House of Darkness
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by Ellery Queen
Description: Ellery Queen finds himself in charge of the young rambunctious lad, Djuna. What better way to spend his time than at the newly opened amusement park called Joyland. But the park's designer pride and joy is his "House of Darkness". A haunted house that reminds Queen of the set of Dr. Caligari. But what terror does the darkness hold? Ellery Queen and Djuna is about to find out!
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks, 1935 The American Magazine
eBookwise Release Date: October 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [46 KB]
Reading time: 24-34 min.
"And this," proclaimed Monsieur Dieudonne Duval with a deprecatory twirl of his mustache, "is of an ingenuity incomparable, my friend. It is not that I should say so, perhaps. But examine it. Is it not the--how do you say the pip?"
Mr. Ellery Queen wiped his neck and sat down on a bench facing the little street of amusements. "It is indeed," he sighed, "the pip, my dear Duval. I quite share your creative enthusiasm.... Djuna, for the love of mercy! Sit still."
The afternoon sun was tropical and his whites had long since begun to cling.
"Let's go on it," suggested Djuna hopefully.
"Let's not and say we did," groaned Mr. Queen, stretching his weary legs. He had promised Djuna this lark all summer, but he had failed to reckon with the Law of Diminishing Returns. He had already--under the solicitous wing of Monsieur Duval, that tireless demon of the scenic-designing art; one of the variegated hundreds of his amazing acquaintanceship--partaken of the hectic allurements of Joyland Amusement Park for two limb-rending hours, and they had taken severe toll of his energy. Djuna, of course, what with excitement, sheer pleasure, and indefatigable youth, was a law unto himself; he was still as fresh as the breeze blowing in from the sea.
"You will find it of the most amusing," said Monsieur Duval eagerly, showing his white teeth. "It is my chef-d'oeuvre in Joyland." Joyland was something new to the county, a model amusement park meticulously landscaped and offering a variety of ingenious entertainments and mechanical divertissements--planned chiefly by Duval--not to be duplicated anywhere along the Atlantic. "A house of darkness ... That, my friend, was an inspiration!"
"I think it's swell," said Djuna craftily, glancing at Ellery.
"A mild word, Djun'," said Mr. Queen, wiping his neck again. The House of Darkness which lay across the thoroughfare did not look too diverting to a gentleman of even catholic tastes. It was a composite of all the haunted houses of fact and fiction. A diabolic imagination had planned its crazy walls and tumbledown roofs. It reminded Ellery--although he was tactful enough not to mention it to Monsieur Duval--of a set out of a German motion picture he had once seen, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It wound and leaned and stuck out fantastically and had broken false windows and doors and decrepit balconies. Nothing was normal or decent. Constructed in a huge rectangle, its three wings overlooked a court which had been fashioned into a nightmarish little street with broken cobbles and tired lampposts; and its fourth side was occupied by the ticket-booth and a railing. The street in the open court was atmosphere only; the real dirty work, thought Ellery disconsolately, went on behind those grim surrealistic walls.
"Alors," said Monsieur Duval, rising, "if it is permitted that I excuse myself? For a moment only. I shall return. Then we shall visit . . . Pardon!" He bowed his trim little figure away and went quickly toward the booth, near which a young man in park uniform was haranguing a small group.
Mr. Queen sighed and closed his eyes. The park was never crowded; but on a hot summer's afternoon it was almost deserted, visitors preferring the adjoining bathhouses and beach. The camouflaged loud-speakers concealed all over the park played dance music to almost empty aisles and walks.
"That's funny," remarked Djuna, crunching powerfully upon a pink, conic section of popcorn.
"Eh?" Ellery opened a bleary eye.
"I wonder where he's goin'. 'N awful hurry."
"Who?" Ellery opened the other eye and followed the direction of Djuna's absent nod. A man with a massive body and thick gray hair was striding purposefully along up the walk. He wore a slouch hat pulled down over his eyes and dark clothes, and his heavy face was raw with perspiration. There was something savagely decisive in his bearing.
"Ouch," murmured Ellery with a wince. "I sometimes wonder where people get the energy."
"Funny, all right," mumbled Djuna, munching.
"Most certainly is," said Ellery sleepily, closing his eyes again. "You've put your finger on a nice point, my lad. Never occurred to me before, but it's true that there's something unnatural in a man's hurrying in an amusement park of a hot afternoon. Chap might be the White Rabbit, eh, Djuna? Running about so. But the genus Joylander is, like all such orders, a family of inveterate strollers. Well, well! A distressing problem." He yawned.
"He must be crazy," said Djuna.
