Bainesville was a small town. A proud town. It sprung up in the middle of Nowhere, America, and spurred a unique art culture inconsistent with the surrounding geography.
Born from the oil boom, old wealth spread to new generations. Disdainful looks passed from grandmother to granddaughter, and old feuds smoldered on, reasons long since forgotten.
There was nothing Bainesvillians were more proud of than supporting the arts. They flew in guest artists from around the world, hosting artists in residence for the summer oil festival, “Boom!” They clinked champagne flutes with New York socialites (who scratched their heads and wondered how they ended up in Bainesville), rubbed elbows with Nashville musicians, and generously poured compliments on up-and-coming actors, pointing out their flaws to one another as they framed their headshots to hang on the walls of the local community center. “He ought to think about doing something about that nose…” or “She has a ‘pinched’ beauty; it’s really disarming.”
So, when one of their own – an aspiring and admired playwright, Morrison – was showcasing an original script in the spirit of Halloween, anyone who was anyone planned to be seen attending as a supporter of the arts. To make it even more appealing, a well-liked drama teacher with a reputation for being a bit of a hellion was directing. Heath regularly got in trouble with the school board for cursing in front of students or challenging the school curriculum, preferring grittier plays than most respectable parents preferred. Mostly harmless (with a bit of a Wild Turkey problem), Heath added a certain spice to the performances – you could never tell when he was going to do something inappropriate, and everyone wanted to be around to witness it when it happened.
On a warm October evening, they showed up in droves to the musty high school auditorium, in pearls and fine furs, in spite of the unseasonal warmth. (Indian Summer be damned, this was a night for furs!) They politely ignored the fact that the “coat check” consisted of an old rolling costume rack, complete with broken plastic hangers and desiccated chewing gum from students who had long since succumbed to the dull existence of cubicles and corporate America.
The theatre was packed! Warning signs spattered with fake blood decorated the theatre doors and box office window where two bored drama students pulled Will Call tickets from manila envelopes, suggesting this was not a show for the faint of heart. Or asthmatics. Mr. Hamilton turned his walker right around when he saw there would be strobes, smoke and sound effects – his pacemaker wouldn’t take that. But, “no, no, keep the money for the ticket. Happy to be a member of the arts community.” (Mr. Hamilton was secretly glad for the escape home where he could watch the Andy Griffith marathon).
Before the show, murmurs floated up to the catwalk above the stage where Morrison was operating the lighting. He always operated the lighting for his scripts – it gave him the best vantage point to watch the action onstage and listen to the reactions from below.
He listened to the audience contemplate what they were in for. Werewolves? Vampires? The Undead? Or would the focus be on the serial killers that couldn’t be killed from pop culture films? The show was cloaked in mystery. Morrison intentionally published very little in the program other than the names of the actors in the cast and “Be forewarned”. This thrilled the audience, who loved the element of surprise – and an excuse to be politely condescending to one another in public.
“Gertrude! So good to see you! You look tired. Are you tired? Your eyes look tired. Maybe it’s the lighting…”
“How very kind of you to be concerned, Mabel. I’m fine. And what about little Prudence? She’s looking awfully healthy these days! It’s so good to see how…comfortable…she is with her body image.” Tsk, tsk. “So many eating disorders out there. It’s refreshing, really.”
Withering smiles, faux invitations to brunch.
A small ensemble was set up in the makeshift “orchestra pit” cordoned off in front of the stage. The conductor took his place and made the mandatory announcement to silence cell phones and watches. On cue, someone’s cell phone rang and the conductor cleared his throat. Nervous laughter bubbled up. 150 people rustled through purses and pockets.
The first act delivered some seat-squirming, one woman audibly murmuring “Look out!”, louder each time, until her husband finally whispered in her ear that the actors “aren’t allowed to hear you, honey.” Titters. At least three actors died and were resurrected as other characters. The headless horseman showed back up, head intact, as Jacob Marley shaking chains in an interesting twist of “Scrooge” where the three ghosts were on a mission to admonish Scrooge for his lame attempts at cruelty from the past, present and future. In the end, Scrooge defaced Tiny Tim’s grave into “Grimy Tim”. There was an offended gasp from the audience. Morrison smiled to himself. Nothing left an impression like innocence defaced.
At intermission, designer perfume mingled, nauseatingly. Some people bought refreshments from the same two bored drama students who “volunteered” (got assigned) to support the show. Mrs. Reynolds picked out a Snickers bar, botox smile tight, then dropped it in the trash can around the corner out of view. (She wouldn’t be caught dead eating a Snickers bar…what would the ladies at bridge club say?) Instead, she stepped into an empty classroom and took a swig from a small flask hidden in her purse and returned to her seat, hiccupped, and begged her pardon as the faint smell of bourbon lingered. The two women behind her looked at each other meaningfully.
