It should have been me, not Katerina. I should have been the lead singer for the Broadway premier of Moulin Rouge—I was perfect for the part of Satine. Instead, I was stuck in the chorus as the stupid understudy. Like Katerina would ever miss a performance. What rotten luck.
The whole situation was Katerina’s doing. She tripped over a cable and bumped me as I was taking a drink of hot tea, causing me to choke on the lemon slice. The violent coughing fit left a burr in my voice for the audition, not to mention ugly stains down the front of my cream silk dress. Katerina, however, stumbled just enough to have a “wardrobe malfunction” and flash a boob at the director.
It just wasn’t fair. Katerina had all the luck.
“Would you like to change that, dearie?” The soft voice startled me. I’d thought I was alone in the dressing room—the chorus dressing room—precious Katerina got the private dressing room. I saw a little old lady, clearly a character actress, but I didn’t recognize her costume as one from this play. It looked more like a Salvation Army uniform from Guys and Dolls.
“Change what—my luck? What are you, my fairy godmother?” I stood up to stalk out but was distracted by the sight of a chair. Not that a chair is so unusual, I’d just never seen one through the body of a little old lady. I sat down heavily and pinched myself.
“Fairy godmother—moi?” she said, “Aren’t you sweet. No, I’m Lady Luck, you know, like the song.” She belted out the opening bars of “Luck be a Lady tonight” and continued, “That’s me. I really can change your luck.” Funny, for a gal that looked and talked like Helen Hayes, she sang like Ethel Merman.
“Really? What’s the catch? I suppose you want something huge in exchange.” My mind filled with stories of people granted wishes and the mistakes they made. “How do I know it would even work?”
“There’s no catch, just a small favor,” she said. “I’ll even give you a free trial. Try singing something from Gilbert & Sullivan.”
I sang the first thing that popped in my head: “I am the very model of a modern major general”—and screamed when I glanced at the mirror. I had transformed into an old man wearing mutton chop whiskers and a military uniform—the “modern major general” from the play. “What have you done to me? I thought you said there was no catch?”
She just smiled, “I suggest you complete your free trial with ‘I feel pretty.’”
I had nothing to lose, so I sang, “I feel pretty, oh so pretty….” The image in the mirror blurred, and then I looked like myself again, but wearing a dress like Natalie Wood wore in West Side Story. I took a deep breath and counted to ten. “Okay, explain to me how this works, and how it changes my luck.”
Lady Luck clasped her hands together in front of her heart, “Oh, it’s just lovely. It’s like the line the Toulouse Lautrec character has in the play—’I only speak the truth’—only in your case you only sing the truth.” She dabbed at her eyes with a lace hanky, “You don’t know how long I’ve waited to find a believer like you. Whatever you sing will become the truth—and it doesn’t even have to be a real song, you just have to sing the words. Go ahead, try another.”
Looking at her, my mind got stuck on ‘Guys and Dolls’ so I sang, “I got the horse right here, the name is Paul Revere—,” stopping abruptly as the dressing room grew crowded from the addition of a racehorse wearing a tricorn hat. Nothing sprang to mind, so I improvised, singing, “the horse goes back where it came from,” to the tune of ‘the bear goes over the mountain’. I felt really silly, but the horse disappeared. My mind filled with possibilities. “What do I have to do to take this deal?”
“Just say the word,” she said, “and do me one small favor.”
“‘The word’,” I said, “what word? And what favor?”
“Oh, you just said it,” she trilled. “Thank you so much! Now, if you could sing this for me?” She tried to hand me a note, but the ghostly paper fell right through my hand. She finally got it to stay put on the dressing table. It read: “Good night lady, good night lady, farewell lady, your mission here is done.”
I crossed my fingers and sang. She immediately started fading. Before she disappeared altogether, she called out, “Remember to check the lyrics before you sing—and be nice!” Then she was gone.
