Happy Dance!

Completed my July CampNaNoWriMo project yesterday. The goal was a complete revision of the Chapter 5 draft by the end of the month, with an emphasis on reducing that draft’s 47K word count down to 20-24K, making it not only more manageable but also in line with the earlier chapter revisions. Made it on time, and while the revision weighs in a couple thousand words over budget, I’m encouraged at the thought of having reduced the draft by over 45%, without sacrificing any of the major themes I had explored when composing the initial draft.

Is Chapter 5 in its final form? Hardly. Am I satisfied with its current state? Don’t think that will ever happen, with any of my projects. But happy with what I’ve accomplished this past month? Hey Snoopy, tell the people a story.

Feel a need to step away from Gray Metal Faces for a while, work up some energy and enthusiasm for NaNoWriMo this November, when I’ll revise chapters six and seven. Going to do a lot of reblogging the next few weeks, and indulge in some Bad Poetry (you’ve been warned). Might be a few small fiction projects along the way as well. Don’t know where I’m going, but I do know that I’m going to enjoy this ride.


Gray Metal Faces – January 24

O, I die, Horatio. The actor playing Hamlet slumped backwards, the actor playing Horatio catching him, lowering his body to the stage, next to the actress playing Gertrude.

The Bird blinked. She saw her mother, playing the role of Gertrude, lying dead on the distant stage. The teen grabbed the armrests of her chair, palms slapping loudly against the woodwork. She was sitting in the auditorium. “You OK?” Annie’s voice, next to her. The back of two heads — Rune and Butch, in front of her.

Good night, sweet prince,

“See ya,” Double-J’s familiar caustic voice behind and to the right, followed by a groan from Rex.

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

“Can we go now?”

“Hang in there, my friend, just one more minute.” The Bird sighed with relief as she heard Mr. Jacobs response. They were back, all of them, in the audience, where they belonged, the production coming to a close on the stage, where it belonged.

She felt a hand on her forearm. “You OK?” There was more concern this time in Annie’s question.

The Bird replied that she was fine. Go, bid the soldiers shoot. The stage lights dimmed as the sound of distant cannons came over the auditorium’s loudspeakers.

Mr. Jacobs led the Bark Bay High School fencing team in applause, as the stage bloomed in light as the actors took their bows. A light from behind, off to the right; Double-J had already opened the lobby door, held it as the team walked out of the auditorium. The Bird wasn’t sure what had just happened, whether she had fallen asleep or had experienced a boredom-induced hallucination; yet as she shuffled towards the exit door, she was certain there would be no value in sharing this vision with her friends.

The Bird held back a sob of relief on seeing Mr. Nestor, in his tweed jacket and salt-and-pepper beard, in the center of the large lobby; she rushed up to him, hugged his waist. The team formed a rough circle around him; breaking gently from The Bird’s embrace, he extended his gray chin forward towards Annie. “I’m interested to know what you thought of the final scene.”

“The duel, between Hamlet and Laertes?” Mr. Nestor nodded at Annie’s question. “Well, really — I couldn’t help thinking that I could beat either of them, really easy.”

Mr. Nestor smiled broadly with his white teeth. “I would certainly hope you could beat anyone who actually fenced like that!” The team laughed in unison response. “But the goal of the stage is not to imitate life as it is, but to amplify life at its best.” He shook his gray head. “When I choreograph a duel, my goal is to demonstrate the beauty, the power of the human body, engaged at the height of its potential. So that is my question to you — not whether you thought their duel was real, but rather, was it inspiring?”

Annie’s face froze in anxiety, relief only coming to her upon hearing Butch’s reply. “I thought it was pretty cool.”

Feeling a tap on her shoulder, The Bird looked behind her, and saw the pencil-thin moustache of Teddy Jasper, smiling pleasantly. “Teddy!” The Bird smiled at the sound of her mother’s interrupting voice.

Janet Wernick, still in makeup but having switched her Elizabethan costume for baggy athletic wear, swept into a brief embrace with Teddy, then faced her daughter. “Still some wrinkles to smooth over before opening night, but the production’s coming together real well, don’t you think?” The Bird recognized the familiar assessment, and question, offered by her mother after each dress rehearsal.

“Janet, you were fantastic!” Mr. Nestor’s words seemed to carry him into the small circle formed by The Bird, her mother, and Teddy, who stepped back as the elderly man swept Janet Wernick into a paternal hug. It was an embrace The Bird recognized, its memory reaching back to her earliest memories. She glanced back at Teddy, saw his pencil moustache drawing into an annoyed frown; she felt her head nod with approval.

Janet Wernick then excused herself, told her daughter to be ready in 15 minutes, and rushed to the back of the theater to remove her makeup.

