“The King in Yellow?” She asked. “I’ve never heard of it before. Is it a musical?”
“I don’t really know, but I’ve heard of it before, somewhere...” I said. “Something about Cthulhu?”
“Oh? What’s that?” she asked, making me pause. My knowledge of that stuff was shaky at best, mostly from pop culture. How do you explain Cthulhu to someone who never heard of it?
“It’s a big green monster with an octopus head, I think.” She frowned at my answer, as if expecting me to be pulling a prank on her. “And he, uh… Sleeps a lot? And when he wakes up he devours the world. Or he is going to. Something like that.”
“Is that from a movie?” She asked.
“Not really, I think. From a book. Although the character does show up here and there in, umm… Games and stuff?” I stopped, realizing I was only burying myself deeper. The look the woman gave me showed exactly what she thought of the whole thing. After an awkward silence, she sighed and looked back at the curtains.
“I just hope the damn play starts already,” she said. I internally agreed, if only in the hope that it would put and end to this awkward situation.
But it would be another 10 long minutes before we were all roused from our wait by the rising of the curtains.
This stage had beautifully grand stage curtains. Unfortunately whatever mechanism raised the curtain was not as well-kept, and squeaked loudly as the curtain went up. The noise only amplified the awkward silence.
The stage looked very minimalist, no backdrops or scenery except a large dining table in the middle of the room, surrounded by chairs. There was a tablecloth covering the table, but nothing else adorned it. But what drew the eye in the stage was the noose hanging from above. It hovered above the center of the table, the rope disappearing somewhere in the darkness above the stage. The hangman’s knot was about six feet up from the dining table, swaying gently. Then, slowly, the actors walked into the stage, beginning the play.
They were all dressed formally, with suits and ties and fancy dresses. I noticed My girlfriend wearing a cocktail dress that she had bought for her graduation party, and was slightly surprised. She didn’t wear it for just any occasion. Also, they all wore masks. Crude, plastic things, probably bought from the dollar store, depicting various superheroes or popular characters.
My girlfriend had a Little Bo Peep mask.
All of them sat at the dining table without a word, except for one with a Mantis Man mask, who raised his hands high and declared, in loud theater voice.
“Friends and kin, now we feast!
Let all our worries be released,
Yet remember always,
“The mask that covers her voiceless smile,
Her vibrant paths, her empty sundial,
Tasting pleasures long forgotten,
“Through rotting homes and broken eyes,
I have wandered as it softly dies,
Hoping to one day meet you,
“What a pretty little poem to start our feast, governor. Did you write it yourself?” Asked the Bo Peep mask. My girlfriend
“I don’t quite remember,” replied Mantis Mask. “I think I read it in a play.”
Ah, I thought. Barely started and they’re already going meta.
The play that followed washed over me like a dream. The particulars of it were hazy and confusing, but despite the barebones stage and acting, I found myself absorbing some of its meaning, somehow. I felt a longing for something I had never met or talked to. Nostalgia and regret for the unknown.
In the play there was a party, and the world was ending. Carlo was the governor of this place, and had invited his fellow guests to enjoy themselves one last time. They constantly mentioned something (someone?) called Carcossa, through song and poetry and flowery speeches. It was clear they all missed it, and longed for it.
There was also love triangle tacked on, for some reason.
Then the play started getting confusing, macabre even. They kept announcing that the King was coming, and seemed very afraid of him, yet they prepared to welcome the King nonetheless. I was lost, and looking surreptitiously at the rest of the audience, I could see I was not alone. One of the two friends was still trying to follow the play, but his fellow had already checked out and was staring at his phone screen, looking bored. The lady beside me had a scowl of impatience, and regularly checked for the time.
“It’s now time, at last!” Shouted Carlo to the others. “All those present! Let us remove our masks and face the truth!”
Carefully everyone removed their plastic masks, except for one person.
“You, sir, should unmask,” said my girlfriend, playing as Camilla.
“Indeed?” Replied the Stranger. I couldn’t tell who they were, behind a cheap, white mask. Their hair was blonde.
“Indeed it's time,” she replied. “We have all laid aside disguise but you.”
“I wear no mask,” said the stranger, getting up from the table. All the others jolted in surprise at the response looking at him.
“No mask?” Camilla turned to Cassilda, panic in her voice. “No mask!”
All the characters broke into panic, some suddenly crying, others repeating constantly “No Mask!” in disbelief. Cassilda let out a bellow and, raising one of the chairs above her head, threw it with force on the ground and shattered it. The stranger wasn’t at the stage.
“We have to do it!” Wailed Carlo, wiping his tears and sobbing. “There’s no other way, we have to do it!”
He insisted, as the others refused and cried, before finally submitting one by one.
“Are you ready, Gonzalo?” Asked Clemente, putting a hand on his friend’s shoulder to keep his balance.
Gonzalo tried to reply, but couldn’t muster anything but a strangled croak. The others nodded and brought him on top of the table, and from there to the noose hanging from the ceiling. He tried one last time to fight it off, but his feeble attempts were stopped by the rest of his cast. They firmly held him still while passing the knot over his head, hands bound behind his back, and pushed him off the table.
I have to admit the acting for this last sequence had been top-notch. Much improved from their usual performance. They may have been amateur actors, but I was really surprised by how real it all sounded. Especially Gonzalo’s choking and twitching as he strangled to death, kicking feebly before hanging limply in front of all the others, still as a corpse. I was impressed. Unfortunately the poor actor got a raging stiffie in the middle of the hanging scene, but he carried on like nothing weird was going on. I suppressed a chuckle, while still admiring the guy’s dedication to acting.
