the Theatre


The roar of bravado echoes around me as crowd cheer for my welcome. popcorn is thrown up in the air like confetti, drinks are downed in one gulp. People sprawling the cinema seats, they converse, shout and beckon me towards them.

'W-what'. I say breathlessly. Thoughts racing through my mind. Just a second ago I was lying in bed, slowly fading in and out of consciousness. Is this a dream?

Suddenly, the boisterous overcrowded cinema turns to an eerie silence. Hisses fade from the rabble as they hush each other and all look at me, waiting expectantly. I dash through my head, looking for what this alien mob wants from me. Any knew Thought being overwhelmed the pressure of this impatient environment.

imagery soon break their way through. The pounding in my chest now notable, beating rhythmically to my anxiety. Hands softly caresses mine, eyes full of tears and wavering smiles and sadness. a beeping flatlines.

'Am... Am I dead?' I say, all the moisture leaving my mouth.

The cinema erupts into cheer once more, hooting and wooting. I look around the boisterous cinema with my senses bewildered. Did I say something wrong, or right? Before I could get my bearing, I feel a grip on my shoulder, startling me. Turning sharply, there to my side a man stands. Dressed in a... Tunic? Lavishly embezzled, leggings of bright gold and a wavy bowl haircut. He grins at me with such joy its intimidating.

'Friend! Brilliant to finally make greetings!'.

'Uh. who-'

'Come, come sit. Naught time before the next play begins'!

With an energetically tightening grasp, the princely, well-dressed man begins ushering me up crowded stairs. I try to weave through the crowd of cinema goers who spill out onto the stairs, as not a seat is left empty; Even overflowing into entry hall. I pass many an individual. They cheer to me, shake my hand and pat me on the back as I pass by. In a daze I comply, worrying I might upset some sort of unseen balance.

I'm gifted jumbo-sized popcorn from a dapper looking dude with a neatly trimmed moustache. As well as an equally ridiculously sized drink from a baggy pants, hat tilled, street smart bro. I didn't have time to refuse either before I am seated in a popcorn laced seat that another man dressed in a business suit so kindly gifted after the elegant man 'convicted' him so.

'You have been seated here 3 life time's lad, least yourself could do is pass off to the newcomer'. The elegant man says.

'Fine but you owe me another popcorn' business man says in a huff walking off. With a turn on the heel, the well-dressed man addresses me again.

'Mind him not. They be a short cutter, still regrets it'.

'A what?' I ask.

'Short cutter, as the youth here say. Quaint little phrase'.

'Okay, but what does that mean.'

'Oh, a tragedy to say allowed. He leans in closer. 'Took a short cut to arrive here... Hastily'. Elegant man responds with sly tone.

'oh' I respond, pretending like I know what his talking about

'Wait, having no--'

'Oh, hush friend its starting'

Before I could voice my conferences, I'm cut off. The cinema screen flickers to life with a vintage countdown. The lights dim to darkness and the bustling conversations turn to hushed whisper, and when the countdown finishes noting but silence.

The screen falls in with the rest of the darkness for but a moment. Then, flickers of lights. splotches and patches of color fill the screen, as though a film laces the camera. the speakers play a muffled sound, like being underwater. Soon both becomes clear, a woman wearing a blue scrubs pear into the camera with a smile. she hands the camera to a tired woman, red in the face and tears down her cheeks, sprawled on a hospital bed. She passionately takes the camera from the nurse and begins to weep with joy.

'What is this?' I say, turning to the well-dressed man.

' Shh'. He responds. 'Wait for the line'. His eyes fixated on the screen. I look around the room, he isn't the only one.

'Ma'am, what's his name?' the woman in scrubs asks.

'Julian'. The tired woman replies. 'His name is Julian'. The crowed cheers, raising their drinks and taking a swig, quickly returning back to having their eyes glued to the screen.

'What is happening? why are people cheering? Why- How did I get here?' I demand trying to overpower the movie.

'Oh, hush now. just watch' The Elegant man says.

'And what AM I watching?

'If thou watch, that thou will know', he says flourishing his hand at me. 'My, I remember not you being the kind to so selfishly interrupt a play'. His confident gazes overpowering my plights, his smug expression lets me that I won't get any more out of him.

'Come. Sit. Watch', he continues. 'You will understand better if you do'.

