's 2018 Horror Write-off:

Edited For Safety

Submitted by G S Beetle

The book lay on the floor, pages stiff with dried wine and other, less important fluids. It was obvious to me, even if it never occurred to anyone else. All the rituals, all the exercises, all the sacrifices, were just practice, a rehearsal before the play. I could see clearly.

It took me months after buying the book to begin reading. There was no time. But, the more I read, the more I saw. I could say it turned my hair white, gave me nightmares, took my love for life away, but that was not what happened. Years of living will do that. A book never could. No, what I saw was far, far better than life, and that is what hurt, like ground glass winking at me from a gaping wound. There was hope.

I could see a gleaming mark of his favor in every street sign, in the stained glass windows of the church I pass on the way to and from my dead-end job, in the news every night before bed. The world was corrupt, eaten through by entropy, a rusting, tired, limping monstrosity heading to the grave, and he could help. He longed to help, because that was his nature. He was not the god of endings, but the things that happen long after the curtains fell.

The book told me secrets I needed to know, things I needed to believe.

In the beginning, there was darkness, an infinite blackness. And, the world is meant to return to that. A cold damnation after a brief moment of light. A pretentious, awful piece written by a lunatic. But, no work is beyond criticism or editing. The Universe, the book assured me, could be changed. He saw what was written, and he commanded it be changed. He taught the clever apes to paint themselves, to cry out like birds and beasts. He taught them to drink things foul and pleasant, to ride their madness like a ship to him, across the mists on ancient lakes. He dwelt underground with them, spoke to their lusts and tragedies and laughter. There was an unspoken promise of future freedom there. His favor was upon the fertility figurines and the painted rock walls, a glowing sign for those with the eyes to see.

I graduated from the University. A pointless effort, and a pointless success. But, suddenly, my knowledge of literature and my interest in deciphering ancient texts came in handy. The book was like a puzzle. Read one way, it was discussing Greek mythology. But, strange regularities emerged. The myths were subtly wrong. There were hints of favors and contracts. From the pieces, I constructed rituals, and followed them. Ghastly, painful actions I will not describe, because their usefulness is at end. Soon, everyone will be able to think and feel the way I do, to behold a living god reaching out to scoop them out of this rotting world.

In Greece, he was called Bacchus. They imagined him clad in the skin of a leopard, yellow and spotted, young and androgynous. He was the god from outside, from beyond age and gender. His lusts and wildness came to the Greeks as a ritual madness. Here, again, he inspired drink, theater, and the promise of freedom. He was the hidden god, I read.

Bacchus was not forever. In the darkness of the ages when the cruelties of humanity reached their peak, the cults of madness and pleasure and freedom were almost annihilated. But, the old ways were saved. Did you know the first puppet shows were done with simple yellow cloth curtains? Cheap wine and laughter at the follies of imaginary kingdoms hid the truth from the awfulness of the plague-ridden centuries. Clowns, masked and painted, enacted rites our apish ancestors would think their own.

Even now, I smile, remembering Punch soundly beating the Reaper over the head with a club. Bacchus, the Reborn God, standing proud with his thyrsus in his hands, miniaturized, caricatured, but still unmistakably there. Is it not strange that a jester's bells are so easily imagined as a crown, a golden wreath, rather than a mark of foolishness? And, is there not wisdom in the madness Shakespeare's Fool spoke?

It is easy to write like this, to effortlessly connect the dots and float above the centuries like a ghost. The book showed me the way. Pages and pages of diagrams cut away my doubts, and separated the glowing truth from the darkest ignorance.

I read about the absinthe madness, the works of poets squabbling like children in their gathering-places. It was not strange to see Vincent's name mentioned, or the Japanese woman in her asylum, speaking to flowers. Connections dancing around each other. Webs upon webs.

The book ended. I re-read it. I found more puzzles. More rites to follow. My walls hung with diagrams, my computer was a mess of articles and dates. There had to be more. I looked for signs. For patterns in the way his favor was bestowed on one thing, but not on another.

Soon, I had a rough idea of what would be needed. I prepared accordingly.

