The audience grew silent as the houselights finally dimmed.
The darkness settled over them like a worn, well-loved cape across the shoulders, providing an intimacy and warmth in the small theater.
A single spotlight, silver white, hit the center of the stage, and in the middle of it stood a man with a knife protruding from his throat.
Rivulets of blood widened and thinned in time with his heartbeat, and his head was down, his black hair hanging limp and greasy in front of his face.
He looked up, and his eyes were gone, the crimson ruin of his sockets turned toward the audience in all their grisly glory.
Some screamed, some turned away, some fainted, but none left.
The actor shambled toward the front of the stage, and those in front shrank back from his grim visage as he seemed to look at them one by one, and smiled affably, for all that his lips were swollen and his teeth were gone.
“I can hear your heartbeats, feel the heat of your blood rushing to your faces; the tang of your sweat is in the air like bitter brine, mixed with perfume that smells like sweet tea.
“You, dear audience, are a study in contrasts. You fear me, but don’t run, because you’ve paid to see me here.
“Here I am. Are you pleased? Do you have your money’s worth?”
He waited, and some began to sob as they rose to leave.
He smiled again.
“So soon? You’re being rude. You haven’t met my wife yet. Honey?”
A woman emerged from the opposite side of the stage, her torso split, organs shining wet and red in the spotlight, her head at an odd angle, with a short piece of rope still wrapped in a thick coil around her neck.
“What crime did I commit,” she said, “that they treated me so?”
She went and stood beside the man, and they held hands.
She kept her free hand around her body to hold her organs in, and blood cascaded over her arm as her knee buckled, but the man held her firm.
“Can anyone help us?” she said.
The people in the back began to scream, and cries of “Let us out!” reverberated through the theater.
“They’re rude, honey. They want to go. Can you hear them?”
“I can hear them. Shall we release them?”
“I think we should.”
No one was left in a seat as the audience scrambled, screaming and crying, for the door.
“You haven’t finished watching the play; there are more of us,” the eyeless man said.
From the balconies and exit lobbies, other actors and actresses in dead makeup shambled toward the captive audience.
As they fled to the exits, they found the doors locked, and the cast, about one hundred in all, shuffling toward them, hands outstretched to tear, fanged maws opened wide as they salivated over their crumbling chins.
The man and woman called from the stage as the dead cast members began to tear the people to bloody strips.
“Thank you for coming,” the eyeless man said.
“We hope you’ve enjoyed our play,” the disemboweled woman said.
They took a slight bow, and came down the stairs to take part in the killing, the white spotlight following them as far as it could, before it went dark.
© Alfred W. Smith Jr. 2015