New Horror Fiction: The Play (The Queen’s Idle Fancy)

Hello Dear A Writer’s Life Readers,

I realize I have been away for too much time, of late, and I hope this opening section of my current Work In Progress, The Play (The Queen’s Idle Fancy), tides you over. I’m having a blast sorting through the history of this forbidden and condemned play, almost lost to the depths of time; the only known copy is introduced to a local community theater stage hand by the strangest of characters. From there, anything goes.

“We are all demonic!” —Queen Stormag

A last painting by George Bogdanovitch.

This painting is perfect to set off the feeling in this horror story. There’s beauty in the badness, beguiling, and ugliness in perfection. My father painted this yellow butterfly, one of over a hundred paintings, in his last few years while living in an assisted living home. His room was tiny, dull gray walls, but his vision was infinite.

*

The Play (The Queen’s Idle Fancy)

by

Justin Bog

*

“No, it’s my turn to buy.” Roger said this with a weary frown, a put-upon wince escaping, since, in a drunken state, he’d lost track of how much money he had left in his account, what penalties he’d have to face later in the week.

“That’s okay, Roger, I think I’ve reached my limit, and Sally here has an early morning with the kids. Can’t stay out so late on a school night all the time.” Morton placed a flat palm on the tabletop, and stood up to leave. “Thank you for the drinks. See you both tomorrow.” Sally gathered her coat, and purse, a small strappy thing.

“Yes, thank you, Roger. You’re always such a sport. See ya tomorrow night.”

“Bye guys.” Roger watched them leave, Morton holding the door for Sally, he knowing Morton was interested in asking her on a date without a third wheel like him hanging around. A burgeoning cast-mate romance.

The play. Time grew short for the community theater cast preparations, full dress in seven days, and another late night’s practice. Anything for the stage, Roger thought, right? But, Roger couldn’t begin to fathom why he was so on edge. He loved his role as Stage Manager, and all-around step-and-fetch-it and handyman. Some of his former sets showed off his ingenuity, even if he’d always be too shy to ever take a speaking role. On several occasions over the past twenty years, he could be a lantern bearer, a dancing Shark (or Jet, if someone fell ill and the choreography wasn’t too difficult to pick up—“No one will notice you in the back line, Roger, and I can’t thank you enough for stepping up to the plate whenever we need you!”), or the prompter whenever the more beautiful actors stumbled over their lines.

The play. The play’s the thing. Six months ago, he’d never heard of it. The theater board meeting to decide the new season schedule loomed on the calendar. Roger was doing inventory, marking what remained in good condition, the lighting fixtures, how many costumes could be salvaged. He didn’t get paid for this. His day job consisted of sitting in a tollbooth at the San Juan Ferry Terminal five days a week, the early morning shift, taking money, handing out tickets . . .

Then, Waltzcrop appeared, and introduced himself. The disdained air of self-importance came across in waves. He was a pointy-headed older gentleman with waxy skin. Bundled up in a long black wool coat and a knit cap (that didn’t hide much of the point—Roger couldn’t stop glancing at the top of Waltzcrop’s head), he walked into the theater’s underbelly with a forceful stride.

“I’d like to speak to you about a play,” Waltzcrop said.

“What? I’m not the right person,” Roger said. He was immediately on edge, defensive, a suspicion born from being startled, frightened in the dim space. He came out of nowhere in the gloom of the back room—an apparition couldn’t do much worse. “In fact, I know I’m probably the wrong person. I’m not in charge of the local theater, or the plays they choose to produce.”

“Ah, I see, you’re a humble servant to the stage. Well, being new to the area, I thought I would try to make your acquaintance. I’m Frederick Waltzcrop.” He stuck out a gloved hand, black leather, and Roger extended his own dust-covered hand to shake.

The name didn’t mean anything to Roger, or the presumptuous manner the older gentleman in front of him used. Roger worked for decades around stage divas, actors who headlined local theater shows did have a singular pecking order that shifted and changed with each play’s cast.

“Roger Compish.”

“My pleasure. Do you think we can retire to a better space? I will only take a moment of your time, and then you can point me in the direction of the theater’s main planning board.”

“Don’t see why not. Besides, this room gives me the creeps. Follow me.”

Roger wound his way along the back hall, behind the main stage, took a right that led to the front lobby, which bypassed the theater itself, all the seats in their empty folded positions. Waltzcrop followed.

“I don’t suppose there’s a cup of tea available,” Waltzcrop said.

“That would be correct. I’m finishing up here. The actors won’t return until late afternoon for today’s rehearsal. What can I do for you?”

The gentleman in black stuck his hand in a coat pocket and brought out an old book, a paperback, larger than a pulp novel, but ragged at the edges of the yellow binding. “If I give you this play . . . this book—a recent discovery of mine—can I count on you to hand it to the person in charge of the schedule? That’s all I ask.”

There was that politeness, the feeling in the back of Roger’s mind that he had to be equally polite. What’s the harm?

