I froze, unable to speak as my mind filled with dread so thick my thoughts stopped dead in their tracks. The abomination that had just suggested devouring my friend, the same thing that had erased my girlfriend’s existence. It smiled at me, innocently, as if it was offering a gift or a favor. That made it so much worse.
“We had a deal,” I growled. My hands balled into fists before I had realized, and I opened them again. Punching that thing was useless, and all my anger and strength were powerless against it.
“It’s a genuine offer of help,” he replied mildly. “I know that you don’t see subsuming as a good thing. That’s easy to tell. But I am not a monster killing for kicks, Cody. Please understand...”
But I cut him off. “NO. You do not get to hurt him or anyone else. It was part of our fucking deal! Remember?!” I raised my voice now, eyes wide with anger and fear. “You were not to do anything to anyone without my consent. We have a deal!”
He rolled his eyes. “Really. You’re relying on the deal, of all things?” He shook his head with a low chuckle before fixing his eyes on me. There was an edge of menace as he continued, “I could wriggle out of it. Claim that this man doesn’t affect humanity’s survival much one way or the other. I could even do it without your knowledge. I could pluck it from your memories like an apple from its tree. You would never even know what I had done.”
Powerless. My heart now beat loudly, so much I could barely hear Randall as he whispered, “don’t try that road with me, Cody. You can’t win that way.”
“Fuck… No… If...” I struggled, taking a deep breath to prevent myself from panicking worse than I was. Forcing myself to keep composed. “If you do that I will NEVER forgive you. I will make sure you pay, I… I will...”
“Why?” Asked the King in Yellow. He wasn’t arguing or fighting me, only asking with a tone of mild curiosity. “Why do you hate this idea so much?”
“What do you mean why? How the fuck do you expect me to...” I trailed off, under his frown.
“I want to know. Honestly,” he said. “So answer me without deflecting or semantic tricks. Why does the thought of your friend being absorbed by me bother you so much?”
There was no trace of a joke or sarcasm in the man’s voice. No malice in his eyes, nothing but slight curiosity. Could it be? Could it be, that this creature, that could freeze people with a thought, this ancient and alien being from the distant stars, truly did not understand such a simple thing?
“I don’t want my friend to die.” I replied.
“Debatable,” he handwaved. “But fine. Let’s say that, by absorbing his personality in that one spot in time, I am killing him. Right. So what? He will be dead within a year anyway.”
“No, no no. Don’t come with that argument at me,” I wagged my finger negatively for emphasis. “The old ‘we’re all gonna die so why does it matter’ spiel doesn’t work on me. He deserves to live as long as he can...”
“Only to die in a year and end up forgotten.” Replied the King in Yellow, who suddenly had a smartphone in his hand, which I realized was Marcus’. He showed me the display picture of his kid. “Him, his wife, his precious little child. His mother and father, and all his family. All of his friends. Everyone dead.”
From the phone, Linda smiled cheekily while in the arms of a woman with full, dark hair and a tattoo on her shoulder. Marcus’ wife, Janice.
He carefully place the phone on the table, with the image facing me, as he continued. “There will be no one left to mourn, no one left to even remember them. Whether they were saints, or monsters, regardless they will all end the same way. Nothing but ashes and dust.”
“Still,” I insisted. “He’s alive now. They’re alive now. And that matters. For them, that’s the ONLY thing that matters.”
“Is it so bad though, Cody? To be frozen in time, as you were in life. To be memorialized and remembered. Forever.” He tapped his finger at the photo of Linda. “A last snapshot of who they were in life. Their hopes and fears and thoughts, they will all be preserved within me, like a fly in amber or a photograph of some long-forgotten relative. Remembered and mourned, long past when they would have died.”
“You yourself said that nobody would be left to mourn them. If they joined your creepy hivemind how would that be any better?” I spat at him.
“I would mourn them,” said the King in Yellow. I stared him down, searching for a trace of sarcasm, some cruel joke, but her was as serious as he had ever been, no trace of his usual amused grin. “I can see you don’t believe me, Cody. But I would. I would hold all their memories and personality and safeguard them dearly. Until the end of the universe, and beyond. Until time itself becomes meaningless, I will carry them with me. Forever.”
The conversation died for a brief moment, with neither his calm preaching, nor my angry retorts breaking the stillness of the frozen bar. It took a moment to digest what he was saying, and what it implied.
“Do you really believe you’re doing these people a favor?” I asked, quietly. Hardly any need to raise my voice. He tilted his head quizzically in response.
“To remember, and to mourn. These are what I am, what I do. Morality or doing a good deed plays no part in it. This is who I am,” he shrugged apologetically, the grin creeping back into his expression. “But I still believe to be remembered for all eternity to be far better than complete oblivion. Would you disagree?”
