* * *
The three actors finished their short scene and there was a roar of applause. They felt like people were standing up and clapping and they each bowed and then held hands and all bowed together. There was a flash of light and as they stood up and looked out into the suddenly lit house, they saw Wrinkle and Miss Denning standing at the door to the theater. It was deadly silent and the house was completely empty.
Drama queens, Wrinkle thought.
â€œWhat the heck just happened?â€ he said.
â€œI â€¦ donâ€™t know,â€ Johnson said.
â€œWeâ€™re rehearsing for the movie,â€ Miss Trix said.
â€œIâ€™d love to direct it,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œJames Black?â€ Miss Trix said. â€œMr. Black.â€
â€œIs it that book I gave you?â€ Wrinkle said. â€œI remember it was a play. Did you do that play?â€
â€œNo, because these guys donâ€™t know it,â€ Johnson said.
â€œWhat play?â€ Miss Trix said.
Johnson took out The King in Yellow.
â€œThis play,â€ he said.
Miss Trix took the book from him and looked at the poisonous and horrible symbol on the cover that seemed to reach for her with terrible, clawing and pawing tendrils. The effect only lasted a moment, however, and she blamed the alcohol and the strange situation for what she thought she saw. She started skimming through the three-act play.
Miss Wyse was certain the clapping had been some kind of recording. Nothing else could explain it as she looked around the room. She thought Wrinkle looked very nervous and she began to suspect him once again.
â€œIâ€™m pretty sure youâ€™re the one causing all this,â€ she said to him.
* * *
Smalley found what he assumed was the cargo door on the bottom of the aircraft near the back. He couldnâ€™t get it open. It seemed to need some kind of key or special lever to unlock and he had nothing he could use as a substitute. He looked up and down the street. There were what appeared to be houses and shops on the sides and he headed down, looking for a hardware store. He found a sweet shop, a drink shop of some kind with strange bottles in the window, but nothing with tools. He went back to a bookshop.
The small bookstore had a pleasant window filled with books. The front door was closed but he found it was not locked and the room within smelled pleasantly of old paper and ink. No one was at the small counter but above it was a sign that read: â€œAct Against Your Own Nature.â€ It might have been the name of the quaint little shop filled with leather-bound books of all kinds, many with titles familiar to him. It seemed relaxing after all heâ€™d been through.
You know what? he thought. These words, so far, are the only things that havenâ€™t seemed crazy. Even those mannequins seemed quite crazy. Iâ€™m going to act against my own nature. Iâ€™m going to pull a Fahrenheit 451.
He took out his box of matches and knocked over a shelf of books. Then he lit the books on fire, the paper catching very quickly. He sat down to enjoy the blaze but realized it was not safe to stay in the shop. He got up to leave and knocked over a pile of books on the floor next to him. When he headed for the door, he noticed books were falling off one of the other shelves. He looked back at the fire and saw it was much bigger than he expected. It was spreading very quickly.
He turned back towards the door and saw a pile of books blocking it that had not been there a few moments before. He pushed it out of the way before stumbling out of the bookstore and back onto the street.
But it wasnâ€™t the street he had been on before. The buildings were all different and the Learjet was gone.
He looked behind him to see the building was on fire, smoke started to pour out of it. He crossed the street towards one of the residences.
* * *
Johnson went to the prop table and saw the props there seemed to be for The King in Yellow. A scepter was there as well as trays of fake food and an entire table was covered with masks. Wrinkle came backstage too.
â€œAre the props from that play?â€ he asked Johnson.
â€œI think this is that play,â€ Johnson said.
â€œYou know, this is crazy but â€¦ do you think that fake audience that was definitely never here wants you to perform that play?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€
â€œIâ€™d be more than willing to direct it for nobody. Itâ€™s not like weâ€™re doing anything better. Itâ€™s not like weâ€™re going to live through this.â€
Miss Wyse, listening to them, was not pleased with that.
Youâ€™re trying to murder us, she thought.
She walked over to Johnson.
â€œDonâ€™t trust him,â€ she whispered to the man.
He was busy looking at the masks and found the pale mask with the yellow sign upon it. The sign seemed to reach for him, grasping at him.
â€œCan I see the book, please?â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œUh â€¦ in a minute,â€ Miss Trix said.
Miss Wyse went over to her.
â€œDonâ€™t give the book to him,â€ she whispered to the other woman. â€œHeâ€™s trying to kill us.â€
Miss Trix looked at Wrinkle and then looked back at the book.
â€œIâ€™m not trying to kill you!â€ Wrinkle said. â€œHave some â€¦ have some more alcohol.â€
He held out his flask.
â€œNo!â€ she said. â€œI donâ€™t trust you at this point. Itâ€™s poison. Youâ€™re the one thatâ€™s doing this. Iâ€™m not taking anything.â€
Johnson put on the pallid mask. It seemed to fit him fine and it felt cold and clammy. Miss Denning came up onto the stage and asked about the book. Johnson took the mask off.
