Fear Jet 1972 Part 1 - Terror Flight
CoC 7e Modern
Saturday, October 28, 2017
(After playing the original Call of Cthulhu scenario “Fear Jet 1972” today at the App State Gaming Club Gamefest from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. with Ryan Jones, Kyle Lewis, Abbie Waite, Xavier De Leon, Jonathon Griffin, and Kurt Klesser.)
On Tuesday, March 7, 1972, Tenebris Studio, a small Los Angeles film production company, sent the four leads, the director, and the producer of its newest film “Mr. Black,” a blaxploitation rip off of the popular James Bond movies, to Houston Texas for some location shooting for the movie. Tenebris Studios had leapt into the genre the year before with a somewhat successful movie called “Black Momma” and hoped to capitalize on that success with its new film.
The six were to take a 9 p.m. flight out of Los Angeles International Airport.
Gas prices were still around 45 cents a gallon and the voting age had been lowered to 18 just the year before. Richard Nixon was the President of the United States. He’d just returned from an unprecedented six-day visit to China late the month before.
* * *
Dennis Wrinkle was the director of the movie “Mr. Black.” He was not a handsome man and he knew it but he did know how to work his anger and his charm. He was a little short and wore stacked shoes to make up for it. He was also a little nearsighted and had an expensive haircut. Nothing the glasses couldn’t handle. He wore stylish but inexpensive suits and carried a gold flask. He felt he had to come across as the best director and writer ever. You couldn’t slip.
He was a liar! He knew it. He didn’t graduate from Yale and then go to film school. He didn’t direct and act in over 100 movies, though uncredited. He didn’t work for MGM or Paramount Pictures. He was a high school graduate from Pennsylvania who made his way to L.A. and started claiming a lot of things that people believed! So he kept up the lies. He could write pretty well and soon found himself directing. Then he landed a decent gig with Tenebris Studio making blaxploitation films. It was great! He wasn’t even black! Too bad it didn’t pay better. He’d figure a way to make more money.
He walked through the airport, suitcase in hand, when he was accosted by a panhandler.
“Hey!” he said as the man approached. “Hey! Whoa!”
“Hey, can you spare a dime for a cup of coffee, sir?” the ragged man asked.
“No,” Wrinkle said.
“Okay, okay,” the man said. “Tell me … have you seen the Yellow Sign?”
“Uh … no, I haven’t seen the yellow sign,” Wrinkle said.
“Well, thank you sir,” the panhandler said. “God bless you, sir. God bless you, sir.”
Wrinkle hurried on.
* * *
Sandra Denning was an actress. Though average-looking, her acting skill was what got her noticed at Tenebris Studio. She had relatively long, reddish-brown hair, a pretty smile, and bright eyes. She was very tall, standing over six feet in flats, and a little plump but she could pull off the roll. She was also not too pretty, as the secretary of “N,” the leader of the Black Intelligence Agency (BIA) in the movie, she couldn’t outshine the other women in the movie, could she?
Miss Denning was born Sandra Pine but, after graduating high school in Roanoke, she moved to Los Angeles to try her hand at acting. She’d mostly been a waitress, but she’d had a few small parts. However, she recently got a contract at Tenebris Studio and her career was looking up. Everyone knew her as Sandra Denning except for her fiancé, Dustin Griffin, who wasn’t in the business. Miss Denning playing Mrs. Dustypenny, the secretary of the BIA in the new movie “Mr. Black.” It was a pretty good role and she was looking forward to the location work in Texas.
She passed a man in a nice suit who nodded at her and smiled.
“Hey, toots,” he said.
* * *
Janice Wyse was very pretty with long, dark blond hair and a face that looked younger than her 28 years. She was of average height with long legs and still fast and fit from high school track years before. She’d made her looks work for her but that didn’t take away from the fact that she was an excellent actor. She hoped the film “Mr. Black” would show those Hollywood producers she wasn’t just the “girl next door” type.
Originally Amanda Silverberg, a nice Jewish girl from the Bronx, Miss Wyse went to New York University and graduated with a Master’s degree in Theater. She started out off-Broadway and gradually worked her way up until her agent got her into several movies by the time she was 26. Her talent showed and her looks didn’t hurt either. Unfortunately, she got typecast and found it harder and harder to get parts in the last six months. She took the job at Tenebris Studio and landed the main female villain in their latest blaxploitation film “Mr. Black,” a James Bond rip off. She was playing Cary Klan, a white woman exploiting the black race, much as the movie was exploiting it.
As she entered the airport, she was approached by a woman wearing nasty clothing.
“Ma’am?” she said. “Excuse me. Ma’am? I just need … I need a quarter. I need to make a phone call.”
She sniffed and wiped her nose.
“I need to make a phone call,” she repeated. “Can I get a quarter? Please?”
“Sure, I can spare a quarter,” Miss Wyse said.
“Thank you,” the woman said. “Thank you so much. Thank you so much. He wears no mask.”
The woman left to ask someone else for money.
* * *
Sandy Trix was exceptionally pretty and always had been, with brown hair and eyes. She was tall and leggy and in good shape. She’d always been good at charming the men; it was one of the ways she was able to get into the business. She carried herself well and, as one of the oldest actors in the cast, she knew she was the most important. It was a long flight; good thing she brought some of your own refreshments: marijuana.
