Pseudopod 364: The Yellow Sign

by Robert W. Chambers.

“The Yellow Sign” was first published in the collection THE KING IN YELLOW in 1895.

ROBERT W. CHAMBERS (1865 – 1933) was an American artist and writer. He studied art in Paris and sold illustrations to “Life”, “Truth”, and “Vogue” magazine. His first novel, IN THE QUARTER (1887) was influenced by the Decadent writers and in 1895 he published THE KING IN YELLOW, a collection of Art Nouveau short stories. This included several famous weird short stories which are connected by the theme of a fictitious drama, “The King in Yellow”, which drives those who read it insane. E. F. Bleiler described THE KING IN YELLOW as one of the most important works of American supernatural fiction and it was also strongly admired by H.P. Lovecraft and his circle. A later story, “The Maker of Moons” from 1896, features a U.S. Government department dedicated to battling the titular supernatural menace and presages much of the action and Yellow Peril threats of the later pulp magazines. Chambers eventually moved into a successful – and more remunerative – career writing romance fiction.

Your reader this week – B.J. Harrison – is the redoubtable narrator of THE CLASSIC TALES podcast. Check out his superior readings here and here and like THE CLASSIC TALES on Facebook here, while you’re at it.

****************************

“When I first saw the watchman his back was toward me. I looked at him indifferently until he went into the church. I paid no more attention to him than I had to any other man who lounged through Washington Square that morning, and when I shut my window and turned back into my studio I had forgotten him. Late in the afternoon, the day being warm, I raised the window again and leaned out to get a sniff of air. A man was standing in the courtyard of the church, and I noticed him again with as little interest as I had that morning. I looked across the square to where the fountain was playing and then, with my mind filled with vague impressions of trees, asphalt drives, and the moving groups of nursemaids and holiday-makers, I started to walk back to my easel. As I turned, my listless glance included the man below in the churchyard. His face was toward me now, and with a perfectly involuntary movement I bent to see it. At the same moment he raised his head and looked at me. Instantly I thought of a coffin-worm. Whatever it was about the man that repelled me I did not know, but the impression of a plump white grave-worm was so intense and nauseating that I must have shown it in my expression, for he turned his puffy face away with a movement which made me think of a disturbed grub in a chestnut.”

*****************************