Tales of the King in Yellow

Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

You say you want to know about the King in Yellow?

Some say that he was a superhero. They tell tales of a caped stranger, clad all in yellow, wearing a bright yellow mask. Of course, it couldn’t hide his huge, drooping mustache, or the fact that he must have been very old. (Like, ancient.) On his chest he wore the symbol of his power: The Yellow Sign. In the blackness of night, when all hope was lost, he would swoop down from a rooftop to save the day. He foiled bank robberies and convenience store holdups. He saved people from muggers and murderers. He helped little old ladies across the street and rescued puppies who were about to be run over. You get the idea. Bad guys would laugh when they saw his yellow costume, but they didn’t laugh for long. He had some kind of power that no one understood. He would just look into their eyes, and the next thing you knew, those villains were curled into a fetal position on the pavement, sobbing that they’d seen The Yellow Sign. That’s how the police knew it was him. Well, that, and the card that he would pin to their shirts that read “Compliments of your friendly neighborhood Yellow King.” After each feat of heroism, he would light a cigarette and smoke it all the way down. Before the sun came up he was gone — back, they say, in his lair: the Yellow Cave under the shores of Lake Hali.

Others laugh at such stories — nervously. They say he was a demon. He would grant your heart’s desire. Wealth? It’s yours. The girl of your dreams? No problem, she’ll fall madly in love with you. Success? You bet. And on and on. But there was a catch. At the moment of your death, they say, a frightening figure in a tattered yellow robe would be there to take your soul. I know what you’re thinking — to hell, right? You wish. No, your destination was Carcosa. Lost, ancient Carcosa, the land of black stars and twin suns. A place so terrible that it could not exist — should not exist — but it did. It does. So if, one lonely night, you’re feeling sorry for yourself, feeling that you’ve been cheated by life and you wish that things were different, and you hear a knock at the door… don’t answer it. Just go to bed.

And there are other tales of the Yellow King… the Lorax… the Pulverizer. Bouncer at a strip club. A Youtube celebrity. A podcaster. Some even say that he once worked at Walmart. All ridiculous, of course — even more ridiculous than that superhero twaddle.

Only I know the truth, but I know you won’t believe me. I know, for he was my brother.

The King in Yellow was simply a writer. He lived in Berlin, though he was from America. (He was ancient, though — that part’s true.) In the 90s he decided that he wanted to learn to type, so as a lark he wrote a novel. Alas, it was a dismal failure. Not the novel — that turned out great, and was the first of many books to come. No, I mean the typing. I never had the heart to tell him that you’re supposed to use more than two fingers.

Other writers loved him, but if I’m honest, sometimes they became a bit annoyed. You see, many days they would be laboring over a story only to find that when they needed it most, “shift-one” no longer worked. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about: he hogged all the exclamation points. As every author knows, there are only a limited amount of exclamation points allotted in any one day, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. I rarely used them myself, so this wasn’t a problem for me, and maybe that’s one reason why we got along so well.

Back then, if you wanted to hang out with someone you couldn’t just teleport like you can today. No, we had it rough, kids: we had to use video chatting software. I know, I know. Barbaric, but it got the job done. I spent many an hour with my friend Joe that way, talking about weird fiction, horror, the art of writing — you name it.

He’s gone now, but we still have his work. He lives on through his books, and he continues to inspire this new generation of weird fiction writers. I know, because I’ve heard them talk about him.

And lately, I’ve heard something else. One last tale, you might say.

They say that sometimes, long after midnight, when the writing block sets in and everything feels hopeless, when they feel that perhaps they aren’t cut out to be writers, when a gibbous moon hangs in the sky and the stars almost look black… something strange happens. Their computer monitor flickers, and then a window opens on a corner of the screen.

At first, all is dark. Then, a match flares and a man with a white beard and a drooping mustache lights a cigarette. He’s sitting at a desk. Bookshelves tower over him. He glares, and they can feel his eyes boring into them, through cables and wifi and time and space.

From Carcosa.

And then he speaks.

“Bleed,” he says to them. “Bleed on the page.”

And then he is gone.

For Joe Pulver

(NOTE: This is just one entry in “The Numbers of the bEast” — Joe Pulver day. Read the others here.)

5 responses to “Tales of the King in Yellow

  1. Mike, I thought I was reading a whimsical obituary. Then I saw Joe Pulver’s response and realized you were just playing….
    You did have me fooled though….
    Have you written any Lovecraft inspired stories (other than the one above!)


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