"Body Horror" is a collaboration between dark alternative music maestro Tony Longworth (tonylongworth.com) and actor Bill Oberst Jr. (billoberst.com) The piece was created exclusively for the horror fiction and poetry site DarkRiverPress.com, accompanied by the following essay:
“Within the hollow crown that rounds the mortal temples of a king, Death keeps his court...allowing him a breath, a little scene, infusing him with self and vain conceit, as if this flesh which walls about our life were brass impregnable, and when he is humored thus, Death comes and with a little pin bores through his castle wall, and farewell king.”
(William Shakespeare - The Life And Death Of Richard II)
Fear The Reaper
by Bill Oberst Jr.
Take off your clothes. All of them.
Don't argue with me. Just do it. Good.
Now look into a mirror. Don't worry about the parts you don't like – we all have those. Forget your vanity. Just breathe... stretch your fingers...feel your joints...watch your jawbone shift. Become aware. And begin to be afraid.
“Now, sitting alone, he felt the perspiration rise from the pools and hollows of his face. His spine felt horribly – unfamiliar. Lord! Lord! His teeth began to chatter. God All-Mighty! he thought, why haven't I realized it all these years? All these years I've gone around with a – skeleton – inside me! How is it we take ourselves for granted? How is it we never question our bodies...?”
Ray Bradbury was 25 when he wrote that. I was 16 when I read it. Bradbury's short story “Skeleton” scared the hell out of me. And delighted me. It still does both.
Stay where you are please. We're going to talk about your body for a moment. Your body and mine. The human condition of decay. The cliché , so full of truth, that “from the moment we are born we begin to die.” The horror of your body. And the horror of mine.
I have some minor qualification to speak on the subject. A Google search for the phrase “Creepy Torso” returns my name in no less than 7 of the top results. Searches for “Creepy Torso Actor,” “Creepy Actor Body” and “Creepy Body Actor” are similarly laden with references to my poor anatomy.
I do not mind that people find my body creepy - that when images of it are filtered through a lens, the reaction is usually some variation of “Eww!”
As an actor I have embraced this.
As a human I am fascinated by it.
Is it because of an unusually visible bones? Long fingers? A congenital ribcage deformation? Thick veins? Thin skin? Scars? Shall I continue? No, I think not.
My theory is that it has to do with death. The undiscovered country. The great equalizer. The end of us all. Some odd combination of flesh and bone and animating temperament within work together to give me a skin-crawling alchemy when the camera, a dark but truthful lover, looks this way.
She does not lie, the camera. Nor will she tolerate lies. You will touch her the way that she wants to be touched by you, or you will feel her gaze upon you nevermore.
And so, stripped of illusions and without the luxury of delusions, I am proud to wear the shroud when the lights go down. The reaper will see you now. Open wide and say “Eww!”
But what of you? Stare hard into the glass. Can you see him in there? Mr. Grim? Just a hint of his shadow? Isn't there some small corner of your mortal flesh which makes your own skin crawl? Some odd protrusion or hollow? Some chain-rattling Halloween thing in there? Some hint of October in your bones?
Well, alright then. Tell you what - you be Dorian Gray and I'll be his portrait. Upon my flesh I will take on your decay. I will be the creep in the corner in the shroud. The living ecorché. Don't mind me. I'm only here for a little while.
You can get dressed now.
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