Tori Thompson sat towards the back of the audience at the Royal Theatre in Heartsfield. Her heart was beating furiously, her stomach churned like a heavy duty washer. Less than fifty metres away she could see Walter Wallace sitting on stage with Manny Holdsworth and Charles Wentwot, a professor of academics or something who spoke with the 50% of the dictionary that Tori didn’t know..
She used to have such admiration for Walter, a schoolgirl crush on Manny, but that was forgotten, like a dark history suppressed from the current psyche. It didn’t matter now anyway, her mind was not on the show tonight; instead she was focussed on the task she had been given. She was scared.
“Now let’s have a few questions from the audience. Anybody out there in this historic amphitheatre have something they would like to ask Walter?” Manny looked out over the crowded theatre like a captain scanning the open seas. Tori’s heart kicked it up a gear. This was her moment.
The first question was something about religion. Walter answered with his usual drawl and the people approved. Despite her fears Tori could see through the charade. William had explained to her the falseness of the show, the obedience of the people and the ultimate beneficiaries, the exclusive beneficiaries: Citadel Group. Her fire was reignited and her purpose felt clearer. She closed her eyes and saw William’s face in front of hers. She remembered how he had felt, the emotion that he withdrew from her. He understood her. He loved her. That is why she was chosen.
The person seated next to her tapped her on the shoulder. She opened her eyes and the man pointed down the end of the aisle. A rushed looking girl from the production crew was hissing her name, trying to grab her attention. Another sign of the fraud that she was surrounded by, the questions were preselected and scripted. She had been picked by the crew and given some bogus about plastic surgery. But she had a different script ready for tonight.
“Yes it looks like we have someone way up the back there. What’s your name young lady?”
A microphone had been relayed down the aisle to her and her hands shook as she held it. She didn’t know where the courage would come from but she just tried to remember William’s reassuring voice.
“My name is William Unston.” She said weakly.
“Sorry I didn’t quite catch that,” Manny replied, “you said it was Tori Tho-”
“-My name is William Unston!” Tori said with more passion this time. There was a muted murmur and a few laughs throughout the theatre.
“Uh OK, William. What would you like to ask Walter Wallace?”
“I want to know if you remember me, Walter, do you remember?”
“I don’t think I follow-”
“Don’t play stupid, Walter!” Tori’s voice was stretched into a shrill scream.
The atmosphere in the room suddenly tranformed. It was like an icy humidity that clung to the skin, suffocating it. Tori’s breath was becoming increasingly short.
“William Unston,” Walter said, his voice echoing through the fog, “but you can’t be.”
“Why not?!” Tori challenged. The conversation was moving exactly how William had explained and Tori was grateful because she was on the brink of a panic attack.
“William Unston killed himself months ago, on the phone,” Walter was almost talking to himself. He was staring at the ground in front of him, a solemn, thoughtful expression on his face.
“But I have lived on,” Tori replied. She was supposed to talk in a challenging tone, baiting Walter Wallace, but her nerves were shot, she recited the script like a schoolgirl doing Shakespeare. “You don’t understand, Walter, I live in the hollow hearts of the many. We who suffer as you masquerade your false promise like a carrot above the head of a broken horse. You sell nothing but a notion; deliver nothing but hot air. What good are you but a hoarder of happiness drawn from the goodwill of the masses like a government drawing taxes?”
There was a sustained silence. Nobody of the 2,000 plus people present dared to talk. Tori stood firm but her whole face was twitching furiously, she felt weak and desperately wanted to run away. Walter finally spoke, “I’m not sure what you mean...what you want.”
“Ignorance!” Tori said in a powerful release of bottled energy. William had promised her that Walter would not know what to say and his confidence gave her strength, “What answers are these? The questions you have been asked in this pathetic charade are made even more worthless for the contribution that you tag upon them.” Tori felt herself grow taller as she spoke. She had feared that the monologue was beyond her but she could feel William’s presence beside her. “These people come to you for help and you smile and nod and stick your hand in their pockets and wave good bye. But when a real question is delivered, one with weight and consequence you have the nerve to do the same. Just a shrug of your shoulders and we should be placated? Ignorance is your key to salvation.”
“I am not ignorantly happy.” Walter said. He had not shouted but his voice resonated throughout the hall. He stood up and walked to the edge of the stage. “I have never claimed to be happy; I have never claimed anything that I cannot measure. I am curious and I am willing. People came to me for answers but it was never my duty to answer them. What I see is not a nation of sad people, but a nation of greedy people. They want my answers and I give them freely. I don’t have any guarantees. Maybe instead of asking for answers why not just make your own and accept them? You’re right, I don’t know, but it is not because of ignorance – at least not because of mine.”
Tori was petified. William had not promised this would happen. She didn’t have any answers, any comebacks.
Walter continued, “Four months ago, when we first spoke, you claimed that I held no proof or reason for you to live. Answer this: Why is it my responsibility to justify your existence. You didn’t ask for this world, but neither did anyone else.”
The crowd broke into a round of applause. Tears were rolling down Tori’s face. She was so scared. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know if she could fulfil her promise to William. She took the device out of her pocket.
“Tssst!” the rushed-looking girl was hissing at Tori again, “give back the microphone you little twit!” Manny Holdsworth had begun talking to try and bring some semblance of fun back into the theatre. “The microphone!”
“Sit down!” the people around Tori were getting irritated. The man next to her grabbed at the microphone and the scuffle sounded out over the PA system.
“Can we uhh fix that up?” Manny said from his end.
The scuffle continued and eventually the man wrestled the microphone away. Tori dropped what she had in her other hand. She rushed to pick it up.
“What is that?” the man asked. Tori couldn’t reply through her heavy sobs but she tried to hide the device, still too afraid to use it. She tried to exit out the other end of the aisle and dropped the detonator and the small bomb William had given her.
“Is that a bomb?!”
“She’s got a bomb!” There were scattered screams and then an avalanche of panic. Tori grabbed the detonator. She had to finish this now, she would see William again in some other life or she would be dead and unable to feel her sorrow. A loud bang was heard and Tori Thompson was dead.