It was a crowded day at the theatre with not an empty seat to be found. The estimated capacity, according to the usher, was about 200; so this was certainly quite the turnout. I don’t know exactly why I bought a ticket. They were reasonably priced and gave the promise of a memorable performance; so perhaps I was simply bored. As I sat in my seat, patiently waiting for the show to begin, a man called out to me. He was sitting in the seat directly behind me.
“Quite the turnout, isn’t it?” The man said to me. As I looked at him, I was surprised to see that he had a striking resemblance to a man from my hometown. I paid it no additional mind. Despite the resemblance, he clearly was a different man. There was something in his eyes, a certain kind of knowing.
“Certainly is. Hopefully the show lives up to the expectations.” I replied. The atmosphere among the crowd was a bit unusual. Sure, there was the typical chatter, but there was a sense of urgency. The theatre-goers came with eagerness, that’s for sure. Perhaps the lighting affected the mood as well. The room was dimly lit, and the lighting within was a deep blue. This shall be an interesting show indeed.
“Oh, no worries there. I’m sure they’ll be quite entertained.” The man said ominously. I didn’t know how to respond, so I didn’t. I simply waited for the show. After a few minutes, a blue light shined upon the center stage, revealing a lone man.
“I bid you all welcome!” The showman exclaimed. He was very sharply dressed. He had a black and white tunic, though the white appeared rather blue due to the lighting. The showman continued. “In lieu of my master’s arrival, I’d like you all, if you please, shift your attention to the quill and paper sitting in the trays in front of you.” Surely enough, I looked and saw a quill and paper sitting in front of me, though I didn’t remember them being there before.
“I want each of you to write down your heart’s desire. Then fold your notes and place them in the cup to the left of the paper. Our assistants will come and collect the cups shortly.” The showman said. I looked and saw a cup. Something was certainly off; I definitely didn’t see a cup before.
“Choose wisely.” Said the man behind me. I barely had time to think about my answer before a woman, presumably an assistant, came to the end of my aisle. I quickly folded the paper and placed it in the cup. An odd thing happened then. The paper melted into a liquid that sat in the cup. It looked and smelled vile. As I stared at it, baffled, the fellow next to me cleared his throat, subtly reminding me that he was waiting. I handed the cup to him to pass it down. I helped pass down those from the people on my right as well.
“Keep an eye on your cup. Don’t lose sight of it.” The man behind me said. I planned on keeping track of it anyway. I watched as the woman set down the cup on a table. It was on the front-right corner, so it was easy enough to remember.
“Excellent!” The showman said with a clap of his hands. “Now, my dear patrons, your greatly-appreciated patience is about to pay off! My master, Lord Niu, has finally arrived!” As the showman finished speaking, a large, blue apparition appeared behind him. It was humanoid with large, bulging white eyes. Though it appeared quite resplendent with its dull blue glow, those eyes betrayed a hungry animal lying within.
“Now!” The showman started. “It’s time to begin the main event! I shall announce the name of an animal. You are to imitate that animal as best you can. The one in the crowd who does the best impersonation shall have their cup drunk by Lord Niu, and their wish shall be fulfilled!” The showman walked up to the front of the stage with the light moving with him. “The first animal is...parrot!” He announced.
I watched as the crowd lukewarmly started imitating the colorful bird. They didn’t seem too convinced of what the man was saying. There were a few arm flaps here and a squawk there. I myself didn’t care to participate, so I stood there, content with observing. One man eventually perched upon the top of his chair and squawked a mighty squawk while aggressively flapping his arms. Then he screamed. “SQUAAAAAAWK! THE FIRST ANIMAL IS PARROT! ANIMAL IS PARROT!” The showman laughed at the enthusiastic display and applauded. He turned to Niu, who nodded.
“Wonderful!” The showman exclaimed. “Indeed, the parrot is known for repeating that which it hears. Well done!” I watched as Niu approached a cup and drank from it. Apparently, he already knew which cup was the right one. I looked over at the parrot impersonator and saw that he was now attended to by many beautiful women. The crowd saw this and many had the look of envy in their eyes. I looked back to Niu and he seemed to be glowing a bit brighter than earlier.
“Alright! Well done for our first victor! Now, the next animal is…dog!” After he announced the animal, I noticed people were much more enthusiastic this time around, including those on either side of me. I watched this show for over an hour as people tried their best to get their wishes granted. I noticed that each round went a bit longer than the last. It eventually got to the point where people never stopped acting like animals, even in between rounds. Also, even the people who received their wishes continued to act like animals, perhaps seeking even more of Niu’s favor. As this was going on, Niu appeared brighter and brighter while the light around the crowd became darker and darker. This has clearly gotten out of hand.
“My friend, come with me.” The man behind me said. I’d forgotten about him, though it seemed he retained his humanity as well. After growing disturbed by what I saw, I decided to follow him. We stepped around the others across the aisle. They didn’t seem to even notice us, being too busy trying to imitate a horse. The man took me up to the stage, right in front of Niu and the showman.
“Leaving so soon? Wouldn’t you like to see the ending?” The showman said. I had no clue what he meant by leaving. We walked onto the stage, after all.
“No, thank you. I’ve seen this act enough times to know it never ends.” My acquaintance said. I had no idea that he had been here before. What was even more baffling is that he returned to such a place. The showman gave him a knowing smile and nodded. “Ah, well, losing one won’t hurt us anyway. Be on your way now.” He said.
My acquaintance looked at me. “Get your cup and drink it.” He said sternly. I quickly located my cup, but hesitated to drink it. After all, it was still repulsive to my senses. “Hurry!” He said as he drank his. I held my nose and drank it. To my surprise, it was sweet to the taste. In fact, it was absolutely delightful.
All of the sudden, I was no longer at the theatre. I was instead standing in a grassy field. My acquaintance was also there, standing near a tree. “Where are we?” I asked as I approached him.
“Outside the city, where that theatre was.” He replied. “If you hadn’t drunk from that cup, you would’ve been trapped in that show for the rest of your life.”
I took a deep breath, buried my face into my hands, then let go and exhaled. That was certainly going to be the last time I buy tickets for anything. “What made you help me of all people?” I asked
“It’s my joy to go to the show and rescue anyone there who can be rescued.” He said cryptically.
“And what made you believe you could rescue me?” I asked.
“I saw your answer. That’s how I knew.” He responded, then walked away.
I laughed. Who would’ve guessed that submitting a blank paper was enough to pass the test?