Gray Metal Faces – January 16

The Bird hurried down the stone corridor of what she assumed (despite recognizing the im of the possibility) to be Elsinore Castle. She turned a corner on her left, nearly running into Rune’s back. She stepped back, examined the scene in front of her; Rune was standing between Rex and Mr. Jacobs, the three of them facing Annie, standing with a defiant look several feet away.

“I have to do this.” Annie took a step backwards down the wide stone hallway. “I — she needs help.”

“There’s nothing you can do.” Rune sounded uncharacteristically sure of himself. “Ophelia’s going to drown soon, there’s nothing we can do — ”

“Double-J’s proven he can interact with the characters, change the course of events. He killed Polonius — ”

“He was going to die anyway — ”

“You don’t UNDERSTAND! I don’t know how we got here or what we’re supposed to be doing, but none of that matters. I have this chance to save Ophelia before — ”

“Annie, she’s insane.”

A snarl snapped onto her face. “She’s PREGNANT!” The Bird saw Rune flinch. “I’m sorry, you might have the entire play memorized, but did you ever think about what you’re reading?”

Rune shook his head. “If Ophelia’s pregnant, why doesn’t she say so?”

“Because she’s in the freakin’ sixteen hundreds! An unmarried woman having a child, she’d get imprisoned, killed maybe. Especially one who’s just lost any protection her father could have provided.”

“OK, but — ”

“You have heard of subtext, right?” Annie’s voice softened, to a teacherly tone. “How authors hide messages in their work, to avoid censorship?” She waited for Rune to nod. “How many jokes has Hamlet made to her about getting between her legs?”

“Yeah — ”

“I’ve known TOO MANY friends at school who’ve been used and abandoned, just like she has. She’s not insane, she’s scared — and I’m going to help her.”

Mr. Jacobs stepped toward her, his mouth opening, then stopped when his team captain raised a palm towards him — “You guys, find Double-J. I’ll met everyone back here in thirty minutes — promise.”

Her coach closed his mouth, blinked. “Thirty minutes.”

Thank you, Annie whispered in response, then raced down the hallway, disappearing around a corner.

Gray Metal Faces – January 15

“What hast thou done?” Hearing the Queen’s next lines told The Bird her mother was still in character.

Double-J pointed his bloody rapier at Hamlet. “All I ‘hast’ did, was what sunshine here shoulda done two acts ago. Or scenes, or whatever the hell you call it.” The teen smiled viciously, a drop of blood falling from his blade, and splattering on the stone floor. “Don’t mind if I do the dirty work, do you?”

“Nay, I know not.”

Double-J snorted, turned his attention towards The Bird. “Sorry ’bout your friend here, but he kinda had it coming.”

Confused by Double-J’s statement, The Bird looked down at Polonius’ body again — and brought her hands to the sides of her head in horror. During Double-J’s attack, she had been too surprised to notice the victim, though wearing the same clothes as the actor who had been playing Polonius, was not that actor. The lifeless face she now saw wore a distinctive, salt-and-pepper beard — “Mr. Nestor!”

“Hate to kill and run, but I got things to do.” Double-J began walking out the chamber door, only to be stopped by Hamlet.

“Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!” The teen scoffed, pushed Hamlet aside, and extended the middle finger of his left hand, before exiting.

Still in shock from the multiple surprises of the last few moments, The Bird remained still until she felt a hand grabbing her left forearm. “You need to get out of here.” Her mother was speaking in her own voice, not that of either Gertrude or Sav-Anna. “You, and that boy. You don’t belong here.”

“I know.” The Bird laid her hand gently on the wrist grabbing her 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. The Bird recognized the sound, not the hard clopping of leather, but the squeaking of rubber —

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

“O what a rash and bloody deed!” Janet Wernick’s reply was in the accent of Gertrude.

“Dammit!” Mr. Jacobs looked quickly around the room, pointed at The Bird — “Come on, we gotta get outta here!” Moving with a confidence that his order would be followed, the man called Coach Dan by The Bird’s friends rushed down the stone hallway, followed by his four students.

