- Understudyby Elizabeth Emerald
This work has reached the exceptional level
Chance of a Lifetime
Understudy by Elizabeth Emerald
Horror Writing Contest contest entry
Artwork by Taelbach O'Doyle at

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

This is a monologue script, with speaker (Len) alone on the empty stage (more on this below after you finish so as not to spoil the surprise)

Tonight is to be the penultimate performance. It’s now or never.

You’d think, in a sixteen-month run, that the son-of-a-bitch would have taken sick, or had a death in the family, or something, anything, that he’d have been “unable to perform,” as they would announce. After which they would announce: “The leading role will be played by the understudy, Len Jardine.”

The understudy. That’s me, poor ol’ Lenny-never-gets-a-chance. Consigned, for sixteen months, to a bit part. One line, six words: “Do you have anything to say?” After which I string the bastard up.

The executioner. That’s how my credit reads, rather, would, if one could be bothered to read it. Doubtful.

He, of course, gets star billing. Name on the marquee, rave reviews. None of which make mention of me. The executioner.

Well, tonight the executioner will take a star turn. Alas, the audience will never know it. I’ve taken care to make it look like a terrible accident.

A safety belt can snap. Such tragedies, unfortunately, have occurred. Say, if the belt is subtly, strategically, frayed along its length. Such as can happen over time; after all, leather wears out. I just gave nature a bit of a boost, put my trusty jackknife to the task. Just enough that the belt won’t withstand the weight of a thrashing body.

And he’ll be thrashing all right. He always does, the ham. The reviewers gush over his convincing performance. That’s the genius of my plan: no one will know until it’s too late.

Ooops, gotta scoot—my scene’s next up.

I lead him to the tree, hands tied behind his back. I slip the noose around his neck, tighten it, then loop the other end loosely around the branch. I dutifully attach the hidden safety belt.

“Do you have anything to say?” 

He remains silent, as written. I yank the rope, hoist him high.

It takes him barely a minute to die. I watch all the while, taking silent satisfaction in his wildly bulging eyes, imagining his purpling throat, as he swings, kicking frantically, thrusting his feet toward my face, desperately trying to signal that something has gone dreadfully wrong, until I glean, in his dulling eyes, the realization—I must have smiled slightly—that I did this on purpose.

It isn’t until after they cut down him down and cart him away per the script, that his death is discovered. Backstage, all are understandably shaken; an ambulance is called, though purely per protocol. 

The director announces the news to the horrified audience; the remainder of the performance is canceled. As the audience files out in shock, the director calls out:

Kindly inform your friends who may have been planning to attend tomorrow’s final performance, that it has been cancelled.


No matter; from the corner of my eye, I can see the pair of policemen waiting in the wings.


 Len is alone on the empty stage--after having committed the crime (not seen by us) and after the (imaginary) audience has been dismissed--relating to us what he'd done. It would end with his turning his head toward the (unseen to us) policemen as he says his last line then walking off stage toward them. 




Author Notes
Thanks to Taelbach O'Doyle for artwork: Clarence

This was inspired by a real such tragedy; the death was presumably accidental (though I am disconcerted to learn that the actor convinced he director to rewrite his suicide scene as by hanging vs by gunshot).


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