I thought aliens were interested in medical experiments but this one wouldn’t shut up about Hamlet.
Just before the abduction, I’d been in the middle of a student conference in which a freshman was introducing her emotional support ferret, so of course I was zoned out, thinking about how I could make more money as a walking billboard than I could as a university adjunct. I couldn’t even get a cup of free coffee without the office secretary glaring at me like a witch guarding a cauldron. The whole thing made me so angry I’d taken to stealing reams of paper from the supply cabinet. I didn’t need the paper; the theft was punitive in nature. I took them home and used them as a bathmat.
The point is: I wasn’t sad when they abducted me. My only regret is not paying attention to how they did it.
When I came to, I was in a massive room that looked like the London Globe playhouse. Above was a re-creation of Earth’s sky but the clouds were oddly pink. I stood in the groundlings pit across from a wet, blue, squid-like alien with the lidless eyes of an owl and what appeared to be a mustache made of shells.
The alien talked for an hour before I finally interrupted him.
“Wait. You’re telling me your star system is at war and your plan is to put on a play?” I asked. “You think they’ll hear poetic words and throw down their weapons? So you put together an intergalactic mission to find a writer?”
“Not just any writer. Shakespeare!” he said. “It’s like you said in your self-published e-book: ‘Shakespeare creates timeless wonders of the imagination that heal souls across time and space, offering us the balm we need in trying times.'”
That line was written in a particularly dark moment after I’d had a lot of wine and was contemplating a divorce from my wife. “I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
“Benvolio. Everyone on this mission has taken a Shakespearean name. We want to be one with the Bard.”
“Listen, ‘Benvolio.’ If you’ve got a copy of Shakespeare’s work, why do you need me?”
“A copy? Oh, no. We’ve got Shakespeare himself!”
My heart knocked. Was he serious?
“But,” he continued, “he’s proven recalcitrant. We need an expert like you to persuade him to write a new play, something bigger and better, but he won’t even talk to us.”
The ‘expert’ part was debatable, but I did have questions. Was Shakespeare offended by the present-day use of his word “bedazzled”? Was “the beast with two backs” a reference to medieval kink? Was he Queen Elizabeth’s secret twin? I would have the definitive answers. Me! I nearly exploded with joy. Until Benvolio opened the door.
The room looked like a Victorian parlor, all red velvet and lace. On a fainting couch was a skeleton propped up with a pillow.
I wrinkled my nose. “He’s dead.”
“Is that a problem?”
Benvolio turned to me with a look of such apprehension, I wasn’t sure what to say. “Not necessarily.”
He slapped me on the shoulder. “You had me worried. I’ll let you two get started.”
I knew I should be panicking, but mostly I felt sorry for myself. Of course this was the kind of abduction I’d get. Why couldn’t they just have sex with me and leave me in a cornfield in Iowa? At least I’d get laid. Now I had to produce a brand new Shakespearean play that lived up to his reputation. I had no idea how I was going to do that.
Then it occurred to me: they’d send me back to teaching if I didn’t deliver.
I picked up the quill and began to scratch out a story. Slowly at first, then picking up speed. It was about a young king who meets three witches in the woods who tell him he needs to divide up his territory among his daughters but he picks the wrong one and then he falls in love with someone from his enemy’s royal house. On his wedding night he kills his new wife because he thinks she’s cheating on him and then his best friend gives a rousing speech in the town square and several people suggest hiring a court jester named Fool to sort things out. At the end the king swallows his own tentacles in remorse and dies but comes back as a ghost to tell his son to avenge him because it turns out he’d faked his death. The king takes off his costume to reveal he’s Scottish, then everybody gets married and lives happily ever after.
I was worried Benvolio’s direction would warp the message, but the applause in their makeshift theatre was deafening. It was wonderful. In that one moment, I began to feel like I mattered. No more punitive paper-stealing villainy for me! I was finally about to get my due. Or, so I thought.
Unfortunately, nobody knew I’d written the play. I was the genius. I was the one who had stopped their intergalactic war with my beautiful poetry. But they kept going on about ‘Shakespeare.’ They even gave his bones a spaceship parade.
There was only one thing for me to do: stage a coup. And I knew exactly how to do it.
I penned a series of letters from ‘Shakespeare’ in which he insisted the aliens call him “Caesar” and demanded a crown made of gold, then he declared himself ruler of their galaxy and suggested they rename their capital Rome so he could invade it. Also, he wanted a salad named after him.
Naturally the aliens were horrified by the turn of events, just as I expected they would be, so I expertly consoled them with a familiar tale about good-natured conspiratorial murder of ambitious leaders. They agonized, but eventually I convinced them to invite Shakespeare to a super-secret toga party, and that was that.
Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Shakespeare.
J. M. Evenson lives in a dusty LA beach shack with her husband and two kids. She holds a PhD in Renaissance Studies as well as an MFA and has written a nonfiction book that panders to Shakespeare enthusiasts. This flash fiction story grows out of a clear pattern of bardolatry in her life.