Miss Trix was born Sandra Bellow, dirt poor in San Francisco and, as soon as she graduated high school, she went to Hollywood. Unfortunately, stardom eluded her, for the most part, with only bit parts and small-time acting in failed movies. She’d been with Tenebris Studios for over a year, though, and that was going much better. At least she had steady work. Even at her age, her looks had gotten her the part of the leading lady, opposite Mr. Black, in the picture. She was playing Emma Cracker, a sophisticated older spy who became Mr. Black’s partner in the film.
“Hey, how you doing?” a handsome man in a nice suit said to her as he passed her.
* * *
Vic Johnson was a little above average height, very good-looking, black, and knew how to use his looks to get what he wanted. Originally Leonard Johnson, he was new to acting but didn’t find it that hard. He liked the suits he wore in the movie, and overall got along pretty well with everyone, though he suspected the white people were using him and the white women acting with him in the movie were either afraid of him or hated him. He didn’t care. He was the lead: Mr. Black.
Johnson never finished high school, getting out of Compton as soon as he could and heading up to L.A. with a hope of acting. His good looks and charm got him into a few small parts and then he discovered Tenebris Studio and their new films. He had a small but important part in “Black Momma” the year before and now he’d been cast as Agent Jackson Black in “Mr. Black,” an homage to the 007 movies. So far, he’d done well, even making enough to buy his family some great gifts. He was trying to persuade his mother to move up to L.A. but she was hesitant.
A man in an olive drab army jacket who was missing an arm approached Johnson. He was very dirty.
“Hey, buddy!” he said.
He held a piece of cardboard that had “please help” written on it.
“Hey, buddy,” the vagrant said again. “Buddy. Can … uh … can you spare any … can you spare … got any spare change? Anything? I’m going through a rough patch since I got back from Vietnam. Anything you can help me with?”
Johnson gave him a dollar.
“Thanks!” the vagrant said. “God bless you, sir! He is the king whom emperors have served.”
He went to another passer-by to ask for money.
* * *
Carl Smalley, a producer for the movie, was not attractive and he knew it. He didn’t care. He didn’t have to be for his job. He was always sweaty and his breath smelled. He had a gut and his suits never sat quite right. He thought he was losing his hair! Overall, he was a mess but that still doesn’t stop him from putting on the charm and getting what he wanted and needed. The new movie was going be a blockbuster and set him on his way. He could feel it in his guts. “Mr. Brown” or whatever it was called is going to be the next Billy Jack.
Smalley, whom some called “Smalls,” had been in the business for years, mostly as an agent. He left Burbank after he failed as a used car salesman … and after that little stint in the mental institution when he had that tiny, little nothing of a breakdown. He had gone to L.A. to try to trade in people and make money off others’ talents. It worked. Sort of. He found a niche as a talent agent for nearly two decades before he was hired by Tenebris Studio in 1971 to do work as a producer. The jobs weren’t that different. Besides, he needed the money to keep up with his three x-wives. They were driving him crazy too.
He was passed by a businessman who nodded at him.
* * *
All six of them made their way to the gate and checked their luggage before being escorted out onto the tarmac and then boarding the Learjet. The aircraft was the lap of luxury with comfortable, leather seats and polished wood finish on the hard surfaces. The pilot and co-pilot introduced themselves as Harold Watson and Clifford Bender respectively. They greeted the passengers and shook their hands as they boarded. Watson told them the flight should only take about two and a half hours, perhaps less with a tailwind. He also apologetically pointed out there was no bathroom on board but there was a bucket under the side chair. He showed them a small refreshment station with refrigerated drinks, little bottles of gin, vodka, whiskey, and rum, and bags of snacks including pretzels, honey-roasted peanuts, and even small boxes of Nabisco Barnum’s Animal Crackers. When Wrinkle reached for the booze, the pilot asked them to wait until they were airborne, noting they could indulge themselves once he told them they could take off their seat belts.
The cabin was very small with two seats in the very back, two more facing them, a single final seat near the front facing forward, and another, less-comfortable seat, facing the outer door.
The pilot went into the cockpit to start preflight checks while the co-pilot closed the outer door before joining him.
Smalley took the small, sideways jumper seat. Wrinkle took the seat with his back to him. Miss Denning and Miss Trix sat in the back: Sandra and Sandy. Johnson took the seat facing the ladies and Miss Wyse took the forward-facing seat next to Smalley.
Wrinkle went to the little fridge, took out a bottle of whiskey, and pocketed it before sitting and fastening his seat belt. Then they heard the loud jet engines rev loudly. The aircraft made its way to the runway. After that, the pilot slid the door to the cockpit closed and they heard the intercom buzz.
“All right, everybody please fasten your seat belts,” he said.
The jet accelerated a few minutes later, pushing them into the amazingly comfortable seats. The takeoff was flawless. Wrinkle looked out of the window next to his seat to see the man that had panhandled from him was standing by the runway as they took off. He stared at the aircraft. Miss Wyse saw the woman she had given a quarter to by the runway when she looked out the window. Johnson also saw his strange panhandler down there, watching the aircraft fly away.
