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Posted 19th April 2013 at 08:08 AM by keirarts

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A few weeks back I read Robert W chambers King in yellow. It's a good book and a reccomended read for fans of horror and fantay fiction. While jobless i've decided to dabble with a little creative writing and i've written a short story based on Chambers book. Its flawed and my writing skills need some work but as a first effort I dont think its terrible.

The order of the yellow sign.

By Keir Arts.

Peter Smith woke early as usual with the same sensation of both melancholia and dread that had stirred him from sleep ever since he had lost his job. He had a vague memory of dreams in which he walked through a strange abandoned city with maze like streets and shuttered windows. He was often alone in the dream aside from a black-cloaked figure with a white mask that seemed to haunt him at the periphery of his vision. Occasionally he would hear the strangers hushed voice call out the name of the unearthly city Carcosa as well as Hastur the city by the lake hali. The memory of these strange dreams faded quickly after he awoke, and by the time he had gone downstairs and drunk his first morning cup of coffee the memory had all but faded leaving very little but the feeling of impending dread and melancholia that the dream had triggered. This feeling would often last all day and Smith had tried and failed to find ways of shaking the bleak mood, often with long country walks or getting lost in a good book. Nothing seemed to work and the sensation persisted until he went to bed in the evening when he seemed to drift back off into a deep slumber.

Concerned for his own sanity Smith had consulted friends and even a psychiatrist regarding the dreams and resulting mental fragility that seemed get steadily worse over time. His friends were obviously concerned, as was the psychiatrist, but all seemed to agree this was most likely a result of the sudden lifestyle change from ten years full employment to unemployment in the space of a few weeks. The psychiatrist was not the first to note how so much of what he could remember seemed to tie in directly to the dreaded King in yellow, a much maligned play that had been know to cause psychological instability and depression in a number of people who had read it, especially the infamous final act.
Smiths own recollections of the play itself were somewhat vague. Until recently it had long been out of print in the united kingdom and he had only recently been able to obtain a copy through a group calling themselves the order of the yellow sign a religious cult that had sprung up in america and now here that was devoted to the play. They had been especially active in areas of high unemployment and social deprivation and had been hugely successful recruiting new members.

Smith had accepted a copy in the street from one of the orders acolytes out of curiosity. As a lover of weird fiction he had a burning curiosity about forbidden works of literature. The opportunity to possess a copy of the play had been far too tempting to pass up. After the faltering economy had claimed the company he had worked for Smith found himself with plenty of free time to sit and read the play. Given the notoriety of the play and it’s documented affects on a proportion of those who had read it he could not rule it out as a cause of his current state of mind. Curiously he found that trying to remember specifics, especially concerning the final act, had become difficult as if his mind had placed a wall in his memory to shield him from the memories and he often found himself experiencing a profound sense of dread when attempting to re-read the play to the level that caused him actual physical nausea.

Now the book sat on his coffee table, he took a couple of seconds every morning as the kettle boiled to consider giving it another read before snatching the television remote control and turning on the morning news instead, the very thought of reading the play causing a now pavlovian response in his body. The main news story was the hundredth anniversary of the suicide booth in America. A group of pundits sat in the studio discussing the possibility that the booths could soon be allowed in Britain. They had remained outlawed due to the hesitance of British politicians to amend the country’s laws on suicide, however the last few governments had become increasingly libertarian in their outlook and it seemed things might change. Smith switched the television out and set up his laptop that he kept stored under the coffee table. He browsed various job sites for about half an hour, applying for one job that seemed to suit his skills. He then connected up his printer and printed out several CV’s which he carefully folded and placed into envelopes, addressing them with his biro to various companies in the local area and affixing stamps. After that he finished his now cold coffee, ate a piece of fruit for his breakfast and headed out the door.

The sky was overcast it felt chilly outside, the grey clouds threatened snow and Smith zipped up his heavy coat to insulate himself from the bitter winds. He headed into town via the local post box and posted his small stack of CV’s. A voice from behind startled him,

“have you heard about the one true living god?”

Smith turned to see a young man in his early twenties, well dressed in a black suit and yellow tie, his hair slicked back. He was carrying a black holdall that seemed full of books, in his hand he held a copy of the king in yellow which he held towards smith.

“I already have a copy” smith replied almost immediately, “one of your friends gave me one a few weeks back.”

The man continued smiling, but smith became aware of a look in the young mans eyes that sent a chill down his spine. It felt like the same gaze the stranger in the white mask from his dreams had. Malevolent was probably as good a term as any.

“In that case sir, perhaps I can interest you in attending a performance tonight? Its free entry of course.”

