“In the Company of Full-Stop Angels”
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And this is where it gets, and I’m quoting you here, ‘silly’?
The Mouse Army was on the run. Chased by the legions of Hell, they rose up onto the upper stage and performed a squeaky musical number, aided in no small part by the need to pause every few seconds and suck helium out of balloons. The hellions below (played by a particularly deranged subterranean family whose predilections involved sacrificing unworthy children to Il Maledicta’s massive heating furnaces, and incidentally also bathing in cadmium red) whooped and screamed in earnest, attempting to drown out the high-pitched chorus above. In the orchestral pit, experimental steam-powered Automat-Musiques squealed, hissed and groaned in the so-called musical accompaniment, punctuated by the occasional fart: every so often a balloon would escape a wayward Mouse’s paw and go skittering across the stage and into the half-collapsed auditorium…
SAM WÜN THE SECOND ANGEL
Hail, hail, hail. It is I. What’s that?
[Frantic whispering from offstage.] (this section looks fresher than the rest of the crumbling script. Hector’s tiny squid protested multiple times as he tried to squeeze it for more ink)
Quail! Quail! It is I, for-forsooth, the Second Angel! [sotto voce] Is this really necessary?
[A sledgehammer knocks out several planks in the stage before unsticking a rusty trapdoor. ANTONIO PATRICIO MAJEUR ANTOINE GAGLIARDI flounces out, wearing a ratty red toupee on his chest, glued crudely onto a nightshirt. His moth-eaten beret occasionally sheds a cluster of dead bees.]
ANTONIO PATRICIO MAJEUR ANTOINE GAGLIARDI
[singing nasally] Ragaaaazzaaaa *hack* *cough* benedettaaaaaaaa
The Proclamation of the First Angel went somewhat awry when the reanimated victim couldn’t remember her lines, instead opting to moan and bite anyone who came near her. In the end the machiniste improvised by holding up large cardboard speech bubbles. Meanwhile, escaped members of the Mouse Army kept leaping onto the stage at the wrong moments and breaking into song, falling into trapdoors, and in one memorable scene, a live reenactment of the Morris water navigation task, complete with exhaustion and several drowning deaths. One Mouse soldier died in full Morris-dancing regalia, having misunderstood the task at hand.
“Beautiful - beautiful - beautiful,” a slender hand caressed its partner, lightly tapping pale fingers to palm: a single clap. Before the Imago Dei - and that was not a qualification to take lightly, for no less than all the universe lay before his sight - he saw the dancer’s body carted away, to the still-merry jingling of bells, and he was pleased, oh so pleased.
“Joyous. Absolutely joyous. You are all working so hard;”
He did not need to finish.
[A frozen tableau. Half a dozen players stand stock-still, in various expressions of beatification and glory. They are meant to be looking at the Second Angel, but she’s buggered off somewhere.
A group of stagehands - what? (The rest of the sentence is messily scratched out. The next sentence seems to have a sarcastic bent to its hand)
Paintbrushes and plaster magically float around each of the players, and begin... painting plaster onto them? And magically drying them with torches? They’re wrapping them up like statues, and painting colors onto the drying plaster. Now they… they’re not going to - they just covered that man’s mouth! And his nose! He’s turning blue! They’re all going blue! Gray! They
What am I writing?]
In the Company of Full-Stop Angels ran on like someone had pulled the plug out from the bathtub that was the universe. Every minute the metaphorical vortex grew in size, drawing more of the theater into its influence and towards - well, the drain, if we’re working with this metaphor.
In this metaphor, many people had tried to stir the bathtub in the past. Many of them had been quite successful (see: Inne ye Companie of Fulle-ftop Angelf, Ave Ave Ave, some forty years ago), but none had had the power to pull out the plug, as it were, and all had petered out. And none of them had been quite so interesting, said the Imago Dei.
In a way, if he could care, if he were so much a ‘he’ as a pronoun of convenience, if he were, in effect, as alive as any of the creatures he saw scuttling before - behind - beneath - [i]beware the stage, he would feel joy.
there is nothing behind the mask.
In as much as he could feel, he did feel something. It tore at him like cats’ claws on tissue paper, rending him, reducing him, unravelling him like a hastily-extruded cocoon. And much like most cocoons, something beautiful stirred inside.