After a very short time the intercom crackled again.
“You can unfasten your seatbelts, folks, and we will soon be reaching an altitude of 45,000 feet for our flight to …”
The intercom crackled and his voice did as well.
“… Carcosa …”
The intercom crackled again.
Johnson got up and got a bottle of vodka from the little fridge and mixed it some with ginger ale. Wrinkle got a second little bottle of whiskey and pocketed it. Smalley shuddered at the thought of Texas, knowing it would be hot and make him sweat even more. He took all the bags of honey roasted peanuts and tucked them into his pockets, opening one and munching on the contents.
Miss Denning got a bottle of gin and put it on the table. Miss Wyse took a bottle of whiskey and grabbed a box of animal crackers. Miss Trix took out a joint and lit it up. The smell of marijuana started to fill the cabin.
It was about 15 minutes after takeoff when the jet leveled off. The stars were very bright and the ground so far below that nothing could be seen aside from the lights of various cities and towns the aircraft flew over. The sky was very clear though some clouds blew across the ground far below.
Not long after the jet leveled off, there was suddenly a bright yellow light outside of the aircraft. The craft shook and there was a strange, loud, grinding noise. The yellow light that seemed to pour in was so bright nothing could be seen out of the windows and the light had a strange, almost greasy feel. There was no warmth coming from it and the shade of yellow was just wrong. It only lasted for 10 seconds or so and then it was just gone.
Miss Trix noticed a bright flash of yellow light coming from between the sliding doors to the cockpit. She was pretty high but was sure of what she saw.
“Did … did anybody else see the light coming from the cockpit?” she asked.
“It’s just the reefer,” Wrinkle said. “Ignore her.”
“No!” she said.
She got up and went to the cockpit.
“No man,” she said.
She slid open the doors. No one was in the cockpit.
“We don’t have a pilot,” she said, scooting in and sitting in the pilot’s seat.
“Wait wait!” Wrinkle said, leaping up and running to the cockpit. “Don’t do this! Get out of the seat!”
He grabbed Miss Trix as Miss Denning started screaming.
“You’re high!” Wrinkle said.
Miss Wyse leapt up and jumped onto Wrinkle’s back.
“It’s a party!” she screamed.
Johnson looked around with wide eyes. Smalley just looked away, trying to pretend none of it was happening.
Wrinkle and Miss Trix fell to the floor. Miss Wyse stumbled and fell as well.
Miss Denning stood up from her seat, looking around, terrified.
“This kind of plane is going to be fine unless we touch the controls,” Wrinkle said. “It’s going to go down eventually, because it’s going to run out of fuel.”
“We should land the plane!” Miss Denning called.
Johnson looked out the window and realized the stars were both above and below the aircraft with no horizon or anything below. It looked like they were space. In terror, he started breathing heavily, nearly hyperventilating.
Wrinkle told the others not to do anything stupid. Miss Denning moved to the front of the cabin. Bored with fighting, Miss Wyse turned to Miss Trix.
“You wanna do a shot with me?” she asked.
“Uh … I could use some pretzels actually,” Miss Trix said, getting up as well.
The two of them went to the refreshment area and one got a little bottle of whiskey while the other got pretzels.
Wrinkle looked around the cockpit and saw, on the pilot’s seat, a small red-leather bound book. It had a strange, poisonous symbol on the cover that suddenly seemed to twist and swirl and squirm, reaching hungrily for him for several seconds.
“Hey Vic, Smalls, do you know how to drive this thing?” he called back into the cabin.
Johnson didn’t answer him.
“I don’t know what it is about me that makes you think I would know how to fly a plane like this,” Smalley said. “I mean, c’mon here.”
“I can do it!” Miss Wyse said. “I’ve got the confidence now. I’m ready!”
“Uh …” Wrinkle said.
Wrinkle opened up the book. It appeared to be “The King in Yellow” with a copyright of MCMLII or 1952. No publishing house was listened. When he looked through the pages, he found a list of Dramatis Personae and realized the book was a play.
“The yellow sign,” Wrinkle muttered. “The yellow king. All right.”
He headed into the cabin again.
“Hey, Vic,” he said. “Take a look at this.”
Johnson let out a shout when Wrinkle touched him on the shoulder.
“Vic,” Wrinkle said. “Vic. Calm down. It’s going to be okay, dude. Just take this book, brother.”
Johnson made noises of distress and pointed out the window. Wrinkle looked out the window and saw that there was no ground below them. There were stars both above and below. He denied what he saw as best he could, hoping he just couldn’t see the ground. He handed the book to Johnson.
“Read this, brother,” he said. “And I’ll go check out the … pilot.”
He returned to the cockpit where he found Miss Denning looking over the controls. The radio crackled. She looked out the window and saw it looked like there was no ground below them, just stars.
“Wow,” she said.
She turned around.
“What is this?” she asked Wrinkle in disbelief. “What’s going on?”
Miss Wyse peeked into the cockpit and saw the same thing the others had seen: stars were all around the aircraft.
“Wow, I guess I had more to drink than I realized,” she said.
