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|Ten minutes later. Decisions. The real world. *Click*...||
Ten minutes later...
Suth rushes into the greenroom, where the extras are all staring at each other and looking distinctly frightened. Over their shoulders, Suth can see Arrel on the monitor, yelling something indecipherable offstage.
“There’s something the matter, isn’t there?” Pregor says weakly, his fingertips white where they grip his clipboard.
“Yes. But it’ll all be OK if you get right down into the auditorium as fast as you possibly can. Anyone else you see on the way there, take them with you, alright?”
The extras do not argue. They all make a rush for the door and are gone within a few moments. Suth carries on, panic-stricken. The phone in his hand is still slick with sweat. He throws up door after door and yells into each,
“Get down to the auditorium, right now!”
He stumbles in on two crowd members locked in a passionate embrace and he has to prise them apart and order them downstairs, barely dressed. As he runs, behind him, streams of men, women and children are pouring out of their rooms and fleeing down the stairs. Many of the rooms are empty because they belonged to future characters, who now no longer exist. The rowdy ones who assailed Arrel with insults are now little more than memory. Their dressing room is littered with cans and bottles and books with bent spines. Children of the Revolution still blares from their stereo.
Back in the corridor, he runs smack up against Talia. He instantly turns a bright red and backs up a few hasty steps (he has always had a rather bad crush on Talia) before asking what she is doing out of the theatre.
“I was looking for you. There isn’t much time left. Thanks, Suth, you’ve done a brilliant job, come on, everyone’s waiting.”
As they were running, Suth went over this phrase again in his head.
“Waiting? But what are we going to do?”
“I don’t know,” Talia said honestly, blinking wide green eyes, “I’m trusting Arrel.”
“You don’t think he’ll...”
But Suth knows the answer before he finishes the sentence. Talia most likely knows full well too, what Arrel is planning to do with an army of renegade story characters; escape. Instead, Suth comments,
“I wonder why evil little conniving companies like Effacing Corps always give you a surprisingly large amount of time to think about their evil plans.”
He holds the door open for Talia at the end of the corridor and she half-smiles as she passes him,
“Where would the adventure be without that extra twenty minutes?”
Together, they run downstairs to find pandemonium in the auditorium. They can barely get down the last few steps for the crowding bodies of petrified extras. Everywhere, Suth recognises faces of people he has seen in many crowd and battle sequences. So many of them, wandering about between dressing rooms, hundreds of them. On the stage, he sees Pregor hand Arrel a prop microphone, which he promptly switches on and says clearly,
“Ladies and gentlemen.”
The noise lessens somewhat, but there is still an unsettled murmuring washing up and down like tides in between the aisles.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Arrel says again, “I ask you to please calm yourselves. Everything has been taken care of. But I must tell you now, we are leaving Vi...this story.”
The susurration of dissent grows in horror. A single incensed thought might as well be glowing on the forehead of every person present;
“We are going out into the ‘real world’ via a back way. There, I assure you, we will be safe.”
“Safe from what?” someone calls out.
“Yeah!” another agrees.
And it is like an assembly scene all over again. Everyone is playing themselves, although, to be fair, that is all they have ever been playing.
“Safe from being forgotten!” Arrel shouts into the microphone, so that his voice reverberates around the room a thousand fold.
“We shall not be forgotten,” Arrel whispers, “We shall not be erased. We shall not be deleted on the whim of a...on a whim. We will go out into the ‘real world’ and we shall be safe. I, for one, do not want to let all that we have achieved go to waste. And we are the finest thing we will ever achieve in a story.”
He drops the microphone. At a signal, Pregor beckons and shouts over the crowd, a call that apparently only the front line of people can hear, but that gets passed on so that slowly, gradually, everyone begins to move forward. They climb up onto the stage and into the right wing.
“Why can’t we just go out through the main door, where Viola always comes in?” asks Suth.
“We tried,” Talia answers, “But the Effacers set locks all around a story’s theatre.”
“So how can we get out?”
“A back way. The front way is the printed text. Whereas, if we go out through the pages of a script, then we come out in a notebook somewhere.”
“How on earth does that make sense?” Suth cries out, as he is crashed into from all sides and the wind knocked out of him.
“We’re getting out through the fax machine,” says Talia simply.
((Out in the ‘real world’, one by one now, characters are streaming out of the printer. Everyone in the house is out. It is almost impossible to describe; because they are fictional in a world that is non-fictional, they are allowed a greater freedom. They are constantly living inside brackets, where anything goes.
First their outlines appear, then the printer begins to fill them in with colour and life. They step out, one at a time, steadily filling the small room that is Viola’s room. They look on everything with a kind of muted reverence. A reason why computers are such a boon in their world is because pens and pencils are forbidden. They are objects of immense power in fictional realms, where ink is a precious commodity. If one were to escape into the hands of anyone other than an author, terrible things could invade a story. And here, in this small room, they are everywhere; on shelves, on the windowsill, on top of torn notepads, crunching underfoot, piled up in pots, spilling out of pencilcases and lodged in between the books that take up most of the wall space.
Arrel appears somewhere near the back of the group. There are only a few more minutes to go.
“Viola!” he calls.
His voice sounds desperately faint. He tries to call louder but a little character’s voice cannot carry far out of its own book.
“Viola!” he shouts as loud as he possibly can. But no one is there. As the last few characters begin to pour out of the fax machine, he pushes through the throng, who now fill up the entire landing outside.
“Viola, please...! Has anyone seen Viola? You know what she looks like! Come on, hasn’t anyone...”
There is a faint, but somehow perfectly audible
Everyone hears it. Everyone falls very quiet. Suth comes bursting between the nearest two extras and grabs Arrel by the arm,
“Arrel, I’ve got to...”
Arrel holds up a hand for just a moment. He is listening. Again, he hears it. Faint, but still, for some reason, right in his ear.
“Arrel! Listen to me! We haven’t escaped it!”
Arrel looks down at his friend slightly wildly and understands why Suth is clutching his arm so tightly and why his voice is coming in such a tugging, painful way. The way someone might say they are going to have their legs amputated and no one’s laughing.
Arrel does not know what he can do. He is at a complete loss. His head seems suddenly viciously empty, mocking him for all the times he has ever had a brilliant idea.
But then the sun rises. As it always does. At first, Arrel thinks he is hallucinating, with the claustrophobic weight of the crowds, Suth’s painful grip on his arm, and the whirling black hole where his thought used to be. But to his delirious vision, Viola is suddenly standing at the top of the stairs, staring round in absolute disbelief. Arrel can see, even from here, that all her nails are bitten down to the quick. There are great dark rings under her eyes and there are no shoes on her feet. Her eyes are so wide and so deep that someone might drown in them. Her standing there, and him seeing her for the first time in so very long, is a moment Arrel will never forget.
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