With a sigh and a slump, I Abiding

--

The choice of perspective sure is an interesting one. A first-person view of this "Julian's" life. Every, single, second of it. The other interesting choice. What feels like hours go by of Julian staring at the mobiles above his crib, yet canonically days pass. I find myself strangely comfortable, even the coziest couch becomes uncomfortable after sitting in it for hours on end.

In a blink of an eye, he is five years old and starting his first day of school. Bets go around the room, guessing what girl he'll get a crush on. Others cross their fingers, hoping he does well. As do I. Julian stammers nervously introducing himself to the class, twiddling his figures and avoiding eye contact with anything. Unfortunately, doesn't make for a great cinematic angle with most of the view being the floor.

reminds me of my kids. The nerves and excitement on their first day. A room full innocents and joy. A kid like Julian just needs a push. Remembering that Kristy didn't wa--

Glassy eyes surrounding me, gripping the bed frame. One sits beside me holding my hand with her withered look. Her soft smile stretches her old wrinkly skin, and whispers "I love you"

In a rush I jump out of my seat, gripping the one in front of me. The adrenalin settles and I feel my heart beating a hundred miles an hour, the sweat dripping down my brow.

'Ah, my friend', the elegant man says. 'Come with me. You look in need of some refreshments.

--

The gigantic atrium of this theatre appears to be a hub to any kind of Concession stand one would want available. Stalls lining the walls and islands in the center of the room, all maned by Julian's.

'So, after we, the Julian's, die. We come here to this limbo theatre'? I recite.

'Yes'. Says the Princely, well Julian.

'And watch our next reincarnation live their life'?

'Yes'. I pause for a moment still processing everything. 'So does that mean, everyone here...'

'Every passing moment'.

'Oh'.

'No need for embarrassment friend, your life was very fulfilled' The elegant reincarnation Julian pats me on the back.

'Oh, that's not what I… Umm thank you'. Not wanting to make the conversation anymore awkward I let that topic slide. 'You couldn't have told me all that to begin with'?

' It's quite an astonishing topic of discussion to greet with'. 'I let the "newbies", the youth call them, experience this realm first. Then when their questions come from curiosity and not disseminated bewilderment, I do what I just did'.

'you've done this more than once then'?

'Oh friend, for centuries'.

each passing word adds more weight to these discoveries. So much so it feels too heavy for me to stand. I sprawl myself out on the soft carpeted floor of the atrium, rubbing my face, trying to get any sort of sensation on me to distracted myself. It's a surprisingly soft and fluffy feeling, as if it's just newly laid. The carpet encompasses the majority. Pathways are created by differing patterned carpet to guide customers in and out of the theatre, through the concession stands and down the hallways that branch off from the atrium, endless spiralling into darkness. Apparently know really knows where they lead too, though the common theory is limbos for other people.

'I remember my first discovery friend'. With a grunt the other Julian sits down. 'Oh, the world be damned. I know not how I passed either. One moment I was enjoying my banquet, the next my throat was burning like the rising sun'. I look at him, with what I can only imagine is a slack jaw responds.

' Oh, it was not painful for long' Prince Julian continued'. Quickly I found myself here. A multitude of Me's, Us's, reciting a theatre of the next Julian's life. Now we have these "movies", quite an invention. Oh, how quickly we have progressed'!

'So, are you a prince or something'. I ask

'Exact that my friend. Julian, third to the name. son of Julian the second. Earl of Novalia province'. Prince Julian responds with a whip of his hair and puffed-up chest.

'Wait, hang on. so does that mean the Roman spilt my drink on is actually a roman'.

'Roman? Prince says tilting his head. 'Oh friend, that is none other than Julius Caesar' I narrow my eyes trying to think of who his talking about, like I'm supposed to know.

'The great general that became Dictator of Rome, then was betrayed and killed by his own court'.

'Oh... OH'. I respond as the cogs in my brain start turning. '...how far back does our lineage go'?

'I believe a be primitive roaming about'?

'You mean like a cave man'?

'Precisely'.

'Wow...' I lay down of the floor again and let the light from the chandelier blur my vision. Strange how I can't really feel any sort of pain from the overwhelming light. all I can think, feel, I am dead

'I will leave you as you are, and return to the theatre. Do not dwell on such thoughts for long. Prince says to me. With a pat on the shoulder. 'What is will be. Watching the theatre quells my mind, it might do for yours too?'

I respond with an absent nod as Prince Julian saunters off.

