...There was a daemoniac alteration in the sequence of the seasons – the autumn heat lingered fearsomely, and everyone felt the world and perhaps the universe had passed from the control of known gods or forces to that of gods or forces which were unknown…*
Jimmy drove by himself to the location his current girlfriend, Constance, had given him for tonight's show. She had told him she would meet him there after work; Constance held a job as a curator at the Metropolis Museum of Modern Art, and always seemed to be busy with one weird exhibit or another (Jimmy himself didn't see why pictures of squiggles and boxes dipped in chocolate and Tide counted as art). The air conditioning was turned on nearly full blast in his Camaro due to the unusually high heat wave Metropolis was recently experiencing. He was not at all familiar with the area where the show was supposed to be: Metropolis' warehouse district. It distinctly irritated him that Constance wasn't in the passenger seat next to him to provide him better directions than his dashboard GPS. Although this was an industrial area (or it used to be, before the city's industry jobs mostly dried up), Jimmy knew that occasionally rave or hip-hop shows were held here, taking full advantage of the vast empty spaces and the lukewarm law enforcement on space regulations and drug usage – violent crime was also known to happen here too. Despite all that, the district was easily becoming a popular and favorable location for artist's studios, underground clubs, and cheap lofts, all of which made it triply attractive for young Metropolitans looking to avoid the high-priced townhouses and condos of the older, more-established downtown areas. Not to mention that the traffic was better than driving in from the distant suburbs.
Therefore, the area was regularly frequented by Metropolis' hipsters, of which, Jimmy had to admit, Constance could definitely be classified as one...an often pretentious one at times he thought (although he would never dare suggest that to her face). It was because she turned her nose up at most popular "corporate" music acts (meaning most of the music Jimmy and his friends enjoyed) and deliberately sought out virtually unknown and barely or never-heard-of performers (Lustmord, Flint Glass - now what the hell was that shit about?) of musical genres Jimmy was sure no one in their right mind could really like – if they were honest with themselves! Jimmy's own tastes ran to classic and contemporary rock: classic Journey, Bon Jovi, The Boss, some hip-hop, and (although he would never admit it aloud) some Lady Gaga. Well, he would dance to her, anyway.
So therefore Jimmy had never heard of this particular performer Constance to see tonight, and she had told him, he couldn't help but grimace. It just sounded like the kind of odd crap she would be into! He had seen the ad for the show from the Metropolis Reader, the local free rag:
An Evening with Nyarlathotep
With Special Guests: The Shoggoth Lords
Doors open at 8PM
(In much smaller print at the bottom)
Brought to you from Luthor Entertainment Productions!
He'd never heard of either of them. What kind of music was this? Weird foreign stuff, knowing Constance. Why couldn't they go see a movie? Already he was trying to think of some way to back out.
She'd glared at him and even though the Skype feed he could feel her annoyance seeping through like poison gas.
"I've wanted to see this for months, Jimmy! Besides, he's come all the way from Egypt. He's supposed to be phenomenal! Expand your mind some!"
Jimmy, once in a blue moon, expanded his mind with some weed, and not with music. He was about to tell her, hell no he didn't want to see some weird foreign act, but she was so good in the... "Okay, okay," he muttered. "I'll see you at…"
"Eight pm," Constance snapped at him. "Doors open at eight. Don't you be late!"
...Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotep, and shuddered. And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished; for the small hours were rent with the screams of nightmare….*
And that was how he'd ended up driving in the middle of God-knows-where looking for this place. It didn't help that he was feeling unwell to begin with. He didn't know what it was, exactly, maybe something he'd ate. Probably also the hot weather and the stress of his job. He was beginning to wonder if he was really that thrilled about moving to Los Angeles; after all it was a place where he'd never lived before, although he'd gone to Universal Studios and Disneyland once as a kid. He had thought he would be more excited, but he was starting to become a little apprehensive too. Part of him wanted to believe it was his not wanting to leave Constance behind, but really it wasn't that at all (actually, he was toying with the idea of splitting up with her, after this night). It was something else, but he couldn't pin it down. There was just a...strange vibe in the air lately, and he knew he wasn't the only one who felt it. There was hardly any celebrity antics worth photographing lately - the public was becoming jaded and bored with the old standbys for good copy. Meanwhile, the contacts he still had who worked the "hard" news lines (he had to admit that he missed that old side of his job) had hinted to him at something big about to happen in the very-near future. Perhaps it was the rumors of a new Aliens & Meta-Human Act to be pushed through Congress, which would require all such individuals to be registered at minimum. But there were also rumors that it included much more draconian measures. Whispers of Guantanamo-like places being prepared for recalcitrants, or worse places, away from the public eyes. The usual politicians were repeatedly denying such plans existed (of course they would, since over 50% of public opinion would be against it).
