This Friday Fiction was inspired by the song Enter Sandman by Metallica. I am fully aware I have the music tastes of a fifty-year-old man (aka my dad). Classic rock…rocks. Anyway, it’s a pretty cool song that tickles the imagination.
The lights down in house; heavy velvet curtains musty with dust, age, and magic long past its expiration date swing open to a darkened stage. Light slowly pours onto the stage, orangey-red waltzing purple across the stage. I can see the crew in the rigging above, their carabiner clips winking at me in the dimness. Felix, one of the crew from the glory days of La Rosa Theatre, throws me a five-fingered wave, mouthing “break a leg” from his perch. I nod, ever so slightly; my heart is pounding a waltz in my throat, in time with the lights.
Across the stage, I spot the stage manager, Tricia, fiddling one last time with Tristan’s microphone before shooting the okay signal. He strides stately as a courtier to the exact center of the stage. His white suit trimmed in gold lace is impeccably in the stage lighting; a faint corona shadows his every move. My heart jumps in my chest; the nightgown my character wears (I can’t remember her name) itches at the collar. I make no move to scratch it.
“Exit, light,” Tristan says, waving his hands at the crew in a perfectly choreographed motion. At once, the sunset rays they’d been painting across the stage shift to purples, blues, the thinnest black. Tiny costume diamonds sewn into the cloth background twinkle behind Tristan. The audience gasps and I can’t help but agree. It took my breath away the first time too. I briefly recall Emilia, the in-house playwright, telling me about La Rosa’s magic for every debut play. How every first screening comes to life like no other. I can almost see the theatre pulsing along with the measured cadence of Tristan’s words.
“Enter, night.” I mouth the intro along with Tristan, turning his voice over in my mouth. The words taste nearly the same every time. Salty. Mysterious. Like dark chocolate truffles and red velvet cake. The words stop, jerking open my eyes. Tricia’s made her way over to me, fussing with my microphone and hissing reminders into the lighting booth. The stage is dark as the set appears in one, two, three, eight seconds. The bed comes rolling towards me in the wings; I climb in, carefully arranging the covers. It’s soft as it was in rehearsal, though someone must have changed the sheets; I smell lavender. They wheel me out, abandoning me center stage with only blankets for protection.
My arms are tucked behind my head as I stare into the endless stage ceiling, wide awake. Someone coughs in the audience, drops something, curses. The smoke machines hiss on, ten billion snakes surrounding me in ominous black mist. Red lights sweep across the stage, edging nearer to my feet. It brushes the foot of the bed, once, twice. I bolt upright, hair falling in my face. Sticking to my makeup.
Anne got what she wanted, I thought, eyes flicking to her director’s seat in the back of the theatre, her favorite spot. These are definitely writhing enough. I perch on the edge of the bed, staring down into the stage floor. It’s almost enough to give me jitters; the stage really could suck me down into a nightmare. I forgot where they put the trap door for the seventh scene. Oh well.
I don’t see the snake coming when it bites my bare big toe.
I don’t see the other ones twisting up my leg.
La Rosa’s magic is working too well. I blink twice; the rasp of scales is still there, blanketing the stage. The audience is frozen.
Then I see him, perched in a balcony to my right.
He’s the same color as the only beach set we have, sandy golden all over, his eyes two glinting oceans. At least, I think. They’ve got a strange mirror quality, reflecting the brown of my own eyes. A long camel-colored trench coat covered in pockets hides his clothes; I can’t tell what time period they’re from, only that they’re certainly not modern.
“Need a hand?” His voice is disappointingly regular. “I’d say you’re about hip deep in snakes at this point.” He casts an appraising eye at the growing mountain of snakes.
“The audience can’t hear you,” I tell him. “You’ll need to speak louder. Project!”
Sandman’s lips quirk up at that. “I’m the Sandman.” He keeps turning an hourglass over in his hands, the shimmering sands glinting every color in the stage light.
“I know.” I glance at his feet; they aren’t touching the stage at all. The snakes seem to be avoiding him. “I’m…oh,” I say. “I can’t remember my character’s name.”
He shrugs. “Just you is fine.”
“Are you going to anything about the snakes? They’re holding up the show.” God, I sound like Tricia. Maybe that’s a good thing.
With a wink, Sandman pulls out a handful of–you guessed it–sand, sprinkling it all over the stage. He hums a funny little harmony as he goes, the snakes puffing back into smoke as the sand hits their scales. He scatters more sand, dipping into multiple pockets. A smile glints on Sandman’s mouth. “You are getting sleepy,” he jokes, wading through snakes. “Very sleepy.”
“Very funny,” I say. My eyelids droop a bit. I snap them open. It’s not real magic, I think. You’ve seen plenty of hypnosis acts before and none of them worked. “You should go into stand-up comedy.”
“Nah,” he says, making his way back towards me. “I’d bore them to sleep.” Sandman claps extra grains of his hands, giving the hourglass a few swift turns. “Dreams are funny enough anyway.”
I sit up in the bed. “What kinds of dreams are your favorite?”
He sits on the edge, dangling his feet over the trap door. That’s where it was. Right. “Hm. No one’s ever asked me that before. Of course, they’re usually asleep when I visit.”
“Oh, everyone,” Sandman says, suddenly boyish. “The grandparents, they snore. Young children just learning to dream. A few college kids, but not many. Overworked parents crash into bed around one or two in the morning.” He shrugs. “Everyone’s got to sleep at some point.”
I stifle a yawn; it forces its way out. “And…they never…see you?” I can’t stay awake. Not for much longer. The red stage lights are cool comforts. Lures into the dreamland.
Sandman smiles and gets up from the bed, pulling the covers up to my chin.
“Only a few do. And they have the best dreams of all,” he whispers in my ear.
“They’ve got the sweetest ones.”
If you like magical theatre fiction, DEFINITELY check out Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev. This is one of my favorite trilogies in the entire universe.