“Wow, aren’t you a fucking philanthropist. Don’t you want to nurse wounded animals in the forest while you’re at it? Open a charity?” I scoffed. “Oh, I have a name! I have the perfect name! Call it ‘Save the Poor Humans Society’ or SPHS for short. I mean… The service you provide! And free of charge too!”
I let out a sigh of sheer disbelief, shaking my head. The bar was littered with bottles and glasses filled with liquor in front of their frozen guests. Walking to a nearby table, I grabbed an available beer bottle and took a swig. “You know,” I said. “I almost feel pity for you. Almost.”
“For me?” He asked, placing a hand over his chest. He seemed more amused than anything at what I said.
“You speak a lot about being remembered, and how important it is and how good it is and… And here’s the thing.” I pointed at him with my bottle, spilling some beer on the floor in the process. “You, Mr Unspeakable Yellow One, have no. Fucking. CLUE! About the people you’re preserving.”
“You barely understand yourself, or the person next to you… Yet I’m the one who doesn’t have a clue? Me?!” He chuckled, eyes wide in disbelief, as if I had told him the moon was made of cheese.
“You make it sound all grand and fancy, your… Offer. Your deal. But, pal, I guarantee you that if you offered to anyone in this bar, everyone would refuse. Nine time out of ten. At least.”
He narrowed his eyes at that, although his general expression was still one of amused detachment. “They would accept my offer, if shown the alternative.”
“The alternative?” I asked.
“Being forgotten,” replied Randall, his voice quiet as his eyes stared into mine.
“Why do you even care whether everyone is remembered or forgotten anyway?” I muttered. “And don’t pretend it’s from the kindness of your heart. That bullshit’s not flying.”
He narrowed his eyes for a moment, studying me, then seemed to reach a decision and sat down on a nearby seat, grabbing a beer from another, frozen patron and taking small sips as he explained.
“In a distant world, in a distant time, there was a place called Carcosa. That place had life - far different from what you would see as life but life nonetheless - and it was dying.”
“First those living in Carcosa tried to prevent the end. But the end was inevitable. And so they partied and feasted, living in utter excess and reckless abandon. They tried their best to forget, yet still the end drew closer. And when at last, the end was upon them, they regretted it all. They regretted not living more, not trying harder to survive, and that, in the end, both their struggle and their joy would be meaningless in the face of oblivion. Can you understand that? To look in the face of such utter nihilism? To know that you could do anything you want, no matter how kind or how vile, how noble or petty, and it would not matter. It would not matter at all.”
“That is when they all hatched a desperate plan, to conjoin all their memories into a whole, and fling those memories past the end. To let at least a shadow of their existence to endure after they were gone, even if it would cost their lives. And so they killed every living thing in that world, from the largest life-form to the microscopic, all sacrificed for that single hope. A hope that something could outlast even the end of the world.”
“No way...” I muttered, looking at Randall and searching for some sign he was lying or joking, but no. His expression was one of utmost seriousness, even sadness, as he got up.
“I am the memory of Carcosa,” said the King in Yellow. “The last remnants of a dying world. And to other worlds that also approach their end, I offer hope. I offer a chance to outlast the end. For this is what I am, and what I do.”
He narrowed his eyes, looking down at me. “So, Cody… You say what I do is wrong? That what I do is evil, and worse than oblivion? Then prove it to me. Convince me that what I’ve done for aeons since being brought into existence is wrong. I am eager to hear it.”
The silence that followed was deafening, and soul-crushing in its absolute emptiness. In deep thought, I sat down again and considered what to say, running the argument though my mind and trying to remain calm. The life of my friend was on the line. My mouth was dry, as I desperately came up with logical arguments and counter-arguments, but I couldn’t think of anything that it would understand. Anything that would reach such a distant, alien god like the eldritch horror in front of me.
In the end, I spoke what I felt.
“I want him to stay the way he is. Because he’s my friend, and a great guy. I… I don’t want him to be transformed into a… A memory, or a memorial or a part of you. I want him to be the way he is now, as long as possible.” I said, looking down at the ground while I fidgeted with the empty bottle in my hands.
“A naive thought,” replied the King in Yellow. “You must purge it from your mind, if you are trying to save the world. Because, I remind you once again: no matter the path we walk, things will change. Drastically. The world you see out there will not remain. It cannot. If you cling to the past then you will never save humanity.”
“Yeah, I get it! Things change! Things always change, even without this whole… This end of the world stuff...” I took a deep breath, which turned to a sigh of frustration. “But Marcus is my friend. And even after I moved out… Even after I got into a fucked-up situation, and hurt everyone around me… He was still my friend. And even now, after all these years… He’s still my friend.”
I swallowed, looking away as my words brought back memories I had long ignored or forgotten. Not always pleasant ones. “Some things change, maybe… But not everything? In a world where things change so much, sometimes these things… Like this friendship. They can mean so much to people. To me. And even though I know this too will change. That it will have its ups and downs and might change forever in ways I can predict, I can’t help but have this… This hope.”
