Fatal Purr (Part 1)

I wrote this during my honeymoon. I regret nothing.


-B. Alexander Campbell


A red velvet curtain covers the stage. It slowly opens to a grand orchestral flourish, revealing a huge neon sign that reads “Minimally Invasive Toys.” The neon intensifies until it is near-blinding, then goes black with a pop and a burst of smoke. Some ENGINEERS dressed in safety-orange, numbered jumpsuits carry the sign away, revealing a busy factory floor. Glowing machines wheeze and clang and spit steam as four more ENGINEERS busy themselves at levers and pull-chains, or with wrenches or hammers. They begin to switch positions and tools in a complex dance, sometimes hitting the machines themselves with a pair of hammers or pulling each other’s arms like levers. The clanging and taps takes form around a regular rhythm, upon which the orchestra builds as it begins the percussive melody of “The Grand Winding Up.” The ENGINEERS begin to sing.

ENGINEERS #57: Welcome to this grim machine

ENGINEER #24: That we call life, that we call dreams

ENGINEER #108: Welcome to this nickel show

ENGINEER #1: Now that you’re here, you’ll want to go

But you should know that

ENGINEERS: We won’t let you

Although we’d love to

And we can’t see you

And we don’t know you

ENGINEER #24: We’re twisted round like tiny gears

ENGINEER #1: That turn the clock that tracks the years

ENGINEER #108: That we spend twisted in this place

ENGINEER #57: That even time can not erase

Look in our face and

ENGINEERS: See the pain there

See the strain there

See the loss there

But see, we don’t care

As the tempo builds, the core four ENGINEERS leave their posts and begin a boy-band style group dance. More ENGINEERS enter to take over the percussion and provide backing vocals.

ENGINEERS: Because we owe our souls to Mr. Commission

He can cut our pay with one neat incision

He’s a bad bad man who wrote a petition

To subsume our hearts and arts and

We had to sign it cuz we didn’t see

Just how much worse it could be

We thought our future was already gone

But he has stretched it so long

The orchestra begins an explosive drum break. The onstage ENGINEERS join in by way of stomping and body-slapping. As the drum break ends, the tempo slows to the original pace.

ENGINEER #108: Here comes another down the line

ENGINEER #57: A body just as dead as mine

ENGINEER #1: A bloodless, gutless, lifeless shell

ENGINEER #24: A punchline with no joke to tell

If this is hell, then

ENGINEERS: Are we damned or

Idle hands or

The loss of candor

The locks on our doors

ENGINEER #24: We work from nine ‘til five and then

ENGINEER #1: We work from five ‘til nine again

ENGINEER #57: A half an hour, a half a break

ENGINEER #108: A half a lunch we have to take

And it’s all fake

ENGINEERS: The light we see by

The plants we pee by

The lies that we buy

The shit that’s knee high

And he makes us kneel to kiss his boots and

Then we soak it all in up through our roots and

The he fills our plates with forbidden fruits and

We go down, down, down, down, down down

The pay is good but we’re all sinking, you see

In sweat and misery

We’d love your company, but watch what you do

Or we might end up like you

The tempo has by now risen to a feverish pace. As the song ends, the additional ENGINEERS twirl offstage, and the remaining four drop to their knees in a half-circle around a pedestal, topped by a cylinder of red velvet curtain. A gold plaque on the pedestal reads, in menacing Gothic caps, “MR. COMMISSION.” The curtain parts sharply, revealing a statue of a gaunt man holding an angular kitten with an overlarge head and razor features. The eyes of the statue light up, and a static-drenched voice issues from behind the kitten’s curling tongue.

MR. COMMISSION: Announcement: the Public Relations Replacement Head will arrive in less than an hour. Place all finished products in shipping containers immediately after completion. Repeat: do not leave any finished products uncrated, under penalty of dire misfortune. We don’t want another incident. Sitting Duck Team: begin production of decoy product. All other teams halt operations until further notice. Minimally Invasive Toys: bathe in the warmth of our motor.

The statue’s eyes darken and the curtain snaps shut. The ENGINEERS stand and assume a posture of relaxation.

ENGINEER #57: Well, it looks like we get a little time off.

ENGINEER #24: The longer, the better. My turning arm’s killing me.

ENGINEER #108: You know what’s supposed to be good for that?

ENGINEER #24: What?

ENGINEER #108: I asked you.

ENGINEER #24: Well, I don’t know.

ENGINEER #108: You bastard. Mine hurts worse.

ENGINEER #1: I wonder how long this one’s gonna last.

ENGINEER #24: I told you: the longer, the better.

ENGINEER #1: I don’t mean the break, I mean the P.R. guy.

ENGINEER #57: How do you know it’s going to be a guy?

ENGINEER #108: Ooh, deep.

The ENGINEERS spend a few moments pondering the complexities of gender probability.

ENGINEER #1: Seriously, though. How long, do you think?

ENGINEER #57: That all depends.

ENGINEER #1: On what?

ENGINEER #57: Well, there are a number of factors involved.

ENGINEER #24: I reckon it all comes down to how nosy the guy is.

ENGINEER #57: No, no, there are a number of factors.

ENGINEER #1: What kind of a number, though?

ENGINEER #57: A…wide number.

