Tuesday, November 20, 2018
(After playing the original Call of Cthulhu scenario “Fear Jet ‘73” Sunday at the App State Gaming Club Gamefest from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Ashlyn, John Leppard, Curt, Chandler, and Carl Cordini.)
On the evening of Thursday, October 25, 1973, the Learjet waited at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, for its next passengers.
“Lady and the Scamp” was what Sharon Best and Danny Trent were billed as, and had been since the two started working together as a musical act with bits of comedy routine thrown in for the fun of it five years before. They were now in the top 20 musically and had done dozens of guest spots on various variety shows. On Oct. 18, they were heading for Las Vegas from Chicago from gig to gig. Their agent, Leonard Penrose, was along, as well as Jacob Brown, a lawyer with paperwork for their own variety show on CBS replacing Sonny and Cher! Sharon’s hair dresser, Randy White, and makeup artist, Debra Wright, the two of them good friends with her, were also flying with them. Penrose had booked a Lear Jet! What luxury!
Gas prices were around 40 cents a gallon and Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal in the United States at the beginning of the year. The Vietnam War ended in January as Richard Nixon began his second term as President of the United States.
The Watergate Scandal had rocked the nation. With the first revelations in March and Nixon’s firing of White House Counsel John Dean and resignation among the White House Staff in April, televised hearings began in May. The Vice President of the United States, Spiro Agnew, pleaded no contest on Oct. 10 to a single felony charge of tax evasion and resigned from office. On October 20, President Nixon ordered Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox dismissed, resulting instead in the resignation of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General. The eventual dismissal of Cox raised calls for Nixon’s impeachment.
* * *
Sharon Best was “The Lady” of the duo. She was tall and slim, pretty and delicate, and had blonde hair. Nearsighted she wore stylish glasses that actually made her look younger than her 38 years. She was a singer and an actor, confident, strong, and sure of herself.
Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Sharon longed for something better. After going to college at Ohio State University, she headed west to California to try a career in acting and singing. It was a long, hard struggle to the top to get her singing career (not her first choice) where she eventually started to make things work out. When she met Danny Trent in ’68, he really put the spice into her career. Ten years younger than she, it was only with his input that her career really took off as “Lady and the Scamp.” Much like Sonny and Cher, their fame was spreading, her songs were in the top 20, and she had a television variety show possibly lining up. It was all going her way. Her first LP from back in 1964, “The Golden Girl of Summer,” was actually selling again too.
As she walked through O’Hare Airport with her luggage, she saw a businesswoman in a smart suit who nodded at her.
* * *
Danny Trent, known as “The Scamp” on stage, was short and good looking with long blonde hair. He had a ready smile that showed off his great teeth. He dressed in the most stylish and fancy clothes and had an upbeat personality. His optimism was often contagious. At 28 years old, his star was rising quickly.
Danny was born in Reno, Nevada, and went to the University of Nevada, Reno, to get his business degree. But he never wanted to be in business, so he set off for California after graduating. It was pure chance he met Sharon Best, a singer with a mediocre career, and the two of them hit it off. She was 10 years older than him but he thought she was incredibly hot! He convinced her to let him sing with her and the two were suddenly on the way up! They became “Lady and the Scamp” and with her song writing and his business sense and backup singing, the two reached the top 20 charts soon after. Now, with Sonny and Cher’s marriage on the rocks, there was talk of a variety show for them next fall. Everything looked great.
He hurried through the airport to his gate.
* * *
Leonard Penrose was a tall and slim with dark hair. He also wore a very stylish dark suit and had a nice smile. At 41 years old, he was a natural in his business as an agent and counted “Lady and the Scamp” among his best clients. He was everything a client could want in an agent: flamboyant, happy, and friendly. But he also had an important secret.
No one understood Leonard, least of all himself, it seemed. He tried to make a go of it in New York City but eventually ended up doing what he did best in L.A.: finding wonderful people their amazing place in show business. He loved all of his clients, especially the men. Though he was married to Sheila, and had been for years, it was a loveless marriage as he preferred men to women, but had never come out. It was just not acceptable and he feared losing clients or worse. Maybe someday, how he felt would be openly acceptable. For now … no one knew his secret.
A man approached Leonard. He was missing his left arm and the cuff of his olive drab coat had been pinned up at the elbow. Leonard guessed he might have been a Vietnam veteran.
“Hey, buddy,” the man said to him. “Can you give me a dime for a cup of coffee?”
Leonard hesitated and then reached into his pocket and handed off two dollars.
“Thanks, man,” the panhandler said. “Tell me, have you seen the yellow sign?”
“What about the yellow sign,” Leonard said. “No, I haven’t.”
“I have not.”
“What’re … you … thanks!”
The panhandler wandered away.
* * *
The lawyer Jacob Brown looked older than his 51 years as he had been prematurely graying since high school. He had a thick gray head of hair, parted on the left side, and a large nose. He tended to squint a lot, his eyes ruined by years of ferreting out small print on documents. He was fairly solid.
Born in Dallas Texas, Jacob graduated from the University of Texas in Austin with his law degree and passed the bar not long after that. He practiced in Texas for a while before moving to California. He soon found himself working with celebrities primarily as that’s where the money was. Most recently, he found himself representing a singing group called “Lady and the Scamp” for negotiations with CBS for their own variety show. It hadn’t been easy.
As Jacob headed for the gate, he passed a nicely dressed businessman who nodded as he walked by.
* * *
Randy White was a strong black man of 28 years. He had a thin mustache and a thick afro. Effeminate and flamboyant, he was obviously and openly gay. He was also a trustworthy friend of Sharon Best and tended to be honest and level-headed.
Randy was born at the wrong place and the wrong time. No one understood him though he understood himself at a very young age. He was gay and he knew it and embraced it from the beginning. But being black and gay in Michigan was no life for him. He dropped out of high school and headed to California as soon as he turned 18. He found work with his passion: hair. Sure, it was a cliché, but it was what it was. He ended up working on Sharon Best’s hair and the two of them hit it off. He’d been working with her ever since. They were great friends.
As Randy walked through the airport, a panhandler approached him. The man had a paper coffee cup in his hand that rattled with coins.
“Hey buddy,” the man said. “You got some spare change? Spare change, buddy?
“Well, my good man, I once started small … and, here,” Randy said.
He handed over a dollar bill to the man, who seemed amazed at his generosity.
“Aw, thanks,” the panhandler said. “Thanks. He wears no mask.”
“He wears no mask?” Randy said.
But the man had already turned away to ask someone else for spare change.
* * *
Debra Wright was a pretty blonde who was spunky and talkative. She had hair down to her shoulders and looked younger than her 27 years. She always seemed happy to those around her.
Debra had a normal, boring life in Yakima, Washington, and longed for something a little better. She enjoyed theater in high school and even did a few local commercials and ads. She worked your way south, doing some acting but finding her greatest strength in makeup. Soon, she’d made a name for herself. Two years before, she started working for Sharon Best, “The Lady” from “Lady and the Scamp” and the two of them grew close. She’d worked exclusively for her ever since.
* * *
All six of them met at the gate and checked their luggage before they were escorted down to the tarmac where the Learjet awaited. The aircraft was the lap of luxury with comfortable leather seats and polished wood finish on the hard surfaces. The cabin was very small with one wide seat in the very back, two more facing it, and another, less-comfortable seat, facing the outer door.
Randy headed for the back and sat on the right side, feeling the leather. He thought at first it might be fake but, when he found it was real, he was delighted.
“This is so great!” he said. “Real leather! Whoever owns this plane has real class!”
Sharon took the seat in the middle on the left side and Danny hastened to take the seat next to her. Jacob took the seat that faced the door. It was not as nice but was comfortable. Debra sat in the back on the left and Leonard took the middle of the back, next to Randy.
The pilot and co-pilot introduced themselves as Harold Watson and Clifford Bender respectively. They greeted the passengers and were very friendly. Watson told them the flight should only take about two and a half to three hours. He also apologetically pointed out there was no bathroom on board but there was a bucket under the side chair where Jacob sat. He showed them a small refreshment station with refrigerated drinks; seltzer water; 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.
Randy started singing “Animal Crackers in my Soup.”
The two men made a little small talk. Then the pilot went into the cockpit to start preflight checks while the co-pilot closed the outer door joined him.
Then they heard the loud jet engines rev loudly. The aircraft made its way to the runway. After that, 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. 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 …”
“I beg your pardon,” Randy said. “Did you hear what he said?”
“I couldn’t quite make it out,” Leonard said. “No.”
“How about you, sir?” Randy said, leaning forward.
“What?” Jacob said.
“What the pilot said,” Randy said. “What’s out destination?”
Jacob just shrugged.
“So, did anyone hear about a yellow sign when they came into the airport?” Leonard said.
“Yellow sign?” Randy said.
“Yellow sign?” Sharon said.
“Uh … a beggar came up to me and he asked me about a yellow sign,” Leonard said. “I didn’t … When I asked him about it, he just wandered off. It was very confusing.”
“I haven’t seen anything,” Randy said.
“I haven’t either,” Sharon said.
Danny got up and went to the fridge, pulling out a glass and some booze.
“Sharon, you want one?” he said.
“I’m good,” she said. “I don’t need one.”
She had a flask of very expensive vodka in her purse. She guessed the liquor provided was probably pretty cheap.
“While you’re up there, can you just get me a ginger ale please?” Randy said.
“Yeah!” Danny said.
“Straight,” Randy said. “And those pretzels.”
“Grab me the animal crackers,” Leonard said.
Danny carefully tossed Randy the can of soda and a bag of pretzels. He did the same with a box of animal crackers for Leonard. He looked at Jacob.
“Just a whiskey,” the lawyer said.
Danny handed him a little bottle of whiskey.
“You want a glass?” he said.
“Sure,” Jacob said.
Danny handed him a glass. Then he mixed himself some rum and cola. He went back to his seat and pivoted it to face Sharon. Debra, in the back, chatted with Leonard and Randy. Sharon spun her chair around to face them. Danny turned his chair to face the back as well.
Jacob was a little isolated towards the front of the cabin. He didn’t care. He opened his briefcase and looked through the contracts Lady and the Scamp would be signing in LA in a couple of days for the newest CBS variety show, the one that would replace “Sonny and Cher.”
Leonard found himself still wondering about the yellow sign and mentioned it to the others again.
“Did he say anything else or give any indication?” Randy said.
“No,” Leonard said. “He said nothing at all.”
“Yellow sign?” Debra said. “Oh, like a yield sign!”
“Yield signs are yellow, right? They’re those yellow triangles.”
“Sure, I guess. Yeah. He acted very strange when I asked him about it.”
“Was he a friend of yours?”
“No, it was just a beggar. He came up. He had one arm and was in Vietnam or the military.”
“Probably crazy,” Jacob said.
“Possibly,” Leonard said. “But he acted very strange. When I asked him about it, he acted like he didn’t hear me. I … he heard me up until that point.”
“Did he smell?” Danny said.
“I didn’t smell him at all,” Leonard said.
“Did he seem concerned about the sign?” Sharon said.
