I hopped and hobbled forward to meet the actor with the axe, one arm up defensively while the other held onto the safety rail for support, carefully approaching my enemy. I had no plan, no idea of how I might survive this fight. I was hurt, exhausted and emotionally broken. But I could not back down, even if I wanted to.
When we were within reach there was a brief, tense standoff, which I broke by lunging at him. It was a weak attack, one-legged as I was, and he avoided my clumsy punch with ease before grabbing at my neck. He missed, but grabbed my shirt collar instead, pulling me off-balance.
I tried one more desperate attack,shoving him sideways with all my strength. He was heavy though, and it was not enough to push him off the walkway. With one hand holding my collar, he lifted his axe with the other, aiming the blow at my neck. I had no chance to avoid him.
There was only a way to survive this, and it would not be pretty.
I lifted my left arm as the axe went down, and my hand managed to block the blade moments before it hit my neck. And by block, I mean the axe cleaved through my hand, splitting it in half like a tree stump before the blade got stuck halfway through my wrist.
I screamed, closing my eyes while howling in pain, which perhaps might have been what prevented me from being blinded by the warm blood that spurted out of my bisected hand, splattering my face. A wave of vertigo swept over me, as my body dealt with the sudden loss of blood. My knees buckled and I collapsed on the iron floor of the walkway. When I forced my eyes open, I saw blood. So much blood.
It had sprayed everywhere, painting the axe and my shirt with crimson while the killer’s mask was covered in it. Blinded, he pulled at his axe causing another wave of pain to cripple me, but even as he tugged at the axe stuck to my bloody arm, it would not pull away. The blade had gotten stuck deep in cartilage and bone, and refused to leave. He then pulled me closer and his other hand wrapped around my throat. He might have been disarmed, but he was still strong, and his hand squeezed, blocking all my breathing.
Gasping, I struggled. My remaining hand clawed at his neck and arms, knocking the mask askew, but he continued squeezing, blindly, while pulling at the axe with his other hand. Between the pain and the blood loss, my punches were weak and barely fazed the murderous actor. I tried to free my neck instead, to no avail. I could feel the sweat in his hands against my neck as I frantically gasped for air. My eyes, blinking through the tears and pain, searched for anything I could do or use to escape. Anything at all.
That is when I noticed the rope used to hang the other actor, a foot away from my face. It was firmly tied to the rafters, but the rope was within reach, and it led all the way down to the stage. I reached out for the rope and, while holding it as hard as I could, I threw all my weight over the rail guard and off the walkway.
But even put off-balance and blinded, the man still did not let go. As my body went down, my hand gripping at the rope to prevent me from falling, his grip refused to relent. Pulled by my weight, his body followed mine in falling off the walkway. I held tight to the rope as he pulled at my neck while falling, yanking it down, but his fingers failed to gain purchase as they scraped my neck. He gouged me, but failed to hold on as his grip slipped into empty air. So he plunged to his death with a horrible scream, breaking the table below as he fell onto the stage. A pool of his own blood spread beneath his body.
I hardly did much better though, sliding down the rope with only one hand, which I gripped tightly as I could. While I managed to slow my fall, my hand was painfully burned and scraped raw by the rope on its way down. My grip weakened from the pain and abuse, releasing me while still ten feet in the air. I fell onto the remnants of the table and rolled off the corpse of my attacker, causing my world to explode in pain, before blacking out.
I do not know how long I was out. When I came to, the first thing I felt was pain. The second, fear. I opened my eyes.
I was on my back amidst broken furniture and a spreading pool of my own blood. The last actress stared down at my broken body. She had a Little Bo Peep mask and held a butcher knife in her hand as she gazed, with no visible expression. It took me a moment to realize that was my girlfriend, and the realization brought me horror, relief and despair, incongruously together in a cocktail of grief and fear.
“--------,” I called her name. I don’t remember what her name was, but I remember calling it, looking at her, pleading. She did not respond.
“Please… Why?” I asked, tears sliding down my cheeks and blurring my vision. I struggled to wipe my face, and my hand came back grimy with blood and sweat. I could only imagine what I looked like.
She said nothing, but moved closer to me and her grip on the knife tightened. Briefly I struggled to get up, but the pain forced me back down. I could not even sit up as she approach me.
“I guess that’s it,” I croaked. Shit. My voice cracked and my lip quivered at the sight of her. It was embarrassing, after so much fight and struggle, to come apart like a schoolgirl in front of the principal. Pathetic. I forced myself to look away from my girlfriend, but it didn’t help. The sense of monstrous betrayal, of incomprehensible madness, was overwhelming me. “I… Damn it. I give up…” I muttered. “Go. Do it.”