Jimmy thought it felt almost like a calm before a storm…and another thing – he'd been having nightmares.
Bad dreams that he couldn't remember in the morning (which was probably just as well). Dreams of being in a strange place, a dark place, a city of black stone blocks, cyclopaean structures with no one inhabiting them, but nevertheless someone (or something) was approaching, something bleak and horrible, and its name wasn't Kim Kardashian.
...A sense of monstrous guilt was upon the land...*
Jimmy wished that Clark was still in Metropolis, or at least moving to LA with him; he missed him much more than he'd expected. He was relieved that Lois believed his suspicions about their mutual friend, and hopefully together they'd be able to find out who this Diana Prince character was, and somehow get her away from Clark, before it was too late. Jimmy half-suspected that she was some kind of corporate spy – why else would she be hanging out at TED and schmoozing with the likes of Bruce Wayne? Or maybe her marriage to Clark was a way to fraudulently securing a green card, like obtaining some kind of legal immigrant status while she went about stealing her technological secrets. Hell, maybe she was even banging the Wayne guy as well! If she was, Jimmy knew he could get the photos to prove it! He just hoped Clark hadn't done anything stupid, like put his bank account and credit card numbers in her name (heck, he'd made that mistake once before, himself)! Perhaps before the LA move he'd take some time out to travel to Gotham City, maybe try to follow Wayne around. He didn't look like he'd have bodyguards following him like most Hollywood celebrities. He'd also tried calling Clark, to try to stall him somehow before he moved overseas but he'd not gotten any response lately.
At last - Jimmy found the location for the show, which in fact did turn out to be a converted old warehouse. He could tell what it was from all the cars and people hanging about outside an unmarked and grimy-looking building, surrounded by equally decrepit buildings that had seen better economic times. It was getting dark, but he spotted Constance almost at once (it was hard not to miss her, with her wild dreadlocked ginger hair), waiting for him outside the lit Jimmy's surprise, there already looked like a sizeable crowd for a performer he'd never heard of - perhaps this guy was a big deal outside of America. Even though he'd found the place without trouble, he ended up having to park the next street over due to crowd already taking up the best available parking. As Jimmy got out of his car he was nearly bowled over by the Metropolitan heat wave and it didn't help how he felt. He walked back down the main street to the warehouse. He could see the lights of Metropolis in the not far distance and he idly wished he was at one of the more trendy dance clubs instead. He kept an eye out for muggers - although there were street lamps along the way, there were broad roads between the squat empty warehouses, where there were no lights. They were effectively long stretches of blackness, concealing anything that might be lurking in their recesses. A sickly, pungent and unidentifiable odor wafted down one side alley as he passed it, and he had the unnerving sensation that there were forms in the darkness just out of sight, watching him. The whole area had an atmosphere of abandonment and decay. He hurried towards the large circle of light and noise that marked where the people were waiting to get into the show.
...I remember when Nyarlathotep came to my city - the great, the old, the terrible city of unnumbered crimes...*
As Jimmy approached the building, part of him was suddenly seized with a mysterious urge to turn around and run back to his car, and just drive home, forget about the whole thing. He would make some excuse to Constance about why he'd ditched her. She'd forgive him (maybe). But it was already too late, Constance had seen him and was waving to him. He walked past the crowd of her fellow hipster types, climbed the metal railings up to the open doors on the second story, where she waited. He could hear people inside, and sensed that crowd vibe of excitement and anticipation. He relaxed a little.