“Uh … he kind of shied away after I asked him about it,” Leonard said. “He kind of seemed deaf and shied away. Kind of ran. It was very odd.”
“They shouldn’t let those kind of people in the airports,” Danny said.
“Yeah, well …” Leonard said.
“I mean, that’s not what you want to see on the way to the plane.”
“It’s a mystery!” Randy suddenly said. “Just like something out of Agatha Christie! It’d be wonderful: Murder at 45,000 Feet. Oh no. Better not say that.”
“There’s only six of us here, Randy!” Danny said.
“Have you ever read And Then There Were None?” Randy said. “There were 10, true.”
“‘But Then There Were Six?’ Is that what you’re going to do to us?”
“There were 10 but then they were down to one. Or was it two? One or the other.”
“Are you going to murder us, Randy?”
“If one of us goes missing, we’ll know who to look to first,” Sharon quipped.
“No, I just happen to enjoy Agatha Christie,” Randy said. “Oh, she’s a real spellbinder.”
“She’s a writer, right?” Danny said.
“Yeah. Murder mysteries,” Randy said. “Murder on the Orient Express.”
“It’s a very good book,” Leonard said.
“Most excellent writing,” Randy said.
“Is it a movie?” Danny said. “Did they make a movie? I like movies.”
“Yes, sir,” Randy said. “They did a few movies back in the old days.”
“I’ll have to look that up.”
“That was a tough one. That’s what it’s called: And Then There Were None.”
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 sky was clear though some clouds blew across the ground far below. Randy picked at his pretzels though Leonard had eaten all of his animals crackers. Sharon looked out the window and thought about her singing career.
Not long after the jet leveled off, there was suddenly a bright yellow light outside. The aircraft 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. Randy cried out. It only lasted for 10 seconds or so and then it was just gone.
Leonard noticed a brighter flash of yellow light coming from between the sliding doors to the cockpit.
Then the light was gone, leaving only the stars shining down out of the windows.
“What the heck is going on here!?!” Randy cried out.
“I’m not the only one that saw that, right?” Leonard said.
“I saw it!” Danny said.
“It was all yellow and everything!” Randy said.
“I saw it mainly come from the cockpit,” Leonard said.
“Should we check on the pilot?” Sharon said.
“Yeah, should we check it out?” Leonard said.
“Danny, Sharon, what did you see?” Randy said.
“They’re probably fine,” Danny said. “Everything’s fine.”
“I don’t know about that,” Sharon said.
“Yeah,” Leonard said.
“You’re probably just getting those hobos’ nonsense in your heads,” Jacob said.
“I don’t know, man,” Leonard said.
“We saw it!” Randy said. “We saw, right there. You didn’t see!”
“I don’t know what I saw,” Jacob said.
“It was very yellow light!” Randy said. “Then it just disappeared.”
“It could’ve been another plane,” Jacob said.
“I didn’t see any other plane,” Randy said.
Leonard headed for the cockpit. Danny looked around, nervous. Sharon swiveled her seat around to face forward. Leonard slid open the doors and was terrified to see there was no one in the cockpit. Both the pilot and co-pilot were gone.
The others all leaned forward and could see the empty seats there. Randy wailed loudly.
“Does anybody know how to fly!?!” he said.
“Danny, do something,” Sharon said.
“Uh … uh …” Danny said.
He jumped up out of his seat, hitting his head on the ceiling.
“I’ll save you, Sharon!” he said.
He strode towards the cockpit as Leonard noticed a red, leather-bound book on the pilot’s seat to his left. He reached down and picked it up. There was a strange symbol on the cover that, as he looked at it, seemed to twist and swirl and squirm, reaching hungrily for him for several seconds. He recoiled and dropped the book, blinking, and suddenly he was just looking at a strange symbol on the book. He picked it back up and showed the rest.
“This was in the pilot’s seat,” he said.
They rest of them all saw the horrible sign squirm and reach for each of them and then it was gone.
“What the hell?” Sharon said.
Jacob tried to slap the book out of Leonard’s hand but the man easily jerked the book back out of the way. Then he put the book back where he’d found it in the cockpit.
“What are you doing?” Jacob said.
“I assume you all had that experience,” Leonard said.
“Did you see that!?!” Danny said.
“I saw!” Randy said. “What-what happened exactly?”
“Crazy!” Danny said.
“Yeah, I … I have no idea,” Leonard said.
“I gotta fly this plane!” Danny said.
Danny got into the pilot’s seat in the cockpit, tossing the book into the co-pilot’s seat.
“Does anybody know how to check the auto-pilot on the plane?” Randy said.
“Anyone know how to fly the plane?” Sharon said.
“I’ll figure it out,” Danny said. “I’ll figure it out. How hard can it be?”
“I definitely should have bought a plane instead of a Mercedes,” Jacob quipped.
“Danny’s been drinking,” Sharon said.
Danny started flicking switches at random and pulled on the controls.
“It’s locked up,” he said. “It won’t move. Nothing’s working up here.”
“Look at the fuel gauge,” Randy said. “How much fuel do we have?”
“Uh …” Danny said. “Uh …”
“Where’s the fuel gauge?”
“‘E’ and ‘F!’” Leonard said. “Look for ‘E’ and ‘F.’”
“Uh …” Danny said. “Uh …”
“Oh boy,” Sharon said.
“Does anyone know how to fly a plane?” Leonard asked.
No one did.
“I could try,” Randy said.
“Uh …” Danny said still looking over the controls.
Leonard started looking for parachutes. There was no space under the seats except where that bucket was under Jacob’s side-facing seat.
“Danny!” Randy said. “Do try to call the airport! Say ‘Mayday! Mayday!’”
“Oh yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah!” Danny said. “Uh …”
“Oh yeah! Radio! Found a radio! Mayday! Help! Help!”
Danny had grabbed the handset for the radio and talked into it.
“I got somebody!” he said. “I got somebody!”
“Oh good!” Randy said. “Good good good good! Now say ‘Mayday! Mayday!’”
“I said it,” Danny said.
“Well say it again!”
“Okay. Mayday! Mayday!”
A child singing “Itsy bitsy spider” came out of the radio.
“Okay, that’s weird,” Leonard said.
Danny was a little shaken as well.
Leonard looked behind the seats in the back where there was a little space and was surprised to find two olive drab satchels that looked like they held parachutes there. Each had a couple of metal handles and were otherwise stuffed full. Randy noticed the man find the two satchels.
“Leonard,” he said.
Leonard, afraid letting everyone know there were only two parachutes would cause more havoc then there already was and realizing they were not yet in a dire situation, left them where they were. He put his fingers to his lips to shush Randy.
Sharon went to the cockpit. She sat in the co-pilot’s seat on the right side and picked up the strange red book. She opened it up and looked inside. The frontispiece had a copyright date of 1952 in Roman numerals though no publishing company was listed. The title was “The King in Yellow.” She flipped through it initially and realized it was a play. It began with a list of dramatis personae:
The Queen: middle-aged but beautiful, worried about the succession of the throne of Yhtill.
Prince Aldones: the oldest son, proud and bellicose.
Prince Thale: another son, love struck with Annea, daughter of the Earl of Marionn.
Prince Alar: happy-go-lucky third son.
Prince Uoht: youngest son, shy and reserved.
Princess Cassilda and Camilla: teenaged daughters, precocious and prone to mischief.
Naotalba: high priest of Yhtill’s god, imperious and skeptical of the legends of the Last King.
Dornan: aged royal advisor, cold, stoic, steadfast.
Keleth: royal torturer, sadistic, middle-aged man.
Molle: Keleth’s teenaged assistant and implied lover.
Kieran: octogenarian servant woman, living in an extended fantasy in which she is a young girl in love with the royal boatman, Mathes, who died when she was a teenager …
Mathes: Kieran’s imagined young boatman/lover.
The Earl of Marionn and the Duke of Frost: devious noblemen of Yhtill who scheme to poison the royal family to avoid the problem of succession and thus the possibility of the coming of the Last King.
Loreon: a sardonic minstrel whose rhymes and songs help flesh out the story.
Annea: daughter of the Earl of Marionn, and the young lover of Prince Thale.
Rotus: the ancient royal astrologer, doddering but determined to see the future in the stars.
The Phantom of Truth, or Pallid Mask: a mysterious pale-faced stranger who wears the forbidden Yellow Sign.
The King in Yellow, or Last King: legendary monarch whose arrival will spell doom for Yhtill.
She started to read the play.
Jacob stared in front of him, trying to comprehend what was happening. He guessed he was dreaming, probably. He opened up the refrigerator and took out one of the little whiskey bottles, opening it up and drinking it down. The last swallow felt weird, almost as if something solid was in it. He examined the bottle, unsure what he had swallowed. Then he heard the bottles tapping against each other in the fridge.
“Danny, have you found out how much fuel we have left?” Randy called.
“Oh yeah!” Danny said. “Yeah, I did! We’re mostly full.”
“Mostly full. We just took off.”
Randy turned to Debra and took her hand.
“Debbie,” he said.
“Huh?” she said. “What?”
“Are you okay?”
“This is scary.”
“I know this is scary but Debbie─”
“Are we going to be okay, Randy?”
“Yes, I am.”
“No, are we going to be okay?”
“We’re going to be okay.”
“Danny said the plane has almost full fuel. It’s flying on automatic. It’s a modern plane.”
“So, we just gotta figure out what’s out there. But Danny, can you call the tower again, please?”
“All I gets cows,” Danny said.
“Cows!?!” Randy said. “Whatta ya mean cows!?!”
“I dunno! It sounds like cows on the radio!”
“Well, try a different frequency!”
Leonard got up from between Randy and Debra and went to the cockpit to try to help Danny. He leaned over.
“What’s going on?” I said. “You need any help?”
“I dunno,” Danny said. “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Help! Anybody out there?”
“Have you got any people? Or has it just been … noise?”
“Who’s there?” a deep voice came over the radio.
“Okay,” Leonard said quietly.
“Uh … this is Danny Trent,” Danny said. “We’re in a plane and … we … are … out of control! It’s a Learjet and we’re heading west towards Las Vegas.”
He looked at Leonard, who nodded.
“Good. Good,” Leonard said.
“Okay,” Danny said. “Can you help us? Can you help us?”
There was static for what felt like a long time.
“Tell me … have you seen the yellow sign?” the deep voice slowly said.
There was a burst of insane, cackling laughter that everyone in the plane hear. Randy wailed in terror.
“What’s going on on the radio!?!” he cried out.
Danny looked at Leonard questioningly.
“Tell him the truth,” Leonard said. “The light was yellow.”
“The light was yellow!” Danny said into the handset. “Yeah, there was a yellow light. We might have been abducted by a UFO.”
“That’s a little bit of an assumption, but all right,” Leonard said.
“Something happened,” Danny said.
Nothing but static came over the radio.
Sharon looked out of the cockpit window, looking down. Instead of the city lights below, all she saw was stars, just like the stars below.
That’s not good, she thought, disturbed. We’re in space.
She went back to reading the book, keeping that fact to herself.
“I tried the controls,” Danny said to Leonard. “Everything’s locked up. Nothing does anything.”