“So you brought all your friends?” The Bird’s mother crossed her arms across her chest.

The Bird shook her head — “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 began pushing the teen out of the chamber. “I don’t want any of you showing up in the next scene and ruining it, like you did this one.”

“Ruining?”

Her mother turned sharply, eyes wide with anger. “Did you really think Hamlet and I could conduct the rest of our scene, after what your friend did?” She pointed down at the corpse of Polonius, now being dragged by Hamlet across the floor, leaving a bloody smear pocked with flecks of flesh. “Teddy Jasper must be beside himself now, wondering what all of you are doing.”

The Bird wondered if her mother had noticed that it was actually Mr. Nestor being dragged away. It didn’t make sense to her — but then again, nothing that had just happened had many any sense at all.

“I’ll find them.” Those were the only words that made sense at the moment. The Bird took a step into the hall, only to be stopped by her mother. The anger in Janet Wernick’s face fell, as she offered a weak smile, taking her daughter into her arms.

Her mother drew back. “I love you.” Tears filled her eyes, like shallow swimming pools overflowing. “But you and your friends have to get back in that audience, where you belong.” The Bird nodded, then raced off in the direction of her friends.

Gray Metal Faces – January 14

The Bird opened her eyes. Hamlet was approaching her mother — no, this was a play, Hamlet was approaching his mother — no. That wasn’t. Right either. The woman Hamlet was approaching, the character being played by Janet Wernick, was wearing a Bride of Frankenstein wig, horn-rimmed glasses with saucer-wide lenses, a pink sweater over a white blouse that seemed ready to burst over its inflated breast. And. The unmistakable red lipstick of . . .

The Bird blinked. “Save-Anna?”

“Now mother, what’s the matter?” Hamlet did not appear to notice that he was now speaking with the local television commercial star, who seemed ready to explain how he could save 10% on his next purchase of $100 or more at his nearby Stop-N-Save.

“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.

“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.

The Bird looked down. She wasn’t sitting in her auditorium seat, next to Annie. She was. In an armchair. On the. Stage, no more than. Three. Feet from her. Mother.

“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. Her mother 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 auditorium, the fourth wall was missing. In its place, was — an interior wall. In Queen Gertrude’s chamber. Of Elsinore Castle.

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 seemed not to notice their exchange as he grabbed a mirror from a dresser next to the bed, then rushed to her mother (his mother? their 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 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 — ”

SLAM. The door to the bedroom opened, crashing into the interior wall. 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 stood a figure. All in shadow.

The Bird instantly recognized that figure’s shape. Only the knowledge that she was somehow already in the scene made her accept the fact that Double-J was now rushing into the room, a rapier in his arm, 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, his rapier’s blade drenched in blood, not the red theater blood but something that looked to The Bird 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 descent so the old man was staring face up. His eyes fluttered open — “O, I am slain” — then shut, the lively tension of his body collapsing.

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

The NaNoWriMo Experience

I realize that I write about NaNoWriMo and its camps extensively, but these posts are more than just evidence of my borderline OCD. I believe in these month-long blogging events, have learned a great deal about the drafting and revision process for my novel. If Gray Metal Faces ever does get published, I am totally going to acknowledge NaNoWriMo in a preface, or postscript, or some other pre- or post- statement.

Krista Stanley, author of the Stone Mountain Mystery series and someone from whom I could probably learn a thing or two about writing, is also participating in this month’s CampNaNoWriMo. When a professional novelist finds value in the same activity I’m undertaking, I can’t help but feel more certain that I’m heading in the right direction.

So Far, So Good, So Much More To Do

I find it curious how my metawriting posts, where I write about my current fiction projects, often get as much and occassionally more attention than my fiction itself. (An insecure writer might see that as a comment on one’s fiction; fortunately, I only feel insecure when I’m being ironic.) In that spirit, here’s where the Chapter 5 revision stands at the moment.

