by: S.T. Cartledge
Leonard is up all night rehearsing his one-man play. The script in hand is only one page and has only three words on it. The first is big and bold:
which is promptly followed by
This is his magnum opus. He had put out a press release the day before, calling it a tour-de-force, a truly avant garde theatrical experience.
“Establishing shot, actor’s apartment building, exterior, day. Birds on power lines, singing,” he says. “Cut to actor’s bedroom, filthy, interior, day. Curtains drawn, lights off. Can’t tell if it’s day or night. Close-up of actor’s face, actor is a handsome, straight white male, twenty-four years old. Single. He hasn’t shaved in a few days. His bank account is overdrawn. He is the every man. Downtrodden, underappreciated, frequently misunderstood. He represents the underclass. He really…understands people. And they understand him. He’s been kicked down too many times to count. Here he stands, no friends, no job, no family, at the end of his rope. He has a note prepared,” Leonard pulls an envelope from his coat pocket, “for the authorities to find upon discovering his body. The world will lament the day that Leonard slipped through their fingers.” He sighs heavily.
Audience laughter floods the apartment. “What a crack-up,” an audience member wheezes out through fits of laughter.
“What? No,” he says. “This is not a comedy. This is drama. Theatre. I’ve got my heart on my sleeve here.”
More laughter. He turns in circles, looking for the audience. Someone calls out, “you’re shit!”
“Be quiet, damn you! Have some respect!” He paces the apartment as the laughter rolls on. “I’m producing the world’s first theatrical snuff production. I’ve been planning this for months. Don’t ruin this!”
The laughter builds up to a crescendo and stops immediately with a bang. Leonard stands in the middle of his room with gun drawn, smoke whisping out of the barrel. “Silence!” he roars. He fires into the wall several times more.
“Oooooh,” the audience whispers.
Leonard paces the room in search of the audience. They make shh noises to try to hide their location from him. He points his gun and roams around.
“Warmer,” a single audience member calls out. “Warmer,” he repeats. “Brr…cold. Ice cold.”
Leonard stops and moves back to the warm area.
Leonard approaches a blank part of the wall to exclamations of “hot, hot!” He taps the wall with the barrel of the gun and hears scurrying within the wall. He fires into the wall.
“Missed us,” the audience chants in unison.
He fires into a different part of the wall, and another and another. Each time the audience calls out that he missed. He screams and throws the gun at the opposite wall, bouncing off it and landing on the bed. It fires the last bullet which passes through his left hand, leaving it somehow completely intact, ricochets off a lamp, bed post, and doorknob, before passing through the window, no shatter, no hole, vanishing into the cool night air without a trace, leaving Leonard wondering if the bullet even existed at all. He touches the spot on his hand where he felt the bullet pass through. He wipes sweat off his brow, and somewhere near the ground, an audience member coughs.
Leonard crouches down on hands and knees and sees the eyes of audience members peering out at him through the electrical socket. He reaches his hand out and the socket shocks him.
“Ow!” he pulls back his hand. “Why did you do that?!” he yells.
“You were shooting at us,” they reply in unison.
“You were ruining my performance,” he says. “I’m not continuing until you agree to behave.”
He stares through the holes in the electrical socket. The audience is silent. A humming sound starts building up from the electrical socket. Lightning cracks, striking from the socket to Leonard’s head.
“Ow, motherf—why did you shock me again?” He leaps up and throws his arms up in frustration. “I wasn’t going to shoot you again.”
Electricity arcs from the socket onto the carpet.
“You are the absolute worst audience I’ve ever had!” He jumps up onto the bed, watching the electricity dancing on the carpet.
The audience laughs. “Dance, monkey,” they say in unison.
“You know what? Fuck this. Show’s over.” He leaps from the bed through the window out into the open air, with twenty stories of nothing beneath him.