“Care to join us?” The Bird turned in the direction of Mr. Jacobs’ voice. He was standing among her friends on the fencing team. “We were discussing how Ed’s choreography showed how Hamlet was the superior fencer.”

The Bird quickly scanned her friends. Every jacket was zipped and buttoned closed, hats and gloves worn along with a shared look of boredom. She told them they didn’t have to stay, that she’d be OK, there would be plenty of people around the theater until her mother was ready to leave.

“You prefer to be alone?” Double-J’s question caught her by surprise, but she quickly replied that she wouldn’t be alone, and pointed to Mr. Nestor, who smiled upon seeing her arm motion.

Mr. Jacobs pursed his lips, nodded. “All right then. Let’s get moving.” He let his students (relief waving onto their faces) take several steps towards the auditorium’s exit doors, before taking a following step — only to be stopped by the touch of a small hand on his elbow.

The Bird was looking up at him. She told him she was glad they had come to the production tonight. And then she said thank you, to Mr. Ja —

She closed her mouth. Sighed. Smiled. And said thank you, to Coach Dan.

End of “January”

Gray Metal Faces – January 23

by William Shakespeare


Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
DANIEL JACOBS, coach of the Bark Bay High School fencing team
Claudius, King of Denmark, Hamlet’s uncle
JOHN “DOUBLE-J” JOHNSON, senior saber fencer
The Ghost of the late king, Hamlet’s father
REX ANKIEL, junior epee fencer
Gertrude, the Queen, Hamlet’s mother
SANDRA “THE BIRD” WERNICK, freshman foil fencer
Laertes, son of Polonius, councilor to the King
ANNIE HUTCHINSON, sophomore foil fencer and fencing team captain
Horatio, friend and confidant of Hamlet
HUGH “RUNE” BARNES, sophomore foil fencer
Osric, a Courtier
BENJAMIN “BUTCH” GOODMAN, sophomore foil fencer


Enter RUNE, holding THE BIRD

RUNE Hey — I think we made it!

THE BIRD The floor — is that —

RUNE The cafeteria!

THE BIRD The school? Bark Bay?

RUNE Those are the black and white floor tiles we use
To make our fencing strips during practice!

THE BIRD [points up and left] The clock! With those giant hands! It’s ticking!

RUNE That smell. Stale spaghetti sauce! Home sweet home.

THE BIRD Where’s everybody else? Did they —

RUNE [points to the right] — Shhh! Hide!

RUNE and THE BIRD run behind a table. Enter HAMLET and HORATIO.

HAMLET So much for this, sir. Now shall you see the other.
You do remember all the circumstance?

HORATIO Remember it, my lord!

THE BIRD [whispers] What the hell! How’d they get here? This is nuts!

RUNE [whispers] Guess this play ain’t over. Just have to wait.

THE BIRD Wait, what did — [counts with her fingers] two, four — no way, this can’t be!

HAMLET Rough-hew them how we will —

HORATIO That is most certain.

THE BIRD You hearing this?

RUNE What?

THE BIRD Our lines! The rhythm!

RUNE [eyes widening] Iambic pentameter. Holy shit!

Enter COACH DAN, dressed as OSRIC

OSRIC Your Lordship is right welcome back to Denmark!

THE BIRD No way! Don’t tell me he’s in the play too!

RUNE Well, at least Coach Dan’s a named character.

THE BIRD And one who doesn’t get killed at the end.

HAMLET What’s his weapon?

OSRIC Rapier and dagger.

RUNE Double-J’s crazy, thinking he’ll fight these guys!

HAMLET Let the foils be brought, the gentleman willing —

THE BIRD I simply can’t believe Mr. Jacobs —

RUNE You know he likes to be called Coach Dan, right?

THE BIRD I know. It’s just — it doesn’t sound right to me.

RUNE But you’re on the Bark Bay fencing team, right?

THE BIRD I just practice with you. I’m not on the team.

RUNE [laughs] What’s wrong with being on the team? You scared?

THE BIRD Nothing personal. I’m just a — lone wolf.

RUNE [slaps her on the shoulder] Cool! Wolves do their best hunting in packs, y’know?

Enter KING, QUEEN, LAERTES, a LORD, and BUTCH, dressed as an ATTENDANT, with foils and daggers.

THE BIRD That Teddy Jasper creep — he’s still the King.
And mother’s still in her Save-Anna garb.

RUNE [points at BUTCH] There he is! PSST! [BUTCH turns in his direction] Over here! Come on!

KING Come, Hamlet, come, and take this hand from me.

BUTCH [aside to RUNE and THE BIRD] Hey guys! Where have you been? What’s going on?

