Below you will find the story, “The Gateway to Carcosa,” from the Lovecraftian fiction collection, HORRORS & ABOMINATIONS: 24 Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr. Enjoy!
You can also watch a reading of this story at:
The Gateway To Carcosa
by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.
This is the thing that troubles me, for I cannot forget Carcosa, where black stars hang in the heavens, where the shadows of men’s thoughts lengthen in the afternoon, when the twin suns sink into the Lake of Hali, and my mind will bear forever the memory of the Pallid Mask.
– Robert W. Chambers, “The Repairer Of Reputations”
As Ethan drove his midnight-blue Cadillac into the parking lot of the Aylesbury Public Library, he noticed something odd about the ivy-draped brick building. The frames of the doors and windows were all painted gold-metallic. He thought it seemed like an overly flashy touch for a humble small-town library in Massachusetts. But then, he pondered, why did a library have to be considered humble? Maybe there was something marvelous inside. Perhaps even regal. Certainly, that was what he hoped.
He had no problem finding a parking space near the front door: only one other car was in the lot. He entered the library and wondered if they’d forgotten to turn on some of the lights. The interior of the building was unusually dim. The windows were located high on the walls, and the slant of the sunlight coming in didn’t seem to reach the floor.
He soon saw the driver of the other vehicle. Clearly it had to be the librarian at the front desk. She was a slender, pale woman with dark, sleepy eyes. Her long black hair hung down from her scalp like a wet curtain. For one unnerving moment, she seemed to resemble a drowning victim, risen from the depths. She looked up with a polite smile and the illusion passed.
He walked up to the desk. “Good morning. My name is Roger Clarence. I understand you have a rare book here entitled The King In Yellow. Would it be possible for me to look at it today?”
The clerk’s smile drooped into an expressive frown. “Look at it?” Her voice was surprisingly low and raspy. “Do you not intend to read it?”
“Well, of course I intend to read it,” he said. “That goes without saying.”
“Not necessarily,” she said. “If you only wanted to give it a cursory examination, I could grant such a request immediately. But if you wish to sit down and read it, I will first need to acquire the permission of the Executive Director. Then I will need to set up a private room in which you can read it, free of distractions.”
What distractions? Roger wondered. The place is empty except for the two of us. “Sorry, I misunderstood. Yes, I intend to read it. If you need to call your Director, go ahead.”
“The Executive Director is in the building,” she said, “but he’s very busy. I’ll tell him you wish to read the book. I’ll see what can be done for you. In the meantime, you’re free to look around, of course.”
“Thank you, I will.”
Roger began to wander through the dim rows of books. It soon became apparent that the facility’s collection was mediocre at best. His favorite library, located on the campus of Arkham’s Miskatonic University, had a larger and more extensive selection, but the one thing it did not have was a copy of The King In Yellow, which he needed to see.
He only knew a few facts about the book. The text was the script of a two-act play set in the mythical city of Carcosa, near the mist-shrouded lake of Hali. The title character was a supernatural entity, apparently both a demon and royalty, who interacts with two women of the city, Camilla and Cassilda. And, Roger’s elderly father, Graham, had spent his final years in a private mental institution because he had read the book all the way through.
For several months before he died, Graham pleaded with Roger to help find the key to the Gateway to Carcosa. The old man had read the book at the library in his hometown of Aylesbury and by reading the book, he knew there was a Gateway to this ancient, beautiful city.
“If I could show people the Gateway,” Graham had said, “they would know I am not insane. Help me find the Key. Once I have it, the Gateway will present itself to me. Then I can show it to others. They will know there’s nothing wrong with me. People say reading The King In Yellow can drive a person insane. I say it can reveal the path to the wonderful reality beyond the world we know. Be my clever boy, Roger. Find the Key.”
If only he hadn’t laughed when his father told him those things. He couldn’t help but laugh: it all sounded so silly … so theatrical and bizarre. The look on Graham’s face was the definitive image of despair. The next day, the old man killed himself by cutting his own throat with a broken bottle.
Roger realized too late that he had destroyed his father by not believing him. But what if Graham had been right?
Clearly Roger needed to know the truth about The King In Yellow. The only way to do so would be to find the book and try it figure it all out.
As he wandered through the library, he passed the entrance of a hallway which seemed darker than most. As he looked down the hall, he noticed a metallic gleam. The gleam then shifted and took the form – or rather, the silhouette – of a tall, robed man wearing an elaborate crown, or perhaps headdress. The silhouette seemed to be cut from a sheet of burnished gold. It shifted again and within a second, disappeared from sight.
