T H I R T Y T H R E E

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Inside, the walls looked completely foreign. They were more hollow than Audrey remembered from the days of her youth. They hummed a gentle tune, cheery in the verdure springtime, mournful and lonely in the winter. They evoked a phantasmagoric episode, as if appearing in her mind as a photograph of all the things she missed while she was gone. She saw exposed the faces of her parents as their gazes avoided each other. Her mother looked upon the barren garden, her wrinkled lips sealed, and faintly yearning. Her eyes followed her father, meandering down the rustic halls, contemptuously peeling at the brittle wallpaper with calloused fingertips. With the silence came a miasma, like the breath of a vengeful god, weighing down their haggard bodies. She pressed her ears up against the doors as she did as a child, hoping they would share with her clandestine memories of the lives behind them. The dense wood was dry, collecting dust, and dormant.

Near the garden was a prayer room, where her mother would be, when she wasn't out gardening. It wasn't large enough for a whole congregation, but it was complete with a few tiny pews and a cross mounted on the wall. She saw her mother, as a young girl diligently kneeling in prayer. There was a gentle smile upon her lips. She wore a white sundress, tied at the waist with a purple ribbon. 

Audrey watched for awhile, and then remembered something very dear to her. Down the hallway, staring back at her, was the basement door. Just before it, her father's room. She used to pretend that she only had a few seconds to reach her father's room before the monsters would leap out and steal her. So she raced down the hall, facetiously banging on the door as if her father were there to reach out and save her from the clutches of the shadows. His room was just as he had kept it, symmetrically planned, measured and predictable. It was so like her father to demand such meticulous care of his resting quarters, even from beyond the grave. She ran her finger across the oak drawer—not a speck of dust.

When she opened it, she found a picture of her mother: a simple black-and-white photograph of her in an elegant light sundress as she stood in front of an urban department store. Her silent image stood poised as Audrey watched her inside this tiny paper window, like a mannequin, adorned in its fashionable attire, cemented in fragile serenity; a photograph existing forever in the background of her thoughts.

The only thing left remaining was that which Audrey had done her best to avoid her whole childhood. It appeared to her like a black spot in her memories. It was a dark mass at the end of the hallway, crawling across the ceiling with its shadowy fingers. She marched forward into the darkness, and she pushed the door open.

Soon, she felt herself traveling at an angle in a narrow corridor. She hugged the wall at her side, and looked down. The exit was actually down beneath her. She let herself slide down and climb through.

"Ow!" she wailed, bumping her head on the ceiling. She had suddenly become very big. Or, the room was very small. It was kitchen with tiny everything: a tiny refrigerator, a tiny table, tiny chairs, a tiny sink. She crawled out and landed on even ground. She paced forward. All was dark. She found herself in an open space; she could tell by the way the echoes of her footsteps carried farther. There was a loud switch flipped on. The burning white stage lights blinded her for a moment, she tried to shield her eyes from it, but to no avail.

"Audrey?"

Enter stage right: Mr. Goode. They stood apart from one another, neither believing in the other's existence. She reached out. So did he. Their hands touched.

"Desmond? What's going on? What is this place?"

"Introducing the Greatest Show On Earth!" a loud recording blared. "The Title? Your Life, of course. And it's starring: The One and Only— You! And now, the question on the audience's mind: what story will be told? What truth will be conveyed to all and immortalized in their hearts? It's sure to be unique! It's sure to be a classic! Tell us!"

"Tell us!"

"Tell us!"

"Tell us!"

"Surely you hear that crowd. What are you waiting for? Cat got your tongue? Not to worry! Everyone deserves their moment of truth! To gaze into the faces and eyes of the audience members and know with certainty, the character you were born to play! Look! Do it now!"

The lights at the edge of the stage dimmed and finally, Audrey could see into the crowd. There were men and women— not truly— she saw the broad shoulders adorned in well-tailored sleeves and the slender, feminine arms wrapped in fancy coats. They were motionless bodies positioned in the theater chairs, with pristine and waxy fingers that appeared to have never labored hanging at the ends of the armrests. And— each had a mirror held in front of them. Their faces could not be seen. But looking straight into them, neither could Audrey's.

She felt Desmond's hand on hers. She looked again. She saw his face, and also her own. "I'm not alone. I know that I've existed because I've connected with others who've also existed. As long as I choose to live, I'll have others to share with. I know I'll never truly be alone. That's why..."

"...I'll keep living!"

Then, all was dark again. A tiny light illuminated a pathway to the back of the theater. Hand in hand, they chased it. They ran until the light was all they could see.

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