One Final Performance

Submitted into Contest #50 in response to: Write a story about a person experiencing pre-performance jitters.... view prompt

67 comments

Mystery Thriller Suspense

My hands are shaking and my head feels weirdly fuzzy. 


Good grief. Is this stage fright? I haven’t had stage fright for years! To be perfectly honest, I didn’t think I could get it anymore. When you’ve been performing as long as I have, each show feels old hat, run-of-the-mill, like you’re flogging a dead horse. I’ve had to ramp up the drama each time just to keep it exciting for myself in the last few years. 


That’s the real reason I’m retiring, I guess. I’ve been telling myself that it’s because I’m just getting too old to go through all the rigmarole each time but I think - if I’m being totally honest with myself - it’s because I’m bored. I miss the excitement of the early performances, the jitters before each one and the nervous wait to see what the public thought of me afterwards. Maybe I should retire more often though; this trembling anticipation feels just like it used to and I feel like I’ve been given a new lease of life! 


I can’t change my mind though. I’ve already announced that I’m retiring to the world; I’m expecting my biggest audience tonight because of it. I think some of my more hardcore fans had started to guess that I was reaching this point but the announcement was still met with shock by the public. It even got into the paper! 


Really, I should be used to the press by now. My fame has grown dramatically since my first few shows. Barely anyone was even aware of them at the time - just me and the cameras in my old basement making art. I released the footage onto the internet of course but it took a while for anyone to take me seriously. I guess partly because it’s so hard to explain what I do - you can’t put it neatly into any one box. It’s performance art; that’s how I think of it. Live streaming or pre-recorded streaming depending on my mood. I’ve got the patter down and sometimes I even talk about current events, if I think my opinion is worth sharing. There’s the actual sculpture at the end of it of course but I like to think it’s not just a guy sitting and creating. But this is what I mean about it being hard to pigeonhole. It definitely took a while for the critics to work out what I was doing. Actually, I still have my first printed review on my wall. 


Yes, I know how that sounds. it’s a bit lame, especially as - in reality - I have them all. All cut out and stuck on a big cork board. I’ve always thought that framing them was a bit much but I couldn’t bear to have them tucked out of sight in a raggedy scrapbook either. I mean, I keep it in the workshop, behind the cameras. I don’t wanna be that guy, y’know? You know the one. Gets a little bit of celebrity and then when you visit, you have to read the highlights of his career on the back of the door when you use the toilet. I try to be humble about it even though, if I had to be completely honest? I love the fame and the attention. It’s not why I do it - I love my art so much that I’d make it in private if I had to - but it definitely factors in. It’s part of why I keep going bigger and grander. I don’t need approval or anything but it’s nice to have it. I know what I do can be quite love or hate. Divisive, I’ve been called. But still, I like the reviews. 


They really push me creatively, I think. The first ever one - gosh, I could quote it word for word - criticised my studio. ‘Dingy’ was the term they used. If I was less open to constructive criticism, I might have ignored it or gotten angry. I did neither. C’mon - they had me dead to rights. It was pretty dingy. I’d been so focused on the art itself that I hadn’t paid any attention to the background. But when you’re making a show, you have to consider these things. Within a week or so, I’d spruced it up and had a whole updated backdrop. It’s evolved over the years and now looks (I like to think) very professional. I even got a green screen a couple of years ago and played with some effects but that was a bit of a divergence from my usual creative output. I haven’t used it for a while; sometimes gimmicks can take away from the core performance and I just don’t think I need it. The reviews have certainly always focused on the meat of the production - I don’t think the viewers care too much about frippery and props. 


Tonight’s show will be live streamed and I’ve really tried to focus on what my fans might want. I’ve gone back to my earlier work and pulled some inspiration from it. I’m quite nervous about that actually. I’ve put so much effort into dropping the little Easter Eggs and I just hope that the true fans pick up on them. So, right, for example: in my very first show, I included a beautiful fleur-de-lis pattern in the lip of the final piece. In tonight’s, I’m planning on using the same pattern as a repeated motif. I was looking at the first few tapes that I made and it just clicked for me. I thought: oh yeah. That’s gotta go in. My followers will love that. But what if they don’t? What if they miss it? Ugh. I don’t usually overthink things so much, I promise. 


Let me tell you, though - I have put so much work into the setup of tonight. Once I said that this was my last hurrah, the advertising took care of itself but I have spent hours making sure the camera angles are right and that all my tools are in place. I’m not going to have anything go wrong. I did a practice run through last night, unrecorded of course. I didn’t use proper materials or anything but I carved and sculpted just the way I will tonight. The piece I produced was substandard but it gave me a good idea of timings and lighting needs. So much effort! I hope the fans like it. 


Gosh, look at the time. I’m scheduled to be on at 8 on the dot and it’s two minutes before. Okay. Deep breath. You can do this. You’re gonna kill it! 


