The Yellow Lounge

She was cute, alright. No, ‘cute’ didn’t do her justice – disturbingly stunning, was more like it. Heart-shaped face with high cheekbones, little retroussé nose and gracefully pointed chin framed by a neat bob of glossy hair so intensely black it seemed blue where it caught the light; large kohl-rimmed eyes of a glittering, icy blue-grey, with gorgeously dense, dark brows above them that frequently conspired with a little off-centre smile playing on her plump, cherry-red lips to produce a look that was almost murderously suggestive. A black strappy top showed off small, high breasts and a taut midriff to perfection; nice little arse in a tight miniskirt, black too and apparently of velvet; ankle boots, of course also black; slender white arms, bare despite the coldness of the season, to which she displayed a nearly preternatural indifference. And yet oddly enough, the single point to which my eye was drawn again and again wasn’t even a feature of her face or body but a small pendant that hung on a thin gold chain around her pale and immaculate neck: perhaps an inch long and about half that wide, tear-drop shaped and made of jet or some similarly lustrous black mineral with a design picked out in gold: a curvilinear cypher or rune of some kind that I was sure I had never seen before but which tugged at the back of my mind insistently, as if it had once been familiar to me in a past existence and I knew, or ought to know, of its awesome and perhaps terrible significance.

I’d quite forgotten how she’d become a member of our party that night. Was she an old highschool friend of Sarah’s? Or had Pete introduced her as his sister, or cousin? Someone’s girlfriend, or ex, or date? Try as I might, my memory refused to divulge the precise moment she’d appeared among the group of the eight or nine of us as we casually drifted up and down Charlotte Street, some of us having eaten at an Italian place earlier that evening while others had just joined us following a quiz at the Fitzroy Tavern. Which in itself was odd, as I hadn’t had more than three or four drinks at that point and hadn’t taken anything, either. But anyway, she’d introduced herself as Jaunette, and had then laughed, as if amused by her own name: a twinkling, musical laugh that was sweet, intoxicating and dangerous-sounding at the same time; the auditory analogue of the scent of opium fumes. Her accent was slight and almost unplaceable. Surely there was a hint of French in there, which would make sense given her name, but there were traces of something else I was completely unable to pick out. Physically she appeared very young, maybe just eighteen or twenty, but something about her demeanour gave her the bearing and confidence of a much older woman. Like much, much older – at one moment I had the crazy idea that those dazzling doe eyes and that lyrical laugh had seduced Caliphs and Cæsars in centuries that had long ago mouldered to dust.

(It occurred to me that strange thoughts like this had been arising spontaneously in my mind quite frequently since I’d read that weird play script Charles had sent me: The King In Yellow, it had been called. He’d found it as a .pdf while browsing some of the darkest corners of the ‘Dark Web’, he’d said, which was weird as hell in itself – I mean, bomb-making manuals, extremist propaganda, classified documents from government intelligence agencies and the most diabolical kinds of illegal pornography; these were surely the sorts of files you might dredge from this digital no-man’s-land – but a play script? I’d read it, as much to humour my eccentric friend as for any other reason, having been prepared to dismiss it as nonsense; nonsense, indeed, is what it had been, or so I thought at the time, but a few lines had held about them the suggestion of a hideous cosmic truth, and more than once since then had I awoken in the small hours, trembling and drenched in sweat, with the image of the Pallid Mask, the doom of Carcosa and the whispered secrets of the Hyades still resonant in my waking mind.)

And the more I looked at those eyes, the more I became convinced that, when caught by the light, it was neither grey nor blue that they flashed, but a pure golden yellow.

At some point in the evening, people began leaving our group in couples or little groups of two or three friends, and soon I was left quite alone with Jaunette. I couldn’t believe my luck, nor could I believe that none of the other males in our party had seemed particularly interested in her or even really noticed her presence at all.

“So, what d’you want to do now then?” I asked, as nonchalantly as possible, offering her a cigarette which she accepted without taking her eyes off mine. I was doing my best to play it cool, but heaven knows how agitated I might have looked to a third party. It was made even worse by the occasional wafts I received of the scent she was wearing, which was as alien and yet tantalizingly familiar as the symbol on her pendant.