THE BIRD What — haven’t you noticed, we’re in the middle
Of the performance we had been watching?

BUTCH Oh! Yeah, Coach Dan said it was the best way
For us to meet up with everyone.
So, what roles are the two of you playing?

RUNE We’re not playing anything! We’re trying
To get back to the world where we belong!

BUTCH Oh! So why are you behind this table?

THE BIRD We’re hiding! Waiting for everyone else
To show up, so we can leave, together.

HAMLET How I am punished with a sore distraction!

QUEEN [leaves KING’s side, speaks aside to THE BIRD] I thought I told you and your friends to leave!

THE BIRD Mother, believe me, we don’t want to stay!

QUEEN So why are you here? How did you get here
In the first place? Why’d you leave the audience?

RUNE [eyes widening] It’s you two. You’re the connection between
Our world, and the world of this performance.

LAERTES I am satisfied in nature —

RUNE And we’re here, because The Bird’s our teammate.

KING Give them the foils, young Osric. Cousin Hamlet —

A door to the left slams open. Enter DOUBLE-J, brandishing a rapier.

DOUBLE-J Forebearance! Or whatever you’re supposed
To say when you want everyone’s attention.

RUNE [aside] There he is! As obnoxious as ever.

DOUBLE-J [pointing his rapier at the KING] Your Majesty — or Highness, what the hell —
I hereby challenge you, and your court. Before
Your nephew and bodyguard go at it,
I want to fence both of them. Five touches,
That’s all — nothing lethal. I promise to leave
Them intact, so you can finish this play.


ANNIE Double-J, I don’t know what you’re trying
To prove, but it’s not helping us at all.
Let’s get out of here, now that we’re all here.

DOUBLE-J Let me have my fun first, then we’re outta here.
[Points his rapier at HAMLET] Since my friends are so anxious to get home,
Let’s just do one bout — me and you, prince boy!

HAMLET I’ll play this bout first.

HAMLET and DOUBLE-J step apart from the crowd, face each other a few feet apart, and salute with their weapons. OSRIC takes the judges’ position between them.

QUEEN [aside to THE BIRD] This is absurd! Hamlet’s supposed to fence
Against Laertes! Why don’t you stop him!

HAMLET and DOUBLE-J advance towards each other, and their weapons dance between them.


DOUBLE-J Bullshit!

HAMLET Judgment?

OSRIC A hit, a very palpable hit.

DOUBLE-J and HAMLET resume their bout. THE BIRD rises from her hiding position, walks behind ANNIE.


ANNIE Hey! I was hoping you’d be here too.

OSRIC makes a hand gesture, indicating that HAMLET has scored another touch on DOUBLE-J

ANNIE Now all we need is for Rex to get here,
And then we can get out of this nonsense.

THE BIRD Sounds good to me, but there’s a big problem.
Rex says he doesn’t want to go back home.

QUEEN That’s crazy! This isn’t where he belongs!
He’s a real person, not a character!

DOUBLE-J groans, as OSRIC indicates another touch for HAMLET.

HAMLET I pray you, pass with your best violence!

DOUBLE-J Yeah? Well, lemme pray you to shut the fuck up!

KING Part them; they are incensed.

HAMLET Nay, come again!

RUNE Rex is part of Fortinbras’ army now.
They don’t arrive until the play is done —
That’s when we return to the audience.

TEDDY JASPER [enters from right] Ah, but not all of us want to leave here!

THE BIRD [points to TEDDY JASPER] What? You can see us? You know who we are?

TEDDY JASPER [grinning] Why, yes, little bird — like your dear mother,
I’ve taken command of this performance.

THE BIRD You’re nuts. This play, it’s just about to end —

TEDDY JASPER Only if we let it end, my dear bird!
Your mother and I have a different plan.
[Extends his right arm towards QUEEN] Janet, are you ready?


QUEEN [takes TEDDY JASPER’s hand] Yes, my dear.

THE BIRD You can’t take her away! She’s my mother!

QUEEN Sandra, dear — please calm down. It’s for the best.

TEDDY JASPER Your mother and I are business partners.
I have plans to take her to places that
She’s only dreamed about, far from Bark Bay!

QUEEN This is the start of something wonderful!

THE BIRD But here, now — you’re Gertrude. You just can’t leave
This performance, you must stay here until
It ends, so me and my friends can go back!

TEDDY JASPER You’re mistaken. I don’t think you’re mother
Will be Gertrude, now or ever again.

SAVE-ANNA All Coca-Cola and Pepsi products
Are two-for-one, this Saturday only,
At Shop and Save! Limit two per order.

TEDDY JASPER A star in the making, I’m telling you!