My co-performer tonight is an absolute star. One of my earliest critics, actually, way back when. I think she was Governor at the time, pretty small fry but did not get my work at all. She’s the Vice President now and it was difficult to get her, I can tell you that! Hopefully worth it though. I’ve never had anyone quite so famous on my show before but, I figured, you’ve got to go out on a bang, right? I mean, I’ve had so many people in with me over the years and some were actually pretty well-known. They definitely got a boost in their ratings after appearing on my show. Even the ‘normal’ people became household names for a while. But I can’t have just anyone pulled off the street for a show of this scale. 


She’s already in place when I walk in and I can’t help but be pleased. It makes a statement, I think, that the second most powerful person in the country is sitting, waiting for me. The cameras have been rolling for ten minutes already and I don’t look at the viewer number on the laptop screen. If it’s too low, I’ll just be sad and I don’t want my final performance to be tinged with that. On the other hand, if it’s way higher than I expect, I might get giddy and make mistakes. I want this to be perfect - no slip ups and no stuttering. The script has been written for months and I’ve been over it a hundred times. No call for adrenaline or cockiness to cause a last minute change. 


My work area is lit beautifully so that the viewers can watch every part and the clean, white lines of the bench and surrounding area mean that the focus will be entirely on the art and the process. And me. Of course, me. 


The butterflies creep up my throat once again but I look dead into the camera and all my apprehension melts away. I’m good at what I do and I love it. Tonight’s show is going to be the best I’ve ever done and I don’t need to be nervous at all. 


The VP is strapped in and the gag hasn’t shifted in the twenty minutes she’s been alone so that’s a good start. There’s only a little blood at the bonds at her wrists so even though she’s struggled, the new cloth I’m using is doing its job. I hate it when the raw material is blemished before I even begin. Her eyes go wide when she sees me and I have to congratulate myself on the black coat choice. Combined with the mask, it’s having the desired effect. I see the moment she understands exactly which show she’s on - a spark dying in her eyes. It’s delicious. 


I raise my arms in an elaborate flourish. “Friends, companions and new souls: welcome.” I select my first instrument, making it appear that I’m choosing it in the moment, weighing my options when in reality, I know exactly which tools I’m going to use and the order in which I shall use them. Like I said, this has been planned with precision for months. The audience don’t know that though. Oh, the theatrics!


It will be at least half an hour before the sirens get close enough for me to hear and that’s if the idiot constabulary actually deduce the clues at the speed I think they will. I’m hoping they’ll burst in just after the climax of the piece and will provide a special twist for my audience. Thirty minutes at least though. That’s more than enough time for me to produce my magnum opus. 


The thrill of my work runs through me for the first time in a while and I know I’ve made the right choice. Retiring on this kind of high is a perfect way to end my career and gosh, what a finale. 


The VP begins to scream bloody murder behind her gag and I savour the sound for the very last time. The terror in her eyes is like a fine wine and I drink it in greedily, knowing this is my final sip.


I lift the scalpel and let the light catch it. The fans will be going wild at that. This is, after all, as much for them as it is for me.


I turn so that I’m addressing both the struggling, weeping canvas and the silent, attentive camera.


“Shall we begin?” 

July 12, 2020 10:46

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67 comments

Jonathan Blaauw
16:53 Jul 13, 2020

I love this! Definitely my kind of story. It's something I try to do in some of my stories, draw the reader in and totally flip it around at the end, so I've taken careful note of your technique because you nailed it. The awesome thing is everything changes when you read it again! You've dropped little hints, hiding in plain sight, but they don't give away the ending at all. It had me thinking of a magician - distract em with the patter so they don't see what you're really up to. I learn a lot from reading your stuff, thank you.

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Elle Clark
16:58 Jul 13, 2020

This comment has absolutely made my day, thank you!

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Jonathan Blaauw
18:45 Jul 13, 2020

I just have a technical question, if that's ok? So when it comes to putting in extra information, like in brackets (I think the scientific term is parentheses, but I'm not sure) as I understand it, there are three options. Brackets, obviously, hyphen thingys - like this - and plain old commas. I usually go with commas, but I think that makes my sentences over long and hard to read sometimes. In your story, you use the hyphens and it makes it flow much better. So is there a rule here or is it just a go by feel thing? I tried Google, but no ...

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Elle Clark
19:15 Jul 13, 2020

Oh I love grammar questions. The overarching term is parenthesis, which incorporates brackets, commas and dashes (hyphens connect words). The difference is largely to do with formality and placement. If your extra information is at the end of your sentence, commas or dashes are usually (not always) your best bet as they act almost as a tag. This is the main bit of the sentence - this is your afterthought. In terms of formality, commas are the most formal, dashes are least. Brackets are in between depending on usage. For me, I always thin...

