulled again, feeling the handcuff and chain more acutely, and became aware of a stir under the blanket of darkness. Across the expanse of the dark living room, obscure shapes seemed to climb into view. Barely audible groans crept from the corners of the room, crystalizing his panic. His arm jumped, almost wrenching whatever object he was chained to from the wall. Turning to his bound arm he found a kneeling position and began to pry the knife from his chest. The pain came in a white hot haze that made the nerve endings in his head glow; the slow scrape of bone blocked out the sound of his own agonized screams. As the blade began to give through his chest, his cries transformed into mad, desperate laughter. The room seemed to agree. He tore the weapon from his heart as the echo from floor to ceiling gave way to unintelligible human noise. Overhead were loud screams and pounding with the pitter-patter drip of something. Perhaps the undefined roars of animal rage from the floor above had always been there. The black forms around him crawled; they rolled and twisted with agonized gibbers as his widened eyes adjusted to the blackness. He wished he had not seen them. The humble Afghani living room was ravaged and seemingly dipped in blood; what remained of the home’s eight residents lay scattered across the floor in wriggling, gulping pieces. Corporal Reyes sat in the corner holding his severed head between his legs. Emmerson watched mesmerized as Reyes’ feet wiggled in his boots across the room. The head tilted up, its glassy eyes acknowledging Emmerson’s presence with a hollow stare that grew into a slow, terrible smile. He realized in a shock deeper than any wound could create that the ragged trunks and limbs of human beings were not slaughter; they were afterbirth. They’d been reborn through suffering into an alien world so much worse than imagination. Private Emmerson covered his eyes and began to pray to any god that would listen for the mercy of death, knowing now what the men, women, and children around him gurgled in tongues. Suddenly… “What is love?.. Baby don’t hurt me… Don’t hurt me… No more.” Dance music? Upstairs, buried beneath the pained screams and angry shouts, he could only imagine was the worst dance party in history. The rest of the squad must be there. He looked down to his hand chained to a metal bar on the coal heater, then to the knife. He would stop them…
Fourteen hours earlier, a rectangular, metal box labeled “Death Corp” had been accidentally left in the mess hall. Inside it contained tin snips, a bag holding fourteen human fingers, and a digital camera with forty eight pictures depicting the murder of Afghan citizens. The two MPs, Emmerson and Reyes, grabbed the only squad member of the unit not currently on patrol and showed him the box. Then the whole terrible mess came out. His unit had been specifically targeting civilians and planting false evidence to make them seem like enemy combatants. The squad member didn’t know why they’d started doing it; to them it was hilarious. After they’d thrown the man in the brig, they radioed his squad, ordering them to return, and heard… nothing. The patrol had gone dark and no one from their outpost had seen them. When Reyes and Emmerson went to investigate along the squad’s route, everything seemed normal—except for one house. There was an unnatural, vibrant shimmer along the cracks of its doors and windows. Any lead was worth investigating at that point. The moment they turned the door handle, the blinding light seeped from the cracks and engulfed them.
When they opened their eyes, a golden throne room stretched before them, impossibly long and misshapen. It was empty save for architecture ending in hyperbolic curves and points that seemed to distend and move like a thin sheet of rubber. Behind them was the same long, strange hallway, and at the end was a large shape extending from floor to ceiling. They walked forward, guns drawn, trying not to notice the shapes of gaping human figures that pushed into the walls beckoning wordlessly. They dare not look down and see that underneath the gold floor were rotten shapes and a long carpet of human flesh. Nor did they look up to see the still living animals shaped together into decorative chandelier-like protrusions. And in the distance came the chanting, “IA KING IN YELLOW! IA HASTUR! HE WHO SHEPARDS US TO IMMORTALITY!” Emmerson glimpsed back to find they had halved the space—it was the same distance behind them as walking forward. Shapes began to come into view: soldiers in a semicircle around a brutalized family, their hands and feet zip-tied. And before them it sat, rising fourteen feet tall in tattered, yellow robes, its skin like porcelain, its face a pallid, immovable mask. They thought the thin figure wearing a pointed crown a statue—until it moved. It slowly waved its hand over the figures before it, and a shiver of despair ran through the group and brought them to their knees. “MY KING! MY LORD AND SAVIOR!” they cried out desperately. The soldiers removed the combat knives from their belts, then their shirts, and began making shallow cuts across their trunk and arms. It cocked its head at their prostration as if it didn’t understand, then it abruptly looked up. The two MPs approached, Reyes shouting, “Drop the fucking knives! You’re all coming with us!” The men stopped aghast and surprised. They looked to each other for several seconds, and then one screamed from the mass, “PROTECT THE BOOK!” Before they even began to charge, both MPs were firing, providing a stream of gore as the last one collapsed at their feet. “My god has abandoned me…” the soldier gasped, and choked to death on his own blood. To his chest he grasped a faded, yellow tome with upraised white letters. “The King in Yellow,” Reyes spoke aloud. Emmerson was moving through the bodies to the bound family, his knife drawn. “Fuck all that, we’re leaving,” he spat while cutting the zip-ties. “ نحن بحاجة للذهاب الآن. يتبعني ” he told the family urgently and helped them up. Emmerson looked above him to see the King slowly standing. As he gathered the family up to run, he looked to his partner, Reyes, seemingly lost in the pages of the arcane manuscript. “NO!” he screamed. His shocked partner dropped the book and could only utter, “Nothing will save us… Lord God…” Emmerson grabbed him furiously. “What did you DO?! Diego, what did you fucking DO?!” Reyes stared over his shoulder. Emmerson turned to the King. The awful creature had risen its arms to each side as sinewy tendrils crept along the floor from its decaying robes; they found each of the gunned down soldiers and stabbed deep into their chests. With a coughing fit and newborn cries, each man returned to life. The men cut themselves free from their King’s umbilical cords and stood. Emmerson trained a gun on them. He looked to Reyes and began, “It’s the book! Tear the pages from the..!” and the knife plunged into his chest. Emmerson reeled backwards and dropped the gun, betrayed, bewildered, and stared at his comrade. “I want to live, Caleb,” Reyes said. ‘Through the Father I will live forever.” Emmerson dropped to the floor as the room filled with a cacophony of violence. And darkness.
