Flash Fiction: Tempest Tossed

Hello readers! I submitted this piece to a flash fiction competition, and while the judges gave me excellent feedback, alas this story was not a winning entry. Still, I love sharing my work with you all, so I hope you enjoy reading it here.

For this contest, the publishing/review group gave each author two prompts. My prompts were Director and Lightning. The story needed to be 1,000 words (or less) for the competition.

Here is my response to the prompt:

Tempest Tossed
By Colette Marie Murphy

The curse didn’t count if someone wasn’t there to witness it.

Abigail was sure she’d heard that somewhere once. Perhaps the witches had decided to cut her a break, though this would be the first and only time they’d been so generous. No. It must be because she’d said it when she was alone. She didn’t even bother turning around three times, cursing, and spitting after. Besides, since she was alone, if she’d knocked three times on the theater door, no one would’ve been there to let her back in. Such is the director’s burden: you’re first to arrive and last to leave.

This was Abigail’s first time directing The Tempest. She’s played Miranda once, when she could still count on regularly receiving roles for waifs and ingénues. But that was many, many, many years ago, and like any actress, she found herself at a crossroads: start playing the mother, or start directing. Abigail’s experiences with her own alcoholic-then-absent mother hadn’t bestowed much maternal instinct upon her, and though she was a decent performer, she couldn’t find it in herself to add “nurturing” or “loving” to her emotional repertoire. So, if she didn’t want to quit her life in the theatre – and really, what else was she going to do with herself? – she decided it was time to direct.

Still, this fork in the road wasn’t an easy one to take. She’d moved to a small town that was a respectable artists’ community, but the local retirees didn’t favor much more than the old American standards, and one can only put up so many versions of Our Town or Death of Salesman before turning into Ophelia. It was Abigail’s initial flirtations with madness that inspired her to bring the standard of all standards to her sleepy little hollow: a summer Shakespeare in the Park series.

The nearby park became her personal Globe Theatre, with the sloping hills serving as picnic-style mezzanine, galleries, and upper balconies, and the permanent tables bolted into the cement near the platform stage were her orchestra. Around the stage she assembled a fleet of Tuff Sheds to serve as dressing rooms, prop storage, and a tech booth. It took a few seasons to warm the local patrons to the idea, but by now, each summer night was filled with the sounds of sandwiches being unwrapped and wine-in-a-cans being popped open before the lights went up and the prose and verse were projected as well as three standing mics on a portable speaker would allow.

Building a foundational audience was important to Abigail, so she’d loaded the first few seasons with the greatest hits: Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, and even Hamlet boosted ticket sales enough that she was able to venture into bringing some of the Bard’s lesser-known works to life. Though Cymbeline was a bit of a failure, the audience took quite well to Antony and Cleopatra. Still, Abigail had always loved The Tempest ever since her turn as the subdued yet headstrong Miranda, and so she decided – when paired with the palatably well-known The Merchant of Venice – it was time to direct the show herself.

They were a week to opening, in the throes of tech week (also known as “hell week”), when Abigail inadvertently invoked the curse. The actor playing Ferdinand had complained about his costume not fitting right, and Abigail had gone into the Men’s Dressing Tuff Shed to fetch it after she’d dismissed the cast and crew for the night. She had been checking her weather app on her phone – the thunder that had cut their rehearsal short was deafening – but there was no sign of actual rain in the forecast. Perhaps the valley they were in protected them; the sound of storms sometimes ricocheted in from the mountains.
A clap of thunder startled Abigail and she dropped her phone and Ferdinand’s costume. As she took in a breath to calm her pounding heart, inspiration struck. “Macbeth!” she exclaimed, then flung her hand to cover her mouth.

It had been an idea. Just an idea. If she had been talking to a group, she would have said, “So, next season, I’m thinking maybe it’s time we do The Scottish Play.” And that’s how she would have said it in a group, because if she were in a group, she would have been in a theater, and everyone knows that you use another word for Macbeth when you’re in a theater.

But she wasn’t in a group. And she wasn’t – she tried to rationalize with her annoyingly superstitious side that was screaming in horror – technically in a theater. Yes, it may be acting as part of a theater, but it was a Tuff Shed. Most of them stored fertilizer and lawnmowers and extra trash bags. And yes, the Tuff Shed may have been part of a theatrical production, but it wasn’t even outside a theater. It was just outside!

The thunder clapped once more. Louder. Closer. Abigail wondered if they were going to have to cancel, but she checked her phone again, and again it promised her no rain. “See, if we were cursed, there’d be rain,” she told herself as she made her way across the stage, up the sloped hill that served as the house, and towards the parking lot. She threw Ferdinand’s costume in her trunk, slamming it shut as, once again, the thunder boomed across the sky.

“At least it’ll be nice mood effects for the storm in Act I,” she thought as she moved towards her car door. She didn’t think about all of the things she knew she should do to ward off the three witches after what she’d said. She thought only of the mood effects for the storm in Act I. It was the last thought she had as the bright bolt of electricity thrust down from the clouds and through her heart. She didn’t think about the curse.

The curse didn’t count if someone wasn’t there to witness it.