Oh, yeah, if some of you don't return to this blog until after the holidays because you find this story to be, in your honest opinion, that bad, or if you don't return to this blog at all because of that, then let me say it now . . .
Have a Merry/Scary Christmas!
Your Friendly Cyberhood
Horror Writer Among A Lot of Other Things
The Puppet Show
by Steven Rose, Jr.
Manuel felt like the floor of the stage was trying to hold his feet down. Even so, he forced himself to walk over to the girl who appeared to be Mariana and who was forcing a crowbar under one of the planks of the flat. The flat had been made to resemble an art deco movie theater which looked a lot like the Woodvale Opera House that the play had been performed in. The whole set, in fact, resembled Woodvale’s old town Main Street, except that the flats depicted the buildings in fresher and brighter colors because the setting to the teen musical was in the 1950s. The set looked so real that each time Manuel walked toward the stage he almost felt as though he were walking toward a giant, open bay door. He asked the girl awkwardly, “Do you need help with that?”
She looked up from the crowbar, stared at Manuel for a few seconds with a lifeless expression and then said, “Get a crowbar.” Manuel grabbed a crowbar from a nearby wooden tool box. He then forced it between a couple of planks that were nailed together to form a triangular base which was opposite the one that the girl was getting ready to pry apart. They both pumped their crowbars up and down, making loud creaking noises in doing so, noises similar to those of opening coffins in old vampire movies. They kept doing this until both bases snapped apart and then there was the fall with a thundering “CRASH!”
After a cloud of smoke faded away, the girl stared at the wreckage dejectedly. Manuel stammered, “Have you been in any plays here? . . . Lately?”
The girl continued staring at the fallen movie theater. Finally, she slowly lifted her head to look at Manuel with an apathetic expression. Several seconds went by before she said, in a middle age woman’s voice that was a lot like Mariana’s, “I was in this one.” Her voice was much softer and a lot quieter than Mariana’s yet it carried a tone of annoyance.
A wide smile grew on Manuel’s face as he asked, “You played the girl wearing the yellow poodle skirt, didn’t you?” The hopeful feeling that Mariana had returned to the tech crew flourished rapidly in him.
The girl said with suspicion, “I played a girl wearing a yellow poodle skirt, yes.” There had been at least twelve girls in the play who wore yellow poodle skirts. Manuel’s hope began to wither. Although the girl’s voice sounded a lot like Mariana’s and the eyes looked Asian (but not as much as he remembered them looking the last time he saw Mariana) the girl’s reaction to his question indicated that she had never seen him before. Also, her lips were rounded rather than flat and her nose was just a little wider than Mariana’s, yet her face was circular like hers. She started prying more boards out of the fallen flat, hesitantly, hanging downward.
Mariana was not like this girl. Manuel never remembered her being so somber or sour ever since he started working for the Woodvale Opera House. In fact, she was the only one who had actually welcomed him his first day. The rest of the tech crew, a gruff group of men, had been as apathetic towards him as had the supervisor on duty who introduced Manuel to them. He had never seen a group of people look so lifeless before. The tech crew men seemed to had force their labor hardened hands out to “greet” him with hand shakes. In addition, the men’s bulky build and wide jaws intimidated him even more. He was about to walk out on the job that first day.
Until Mariana showed up.
Mariana was the light in the theater’s darkness. After she greeted the other techs who greeted her back more invitingly than they did Manuel, she paced over to him, smiling, revealing her brilliant white, baby-looking teeth, extended her smooth hand in greeting to him and said, “You must be the new person.” He returned her greeting, laying his hand in hers, although stiffly. When he felt the grip of her tropical brown hand in his pale northern Iberian one, an affectionate sense of security warmed throughout him. He did not want to let go of it. She was the only minority of color that he had seen at the theatre so far. However, her features made it hard to place her ethnicity. She said with invitation, “If you have questions about anything you can ask me. I’ve been here . . .” she paused, looking up at the black ceiling of the stage area, in deep calculation, then childishly shot out, “forever,” and laughed. Strangely her deep, mature voice did not match her child-like features. Her face was very rounded and her nose so small and stubby with a very gracefully curved bridge. Her hair was gleaming black and lanked in wide looping locks down to the middle of her neck. These features were so child-like they looked like a cartoon character’s. Manuel found it hard to believe anyone could have them. They did not seem to belong on the girl’s mature, bulky build.