RUNE And how, exactly, is her star gonna shine,
If she doesn’t complete her role, help end
This play, and get us back into our world?

TEDDY JASPER How weak is your imagination, boy!
Haven’t you heard that the world is a stage?

RUNE Now you’re quoting a different play, pal.

BUTCH Hey! What’s going on? Why are they saying?

THE BIRD Teddy and my mother think that if they
Leave before the play ends, they can somehow
Keep living in the world of the theater.

BUTCH Oh! Does that mean we have to stay here too?

RUNE That makes as much sense as anything else
That’s happened since we suddenly showed up.
And I dunno ’bout you, but I sorta
Kinda wanna get back to our own world.
The sixteenth century — it’s been a nice
Place to visit, but I don’t want to stay.
I mean, they don’t even have TV here.

THE BIRD And that’s a bad thing?

RUNE Uh — yeah. I mean, how
Else are you gonna keep from getting bored?

DOUBLE-J Goddammit! Can I get a real ref here?

BUTCH What do we do?

RUNE Dunno.

ANNIE Nobody does.

THE BIRD No — I know. I think I do, anyway.

BUTCH What’s your idea?

ANNIE What can we do to help?

THE BIRD I — don’t think you can, unfortunately.
Ever since we came into this world, jumped
In from our seats in the audience, the
Action of the play’s revolved around me.
I think I have to be the one who makes
This play reach its end, so we can go back.

ANNIE Wait — we can’t let you do this by yourself.
I don’t know how we got into this world,
But I know we all came in together.
Me and the team are going to help you,
Whatever it is you’re about to do.

THE BIRD I’m sorry, it’s really not that simple.

ANNIE We don’t care whether it’s simple or hard.
We’ll do whatever you need — we’re teammates.

THE BIRD That’s what’s wrong. I’m not on the fencing team.

ANNIE Of course you’re on the team! Don’t be silly.

Enter SERVANTS, with flagons of wine

KING Stay, give me drink. Hamlet, this pearl is thine.
Here’s to thy health. Give him the cup.

RUNE [aside to BUTCH] That’s poison. Both Hamlet and his mother
Will drink from that cup of wine, and die.


QUEEN [lifts cup] The Queen carouses to thy fortune, Hamlet.

HAMLET Good madam.

KING Gertrude, do not drink.

SAVE-ANNA [turns to TEDDY JASPER] Why, that’s the smartest thing anyone’s said
To me all day! [puts cup down on a table] Time for us to leave, yes?

TEDDY JASPER Yes, I do believe our work here is done. [takes SAVE-ANNA’s hand, and begins walking offstage with her]

RUNE Mrs. Wernick, please — don’t leave. If this play
Doesn’t end, my friends and I are stuck here.

SAVE-ANNA Dear boy, I really don’t think you need me.
You students are smart — you can figure out
Some other way to get back to your homes.

THE BIRD Your right, mother. [steps forward, holding cup of wine] There is another way.

ANNIE No! Put that down!

KING It is the poisoned cup!

DOUBLE-J Jesus Christ!

RUNE Drop it — drop it now. Stop this.

ANNIE You don’t have to do this, we’ll come up with
Some other solution to get us home.

BUTCH Yeah, how is drinking poison going to help?

COACH DAN Sandy, please — what do you think you’re doing?

THE BIRD [smiles] I’ve really enjoyed being on the team. [drinks]

JANET WERNICK [rushes to THE BIRD’s side] Somebody, please, stop her!

KING It is too late!

ANNIE [holds THE BIRD] Lie down. [lowers THE BIRD to the floor] We need to empty her stomach.

RUNE How? This is the seventeenth century,
We’re limited to the medical tools
And knowledge of this time. We can’t help her.

THE BIRD Mother —


THE BIRD I’m ready — to go back.


THE BIRD No. [points in the direction of stage center] The audience. To watch — the end. [swoons]

ANNIE [slaps THE BIRD’s cheeks] Don’t you dare die, stay with us!
You want to quit, do it some other time!
[pulls THE BIRD’s eyelids open] She’s responsive [waves to RUNE] — help me get her over,
Onto her stomach, we can still do this!

JANET WERNICK [rises] Yes — I understand. [picks up cup] Still some left — that’s good.

TEDDY JASPER Janet, what are you doing? Don’t drink that!

QUEEN I will, my lord — I pray you pardon me. [She drinks]

TEDDY JASPER [grabs cup from QUEEN] Dammit, Janet! Why don’t you ever learn?
We’re not going anywhere if you just
Keep making the same mistakes, every time!

JANET WERNICK [falls to floor, next to THE BIRD] No Teddy — this time, it’s not a mistake.
[turns to THE BIRD] Sandy, I’m here.