A hurricane is beautiful.
A pandemic is beautiful.
An extinction is beautiful.
EXT. DAY - BOX 279 - HECTOR is scribbling at a desk overlooking the stage. The box must have once housed nobles, proud and sinuous souls sitting with spines erect, gazing and leaning on the once golden-shining railings. All of this long ago and long forgotten, long after Il Maledicta descended into its damp subterranean hell. Now the box is little more than spillikins, splinters and canvas, shreds of its once fine maroon carpet clinging to a skeletal frame, and hasty bracing timbers tumbling into place and nailed there by rusting, broken bits of iron. Yet for all of its evolution it still had a beauteous view of the stage.
[Enter ANTONIO. He looks haggard and worn. Several recent tears mar the sleeves of his bright pink coat, threatening to turn him into the most stylishly-vested player in Il Maledicta.
Hector looks up at him. A black-clad stagehand, who of course did not exist, had expressly told him (in a remarkably realistic dream) that no one would disturb him as he penned the record of the performance. Apparently it had been just a dream after all.
Antonio silently holds up a pale head, which Hector immediately recognizes as the aforementioned dream stagehand.]
I have killed nobody.
You’re holding his flipping head!
I assure you, amico, it is estramamente stationary.
[Enter THE SECOND ANGEL. At this precise moment, her hair is half wavy blond and half scruffy straight brown. The tattered remains of a tiny top hat rest clipped to the blond side. She peers into the room and rests a scathing heterochromatic glare onto HECTOR - one eye is red, the other bright green.]
THE SECOND ANGEL
It’s like he said, okay? He hasn’t killed anyone. Come on… uh. What’s your face. We’re finding a way out of here before shit really goes to hell.
[flipping through pages] No! No, you have to be on for the final act! The… the pyre…
THE SECOND ANGEL
Yeah, you see why I’m not exactly enthusiastic. Come on, you like working for Chadface?
I - I have a duty to this play. I put my blood and sweat into it.
THE SECOND ANGEL
[grimacing] Okay. First of all, ew. Second of all, you’re as crazy as all of them. Look, I really don’t give a shit if you die, because then we all get to leave this hellhole of forever ren faire, but unfortunately I’m a halfway decent fuckwit and I’d feel just awful if I left you to the tender mercies of the suicide squad back there.
I… I won’t do it! I have to see how it ends!
[THE SECOND ANGEL sighs and motions to ANTONIO, who steps further into the room. The entire box creaks with the weight.]
THE SECOND ANGEL
Careful, Antonio. The whole thing could collapse.
You won’t make me go!
THE SECOND ANGEL
Listen to me. You’re the fucking playwright. If anyone other than Mad Chad down there can get these people to see sense - you - they - for fuck’s sake, they’re going to burn the theater down!
Yes, the pyre is a particularly good scene. Please - I beg you. The story just won’t be complete without its heroes -
[ANTONIO makes a grab for him.]
Please! Just - just come back for me.
THE SECOND ANGEL
We don’t have time for this.
[The box creaks more ominously, and splintering cracks reverberate through the superstructure. ANTONIO considers for a moment, then removes his starched cravat and chucks it.]
[The heavily-weighted cloth flies like a rock, but it flies straight and true, right for HECTOR’s head. The pen and parchment go flying out of his hands, which raises the question as to how he still manages to write this narrative, but it’s become pretty clear at this point that this was until recently going on both inside HECTOR’s mind and on the paper. A meaty hand manages to grab his wooden leg, and he feels himself being hoisted level with ANTONIO’s exasperated mugshot of a face.]
[HECTOR loses consciousness by way of a punch to the face.]
Sam cursed mellifluously as the three of them tramped down the dilapidated hallways. Every so often Antonio had to duck under a half-collapsed ceiling beam, shifting the Hector off of his broad shoulders. Then they’d have to stop while he readjusted the limp body, all the while glancing back and forth for spying stagehands. She’d hoped to co-opt the author into rewriting the play into something less fatal, but now it seemed she would have had better luck trying to convince fire into not being hot; their prospects at survival were beginning to look distinctly dim... and the hat (belonging to a Lady Dianna Earstwyle, Act II Scene 4, five lines about the weather before being struck by a wooden lightning bolt) kept whispering at her to get back to the stage, her cue would be soon, her lines would be glorious, not knowing she was already long dead. Who, then, was the voice that spoke into her head? The last remnants of a fading soul?
