Peter Malise was dying, and he was happy. Grimacing at the pain, he grunted out his last words, struggling to be heard by the thousands watching, thinking of the man he had killed, the man who had killed him three months earlier…
"'Et tu, Brute? Then fall Caesar!'"
"Brilliant, Mr. Rivers. Next!"
Clutching his script tightly to his chest, Peter trod onto the stage, feeling his whole body begin to quiver with stage fright. Turning, he looked down at Professor Astarre, who stared back at Pete with an expression that clearly showed his misgivings. "Whenever you're ready, Mr. Malise," he grumbled in the overly loud and enunciated tone that Pete had come to expect people to use when they heard his accent.
"Which act would you like me to read from, sir? I know them all equally well."
"Do you now," said Astarre, his eyebrows rising, "well, nobody likes a braggart, Mr. Malise. You may choose."
"Yes, sir." Taking a deep breath to steel his nerves, Peter began to speak. He had idolized Julius Caesar for years. Every chance he got, he would read about the great man, about his military campaigns, his brilliant political career, and how, at the height of his influence and power, he had been brought low by reckless, narrow-minded fools. Here was his chance. Peter would be able to demonstrate the sheer power and presence of the great man, to exonerate him of his sins. All he needed to do was to impress Professor Astarre enough that he gave Peter the part of Caesar in the university production of Julius Caesar. Peter stepped forward, carefully setting down his script where he would not step on it. He closed his eyes and began to speak, to orate, to perform. He had closed his eyes as Peter Malise, but he opened them as Gaius Julius Caesar, general, consul, and dictator.
"Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once." Peter lifted his head, feeling the words flow out of his mouth, delighting in the ability to become his idol. "Of all the wonders that I have yet heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come."
"Alright, that's enough, Mr. Malise. You may leave."
"Then – then I have the part?" Peter felt his chest swell with pride, only to shrink at Astarre's next words.
"No, I still have to decide who will be cast. I shall post the list on Monday, three days from now. You may go." A bored looking Astarre placed his notes in his briefcase, closing the latches with final-sounding clicks! "I trust you can wait until then, Mr. Malise?"
Dejected, Peter nodded. "Yes, sir. I did a good job, though, did I not, sir?"
"I'm not allowed to say. Look, Peter," said Astarre, taking pity on the awkward young man, "why don't you go home and get some rest? It's been a long night for all of us, and the list for assigning parts will be up soon enough. Besides, if you want to be in the play that badly, you can always be an extra, or a member of the stage crew. Come on, let's get you home."
That night, Peter tossed and turned in his bed. His mind filled with images of Caesar, picturing the great man falling to the ground, his body destroyed by Brutus, Caesar's closest friend. "NO!" Peter sat bolt upright in bed, screaming for his idol, his ancestor. "I must get this part," he muttered, staring at his collection of Roman artifacts, including coins, mosaics, and, his prize, an authentic knife that he had cleaned and sharpened until it was as good as new. He had found it in a flea market, being sold by some fool who had no clue of the value of the item. After he spent over two weeks cleaning and repairing the knife, he hung it on his wall, as a reminder that no one can be trusted, least of all a friend.
The rest of the weekend passed slowly, seeming to Peter to take an entire lifetime. Come Monday, he rushed directly to Professor Astarre's office. Staring at the list, he scanned his eyes over the names, searching for his. Peter stopped and blinked. How could his name not be on the sheet? He read it again. There – 'Julius Caesar – Chad Rivers.'
Rivers. Peter felt the rage flood through his body, along with a strange sense of irony. Here he was, being denied his destiny, just as Caesar had been denied his. True, this was not the end of Peter's life, but it might as well have been. A 4.0 history major, he deserved this role! He would have no other chance to play Caesar, no other chance to live Caesar's life. This was his right. He was the only one who could possibly play the part!
"Ah, Mr Malise," said Professor Astarre, coming out of his office. "I apologize for not casting you, but Mr. Rivers was better suited to the part. Look, to make it up to you, I will allow you to be in charge of props. I'm sure that you can help us to remain historically accurate. This looks to be one of our best years ever!"
Peter stared incredulously at the professor's retreating back, shocked at the man's audacity. I will play Caesar, he thought, it is what I was born for. He began to think, to plan, to plot, as Caesar would have. All I have to do is find a way around this, a way to attain my fate.
