The Traveling Wilburys fight for their lives and learn the secrets of the molten lava key.
The clown loomed over Tom Petty. In one hand the clown held a silver record, sharp edges gleaming, but what really stopped Tom’s breath was what he held in the other. It was an oversized golden key, like what you might give to a deserving citizen. Yet while most novelty keys had old fashioned, simplistic teeth, that if real would certainly fit a lock that practically picked itself, this one had modern rows of jagged edges, irregularly spaced and shaped.
Perhaps even more noticeable that it’s comically large size was the word “Netherworld” emblazoned on the shaft in glowing red letters, and giving off an enormous amount of heat.
Tom Petty worked his jaw, unable to speak, staggering, stumbling, collapsing on his back, crawling away while the clown expressionlessly shuffled closer. Tom’s eyes darted from the key to the clown’s face, to the sharpened silver record now held aloft.
“No, no, you can’t be!”
He finally choked out as the record was brought down.
Instinct kicked in, and he hopped frog-like to one side, the record blade taking off his cowboy hat, landing in the fetid water of the dunk tank, which was also frog-like.
Petty thrashed in the water as the clown turned toward him; he wouldn’t be able to hop again, but the clown could raise his record blade again, which he did.
Before any could do anything, we cut away to focus on someone else.
George and Roy craned their necks to take in the entirety of the rusted ferris wheel. The hinges creaked as the cars swung gently in the dead air. The top of the wheel seemed to nearly scrape the cave ceiling many stories above, although it was hard to tell for sure as the top disappeared in shadow.
A ticket booth clung together seemingly by dumb luck, it’s foundation shifted at an alarming angle. The line for the ride was still marked with velvet ropes, although the material was almost completely decayed and almost certainly not real velvet.
“This takes me back to when I was a boy in Liverpool. There used to be a ferris wheel just like this that we were too poor to afford. Of course, once the money came I was too busy with music and seeking the meaning of life to ride it. Then, it was torn down and replaced with a tilta-whirl, which I did ride, but it wasn’t the same. It couldn’t be. I never did get to ride that ferris wheel.”
Roy glanced at George out of the corner of his eye, a look that George caught. He raised his hands defensively.
“Look, I know what you’re saying. My generation is starting to wallow in nostalgia so much that we can’t move forward, or even see what’s right in front of us. But I’m telling you, it’s all just a phase, and it’ll be over in a few years at most. I think the best way to hurry that along is to experience that nostalgia full force. Only then will we be truly able to let it go. Then no one will every harp on the past ever again.”
Roy cocked an eyebrow. George looked around the ground, pointed.
Indeed, there were comically large footprints in the soft dirt, leading perfectly to the ferris wheel. George grinned.
“And they lead right to the ferris wheel! Perfect.”
Roy rolled his eyes as George skipped to the ticket booth, then hobbled oddly, stretching his aging leg.
“We have to have the full experience. Two tickets please,” he shouted joyously as he fished out two shillings and slapped them on the ticket booth counter.
The ticket booth collapsed in a crash of shattered glass and splintered wood, coughing an asbestos-speckled plume of dust to slowly settle on the surrounding everywhere.
Roy Orbison’s eyes popped in surprise. George’s mouth hung open.
“Look at that, Roy, it’s our lucky day. Free admission.”
George scooped up his shillings from the ground, and giggling, carefully pranced into a ferris wheel car, Roy reluctantly following. As soon as they were both seated, George yanked down the restraining bar, which Roy immediately clutched.
A low rumble vibrated the seats, followed by the screech of complaining gears. The car jerked, sending it swinging back and forth. Roy yelped, George hooted, and the ferris wheel began to turn, sending the two legendary musicians, whose music had touched so many, higher and higher into the dark cavern.
“Here we go!” Shouted George, over the noise.
“This is incredible! Better than I ever imagined!”
Roy gripped the restraining bar, face drained of all color. He stared at George with a look of sweaty anxiety, both attributes steadily rising. George laughed, then paused, a wave of insight crinkling his features. His eyes now widening to match Roy’s, he grabbed the older musician’s shoulders.
“Wait a minute, how did this thing turn on?” He yelled.
