(some light Christmas fare flash fiction. you know, for kids)

I say my last line, “God bless us, Every One!”

Then, just shy of the stage’s apron, I look down and into the auditorium, trying my hardest to go evil eyes—eyes that scream, screw you all—upon what are supposed to be my victims.

I wasn’t expecting applause, but listen to it!

Of course, it is the holidays… Their enthusiastic adoration could be for any number of reasons: the story itself, the typical up-tick in polite behavior around this time, the eggnog that had been served in the foyer prior to the performance.

As the other actors make their way forward to join me at the front of the stage, the applause doesn’t grow much louder.

Now look, I know all of this immediate ballyhoo isn’t just for me, but it feels personal. It feels warm. It feels brighter, more pointed, and more efficient than any drug, prescription or otherwise, that I’ve ever ingested, shot, snorted, or booty bumped.

Sharron is the first to drop to the pine. She had played the hell out of Tiny Tim. Her collapse alarms those closest to her, but it’s no surprise to me that the poison has affected her first. She played that part due to her diminutive size to begin with.

I wait for the gasps to begin—not those associated with the other deaths waiting to happen on the heels of Sharron’s, but those that are sure to come from the audience when the next of our cast kicks the bucket.

No gasps come, the applause is still strong.

The applause is still feeding me.

The applause is everything and it must not end.

I run over to pick up Sharron, Weekend at Bernie’s-style. Both Fezziwig and Jacob Marley (I never bothered to learn either actor’s real name) tussle with us to stop me from carrying Sharron’s deflating presence under my arm. My determination is too much and the applause is still so violent that no one, save The Ghost of Christmas Present, real name Robert, actually understands that she has already passed.

Bob is about to charge me, but by something akin to a Christmas miracle, he is the second to finally fall ill to the poison. His plunge to the floor is much more chaotic than Sharron’s had been. No surprise really, ever the over-actor that guy. His collapse is all theatrical swoon, and I’d almost swear he had some say in how his body gave out.

There’s no hiding his thud, but surprisingly, it only halves the applause. The OMG-gasps start, but the cheap seats can’t see over the front. Their applause is still thick and I’m holding onto the feeling as best I can as I try to casually toss Sharron’s carcass into the orchestra pit.

Half of the remaining cast rushes over to Christmas Present’s convulsing form. They drop to their knees, none of them are qualified to do anything other than gawk at a demise indicative of their own. The other half of the cast, including Fred and Martha who I genuinely liked, one after the other—and not unlike the Rockette’s famed wooden solider fall—succumb to the poison’s will. Not everyone is bleeding or drooling or drool-bleeding, but there’s enough human fluid to consider as I try to imagine what a run from the stage might look like.

The applause finally comes to a complete and total stop. Someone screams, “Is there a doctor in the house!?” It’s not exclusive to the theater, but the trite shout feels very at home here as it echoes around the now silent auditorium. And, of course, there is a doctor. She gets up and runs toward the stage, but it’s too late. The gas is already blowing in from the vents that dot the theater’s ceiling. The good doctor is down. The second doctor, a fellow who had seemed hesitant to admit that he was a doctor at all, until the first had, tumbles through the aisle. Best I can tell, there are no more doctors in the house. Not that it would matter.

I’ve a choice to make now. I shuffle over to a “street lamp” and reach for the gas mask I’d concealed within it earlier today. I’d planned on watching this tragedy until its end, but I’ve a better shot of evading the authorities if I leave now.

To get caught is to be famous, but it’s not the sort of celebrity that comes with applause. And until now, I hadn’t realized just how much the act of hundreds of people slapping hand into hand, over and over—all to celebrate something I’d done—would hypnotize me!

The whole rest of the cast, except for Belle, who is actually Livia, is either dead or flailing their way to dead around the stage.

I didn’t poison Belle. I love Belle—Livia, I mean.

I start to feel an unfamiliar pang. What I’d thought was the feeling of regret was dead wrong. For the first time ever, I am actually experiencing a heavy repentance.

My mom always said I was a natural for the theater. She’d made all sorts of promises to me about how my self-absorption and ego would give me a real leg up in the biz. I knew she was with me the whole performance. I could sense her pride, emanating from either heaven of hell, after every delivered line.

No one left to advise me now.

The whole auditorium is deceased and Livia made a well-earned run for it. Hopefully, she’ll be able to use this whole incident as a springboard into a legit career in theater or even film. Only after what I assume will be quite a bit of serious therapy.

The applause is back. And it is even louder than before. It’s white hot. It tickles in all the right ways. I can see that the mask I’d meant to use is still in my hand. Try as I might, I am unable to raise it to my mouth and nose to buy myself more time while I consider my options.

Did I take a bow?

Am I bowing now?

“I am fettered,” I say to myself, trembling.

I’d said the same as Ebenezer, but this time the admission has real feeling. I’m not held by any physical chains, but it is pretty obvious I’m not leaving the theater.

And that’s okay.

I’ve come to believe that the ovation I’m hearing is from a very different audience: one that has been eagerly awaiting this actor for years from the darkest depths below.


**thank you to Reedsy.com for the prompt and contest opportunity at https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/