THE BIRD Yes. Mother, I’m sorry.

JANET WERNICK No. You only did — what had to be done.
I see that now. I’m the one who should be
Apologizing. I wish I’d — trusted you.

THE BIRD Mother, I believe it’s showtime.

JANET WERNICK I know. [falls]

HAMLET How does the Queen?

KING She swoons to see them bleed!

QUEEN No, no, the drink, the drink! O my dear Hamlet!
The drink! The drink! I am poisoned!

THE BIRD Well done.

HAMLET O villainy! Let the door be locked!

RUNE You did it! The play can continue now.

THE BIRD And come to its end. [extends her hand to JANET WERNICK] Mother, whatever
Happens next — please promise to stay with me.

JANET WERNICK [takes THE BIRD’s hand] Yes. Nothing’s going to come between us,
Ever again. I promise.

THE BIRD [smiles, closes her eyes] Yes. Me too.

LAERTES Mine and my father’s death come not upon thee,
Nor thine on me.

HAMLET Heaven make thee free of it. [LAERTES dies.]

Hamlet gently lowered his body to the stage floor, the lights above dimming; The Bird remembered a loud argument between the stage manager and the actor playing Hamlet over this decision, and was dismayed to see that the actor’s input had been ignored.

Gray Metal Faces – January 22

A moment later they felt a shift under their feet, the gentle crush of tall grass giving way to the sop of cold mud. They entered a grove of stone — flat slabs, statues, raised mausoleums. The sky was gray, as it had been before, but The Bird knew immediately that this was evening dusk, not the pre-dawn darkness they had just left.

Is she to be buried in Christian burial? They walked in the direction of the voice, until they saw a head appearing above the ground. Hearing voices behind them, they withdrew behind a tombstone as Hamlet approached the hole where two gravediggers were working.

Rune pulled at The Bird. “We should get out of here.”

The Bird frowned at him, let his grasp break. “My mother, she’s coming into this scene in a bit.”

“Huh.” Rune stepped back behind the tombstone with her. “So, you think she’s the one who can get us back?”

“Hey.” The sudden sound of the voice behind them caused Rune and The Bird to jump. The burly figure of Double-J, his black moustache bristling over his grim smile, seemed to part the mist as he approached.

“Sorry to steal the scene — ” Double-J did not sound in the least apologetic as he walked past — “but I need to take care of business.”

The actors (no, The Bird reminded herself, they weren’t actors, the moment she and her friends had entered the play they had become characters) looked stunned at Double-J’s appearance, uncertain of how to react. Double-J point down into the grave, commanded the gravediggers to get out, and Hamlet to get in; robotically, the characters complied.

“Fan – tastic!” Double-J then looked up, to his right, across the grave opening. “He’s all yours, sweetheart.”

Before anyone could react, a figure raced to the rectangular hole, leapt down with no apparent care for her safety. The Bird gasped — “ANNIE!”

The teen glared at Hamlet with a fury that seemed ready to boil her eyes. “Son of a BITCH!” The mace of the teen’s right fist, delivered with a precision and force honed from years of taekwondo training, smashed into Hamlet’s chin.

Rune at her side, The Bird ran to the edge of the grave, leaned down — “You’re six-teen!” But the athletic teen continued raining swift punches into her stunned opponent, who finally raised his arms defensively.

What is the reason that you use me thus —

“RAPIST!” Annie’s eyes were wild with ferocity, her lips pulled back in a venomous snarl, spittle spewing from her mouth as she hurled fists, elbows, knees, the weapons of her body hammering into the body that began crumpling before her, then fell into darkness.

Double-J lowered an arm down to Annie, who accepted it eagerly, anxious to leave the scene of her wrath. She sniffed loudly, did not look down as she was pulled up. With Annie clear of the hole, Double-J leaned over, looked down, smiled evilly — “Good night, sweet prince.”

The Bird felt Rune pulling her away; suddenly weary, she followed without resistance. “This scene’s pretty busted up.” The Bird nodded in agreement. “Think our best bet, is to get back to the castle. Any idea which way the castle is?”

The Bird fell to her knees, her mind taxed beyond its intellectual and emotional capacity. “It doesn’t matter.” She closed her eyes.

Rune made a feeble attempt to pull her up. “No — don’t shut down on me — ”

“I’m not shutting down.” Eyes still closed, she sighed, and smiled weakly. “I’m — just tired. Need — a quick cat nap — ”

She felt Rune kneel down next to her, pulled her close; she sighed softly as her body relaxed into his soft shoulder. “Thank — thank you.”

Rune put his arms around her. “No problem.”

