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    Volume 10, Issue 4, November 30, 2015
    Message from the Editors
 Stealing a Starship by Barton Paul Levenson
 A Walk Among the Ivy by Devin Miller
 Chasing Frisbees by Derrick Boden
 Still the Champ by John Grey
 Theater Amorpheus by Laura DeHaan
 Special Feature: Interview with M.H. Boroson
 Editors Corner: A Study in Scarlet by Lesley L. Smith


Theater Amorpheus

Laura DeHaan

         Sheri stared blankly at the sign on the washroom door.
         It was an important sign -- Sheri knew that much -- but her bladder was throbbing, the distraction making it even harder than usual to rearrange the letters into something sensible. She pushed the door open and was immediately blasted by a voice shouting, "It's closed!"
         Sheri yanked her hand away from the door and it swung back to bop her in the nose. "Sorry, I--" she said to the door.
         From inside, the words bouncing around the tiles: "In a library and can't even read--"
         Sheri blotted the tears from her eyes. Just a reaction to her nose being hit. It barely hurt. Just a reaction. "I hope you get throat cancer," Sheri didn't say.
         "--think they belong in university, prolly needs help getting on the bus--"
         "Part-time university," Sheri continued to herself, "because the rest of the time I'm volunteering with special needs kids who are told they're only fit for jobs like yours, you bottom-rung toilet cleaner." Sheri took down the handwritten sign and folded it into her pocket. She knocked on the washroom door. "Was there supposed to be a sign here?" she called. "Next time maybe you should let people know, instead of bitching at them for your mistake." She scurried away, small and triumphant, before the voice could shout again. She still needed to pee.


         It was drizzling cold and fine by the time she left the university library. Pathetic fallacy, she thought, or at least heard the words in her head while her mind's eye plonked down the letters thepatic saffaly. Hopefully the weather would clear up tomorrow so she and Molly could go to the park. Molly was extroverted and cheerful and didn't have the faintest inkling that other people might treat her differently because of her asthma and thick glasses and, well, her Down syndrome. And may she stay so ignorant for a long, long time, Sheri thought, the letters jumbling. Part of her felt sorry for the little girl who looked so obviously 'different', part of her wished she herself had something physical to mark her disability. Sheri's dyslexia had gone undiagnosed for years, and every year she'd been held back a grade, once even being shunted back to second because third was proving too hard...
         Sheri tossed her damp bangs out of her eyes with a furious shake. That had been years and years ago, and now she was in university (part-time, only part-time, lots of people do it part-time) and she had worth and value and didn't need some, some nobody janitor trying to make her feel rotten.
         She splashed her way home through dirty puddles.


         It was midnight by the time Sheri got herself showered and fed. There wasn't time to watch a conventional movie before bed, so she decided to take in the theater while she slept.
         No one was sure yet what to call this new art form, this theater-driven dreaming. Eating a little slip of the treated potato paper was like ingesting a pre-scripted dream (and had coined new meanings to the old phrases 'taking in the theater' and 'filling out a prescription'), with the user's subconscious filling in the details.
         Some companies treated it exactly like going into a real theater, starting with you arriving first in line and being shown to the best seat in the house (one that would conveniently zip and zoom about the stage to give you the best view of the action), ending with a flourish of bows. Others went the way of the cinema, but these were cheaper versions that admitted little to no interaction between performer and play, and Sheri found them rather dull.
         No, Sheri preferred companies like AdrenaFiend and Sweat Dreams, the ones who put you in the middle of the action but had an actual story to go with it. Nothing too cerebral, but certainly better than the straight cinematics. There was so much you could do with dream-theater: be in the front seat of a car crash, be blasted through the porthole of a submarine and into the inky ocean depths (cunningly lit, of course, to display the giant squid seething below you). You could be the death scene and see your lover weeping over you, feel his lips on your forehead, and...well, et cetera. There were, of course, the porno companies, but since the dream depended so much on your subconscious, the pairings could get a little weird. Sheri had once had a threesome with herself, though one self was a man and one self was dead, and decided to stick to good old-fashioned masturbation after that.
         The company she'd chosen for tonight was new to her, though. Theater Amorpheus didn't pander to conventional sweet dreams. Theater Amorpheus provided nightmares.
         Horror movies were to Sheri what the sun was to a tree. She laughed where others screamed, licked her lips where others closed their eyes. So what if she'd needed her landlord to read the lease agreement to her. When the zombie apocalypse came, Sheri would be just fine.
         Cleaned and fed and dried, Sheri snuggled into bed. The small piling frustrations of the day shivered away into anticipation as she placed the potato paper ticket under her tongue and let it dissolve. Her eyes settled sleepily on the envelope on the bedside table, the one that had held the ticket to Theater Amorpheus. Stamped on the envelope was the theater's symbol, a dripping half-closed eye, as well as their tagline: "We live the dream -- YOU live the experience!!"
         Sheri closed her eyes and waited to live.


