Monday, April 11, 2022

Microstory 1861: The Tarmides of Tasmania

In the late sixteenth century, a certain famous playwright wrote what would become perhaps his most obscure works. He was two years from death, and didn’t even get to see his final piece performed on stage. Once Tarmides of Egypt finally did make it to the theatre, opening night was riddled with such bad luck that it ruined the show’s future indefinitely. The lead forgot many of his lines, his co-star had to give birth halfway through, forcing them to switch to an understudy. The man who played the grandfather died of a heart attack near the end, and another was impaled when the stage collapsed due to all the weight of the people who ran up to tend to the old man. The injury resulted in death a day later. It was for these reasons that all further showings were cancelled. Years later, a different troupe tried to put on another production, but it went badly too. No one else died on the night, but set pieces fell apart, multiple actors flubbed their lines, and historians believe this to be the probable ground zero for what came to be known as the relatively shortlived Lurch Plague. The play was cursed, according to the superstitious majority of the time, and no one else so much as attempted to produce it again for at least a century. Since then, rumors of further unfortunate events have spread about more recent attempts, but most of these claims remain unsubstantiated. The fact of the matter is that the play has almost certainly been produced dozens of times without any issue, but that’s not a very good story, so most students are taught the melodramatically stretched truth that the curse always takes them in the end. The mystique of this whole thing is only fueled by the subject matter of the play itself.

Tarmides was born in Greece, but the narrative is about him immigrating to Egypt to escape his past, only to find himself at the center of one disaster after another. The playwright was probably trying to demonstrate the futility of life, having become more nihilistic in his latter years, but this depressing lesson is lost to the more sensational idea that he was a prophet, who wrote it in order to prompt destruction in the real world. When I was a young man, a tyrant rose to power, and waged a war against the rural parts of my country. Villages were demolished under the weight of his superior technology. I probably wasn’t truly the only survivor, but again, that’s not sensational enough, so the media billed it that way. I became famous, and an international effort formed in order to relocate me to a safer region of the world. Most of the time, developed world nations fight over who has to take in refugees, but in my case, they fought for the honor. Tasmania won, so that’s where I moved. Shortly thereafter, an undersea earthquake in the Southern Ocean sent a tidal wave to the island, killing thousands of people, and destroying a great deal of the infrastructure. Once again, in order to sell papers, journalists began drawing connections between my arrival, and the completely unrelated and unpredictable natural disaster. Like most regular people, I hadn’t even heard of the play myself at the time, but I soon came to be known as The Tarmides of Tasmania. This nickname followed me for the rest of my life. Whenever an item fell off of the shelf at the grocery store, or I was around when it began to rain, I was blamed for it. There was always someone around who enjoyed pointing it out, especially if something even moderately inconvenient happened to someone else. I lived the rest of my life with this mark, and as much as I don’t want to die, I won’t miss it.

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