Chapter 5 – January 11B

The stairs landed onto a wide hallway, its marbled floor arranged in small squares, some black some white. To The Bird, it looked like a giant checkerboard.

Not seeing anyone in the corridor, The Bird walked down tentatively — she remembered that nobody beside her mother seemed able to detect her, but didn’t feel comfortable in testing that theory. There were a series of doors on either side of the corridor, some opening to unoccupied rooms, others closed.

She felt herself relax, almost reflexively. Having fled the sudden violence in the Queen her mother’s room, then racing down the stairs, her body seemed to recognize that now, in the quiet of this deserted hall, was time to rest. Her eyes caught sight of an ornate wooden chair, its back absurdly height; she walked over, and sat.

She looked down at the checkerboard pattern of the floor, and a memory came to her — the tiled floor of the Bark Bay High School cafeteria, where she practiced on Tuesday afternoons with the fencing team, the same group of people she was now desperately seeking. No the cafeteria floor wasn’t marble, was made of some cheap material that was as easy to chip as it was to clean, and the pattern wasn’t a checkerboard, but rather a series of white rectangular islands in a sea of black. Mr. Jacobs had told her the layout had made the cafeteria a much more desirable practice location than either the new or old gymnasium. “Each rectangle’s nearly half the size of a fencing strip. We don’t have to lay down tape for practice — we just fence within the white areas.”

Chapter 5 – January 11A

The Bird hurried down the stone corridor of what she assumed (despite recognizing the im of the possibility) to be Elsinore Castle. The corridor opened onto the top of a stairway, but she stopped herself before beginning to step down.

She didn’t know where she was going. All she knew was that Mr. Jacobs had run in this direction, as had Double-J moments before. Her other friends on the Bark Bay High School fencing team had followed Mr. Jacobs. There were no other doors or passages between Gertrude’s room and here, so they could only have gone down these stairs. Continuing in this direction was the only action that made sense.

She laughed. “Does anything about this situation make sense?” Hearing the sound of her own voice echoing off the cold stone wall was somehow comforting. She realized that if she did find Mr. Jacobs or Double-J, she had no idea what they’d do next. Not knowing how they had suddenly appeared in the middle of this production of “Hamlet” — no, it was worse than that, they weren’t on stage, they and the actors in her mother’s company were in Elsinore, as if they were somehow re-creating an actual historical event.

And there was another problem. Her mother, still playing the role of Gertrude, seemed capable of interacting with the other actors and the strangers from Bark Bay, despite the fact she was now dressed as Save-Anna, the outlandish character she played in the local television commercials that “paid the bills.” And Hamlet had also recognized Double-J (as had Polonius, before being brutally murdered by the burly teen), so he would likely recognize Mr. Jacobs and her other friends as well.

But Hamlet hadn’t recognized her. Neither did Double-J, or Mr. Jacobs, even though she had screamed at them. Only her mother had known she was there.

“Great. No sense trying to be quiet, since nobody can probably hear me.” So even if she was able to find Mr. Jacobs and the others, what would she do next?

An echoed voice from below. O heavy deed! That was a line, Claudius. A hushing whistle, from what seemed directly beneath her. “Knock it off!” Definitely not Elizabethan language. The Bird rushed down the stairs.

Chapter 5 – January 10I

The experience of the last several minutes had proven to The Bird that calling after Mr. Jacobs and her friends on the Bark Bay High School fencing team would do no good. Instead she looked at the woman on her left, watched her fall out of character, becoming neither Gertrude (whom she was playing) nor Save-Anna (whom she was dressed as) but her mother, looking back at her daughter with angry disappointment as she pointed without looking at the doorway.

“So you brought all your friends, too?”

“I didn’t bring anyone. I don’t know how they got here, because I don’t know how I got here!”

“Get them out!” Her mother lifted her down, walked impatiently towards the door. “I’ve got to find Horatio. I don’t want any of you showing up in that scene and ruining it, like you did this one.”

“Ruining?”

