People die all the time.
Death comes in a myriad of forms and is an unfortunately inevitable occurrence. Mankind is responsible for much of it. But it is typically the act of one man. It doesn’t come about by the general public will, unless the persecuted party has done something wrong.
In most cases, that is.
There are the unfortunate few who die for the sake of entertainment; they die simply because it is found funny or enlightening in some way to see them perish. Some of these people bring it on themselves. Others are brought to their demise in the approval of a cheering audience. I have seen people die like this. Willing or not, I have seen those who are sacrificed in the name of depraved violence.
Of all places, I was going to watch a play. It was a sunny summer afternoon, and I was forced to watch one of these plays for a project in my theater class. The selection I had looked at the week before held a narrow selection of choices. Most of them were cliché or overdone. The Sound of Music, Les Miserablės, and A West Side Story were among them. I wanted to see something that went off the beaten path. Not just another carbon copy, but a true theatrical spectacle that differed from the rest in its style, concept, and execution. As I looked at the poster before me, I knew this show was going to be unlike any other. In bold, red text it read:
THE PLAY TO END THEM ALL!
Neither the cast nor crew was credited. There wasn’t a director listed either. The show wasn’t promoted in any of the theater’s programs. There wasn’t a description of events. All I could do was watch the play to find out about its story.
As I entered the theater, the crowd remained quiet. Not a cell phone was being used. Tattered red curtains were drawn to reveal a crudely constructed wooden stage. The background consisted of peeling red and orange flames on a canvass yellowed with age. In front of all of this stood who I presumed to be the show’s ringmaster. He was a stout, plump man whose permanent smile curled from ear to ear. His squinted eyes and rosy cheeks juxtaposed with his dirty red suit and frayed top to create a comical, albeit creepy scene. I took a seat and waited for the play to begin.
Young children from the crowd came up on stage. The children all appeared to be about seven to eight years old. Their races varied, but they all seemed happy to be a part of the play. The ringmaster cheerily rehearsed a song with the kids before shooing them backstage. After a few shouts to the technical crew, he began to speak.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” he genially announced, “tonight you will see something different from the likes of anything you have ever seen before. Feast your eyes on the feats of endurance, talent, and skill. Tonight, folks, you will all witness the theater’s most daring and perilous production. A performance unlike any other, it will test the will of the audience as well as the cast and crew. Tonight you will see…” All of the lights shone brightly across the decaying set. “FIN! THE PLAY TO END THEM ALL!”
Complete darkness surrounded the roaring crowd as they excitedly anticipated the show ahead. Slowly, a blanket of yellow light poured onto the stage. Two clowns entered. An eerie silence plagued the room. One wore black overalls with bright blue buttons. His dirtied face was lightly covered with white makeup, and his yellow, oversized shoes were speckled with dirt and…blood. The other was donned in a pink, fluffy one piece. He too wore haphazardly applied facial makeup along with a shock of bright red hair.
Both of them sported melee weapons. The one in the black overalls had a butcher knife while the other had a hammer. The crowd nervously laughed at their presence. The clown in the one piece showed an expression of humorous inspiration before going off stage. When he returned, he was dragging a young woman who appeared to be 19 or 20. She kept tugging away from him in desperation and shaking her head. The crowd gasped as tears began to flow from her eyes. Her attempts to scream were muffled by the strip of duct tape that went over her mouth. The two clowns pointed and doubled over in silent laughter. I, along with nearly everyone else, was taken aback by the scene. Some tried to leave, but found to their chagrin that the doors were locked. The non-consenting “actress” struggled to break from the unrelenting grasp of the brutish entertainers, but this only amused them more.
Suddenly, the pink clown hammered down on the girl’s skull with a wide-eyed smile. The other giddily joined him in her murder. Her screams became fainter with each stab and traumatizing hit. She gurgled and collapsed. Blood drenched the clowns’ suits as her last moments came to a grim close. The two clowns cajoled the audience into a nervous chuckle and wholeheartedly bowed. While one of them continued to smile, the other silently crept up behind his compatriot and stabbed him in the back. Smiling, the pink clown turned around and beat him in the head behind the closing curtains.
