Fortune Favors the Bold by Zoe Young

The Ten of Spades rests heavily in my hand. After a moment of staring at it in disbelief, I hastily put the card in my back pocket and enter the maze of darkness before me. My hands fly to my sides and I wobble through the small, pitch black corridor. My arms cross over my chest as I hug myself. My arms are the only defense mechanism I have––them and the eerie, porcelain mask which I will soon be forced to wear.

Music blares through the space, filling it with dissonance. There’s a rapid crescendo in the sound’s dynamics, guided by a sustained bass horn, creating a sense of apprehension. An overlying light string section blasts at once alongside the bass horn’s low rumble, swirling in half-tempo to create the suspense—I hug myself harder, now squeezing. These two competing sounds are uncomfortable in their unity. The steady, bass drone paired with the shivering strings twist my sense of stability into instability. The diverging sounds fight for the audience’s ear.

I start walking, and the blackness of the maze suddenly turns a dim, dark red. I enter a room decorated with scarlet satin curtains and wooden check-in desks with framed old cursive inked letters dating to ‘39. My eyes move to vases containing dried, dead flowers. One of the letters reads on The McKittrick Hotel stationary: “I waited until dark like you had asked, but could wait no more. Tonight?”

I move into a smoky adjacent room seating ten coffee-shop-esque small, round tables and chairs, a bar, and servers––a 1930s noir, sexy jazz club. Candles surrounded by feathers scatter before the stage, where a band plays. A plump woman sporting an updo and a navy cocktail gown sings Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon,” and her voice soothes the nervous air in the room. I sit down at a table between the stage and the bar.

When she finishes her third song, a stern-looking man takes her place on stage with conviction. He is tall, handsome, and has an enticing ginger-beard; I learn later that he goes by Calloway. He stands, straddling an old microphone, and purses his lips right to it––barely kissing it. With every word, he tilts his head as if he plans to make love to the microphone.

“Welcome to the Manderley Bar. 10s, you’re up,” he says, greeting us in a sultry tone. I file myself in line. When I reach the front, Calloway towers over me in his black tuxedo, his dark blue eyes staring into my fearful browns. He accompanies a slender, big busted woman wearing a black ball gown.

She comes up to me, caresses my face, and whispers into my ear, “You look like a vision.” When I thank her, she looks startled, “My dear, stay hush. We don’t want to wake the baby.” I feel guilty for my seemingly bad etiquette and continue to stare at Calloway’s hand resting on her lower back, slowing grazing her spine.

Calloway hands me a white mask, and with a singular finger, motions for the rest of the group to pour into the other room leading to the real show.

“Things here at this place are not what they seem. Neither are the people,” he warns us. The twelve strangers around me put on their masks. The sight of a group of menacing, pale white masks gives me chills. Calloway’s side lady, whose name I didn’t catch, whisks her body through our tight group of spectators, explaining how there are no rules in the show.

“And if things ever get too much,” she tells us in an endearing voice…BANG.

She slams her hands in the elevator shaft, and half the group jolts backward and gasps. “You can always come back to us at the Manderley.”

Surrounded by strangers, I had never felt more isolated. We are not given any warning, program, or guidance as to where we are, what we should do, or what to expect. There are no rules. My mask is everything these strangers will ever know about me. Our masks, a barrier between real life and the show–reality and fantasy–are our only protection.

I am wearing a black shirt and black jeans on purpose to complete this look of anonymity.

She tells us, “My friend, James, will take good care of you.” In sync with her words, the elevator doors open to reveal a man in a grey suit, who emerges out of the swirling white fog. James motioned us into the elevator.

I wait, pretending to be dilly-dallying, until everyone files into the semi-darkness. I enter last on purpose––I want to be the target. A smirk crawls onto my face, and a secret slithers across my lips.

A jolt of adrenaline surges through my body, and I can feel my heartbeat in my index finger. James looks at each of us in turn, deep into our eyes, pausing, and whispering in a raspy, British voice, “You will find people inside the show. However, they’re not here to guide you, my dears, you’re going to have to find your own way.”

