EdselRanger

cabaret

Aug 28th, 2020 (edited)
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  1. >Booming thunder and flashes of lightning ring through a grimy old apartment bedroom, broken up by the calming drum of whiskey stones plopping into a tall glass of Lagavulin. It’s music to your ears, perfectly complementing the soothing raindrops. You can’t remember how you ended up here at all, but it’s home for now.
  2. >Unread messages from your therapist light up your voicemail, and your phone keeps buzzing with new notifications, all useless. A sip of scotch is the only help you’ll ever need.
  3. >You stand by the window and take in the skyline, lit up by flashes of lightning but stoic and still, covered by the sheet of rain pounding against your bedroom window.
  4. >Electric lights blaze in those distant apartment towers, their occupants doubtlessly less alone than you.
  5. >Although you’ve stopped looking into other people’s windows to get your kicks, the unfair comparisons and baseless conjecture haven’t faded.
  6. >On a whim you check your phone again and open up a new voicemail.
  7. >“Hi Will, it’s Dr. Windsor again. Please call me back as soon as possible. I think we’ve been making very good progress recently, and I think it’s best that we keep moving forward. Please, um, don’t take a diagnosis personally. Depression is manageable with the right treatment and plenty of my patients have gone on to have long and fulfilling lives…”
  8. >Warm amber scotch washes down your throat and you stop the message, launching your phone at the wall.
  9. >You stumble over to the window and gulp down some more whiskey, briefly considering tossing a chair through the window before taking a step back and polishing off your drink.
  10. >The rain comes down harder and, defeated, you retreat into the windowless kitchen to pour another.
  11. >It’s gone in the blink of an eye.
  12. >Grimacing, you turn around and scan your surroundings, adjusting your umbrella.
  13. “Where the FUCK–?”
  14. >You’re out on the sidewalk in the pouring rain, and no, you don’t remember how you got there.
  15. >The street is unfamiliar and you don’t recognize any of the buildings nearby.
  16. >No one else is stupid enough to be out this late, so you’re well and truly alone. All the lights are out, and columns of rain smother you and quickly overwhelm your cheap umbrella.
  17. >You shout to the heavens, “What am I supposed to make of this?” and no one answers.
  18. Although your umbrella is barely holding up, you clutch it tighter and keep making your way down the wide, straight street.
  19. >“Did I fucking black again. I did. Idiotic.”
  20. >Now you’re in an unfamiliar area, hopelessly lost and too drunk to trust your own judgement.
  21. >Your mind races; the river must be around here somewhere, and once you’re on the waterfront, you can look for a bridge, and then–
  22. “Shut the fuck up!” You silence your racing mind and look for a safe haven.
  23. >Stores are shuttered and no stoop looks inviting enough to pause on; still, you keep going, peering ahead at the street signs in search of something familiar.
  24. >Yet even after you wipe acidic rainwater from your bloodshot eyes, nothing is legible.
  25. >Now you’re really in the thick of it, because the storm is only getting worse and, with all your stumbling around, you’re basically begging to get jumped.
  26. >Do you even have your wallet? You can’t remember, and each time you check your pockets your palms dig into the flesh of your legs.
  27. >At the corner, it’s time to send a prayer up and turn onto a small side street in the hopes of reaching something familiar.
  28. >Yet again you come up short. “Goddamnit!” Nothing on this block is recognizable. And yet…
  29. >Up ahead you see a neon sign, so covered by vines and brush that you almost missed it, but it’s enough to spur you on. Always moving forward, step after painful step, you trudge toward the light. Without a cigarette to calm your nerves, you feel every inch of the long and tiring slog down the street before you can make out the sign: “Cabaret”.
  30. >You look down to check your watch and find it’s been forgotten again. It could be half past three for all you know.
  31. >Bracing yourself on the railing, you stumble down a narrow concrete staircase and smack into a wooden door that keeps rattling even after your head has stopped. God, you need a drink.