My goal at the start of July was to revise the first draft, over 47K words, down to approximately 24K words by the end of the month; this length would put the chapter in line with the revised versions of the first four chapters. I began with an outline that took the draft’s initial 23K words down to 16K by the end of third weekend, culminating just before the chapter’s dramatic turn. Reached that point in the narrative yesterday, with a cumulative word count of 16,191 — barely more than 1% over my “budget.”  Had to make a lot of cuts to get there, and while I had trouble letting some of that material go, I’m satisfied with the knowledge that the narrative is more cohesive and manageable. (Besides, I still have that first draft saved in a separate file, and can always return to that cut material if it seems necessary.)

Now comes the hard part — getting the final 23K words of the draft down to 8K. Many cuts will be easy, as there’s a lot of self-indulgent material that on further review doesn’t advance the narrative or enhance the characters in any significant way. But even if that cuts out half the remaining material, that still leaves me thousands of words over my goal. Knew this was going to be a challenge, which is why I scheduled this part of the project for the final two weekends this month.

If it were easy, everybody would do it. When I think about the challenge ahead, I envision channeling the energy that will be required to get the job done. No it won’t be easy, but the effort will be exhilirating. Have some outlining to do before I begin on those final 8K words, but believe me, this project is going to be completed.

Gray Metal Faces – January 13

The Bird rose from her seat, explaining that intermission had arrived, as the other members of the Bark Bay High School fencing team rose with her and followed Mr. Jacobs out of the auditorium.

Standing alone in the lobby, the lean figure The Bird already recognized as Teddy Jasper turned slowly in her direction, bestowing upon her a crooked smile of condescending recognition.

“My sweet bird.”

The Bird hesitated, studying Teddy’s face. From behind she heard the voices of her friends  — Rune explaining something in earnest to Butch, Double-J and Rex laughing together — she could not hear Mr. Jacobs —

“Hello.” To her right, Annie extended her hand toward Teddy. The slender man took her hand, a curious look on his face.

“You must be one of The Bird’s friends, from the fencing team.”

“Yes.” She stood straighter. “Team captain, actually.”

“Indeed! So that would make you a senior, yes?”

She shook her head, her pony-tail waving behind. “Sophomore, actually.”

Teddy seemed legitimately surprised. “Really! You seem so — big isn’t the right word — athletic, perhaps? You certainly don’t look 15 — “

“Sixteen. June birthday.”

He waved his right arm quickly, up and back, glancing down as if bowing with the motion. “I think I understand now why you were named captain. Physically, you seem to be a match for anyone in this room — and you don’t appear willing to back down to anyone.”

“Thank you.” Annie nodded curtly, then turned quickly to The Bird. “Excuse us.” Annie twitched her head in the direction of the bathroom, The Bird nodding and following close on her heels.

Alone in the pale light of the bathroom, the two teens compared notes on Teddy Jasper. “I remember him now,” Annie ripping a paper towel from a wall dispenser, “he was at the New Year’s party, at my uncles’ office in the city. Don’t know what they were talking about, but my uncles did not look happy.” The Bird explained that Teddy was his mother’s new agent; Annie nodded in acknowledgement, tossing her towel into the trash.

A moment later they walked back into the theater lobby, the large chandelier catching The Bird’s eye. With her next step, the chandelier began swinging violently, straight across the ceiling towards the auditorium entrance; she then felt waves rippling the tiled marble floor, so she stooped down, preparing for the wave’s impact —

Annie’s grasp on her right bicep was firm, commanding. “You OK?” The chandelier stopped flying, the wave ebbed over the still surface of the floor. Mr. Jacobs, and her friends on the fencing team, had rushed up to where The Bird had stumbled. The Bird told their worried faces that she didn’t know what happened, she just got dizzy all of a sudden.

“The lights.” Annie twitched her head back towards the bathroom. “It’s pretty dark in there. Probably just had trouble adjusting back to the lighting.”

“Have you been sick?” The Bird looked up at Mr. Jacobs, said that she had just gotten over a cold. He smiled, nodded. “Congestion’s probably throwing off your equilibrium. How do you feel now?”