She resisted the urge to rip the hat off. First, its inner surface was coated in some especially sadistic Velcroesque hook fastener that feasted on hair, especially the wavy blonde locks Lady Earstwyle had seemed to delight in. Second, the hat was the least psychotic of the clothes she had been able to find - several of the costumes still had moldering skeletons inside of them, which was just a fucking treat to discover. Third, Lady Earstwyle apparently had had an excellent working knowledge of the rotting halls they wandered through, and it was her directions Sam followed through the cavernous fractal backstages (stages in the backstage with seats and backstages of their own, where other copies of Full-Stop Angels replayed, rehearsed, reviewed, reformed, remade themselves - it’s stages all the way down).
Somewhere over the rainbow - no, literally, a great painted canvas rainbow blocked their way - way up high… lay the Final Stage. Sam physically grunted with effort as she probed Lady Earstwyle’s mind for a way past.
“Angela.” Antonio gestured with a free hand: above them in the sub-atrium hung a singular strip of silk, torn off of some rotting curtain or banner. Near it lay a hole in the sky - a carelessly left-open hatch - and a grappling hook with rope trailing down. A few grabs at the rope proved its strength, and they scarpered into a world beyond the dream.
The corridors were pitch-black. No, literally - walls, ceilings, floors, painted black with some utilitarian ichor. Bars of painful blue-white light hung suspended in the air, presumably on black cables. Footsteps made no sound, no shadows were cast, and only the slow passage of each dazzling cylinder above them convinced the trio that they were moving at all.
The silence wiped all thought of talk away. The light bored into one’s pupils, screaming and burning, coaxing silent confessions from behind the eyes - unbidden, unwanted, unaware. The darkness, in turn, drained time and space away and left only the raw soul, open and unprotected.
Sam felt her mind going. Quietly and piece by piece, in so many ways, she was slipping - slipping into the various identities she wore, slipping into the blackness. Her eyes were heavy as padlocks - how long had it been since she’d last slept?
Lady Earstwyle wittered something comforting in her ear, and she turned right automatically. The good lady had once dallied with a stagehand, something forbidden - oh so very forbidden. She had seen her lover’s face, a pale, pallid thing, but with eyes so honest and alive, and lips soft red and ready for the kiss, and she had kissed her, and stripped her black garments and she had undone her corsets. Time had no meaning in the dark spaces behind the scenes, behind the eyes, and they had intertwined, loveless lovers loving in love in the darkness and in the light.
Then the others had found them, and all they could do was run, run, run, run, for stagehands do not have names, they do not have identities or souls, and they do not absolutely do not fall in love. Love is for real people.
Left. Right. Left. Left. Left. Left. Left. Left. Left. More lefts than a traditional geometry could account for, then right again. Sam followed Lady Earstwyle’s directions soundlessly, almost mindlessly. Bit by bit the darkness stripped pretence away.
Stagehands are not born, they are built. That is why they are called the machiniste.
Sam looked down for a moment, and caught a glimpse of something colorful. A scrap of silk, grasped tightly in her hand. Why had she carried that, all the way from the hatch?
She looked closer, with effort, and saw it was wrapped around a rough blob of wool. It was familiar for some reason.
She brushed it with a hand, and winced. Splinters.
Her mind was going, she could feel it.
Left. Left. Left. Lady Earstwyle remembered running, her hand clasped tight in her lover’s. Marcella. Her name had been Marcella. They’d come out into the light in a costume room, her costume room, and the stagehands had followed, and
Her mind was going.
Left. Right. Left.
Marcella screamed as they unmade her, from the inside out. They took the flame of passion that had reignited her soul, and they snuffed it out and tore it apart, and rent her body into spatters on the wall. Stagehands are not people.
Right. Right. Left.
Her mind was going, there in the dark.
No one was allowed to live. No one was allowed to die. The machiniste took them all, tore their souls apart and saved the fluff to be reused. They killed her family, her fellows, her part in the play, and they sealed the passageways behind them.
