Last month, Patti Abbott issued a Flash Fiction Challenge to “Write a story about a man in a white van.”
I wasn’t going to participate, but then I realized “My boss has a white van!”
I still wasn’t going to participate, but then I started picturing my boss filling up his white van with fish.
I still wasn’t going to participate, but then I had to ask myself, “Is my boss instigating the end of the world?”
So here’s what I came up with.
To see what people came up with, you can go to Patti’s blog.
One final note, Raven Theatre Company’s white van sadly passed away a short while ago. This story is dedicated to its memory.
“What do you need?”
“How many have you got?”
Clark Spencer had pulled the Outsider Theater Company’s white van up to Monty’s Fish Market at 7:59am, one minute before opening. He wanted to load up and get back to the theater as quickly as possible. As Artistic Director, picking up fish was a new task and his current least favorite, right behind cleaning the bathrooms.
Monty looked at his clipboard. “For Mackerel I’ve got Blue Jack, Chilean Jack, Pacific Jack, Atlantic Horse, Cape Horse, Greenback Horse, Japanese Horse, Snake, Violet Snake, Black Snake, Blacksail Snake and White Snake.”
“Like the band?”
“What?” Monty didn’t bother to look up from his clipboard.
“White Snake,” Clark said, then sang, “‘Here I go again on my own!'”
Clark wasn’t sure if Monty didn’t get the joke or had heard it so often he was accustom to ignoring it.
“I’ll take them all,” Clark said.
Now Monty raised his head. “All?”
“Every last fish.”
The Outsider Theater was a storefront on the north side of Chicago. It had a lobby the size of a postage stamp, a stage the size of a slightly larger postage stamp (like the stamps they issue in Holland) and enough seats for an audience of thirty-three. Through willpower and dumb luck, Clark had been able to keep the theater alive and producing plays for thirteen years. He had a small ensemble of artists that backed him up by acting, building sets and running the Box Office. The company taught acting classes during the week and produced classics and world premiers on weekends.
The current play was a world premier.
It was a constant struggle. Every morning, Clark woke to a panic attack – heart racing, sweat pouring out of his body, fears about having to close the theater’s doors forever. Money was a perpetual issue in the arts. Ticket sales and class tuition weren’t enough, OTC also had to depend heavily on grant money.
The current play was funded by grant money.
Clark pulled into the alley behind the theater, climbed out of the van and looked up at the dim sky. Since OTC’s current production had opened, the days had gotten shorter, and not because of the normal approach of winter solstice. Each evening darkness fell twenty minutes earlier and each morning dawn returned twenty minutes later. As Clark watched the clouds, he realized that this day would only have about an hour of bright, proper daylight.
Opening the van’s rear doors, the stench of mackerel wafted out like fog at high tide. Clark tried not to breath too deeply and started taking boxes out to carry them down to OTC’s basement.
The subterranean vault smelled ancient and wet. Costumes, props, set pieces, tools, spare lumber, old office supplies – it was all stored in the basement. Currently, everything was pushed to the walls and stacked to the ceiling. The expanse of the space was taken up by a two-hundred-and-eighty gallon salt-water fish tank. In the tank lived a twenty-three foot, four-hundred pound squid named Isis.
The current play was about Isis.
Isis had reddish-pink skin, long suckered tentacles and eyes the size of softballs. Her tank was just big enough for her to turn around. She always seemed to be waiting for something.
In order to keep the theater alive, Clark had applied for a grant from the Dagon Foundation. They were looking for a theater to produce a script one of its board members had written called “Squidoo.” “Squidoo” was described as the story of a man whose fiancé turns into a giant squid the day before their wedding. Can he still love her? Will the wedding take place? Does love truly know no bounds?
Of course, one of the tenants of the grant was that the roll of the squid had to be played by an actual squid.
Clark did a little research and found articles that described the Dagon Foundation as an End-of-the-World cult, its members called crackpot Armageddon fanatics. He found several references to “Cyclopean Monstrosities” and “Deathlike Slumber,” “Cephalopod Gods” and “Gibbering Doom.”
But they did have a lot of money.
Clark applied and, after several itch-inducing interviews with three froggy-looking members of the Foundation, he received the endowment and the rights to produce the play.
The money was a small fortune, much of it going to the fish tank and the complicated series of lifts and pulleys that moved Isis around the building and across the stage. Clark found the script a little more bizarre than he expected – scenes of screwball romantic comedy were interspersed with weird chants, strange spells and exotic yet questionable tribal dances around a stone altar. But he didn’t let these oddities bother him, there were enough riches left over after space alterations and production costs to keep the theater healthy for a little while longer.
And that was what it was all about, keeping the doors open.
There were three performances of “Squidoo” left. The men from the Foundation had been very clear on the exact number of stagings OTC could have “In order for cosmic powers to align.” They promised “a closing night party that would alter the fabric of space and time!” After “Squidoo” closed, Clark planned to produce Henrik Ibsen’s little seen “The Burial Mound” or Tennessee Williams’ “Clothes for a Summer Hotel” or, perhaps, “Oklahoma.”
Clark finished carrying the boxes of mackerel downstairs as the sun set at 12:37pm. He dropped fish into the tank, Isis snapping them up with her incisive beak as soon as they hit the water. As he fed the ravenous beast, the slimy entrails of the slaughtered fish rising to the surface, he thought about how far he’d come in thirteen years – struggling, scrimping and saving in order to keep the Outsider Theater Company alive.
Struggling, scrimping and saving. Projects that hit and miss. Questionable funds from apocalyptic sources.
That was life in the arts.