The Learjet was still flying steadily.
Leonard noticed the book Sharon was reading looked like a play.
“Is there anything interesting in the book?” he said. “Is it … what is it?”
She had read only a little ways into the book but had learned the first act was establishing the characters. 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.
She started finding herself identifying with the unnamed Queen.
“Anything that may have caused the weird …?” Leonard said.
“I … I got nothing right now,” she said. “This just looks like a regular play.”
“You’re reading that book?” Jacob said.
“Yeah,” Sharon said.
“I’d … ditch that thing.”
“I mean … it showed up here. I figured I may as well.”
Danny was still calling for anybody on the radio.
“Anybody else got any ideas?” Leonard said. “The plane seems to be going okay, I guess. I mean … I’m just as confused as everybody else here.”
“I’m not going to touch that book, I’ll tell you right now, not with everything happening!” Randy said.
“I’m not,” Jacob said.
“Are you feeling okay,” Randy said. “How you holding up, Debbie?”
“I’m okay,” Debra said.
“Are you sure now?”
He looked at her face closely. Aside from looking frightened, she seemed normal.
“Okay Debbie, we’ll just get through this,” Randy said. “Randy will be here. Holding your little hands there. Please hold my hand as well, too. We’ll get through this. Don’t you worry. Randy’s here with you.”
Jacob moved to one of the seats in the cabin that was unoccupied. He noticed the noise of the bottles clinking together in there.
“Why is it rattling?” Randy said. “There’s no turbulence.”
Jacob moved forward and opened the refrigerator. There was nothing unusual in the fridge but then he looked more closely at the small, individual liquor bottles. Each held a couple of ounces of various liquors. He noticed each one also held a small worm or something, like they sometimes did with tequila. On closer examination, they proved not to be worms. Some were little snakes. Some looked like octopi. One was just looked like a tentacle. They were all moving.
Jacob realized what he had drunk from the whiskey bottle just a short time before.
He slammed the fridge door shut and stumbled backwards to sit down on the cabin floor, his back against the outer door. Leonard, in the cockpit doorway, felt him stumble by and looked over his shoulder at the lawyer, who was pale and staring at the fridge.
“What is that?” Jacob said.
“What did you see?” Leonard said. “What happened?”
“There’s something in the fridge,” Jacob said.
“What?” Randy said from the back of the cabin. “What could it be?”
“What?” Leonard said.
“I … I don’t know,” Jacob said.
“I mean, there’s alcohol,” Leonard said.
“There’s seltzer water,” Danny said.
“Alcohol?” Randy said. “What did you see?”
“There … there are tentacles …” Jacob said.
Randy wailed in terror.
“Tentacles?” he said. “In the booze!?! Bad booze!”
“I think I drank one,” Jacob said.
Randy wailed again.
“We all drank one!” Danny said. “What do you mean ‘tentacles?’”
He got out of the pilot’s seat and pushed past Leonard.
“What’re you talking about!?!” he said.
“I think I need a drink,” Jacob said.
Danny opened up the fridge and peered in for a moment.
“I’ll be damned,” he muttered.
He pulled out a liquor bottle and held it up for them all to see. There were, indeed, small living things in the bottles. They moved as if they were alive, at least.
Debra’s eyes opened wide and she got up from her seat, letting go of Randy’s hand. She went to the fridge and got one of the seltzer bottles. It hissed as she opened the top and she started to chug down the carbonated water. As she was drinking, she reached in to grab a can of cola, pulling the tab on the top with one finger and discarding it on the floor. Then she alternately drank from the can and the bottle, chugging down as much as she could.
“Slow down!” Leonard said, crossing to her. “You don’t need … why’re … what’s happening?”
Debra kept drinking as quickly as she could. He realized something was terribly wrong with her. Randy got up and grabbed at Debra’s right arm, which held the cola can. Leonard tried to grab her left arm. She actually shoved Randy away, spilling some of the soda. Randy grabbed her right arm and pulled the can of cola from her mouth.
“Debbie! Debbie!” he said.
Leonard managed to grab her left arm finally and pulled the seltzer bottle away from her face. She struggled against them and then Randy reached forward and slapped her hard in the face.
“Debbie!” Randy said. “Snap out of it!”
She continued to try to get to the liquids.
“Leonard! Leonard!” Randy said. “Help me take her back to her seat.”
“Okay,” Leonard said.
Jacob stood up and grabbed Debra from behind. The three men dragged her to the back of the cabin while Danny looked on, stunned.
“Danny, shut that fridge door!” Randy yelled.
“Oh oh oh oh!” Danny said.
“Danny, do it now!” Randy said.
Danny tossed the liquor bottle he had held up into the fridge and then closed the door.
Debra continued to struggle against them for maybe another 15 seconds before she went limp, dropping both the seltzer bottle and the cola can on the floor. She looked around, confused.
“What happened?” she said.
“Debra!” Randy said. “Debra!”
“What’s happening? I’m so scared.”
“Speak to us. What has happened to you? What went on?”
“I don’t know! I just had to drink! I just had to drink everything! I wanted to drink everything! Except for the awful liquor bottles! With the awful worms and things in them! I don’t want to see them anymore, Danny! I don’t want to see them anymore!”
“Okay, well, that’s why we got the door closed up. It’s not going to open up. Please make sure the door doesn’t open up. Please, Jacob.”
Tears were streaming from Debra’s eyes and Leonard took the bucket out of the side seat and put it in front of the fridge to keep the door from opening. Debra cried quietly in her seat, obviously distraught. Leonard and Randy joined her and tried to calm her. Danny went back to the cockpit.
“Sharon, is everything okay?” he said.
“Yeah,” she said.
Jacob heard a rustle from the cabinet where all the food was. It wasn’t very loud.
Oh no, he thought.
He opened the cabinet door and saw the small containers of pretzels, honey-roasted peanuts, and the boxes of Barnum’s animal crackers. The rustling continued and he realized it was coming from the boxes of animal crackers. He looked over at Leonard, who had been eating the animal crackers earlier, and noticed the empty box on the small table next to him. He looked slowly back at the rustling boxes. Then he closed the cabinet.
He went to the cockpit and stood in the door to find Danny on the left and Sharon on the right. She was still reading that weird book. Danny continued fiddling with the controls and dials.
As Jacob leaned forward, he noticed what looked like another plane outside, a hundred or so yards away. It was on the left and looked like another Learjet, just like theirs. He looked over Danny’s head and saw his own face appear in the windshield of the other Learjet. As he watched, the other him seemed to see him and then waved and seemed to be yelling at him or trying to communicate.
Jacob reached down and shook Danny, pointing out the window. Danny’s jaw dropped.
“Where’d that come from?” he said.
The other Jacob was gone from the window. Jacob was deeply disturbed. Everything in his vision went red and he fell to the floor, unconscious. He’d fainted.
Randy wailed and got up, going forward to help the man. Jacob was only out for a few moments.
“Jacob, are you okay?” Randy said. “Jacob? Are you okay?”
“Uh … I don’t know,” Jacob said.
“Well, what happened, exactly, Jacob? Can you tell me?”
“I just saw red. I-I saw myself.”
“What do you mean?”
“There was a plane out there,” Danny said. “It’s gone now.”
“I saw myself in a plane,” Jacob said.
“You’re not making sense,” Randy said.
“I was looking out the window and there was a plane and I was … I was shouting … I saw myself … looking at my … I saw me in the plane. And … I was shouting at my … he was shouting at me.”
“How far away was this … was this the same plane as ours?”
“It was. Maybe? It was the same kind.”
“I just can’t … but you saw what you saw.”
“Danny saw it!”
“I saw the plane,” Danny said.
“You saw the plane?” Randy said.
“I didn’t see anybody in it, but …”
“It looked just like ours. It’s gone. Damnedest, weirdest thing.”
“You saw the plane just like ours, I take it.”
“Yes,” Jacob said.
“And you saw yourself in the window? The same window you were looking out?”
“Uh!” Danny said. “Uh!”
He had peeked out the window and noticed there was no ground below them, only stars. He pointed down.
“Uh!” he said. “Uh! Uh! There’s stars under the plane! There’s no land! There’s no land!”
“Stars?” Randy said. “Stars underneath us!?!”
He offered to help Jacob up but the man just waved him off. Randy looked outside and saw there was no ground below but only stars, just like the ones above them. Leonard also looked out of the window. It was very disturbing and he went pale, feeling faint for a moment.
“Jacob!” Randy said. “Stay on the ground. Just stay there!”
Leonard returned to the back of the cabin to comfort Debra.
Sharon had been focused on the book and was almost done skimming it. The play was very strange.
The rest of the first act of The King in Yellow consisted of a pair of evil noblemen conspiring to avoid the possibility of the destruction of the city by poisoning the entire royal family and establishing a parliamentary form of government. At the end of the first act, the royal family heard that 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 was 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 then 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 existed 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 (e.g. 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 minstrel 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.
Sharon came away from the play understanding that Hastur, the King in Yellow, and the Yellow sign were all closely related, though the play was ambiguous and even contradictory in relating that information.
“So … the tentacle book,” she said. “It’s basically a screenplay, kind of like a Shakespearean play. And, it’s about this intruder that breaks in and they torture him but they ended up killing him but they don’t end up killing him. They kill somebody else. And … yeah.”
Danny looked at her like she was crazy.
“So, what?” Leonard said. “Do they kill the wrong guy?”
“Yeah,” Sharon said. “They torture and the phantom of truth but it’s the apprentice that dies, not the intruder. The intruder’s like a phantom. Basically, that’s what I got from it. The prince kills himself at the bottom of a statue but it wasn’t caused by the phantom. The phantom didn’t do that.”
“But there’s a connection between …” Sharon said. “The King in Yellow is … the yellow sign that the guy was talking about that you heard about it.”
“Okay,” Leonard said.
“And on the radio,” Danny said.
“Yeah!” Sharon said. “That we heard on the radio.”
“Okay,” Leonard said. “So, we think … The King in Yellow … was that the guy on the radio? Is that what we think, or …?”
“No,” Sharon said. “It’s representative of The King in Yellow?”
“Danny, try on the radio again,” Randy suggested. “Call the King in Yellow.”
“Yeah, maybe try─”
“Try that word. Maybe that’s a codeword.”
“Contact the King.”
Danny looked confused but turned to the radio. Leonard came to the cockpit and crowded over Danny in anticipation, standing over the prone Jacob, still on the floor there.
“This is … uh … Learjet, looking for The King in Yellow?” Danny said into the handset.
“Yeah,” Sharon said.
Some static replied.
“Hastur,” Sharon said. “Say Hastur. That’s the King’s name.”
“Hastur?” Danny said.
There was more static in reply.
“Hastur?” Randy said. “That sounds so Midwestern.”
Some noise crackled over the radio and then there was a loud and terrifying shriek that made everyone recoil. Danny dropped the handset with a curse.
“No no no no no no no no,” Debra muttered in the back.
She put her head in her hands. Randy went back to comfort her. Jacob got up and made his way out of the cockpit.