"About time," she commented, not looking at him but at her smartphone. "I'll check us in on Facebook."
Jimmy looked around, while she did. The crowd, to his relief, did not look like the typical weirdo crowd he and Constance sometimes ran into when they went to one of her preferred entertainments; they were more like the artsy types that attended the Metropolis MOMA's openings (he knew since Constance dragged him to those too). There was a hulking bouncer at the door checking tickets. He was the typical musclebound guy, but Jimmy noticed was unusually pale with an exceptionally large round and white head, his eyes sunk back in their sockets like raisins in dough. With his attention for detail Jimmy couldn't help but notice he was missing a finger on one hand, and for some reason that detail made him feel unusually queasy, although he had seen much worse, like during the time he and Clark and Lois had been embedded reporters in Afghanistan. He looked away quickly, and scanned his surroundings, suddenly feeling like he had to get his bearings. He could see that this was a used warehouse, or storage facility, or something, converted into a somewhat suitable event location, but whoever owned it now hadn't made any special alterations to the exterior apparently; the yellowish paint was peeling and flaky. He could barely make out old lettering from the days when this building had been used for office or workspace, they read: REPAIRER OF REPUTATIONS.
Repairer of Reputations? Jimmy was puzzled. What was that? An advertisement for a mob enforcer? Hell, maybe the mob used to own this part of town. Who knew, maybe they still did...
"You wouldn't believe the busy day I had!" Constance grunted as she texted expertly. "Camilla Castaigne's new show is behind schedule because she just had to come in and make some personal last minute changes, and we open in a week..."
That artist's name sounded familiar. Jimmy thought he heard that was Lex Luthor's latest squeeze. He pinched her elbow and she turned her attention from her phone and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "Let's go in!"
"Constance," Jimmy's face was drawn and pale in the dim light in the entranceway. "Do you really want to stay for a show? Why don't we go and get dinner instead?"
"Jimmy," Constance stared at him irritably, not noticing his queasiness. "I told you I wanted to see this, it's not like this happens every third Tuesday! We can go to dinner any time."
"I'm leaving for LA so we really can't," he muttered but she ignored him. She grasped his hands.
"Don't worry about that!" Her eyes seemed bright and excited and a little feverish in the unseasonal heat, similar to the way she usually got when she saw one of her new modern art shows or performance art pieces. "Really, this is only once a lifetime event! Believe me, it is!"
...It was in the hot autumn that I went through the night with the restless crowds to see Nyarlathotep; through the stifling night and up the endless stairs into the choking room...*
Together they entered the converted space, and Jimmy went to get them some drinks. The space was darkened and dimly lit, like most venues for clubs. A bar was set at one end, the raised soundstage at the other. He could see the instruments set up, a piano, some classical instruments, others he didn't recognize (he remembered that Constance said the Shoggoth Lords played neo-classical, whatever that was) and no electric guitars. There was a solitary stand with a laptop some techie was setting up, meaning he was in for some electronic/ambient noise. Just great, then no covers of Born to Run, obviously. People were standing around talking, drinking or smoking, meandering about, looking at their phones, or just stood in alone or in small clumps, just waiting.
Jimmy returned to Constance and handed her her Heineken. "Why are you so insistent on coming here?" he tried not to sound whiny. "What's so special about this guy?"
Constance shrugged. "He reveals things."
What was the big deal about that? "What kind of things? Through his music? About what?"
Constance looked at him sidelong. "What we don't see," she replied knowingly.
Jimmy laughed, but she didn't. "After a few beers, I can see that too!" But somehow his heart wasn't in his laughter. He knew Constance was probably annoyed with him too. Maybe it was best if they did call it quits after tonight.