* * *
Smalley went to the residence. When he tried to turn the handle of the front door, it didnâ€™t move at all, as if it wasnâ€™t really a doorknob but just a part of the architecture. When he examined the window, he found it wasnâ€™t real either, but just the front of the building painted to look like a window. When he moved down to the next residence, he heard the sound of someone tapping on glass. He turned to see a face in the window he had just tried to look into. Then it was gone. When he went back to the window, it was just painted onto the building, not glass, not real. It was impossible he had seen a face there.
He stared at the false window a moment and then headed down the street.
Sounds of strange, discordant music came from a large building that appeared to be some kind of dance hall. Within, he could see lights glittering and playing over a hardwood, polished floor. A lone woman danced to the music in beautiful form. However, strings were connected to her hands and feet as if she were merely a marionette. They disappeared into the darkness above. She appeared to be a normal person though a blank, white mask with only eye holes covered her face.
Smalley ignored the strings, completely in denial. He figured it was just a lady wearing a mask. As he approached, she stopped dancing and just stood there, looking at him.
â€œHey â€¦ whatâ€™s going on over here?â€ Smalley said.
She gestured towards the door frantically and then motioned to the strings on her arms and legs, pulling on them ineffectually. Then she gestured towards the entrance once again. He reached forward and pulled on her strings but they were tightly to her hands.
After a momentâ€™s thought, he took one of the seltzer bottles out of his pocket and smashed it on the floor. It shattered into a million pieces, cutting his hand rather badly. He was able to find a decent-sized piece that was sharp and cut the strings on her arms. She gestured to the strings on her legs and he cut them as well.
As soon as he cut the last string, she collapsed to the ground. As she seemed to breathe her last, she clawed at the mask on her face. He grabbed it and helped rip it away. As it came off with a terrible tearing sound, blood poured out from under it and revealed muscle and skull. The mask had been part of her face and physically attached to her body.
He recoiled in terror as she breathed her last.
He fled from the dance floor. As he ran down the street, he heard the music starting again behind him.
He didnâ€™t look back.
* * *
While Wrinkle tried to convince his actors to do the play, Miss Wyse pointed out he was trying to murder them. He denied it and the two argued. He tried to give her a makeshift Molotov cocktail but she noted she had nothing to light it with so his gesture was useless and he knew it. Miss Denning told her he wasnâ€™t trying to kill them and Wrinkle offered her the broken bottle if she wanted. She took it, a little appeased though still somewhat distrustful.
Johnson had shoved the mask into one of his suit pockets and entered the stage again.
â€œThis is all a terrible situation, but weâ€™ve all seen worse than this, donâ€™t you think?â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œNo, we havenâ€™t!â€ Johnson said.
â€œIâ€™ve seen worse than this,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œHeâ€™s seen worse than this,â€ Miss Trix said.
â€œI mean, if you donâ€™t want to do this, thatâ€™s fine,â€ Wrinkle said. â€œBut I think itâ€™s for the best.â€
He looked them over.
â€œItâ€™s like â€¦ supernatural rules â€¦ you know?â€ Wrinkle said.
The lights suddenly went down in the theater they all felt like they were being watched. Wrinkle left the stage to polite clapping from the audience. Miss Trix clapped as well. Then it was silent and there was a feeling of anticipation in the theater.
â€œWhat do you want?â€ Miss Wyse said.
There was no answer aside from the feeling there was a full audience in the house. Miss Trix looked up and saw the lighting above the stage came from fresnels that flickered as if they had flames within them. Johnson went offstage and closed the curtains. A murmuring came from the house and the lights came up. It sounded like people were leaving the theater, perhaps for intermission.
Wrinkle looked out into the house and found it lit and empty, just like before.
â€œI think we might want to leave this theater,â€ Johnson said.
â€œI still think we should try the play,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œHave you actually read this play!?!â€
â€œNo, I have not.â€
Miss Trix threw the book at Wrinkle. He caught it and started skimming the play.
While he did so, Miss Trix went out into the foyer. She went out to the street and couldnâ€™t help but notice the posters that Miss Wyse had ripped down before seemed to be back in place. Or were they were new posters.
* * *
Smalley ran down the street and saw what looked like a small graveyard tucked between the buildings. A low, iron fence enclosed the sparsely grassed area. There were six headstones and a woman in black with a black hat and a black veil covering her face knelt at one of the graves, her shoulders shaking as if she was crying.
As far as Smalley knew, the veil was part of her body and he didnâ€™t want to see that again. He ignored her and continued moving quickly through the streets.
Then he saw Miss Denning in front of what looked like a theater, ripping a poster off the wall. Thinking she was obviously crazy but that something was going on in the theater, he ducked off to the right down an alley he thought might take him to the back of the theater.
* * *
Miss Denning saw Smalley running towards her but then the man ducked off down an alley. She followed him as quietly as she could. As soon as she saw him, he ran.
* * *
Smalley had seen Miss Denning coming after him. She wasnâ€™t running but had been going from shadow to shadow. He immediately fled, hoping to find a backstage door to the theater so he could get away from the insane woman.
â€œWait for me!â€ she shouted at him.
