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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-seven THE THEATRICAL DEAD

by
BART MEEHAN
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T

he Deadman sits on a rocking chair in center stage, mumbling:



"Not to be. Not to be."



Enter stage left, Morgan, an assistant theatre manager already gone to seed in his thirties, head down and shaking, flustered by the thought of another opening night just hours away.



"Not to be."



Morgan looks up.



"No.No.No," he chants, panic obvious in the rising scale. "No, not again. Not tonight."



The Deadman smiles.



"When sorrows come, they come not single spies. But in battalions!” he says.



Morgan waves him off and rushes to the edge of the stage.



"Gemma," he yells across the orchestra pit. "Gemma, where the hell are you?"



Gemma, who's job as the theatre dogsbody would normally suggest someone far younger and starting out, makes her way through the seating and up to the stage.



"I was checking the bathrooms," she says. "Plenty of paper and everything’s flushing."



Morgan does not answer, instead pointing to the Deadman, now contentedly rocking back and forth.



"Oh shit" Gemma says.



"Yes, oh shit," Morgan nods.



Gemma looks the cadaverous rocker in a coffin suit, up and down.



"Which one is he?" she asks.



"To be, or not to be: that is the question,” the Deadman projects out into the empty theatre.



"Guess," says Morgan.



Gemma is quiet for a moment, then shrugs.



"Well I suppose it could be worse," she says.



"How could it be worse. We have Oklahoma opening on this stage in three hours."



"He could be a Lear or an Othello. Or a Falstaff! Remember when we had an infestation of them. Cleared out the bar and the box office. At least Hamlets just spend their time brooding."



"And how does that help me? I can't have a dead Dane wandering through the chorus of Oh what a beautiful mornin'."



They pause to consider the problem, then Morgan's face brightens as he makes a management decision.



"We'll lock him in the storage room until the morning, then call a collection agency."



Gemma looks perplexed by the plan.



"It seems a little cruel to keep him in there all night. It's freezing."



Morgan huffs and gives her a look that says, that's why you're still checking toilet roll dispensers after all these years.



"He's dead, Gemma. You don’t get colder than that."



She ignores the sarcasm and continues to press her case for compassion.



"We could call someone now. They could collect him before the show."



"I don't have time for all the paperwork," Morgan snaps. "Just help me move him."



Defeated, she acknowledges the instruction with a nod and joins him in a pincer movement. Morgan targeting the right arm, Gemma the left.



The Deadman stops rocking and smiles as they move in, then stands and pushes passed them, gesticulating his way to the front of the stage.



"What a piece of work is a man,” he projects. "How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty, in form, in moving. How express and admirable in action, how like an angel. In apprehension, how like a god, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”



Morgan shakes his head angrily and shapes to pounce.



"Grab him."



Gemma blocks his move with a palm to the chest.



"Wait I have an idea," she says and races backstage, where the prop box is wedged between costume racks. She brushes away the petticoats and dungarees, lifts the lid, searches quickly, and then grunts success. The prize in hand she returns to the stage.



"What is it?" Morgan asks, and Gemma holds up a prop skull.



" A left over from that production of The Addams Family we did in the school holidays. I thought we could use it for bait."



The idea suddenly reveals itself to Morgan and he smiles.



"That might work," he says. "That's good thinking."



Gemma notes the surprise in the last statement and moves in front of the Deadman, offering up the skull. His gaze turns from the empty theatre to the LEDs glowing red in the eye sockets.



He reaches out:



"Alas, poor Yorick."



Gemma steps back and he follows, his fingers so tantalizing close the tips are dipped in the red glow.



"That's it." Morgan says, relief giving new energy to his words.



They snake across the stage in a slow procession towards the wings.



"Why may not that be the skull of a lawyer?" says the Deadman. "Where be his quiddities now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? Why does he suffer this rude knave now to knock him about the sconce with a dirty shovel..."



Gemma stops.



"Hold on. I think I know him," she says.



"What?"



"I saw him once. On this stage."



The Deadman runs his fingers along the sagging jawline of his departed jester.



"Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft," he says, dwelling in a moment past. "Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar?"



The LEDs flash in response.



"Years ago. I was in high school, and they'd booked out the theatre for the day to torture the senior class with Shakespearean tragedy. You were Macbeth, weren’t you?" Gemma reaches out but pulls up short unable to complete the touch.



Morgan arms are wind-milling.



"For god’s sake, the orchestra will be here any minute, and we haven't dusted the pit yet. You know what the second violins are like."



He stamps his right foot as he's yelling, sending a vibration along the boards that returns Gemma to the present.



"Sorry," she says, looking at the weathered corpse in front of her. "It's just he was handsome then." She pauses in the memory of her schoolgirl crush. "And he could act."



The Deadman looks up from Yorick's glowing eyes, enticed by the prospect of a good review. Gemma smiles.



"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow," she says softly and takes a step backward. "Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time."



He follows, his mouth struggling to form half-forgotten verses.



"And all our yesterdays. Life…but a shadow?" he says without confidence.



"A poor player that struts and frets upon the stage..." Gemma prompts.



"And then. And then..." He stumbles on the line.



"And then is heard no more," Morgan screams, and his shoulders slump as if he's deflating. "It's bad enough dealing with live actors. Why can't the dead ones stay dead?"



The Deadman stops and turns to the question, responding to the rhetorical with the certainty of someone finding solid ground.



"The dread of something after death," he says, "The undiscover'd country from whose bourn no traveler returns, puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of."



He smiles and then bows with flourishes before following Gemma off stage right, leaving Morgan standing alone in the props and backdrops of the Oklahoma Territory, suppressing a nervous urge to sing The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.



   
   

 

endmark



Bart Meehan lives in Canberra, Australia. He has published a number of short stories in various publications, including Hellfire Crossroads, Aurealis, Antipodean SF, and of course, Hello Horror. Bart has also had several radio plays broadcast (now available as podcasts at https://podcast11793.podomatic.com/), short plays produced and has recently published a short book about experiences during World War 1, called The Parting Glass (https://www.amazon.com/Parting-Glass-Bart-Meehan/dp/1725069369/ref=pd_ybh_a_2?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=HQHMTPNRW8APSNRB2CNS)



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