Gretchen did not want to go back to the library. There were too many books that called to her. Despite her desire to stay away from such darkness, she had to admit that she was drawn to it. There was a thirst for knowledge within her that she could not deny.
Also, some books were far more dangerous than most people realized.
It was three in the morning: the witching hour. The full moon always strengthened her magic.
She used her power to silence the alarms and unlock the heavy wooden door. She turned the brass handle and slipped inside. It was dark and there wasn’t enough light coming in from the tall, narrow windows to really see much of anything.
Then she heard something move. It was a quick, shuffling sound, like someone moving away.
She quickly cast a spell to let her see in the dark and the library became visible in shades of gray. Gretchen looked around but didn’t see anyone. She stayed still and listened for a good while before she was sure no one was there.
When she began walking again she saw that one of the glass cases had been removed and placed on the floor. The book on the pedestal was there and wide open. She carefully went over to see what the other intruder had been looking at.
She recoiled away as she saw that the book in question was the dreaded Necronomicon. Written by the “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred and bound in human skin, it was one of the most dangerous books known to man.
As she looked she saw the strange writing on the page, written in a corrupted form of “Atlantean,” writhe and move along the page as if alive. It was as if the words were an after image burned onto her retinas. They didn’t seem to actually touch the page at all.
In edges of her hearing or the recesses of her mind she hear a low, undecipherable noise, like a choir of insane monks gibbering in a language that wasn’t of this earth. As she tried to ignore it, it only grew stronger.
She had heard such other worldly chanting before and knew she couldn't listen to it for too long before going mad.
Hurriedly she closed the book and withdrew from it as fast as she could. The insane chanting had stopped but she could feel the power of the book in the air.
She was breathing hard and she hadn’t even realized it.
Once she had calmed down she looked for and quickly found the book she had come for. It was a common enough book (for rare, esoteric books) about ghosts, spirits and demons from the seventeenth century and contained a reliable spell for ridding a place of unwanted spiritual activity.
She took the book to the copier machine and photo copied the pages she needed. When she was finished she put the book back and was extra careful to not go near the Necronomicon.
When she finished she hurried out of the library as quickly as she could. When she got back to her room she found Beth asleep on her bed. Good. She didn’t need to witness what was about to be done.
Gretchen took a few things, a knife, a candle and a symbol of Dagon. Her father had packed that for her but it would come in handy now.
She took the pages and her things over to Beth’s apartment. It was already five and soon people would be waking up for the early classes. She was tired and hated missing sleep but most of her dreams had been strange lately so perhaps that was fortuitous.
When she opened the door to Beth’s apartment she could feel the dark presence of several beings. They stayed in the shadowed corners and merely watched her. She ignored them as she lit the candle and set it on the kitchen table. She sprinkled some special incense on the flame and began reading the spell from the paper. It was written in French which she spoke quite well.
As she begin reading off the spell, the demons began to grow agitated. She could feel the shadows start to crawl around the periphery of her vision.
A book threw itself across the room and a door down the hall slammed open. Normally a spell like this would clear a building of any spirit, but demons were different. Demons were much more powerful and much harder to get rid of. The spell needed something to enhance it and for that she unsheathed her curved knife.
Her knife’s handle was the same peculiar gold that Innsmouth received from the sea. As part of the town’s covenant with Dagon, they received the gold that had lain on the floor since before recorded history. Much of it, like the knife in her hand, was covered in strange, inhuman markings rich in meaning. The pictographs weren’t random and meaningless, that was a modern human way. Some of the markings had deep and even prophetic meanings.
With her right hand she sliced open her palm and let the blood drip onto the candle.
She heard a growl from one of the room’s corners but she ignored it. The demons were getting desperate and wanted to scare her away but demons only had the power you gave them and she wasn’t about to give them any power by being afraid.
An empty Coke bottle flew across the room and hit her in the arm. She concentrated and didn’t break from the spell.
Something scratched down her back, like three claws made of fire. It hurt a great deal but she had to continue.
Finally she took out the symbol of Dagon and held it up in the air and commanded the demons to leave or invoke the wrath of Dagon.
Suddenly the room was still. The shadows were merely shadows and the only noise was the humming of the refrigerator.
Gretchen took a deep breath and gathered her things. When she got back to her own room she found Beth still asleep. She let the strange, outsider girl sleep and she went to take a shower. When she looked in the mirror she found three, red scratch marks down her back. Good thing the school’s swim suits had backs.
She took a long, hot shower and towel dried her hair. She dressed for the day and opened the fridge to look for something to drink. The one Mountain Dew bottle was empty. Beth must have drank it.
She sighed and closed the fridge.
She tapped Beth on the shoulder to wake her up and she awoke with a sudden jerk.
“Wake up. It’s time to get ready for the day and then we’ll go get some breakfast,” Gretchen said.
Beth looked around confused.
“You slept here all night,” Gretchen said. “While you slept I cleared your apartment of demons. They won’t bother you anymore.”
“You what? How’d you do that?”
“Please don’t ask. Just accept it and be happy.”
“Oh…we…thank you, Gretch. Are you sure they’re gone?”
“They’re really gone?”
“Yes, they are really gone.”
Why did outsiders have such difficulty in believing things? They lacked faith in every sense of the word.
Beth cleaned up a bit and together they went to the cafeteria. Beth had bags under her eyes but a smile on her face. She finally accepted that the demons were gone and tried to ask her a few times how, but Gretchen did not care to explain. She knew outsiders feared witches and wasn’t about to expose herself to such fear.
