Submitted into Contest #114 in response to: Set your story at a talent show.... view prompt


Coming of Age Science Fiction Teens & Young Adult

“They don’t want any more singers.” The person, dimly lit by the stage, clicked their headset and lowered their computer. The low chattering through the wings died. “Those of you in section 3 are dismissed.”

“What?” came a voice from somewhere in the back. A short man was hobbling his way to the front with wide steps. “They can’t do that!”

“I assure you, They can.” The person - I had never known their name, but I had started to refer to them as the stage manager - almost sighed. It wasn’t out of empathy, I knew.

The man stopped just in front of them, his face rapidly purpling. “These kids have worked their entire lives for this!” The circle around him widened as spittle flew from his jowls. “My son made sure his would be unique, They’ve never had someone with a goose before -”

“Does the goose sing?”

I almost snickered. I knew I wasn’t supposed to, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. The stage manager’s question had stunned the other into dumbfounded silence. Finally. If he knew what was good for him and his son, he’d just leave quietly.

“I said - does the goose sing?”

“Well - no, but -”

“Then it’s not very unique, is it?” The stage manager yawned. The wind had been righteously ripped from the father’s sails well before he’d answered. He didn’t bother trying to save face and instead slinked away into the darkness. The stage manager cast their icy stare out across the swathes of people as a door opened to the morning haze. “Don’t be so gloomy, everyone. You aren’t being sent down, so there’s always next year.” The stage manager was always blunt and rarely impressed. I suppose it came with the territory of being so close to Their excellence.

Of course, I’d known for years that singing would never set you apart in this competition - what would beings as high as They were need so many singers for? I couldn’t help but smirk and hold my head high as my mother squeezed my shoulder.

The show was beginning, and my number, as it always had been, was 139. Of course, there were far less than 138 ahead of me now; the competitions of previous years had decimated much of my competitors. Now, at the age of fifteen, there were only three contestants still ahead of me.

None of them could match what I did in any capacity.

Maddox, number 17, was first this year. To be honest I’m not entirely sure what happened to the girl ahead of him last year but I know that whatever it was, it wasn’t pretty. Maddox on the other hand had a fairly interesting talent with minimal chances that he could get hurt - a light show where he built fanciful creations that I’m sure he worked the entire year to perfect. His timing was better this year, but what a boring talent! In a previous generation he would have made a wonderful sculptor, but museums don’t exist anymore. The other Entertainers are leagues above this… drivel. As expected, he’s sent back to our side of the wings by a silent crowd. I bow my head to him as he passes.

Number 83, Angel, fares much better. Damn it. She’s sent off to the other side after an unfortunately hilarious little show with puppets. I don’t laugh. This isn’t the time to do such. I’ve never liked her.

However, I have never minded Willow, number 127, much. Her dances charm even someone like me. She uses long ribbons and hoops and suspends herself in the air. If anyone other than me deserves to get through this year, it’s Willow. Last year we had both been too young, but this year has to be our time.

Willow is draped in white and pulls herself up the tulle with her feet. She spins and bends and the crowd oohs and aahs appropriately in time. She leans back. The rafters above creak and I see her rapidly spiral downwards before my mother claps her hands to my eyes. I hear only a crack drowned out by the gasp from the crowd and then the frantic scurrying as some of the stage manager’s underlings clear the stage again.

I guess Willow won’t make it to the other side after all.

As the stage is prepared for me, I stretch and breathe. I know what I am capable of. I have practiced my entire life. I have read newspapers and books and watched ancient videos on my art. I have learned techniques that even prior to my generation were rare and nearly impossible to perform. There is no way I am going to lose - there is no way I will be sent beneath the stage or back out into the burning day as I have been for fifteen years straight. I won’t let that happen.

My name is called. My mother is smiling at me, her eyes wide with expectation. I will not disappoint her. I tie up my laces and enter the rink.

The times I am in Their rink are the only times I know what cold feels like. It is forgiving. It is sharp. My mind goes blank when I perform here. I do not know the size of the crowd or what anything else looks like. I only know the ice reflecting the light back at me clearer than any mirror outside these walls.

I skate. I start with speed - the blades on my boots cut patterns into the ice with every step, but that isn’t the impressive part. The jumps, the skips, the little pirouettes, the ways I lean and stretch out… None of this is nearly as impressive as I want it to be. No. To wow the crowd, to become one of Their Entertainers, I need to go beyond.

I close my eyes and picture the move in my head. I remember seeing her - that beautiful woman from generations ago who looked just like me. I don’t think. I just do. I skate backwards from one end to the other, kick off, and let the rest of my body follow through as I lift into the air.

I land on one foot and feel a sickening crunch. My other foot follows quickly and I favor it as I switch directions. Did they notice? Worse - did They notice? My ankle screams out in pain when I shift to it to gain momentum. I can’t be like Willow. I won’t be like Willow. I still have enough in me. I try to save face with one last move, something far less impressive but still, I hope, interesting enough to catch everyone’s attention. I jump and pirouette three times, stop on my good foot, and bow as the music stops.

The silence is deafening. My heart begins to sink. I didn’t save it, did I? All of this…. was it for nothing?

A roar rises up in the back and tears through the crowd. A cry I didn’t know I’d been holding in rips from my stomach and I grab the rail to hold on. The rink is moving to the other side of the stage, away from my mother and the other competitors. I look into my mother’s eyes one last time and call out to her with what little breath I have left, but neither of us can hear what I said.

In the new backstage area, I sink into the ice. It stings my bare skin the same way fire does, but I don’t mind. The stage manager - no, a stage manager - comes to the side of the rink and motions for me to get out. I don’t want to move - I know it hurts - but I have to if I want to be worth anything.

I sit at the edge and untie my boots. The blades on my skates are worn down and chipped from the ice. My ankle is swollen. I pull on my regular shoes quickly to try to hide it. The stage manager ushers me over to where Angel is sitting. There are only seven seats.

While I sit, I look back to the other side. With the singers and four of us down, there are still over a hundred performers to go. I suppose I should be grateful that two of us are already in so quickly.

“I saw, you know.” Angel’s voice makes me jump nearly to the next chair. “But don’t worry - I’m not telling anyone.”

“Saw what?” My lips are tight against my teeth. I cross my legs so that my ankle is half-hidden beneath the seat. Perhaps too apparently.

“You know.” Angel tilts her head in a shrug. “It’s pointless to talk about it now. You’re lucky. We both are.” She smiled, but I didn’t smile back.

The next performance began. We couldn’t see them from this angle, but Angel was watching something out there intently. I followed her gaze. High above in the audience, shrouded from view on the other side and well beyond the glare of the spotlights from the stage, a figure stood on a catwalk.

“Who’s -”

Shhh.” Angel inched closer to me to get a better view. “Just watch.”

This performer is one I’ve never paid attention to, so I don’t know their name. Judging by the crowd, it seems to be going well. The person on the catwalk holds something out towards the stage.

I hear a hiss and a loud twang and then absolute silence. No one comes to our side of the stage, but someone rushes off the other side. Angel laughs.

“I think he just gave up.” She smiles back to me, a sickening little thing. “You went on like you didn’t even notice it hitting your skates.”

“Hitting my skates…?”

“You didn’t even feel it? Wow. Good for you.” She sat back on her seat as the next performer started on. “That kind of moxie is why you’re here too. Did you think we can only get in on merit?”

October 08, 2021 21:39

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