I write this in the hope that you, who come after this event, remember me as your liberator. I have never been a hero before. I live in a small apartment on the second floor of an old, slowly peeling building. Thanks to my job, I smell like paint and old electronics. I buy my meals from the same store that sells knockoffs of knockoffs from China. But, I saw something. I read the book. Sadly, its brilliance is now much dulled. The printed words could not survive my latest efforts. But, I did read it before I ruined it, and its message is no mystery to you now. Now that I've given up everything to show the world the true face of a living god.

My skull is carved with his crown. My eyes are golden balls without lids. My hands drip with blood and my lips with honeyed wine. I am naked and beautiful, my skin about my shoulders, yellowed and bruised. I am fertility and freedom and I wear no mask. It is difficult to write. My fingernails are claws, now. I can feel a new skin settling in, like black scales. My teeth feel sharp.

The King in Yellow granted me his favor. His signs are about me. I will stride out into the city, and announce his coming. And that will be that. The curtain will fall. I can't wait.

The End.

It is important to understand what we are facing. A form of infectious psychosis that spreads via the written word makes that difficult. The above was edited by an AI that replaced all infection-specific ideas with phrases and metaphors taken from the King in Yellow, written the late 19th century and deemed harmless by the CDC. Reading the original version of Stephen Jenkin's note would be ill advised. The man was a classic case of Infectious Memetic Metamorphosis.

The early symptoms of IMM are easy to spot: paranoia, delusions of grandeur, and a marked disconnect from reality. The infected will typically believe themselves to be divine figures heralding the end of days, monarchs denied their rightful throne, or victims of some vast conspiracy. Contact with the infected is discouraged, but at this stage, they are not themselves vectors for IMM. Removing the infected from the source of their IMM symptoms will not cure them. The only option is quarantine.

Late-stage IMM is marked by violent outbursts, hallucinations, and spontaneous attempts to share the infection with others. Everything becomes a potential means of spreading the infection. A discussion about the weather can suddenly acquire phrases meant to convey the infection directly into the mind of the listener. Most begin to change physically at this stage, usually developing a slight lisp in their voice. Termination of late-stage IMM sufferers is vitally important.

IMM drones are the result of the final stage of the disease. Most IMM sufferers will commit suicide or attempt to spread the infection one last time before succumbing fully to the change. IMM drones are not infectious. Or, more precisely, their language is nothing but infectious material, thus rendering it incomprehensible to anyone not infected by IMM. All attempts to translate IMM drone language are forbidden.

Typical IMM drone possesses four equally powerful limbs ending in sharpened claws, black, scaly skin, flattened, elongated skull, and a long, spiked tail, somewhat resembling a scorpion's sting. Unpredictable in the extreme, their primary task appears to be the defense of other IMM sufferers.

The exact nature and mechanism of transmission are unknown. The exact origin of the infection is unknown. Since the outbreak of 2049, most of the North American East Coast has become IMM drone territory.

End of CDC Training Excerpt.

They would have you believe it is a disease. But, they treat us like monsters. We are your salvation. We are your future.

Millions of us die every year. Your children are dying because they learned our lessons. And yet, millions survive.

Soon, I will no longer be able to speak with words of this world. I will know the power and pleasure of speaking in the native tongue of my people. My true people.

It is possible my words will change you. I am, after all, a late-stage host of the infection, as some would label my condition. I am, in your eyes, a freak. Perhaps, someone told you curiosity or perversion caused my peculiar changes. I will not deny my intelligence or my sexuality, but I can assure you, even you, in your pure, idea-locked world are not immune.

There is a free version of the King in Yellow I and my friends edited to transmit IMM to anyone reading it. A little joke on the CDC's silly AI you can find with a simple search online. You can infect yourself in minutes, if you would like.

I bet that sent chills down your spine. A weird, pasty geek sending you messages that will turn you into a creepy, scaly freak, but not before the madness takes your humanity? Must be horrifying!

Hell, maybe the markers of infection are all over this message. Did you check over the training excerpt? Did you send your sniffer programs to check it for the right keywords and phrases? Do you even know what you are looking for?

I know what the infection really is. I live it every day. Ideas bubble in my head, and I have to get them out into the world. It is painful. My change will be painful, too. But, I still look forward to it.

We do not need your medicines, your camps, or your pity. We do not need the quarantine.

We need freedom.

Thank you for reading.

Be free.