Raymond had worked with the troupe for years, yet was still considered the rookie. It not a term of denigration, but rather affection. He was the youngest of the sizable group, and felt that he had acquired a significant number of older brothers and sisters. He had proven himself repeatedly, though it still rankled him that he was the first they turned to when performing roles such as Oliver Twist or Pinocchio. Nonetheless, he was happy and lived only for the next curtain call.
They traveled from city to city, living in caravans and on the road. At first the thought of no fixed abode had terrified him, but now the thought of tying himself down brought equal dread. He loved each new venue, with all its quirks and crowds. This wasn't even addressing the wealth of literature that had been opened to him. He sought out obscure plays and brought them to the light. Presenting them proudly to the others, often there would be excuses of expense or ability, but occasionally he would find one that resonated in all of them. To give them all a story to tell that hadn't been heard by the audience before.
After their most recent performance in Manchester, they were travelling through the night. The motion of the trailer coming to a halt woke Raymond. He blearily sat up in bed. A quick investigation yielded an overcast night, with a storm coming in the distance. He spied the head of the acting troupe, Bill, get out of his car, and approach shadowed figure at the roadside. Their conversation was short, but they both nodded, and the two shook hands. Bill got back in his car and the convoy continued it's journey. Raymond paid it no mind, and went back to sleep. He wasn't certain how long he slept, but was woken by Bill telling him they had arrived.
He stepped out of the trailer, and was immediately thrown by the fact it was still night. He looked questioningly at Bill, he assured him he had slept throughout the day. He was quickly pressed into the hard labour of moving their equipment into the venue. It was a tall dark building surrounded by scrub-land and open soil, little flora or fauna to speak of. The horizon yielded no clues. The building itself was basic, unvarnished wood, crooked panels and seemingly rushed. Within it was a different story, with a fully functional stage, orchestral pit, a vast auditorium and boxes looking down on all.
The lead up to performance was a blur. The script for the evening was one of his discoveries. A story of a young woman, of temptation and disaster. He had read the script aloud to them, and Bill's eyes had lit up. If Raymond hadn't known better he would have sworn that he recognized it. He had immediately declared that he knew exactly where to perform such a masterpiece.
As he waited backstage, he snatched a glance between the curtains. What he saw demanded a follow-up inspection. The audience was wrong. Some were just ...darkness...as if light could not escape them. Others had exaggerated limbs or far too many heads. There was not a single normal individual among them. He turned away from the curtain his mouth open to shout warnings to his compatriots when he came face to face with Bill.
"Never you mind Boy, Everyone else already knows. We are here to tell a story and that’s exactly what we are going to do."
Conflicting emotions danced across his face, until he eventually bolted them down. The night accelerated again.
They plunged into the performance, and Raymond found his main objective in not focusing on the audience. The story soon drew to a climax in the third act, and Raymond was shaken by the realization that the audience were supporting the antagonist of the play, a role held by Bill. He watched fascinated as the morality was redesigned in front of him. Eventually Bill finished the scene with a speech that roused the audience into ovation
At this point, one entity broke away from the audience and approached the stage. As it neared, Bill stepped forward and crouched at the edge of the stage. Dark tendrils extruded from a darker mass, and started to encompass Bill. Bill relaxed in their grasp, and was pulled close to the creature. All the actors on the stage froze, an stared intently. The only exception, Raymond, looked around wildly. Why was no-one panicking?
From the entwined couple, there came a deep whispering. It cut through the air but was indecipherable. With a jolt, Bill was released and collapsed back onto the stage. Next came a low basing throb that increased to ear-splitting levels. Just before it became unbearable, there was a thunderclap and the audience vanished.
The actors rushed forward to help Bill, and were relieved to find him breathing. They had packed up and went on the way. Raymond found that none of the group would address to him what had just happened. They did not seem concerned or confused, but merely went about the same routine of stowing the equipment. Eventually Raymond approached Bill, who was recovering with a glass of wine backstage.
"Thanks for the performance kid. "
"Bill, what happened on the stage there?"
"That was just a little.....feedback from the audience. Helps you to hone your skills."
"They are the audience. That is all that matters."
At this point Bill was called away, and Raymond was left with his thoughts. His anxiety did not subside over the coming weeks as he noticed a marked improvement in Bill's ability and range. There seemed to be a trade-off, however. The more lively and animated he was on the stage, the more withdrawn and emotionless he became off it. The head of the troop soon lived just to be called from his dressing-room as his compatriots found his company too uncomfortable.
Raymond had watched closely and considered the deal. It was all conjecture as they were unlikely to find another script like that. That was until he stumbled across one a month later. It turned out that the first play had merely been the start of a series, and this continuation chronicled the antagonist raising a protégé. The happenstance of the story was not lost on Raymond, and he had hid the script deep within his belongings. That was 2 days ago. He has been sat considering the deal for hours, thinking of what impact he could make.
He wants to be baptized in flashlights.
Raymond smiles. At his next performance he is going to get to meet his audience.