She was left alone there, watching the mindless, soulless bodies of her family die, slumped and drooling in the corners of the room, until finally she starved to death too…
Elsewhere and elsewhen - years later, really - Sam Wün picked up a hat.
“Thank you.” Lady Earstwyle’s voice - unmistakably Lady Earstwyle’s voice, came crawling up from Sam’s throat. “I hadn’t remembered. Marcella, oh my Marcella.”
“You can join her now.” Sam’s own voice felt dusty and disused. “You can rest in peace.”
“Turn left. There’s another door. Marcella showed me once. The stage. His stage.”
“Thank you, Dianna.” Left - and there it was, warm light oozing from around the edges of the doorframe. “Thank you.”
“Go to her.”
I love you.
A door, one of many, burst open - center stage, and every door opened at once. This was the cue for the resurgent Mouse Army, but only screams emanated in a perfect G-sharp major chord.
A beat pulsed from the orchestral pit, or perhaps it was the ichor in his unfolding wings. It was time for the breakdancing interlude.
Externally, Lavi’s performance was perfect, despite the dwindling number of players. Internally, she was screaming. Every so often Chad would have to dose her with more and more ampoules of the vile wordsmithing drug. And the thing she had made, it was wrong, it was so wrong.
The seats before them were empty, save a few piles of dust and distressing smears, but they went back, and back, and up, and up, into blackness and infinity. And in that blackness something watched - something unwrapping itself and emerging and masked, something that was the dark dot in the middle of a white expanse, a hungry, hungry dot waiting to devour the universe speck by speck and blow by blow, something that had brought her here and twisted her magic, a fitful, fateful gift to a world fated to burn, burn, burn, burn, burn.
Flashes, impressions came to Sam’s mind as she donned the tattered woolen robe, discarding her clothes piece by piece. Antonio kept pace behind her as they ran from the door down a corridor, freshly painted and clearly signed.
“Angelica!” he called, and they skidded to a halt. He took a moment to readjust the playwright on his shoulder, then knelt again. “I must find the fratelli. I can lead them here, and we shall storm the stage!”
“No!” Sam shouted. “No more needless death. Everything about this is all about death - the play wants us dead, the stagehands want us dead, the fucking Haruspex wants us all dead. Let’s live for once.”
“I must still bring the fratelli. They are waiting.”
She wrung her hands in frustration. A bitter winter. Half a harvest. A stone circle. Starving children. “Fine. But no killing. Not even acting-killing.” A sacrifice. Broken stones. Fire.
Antonio bowed. “As you wish, angelica benedetta.”
“Take Hector with you. Keep him out of trouble if he wakes up.” Forests, burning. Brittle branches popping from the heat. Fresh snow.
The Second Angel burst onto the scene. Chad’s lip curled.
“Lavi, Lavi, Lavi!” Sam skidded to a halt, Lavi’s robe fluttering out behind her. “I-”
Suddenly, words failed her. Why did she love her?
The First Angel also burst onto the scene, not by choice, but by the loud bang that shook stage left. A fissure appeared on the boards of center stage, and underneath it glowing embers could be seen: a pilot light. Strange, inhuman howls and moans could be faintly heard beyond.
“Fuck that for a joke,” the First Angel was heard to say.
A Scrap of Paper of Questionable Existence, an Oracle of Truth, the Last Aspect:
[The Proclaimer’s flesh is decaying. Some other force is animating her corpse. Scene: a mountain road. Those she has bitten have been taken ill, and have trouble speaking. Yet it is to the Prince’s credit that he is able to calm them and bring them clarity.]
[The rest of the page is torn away. Emerald ink splatters most of what survives. Faint bite marks mar the remainder.]
*END OF LINE*
Let me out Stay safe inside | You're not kind | Ethics are overrated | What is life | Men are pigs | I'm so drunk | EAT ME NOW | Click clack fuck | Is this right Only money matters | Change my clothes | Little sun rising | One cat's future | Wax and wane | Dark times ahead
So very British / But then again | People are machines Machines are people | Oh hai there | There's no time
Superhero 1920s noir | Multigenre Half-Life | Changing the future | Command line interface
Tu ventire felix? | Clockwork for eternity | Explosions in spacetime