He didnâ€™t. However, he quickly ran out of breath and she caught up with him. She ran up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder.
â€œWait!â€ she said.
Smalley spun around, pulling a seltzer bottle from his jacket. He swung it wildly at the woman, narrowly missing her head.
â€œCalm down, man!â€ Miss Trix said. â€œLetâ€™s just go meet up with everybody else. Okay? Where are you trying to get to?â€
Smalley cautiously backed away.
â€œWhereâ€™s everyone else?â€ he said.
â€œTheyâ€™re in the theater,â€ Miss Trix said. â€œRight here.â€
She knocked on the side of the building.
â€œAll right,â€ Smalley said cautiously.
â€œLetâ€™s go,â€ she said.
He continued to carefully back away, looking for the stage door. He also kept his eye on Miss Trix.
â€œAre you okay, man?â€ she said.
â€œIâ€™m â€¦ going to go inside this theater,â€ he replied.
â€œLetâ€™s go inside together.â€
â€œIâ€™m going. Iâ€™m going.â€
He crept away as she watched. When he went around a corner, she followed, keeping her distance. He found a stage door eventually and opened it, slipping inside. She followed.
The door opened onto a stairwell that led down and he crept down the stairs startled when the door opened and Miss Trix let herself into the dimly-lit stairway. The steps seemed to go down and down and down, finally ending in a small room with a single door. Smalley opened the door and went through.
The door opened onto a catwalk and he found himself high above the stage floor of the theater. He saw Wrinkle, Miss Wyse, and Johnson standing on the stage. The catwalk ran from the back to the front of the stage and there was a ladder nearby. He could see the weights and the battens, connected with ropes. The flickering lights of the fresnels lit the stage while leaving the catwalk in shadows.
He climbed down the ladder and the door opened as Miss Trix entered. It was very strange to find herself on the catwalk above the stage when sheâ€™d gone down so many steps to reach â€¦ the top? She blinked and put it out of her mind.
Below, Wrinkle handed Miss Denning the play. Then he saw Smalley climbing down the ladder backstage.
Above, Miss Trix moved along the catwalk towards the front of the stage and reached for one of the lighting fresnels. She found it very hot when she leaned forward to remove the colored gel in the front of the fixture. She headed back down to the stage floor.
Smalley picked up the gaudy golden-colored scepter and eyed the rest of them suspiciously. He glared at Miss Trix and she climbed down the ladder. He wiped the sweat from his brow.
Wrinkle said the nonexistent audience would probably return shortly.
â€œI almost feel like we should head back for the jet,â€ Johnson said.
â€œI have no idea where it is,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œLook, hereâ€™s the thing,â€ Smalley said. â€œI went into a store. I came out of the store. The jet wasnâ€™t there. I donâ€™t know where the jetâ€™s at.â€
Wrinkle wanted to put the play on the next time they heard the audience. With only four actors, it would be difficult.
â€œI think we should go to the lake,â€ Miss Trix said.
She had read the play and remembered the lakeâ€™s mention in then strange text.
â€œI donâ€™t think we should do that play,â€ Johnson said.
â€œI mean â€¦ we donâ€™t have enough people anyway, so â€¦â€ Wrinkle said.
They waited for Miss Denning to skim the play. As with the others, it was very disturbing to her and she related to one of the characters in the play. She didnâ€™t like it at all.
Smalley was against going to the lake, especially at night.
â€œMaybe itâ€™s day,â€ Miss Denning said.
â€œMaybe it isnâ€™t,â€ Smalley said.
â€œShall we look?â€ she said.
Wrinkle tore out more of the lining of his coat and handed the strip of fabric to Smalley.
â€œIf you need it,â€ he said.
He pointed to the manâ€™s eyes, gesturing for him to use it like a blindfold.
â€œWhat are you going to do to me if I put that on?â€ Smalley said.
â€œLook, you canâ€™t freak out if you canâ€™t see,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œWhat are you going to do when I put that on!?!â€
â€œNothing! Absolutely nothing!â€
â€œThen why should I put it on?â€
â€œBecause you might freak out otherwise.â€
â€œIf you had a horse, you could put a bag over his head and then you can lead him everywhere,â€ Miss Denning said. â€œHe just wants to lead you and you wonâ€™t be scared.â€
â€œExactly,â€ Wrinkle said.
Smalley looked at both of them.
â€œNo!â€ he said.
â€œIf you donâ€™t comeâ”€â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œWe canâ€™t leave you here alone!â€ Miss Denning said. â€œLast time we left you alone you lost the jet!â€
â€œThe last time he tried to lead me somewhere, it was with a broken bottle!â€ Smalley said.
â€œWhat?â€ Miss Denning said.
â€œI asked you,â€ Wrinkle said. â€œI asked him. He thought it was â€¦ he thought it was â€¦ see? She has my broken bottle now. And he thought it was a threat.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know what else you have!â€ Smalley said.
