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Jay stared at Ashesh’s closed door and tried to process what had just happened.
Okay, he thought distantly. So he met a guy with an unnaturally overpowering presence who mysteriously implied he’d been ‘invited’ here, magically made keys and books appear, and apparently was affiliated with a cult without being part of a cult. And claimed the world was about to end, that also was a thing.
Was it crazy for him to think that this guy might not be human? Normally, yes, it would be nuts. But under the circumstances…
Dazedly, Jay headed back to his house. He’d been planning on seeing who else was around a few houses down, or even go into the city, but everything felt really big, really overwhelming, and really just… too much. He needed time to deal with this and wasn’t sure he was up to starting something new.
Besides, it sounded like he had things to deal with at home.
As he opened the door, he compared the new set of keys to his old, lining them up. Two of the keys—the two longer ones—were the same as those he’d already had, which only raised more questions. If this guy was an eldritch god, why would he bother giving Jay keys he already had copies of? Had Grace actually had him housesit, and these keys were really spares she’d loaned him, and if so, what had she known about him? Or was it meant to put him at ease? Or the opposite, was it meant to freak him out? Imply that Ashesh had been inside the house whenever—even last night, when Jay was sleeping?
Fuck all of this.
His first impulse was to just go back to bed and take a nap, wake up when the world made sense again, but the idea was itself frightening. If he fell asleep in that house, would he end up in the library again? Without bearing a sign, and without opening the door, would he be safe? The woman in the library had implied not.
It was only midday; would he even be able to find ‘a sign’ before tonight? Did he want to? Should he sleep somewhere else? He could probably afford a hotel—he wanted to watch his finances, but they couldn’t be too expensive out here in Kingsport. Or—
He made a face at himself. Louis would probably let him stay over, but he wasn’t sure that was a great idea either.
Jay’s head felt too full, scratchy with anxiety, thoughts chasing each other around and around. Suddenly needing to vent it, he grabbed his pillow from one of his moving bins and screamed into it until he started to feel silly, then dropped it, taking a deep breath.
One thing at a time, he decided. He could shelve the issue of sleeping until he saw how the rest of the day went. The morning had already been wild, a scattered thing, and he needed to focus down on each next step.
First up, food. His breakfast had been fine, but it was almost noon now. He grabbed his cold pizza from the fridge—cheeseless pizza at least meant that it needed heating up less than most—and sat at the crowded kitchen table, pushing things away to make space.
And then he cracked open the book that Ashesh had given him.
As soon as he opened it, he understood why Ashesh had warned him that it might be hard to use without knowing at least a few names of things to have a place to start. Each entry was about some obscure monster, god, creature, or place, all of which sounded made up and fantastical. He flipped through aimlessly for a few moments; while the idea that all of these things might be real was terrifying, it was impossible to tell what was relevant to him.
Focus, he reminded himself. He had heard a few terms, and he could see if those were in there.
The Phantom of Truth — see the Pallid Mask. Already promising, if that was the word for something like this. But Louis had tied those two concepts together, and if this book did too, that had to mean something. He flipped through.
The Pallid Mask — paraphernalia worn by the messenger associated with Hastur, the King in Yellow. There is little consistency with the appearance or behavior of this messenger, save that they generally are ritualistically associated with the potential arrival of the King in Yellow. Research indicates that the Pallid Mask is originally meant to indicate the role of the Stranger in the play ‘The King in Yellow’, a performance that is said to endlessly be enacted on Carcosa, but was also published in English in a short print run in 1895.
That gave Jay more to look up, even if he felt pretty bad about all of it.
Hastur (The King in Yellow, The Feaster from Afar, the Shepherd God, The Unspeakable One, Him Who Is Not to be Named, Assatur, Xastur, H’aaztre, Kaiwan, or The King in Yellow) – An Old One who is sometimes described as a god, a place, or an object. A silent watcher who, as many of its kind, will drive to madness those who look directly upon him. Sometimes he is considered the god of the world of Carcosa, and sometimes another term for Carcosa itself. His presence is marked by the discovery of one of the Elder Signs, the Yellow Sign.
The pizza felt rubbery in his mouth. He forced himself to keep chewing as he flipped to a new section.
Elder Signs – Sigils or symbols of the Old Ones, Elder Beings, the Deep Ones, and other forgotten and chthonic deities. The below list is partial; some may be multiple forms of the same sign, or may be misrepresentations. Use this list with caution.
There followed a long list of symbols, many of which were rendered nearly incomprehensible with ink blots in the printing of them. Jay skimmed them, looking for the symbols that he had seen on the door. It took him some time, but he was able to find all four.
The twisted ‘triangle’ made from two question marks and another warped line was the Yellow Sign, the symbol of Hastur. The reverse ankh was a symbol of a god named Nyarlathotep, while the branch/seaweed was a mark of something called the Deep Ones. The warped star with the flaming eye in the middle was listed as an unknown Elder Sign, often used for protection against other gods, and for protections in dreams; as such, it was associated with a being called Keziah, the Witch of Dreams.
This only gave Jay more to look up, and he was feeling worse and worse about all he read, almost skimming at this point. Keziah’s entry described an ancient god who took on the form of an attractive young woman who had existed since the creation of the earth, a witch who haunted places she had been through dreams. The Deep Ones’ entry described an immortal race of undersea beings; Nyarlathotep’s entry described a shape-shifting, malign deity called the Crawling Chaos, an outer god who was unusual in that he preferred to walk among humans in disguise as one of them, and who stood outside the usual pantheon by acting as the messenger of the Outer Gods, enacting their will, possibly due to his role as the their prince, the child of the ruler of the Outer Gods, Azathoth.
Jay’s head was swimming, and that feeling of scratching was back, as if all his thoughts were clawing to get out, swarming over each other. He wanted to laugh and to cry. None of this was real; it couldn’t be. It was all a fantasy someone had cooked up and written about, not something he’d wandered into, not something he had to accept as part of his reality, not something he had to deal with.
A knock came at his door and for a moment he wanted to run and hide. He didn’t think he could face dealing with anyone else, anything else.
But it came again and he hauled himself out of the chair, desperate to tell whoever was there to go away. He knew his hair was messy—he’d been running his hands through it over and over as he read—and he had no idea what expression was on his face as he yanked the door open.
Camden gave him a nervous smile. “U-uh, hi,” he said. He held out a vase of flowers. “I, um, thought, I was thinking it, um, you were probably working hard and might be, um, feeling kind of alone in, um, in the house of someone you cared about w-who’s gone now, and wanted, uh, wanted to get you something to cheer you up. I also, uh, i also moved here from somewhere else, so I, uh, you know, I get it. I was wondering if, um, there was anything I could help you with?”
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[P.S. Enjoying this so far and interested in other halloweeny stories I’ve written? I have a post highlighting a couple of my stories; check it out over here!]