She heard the radio crackling and went to sit in the co-pilot’s seat.
“Is anybody there?” a voice came over it. “Are you all right?”
“I think we might be in space but I’m also really drunk and we don’t have a pilot,” Miss Wyse said.
Nothing but static answered her. Wrinkle pushed her out of the way and grabbed the microphone for the radio.
“Wow, that was rude,” Miss Wyse said.
She left the cockpit again.
Wrinkle thought a moment and then remembered there was a number on the tail of the aircraft: N1CGM.
“This is Flight N1CGM, do you copy?” he said. “We seem to be in space.”
There some static and then he thought he heard a child singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
“drat you!” he said.
In the cabin, Johnson tried to look over the book. The strange symbol on the front seemed to reach for him with horrific, poisonous tendrils but then the vision was gone. He blinked and opened up the book to see it was a play called The King in Yellow. He started skimming it.
Miss Trix gave one of the little whiskey bottles to Johnson.
“You seem on edge,” she said.
The black man took the bottle and downed the contents in a single gulp. It seemed to steady his nerves a little bit.
Miss Trix moved to the cockpit again and looked around as Miss Denning left and returned to the cabin.
In the cabin, Miss Wyse felt movement in the box of animal crackers that she was holding. It was like something alive was in there. She opened the box and saw that the animal crackers were moving strangely, making an odd hissing or whispering noise. Then they tried to climb out.
“Hey, look at my new pets,” she said.
Smalley refused to look, knowing it must be awful. Others who looked were put off and Miss Wyse got a little freaked out as well. She started to put one of the crackers in her mouth and the thing seemed to want to be eaten. It reached for her mouth. She thought better of eating it and shoved it back into the box. The living crackers fought against going back in, trying to climb onto her arms and up to her mouth.
Smalley glanced at the strange incident and grimaced at the weird and impossible scene.
Some of the animal crackers fell to the floor. When they did so, they stood back up and started moving to her feet, trying to climb up. She shook off the ones that made it that far and started stomping them. Miss Trix grabbed the box and pulled out her lighter.
“Do not set fire to a thing in this airplane!” Wrinkle yelled from the cockpit when he saw the scuffle. “Just don’t do anything, okay? I’m going to fix this!”
Miss Trix helped Miss Wyse hold the box shut. The two of them smashed the box and the animal crackers within. Miss Denning had looked away when things had gotten violent. She was thinking the other two women were having issues.
There was a scream over the radio as Wrinkle turned back to it. He was startled by the volume of it and it put him off.
Miss Denning and Miss Wyse noticed more noises from the other boxes of animal crackers. Miss Denning thought it might be a mouse.
“We need to destroy these right now,” Miss Wyse said. “Let’s crush them as hard as we can!”
She and Miss Trix grabbed the boxes.
“Why?” Miss Denning asked. “It’s just a mouse or something.”
“I know this is going to sound crazy,” Miss Wyse said. “I’ve had a few drinks, but I think Sandy can back me up on this. The animal crackers are alive and I don’t trust them and I want to kill them. So, you can help me destroy them.”
Miss Denning looked at her.
“You need to help me destroy them,” Miss Wyse said.
“What do you mean, alive?” Miss Denning said.
Miss Wyse held up the last box.
“I have this one box,” she said. “If you want to look, I can turn around and you can look or I can destroy it but I’m not looking at it again.”
Miss Denning looked into the box and saw the squirming animal crackers. They tried to climb out and onto her hand. It was quite disturbing. Miss Wyse didn’t look at them at all and Smalley was busy checking the packets of peanuts in his pockets, thankful they weren’t moving as well. When the things crawled up Miss Denning’s arm, she shook them off. Miss Wyse immediately stomped on the things on the floor.
Miss Denning dropped the box.
“Stop messing things up!” Miss Wyse shouted. “Destroy them!”
She went back to stomping the animal crackers, screaming as she did so. Wrinkle closed the doors to the cockpit. He looked around for a manual and studied the controls, trying to figure out how to pilot the aircraft. He didn’t find one.
Smalley heard a clinking noise of bottles tapping each other from the bar. Miss Trix also heard it. Smalley assumed one of the bottles had fallen over and opened the fridge. All of them were upright. He thought they might have been too close together and were clinking against each other so he reached in and put some bags of pretzels between the bottles to keep them from touching each other. He closed the fridge and looked at the floor again.
Miss Trix asked him to stand up so she could get the bucket. He got it out for her and the woman stooped to get the crushed animal crackers and boxes into it.
In the cockpit, Wrinkle looked out the window. He could not see the ground below but he saw something flying by the plane, keeping pace with the aircraft. The things flapped rhythmically. There were several of them. They were not altogether crows nor moles nor buzzards nor ants nor decomposing human beings, but something like all of those. They were horrible-looking and terrible and were keeping up with the jet.
He suddenly didn’t want to look out of windows anymore, not even his glasses, which were technically windows as well. He turned from the windscreen and looked at the door that led to the cabin. Then he opened them.
“The windows are death!” he said. “Do not look out, okay? Just … this … this plane is the only thing that exists now, okay?”
He moved into the cabin, closing the cockpit doors behind him, and pulled the shades down over all of the windows.
