The Theater of Cruelty

I work in IT, and I travel a lot for business. I find myself in weird places. One time I was on a train in the middle of Massachusetts, somewhere near Springfield (although it didn’t feel like I was “near” anywhere) when it stopped at some random station. No announcement. We waited, then everyone started to grumble and got off. Those old, local trains are strange like that, and we didn’t ask, just figured the next one would take us on to Springfield. But I felt hungry. It was late at night, and I’d been traveling all day.

It was one of those very old, poky New England towns. Bulham I think it was called. Winding streets, colonial houses and big shaggy trees. I walked seeing nothing but houses, then I noticed a sign that said Royal Dinner Theater. That was funny, you almost never saw that anymore. The sign didn’t say anything else, and the building looked kind of run-down, but you feel safe in small towns, it never occurred to me there could be anything wrong. I went inside.

Somehow I don’t remember the first seconds after I went in, only walking around, slowly realizing what was going on. It was a dark room. There were long tables like buffets, with big plates of pepperoni pizzas, whole fried chickens, mashed potatoes, comfort food. Waiters wandered around quietly refilling the trays. There were customers too, but I didn’t pay them much attention. It only surprised me the place could be so busy late at night in such a small town. It felt bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside, too.

See, there were these big dioramas set around the room. They’d be dark, then a voice, a man’s or a woman’s, would read this short, bad poem in this fake British accent. So the first one I remember, a woman said:

“I find myself in a temper foul,
Feeling fit to scream and howl,
Few things do her Royal Highness less please
Than stumbling over a hive of bees!”

Then another voice said: “Behold, the Queen!”

A light came on, and showed this life-sized queen, like a giant kewpie doll, with a comical look of shock, and big red welts all over her face and arms. It sounds very odd now that I describe it, but at the time I thought it was kind of funny and charming. The whole place had this thrilling feeling, like rediscovering some bizarre theme restaurant from when you were a kid, that you had never quite been sure really existed. All these dioramas were playing at intervals, so you could hear the other ones faintly as you walked around.

Then I found one that said:

“Mother Nature we should not mock,
The other day I received quite the shock,
Few experiences leave one so worn
As stepping out in a thunderstorm!”

“Behold, the Queen!”

I was about to roll my eyes at the half-rhyme when the light came on. This queen doll looked like it had been electrocuted. The white hair was standing on end and the cooked gray flesh clung to the bones, and its eyes were boiling. It was like a bad special effect from a movie and that made it more unsettling. I decided I wanted to leave, even though I hadn’t eaten anything; suddenly I didn’t have much of an appetite. But I couldn’t resist looking at one more diorama. This time a man’s voice said:

“My brother and I couldn’t agree
Over how best to rule our kingdom, you see
I grew to dislike ‘im, then to hate ‘im,
So I killed ‘im, and so I ate ‘im!”

“Behold, the King!”

Oh my god. This king doll had blood in its Santa Claus beard, gleaming eyes, it was gnawing on a human leg. It didn’t just look horrible, it was so crazy and senseless. What was going? Who could be entertained by this? I turned around to get out of there.

There was a huge man at the buffet table behind me. He was sitting down, but I could tell how tall he’d be if he stood up. He was wearing a cheap suit and his face was red, and he held a fried chicken in both hands; he’d just been gnawing on it like an animal. He sneered at me.

“What’s the matter, son? Not enjoying the show?”

His voice sounded stupid, angry and amused, like that one uncle of mine, the one they said abused his kids…

Suddenly he flipped over the table. Plates crashed to the floor, food spilled everywhere. People were laughing all around me. The man snapped his fingers, and I felt two waiters grab my arms. Only when I looked, their faces and eyes suddenly looked pointed, like giant cats. I was too scared to fight. They dragged me, tossed me through a door…

That was it. I was standing outside. Shaking, I turned around. The building was still there. The sign was still there. The waiters could have been there, standing inside, but somehow I felt they had vanished, like I had just woken up from a very, very bad dream.

It was three in the morning. Hours had passed. I waited all night at the station. On the morning train, I read in the local paper about the large number of vagrants disappearing from the area.

Credit To: Sister Vigilante

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