A smart rap came from the exterior door. They all looked at it and it came again. They realized someone or something was knocking on the outside door.
“Did anyone else hear that?” Leonard said.
“Well, we can’t open it!” Sharon said.
“I heard it,” Danny said.
Jacob moved to the window nearest the door and found he couldn’t see much. There was interior and exterior glass on the craft and it kept him from getting a good angle. Someone or something might be clinging to the exterior of the aircraft, but they’d have to be clinging right up against the door not to be seen from his angle.
Leonard banged on the door three times. There were three raps in return. Then the rapping came again. Sharon got up and knocked the first half of “shave and a haircut” and was a little disturbed when two raps replied to complete the sequence. Then the rapping came again, as well as a muffled voice. They couldn’t make out what was being said, however.
The rapping continued.
“What do you see out the window?” Randy said. “What can we see?”
“I don’t see anything,” Jacob said.
“What do you mean? You’ve got to see something.”
“It’s hard to see out the window.”
Danny looked out the left side of the cockpit windshield.
“I don’t see anything either!” he said.
“No one can see anything?” Randy said.
Sharon moved to the door and tried to listen.
“Who’s there?” she said.
There was merely muffled noise from the other side.
“I’m not opening that door,” Leonard said.
“No,” Sharon said. “No.”
“I’m not compromising the pressurization of the plane,” Leonard said.
Aside from the roar of the engines, there was silence in the cabin. The rapping had stopped.
“Maybe we should open it,” Jacob said.
He was remembering himself in the other plane.
“I don’t think we should!” Sharon said.
“Are you crazy, man!?!” Randy said.
“We might be in space!” Sharon said.
“Are you crazy, there?” Randy said. “We’ll get sucked out into space!”
“We can’t - we can’t be in space right now, can we?” Jacob said.
“Well, how do you know?” Randy said.
“How did you see yourself?” Sharon said.
“But Jacob has one point though,” Randy said. “Space is awful cold if I remember right. How come we’re not freezing right now?”
“I mean, that’s a point,” Leonard said. “But he just blacked out. Are we going to trust a guy who blacked out.”
“But, the stars,” Randy said. “I saw the stars below us as well too. I don’t know. If we’re not freezing, but we’re out in space, and it’s supposed to be cold as cold can be, I would say, try the door, because we’re not going anywhere. The controls are jammed. Danny, any luck with the controls?”
Danny tried to move the controls and press buttons again. He leaned back and shook his head.
“Nothing does anything up here,” he said.
“So, I’m going to say this is an illusion,” Randy said. “That’s what it’s going to have to be: an illusion. I’m willing to take that chance and open the door.”
“I vote no,” Sharon said.
“We can’t stay in here!” Jacob said.
“We gotta keep─” Sharon said.
“There’s too much **** going on in here!” Jacob said.
“There’s too much air?” Sharon said. “Because that’s what we’re about to lose!”
“Randy, if this is your decision, it’s my decision too,” Leonard said.
“Well, okay then,” Randy said. “We’ll have to take a chance because, you’ve seen so many strange things happening. The knocking on the door might mean something. So … I say─”
“If you want to do this, we can do this.”
“Okay, because we’re either going to crash somewhere, we’re going to starve to death if we keep going in space, unless we freeze to death first, so I’m willing to take a chance on that door.”
The engine noises suddenly stopped, throwing them into silence.
“Sharon, knock on the door again please,” Randy said.
“Who’s there!?!” she shouted at the door.
There was no answer.
From his perch at the window, Jacob saw they were no longer in space or wherever they had been before. Instead, the Learjet was standing on a strange city street with barely enough room on either side to accommodate the wings. The street was sided with tall buildings. It was terribly quiet without the roar of the engines and it was very gloomy outside. The buildings surrounding the jet had a Victorian or Edwardian appearance though there was the suggestion of other cultures. He could see little else from the tiny window.
“Whaaaaa?” Danny said.
He had been looking into the cabin but turned around and saw the street through the windshield.
“I … I don’t think air is going to be a problem anymore,” Jacob said.
“Why?” Leonard and Sharon said together.
“Where the hell are we?” Danny said.
“We’re on a street,” Jacob said.
“What?” Leonard said.
“Street?” Sharon said.
“Are you sure you don’t mean a runway?” Randy said.
Leonard and Sharon went to cockpit to look out and were shocked to see they were on a street. They all realized the Learjet barely fit on the street it was standing on. They could see the street only went a hundred or so feet before it turned off in another direction. In the distance, they could see dark domes and monolithic towers. Many of the structures appeared to be made of black and pitted stone and all of them towered over the Learjet. A lake stood in the distance, close enough that the strange city probably stood upon it. They looked up to see strange stars and two moons in the sky above, near the horizon. Things flew up there.
“Well …” Leonard said.
“I think I’m going to stay on the plane,” Sharon said.
“If we stay on the plane, we’re going to need food and water from somewhere,” Leonard said.
“Jacob, I apologize,” Randy said. “I thought you were talking about a runway.”
“It’s fine,” Jacob said. “We’re all a little bit stressed.”
“I quite agree with you there,” Randy said.
Debra continued quietly crying in the back of the airplane.
“Gang, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” Randy quipped.
“Definitely not,” Leonard said.
Jacob pushed the lever on the door until there was a hiss of pressure change. He pushed up on the upper clamshell portion until it locked. The lower portion, complete with steps, clunked down to its lowest position. The street outside was covered in dust and there was a smell of great age. The city was otherwise completely still and quiet. They peeked out.
Shops and windows lay on the street, all of them apparently closed. Some looked familiar though others were completely unrecognizable. The architecture was very strange.
Jacob stepped out of the plane to the street. Leonard followed him and looked more closely at a sign over one of the shops. It was not in English and the lettering was not even Roman. The others followed more slowly until all of them but Debra were standing on the street.
Down the street was an obvious storefront, not far from what appeared to be a lit gas streetlamp.
Sharon was looking up at the two moons, one of them slightly higher than the other. They seemed to be eyes in a tilted head to her. She expected them to blink. She didn’t like it but watched them carefully.
Leonard went back into the plane. Only Debra was still there.
“You want to go shopping?” he said brightly.
“Okay!” she said.
She got up quickly, not wanting to be left alone, and exited the plane with the man. When Randy noticed Debra’s streaked makeup, he wiped her face with his handkerchief.
“Follow me, friends,” Danny said.
He led the way down the street towards the shop front and the streetlight. Danny actually felt kind of drawn that direction. He didn’t think it looked like Las Vegas but he’d never been there so who knew? Leonard helped Debra while Randy went on about the city possibly being some kind of alternative Chicago.
“With the lake in the background,” he said. “It reminds me of Chicago.”
Curious, Leonard got out a cigarette and tried his lighter. It ignited and he lit the cigarette and took a long drag. Debra noticed and took out a cigarette of her own, lighting it with a match and inhaling. Leonard noted the street lamp burned with a yellow light.
The window of the store front was unusual. There were three large windows in the front, the center one nearly rectangular while the ones on the sides were half-ovals, curving at the bottom but coming to a point at the top. The middle window was not as tall as the outer ones but there were five panes of glass above it. A little above them all were two small oval windows set to either side. A strangely-shaped shop door stood to the right, also fronted in an irregularly shaped piece of glass. A single doll stood in the main window. It looked like a toy store and was dark within.
Across the street, built into the wall, was a very large chalkboard. Names were written all over it and there was a chalk tray with a single piece of chalk attached to it.
Sharon and Danny went to the chalkboard while Leonard led Debra to the store front followed by Randy and Jacob.
* * *
The two who went to the chalkboard read the names. There were many. The largest, in the center, was Alma but there were dozens of others. Sharon started looking for her own and Danny’s names and almost immediately spotted her own name far up the chalkboard. It was in her own handwriting. She looked at Danny.
“Danny, this is my name with my handwriting,” she said. “Like, I wrote this but I didn’t.”
She looked back up at the top of the chalkboard, but couldn’t see her name. She’d lost it in the mass of other names.
“It’s gone,” she said.
* * *
The others approached the shop front and saw that the doll in the window looked very much like Sharon though it was a China doll made to look like a child. It wore the same clothing Sharon was wearing and even had glasses and a hairstyle like hers. The doll was a close likeness to the woman.
“Sharon!” Randy called. “You gotta come here and see this.”
The other two walked over to the store and Sharon was horrified to see the doll looked like her.
Danny went to the door but found it locked. Disappointed, he turned away. There was a click and it slowly opened. Sharon’s eyes went wide. She was not going to enter the place.
Danny peeked into the shop and saw it was filled with shelves covered with dolls. He fumbled with the wall, hoping to find a light switch, but there was none. He saw what appeared to be gas lamps protruding from the walls but they were unlit. He realized all of the dolls were facing the door where he stood. He crept into the shop.
Leonard followed, taking Debra with him.
“What is this place?” she said.
Randy followed them.
Danny went to the Sharon doll and picked it up. It looked like a normal doll though the resemblance to Sharon was uncanny. He looked at Sharon as he looked at the doll. He lifted up the arm and it stayed up once it was put up. He half-expected Sharon’s arm to go up but it didn’t. He realized the doll could be posed to some extent.
Leonard looked around the shop and suddenly realized that, though the heads of the dolls weren’t moving, all of the eyes were in different positions and all of them seemed to be looking right at him. When he moved while looking at them, they didn’t move, but they seemed to be looking at him when he looked away and looked back. Many of them were also looking out the front window, where Sharon stood, nervously looking into the place.
Randy looked around for a doll that looked like him but didn’t see one.
Debra seemed quite unnerved by the whole shop.
“Those dolls are looking at us!” she said.
Leonard led her back outside.
* * *
Jacob crossed the street to the chalkboard, followed by Sharon. He looked at the names and spotted his own, near the top. It looked like it was in his handwriting.
“Wait, don’t break eye contact if you find your name,” Sharon said. “It’ll go away.”
“What?” Jacob said, looking at her.
“Don’t break eye contact,” she said again.
“Oh,” he said.
* * *
There was a rattling noise from the window and both Randy and Danny saw another doll stood there now. It was dressed in a very nice suit and had white hair and a large nose. They couldn’t help but notice the resemblance to Jacob.
Danny ran out of the shop.
“Don’t look at the chalkboard!” he yelled.
Randy followed him.
Jacob looked back at them and the shop and recognized a doll of himself in the window. It gave him a shock.
Sharon saw the doll Danny still carried and frowned. She didn’t want anything to do with it. Danny pointed towards the shop window and motioned to Jacob, who just shook his head. Sharon stared at the chalk board.
“Sharon, did you ever think about trying to erase the other names on there, or perhaps your name?” Randy said.
“My name disappeared,” Sharon said.
“What about the other names though?”
“That’s when the doll showed up.”
Danny took the piece of chalk on the tray and started to scratch out names. Sharon, Danny, and Jacob thought they heard the sound of breaking glass coming from the toy store. Danny cautiously crept towards the window and, even in the dimness of the room, could see that several of the dolls had fallen off the shelves and were lying broken on the door. A dark liquid oozed out of their broken heads. Danny found it very disturbing, especially when he realized the same number of dolls had fallen and broken as the number of names he had marked out with the chalk.
