There's No Gothic Like Shogothic

by eiggengrau

Chapter The Only

Some ponies blunder into damnation, but I worked hard to get where I am. Welcome to my Hell, my punishment for sins beyond the pale. Chief of my crimes, a degree in theatrical management. Thus my crime is also my sentence: for I am the manager of this theatre company, this melpomenian rag-tag, this pathology of players.

Tonight promises to be no worse, and certainly no better, than our average fare. Come along for the ride.

Of the play, the setting is desolate and remote, a dreary street, a dark temple, the obligatory blasted heath. The action: a macabre mystery, incident with violence and doomed love.

The curtain rises and the scene is set for the lovers to plan an assignation. Passion flares and they embrace. When the footlights fade a single beam illuminates them: in their shadow a dark pony appears but they do not see him. Their spotlight dims out as one foot light low lights the newcomer. The lovers are invisible in the shadows. The grim pony — now alone — begins his monologue, pacing the width of the stage. Each time he passes he calls forth another minion – until the stage is full of his hoods. The monologue has become a call for violence. As one the hoods draw steel and swear death to those who defy their master. The lights fade and once more the doomed pair are in a single spotlight — once more they swear an injudicious oath and part.

We’ve made it through the tame first scene. Act one, Scene two and nopony has died so far — off stage. On another hoof, the next twenty minutes is littered with corpses both in plain view and implied. The bit-part actors hardly hit the deck before they crawl off the set to change costume and die again. Someday I dream of having so many extras I can leave them where they fall, stacking up like autumn leaves. Until then, we recycle them like wet cardboard.

The set changes again. Repeated deluges of seawater have made the stage slippery; the heroine’s maidservant falls a second time as she shambles through Act one, Scene three. First time there was a deep, mocking sting played from the brass section, but this time nothing. I peer at the orchestra pit and see hooves sticking out of the tuba — I really don’t want to know.

The story progresses, props come and go, and the foreshadowing flows thick. Exeunt All and the curtain closes Act one. The halftime dance number and magic show are the especial bane of my existence, as witness the syncopathy of horseshoes on stage. The chorus line is out of step again, half of the dancers kicking their hooves up an eighth-beat behind the rest. At least their knickers are clean, those who wear them. I will have to speak to the pink one again.

I send champagne up to the VIP box, to distract the princess and her consort. With any luck they’ll have their hooves all over each other tonight, with little attention to spare for glitches in the show. With a little more luck, their spectacle might distract other ponies as well.

The dance is wrapping up and an assistant pants, “Ah cain’t find The Great Hoofdini nowhere!”

That probably explains why the missus is not on deck to wrangle chorus mares into shape. As long as she cleans up before tonight I’ll have nothing to complain about beyond her timing.

“We can’t wait,” I say, “the shogoth must go on!”

Act two, Scene one was off on the wrong hoof, but once they go on it’s beyond my control. Hoofdini has re-appeared and is incorporating his aborted magic show into his role as the closed-minded representative of the diarchy. Our star is peeved; she had to drag her soliloquy out as we waited for Hoofdini.

I leave the backstage to get a feel of the crowd’s mood. The margin of error is precious slim. One night we might do a third encore and ad-lib a second, happier, ending: a last minute cure, or the lovers might find happiness in un-death together. The next night we might douse the lights and flee with ignominy – even our stars knew that a sturdy fire-escape means more than a posh dressing room.

The front rows have been picked clean by the perambulating prehensile pseudopods of the polyphasic protoplasmic performer, but the bulk of the audience was entertained. Nopony has fallen from the gallery yet.

I poke my head into the VIP box. The princess is sprawling back in the seat, her consort face down in her lap. Eyes closed, she moans, “…Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!” as he performs a nameless rite.

At least she is in no condition to complain about the show. I close the curtain isolating their box from the hallway, lest anypony leaving the play early get an eyeful. Then I turn up the light behind the curtain, back lighting the two.

The big scene is playing: the lovers are reconciled to their differences and ready to take on the world. Classic setup for the tragic third Act.

Back in the wings I stomp twice on the floor. Manezini hears my signal: there is a distraction worth exploiting. Without interrupting his monologue he scans the seats and boxes.

“Ho! What light I see, sinners writhing in the flames of torment?” Manezini improvises and gestures dramatically.

The princess’ box was still red litten by the lamp glowing through the curtain. She has traded places with her partner and now she is the one who kneels to kiss. Everypony in the theatre watches as she engulfs his turgid might.

“If that be torment, methinks I shall renounce salvation,” the starlet playing opposite him avows floridly; she might not be acting. Her mood is much better now that Hoofdini is off.

“Would that such torment were mine.”

“Betake thyself to array such pose and thou shalt know’t.”

“Anon, my sweet. But beggar me the odds, this eldritch fane...” he returns to the script; he has lost half the audience now. The commoners were seeing first-hoof that royalty really do need it as much as anypony. Whether they find their evening’s entertainment on stage or watching the purple princess in the Very Important Ponies box, I shall not quibble.

After the final, bitterly random denouement, our starlet, now an amorphous mass, weeps alone. The stage lights fade. As the curtain comes down, Hoofdini, now the Chief Investigator — his death foreshadowed in Act one was a false clue — appears, sweeping down centre aisle leading his rabble towards the stage. Every actor who isn’t already on stage joins the throng in randomly mismatched costume. They vary from one show to another. Tonight zombots, an alligator, two bondage nurses and un plombière errant bearing both plunger sword and toilet seat shield all shout their enthusiasm for the misguided hunt: now that the guilty have been rewarded the innocent must be punished. The curtain pauses half down lending a claustrophobic air to the final confrontation.

Blood is shed; the curtain falls.

The lights go up, clapping fills the theatre, and life is good.

Another performance ends in successful pandaemonium.

Two hours of hard work and the aftermath is somewhat cleaned up; let tomorrow sweat the small stuff. The pink dancer makes her moist departure from my office, in the end I don’t insist on any change to her atire.

After locking the theatre I stagger down the street, pour myself into the nearest dive. I put my hooves on the counter and gibber to the stallion tending bar.

Make mine a Gin and Miskatonic.”