“A hope that this friendship never changes,” I whispered. Then I looked up at Randall, sitting calmly across me from the table, and asked. “Is that such a foolish thing to hope for?”
He considered it for a moment. “This is your defense then?”
I nodded, and he grinned at me, a cheshire grin so wide you could see his gums. A grin that could devour the world.
“Dumbest thing I ever heard,” replied the creature without skipping a beat. He chuckled. “But it’s this stupid side of yours that I find so cute. I’ll let you of the hook this time.”
After pouring my heart in that argument, his reply left me speechless. Was… Was he hitting on me? As I looked at him in confusion and horror, Randall winked suggestively and then, with a burst of sound and movement, the bar returned to life.
“Wow, you drank it all in one go?” Asked Marcus, pointing at my empty glass. “Careful, man. Those pack quite a kick.”
From the opposite end of the table, Randall took a sip, still looking at me with an amused grin.
“Uhh, well… You know me. No half-measures.” I looked around, adjusting to the sudden sound. People around us were happily serving, drinking and chatting with each other, not skipping a beat. Although I did hear two people complaining that the TV channel had skipped part of the game. They were arguing with each other on what that meant, when Marcus spoke again, drawing my attention.
“This whole trip. It’s a big change in your life, man. It might be rough, with the no communication thing, but I hope it works out. I really do,” he nodded emphatically.
“We hope the same thing,” said Randall, getting up. He smiled at Marcus and me. “I think I’ll be leaving now. A bit early, but I have stuff to prepare for the trip, and I figure you guys have some catching up to do.”
“Oh,” Marcus also got up abruptly. “Look, if you want to stay that’s alright… I didn’t mean to...”
The other raised his hand before he could finish. “It’s alright. Seriously. I just came here to say hello, nothing big. And let me handle the bill. It’s the least I can do after… Humoring me.” He winked again at that.
He took no arguments as he walked to the bar and discussed it with the bartender. Handing him a fat wad of bills. Marcus waved him goodbye in odd bemusement while I stared, relieved to see him gone, yet unsure of what had happened moments before.
“What a strange guy,” chuckled Marcus.
“Oh, you have no idea,” was my weak reply. We looked at each other, then laughed. It was a good laugh, one that I sorely needed. We laughed until running out of breath, eyes twinkling with amusement.
“Oh man… You’re stuck with him for a whole year?” Marcus wheezed. “But hey! If he keeps paying for your booze that might not be so bad, huh?”
“Something tells me I will be needing a lot of booze on this trip.” I muttered. I absolutely meant what I said, but he chuckled at me and I couldn’t help smiling back.
So we talked, and joked and drank our way to midnight, getting tipsy - but not unpleasantly so - while talking about our lives and commiserating on each of our problems. I did not talk anymore about my girlfriend, and with the oppressive presence of the King in Yellow gone I even managed to forget all about my fears for the future. It was just me and an old friend, hanging out like we did whenever there was a chance for us to meet again, however briefly. And when we met again, it was like we had never parted.
But eventually it got late, he mentioned apologetically about work tomorrow and we said our farewells the way men usually do. Awkwardly and with lots of patting in the back, and boasting and joking. No mushy stuff. But it was still a hard thing to walk away from him. I dared not look back.
It was about as perfect an evening as I could hope. How truly lucky I was to have someone it was so hard to say goodbye to.
“Ready this time? For reals? No backsies?” She said, grinning, back in her usual shape. She had her hands in the pockets of her hoodie while lounging against the side of the alley I was in.
“Yeah, I’m ready. And, uh... ” My words died in awkward hesitation. I didn’t quite know how to approach this, after all the acrid words we had exchanged.
“Thanks,” I finally said. “For letting me do this. Saying goodbye and… Helping me.”
“You mean curing your mother’s cancer? Or paying for your drink? Or perhaps you mean not subsuming your friend?” Asked Suzy, with a sardonic smile. When I did not reply she shrugged, “it was nothing, and your reactions amused me.”
“Glad I entertain you... But what you said back there at the bar. About finding me cute...” I ventured gingerly, as if prodding a dangerous bear with a stick, because leaving the topic unexplored was too horrifying to consider. “Please tell me you don’t love me or something like that?”
“I don’t love you or something like that,” said Suzy, with a wide, smug grin. “Anything else you want, master?”
I rolled my eyes and then shivered, rubbing my hands to ward off the chill of the autumn evening. “Ok, enough! Let’s do this. Take me wherever it is you need. Whatever horrors we have to face, I am ready.”
She chuckled. “Don’t be a big baby. We’re going to a luxury resort.”
With those words she grabbed my hand, and we were gone.