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Old 01-21-2007, 03:39 PM
SlurpeeMoney SlurpeeMoney is offline
Very Young Dragon
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Last Visit: 01-25-2007
Posts: 6
SlurpeeMoney's Story

So, Medesha's already seen this, and it's going to a rewrite soon, but I wanted to post it here and see if anyone else has something to add before I sit down to get the changes made. It's 2800 words by my Word Processor's count.

Front and Center

The studio is dark and, like a movie theatre, runnels of light lead down the rows of seats to the stage set. The set sits lower than the seats, allowing cameras to shoot through the fourth wall without obstructing the view of those above. He is the first one in, and so he moves down the rows and takes a seat in front and center and waits.
The rest file in soon after, being a somber procession in which each takes the best seat not yet taken. There is a hush over the congregation, anticipation almost palpable. A young lady smiles at The-Man-in-Front-and-Center and sits beside him, uncomfortably close. When the last of the parishioners closes the door, there are minutes of quiet whispering in the dark.
The lights come up and the theme music starts. The crowd cheers a small riot because the Red Light tells them to. As the music dies, the light goes off and for a moment, sacred silence. The players have come to play their parts and the viewers as well. It is a religious experience, filmed before a Live Studio Audience.
The Man takes the stage, rotund and vacant and proud of the stereotypes he's come to represent. He is the Dumb Man, the Soft Man, the Horribly Inept Yet Endlessly Lovable Man. He makes no mistakes for which he will ever come to account, and for this the Audience cheers his arrival; for this and for the Red Light.
The Man - we call him Frank in this incarnation - is met by the Wife on a set as familiar as the Man himself. A couch, a chair, a television that is never included in-frame, a set of stairs in the back that lead to the bedrooms, a couple of tables artfully arranged. For the Wife, the Audience does not cheer. The Red Light remains dark at her entry. She is not a woman worthy of adulation, if she can indeed be called a woman at all. She is an accessory. The Light knows this, and as the Light, so too the Audience.
"Where have you been?" the Wife asks. We call her Alice sometimes, but the Audience is oblivious. She is only Alice when they care about her.
"Out with the boys," Frank tells her. "We were all at Moe's. Doing _man_ things."
At this, a new light, with the word LAUGHTER emblazoned on it like a verdant banner. Red and Green, these lights direct the Audience, and the Audience accepts direction. The-Man-in-Front-and-Center doesn't get it. He doesn't laugh, not at first, but chuckles uncomfortably. The Green Light says LAUGH, and the Audience laughs, and The-Man-in-Front-and-Center is acutely aware that he is not laughing. This is how they get you. The Woman next to him laughs louder than is necessary, so that she might be heard by the viewers at home. The-Man-in-Front-and-Center shrinks into his chair.
"Today's our anniversary, Frank," the Wife says. She looks angry. Tension builds. Frank looks sheepish. A set of clues, less than subtle, tell us what we need to know. _In this Episode_ the clues say. _Frank tries to get his Wife that Thing she wants for their anniversary. Hilarity ensues._
"You forgot, didn't you?" the Wife asks.
"Of course not!" the Man lies. it is obvious to us, but the Wife always believes him. She never sees his rolling eyes or his comical expression. She is, of course, smart and willful and beautiful. She simply has a blind spot where her husband is concerned. He can do no wrong for which he must account, no matter how she tries to make him take responsibility, and the Audience loves him for it.
The Wife, imperceptibly, begins to cry. The cameras are all on her husband, his strange face and his rolling eyes. The Green Light comes on, and the Audience laughs again. When the camera returns to her, the Wife has composed herself. Her face is a mask of feigned anger and perfect forgiveness; if it occasionally cracks around her eyes, we never really notice. Our disbelief is suspended.
"Baby, baby, baby," the Man says. Is it his catchphrase? It sounds like one. "I got you that Thing you wanted from that store that sells stuff. You know..."
It is a cue. She is supposed to tell him what she wanted, some impossibly difficult-to-find relic of Anniversaryism that will make everything alright again. She says the line, she tells him, it deflates her and cheapens her, but it gives the Audience what they want. They need to know that nothing ever changes. They need to know that she will always love him, and any difficulties they share can be resolved in half an hour of comedy. They need to know that the Man is large and in charge and there ain't nothing in the world that can change that. They don't care what she needs. She is an accessory.
"Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight," the Man says. "Look, I forgot something at the office. I'm gonna go grab it and come right back, kay?"