Sharon walked to Danny, grabbed the chalk out of his hand, and flung it down the street.
Randy was looking around and, down the street, probably several blocks away, he noticed a domed building with several painfully tall and thin towers upon it.
“Let’s go down that way just to see that building,” Randy said. “We don’t know exactly where we’re at. We’re babes lost in the woods. I say let’s go down to this domed building. Unless somebody else has a better idea.”
“I agree with Randy,” Leonard said. “Let’s move on.”
They did so
Unfortunately, the street didn’t go straight to the building and they were going to have to make their way to it. They continued moving through the city and saw thick dust and dirt on the ground most often. They left tracks wherever they went. Randy looked up as they walked and noted windows in some of the strange buildings.
“Let’s look up at the windows,” he said. “Just look up there. There might be some faces there. People … someone.”
“I-I don’t think I want to be seeing faces,” Jacob said.
Only Randy, Leonard, and Jacob looked for people in the high towers all around them as they walked. Leonard noted a face in a window after about five minutes. It looked like a woman or a young girl. She had long black hair and stared down from a window set five or six floors above the street. He quietly got Randy’s attention and surreptitiously pointed her out to him. Randy motioned for them to just keep walking. He wanted to continue on to the domed building.
The dirt and dust in the street made it look like the city had been long deserted. It was very quiet. Some of them noticed strange footprints sometimes visible in the dust that never lasted long. They appeared to have claws. They passed statues on occasion. Leonard examined one as they passed and noted a brass plate on the tall pedestal the statue stood on but no writing upon it. The man was in antiquated but unfamiliar clothing who was reaching down towards the street as if begging whomever was close enough to read the blank plate. His features were very familiar and very distinct but he did not remember where he had seen the man before.
They saw dim passageways in some of the towers, some with passageways leading down, others with stairs leading up. They passed a dry canal with a broken boat sitting in the bottom of it. They passed through alleys with stairs that were too shallow and felt uncomfortable to walk upon. Some of the walls were at the wrong angles and made their eyes hurt to even look at them. They felt like they were being watched all the time.
They passed by more shops. The window of one was actually filled with televisions. There were at least a dozen sets and, as they approached, they all turned on. They all had the same thing on. It looked like a stage in a variety show with tinsel hanging down in the back and a large center area for the actors.
The worlds “Lady and the Scamp!” scrolled across the screens.
A woman who resembled Sharon Best stepped out from the right wearing a leather dominatrix outfit, complete with riding crop and mask. They couldn’t make out her features. What must be assumed was Danny Trent came from the left wearing a bondage or gimp outfit. It was all leather with zippers over the mouth and eyes, though the latter were open. The woman spoke first but the words are unintelligible. It didn’t make any sense. It didn’t even sound like a language. Canned laughter erupted from the audience. Then the gimp spoke; again the words impossible to understand and unreal. The audience was silent. Someone coughed. The woman shook her head and said something to the gimp, who bent over. She started to whip him with the crop, eliciting uproarious laughter from the audience. It was embarrassing and humiliating.
“Do you hear that?” Debra said.
“Hear what?” Leonard said.
“Hear what?” Randy said.
“Behind the TVs,” Debra said. “It sounds like the TVs are echoing something that’s happening in the shop.”
They could see light behind the televisions and noted movement in the shop that almost mimicking what was on the televisions as if the show were being made in the back of the shop.
Randy tried the door to the store but found it locked.
The show continued with the humiliation of the shorter gimp continuing. The figure that Danny thought sure was representing himself told obvious jokes but the audience was quiet. There was even the sound of crickets at one point. The audience seemed to love the dominatrix, who was obviously Sharon, though the mask covered her features. They obviously hated the gimp: Danny.
It was humiliating for him. He thought he was pretty funny and helped make the team of Lady and the Scamp funny, but this show seemed to be showing him as a fool and a loser. Enraged, he kicked the door of the shop open, the glass breaking as it rebounded against the wall. He stomped into the place followed by Leonard, Jacob, and Sharon.
As soon as they entered the store, the television screens went blank.
* * *
Danny stomped into the empty store and to the lit room in the back. Leonard, Sharon, and Jacob followed him.
In the back room, was a stage that looked just like the one on the televisions. Two mannequins stood there, one dressed as a dominatrix and the other, short one, dressed as a gimp. Everything was silent. There was no audience. There was no camera. There was nothing except the stage, the mannequins, and the lights that shined down.
Danny, enraged, walked to the dominatrix mannequin and grabbed the riding crop out of its hand. He started beating on the mannequin with both hands, the riding crop in one and the Sharon doll in the other. The doll was shattered almost immediately and the mannequin fell to the floor where Danny continued to beat on it with what was left in both hands for about 15 seconds.
“What happened in there!?!” Randy called from outside. “The televisions all went blank when you went inside. What happened?”
Sharon went over to check on Danny, who was breathing heavily and was red in the face. He had dropped both the riding crop and the broken doll. She put a hand on his shoulder.
“You okay?” she said.
“People, what happened inside?” Randy called again. “The televisions went blank when you went inside!”
Leonard went back to the door.
“Danny’s just having a fit!” he called. “He’ll be fine. We got it under control.”
“C’mon Danny,” Sharon said.
She led him back out of the horrible little shop, followed by the other two. They continued down the street. They were not far along when they heard a buzz behind them as the televisions flickered to life once again. Danny flinched but Sharon pulled him along.
They were trying to figure out how to get to the strange building Randy had seen earlier and all of them felt terribly uneasy as they began to figure out the layout of the city. They all realized the whole city was much more strange than they thought. It almost felt as if the city were changing around them just out of their sight. Sometimes even things down the street, along the path they were heading, would change slightly or even completely if no one was looking at it. It was almost as if the city were molding itself around them and nothing was solid or permanent. It was disturbing and their knowledge of it happening was also disturbing.
They also realized they were not completely sure how to get back to the plane.
Then Leonard and Randy saw the girl they seen in the high window down the street, peeking around a corner of an alley ahead. Danny noticed her as well. She was the first person they’d seen since they had left the Learjet.
Randy, wanting to speak to her, picked up his pace. Leonard did so as well. Danny, nervous about the whole thing, merely stayed with the group. However, Jacob kept up with the other two and soon saw the girl as well.
Her face looked odd, they realized as they got closer. Her eyes seemed too big and her mouth was too small. Her hair was two dark and too straight. She didn’t look like a real person.
“Excuse me,” Randy called when they were within a dozen yards. “Excuse me, could we speak to you? Can we speak to you please?”
The girl turned and ran down the alley.
“I knew she was going to do that,” Randy said.
Randy and Jacob picked up the pace. Leonard broke into a sprint and ran ahead of the other men.
“Don’t startle her!” Randy said.
Leonard reached the corner first and, when he turned it, he stopped. The alleyway was about 50 or 60 feet long and had no other entrances or exits. But there was no one there. The girl was gone. The lowest windows were at least 30 feet up and mounted on smooth walls.
When Randy turned the corner, he said “Look up.”
There was nothing there. The girl was gone.
Leonard stood there, dumbfounded. Then he noticed the two moons. They seemed to be in the same exact spot they had been in when they had first arrived over a half hour before. Danny noticed that same thing. They should have risen or fallen in that time, at least a little. Sharon noticed as well.
“Hey,” she said. “I don’t think that time is … moving.”
“How do you mean?” Randy said.
“The moons haven’t moved,” she said. “They should be at least slightly different in the sky.”
“Oh,” Randy said. “By golly, you’re absolutely right.”
“Maybe it’s just been an hour,” Danny said.
“We’re in the Twilight Zone, that’s what it is,” Randy said.
“Does anyone have a watch?” Jacob said.
Randy looked at his watch and saw the hands were spinning furiously. Leonard looked at his watch and saw it was going backwards. Danny looked at his watch and saw it was not moving at all. He showed Sharon.
Randy realized he was always in a rush and the watch seemed to reflect that.
Leonard’s backwards-moving watch made him realize he wished he was back home.
Danny thought his watch reflected reality the best, as time shouldn’t move at all and didn’t there.
It was almost as if their watches, like the things in the city, were reacting to them against all logic. As if perception was subjective.
They continued on, trying to find their way towards the domed building.
They passed what appeared to be some kind of large, ornate, gothic warehouse on one side of the street. The sounds of a great deal of movement came from within. The windows of the building were set about 20 feet up but there was light coming from them. The sounds were reminiscent of machinery or people. There were a pair of large doors in the front with a single smaller door set in one of them.
Leonard looked at Randy and raised his eyebrows.
“Could we just peek through the door first?” Randy said.
They went to the doors and Randy pushed open the small door and peeked in along with Leonard and Sharon.
Within the large building stood long assembly line of some kind whereon brass clockwork automatons worked to assemble or disassemble things, though it was not immediately clear which or what. Other automatons slowly cranked the wheels of the assembly line, sending indeterminate brass devices moving down the line of “workers.” Some of them added things to the items while others seemed to remove parts. It was all quite strange.
The line ran out of sight from where they were. The warehouse was huge.
Leonard moved into the warehouse and tried to figure out what they were working on. He felt uncomfortable when he realized the machines appeared to be building, or disassembling, more clockwork devices like themselves. He thought he could get a better feel for it if he walked down the line. But he didn’t.
Sharon had rejoined the others. Randy waited in the doorway.
Leonard returned to Randy and told him what he thought. Randy mentioned it to the others, who loitered outside.
They headed further down the street.
The building they were trying to get to sometimes seemed closer and sometimes seemed further away. At one point, it seemed to merely be a block over but then it was much further away from their location though they thought they had been making their way to it constantly. They found a place where the street overlooked the temple, though there was no way down to it. The towers appeared to be decorative as they didn’t seem to be large enough to have any kind of staircase within. They were basalt and very tall. They could see light coming out of the main building through yellow, stain-glass windows. They thought they saw a shadow move across one.
“Well, people,” Randy said. “We got to figure a way to get out of this place. And I have a feeling the temple is going to give us the answer on how to get the heck out of here. If we just showed up on the street, hopefully we can just disappear from the street.”
“The yellow light is what got us here, right?” Sharon said.
“That’s true. The yellow light may be what’s responsible for getting us out of here too.”
“Sure,” Danny said.
“Unless someone else has a better idea …” Randy said.
Danny already headed down the street that seemed to lead to the temple or whatever it was. The rest of them quickly followed him. He was finally feeling himself again.
They passed what appeared to be a studio or gallery of some kind. The doors were open and there was no glass in the windows. Several paintings adorned the walls. Leonard and Sharon thought they saw a shadow of a man move inside the room.
They avoided the gallery and continued down the street, not wanting to get distracted.
They had gone several more blocks and thought they were only a few blocks away, or at least they hoped, when a man walked down the street in their direction. He held a lantern in his left hand and had long hair. His clothing was antiquated and looked like something people wore during the 17th or 18th century: pantaloons, shoes with large buckles, long knee socks, a tunic, and an open-fronted jacket. A cutlass was in a scabbard on his belt and he had long hair and was clean-shaven, though he grinned in a decidedly uncomfortable way.