---

I am dead.

such little thoughts fill me, just that phrase. I am dead. It's not what I expected. To be fair I didn't expect anything at all. Actually, I not sure what I expected being dead to be. I'm surprised yet not at the same time.

I try and remember my last moments. Laying in the hospital bed, surrounded by family. We... We agreed euthanasia would be the best course. And that's it. That's all I remember. I guess death is not as traumatizing as people think. I didn't even know exact when I died. I closed my eyes one last time and here I was. I lived a long life, eighty-five years. Kids, grand kids. High management industrial electrician. Ultimately a comfortable life after years of struggling out of debt. I had to pick up the fatherly role for my teen sisters after my single dad passed very early. With no relatives in country, I just had to pick up a career that was handed to me. Twenty-two and with all the responsibilities a forty-year-old has. I made due but, sacrifices had to be made.

my band. I never go to do anything with that. Always wanted to get at least an album out. I played a lot of instruments as a kid but I never got to take it anywhere. Far too self-conscious being on a stage and by the time I have that confidence, I had responsibilities to uphold with my sisters and later, wife and kids. Not long after my band mates, also my close friends, moved on with their lives.

I never got to travel overseas either, or own that muscle car, hell not even move out of my home town. Everything I did was really to raise my sisters and my own children, to give them opportunities i never had. It hurts that i never go to achieve anything, though I try not to... I mean I will not regret it.

I stand up a stretch myself I'm surpassing spry for a crippled old man; in fact, I feel twenty again. Look back into the cinema, it seems like I haven't even skipped a beat. Still the same day I left to have an existential crisis. Unsure of how to process my new found unchecked bucket list, I stand at the doorway and watch.

-----

There is very little in the way of knowing how much time has passed. I've been leaning on this doorway, watching the film? live stream? Direct feed from the occipital lobe? Are we in the brain of the protagonist?

Anyway, 20 years have passed. Yet I feel no discomfort for standing on my feet for literally years on end. My hip would have given out if I spent any more then 10 seconds leaning on it. I eventually did find my way to my so graciously gifted seat to be for my reluctant viewing pleasure.

Julian's life has certainly turned colorful. Ran away from home after high school to get away from abusive parents. Now his trying to start a music career. Though may failed attempts at self-publishing has led our protagonist to lose more money than make. Coupled with the ever-increasing responsibility of maintaining rent, especially in the big city, their attention turns away from music. When our protagonist would be practicing every day, turned into every few days. then none at all.

Turning to drug use to cope with the crushing reality, a habit he hasn't managed to kick since his teens. Every hit that lightens our protagonists' weights down the cinema. As though to stay above the tide, he drowned us underneath it. Yet we are left to drink up the slow realization of knowing he will never make this dream come true. The need to abandon it just to continue living.

As though someone had tied my heart in knots, A sickening swirl twists my heart from thinking about how I never truly comforted the fact I had to abandon my dream too. I always thought one day I would get back to it. And yet, I am calmed by watching our protagonist descended into darkness. The deeper they fall, that less my heart aches.

--

A break through. An explosion in popularity is whisking Julian away. His online portfolio is getting traction. A record company gets Julian a deal and music starts dripping from him. My heart begins to knot again, and my stomach churns with heat that washes over me the more our protagonist wades his way out of the darkness.

Traction, record labels. Album after album. Julian is living the dream he worked so hard for. One kind offer led to his greatest success. The sickening heat grows, leaching off another's happiness like a parasite. I can't help but feel... Envy. Why did it work for him though. Plenty of people try hard yet never get recognized, it just HAPPNED to work for Julian. Some are just lucky, I guess. Not all of us get to have the life they wanted. Some have to abandonee their ambitions to please others. It just 'happens' this Julian got lucky, all there is to it. Nothing more.

I feel my face emanating heat as the paradise grows. Why is it that he succeeded when I failed? I practiced every day, I dealt with terrible uncommitted band members and for what? To settle down, be chained down to my own kids after rising my sisters?

A frigid shock claims my spine, as if someone poured ice water down my back. It washes over my body as i freeze my thoughts in place. Did I just villainize my kids? My sisters? But evens still. What went wrong. I shake these thoughts and try to calm my mind, try to cheer for our protagonist. His made it to the top charts and starts his first world tour. France, England, Germany America. living the life. The life I wanted.

I stand up and exist the theatre in a huff. Clambering and push Julians aside. It's not fair.

