Rex shook his head. “Well that’s just — ”
“Hold on.” Rune raised his arms, commanding his companions to silence. What have I seen tonight! The Bird recognized her mother’s voice, commanding yet muffled through walls of concrete.
“The play’s continuing,” Rune speaking in a rushed whisper, “they’re in the next scene.” The Bird nodded. O heavy deed! That voice, speaking Claudius’ line — familiar yet strange, not the voice of the actor she knew from the performance. O Gertrude, come away. Who —
“This way.” Mr. Jacobs walked down the corridor briskly, his wary eyes not matching the confidence of his gait. “We have to find Double-J, figure out where he went.”
“Nearly all the action takes place inside the action.” As he and his teammates followed their coach, Rune gazed at the paintings and tapestries hung on the walls, the teen’s eyes wide like a child in a candy store. “Means Double-J’s probably somewhere in here.”
Mr. Jacobs and his students continued down the stone hallway, their light sneakered footfalls nearly inaudible. The Bird was stationed in the center of their group; she glanced to her left, saw nothing but bewilderment on Butch’s pudgy face. “It’s all right,” her voice a soft whisper; Butch looked back at her, showing no evidence that her words were any comfort.
“This happen every time you go to the theater?” The Bird didn’t know how to reply, since telling him the truth, that the audience did not routinely enter the dramatic world of the performance, would only lead to questions about what had happened to them this evening, was happening even now. Making sense of their condition was entirely futile; the best they could do now was to survive this experience, find the way back to their world.
She was glad to hear Rex’s voice behind them. “Double-J will be where the action is. We — ”
Mr. Jacobs stopped, raised the back of his hand in the direction of his students. But soft, what noise? The sound of Hamlet’s voice echoed from a hallway up on their left; Mr. Jacobs turned, whispered to the teens. “We need to get as close as we can, without being seen. This is Shakespeare, people are always eavesdropping on conversations.” The bearded man walked slowly towards the corner where the sounds of conversation continued, Do not believe it; he peered past the corner, then turned back, waving the teens forward, his voice soft but urgent — “We’re behind them. I also see some tables we can hide behind.” I understand you not, my lord. “If Double-J shows up there, we can follow him, catch up to him when he’s alone.”
“Sounds like a lot of work.” The Bird felt both relief and anxiety at the sound of the voice behind them. “Why don’t you just talk to me now?” She turned in unison with her companions, and saw the dark outline of Double-J’s burly figure, several yards into the dark distance, shoulder leaning leisurely against the corridor wall.
Mr. Jacobs stepped past the students, pointed at the senior. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
Double-J threw his head back, laughed. “And how do you propose we do that?”
“Nobody knows.” Rune had walked up behind Mr. Jacobs. “But you were the catalyst, the one who got us all here. Figures you’re the one who’ll get us all back.“
“Sorry gang.” Double-J stepped backwards, drawing the rapier he had used earlier to kill Polonius. “I”m not planning on leaving until the big fight scene at the end, the one Jacobs here wanted us to see. Already figured out that the rest of this damn play has to be completed before we get there. But seems to me that there should be plenty of nameless lords and attendants and what not for me to practice on, in the meantime.” He whipped his rapier in front of him, cutting the air in a quick whoosh.
“Sounds like you’re looking for trouble.” The playfulness in Rex’ voice did not sound genuine. Mr. Jacobs was more direct, pointing to the rapier in Double-J’s hand. “You plan on using that again?”
Double-J whooshed the air in front of him again. “Why not?”
“This isn’t fencing, my friend, the people out there — “
“You really think any of this is REAL?” Double-J waved his arms wildly above him. “I mean, really, do you REALLY think we’ve suddenly become characters in a play that was written five hundred years ago?”
Mr. Jacobs blinked. “So what do you think’s going on?”
Double-J shrugged. “How should I know? Maybe we’re taking part in some crazy communal dream. Or maybe we’re part of someone’s dream. “Maybe all this — ” he motioned around, above him again — “is just a dumb story some bored office worker came up with on his lunch break. All I know is, none of this can be real, and so long as we’re here, nothing we do can have any real meaning. So, far as I’m concerned, anything goes.”
“You can’t — ” but as Mr. Jacobs stepped forward, Double-J extended his weapon, the blade catching the light from an interior gas lamp — “Jacobs, in case you can’t tell, we’re not at fencing practice, not at the school, not anywhere near Bark Bay, or the United States for that matter. Who knows where the hell we are, but I know this — nothing in this world gives you any authority over me, and I’m not about to give you what ain’t yours.”
He lowered his blade, the light catching his smirking mustachio. “Besides — you should probably be more concerned about Annie.” He pointed off to his left. “Was looking outta window, right before bumping into you guys. Saw her running outside after some other chick, had flowers in her hair.”
Rune gasped. “She must have found Ophelia!”
“Have fun with that.” And with one last threatening wave of his rapier, Double-J stepped back into darkness, a moment later disappearing down a corridor.
The Bird put a hand on Mr. Jacobs’ shoulder. “Annie could be in trouble — Ophelia’s probably going to the brook, where she’ll drown.”
Mr. Jacobs nodded. “We can’t leave her roaming outside the castle, alone. But we can’t afford to lose track of Double-J again, either.” He raised a hand up at Rex’s gaunt face — “You take Rune, he knows the play as well as anyone, he can figure out what’s going to happen next. Catch up with Double-J, with me not around he might be more reasonable. Make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.” Then he looked down at The Bird with more seriousness than she had ever seen in him before. “It’s been a long time since college, I don’t remember this play well. I need you, to be my guide — can you do that for me?”
The Bird looked up at Mr. Jacobs, amazed. He was seeking her help? But a moment later, she knew there could only be one response — “I’ll try.”
“Thank you.” After confirming with Butch that he’d rather search for Annie rather than Double-J, the two groups ran in opposite directions, The Bird somehow knowing which directions to turn in order to exit the castle.