Stage? Right.

Alone in the middle of a dark stage, our night’s starlet looks out over a quiet crowd of empty seats, listening to the faint echo of future cheers. Every night’s show will begin with her, there, dramatically poised against rows of wooden beams and branches centre-stage, these meant to look like trees and buildings and balconies, the last of which she herself would climb (and does climb now) during the third act of Abscond, Oh Gerry Atrick! — for that is when Wilhelmina catches a deathly case of the Black Plague and falls to her death by tragic suicide. And as she ascends that final step to the balcony, about four or five feet up, she speaks the first lines of Wilhelmina’s monologue as if she’d always known them:

“I’ve grown so cold, moon and stars…I shall go in and grab a blanket!” 

Oh, fair world, she can almost taste it! Her soon-to-be-fame on the auditorium air, her, the town’s showstopper, beautiful, regal, her black hair almost plastic in the reflection of the theatre’s distantly red EXIT sign. 

A way out, that’s what this is, she thinks, imagining Old Stanley’s face when his play becomes a global sensation all thanks to her. Several sharp teeth peek out between the creases of her divine smile at the thought, while around her the false balcony’s picket railing gives her the sense that she has risen quite above the stage, finally in her rightful place on high.

Of course, she knows—no matter how famous she becomes—that she will always remember that first audition; how she had pleaded with Stanley to let her on-stage — had done ever so much to prove that she is this theatre’s future. And oh, when Stanley had finally said yes! For such an honour he had been rewarded greatly, his hand resting against his chest in awe as he’d listened, stunned, when she’d filled the auditorium with song.

Then, just as she’s caught herself dreaming, comes from Stage Left (as if by cosmic chance) a shadow, something fearsome perhaps, and our Wilhelmina reacts as any such actress (forever in character) might react, shouting: “Gods and spirits, I humbly plead: announce to yon darling…” and then, when the figure below becomes frightened by the sudden sound, its fearsome shadow tripping and stumbling out from behind a threadbare curtain, she screeches, “…who the heck is down there?!”

From below, his bee-hind well-lit by the light of that floating, ethereal EXIT sign, there stands none other than the very man of which our Wilhelmina had just been thinking:

Stanley, stuttering, his bald head twisting this way and that, his shoulders tense and almost touching long-lobed ears as he searches for the source of that voice…

But…she couldn’t be, he thinks.

“It is but an idle wish, to taste of the Blistex of thine frequent neighbour!”

Stanley really jumps then, her very presence confirmed by the badly butchered lines of his masterwork; his own play, thrown back at him in scorn from the mouth of that dastardly witch! 

“T-Tammy?” he calls, his voice wobbling. 

“Up here!”, and then, lightening her tone a bit for effect, “It’s your Wilhelmina!”

“About that, Tammy…”

“Wilhelmina, won’t you?” says Tammy earnestly, her voice painful like a badly stubbed toe. 

“…it’s not that I didn’t consider it, but…” 

There’s Stanley, pitiful, the lines of his face visible even in the half-light. No use feeling sorry for yourself, he thinks; you were warned not to let her into the troupe, to never even permit a request for her audition. And yes, he had known his mistake the moment he’d relented. He’d known it even more so when he’d posted the casting list only a second ago — just moments before he’d come to the theatre to hide.

“Yes, I understand Stanley, you wanted to give everyone a chance,” she says, benevolent, the sound sending a cold shudder down his spine. And then to his horror, Stanley must watch as the glassy reflection of her eyes in the red-light grow wide — as she mistakes his doleful silence for assent.

“Oh Stanley, you mean I really did make the list? Oh, you didn’t…”

He can’t help but wonder what he’d done in all his humble years of theatre to deserve this, thinking already about that bottle of whiskey on his shelf at home, and wishing to high heaven he’d gone there instead.

But by then, another thin light has appeared in the dark of the shadowed auditorium, produced by the glow of Tammy’s phone. The blue light highlights her pinched excited face from below, sharpening the harsh corners of it. If he were ever in need of a villain, thinks Stanley, his heart beating loudly in his ears, there she is.

Finally, shaking himself out of it and hoping to salvage whatever remnants could be left, he says, weakly, “yes, that’s exactly it Tammy. I did not-”

But already he knows she’s seen it there, or rather, not there; can already see the list in his mind as she must see it on her phone, absent from top to bottom of her full name, never to be uttered aloud: Tamantha Scudge. 

Distraught, and in a state of fugue perhaps, our Tammy steps forward, her hands outstretched, her eyes glazed. What could be made of this tragedy? she thinks, walking straight over the edge of the picketed balcony rail, veritably throwing herself over the edge of it and perhaps forgetting just how far four-or-so feet is to the ground judging by the SMACK, and perhaps too, even with her dress over her head and her bloomers for all to see thinking through the pain that this…this would change everything… 

…when…

Well, when…uh, laying there, she…

…uh…she looks up…

She looks up…and uh…or…tries to look up and…can’t because she’s all…caught in the pickets there, and, er, Stanley tries to help, and…

and…

seriously dude?