  32. >The latch gives way easily and you find yourself in a smoke-filled room. A thin bouncer pays no attention as you slip past the dark vestibule and through a set of ruby-red curtains.
  33. >Loud music floods your senses, but it isn’t the kind of trashy pop that you’d expect from a club these days, so you don’t immediately rush for the exit; instead, you let the soothing big band’s melodies wash over you as you glide toward the bar.
  34. >You look up from the floor for long enough to search for the bartender, but there isn’t one. Come to think of it, the place is pretty empty. Guess that’s fair in a storm like this, but still, you glance around in search of another life.
  35. >”Good evening sir! How can I help you?”
  36. >You cry out in surprise and jump at least a foot in the air! There’s still no one around you, but you heard a voice as clear as day! It doesn’t sound like one of the voices in your head, either, so sweet and mellifluous, melodic and soothing. It puts you at ease as soon as the soles of your tattered shoes hit the parquet floor.
  37. “What the hell? Who’s there?” You can’t help but raise your voice over the swing music coming from, well, somewhere nearby. With your eyes so focused on the bartop, you haven’t cared to look around for a stage or stereo. You just need a drink.
  38. >Two sharp clacks ring out from down the counter, and your whole body swivels to meet the sound. Right in front of you, so close you can smell fresh hay and sweet coconut, is a…
  39. >Well you really have no idea what fresh hell is in front of you.
  40. >“Hi! What can I do for you?” With two marshmallow hooves on the counter, a horse with forest green fur gives you a cheerful grin and wipes down an empty glass. How the hell can it do that? >You’re not nearly drunk enough to understand.
  41. “I need two fingers of Johnnie Walker. Actually, uh, make that two. Two two fingers.” You stop yourself. “I’m sorry.”
  42. >Your mind shuts down and starts up again. Some old memory fills your senses with sweet perfume and fresh scones. For an instant, the soothing voice of your grandmother reminds you to say your prayers and mind your Ps and Qs, and you feel like a five-year-old kid again.
  43. “I’m sorry.” You already said that. Come onnn. “Where are my manners. What’s your name?”
  44. >“Nighthawk! I’ll be serving you this evening. A glass of scotch coming right up!” The small horse’s dexterity is clearly unmatched. He takes his front hooves off the counter with a single graceful sweep, pirouetting around and snatching a bottle of booze from the shelf with his mouth. Calmly and coolly, he removes the cap–seriously, how the fuck is that even possible–and pours you a generous glass.
  45. >Although there’s no showmanship to his movements, they’re clearly well practiced. He nudges the glass your way with the tip of his snoot and stands back. “Want to start a tab?”
  46. “Sure.” You grunt as you knock back your drink and, steadying yourself, put it down. “I’m gonna need, uh, a little more of this.”
  47. >”Certainly! Let me just go get some more from the back.” The bizarrely colored miniature horse retreats into the depths of the bar and leaves you alone again.
  48. “Motherfucker. What have you gotten yourself into now?” You polish off your drink and sit down at the bar, craning your neck to look around the place. It’s mostly empty, but a few people are scattered among the tables on the other side of the room. No other horses, though. With each second you’re alone, you begin to persuade yourself that you might be, as your uncle once said, “an schizo maniac”.
  49. >Mind you, when he said that he wasn’t half as drunk as you are now.
  50. >You take a deep breath. The horse bartender still isn’t back yet.
  51. >For now, the stage is empty, and none of the other patrons seem that interesting. They haven’t noticed you, either, so you can relish in your public anonymity. Feels great.
  52. >From your viewpoint, you have a pretty good impression of the place. To be honest, it isn’t much. You probably wouldn’t bring your friends here, discounting the trained sentient talking horse behind the counter, of course…
  53. >At the other end of the bar, a growing click-clack noise gets your attention, and you glance over in time to see that the horse is back again, clutching a full bottle of Blue Label.
  54. >You rub your hands together. “Ah, that’s the ticket. Uh, great service, by the way. For what it’s worth, I think it’s a pretty good gimmick.”
