‘Stand very still.’
There was a clicking sound as the door closed behind me. I crossed the room and took my place.
‘Stand very still.’
I held my sword up above my head, as though poised to strike. My opponent, standing a few feet away, took the same stance.
‘Perfect,’ said Jamie, sticking both thumbs up. He looked as though he was trying to flag down a car that had already parked on top of him. I mean, come on. Double thumbs up? Who does he think he is, Paul McCartney? He grinned moronically before disappearing behind the white screen. A moment later the lights went out.
The music started up and I could hear the doors opening and the sound of weary footsteps as the audience shuffled in. There weren’t many of them. About three or something by the sound of it. I held back a sigh and wondered again what I was doing here. Me, a trained actor, hiring myself out to student theatre. It was tantamount to prostitution as far as I was concerned, although prostitution would have paid a hell of a lot better. I wasn’t even getting a fee for this, just my bus fare and a happy meal. Talk about a step down. I mean, I was never exactly what you’d call mega famous or anything, but at least I was doing proper theatre before. I’ve done Ibsen for crying out loud. I shouldn’t be standing behind a screen waving a sword about. Speaking of which, I was about to miss my cue.
‘Good evening!’ I bellowed, wobbling ever so slightly on my box. They couldn’t even be bothered with a proper set, cheap bastards. ‘Welcome! We are proud to present to you tonight, a show that is quite unlike anything you have ever seen before. Ever! For one night, and one night only…no more, no less, just one night and one night is all…yes, tonight we present here before your very eyes, for just one night, an original silouhette performance dance muscial theatre piece performance, written and choreographed by the one and only… Jaaamieeee Haaaallll!’
‘Ladies and gentlemen, we give you…The Warriors!’
I held up my long robes and leapt down from my box, in almost perfect timing with Hugo, who was taking this whole thing very seriously indeed. He was only just out of drama school and this was his first job in the theatre, although – as he spent most of the day telling me, despite my many polite requests for him to please shut the frig up – he’d been acting in TV commercials since the age of four. His first job was in an advert about kids who wet the bed. Well, he should know all about that. He probably still does it. Stupid little git.
We danced around each other, swishing our swords skillfully, or as skillfully as you can after an hour of practise and three hours of standing on a box being told to keep still. I at least had the advantage of having starred in Fvshoom! A Jedi Musical. I simply imagined the sword was a lightsaber.
I wondered what Mother would say if she could see me now. Probably the same thing she always said. ‘Sebastian, you look a total pillock.’ She never had much faith in my abilities as an actor and she made her feelings very clear over the years. When she met me backstage after my last night as Hamlet (my final production before graduation) I asked her what she thought of it.
‘Oh, excellent play, excellent. One of my favourites, it really is. Terrific production. You’re working with some remarkably talented people, you know Sebastian , you should count yourself very lucky. They’ll go far, you mark my words. A very enjoyable evening indeed.’
‘And how did you feel about my performance?’ I asked hopefully. ‘The lead performance?’
‘I’d have welcomed it!’ she shrieked, before laughing hysterically. For about fifteen minutes. She had to be removed from the building in the end – everyone thought she was off her face. Silly old cow.
So there I was, swishing and twirling behind a white screen, my final shred of dignity almost gone. And it soon would be, for not only was I having a pretend fight in a dress, I was about to lose. To a foetus. Well, I wasn’t having it. I was the fighter here. I was the warrior. I’d show him.
I let out a war cry and ran forward, pushing my sword under Hugo’s arm. I waited for him to die but he just stood there, blinking like an idiot.
‘What are you doing?’ I hissed. ‘I’ve just stabbed you, you useless arse, you should be lying on the floor.’
‘No,’ Hugo hissed back. ‘I’m supposed to stab you, remember?’
‘Change of plan. Now you die.’
‘No,’ said Hugo, leaping back away from me. He looked ridiculous. ‘You die.’
He let out a battle cry nowhere near as impressive as my own and hurled himself foward, thrusting his sword at my side. I gave a single, anguished howl of agony and dropped to my knees. Fine, he had killed me, but I was going to milk it for all it was worth.
I held one hand up imploringly, swaying from side to side, before I dragged myself slowly to my feet, staggered forward a few steps, then backward, then forward again. I held my arms out towards Hugo and wailed. Then I lurched about a bit, before finally collapsing, landing on the floor with my arms and legs splayed out. I twitched a few times for good measure, then lay still.
There was a weak round of applause, like a couple of goldfish falling out of a bag, and the lights came back on.
‘All right then lads,’ I heard Jamie say from the other side of the screen. ‘Nice job. Not too sure about the freestyling at the end there but you did me proud. Now, who’s for a pint?’
‘Make it champagne,’ called Hugo, hurrying after him. ‘To celebrate my triumph!’
That’s nice, I thought, as the door slammed shut behind them. Just leave me here on the floor, while you two swan off to the pub. I put all the work in, drag this production out of the gutter, give it a bit of class, and what thanks do I get? Sod bloody all, that’s what. And this floor’s all wet. Yuck. It probably hasn’t even been cleaned. And as for Hugo…well, he’s an even bigger imbecile than I thought. Triumph?! There is something seriously wrong with that boy if he considers prancing about in a sheet and waving a sword in the air a triumph. At least I was somebody once. This isn’t who I am, I wanted to shout. But there was no one there to hear me.
I was a little strange, I thought after a few minutes, that I hadn’t moved yet. Then when I thought about it I realised I couldn’t move. Or feel my legs. I turned my head slightly and looked at the floor. What was all that red stuff oozing out of my side? Oh, I realised, just before I blacked out. Oh. That wasn’t supposed to happen…