Gretchen ran to the door of the theater turned the handle. Locked. She waved her hand, said the incantation and the door opened.
“Quickly!” She said.
David was the first through and he pulled out a large pistol. They were in the theater’s lobby with its cracked marble tile floor and old fashioned ticket booth. There were stairs on each side of the three main doors that led up to the balconies.
Already she could feel the energy in the air twisting reality and distorting her equilibrium.
A strange chanting was coming from the theater and she didn’t recognize the language. It wasn’t the corrupted Atlantean of Dagon and Cthulhu worshipers. It was something else, something alien and unnatural.
David reached the double doors first and yanked it open.
At the far side of the theater were the students dressed in yellow robes. They were kneeling and standing in the middle of them was what looked like an unnaturally tall scarecrow dressed in yellow rags. Or rather, it was yellow rags. There was no possibly way a human being was inside it.
Gretchen wasn’t afraid of much, but she was afraid now. That thing on the stage was far more powerful than anything she had ever witnessed before and she suddenly felt weak.
It was the avatar of the King in Yellow. Hastur himself had come.
They charged in and the students turned to look at them. All but one of them had vacant, mindless expressions. The one that maintained his lucidity had a grotesque smile of pleasure on his face, like ha had just done the most wonderful thing in the world. He was tall and handsome in a way the outsiders considered handsome, like someone from one of their television programs. In his hands was the book “the King in Yellow.”
The idiot probably had no idea what he was dealing with. Such ignorance mixed with arrogance was disgusting and dangerous. She hated it.
The hooded, yellow figure in the middle raised its head. The hood was low and deep and she couldn’t get a look at what was underneath.
Then she noticed that the yellow figure was floating a foot above the stage. Mad piping music began to play so loudly that they all had to cover their ears.
Gretchen began chanting a spell of protection but her words were drowned out by the insane pipe music and the chanting which was coming from an unseen and inhuman choir.
“Worthless priestess of Dagon, you have no power here,” a scratchy, whispered voice spoke in her mind.
The voice felt sick and unhealthy in her brain. She didn’t want to ever hear that voice again.
David raised his pistol and fired. The student leader jerked back as the bullet struck his shoulder and he fell over and dropped the book he had been holding.
Suddenly the chanting stopped and the inhumanly tall King in Yellow floated backwards and disappeared. The mad piping music continued but the students all fell to the ground as if unconscious.
“Get the book!” Gretchen shouted over the music.
Both Beth and David charged forward while she tried to shout her spell loud enough to be heard. She shouted as loud as she could in order to protect her friends.
The student who she guessed had tricked the others, stood up clutching his shoulder and the book.
“It’s too late. The spell has started and our world is becoming his world. Soon the King in Yellow will have dominion over this land.”
As soon as he finished speaking he bolted behind the curtains of the stage.
“There’s a back door!” Beth shouted out.
She couldn’t respond because she was trying to get her spell to work but she nodded and hurried out the front door while the others chased after the leader.
She hated seeing David go off without her.
When she emerged outside she saw that something was dreadfully wrong. The sky was darker and instead of the sun there was a misshapen purple moon with impossibly tall, twisting spires that could be seen from Earth. It was the phantom city of Yhtill: the dread, deathly mirror world of the real one. The clouds were thin and wispy and there was a faint fog covering the ground.
She stood there, shocked. She knew what this was. She had read about it in her unholy books. The realm of Hastur was merging with the material universe. Right now they were in an in-between place that was not entirely either.
All her life she had read about such things and now, against every wish, she was witnessing them with her natural eyes.
David and Beth ran up behind her. Beth was out of breath. It felt good just to see them.
“What the hell’s going on?” Beth asked. Her eyes were glued to the misshapen moon above.
“We have to get that book and stop this,” Gretchen said.
“Did you see where he went?” David asked.
“I did not.”
David threw his hands up.
“Wonderful! Now we’re screwed!” He said.
“We need to find him. He no longer has his cult so he needs a place of power,” Gretchen said.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Beth asked.
Did these outsiders know absolutely nothing of the world around them?
“A place of power. A ley line convergence or maybe a place where there had been many deaths or an ancient source of running water, a desecrated holy shrine. Is there anything like that around campus?”
“I heard there was a murder a few years ago in one of the dorm rooms…or was it a suicide?” Beth said.
“Not sufficient. One death won’t do it. It had to be many,” Gretchen said.
“There were witch trials here in the early 1700,s,” David said. “I was thinking of doing a history paper on it.”
“Perfect. Where were the executions?” Gretchen asked.
“Hold on…let me remember.”
She wanted to tell him to hurry but she resisted. Telling him wouldn’t make him go faster and could in fact cause the opposite effect.
“I think the executions were in front of the main building,” David said.
“On the commons?” Beth asked.
“Yeah, I think there’s a plaque marking the spot.”
“Then we run,” Gretchen said.
They all took off running with David in the lead. He ran faster and she soon found herself falling behind him. Beth was even slower and was coming in last.
As they ran the piping music grew fainter and she began chanting her spell again, though she didn’t know what good it would do if the handsome man completed his ritual and brought in the King in Yellow.
She was surprised that she didn’t see any students anywhere. They must not have been pulled into this nightmare world. She was glad that they were spared this horror.
Then she heard a sound that froze her blood. In the distance floated the trumpeting sound of Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!
She almost stopped running. She knew that sound. When she was a little girl, before her sister had been born, her father had taken her to the ancient reef where the people of Innsmouth consorted with the Deep Ones. He said he had made some kind of pact and that his masters had sent a Shoggoth to protect him.