  55. >Nighthawk the talking horse pauses mid-pour and cocks his head. “Gimmick?” he asks with a neck of scotch between his teeth.
  56. “Yeah. Uh, the whole horse thing. I’ve never seen it before.”
  57. >When the word ‘horse’ leaves your lips, he gives you a look of restrained frustration that takes you right back to your days in the service industry. Then and there, you know you fucked up.
  58. >Instead of screaming for security to remove the pinche pendejo from the premises, he smiles. “Thank you! No other club has ponies like the Cabaret.” He glances your way and keeps pouring your drink.
  59. “So I’ve noticed. Uh, if you don’t mind me asking, why do you, uh, talk? The ponies I’ve seen can’t speak english.”
  60. >Nighthawk slides the glass your way and cocks his head. “What did they speak, then? Spanish? Russian? Chi-neigh-se?” Seeing your slack-jawed face and instinctive clutching of a whiskey glass to your dry lips, he covers his infantile giggling mouth. “I’m just messing with you! Is this your first time here?” You nod, and he sucks in air before grinning wider. “Right! I didn’t even realize! I’m new here, so I can’t tell the regulars apart yet… Never you mind! Let’s get you introduced to our wonderful ensemble!”
  61. >The stallion rushes out of the bar and you steadily drain your glass. As the orchestra ensemble begins to build up to, uh, something, you divert your attention to the stage. Finding your glass empty, you look for more and find another drink on the counter.
  62. >You lean against the counter. Across the room, the curtains part, and out steps another small horse. This one is dressed in a black and white entertainers' outfit, with thick white makeup obscuring the fur on his face.
  63. >The band hits its peak and comes down, playing a light tune, and then the pony grabs a microphone and takes a deep breath.
  64. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hm2rrNEIK00
  65. >“Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!”
  66. >His voice is high and full of energy, and without thinking, you put one foot in front of the other and cross the room.
  67. >“Happy to see you, bleibe, reste, stay!”
  68. >The crowd begins to cheer; now, you find yourself approaching the tables.
  69. >“Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome, im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret!~”
  70. >You pass by the sparse audience without much thought, never breaking eye contact with the performer. As you draw closer, the music gets louder until it pounds against your ears, but unlike most club songs, you’re not scrambling for an exit with a pounding headache.
  71. >“Ladies and Gentlemen! Do you feel good?” The emcee scans the audience and extends a foreleg to an unremarkable looking man in the front row of tables. “I bet you do!”
  72. >The audience laughs much too loud considering how empty the place feels. “I am you host! Und sagen…” You hold your breath.
  73. >“Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome, im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret!” Scanning the room once again, you realize you’re the only one holding a drink. The emcee continues to point into the crowd.
  74. >“Leave your troubles at the door! So life is disappointing? Forget it! We have no troubles here! Here, life is beautiful…”
  75. >Your eyes are drawn to a thin, frail young woman close to the front. Despite her relaxed posture, her arms and legs are shaking. She wasn’t here before. Behind her, two short men put their phones down and look straight ahead, sucking their cheeks in. When did they come in?
  76. >“And now, presenting the Cabaret Mares!”
  77. >The emcee waves and a parade of ponies streams out from behind the curtain. He points to the leading girl, crying! “Rosie! So called because of the color of her… mane.”
  78. >Another mare trots out and the emcee squishes her next to Rosie. “Celly! Oh, you like Celly? Well, too bad! So does Rosie.”
  79. >As you scan the growing crowd of pony showgirls, each donning little black dresses and tight pearls, your heart starts to race. What is this place anyway? The audience is leaning forward in their seats. Clearly they expect something more.
  80. >“Rainbow! Yes, Rainbow is from Equestria! But she’s a very cunning linguist! Pinkie!”
  81. >A brightly colored mare leaps to the front of the stage and beckons towards the girl in the front row. The emcee balks, “Oh, Pinkie, please, will you stop that! Already this week we have lost two waiters, a table, and three bottles of champagne.”