The Bird looked up at the chandelier. It did not move. She said she was fine.

The lobby lights flicked off, then back on. “We gotta go back,” Rune walking towards the scratched wood paneling of the auditorium doors. The Bird let Annie guide her back into the darkness of their seats, and for several minutes watched absently as the performance resumed, her mind not registering the action until the actor playing King Claudius was alone on stage.

Oh my offense is rank!

From behind Claudius, the actor playing Hamlet stepped forward, a sword in his hand.

And so am I revenged.

The Bird winced, slumped forward in her seat. She felt Annie’s hand on her back. “You all right?” The Bird replied she felt fine, just a little light-headed.

To take him in the purging of his soul, when he is fit and seasoned for his passage? No!

“Oh for Christ’s SAKE!”

“That’s enough,” Mr. Jacobs’ voice commanding, as if telling one of his fencers to watch their distance.

The Bird looked at the stage. She saw Hamlet bouncing without moving any part of his body, like a marionette.

“What’s going on?”

There was a touch of impatience in Rune’s explanation to Butch. “Hamlet doesn’t want to murder the King while he’s praying, because he doesn’t want him to go to heaven.”

The Bird almost said something to Annie, but when she saw Claudius burst into a giant sunflower, she smiled, and remained silent.

“So if you pray while dying, you always go to heaven?” The Bird understood why Butch was confused, seeing as Hamlet was now hovering at the ceiling. I know a hawk from a hand-saw. He was flying to heaven!

The stage lights dimmed. Growling, Double-J stood up, exited the aisle. “I gotta take care of business.” A dagger of light stabbed briefly into the darkness as he opened the door to the lobby.

The Bird heard herself calling to Mr. Jacobs, telling him Double-J needed to return to his seat. “He’ll be all right.” Why didn’t he recognize her concern? “So long as he’s 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 Hamlet still flying at the ceiling. On the stage, Polonius was talking to the Queen. Mother!

He will come straight.

It was starting, The Bird said to no one.

I’ll warrant you, fear me not.

She looked up at the ceiling, saw Hamlet circling down, down . . . no, this wasn’t right. She could see the face, the actor playing Hamlet was clean-shaven, this man had a line above his lip, thin, like it was drawn by a pencil — Teddy Jasper? The Bird threw herself back into the chair, slammed fists into closed eyes, felt Annie’s hands grabbing at her, telling her to calm down, it would be all right, but The Bird knew something was starting, and whatever thing would happen next, it would most certainly not be all right.

Withdraw, I hear him coming.

Gray Metal Faces – January 12

“Over here.” Mr. Jacobs’ voice called from the back row of the auditorium, the same area where she had been sitting earlier, hoping to read as she waited for her friends on the fencing team to arrive. “Everyone knows the story, right?” Mr. Jacobs’ voice an urgent whisper.

“Sure.” Two seats to Mr. Jacobs’ right, Double-J made no attempt to lower his voice. “Hamlet sees a ghost, ghost says hey, I’m your old man, and your uncle murdered me. But Hamlet, instead of going out and getting revenge, talks a bunch of nonsense for a couple hours.” The Bird, sitting four seats away, saw Double-J throw his right hand dramatically into the air. “To be, or not to be.”

Rex leaned forward in his seat, his head high above the seats. “Is it a good idea to talk about the play before we see it?”

Mr. Jacobs replied in what seemed to The Bird his Coach Dan voice, definitive and assured. “For this play, yes.”

“And it’s what they did, back in Shakespeare’s time.” Rune, sitting in the row in front of The Bird, had turned his greasy red head so that he could easily make eye contact with everyone. “Outside the theater, they’d post the plot of the play, so people could read it before it started. They called it the argument. Back then, they didn’t worry like we do about ruining the surprise. All they cared about was the performance.”

A dismissive snort spurt from Double-J’s upturned nose.