With a crunch, the knife slid through the web of his hand, taking the thumb off. He didn’t scream. Sliding his hand from the cuff he stood and took a moment to gather his bearings. They’d been transported from the other world back to Afghanistan, but for what purpose? Then he saw that the walls were the same rubbery material as the throne room. No, he realized, not rubber… flesh. It was colored exactly the way a floor and ceiling should be, but was by no means natural. He hadn’t even noticed the heat, or the stench, wafting all around him. The shouts and pounding continued overhead alongside the dance music. He went to Reyes and searched his belt, finding a sidearm and an unused clip. Lucky indeed. “Let’s kill that fucking radio,” he said aloud. He looked to the stairs and breathed deep, then started climbing upward. Through the door, the yellow light burned hard and jagged amidst flailing shapes; he pushed it open slowly. The throne room had shrunk to a claustrophobic degree, tooth-lined and angry, reverberating with the violence of the bloodletting men. The flurry was a dance of stabbing, punching, choking and kicking that killed them only to allow them to settle and return to life moments later. They were the mutilated, the destroyed, avatars deformed by war; and just behind them the King stood, its robe parted, revealing a blanket of stars that seemed to pulse with energy as it collected every last drop of blood. At the far side of the room, only one man stood in place, his shirt hanging like a butcher’s apron from his tucked in fatigues, his torso covered in cuts. Opposite the King he read aloud from the decaying yellow book, “Tekeli-li wgah’nagl fhtagn grau mehst fohl Hastur!” Emmerson approached and fired, shredding the book to pieces that fluttered around the room. The soldier screamed and attempted to grab the pages from the air, from the floor, to put them back together—the stumps of his fingers destroyed by the gunfire gushed across the paper. From the floor the man wailed, “NOOOOOO! WE HAVE TO APPEASE GOD! DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?! WE MUST BE PURIFIED OF OUR SIN! OUR EARTHLY FORM MUST BE REMADE IN HIS IMAGE!” The radio blared, “Baby don’t hurt me!.. Don’t hurt me!.. No…” and died in an electronic gurgle as a bullet tore through the left speaker of the portable stereo. The King’s robe began to close and he receded slowly into the throne until he’d left them entirely; with his absence so did the light go, leaving them in the bare, destroyed dining room. Exhaustion gripped Emmerson’s heart as he fell to the wall and slid down. The soldiers had since settled on the floor and stopped moving; their fight was over. The last of them wept over that awful tome, The King in Yellow. “It’s not our fault,” he started. “We had to! He called us to war! We slaughtered the infidels in His name..! And now we sit alone in our judgment.” Emmerson clasped his hand over the red oozing from his chest and sat in silence. He had not noticed the hum that the noise and music had blocked out before. Emmerson said solemnly, “I think God will judge us all the same…” And closed his eyes.
He blearily awoke to screaming in the harsh yellow room. He focused on the object protruding from the center of him and traced it down until in the distance, he beheld the King sitting upon his throne. It cast a light from its robes upon the frenetic subjects that cried out to a ceilingless opening of blackest starlight. The Death Corp crouched around the bound family stabbing wildly—their bodies obscuring the destruction they caused. Before the King, Reyes kneeled, his arm pumping at his neck like a violinist’s, the saw-toothed back of the combat knife chiseling away his screams. Emmerson stood and ran in the opposite direction away from the light and the violence that flooded back anew. Slowly, it faded until darkness and starlight enveloped him whole. His footsteps thudded for a long time until he could make out something in the distance. A wall? No… a door!
As he reached it, it creaked open to reveal the interior of the Afghani home. Reyes stood behind him dazed but unharmed as his flashlight illuminated the family huddled together in a corner of the darkened living room. Emmerson reached down to find the weapon had vanished from his chest. The family motioned to the dining room and he crossed to it, pushing through the door to emerge ankle deep in slaughter. The eight young men of the Death Corps had stabbed each other nearly to pieces. One sat before the seven, scalped to the brow with sad eyes; on the wall behind him was a message sticky with blood. Emmerson began to read as Reyes spoke aloud, “Only God will judge me.” He looked to Reyes and then to the quote… How many times had Emmerson seen this? All he could do was hope to not close his eyes. And as he looked back to Reyes in wordless horror, a stir suddenly came from the dark; he pushed them both out into the living room and slammed the door. Gathering up the family and his partner, he ushered them to the front door as light began burning from the cracks of the dining room. He could hear their gurgling. Chants and screams became louder as he turned the knob and wrenched the door open. Staring back at him was the cold, void blackness of space without top or bottom. And at the center of it was the King; his cold, immovable face stared endlessly from hollows where its eyes should have been. There came a hum from it as it floated among the blanket of stars surrounding the house. And just as Emmerson began to scream, the dining room door exploded open, the sounds lost forever in the echoing darkness.
Samuel Patchin is a part-time author and full-time student of everything horrific and macabre. The influences that lead him to write include Stephen King, Clive Barker and of course the great H. P. Lovecraft. He lives on California’s picturesque central coast where everyday evil hides in the cracks beneath the mid-day sun.