â€œI have four Molotov cocktailsâ”€â€
â€œWhat!?! You have four Molotov cocktails!?!â€
â€œI have fourâ”€â€
â€œWhat are you doing!?! No!â€
â€œI have four fire bombs and a book.â€
â€œNo, youâ€™re not coming anywhere near me.â€
Smalley lifted up the scepter, brandishing it in Wrinkleâ€™s general direction.
â€œOkay, stay here,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œWe canâ€™t leave you here,â€ Miss Denning said again. â€œThis place is crazy.â€
â€œRight here seems better than anywhere else,â€ Smalley said.
â€œFor now,â€ she said.
Wrinkle went to the curtain and opened it. The house was filled with faceless, life-sized marionettes or mannequins made of wood, much like the ones from the jet. Smalley was happy to see they didnâ€™t wear masks.
â€œThese are better then!â€ he said. â€œThey donâ€™t have faces to rip off!â€
Miss Trix said she wanted to go to the lake. She led the other two actresses and Johnson towards the front doors.
â€œSo, Smalls,â€ Wrinkle said. â€œIâ€™m going to leave this Molotov and this match here for you, okay? Donâ€™t die.â€
He put both of them down on the stage and then hurried to catch up to the others. Smalley watched them go, happy to see the back of them.
* * *
As they walked in the direction of the lake, the five found themselves in a wide square with a black-domed temple. Impossibly tall and thin towers jutted from the roof around the dome, each filled with dark windows and covered in strangely shaped and evil-looking gargoyles. Light glinted from the stained glass windows of the temple, which had strange scenes of people in masks floating gaily across a yellow background. Great golden doors stood in the front of the building.
There didnâ€™t seem to be any other exits from the plaza. Miss Trix was a little confused as she had been heading the direction of the lake. Perhaps there was another way through the other side of the temple.
â€œMust be on the other side of this castle then,â€ she said. â€œLetâ€™s go through this castle.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know about that,â€ Wrinkle said nervously. â€œThatâ€™s a lot of windows. Maybe we should go back to the windowless theater. What do you think?â€
Johnson crept across the wide plaza and looked through one of the windows. The stained glass made it hard to see though he could see a shape inside. It might have been a person. The room within appeared to be very wide and tall, possibly a temple or worship area of some kind. He moved to the door and pushed it open, walking in.
The rest of them carefully followed behind, Wrinkle very nervous about the windows.
The building was one large room, deep and wide, nearly square, and set with several pillars that hold up the domed ceiling above. Lights or stars glittered from the blackness above though it was impossible to tell which.
At the far end of the room stood a man in yellow robes with a knife in his hand. He was rather small, older, and wore wire-rimmed glasses. He was balding and had a genial face. He smiled when he saw them and beckoned them forward.
â€œThere you are!â€ he said with a grin. â€œCâ€™mon. Câ€™mon. We havenâ€™t got all day.â€
He motioned for them to approach.
â€œAll right,â€ he said with a friendly grin. â€œWhoâ€™s first?â€
â€œFor what?â€ Johnson said.
â€œFor the table!â€ the old man said.
He gestured with the black-bladed knife. Behind him was a golden altar with runnels around the edges that led to a great, yellow gemstone set in the floor at its head and foot.
â€œThis is your destiny,â€ the little man said. â€œNo need to quarrel, now. Whoâ€™s first?â€
Johnson took out the mask he had in his pocket.
â€œWhatâ€™s this symbol?â€ he said, gesturing towards it.
â€œThatâ€™s the Yellow Sign, of course,â€ the old man said. â€œThatâ€™s why youâ€™re here. You want to go first?â€
He again gestured with the knife as if it was a pointer. Wrinkle lit one of his Molotov cocktails.
â€œSo, who wants to go first?â€ the old man said again. â€œCâ€™mon. Câ€™mon. Câ€™mon. I havenâ€™t got all day. Well, I do. Iâ€™ve got a long time.â€
â€œAre you trying to sacrifice us?â€ Miss Wyse said.
â€œYes!â€ the man said. â€œIf you get on the â€¦ thing â€¦ then Iâ€™m going to stab you.â€
â€œBecause itâ€™s your destiny.â€
â€œWhy is it my destiny?â€
Wrinkle flung the flaming bottle of liquor at the old man. The bottle hit him, bounced off, and struck the ground with a clunk where it burned merrily without breaking. The old man looked at it.
â€œWhat the hell is that!?!â€ he said.
â€œNothing,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œThatâ€™s a waste of alcohol, young man,â€ the old man said. â€œSmells so good. What did you ask me, young lady?â€
â€œIâ€™m still trying to figure out why this is my destiny,â€ Miss Wyse said.
â€œOh yes, thatâ€™s right,â€ the old man said. â€œYou see, itâ€™s fairly simple. Thereâ€™s a group of rich worshippers of Hastur. Youâ€™ve heard of Hastur? You read the â€¦ you donâ€™t know Hastur? Anyway, they got this plot. Why take sacrifices off the street when you can just trick â€˜em into getting on a plane that theyâ€™ve enchanted, and taking them right off to Carcosa. This is Carcosa, by the way. Youâ€™ve heard of Carcosa?â€
â€œIt sounds needlessly complicated,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œSo, then the sacrifice â€¦ they donâ€™t have to get their hands dirty, but they still get to make the sacrifice,â€ the old man went on, ignoring him. â€œAnd I â€¦ I have to be here â€¦ and Iâ€™ve got to do all the hard work, of course. Boring! Youâ€™re the first group to make it! How many times have they tried? Do you know?â€
â€œTried what?â€ Miss Wyse said.
