Artwork: Lana Pierce (photography) and Meredith Sause (model)
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“Red Room” debuted on Thrill Seekers Radio with Alex Dolan. Click HERE to listen to that podcast. (One note: There is a slight buzz in the recording of “Red Room” on the podcast. The version above is un-buzzed.)
“We live in a different world now.”
Franz Kafka, “The Hunger Artist”
Diane had always ignored the voice in her head.
She only told the audience the jokes she’d written.
But it’d been months since she’d had a good set.
And she was in danger of being forgotten.
She was at a small club in Baltimore, where no one had heard of her. She joked about her life, how hard it was, how draining. When she got to her bit about death, a heckler said try it, at least it’d be entertaining.
And the voice in Diane’s mind told her to do as he said, so she gripped the mic hard, and slammed it against her head. The blow dropped Diane to her knees, left her dizzy. She stayed down, breathing quickly.
Then she pulled herself up, stared into the crowd. Their mouths and eyes were wide, stunned. Diane touched her head, looked at her fingers, and saw blood.
Someone started clapping.
Others joined in. She was surprised but encouraged, and smashed the mic into herself again. Diane woke to applause. Members from the audience helped her up, congratulated her, gave her their love.
Diane wasn’t popular or known. People saw her by accident, they rarely showed up intentionally to one of her shows. She usually told her jokes while people ate, talked, laughed at something someone else had said, but she never quit. Instead, Diane went on relentlessly, carried by memories – a set that left an audience chanting her name, cheering and clapping; the time an old famous comedian took her aside, told her success was bound to happen. Those moments helped during the long days of this brutal trade, helped her believe she would last on this dark path.
But after that night, people wanted to see what Diane would do next, and her reputation grew. She performed two nights later to a packed room. Told a few jokes, but she could feel the energy leaving.
Something flew to the stage, clattered to her feet. Diane looked down, saw a knife. She picked it up, held it in the air, and felt the tension tightening.
And there was that voice just under the surface, whispering.
Diane picked up the knife, held it hard. Asked for a man’s name, and carved James in her arm. Blood streamed down her wrist, and her knees felt weak. She tried to speak, and fell to the ground.
Applause came thundering down.
People started coming from other towns to watch her. Local news did a story on her. Diane became dinner talk, discussed in schools, on the radio, online. Some said she wanted attention, others said it was art. Some said she should be arrested, others claimed she was playing a part.
They called her the pain artist. There’d been others like her before. Men and women who tortured themselves for the pleasure of others, but they’d always stopped short. They did it for themselves, so when they got hurt, they flaunted it. But Diane did it to give the audience what they wanted.
And that voice in Diane’s head never stopped talking, never stopped giving her ideas for what to do next. Most nights she cut into her flesh. But sometimes she hurt herself with something someone handed her, a shoe, a cane, once a small metal hammer. She told less and less jokes, and thought she could stop altogether, but the audience got angry, told her to try. Their contempt felt empty without being justified.
Diane still spent her days writing, and playing with her pain revealed something surprising. Her jokes were getting better, dark and biting, but she kept them to herself. She knew the crowds would like them, but she also knew that’s not what they wanted anymore. They wanted her to go further, somewhere beyond pain and love, they wanted her body and her blood.
Diane went from three shows a week to seven. Got invited to colleges, festivals, and finally national television. They picked her up in a limo, drove her to the studio. Diane told jokes to the camera while the audience watched her, waiting for something to happen. But she stuck to her old routine, and didn’t care if they weren’t laughing.
They went to commercial before her second set. “What do you have next?” the host asked. “The only thing they haven’t seen,” Diane said, and she went to her dressing room, came back with a bucket filled with gasoline. She dumped it over her head, let the gas pour over her. Then she lit a match, and watched the flame roar.
“I liked your early stuff more,” someone shouted, as Diane screamed and burned.
People were surprised to find out Diane had died. Some were sad, some were angry, but they all thought she’d failed in some way.
And as Diane died on stage that night, writhing in pain, she thought the same. It hadn’t been worth it to take them this far, to show those people what they’d never seen. No one had heard that voice whispering underneath her harsh screams. “What a stupid woman,” they’d say. “Burning herself to death.” But they never knew why she’d started hurting herself, or even could have guessed.
No one understood what had been left when Diane was finally freed from her flesh.
Lana Pierce is a Realtor, photographer, and web designer living in Durham, NC with her husband, Eryk Pruitt and her dog, Crouton. Her essentials can be found at www.durhamncrealty.com.
Meredith Sause is an award winning stage and film actress, director, and filmmaker living in Chapel Hill, NC. In 2014, she won Best Actor at the Carrboro Film Festival for her roles in “Liyana, On Command” and “Spin.” Her directorial debut “Keepsake” has won awards across the film festival circuit, and she is hard at work editing her follow-up film “Cheat Proof.” She is the lead vocalist for the lounge noir band The Drowning Lovers. A full list of her credits can be found at www.meredithsause.com.