Almost out of the doorway, her mother turned sharply, eyes wide with anger. “Did you really expect that Hamlet and I could conduct the rest of our scene, after what that boy did?” She pointed down at the white floor and the blood-stained smear left by Polonius’ body. The Bird could see flecks of flesh in the stream. “Teddy Jasper must be beside himself now, wondering what all of you are doing.”

The Bird scanned her memories from the last few minutes. No, she hadn’t seen Teddy Jasper since she’d suddenly appeared in Elsinore Castle. Perhaps, as her mother said, he was still in the audience, watching the bizarre developments on stage. Although if they were on stage, why couldn’t they see the audience?

“I’ll find them.” Those were the only words that made sense at the moment, the only action that seemed appropriate. The Bird raced to the doorway, her mother stepping into the hallway to let her pass, then turned left, in the direction where her friends had just run off. She then stopped, looked back at her mother, catching her glance just before she was to head in the other direction. “I’m sorry.”

The anger in her mother’s face fell a moment. She offered a weak smile, stepped forward, holding out her arms to her daughter. The Bird found this awkward, she and her mother rarely embraced like this, yet she sensed this was important.

Her mother drew back. “I love you.” Tears filled her eyes, like shallow swimming pools overfilling. “But you and your friends have to get back in that audience, where you belong.” She and her mother then turned, raced in opposite directions.

Chapter 5 – January 10H

Shaking her head in the hope that the action would somehow return her to her seat in the auditorium, The Bird opened her eyes. To her right, Hamlet was dragging the corpse of Polonius from the room. A smeared stream of blood mingled with flesh stained the white stone floor in its wake.

“You need to get out of here.” Her mother grabbed her left forearm. “You, and that boy. You don’t belong here.”

“I know.” The Bird laid her hand gently on the wrist that was grabbing her left forearm, and was relieved to feel her mother’s grip relax. “I — don’t know how we got — ”

Rushing footfalls from the hall, approaching their doorway. Something about the sound, The Bird recognized — not the hard sound of leather, but the squeaking of rubber —

Mr. Jacobs rushed into the room, the other members of the Bark Bay High School team — Annie, Rex, Rune, Butch — quick on his heels. “What happened? Was Double-J here?”

“O what a rash and bloody deed!” The Bird was confused — her mother replied in the accent she used when playing the character of Gertrude.

“Dammit!” Mr. Jacobs looked quickly around the room. “Have you seen The Bird?”

“I’m right here!” He continued staring at her mother. “Mom, I don’t think they can see or hear me, tell them I’m here!” But she continued to lock her gaze, voiceless and terrified, with Mr. Jacobs.

The middle-aged English teacher at Bark Bay High School, the man called Coach Dan by most every member of the fencing team (but The Bird called him Mr. Jacobs, because she wasn’t a member of the team she only came to practices, so he couldn’t be her coach), took a step back into the hall. “Let’s keep looking,” he called, then rushed down the stone hallway to the left, followed by the four members.

Chapter 5 – January 10G

“Am I invisible?” The Bird’s mother turned at the sound of her daughter’s outburst, yet Double-J continued to ignore her. The burly teen pointed down at the bleeding, bruised body of Polonius. “Sorry about killing your friend here, but he kinda had it coming to him.”

The Bird brought her hands to the sides of her head, rubbed her temples vigorously as she looked down at the body on the floor. Color was quickly draining from its flesh, as the pool of blood continued to seep from multiple wounds, the brown-red tide spreading rapidly onto the white stone floor underneath. This isn’t a stage death, she realized — years of watching her mother’s rehearsals had shown her all the tricks of the theater. But no stage wizardly could make a man’s lips turn this shade of blue, or replicate the stench of the gore that was now assaulting her nose. This body on the floor — this was a dead man, not an actor playing a death scene. And just as surely, she realized this wasn’t an actor, but rather Polonius, more a character than human.

“Hate to kill and run, but I got things to do.” The Bird looked up, saw that Double-J was walking out of the door through which he had just burst.

“Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!” Double-J stopped at Hamlet’s charge, turned — and extended the middle finger of his left hand, before continuing his exit.