  82. >The emcee turns and gives you a wink; suddenly very uncomfortable, you turn back to the bar. Another drink rests on the counter, and you look down and notice your glass is empty. Behind you, the performance continues. “Outside, it is winter.” The emcee shapes his face into an exaggerated frown. “But in here, it's so hot!” He pulls a paper fan out of nowhere and mimics cooling himself off, looking to the ensemble onstage. “Every night we have to battle with the mares to keep them from taking off all their clothings. So don't go away. Who knows? Tonight we may lose the battle!”
  83. >On cue, the mares lean forward and shake their rumps. You swallow an acid reflux and turn to the bar, ignoring how much more lively the crowd just became. In the distance, you hear a stream of footsteps passing through the door, and you down the drink on the counter before calling the bartender for another.
  84. >“Hello, darlings! Happy to see you! Bliebe, reste, stay! Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome, im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret!”
  85. >The orchestra music gets so loud that, for an instant, you can’t hear anything at all. But as soon as it begins, it’s over, and you’re back at the bar, watching the ensemble. The emcee sits at center stage clutching a microphone, while a line of mares sways around him. He takes a deep breath, ready to launch into another musical number, and you call the bartender over again.
  86. >”Hi! Do you need anything?”
  87. >You rub the back of your neck. “Not really. I was just meaning to ask what this is all about. Thanks for keeping me topped up by the way, Nighthawk.”
  88. >The stallion beams. “Thank you! As far as the show goes, I’m not the biggest expert, but I do know it’s the liveliest performance downtown!”
  89. >You look down and clutch your half-full glass. “I guess. I, uh, haven’t seen anything like it before.”
  90. >Nighthawk laughs. “Of course you haven’t! We’ve got our own thing going on around here. I’m glad you like the show!”
  91. “Yeah, uh, I guess so. How does it all work anyway? Like, where did you all come from?”
  92. >Your barkeep looks around and motions for you to sit. “What do you mean? We just work here, that’s all! Me, I’m trying to be a politician, but until the next election I’m here tending the bar! We’ve all got normal lives, I know it doesn’t look that way but it’s true!”
  93. >Another drink comes your way. It’s gone almost as soon as it reaches your hand. Behind you, the performance picks up with the frenzied clinking of piano keys.
  94. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kyo0XUGLYeY
  95. >”Money makes the world go ‘round. It makes the world go ‘round! It’s all that makes the world go ‘round!”
  96. >Nighthawk looks your way and passes you a very generously poured glass. “Watch the stage! This is where it gets good.”
  97. >You turn around and scan the tables. They look about half full now, instead of the sparse crowd you saw before. “I don’t know what to make of this,” you mutter.
  98. >Onstage, the emcee is dancing with a pink and gold mare. They spin in a circle, picking up the pace and singing, “Money money money! Money money money!”
  99. >As they repeat themselves, the crowd stands up and starts cheering. You squint, and notice they’re throwing bills onto the stage. The performers mock surprise at the volume of money coming their way, before the mare sticks her head backstage and returns with a pill bottle in her mouth.
  100. >“If you haven’t any coal in the stove, and you freeze in the winter, and you curse to the winds at your fate…”
  101. >She unscrews the cap and shakes out the bottle in the direction of the audience. This whips the crowd into a frenzy, and they all leap over tables in a scramble to the front of the room. You silently curse your poor luck leaving the front row before the show got good.
  102. >“When you haven't any shoes on your feet, and your coat's thin as paper, and you look thirty pounds underweight, when you go to get a word of advice from the fat little pastor, he will tell you to love evermore…”
  103. >Now the crowd is singing with him, when they aren’t leaping into the air to catch the loose pills being tossed offstage. Despite the feeding frenzy going on just a few feet from them, the performers go on. “But when hunger comes a’rapping at the window, see how love flies out the door!”
  104. >The audience is frothing at the mouth and fighting each other over single pills, stuffing them into their pockets and bags. One by one, you watch as they collect their fill without holding a single one to their lips. You lean over to Nighthawk and whisper, “what the hell is this place?”