Smith found himself accepting a pamphlet which he tucked in his pocket. With that he quickly turned from the strange young man and walked off in the direction of town. He decided to visit his friend Will Kingsley who owned a small second-hand bookstore. As he walked through town Smith found himself glancing at the growing number of empty stores, some boarded up or papered over in an attempt to conceal their emptiness. The shops still open and occupied seemed to be Fast food and coffee shops, Charity shops and pawnbrokers as well as a few fashion outlets. Some of the abandoned shops had been advertised to let for several years and some had even been targets for local vandals to kick the windows in or graffiti over. In the centre of town a group of Yellow sign members stood handing out pamphlets to passers by, Smith made every effort to avoid them and ducked down the side street that led to his friends bookstore.

Kingsley’s books was surprisingly spacious inside, from the exterior all the shops looked small and cramped and new customers were often surprised to find the shops had plenty of room inside. Kingsley’s was lined with bookshelves on each wall and in one corner Kinsley sat at a small desk next to a till reading a book. Next to the desk was an old battered sofa that Smith sat down in, greeting his friend who had so far failed to acknowledge him.

“good book there will?”

Kingsley looked at smith before continuing to read.

“It is, a Michael Moorcock someone brought in, not a first edition or anything and no dust jacket but it’s a good read.”

The bookseller placed a bookmark in the book and closed it placing the book down on the desk.

“So how’s business?” Smith asked.

“slow” Kingsley leaned back in his chair and sighed. “If I didn’t own the shop I’d have to consider shutting up and finding a new source of income, as it is I make enough to bay the bills and eat.”

“Better than some then, I still can’t get a break, ten years experience seems to count for very little these days.”

Kingsley got up and walked into the back room, he asked

“cup of coffee?”

“yes please” replied Peter.

Kingsley spooned out the instant coffee into two cups as the kettle boiled.

“I’m luckier than some I guess, I don’t have to worry about rent, the small business rates are still quite low and I’m living in the flat upstairs, renting the family home brings a bit extra in. I’ll never be wealthy but so long as I have my books and food in the fridge I guess I’ll be happy”

“you see” said smith “you have a good set up here, I guess that’s all you can ask from life in the end, to get through it all without too much hardship.”

“That’s all anyone can ask Peter, however there are plenty out there who expect more, and when it doesn’t materialise they turn to anyone they think will provide an answer.”

Smith pulled the pamphlet out of his pocket and looked at the cover,

“you mean those yellow sign people who’ve been about lately?”

Kingsley returned with two hot cups of coffee and some biscuits and placed them on the desk, careful not to spill anything on the book.

“Yes indeed, though their just the latest group to come out of the woodwork, we had the BNP, the Socialist workers every kind of religious and political extremism all coming out the woodwork looking to provide easy answers to difficult questions, it’s nothing new, America went the way it has with the suicide booths and militarism all because people followed these kinds of ideology.”

Kingsley paused to take a sip of coffee before continuing.

“Still. I can understand those groups a lot easier than these Yellow sign weirdo’s, I have a copy of King in yellow somewhere around here but I refuse to read it. The book has a vile reputation and there’s a lot of bad rumours and legends surrounding it, its best left closed”

Smith Reached over and took his coffee and a couple of biscuits,

“That’s funny Will, thought you were a rational man. I never took you as someone to hold superstitions.”

Kingsley looked sternly at Smith,

“you’ve read it, haven’t you?” he asked in something of an accusatory tone.

Smith felt guilty, he had no logical reason to but he had never seen his friend look so angry as he did right now, he placed the coffee cup back on the desk and answered,

“yes, not long before the business shut up shop, though its curious my memory of the book is hazy at best and I seem to have completely blanked out the final act.”

Kingsley’s stern attitude morphed into one of concern,

“For god’s sake Peter why?, You know the stories that circulate about that book, why would you poison your brain like that?”
“curiosity I suppose” Peter responded “more fool me I guess, it seems to have encouraged some black moods that are hard to shake, its not all down to losing my job Will, the play has something to do with the rotten mood I’ve been in. I just wish I could remember more”

Smith picked the pamphlet up off the table where he had left it and handed it to Kingsley,

“I was thinking of taking a look at the play. Before you say anything I’m not looking to join any weird cult or anything. I just think that if I could find out what it is my mind is blocking out then perhaps it could help me in some way”

Kingsley sighed, he looked disappointed in his friend and his disappointment was clear in his voice.

“Peter. Your mind is blocking the memory of the play for good reason. The brain is a miraculous and wonderful thing and if there is a memory so painful or terrifying that it could cause you harm, real actual physical harm, then it will block that memory out. Trying to recover such a memory could destroy you. I said the order of the yellow sign is different from all those other groups seeking to capitalise on the misery people are facing. Well I think it could be that unlike those other groups their not seeking to convert people to their way of thinking, hell I don’t even think there is any organised ideology involved. I think they just want to destroy people, destroy their minds, their souls.”

The bookseller paused to get his breath back..

“ you must promise me Peter, as my friend, that you will stay away from these people and that damned play. I believe things will get better, they have to, but in the meantime however difficult life seems so long as you have your mind and your health there is hope.”

