Freely Written: Short Stories From a Simple Prompt

Break a Leg

June 22, 2021 Susan Quilty Season 1 Episode 18
Freely Written: Short Stories From a Simple Prompt
Break a Leg
Chapters
Freely Written: Short Stories From a Simple Prompt
Break a Leg
Jun 22, 2021 Season 1 Episode 18
Susan Quilty

In this week's story, Break a Leg,  mixed messages and awkward interactions take center stage

Suggestions for writing prompts are always welcome! Otherwise, prompts are chosen in random ways. This week's prompt came to mind after a conversation about theaters beginning to reopen post-pandemic. 

More about Susan Quilty

Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society.  Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.

Website:  SusanQuilty.com
Patreon: Patreon.com/SusanQuilty

Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/SusanQuilty)

Show Notes Transcript

In this week's story, Break a Leg,  mixed messages and awkward interactions take center stage

Suggestions for writing prompts are always welcome! Otherwise, prompts are chosen in random ways. This week's prompt came to mind after a conversation about theaters beginning to reopen post-pandemic. 

More about Susan Quilty

Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society.  Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.

Website:  SusanQuilty.com
Patreon: Patreon.com/SusanQuilty

Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/SusanQuilty)

Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 18 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty: 

 

Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.

[Light piano music]

Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Break a Leg

 Thanks for joining me today. As a reminder, here’s how my process for this podcast works: I sit down with a writing prompt and dash off a quick story, with no planning and very little editing, and then I share that story with you.

 My prompt for today came up after a chat about how great it is to see theaters beginning to re-open... after being closed during the pandemic. I don’t want to get too excited yet (not wanting to jinx anything!) which made me think of the superstitious way we wish actors good luck. 

Here’s where that passing thought led:

Break a Leg 

“What did I ever do to you?” Vinny asked, sounding offended as he hunched in a pool of light beneath a lone streetlamp 

Like Vinny, the unnamed man beside him wore a fedora and a belted trench coat over a dark suit. Unlike Vinny, the unnamed man was holding a gun. 

“I don’t even know you,” Vinny continued in his tough-guy voice, trying to seem unconcerned about the fact that the gun was pointed his way.

The unnamed man didn’t speak. He extended his gun arm, taking aim, and the streetlight went dark just as the gunshot rang out. 

There was a brief rustle of muffled footsteps. When the lights came back on, a man and a woman stood over Vinny’s crumpled body. Three uniformed police officers entered the scene, hanging police tape and stooping to check the ground for evidence. 

“Vinny ‘the Fish’ Abano.” The woman shook her head as she surveyed the body.

“He wasn’t gonna end up any other way,” the man responded, glancing around warily. “The question is… who’d he cheese off enough to ice him?”

About twenty feet away, watching from the wings, Dana and Michelle winced. They’d seen the entire play in rehearsals, of course, but opening night had a different energy. There was an edge, a holding of the breath, as they waited to see how their first audience would respond.

Behind them, the props master fussily repositioned the gun, which would come back as evidence in act 2, while the unnamed man stripped off his suit and pulled on the striped apron he’d wear for his later role of short-order cook. The unnamed man would not appear again. 

“Have you noticed,” Dana began softly, “that this play is rather…”

“Sterotypical?” Michelle suggested with a grin before adding, “Corny? Clichéd?”

“Cheesy?” Dana joined in, sizzling with nervous energy. “Trite? Unoriginal?”

“Hackneyed?” Michelle offered archly, and they both smirked. 

It would be hard to argue with any of those descriptions, though the director had insisted the play was meant to be all of those things.

“It’s satire!” He’d told them. “It’s camp! Play it up!”

But sometimes the cast had been unsure of his interpretation. The lines were corny, for sure, but they weren’t so over-the-top as to be an obvious parody.

“It’s a dry satire!” The director had argued, whenever concerns had been raised. 

They’d met the playwright only once and weren’t sure if she agreed with the director’s vision of her play, though she never contradicted him or gave any instruction of her own. 

The writer’s name was Moira Small, and she was entirely unreadable. She’d unexpectedly shown up at rehearsals one day, was introduced to the cast, then sat in the third row, simply watching her story play out.

She’d worn a nondescript beige sweater over tan pants and sipped from a disposable cup. Coffee presumably, though it could have been tea or hot chocolate or any hot beverage. Her expression had been aloof during her introduction, and her face had remained impassive throughout the rehearsal. 