â€œSending people on the jet,â€ the old man said. â€œWhat year is it?â€
â€œ1972,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œAlready?â€ the old man said. â€œWhen in 1972? Early 1972?â€
â€œItâ€™s March,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œSix months,â€ the old man said. â€œIâ€™ve been here six months. This is so boring here. So, câ€™mon, letâ€™s do this. Whoâ€™s first?â€
Wrinkle lit another of his makeshift Molotov cocktails.
â€œNo!â€ the old man said. â€œDonâ€™t burn that! Give me it!â€
â€œWell, if youâ€™re so bored, why donâ€™t we try to leave together?â€ Miss Wyse said.
â€œNo no,â€ the old man said. â€œI know my duty. They â€¦ they sent me here and Iâ€™ve got to stay.â€
â€œWho is they?â€
â€œThe businessmen. They were my associates. We drew lots. I lost. So I came here to do the dirty work.â€
â€œIs Hastur the â€˜King whom emperors have served?â€™â€ Johnson asked.
â€œOh! Heâ€™s related to the King in Yellow, yeah yeah yeah,â€ the old man said. â€œCarcosa is The King in Yellowâ€™s place and Hasturâ€™s a god of entropy. Itâ€™s great. And now they get power once we do all these killings, so I need you to lay on the altar and Iâ€™m going to stab you. Itâ€™ll be real quick.â€
â€œIs anybody here really good at throwing things?â€ Wrinkle asked.
â€œWhat are you talking about, boy?â€ the old man said.
â€œI want to kill you with this fire!â€ Wrinkle said. â€œOkay?â€
â€œYou canâ€™t kill me,â€ the old man said. â€œIâ€™ll just come back. You canâ€™t die here in Carcosa. Well, I canâ€™t. You can. And you can and you can and you can and she can.â€
â€œHave you tried killing yourself before?â€ Miss Trix asked.
â€œWhat?â€ the old man said. â€œIâ€™m not going to kill myself. It hurts.â€
â€œHave you tried?â€
â€œThen how would you know?â€
â€œFor curiosityâ€™s sake,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œOh please,â€ the old man said. â€œIâ€™m not killing myself. Look, youâ€™re here. Thereâ€™s no going home. You might as well just let me kill you. Otherwise youâ€™re going to go crazy and be in Carcosa and thatâ€™s going to suck. Itâ€™s going to be terrible.â€
Johnson stuck his hand into his jacket pocket and pretended to have a pistol.
â€œDo you really think itâ€™s wise to try to sacrifice us?â€ he said.
â€œI think Iâ€™d be doing you a favor if I sacrifice you,â€ the old man said.
â€œYou seem like a really lonely kind of guy,â€ Wrinkle said. â€œWhy donâ€™t you just let us be so this place is a little less lonely?â€
â€œIf you wanna go, you can go,â€ the old man said. â€œYou can walk right out those doors. But youâ€™re not going to find your way back. Carcosa changes. Carcosa shifts. When youâ€™re not looking, it becomes other things.â€
â€œIf youâ€™re looking at it, it kind of stays the same. Youâ€™re never going to find your way back to the jet by the time it leaves anyway.â€
â€œThe jet leaves!?!â€
â€œYeah. It only stays here for a short while and then it returns to Earth. Weâ€™re around Aldebaran. You ever heard of that? Itâ€™s a star system. I think itâ€™s 70 light years away from Earth.â€
â€œSmalls had the right idea. We shouldâ€™ve stayed.â€
â€œNo, you wouldnâ€™t want to stay in there. Because it stays until you leave. Even if itâ€™s months. Time works differently. Have you noticed the moons havenâ€™t moved in the sky? Time doesnâ€™t move. Itâ€™s-itâ€™s-itâ€™s unsettling.â€
â€œSo, what are the mannequins?â€ Miss Trix asked.
â€œI donâ€™t know!â€ the old man said. â€œCarcosaâ€™s just crazy. Itâ€™s full of entropy, full of change. Nothing is as it should be, when it should be. Thereâ€™s a man walking around, dancing in the streets smiling at you. Heâ€™s weird. I donâ€™t like him at all. But, you know â€¦ I donâ€™t go out there. I just wait here for the sacrifices to arrive. Now whoâ€™s first? Câ€™mon.â€
They looked at him, unbelieving.
â€œI tell you, you donâ€™t want to go back out there,â€ the old man went on. â€œItâ€™s bad. Itâ€™s very bad. You got Lake Hali: no telling whatâ€™s under that. Thereâ€™s some guy went down under the water, showed back up on the shore â€¦ he was not happy. Thereâ€™s some artist â€¦ donâ€™t let him paint you.â€
â€œWhat do you say we just go hunt some mannequins for food?â€ Wrinkle said. â€œOkay, this is kind of an awkward distance. Letâ€™s talk closer.
