Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: The Player plays
Isabella continued to run though the city streets with a growing awareness that there were no other people around at all; the streets were deserted. She started to slow her pace; breaking the rhythm she had grown accustomed to, bringing it back to a jog from a full sprint. She was approaching the end of a street and the building in front her caught her eye.
It could have been the way the old theatre was lit or how the title of what was showing glared out at her, but the arrival of his cackle in her mind confirmed that she’d arrived at her destination.
She stopped, standing in the middle of the street with her hands on hips, catching her breath, and looked up at the signage. ‘The Jester presents’ was emblazoned in big red letters across the front. And in gold italics underneath in a much smaller font was ‘Isabella gets her guy’.
Isabella took tentative steps up to the big wooden front doors and pushed one of them carefully. It swung open.
Inside, the front of house foyer was fully lit. Its ornate lush red and gold décor gave her the feeling she’d stepped back in time by a couple of centuries. No-one was there, so she carefully walked through taking the red carpeted stairs up to the internal wooden doors, pushing the long brass handles and entering the theatre’s auditorium on the ground floor.
It was empty inside. The red velour seating faced a low lit stage, which was presently hidden behind a red velvet curtain edged in gold embroidery. Isabella glanced around, taking in the decorative three tier balconies, with their gold finished cornices, and made her way along one of the middle rows of seating until she reached the centre, and sat down.
Asv soon as she did music started and the lighting changed. The curtain raised and there he was standing there with his arms open as though ready to receive a room full of people. He had on what looked like a black suit magician’s suit, but there was no top hat covering his virtually bald head with its wisps of white hair and encroaching liver spots. Under the stark spot light, his pale aged face was broken only by the yellow toothed grin he displayed; his eyes tiny black specks in its midst.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced to the theatre at large, as though there were other people there. “Tonight we have a special treat. My adopted daughter, Isabella, will come and join me up here on stage.”
There was applause and Isabella whipped her head round, looking for the other patrons, but there were none to be found.
The Jester was looking straight at her and beckoned her to join him, so she stood up and moved to the central aisle, walking down to the stage. There she found hidden steps up the side of the stage, and as she climbed them the Jester stepped forward and took her hand. His was cold and dry, almost papery to the touch, and Isabella resisted to the urge to pull hers back once she was up on stage with him.
“Isabella, my dear, finally we meet again. It’s so nice to see you out of your padded cell.”
Isabella remained silent, knowing the distain she felt was visible on her face. He might consider himself her saviour, but this endless chase was making her long for the peace and solitude of the asylum.
“Are you ready for me to reveal what I have in mind for you? What it is I want from you in return for your freedom?”
His tiny black eyes regarded Isabella with an intensity she recoiled from. She nodded, unable to vocalise an answer as it was wrapped up in fear and trepidation at what price she was going to have to pay for her release.
“I need you to be my recruitment officer.” Isabella frowned as the Jester continued. “There is a wealth of strong handsome young men I want as players for my game, and you, my dear, have the wiles to unearth them and reveal their vulnerabilities for me.”
Isabella baulked. “What? You want me to prostitute myself for you and you’re games?” She snatched her hand away, pleased to be able to finally do so. “I’m not about to become anyone’s sex slave. I’d rather be returned to my cell; at least there I would be safe.”
She expected the Jester to placate her, to sooth her and talk her into whatever he wanted, but he didn’t. “For a cell bunny that hasn’t seen the light of day for many years, you’re rather a spoilt brat, aren’t you?”
Isabella jerked at his harsh and replied, “Spoilt?! Being thrown into disarray, jumping from place to place, from time to time, and wondering what’s going on, and why? You consider that spoilt?”
She spat the last words at him and he wiped his eyes in sarcastic response, dusting down his coat in exaggerated movements before he spoke again.
“My dear, I had to test you, see your strengths and abilities, to know that you were right for the team. As for sex that’s your own choice, I simply need you to identify the strong characters within the given societies; the ones you think will play my games the best.”
“And how will I get to these ‘societies’?” She attempted to cover her feelings of foreboding with her indignant tone.
“Oh don’t worry about that, I will show you a neat little trick I came across. Come.” He led her across the stage to a small white cross taped onto the black floor. “See this?”
“When you step on it you will find yourself in another place. These little ‘doorways’, as I like to call them, can be found all over the place. I will lead you to them each time you need to ‘move on’.”
Isabella looked at the spot, then at the Jester. She had no reason to doubt it as she had already passed through many, in her pursuit.
He put his palm out. “Shall we go?”
“Why not, no time like the present.” And then he laughed, the irony of his statement amusing him.
His high pitched cackle pierced Isabella’s ears as she clamped her hands over them. Then he shoved her forward onto the cross and everything around her swirled into blackness.
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