A bright smirk came across the ringmaster’s face as he stepped out to speak to the audience. “Everyone give a hand for Malice and Grind!” The crowd not only clapped, but occasionally cheered. Their reaction vastly differed from the feigned amusement from before; these onlookers were legitimately entertained by this theatrical bloodshed. I was thoroughly shaken. But it wasn't over.
“For our next act,” the ringmaster continued, “we’re going all the way to Magadan, Russia. Give it up for Katrina Yechensky!”
A ballerina entered from stage right as the curtains drew. The sequins of her dress and the embellishment of her makeup vibrantly contrasted the faded background and the streak of crimson blood from the clown segment. Booing from the technical crew and the actors faded into a solemn silence. One comment in particular stood out in my mind:
“Break your leg!”
Beethoven’s was played from an unseen piano as she began to dance. Her movements coincided with the dance gracefully. Even the disturbing classical rendition didn’t ruin the artistic eloquence of her pirouettes.
Butcher knives came speeding out from the wings. Each one hit the floor with a sharp sound. Soon, more were thrown, along with axes, cleavers, and even flaming arrows. Amongst the danger, the ever-persistent ballerina continued to dance through the flames. The melee onslaught barely missed her. It almost looked like she was purposefully bypassing them. This went on for around 10 minutes. As she was about to finish her final twirl, a flaming arrow shot with blazing speed through her stomach. She first stood frozen in horror, then finally collapsed as the crew hacked her to death. In a twisted act of closure, the audience cheered with gusto.
Everything settled as the corpulent announcer made his way to the spotlight. A sickly light red mist perforated the wash of yellow light across the stage. After waiting for the crowd to settle, the announcer finally spoke.
“For our final act,” he said in an almost mad tone, “the children will sing for us.”
All of the children from before the show started stood in a line. They had clear expressions of terror, yet managed to keep their composure as the most unnerving song came on. It was a slowed version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” except the kids sang it with an ever-apparent timidity in their voices. The remaining cast and crew contemptuously derided the children offstage. Wielding a knife, the ringmaster began to slit each child’s throat. Every child kept singing amidst the din of their acquaintances’ sputtering of blood, all the way until the last girl was slain in an act of thespian savagery. When she grabbed at her throat, the patrons around cheered as the ringmaster smugly bowed. Parents of the children could be seen standing up in approval The girl clung to the hem of her murderer’s coat, only to be brusquely shoved away. Everyone alive and involved with the play gathered on stage for a curtain call. They stepped over the corpses and commenced with their exits.
“Well folks,” he concluded, “wasn’t that marvelous? I know I love children. They’re so docile. So innocent. At any rate, I hope you had a wonderful evening. If any of you ever think about going into acting, remember one thing: break your leg!”
Satisfied playgoers passed me by as I furtively waited for everyone to exit. Sometime during the show, the doors unlocked themselves. The theater was completely silent. The ringmaster disappeared behind the background curtains. I called out to him, but he wasn’t hearing me. Cautiously, I stepped over the creaking floorboards with deliberation and made my way past the peeling wallpaper. Copious amounts of dust and other various contaminants stifled the air as I entered into the darkness.
Haunting piano notes began to play as I entered. Most of the room was shrouded in darkness, with the exception of a solitary, naked light bulb that dangled precariously above the decrepit piano. The same slowed version of “Twinkle Twinkle” was playing, though each note carried an air of increasingly impending doom. Something was etched into the instrument’s rotting wood. None of the chords were moving as the song continued to play. I approached the inscription with paralyzing apprehension. Crudely ingrained into the wood, the hauntingly familiar phrase repeated itself:
BREAK YOUR LEG
I was thrust into blindness. No, the light didn’t go out. I know this because I could still faintly detect its presence. Suddenly, an invisible force snapped my leg. In sheer desperation, I ran as fast as my leg would carry me in the opposite direction. Luckily, I ran into a door and fell a couple of short feet into the grass. My vision came back. I looked back to find the door. The sun was setting, so I ran away.
I never did tell my teacher about what I saw.
After a couple of weeks, the play was shut down.
Neither the remaining cast nor crew were ever heard from again.
Everyone interviewed about their encounter with the play could not remember ever seeing it.
I wish I couldn't.