â€œYou want to go first?â€ the old man said. â€œCâ€™mon, get up on the altar. Iâ€™ll do it real fast. It wonâ€™t hurt much. Itâ€™ll be quick. If you go out there, the byakhee might get you.â€
Wrinkle lit another pseudo Molotov cocktail.
â€œDonâ€™t waste that!â€ the old man said. â€œThe byakhee might get you. You might â€¦ youâ€™ll probably go crazy. And then, theyâ€™ll come and get you. I think theyâ€™re scary as hell. So, whoâ€™s first. You first?â€
He had gestured to Miss Wyse.
â€œNo!â€ she said.
â€œCâ€™mon!â€ the old man said. â€œHow about you, honey?â€
Miss Denning shook her head.
â€œItâ€™s easier if you just let me kill you,â€ the old man said.
â€œI donâ€™t think anybodyâ€™s in a hurry to die,â€ Johnson said.
Miss Trix turned and walked out of the place. The old man called after her but she was gone.
â€œThis seems like a very poor plan on the part of your masters,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œLook, even if she walks around the city until she goes nuts, itâ€™s still a sacrifice,â€ the old man said. â€œBut that could take weeks. Or she could starve to death out there or the byakhee could murder her. Itâ€™s going to be painful. This is one cut and youâ€™re done. Iâ€™m telling you, this is the route to go. Iâ€™m just giving you the choice of easy or hard. I donâ€™t care.â€
* * *
Miss Trix had slipped against the wall outside the doors to the temple. She noticed the square was different now, as was the temple itself. It was unnerving but she decided to wait for the screaming she figured sheâ€™d inevitably hear. Then she heard footsteps approaching. She backed away from the door and was a little surprised when Vic Johnson came out.
* * *
â€œYou want to go first?â€ the old man asked Wrinkle.
â€œUh â€¦â€ Wrinkle said.
He took the cloth out of one of the bottles, sat it on the floor and walked out of the temple. Miss Wyse and Miss Denning followed him quickly. They found the other two outside.
â€œAll right,â€ the old man called. â€œOkay. Well, if you come back, Iâ€™ll be here. Good luck.â€
They all realized the man had been telling them the truth. Everything out of their vision had changed: everything. It was terribly unnerving but each of them thought they were starting to get an idea of the strange and twisted way the place worked. If everything changed whenever they werenâ€™t looking at it, perhaps there was some insane way of making things change into the places they needed them to be. How to do it was the hard part.
â€œWe should just go into a building and open and close the door until we find the jet,â€ Miss Trix said.
â€œThat â€¦ actually sounds intelligent,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œIâ€™m down for that,â€ Miss Wyse said.
They entered a building and closed the door, waiting a few minutes and then opening it in hopes of finding the Learjet. They didnâ€™t. Everything was completely different however, impossibly. It was a terrible feeling, knowing madness was the only way to make the horrible place work the way they wanted.
They resolved to try again.
â€œBut what about Carl?â€ Miss Denning said.
* * *
Carl Smalley was backstage at the theater. He continued to look through the props in his own paranoia, hoping to find some kind of weapon to defend himself. He moved into the audience and saw the mannequins there were the same design as the ones that had been in the cockpit of the Learjet. He turned from them, partially covering his eyes in fear of the strings on the mannequins and the openness of the dark theater, and made his way to the foyer.
He left the theater and was unhappy to see the street had completely changed from when he got there, just as it had changed after he had left the bookstore. The strangeness of Carcosa started to make some kind of insane sense to him, however.
He picked a direction and headed that way, hoping against all hope he might find his way back.
* * *
The others, starting to grasp how Carcosa worked, began to experiment with opening and closing the door to the decrepit house they were in, hoping to figure out more about the strangeness of the terrible place. But in some mad way, it all made sense. It didnâ€™t feel good or right or even healthy to think the way they were thinking, but it was making some kind of insane sense in some kind of terribly impossible way.
They conferred with each other, speaking of the strange way in which Carcosa worked and trying to determine how, as a group, they might escape. It seemed mad, even perverse, and made them feel less than human. But they persevered.
They left the decrepit house and headed down the street. They didnâ€™t find the Learjet for some time. Fearing the worse, they tried to manipulate the city again. That gave them a little more understanding of the terrible place.
* * *
Carl Smalley was lost. He thought about the terrible city. He thought about the way it seemed to change whenever he walked around on the streets. He tried not to think about the things flying in the sky above him that seemed closer than they had been some time before. He suddenly understood everything. Everything.
People came out of the surrounding buildings. He couldnâ€™t clearly see their faces but he was convinced they were smiling at him for understanding, finally understanding everything about the city and about the world around him. They seemed to pat him on the back and congratulate him for his sudden clear vision of everything.
The hopelessly insane Carl Smalley happily walked away with the faceless things in yellow robes. They took him to the dark places.