----

I exist the cinema, slamming the door behind me so hard I pretty sure the reverbed overtook the movies sound. A boiling heat rising inside, coupling with a twisting stomach of guilt knowing I shouldn't be feeling this way conflicts inside me. Emotions run rampant, overtaking another. I should feel happy for Julian. He got where he wanted and yet...

The door opens to a crack and Prince Julian's head pocks through, his hair falling to one side with his tipping head and eyes full of worry.

'Where does your mind dwell my friend?' he asks.

'It's not fair' I respond. The words slipping through gritted teeth. Elegant Julian remains silent.

'It's not fair when we both worked so hard yet he succeeded. He got to be a musician and I had to abandon that dream. How is any of that fair. and why can't I feel happy for him. I just feel... I… I just'.

I find myself with my back against the wall, exhaling and slumping down to the floor.

'I just don't know how to feel'.

'You are not alone in this matter. Prince places a hand on my shoulder, a comforting gesture usually but, everything he says and does now just feels condescending. 'Why I remember when I'll first got here. My, the anguish', he says throwing his hands up.

'I had such plans. I would become king I say. King for life. I would ascend my people above the poverty they faced for decades. Though I neglected to actually learn to rule and instead feast and hunt'.

'This isn't exactly relatable'. I say, not making eye contact and a surprised about the amount of venom in my tone.

'It is quite the magnitude between, yes'. He continues, shrugging off the bite. 'Though my point is, we all have our regrets friend. More we could do, more we --

'No offence, friend' I cut off. 'But I don't want to hear what a god damn prince has to say about regret'. Caught off guard Prince stares at me wide eyed. 'You lived in wealth and statues. I had to work to get my money, to eat, to sleep for god's sake. I had to make the choice to abandon my life goals. You just wasted yours'.

A silence lingers over the two of us as I finish my attack. I cringe recounting what I just said. where did it even come from? It felt like just molten anger spilled out and assaulted anything it could. I turn to meet elegant Julians eyes but, he simply gets up and starts walking back to the theatre

I begin to speak, to apologize, yet I can't. As if the molten anger had dried my throat, not allowing me to make amends. I try and try, more desperate every step he takes away from me.

He stops at the threshold and on the door. 'Stay right there, I have someone for you to talk to' back turned, not even looking behind and dips back into the theatre.

--

I sit with the loneliness my outburst made. I palm my face, rubbing my temples as I try and make sense of how I feel about anything.

"Creating quite the ruckus so soon, are we?'. A commanding voice calls with a clam demeaner. Such a strange welcoming yet overbearing tone, like fresh honey with bits of gravel sprinkled in.

Stepping in to the room, an older gentleman holding himself in such posture and an aura about him. Wearing a toga? The elegant wrapping drapes off his figure with style and purpose. A red sash sits on his shoulder and across his body. a golden head band of a Laurel wreath its atop his head and a coke stain on his chest.

'I heard your tail from another' he says. 'Lets us speak of it'.

'Sorry, who are you exactly? Absolutely baffled by the fact there's another royal looking gentleman. I'm sorry about that about that by the way', as I point to the stain.

'Julian' the man responds.

'Okay, I walked into that'.

'I jest. I am Gaius Julius Caesar' he responds with defiant dignity.

'You mean, the roman guy'?

Gaius chuckles softly. 'Quite a humble title of yours. Yes, I, for a time was Dictator of Rome. The greatest nation earth has seen'.

Baffled at the idea that such a grand man stands before me, I question 'I'm a reincarnation of you?'

'No, don't be silly, he shakes his head amused at the idea. We are a reincarnation of our origin. And you are the latest'

'Okay well. Knowing I have you to compare too doesn't help'.

'Compare? Why would you compare?'

With a roll of my eyes, I sigh loudly. 'Look, I don't want another lecture from someone so unrelatable'.

'Unrelatable? Please, what is so unrelatable about sharing regret?'

'And what exactly do you regret?' I say meeting his gaze, staring back at a confident man. Unwavering and steadfast. His not going anywhere soon, great.

'Ha. Quite the question'. My, where to begin. I regret letting my hunger for power take me. I regret vilifying my competitors in the senate. I regret losing my friend Pompey. I regret comparing myself to another great man. I believed I could stand with Alexander the great, and because so I was blinded by my ambition'. His face becomes downcast. Peering into his eyes, you can see the memories are flooding back in, recounting events that have long stuck with this man. Good and bad.