The Bird leaned forward, her chair squeaking loudly even under her slight weight, and asked Rune how he knew so much about Shakespeare.

Rune looked back, made eye contact with her. “I don’t, really.” He shifted in his seat again, so that he was again facing the stage. “We had to read ‘Romeo and Juliet’ last year in CP English, and everyone was all like, I’ll be glad when this is over.” An appreciative chuckle percolated among his friends as Rune waved his right hand dismissively over the greasy waves of his red hair. “But when I started reading it, I was like, cool. Took a while to get used to the language, the thees and thous and wherefores — what made a difference one day was when actors came in to play the roles, the way they said the words, it made a lot more sense then. We had to do an essay, and I got an A on it.” The Bird saw a contented smile on Rune’s face, as he gazed across the rows of empty seats at the stage. It was the most relaxed she had ever seen him. “Miss Guthrie, she gave me a copy of ‘Hamlet’ to read at the end of the year, for the summer. Had a lot of notes in it.” He smiled like he didn’t care what others might think of him. “Read it in a week. It was — awesome.”

The lights on the back wall flicked off, then on. “Oh!” Butch turned suddenly in his seat, concern wrapped on his round face like a failed illustration. “Is — something wrong?”

For a second, The Bird thought Butch was joking. Yet when he didn’t laugh along with everyone else, she realized that he was sincerely as worried as he looked.

“That’s just letting us know the show’s about to start.” Double-J could not hide the mockery in his voice. “You’ve been to a theater before, right?”

“N — no.” Butch quickly scanned through the faces in the back row, their mirth dissipating in his embarrassment like ice dumped on a green lawn during a summer afternoon. “Mu — my parents don’t let us go to — plays. They — they think — ”

“Reverend Goodman.” Double-J waved a dismissive hand in the dark. “Say no more.”

The Bird felt the slap of paper against her leg. “Sorry,” Annie called, quickly grabbing the program she had dropped. The Bird couldn’t remember the company giving out programs for dress rehearsals before — they must have prepared them just for the students. She looked down, read the program, if for no other reason than to recognize names of friends, or at least her mother’s friends, from earlier productions:

THE TRAGEDY OF HAMLET
by William Shakespeare

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark — DAVID MOSES
Claudius, King of Denmark, Hamlet’s uncle — HENRI FOUCAULT
The Ghost of the late king, Hamlet’s father — STEPHEN JACOBSON
Gertrude, the Queen, Hamlet’s mother, now wife of Claudius — JANET WERNICK
Polonius, councilor of State — WAYNE KASS
Laertes, Polonius’ son — E.J. HILDEBRANDT
Ophelia, Polonius’ daughter — SARA PHILIPS
Horatio, friend and confidant of Hamlet — NICHOLAS RATKIEWICZ

The lights on the back wall dimmed, along with the overhead lights in the theater. Music played softly through the loudspeakers as the stage lights dimmed, then faded as the stage brightened in dark blue light.

From either side, an actor walked onto the stage, their faces barely visible.

You come most carefully upon your hour. The Bird nodded — Mr. Erickson, an accountant in the city.

“What’s going on?” The Bird thought Butch sounded just as confused as when straining to understand an instruction given by Mr. Jacobs during fencing practice.

“Those are guards,” Mr. Jacobs explaining in a sharp whisper, “they’re at Els — a castle, in Denmark.”

“Oh!” The Bird saw Butch’s shoulders relax.

A third, fourth actor walked onto the stage, The Bird instantly recognizing the third as Mitch Saunders, who had played a role in a Moliere production her mother had been in that summer.

“What are they talking about?” Annie directed a harsh, quite shhhh at Butch, as Rune urged him to just keep watching.

A dramatic piano cord sounded over the loudspeakers, as another actor, dressed in armor with head uncovered, walked on from stage right.

“So that’s Hamlet?”

“No Butch, that’s the king.”

“Oh!”