The Bird closed her eyes, rubbed them hard. None of this made sense — she knew from her practices with the Bark Bay High School fencing team that Double-J could be abrupt, rude, and unafraid to use his intimidating anger to prove a point. And before those practices, she’d heard stories of his rage, knew he had been suspended several times, at times for fighting in the halls. But murder? His brutal slaying of Polonius, and his seeming enjoyment of the act — no, that wasn’t Double-J. His actions didn’t make sense, but then again, little of what happened the past five minutes, since she had suddenly appeared in Elsinore Castle instead of watching her mother perform in “Hamlet,” had resembled anything close to sensible.

Chapter 5 – January 10F

The Bird looked at Hamlet and her mother (still dressed as Save-Ana and still, she assumed, playing the role of Gertrude), and was relieved somehow by the knowledge that they looked as surprised and horrified as she felt at Double-J’s violent intrusion.

“What hast thou done?” Yes, thought The Bird, that was the next line, confirming that her mother was still in character.

His eyes locked on her mother, Double-J pointed his bloody rapier at Hamlet. “What sunshine here should have done two acts ago. Or scenes, or whatever the hell you call it.” He twisted his head and smiled viciously at Hamlet, a drop of blood dripping from his blade, the drop splattering on the stone floor. “Don’t mind me doing the dirty work, do you?”

“Nay, I know not.”

Double-J snorted. “Figures.” He walked brusquely past The Bird, making no indication that he recognized her, not even as he waved her arms and called to him.

Chapter 5 – January 10E

The sudden realization sent a shock through The Bird’s body, causing her to rise quickly from her chair, almost bumping into Hamlet as she gained her feet. She saw her mother’s eyes and mouth draw back in horror, but the actor playing Hamlet made no sign that he recognized the sudden appearance of the frail teenaged girl.

Hamlet grabbed a mirror from a dresser next to the bed, then rushed to her mother. “Come, come, and sit you down, you shall not budge.”

“What wilt thou do?” Her mother had resumed playing her role of Gertrude, despite the odd appearance of her daughter in the scene, despite still being dressed as Save-Anna. She recoiled at the site of the rapier in the actor’s hand. “Thou wilt not murder me? Help, ho!”

“What, ho! Help!” The Bird recognized the muffled sound of the actor playing Polonius, his body outlined in the curtain behind which he was hiding. Hamlet turned in the direction of that voice, his eyes filled with hatred. “How now? A rat! Dead for — ”

The door to the bedroom opened, slammed loudly into the interior wall closest to the bed. Everyone in the room — The Bird, her mother (dressed as Save-Anna, playing Gertrude), Hamlet, even the outline of Polonius in the curtain — turned toward the doorway, where a figure all in shadow stood.

The Bird instantly recognized the shape of that person, and only the knowledge that she was somehow impossibly already in the scene made her accept the fact that Double-J was now rushing into the room, a rapier in his arm and thrusting forward, his eyes wild with excitement.

Double-J pushed Hamlet aside with his left hand — “Get the HELL  out of my way!” — and with a delighted roar, drove his rapier into the outlined form of Polonius.

“That’s for spying on your kids, asshole!” The curtain fell from the wall, revealing Polonius, his face twisted in pained horror. Double-J drew his arm back, the blade of his rapier drenched in blood, and not the hyperbolic red theater blood that The Bird remembered, but something that looked like the blood from a wound, or her period, brown as much as red. It dripped from Double-J’s blade, as if the rapier were drooling from hunger, and quickly spread from the wound in Polonius’ belly.

Double-J thrust the weapon forward again, the blade stabbing through Polonius’ chest and crunching into the stone wall behind. The blade withdrew, blood gushing from the wound like vomit, then struck again, and again, each blow driving back its agonized victim, the back of his head making a bloody imprint in the stone.

Another thrust, and upon this withdrawal the perforated body of Polonius fell forward, twisting in flight so the old man was staring face up. His eyes fluttered open — “O, I am slain” — then shut, the lively tension of his body imploding.

