by Will Hart
The first scene of this story takes place on a nonmaterial plane of being. Call it heaven, nirvana, the hereafter, perhaps even a literary device. Whatever the case may be the image of this 'nonplace' is of your choosing. Keep in mind that the entities that inhabit this realm do not have the luxuries or restrictions of bodies. They exist as pure intelligence or spirit. For these reasons you can understand that it is very nearly impossible to describe their existence.
The problem is further compounded by the lack of time as we know it. They live in what can only be called an extremely subtle environment. One devoid of touch, texture, sight, sound, smell, taste and physical events to mark crucial turning points - or anything else for that matter. It gets boring. This is one reason that virtually every entity that passes from Earth to the Beyond chooses to be reincarnated. Now we can turn to eavesdrop on an important conversation that took place there, not long before the story I am about to tell occurred down on earth.
"But all the suffering, the confusion, the stupidity, I...I am at a loss to understand why you of all people here would want to return to that God forsaken world."
"I have already explained it to you in unending detail. Again and again I have told you of my reasons, my passion really. They have made a mess out of my work. 300 years have gone by and one would think they would have sopped it all up by now. But no! The thick-headed bumbling fools go on as ever pretending, lying, cheating, betraying - even killing. Worse, the directors have messed up the stage directions. They think nothing of misin-terpreting my work. As for the actors they have fouled up the characters and ruined the delicate balance between physical gesture and spoken line. And the audiences... What can one say, my good man."
"Yes, I understand all that, old friend. All you say is true. But wasn't it one of your characters that said, 'Sweep on you fat and greasy citizens.' I beg you not to apply to the council for rebirth. We would miss you. The world of man goes on as ever. Reform is an idle notion, Shakespeare."
" Ah yes. Wasn't it I who wrote: Oft expectation fails, and most oft there- Where most it promises. Or: When we are born, we cry that we are come- To this great stage of fools. And, O! That way madness lies; let me shun it. Enough! The rest is silence or should be. But they have made a literary god, a cult figure out of me. And it is wrong. I am the fountain of the endless cliches that spew from their mouths. Well, I am going to return and put a stop to it, Sigmund ..."
The second scene is not so hard to imagine. Shakespeare is seated on a couch watching television. He is 13. His name is Osborne Goodenough. He has a croaky pubescent voice and is so brainy he is considered to be a prime candidate for class nerd. Unfortunately, he has no recollection of his past life, death or rebirth. He has also forgotten the reason why he wanted to take another turn on the wheel of life. Like all teens he is profoundly disturbed, insecure and self-conscious. One last thing: his hormones are making him believe that females are the most awesome, powerful beings in the universe.
His sister's best friend, Tiffany, walks into the living room. He sneaks a peek at the girl his friends call "Mega boobs." She smiles at him deliciously. It's an innocent gesture. There is no seduction in it. But he is terrorized. He unglues his eyes from her and glues them back on the TV. Too late his pulse begins to quicken.
"You really gonna go through with it Ozzie?" she asks. "Go through with what?" he answers embarrassed because his voice breaks up and shreds itself half way through. "Act in the play."
"Yeah. I don't care if the guys think it's uncool. I don't know, I just have this feeling about it." "Me too. Romeo and Juliet. It's like so romantic," she sighs. He glances at her, carefully watching her bosom swell and then deflate. "I'd rather do Hamlet. That's what I'm voting for." He finishes, gets up and goes to his room before Tiffany can respond. He shuts the door behind him, walks to his computer desk and pushes the on button. The WordPerfect screen pops up.
The next scene finds our hero after he has untangled the twisting history of his incarnation-death-rebirth cycle. He is mired in middle age, married with children and still unknown. Ozzie is prolific having written 12 novels, 20 plays, 46 short stories, countless poems, and as a result struggling author Goodenough is quite poor. Only 1 of his novels, 1 play and 4 short stories have been published. We find him hunched over his word processor late one night.