Shoggoths had been almost unstoppable servants of the Old Ones but had turned against their masters. The amophorous mass of bioactivity could alter its form to do whatever task it was assigned. She knew of no way to stop or even slow down a Shoggoth.
The ‘tekeli-li, tekeli-li’ hooting was growing closer.
They must have heard the fear in her voice because they both began to run a little faster.
They came around the corner of the gym and came onto the commons. The mist covered grassy field spread out before them but in the middle of the field was a very tall and twisted white tree with no leaves.
That tree had never been there before.
As they approached it several round and red eyes with hourglass shaped irises opened up along the trunk.
“Don’t look at it!” Gretchen said.
She didn’t know what it was be she knew that unprepared minds couldn’t cope with the insanity inducing demons of the other worlds. Whatever is was she wasn’t going to risk losing her friends to it. She cared about them too much to lose them now.
On the far side of the field was the cult leader. He was slumped over a historical marker and was reading aloud from the book.
The sky above them began to grow darker as the clouds and the blue sky began to fade away. Stars with unrecognizable constellations began appearing and it seemed as if the purple moon was growing larger. The air around the cultist was distorted in a sphere. He was protecting himself somehow.
“He’s too far away for a shot!” David said as he continued to run.
Gretchen had to distract the cultist to give David time to make his shot and get rid of whatever protection he had.
She decided on Cacophonic Burst, a spell that her father had never really taught her properly but she had learned on her own. He said it was too dangerous for an amateur and he was right. If she made one slight mistake the spell would turn on her and tear her molecules apart. If she did it right…she wasn’t quite sure but she knew it was destructive.
She stopped running and began chanting the spell. As the power of her words began to fold around her like a heavy smoke she could feel its power begin to crush her. The deeper into the spell she went the more she felt the danger.
She was losing and the spell would destroy her long before she finished it, yet if she stopped it would destroy her all the same. Once started it could only be completed. In a way it was similar to the spell the cultist was performing, though on a smaller scale.
She wasn’t strong enough for this spell and she knew it. She felt her death approaching and for the first time realized that she did not welcome it. She no longer felt at ease with the thought of dying. She was starting to enjoy this world and didn’t want to leave it. She didn’t want to leave her friends.
Maintaining her concentration she took out her knife, the golden curved knife her father had given her, and began cutting ritual marks in her forearm. The spells inscribed in blood would give her the power she needed.
Already she could feel the dark magic surge through her and before she knew it, the spell was ready.
Gretchen pointed at the cultist and said the final word.
The air around the cultist exploded in unnatural lights and colors and the cultist cried out in pain as his left arm disintegrated as if made of ash. He fell down but he continued to read aloud from the book.
But David was there now. He raised his black pistol and took aim. She could see his aura burning red and blue as he concentrated. Beth had a blue and green aura that was growing stronger by the second. In fact, everything around them began to give off aura lights, light that was being pulled toward the purple moon and its deathly city.
Then David fired and for a split second that was stretched out to a near infinite time span by the warped physics of the in-between world, she watched the brass casing spiraling into the sky like metallic bird.
The bullet struck the cultist in the side of the head and the entire side of his cranium exploded out in a burst of blood and skull fragments.
The air around them began to shake as the power of the play burst open. Reality came rushing in and suddenly they found themselves in the empty commons with blue sky, chatting students and no sign of the cultist or anything abnormal.
The body was gone. The demon tree was gone and the purple moon was gone.
Gretchen stood there with her arm bleeding and breathing hard.
David quickly and stealthily put his gun back in his holster and walked over to where she and Beth stood.
“You two alright?” He asked.
Beth had wild, almost frantic eyes.
“What was all that?” Beth asked.
“I can explain everything, but first I desire something to eat,” Gretchen said.
He walked them to where he had parked and they passed the old theater. Campus security was already there. They were on their cell phones calling the police and the dean. A small crowd was gathering.
None of them said a word and continued on to his car.
David drove them to the cheap, greasy, pizzeria and they sat down. Gretchen didn’t start her explanation, as incomplete as it was, until they started eating. It took three hours and several refills of Mountain Dew before she finished explaining.
It was hard to explain some things without delving too deep into things they didn’t know. She gave them an incomplete picture at best but they seemed satisfied with her answers.
Satisfied wasn’t the right word. As Beth would say, their minds were blown.
She sat there with a full stomach and the realization that she had just lived through something that could have been more terrible than anything she could imagine. She was capable of imagining quite terrible things.
Her friends were alive and tomorrow as Saturday. Good. She needed to rest and Saturdays were good for that.
“You saved us, Gretch,” Beth said and hugged her tightly.
“Hey, I shot the dude,” David said.
“Yes, you did.”
Beth leaned over and gave David a quick kiss on the cheek.
Gretchen didn’t like Beth kissing David at all.
Not one bit.
After leaving the pizzeria she walked Beth back to her apartment. She was very tired and her arm hurt from the shallow cuts she had given herself. Her head also hurt from the dark powers she had used.
It had been foolish to even attempt such a spell but she had been left with no other choice. Now that she had a clear, rational mind to look back on it, she wondered if she had gone insane. No rational witch would have done such a thing.
“Would you spend the night? I really don’t want to be left alone right now,” Beth said
She opened her apartment door and waited for her answer.
In truth, Gretchen didn’t want to be alone either. There was comfort in company and she needed comfort.
She slept on the couch and hoped that today’s activity hadn’t drawn the attention of any other dark and ancient power.