  105. >He glances out into the audience and sighs. “It’s a little crazy tonight. Just wait, once this musical number ends they’ll–”
  106. >As the band plays a loud, halting finale, the crowd tenses up, and each member fishes through their belongings. With a cry, they all procure a single pill and hold it to their lips. You can’t help but be impressed by their size once they’re held up to the light, yet the crowd pops the capsules with ease and greedily swallows their contents. In the dim light, you can’t help but crane your neck to look forward, although your feet are rooted in place.
  107. >For a second, your eyes cross and focus on taking a clumsy sip of scotch, and when you look back up, the crowd looks thinner. Wait–on second thought, no one’s left, some people have fallen onto the floor. Those still standing are basking in the stage lights, spreading their arms and smiling wider than you thought possible. The crowd is slowly changing. First you notice the way some of their fingers seem to be dull and short, then the constant stretching as they work out some unknown godforsaken kink in their back. Their skin changes colors–no, it looks like they’re growing fucking fur–and one by one, they double over and land on the floor.
  108. >Horrified, you turn to the bartender, only to find that your eyes are being drawn down. On the ground, under a barstool, is a single red and white capsule, just like the ones the audience fought so bitterly over. You bend down to pick it up, but when you stand back up, Nighthawk is back, staring at you with furrowed brows and a deep, dark frown.
  109. >”Please don’t take that pill. It’s not for first timers.”
  110. >He waves a hoof out into the audience. “Most of them used to work here, or they knew someone who worked here. You’ve got to work here to get it. It helps you appreciate the performers’ hard work even more!”
  111. >You raise an eyebrow. “Is that why everyone works here, then? To end up like those people out there?”
  112. >Nighthawk covers his mouth with a hoof. “You really are new here! Don’t be afraid if you don’t understand now. Our doors are always open, but you’ve got to be ready to come through. Just relax. Take it all at your own time. We’ll be ready whenever you are.”
  113. >He discreetly slides the pill towards him on the counter and sweeps it out of your sight. One glance down at your glass, and when you look back up, he’s gone. Your breath catches in your throat, and suddenly you feel like you’ve missed out on the greatest chance in the world.
  114. >One by one, the lights flicker off. The stage is empty and the audience is gone.
  115. “Wait! Come back! Please!”
  116. >You turn around and Nighthawk is right there, sitting at the table closest to you. He beckons to a chair and you obey.
  117. >”How can I help you?”
  118. >You’re out of breath. “I’d like to work here. I want to get a job. I don’t have a job. I want to work here.” The words come out slowly, like you’re falling through molasses.
  119. >Nighthawk sends a halting nod towards the bar. “You’ll have to speak to the hiring manager. She may want you to see mama. Are you ready for that? The hiring manager is nice, but mama smells awfully bad.”
  120. >You’re not. You don’t know who any of these people are. Still, you stand up and knock back your drink before stumbling backstage.
  121. >You find yourself in a brightly lit green-painted dressing room. The exposed bulbs make your bloodshot eyes burn but you power through the pain. It doesn’t matter what it takes, as long as you can stay in this place.
  122. >A door slams behind you, but you find you can’t move your head. The bitter smell of a lit cigarette floods your senses and you silently beg for a good old Marlboro Red.
  123. >Hot breath tickles your ear. “Why do you want to work at the cabaret?”
  124. >The scratchy voice makes all the hair on the back of your neck stand up. A single tear escapes your eye. “I just want to feel something again. I miss the feeling of feeling something.”
  125. >”You sound like you’ve been drinking.”
  126. “I am.” Your hand feels heavy; you bring it to your lips and scotch smothers your tongue.
  127. >”Well, then. Look forward.”
  128. >You’re already looking straight ahead at the dressing room mirror, but smoke obscures your reflection. On the table in front of you is a glass of water and two large red and white pills. You pick them up and wash them down with more scotch.