“We have our first read-through today,” Beth said, finally dropping the topic of demons, though Gretchen was sure she’d bring it up several more times.
“Yeah, we take our scripts and go through the play, reading it out loud and discuss it. We try to figure out exactly what we want to do with it.
“What part do you play?” Gretchen asked.
“I play Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine of the story.”
“Then you play opposite of David’s Mr. Darcy.”
“That’s right. You read the script?”
“Twice. I find their concerns and worries to be petty and asinine.”
“Well, it was a different time. It’s about love and manners and securing a future in the world. It’s about judging others when your own pride blinds you.”
“I still found it rather silly.”
“Maybe it is, but it’ll be fun. You’ll love being an actress!”
Gretchen wasn’t convinced. But she did understand the happiness that pretending to be someone else can create. After all, wasn’t that what she was doing here: pretending to be someone else? Was she just an actor on a stage?
She didn’t want the curtains to close.
After all their classes she walked over to the theater. It was one of the older buildings on campus. There was a newer, larger theater the school used for its official productions but the classes and smaller performances were held in “the old theater.”
She walked in through the outer double doors and found the inner doors, the ones led to the main chamber, were locked. She heard muffled voices from inside.
A sign said “Play practice. No admittance or disturbance.” It was the “snobs” Beth talked of.
Gretchen put her ears to the door and listened. It sounded like a play was being rehearsed but she couldn’t make out the words.
Old theaters like this usually had balconies so she walked up the side steps and found the balcony door to be locked as well. She mumbled the spell and the door unlocked.
Quietly she crawled over to the edge of the balcony and listened. She was curious as to what could cause such secrecy from these “snobs.”
“Surely, you understand the reason I must not let you pass through that door,” one of the actors said on stage. She could not see them from where she hid, but she could hear them clearly.
“I do, but I wish to pass through regardless,” a female voice said.
“You must not. You are not ready. You have much to learn and much to do.”
“I hold the snake and the branch. I am ready.”
“But you do not hold the chalice. Tell me: where might you find the chalice?”
The performance was stiff and formal. To Gretchen it sounded more like a ceremony than a play and as she continued to listen that impression became much stronger.
She closed her eyes and she could feel the power vibrating through the room.
This was no play! These fools had found a dark ceremony in the guise of a play. She ran through her memories of all the occultist plays she could think of but then the actors answered her question for her.
“You are not ready to meet the King in Yellow.”
King in Yellow. With those words she knew something horrible was happening. Either these fools had accidentally stumbled upon an old and powerful ordinance of a dark god, or they were being led to their doom by someone who knew exactly what they were doing.
Hastur, the King in Yellow. Master of the Yellow Sign.
Then she heard a part of the play that reverberated through her spirit like the shaking of an earthquake.
“You, sir, should unmask,” one of the actors said.
“Indeed, it's time. We have all laid aside disguise but you.”
“I wear no mask.”
“No mask? No mask!”
Gretchen could feel her stomach turning sick and the unearthly power vibrated the air.
Then suddenly everything stopped.
“Okay, we’ll end there for today. Tomorrow we’ll begin with the second act,” a confident, male voice said.
“Finally! Maybe you’ll actually let us read the second act,” a female voice said.
She didn’t dare risk a look. She couldn’t. If they spotted her she had no doubt that they’d try to silence her.
As the “snobs” left she stayed there, quiet and unmoving. She had overheard what she was not meant to. These students were not practicing a play, they were practicing a ritual, a dark ceremony.
What the ceremony was about she had no idea. She did not know much about the King in Yellow. Hastur served the Elder Gods and maybe the Old Ones. His cult was spread throughout human history and different forms of his “Yellow Sign” could be seen from cave drawings, Babylonian ruins, to Aztec temples and courts of Europe.
She checked her watch. She had a half hour before her friends arrived and she spent the time trying to collect herself.
A dark ceremony being performed right here on campus, under the noses of outsiders.
This was horrible and she had to do something.
She had collected herself by the time the others arrived. Beth and David came in together. She was explaining something to him about the script but Gretchen wasn’t paying attention.
“Everyone’s on time? That’s weird. I thought actors were always supposed to be late,” a tall, blonde girl said.
The others chuckled and they all took seats. They sat in folding chairs on the stage.
Gretchen looked for signs of the previous group but they hadn’t left anything.
They went, person by person, discussing their character.
“And you, Gretchen? What are you thinking of doing with Mary?” Beth asked.
“I find Mary to be pretentious and ridiculous,” Gretchen said.
The others laughed.
“Good! Make sure to use that.”
“Is she supposed to be this way?” Gretchen asked.
“Absolutely. She’s full of herself and not nearly as smart as she thinks she is.”
The tall girl spoke up again.
“Also, I want everyone to learn someone else’s part in case someone’s sick and can’t make a practice.”
“Good idea,” Beth said.
“I’m going to have trouble learning just one part,” David said.
“You’ll do fine,” Beth said.
Gretchen was assigned to learn the part of some arrogant woman that also wanted Mr. Darcy, David’s character.
After the play they went out to eat at a local hamburger place. On David’s suggestion she got a cheeseburger with bacon on it. It was inhumanly delicious. The food here was more than enough reason to leave Innsmouth.
“Beth told me you got rid of the spirits in her apartment,” David said.
“I did but do not ask me how. Besides, I have more important things to discuss. The snobs, as you call them, are performing an occult play that is little more than a disguised ceremony, a ritual of some kind. They are playing with a fire far more dangerous than they realize.”
This drew silent, shocked looks from both David and Beth.