I’d memorized all Satine’s songs from the play, but I went over the lyrics line by line to be sure there were no gotchas. I decided to do another test, and sang, “I wish I had an Oscar Meyer wiener.” Sure enough, a hot dog materialized. I’d have preferred it grilled, and on a plate with a bun and toppings, but still, it did work. I’d have to remember to plan my lyrics carefully. I hated singing words that didn’t rhyme, so I scribbled on a piece of paper until I came up with, “I now have great talent with words, the best that the world ever heard, I’ll rewrite my songs, removing the wrongs, and everyone’s heart will be stirred.” I sang it twice for good measure. Now I was ready to change my luck and become the lead singer I was meant to be.
I went to the landing and looked down on the backstage area. Katerina was waiting for her big entrance. The stagehands were calling out “break a leg” wishes—tradition in the theater. Great idea, I thought, so I softly sang, “Break a leg, Katerina, break a leg.”
Her pratfall was spectacular. Even from this distance, I could see her leg was broken—looked like a compound fracture—she’d be out of the play for a while, for-ever as far as I was concerned. By the time the director remembered to call for the understudy, I had already changed into the costume and makeup for Satine’s opening scene.
I was brilliant. Critics raved over my performance, and in a matter of days the play was sold out for months. That old lady had changed my luck; everything went my way, whether I sang about it specifically or not. It was awkward that I had to love every one of my leading men “till my dying day,” especially since most of them were jerks, but I couldn’t rewrite all the lyrics.
I had a narrow escape during a benefit for an orphanage. The children asked for a song and I started to sing, “I’m a little teapot—” before even thinking about the words. Fortunately, I caught myself mid-word. I continued with “—loving lady, I love to sing of teapots all day long, and if you love this teapot-loving lady, let me hear YOU sing the teapot song.” I shudder at how close I came to being forever transformed into a short and stout piece of crockery.
The play ran for years. When crow’s feet started to appear around my eyes, I used, “I am sixteen, going on seventeen” to rejuvenate. The tabloids speculated about plastic surgery, and I made a fortune endorsing face creams. But I was getting bored with performing the same songs over and over.
I was thrilled when I was invited to perform in the Hollywood Bowl tribute to John Denver. I was to sing “Sunshine on my Shoulders,” and Neil Diamond was to join me on the last chorus, since he was up next. I have idolized Neil since I was a teenager and couldn’t believe my luck at getting to share a stage with him.
The night of the concert, our voices harmonized perfectly, and at a signal from Neil, we repeated the last verse. I was in heaven. The music changed for “The Eagle and the Hawk,” but Neil didn’t release my hand. He whispered, “stay” and sang the opening, “I am the eagle, I live in high country—” At “reach to the sky,” he turned to me expectantly. Without thinking, I sang, “I am the hawk, there is—”
Poof, I turned into a bloody bird. The tabloids claim it was a publicity stunt—that I’ve gone into seclusion to prepare for a movie role (or to have plastic surgery). Actually, I’m busy avoiding poachers (and eagles) and learning to appreciate the taste of squirrel, while I search for Oz. I believe it exists, and if I remember right, in the Land of Oz all creatures, even birds, can talk. I hope my luck holds out till I find it, because a seventeen-year-old hawk is no spring chicken.
I’m is a multi-genre author and poet/artist. My stories tend to lean towards fantasy/horror, with a thread of humor. This year I’ve been published in Empirical Magazine (2 issues), EMG zine, SNM Horror Magazine (2 pieces), and Pen in Hand (2 pieces). I’ve also been included in anthologies: Latitude on 2nd (multiple pieces—Spring and Summer volumes), A Torn Page (Summer), and have short stories accepted for Zombies Gone Wild!, Bonded by Blood V, and Aspiring Writers 2012 Winners Anthology (multiple pieces)
In my day job I work with supercomputers and scientific research (boring, I know).
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “I’m a Believer”
This delightful story caught our attention because of its refreshing and modern twist on the fairy-godmother, genie-in-a-bottle “be careful what you wish for” stories. The author says she wrote this piece in under 48 hours in response to a contest prompt and that it landed her in the finals, but has never been published. So, with this we bring her efforts to well-deserved completion.