  129. >”Very good. It’s only a matter of time now.”
  130. “Who are you?”
  131. >A grating laugh scratches your ear. “I sort of run things around here, as much as they can be run. Just stay comfortable and everything will be alright.”
  132. >You take a deep breath and look down. Your shoes have fallen off and your feet are gone. Quickly, you shrug off your pants, tossing and turning and dropping the glass with a crash.Your hands are gone too. All four of your limbs end in stumpy hooves the color of marble.
  133. >”Very good. Most people would be feeling immense pleasure right now. You are very calm.”
  134. >You grit your teeth. They grind together as your whole mouth erupts in a brief flash of pain. You struggle to form words, and a small high-pitched neigh escapes your lips instead.
  135. >”Just keep going. You’re doing great.”
  136. >Whatever shirt you wore to the cabaret is lifted off your frame by a pair of cold hands as you double over and clutch your stomach. The same marble color is spreading to your whole body.
  137. >You can’t see yourself in the mirror because of the smoke and a splitting, burning itch in your head that worms its way to your eyes and ears. You gasp for air and blink rapidly, and when you look back up, your field of vision has changed and colors are so much brighter...
  138. >Underneath you, another itch turns into a twinge of discomfort. It feels like you’re sitting on your spine. You roll onto the floor and look behind you, coming face to face with a swishing blue horse tail. After a second glance, it looks like it’s a part of you. You can feel it swishing back and forth, each hair tickled by a light breeze, which distracts you from the grinding of bone coming from your shoulders and knees.
  139. >”Excellent. You’re ready now, my dear, but you must get dressed.”
  140. >Those same cold hands wrap around your midsection and carry you across the room to a smaller mirror. You crane your neck far–too far–to see your reflection, but your vision is blocked by a black lump. It worms its way down your head and neck, covering your torso and legs. A hand wraps around your neck and you gasp for air.
  141. >Mama releases you. The mirror is clearer now, but more smoke fills the room. You find yourself face to face with another pony, off-white with icy blue hair. She’s standing at eye level with you, covered in a tight black cocktail dress and a pearl choker. You take a step back in surprise. The pony does too. Both of you rear your head back. You realize you’ve lost your balance a moment too late.
  142. >Before you can fall, a hand catches you. It feels larger than you expected, but it’s the same cold pale hand which took off your shirt earlier. When she rights you, you’re not in the same place; the mirrors are gone, and an expansive set of curtains gives away your place backstage.
  143. “What happened to me?”
  144. >”You got dizzy.”
  145. ”No, I mean–was that me? I sound different.”
  146. >”You are different. You’re who you meant to be.”
  147. >Your outfit starts to chafe along your backside. “I’m not supposed to be a girl! I thought I was gonna look like Nighthawk!”
  148. >A sigh billows from behind you and carries the whiff of more cigarette smoke. “I cannot control the form you take. Fate has decided you are a showmare. Now, you shall perform.”
  149. >Your breathing grows quicker and shakier. “How can I perform? I-I don’t even know what I look like, or how to walk!”
  150. >”You don’t need to know how you look. You look like a dazzling mare ready to wow a crowd. I have seen to it. Is that not enough for you?”
  151. >From her short, sharp tone, you can tell you’ve run out of questions. “I never liked how I look anyway...”
  152. >”There, there. There is no need to worry anymore.” Those same hands envelop you in a tight constricting embrace. You gasp for air before a flood of calming serotonin washes over you. “You are beautiful now. Perform, no matter how hard it feels; you will not forget your lines. Then, for you, nirvana.”
  153. >The room fills with shadowy figures, about your height and shaped like horses. With each beam of light breaking through the curtains, you catch the face of another pony. Some are bigger than you, some are smaller, some are curvy and some are slim. You recognize Rosie from earlier and try to move towards her, but you trip over your hooves and barely stay upright. For a moment, she glances your way and shakes her head.