...And I heard it hinted abroad that those who knew Nyarlathotep looked on sights which others saw not...*
Jut then three men and three women entered stage right and there were scattered whoops and cheers as the lights dimmed slightly, obviously the Shoggoth Lords. Jimmy wondered at the name, since they didn't look like Goths, but more like Constance's type. One of them walked with a noticeable limp, and another's arm was distinctly shorter that his left. Were they disabled in some way? Perhaps he shouldn't heckle then. Their set was exactly what Constance had told him it would be similar to This Mortal Coil (whatever that was) and they didn't sing or speak, just played. The crowd seemed quite appreciative, though Jimmy was getting bored, and stood there glumly next to Constance who was apparently enjoying every minute of it, surreptitiously glancing at his watch. It seemed to last forever, but only thirty minutes had passed before they stopped, almost abruptly. He felt Constance grasp his forearm. The audience hushed in anticipation.
Then Nyarlathotep appeared.
He strode across the stage to a silent room, looking not at them but at the Shoggoth Lords, who seemed to acknowledge his presence almost imperceptibly; Jimmy wondered if they were also his backup band. He stopped by the computer setup, and only then did he turn full on and look at the audience.
He was a tall and slender man, dark, but Jimmy couldn't tell if he really was Egyptian, although his stage name suggested it, and did have a chin beard of sorts. It was his eyes that stunned Jimmy. Nyarlathotep's eyes swept the hall, and for a moment he seemed to look directly at him, and Jimmy immediately averted his gaze, for some reason, not wanting to look into those black eyes full in the face. Then he spoke, and for a second - it was silly - Jimmy wanted to clap his hands over his ears. But his voice was deep and melodic, and rich. He gave a slight bow, from the neck.
"The early 20th-century Chinese author Lu Xun," he began. "Once told a story about these men and women, trapped in an iron box. There are no windows, no doors, no way out. There is air but it will run out soon. The men and women are sleeping, and do not know their situtation. Now," at this point the screen behind him flashed to life, and he laid a hand on his laptop. "Would it be a blessing to wake them up and let them know of their inevitable fate, or would it be a curse?"
The audience was silent.
Nyarlathotep's booming laughter thundered through the hall and the show began.
...they were horrible and impressive beyond my most fevered imaginings; that what was thrown on a screen in the darkened room prophesied things none by Nyarlathotep dared prophesy, and that in the sputter of his sparks there was taken from men that which had never been taken before yet which shewed only in the eyes...*
As the performance went on, the images on the wall behind Nyarlathotep reflected the ambient music echoing in the venue, and it was having the effect of aggravating Jimmy's already worsening queasiness. The room swam before him, and he was feeling like he might actually be sick. Although he was only drinking beer and hadn't left his drinks unattended he was beginning to wonder if someone had slipped something into them. His mind felt dizzy and disorientated. At moments he seemed to forget where he was. He looked around for Constance but didn't see her. She had wandered off somewhere, perhaps to get closer to the stage. People were holding up their cellphones, filming the images (what the hell were those? shapes of creatures, of something, outer space, a world with two suns and two moons, a lake by which a black city arose in the distance, flashes of colors he didn't recognize) on the screen as the music (if you could call it that) played. Jimmy had no interest in recording any of this for posterity. Lois had asked him to take pictures, but all that was out of his mind now. Unlike the others, he was (without his really thinking about it) moving back away from the stage. He wanted to leave, but he didn't want to leave without Constance, but he couldn't find her in the crowd at all now.
Then, it stopped. Massive applause and whoops. Nyarlathotep bowed, but the lights did not come back on. The audience held its breath in anticipation of more. Jimmy desperately was looking everywhere for his girlfriend, but wondered if he could even recognize her among the crowd. The men and women around him stood motionless, utterly enraptured by what they had just experienced.
"One last song," Nyarlathotep's voice had dropped to an almost whisper. "I understand some of you in the crowd are going to be leaving this great city."
Jimmy froze, puzzled, uncomprehending.
"I do not normally do this," he added. "But tonight is special, since some of you will be leaving this city very soon. All of you who reside here will see it for as it is, or could be. Or will be. It's hard to say. To borrow a Buddhist understanding, perhaps some things are not as the seem. This place is one of them, Metropolis, isn't it? Do you want to see it as it really is?" Cheers. "I would show you an image of it, but perhaps this medium is best," Nyarlathotep nodded to one of the Shoggoth Lords, an extremely pale woman, who had been playing the violin and keyboards. She set it on top of the piano, which was now where he sat.