She knelt beside me, so close I could touch her, and stared at me through that blank mask. Then she fumbled with something in her coat pocket. I could hear the sound of parchment paper crumpling before I saw what she had retrieved.
It was a sandwich from the closest fast food joint, the grease making its wrapping shiny and transparent. She opened the wrapping and offered it to me. It was a cheeseburger.
“No...” I shook my head, holding back more tears, refusing to accept what she had done, and what it implied. I remembered our conversation before the play, and more tears came out. “No… Stop. Please, don’t… Don’t do this...” My voice was only a stunned whisper now, as I repeated these words over and over again. I could not accept it.
To accept that the thing behind that mask was still my girlfriend, the person I had known and loved? To consider that, all this time, she might have planned this? ‘If this was your last day,’ she would ask me. ‘If the world was going to end tomorrow? What would you do?’ And she said those words with the tone of causal, hokey conversation, trying to convince me to go out with her or do something daring, like when I fingered her in a park one misty morning. Barely a few seconds, but we felt like naughty teenagers while getting away with it. Why was I remembering this now? My left hand is gone, a bleeding mess of broken bones split in half, all the way down to the wrist. ‘If this was your last day, what would you do?’ She asked me. And I answered “I would eat a cheeseburger!” Silly joke. Did she know? Had she planned this all along, this entire time? Even while we joked and argued and fucked and spent lazy afternoons watching TV? Did she always plan on killing me? Did she plan for me to die here, broken and alone and in pain, the moment she walked into the theater?
I could not fit such thoughts in my mind. It was too large, too terrible and incomprehensible of an idea. The mind is not meant to think of such things.
Yet she still offered that cheap-looking cheeseburger, meekly, almost shy. Like she was offering a gift and was afraid of being rejected.”Fuck this… Just… Get the fuck away...” I turned my head away, blinking furiously. She seemed desolated. Her arm dropped down and the cheeseburger tumbled onto the floor. Now she only held her knife.
She gripped it firmly, two hands at the handle, edge pointing down, and raised it above her head. I looked back at her, not daring to look away. I wanted to stare her in the eye as she did it, see it through to the bitter end. After all we had been through, I could not look away or close my eyes. Behind the plastic smile of her mask, her expression was unreadable. There was no way to understand what was behind that mask.
“For the memory of Carcosa,” she whispered. I braced for the impact of the knife.
So when she plunged the knife deep in her own chest, I could only stare, dumbfounded. She curled up in pain and nearly fell, blood staining her shirt and pooling on the floor beneath her. Her own blood. She shivered once, then finally collapsed on the floor beside me. I could only watch, too weak to move, while she curled in pain, before slowly turning to face me while a dark pool of blood spread from under her body.
And so my girlfriend is now dying in front of me, bleeding and coughing. Drowning in her own blood. I run my mind again through the events that led up to this point. The evening walk, theater, the play, the stranger, the murders I watched passively in my seat, my own attempted sacrifice, how I fought and fought and fought and fought, the look of terror on that actress’ face before I killed her, the cheeseburger…
My girlfriend is dying before my eyes, and I can’t see her face. It’s covered by the cheap mask, now stained with blood. But I cannot remember what her face looks like. Not even her name, nothing that identifies her sticks in my mind. Her presence, our memories together, those I can still recall. I can see those moments as clearly in my mind as I can see her blood seeping from under her collapsed body, spreading on the hardwood stage. I can hear the sound of her voice, our old jokes and conversations, and I can hear her choking and gurgling on her own blood as her breathing slows and grows more and more quiet.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, she stops breathing.
The curtains come down.
The King in Yellow enters the stage, with the same yellow hoodie and white, featureless mask as always. Softly it steps into my view, looking down at me as I lie there, too broken to move. Now, I am only waiting for the end.
“The play is finished,” speaks the King, and its voice is legion, thousands of voices softly whispering every word. More than thousands, millions. Billions. I instinctively shudder with every word, to hear it whispered and echoed unto infinity. “And so I grant an audience to my final actor.”
The King in Yellow looks at me expectantly. However, in my stunned state, it takes a few moments before I realize it was addressing me. “Request your boon,” it commanded. I blink, catatonic with despair. I feel empty of all drive or emotion, anything that makes me care about what is happening. As far as I am concerned, I am adrift in a world where I want nothing, not even to live, not even to die.
But the King does not accept my silence. It approaches, hissing and singing in choir innumerable as its presence crumples me like paper on open flame. I am dying with every word it speaks.
“This is your final day,” it said. “What is your wish?” It forced me to answer.
I cough before drawing one last breath. Finally, I whisper:
Before all goes dark.