  154. >Your cheeks burn red. You silently slip into the line, fumbling around on these infernal unfamiliar hooves, trying to steady yourself. It’s not enough. You lose your balance, yet as the crowd begins to march forward, so do you. You hear singing far away in front of you, changing pitch but picking up in volume with each step.
  155. >The faint crooning gradually reaches your ears. The emcee sounds tired, bitter, harsh. He cries out, “Where are your troubles now? Forgotten?” as you reach the stage. Past the lights, you can make out a packed house of flickering candlelit tables. The guests fade in and out and you can’t make out any of their faces.
  156. >”Tomorrow belongs to me!” comes the siren call of the backup singers, holding a high note as they part to let you through. You never pass any of the mares in front of you, yet somehow you find yourself at the edge of the stage with no one in front of you.
  157. >Nerves overcome you as the crushing heat of countless bodies smothers you from all sides.
  158. >Suddenly you grasp for a line. The words are on the tip of your tongue. You take a deep breath, and squeak out;
  159. “Life is a cabaret, old friends! Life is a cabaret!”
  160. >Following the lead of the other showgirls, you extend a hoof, but lose your balance and fall once more.
  161. >Past cheap wood, fresh leaves, and gray brick for an eternity.
  162. >You hear birdsong and, somewhere far off, the wail of an emergency siren.
  163. >Forehooves clutch your chest as you try to rip off the tight constricting dress and choker you’ve been forced into. How did you get here?
  164. >You’re still falling.
  165. >When will the falling stop?
  166. >The world spins around you as you go head over heels. For a moment, you look up, and see a night sky full of stars. In the distance, a window breaks.
  167. >It doesn’t escape you that pirouetting towards the ground may be your most elegant performance yet.
  168. >It’s time to spare a glance down at the stage floor before your new horse face gets acquainted with it.
  169. >All you see is pitch darkness and the briefest flash of dull, painted metal.
  170. >You splay your hind legs outward to prepare for your graceful finale.
  171. >The moment comes, and yet it’s not right. You’re left in suspense for just one moment too long, enough time to second guess yourself. And then–
  172. >The show’s over.
  173.  
  174. >A door slams shut and rattles the bare walls. Two defeated men in white coats sit down at a small desk in a cramped office and toss a manilla envelope between them.
  175. >”What do you make of this?”
  176. >The police found a note in his apartment that could explain things.”
  177. >”A suicide note?”
  178. >”No. It’s the script for a nightclub performance.”
  179. >”Was he schizophrenic?”
  180. >”No. His blood alcohol content was a point-four-two. We also found several empty bottles of painkillers, but there’s no trace of them in his system. But we know he took whatever was in them.”
  181. >”Well, what happened?”
  182. >”What happened? Well, by the book, William Joshua got too drunk, overdosed in his apartment, and jumped out the window, hitting a parked car.”
  183. >”That doesn’t explain the fur or the tail, doctor.”
  184. >The good doctor rubbed his temple and took a long swig of coffee. “No, it doesn’t. But his family is outside in hysterics, and we need to give them a good answer.”
  185. >“And you think that’s good enough?”
  186. >The doctor shifts his eyes about and lands on his assistant’s shaky hand picking at his coat pocket, running something small and firm between his fingers. “Some things have no earthly explanation. Just do as I say. Don’t try and forget this because you’ll need it for your training. And go to church this Sunday.”
  187. >”Is that really all we can do? I didn’t–”
  188. >”You joined the forces to save people. Mr. Joshua can’t be saved anymore.” He waves in the direction of the door. “Go intubate the patient in room 505. He’s got to get on a ventilator by the end of the night.”
  189. >”Yes, sir, right away.” The assistant medic stands up and heads for the door, stopped at the last moment by the sharp whistle of his superior.
  190. >”Kid? Don’t fucking end up like this guy.”
  191. >He glances down at his coat and, with a grimace, removes his hand from his pocket. “No, sir, I won’t.” With his assistant gone, the good doctor slinks out the door, clocks out, and, as he leaves the dull concrete hospital, shoves two red and white pills down his throat.
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