Except the twenty stories come up way too fast and feel more like a studio floor just outside the set. He lays on a bed of fake glass, sore from the ache of concrete slapping his body hard. The audience roars with raucous laughter.
“Cut!” the director yells. “Take fifteen while we reset the window and go again from the top. Audience, you were fantastic.” The director is a seven-foot-tall android wearing a black turtleneck and beret. No pants covering its chrome legs and genderless crotch. “Leonard, Leonard, Leonard,” the director walks over to the actor and lifts him effortlessly with one hand. “This is your big scene, the one that’s going to really take you places. Cut the actor-vs-audience schlock and embrace them. Remember the script, Leonard.” The director flicks his hand against a single piece of paper that matches Leonard’s. “This is all about the actor-vs-self. You can do it, I believe in you.”
Leonard brushes broken glass from his clothes then walks off to the prop room. When he comes back, the stage has been reset, the director waiting for him, as is the audience.
“And…action!” the director calls.
Instead of taking the door into the set, Leonard leaps through the newly mended stage window, axe in hand. He roars loud and mighty and the audience screams.
“Cut!” the director calls. “Leonard, what the fuck are you doing?”
Leonard ignores the director and swings his axe at the wall. The audience is freaking out. Electricity sparks wild and erratic from the socket. So much that the carpet catches fire.
“No, Leonard, stop!” the director yells, getting up from his chair to intervene.
Leonard hacks a massive hole in the wall and rips the plaster away with his bare hands. He reaches in. He can hear the audience scurrying through the wall to avoid him. He clutches on to something and rips it out.
A baby turtle.
“Put me down!” it screams.
He tosses it out the window and cuts a bigger hole in the wall, rips giant chunks of it away, exposing hundreds of baby turtles scurrying away from him.
“No!” they scream.
He grabs a handful of turtles and shovels them into his mouth, crunching down on their softened shells. His mouth fills with their blood and guts and screams.
He reaches in for more, but a cold steel arm wraps around his neck, blocking off oxygen to his brain, causing him to choke and spit masticated turtle out onto the set. He loses consciousness at the director’s hand, going limp and sliding to the floor, the room going up in flames around them.
The fire sprinklers come on, and in the smoke and fire and rain, Leonard’s body on the floor begins to move.
He comes to on a completely different set, the skylights burning into his eyes as he lays on his back, moving against his will, as the hundreds of remaining audience turtles carry him away. He turns his head from side to side and sees that this stage is huge. The biggest he’s ever seen. He is in a massive field, with trees that stretch hundreds of meters towards the ceiling, and the horizon is a distant wall he can hardly even see. He tries to get up but can’t. He is entirely at his audience’s mercy.
He can hear birds and crickets and the breeze rustling through trees and flowers and rushing water growing louder. The rustling sound of little turtle feet dragging through grass, and then little turtle feet sliding on stone. An incline. A bridge. They stop in the middle of the bridge, the sound of rushing water at its loudest. And a new sound to the scene.
He feels sweat rolling down his forehead to his neck. The audience turtles drop him onto the hard stone ground and bustle away.
He stands up and stares at a full-grown adult snapping audience turtle, as tall as he is and wide and round like a spaceship, surrounded by her darling audience turtle babies. She shuffles forward and snaps at his genitals. He falls over backwards, blood fountaining from his crotch, the hero of this tour-de-force bleeding out and spitting profanities at the mother turtle while the audience laughs the hardest they ever have. The mother chews her meal, blood dribbling down her chin to dry a maroon-brown, darkening the stains that were already there.
Leonard rolls into the river, landing on decomposed flesh, and the mother turtle ambles back across the bridge and starts walking downstream, where the water tastes the most delicious.
S.T. Cartledge is a weird fiction author, poet, and book blogger. His books include The Orphanarium, Girl in the Glass Planet, Kaiju Canyon, and Beautiful Madness, amongst others. You can follow him on his blog, facebook, twitter, Instagram, and patreon.
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