The engine died, and the ferris wheel ground to a halt. The newfound silence overlapped with George’s last words, underscoring them. The car had stopped at the apex of the wheel. Still carried by momentum, it rocked nauseatingly back and forth, giving an intermittent view of the distressingly far-off ground below. The musicians held each other, too afraid to move.
Eventually, the car’s rocking became less violent, and George worked up the courage to peer out. The entire sunken fair ground was laid out below them, pulsing neon points of light marking areas of murk as attractions. The continued motion and dizzying height made George’s stomach lurch, and he sat back in his seat, squeezing his eyes shut.
“Come to think of it, how is anything in this place powered? And how did this thing know to go exactly when we got in? Ouch!”
A sharp pain shot through George’s arm, popping his eyes wateringly open. Roy Orbison was pinching him. Roy pulled a pressure plate from under George, the device protruding wiring woven into the spine of the ferris wheel.
“Roy, you beautiful bastard, you figured one of those things out!” Cried George.
“Someone must have laid a trap for us, but now that we know the secret, we’ll be out of this lickety-split.”
George pressed the pressure plate. Nothing happened. He pressed it again. Again, nothing. He held the device between his knees and banged on it with his fists as hard as he could. Still, nothing.
“Okay, let’s just both of us breathe, and center ourselves,” said George, closing his eyes serenely. Hardly a moment later his eyes snapped open and with a cry of anger he yanked the plate repeatedly, the wires straining taught until there was a loud twanging sound and the plate shot up and out of George’s hands, trailing a stream of wires, the exposed ends sparking as they flew by, first up through the car, the snapping like a whip above it, then arching down after the plate.
There was a moment of silence. Then, the entire ferris wheel groaned and wobbled. The sound of metal bending and giving way bored into their ear drums, bits of structural integrity springing off the wheel.
It shuddered. George howled.
“The wheel is going to break away! It will snap off and roll like a tire and we’ll be crushed!”
Roy slapped George across the mouth. Instantly, George sobered, lowering his head.
“Thank you, I deserved that. You’re right, as always, Roy. We can still make it out of this one. There’s enough of a roof and floor on these cars to act as a roll cage when the wheel starts rolling. As long as we stay tucked inside, we should be protected.”
The ferris wheel made one last shuddering lurch, then started falling on it’s side. The thin pipe of the restraining bar was now their only protection. Before the ferris wheel’s quickly increasing speed and angle made it impossible, Roy slapped George again.
Elsewhere, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynn stood at the entrance to the mirror maze, the light bulbs comprising the name flashing on and off in a rolling, hypnotic pattern. The light from the sign illuminated the entry arch, along with the hallway leading from it, until it disappeared around a sharp right angle.
Beside the entrance was a floor-length mirror. A face was painted over the top, where a person looking at the mirror’s face would go. The painted face sported a too-wide smile, ruby red lips, and an old fashioned hair cut. A sign next to the mirror read, “If you can see your face, you’re too short to experience the mirror maze.” Spaced well below that and in smaller lettering read, “What’s it like to have a face sitting on top of your face, short stack?”
Jeff Lynn whimpered.
“I don’t like this place, Bob. Not one bit. You and me got the worst place to look for this killer clown. Actually, this may come as a shock, but I wouldn’t want to look for a killer clown anywhere, but this place is the worst.”
An automated voice box, it’s aged tape artificially slowed, blared to life, exploring Bob and Jeff to “Face your face in this place post haste! Be amazed at the mirror maze.”
“No way, no how! I’m outta here!”
Jeff turned tail and ran as fast as he could, but Bob Dylan caught him by the seat of his pants, and with surprising strength for his short frame, dragged him back towards the mirror maze.
“No! Stop that! Down, Bob, down!” Yelled Jeff Lynn, swotting at the voice of a generation’s nose.
“********!” Barked Bob Dylan, dragging Jeff over the maze entrance threshold, spinning to gain momentum, then whirling them both around the corner and fully into the maze.
Immediately, Jeff turned to run out again, but a heavy steel door slammed shut, blocking the exit. He pounded on the door with his fists to no avail. Bob pulled him away, forcing him to around.
The two men were reflected back on every surface, sometimes squished, sometimes squashed, sometimes twisted, but always distorted.
“Oh my God, do I really look like that?”
Jeff rubbed his shoulders, as if fighting off an imaginary chill.
“I guess the only way out is through,” he whined.