* * *
Unable to find the Learjet and fearing they had less and less time, the others tried to manipulate and understand Carcosa once again. It was not good for their psyches or they souls but they thought it the only way to possibly get home once more. It was strange and unnerving, impossible and terrible. At one point they thought they saw the aircraft down another street. At another point, they saw Carl Smalley being escorted away by faceless men in robes. He looked very happy. Then he was gone.
They conferred and headed down another street and the Learjet was there. Then they noticed the shapes flying in the skies above were getting closer and closer to them. Wrinkle recognized them as the things he had seen out the windows of the jet earlier, the terrible hideous things.
â€œGive me the knife!â€ Wrinkle yelled. â€œGive me the knife!â€
He wanted to kill the things more than anything in the world.
Sandra Denning suddenly didnâ€™t know where she was or how she had gotten there. She didnâ€™t remember anything after boarding the Learjet and the aircraft taking off.
â€œGive me the bottle!â€ Wrinkle yelled.
Miss Wyse handed over the broken bottle but Wrinkle suddenly realized he wanted to live more than he wanted to kill the things.
They ran for the Learjet as fast as they could. Miss Denning looked around and recognized the Learjet and her companions. Ignoring her confusion and focusing on her fear, she followed at a dead run. The things swooped down behind them, pouring out of the sky.
They all ran into the Learjet, desperately pulling the hatch closed behind them and securing it as best they could. They heard the horrible things slamming into the side of the aircraft and suddenly the roar of the jet engines filled the cabin again. They looked around, blinking. Miss Denning looked around in confusion. She still didnâ€™t remember anything of what had happened to her since takeoff. The cabin smelled of marijuana and liquor and desperation. She wondered how drunk sheâ€™d gotten. She didnâ€™t remember anything. She took her seat, blinking and looking around.
Miss Wyse took several sleeping pills out of her purse, along with a tiny â€œemergency flaskâ€ of whiskey. She downed the alcohol and popped the pills. Johnson looked into the cockpit and found it still completely empty.
A rending noise came from outside of the aircraft. It sounded like ripping metals.
This is fine, Wrinkle desperately thought. Everythingâ€™s fine.
â€œThe windows are poison!â€ he said.
Miss Denning was starting to remember.
Miss Wyse and Miss Trix looked out the windows and saw the terrible flying things that had been chasing them were tearing at the wings and engines. Miss Trix exploded into a spree of uncontrolled violence and destruction. She started beating on the window by her seat, beating on Miss Denning, and swinging madly all about her, screaming. One of her fists struck the other woman in the face.
Wrinkle grabbed Miss Trix from behind. Miss Wyse grabbed a handful of pills from her purse and jumped onto the two, trying to shove pills into the other womanâ€™s mouth. Miss Trix broke free of Wrinkle but Miss Wyse had managed to shove a pill into the her mouth. She grabbed at the womanâ€™s throat, intent on grabbing her face and massaging her throat to get the pills down. Miss Trix spit the pill out as she tried to punch the woman. Wrinkle punched at Miss Trix.
â€œVic!â€ he yelled. â€œVic! Come and help us here! Sheâ€™s gone crazy!â€
â€œWhat is going on back here?â€ Johnson yelled.
Miss Wyse flung pills at Miss Trixâ€™s face as Miss Trix tried to punch her. Wrinkle tried to punch Miss Trix and stumbled to the floor. Miss Wyse gave up on the pills and tried to grapple with Miss Trix but Miss Trix turned from the woman and leapt onto Wrinkle, punching the man in the face. Wrinkle turned over and stabbed at the woman with the broken bottle. The cuts he gave her were merely superficial. Both of them were bleeding but Wrinkle was obviously hurt worse.
Miss Denning quickly slipped by the fighting and went to the fridge. She found some rum there and grabbed one of the little bottles, popping it open. She dropped to her knees and scrabbled at the pills on the floor.
Johnson tried to pull Miss Trix off Wrinkle, struggling with the woman. Miss Wyse tried to help the man but Miss Trix struggled violently against them. Wrinkle tried to cut Miss Trix again and the woman grabbed at his hand holding the bottle. Johnson continued to tried to pull the woman off Wrinkle.
Miss Denning finally got some of the pills and broke them open, putting them into the bottle of rum.
Miss Trix suddenly didnâ€™t know why she was attacking Wrinkle. Miss Wyse looked around for something to use to hit her, picking up the bucket filled with animal crackers, trash, and glass. She tried to grab Miss Trixâ€™s hand to shove in there but Miss Trix stood up and stumbled way from them all, landing back in her seat and cowering from all of them, crying desperately. Wrinkle climbed to his feet, carefully watching her. He remembered how freaked out he had been earlier.
The noises from outside had stopped and Johnson looked out the window. The things were gone.
â€œAnyone want a drink?â€ Miss Denning asked, holding out the drugged bottle of rum.
Miss Wyse raised her hand and then grabbed the bottle, drinking it down. She sat down in her seat and finished the whole thing. She felt the room moving around her, driven by the rum and the sleeping pills Miss Denning had put into the bottle as well as the ones sheâ€™d taken herself.