The Audience knows. This is how the man bumbles through his life. He is going to go out and buy her that Thing She Wants and he will work harder to get it now than he would have a week ago. This is how the world works. This is how the universe balances itself. If the Man is required to push through ludicrous circumstances to get that Thing She Wants, it will make up for his initial lack of consideration. This is how the world works.
This is how the world works.
This is how the world works.
With a wink and a nod and a catchphrase.
He turns to go and starts towards the door. "Stop," the Wife says. Her voice quavers on the word, and in its one syllable is all the pain and anguish of three seasons of heartbreak. It is not in the script, and so the Man does not stop. The Audience is confused, but The-Man-in-Front-and-Center understands. He sympathizes with her, but he remains silent. There is no light called EMPATHY.
The lights go down. The Man is no longer on the stage, and there is nothing left to see. There is whispering and scraping in the dark. The Woman beside The-Man-in-Front-and-Center is telling the man on her other side her how much she loves the show. He echoes her sentiment and awkward silence follows.
The lights come up, and the scene is unchanged. The Wife is on the couch, crying. This is not in the script. The Lights do not know how to deal with this situation, and the director has his attention on his new assistant. She is sixteen years old and is working for him as a school project. Most of the time, she is naked. She is getting a terrific mark. The cameraman asks the key grip, and the key grip asks the best boy, the best boy asks the assistant director (whose job is, for the most part, making the coffee the best boy carries about the set). "Whatever," says the assistant director. "Let her ad-lib. We'll edit it out in post-production." Then, as an after-thought: "Send in Billy. We might get something touching we can use for the Christmas special."
The Wife sits and cries until the Brat comes on stage. The Red Light flashes and the Audience cheer his arrival with vigor. The Brat is much like the Man, a lovable, amusing character lacking any sense of responsibility or humanity. His mistakes are entertaining, and serve to illustrate the week's Message, forgiven and resolved before any lasting damage is done. His innocence is malicious, his malice, innocent. He is completely unprepared for this situation, so he does what he always does when he is uncomfortable. He cracks a joke.
"Tommy stole my baseball cards," he says. "So I hit him with a baseball _bat_!"
The Green Light comes on and the Audience laughs. The Woman next to The-Man-in-Front-and-Center laughs too loud, and laughs twice after everyone else has stopped. The-Man-in-Front-and-Center doesn't get it. When did violence become funny? It must have been long time ago, surely. He must have no sense of humor. The joke, his reaction to it, makes him think. Thinking makes him uncomfortable.
The Wife does not respond to the Brat's joke, so he moves on to Plan B. He nods at the sound guy, and the Heart-touching Theme plays. He sits beside the Wife and puts his arm around her shoulders, his little form a comical impersonation of the Man. His posture is demeaning. He doesn't notice. No one notices. No light comes one, but the Audience moans "Aww," all on cue.
"Mom?" the Brat asks, mock sincerity so sincere it could be the real thing. "Is everything ok?"
She looks at him and for the first time in years sees him for what he really is. She makes no reply, but stares at the monstrosity that pretends to be her son week after week. She hates him. Was he actually her son, she would have been much harder on him. His behavior is unacceptable from anyone, let alone a boy of twelve. He has never been punished seriously for anything. When he does something wrong, even something criminal, his punishments are a joke, and everyone loves him again by the end of the episode. As the lights go down and the set hands prepare to change the scene, she makes a choice.
The Brat has no idea what is happening. Some day, he will be just like his dad, be it his real father or the Man who plays his dad on TV. It doesn't matter which. They are similar enough that one could easily be traded for the other.
There is a beautiful counter on the set when the lights come up, and behind it a beautiful young lady. This set is meant to be a department store. The Man cracks jokes and makes ineffectual passes at the young woman. There is an altercation in which there is much inherent hilarity. Picture, if you will, a grown man of questionable mental and physical fitness running from department store security to the cartoonish pizzicato of comedic criminal behavior. Clothing is tossed, doors slammed, people pushed and racks tipped over. For this, the Man should be arrested. Vandalism, trespassing, causing a disturbance, destruction of property, resisting arrest; his behavior could land him in prison for years. Instead, the clerk rewards him with That Thing the Wife Wants, and with a parting grab-ass (sexual assault, sexual harassment), he walks away unscathed and triumphant.