The sound of a rooster’s crowing blared over the speakers; the Ghost turned, left the stage, followed by the other actors. A moment later the stage exploded in light once more, revealing a crowd of actors. The Bird noticed her mother was off to the left side of the stage, her arm around the seated actor playing the role of Hamlet. The Bird remembered the last time her mother had played Gertrude — two summers ago, a Shakespeare festival in Canada — she’d had her arm around King Claudius at the start of that performance.

Mr. Jacobs leaned forward, in the direction of Butch. “That’s the King.”

“Oh!”

After years of rehearsals and practices, The Bird knew Gertrude’s first lines by heart.

Good Hamlet, cast thy knighted color off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.

“But I thought the king was dead.” Rune explained to Butch in a rushed whisper. “Oh!”

whose common theme is death of fathers

“I have no idea what’s going on.” Rex’s sarcastic outburst was not at all in character.

“I’m with Rex.” Annie’s voice was unusually petulant.

The Bird saw the short curls of Mr. Jacobs’ head shake back and forth. “Just keep asking questions.” He reached forward, patted the shoulder of the greasy-haired teen sitting directly in front of him. “Rune here seems to know this pretty well. Sandy — The Bird, I think she does too.” She nodded. “Just ask one of us.”

The stage lights came on again, The Bird recognizing Mr. Kass, playing the role of Polonius. He spoke in fatherly tones to the actors playing Laertes and Ophelia.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan often loses both itself and friend,

“What a pretentious piece of shit.”

“I don’t know.” The Bird wondered if Rex was trying to start an argument with Double-J. “That guy sounds pretty reasonable.”

The stage fell into scene-changing darkness again. Rex continued his thought. “What did that guy say, about being true to yourself?”
To thine own self be true.” To The Bird, it sounded like Rune wasn’t just repeating the line, but reciting it, performing.

“That’s a load of crap.” Double-J’s tone was as dark as the theater around them. “What if you’re an asshole? Still a good idea to be true to yourself?”

“Can you be quiet?” Annie sounded ready to raise the stakes in this game. “It’s hard enough to understand the language without you chirping all the time.”

“I wasn’t the one talking!”

“All right, settle down.” Mr. Jacobs waved a hand toward the stage, which began to glow again with light.

The actors playing Hamlet and Horatio walked onto the dimly lit stage, began reciting their lines.

Rex grunted. “They might as well be speaking Pig Latin.”

Double-J laughed. “Amlet-hay ucks-say.”

A dramatic flourish of horns sounded through the loudspeakers, as the actors playing Hamlet and Horatio drew back at the approach of the Ghost. Butch pointed at the stage — “Why’s the Ghost wearing armor?’

“Oh for crying out loud!”

“Guys, guys, just settle down — ”

Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. Murder!

“And if he only listened the first time, this play wouldn’t take so damn long!”

I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on

“Arctic expedition?” The Bark Bay High School team engaged in a collective giggle, as Rune put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Antic disposition. Means he’s going to pretend to be crazy.”

The stage lights dimmed as the actors playing Hamlet and Horatio left the stage. The black burly figure of Double-J rose from his seat, began exiting the row. “Gotta wrestle with the champ.”

The stage lights came on again, The Bird seeing her mother with the King and two other actors she did not recognize.

Welcome, dear Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

“Friends of Hamlet.” Rune sounded comfortable, even pleased in his role as the team’s guide.

“They just agree to spy on Hamlet?” Out of the corner of her eye, The Bird saw Mr. Jacobs’ nod in response to Annie’s whispered question.

How pregnant sometimes his replies are!

“Why can’t Hamlet hear Polonius?”

“It’s an aside, Butch. He’s talking to the audience.”

“Oh!”

You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I will not more willingly part – except my life.

“But aren’t they all talking to the audience?”

JUST WATCH, the Bark Bay High School fencing team responding in unison.

The back theater door to the right opened, light from the lobby splashing the back row of seats as Double-J walked in.

I know the good King and Queen have sent you.

“YA THINK?”

SHHHH! Annie’s sharp whisper was even louder than Double-J’s catcall.