The only thing that confused me was the plot. Try as I might, I couldn’t understand why Gonzalo had to die.
When, at the start of the second act, all players returned to the stage, each had their masks again and all of them carried some sort of tool. Garden shears, a small axe, a hammer. There was even someone with a large knife, the kind used to cut steaks.
“Welcome, old friends. Kin and companions,” Carlo announced to the audience at large. “We shall ensure your sacrifice is not in vain.”
“For the memory of Carcosa,” the other actors all spoke in unison.
With those words all of the cast advanced towards a woman sitting in the front row. She startled as two actors grabbed her by either side and, with the help of the others, dragged her to the stage.
“No, wait! WAIT! What… What the fuck is going on? WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!” She looked scared and bewildered, but none of the actors replied as they dragged her to the dining table. She made one last attempt to get away, and managed to push a few feet before being dragged back and pushed on the table.
“I’m sorry, Ellie,” Cassilda said to the woman struggling to escape. She only replied with a frightened whimper.
“For the memory of Carcosa,” intoned the other actors.
The victim was held there as Carlo brought a knife to her throat. She screamed and cried incoherently, in an amazing display of acting, before the blade quickly silenced her with a wet gurgle. The blood that poured from her throat was also very realistic-looking. I was impressed!
But this turn of events made me a bit queasy. By the quality of her acting I wondered if she had actually been part of the play all along, an actor planted into the audience for this very scene. The alternative would be that they were pulling members of the audience into the play, which made me a bit nervous.
I was no stranger to this sort of thing, of course. My girlfriend had worked before in plays that had audience interaction and participation, much to my dismay. They were ALWAYS embarrassing! Those I always survived by avoiding eye contact and sinking into my chair. While not naturally shy, public speaking made me uneasy; to say nothing of acting out a death scene in front of a live audience.
So when I noticed the cast was now advancing to another member of the audience, the middle-aged man that had asked for the bathroom before, I sighed internally. It was the worst case scenario: not only were they selecting members of the audience to participate, but they were calling us one at a time.
However the play only got more confusing as it went on. Other members of the audience were called by the players left and right, and the pattern was always the same. They screamed or cried as they were dragged to the stage and had their throats slit as their blood dripped down the table. As always, before the actors killed someone they would say ‘for the memory of carcosa. The stage was a mess now; I shuddered to think of whose job it would be to clean that.
There was so much blood one of the players actually slipped on a pool of it and fell. I admit that got a chuckle out of me, I was always a sucker for physical comedy. The rest of the cast helped him up and fussed over him as he brushed them off. He said he was alright, but was limping as he approached another member of the audience, which made my face redden with embarrassment.The fall was not part of the play, it was a genuine accident. Poor guy.
They went for the two friends, one of them still looking at his phone. When surrounded and beckoned, they jumped in alarm and put up more of a fight than the previous sacrifices. One of them actually punched Cassilda in the face, hard enough blood seeped from under the mask, while the other managed to escape and ran towards the exit. He pounded and struggled with the door while screaming for help, but the door would not open. That made me chuckle, classical horror cliche. I wondered for a moment if the reason for the door not opening within the play was supernatural or because there was something on the other side blocking the door. But they didn’t bother to explain it to the rest of the audience. The masked players just dragged the two men to the stage, hurt and bleeding, and killed them one at a time.
It was hard enough to concentrate when I didn’t understand what was going on, but the repetition on top of the confusion started making me drowsy. I blinked hard to keep myself awake, and wondered when the play was going to end, and in what state I would be tomorrow for my statistics class. It was definitely going to be a rough morning after.
I was woken from my daydreaming by the woman next to me. She was gripping me hard, as the rest of the cast pulled her away.
“Oh god HELP ME,” she shrieked, gripping one of my arms so tightly it hurt. She looked at me pleadingly, eyes so wide with terror her irises were completely surrounded by white, as she was pulled away. I looked back, trying desperately to improvise a line in response, but nothing came to me. “What are you DOING? Don’t just stand there, HELP ME! ”
Her acting surprised me, so realistic for an amateur actress! Which only made it more shameful when I couldn’t improvise a reply.
Don’t you hate it when someone expects an answer or asks you something, and you can’t think of a good reply? You just sit there, like a deer in the headlights, while your brain refuses to cooperate. Stage fright without a stage.
“Oh no,” I mumbled back at her. “That’s… Bad.”
She was much more convincing as she was dragged to the stage, struggling and screaming. In the fight, her purse fell from her seat, spilling some makeup accessories and her cellphone. It looked expensive, more than I could afford, and I winced as I checked for cracks. Fortunately, it looked ok.
I decided to be helpful and picked up all the spilled contents of the bag and put them back in. With everything packed back in nicely, I put the purse back on the chair so she could find it later. She was being killed on-stage now. It was a great death scene, lots of blood and screaming, the kind of acting I could never pull off, I thought. But that is the nature of the world: some get to act great death scenes in a stage, while others pack away the spilled contents of handbags in the audience seats. Such is life.
When she was dead the players turned to me. I squirmed a bit under their stare, but eventually sighed and relented.
“It’s my turn, I guess?” I asked.
They nodded and approached me, but it was only when they surrounded me, weapons ready, and pulled me off my seat by the arms that I startled.
It was like waking up after a long and hazy dream, a splash of freezing water in your face. Cold, hard reality, worse than any nightmare. Oh, what a terrible awakening that was, hitting me as a lightning bolt.
They were not acting. They were dead. They were gone. The killers were here, surrounding me. Hands holding firmly my arms and shoulders. I was awake. I was going to die.