Miss Denning picked up several more pills from the floor and surreptitiously slipped them into another bottle of rum. Miss Trix took out a joint and asked for a match from Wrinkle, who helped Miss Wyse into the back seat, laying down, and put her on her side.
â€œThank you so much,â€ Miss Wyse said. â€œYouâ€™re the most beautiful person Iâ€™ve ever met.â€
She passed out.
â€œSo, you want a match for your reefer?â€ Wrinkle said to Miss Trix.
â€œYeah,â€ she replied.
â€œNo, theyâ€™re my matches now,â€ Wrinkle said. â€œSorry.â€
Miss Trix kept crying until Miss Denning held out her lighter. She took it and lit the joint.
â€œIt already smells like pot in here!â€ Wrinkle said. â€œCâ€™mon!â€
They noticed the strange upholstery in the jet. They hadnâ€™t before. It was aggressively unpleasant. The pattern was emergently complex and every time they looked at it, it looked like faces, hands, things in Carcosa. Was it like that before? It looked like people even.
The cockpit door suddenly slammed shut.
â€œThis is your pilot speaking,â€ came over the intercom. â€œPlease fasten your seat belts and put away all drinks and snacks. Weâ€™ll be landing in Houston in just a few minutes.â€
Johnson ran to the cockpit and opened the door. The pilot and copilot were there. They looked around, startled.
â€œSir, I just asked you to please fasten your seat belts,â€ Captain Watson told him. â€œYou guys have been great this whole trip.â€
Wrinkle took the Molotov cocktails apart as Miss Wyse struggled with her seatbelt but managed to somehow fasten it. Wrinkle realized the caps of the bottles he still had were in the bucket with the garbage and the glass. He shrugged and drank down the contents of the bottles.
Miss Denning walked to Johnson.
â€œItâ€™s fine,â€ she said to him. â€œJust have a drink and sit down.â€
She handed him the drugged rum.
â€œFinish â€˜em up and sit down,â€ Captain Watson said. â€œI donâ€™t want any glass around when we land.â€
â€œHere, drink this up,â€ she said. â€œTake a seat.â€
Johnson ignored her as the co-pilot closed the cockpit door again. Soon they saw the lights of Houston below them and it was only a short while before they landed. Miss Trix quickly finished up her joint as the aircraft taxied to the terminal.
Bender, the co-pilot came out of the cockpit and thanked them for flying with them as he opened up the outer door. He told them theyâ€™d have their luggage shortly and asked Miss Trix to put out the joint. She quickly did so.
â€œIâ€™m going to have to air this thing out now,â€ he said.
Wrinkle checked his pocket and found he still had the leather-bound King in Yellow there.
Miss Wyse had to be carried off the aircraft as she was unconscious. They got their luggage and everything seemed so terribly normal, as if nothing strange had ever even occurred. Though it had felt like theyâ€™d been in the Learjet and Carcosa for five or six hours, it was only a couple hours later, according to their watches.
They passed their pilot and co-pilot in the terminal and Watson reminded them to turn their watches to Central Time from Pacific Time.
â€œThey were so quiet the entire trip,â€ they over heard Bender say to the man. â€œAll five of them.â€
There had been six of them.
* * *
They eventually learned that no one knew of anyone named Carl Smalley. Nobody had ever heard of him. Nobody referenced him. Nobody named Carl Smalley worked for the studio, he was not in the Los Angeles telephone book. It was like he had never existed, like he had been erased from history. They learned the producer of the movie, a woman, had simply not come with them for the location shots. She had never planned to come, actually. They all recognized her but didnâ€™t really remember her.
* * *
After â€œMr. Blackâ€ was finished, Wrinkle pitched The King in Yellow to the studio. They tried to make a movie out of the disturbing play but all of the actors mysteriously disappeared on a flight to a location shot. Wrinkle, terrified, went on a bender and ended up living on the street, still trying to get someone to produce the horrific play he always kept near him.
* * *
Janice Wyse had terrible nightmares for several nights about the Yellow Sign, the King in Yellow, and Hastur but eventually stopped dreaming about Carcosa. She continued drinking in an attempt to forget the horrors of the flight and the terrible city. She gained weight and stopped acting, retiring to her mansion where she become somewhat of a recluse.
* * *
Emma Cracker ended up being Sandy Trixâ€™s breakthrough roll. She went to be a major film star, relying on the strength she found in that terrible plane flight and the city under twin moons. She became a big time actor, adopting a child from Africa at some point.
* * *
Vic Johnson continued his own acting career, eventually convincing his mother to move to L.A. from Compton.
* * *
Sandra Denning, after realizing the possible effects of pills, left the acting game and went into pharmacy instead. She got a degree in pharmacy from the University of Southern California and worked in the profession for years. She enjoyed the work and was good at it. She was still at work at a pharmacy in 2017 at the age of 70 when the store where she worked began to be frequented by a large, sweaty man who was losing his hair. He had a penchant for peanuts.