My superiors were not exactly pleased with the results of my first interview. To tell the truth, they haven’t been very happy with any of my work. But it doesn’t matter, because I decided after that first failed interview that I had found my true calling… and it has nothing to do with interviewing characters. No, I have worked behind a desk all my life, and I am good at what I do… but I want to do more. I want to influence the story, shape it, fix the things that need to be fixed. And so, as soon as I realized the gift I had been granted with this strange little piece of plastic hanging on a lanyard around my neck, I made a decision. I’ve spent the majority of my time within the realm of fiction since I made my decision, and in a very short time I have become extremely talented at moving through the fiction-verse. It comes naturally to me, and I have a feeling that very soon I will not even need my InterFiction badge in order to make these jumps. My former employers have been chasing me, but they cannot discover where I’ve been until I change something… and by that time, I’ve moved on.
Still, it was several journeys before I felt ready to tackle something as complex as Shakespeare. It had to be planned out well in advance, and my timing had to be nothing short of perfect. By this time, I had learned how to plan ahead so that I could appear dressed correctly. No more capers in my bathrobe and worn-out slippers, thank you very much!
I slipped from my latest hideout and flowed seamlessly to Mantua. I stood on the cobblestones and saw a booted young man running breathlessly down the street. He was not my quarry, but his arrival did indicate that I was in the correct moment. I turned and entered a shop.
“What, ho! Apothecary!” I called out, reciting Romeo’s lines.
“Who calls so loud?” came a creaking reply.
“Come hither, man,” I said.
A man wearing faded clothes emerged from the back of the shop. His graying hair stuck out wildly from his head.
“I see that thou art poor,” I began, continuing to borrow from Romeo’s lines.
The man drew himself up and glared at me. He fairly bristled with outrage, but I charged on with all due haste, cursing Shakespeare for not warning me that the man would take offense at this line.
“Hold! I meaneth no disrespect,” I held out my hand and a bag of coins appeared. “There be one hundred ducats.”
The man stared at the proffered bag. “Thou art right in estimating my estate. What can a humble apothecary do for such a sum?”
“There comes a man in but a short while who will thee requesteth a dram of poison to speed him on his way to the afterlife in much haste and swiftness.”
“Such mortal drugs I have,” the man replied warily. “But Mantua’s law is death to any he that utters them.”
“He willst offer thee forty ducats. I offerest one hundred. By the love of all thou holdst dear, give him not the poison. I prithee, I implorest, mix him up some harmless draft. He knows not what he asks, nor the sorrow it will bring.”
The man’s lips twitched. “Thou must be an angel in disguise. Thou certainly doth not hail from these parts, for thy speech is passing strange. But, forsooth, for forty ducats my poverty would have bidden me do what my will could never consent to. But for one hundred ducats, I will consent to thy plan and keep my conscience pure. Thou hast surely saved my soul.”
I handed over the bag and the man squirreled it away into some hidden pocket. I ducked down behind the counter as the door suddenly opened and Romeo entered the scene. He spoke to the apothecary and purchased what he believed to be a dram of fast-acting poison, but I watched as the apothecary measured out a dram of harmless salted water, and then threw a wink towards my hiding place. I grinned back, waited until Romeo left, then stood and shook the man firmly by the hand.
“Thou knowest it not, but thou hast saved two lives this day.” Then I exited the shop and quickly moved to the end of the play.
I arrived just on the tails of Friar Laurence entering the crypt. Romeo stood before us, his face puckered in disgust as he threw down the useless vial he had purchased. The bitter taste of salt water obviously didn’t agree with him… though it would ultimately agree with him more than what he had intended to imbibe.
“What treachery is this? O false apothecary!” he looked up to see us entering the chamber and pulled out a dagger. “My love, I join thee in death!”
“Nay! She but sleeps! Stay thy hand!” I shouted from behind the friar’s billowing robes. “Wait! Wait but a moment!”
“Friar?” Romeo stared at the limping, elderly man approaching. “Thy voice sounds strange.”
“It is but the strange echoes of the crypt, I spoke not, young Montague. But the ghosts of thy beloved’s forbears speak the truth. A fell portent shadowed my soul but a moment earlier, and I feared some ill unlucky thing, but thou art well, and look, the rose blooms once more in thy beloved’s cheeks. Despair not, young Romeo, thou wilt have thy Juliet once more.”
And it was true, for at that moment Juliet took a deep, shuddering breath and sat up slowly, blinking the false death from her eyes.
“O comfortable friar! Where is my… Romeo!” she squealed in a very un-Shakespearian sort of way, and threw herself at the young man standing before her with a seriously confused expression on his face. But light was dawning in his eyes as he embraced the young woman in his arms.
“O happy day!” he exclaimed, lifting her and twirling her around there in the catacombs. “Word reached mine ears that thou hadst died. What happy miracle, what daydream is this?”
“No daydream, my sweet Romeo,” Juliet replied. “But rather our happily ever after contrived by the good friar here. And now we must make haste and away, ere our deception is discovered!”
“Yes, follow me and I shall lead both of thee from here to safety and thou mayest live in wedded bliss the rest of thy days,” the friar replied, and I think a tear was sparkling in his eyes… or perhaps it was simply the torchlight.
I grinned and exited the play, stage right. None of the characters besides the apothecary had seen me. I was a little distressed to find that I had snagged my doublet on something sharp… probably the rough stone walls of that blasted crypt. I hoped it wasn’t bad enough to prevent me from getting back the deposit I had left at the costume rental shop.
Before heading out to return my costume and pick up another, I opened my worn copy of Romeo and Juliet and delighted to read about their escape into the night… and both families’ subsequent confusion at the disappearance of Juliet’s body. The Capulets accused the Montagues of grave robbery, and the two families wiped each other out in short succession… meanwhile, the young lovers now ran off to lands beyond Mantua and lived happily ever after.
My high school English teacher definitely wouldn’t have approved… but I preferred this ending. And I am certain the future generations of students compelled to read this new version in school will thank me for my actions.
I hope you enjoyed this installment of Writing Wrongs. If you would like to read about Henry’s previous caper, you can find it at:
The Fellowship Caper, Part 1