From the wings of the stage, the music and the rustle of people sounded muffled. Velvet curtains tended to have that effect. Still, it made her uneasy to hear them waiting. She sat on a chair in a room to the side of the stage, gathering her courage. In a few minutes she should go out there and speak. She wrapped her arms around her like wings and ruffled her shoulders back and forth uneasily.
A click echoed from the door latch opening. He walked over to her and knelt down in front of her and rubbed his hands up and down her upper arms. It felt like the hands were touching her from very far away. His touch was coming through several layers of clothing and she was wearing a sweater underneath a thick winter coat and could only feel the outline of the hands on her arms. He tried to catch her eye. Both were glued to the clock above the door, counting down to air time.
“You ready for this!” he said.
Beneath the hands of the clock, she saw a few more people pile in. They were all smiling pride, so she tried to smile back. Each of them came by and patted her on the shoulder.
“Good job, girl!”
“You made it happen!”
The minutes ticked by on the clock. Only five more minutes left. Make-up and hair was already done with her. She opened her arms up to try and hug them for coming to see her. Her elbows were jittering and her chin seemed to catch on their shoulders awkwardly. Since she could feel her knees would not stand, she remained sitting.
Some of them began shuffling their feet, not sure what to say now that they’d congratulated her. The crowd in the green room was beginning to sound just like the ones outside in the audience, like waiting.
He stood up all of a sudden.
“Let’s give her some time to prepare.”
They smiled and relaxed and waved goodbye. A few tapped her shoulder again muttering good luck and break a leg like a secret between them. Her hand went out to a few, trying to thank them. When the door finally clicked shut she checked the clock again.
Two minutes left. And she had no idea what to say.
Applause broke out in the crowd and she could feel a few whoops and cheers of support as her friends from the green room were seen entering the crowd. The audience anticipated a appearance would arrive soon. .
She wanted so badly to go out there and smile and thank them. It just didn’t feel right, this thing that had grown unexpectedly. There was not yet a name for it. The seconds hand was ticking faster and faster it seemed and the claps were becoming sharper and frantic.
She ran to the door and pulled hard on the handle, hoping to escape. But it would not turn. Her hand grew red and white around the door handle but it still wouldn’t turn. Her knees were straight beneath her and her arms felt strong, but nothing seemed to come of it.
The hands of the clock were spinning wildly now and the sounds of the crowd were dying down. Turning from the clock and the door, she saw only her chair. In one step she grabbed up the chair legs and smashed the back against the door. The plastic of the seat cracked and broke against the metal, but the handle remained intact and still would not turn.
She took a deep breath and let her whole chest expand under her shirt until the buttons looked like they would pop. The chair lay useless beside her.
Five minutes rolled by like a feather in a gale force wind, spinning and spinning. She stared at it in amazement, head cocked to the side. The clock would not stop spinning faster and faster and still the people were out there, cheering and waiting. If the clock spun real time, she thought, the audience would be aging by the hour, day, week. She stared up at it head cocked to the side and then as if trying to scare it, she threw the remains of the chair up at it. The clock came clattering and clanging at her feet. Inside the mechanism was just plain black plastic. Exactly as any other clock.
She reached down and flipped it over. The face of it had shattered on impact. She could hear nothing outside now. Only silence. Not even the music was playing.
Above the door an air vent was revealed, right where the clock had been. The clock had covered it completely with its over large face, but now the vent was exposed and fresh air began blowing down on her head. She picked up the chair once again and set it upright as best she could. The plastic seat was bent and cracked, but the legs still stood steady, so she climbed up and reached for the vent.
The screws kept it in place. But on the ground behind her were the shards of plastic from the front of the clock and she got back down and picked up a triangle from the floor. She reached up again and began twisting the screw outwards, unraveling it.
The vent came off easily after that and she smiled. She could leave after all. She used the handle on the door to raise herself up her elbows trembling with effort now. Her head nearly cracked on the roof of the vent duct. A blunt thud continued to circle the crown of her head, but she winced and bore it and began to crawl.
The tunnel of the air duct was short, but wide and she started to press forward by reaching her toes and fingers out to the sides and sliding with her head down. It felt much like swimming through the air duct with the frog stroke, pressing forward with each circle of her arms and legs, her hips and knees spread wide.
Each time she moved the metal of the air duct walls bent under her weight, groaning and popping. It scared her at first, thinking the screws holding the metal plates together were beginning to fail. But as she progressed five feet, then eight then thirteen she felt more confident and she moved faster and faster. Just as she was nearing the fork in the ventilation ducts, the walls screamed and with a pop the whole floor went out under her.
She gasped, and it was covered by the scream of several people at once. Her feet were dangling and her fingers tried to find a grip on the smooth surface that she had been treading. There was no help there and all of sudden she was floating. Her arms were waving up and down and she hovered like a hummingbird in the center of the stage.
A hush gathered over them all. Then, as if nothing had happened she on her back trying to catch her breath in her stomach on the hard surface of the stage. She coughed and sputtered.
The bulbs of professional lights shone down on her, but then he was standing in front of them blocking the painful shine.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I was trying to get out,” she said, finding her voice.
“Looks like you found it,” he laughed sweetly.
She struggled to her feet and pulled the wedgie of her jeans from her butt.
“Yeah,” she said, “sure did.”
He patted down her shoulders and the back of her shirt and little dust motes circled around her playfully. Pinching one of them in her fingers with a quick dart of motion, she pulled a mote up to her eye and inspected it closely. They stared at her only for a moment. And then suddenly she was gone, pouf, and dust motes swirled again as if a little breeze had wandered past.
This musical challenge was chosen by me. Trebez and I wrote a piece inspired by Kanye West’s Runaway Ft. Pusha T. You can read Trebez here.