No girl so beautiful, no girl period, had ever talked to him with so much acknowledgment in a very long time. He could not even remember when any girl had talked to him in such an inviting way between high school and his present sophomore year of college. He knew he was going to get along with her well since she was very hospitable like most of his female relatives. In fact, it was her very disproportional appearance that made him feel attracted to her. She was at least a good five foot-nine inches to six feet tall like many of the tech crew men. However, her size may had only looked large to him because of his five foot three that he inherited from his Spanish Basque father.
A few months later, while the two of them had been cutting apart a giant paper mache Buddha statue that had been used on the set of a play, he realized that Mariana had very Asian looking facial features. Her eyes were slanted and her lips very flat. If it was not for her normal loose blouse and loose-fit jeans she was wearing, he would have not recognized her. He asked her, “Are you part Asian by any chance?”
Mariana said, “I might be. I was adopted as a baby so I don’t know for sure what I am. My adopted parents, who are Mexican, always told me I was Mexican, and that may be true. But there’s no way to tell for sure. That’s why I love acting, because you don’t always have to be one thing or person.” She laughed. Pretentiously.
Manuel barely nodded his head in understanding. But he did not understand. Such features did not seem to be so pronounced on Mariana before. She had played the Chinese princess in the play that they were tearing down the set for, although that was the previous night. So he further inquired, “Are you still wearing your make-up from the play?”
She stared at him with a stunned expression for a couple of seconds. Then she said, “Come on, we’d better work more quickly; Al wants to move on to the next show by tomorrow.”
Manuel asked, confused, “How come Al never shows up around here?” In all the months he had been working for the Woodvale Opera House, he had never even met the manager, not even when he was interviewed for the position. To Manuel, Al Pietro, director and owner of the theatre, was only a name.
Mariana halted slicing her blade through the Buddha to look up towards the blackness of the high ceiling, as though to think of a suitable answer. Finally she said, “Oh, he thinks he’s God. He never associates with the employees. He only pulls the strings.”
“But he’s the manager, he’s got to do more than just pull and lower the curtains and lights and all that.”
Mariana corrected, “No, I mean he does everything through the employees, or at least the supervisors under him. Kind of like a God Father, you know what I mean?”
“Oh,” Manuel said, with uneasiness welling up in his stomach. He had never felt this tense ever since his first day working there. It added to his nervousness of finally asking Mariana out on a date. He had rehearsed how he would do it the entire previous evening. No girl had ever accepted his offer for a date before; he was very awkward when asking girls out. But he decided that he was going to hold off on asking Mariana. For some reason, Manuel suddenly felt as though he were realizing that he did not know Mariana as much as he thought he had. He quietly and mindlessly continued mutilating the Buddha.
The next day, he felt he did not know this girl any more than he had the previous day. Yet he forced himself to ask this “stranger” out. Surprisingly, she accepted and told him to be at her house at 6:30 that evening. He made sure he arrived at 6:25 just to be safe. But when he rang the door bell exactly at 6:30 nobody answered. The house was completely dark in the twilight. He knocked several times. No answer. Apparently nobody was home. He did not see her again after that. Until the 50's teenage musical two months later.
It was then, while Manuel was wrecking a paper mache shark finned car when he noticed a very familiar looking girl emerge from out of the dark entrance area. However, as she walked into the light the familiar face seemed to wash off to reveal another face. Until that moment, he had been positive that she was Mariana. The girl who just walked in wore tight, black leather pants, a black greaser’s jacket and cat eye glasses; her strait black hair hung down in a 60's Motown perm that bunched up at the crown. He figured that this girl must have performed one of the characters in the play.
But he did not remember seeing her in it.
Mariana had not dressed this revealingly in the show. She had worn a bright yellow poodle skirt and her hair had been tied back. Also, the Motown-greaser girl looked a little bit more African-American than Latina. Or Asian.
The Motown-Greaser swayed past him, as though he were not even there, with a very somber expression. She squatted in front of the tool box and mindlessly yanked out a crowbar, walked over to the movie theater flat and began prying out the nails to it, passively. The eyes did look much like Mariana’s, wide and child-like. However, the clothes, as attractive as they were, were not Mariana’s. And such a gloomy expression was definitely not hers either. Or had the Mariana he was familiar with been part of an act too? She had told him one time, although humorously, that she was addicted to acting.(To be continued . . . )