The stage door was propped open, a couple of cigarette tips glowing in the dark as actors and crew smoked, the actors holding their cigarettes out far from their costumes. (A rogue burn hole and the costumer would kill them!) The stage manager announced places, but left the stage door open for some breeze – the lighting always made the backstage steamy. A solitary mosquito, still common in Bainesville in October, buzzed in after her and landed on the arm of an actress standing in the wings.
The lights dimmed twice in the lobby. Time for act two!
The thunder guy in the orchestra pit shook his sheet of metal. A few minutes in, a vampire seductively drew in a victim with a creamy white neck, startled when she turned and sunk her teeth into his neck instead. He howled. Blood began pouring from the wound and he grasped at his neck, fighting the girl off with his cape as she continued to lunge at him. What a twist! The audience was beside itself.
Morrison looked down at Heath, observing from stage right. Heath was looking at his script, brow knit in confusion.
Lightning flashed. The stage manager, headset and one arm dragging behind her, staggered onstage and began attacking the vampire from the opposite side. They fell into a heap on the stage as the audience collectively shifted to the edge of their seats.
The thunder guy shook his metal sheet on cue, eyes upturned in question to the conductor.
Heath stormed onstage, slipping in the blood spatter. “Scene! Cut!! What the fuck…” – sheepish smile to the audience – “ what the frick are you doing?!?”
He was promptly torn apart.
The audience was delighted!
One woman near the front clapped, blood spraying across her face. The effects were spectacular! Much better than Act One!
The thunder guy quieted his sheet of metal as the conductor, perplexed, leafed through his copy of the script.
The stage manager and vampire, losing interest in Heath, turned towards the smorgasbord before them. One shambled offstage directly into the orchestra pit, crashing into cymbals before grabbing the conductor by the collar, his teeth sinking into the Conductor’s eye. The Conductor shrieked and batted at him ineffectually with his little baton. The thunder guy shook his metal sheet at the approaching vampire, to no effect.
What was left of Heath pulled himself into the transfixed audience. They hadn’t realized this was an interactive play! And how did Heath create the illusion of leaving his legs behind? Astonishing…
One lady in the front row laughed, delighted, as the director picked her out and grabbed her ankle. He took a bite and, after a momentary look of shock, she squawked and began kicking him in the face. The audience applauded, elbowing each other, impressed with her authentic reaction. More people near the front began offering their arms to the approaching ensemble, eager to be a part of the action!
Mooney, with the big boobs, came out of the dressing room backstage, wondering why she hadn’t heard her cue. Upon seeing a crew member run repeatedly into a full length backstage mirror, she began laughing and snorted. (Mooney could get away with snorting. Because of the boobs).
The snort drew the crew members attention. He approached her and sank his teeth into her bust, a fantasy of his. She screamed, “OH, GOD!!” – also part of his fantasy – and two more crew members joined him in the slippery orgy.
Morrison observed all of this, frozen on his perch above the stage, heart hammering.
The screaming in the auditorium crescendoed, but there was another sound registering now. What was that? A low moan? A growl? Whatever it was, it drew the rest of the reanimated crew out into the audience.
One of the bored drama students, smacking a wad of gum, approached the auditorium doors to see what the commotion was about. He peeked in the small door window into the auditorium. He barely noticed the spray of blood across the glass – Heath went all out with the gore. The cool blue light onstage – mimicking moonlight – provided the backdrop for hundreds of figures moving slowly around in the dark, bumping into one another. It seemed the whole of the theatre was on its feet. Maybe Heath had the audience doing some kind of weird, experimental theatre exercise. These people loved that crap.
He pulled the theatre door open.
A hundred plus theatre patrons stopped moving and looked his way.
A hundred plus theatre patrons roared with hunger.
A hundred plus theatre patrons, eyes crazed, made for the bored drama student.
The bored drama student inhaled sharply, sucking his gum down his throat and choking, as he backed up into the lobby. The theatre doors burst open and a rush of undead art enthusiasts pushed through, trying to fit all at once. The bored drama student ducked into the box office, slammed the door, and trapped himself without an exit. The patrons began beating on the door and trailing bloody fingers over the will call windows.
Morrison crept down from the catwalk unnoticed, slipping out the side exit and shutting the door quietly, but securely, behind him. He took a deep breath and used his shirt to mop the sweat from his eyes. He was certain of two things. First, his was the most terrifying play ever shown on any stage and would go down in history. Second, he needed to get the hell out of there, fast. He fled towards the back parking lot.
Out front, the night custodial crew arrived. One of them swatted at a mosquito buzzing around his nose. The mosquito flitted away in the October night as the custodial crew opened the front doors.