This is a piece I’ve wanted to write for a while, and it’s been sat in my notepad as a prompt for a while. It’s a story of a struggling Shakespearean actor who makes a deal with Puck, and the consequences.
They say you shouldn’t make deals with the faerie, they’re crafty folk. Dangerous too, but I was a bit desperate. I thought it couldn’t be too bad, all things considered. I really didn’t know who I was dealing with. I was a wannabe actor, helping with one of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s New plays, mainly dealing with props and helping the gents and the famous actors get ready for the shows, that sort of thing. I really wanted to be one of them, but when I asked how, they laughed at me. They said I lacked the looks and the talent for it. I’d managed to attach myself to the company around the time they’d started performing ‘a midsummer nights dream’ and in my time with them, when they were out drinking and carousing, i’d learnt every line. I learnt all the lines to every play we performed, just in case, but the dream was my favourite, the idea that someone like Nick Bottom could be enchanted to have a faerie queen fall in love with him and captivate a performance enthralled me. I dreamt of the forest of Arden, the power and the mystery of Oberon and Titania, but mostly I dreamt of Puck. That shadowy faerie who pulled the strings behind the machinations of the faerie king, full of mischief and malice and un-requited love. He spoke to me, this figure in the eves of every major event within the play, with secret schemes and powers of his own, true motives wrapped in merriment. These actors were but the rude mechanicals, trapped so in their self-worth that they could not see beyond their egotistical desire for fame, or their hedonistic need for booze, sex and fighting. Actors died in bar fights, got caught by unsavoury diseases, all the time. It was disgraceful and dangerous, but it provided opportunity,
One night, like something I dreamt about, he comes to my room, well sort of. I get woken in the middle of the night, script to the new play fallen as I slept onto my face, by a sort of clatter. He takes the script from me, looks at it, grins and throws it to the side. “No need, no need” or something like that, he said. He’s damn near the prettiest thing I ever did see, so I’m interested, even if he’d been trying to rob me I’d probably have handed it over to that face for a smile. He just stands there, with a great big smile on his face like he’s got a plan, and I’ve never seen him before as I said, but I would have still agreed with agreed with anything he asked me to do. He told me stories said he knew that really happened, and also that he’d given Will the story and was a little dismayed at some of the play, though he liked his own portrayal. He said he was the robin goodfellow, and he’d been watching me, and thought perhaps I might like my turn in the spotlight. He told me I had potential, and he kissed me, and I held his hand and promised him far too much, more than I ever should have. He would make me a star, and promised me fame like nobody could imagine. He spent the night, making love to me with merry abandon. He was gone when I opened my eyes in the morning, the only signs of his passing a few discarded petals in my room. I thought it was just a dream born of unfulfilled wants and discarded it from my mind before I headed to work that day.
The first shock was the stage manager greeting me on arrival – usually hey casually avoided eye contact and simply barked commands at me. That is, when they weren’t intentionally cruel. He was one of the worst, normally, his name was Geoffrey and he was posh, beautiful and one of the most casually malicious men i’d ever met. Today, was different, somehow, he smiled at me, thanked god I was there and hugged me – I mean he actually hugged me. I assumed it was some kind of awful trick in the making and I wa suspicious, but it seemed not. They had ‘lost’ the lead man in the night, and many of the players had been called out of town on urgent business, including mr Shakespeare. They needed me to take Laertes, in tonight’s performance of Hamlet, and perhaps for the next few performances. They knew that I knew all of the lines, after all. This – this was my moment, for at least three nights, culminating on the final night at full moon. I would take the role opposite the stunning Sebastian, who had been becoming more famous for his face than his Hamlet. He was incredible, he’d been the man of my dreams even before the Faerie came along, and from what I’d heard we were of the same.. proclivity. I never stood a chance with him, but this meant I could be closer to him than I’d ever imagined.
The first two nights were the most perfect experience of my life. I died in Sebastian’s arms, he held me as I took my last breaths with agonised sighs to rapturous applause. After both performances, he took me – me! – back to his rooms. It was everything I asked for, everything I wanted. I knew the deal I’d made in that Faerie fever dream, but it faded, I didn’t think anything of it. My luck was mine, it was my time at last. I’d waited for so long for this, hoping, in the shadows, in the background. I let it get to my head – there was no such thing as faeries, blasphemy and ridiculousness all. I was simply fulfilling my destiny, I was meant to be this, had always been. I would perform, I would outdo myself, and I would become the greatest actor the city had ever seen. Sebastian would fawn over me, even Will would have to acknowledge my genius, on his return.
I was wrong. Don’t trust the Faerie.
The day of the last performance, the air was full of sparkles. I figured it was one of those magical autumn nights where things always seem a bit strange, a bit ethereal. Things seemed to slow down and speed up around me, as if I was looking at myself from another’s perspective. I stumbled through the day in a daze, seeing the faerie’s face everywhere I looked. I discounted it as nerves. Final performance, tonight I would make my name known.
The audience seemed strange that night, the faces blurred, not always entirely human shaped. The royal box, empty for weeks, I could have sworn was taken. My vision flickered, one minute an empty box, another an inhuman couple, no doubt of their royalty, then just an empty box in shimmering September evening.
It all got really strange when it came to the final scene, the grand reveal and battle. I looked over to Sebastian’s face before our final duel. It had changed, I saw his face looking back at me, the one from my dreams. Robin Goodfellow came my shocked thoughts has he grinned, gleefully. He raised his sword, no longer a play-acting blade but silver, glittering in the moon and sharp as starlight. It glistened with poisonous greed. I tried to shout but found myself moving, acting the scene as I raised my own, suddenly deadly, weapon…
This is one of my Christmas series of stories and poems, and dedicated to Rachel, who was a wonderful vice chair of the Shakespeare and Wine society whilst at university. It’s also dedicated to all the other Shakespeare lovers out there, with a penchant for the magical plays.
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