Smalley looked at the madman and then ducked into the cockpit. When he threw the door open he saw that two life-sized marionettes or mannequins sat in the two chairs there. They looked like big, wooden puppets, complete with hooks on their arms and legs with short pieces of string or wire. The things had no faces and wore not clothing. They were very unsettling.
“Did you put these here, Wrinkle?” Smalley called back into the cabin. “What are these?”
“Are you assuming that I would somehow have mannequins in my luggage?” Wrinkle said. “I-I don’t have mannequins in my luggage.”
“I mean … you’re a director. Maybe you got some of these in the film. I don’t know. I don’t check your luggage.”
Wrinkle pulled his cursed glasses from his pocket and flung them into the bucket. He stepped into it to make sure those devilish little windows were destroyed.
Smalley looked at the man and then shut the cockpit doors. In the cockpit, he sat on the floor and just stared at the door, trying desperately not to scream. Miss Trix went to the cockpit and slid open one of the doors.
“Do you want a joint?” she asked Smalley.
“No,” he said. “I don’t do that.”
She shrugged and lit up one for herself. He closed the cockpit door and then looked out the windshield where he saw there was no ground. It shocked him to his very core. He realized he wanted nothing to do with the night’s sky and turned away from the window, sitting on the floor and staring at the cockpit door.
Wrinkle, meanwhile, started ripping out the lining of his suit jacket and stuffing the cloth into some of the alcohol bottles to make makeshift Molotov cocktails.
“Reality is poison!” he said. “Don’t open the windows!”
Miss Wyse looked around the cabin suspiciously. She wondered if someone had poisoned all of them and didn’t trust any of them.
“There’s something outside,” Wrinkle mumbled to himself. “The windows are poison but outside is more poison.”
“I think you might be poisoning us,” Miss Wyse said to him.
She looked around.
“Everybody is poisoning me!” she cried out. “I hate you all!”
She turned to Miss Trix.
“You drug addict!” she shouted at the woman.
“If we’re poisoning you then we’re all poisoned,” Miss Denning said, trying to calm Miss Wyse down. “We’re all seeing the same stuff. If this is poison, why would we do this to ourselves? We’re seeing it too, you know.”
“Okay, you’re right,” Miss Wyse said. “I’m overreacting. However, I would like to point out that most of us are actors so if one of us were doing it, we could pretend that we were crazy so no one would suspect us. I still have my suspicions, but you’re right, screaming is not going to fix things.”
Miss Trix tried to help ineffectually, patting her back. Miss Wyse found it condescending and frowned at the woman. Her suspicion that Miss Trix had something to do with it increased.
There was a sudden knocking at the exterior door of the aircraft.
“Don’t open it!” Wrinkle said.
High as a kite on the marijuana, Miss Trix stepped over to open the door. Wrinkle leapt up from his seat next to it.
“What’s wrong?” Miss Trix said.
“Don’t open the door!” Wrinkle said. “I just told you: ‘Reality is poison!’”
The sharp rap came from the cabin door again.
“Whatever it is, is trying to kill us,” Wrinkle said.
“Somebody needs in,” Miss Trix said.
“I promise that─”
“It’s cold out there.”
“─it’s going to try to kill us. You realize not only are we in the air, we’re in space. Anything out there is not human.”
“It’s cold in space. They need our help.”
The rapping came from the door again. Miss Wyse tried to move past Wrinkle but he blocked her so she pushed him aside. She grabbed the handle of the door.
“Don’t do this!” Wrinkle said desperately. “I looked outside. There’s a terrifying monstrosity. It might have been the one knocking at the door. Don’t do this!”
“I understand what you’re saying,” Miss Wyse said as the rapping came again. “I also feel like somebody’s knocking at the door repeatedly and I’m really curious and I’m also drunk because I haven’t eaten anything. So if you don’t let me open the door, now that you have whiskey still, I know you have two whiskeys so I want the other one so I can go sit down. I’ll take that and I won’t open the door.”
Wrinkle took out the whiskey bottle and handed it to her. She went back to her seat in the back and sat down.
While they argued, Johnson slid open the shade over his window and peeked out, trying to see who might have been at the door. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get a great angle. If someone was there, they would have to have been pressed right up against the outer door, he thought.
What was more interesting was another Learjet out there some 20 to 30 yards away. He saw himself looking out one of the windows of the aircraft. The two of them looked at each other like a massive reflection. The other him seemed to be mouthing something at him before waving for him to wait. His duplicate fiddled with something and then held up a piece of paper that was probably eight-and-a-half by 11-inches of paper that had been hastily scribbled upon. It read: “SEE?”
When Johnson nodded, his duplicate wrote another one that read: “DANGER!!” He threw it away and wrote “MURDER,” then “BETRAYAL” and “CO-WORKER,” “SUSPECTS,” “GET OUT,” and finally “BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.”
Wrinkle noticed Johnson was looking out the window and flung his notebook at the man in an effort to enlist his help at the cabin door. Johnson ignored him.
“Don’t trust the poison!” Wrinkle called out. “It’s poison!”