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Elle Clark
19:16 Jul 13, 2020

I’m not sure if that makes sense. I’m more used to talking these things through with a whole class than writing down definitions!

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Jonathan Blaauw
07:48 Jul 14, 2020

Thank you so much, that’s very helpful. I have so much to learn… While we have this kettle of worms open, I have another question about punctuation when using brackets. I always thought it went inside, but I’ve noticed that professional authors don’t always do that. Sometimes its inside, sometimes outside, sometimes it's not included at all. So some words of wisdom on the matter would be very much appreciated, please. And while I’m here, I’d like to ask if you could take a look at my newest story, please. I usually start knowing exactly wh...

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Amith Shaju
11:50 Jul 13, 2020

Perfect! That was terrific from start to finish. I loved the concept of pre performance jitters during one's last performance. That is so true, though i never thought of that angle. By the middle of the story, I was wondering what the performance was all about. I felt that it has to do with sculpting but then got confused with the need for a guest. I guess you struck the right balance. The twist was brilliant. I did expect one (don't know why), but never imagined it to be this dark. For a moment I thought maybe it was about a teen...

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Elle Clark
12:03 Jul 13, 2020

Thank you! It was pretty tricky to come up with a convincing angle that didn’t give away the ending - my vision was a YouTube sculpture who got guests on to chat while he made something amazing. Because, you know, those are so common. But what I really wanted was something that was deeply chilling on a second read through, when you’ve got the knowledge of what he’s setting up. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Looking forward to reading yours!

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Shelley Els
00:49 Jul 22, 2020

Wowzers, didn't see that ending coming! Great job!

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Elle Clark
02:42 Jul 22, 2020

Thanks!

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Courtney Stuart
22:47 Jul 13, 2020

this was a very, very twisted story. but in a good way, i swear. first off, i really liked the language you used. phrases like 'good grief', 'flogging a dead horse,' 'feels old hat'. it really gives your main character a very distinct voice, and gives off the impression that they are as tired as they say they are with their 'art', which became even more disturbing once i found out what they did. i also thought that the phrases you used contrasted greatly with how dark your story actually was, and it was very effective in keeping the endin...

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Elle Clark
05:45 Jul 14, 2020

Thank you so much! It was fun to be able to do something so outside of what I normally do and I also really enjoyed writing it with a view of what the twist was going to be and dropping in as many hints as I could. Thanks for reading it!

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Lily Shen
02:45 Jul 23, 2020

What a memorable, chilling story! It made me want to read it again and look for clues. I discovered a clever double meaning in one of the lines. Thanks for submitting this! Please check out my story if you have a chance.

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Elle Clark
09:23 Jul 23, 2020

Thank you! Of course I will.

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Amy De Matt
20:23 Jul 22, 2020

Chilling! You drew me in at the beginning, nice control of tension and suspense! Well done!! I’m planning on checking out more!

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Elle Clark
20:55 Jul 22, 2020

Thank you so much! This is very kind.

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Roula Soliman
12:43 Jul 17, 2020

I absolutely loved this ! I would also be happy to get your feedback on my stories as I’m still new to writing

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Elle Clark
18:33 Jul 29, 2020

Thank you! And of course - I’m sorry this is late but I will definitely check your work out. What kind of feedback are you after? I can offer general improvements, specific editing advice or just reading and enjoying.

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Tvisha Yerra
02:51 Jul 17, 2020

Woah, love the plot twist! And if you time... do you mind giving me feedback on my story? You don't have to, but there's a few things wrong with it, and I can't exactly pinpoint what it is. Thanks in advance!

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Elle Clark
06:40 Jul 17, 2020

Hiya, no problem - I’ll have a look later today 😊 For future reference though, if you would like me to spend a decent chunk of time doing an in depth review of your writing, would you mind giving me a little more feedback on mine, please? I’m glad you liked the plot twist though and I’ll have a look at yours in a bit. Have a great day!

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Tvisha Yerra
16:31 Jul 17, 2020

Of course! Sorry... But this story was so good, I did try to find grammar mistakes or plotholes, but ended up empty-handed! :)

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Deborah Angevin
08:34 Jul 16, 2020

Loved the ending! This is my cup of tea :o Would you mind checking my recent story out, "Orange-Coloured Sky"? Thank you!

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Elle Clark
09:26 Jul 16, 2020

Thanks! And yes, no problem.

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Roshna Rusiniya
14:39 Jul 15, 2020

Laura, will you check my new story out? Thanks!

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Elle Clark
15:43 Jul 15, 2020

Of course! I’ll look at it tonight 🙂

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Matt Strempel
22:04 Jul 14, 2020

Haha, delicious indeed! Though I suspected our narrator had something sinister in store, it didn't fail to be a wholly satisfying conclusion. Loved the build-up and how you've managed to pace it well so that the reader doesn't say 'OK, I get it, let's get on with the show' as we can be prone to do. The only thing that was maybe a stretch for the suspension of disbelief was how high-profile our artist’s final guest was. Just spit-balling ideas here, but perhaps it could be a well-known news anchor? Perhaps one who had been a critic of the art...