The words rupture and reverberate in my head.

He continues, “Things in this hotel are not always as they seem. The more curious you are, the more you will find in this place. And as they say, fortune tends to favor the bold.”

He stares me dead in the face, and it takes strength for me to hold his gaze.

You look bold,” he smirks.

The elevators open and with the motion of his hand, I step out. I look around and can’t recognize where I am. James, his hoarse British accent, and the strangers vanish. The elevator doors creak shut, and fog surrounds me. I feel tormented by the panic pent up inside me. My mouth is dry; my tongue feels cracked.

I hold on tightly to my arms, giving myself yet another hug and follow a flickering light in the distance. When I round the corner, a brunette woman of average height stands before me in an old-fashioned nurse’s uniform, wool coat, and a suitcase in hand. I stumble back. She runs over to me, grabbing me firmly by the elbows, gasping, “I can’t believe you’re here. You look like you always did.” The way she looks deeply into the eyes compels me to believe she’s seen me before. I nod and force a smile to make sure she can’t sense the hysteria inside me.

“Can I tell you about my dream?” she begs.

I nodded. No speaking is allowed.

She begins to tell me about her dream and abruptly runs me up against the brick wall behind me. As her story gets more and more intense, the same menacing music from before ensues. It gets louder and louder until I can’t even hear her words anymore. I’m shaking. I can’t tell if she feels bad for me, but she keeps her grasp on my shoulder. BOOM. The lights go out. I can’t see anything, but I can sense her presence up against my chest and can feel her breath on the tip of my nose.

I’m not sure whether I should be afraid of the woman before me or holding onto her for dear life.

The lights go back on, and an antique wheelchair with hand and foot holders is before me.

“Can I show you my dream?” she asks while motioning to the wheelchair. She points to the blackness which consumes the end of the dusty corridor.

I force myself to nod. I sit in the wheelchair, grasping the armrests, and she starts to wheel me forward, inching closer and closer to the darkness. She is quiet, but the soundtrack rages. Once we enter the night, I can’t help but shut my eyes tight. She moves faster–sprinting– and I hold onto the wicker arms with all my might to brace myself for what may come out of the darkness.

She touches my shoulder, and gently asks if she may recline the wheelchair so I can lay on my back. There is something she wishes me to see.

A female voice recording crackles and swirls throughout the blackened room.

Above me, a light spreads like fire across the ceiling, illuminating a landscape of forest with bare trees, dirt, and twigs. There’s a miniature house, and as she rolls me backward, I see a huge mansion––no, an estate. I’m staring wide-eyed as the voice recording goes on, the lights in the house flickering. It’s as if I were flying above her dream, perhaps as a ghost.

The tape starts:

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

This woman seems to be talking about a different Manderley–a haunted Manderley. A Manderley that no person should ever return to again.

The tape continues, and the words blur together: 

I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited…

Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done, but as I advanced I was aware that a change had come upon it; it was narrow and unkempt, not the drive that we had known. At first I was puzzled and did not understand, and it was only when I bent my head to avoid the low swinging branch of a tree that I realized what had happened. Nature had come into her own again and, little by little, in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long, tenacious fingers. The woods, always a menace even in the past, had triumphed in the end. They crowded, dark and uncontrolled, to the borders of the drive. The beeches with white, naked limbs leant close to one another, their branches intermingled in a strange embrace, making a vault above my head like the archway of a church… along with monster shrubs and plants, none of which I remembered.

After a pause, the nurse lightly places her hand on my lower back, sits me up, and wheels me out of the darkness back to the alleyway. She stands me up and whispers in my ear in a soft almost indistinguishable tone.

“You can never return to the Manderley again, but sometimes, in my dreams, I return to those strange days.”

Thinking it is over, I nod, but the nurse grabs my arm with the same firm yet strangely  reassuring grasp and whispers again in my ear, “Moonlight plays odd tricks upon the fancy.”