As Johnson’s duplicate wrote something else, perhaps the name of the person who was going to betray them all, someone out of view in the other aircraft reached for his double, slapping the papers out of his hand, slapping the duplicate in the face, and then grabbing him by the throat. It is impossible to see the assailant except for the silhouette of white hands as he or she choked the other Johnson for at least a minute, the other Johnson’s face turning darker and darker as he struggled and then lay very, very still. Then the window shade was pushed down by persons unknown.
“Reality’s poison!” Wrinkle said to the man. “They’re trying to poison us!”
Badly shaken, Johnson picked up the notebook on the floor.
The knocking had stopped at the exterior door.
“And close the poison!” Wrinkle said, gesturing at the shade on Johnson’s window. “Close the poison!”
Johnson looked out and saw the other Learjet was gone. He looked around the cabin. His other self had told him to “get out” but he couldn’t see where he could escape from the aircraft.
“You need to calm down, man,” Miss Trix said. “Just take a seat. Here. Are you feeling sick or anything?”
She handed Wrinkle the bucket filled with dead animal crackers, cardboard boxes, and broken glass. She tried to help him sit down.
Johnson finally finished skimming the terrible play.
The play was told in three acts, the first of which established the setting and characters, of which there were many. The play was set in the decadent alien city of Yhtill, located in the Hyades, with Aldebaran prominent in the night skies. The main characters were the unnamed Queen and her four sons and two daughters, who spent most of the first act worrying about the succession to the throne. The conflict arose due to the ancient legends that at some point in time, Yhtill would name a new king who would herald the coming of the Last King and the destruction of the city and its entire people. A pair of evil noblemen conspired to avoid this possibility by poisoning the entire royal family and establishing a parliamentary form of government. At the end of the first act, the royal family heard a stranger had arrived in Yhtill, borne by winged demons. The stranger wore a Pallid Mask and bore the Yellow Sign which had been forbidden in the city for centuries.
The second act began with the vision of an illusory ghost-city on the far shores of the Lake of Hali across from Yhtill—a city whose uppermost towers were obscured by the smallest of the planet’s three moons. The royal family and the priest Naotalba summoned and haughtily questioned the stranger, who called himself the Phantom of Truth. The masked being offered vague declarations and confusing allegories, but few coherent answers. He claimed to be an emissary of the dreaded King in Yellow, or Last King. Later, at a masked ball honoring the royal family, everyone unmasked except the stranger, who revealed that his Pallid Mask is no mask at all. The second act ended with the royals ordering the imprisonment and torture of the Phantom.
The third act saw various members of the royal family questioning the Phantom as he was being tortured, but eliciting only more confusing answers—and ominous warnings of the coming of his master. The Phantom appeared to die, but as the torturer went to dispose of the body, he discovered it was his apprentice’s corpse instead. The escaped Phantom of Truth now moved through the palace, exacting vengeance on various minor characters before joining the royal family on the shores of Hali. Then the King in Yellow arrived from across the lake. Those not driven mad with fear noticed that the dead city across the lake was no longer there. The hoary, tattered King declared that only one city now exists on the shores of Hali, and that city was Carcosa, once known as Yhtill. The play ended with the King having settled the problem of succession, with the main cast fearfully awaiting their imminent demise.
The play read like a particularly dark, sadistic, and esoteric version of one of Shakespeare’s tragedies like Macbeth or Titus Andronicus. While the fates of the royal family and high priest were not depicted, the Phantom’s punishments of the lesser characters were shown throughout the final act. The advisor Dornan, who had faithfully served the royals for decades, was turned to living stone so that he might do so for all time. The distraught torturer Keleth tried to hang himself for the apparent murder of his apprentice, but the spectral Phantom hoisted the struggling sadist through the floors and walls of the palace, where he eventually abandoned him—entombed alive with the spirits of those he had tortured throughout his years of service. The Phantom confronted the two presumptuous noblemen with their cowardly scheme to destroy the royal family, banishing them from ever having existed at all. Unfortunately, this also obliterated the existence of Annea, the daughter of the Duke of Marionn, whose lover Prince Thale then killed himself at the base of a statue whose beauty he had always compared to hers. While not caused by the Phantom, the third act also revealed that the frequent interludes with the “young” lovers Kieran and Mathes were the fantasy of the aged and insane servant woman Kieran. The Phantom treated the wisecracking mistral Loreon to knowledge of a song called “The Mystery of the Hyades,” knowledge of which caused the singer to chew off his tongue and grind his teeth to splinters. The Phantom also advised the astrologer Rotus to seek knowledge not in the stars, but in their reflections, whereupon the hapless oldster drowned chasing them in the water of Hali.
Johnson came away from the play understanding that Hastur, the King in Yellow, and the Yellow Sign were all closely related. The play was ambiguous and even contradictory in relating that information however. He also found himself singling out a single character in the play as somehow representing himself, to his horror once the character’s doom was revealed. It almost felt like he was in the play.
The noise from the engines suddenly stopped. Miss Trix and Miss Wyse both looked out a window. The Learjet seemed to be sitting on a strange street with barely enough room on either side to accommodate the wings. The street itself was sided by tall buildings and turned at either end. It was not long enough to take off or land the jet.