'I could have and an empire so grand, yet it was taken from me. Tell me does my remorse compare?

I look at him confused; how could his life compare to mine. 'No', I respond.

'And why not?'

'How is being a king-'

'Dictator' Gaius interjected.

'That does not sound better'.

'King does not sound flattering myself'

'Fine whatever' I sigh my response. 'How is being a ruler comparable to... Not being a, well anything'. I meet Gaius's gaze once more. And this time he broke off, his face turning to thought, contemplating a response.

'Son. Do you think your life not grand?'. I give him, what I hope was a blank, unimpressed look.

'I envy your waking life'.

'What? Why? I question, taken aback. 'All I did was have a run of the mill life? I didn't achieve anything'. Gaius looks upon me once again with a soft smile. Like a grandfather's face lighting up when they see their grandkids.

'You may not have achieved your life's goals' he says. 'Much like many here. Though you achieved something else.' You set others for success.

'I have lead legions, seen many youths grow into capable commanders. And you son, you were a leader, a father like none other. A shield bearer may not be a grand role, though they stand to be battered and bruised, protecting their brothers'.

'What you did for your sisters, your children, and your children's children they will never forget. A father you many not of wanted to be, but a father you became. You sacrificed your goals so theirs would be true. What is there to regret about that?'

Thoughts race through my mind, clattering together yet one forming anything coherent. air seemed to have escaped my lounges, for I tried to speak yet nothing came out. The words dying in my throat. I turn away from Gaius's gaze. That defiant commanding gaze, looking for some kind of thought. but those words resonate and echo through me. I feel a pat on my shoulder, the grasp of a firm confidence hand.

'What is, will be'. Gaius says with such a contrasting softness. Try to look for any words to respond. But Gaius simply stands up and walk back into the theatre. Leaving me alone again.

----

Slinking through the crowd, I find my seat still unoccupied, save for the spit popcorn. Next to me is prince, who pays me no mind. Is he ignoring me or just engrossed in the film? It seems our protagonist has had some complication in his life. A break up with his boyfriend and the band dissolving too, and now left to pick up the pieces.

It's hard to pay attention to anything else than this awkward atmosphere a seat away. I glimpse over to try and catch Prince’s gaze, though dart mine back to the screen as soon as I his eyes shift. This is just making it more awkward. I lean over to Prince and whisper 'sorry'.

'That's quite alright, friend' Prince responds. A silence falls on us again, though it does not make my insides twist. A comforting silence, knowing all is put to peace.

'I'm not entirely convinced, yet'. I say.

'It is not an easy thought to quell. It was similar for myself' Prince responds. I simply Murmur in agreement. I let the conversation settle, happy to be able to speak to Prince again.

'Watch the play before you', he continues. 'Seeing another's worries and glees put mine too easy. They may not have the weight of prince ship or perhaps they fair even grander. But will always think their life wasted, and the other will envy how they lived. Yet both forget the joy they were living through'.

I catch my breath, as flashing memories fill my sensors. Smells of the ocean on summer holidays with friends, the chill on my cheeks from skiing on my honeymoon, and hearing the cries oh my daughter for the first time. Christ I am an idiot. My life was good, is good.

'I know not if I wasted my life' Prince continued, snapping me out of me trance. 'But what is-'

'-will be' I finish.

Prince and I meet eyes, a slow curling smile crawls across his face and gives me a node. Not one of agreement but one that says, well done.

----

With a final album rushed out with movie Rockstar Julian's new band, he unfortunately succumbs to cancer and dies 41 years young. He managed to fight it for longer than the doctors predicated. Just long enough to get married to a new partner, get a new band and pump out one last album before his passing. The cinema fills with applause that is quickly cut off by growns and growls as the light flicker back on.

'Well, better prepare the greetings' Prince Julian says, getting up out of his chair.

'Can I do it? I ask

Prince's face curls with a wide grin. 'Oh, of course friend. Please release thine of century long duty. But first. Wait'. the cinema soon turns to a low bubbling murmur as they await-

An alternatively dressed man in his 40s, with dirty blond hair sweeping over a bold spot he probably denies exists. Ripped skinny jeans, a cardigan that falls all the way to the floor. The cinema falls silent and holds their breath. Rockstar Julian looks around the room baffled. their face stiffens. 'Am I dead'? He asked.

The crowd cheers, as do I.