         There was no one and nothing in front of the theater besides a sandwich board bearing a sloppily painted forest scene with a large X slapped over it. Sheri hesitated a moment, shrugged, and went inside. Immediately she was greeted by an usherette. "Good evening," said the usherette in a low but friendly voice. "The film has already started. I'll bring you to your seat." She was young and freckled with bouncing red hair, her peaked usher's cap resting on curls teased half a foot off her scalp.
         "It's already started?" Sheri said in surprise. She was disappointed to hear it was a film, but it was about on par for how the rest of her day had gone. "Did I miss anything?"
         The usherette held a finger to her pink-glossed lips and smiled confidently as she led Sheri through the darkened theater, a tree-edged parking lot on the silver screen. Knees bumped against knees as Sheri edged her way down the row to the center seat. Small mutters rose in her wake and Sheri found herself blushing.
         Once she sat down, though, the mutters changed into distant bird song. The camera on the parking lot now bounced along a wooded path, and Sheri felt herself moving with it. She settled back and smiled. So her late entrance had been part of the film! She congratulated herself on her savviness and when one of the handsome male leads waved to her, she waved back, excited and smug.
         The cheerful woodland surroundings were filled with happy, laughing, highly attractive youths, splashing each other in a natural pool fed by a short waterfall, just the right height for a satisfying cannonball. Picnic baskets had bottles of vodka coyly peeking out from under red-and-white checkered blankets. Some people were passing a reefer between them. It was a classic set-up for some serious murdering.
         The handsome male lead who'd waved to Sheri beckoned her to join him in the pool. She was drawn to him, snatches of conversation making her turn her head, listening for the horror to start.
         "Professor Arthurs is such a bitch..."
         "I cannot believe how good you look in that dress..."
         "Tara went to the car to get some more smokes..."
         "He's so hot, but dumb as a brick..."
         Sheri grinned. The theater was taking cues from her subconscious to pad the story, something a simple film-based theater couldn't do. This was going to be a good dream after all!
         Not a dream, she corrected herself, remembering the envelope. An experience!
         She went to the edge of the pool. To strip or not to strip? Not yet, she decided. Let this scene play out a little longer. With the male lead still laughingly motioning for her to join him, she scrambled up the rocks to the top of the waterfall and posed dramatically before jumping into the pool.
         Splash! The water had no temperature and no real sense of wetness to it. Swimming through it felt like flying. Her hair billowed attractively without getting tangled, and her clothes clung becomingly to her body instead of ballooning away. It felt fantastic.
         Sheri and the male lead frolicked in the water, kissing once under the waterfall. Someone announced the hotdogs were ready and they leapt out of the pool, water shining down their legs and leaving them perfectly dry.
         Sheri couldn't taste the hotdogs, but she remembered what a hotdog had tasted like in the past and that was just as good. Someone else suggested an ultimate Frisbee match, with the girls riding on the shoulders of the guys, and someone else spiked the lemonade and got everyone drunk and Sheri and the male lead made out for a bit and it wasn't until the setting sun cast a heavy golden glow over everything that Sheri realized she'd spent an entire day here, making friends and belonging.
         The other coeds were setting up tents and changing into flannel jammypants when the handsome male lead beckoned Sheri to the pool once again. Out of sight of the other campers, he shucked off his board shorts and dived into the pool.
         Sheri giggled and waited until he resurfaced to start stripping. She gave him a show, waggling bits of herself she would have been too embarrassed to waggle in real life, and slid into the water and into his arms.
         The waterfall quieted its roar to a gentle shusshshussh and crickets played a gentle background sonata on their wings. No other foreplay was needed when the handsome male lead guided his hips to hers. Sheri opened her lips and her legs.
