When I was studying Drama at high school, we were given the assignment of performing a two-person piece. It could be an act from a well-known play; it could be a complete scene written by us; it could be whatever we wanted.
Now, as it turned out, my partner’s sister had just finished writing a short play for her own class. And we loved it. It was quirky; it was funny; it was random. And random is always fantastic. We had a ball performing the piece, and, if memory serves me right, we received a rather decent mark for it, too.
And so it was that when my friend rediscovered this play on her computer years later, and subsequently emailed it to me, it brought to the surface some lovely memories.
And I wanted to make the play mine, in some shape or form.
So, with the kind consent of the original writer, I have turned the play into a short story; her brilliant dialogue is mostly the same, as is the plot (though, for clarity’s sake, I have reordered the scenes — in the original, the acts were in reverse order, hence the title). I have merely changed its form, tweaked the characters and altered the details a little.
Thank you again, Sophie, for allowing me to play in your playground.
Without further ado, I present Part One of…
Backwards with Bert and Nathaniel
Nathaniel’s eyes, dark with a mysterious wisdom unknown to his companion, clenched closed when Bert’s crowing voice interrupted the silence.
“I’ve come up with another philosophy! I believe that brings my total up to seven.” The young man swiftly stole the notebook from beneath Nathaniel’s fists and gloated, “Oh look, Nathaniel; you’ve only got five. Such a shame.”
“Now wait a second,” Nathaniel protested, tousling his hair into an agitated blonde mess. “You’ve got to share, Bert. You can’t just give yourself points! Why, you could be thinking of anything—or nothing.”
“Do I detect a hint of jealousy, Mr Number Two?”
“Not at all,” Nathaniel gritted. “I was simply stating a rule. Remember, you forced me to divulge my philosophy regarding surrealism.”
Bert hummed in reluctant agreement. “Very well.” A mere moment later, the man’s blue eyes lit up with a rejuvenated youthfulness as he boasted, “It’s actually quite a good one, so I should be glad of the chance to share it and subsequently bask in your awe.”
Nathaniel snorted in a very ungentlemanly manner. “Out with it, then. Though I think it’s highly unlikely that you should bask in my awe. Whatever little awe I may or may not feel, I plan to keep entirely to myself.”
“Well, alright.” Bert cleared his throat dramatically, and then drew his shoulders back into a ridiculous pose to denote the gravity of his announcement. In a deep, rumbling voice, he declared, “I believe that man is incapable of original thought. Everything we think has been thought before. And the environment around us inspires the things that haven’t already been thought of. Nothing that has come from man has ever been completely original.”
Nathaniel stared blankly. Bert dropped his façade of sincerity and nudged his friend jovially. “What do you think? Pretty nifty theory, hey Nathaniel? You may now proceed in your worship of me.”
The fair-haired man blinked, stunned for an instant longer, then nearly fell out of his chair under the tremors of his hysteria.
“Why are you laughing?” Bert demanded.
“‘Incapable of original thought’, indeed,” Nathaniel chuckled. “Bert, that was my third philosophy, should you care to remember! If not, I have documented evidence right here.” He stole his notebook back from his friend’s slackened, shocked grip and flipped back several pages. “There, see?”
“Impossible!” Bert protested, but could not deny the words written before him in Nathaniel’s swift, insistent scrawl.
“Quite possible,” his friend quipped in a proven rebuttal. “So, it looks like you’re still on six. Been there for a while now, haven’t we, Bert?” He chuckled once again as the dark-haired man’s eyes narrowed sulkily. “Well, now seems an appropriate time to announce my sixth philosophy.”
Whatever glory may have been had in Nathaniel’s revelation was never to be witnessed. In a cacophony of violent noise and clattering destruction, a battered, white toaster was flung through their window, where it proceeded to land boisterously on the table.
The men jumped fiercely and clung to one another during the raucous event, and, together, turned to observe their dining room’s new appliance.
“What in the good name of Christmas was that?!” Nathaniel hissed, loosening his hold on Bert. His friend was resistant to such actions and continued to cling to Nathaniel’s shirt with clawed fingers.
“It appears to be a flying toaster,” Bert said. He attempted to sound nonchalant in his observation, but his voice betrayed him with its warbled uncertainty.
“Toasters don’t fly,” Nathaniel argued, finally succeeding in dislodging his friend’s hands from his shoulders. He brushed unseen dust from his sleeves, using the seconds of silence to try and slow his hammering heart.
“…But what if it isn’t really a toaster? What if it’s something … else?”
Nathaniel froze, hand still hovering over the lapel of his jacket. “Not a toaster?” he quivered. He met Bert’s eyes once more; his friend choked out a frightened plea, and suddenly they were both crouched nervously beneath the table, trembling in silence for several long minutes.
“Is it gone?” Bert asked. The unexpected voice, though hushed, caused Nathaniel to startle severely. He shoved the younger man in his frustration, but consented to peer out from beneath their cover. With a sharp inhale of breath, he returned.
“No. It’s still there.”
“What’s it going to do with us, Nathaniel?” His eyes were petrified blue storms, by this point, and he clutched a baseball bat to his chest with a white-knuckled grip. Nathaniel was unsure from where, and at what point, Bert had actually obtained said bat, but was quietly comforted by its presence.
“Heavens knows,” he answered. “Probably take us to its leader.”
“You mean to say there’s more than one?!”
“Most probably,” the older man nodded sagely. Though his own hands were quivering with unkempt terror, he found that maintaining a false sense of knowledge about the situation kept him from succumbing to panic, and so he was most content to continue acting in such a manner. “If I am not mistaken, there is probably a whole herd of them, attacking people, raiding houses, taking hostages …”
A high-pitched squeak of alarm was emitted from Bert’s lips, and Nathaniel nodded even more fervently, causing his blonde locks to fray wildly. “Yes! Why, we’re affectively hostages right now! You know, they’re probably armed.”
A hint of bravery entered Bert’s eyes as he lifted the baseball bat. “Lucky we are, too.”
Nathaniel frowned beneath his fringe as he pointed up to the wood of the table, in the general area that he knew the ‘toaster’ to be residing. “I don’t think a baseball bat really compares to an automatic rifle and a chainsaw.”
“It has an automatic rifle and a chainsaw?!”
“I assume so,” Nathaniel said coolly. “It’s concealing them rather well in its innards, I believe.”
Bert pressed closer to his friend, lowering his voice even further. “It’s very clever, isn’t it?”
“Well, what do we do?”
Nathaniel turned to stare at his friend, undecipherable brown eyes meeting soulful blue, and, as always, he found that Bert’s utter helplessness gave him strength to continue. “Okay,” he growled. “Let’s make a plan.”
To be continued…
- Love The Bad Guy