Whenever the director had hopped up to adjust blocking or suggest a change in the delivery of a line, the actors involved had glanced at Moira Small, expecting either agreement or disapproval. She’d given no sign of either. 

“Enjoying the show?” 

A soft voice caused both Dana and Michelle to startle guiltily. Their shame grew when they turned to see Moira Small herself standing directly behind them. She’d crept up so quietly that they’d had no idea she was in earshot as they mocked her play. 

Or had she been in earshot? 

They had been speaking softly, they were both thinking rapidly, and there had been a pause since their last comments. Had that pause been long enough for the playwright to inch up behind them, missing what they’d said entirely?

Moira Small’s expression gave them no help in discerning what she may—or may not—have overheard. She shifted her eyes between them, her mouth in a thin line, waiting patiently for a response. 

In the same instant, Dana and Michelle remembered that she’d asked a question. They stumbled over each other’s words in an effort to prove that they—of course—were enjoying the show. Who wouldn’t?

“It’s so good!” Michelle nodded effusively.  

“Such an intriguing opening scene!” Dana gushed. 

“And Tommy makes a great corpse,” Michelle added, referring to the actor who was crumpled on the ground as the hapless Vinny. “I mean, he’s better in the flashbacks, of course!”

Michelle played Vinny’s girlfriend in the later scenes that would tell the tale of his mobster life. 

“Right, he’s great!” Dana agreed. “But convincing as a corpse, too.” She played Vinny’s wife. 

They both stopped talking after catching a glare from the passing stage manager. 

Moira Small shifted her gaze between them, letting her eyes take in their costumes and carefully coifed hair. Under her expressionless assessment, Dana’s knees began to shake. Michelle felt prickles of cold sweat run down her ribcage. 

Their first scene was coming up soon. It was a party scene, a cocktail party where everyone except the audience knew Dana’s character was Vinny’s wife and Michelle’s character was his girlfriend. That information would be confirmed for the audience later. In their first scene, it was only hinted at… though hinted at rather obviously thanks to the direction they’d been given. 

As Dana and Michelle stood under Moira Small’s assessing eyes, both actresses suffered second thoughts about their upcoming performances. Were they really meant to react to each other with such barely veiled brittleness? Or had Moira Small meant them to be more subtle, letting their true relationship be more of a revelation in act 3? 

It was too late to ask. Obviously. 

Moira Small’s mouth tipped into the slightest hint of a smile, though her eyes stayed steely. 

“Break a leg,” she offered crisply, before turning and walking away. 

“Whoa,” Dana exhaled with a trembling shake of her hands. 

“Was that…?” Michelle stopped her question, regrouping with a deep breath. 

“She was wishing us luck,” Dana reassured, though she wasn’t sure of that herself. 

They were the right words to say to actors on opening night, and they hadn’t been said with obvious malice. Though they hadn’t been said with obvious goodwill either. 

“She heard us,” Michelle sighed, feeling a guilty twist deep in her stomach. 

“She didn’t,” Dana insisted, brushing away her own nerves as she heard the audience break into laughter.

“They seem to like it,” Michelle noted hopefully.

On stage, two cops tumbled into a garbage bin in search of the murder weapon, white a third—the one who’d suggested they climb inside—triumphantly pulled a gun from behind the bin. The audience laughed loudly, not yet knowing that this gun was not the murder weapon but, instead, was a gun that would lead to an entirely different crime. 

“It is a good play,” Dana asserted, as if she’d never thought otherwise. 

“It’s funny,” Michelle agreed, smoothing her skirt as she listened to another reassuring laugh from the audience.  

“Silly funny,” Dana clarified, thinking of their earlier comments, “which is a great kind of funny.”

“Hard to write that kind of funny well,” Michelle agreed, rushing to add, “like it is in this play.”

“Yes,” Dana nodded, not daring to turn to see if anyone was listening, but hoping they were. 

The End

 

I hope you enjoyed that bit of fiction. I never know where a prompt will lead, but it’s fun to see what tumbles out. Feel free to suggest writing prompts for future episodes. 

As always, you can learn more about me and my books at my website, SusanQuilty.com, follow me on social media, or support me through my Patreon page. Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you. 

[Light piano music]