Tim could not believe his luck. The past two days, since Clarissa had agreed to go out with him, had felt like a dream, and now, here it was happening and from all indications, he was fully conscious.
Tim was a reasonably confident guy and he’d dated some lovely women before but Clarissa possessed a superhuman level of beauty that any rational mortal would surely consider out of his league. Her long red hair, her green eyes, her absolutely perfect proportions… but something about her was so pleasant and inviting that it actually hadn’t taken much courage at all to ask her out, after only two occasions of light chatter in the used bookstore where she worked.
Clarissa told him she was an actress in local stage productions. Tim felt if she was half as talented as she was beautiful she could go straight to Hollywood stardom. He told her so. She laughed and told him that at twenty-five, she was too old for that. He did not believe this. After their third conversation, he asked her casually if she wanted to hang out sometime. She smiled brilliantly and answered “Totally” which made his heart soar. He couldn’t believe she didn’t have a boyfriend. Girls like her had boyfriends.
Or maybe she did. The most anxiety-inducing thing she’d said to him was when she alluded, in Facebookian fashion, to her “situation being a little complicated”, but she had quickly followed up with “But I would really love to hang out with you and get to know you”, which he’d found extremely reassuring.
She said some friends of hers were in a play Friday night and she asked Tim if he’d like to go with her. He answered yes in a heartbeat.
And there they were. In a storefront theatre space with maybe fifteen or sixteen other people in the audience. It was a youngish crowd, mostly twentysomethings like themselves, although there were a few gray hairs scattered amongst them. Parents probably, Tim figured. It was an artsier looking crowd than Tim typically ran with, lots of piercings and multicolored hair. Clarissa herself wore fitted jeans and a tight black t-shirt. Tim felt self-conscious in his dress shirt and slacks. This was Clarissa’s scene and he wanted to feel like he belonged.
He tried to shake that line of thought off. He had to focus on impressing the girl, not her friends. It had been about forty-five seconds since either of them had spoken. A silence of that length felt like death on a first date. He had to say something, anything.
“Thanks for inviting me to this thing, Clarissa. I’m not really a theatre person.” No, don’t say that. “Usually. I mean I like it but I’m usually too busy to see a lot of plays.”
He sounded like a dork. And of course Clarissa would respond with effortless cool.
“I hope you enjoy this one, Tim.”
“I guess you come to shows like this all the time. Being an actress and all.”
Clarissa let out a slight laugh.
“Ha. Yeah. It’s like my religion.”
“Well I’m really glad you invited me to come and…”
The house lights began to dim and he saw five actors come onstage, dressed like monks, with robes and hoods and everything.
“Oh, I guess the show’s starting, I should be quiet,” Tim whispered.
“Oh not really,” Clarissa answered at a conversational volume. “This show is sort of… audience participation.”
“Oh okay.” After a moment he added, “So it’s a play about monks, huh? That sounds like it might be kind of cool.”
The five monks just kind of stood making prayerful gestures. Then they formed a circle and joined hands and started rotating around, not saying anything. Tim supposed this sort of thing was why he wasn’t really into theatre. This girl was more than worth it though.
“That’s how theatre started, you know,” Clarissa continued. “Religion. Ritual.”
God, she was so smart and alluring…
“With the Greeks, right?” Tim offered, hoping that would impress her.
“Oh… long before them.” Clarissa answered, deflating him only mildly. “My religion began long before the ancient Greeks were twinkles in the Achaeans’ eyes. By people we don’t have names for anymore. In a time and a place that’s long been forgotten. It was before civilization.” She continued authoritatively in an unbroken lecture. “Before sanitation. Before Man deluded himself into believing that he could build a cocoon of bland safety for bland safety, made of penicillin and fast food and air conditioning. Before we convinced ourselves that we could just wash all the blood and sweat and cum out of our existences. A time when our ancestors fully understood the inherent horrors of the night and instead of making feeble attempts to run from them, they ran forward to embrace them, knowing that appeasing them was the best hope of survival, however slim. Life is very different now. But performers today can still hear the song of that time, bonded across history, pulsating in their blood, silently screaming demands we dare not refuse.”
“Wow,” Tim said, trying vainly to fully digest what Clarissa had just said. “You’re a really interesting girl.”
At last, there were words from the stage. The lead monk took off his hood, revealing his face to the audience. He was maybe in his late thirties, still somewhat youthful looking but with a hint of silver in his hair. He was very handsome. And a commanding presence onstage. Tim imagined he could almost hear Clarissa’s pulse quickening when the man revealed himself. This actor was probably a very nice guy but Tim couldn’t help but hate him a little.
“Brethren,” the monk said. “Let us give thanks and praise to the Gods of the Earth who in their malevolent mercy, have for one more day, seen fit to deliver us from darkness and death. One more day!”
The rest of the monks, and the audience all roared in response, “ONE MORE DAY! ONE MORE DAY! ONE MORE DAY!”
Tim supposed this was part of the audience participation and joined in. He wondered how everyone else already knew what to say. Theatre people, he supposed. “I’ve never seen a play like this before,” he blurted out stupidly, after the chanting died down.
“Very few people have.” Clarissa told him. “This is real theatre. The true ritual. Not the pale shadow of the art that is practiced in the wider world today.” Clarissa suddenly put her hand down his crotch. This was amazing but somehow made him almost as nervous as thrilled and elated and he couldn’t say quite why. She nuzzled her face against his cheek and whispered in his ear as she began to softly rub his private parts. “This is the only place where you can feel the sweet fucking release that comes from the bloody resolution of the conflict.”