"No, no, my son, that's the conclusion of a sloppy thinker. The proper deduction begins with the observation that Mr. Rabbit hasn't come to Joyland to dabble in the delights of Joyland per se, if you follow me. Joyland is, then, merely a means to an end. In a sense Mr. Rabbit--note the cut of his wrinkled clothes, Djuna; he's a distinguished bunny--is oblivious to Joyland. It doesn't exist for him. He barges past Dante's Inferno and the perilous Dragonfly and the popcorn and frozen custard as if he is blind or they're invisible.... The diagnosis? A date, I should say, with a lady. And the gentleman is late. Quod erat demonstrandum.... Now for heaven's sake, Djuna, eat your petrified shoddy and leave me in peace."
"It's all gone," said Djuna wistfully, looking at the empty bag.
"I am here!" cried a gay Gallic voice, and Ellery suppressed another groan at the vision of Monseiur Duval bouncing toward them. "Shall we go, my friends? I promise you entertainment of the most divine.... Ouf!" Monsieur Duval expelled his breath violently and staggered backward. Ellery sat up in alarm. But it was only the massive man with the slouch hat, who had collided with the dapper little Frenchman, almost upsetting him, muttered something meant to be conciliatory, and hurried on. "Cochon," said Monsieur Duval softly, his black eyes glittering. Then he shrugged his slim shoulders and looked after the man.
"Apparently," said Ellery dryly, "our White Rabbit can't resist the lure of your chef-d'oeuvre, Duval. I believe he's stopped to listen to the blandishments of your barker!"
"White Rabbit?" echoed the Frenchman, puzzled. "But yes, he is a customer. Voila! One does not fight with such, hein? Come, my friends!"
The massive man had halted abruptly in his tracks and rushed into the thick of the group listening to the attendant. Ellery sighed, and rose, and they strolled across the walk.
The young man was saying confidentially: "Ladies and gentlemen, you haven't visited Joyland if you haven't visited The House of Darkness. There's never been a thrill like it! It's new, different. Nothing like it in any amusement park in the world! It's grim. It's shivery. It's terrifying...."
A tall young woman in front of them laughed and said to the old gentleman leaning on her arm: "Oh, Daddy, let's try it! It's sure to be loads of fun." Ellery saw the white head under its leghorn nod with something like amusement, and the young woman edged forward through the crowd, eagerly. The old man did not release her arm. There was a curious stiffness in his carriage, a slow shuffle in his walk, that puzzled Ellery. The young woman purchased two tickets at the booth and led the old man along a fenced lane inside.
"The House of Darkness," the young orator was declaiming in a dramatic whisper, "is ... just ... that. There's not a light you can see by in the whole place! You have to feel your way, and if you aren't feeling well ... ha, ha! Pitch dark. Ab-so-lutely black ... I see the gentleman in the brown tweeds is a little frightened. Don't be afraid. We've taken care of even the faintest hearted--"
"Ain't no sech thing," boomed an indignant bass voice from somewhere in the van of the crowd. There was a mild titter. The faintheart addressed by the attendant was a powerful young Negro, attired immaculately in symphonic brown, his straw hat dazzling against the sooty carbon of his skin. A pretty colored girl giggled on his arm. "C'mon, honey, we'll show 'em! Heah--two o' them theah tickets, mistuh!" The pair beamed as they hurried after the tall young woman and her father.
"You could wander around in the dark inside," cried the young man enthusiastically, "for hours, looking for the way out. But if you can't stand the suspense there's a little green arrow, every so often along the route, that points to an invisible door, and you just go through that door and you'll find yourself in a dark passage that runs all around the house in the back and leads to the--uh--ghostly cellar, the assembly room, downstairs there. Only don't go out any of those green-arrow doors unless you want to stay out, because they open only one way--into the hall, ha, ha! You can't get back into The House of Darkness proper again, you see. But nobody uses that easy way out. Everybody follows the little red arrows.... "
A man with a full, rather untidy black beard, shabby broad-brimmed hat, a soft limp tie, and carrying a flat case which looked like an artist's box, purchased a ticket and hastened down the lane. His cheekbones were flushed with self-consciousness as he ran the gantlet of curious eyes.
"Now what," demanded Ellery, "is the idea of that, Duval?"
"The arrows?" Monsieur Duval smiled apologetically. "A concession to the old, the infirm, and the apprehensive. It is really of the most blood-curdling, my masterpiece, Mr. Queen. So--" He shrugged. "I have planned a passage to permit of exit at any time. Without it one could, as the admirable young man so truly says, wander about for hours. The little green and red arrows are non-luminous; they do not disturb the blackness."
The young man asserted: "But if you follow the red arrows you are bound to come out. Some of them go the right way, others don't. But eventually ... After exciting adventures on the way ... Now, ladies and gentlemen, for the price of--"
"Come on," panted Djuna, overwhelmed by this salesmanship. "Boy, I bet that's fun."
"I bet," said Ellery gloomily as the crowd began to shuffle and mill about. Monsieur Duval smiled with delight and with a gallant bow presented two tickets.
"I shall await you, my friends, here," he announced. "I am most curious to hear of your reactions to my little maison des tenebres. Go," he chuckled, "with God."