         The body landed right on top of them.
         Sheri screamed and struggled with the sudden, surprising, improbable weight on her shoulders. For the first time, she couldn't breathe underwater. Dead hands slapped at her struggles, more hands grabbed at her arms. She was pulled to the surface by the handsome male lead, and the dead girl rose with her. The dead girl, skin colorless in the moonlight, her red hair no longer so bouncy. It was the usherette from the theater.
         "Tara!" the male lead whispered.
         "Tara went to the car to get some more smokes..."
         In an ordinary cinema, Sheri would have let out a wise "Ahhhhh" and nodded approval. Here, in the moonlit pool with the dead girl bobbing beside her, Sheri let out a shriek.
         Her cry echoed through the woods as sounds of violence replaced cricket chirps. Sheri paddled frantically away from Tara, seeing now the jagged lines carved into the flesh, lines that were letters, could have been words, a warning, a threat, but she couldn't read them.
         The male lead noticed the words at the same time she did, and he bent closer and sucked in his breath. "No!"
         "What is it?"
         "Can't you read?" he said impatiently. "Come on, we have to get out of here." He swam to the grassy bank and hauled himself out.
         Stung, Sheri followed. She managed to pull on her panties and T-shirt before another chorus of screams blasted from the campsite. The male lead grabbed her hand and they ran into the darkening woods.
         "Is this the way back to the parking lot?" Sheri said.
         "There are signs everywhere," said the male lead, and there were, letters stenciled within neat borders and not one of them sensible to Sheri. Frustration flamed in her cheeks.
         The screams grew distant and the male lead slowed their pace. "Listen," he said. "There's something in these woods. And I put her here.
         "When I was a kid, there was a little girl who'd always follow me around and want me to play with her. I was scared of her. We all were. She looked weird and sounded weird and she kept following us kids when we were playing, and we'd always run away.
         "One day when I was going home alone I saw her walking towards me. I started to run, like I always did, but this time she chased me. I panicked. She was yelling and yelling, and I ran into the woods, and she followed me in. I thought maybe I could lose her in here, because she never went into the woods by herself. So I started jogging, making sure she could keep up with me, until I knew she'd be lost.
         "Then I just ran faster, and I left her behind, and I got out of the woods without her.
         "I thought she'd eventually find her way out, or someone would notice she was missing, but nobody ever did. I finally lied and told my parents I'd remembered seeing her wandering into the woods. They sent a big search party out to look for her.
         "She was never found."
         He fell silent. Sheri silently cursed Theater Amorpheus. It was digging too deeply into her subconscious for her to enjoy what should have been a simple horror flick.
         "Okay, great," she said, wanting it to be over. "So what do we have to do to stop her?"
         He puckered his lips disdainfully. "Didn't you see Tara's body? It was written all over her."
         There was a fist-sized rock at Sheri's feet. She picked it up without subtlety.
         The male lead continued talking, ignorant of the wrathful look in Sheri's eyes. "It's the same thing she was yelling at me when she chased me so long ago--"
         The rock got him right on the nose. To her disappointment, he didn't go down. "You useless bitch! I should have left you behind earlier, you're too fucking slow!" Before she could react, he was already gone, without even footfalls to mark his path.
         Signposts were nailed to the trees, hemming her in. She heard dead leaves crunching from the tread of heavy, sluggish footsteps, and knew they wouldn't be coming from the male lead. A gurgling voice floated between the sharp edges of the signs, a voice soft only because of the distance. The same phrase was repeated, over and over, the tone plaintive and the words slurred.
         "Why won't you play with me?"
         "Why won't you play with me?"