Though this, the lights blink on and off with reckless abandon. LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE, LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE, and the Audience obeys the commands. There are moments of tension, moments of release, and in a strange sort of shared experience, the Audience loses itself. Even The-Man-in-Front-and-Center cannot hold out against the tide for long, and soon he too is swept up in fun. This is the Wailing Wall for the gods of the Plasma and the LCD. Even those without the faith can feel it here. When the lights fade, The-Man-in-Front-and-Center can feel his face burning. The woman beside him turns to him, her shoulder pressing up against him, the side of her breast hinting itself against his arm.
"I love this show," she says to him in a whisper that borders on sultry. He tries to think of a response that she'll appreciate. He can't.
"This is my first time seeing it," he says.
"Huh." She looks at him quizzically, intrigued. She presses herself against him and he thinks _This is how they get you..._ "Why did you come to the live show instead of just watching it at home?"
"I don't know," he admits. It is true. He has come to the studio on a whim. The experience, entertaining as it may be, is not all that he had been hoping for. He is amused, to be sure, but there is something underneath, a sinister shadow that has been cast over his enjoyment of the show.
The lights come up on a familiar living-room set. The Brat is sitting on the couch lighting things on fire, things that may or may not be this week's script. He wears a look of pure infernal joy on his face, a love for all things destructive and senseless playing across his features as the fire devours whatever it touches. There is a Message here. The Brat will learn, through lenient punishment and the television-kind of "tough love" that playing with matches is bad. In the meantime, he is enjoying himself. The Man bursts in through the door and scans the room.
"Where is your mother?" the Man asks.
"She said she was going to her car for something," the Brat replies.
"You're not supposed to do that, you know," the Man says. The Brat looks dejected, ready for his mock punishment. "If you want them to burn _really_ good, you have to crumple them into little balls."
The Man demonstrates, crumpling each sheet of paper into a loose ball and arranging them on the floor to light one another as they burn. Before they actually light anything on fire, the Wife enters right.
The Man stands, digs in his pocket and holds out his hands. There is the Thing She Wants, the plot device that has carried the episode to this point.
"Oh, thank you honey," she says, her voice a caricature of appreciation and devotion. This is where she accepts his gift accepts his apology, accepts his worthless, wretched, emotionally abusive character. This is where he tells her he loves her and that he won't forget about their anniversary ever again - at least until next year. This is where she is supposed to forget that while she is smarter and better educated than he, he is the Man of the house and he carries the family. This is where she is supposed to forget that their relationship makes no sense. This is where she is supposed to let everything go back to normal. The Audience needs to know that nothing ever changes, and it is her turn to tell them exactly that. She doesn't. She can't.
The Wife digs into her purse and holds out her hand. There is the pistol, a shiny new Walther PPK. She paid for it two months ago and went through the waiting period and put it in her car and told herself it was for protection in our strange world. Some things are easier to protect yourself against than others.
The sound guy panics, and lets his hand fall on the button he was preparing to push. The Green Light comes on, and the Audience laughs. The Woman next to The-Man-in-Front-and-Center laughs longest and loudest. Even when the light goes off, she continues while the rest of the Audience giggles nervously.
"You're ####ing crazy bitch," the man says. They are his last words. Two pulls of the trigger and a pair of bullets make coleslaw out of muscle and organ tissue and bone. There should be screaming. There should be a panicked rush to get out of the building, but there is not. There is only the laughter of one woman in the Audience and the sobs of one woman on the stage and the echo of gunshots.
Her makeup is running down her face, her breath jagged and halting. The Brat stands up slowly, thinking of ways to get in close and use his youth and his charm to best advantage. Already his arms are rising in a gesture that says, in no uncertain terms, "I need a hug." It is cold and calculated and his pout never touches his eyes. Alice sees through it, sees him for what he really is, and pulls again, savoring the sensation of the pistol bucking back in her hand, the sheer power of ending the cycle.
She smiles sadly and says a small prayer to a force she doesn't really believe in. It is a halting gasp for mercy, drowned out by a man in the Audience asking: "Does this mean the show is cancelled?"
Alice lifts the gun to rest just under her jaw, in the soft part behind her chin. One pull, and she is gone. Chunks of brain and bone shower the stage and the front row of the studio Audience. The-Man-in-Front-and-Center gets some on his shoulder. He strongly suspects that the woman next to him, still laughing hysterically, has some in her mouth.
He gets up and walks out of the studio. As the door clicks shut behind him, the screaming starts. Down the hall, a cooking show host punctuates the scream with a well-placed "BAM!"

Last edited by SlurpeeMoney; 01-21-2007 at 03:40 PM.
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