“Well there is this place I know, it’s kind of private, Members Only. The Yellow Lounge, you know it?”, she’d replied, smiling lopsidedly again and delicately flicking a mote of ash to the pavement. We’d wandered down from Fitzrovia into Soho, although I’d been so intoxicated by her presence that I had no memory of the route we’d taken or places we’d been on the way. I of course assented and she sauntered off down a side street with me following as if I’d been on a leash, until before long we reached a pub I’d drunk in a few times and the late-night Thai restaurant adjacent to it. Except the pub and the restaurant were no longer adjacent: somehow inserted between them was a low, dingy doorway, above which the words YELLOW LOUNGE were faintly visible in tarnished faux-gold lettering. It looked as if it had been there for decades, and the buildings here were in any case early Victorian at the latest, and yet I swear this address had not existed on any previous occasion I had walked down here.

No doorman or anyone else for that matter could be seen inside, and I was about to ask Jaunette if the place was even open, when she simply walked up to the door and it swung inward without her even touching it. I hesitated, pulled in one direction by the appalling menace of the situation and in another by a fascination and a desire I had never known before. Jaunette must have sensed my hesitation, as she turned half around and said to me over her shoulder, “But aren’t you going to come in?”

I said nothing but lurched forwards like a drunk, passing across the threshold and being instantly enveloped in the odour of the place, which was like a much stronger version of Jaunette’s perfume, mixed with an undernote that was sweetly cloying and spoke of putrescence, of the far-gone decay of nameless organic things. I caught the strains of what sounded like some old-time jazz, muffled, crackly and infinitely lascivious, coming from no source I could see.

Steps led down into a corridor that opened into a typical bar room of a small nightclub. Every surface was pitch black, with a suggestion of an oily sheen, except where cryptic designs were picked out on the walls and furniture in what looked like wildly tangled loops of gold wire, all of them reminiscent of the design on Jaunette’s pendant. Lighting was absolutely minimal – and, of course, no colour but golden yellow – and of staff, customers or any other living soul there was not a sign.

Finally I made one last pathetic attempt to make sense of the situation and asked “Is this place even open? I mean, are we supposed to be here? Why is it empty?” My voice sounded hollow and weak, as if suffocated by the smell of the place, the darkness and the soft and increasingly muffled and maddening jazz.

Jaunette let out one of her gorgeous crystalline laughs and said “Oh don’t worry about that. This is Mr King’s place, I know him. It’s no problem. But come with me.”

So Mr King, then, was the owner or manager of the bar – but given the look and feel of the place, I was quite certain he must also have been a mobster of some kind, perhaps a dealer. With a shudder I considered the very real possibility that he was Jaunette’s pimp – and with a giddy mix of shame and excitement began trying to remember how much cash I had on me, and to consider whether this particular establishment took payment by debit card… but soon my mind was empty of everything except the hypnotic sway of Jaunette’s rear as she led me across to what appeared to be a small dancefloor.

The girl gave one more coquettish look back at me over her shoulder and a simultaneous wiggle of her hips and, yet again, that maddening, lilting laugh. “He’s here, Your Grace! I’ve brought him!”, she said, apparently to no-one; but at that moment the music rose to a crescendo of pounding, muffled drums and crazily squealing brass – a music expressive of every impulse of depraved violence and wicked lust that was ever felt – the delicious, repellent odour intensified into a choking stench, and all around I could see nothing but a dazzling yellow effulgence as the walls, floor and ceiling of the club, along with the siren who had brought me here, melted like mist.

Jaunette’s tittering was joined by a new sound, that of great bat-like wings of leather or leprous hide swooping through space, and I felt myself swept up in a vast tangle of tattered, ancient cloth, like the shroud of some long-dead king.

For it was indeed the King who had claimed me. Jaunette was still laughing hilariously, beautifully, when I heard a voice echoing as if across a gulf of a billion years, and yet as close and intimate as if whispered into my ear:

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!”

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