The Shadow Out of Austin, A Black Vault Story

Roy here. In preparation for The Black Vault, improvised horror in the style of H.P. Lovecraft, I thought it would be fun to try my own hand at some Lovecraftian writing. 

One of the biggest challenges in the show is to try and recreate the essence of the overly-wrought and  verbose prose of Lovecraft in the midst of an improv show. So we spend a good deal of our time in rehearsals practicing narration. I thought maybe I could get a better feel for it if I tried to actually write some. Plus, it sounded fun.

The resulting ongoing story is a Lovecraft tale about rehearsing for the Black Vault. 

The plan is/was that each member of The Black Vault cast would write a chapter of a story that detailed a fictional account of the rehearsal process.

Here then is the first chapter, penned by yours truly.

The Shadow Out of Austin
Chapter 1: The key to the Mind

That my name is Ezra Sandstone and that I was a cast member of The Black Vault are about the only facts of the sorry affair that I can with any authority assert as being definitely true. If you gentlemen care to keep haranguing me indefinitely about details which my feeble mind refuses to piece together, you may do so, but with the understanding that wishing for something unexplainable to be explained is a fool’s wish, and I have seen enough of fools for this or any other lifetime.

That I enrolled in courses of improvisation at The Hideout Theatre of my own misguided free will and volition I readily admit, though with every time-cursed fibre of my woeful being I wish it were not so. At the time, some seven months ago, I believed that I was entering into a paradisiacal utopia of support, community, and inner awakening. I was incorrect.

There are certain tools and tricks of the mind that are passed down from teacher to student in the oft-misunderstood world of improvisation… secret techniques that serve as skeleton keys to unlock the gates of the soul. Behind these portals lie our fears and nightmares, and perhaps the fears and nightmares of the great and slumbering universal consciousness of mankind. It is taught to ignorant, trusting people like myself that by opening these doors we can free ourselves to be better people, to conquer our fears, and to know our innermost selves.

But some fears should not be conquered. Some nightmares must stay behind locked doors. And sometimes to know our innermost selves is to know true insanity.

Seven months passed as a day while I studied improvisation. While others my age partook in wholesome activities out in the sun-drenched world such as skiing, wrestling, and hiking, I spent my time within dusty, poorly lit “theatres” (though they resembled not so much the grand, majestic stages one naturally calls to mind, but rather musty black boxes of self-delusion and dark shrines to the ego).

As I have already related, in my seventh month of this journey I was cast in a production known mysteriously as the Black Vault. It was to be a completely improvised performance in the style of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, that boorish antiquarian known for being the father of “cosmic horror”, the creator of the Cthulhu mythos, and a notorious racist.

Marc Majcher, our director, had a queer and ominous aura about him. He looked human enough at first glance… until one saw his hands. The first time I gazed upon them, I felt as if I and the entire world were shrinking before their immensity. I could not help but imagine those slabs of animated meat wrapped around my bare throat and choking out my very life. In the darkest hours of sleep that vision haunts me still, despite all the other horrors I have now seen and witnessed.

The first few rehearsals were heady explorations into the darkly delightful world of a reclusive genius. A lonely man, H.P. Lovecraft shrank from the world, and in doing so turned his vision outwards towards the haunting vistas of space, forgotten time, the deep ocean, and the dark, foreboding corners of the Earth.

These were exciting places to live. For live in them we did, using our crafty and wiley improv techniques to call up these lands from the pages of dusty books and bring them to a sort of shuttering life on the stage. The first time I entered these dizzying realms of dream as a waking man, I knew bliss unimaginable. Would that I had known eternal sorrow instead, and kept these dismal fancies of a dreary man properly dead instead.

I remember that in our very first rehearsal we spun a tale of an ancient and withering willow tree, with pale flesh and bare branches. Just under the bark of the tree lived countless multitudes of spiders, endlessly questing and crawling over one another. The spiders soon invaded the thoughts and dreams of our haunted protagonist, until he swore he saw one in the waking world skittering over the face of his recently deceased sister.

We were used to crafting stories from thin air, but this tale had a different cast about it. Even as the spontaneous words spilled from my own lips, I could feel the dry bark of that willow tree, hear the slippery scurrying of the senseless throngs of spiders, and smell the the disquieting and strange odor of decay that accompanies the remains of the dearly departed. Oh how quickly the borders between reality and illusion, dreaming and waking, pretending and precognition break down when we begin to prod at the seams that keep the world compartmentalized.

But perhaps my preamble has grown tiresome. If I delay in my relating the horrors that were to soon come, it is only because I fear to walk that way again, and fear even more so to bring others down that dark path with me.

Gentlemen, let me be brief and say that the first real trouble began with a simple message thread in the Black Vault’s private Facebook group.

I have sworn to myself one thousand times that I would never speak of that field trip or the events that transpired afterward, but I feel now that I must.

Look for more chapters written by other cast members soon. 

The Black Vault runs Saturdays at 8PM in September & October. Tickets available here.

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