She imagined what the sight must be like, her being cradled by this erratic but very caring boy. She wasn’t used to being held like this, not by a man anyway. She slumped entirely into his arms, consciousness leaving her like curtains blowing through a window, then coming still.

Gray Metal Faces – January 21

“Well that’s just great.” Rune sounded weary, as he sat on his knees at the spot where Annie had been sitting. “First Rex, now Annie.” He closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his knees.

The Bird walked over, took a seat next to him on the damp grass. “What happened to Rex?”

Rune shook his head, an action which seemed to open his eyes. “We went looking for Double-J, like Coach asked us to.” He sniffed, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “We were on the second floor, at the top of this staircase, when we finally saw him, heading out this door. So we followed him, outside to this big field — ” he pointed behind them — “kinda like the one that just appeared.”

The Bird nodded, waited for Rune to continue. “Finally, we saw Double-J, crouching behind this stone wall, watching Hamlet talk to a bunch of soldiers — probably Fortinbras’ army.”

“Most likely.”

“Anyway, we go up to Double-J, ask him what he’s up to. Said he was going to fight Hamlet, soon as he was alone. Then I remembered what you said, how we had to let this play continue, that we couldn’t leave until it was over, and I’m thinking, if Double-J fights Hamlet now, that could change the entire course of the play.” The teen’s face then brightened, as he looked up at The Bird. “So I told him about Laertes, how he was just as good a fencer as Hamlet, but he wasn’t back yet. Told him if he let Hamlet go, Laertes would come back, then in the last scene he could fight both of them.”

The Bird was impressed. “How’d he react?”

“He seemed — intrigued. Then he asked me when Laertes would come back, and I said it would be around the same time that Ophelia drowned. Then Double-J, he gets that wild look in his eyes, you know when he’s up to something?” The Bird nodded. “Said he needed to find someone, he’d catch up with us later. I want to stop him, look to Rex for help — that’s when I found out he was gone, just like Annie. I look around, see that the army’s marching away. Guess who I see bringing up the rear?”

The Bird drew her head back, mouth opening but no words coming. Rune frowned. “Yeah, there’s Rex, he was easy to see ‘cuz he’s so much taller than the other soldiers. He was close enough for me to catch up to him, so I grabbed him by the arm, asked what the hell he was doing. Told him we needed to get back, to Coach and our friends.”

Rune looked away, out at the river in which Ophelia had just drowned. “He starts talking about not wanting to go back, about wanting to stay in this world, the world of the play. I tell him that’s crazy, we don’t belong here, but he’s like, ‘who says we belong in Bark Bay either, we’re just a bunch of freaks, like Myles told us that night. I kept trying, asked him what his family would do if he didn’t go back, and he’s like ‘I’ve never been much help to them, I wasn’t able to keep my father from leaving, can’t help my mom stay healthy, can’t stop the state from putting my sisters in foster homes.’ Tells me there weren’t no more point fighting any more, his family was too poor to fight the state.”

The sophomore shifted his weight back, his rear resting on the grass next to The Bird, his knees propped up. “Tried to pull him away, but he stepped back, broke my grip.” He rested his forearms on his knees. “Then all of a sudden, this circle of mist comes over him, gets dark really quick. I reach out, try to grab him — but then the mist blew away, and he’s gone.”

He lowered his greasy head between his knees sighed heavily. The Bird thought about his incredible story, realizing that given all that had happend in the last few hours, it was hardly incredible at all. She laid a hand on Rune’s shoulder — “We need to go.”

“Why?” Rune looked up, tears forming in his eyes. “First we lose Double-J, then Rex; now Annie’s gone, and who knows what happened to Butch and Coach. Seems like the more we do, the worse things get.”

The Bird stood up, extended a hand down to Rune. “Rex and Double-J, we know they’re still somewhere in the play. Annie and the rest, most likely the same — and if they did find a way out, that just proves it’s possible. But the only way we’ll find out, is if we get back to the play. Why go? Because staying here isn’t going to help.”

She sneezed. “Besides, I’m sick of being cold and damp, and this place smells like dead fish.”

Rune looked up with a reluctant smile, then took The Bird’s hand and rose, the two teens continuing to hold hands as they walked towards the open field.

Gray Metal Faces – January 20

Annie raised her head above Ophelia’s, the teen’s face red with exertion, hair matted to her head with the river’s murky water. Without looking, she commanded Rune to press on Ophelia’s sternum, as she continued breathing into her mouth.

The Bird wanted to tell them their efforts were in vain, that there was no hope in trying to save a doomed character. But then, she realized her friends were playing their own role in this drama — and their performance had to be completed. So she stood silently, watching their desperate efforts, like a doctor watching the agonized face of a patient that can’t be cured.

