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3rd – Thank You and Goodnight by Emma Willingham

Death is an odd concept, thinks Adam. We are all aware of it. We know it’s inevitable, but we don’t know exactly when we will be graced with it.
He lines himself up with the wooden box, ensuring he’s holding the chainsaw over the centre.
Yet it is still something we try to control. We eat our greens and try our hardest with nicotine patches. But isn’t it better to make the word ‘deadline’ all too literal and simply choose when we’ve had enough?
He starts the chainsaw, its familiar throaty grind filling the dank basement, and almost begins his act before it occurs to him to ask his guest for a second opinion.
“Quick question, kinda loaded, but you seem to be in the sort of situation where you’ll give an honest answer. Would you like me to tell you exactly when you’re going to die?” He tilts his head to look at his horizontal guest face to face, only her neck and head visible outside the box. She doesn’t look particularly comfortable but that seems to be the least of her concerns.
“No, please, my kids need me, please, no no-” she splutters, her sobs strangling her words.
“No? I’ll leave you to guess then,” he shrugs, lowering the chainsaw through the box, and of course its contents, reducing his guest’s cries to an echo.
“And that, ladies and gents, was ‘Sawing a Woman in Half,’ performed by yours truly,” he states to the empty basement, the monotone in his voice unavoidable. He receives a resounding silent response.

This was the fourth time this month his kill hadn’t been satisfying. Adam lived by the mantra that anything can be art, as long as it has style. Which is why repeating the same performance didn’t give him the rush he craved. The applause and sheer showmanship that he feeds off, despite the years his father tried to beat the hunger out of him.
Being on the stage is for pussies. You’re not a pussy are you, Adam?
Adam ghosts his thumb over the edge of the saw’s blade, nicking his skin in the process. Watching his blood mingle with that of his guest, he realises he is far too alive to be wasting his talent where no one can appreciate him.
Call me an exhibitionist, Adam thinks, it’s hardly my worst vice. I have starved myself of this long enough. I need to do something memorable. Something with finesse.
And so, it was at this moment that Adam decided to organise his first, and last, public performance.

*

The Phoenix Theatre. 7:00pm. Black tie event.

“Alright, ladies and gentlemen, now is the time for the finale,” Adam announces, “a piece depicting true transformation. I can assure you, you will not believe your eyes. For such a trick I need not one, but two, volunteers.”
There is a ripple of murmurs throughout the audience. The very real, flesh and blood audience. Adam runs his tongue over his teeth, baring them in a grin as he waits for volunteers.
“Come on folks! Male, female, I’m not picky,” he says, throwing a flirtatious wink out to the crowd, receiving a titter in response. To his left, a young couple make their way onto the stage. “Oh, one of each, lovely. Tell me about yourselves.”
“Well, I’m Allison and this is my other half, Glenn. We’re both 26,” states the girl, her cheeks flushed.
“Have you been together long?”
“Childhood sweethearts,” Glenn answers this time. “In fact we’re engaged.” He proudly shows off his fiancée’s left hand. Adam’s eyes widen slightly as he takes in the couple before him.
“How nice.”
He ends the pleasantries and leads Allison over to a small wooden chair. The only other item on stage being a matching table, on which five throwing knives laid from a previous trick.
“Have you ever wished he would do just what you tell him?” Adam cocks his head over to Glenn’s direction, who looks on curiously.
“Yes I suppose so,” Allison giggles.
“Well then, I am giving you one hell of a wedding gift. We will make him do whatever we like. With hypnosis! How does that sound?” The suggestion is met with claps and cheers, so Adam begins his procedure, watching Glenn’s eyes glaze over into a peaceful vacancy. Allison is thrilled, ordering her husband-to-be to impersonate a chicken, a zombie, a French maid. Anything that gets people belting out their laughter.

Adam takes a step back to admire his handiwork. He’s starting to feel the buzz tingling in the back of his head, an itch he can’t reach. The vibrancy of the crowd in their expensive attire assaults his eyes but he can’t seem to stop staring, seeking out every smile and nod of approval. The gasping and clapping amongst the audience seem to merge into ambience that melts away against the thumping of blood in his ears. The adrenaline forces him to keep moving – walking back and forth, clenching and unclenching his fists.
“Okay, alright! I’ve got one! What I want you to do, Glenn-” he cuts himself off, wheezing from his own laughter, the room’s energy infectious. “I want you to- no, no, I’m not gonna say it, I’ll whisper it.”
They bloody love me. They love me, Dad, they love me.
Adam whispers the instructions and slips an item into Glenn’s breast pocket, making sure to hide it from his adoring audience.
“And then I want you to say these words-” he mumbles, finishing the command. Adam stumbles backwards, glancing at the spectators. They are bent in half, fat tears of joy running down their cheeks. He knows this is what he was meant for. A lifetime of artistry has led to this.

With his crazed smile still painted on his face, Adam watches Glenn slowly shuffle into action and reach for a throwing knife from the table. Glenn walks forward, limply presses his damp lips to Allison’s forehead, and thrusts the knife through the side of her neck. Unsure gasps are emitted from the audience, leaving the room quiet enough to be able to hear Glenn’s final words, with which Adam mouths along.
“Alright, folks, let’s end this show with a bang,” he slurs, his face still absent of any conscious life. He reaches into his breast pocket to reveal a gun. Placing it to his temple, he then pulls the trigger, covering his fiancée’s feebly stirring body in the flaking remains of his brain.
The gunshot shakes the room, slapping the audience into a reality that chokes them into silence. Adam staggers to the front of the stage, stepping over Glenn’s corpse, making sure not to ruin his shoes with the debris. He looks out to his people once more, most of whom are gaping, holding one another in horror and more importantly disbelief.
All eyes are on him, as they were meant to be. Adam feels hot tears of pride sting his eyes and a superb aching from his relentless grin. With a hoarse voice, he manages to announce “thank you for a wonderful night of true flair and performance.” He takes his final bow, and welcomes the crescendos of the screaming crowd.