Live Performance at the Grand Guignol

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A ForbiddenFiction Story
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Mature Content

Contains explicit sexual or violent content.

Coral is an actress in Victorian London who has just landed a plum role in the Grand Guignol. Determined to focus on her career, she decides not to get involved with any of her co-stars, but this proves more difficult than she imagines when she meets the strangely compelling Richard Morris, the actor who plays the man who murders her every night on stage. (F/M)

Short Story (3,300 Words)
Publication Date: July 28, 2015
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She caught the early omnibus but, of course, Hill and Hodgkins were already there. She couldn’t help but feel a sense of childish glee when she saw how impressed they were by her early appearance. Rehearsal began as usual, all atop the stage reciting lines and practicing blocking, and then something odd happened.

A knock came from the front doors, softly at first, and then insistent. Hills opened up, revealing a messenger boy holding tightly onto a missive. It was, no doubt, one of his first and he swelled with pride when handing it over. Hills paid the boy a farthing and read aloud, “Richard Morris.” A storm brewed on Morris’ face, and he strode at once to tear into it. Gradually his composure was punctured and he seemed to wither, until finally he looked like an uncertain young boy.

“God damn them all,” he bellowed, making for the men’s changing rooms. The others followed him and Coral heard the handle turn again and again, but he had locked himself in.

“Morris,” each person called in turn.

“Morris, my love,” Maud ladled honey onto her voice, “why don’t you let me in and I can help you?”

“Morris!” yelled Hills, “we have a play to do.”

Every second he didn’t emerge was another second Coral felt herself falling back into Madam Chavelle’s. She tried to breathe calmly, to assure herself that he simply needed a moment or two, but after half an hour she had nail indents on her palms. She flew to the room and pounded on the door. “Morris,” she barked, “we have a show to do; come out this instant.” To everyone surprise they heard the lock draw across. The door opened slightly and they glanced at each other, unsure of what to do. Maud pushed to the front expecting to walk straight in, but opened her mouth in shock when a croaky voice issued from within.

“Where is Coral? I want to speak to Coral.” She laughed nervously at the look of hatred burning from Maud.

“Come,” said Hills, “let them speak and we shall rehearse the scene where Duke discovers his wife missing.” They tramped towards the stage, Maud staring back as she went. Coral sighed, unsure how she had gotten mixed up in trouble yet again, and stepped inside.

On seeing him hunched in a wooden chair, his head in his hands, all her anger dissipated. “What’s happened?”

“My wretched family,” he held out the note, now ragged and bent, “has announced their intentions to do for my allowance. If I,” he read from the page, “insist upon keeping close quarters with misfits and ne’er-do-wells, I must support myself while doing so.” Here he placed his head back in his hands.

Coral bit her lip—that was all? Every day folks avoided the workhouse by any means necessary, and he was afraid of surviving on a performer’s wage? Still, she couldn’t help feeling sad at his helplessness, and the thought of him doing his parent’s bidding by leaving the show terrified her.

She placed a hand on his shoulder and he gripped it with his own, tickling her inner wrist with his thumb. Her body, asleep for so many months, sparked with life. She knew she should leave but she didn’t. Instead, she let his fingers stroke her arm beneath her sleeve. Surely she didn’t want this job so badly that she would debase herself again? No, she thought as she wrapped her arms about his head and lowered her lips to his, I would debase myself because I simply want to.

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