“Oh come ON! They can’t hear us from way back here, and it’s not like we’re bothering anyone. It’s as empty here as it will be opening night!”

The Bird said opening night was sold out, even though she had no idea whether that was true. She did know opening nights at this theater always sold out. Well, close enough, anyway.

“Can we just watch the damn play?” Rune’s complaint silenced his teammates.

What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god.

“There you go.” For the first time that evening, Double-J’s voice carried a tone of sincere appreciation.

“I don’t think he meant it.”

Mr. Jacobs’ pre-empted the giggling that rippled through his students. “What makes you say that, Butch?”

“Oh! Well, it was . . . the way Hamlet said it, I guess. It was like when a baseball player drops an easy fly ball, and someone in the crowd yells, ‘Nice catch!'”

“It’s called sarcasm.” The Bird could feel the smile in Double-J’s voice. “Some people, they can’t help themselves from being sarcastic.”

“Oh!”

I know a hawk from a handsaw.

“Like who?” Not even Mr. Jacobs could refrain from diving into the pool of laughter.

Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause

“What the hell is he talking about?”

“Sorry Rex, this language’s too sophisticated for anyone who’s not at least 400 years old.”

The play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.

The stage lights dimmed, as ominous music played over the speakers. In the darkness, stagehands hurried to prepare the next scene. The Bird saw Mr. Jacobs’ dark outline lean forward, offer a quick explanation before the lights rose for the next scene.

I hear him coming. Let’s withraw, my lord. The King and Polonious hid behind a curtain at the rear of the stage, as Hamlet walked in from the right.

“Oh gawd.” Double-J groaned like a sick man. “Here it comes!”

To be, or not to be —

“That is the question.” Rune’s finishing of the line generated a ripple of laughter through his teammates.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune —

“Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.” The laughter ended rapidly, like a wave losing its energy on sand.

To die —

“To sleep, no more.”

And by a sleep to say we end —

“The heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

“Jesus!” Double-J’s tone was more appreciative than mocking, but a quick motion from Mr. Jacobs’ arm silenced him.

‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

“To die. To sleep — ”

To sleep — perchance to dream.

“Ay, there’s the rub.”

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.

The Bird realized she had been holding her breath.

Soft you now, the fair Ophelia!

“He’s up to something.”

“Yeah, well, he’s Hamlet after all.”

Annie seemed annoyed at Double-J’s reply. “No, I mean — ” she pointed toward the stage — “him and her.”

Get thee to a nunnery!

“Jerk!”

Mr. Jacobs laid a hand on Annie’s arm. “What’s wrong?”

Annie waved at the stage again. “It’s just — the way he’s treating her, that’s all.”

“Why’d he tell her to become a nun?” Mr. Jacobs leaned forward, whispered in Butch’s ear. “Oh!”

And I, of ladies most deject and wretched, that sucked the honey of his music vows —

Double-J roared with laughter, prompting a rebuke from Annie.

The scene ended, stage lights fading then glowing again to reveal the actors sitting to the side of a raised platform, Hamlet and Ophelia closest to the audience.

Lady, may I lay in your lap?
No, my lord.
I mean, my head upon your lap.
Ay, my lord.
Do you think I meant country matters?

“Hey Rune –” the teen looked back at Double-J — “you’re the scholar, right?”

“Yeah?”

“So, that line about country matters — where was the stress?”

Annie stood up suddenly, like a soldier coming to attention. “Can you knock it off over there?”

Double-J sunk back into a snicker, as Mr. Jacobs rose to intercept Annie.

The King rises!

“What’s wrong?” The Bird saw Rune lean over to his friend, whisper an explanation. “Oh! So everybody now knows the King killed Hamlet’s father?”

“No, only Hamlet knows what the Ghost told him.”

“So — why didn’t he tell anyone else?”

JUST WATCH.

Horatio left Hamlet alone on stage, and several lines of dialog later his quick exit was followed by an ominous minor chord played by a cello. All lights in the theater went out, followed almost immediately by the overhead lights flooding the seating area.