They crept cautiously along the path, their reflections growing and shrinking, rolling and turning like a crowd of doppelgänger phantasms. After a few minutes of walking, Jeff stopped.
“Did we miss a turn? I feel like we should have been out by now.”
“********,” shrugged Bob Dylan.
“I guess,” replied Jeff, then suddenly grabbed Bob.
“Did you see that?”
“********,” said Bob, rolling his eyes.
“No, it wasn’t my reflection and it wasn’t your reflection, and before you even ask, no, it wasn’t Martin Scorsese sniffing around for another Last Waltz. It was something…did you see that!” He yelped, cutting himself off.
Bob Dylan turned his tired, bushy brows to where Jeff was pointing. Two reflections stared back.
“********,” said Bob Dylan, sensibly.
Jeff Lynn frowned.
“I could have sworn…”
Bob turned and moved away, but Jeff grabbed his shoulder again.
“Wait a minute, somethings not right. Turn around, look at my reflection, and then look at me. We’re different. I’m me now, but my reflection is me during my country phase. Wait a minute, I never had a country phase…you did.”
Bob and Jeff’s eyes grew wide.
“We have each other’s reflections!”
Bob and Jeff looked at each other.
“And we’re not looking at each other!” screeched Jeff.
“Dagnabbit,” said Jeff’s reflection, who was really Bob’s, from the past.
Blinded by fear, they turned and ran full bore into the wall, crashing through the mirrored glass. Bruised, bloodied, and slowed, but no less determined, they kept running, smashing through every glass wall that stood in their way. Which was a lot.
Tom Petty scrambled in the water, trying to find his footing. The blank-faced clown trudged inexorably towards him, stepping over the lip of the tank and setting one oversized foot into the frothing water.
Desperate, Tom grabbed at the platform above – missed! – grabbed again and caught the edge with the tips of his fingers. All that guitar practice finally paid off, aside from the hugely successful music career that is, and he pulled himself up onto the platform.
“If only I had learned Flamenco, I would have been able to pull myself up fast enough to avoid getting my leg sliced by that sharp record,” thought Tom through his own cry of pain, as the leg slicing had definitely happened.
He crawled away from the edge, pressing against the platform’s back panel. Hearing a loud hissing, he turned to see the clown right below him, arms hanging limp at his sides, the gold key half submerged in the shallow water. The heat coming off the key was boiling the water around it, creating a cloud of hissing steam.
The clown’s hands, still carrying their respective payloads, appeared on the edge of the platform, accompanied by the unmistakable grunts of a large man hauling up his body weight, along with the weight of a bulky, mostly soaked clown suit.
Frantic, Tom climbed the back panel, his injured leg swinging limply, crouching on all fours to balance on top of the thin, two-by-four beam. He glanced over the other edge, sizing up a jump. The drop was only about fifteen feet, but onto a ruin of jagged rocks. He glanced back towards the clown – how much time did he have? If he could just reach the dunk button, the little target everyone threw bean bags at, the platform would collapse and the clown wouldn’t be able to get him. He turned and reached for the button. Too late!
The clown stood erect on the platform, sharp silver record raised high.
Suddenly, the ground began to violently shake. Tom Petty clutched the panel for dear life, and the clown had to stagger to keep his balance.
The ferris wheel had fully toppled, shaking the cavern and sending George and Roy flying. They landed hard in a bouncy castle, depressing the cushions so much they almost touched the ground, then rocketed back into the air, barely missing the ferris wheel collapsing around them. They crashed directly into clown, sending him, his silver record, golden key, and green wig flying in all directions. George and Roy themselves landed heavily in the dunk tank.
Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynn smashed through the window of a nearby building, still screaming and covered in glass and cuts. An unbroken line of human-sized holes in windows stretched all the way across the fair back to the shattered remnants of the mirror maze. The two ran into the lip of the tank and, lever-like, splashed head first into the water, instantly silencing their screams.
Tom Petty still clung to the top of the tank platform’s back panel, his eyes tightly closed. Slowly opening them in the sudden stillness, he looked around and could see no one.
“Whoa, I really thought…”
He lost his balance and fell into the dunk tank.
The stillness extended for several moments.