Stanley tries to-

“No, ok fuck this. CUT!”

The words come from off-stage — off-stage and off-set — barreling from the chest of the heavy-lidded man who sits in an uncomfortable-looking director’s chair, the errant sound and light people all around humming and hawing and looking to the sky. Ignoring him, our narrator (who’s working overtime I might add) continues with the take:

Stanley tries to help, but he…wouldn’t dareth get too close since she’s kind of indecent considering her-

“You can cut it the fuck out too, Nathan.”

…  

From a chair that reads “NARRATOR” just off-side, Nathan rises, sweating and pale from hunger, a bent script bound and twisted in his brutal, artists hands, already eyeing the food trays on the table nearby, which he’d been promised hours ago

“Well, I was just trying my best,” he says, and then, “Mind if I have one of those?” pointing to a pile of pastrami sandwiches, and continuing:

Our ‘director’…

Whoa!

Okay, fine: our director snaps the pen he’s holding clean in half and throws it at the persecuted narrator. A vein bulges dangerously large on his forehead while he mutters about boycotting some writing studio or another and flashes his middle finger at the innocent narrator on-scene.

“Oh, just fuck you Nathan. For real, where did we get this guy? Alright people, we’re doing Take Five in less than ten minutes!”

The director says it loud enough that they’ll have to cut out the sound from whatever they’re filming next door. Then, together, almost holding hands he and ‘Old Stanley’ stalk off through the set door near the real EXIT sign—this one a palsy, faded pink. 

From her place on the floor, the production’s leading lady groans in pain, wishing she had just listened to her mother about graduate school-

“You gotta stop doing that, you know Nathan, honestly.”

…she says as her… 

“Seriously FUCK. OFF. I’ve got enough of a headache as it is.” 

… 

Nathan, his manly moustache covered in crumbs from a particularly tasty pastrami sandwich, nods to the poor actress still there on the floor desperately trying to cover her own ass. He shrugs, saying, off-hand, cool, casual:

“I get paid by the word.”

And, scene.


This story was created in response to NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction competition. Though it did not place among the almost 3000 great writers in the competition, I thought I would share it here.

For those curious, this competition involves a writing prompt that lists only a place, a genre, and an object, and then you must write a 1000-word flash story in 48 hours. For the story above, my genre was comedy, my object was a list, and the place was a balcony. Here is the feedback I received on this piece as a result of entering the competition (which I have already taken into consideration with the story above, but do comment if I missed something that you think could be improved):

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY:

{1982}  You wrote with vivid descriptions and detail that brought the theater and its goings-on to life. Your prose was dramatic, and it matched the setting and the scene you created. It was a fun commentary on how ridiculous the world of theater/acting can be. I appreciated the meta-commentary you brought, too, in setting a fictional world within a fictional world. 

{1777}  Drama. Mystery. The feel of another era. It made me think of Shakespeare, thought there are many other writers like him. I liked the description of the wooden beams and branches that somehow transform into trees and balconies – the magic of the theater. Her wish for stardom, her need to prove herself, all offset by the mishap of Stanley stumbling in, unsure. Poor Stanley caught up in his desire to help out. Then her terrible misunderstanding and ghastly fall. I liked the part where the director yells CUT and the narrator continues – best part of the story. But poor Tammy, lying on the floor, bruised and alone. What a day! 

{1836}  You’re using a bit of an archetype character which is instantly recognizable and relatable to the reader, thus doing a lot of heavy lifting regarding character development which was a strong choice given the limited word count 

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK

{1982}  Overall, I was confused while reading your story the first time. I had to go back through and read it twice more in order to begin to understand what was going on at the end. You had a lot of moving parts, evolving characters, and a major twist ending that is ambitious for a 1,000 word or less challenge. It could help to simplify your story in order to bring more focus and potency to your finale.

At the end, it was disappointing to see [Tammy] and Old Stanley left with nothing really to do. Because we didn’t get to know who they really were due to them acting, it made for a slightly disappointing ending. It could help to have your audience invest in one character so that there can be that resolution and completeness at the end of your story. 

{1777}  I had some trouble following the story line. What’s the name of the play? Why is Wilhelmina on a balcony? Why the Elizabethan dialogue? It was difficult to tell if everything not in quotes was the narrator or if some of that was the character’s thoughts/feelings. It would help to differentiate those. Is the play mostly narration with just a little acting? In a play, does the director yell CUT or is that just for movies? I also didn’t understand the abrupt change in language style right after Tammy’s fall. What happens there? Rather than telling us that she’s indecent, show us that she lands with her skirt around her waist. 

{1836}  Overall this is a nice story, but other than the fish out of water element which we’ve seen before, it’s lacking strong humour.  Doing a “jokes” pass would do you well, adding some punch ups to give yourself more of a unique voice.

Published by wordsofhers

Think of words as colours, colouring our surroundings in a soft, descriptive light. I may not own the words I use, but I can at least paint you my reality.

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