There was a pause, the room was silent save the ticking of an old clock. Peter finished his coffee and looked Will Kingsley directly in his eyes.

“I promise you will, no I Swear I’ll stay away. Honest.”

His friends solemn promise satisfied Kingsley and after a further awkward silence he changed the topic and the pair spent the rest of the afternoon discussing books and drinking coffee. Every so often a customer would enter, and once in a while one of them would even buy something. Before either man knew it the afternoon had gone and it was time to shut the store. Smith assisted tidying up and cleaning the coffee cups. He decided to buy a couple of Cormac Macarthy paperbacks resolving to take them out into the countryside when the weather improved and sit in the sun breathing In the fresh air and enjoying a good book. Once everything was tidy Smith bid his friend farewell and promised to stop by again sometime soon and left for home. He headed back through town which was much quieter in the early evening, the yellow sign members were gone and the only real signs of life was a few teenagers milling about outside the local McDonalds. He felt better after talking with his friend the gloomy mood seemed to have lifted somewhat and for the first time in a while he started feeling cheerful. The good mood lasted until he got home, the house was quiet and Peter sat and flicked on the telly.

It was evenings like this that made Smith painfully aware of his solitude. The black mood began to return him and he felt the hollow tingly sensation in his chest, partly panic and partly despair. Deciding to call it a night he retired to bed and hoped he could fall asleep quickly. Before he knew it he had drifted off to sleep and with it once more came the dreams.

He was back in the strange city. In the distance he could make out a strange light so he headed through the maze of streets looking for its source. The streets were narrow and cobbled, the buildings on either side had windows that were shuttered and doors that seemed to large for human architecture. The profound silence and darkness of the city made navigation difficult most nights, but the strange illumination helped smith a great deal as he made his way to the source. He began to hear noises as well, at first it seemed like a vague hum but as he got closer he began to make out human voices.

Smith walked out into a large open courtyard, groups of people stood around chatting and drinking, there were tables and chairs set up and at regular intervals there were exquisite fountains lit up with lights of many different colours giving the water an unearthly look. At the far end of the courtyard was a large theatre and the sign above it announced, ‘king in yellow: Gala performance!’ At the door stood the strange white masked figure who in spite of the crowds seemed to notice Peter immediately, he could feel the strangers malevolent gaze boring through him as if he was inspecting his very soul. Smith turned to leave, it was a dream but the memory of his promise to his friend rose to the surface and he decided to keep it, even in this strange dream.

There was no exit.

The route he had entered the courtyard through had vanished. Smith began to feel the dread building up inside him, yet somehow he could not wake, instead he found himself searching the courtyard for an alternative exit. None could be found. He sat on a chair and buried his head in his hands, he wondered why he could not wake up, his dread was becoming full blown terror. He jumped up with a start as he felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see a man he could not recognise. He was handsome, well presented and in his thirties from the look of him and he fixed Smith with a huge smile.

“Easy there, the performance is about to begin”

“I’m not going” replied smith, “change of plans I’ve got to leave.”

The man laughed “see you inside” he responded and turned to leave.

Smith turned in the opposite direction in an attempt to get away from the theatre but found himself trapped by the crowds of people. The pressure of the group carried him along unwillingly and before he knew it he was in the great art deco lobby of the theatre, the crowd continued onwards to their seats.

“tickets please sir”

Smith turned to see the figure in the white mask and without thinking he found himself producing the ticket from his pocket and handing it to the stranger. As the stranger took it there was a flash of bright light and smith instinctively shut his eyes. When he re-opened them he was sat in the theatre and the show was about to start.

As the curtains rose in the strange old theatre smith began to feel queasy. It was the same nausea he felt from contemplating reading the book. As the play progressed, the audience sat in hushed reverence. Smith himself could not look away. Every fibre of his being wanted him to but it was as if his body was not his own anymore and his will had been slowly ground away. At the back of his mind he began to question exactly how much of this was actually a dream.

Then finally the third act began.

It was over two weeks before Peter Smith was finally reported missing. He had not been seen for some time, and he had not come to sign on. Upon gaining entry into his house the police discovered it completely empty. Fearing he had been robbed every pawnbroker and second hand store was quickly searched and it was soon revealed that Smith himself had sold off every item that he had owned. Investigating his finances it emerged that he had taken all his money and booked a flight to New York. At the American end the authorities tracked smiths movements through CCTV. He seemed to have wandered the city aimlessly for most of a day before heading to one of the local suicide booths. When his body was recovered it had no identification on it. The man responsible for processing the remains of the booth’s customers had sent the body for cremation and the ashes had been scattered in the bay.

The yellow sign remained in town and grew a steady following, elsewhere the order continued to grow, as industry collapsed and despair grew they seemed to be saying what people wanted to hear. Then after much debate in parliament the first suicide booth opened in London.
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