“What’s the title? And what’s the play about? This town has a retirement community backbone and never considers plays that are controversial, or meant to stir up too many people, or the PTA, if you know where I’m coming from. Want to keep the sponsors, and the social-climbing check-writing bluebloods enthralled so they keep giving their time and money to the theater . . . heaven forbid, we’re not in business to offend their delicate stage-managed sensibilities–this isn’t Off Broadway, not even close.”

The man chuckled. Low, under his breath. He stared at Roger and his smile widened. “I assure you, on my honor, this play is perfect for the patrons on this island. It’s a farce. Why don’t you read it first, and then you’ll be in complete agreement. Here.” And Waltzcrop handed over the book. The Queen’s Idle Fancy. The play’s title in faded red across the front.

“Never heard of it,” Roger said.

“As I said, it’s a most beneficial discovery. I studied theater most of my life, and searched in the dreariest of places for the right play, the kind only whispered about in stories passed down from generation to generation—and, let me tell you, one has to keep his ears to the ground to sniff out lost drama. No one’s heard of The Queen’s Idle Fancy. It hasn’t been performed in over four hundred years. And, even then, just the once. This may be the only copy left in existence.”

Roger turned the front page and noticed how thin the vellum was—see-through almost, like cellophane. A blank first page and then another with only the title in what looked like a calligrapher’s script, perfectly legible, and then a copyright page with a few smudged lines, the year unrecognizable, a dedication page to someone named Huffins Mackepeace, and then the first page of the play with divided dialogue between two characters, Camoustra and Frenalto, each page making Roger feel, with some discomfiture, tense. He rubbed at his temple with his free hand. A headache formed there, small yet.

“I couldn’t possibly take your only copy. This is probably worth a fortune as an ancient book, artifact.”

“I’d never sell it. The best books have no price. You read it. Decide for yourself. I’ll stop by in a week’s time and you can tell me if you’d like to pass it along to those who make the precious decisions.”

Roger didn’t know what to think. His mind filled with pain. And, just to end the meeting with the strangest person he’d met in a very long time, he nodded. In the haze, he watched as Waltzcrop exited through the front lobby doors. He didn’t want to see him again. That future meeting loomed and spiked there—his brain began to focus on healing. Moving. And Roger, with The Queen’s Idle Fancy in hand, locked the theater up tight and headed home in search of Tylenol.

Sleeping the day away, Roger’s rest, probably his late-nights depleting his energy to bits, restored his vigor. When he awoke, he realized the play practice was underway without him and that the director, so used to scolding other adults, someone who never learned that this was a horrible personal tendency that usually only showed up in people who perceived themselves to be in power, or better than many of those who surrounded them, would probably not let his absence go without a withering insult. Roger showered and dressed. He glanced at The Queen’s Idle Fancy, the only book on his living room table, and actually felt like sitting down and reading it, blowing off the play. The play.

And he did just that. He took off his coat, picked up The Queen’s Idle Fancy and read it through, completed it in a little over three hour’s time with one intermission. He gobbled up the words. Camoustra, Frenalto, Bilder’s revenge, a demon in a child’s form, growing up and becoming consort to the Queen in the title (the spare illustrations in spidery lines drawn between scenes), Queen Stormag, who needed to find a King, fulfill a prophecy, and banish competing demons to hell. Most of the cast and villagers spoke, but were also possessed by demons after tricking them one by one into releasing their souls. But, and this was the part that pleased Roger, the Queen found the one person in the village who could resist temptation, a strong blacksmith (are there any other kind?), whose sister, a handmaiden to Queen Stormag, would throw herself from the highest castle turret after introducing Bilder to the Queen . . . when her brother, the one moral man left in that area, unaffected, came to collect her corpse, the Queen would ask for him. And the plot became even more complex, crossings, double-crossings, souls eaten and more death, but a certain beauty in its puzzling meanderings from the villagers being demonized, to the royal castle under siege, people changing, and the Queen at the center. The actress who played that plum role would need to be compassionate and haughty, able to walk that theatrical line from sweetness to bile in an instant.

And Roger knew of just the actress.

*

To read Part 2, simply click HERE!

more to come as the words find print and focus . . .

thanks for riding along on this journey,

ever,

Justin

 

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32 Responses to “New Horror Fiction: The Play (The Queen’s Idle Fancy)”

  • benditty

    Can’t wait to see this play in action 🙂 Reading the next one.

  • staury

    You have a unique way to make me wish to read more and more of your stories Justin ..and that’s exactly what i’m going to do … moving on to the next part now !!!

    Your father’s painting is so amazing !!!

    Staury 🙂

    • justin

      You wouldn’t believe how welcome and wonderful your comments, opinions, thoughts are, Staury. This writing challenge, to put out a coherent weekly chapter of an ongoing storyline with a large cast of characters, and a darker element (that I hope doesn’t go into melodramatic and purple prose land), is sometimes filled with anxiety. I imagine this pushes my writing mind. I like the chilly atmosphere being developed in the early stages. Something explosive must happen by the end. Thank you for your kindness towards my late father’s paintings. xo Justin

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