He walked down the hall, hoping to catch sight of the gold silhouette again. He noticed a door with a window of frosted glass at the far end. The glass glowed pale gold. Was the room beyond lit by a yellow bulb? That didn’t make any sense. The builders had probably installed yellow glass in the door’s window – perhaps for the same odd reason that had compelled them to paint the outside window and door frames gold-metallic.
He turned to walk back to the bookstacks, but instead found himself entering a large hallway from which branched dozens of smaller halls. This can’t be right, he thought. The building isn’t big enough. This doesn’t make sense.
He crossed the major hall to enter a smaller one, and again found himself staring at the gleaming silhouette of burnished gold. This time, the silhouette was closer, and he noticed a thin slit running down the middle of the metal sheet. Like before, the vision shifted and disappeared. He walked down this hall and at its end, found another door with a glowing pane of glass.
He walked back to the main hallway and found, to his confusion, that it was now much narrower. He walked briskly up the hallway, passing dozens of side halls. Finally he stopped. The distance he’d walked had to be at least four times longer than the actual building, and yet he wasn’t making any progress.
This place isn’t big enough to be a labyrinth, he thought. There’s no way I can be lost, yet I am. Maybe I just need to call out to the librarian. She can tell me what’s happening.
“Miss?” he shouted. “Miss, can you hear me?”
He waiting, listening, but couldn’t hear a thing. He glanced down a side hall and saw the glint of gold again. He hurried toward it. Soon it became the gold silhouette, shaped like a crowned man – but before it came within reach, it shifted and disappeared.
He continued walking and sure enough, there was another door with glowing glass. Clearly his only option was to pass through. He was about to grab the knob when the door was opened from the other side.
“Oh, there you are,” said the dark-haired librarian. “Sorry I took so long. The Executive Director is very busy today, so I had wait a while for him to see me. Come right in.”
Speechless and confused, Roger nodded and entered what appeared to be a simple office with a wooden desk and chair, as well as several filing cabinets. He took just a moment to examine the glass in the door and it was indeed tinted a light shade of amber.
“Is there something wrong with the glass?” the librarian said with a frown.
Roger shrugged. “No, not at all.” He noticed she held a sheaf of papers. “What do you have there?”
“The book, of course.” She set the sheaf on the desk. “Or rather, photocopies of the pages. We keep these copies on hand to satisfy requests like yours. The book is too valuable to allow people to handle it. The Executive Director said you can read it in this form.” She tapped the sheaf with her forefinger. “I should add, this is a photocopy of the true, unaltered edition. Years ago, a gentleman asked to read the book. At the time, we also owned an inferior copy from an edited printing. Our current Director wasn’t working here then, so we didn’t recognize it for what it was. The imperfect edited version left out vital knowledge, and sadly, it left left the reader in question so confused … so addled.… Let’s just say the results were not optimal.”
With a sad smile, she walked out of the room, closing the door behind her.
Roger sat down and began to read.
The hours passed as he pored over page after page of The King In Yellow. He soon found himself entranced by the customs, rituals and pageantry of the mythical city of Carcosa. The play was written so beautifully, with such soul-flaying tenderness, that he found himself brought to tears many times.
As he neared the end of Act One, he began to wonder if in fact, Carcosa was the real sharp-edged world and his own dull reality was the myth. He learned about the Pallid Mask and the cries it made in the Tower that Ascends Forever. He read on into Act Two, even as the walls of the room began to fade away. He did not question the fact that the room’s door was still standing. Its pane of amber glass shone like a warm, inviting dawn. Heavy mists from the Lake of Hali encircled him. Overhead, three moons drifted into view in an impossible sky flecked with black stars.
The gold silhouette appeared before him, and having read about the King and the Pallid Mask, he knew now: this was the Gateway to Carcosa. His father had only read the edited version, and so, did not know what he was asking when he asked Roger to find the Key for him.
Roger could never have handed him the Key to the Gateway because in fact, the Key was Death.
Roger walked to the amber glass and shattered it with his fist. Taking up a shard, he ran the sharp edge across his throat. Hot blood spurted from his neck, but he didn’t feel any pain. The slit down the middle of the Gateway opened up and the two halves swung open.
Ahead, he saw his father standing in a glorious garden. A robe of white silk was draped around his narrow shoulders. Behind him, flowering vines crept up a gold-metallic trellis. By his side stood a fine-boned, silver-haired woman, holding an exquisite blood-red orchid. A peacock of gleaming midnight-blue strutted toward her. She extended the flower and laughed as the bird pecked it to shreds.
Tears of happiness streaming down his face, Roger hurried through the Gateway.
The old man looked his way and smiled. “Look, Cassilda!” cried the old man. “My Roger has found the Key! What a clever boy!”