Tim closed his eyes and took a deep breath. If this was a dream, he would enjoy it.
She withdrew her hand. He looked around furtively and saw that other people seemed to be getting pretty friendly with each other too. It was apparently that kind of party. Tim had never been invited to that kind of party, though he had come close once or twice in college. He decided the appropriate thing was to respond in kind, placing his own hand gently along the seam of Clarissa’s pants. She smiled with satisfaction but took his hand in hers after a moment. Tim focused again on what the monk was saying as Clarissa seemed to be.
“For centuries, men have looked to their gods in the sky, imagining they would find protection from them. They have always been disappointed.”
Clarissa and the rest of the audience laughed uproariously at this. Tim had to conclude it was some kind of sophisticated literary humor that he just didn’t get.
“We, the Elect, can be secure in our knowledge that the Gods of the Earth, they who dwell in the darkest depths of this world unseen to nearly all, are always watching over us. But the Gods of the Earth demand an offering of blood. And if it is not to be ours…it must be another’s!”
Clarissa and the rest of the audience then cried out “ANOTHER’S!”
Tim weakly yelled “Another’s!” trying to keep up.
This was a weird show. It was definitely nothing like Hamlet or Oklahoma or something. “One who is not of our common faith,” the monk continued. “Blood of an ignorant… innocent. For ‘innocence’ is but ignorance differently spelled! Where might we find the Gods’ rightful prize?” he asked the audience. “Who among you has done themselves the good turn of bringing an outsider before us?”
To Tim’s surprise, Clarissa was the one to answer.
“I have, my lord.”
The monk approached their seats and looked directly at Tim.
“This one? He is fine and strong. You do honor to us and to yourself.”
“Thank you, my lord.”
All of this, whatever this was, was happening much too quickly for Tim to process. Especially because he was suddenly grabbed by the shoulders by the other monks. They dragged him onto their stage.
“What the hell?” he asked. He mentally struggled to understand the words that had been exchanged between Clarissa and the monk. Was his entire presence here a cruel prank? Find some schlub and humiliate him? He was then roughly shoved against the wall and tight ropes were tied around his wrists and ankles. He looked at Clarissa, betrayed.
“I told you, Tim,” Clarissa said. “It’s audience participation. You get to be the star of the show.”
“But I didn’t volunteer!” he protested.
“The star of this show never does.”
The monks began to tear his shirt off. Buttons went flying through the air. They took off his socks and shoes and threw them into the crowd for eager members of the audience to catch. They pulled down his pants and he was completely naked. Shock and humiliation gave way to a terror that was naked as his body. This was much more than a show. And it was nothing so benign as a prank.
The lead monk addressed the audience again.
“As it was in the earliest days of our fathers, so shall it be again tonight, as we are saved by the blood of another.”
“Why?” Tim asked Clarissa weakly as he now understood the inevitability of his fate.
“Because death comes to all,” Clarissa answered, as if that explained everything. Then she added with a twisted grin, “But I want you to go first.”
The lead monk pulled a multi-pronged silver knife out from underneath his robes.
“There are no Gods in Heaven. There are only the Gods of the Earth,” the monk said directly to him.
Tim screamed in agony as the knife sliced through his stomach.
He watched a fountain of his own blood gush out onto the stage. He had never really thought about how much blood he’d been carrying around inside his body before. It was a strangely casual thought he had as the shapes that defined the world began to fade from view.
As his vision dimmed he believed he saw glimpses of other times, other places where his fate had been visited upon countless other men, women and children. Many different stages but always the same basic setup: players and an audience. Only the audience wasn’t human. They were animals. No. Monsters. They were disgusting and beautiful. The same performance at every place and in every time. The knives go in. The victims scream. The players take their bows. And the audience applauds.
Last he saw Clarissa, naked and beautiful and utterly mad. Then he saw nothing at all.
The last thing he heard was the frenzied, ecstatic chanting of a mob that now seemed much larger than the twenty or so people he knew it to be.
“There are no Gods in Heaven! There are only the Gods of the Earth! There are no Gods in Heaven! There are only the Gods of the Earth! There are no Gods in Heaven! There are only the Gods of the Earth! There are no Gods in Heaven! There are only…”
Rory Leahy is an actor and writer from Chicago, IL. His short film “Death Of A Cybersalesman” was recently featured at the Naperville Independent Film Festival and his play “He’s Really A Great Guy” is being published as one of The Best Ten Minute Plays of 2013 anthology from Smith and Kraus. If he had to do it all over again he definitely would, but he’d also probably have gotten a business degree or something on the side.
This prose version of “So You Thought You Might Like To Go To The Show?” is based on a short play of the same name. The play has been produced twice, first by The American Demigods in spring of 2012 in Chicago, then in the fall of 2012 by EndTimes Productions in New York City.
Header image created using stock provided by secret-luck-stock
Delightfully disturbing. I’m lucky enough to have seen the short play on which the story was based, and as enjoyable as that was, I think the story is better. Getting in the head of the character makes a big difference–it adds a level of authenticity that makes the… direction the story takes much more impactful later on. Nice work (even if I can’t quite contain my editorial instinct to want to fuck with the commas…)