ENGINEER #24: If he knows his business, he knows not to nose around in other people’s business, you know?

ENGINEER #108: Wait, his nose…what?

ENGINEER #1: A wide number? Like seven?

ENGINEER #24: What I’m saying is, the trouble always starts once they start to get nasal about things. Me, I do my job with one nostril blocked, understand?

ENGINEER #108: You know what’s supposed to be good for that?

ENGINEER #1: Did anybody hear what happened to the last one?

ENGINEER #108: He fell asleep on one of the conveyer belts, right?

ENGINEER #1: No, I heard that he snuck a peek at a new prototype product, something built by Mr. Commission himself. Except this was like the Toy That Should Not Be. It had moving parts where not even we have moving parts. The sheer psychic trauma of it all like mangled him from the inside out.

ENGINEER #108: Really?

ENGINEER #1: I heard it from an inside source.

ENGINEER #24: You see? You poke your nose around here, you’re practically begging for some psychic mangling.

ENGINEER #108: What’s an inside source?

ENGINEER #1: Number eighty-eight, from Realistic Dribbles Team.

ENGINEER #57: How’s he an inside source?

ENGINEER #1: Well, he works here, doesn’t he?

ENGINEER #108: Hey, that makes me an inside source! I must be smarter than I thought!

ENGINEER #57: Listen, I hate to spoil it for you, but here’s what really happened. Mr. Commission didn’t like the way he was doing things, so he sent Clank and Scuffle after him. You know how finicky he is about slogans.

ENGINEER #24: Picky, those in the nose might say.

ENGINEER #57: He’s a stickler for slogans, which is why he had Clank and Scuffle take care of the guy.

ENGINEER #108: Those two give me the creeps.

ENGINEER #24: Of course they do. They are creeps.

ENGINEER #57: They’re Mr. Commission’s personal bodyguards. I think anybody would be creepy doing a job like that.

ENGINEER #1: Speaking of jobs, why do we have to sit around here not doing ours? It should be illegal.

ENGINEER #24: Think of it as paid vacation time.

ENGINEER #1: Who would take their vacation here?

ENGINEER #108: You know where I’d like to go for my vacation?

ENGINEER #1: Where?

ENGINEER #108: Home.

The ENGINEERS sigh wistfully in agreement.

ENGINEER #57: What’s your home like, number one-oh-eight?

ENGINEER #108 sighs wistfully, which gradually turns awkward as, several seconds later, he sighs again.

ENGINEER #57: Number one-oh-eight?

ENGINEER #108: I’m thinking.

ENGINEER #1: Has it been that long?

ENGINEER #108 sighs wistfully/awkwardly yet again.

ENGINEER #108: Since when?

More ENGINEERS enter, carrying sturdy wooden crates, which they begin piling in the center of the stage.

ENGINEER #24: Hey, what’s this all about?

Enter CLANK and SCUFFLE, some murky grey area between midgets and children. Both wear shiny black leather, but CLANK has a shaved head, wears dark goggles, and carries an eighteen-inch steel-tipped oak cane, whereas SCUFFLE has black hair to his heels and wears obviously steel-toed black clown shoes. The ENGINEERS all seem intimidated by them.

CLANK: The boss said to clear out the warehouse.

SCUFFLE: To make room for the decoy product.

CLANK: Until we’ve escorted the Public Relations Replacement Head to his office.

SCUFFLE: And locked the door.

CLANK: So we decided to let you babysit.

SCUFFLE: Since it doesn’t look like you’re doing anything else at the moment.

CLANK: Get it?

SCUFFLE: Got it?

CLANK: Good.

SCUFFLE: Good bye.

CLANK: And good luck.

CLANK and SCUFFLE turn to leave.

SCUFFLE: And good riddance.

CLANK and SCUFFLE execute an elaborate secret handshake, laugh nastily, and exit.

ENGINEER #24: They piss me off. How can they look down their noses at us like that?

ENGINEER #1: They would have to crane their necks pretty far.

ENGINEER #24: Without engineers like us, Minimally Invasive Toys couldn’t produce a single product like…those.

The stack of crates takes on an ominous gravity.

ENGINEER #108: Those things give me the creeps too. The way they just…sit there.

ENGINEER #1: Those things are Batteries Not Included, right?

ENGINEER #57: No, these are those in-store Try-Me models. Legacy of the last guy.

A squeaky yet alluring voice issues from among the crates.

PANDORA: Go on, try me.

The other crates join in the chant.

TOYS: Try me! Try me! Try me! Try me!

The ENGINEERS begin to back away slowly, as an office wall lowers from the rafters.

ENGINEER #24: At least they’re not saying “Eat Me, Drink Me,” right?

The ENGINEERS back into the new wall and spin around in horror as another begins to lower behind the stack of toys. As it hits the ground with a thud, a third and fourth wall descend, trapping the scene from sight. The ENGINEERS begin to scream above the sirenesque chant of the TOYS before all sound is lost beneath another orchestral flourish. The fourth wall collapses forward, revealing an office empty of life but now fully-furnished. The door swings back on its hinges, and CLANK and SCUFFLE usher in SERAGLIO, a garishly-dressed man in cheap sunglasses and an oily comb-over. SERAGLIO carries a small white box wrapped in pink ribbon.

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