He approached them, holding up the lantern, which was merely a stub of lit candle in a small glass box with a handle.
“Hey there,” Jacob called out to the man, stepping forward.
The others followed closely behind, Randy suggesting they stay back a little so they didn’t scare the man off. Though most complied, Danny moved ahead to approach the man with Jacob. As they got closer, they saw that the man was very thin as if he hadn’t eaten lately and his eyes were a bit wide. When he spoke, it was with a thick, British accent.
“Are you a righteous man?” he said.
Jacob straightened his tie. He liked to think of himself as a fairly righteous man.
“I’m a righteous man!” Danny said.
“I’ve found two,” the British man said. “I need to find at least 10 to stop the terror. You must answer me three questions.”
He looked at the two of them.
“Have you ever broken the commandments or killed another man?” he said.
“Uh … no,” Jacob said. “I never killed a man.”
“No,” Danny said.
The man looked each of them over and then frowned.
“How dare you lie to me?” he said. “Don’t lie to me. I need righteous men! I have to stop it or Sodom and Gomorrah will happen again … all over again. I must find 10 righteous men! Ten Righteous men!”
A single tear rolled out of one of the man’s eye. He looked past them.
“You!” he called to the others. “Are you righteous men?”
“Uh …” Randy said.
“We just arrived here in a plane,” Jacob said. “We don’t know where we’re at. Could you, maybe, tell us where we’re at?”
“It’s a sinful place,” the man said. “A place of sinners. It’s a terrible place. I’ve been looking for righteous men to save Port Royal. But I think I’m too late. I haven’t been able to find my way out of this place since … since the waves came and the … towers fell. It’s a terrible place. A terrible, terrible place.”
Jacob was fairly certain Port Royal was destroyed by an earthquake. Danny remembered for certain it had been destroyed in the late 17th century by earthquake and tidal wave. One of the ships ended up on top of a building. It had been terrible. And of those who survived, hundreds had died of disease after the terrible incident.
“But that happened hundreds of years ago,” Danny said.
“No!” the man said. “I’ve got to save it. I’ve got to save it.”
He started to back away from them, suddenly terrified.
The others approached and Leonard went to the man.
“Yes,” he said. “Yes! I’m a righteous man.”
“You’re a righteous man?” the other man said.
“You’ve never broken the commandments?”
“No. No. I do not judge my fellow man, but I think there are certain sins you probably have committed.”
“Have you? Are you a righteous man?”
“No! That’s why I seek them! I must find a righteous man!”
“Would you take a righteous woman?” Sharon said.
“We’re all the most righteous of men that you’ll find in these parts,” Jacob said.
“Would you take a righteous woman?” Sharon said again.
The man looked at Jacob.
“But I can’t just the most righteous men,” he said. “I must find truly righteous men. It’s the only way to save Sodom and Gomorrah - save Port Royal. It’s the only way. It’s the only way.”
He backed away.
“What is Sodom and Gomorrah?” Danny said.
“You don’t even know Sodom and Gomorrah?” the man said. “Read a bible! Read your bible.”
He left them, tears coming from his mad eyes.
“Can I have your cutlass, at least?” Danny called after him.
The man merely walked slowly and sadly away.
They went on their way. Only a block away, they came upon the building they had been searching for.
The black-domed temple had impossibly tall, thin towers jutting from the roof around the dome. Each was filled with dark windows filled with strangely-shaped, evil-looking gargoyles. Light glinted from the stained-glass windows of the place, which had strange scenes of people in masks floating gaily across a yellow background. Great golden doors stood in the front of the building.
“Well folks, we have nothing to lose, once again,” Randy said. “I’ll lead the way.”
He led them up to the doors and knocked. They felt greasy to the touch. There was no answer. He pushed on the door and it opened easily so he peeked in.
The building appeared to be one large room, deep and wide, with pillars holding up the black dome above. Something glittered up in the dome that almost looked like stars or small lights. The building was nearly square and, on the far end was an altar or table of some kind. Next to it stood a man in yellow robes. He was rather small, older, and wore wire-rimmed round glasses. He was balding and had a genial face, smiling when he saw Randy peeking in. He beckoned the black man forward and Randy saw he had a knife in his hand.
“All right,” the man said with a friendly grin. “Who’s first? C’mon!”
Randy pushed the door open and entered, the rest of them behind him.
“Just beware, people,” Randy said to the others. “He’s wearing a yellow robe but he’s a gentle-looking man.”
“C’mon!” the man said with a grin as they approached. “C’mon.”
“Is your name Hastur?” Leonard said.
The man laughed.
“No no no no,” he said. “That’s who I’m going to sacrifice you to. Who wants to go first?”
Randy wailed and the rest gaped at the man.
“Huh?” Sharon said.
“Yeah, I gotta kill you,” the man said. “I got this knife here. Who wants to go first? Just lay down on this altar.”
“Why do you want to do that?” Leonard said.
“That’s why I’m here,” the man said. “That’s why you’re here.”
“Oh,” Leonard said.
Sharon launched herself at the man.
“Oh, you’re first,” the man said.
She grabbed his arm as he tried to stab her. The two struggled with the knife.
“What is going on!?!” Debra wailed.
“If you just let me go, I’ll get it over with,” the man said.
Jacob rushed the man and tried to tackle him but merely struck him in the side at the wrong angle. He wasn’t as young as he used to be. Randy rushed forward as well and grabbed the man by the same arm Sharon had him by. He struck the man in the hand and knocked the knife free. It flew out of his hand and landed behind them.
“Dammit!” the man said. “Let me just get my knife.”
He tried to break free of Sharon’s grip and the two continued to struggle.
“Let go!” the man said.
Leonard ran over and picked up the knife, staying away from the man. It was slightly curved and looked very sharp. The pommel was adorned with large, yellow stones. It had a good weight.
Danny rushed forward.
“Can you hand me that so I can finish this?” the man asked him, indicating the knife Leonard held.
Danny punched at the man’s face but only landed a glancing blow.
“Get away from me!” the man said.
“Leave her alone!” Danny said.
“This is not how it’s done!” the man said. “This is not how it’s done!”
Jacob moved to the man and tried to put him in a hold but couldn’t get a good grip on him. Then Sharon swept the man at the legs, kicking them from behind and taking him down to the ground. She went down on top of him.
“Talk to me,” Randy said. “Will you tell me what’s wrong with you? Will you tell me where to go to the boss? What are you doing with this knife besides the sacrifice? Why?”
“I’m trying to sacrifice you because that’s what I’m here for!” the man said. “That’s what you’re here for. That’s why the plane brought you here.”
“But why do you want to sacrifice us?” Sharon said.
“Because, we need to make sacrifices to Hastur,” the man said. “I got the short straw so I’m stuck here in Carcosa.”
He looked at Sharon.
“Would you get off me, lady?” he said.
“No,” she said.
“Why do you have to sacrifice us?” she said.
“This is your destiny,” the man said.
“Like hell it’s our destiny!” Randy said.
“There’s no need to quarrel.”
“We’re going to get away from here.”
“Well, there’s no way out. Listen. Listen listen listen listen. I’m the keeper of this temple. Right? I’m here to sacrifice the people who come here.”
“Why don’t we sacrifice you?” Sharon said.
“It won’t matter. I’ll just come back.”
“I’m stuck here. I’m part of Carcosa now.”
“I drew the short straw. I’m not happy about it.”
“Will we come back?”
“Oh hell no. Well … you’ll be part of Carcosa forever. There’s this rich group of worshippers. Okay? So they thought … I was one of them. So we bought this Learjet and we enchanted it so it’d bring people to Carcosa so they could be sacrificed. It’s easier than kidnapping people off the street. So, if you give me my knife back, buddy, and just get on the altar, I’ll just sacrifice you, you’ll all be done, and … you’re not going to be able to find your way back anyway. Have you seen the streets? Do you know how to get back to the jet? It might have already left. It’s automatic. It won’t help you return. It’s going to leave shortly, if it hasn’t already left. You see, Carcosa changes. When you’re not looking at it, it changes into something different. There’s no way you’ll find your way back before … it’s gone. The plane goes back to Earth. You’re on Aldebaran, in the Hyades.”
“The moons didn’t change.”
“The moons didn’t change.”
“They’re not part of the city. They’re part of Aldebaran and the solar system. But have they moved? Time doesn’t pass here. Not since the King in Yellow came. They wrote a play about it! I read it. This building is your final destination. Just lay down on the altar; let me sacrifice you. Otherwise, you’re going to have to deal with them.”
He gestured upward with his head.
“Who’s them?” Leonard said.
“The byakhee,” the man said. “They’re servants of Hastur. They’re flying around. They know you’re here.”
“So what’s a byaskee besides a flying creature?” Randy said. “How do you describe it?”
“Well, it’s a thing that looks like a crow … and a bug … and a dead body …”
“It’s hard to describe. I still don’t like looking at them. But, you know … I’m not a masochist.”
He looked at Sharon.
“Get off me!” he said.
He struggled a little but she didn’t move.
“We’re just going to have to take you on back and we’re going to have to take our chances,” Randy said. “If you’re stuck here, it won’t be for a lack of effort on our part─”
“You can’t take me back,” the man said.
“I can’t go back.”
“We’re going to take our chances on that. Call us dumb, call us ignorant, but we’re going to do it and hopefully ignorance is bliss in this case and ignorance can get us out of this place as well too.”
“Good luck with that.”
“Well, of course, we’ll need luck─”
“It would be easier if you would just get down on the altar and just let me─”
“No way in hell or heaven or purgatory for that matter.”
“There’s none of those. They don’t exist.”
“I may have to differ about that!”
“It’s not an opinion. This isn’t purgatory. All that Christian bunk? No. Hastur’s a real god. He’s terrifying. I don’t ever want to meet him. You don’t either. Just get on the altar … would you get off me!?!”
“No,” Sharon said.
“Just get on the altar and let me stab you,” the man said. “It’ll be over really quick. It won’t even hurt that much.”
Debra watched the rest of them from across the room, her hands over her mouth, wide-eyed.
“So, what happens if we die not by the blade?” Leonard said.
“You become part of Carcosa anyway,” the man said. “Or if you go crazy here. They’ll come and get you if you go crazy.”
“Is there any way out?” Sharon said.
“There’s no way out,” the man said. “Just let me sacrifice you. You will never get back to the jet before it leaves. It’s automatic.”
Sharon and Jacob thought, for the most part, the madman was telling the truth. But he didn’t think the man was telling them everything. They thought the man wasn’t telling them everything about the streets changing.
“There’s got be something that is stable, right?” Sharon said. “This place has to have a core or something.”
“Hastur’s the core,” the man said.
“Have there been people who have come before us?” Jacob said.
The man looked at him.
“No,” he said.
“That’s a lie!” Leonard said.
Sharon punched the man in the face. It was a glancing blow that looked painful. He let out a shout.
“Stop it!” he said. “Don’t … hit me.”
“Tell the truth,” she said. “All the truth. Nothing but the truth.”