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Elle Clark
02:44 Jul 16, 2020

Thank you for such a detailed comment! I like the idea of the guest being someone he wants to settle a score with - I may edit it a little for that, thank you!

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Ben K
04:07 Jul 14, 2020

Laura, this is art. The twisted dive into the characters mind could not have matched my movie choice of the evening better. This feels like American Psycho in the level of detail taken by the lead. How every little thing mattered, even the theatrics. Your word choice was a splendid way of painting the characters voice. It crafted personality swiftly in a way that let you flow on into the next topic without issue. Keep up the great work! -Ben

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Elle Clark
05:44 Jul 14, 2020

Thank you so much! This is such a kind comment ☺️

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This is a well-written story, with points that peak the reader's interest.

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Elle Clark
20:08 Jul 13, 2020

Thanks!

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Smudge Himmel
18:30 Jul 13, 2020

Wow. I thought at first that the artist did pottery and got a surprise. Interesting twist, which I totally didn't see coming. Very unsettling.

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Elle Clark
18:31 Jul 13, 2020

Thank you... I think? I wanted it to be unsettling so I’m glad I managed that!

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Corey Melin
15:36 Jul 13, 2020

Very well done. Story is going one direction then flips and goes another direction. Made me think of The Joker. Great story to throw in the surprise.

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Elle Clark
15:43 Jul 13, 2020

Thank you!

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12:46 Jul 13, 2020

Wow you got me. What a great twist, you sicko lol. Beautifully written and flowed so nicely. I really like the wording you use like rigamarole and flogging a dead horse. I haven’t heard those terms in years ha

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Elle Clark
12:53 Jul 13, 2020

Haha! I haven’t written anything this dark for this site so I did wonder how it would be received! Glad I could get you with the twist. I have to admit, flogging a dead horse was shoved in to get the subliminal idea of death but rigmarole is in my day to day vocabulary because apparently I’m 70 years old. Thanks for reading!

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Khizra Aslam
11:55 Jul 13, 2020

As I promised to read your story, so here i am. Laura, the narration is too good and the story flow so smooth. It hooked me from the beginning till the end. I love the twist in the end, It's fantastic. ❤ keep up the good work :)

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Elle Clark
12:03 Jul 13, 2020

Thanks, Khizra! I’m glad you enjoyed it 😊

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Tracy Thomson
10:30 Jul 13, 2020

Ha Ha Ha Great story, Laura. I really enjoyed it. The whole thing had me guessing till the end. I liked the way the narrator only described himself at the end in a black coat. I'd had the person wearing shiny pink glitter sequins . . .

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Elle Clark
10:33 Jul 13, 2020

Haha! I mean, there is nothing stopping him wearing both!

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Roshna Rusiniya
08:56 Jul 13, 2020

I loved it! I knew there would be a twist in the end. But I must say. I didn’t see that one coming! Ha ha Loved the line- ‘ terror in her eyes is like a fine wine and I drink it in greedily’.

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Elle Clark
10:00 Jul 13, 2020

Thank you! I’m glad the ending was able to catch you - I’m still going back and forth about whether I’ve signalled it enough or too much!

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Roshna Rusiniya
10:18 Jul 13, 2020

I thought you were able to keep the suspense up until the end without leaving any clues. You still have plenty of time left to think it over anyways.

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Elle Clark
10:26 Jul 13, 2020

Very true! I think I’ve edited it about four times since uploading it yesterday already 😂

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Roshna Rusiniya
10:30 Jul 13, 2020

I do that all the time. With one of my stories, I changed the narrative from third person to first person. I changed the climax of another story. It’s like my mind suddenly wakes up after uploading! Ha ha

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Elle Clark
10:40 Jul 13, 2020

Exactly! And I’ll re-read it and suddenly see fourteen commas in the wrong place and a mixed metaphor that makes no sense. Thank goodness for editing!

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Batool Hussain
11:18 Jul 12, 2020

The opening line is the best, Laura! I immediately knew what prompt was it going to be even before reading it. Next, the story itself unfolds smoothly, slowly and slowly. It is all so good, Laura! I love it. I would be very happy if you could check out my new story and give your views on it:)

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Elle Clark
11:25 Jul 12, 2020

Thank you! Were you able to guess the ending? I can’t tell if I’ve signposted it too strongly. And yes of course I will 🙂

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Batool Hussain
11:29 Jul 12, 2020

Nope! Your stories are always the best, making the readers stick to the end to know more and more and more!

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Elle Clark
13:24 Jul 12, 2020

Thank you!

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