Then, Roy Orbison breached the surface, gasping for breath, immediately followed by George Harrison. Water and hair cream running down his face from his ruined pompadour, Roy wound up and slapped George Harrison across the mouth. Or, he would have, except Jeff Lynn surfaced in between them and took the slap to the side of his head.
“Ahh, my glass abrasions!”
Jeff power-slapped Roy back, except his mullet fro was wet enough to hang over his eyes, so what he didn’t know was that he was actually facing George, who he slapped hard. George, who couldn’t tell the difference between Roy and Jeff with their wet hair, spluttered in rage.
“Okay, I deserved two for sure, but not three!” He yelled, windmill slapping all around him.
This technique landed sideways slaps on Jeff Lynn, Roy Orbison, and Bob Dylan, who had just then entered a new musical phase where he was obsessed with the music and choreography of synchronized swimming, both aspects he was just then practicing.
“**********” [Dylan gargle-sing, then ooph-spit]
Exacting revenge for his creativity being interrupted, he slapped the first thing he saw, which happened to be Tom Petty’s backside, who, in the excitement, had forgotten about it and was doing a handstand.
He came gurgling to the surface.
“Hey, that rattled my prostate, you salty dog, you.”
The round-robin mutually retributive slapping continued for some time, until finally George Harrison had enough.
“Enough!” He yelled. “I haven’t seen so much grab ass since I didn’t go to that boy’s school my parents couldn’t afford.”
Said Tom Petty, who hadn’t been listening, and instead had imagined a cocktail waitress had just said, “Zarglebargle.”
Asked Jeff Lynn, pointing to the rock pile behind the dunk tank. The ferris wheel’s collapse had shaken free a false rock, revealing a melon-sized keyhole encased in ice, a cloud of ground-hugging fog pouring gently from it. Jeff shook his head in wonder.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve seen a lot of locks, from back in my cat burglar days. Seems like a very modern lock, but what key would possibly fit it?”
Said Tom Petty, holding up a severed clown arm. The Wilburys screamed in horror.
“Oh, sorry, I threw away the wrong thing. This one.”
He said, rummaging around on the ground for, then holding up the large golden key.
Just then, the earth shaking rumble from before started up again. Bits of rock began to fall from the ceiling, and the cement pilings holding up the roof sprouted thick spidering cracks.
“What’s happening?” Wailed Jeff Lynn.
George Harrison quickly assessed the situation.
“The whole cavern is collapsing! The ferris wheel must have been crucial for structural integrity. Ouch!”
Roy Orbison had slapped him again.
“Enough of that for real! We’ve got to find a way out of here!”
“The key!” Tom yelled, who rushed to the freezing key hole.
As he brought the key to it, the red hot letters spelling “Underworld” melted the ice, allowing it to fit smoothly in the lock. Rocks where falling everywhere. A particularly large one smashed the dunk tank, burying it under it’s weight so completely it could have never existed.
“Hurry!” Shouted George, and Tom turned the key.
The floor fell out from under them, sending the whole band down a smooth chute.
“Not again!” Cried Jeff, as the opening was buried beneath falling earth.
Far below the sunken fairground, the band untangled themselves from the pile they inevitably found themselves in. They dusted themselves off, and one by one, took in their new surroundings.
They were in another natural cavern, this one clearly formed through aquatic calcification, as evidenced by the numerous stalactites and stalagmites dotting the floor and ceiling. Regularly placed torches provided dancing light, but still obscuring much in shadow. Across the chamber was a large stone alter, a woman tied to it with leather straps. In between was a sea of people in red hooded robes, holding silver goblets, facing the alter, and chanting in an unknown language.
Another, unmistakable sound came from right next to the group. Slowly, they turned. Eddie Money stood beside them, also clad in a red hooded robe, brushing his teeth. He spat into his goblet.
“Hey fellas, how’s it going?”
Elsewhere, Connie, Yuna, and Belinda crawled from wreckage, helping each other stand. The collapse of the sunken fairground had caused considerable damage to the stadium, and whole swaths had been swallowed by the earth. The trio of groupies had been unlucky enough to be in one of those areas, and had fallen through to an unfamiliar place.
As they collected themselves, they heard a voice behind them.
“Hi y’all ladies, can I lend a hand?”
Turning, they saw Jeff Lynn and Bob Dylan, hands outstretched, both in their country phase. Taking their hands and taking in their surroundings, they stared in wonder. They were in…