Author’s note: In preparation for NaNoWriMo 2009, someone put up daily prompts on one of the forums. I did them in the spirit of warm-ups, but some of them turned into stories. Here is one such.
Prompt (and title): For once, there was no chaos.
It was halfway through Act One that the sirens went off. Good players all, we stayed in character and continued with our parts as the mechanical wolves howled at the hostile sky and the director stood in the wings with the stage manager and the two argued in soft hissing voices as to whether the show should go on under the circumstances.
We all knew that the shelter up the street had been hit by a missile in the last raid, killing who knows how many. Casualty figures were not published. We knew who had not turned up to work the next day, and why.
The orchestra continued to play, and we made our entrances and exits per stage directions, like the best of good soldiers. For once there was no chaos. We stood backstage waiting for our cues, the firemen stood on alert—stage candles now the least of their worries—and the stagehands stood ready to do what might have to be done if the roof came down. Well, that was the choice, wasn’t it—the flimsy shelter up the street or the grand edifice of the State Opera House, which might collapse and entomb all of us. We didn’t know for sure if they had aimed that missile for the shelter, but the Opera House showed up on aerial photographs and tourist guides. It was not in the least a military target.
The music was splendid. Never have I felt it so strongly, for all the counterpoint of howling air raid siren that turned Handel’s cadences into edgy modern dissonance. We stood there in our glittering costumes, utterly silent, arms around each other in the wings, for all that some of us disliked each other in real life. Eugenia, who was singing the magnificent female lead, that in the eighteenth century had belonged to a castrato, was perhaps my least favorite woman on the planet, but as she stood there waiting for her cue, her painted face faintly lit by the reflected light from the stage, I thought about how much I did not want her to die—least of all to die buried in broken rubble. I’d been on enough salvage and rescue crews to know what that was, and what we were risking standing here playing our parts.
The audience sat silent—no, breathless—poised between life and death, as we were, in the place called Art. The sirens howled on, then stopped. For the moment, Handel was having the last word. Eugenia stood in a flood of light, her elaborate headdress rocking slightly as her voice filled the house, throwing out branch after branch of song like a candelabra or the Tree of Life out of a prophet’s vision. We heard the guns, and occasionally a high shriek that might have been something incoming, though legend has it that you don’t hear the one that gets you.
It was not until the third act that the all-clear sounded, and the show continued to go on, in a hush feathered by the winged passage of the Angel of Death.
(Process information: 10/25/2009 10:18 PM to 10:34 PM, 512 words, 16 minutes)