The phone rings. " Hello." " Sorry to bother you so late and all Oz. But I got some news, bad news," his agent Marvin Snow offers. " Don't tell me. At the last minute they decided on 'Much Ado About Nothing' instead of 'Necessary Lies'- right?"
" You're close. They're going with 'MACBETH' followed by a rehash of a hit broadway musical. Ditto for the screenplay. Rocky VII." " I put my best stuff into those manuscripts."
" I know, I know. Here's what Murry the Producer had to say. 'It's overwritten for one. Today's theatregoer is after enter-tainment, not insight. Americans don't wanna shell out money for anything resembling serious literary works. That's for college lit courses.' Hell, it's not just Americans, Oz. Attention spans are shriveling everywhere. Anyway, just write something that's fit for prime time or can be summed up on a bumper sticker and I'll sell it."
"What about originality, Marv? The Big Dream? Not to mention artistic integrity. Remember? I've got my own standards to measure up to. I don't want to measure down to the marketplace. Commercialism is the worst kind of tyranny. I should've been born in Russia for Christsakes. Claimed dissidenthood. Then these same goddamn people would be clamoring to produce my plays, publish my books and make movies out of my stories."
" Come on. You're talkin' high falutin' nonsense now. Worse, you sound cynical. You gotta make tradeoffs. Think of it this way: in order to finance THE BIG DREAM you gotta make ONE BIG COMPROMISE. 'Sell when you can; you're not for all markets.' It's a valid point. The master said it." " Shit."
The final scene is not for the feint of heart. The sequence takes place in two different settings, a publishing house and a theater. Our protagonist is in a frenzy.
" Do you see this gun?" Shakespeare/Goodenough says opening his coat to reveal a black machine pistol. " Ye...yes sir," the editorial assistant stammers. " Alright then. I want my royalties and I want them now." " What royalties?"
" The goddamn royalties you blood sucking scumbags have pocketed for the last 300 years! Then I want a cut of every novel you ever published. We'll call it compensation for plagiarism. Every author has ripped off something from me." " I don't know what you're talking about."
The deranged writer peers through the window at the members of the editorial board seated around a mahogany table. They are well-dressed and appear relaxed. He surveys OmniMedia's best and brightest from the chief editor to the top marketing whiz kid. They are humoring their superstar author's interstellar ego. " I'll bet the bastards that own this word factory are quite rich aren't they?" The hapless assistant editor shrugs apologetically. It finally dawns on him that the man with the gun is an insane writer.
" Well, I am up on your game. Do you realize that this culture is dead?" The poor man looks confused. Rather than argue he nods. " Endlessly repeating words and phrases I wrote centuries ago. Do you know many times 'life is as tedious as a tale twice told' has been uttered in these witless portals? And to what end? 'Parting is such sweet sorrow... To be or not to be'," he says breaking into hysterical laughter. At that moment the editor-in-chief walks out of the paneled office with his arm around Omni's best selling author.
" I like the Shakespeare twist, I really do," he lies. "It'll work. Another blockbuster, babe." " Well, that's where I get most of my inspiration. You know the one that really sticks with me?" The editor-in-chief raises his eyebrows in mock query. " What's in a name? That which we call a rose..." " By any other name would smell as sweet," the editor finishes with a wry smile. "Perfect," the marketing director chimed in.
The crazed writer has stopped his cackling long enough to listen to the exchange. As the men finish speaking he slips the gun out of his coat and begins firing.
The story got a front page slot for several reasons: It took place in the hallowed halls of a grand old institution. Two very important persons got killed. A number of people of lessor import were wounded at the publishing house. Then the reincarnate rushed to the theater. There he confronted the director. He shot him and the actor playing Macbeth as well.
The morning headlines read: Mass Murderer Strikes Twice -Out to Kill Culture?
Fortunately, all's well that ends well. Ozzie got sent to a psychiatric ward for refusing to stop acting the part of William Shakespeare. After that his luck changed. He sold the rights to his life story to the tabloids. Rumor has it that Hollywood is interested...
Will Hart is a freelance writer and photographer living in Reno, Nevada. His work has appeared in CN&R magazine and Sierra Heritage magazine.