“Okay, fine. If you figure out how the place works, you can manipulate the streets, the roads, the buildings, but you can’t do that.”
“Because. To do that, you have to go crazy.”
“Hey, Debra, c’mere,” Sharon said.
Debra walked over, terrified.
“You’re crazy, aren’t you?” Leonard said.
“Pretty much,” the man admitted. “But I’m not taking you back to the plane. Nothing you can do to me is worse than what hasn’t already been done! I been living here for years. Wait. What year is it?”
“Nineteen seventy three,” Randy said. “When did you show up?”
“Time doesn’t exist here,” Sharon said.
“Nineteen seventy three?” the man said. “Oh wow. Okay. I been here for a few years. So what?”
“Define a few years,” Leonard said.
“When they built the Learjet,” the man said. “It was brand new. Right off the assembly line. One of the first, actually. It was one of the first off the assembly line. That’s when we bought it and did the plane and I got the short straw and here I am.”
“So, how’d you know we arrived in a jet?” Jacob said.
“Because I was part of it,” the man said. “I helped enchant the Learjet.”
He looked at them.
“The one that brought you here?” he said. “You rented it? Somebody rented it for you? You flew? All the sudden, you weren’t on Earth anymore? Now you’re here?”
“All right,” Leonard said.
“Where’s the rest of you?” Danny said.
“They’re back on Earth,” the man said. “I got the short straw. We’re all worshippers of Hastur.”
“Wait, Hastur’s on earth?” Sharon said.
“We want to make … no,” the man said. “The other elite. The others who are part of this plan. They were all part of it. We were all part of it together.”
“What are their names?” Leonard said.
“Uh … no,” the man said.
“Punch him again, maybe?” Jacob said.
“What’re you, a cop?” the man said.
Sharon punched the man again. It was another glancing blow that obviously hurt.
“Stop,” the man said.
“You know, if you helped us get back, we could force one of them to get the short straw instead of yourself,” Danny said.
“Yeah, you don’t have to take this,” Sharon said.
“You don’t have to be the one,” Danny said.
“Get her off me and give me my knife back first,” the man said.
“No,” Danny said.
“No,” Jacob said.
“Then don’t go!” the man said. “I’m not going to help you!”
“I’ll get off of you but we’ll hold the knife for now,” Sharon said.
She let him go and stood up. The man stood up and brushed his robes off indignantly.
“Hey man, what’s your name?” Sharon said.
“I don’t remember,” he said.
“Okie-dokie,” she said.
They realized the man was not all there. His mind seemed damaged.
“How do we manipulate the city?” Leonard said.
“Once you know how to manipulate, you do it,” the man said. “You might have already done it.”
They were all thinking about how they might manipulate the city around them. The thoughts that came to mind were not pleasant or natural and went against everything they knew and believed, but they felt it was right and proper somehow, even if terrible to imagine. If the universe actually worked like that, what other terrible truths were there that shouldn’t be but were? They realized the more they understood about the place, the more it broke their perceptions of reality, but the more control they might make. They figured they might be able to get through the madness of the place and control it. The more they thought about it, the more fractured and broken they each felt, but also the more they felt they understood how the strange and terrible city worked. They also came to the conclusion they might also work together to figure out how to manipulate the city and return to the Learjet.
“Now you’re getting it!” the man said.
He smiled and then had a thought.
“Wait, you can’t leave,” he said. “I need to sacrifice you. C’mon. C’mon. C’mon!”
“Well, we ain’t doing it,” Randy said.
“Why don’t you come with us?” Sharon said.
“C’mon!” the man said.
“And you could get your buddies.”
“No, I won’t make it back.”
“What do you get out of sacrificing us?” Jacob said.
“I got the short straw,” the man said. “I have to do it.”
“But what do you get out of it?”
“Worship to Hastur.”
“What happens if you don’t do it, though?” Sharon said.
“Hastur doesn’t care,” the man said.
“Just take the out then.”
“Does he care if you do do it?” Jacob said.
“Maybe?” the man said.
“It’s not definite.”
“Exactly. Now you’re getting it. C’mon! Who’s first?”
“No way!” Randy said. “People, let’s all tap our heels three times and focus on the plane, focus on the roads.”
“This ain’t the Wizard of Oz, boy,” the man said.
“Let’s figure it out,” Randy said. “Focus on the roads. Think of a nice, wide road, for us to walk back to wide enough to either A) let us take off or the road will just disappear, we’ll drop down and fly away from this madhouse place or this madhouse Twilight Zone area. Shall we do it together? Try to figure out how we see the road as? See the plane as? I would say, just think about this. Tapping heels three times optional. But nevertheless think of where the plane is at and think of us walking back to the plane.”
“That’s a lot to think about,” Jacob said.
“If we all do it together …” Randy said.
They realized they would have to walk as they tried to change the road ahead. Danny thought about finding the doll shop but realized that it was near the jet when they arrived but it might not be any more. They talked briefly about focusing on the lamppost but again realized things changed in Carcosa, and the jet might not be anywhere near the lamppost anymore.
“Can I have my knife back?” the man said.
“No,” Sharon said.
“Why don’t we just stab this idiot?” Danny said.
“No, he’ll come back,” Sharon said.
“That’s a bad idea,” Leonard said. “I’m of the idea that we go back to the art shop we passed, the closest one, with the shadow? It’s closest. We could go back to it.”
“But if the place changes all the time, we might not make it back to the art shop,” Randy said.
“Yeah, he’s right,” the man said. “Everything changes all the time.”
“Everything changes but if we focus─” Randy said.
“The art shop?” the man said. “You gonna go talk to Jack Scott?”
“Shut that guy up, will you, man?” Randy said.
“I know what will be in the same spot,” Sharon said.
“All of our seats on the plane. We could all just imagine ourselves there. Then we’re in the plane.”
“That’s a sweet idea. So, what do you think? Do we all focus on being back in the seat of the plane and we’re also flying to Vegas or back to Chicago? With the pilots.”
“The pilots are there.”
“All right, focus on the pilots. Focus on the fact that we’re back in our respective seats.”
“So, I’m in between Randy and Debra,” Leonard said.
“Right,” Randy said.
“You think you’ll just magically teleport there?” the man said.
“Yeah!” Sharon said.
“You said everything moves about,” Randy said. “We’ll take the chance. At least get ourselves back to the plane.”
“If that doesn’t work, I’m stabbing this guy for real,” Sharon said.
“We sacrifice this chump for real,” Randy said.
“You don’t stab me,” the man said. “I gotta stab you!”
“No,” Sharon said.
“You’ve got it backwards.”
“I’m going to sacrifice you to Hastur.”
“You don’t know how.”
“I say we all just get in a circle and try Randy’s idea,” Leonard said.
“I’m immune to sacrifice,” the man said. “Somebody’s got to be here to man this place.”
They all stood in a circle and thought about being back in the plane. The old man in the yellow robes just watched them. Nothing happened.
“I say we walk towards where we think it is,” Danny said.
“Wait wait wait,” Sharon said. “It changes when we don’t look, right. So we should all close our eyes and open our eyes again.”
“Yeah, but I’m looking,” the old man said.
“We haven’t even tried walking back to the plane yet,” Leonard said.
“You want to put his eyes out?” Sharon said. “You’ve got the knife. But don’t kill him or he’ll come back with eyes.”
“Let’s walk back but think about where we’re going to go to,” Randy said. “Where are we going to think of as we walk back?”
They looked at each other.
“The jet,” Danny said. “The ramp of the jet.”
They headed out of the temple. Leonard kept the dagger.
“You’ll be back!” the old man called after them. “You’ll be back! I’ll be here. Bring muffins!”
“No!” Sharon said.
They left the temple, heading down one of the streets.
They started to experiment with the city, trying to figure out how to control it. It was not pleasant as most of them headed for the factory by agreement. Jacob, on the other hand, focused on the chalkboard. Danny couldn’t get the stage out of his mind and so tried to do something with that. Sharon couldn’t get the televisions out of her head.
“I’m just going to go find the plane myself,” Jacob said.,
“You sure?” Sharon said.
“Your funeral,” Danny said.
Jacob headed off on their own while the other five tried to figure out the city. It was not pleasant but they did have a better understanding of the city as a whole.
They saw the temple, which seemed very far away. However, they could see the old man had somehow gotten up on the roof. He held his arms in the air and he was singing or chanting. Some of the horrible creatures flew down to him and then he conferred with them and pointed in their direction. The things took to the air again.
They decided to try to understand the city a little more as they moved through the town. They were finding a terrible understanding of the place was coming to each of them. They decided to experiment some more before they tried to make their way back to the jet.
* * *
Jacob wandered through the terrible city and then tried to figure out how better to manipulate it. He was very lost and seeing roads and streets he had never seen before. It made him nervous. It was worse being in the place alone than amongst others. He wasn’t sure he’d ever find his way back to the jet but was determined to try.
Then he saw the terrible flying things. He didn’t think they were coming for him. He hoped they weren’t. He prayed they were.
He turned a corner and saw the Learjet on the street ahead. He ran to the vehicle and realized it was on a street that looked nothing like the street he’d been on. No one was in the Learjet and the hatch was still open. Everything looked exactly as they left it what felt like hours before. He crouched near the hatch, peeking out in terror.
* * *
The horrible creature flew over the tower tops and swooped towards the other five people trapped in Carcosa. The hybrid winged thing flapped rhythmically. It was not altogether a crow, nor mole, nor buzzard, nor ant, nor decomposed human being, but something like all of them together. It was horrible to behold and they felt filled with terror at the sight of it.
Leonard was suddenly filled with terrible paranoia. Not only were the things out to get him, but he was certain all of his companions were, likewise, just trying to kill him. He backed away from the group and then ran away, sprinting away from them in a random direction and disappearing from sight almost immediately.
The rest of them only hesitated for a moment, Randy calling after Leonard, but then joining the rest as they ran down the street in what they all hoped was the correct direction.
And it was! They turned a corner and saw the Learjet ahead. However, the horrible creature swooped down upon them, coming at Randy. He flung himself to the ground and the horrible thing crashed onto him and landing on top of him. It bit him in the shoulder, injuring him, and then seemed to latch on. There was a slurping noise and he suddenly felt weaker as the horror drank his blood. The stench of the thing was almost overwhelming. He screamed.
Sharon, Debra, and Danny all fled to the plane.
“Good luck, pal,” Danny called to Randy as he ran.
Randy screamed again, continuously, and reached into his pocket to pull out the straight razor he always carried. He whipped behind him, trying to cut the horrible thing. He felt it strike the thing but wasn’t sure if it hurt it or not.
* * *
Leonard wandered, lost through Carcosa, terrified of the horrible things that he was sure were pursuing him. He knew his so-called friends were in on the plot as well, and probably planned to sacrifice him in the horrible temple and would have succeeded if he hadn’t outsmarted them earlier and gotten the knife that he still carried in his hands. That was the only reason he was still alive. He could only depend on one person: himself.
But he was so lost.
Then he heard the flapping of wings from above …
* * *
The horrible thing on Randy continued to suck his blood and his vitality. The man screamed and screamed and screamed as he tried to break away from the creature. It held him down with all its weight.
