The offices of Mr Andersen were sparse, just a waiting room and a marbled mahogany door with a brass plate indicating the great man’s domain. His secretary kept guard, a stern and officious duckling with an oversized beak who commanded the room through meaningful glares over half-moon spectacles. It wasn’t as grandiose as the Grimm suites but Andersen liked it this way – kept him humble.
That morning the waiting room was filling quickly. Audition day brought an energy all of its own. Especially as Andersen liked to keep the parts on offer under wraps, announcing them to nervous candidates en masse to see their reaction and start the culling process almost immediately. This was a tough town to get a break and word soon spread if you got a reputation as difficult.
First to arrive had been Cow. The elevator was broken and the stairs had been tricky, giving her a glisten all over that betrayed her nervousness. Heaven only knows how she was going to get back down, but she had bigger things on her mind. She restlessly shuffled her résumé, a twitching hoof flicking pages back and forth. She had good experience but it had been tough to shake off being traded for a handful of beans by a foolish kid. What a Jackass. The original story had her starring throughout and slaying the giant at the end, but one improvised line from him about a ‘good deal’ and she’d only lasted three pages into the script. She hadn’t really worked since (she had three calves under 6) but she knew she could do it. She just needed a break.
Across from her sat a short man with glasses. He carried an air of superiority, as well he might. Was there another qualified doctor in the house? He thought not. As much as he tried to explain it, his was not a nickname; it was a title. Doctor of Medicine, with a PhD in Psychology on the side. Looking around the room, he could have a field day analysing this lot. Of course, he carried his own demons. Were his six co-stars ever forgotten when people compiled ‘the list’? Never. Not in a world where expertise was a stigma. So much easier to remember a childish emotion or mild affliction. The sense of inferiority shrouded him like a cloak. He thought back to the climactic scene of his only film. He’d argued vigorously for the gritty realism of a week’s course of antibiotics rather than a kiss. No one listened; not sexy enough, apparently. He shook his head and waited.
In the far corner, aggressively eating what appeared to be breadcrumbs, was the Witch. A veteran of the circuit, she was the least anxious of the group. She’d appeared in countless dramas, mostly uncredited and, therefore, largely unpaid. Recent events had altered her landscape. The diagnosis of diabetes was a blow, but not wholly unexpected when you live in a gingerbread house and suffer from compulsive snacking. The game changer was that some arsehole at the insurance company had deemed it a pre-existing condition and her insulin came with a significant co-pay charge. It didn’t help that those irritating grifter kids still came round every now and then, causing significant structural building damage. For her, this job was about more than ego; it was a matter of survival.
Closest to the door, a louche Wolf picked at his teeth and tried to look comfortable in what could only be described as a spinster’s shawl and bonnet. He’d fought against stereotyping all his professional life but society wouldn’t let him be himself. Conformity was king. He’d had the suggested surgery, reducing the size of both eyes and ears. The teeth stayed though, they were his best feature. A few years back, he’d tried to go into mainstream movies. Auditioned for a part about a guy working somewhere called Wall Street. Lost out to some young dude called Jack – apparently he was a lousy trader but they liked his gung-ho attitude. He surveyed the opposition silently, fantasising about eating all of them. His face remained a mask. He never gave anything away.
Lastly, spread across two seats, sat the Bear. It was difficult to recognise him now, twenty-five years and 200 pounds since his heyday. Like many child actors he’d lived for the moment, the next few years a hedonistic haze of porridge and blondes. Rehab had been a necessary evil, his agent said, A Cinderella Story for the tabloids (another part he’d actually missed out on). Having famous acting parents didn’t help either. When they both discovered whom exactly had been in whose bed, social media ignited, leaving him nowhere to hide. Now, he just wanted a quiet life. His trust fund was dry, he was dry, and he wanted a simple summer job to pay the rent on the cave. Not much to ask.
The buzz of Ms Duckling’s phone broke the spell. She picked it up and quacked slowly once or twice, her voice giving away nothing. She placed it back in the cradle and looked up over the half-moons. The assembled shifted uncomfortably in their seats, afraid to either hold her glare or look away. The golden handle of Mr Andersen’s door slowly rotated, then swung open to reveal a balding man with a large nose, shallow chin and dark eyes. He nodded once at the room and stepped forward.
‘Today, we will be hearing readings for the part of a mermaid. Preferably a small one’.
There was a short pause. Then, a collective cry of ‘FUCK!’ left the waiting room and drifted across town and through the open windows of Grimm PLC.
Simon Shergold is a teacher from Sutton in the UK. Having thought about writing for a long time, he is finally getting on with it. His work has appeared in Writers’ Forum, The Cabinet of Heed and Perhappened. @SShergold76