The Bird figured Rune had known within a minute that their cause was lost within a minute, but had continued on for at least a few minutes more, before gently calling Annie’s name. “It’s — there’s nothing — she’s gone.”

But the daughter of Carl and Laura Hutchinson continued breathing into Ophelia’s blue lips, twisting away from Rune’s touch on her shoulder. She came up to catch her own breath — “I can’t let this happen” — but when she tried to resume her rescue effort, her body suddenly spasmed; she turned away, wretching violently.

The Bird joined Rune in comforting their friend, her body contorting in eruptions of sorrow and sickness. “Nobody — nobody listened to her.” She wiped a stream of mucus with the back of her hand. “I was there with her — and she still died alone.”

The Bird looked behind them, was hardly surprised to see that Ophelia’s body had already disappeared; the revelation did not upset her two friends, either. Rune snorted — “Guess they needed the body, for the next scene.”

Still kneeling on the ground and slowly regaining her composure, Annie nodded slowly. The Bird asked Rune if he had found the graveyard; the greasy-haired teen shrugged. “Geography of this place is all messed up; one minute you think you’re going up a hill, then wham!, you’re in the middle of a forest.”

“Yes.” The Bird pointed towards a wide field on her right. “When I came from that direction earlier, it was a forest. But even though it looks totally different now, for some reason — I know it’s where we need to go next.”

“Huh.” Rune brushed hair off his acne-riddled forehead. “You notice that too, Annie?”

He and The Bird turned to where Annie had been sitting, only to find she was no longer there.

Gray Metal Faces – January 19

Sensing she would get no further information from her mother, The Bird turned with a curt “bye,” and ran. Despite not knowing where exactly where she was going — which turn she would make in a hallway, which doors she would open — she somehow knew her legs were always making the right choice, as if she were being pulled by a magnetic or gravitational force.

She found herself leaving the castle, running out into the moist fog of a reluctant dawn. She ran across a verdant field; short green grass gave way to taller yellow weeds, and she felt her sneakers squishing into a soft, boggy mud. There were trees ahead, a dense wood similar to the wild forest that lay well beyond the back of the home she shared with her mother in Bark Bay. Years of playing in that arbor playground helped her move nimbly through the trunks and underbrush, fallen branches snapping under her feet.

She heard the sound of rushing water; the darkness of the wood gave way to a clearing. The Bird stepped forward, her right foot splashing into a rocky puddle. She was at the bank of a gently flowing river, water rippling over black stones several yards in front of her. Voices to her right — the river was wider in that location, cutting an oblong area into the bank and forming a large, eddying pool. At the end furthest from her, The Bird saw a large willow, its white bark peeling in long yellowing stripes all across its massive trunk, the long fingers of its branches reaching up, across the river, then down, many of its leaves dipping into the black watery surface.

Standing in the pool, near the trunk of the willow, was Ophelia, looking with worried eyes off to her right. The Bird looked in that direction, saw nothing — until she heard a splash of water, and saw the pony-tailed figure of Annie.

“It’s OK to be scared.” Annie extended her arms, the momentum carrying her body forward in the damp gray fog. Ophelia stepped back, her feet kicking up mud. Annie stopped — “I’m scared too. I’m a stranger here, like my friends. You probably figured that out by the way we talk, the clothes we wear.” The Bird hoped Annie would leave out the part about being from the future, or that she and her friends were members of an audience.

“When we first got here I thought like Coach Dan, I just wanted us to get back home. But then — remembered your face.” Annie’s smile was as sad as a wilted leaf. “It’s the same face I’ve seen from — a lot of my friends. Girl friends. Your age, our age. Back home.”

Annie stepped forward. Ophelia remained frozen.

“When I was young, I didn’t understand what that look was about — I saw it all the time, but I didn’t know. I was sheltered. Still am. But I was curious, I had to know. So I asked, and when I started asking most girls were like you, just now. They wanted to make sure I wasn’t just another person who wanted to talk down to them, tell them how terrible they were. It took a while, but when they saw that all I wanted to do was listen to them, they learned they could trust me.”

Annie had taken several steps forward, the mud now sopping above her ankles. She was almost within arms reach of Ophelia. “All through this play, you’ve had a lot to say, but nobody’s listened to you, have they? No — all everyone’s done is pass judgment on you.”

Ophelia smiled, took one of the wild flowers she’d been holding, offered it to the athletic teen.

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance –

“Thank you.”

And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.

The Bird sensed Annie’s impatience, as she accepted the flowers with growing reluctance.

There’s fennel for you, and columbines.

“Come with me. I can help you. I don’t care what’s happened, don’t care what he’s — done to you.”