The pale woman began singing, alone, only accompanied by Nyarlathotep on the piano, in the now still atmosphere of the audience hall:
Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
(Jimmy backed out of the hall, pushing past the people who were standing as if frozen, entranced by the music. They didn't seem to notice his blundering. He really couldn't be expected to take this anymore, and Constance could get a ride home, she drove here...didn't she? But how could someone drive over the Lake of Hali? What? How did he know the name of the lake?)
Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
(What the hell? The venue seemed to be quite bigger than Jimmy remembered it. This was more like a reception hall, for a royal audience. Not some converted warehouse. The people around him were courtiers, not hipsters. No one of that description here. He could hear the waves calling out to him...but there was no lake near here...was there?)
Song of my soul,
My voice is dead
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
He had to get out, get outside, get some air. Jimmy stumbled outside, gulping in the hot autumn air frantically as if he were drowning and couldn't breathe. He dimly remembered that he was on the second story, and grasped for the railing to steady himself before he toppled off. He felt like he was at some high altitude, as if he were twenty stories up, instead of two, in a high tower, not on a second-story metal grating that served as a walkway. He was dizzy, disoriented. He felt his fingers clasp at empty air and he barely stopped himself from tumbling off the landing. He blinked, trying to refocus, but everything was so dark…so dark…the light over the entranceway to the clandestine club appeared to have gone out, and he was alone here, in a vast and empty void. There was nothing but a shadow there where the lights of Metropolis gleamed or had gleamed, and instead over it loomed twin moons (two moons?), skittering across the sky, where the stars flickered like fireflies, dying and then bursting back to life, only to die again. Wildly, Jimmy looked around for some orientation, something familiar, anything, but he saw nothing but he ugly squat boxes of the warehouses, only there surfaces were bricked over, they were nothing more than empty crypts of a dying city, and over this city loomed the black towers of fabled and lost Carcosa...
Jimmy was so addled he couldn't remember where he'd parked his car. He'd vaguely felt himself stumbling down dark streets where the halogen streetlamps had gone out, the warehouses on either side towering over him like empty shells of dead cities, not seeing another living soul, and for a few harrowing minutes he was certain that he was the only man left alive on earth. Chill panic swept through him, and he ran, he didn't remember how long or how far, until he saw lights ahead, real lights, not the lights of twin moons or twin suns or the lights of the Hyades glittering in the river of night's dreaming...
Then it seemed like the next second he was nearly run over by a city bus. Its brakes screeched as it narrowly missed hitting him. He heard the angry bus driver curse at him, then swerve around him and keep going as he collapsed on the dirty concrete sidewalk, gasping for breath.
Jimmy managed to hail a cab and as soon as he got back to his condo went straight to bed, without taking a shower, in his dirty clothes. He stayed in bed for the rest of that night, the next day, and into the early morning hours of the next. The phone rang, once, maybe twice, but however much it rang, he didn't answer it. He was beyond answering, and most other things, for that matter.
When he did manage to straggle out of bed and hit the shower, he remembered to take his clothes off about half an hour after standing under the hot drenching downpour from the showerhead. This was the worst hangover he'd ever had...already the events of the previous night were hazy and dimly remembered. Why had he left her there...her. What was her name?
Constance, that was it.
After another half hour just sitting under the water, Jimmy managed to get out and dry himself off, dressing himself somewhat haphazardly. He searched for another half hour after that for his phone. He found it dropped by the doorway. Only one voicemail on it.
"Jimmy!" It was Lois. "Awesome news! You are listening to the first journalist to be admitted to Themyscira! I leave a month from now! Whoowhooowwhooooo! This will be THE story of the year! Pulitzer here I come, again! Give me a call when you get this? Where the hell have you been? Let me know if you find anything on that Price woman!"
