Everyone was ready to see the show in the central square. Families with kids, young and old couples, groups of friends just hanging out. The puppet-man was so famous that everyone wanted to have a chance to watch one of his shows at least once in their life.
That night in particular the place was overcrowded, and people had started to gather five hours before the show planned start time. There was a good reason for it: according to what people said it was going to be his last show ever. He’d been around more than 50 years, carrying his puppet-show in every European city.
The show never changed, but people could not resist it, so much that at first everybody thought the master had made a deal with the devil to never perform in front of an empty audience.
The puppet master got so rich he could have hired a full company with real actors, but he never did it: he went on and on with the same rugged puppets and the same show, year after year. Someone in the audience even remembered all the lines from the show so well they could have played it themselves.
It was the story of a valiant hero who slain each sort of monster threatening his family and his loved one, a stunning princess from a faraway land. She despised him at first, as she fiercely craved for independence, but soon enough found herself in very troubled waters and only that strong knight could save her. In the end, she saw the valor in him, and accepted to become his wife and to spend the rest of her life in his shadow.
This is why, on that night, everyone was surprised to see the stage opening with a scene differing from what they remembered. Instead of standing behind his cart, pulling the strings of his puppets, the puppet master was sitting at the center of the stage himself, his old black hat in his hand.
“This” he began talking “is the true story of an old friend, a tribute to a young life full of dreams shattered too early. The story of an eager and terrific mind who burned itself by looking too closely at the sun. A man who had so many things to say to the world, but worried too much about not being listened to”
He got up from the chair and stepped to the front of the stage. He opened his arms wide as he went on talking. “I was that man full of dreams, before life changed me and an evil man turned me into his slave. This is my story.”
“This is bullshit!” A man from the front rows jumped on his feet, completely dressed in black. He pointed his finger at the puppet master. “We paid the price to watch your show one last time, and this is what you’re gonna give us!”
“Or what?” the puppet man asked, smiling with confidence. “You’ll never see any of my shows ever again? You’ll kill me? I’m old enough to be immune to your threats, Master!”
The whole audience, shocked, turned to look at the man in black.
“Yes,” the puppet man said, “You got it right. He’s the real puppet master, the man who has been pulling the strings for all these years. This crappy story I enchanted you with belongs to him: he promised I would have reached worldwide fame if I had performed this and only this one for the rest of my career. I did it, only to regret it for my life.”
“That story is what people want to hear!” shouted the figure in black, furious.
“No,” the puppet man looked at him, pointing his index “This is what YOU want them to hear. A story that makes people cling to an idea of the world so old and obsolete, that you need to carve it in the head of your audience since they’re young to convince them it’s right.”
“Beware, grandpa. You’re crossing the line!”. The man in black warned him, but it was clear that the puppet man didn’t care anymore.
“There is no such thing as the right story, or as the wrong one. Stories belong to people, and since we’re all unique we can’t all be telling the same story. We can’t be fascinated listening to the same story over and over again.”
“You’re trying to divide people, to pull them apart! I won’t let you!” The man in black jumped on the stage, a gun in his hand. “Tell your story one last time, old man!” he said “Before you’re replaced by the next far-reaching puppetman. Do you think you were the first one to sign that contract?”
“No,” the old man relaxed his arms, “but I know I’m going to be the last one. You can kill me, but everyone here tonight now knows the truth. The voice of what happened tonight will spread, and you can’t do anything about it. Unless you plan to kill everyone in this arena, of course.” The puppet man waved his hand at the crowd.
The man in black’s gaze ran through the thousands of faces looking at him. They had seen his real face tonight, and he knew he couldn’t do anything to hide it from them anymore. To keep the status quo, the only road left was fear. Without thinking twice, his finger pulled the trigger. The whole audience startled, looking at the red spot widening on the old man white shirt.
“I knew it.” the old man said, grinning. “That’s the only way you know. And now, everyone knows.”
He turned towards the audience, for the last act of his performance. His legs were shaking, but he held on long enough to talk.
“The gunshot I received means that man and the like of him fear me. They fear change, and everything that can upset the rigid world structure they want you to fit in. When someone like them threaten you, you can give in, like I did years and years ago: you get to live a full long life, but you perpetuate a lie. Or you can say no, and fight for change. That’s the hard way, I know, but it’s your courage that will change the world, and make it so that fear and intimidation have no place in it. This is my goodbye, my final act. Now, your play begins.”
The old man fell to the ground. Everyone looked at the man in black.
“This is what happens to those who try to divide us. We can’t allow it!” He spoke out loud, but he felt people did not respond to his words the way he hoped them too. Were they really thinking they could upset thousands of years of tradition?
The man in black fired a bullet in the air, but it didn’t stop the crowd: they were that close to surround him, and he knew he had to run. He jumped back, and disappeared in the night. Some of the youngsters tried to chase him, but they were stopped right away. “We know his face, but we won’t use it for revenge. We’ll use it as a warning, to never let anything like that in again”.
Nobody saw it for sure, but many people claimed to have seen a smile opening on the old man face.