         Sheri braced herself. The monster would be revealed and the dream would end and she'd tell everyone how awful Theater Amorpheus was and she'd never have to think about it ever again.
         "Why won't you play with me?"
         "Why won't you play with me?"

         The voice was loud, too loud, unaware of its own loudness. A little girl, face mottled with shadows, stepped out from between the trees. Thick round glasses turned her eyes into reading lamps. She was holding a dirty doll with a pinecone for its head.
         "Why won't you play with me?"
         "Why won't you play with me?"

         Sheri closed her eyes and screamed theatrically.
         Now it will end, Sheri thought. Now it will end.
         Though her eyes were closed, she knew when the moonlight dimmed. She opened her eyes only when the forest had faded to black.
         Now it will end, Sheri thought. It has to end soon.
         Light came back -- a pale, pudgy whiteness, the camera moving back from an extreme close-up of the little girl's face. Sheri felt an awful weight crushing her, as the dead girl had crushed her before, but now it came from all sides to pin her arms and cripple her legs and she couldn't struggle at all.
         The camera kept moving back to show the little girl still holding her dirty doll, with Sheri's head for its own.
         "Now you will play with me."
         Sheri woke up screaming.


         Shit, Sheri thought. Shit, tish, sith, hits. As usual, she'd woken up before her alarm went off, but this time she felt no desire to close her eyes to catch another hour's sleep. Instead, she went about her morning routine, taking an extra-long shower and washing the dishes she'd dirtied from breakfast instead of leaving them to soak.
         She had to keep it together. She had to be at Molly's before eight-thirty so Mr. Comber could get to work on time. He was counting on her. She couldn't take a sick day. Molly needed her. Molly needed to have a positive female influence in her life. Molly needed to be integrated into society. Molly needed all the help Sheri could give.
         I'm not useless.
         Sheri arrived at the Comber's house at precisely eight-thirty. Mr. Comber was already opening the door for her. "There's my hero!" he said.
         Molly peeked around the entrance to the living room. "Sheri's here!" she shouted joyfully.
         Sheri's smile stuck to her lips like wet plaster. The over-enunciation in those words -- Sha-rees! he-yah! -- made her edgy, impatient to get on with the day. "Hi guys," she said, almost normal.
         "Molly's got a big surprise for you," Mr. Comber said and grabbed the keys from their hook.
         "Don't tell, Daddy!" Molly said loudly. She always spoke loudly. There was nothing unnerving about it.
         "See you girls at one!" Mr. Comber said. He swung around and scooped Molly up, blew a raspberry on her stomach, resettled her glasses and set her down on her rump because she was laughing too hard to stand.
         "Bye, honey!" he called to Molly and dashed out to his car.
         "I love you!" Molly yelled.
         Sheri went inside and closed the door.
         "Sheri, I have a surprise for you!" Molly said.
         "Super," said Sheri.
         Molly took her by the hand -- oh god, was it washed? Well, of course Mr. Comber washed Molly's hands, he always washed her hands. But were they washed today? -- and led her to the couch. "You sit there," she commanded.
         Sheri sat obediently.
         Molly went to the low bookshelf in the corner and dug out a picture book, Tess and the Terrible Towel. It was her favorite book, and one she often had Sheri read to her. It took awhile, even after so many repetitions, with Sheri asking Molly to describe the pictures while she stared at the letters and guessed their proper orders.
         Molly scrambled up onto the couch and sat cross-legged facing Sheri, her knees poking into Sheri's thigh. "Listen!"
         And Molly read it all by herself.
         The familiar words, always so halting when Sheri read aloud, rolled like the payout from a slot machine when Molly spoke them. In less than five minutes, Molly had finished the book with greater panache than Sheri ever did in twenty.
         "The end!" Molly said triumphantly.
         Sheri managed a silent 'wow'.
         "I been practicing," Molly said.
         "You sure have," Sheri said.
         "I bet I can read all of them," Molly said, sweeping her hand to the low bookshelf. "I bet I can read faster than you!"
         Sheri bobbed her head and made some kind of noise.
         Molly rushed to the bookshelf and tugged out a sloppy handful of picture books. "Now you can read with me!"
         Molly smiled up at Sheri and Sheri didn't recognize the little girl sitting beside her. Where had once been an excitable, eager child was now the monster from the theater, tongue bulging, features melted, eyes grown huge behind glass lenses. Sheri felt herself being squeezed, tight, all over, even her head this time, everything was being crushed.
         She stood and swept Molly up onto her hip.
         "Why don't we go to the woods today!" she said brightly.

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