There’s a daisy. After handing the flower to Annie, Ophelia began walking backwards, along the edge of the pool.

“We’ll get you out of here. I don’t know how, but we’ll find a way.”

Ophelia looked down, walked onto the end of a log lying on the gravelly bank, its other end submerged in the black water. Ophelia took a step down the log’s length.

“You can’t — ”

Ophelia’s head shot around suddenly, her face bright with delight. Sweet ladies, good night.

KRACK, the log under Ophelia’s feet disintegrated, and she fell then slid into the pool with an almost supernatural alacrity, as if she were being pulled into the black water by a hidden vortex. Annie ran forward, screaming, but Ophelia had already disappeared under the surface.

The Bird called to Annie, but with wild determination in her eyes and pony-tail flying behind her, the athletic teen stepped briskly into the pool, dark water splashing noisily in front of her once, twice, then she dove, her hands in front of her knifing into the water.

The dark surface of the water swirled, dense fog hovering above. A moment later Annie emerged, gasping, her face contorting in agony, her right arm emerging from beneath the surface and exposing the face of Ophelia, her skin already a deep shade of sickly blue.

Transfixed, The Bird watched as Annie swam with one hand toward the shore. Her feet finally touching ground, Annie lifted the limp body of Ophelia completely out of the water, then carried her out from the pool, past the gravelly shore, and finally dropped her down into a small field of tall grass.

Annie threw herself on top of the body, began pumping the sternum vigorously with both palms. Annie then moved to the head, began blowing air forcefully into dead lungs.

“ANNIE!” The Bird turned to her right, in the direction of the cry, saw Rune running towards them. She looked past him, expecting to see Rex, but no, he was alone.


Gray Metal Faces – January 18

They began racing down the wide deserted hallway, torch lights reflecting brightly off the marble floor.

I will not speak with her.

“Wait.” The Bird had stopped on recognizing her mother’s voice, coming from the next room on their left. What would she have? Mr. Jacobs nodded in recognition, and even Butch seemed to understand. “My mother’s able to come out of character. The scene she’s in, there’s a long period where she doesn’t have any lines; I’ll talk to her, see if she knows anything more about what’s happening.”

Mr. Jacobs weighed her proposal carefully. “Right now we need all the information we can get. Let me — ”

“No.” The Bird bit her lip. “My mother freaked when she saw you before. If it’s just me, I can keep her calm. You and Butch, you need to find Annie.”

Mr. Jacobs frowned, his face betraying resignation at accepting the teen girl’s logic, in spite of his reservation about its conclusion. “You remember how to get back to that room where our little adventure started?” She nodded. “Soon as you’re done with your mother, you get back there, wait for one of us. Do not wander the halls by yourself — understood?” Her second nod served as a signal for Mr. Jacobs and Butch to resume their search for Annie.

Let her come in. How odd, thought The Bird, to have left one scene only to stumble almost immediately onto the next. The door to this scene’s room was open, and a quick peek revealed the actors had their backs turned to the teen. The Bird saw her mother, still wearing the bee-hive wig and comically large horn-rimmed glasses of Save-Anna, as if her role in this production was to inform the cast they could save an extra 10% of every order over $100 during the weekly Wacky Wednesday sale at their local Shop ‘N Save (alcohol excluded).

And then Ophelia was there, as if she had been in the room the entire time; The Bird scanned the room quickly, did not see Annie. She remembered what Double-J said, about seeing the two of them leave the castle — Ophelia might have been collecting the flowers she was now offering to Gertrude. But as she wondered about how the usually hyper-competent Annie could have lost track of her quarry, The Bird saw another figure enter the scene.

How do you, pretty lady? The Bird gasped — Claudius’ lines weren’t being spoken by the actor they had seen earlier, but rather by a man wearing a pencil-thin moustache. “Teddy Jasper!”

This latest surprise was more than the teen could bear. Knowing Gertrude had no lines for several minutes, she stepped into the room, approached her mother from behind. As if following a stage direction, her mother turned, her face erupting in dismay.

“You’ve got to get out of here!”

“I know, Mom. I just don’t — ”

“You, and your friends. Get back in the audience, where you belong!”

“Mom, I don’t know how!”

Her mother displayed no sign of empathy. “Sandy, I’m doing everything I can to keep this play going. If your friends interrupt any further, this play might not finish!”

The Bird thought a moment, and somehow recognized the truth in her mother’s statement. As bizarre as this whole experience had been, they play had been progressing forward, despite Double-J’s violent intrusions. But if he, or any of her other friends did something so extreme to prevent the performance from reaching its conclusion — could they all wind up trapped here?

Gray Metal Faces – January 17

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.

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.