She leads me off into a corridor, and I dart down the steps, passing a bodyguard in a black mask, onto the fifth floor.

Dumbfounded and shaken, I wander alone into the Sanitarium. Five white cots on rusted metal bed frames line each side of the room––some filled with solid rocks, others containing laid out, tarnished pajamas of old patients. Rotting bathtubs line the adjacent room––some brimming with still water, others empty but for the hollow clothes of patients which gives the impression they had disintegrated into nothingness. I meander around this floor, noting a padded cell, a doctor’s office with patient records and test samples, a room with electroshock equipment. In an operating room, two nurses are dancing around each other—one lays on the operating table, her torso heaving back and forth, and the other tries to break her out of the spell that consumes her. This floor writhes in delusion.

While I examine the rocks piled on one of the cots, a ginger-headed, slim woman in a backless, black ballroom dress stumbles into the room, resting her body and creeping up against the metal bar of a headboard. Her gown hangs on her lower back, and the end of her dress falls off the bed. I watch her. She’s sobbing, clearly distraught or insane. Blood covers her hands, and a male doctor in a long white trench coat appears from the room with the bathtubs.

The male doctor puts his hand on her shoulder, and she looks up to him in what seems like seductive relief. He stands her up and guides the wavering figure to one of the bathtubs, already drawn. She strips down to her naked body before a crowd of thirty masks and collapses into the tub. She stops crying and begins to scrub herself incessantly. She starts rubbing her bloody hands so much that the water itself turns a faint burgundy and splashes outside the tub. I take a few steps back so that she doesn’t spatter me in her craze. When she is unsuccessful at cleaning herself, she lets out a scream. She is hopeless.

Out, damned spot! Out, I say!—One, two. Why, / then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky!—Fie, / my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we / fear who knows it, when none can call our power / to account?—Yet who would have thought the old / man to have had so much blood in him…What, will these hands ne’er be clean?—No more o’ / that, my lord, no more o’ that.

After realizing the water cannot assist her escape from insanity, she leaves the scene, groping from wall to wall as if blinded. Stumbling out onto a grey cobblestoned, dimly lit street, I walk alone, passing a candy shop, a taxidermist, a funeral parlor, and then find myself in a speakeasy, where, in one corner, a witch is stabbing a King of Spades to the wall. There are already hundreds more, pre-stabbed, lining the wall. There is a dilapidated pool table, a bar, and a small table with cards on it beneath a swinging light. The witch vanishes and three men enter. The men sit, drink a toast, and pick up the cards on the table. A drowsy Macbeth storms through the room, disrupting the game. When they notice the visitor, two of the men bolt, clearly to avoid Macbeth, who talks to himself–possessed.

It is concluded. Banquo, thy soul’s flight, / If it find heaven, must find it out tonight.

Suddenly, Macbeth runs after the man left behind, and the two push each other against the cardboard walls. They struggle, knocking over objects on the table. Macbeth finally grabs a brick and beats Banquo’s brains out behind the bar. Macbeth arises from behind the bar covered in blood. He stumbles out of the room, looking even more frenzied than when he arrived.

I follow Macbeth downstairs to a lobby. There is a reception desk, a cabaret stage, old telephone booths, and a dining area with tables set with plates and teacups. The porter, hair slicked to the right side of his head, stands in a maroon jacket behind reception, shuffling  through phone bills with a nostalgic look on his face. A disheveled man dressed in a disheveled white button down and black slacks, wearing heavy black eyeliner, storms through the lobby and catches the porter’s attention. The man begins to dance with a bald woman dressed in a low-cut black velvet gown. The porter is entranced. The woman leaves the man in the telephone booth, and the porter joins the dance. The Boy Witch, with his black eyeliner, seduces the porter with his dancing. His seduction is torturous. As he drags his arms up the porter’s torso, the Boy Witch shoves him up against the wall of the booth. He pulls the curtain tightly around the porter’s head, encapsulating him in an enclave of repressed sexual desire. The Boy Witch’s devilish chuckle escapes him as he successfully leads the porter to his lips, only to reject him–—he leaves the fragile porter shriveled in front of the booth. The Boy Witch doesn’t look back.