Double-J sneered down at him. “No shit.”

Chapter 5 – January 10D

The Bird opened her eyes. Hamlet was approaching her mother, which she suddenly realized was more accurate than saying that Hamlet was approaching Gertrude because her mother was no longer in her Gertrude costume. She was dressed as Save-Anna, wearing the Bride of Frankenstein wig and horn-rimmed glasses from her television commercials, looking ready to inform Hamlet that he could save 10% on all purchases over $100 each Wednesday this month at his local Shop-N-Save.

“Now mother, what’s the matter?” Hamlet did not appear to notice that he was now speaking with Save-Anna.

“Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended,” replied Save-Anna/Gertrude/The Bird’s mother.

The Bird sensed something else was wrong. Their voices, sounded different. Cleaner? Then she realized — she wasn’t hearing them over the auditorium’s loudspeakers.

“What’s the matter now?” The Bird could see the perspiration on Hamlet’s face, that shouldn’t be possible, she was sitting in the back row of the auditorium, with Mr. Jacobs and her friends on the Bark Bay High School fencing team — they had sat there during this dress rehearsal so they could discuss the play without interfering with the performance.

“Have you forgot me?” And as her mother followed Hamlet’s pacing about the stage, her eyes caught her daughter’s, and widened in surprised recognition. She can see me? From so far away

The Bird looked down. She wasn’t sitting in her auditorium seat, she wasn’t sitting next to Annie. She was in an armchair, on the stage.

“You are the Queen, your husband’s brother’s wife, and, were it not so, you are my mother.” Hamlet rushed past The Bird without even a glance in her direction. She looked back at her mother, who blinked, regaining her composure. “Nay, then I’ll set those to you that can speak.”

Her mother’s head was tilted to her right, projecting her voice toward the audience. The Bird looked in that direction, hoping to locate her friends —

But there was no fourth wall. Or actually, there was — an interior wall. In Queen Gertrude’s chamber. Of Elsinore Castle.

Finally

After nearly three months of daily posts, I’m finally ready for tomorrow’s entry. Everything I’ve written to date for Chapter 5 has been leading up to what happens next. This will be by far my most ambitious experiment, and I hope the end result at least comes close to realizing my vision.

So now I extend my arms, fan my fingers against the back of my hands, push out the palms — crack — and dance upon the keyboard.

Chapter 5 – January 10C

The Bird heard herself calling Mr. Jacobs. And what was she doing — he had reached across Annie, grabbed the inside of Mr. Jacobs’ left elbow. And she was telling him that Double-J needed to return to his seat.

“He’ll be all right.” Why didn’t he recognize her concern? “Should be back for the last scene.” The distant stage began to grow with light, like a time-lapsed film of the dawn. The Bird looked up, saw the actor playing Hamlet circling the ceiling, I know a hawk from a hand-saw, looking down at the stage where Polonius sat talking to the Queen. Mother!

The Bird grabbed Mr. Jacobs’ elbow again, said they had to protect her mother. “What?” No matter what happens, protect my mother! Annie placed both hands on her, told her to relax, she wasn’t acting right — The Bird turned to Annie, snarling, my mother is a PROFESSIONAL, she KNOWS WHAT SHE’S DOING, she just needs our HELP —

POLONIUS He will come straight. Look you lay home to him —

It was starting, The Bird said. It’s starting.

QUEEN. I’ll warrant you, fear me not.

She looked up at the ceiling, saw the actor playing Hamlet circling down, down . . . no, this wasn’t right. She could see the face, this wasn’t the actor playing Hamlet, he was clean-shaven. That line above his lip, it looked like it was drawn there, as if someone had taken a PENCIL and drawn the moustache on the face of Teddy Jasper — The Bird threw herself back into the chair, slammed her fists into her closed eyes. She felt Annie’s hands grabbing at her, telling her to calm down, it would be all right, but she knew that whatever was going to happen next, it most certainly would not be all right.

THE BIRD’S MOTHER Withdraw, I hear him coming.