It was terribly quiet and the sky above was dark and gloomy. The buildings surrounding the jet had a Victorian or Edwardian appearance though there was the suggestion of other cultures. Dark domes and monolithic towers could see been in the distance. Many structures seemed to be made of black and pitted stone, towering over the aircraft and dwarfing it. A lake could be seen in the distance between the buildings. Two moons rose near the horizon. There seemed to be figures flying high above. The passengers felt alone and unwelcome.
Miss Trix and Miss Wyse headed for the door.
“Okay, don’t do this,” Wrinkle said. “Reality is poison. What have I told you?”
“I just want off this plane,” Miss Trix said. “It’s been so long.”
“If you go out there, you will die,” Wrinkle said.
“The engines are not running,” Johnson said.
“You’re going to go by the engines?” Wrinkle said. “I’m sorry.”
“And we’re not falling,” Johnson said. “So …”
Miss Wyse and Miss Trix pushed past Wrinkle.
“Do you mind if it … can I get a light from you, please?” Wrinkle asked Miss Trix.
“Sure,” she said.
She struck a match and held it up.
“Here ya go, man,” she said.
He blew it out.
“I’d rather have a match, thank you,” Wrinkle said.
He reached forward and ripped a match out of the matchbook. Then he stood back from the door and looked for a place to light it.
In the cockpit, Smalley had heard the engines suddenly stop. He looked around to see if the mannequins were still there and noticed each of them “faces” seemed to be turned his way. It was like they were watching him. He blinked uncomfortably and then turned to one of the throttle levers, trying to rip it from the housing to use as a weapon. He was unable to remove it.
He opened the cockpit door slowly open and crept towards the bar.
“I’ll let you by for the matchbook,” Wrinkle said.
Miss Trix handed him the matchbook and he stood aside. Miss Wyse and Miss Trix got the door open, pushing the top up and lowering the bottom, which formed steps down to the ground. They left the Learjet, looking up at the large towers all around them. There was dust and dirt on the ground, enough for them to leave footprints in it.
“Houston’s a weird town,” Miss Trix said. “We should go find a place to sleep.”
“Let’s go find another bar first!” Miss Wyse said. “Let’s go explore, find a bar, and get a hotel, get really pretty and go dancing.”
Miss Denning followed them. Johnson exited the aircraft as well.
They all saw the two moons and the lake the city stood upon.
* * *
In the jet, Smalley searched the bar area for the biggest bottle he could find. There was a largish glass seltzer bottle and picked it up. It was about a quart or so of seltzer in a large, glass bottle. Wrinkle pushed by him and looked at the alcohol still in the refrigerator. There was still plenty of vodka, run, and gin. He took the four bottles of vodka, pocketing them, and started ripping at the lining of his suit to make more Molotov cocktails.
Smalley peeked out but was unnerved by how big the sky was. It also appeared to be night and he quickly pulled his head back in, fearful of the night sky. He sat back down in his seat.
* * *
The four outside wandered down the street. It had an ancient feel and the architecture was obviously not from their own time. The towers were very strange-looking, even alien, and the storefronts were almost too familiar but still wrong. It all felt like some kind of very vivid and realistic dream … or nightmare. No people were about.
Miss Wyse was off to explore and the others followed her. Miss Trix took out her flask of whiskey.
“Oh, I guess we could start on this now!” she said. “Since I don’t have any more matches.”
She took a sip.
They noticed there were figures flying in the sky that did not look like birds but decided to ignore them. They followed the street when it turned to the right. It seemed to meander strangely.
After some time, they spotted a young girl with long black hair staring at them from the window of a high tower. She looked down at them from eight or nine stories up.
“Hey!” Miss Trix yelled. “We’re looking for the bar! Can you point us in the right direction?”
The woman just stared at them.
“Can you tell us where we are?” Johnson called.
She just stared at them.
“We’re in Houston,” Miss Trix said.
“You have really pretty hair!” Miss Wyse called. “You’re really pretty.”
The woman just continued to stare. Put off and offended, Miss Wyse stomped off down the street. The others followed her. A little while later, they saw the woman standing in the street ahead of them. She looked odd. Her eyes looked too big and her mouth looked too small. Miss Wyse moved behind Miss Trix. Johnson winked at the girl.
She suddenly turned and ran away, ducking around a corner.
“Whatever, bitch,” Miss Trix said.
* * *
In the Learjet, Wrinkle finished making his makeshift Molotov cocktail. Smalley just stared at the man, not knowing what he was doing but not trusting him. Then Wrinkle took another little bottle and smashed it on one of the nearest hard surfaces. The neck of the bottle remained intact while the end was sharp enough to use as a makeshift knife.
“Coming with me, Smalls?” Wrinkle said.
Smalley’s eyes opened wide. It sounded like a threat to him.
“No!” he yelled. “No! You’re not taking me!”
He stood and swung the seltzer bottle at Wrinkle’s head, missing the director completely.
“I’m not taking you anywhere!” Wrinkle said. “It was a question!”