Jimmy tossed the phone down. He barely understood what Lois was saying. Weren't they supposed to go to...somewhere? Oh yeah, LA. He'd better call Constance, they had to talk. About alot of things.
Dial. No answer.
Redial. No answer.
No turnover to voicemail. Just no pickup. It was her number, he was positive.
He tried redialing several times the rest of that day, but it was all the same. No answer. He spent some of his other time not dialing staring at the wall. The shadows lengthened into dusk again but he stayed where he was, until the call of nature forced him back into the bathroom. He almost made it. Almost.
The next day was a little better. He learned his Camaro had been towed and it cost him $300 to fetch it out of impound. Whatever. He actually got some work done. He took some pictures, but when he actually looked at them, realized that half of them were blurry, the other half pictures he didn't even remember taking. Not even of people, but random things. A street lamp. An abandoned backpack at the corner of a building. Graffiti. An overpass shrouded in shadows. Lonely stretches of road.
The day after that, with still no answer from Constance, he tried calling Metropolis MOMA asking for Ms. Constance Castro. She was unavailable and no, could not give out any more personal information. Have a nice day.
Jimmy fetched up his car keys and his nerve and drove back to the warehouse district, when he was sure he would still have daylight hours on his side. He saw the rows and rows of empty derelict buildings and shells of warehouses and foundries, but for the life of him, he could not retrace his path back to where the show was, where he had seen...the GPS hadn't saved his coordinates either, even though the damn thing was programmed to do that. At some point, after driving in circles (and wasting a quarter tank of gas) he drove back to the populated and better known districts of Metropolis.
The phone rang once, and he nearly swerved off the road. He pulled over to the side, to safely answer it, but it was only a text message. It was Constance's ID. But there was only a one-sentence message:
Have you seen the Yellow Sign?
Instead of sending a return text, Jimmy threw his phone (the Apple 5) out the window and drove away, gravel flying away from the spinning tires, his heart pounding and his skin clammy, although he could not imagine for a second why. Although he was not scheduled to fly out to LA until the next week, Jimmy booked the next available flight to the fabled and legendary City of Angels, Home of the Stars.
And for as long as he lived, Jimmy Olsen never went back to the city of Metropolis.
Thanks for reading once again! A short 2-chapter lead-up to the seque to "The Red House", and hints at what might happen there, and some disclaimers since I'm messing about with crossovers.
The passages marked with * are from Lovecraft's prose poem, "Nyarlathotep" where he first appears as a performer (there is a b/w dramatization of the story on YouTube), and of course it ends horribly for the narrator (Nyarlathotep does not like being heckled, we learn). Will he show up in the sequel? Maybe. I had the idea of incorporating it into the fic, because it evokes such creepy atmosphere, and this is my nod to it. Also very inspired by another Lovecraft tale, "The Music of Erich Zann" - some similarities with what happens to Jimmy and the protagonist of that story.
The Shoggoth Lords are creations from later Mythos stories, some shoggoths are described as able to take human form. Here I have them as Nyarlathotep's ensemble backup band. I imagine Nyarlathotep's show definitely something like Lustmord - YouTube it for sample!
The song at the end is "Cassilda's Song" from Robert W. Chambers short story cycle, "The King in Yellow" (written in 1895!) which is about a play supposed to drive whoever reads it mad. This song appears in the fictional play. Lovecraft liked it, and incorporated elements of it into his Mythos stories (as did many other authors, including Marion Zimmer Bradley and Stephen King, but they stand on their own as a Mythos. For more info Google "The Yellow Site" which will give you tons of info. If you want to hear "Cassilda's Song" set to music, go back to YouTube (love it) and search for Stormclouds' version of Cassilda's Song, which is actually my inspiration to write this. Great music. If you read my earlier JL fic "The Red House" the King in Yellow is one of the books Mrs. Oates the librarian keeps locked up in the Smallville Library basement. Not available for check out! Will the mysterious King in Yellow, Cassilda, and Carcosa figure into the sequel? Definitely.
And Lois too, it looks like. Hope she holds up a little better than Jimmy Olsen here ;)
And as always, your reviews are welcome!