The Boy Witch rushes out of the lobby, leaving the porter high and dry. I follow. We’re running up and down stairs, in between corridors, and finally, we arrive at a smoky, flushed satin room which immediately I recognize being a duplicate of the Manderley Bar. This room, however, is tainted, creepier than the welcoming bar downstairs. It is the underworld version of the Manderley. My eyes are shocked by the strobe lights flashing around. Witch cackling fills the air, and the Boy Witch begins to sprint around the room in circles. The Bald Witch and Sexy Witch join him with their adjacent audiences, and all three of them start wailing.

I stand speechless still watching it all unfold. My eyes dash from witch to witch. EDM blares in the room. A woman stands near the center, dressed in a long, dramatic, maroon floor-length ballroom feathered dress with black satin gloves. She has her arms stretched out and looks focused; she starts hissing when the audience comes near her. The three witches cackle and scream and dance frantically and maniacally around the room. Hecate—the goddess of magic, witchcraft, and ghosts––focuses her hands above her head, signaling that she is in control of this spell. The witches are colliding with one another, thrusting what seems to be all of their power onto each other. All of a sudden, the lights turn red and a man completely naked––the Boy Witch––comes out from behind the bar with a giant severed bull’s head, his body covered in blood. Macbeth storms into the room distraught and the witches cackle louder as they shove him around in a circle. He seems lost and confused by this underworld, and they push him around, while the Boy Witch reveals a naked baby doll also caked in blood.They must be giving Macbeth a prophecy. The witches hold up the doll, and a soundtrack of a baby crying blares throughout the room, the strobe lights still shattering my vision.

Standing on tables, the witches mesh their bodies together, kissing each other and rubbing blood all over themselves. At once, the music and strobe lights stop and the witches fall to the ground. They stand back up and retreat at one table, seemingly exhausted after this rave, and one of them pulls out a miniature tree from their pocket. The tree excites them as they caress it, each forcing the other to hand it to them.

Be lion-metted, proud, and take no care. Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are. Macbeth shall never vanquished until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.

Macbeth is taken by the tree, but the witches won’t let him touch it. They put it up to his face, taunting him, and when he reaches for it, they cackle.

I will not be afraid of death and bane, Till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane.

Macbeth races out of the scene as the Sexy Witch and Bald Witch continue to toss around the small Birnam wood. The Boy Witch rips off the head of the bull and runs away from Hecate’s replica bar. I immediately start sprinting after the Boy Witch, shoving people at my sides trying to follow him. When I turn left from the bar, I enter a bathroom where he sits in the corner of a shower with the faucet on, sobbing. He’s rinsing himself of the blood on his body and his black overly-drawn eyeliner smudges at his cheeks. I stand still, watching this creature unleash loud sobs until the defeated Boy Witch reaches for one of the hands of the eight people standing beside me. He feebly motions for a towel, and masked woman gives it to him almost immediately. He takes her by the hand and uses her strength to stand up. He struggles to put on his briefs before stretching his legs out before her. He lifts them in the air, and she takes the pair of pants before her, putting his legs through his trousers. He picks up the white linen shirt on the ground, slowly fastening each button, and clips his suspenders to his black slacks. Now dressed, the Boy Witch sprints out of the room holding woman’s hand, and I follow both. He leads us through a corridor headed downstairs to The McKittrick’s luxurious ballroom, housing bedrooms, crypts, and a large stage with a dining table.

Different characters start to join the Boy Witch on stage, attracting the followers behind them to stand close. About ten of the characters seat themselves at a long, perhaps fifteen-foot rectangular dining table, resembling a banquet, with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth at the heads. Banquo arises as a specter from below the table, a light illuminating his blood-drenched body, making his way to Lady Macbeth’s side. He executes his way to the end of the table opposite Macbeth. The surrounding lights change from green to a sickly dark red. The characters mesh with one another in slow motion, pulling each other’s hair and whispering in each other’s ears. Banquo scurries, lunging to the other side of the table to stare Macbeth in the face. Macbeth stands, and the sound of a bell chimes. One by one each of the guests leave, walking off stage, and out of the ballroom. All except for the Boy Witch, who begins choreographing large pine trees around the dance floor. Birnam Wood redux.