* * *
Sharon went into the cockpit and closed the doors to the cabin. She didn’t want to be out in the city any more. Danny ran to his chair and strapped himself in. Debra moved to the back of the cabin and sat in her seat, terrified. From the hatch, Jacob saw Randy being apparently eaten by some horrible creature.
“Hey!” he called to the hairdresser. “Hey! Hurry up!”
* * *
In the cockpit, Sharon suddenly realized there was a man-sized mannequin in the co-pilot’s seat. The head was turned so if it had had a face, it would be have been looking directly at her. It looked like a large puppet, made completely of wood with hooks where the elbows, knees, shoulder, and hips were so that it was probably very flexible. She didn’t know where it had come from. She wasn’t even sure if it had been in the chair when she had entered the cockpit.
* * *
Randy slashed at the horrible beast upon him with his straight razor again. He couldn’t really see and he wasn’t sure if he was actually hurting it or not. The horrible thing continued to suck his blood and vitality.
* * *
Danny took the napkin out of his pocket. He had kept it ever since he had met Sharon Best in 1968 and they had gone out to dinner. It was the napkin she had used at dinner that night and he had treasured it ever since. It wasn’t even dirty. He muttered to himself as he clutched it and hoped they would somehow escape.
Jacob stood in the hatch doorway and watched the terrible thing continue to maul Randy. He felt like he had his moneymakers and employers safely in the jet. He looked over his shoulder to see Danny with his seatbelt on in his chair, whimpering and clutching a piece of paper. He didn’t see Sharon but knew she had entered the jet. Even Debra was safely in the back seat, her head in her hands. He closed the outer door of the plane, pulling up the lower hatch up and then pulling down the upper hatch.
Sharon came out of the cockpit dragging a mannequin or a life-sized puppet of all things.
“You need to let me get the mannequin out,” she said.
* * *
Randy slashed at the thing again, feeling his strength ebbing. This time, something splattered on him that was warm and sticky and the thing shrieked angrily. He thought he might have actually hurt the horror on this back but felt terrible. The thing let go of him and stopped sucking his blood, however.
* * *
Danny whimpered and held the napkin, thinking about Las Vegas as much and as hard as he could.
“Just throw it in the back,” Jacob said.
“I’ll put it next to Debra,” Sharon said.
Sharon shoved the mannequin at Jacob, who let it fall to the ground.
* * *
Randy felt like the horror on his back was walking on him and trying to grab at his shoulders. He flung his hands over his head, trying to cut the thing again with the straight razor. He hit something but was unsure if he hurt the horrible thing that scrabbled at him. He spun over and slashed at the horrible creature with the straight razor again. He actually cut the thing and saw it bleed. It shrieked at him in anger. The thing tried to grab him and he fought back.
* * *
Jacob pushed the clamshell hatch open and pushed the mannequin out of the jet altogether. Sharon stood near the door. Then she saw Randy.
“Randy’s coming but the monster’s going to get him!” Danny said.
* * *
Randy leapt to his feet and staggered towards the jet. He heard wings as the thing pursued.
* * *
Leonard was still lost but suddenly realized, the others weren’t all trying to get him. He stopped and tried to get his bearings but then heard the nearby flapping of wings again. He was lost. He didn’t know where his friends were. He didn’t know where the jet was. Something was after him.
* * *
Jacob froze, unsure what to do.
Outside, Randy stumbled towards the aircraft as the horror hit him in the back, nearly making him fall. It was flying above him, trying to grab him with the claws on its feet. It ripped at his clothing and one of the claws struck the horrible wound it had inflicted before. He screamed.
Sharon pushed past Jacob and shoved up the partially opened top of the clamshell hatch. She burst out of the plane and saw the horror hovering over Randy, trying to grab him. She rushed the two of them and leapt at the horrible thing. Randy ducked to one side as she leapt and fell short of the horrible thing.
Randy stumbled to the plane and got inside, bloody straight razor in his hand. He was covered in blood.
* * *
Leonard looked up to see another of the horrors swooping towards him. He thought about using the dagger on himself and ending it, or trying to find his way back to the Learjet. He turned and ran, hoping to spot the Learjet.
* * *
Danny undid his seatbelt and ran out of the jet. He was terrified to see Sharon was fighting some kind of horrible thing. He ran over to her.
“Get in the plane!” he shouted at her.
He tried to punch the horrible thing using his car keys and the thing tore at him in turn, clawing at him with hooked claws on its feet. Danny screamed and there was a lot of blood. Then Jacob ran out with his briefcase and hit the horrible thing with it. The uppercut seemed to actually hurt the thing and it let out a grunt. Then it came at Danny again but the man dodged out of the way. He saw more of the things flying towards them.
“Get in the plane!” he yelled.
Sharon ignored him, instead leaping up and punching the horrible thing in the side of the head. She felt the thing’s eye burst under the blow and it came down with her, crashing to the ground next to them. She noticed more of the things coming, flying down towards them.
She fled back to the plane.
* * *
Leonard was still lost but the horror was close behind him. He looked around in terror, ducking down an alley and looking for the Learjet.
It was nowhere to be found.
* * *
Danny ran into the plane closely followed by Jacob.
Was Leonard ever real to begin with? Jacob wondered.
* * *
The thing swooped at Leonard but he leapt aside and it flew by him. He kept running down the street, looking for the Learjet.
* * *
Sharon closed the door and, after a moment of hesitation, pulled the lever to seal it.
The roar of the Learjet’s engines suddenly filled the cabin. Those who could see windows saw the stars all around the jet once again. They had escaped.
* * *
Leonard heard what sounded like a Learjet fly away. He contemplated what was left for him. Even if he fought and somehow killed the horrible creature, he would be left wandering the terrible city of Carcosa, possibly forever. He looked at the large sacrificial dagger in his hands. As the horrible thing swung around towards him again, he took the knife and rammed it into his chest and his heart. The pain was intense but brief and he died there, in Carcosa, by his own hands.
* * *
As the plane flew, they heard noises like ripping and tearing outside of the Learjet. No one wanted to see anything and no one looked outside. Danny was bandaging his terrible wound. Randy lay in a puddle of blood on the floor in the fetal position.
Jacob suddenly freaked out. He realized everything happening there, every terrible thing, was his wife Maggie’s fault. She had convinced him to represent Lady and the Scamp. She was the one who had done it. He hated her. And there she was, where Sharon Best had just been sitting.
“First you cheat on me!” he shouted at her.
“What?” Sharon said.
“This is all your fault!” he screamed at her.
“You’re fired!” Danny said to the man.
“No, you’re fired!” Jacob screamed at him.
For some 30 seconds, Danny and Jacob screamed at each other as Jacob accused Sharon of cheating on him and blamed her for everything wrong with his life. He finally snapped out of it and looked around the cabin, dazed. Danny realized the man had snapped, but was still angry about it.
I’m going to need a shrink when this is all over, Sharon thought.
Then they noticed the patterns on the chairs inside the Learjet moved in a strange and unsettling way. It didn’t seem natural at all. Debra was very disturbed by it and put her face in her hands again. Danny and Sharon were also disturbed by the strange patterns and textures.
The cockpit doors suddenly slammed shut.
“This is your pilot speaking,” a voice came over the intercom. “Please fasten your seat belts and put away all drinks and snacks. We’ll be landing in Las Vegas in just a few minutes.”
They felt the aircraft descending and they all just stared at each other as the jet landed and then taxied to the terminal. The cockpit door opened and the pilot climbed out with a smile. Then he saw all the blood.
“What the … hell happened in here?” he said.
He moved to the hatch and opened it.
“Call an ambulance!” he called.
The co-pilot looked into the cabin and then turned back to the controls. They heard him radioing for an ambulance and for police. The thought they realized was going through both men’s minds was that they must have done it to each other. Randy still had a bloody straight razor in his pocket. Sharon’s knuckles were bruised.
Soon, an ambulance and police officers arrived. Randy and Danny were taken away in an ambulance. Debra, in shock, didn’t speak. The police questioned both Sharon and Jacob. They asked if Randy was responsible for the attack.
Debra refused to speak and was soon taken to the Desert Springs Hospital as well.
Sharon was questioned as to whether Randy White had attacked her with a straight razor and if she had to fight him off. She said he did not and she did not. When they asked what happened, she told them the truth, leaving nothing out. Though very persuasive, she was first transferred to Desert Springs Hospital and sedated and then sent on to speak to a psychiatrist and was soon transferred to a psychiatric hospital, as was Debra.
Both Danny and Jacob refused to talk to police before they talked to their lawyers. That ended the inquiries for them for a while though police kept trying.
* * *
The tabloids and even legitimate newspapers had a field day. Headlines blared that “Lady is in an Insane Asylum!” and “Scamp Attacked by Hairdresser and Fought Him Off!” Newspaper stories about the terrible attack and photographs of the Learjet’s bloody interior made the front pages for days.
CBS cancelled all talks with “Lady and the Scamp” due to the scandal. “Lady and the Scamp” gigs were cancelled all over the country. It looked like both of their careers were ruined.
* * *
Leonard Penrose had apparently never existed, except in the minds of the five people in Learjet that fateful night. Aside from those memories, there was no trace of him. It was as if he had been retroactively erased from history. Another agent had represented “Lady and the Scamp” for years, but wanted nothing to do with them after the terrible “Learjet Scandal” of 1973. His office in LA was gone, replaced by a tattoo parlor. No one remembered him. It was as if he never existed.
* * *
Jacob Brown, figuring being an attorney was too dangerous, retired. He divorced his wife, never forgiving her for convincing him to represent “Lady and the Scamp” and putting him, literally, through hell. He tried to push to the back of his mind the terrible things that happened to him and never faced or admitted the terrors of that plane trip.
* * *
Debra Wright never fully recovered mentally from the terrible ordeal. She quit working in LA and vowed never to fly again. She returned to Yakima, Washington, where she married the man she’d dated in high school. Not a very good person, he ended up abusing her for the rest of her life and she fell into the role of a perpetual victim, broken by what happened to her in Carcosa. The thought of leaving Leonard behind haunted her for the rest of her life. He had always been so nice to her and they had just abandoned him.
* * *
Randy White never recovered physically from the terrible ordeal with the horrible creature. He was an invalid and, unable to even walk, was soon confined to a wheelchair. His current lover, Henry Morris, left him soon after, not having signed up for the job of tending to an invalid. Randy went from one public home to the next, living off the state, until he died in obscurity.
* * *
Danny Trent was in the hospital for at least a month. When he got out, he realized his career was over. He found Sharon soon after that and tried to turn it around, as Danny always did. He still loved Sharon who took up boxing after her release from the sanitarium in Los Angeles. She started to work on the boxing circuit as a female boxer and invited Danny to come along as her manager. He took her up on the offer and both of them thrived in the boxing circuit.
She found as much success in boxing as she had in the music industry and it was only a few years later that she was approached by the World Wrestling Federation and offered a job in professional wrestling. Both she and Danny agreed and she made her fame in professional wrestling.
The experience also brought them closer together and they married in 1980.