Wrinkle fled the cabin. Smalley got back into the refrigerator and grabbed the other seltzer bottle to fling at the man but when he turned around, Wrinkle was gone. Smalley put one of the bottles into his jacket pocket and peeked out to see if Wrinkle was waiting to ambush him. He saw Wrinkle running up the street away from the aircraft.
Smalley crept out of the Learjet, not looking at the sky, and made his way to the back of the a plane to try to get into the cargo compartment.
* * *
Wrinkle ran up the street, looking behind him desperately. He saw Smalley leave the Learjet but then move to the back of the aircraft. He noticed footprints in the dust and followed them down to where the street turned to the left. The footprints, however, turned to the right and ended at a blank wall. He took out a pencil and tapped it but found it solid and immobile.
He headed down the street, looking around nervously.
* * *
The four actors found a large building that appeared open at the top like an Elizabethan theater. It stood in a wide square of dusty marble. Alien words marked posters on the walls of the building and one had a sign like on the front of The King in Yellow, a terrible symbol that seemed to reach for them, even across the square, with poisonous tendrils that tried to touch each of them. The strangeness ended after only a few moments.
The strange occurrence affected Miss Wyse. She hated the sigil and any written word so she rushed to the poster and attacked the sign with her fists and feet, screaming at it. Johnson and Miss Trix rushed forward and grabbed the woman but she broke free. Miss Denning, who had also came forward, tried to calm her down by talking.
“Hey, what are you doing?” she said. “It’s just a poster.”
Miss Wyse ignored her and tore at the other posters, screaming and ripping at them all. It was half a minute before she finally stopped.
“Oh God, guys,” she muttered. “The words. The words are bad. They’re gonna kill us all, kill us all, I say!”
Miss Trix passed her flask to the woman. She drained it.
Johnson headed into the theater followed by Miss Trix and Miss Wyse. They found themselves in a small lobby with double doors that obviously led to the main theater. There was a sound as if a large crowd were in attendance.
Johnson pushed the door open and the noise immediately stopped. Surprisingly, the interior of the theater was more contemporary with an enclosed room and gas lights. The curtains on the wide stage were closed. The seats of in the house were filled with wooden mannequins, all of them looking towards the stage as if waiting for a show to start.
“Huh-uh,” Miss Wyse muttered.
Miss Trix walked down the aisle and up onto the stage to peek behind the curtains. Both Miss Wyse and Johnson cautiously followed. Backstage was set up as one might expect with tables for props and other theatrical items backstage. The stage itself was set up like a throne room or ballroom of some kind. Glass chandeliers hung down and there was ornamentation as well as a single throne center stage and back. Johnson thought he recognized the room from The King in Yellow.
He looked back to keep an eye on the mannequins and was disturbed to see they all seemed to have their blank faces looking at him. He suddenly felt, for just a moment, like that was how it should be, even though it wasn’t. It didn’t make any sense but it did at the same time. It was not a pleasant feeling.
Miss Trix went to the curtain line and pulled, opening the curtains. From out in the house, thunderous applause erupted briefly and the lights went down. Once the curtains were open, anticipatory silence followed. They all felt like they were supposed to go on stage to act, but realized they didn’t know the lines. It was like a bad dream.
Miss Wyse suggested they do some of the lines from their movie. It didn’t seem logical to Miss Trix. It sounded like fun though. She walked out and lay on the throne, putting one leg up on one of the armrests. She started to say some of Emma Cracker’s lines from “Mr. Black,” doing the confrontation scene towards the end of the movie where Miss Wyse’s character of Cary Klan confronted them. Miss Wyse went out and said some of her own lines: it was a scene where she gloated about her plan and monologued a little bit.
As Miss Wyse entered, she had a feeling like people were in the house, watching. But all she could see were the shadows of the marionettes or mannequins out there. It sounded like the theater was full of people. Drunk, it was both exciting and terrifying.
They finished the scene, neither of them doing very well. Polite applause came from the house as well as what sounded like people coughing. Miss Wyse figured she was very drunk so that made sense.
In an attempt to save face, Johnson entered the stage and began one of the scenes the three of them had together. Applause came from the house as soon as he entered, almost like in one of the current popular sitcoms. Both Miss Wyse and Miss Trix did much better with that scene.
* * *
Outside, Miss Denning looked nervously up and down the street. Only a few minutes after the others had entered the theater, she had heard applause from within the building. It was very strange. Then she saw Wrinkle walking down the street from the opposite direction they had come. He had a broken bottle in his hand and his jacket appeared to be torn.
“Sandra!” he called when he saw her.
He felt a little crazed. In his search for the others, he had entered the base of a tower and had gone up a narrow stairwell that seemed to go up and up forever. But when he got to the door at the top, he found himself on the street level. That had unnerved him and he took a sip from his flask when he saw the actress standing in front of some kind of theater.
“Hey, Sandra,” he said as he approached. “Do you know what the heck’s going on? I lost Smalls and pretty much everyone else.”
“The others went inside this theater and I hear clapping,” Miss Denning said.
“Well, here,” Wrinkle said.
He started to hand her one of the Molotov cocktails and then thought better of it. Then he changed his mind again and handed her one of the small, makeshift weapons.
“Something bad: light this on fire and throw it at something,” he said. “Okay? We’re going inside.”
* * *