Let every soldier hew him down a bough / And bear ’t before him.

I decide I must follow one of the witches before the rave is reprised. And so I have strategically followed one of the supernumerary witches, to Gallow Green, where I find, and stand next to Hecate. A knowing look appears on the Queen Witch’s heavily blushed face as I follow her around the overturned Manderly. She can see that I am Bold. She knows I want her attention. She opens a secret door-in-the-wall and extends her hand to me. I take her hand and stumble inside.

In her secret lair, there are ancient potion tubes and scribbled notes of bizarre ingredients everywhere. A Newt’s tail catches my eye. Hecate looks me kindly in the eye and takes off my mask. Suddenly exposed, stunned and vulnerable, I am  physically unable to move. I swallow and feel my heart pulsing and radiating through the bones of my chest. No longer am I a ghostly spectator; I am now human with Hecate. There is no question: she sees me. Hecate rests her hand on my cheek and smiles widely––her teeth widened by stained-red lips. She strokes my cheek with a single, cold finger and I forcefully smile back. She reaches in her drawer hastily, knocking potion bottles to the ground, and says:

“Do you trust me?”

I nod.

“Open up and drink this,” she demands, and I open my mouth as she pours a clear liquid from a potion bottle down my throat. When I swallow, a conniving smile appears on her face. The taste of salt water stings my lips.

“Good.” Then her tone shifts. “Now, can I trust you?”

I nod again, and she continues, “I need you to do me a favor.”

She takes out a piece of paper and hands it to me.

“Give this message to the porter. He’s in a red coat. In the lobby. You can’t miss him. And make haste.” Her quick words blend together. She kisses my mask, leaving a red stain I would only find much later.

Hecate whips me out of her chamber. I bolt, leaving behind the corrupt Manderley, as fast I can, trying to find the Lobby. I’m sprinting up and down and can feel my heart throbbing. I’m breaking a sweat. I crack open the letter, revealing her dramatic cursive handwriting, which reads, “Dear Porter, Please, No More Tears. Love, Hecate.” I usher myself to the porter and hand the crumpled piece of paper to him, which I had previously shoved in my back-jean pocket. He opens it, reads it to himself, and hands me back a white thickly folded paper boat. He doesn’t take his eyes off me until leave the room.

I sprint back to Hecate’s lair, unsure of whether I should hand her the paper boat, but I am too late to do anything. She’s holding the hand of another white masked voyeur. Jealousy takes hold of me–I can feel the redness and heat on my cheeks. All of a sudden, Hecate heads for the door with her new friend. I follow them both along other masks, down the corridor, back to the cobblestone of Gallow Green, and down the stairs through the Lobby, bottomward more stairs, to the ominous ballroom.

The trees are now vanished; Birnam Wood gone. Under a spotlight on the stage, a wooden chair is positioned beneath a noose. MacDuff grabs the rope that hangs from the ceiling in his hands.

The lights dim, casting a shadow over the audience of ivory masks, but they illuminate Macbeth who stands before his fate––the chair.

Here may you see the tyrant!

MacDuff loops it around his neck; Macbeth remains fearless. As the chair is abruptly pulled back, Macbeth struggles, fighting to loosen the noose around his neck, veins popping and hands clenching––but the King is too late. The life is sucked out of him at once; his body goes numb. His corpse is left swinging in the air on the squeaking rope. The masks file out of the ballroom one by one, abandoning this live spectacle of death behind and deserting the menacing shadows of The McKittrick.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing. Blah Blah Blah. 

 

 

Piece By: Zoe Young

Contact Zoe at zoeyoung@sas.upenn.edu

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