Happy Halloween, Mavenland! In case you haven't heard, the Manuscript Mavens are running a Choose Your Own Adventure® story, in which YOU vote on what happens next! Every morning brings a new author, from the Mavens to the just-sold, to the best-selling. And every night brings a new twist!
(No idea what's going on? Read the "rules." Want to read the entire story, in order, on one page? Click here for the whole story)
"You know, Mary…my coat is on fire. And your sister has reappeared over there. And I think I might have figured out how to save the town from tragedy. And I'm certain it might have been you I loved all along. I think. Oh, and it appears the combination of liquids we've spilled are combining to create some sort of cloud of elixir to rid us of our curses. You're no longer a zombie, my fingers have returned. We are saved." He turned back to his cuticles. "And I think it might cure the zombies too. Just saying, is all."
"No, no, no," the director snapped. "You've completely forgotten your lines again, Nightshade. And you, 'Mary', how long were you going to let him ramble before giving him a cue?" The man sighed and ran a harassed hand through his extravagant platinum locks. "This will never do, not even for the likes of Bishops Itchington."
The actress who played Mary felt her cheeks heat because she quite enjoyed watching 'Nightshade' when he got flustered. With a face like his, he couldn't have a mind like a steel trap. You could bounce a quarter off those abs. Too bad she wasn't ten years younger, and he… about twenty IQ points smarter.
"Go. I can't look at either of you." Their director covered his eyes in a dramatic gesture that suggested he was valiantly fighting back despair. That, or trying to keep his eyeballs from leaping from his skull.
"Why didn't I take the job in my uncle's chapeau shop?" Julian muttered in mock despair. "I might've at least met some interesting men."
She sighed and walked offstage, tugging off the matted wig that gave her the proper maddened zombie look. Yuck, she'd actually eaten the stupid cooked meat-brain thing. Again. And it did not taste like chicken. Her stomach gurgled, and the effluvia from whatever the props master had dumped on the floor to give the stage the smoky look suited to a mad scientist's lab stung her throat. And she'd have to do it all again tomorrow, assuming the pretty idiot could remember his lines this time.
Let's not forget the dress. And then a two-week run.
"Jesus," she said aloud, peering at her reflection in the mirror. Were those two new lines on her forehead? Did she need Botox?
No, she knew what she needed to do. She just didn't want to do it. Not again. Such things carried a price, and she didn't want to pay. No more heartbreak.
If she hadn't needed the job so badly, she never would've taken this two-bit role. Dinner theatre, for Christ's sakes. She'd never get back to London at this rate, not playing opposite Sexy Mr. Hair-for-Brains himself, Colin Queene. She just couldn't take a former male model seriously; no matter how he looked the part of the pale, doomed lover. He just couldn't muster the emotional intensity.
To make matters worse, the director fancied himself a playwright. He'd penned this 'tragedy', claiming it a match for the Bard himself. She reckoned Julian claimed some sort of osmotic inspiration, given they were in the Stratford-on-Avon district. Why Julian's brother-in-law thought a dinner theatre would thrive in this backwater hamlet was beyond her.
"Zombies are the new vampires," Julian had said. "It'll be too delicious, I promise. Imagine the merchandising. I can't pay up a lot up front, but it's going to be huge. We start in Bishops Itchington but I guarantee once the press gets wind of this show, we'll hit London and then New York. I'll bring you back to Broadway, darling."
Maybe it had been the Chivas or the Xanax, but it had sounded so wonderful in that bar, and Julian had been wearing such a shiny shirt. She sighed. That ought to serve as an object lesson. Never trust a man who sparkles.
Out front, she heard the sounds of a terrible row. Something to do with printing costs for the program because of the ridiculously long title: The Cotswold Curse: Being the True Story of the Late Mysterious Happenings in Rural Oxfordshire, Together With the Perilous Adventures of Miss Mary Goodweather and her Pesky Virginhood
Virgin. Now that was a good one. If it wasn't so unladylike, she'd snort over that. Sarah creamed off her makeup, noting that she looked every one of her years. Soon there would be nothing to do but take the parts of matrons and then eventually, God forbid, grandmothers.
Screw it, she'd retire before then – damned if she would wind up like Meryl Streep, playing cartoon villains in live action movies. At least here in Bishops Itchington, few would see how the mighty had fallen.
"You are Sarah Wellesley," she told her reflection fiercely. "You starred on Broadway. You won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress!"
"I know." The man who played Nightshade stood in the doorway of her dressing room, pale and preternaturally beautiful. "I'm sorry I ballsed it up today."
Under his silvered gaze, she felt odd. Shopworn. If it wouldn't have shredded the last of her dignity, she would've grabbed the feathered mask discarded on a chaise nearby, left over from the dream sequence dance number.
Yep. Dancing zombies. Julian sure could write. So what the hell did it matter if this pretty boy could act?
She made herself smile. "It's all right. Everyone has bad days."
He shook his head. "Not you. And that's why I… why I can't get it right. No matter what I do, it won't live up to your performance. You… shine, Sarah. You blew my mind in The Empire Never Ended. Shit, half the time I can't believe I'm in the same building with you, let alone sharing the stage."
Now he radiated emotional intensity, shy, tentative, and full of a raw, terrible delight. She'd thought he never spoke to her because he saw himself as better than her, a rising star to her falling arc across the sky. And now she saw something else entirely.
"Would you like to get a coffee?" she heard herself ask. "We could talk the play over. Perhaps run lines later. And I could… give you a few tips, if you'd like."
Are you really going to do this again, Sarah?
"God, yes," Colin said, and it fed her battered ego to hear his eagerness. "You're so lovely," he added, almost as if he couldn't help himself. "When you turn your head just so, there's a gorgeous Audrey Hepburn quality to your profile. You're just so…" Words appeared to fail him.
Old. You have no idea.
But she didn't speak the words aloud. Instead she got her purse and smiled up at him. "She had a certain ageless appeal, didn't she? I think I can teach you a few things, darling. Don't worry…I don't bite."
YOUR TURN: Thank you for spending Halloween with the Manuscript Mavens and all our awesome Guest Mavens! Now that we've reached The End, what shall we name this tale of romance, intrigue, and terror? Submit all your title ideas in the comments! As many title ideas as you can dream up, anything goes. And don't forget--prizes are announced tomorrow! Tell your friends! *g
Today's continuation brought to you by Ann Aguirre.