‘The theatre was empty, brighter, he could see more of it through the gloomy light this time, though its edges remained elusive. He wouldn’t dawdle in the place. The feeling that someone had only just coughed and left the room hit him. He rushed to where he’d found the way out before, the doorway in the dark he’d hurt himself trying to round. Now in the twilight of the stage there was no door, only old plaster and paint, an oddness to its colour.
The pit hummed at him, calling him forward, inviting his compliance. If he didn’t want to be stuck he’d have to move through didactic pathways, sacrifice his will to self-govern in extremis and resolve to temporarily surrender to whatever capricious assholes turned the cogs of the place.
He took the old steps to the stage floor and wandered to where the builder had sat. The pit was still and shadowy, no hint of the struggle that had taken place within. The emptiness soothed him and he allowed himself a pause to wilfully forget about his EXIT. Under the theatre light that fell on him, especially his face.
Take to the centre and forsake the mask, wear your best then let her undress you, all the moments flicker past in her, you stole her you know, hustled her like a numbskull in fluke, couldn’t ride her waves incandescent, so she spat you out poisoned chalice style, her movements pyrrhic victories you’d hold against her because she shone her fractured light on your want, now you wander umbilical precipitating perfected shits, walking away, forever walking away.
Kattar moved to backstage, around the chipboard blank scenery, wires hanging disconnected, copper and rubber tubes, nails in the walls. A power box was fixed to the wall near some steps leading into a dark way back farther. He opened the box, full of switches with stickers and worn away diagrams for instruction. One switch glowed green so he flicked it. Music filled the room, muffled from out front in the theatre. Closer, the sound of whirring machinery sprung into life, grating and squelchy.
Rumbling travelled from the stage on the other side of the scenery. He hesitantly moved to retrace his footsteps, peeping around the splintered wood to spy the open stage floor. There, in the middle of the stage, the flooring opening up, a square trapdoor controlled by robotic pulleys. From below a bulk rose, difficult to see, to make out at first, rounded and bent. It pushed from beneath, a portion of it caught under the sides of the trapdoor. The trapdoor gave and a foot sprung up, dirty and bruised. The body ascended, twisted, inverted, guided by rope, flopping at the knees, cracked skew-whiff at the ribcage. Discordant grimy guitars rattled in minor chords, reverb in a whirlwind around the theatre. Her thighs ready to split, like an unpicked sausage. Someone’s daughter. Someone’s daughter. If this is Anna then that’s too bad. The woman’s dress had fallen inside out and over her face, her hands peeking out from under the hanging material with wrists bound, a tattered bra rotted into her skin, the rest of her naked and bare. Someone had stripped her, hoisted her up, hidden faceless. Kattar couldn’t decide how to react. The sight of her was a world. The dress was stained, with dirt, excrement, patches of fluids. He found a clear section of hem and lifted it, to confirm her deadness. The shadow underneath showed a face beaten and shocked, lacerated cheeks pointing to a forehead with letters carved, the right way up for him, upside down for the woman. ‘Queen of Worms,’ it said in bloody cuts, as worms slimed through her hair and balled squirming inside the hole of her open mouth. Her eyes were shut.
Kattar dropped the hem of the dress, which fluttered back to cover the woman and her worms. This felt forensic. His neck hairs prickled like he was under observation, a study onstage. Now who was making him an actor? Shitty move, thinks it’s clever. But the body is real enough. The music tore his nerves, wearing him down, twangs turning into fuzzbox mush, distorted whines percussive and deconstructing feedback until his ears pounded hot. Was it louder, or he more sensitive? There was something in the music he couldn’t background anymore. Squinty, he glanced at the pit, but all was vacuum.
Blue flames emerged from her fingertips, softly curling them. The blue grew, flowed ethereally across her hands, took hold on the binding of her wrists, turning to warm orange flickering faster. The binds burned away and her arms swung free, her hands alight flung sideways, rocking to and fro. The flames travelled along her arms and ignited the dress, which burned with white intensity up her frame. At this the body screamed and gurgled, expelling worms in a cascading arc, contorting against the flames. Violent as the yells were they carried an unnatural music, frequencies spectral. Kattar stood transfixed with astounded curiosity because she sounded long dead. The flash of fire enveloped her, and a wriggling cocoon of light undulated spitting cinders and rolling sparks. Kattar held out his hand, reaching cautiously, to find no heat to the flame. The sparks at his feet travelled over the dark floor to catch every wiggling worm, and crisp them up on collision leaving charred pellets in their place. Mid flow the smouldering brickettes briefly formed the words ‘FIND ESPE’ in fierce orange before continuing to scatter and then cool to coal dust.
The light on the woman diminished and she hung blackened, swinging gently, tannery shine like midnight.