Peter's mind went spiraling back, thinking of the time when he realized that he was destined for greatness, of the time when he was betrayed for the first time by Rivers.
It was the last day of the marking period, and Peter had spent the entire night before working on his entry for the school history contest, a beautiful and extremely detailed model of the Coliseum, shown as it appeared during one of the mock naval battles that were held there during the height of Caesar's power. It had taken him weeks, but the end result was worth it. The spectators seemed to be ready to leap out of their seats, cheering for the deaths of their slaves. Peter smiled as he looked upon his creation, reveling in the order and detail of his world, the blood and chaos that it portrayed.
"Hey, Pete! Sweet model, man!"
"Gase, it is, is it not? Thank you, Chad, my friend."
"Yeah, sure. Whoops! That's the bell. Hey, can I carry that for you?"
Peter stopped and considered. Because his model was sure to be the best in the class, he was loath to allow it out of his hands, but he trusted Chad. Chad was the only one who had ever been nice to him, the only one to look past his accent and clothes. "Aiun. You may carry it. But be careful, my friend."
"Don't worry, I got it. I think you might beat even me with this masterpiece, Pete! This would have been my third year running if I won, but you… Cripes!"
Peter's head jerked around to see his masterpiece heading towards the ground, Chad desperately trying to catch it. He watched his dream crumble, the carnage that had been depicted in plastic and balsa wood now real, with limbs strewn across the sidewalk and bodies littering the grass. "I'm – I'm sorry, Pete," Chad stammered, trying to sooth his friend's crushed feelings. "I don't know what happened… it just slipped!"
Peter knew the truth, however. Chad had sabotaged his entry, assuring his position in first place. He turned and walked away from his friend, his destroyer, his Brutus.
Opening night. The night that the usurper would die, the night that Peter would regain his life. As he was in charge of props, Peter had been able to switch one of the prop daggers (whose blades retracted into the handles) for the Roman dagger from his collection. Tonight Caesar would die…
Peter had tried all throughout the rehearsal process to convince Professor Astarre to let him play the part of Caesar, but to no avail. He had even arranged for several "accidents" to befall Rivers, but the traitor had the most damnable luck. Tonight, however, would be different. Tonight would see an end to the blasphemy that Rivers' very existence caused, simply by denying Peter his destiny.
The first two acts of the play went brilliantly, and even Peter had to admit that Rivers' performance was going well. Still, he would have to die, if only because he had tried to fight fate.
Now. The third act. Peter collected the knives to pass out, only to be accosted by Professor Astarre. "Peter! I'm glad I found you," he gasped. "Chad just tripped and broke his leg coming down the stairs. Do you still know all the lines?"
Peter's heart leapt. Could this be true? Could the gods finally have provided? "Of course, sir. Let me just deal with these props, and I'll—"
"No time for that! Go see Katie over at costumes; she'll get you fitted up. I'll pass out the knives. Go! Move!"
Peter's mind was whirling as he was pushed in the direction of costumes and makeup. It was true! He would play Caesar! His vision tunneled, and suddenly he found himself out on stage, speaking with the voice of Caesar.
"Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I have yet heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come."
Peter delighted in the rapt attention of the audience, their yearning need for him, their gaping hunger for his voice buffeting him, leading him to new heights. Time accelerated, pulling Caesar to his inexorable demise, and Peter moved with Caesar, meshing his personality with the great dictator, feeling his self-awareness slip away, allowing himself to die. Caesar was surrounded now, and he spoke: "I could be well moved, if I were as you; if I could pray to move, prayers would move me. But I am as constant as the northern star, of whose true-fixed and resting quality there is no fellow in the firmament."
Turning this way and that, Caesar noticed the glimmer of metal in the hands of his assassins. He felt the sharp kiss of a blade, and fell to his knees. Looking up, he stared at the grim faces of his friends, of his enemies, of his killers. Wrestling against the pain, Caesar fought out his last words, and Peter struggled to change them, to say what he needed, to accuse his murderer…
"Et… Tu, Rivers?" Caesar and Peter gasped, battling the beauty of death. "Then fall, Peter!" Caesar collapsed to the stage, his revenge complete, his rival destroyed. Across the ages, Brutus noticed Gaius Julius Caesar smile cruelly and he shivered, fearing for his life. And in the Tiresias Theatre, Peter Malise smiled, his goals achieved.