QSFer E.J. Russell has a new MM fantasy romance out in the Magic Emporium shared series: Purgatory Playhouse.
Staging a musical in Purgatory can be absolute hell.
Lonnie Coleridge last saw the sun in 1968. Since then, he’s been consigned to Limbo, still wearing the same tie-dyed T-shirt and bell-bottomed jeans he had on when he left his life behind. He and others like him have one chance each year at redemption: produce a show for the Greek pantheon. Whoever pleases this very specific—and temperamental—fan group could earn the right to move on.
But after a literal act of god (cough Hermes cough) destroys their sets, lights, and costumes, the company needs emergency help to rebuild. Without it, all of them could poof out of existence forever.
Out-of-work theater technician TD Baylor has precisely three things on his cosmic wish list: a job, a place to stay, and a boyfriend who isn’t a total tool. He thinks he’s got the first two nailed when he gets a line on a two-week gig that includes room and board. So what if the job tip came from a guy who was leaning way too hard into the LOTR cosplay at a sketchy Halloween pop-up? At this point, TD doesn’t have anything more to lose, so he figures…what the hell.
He didn’t realize hell was the operative word.
When Lonnie greets him at the theater door, though…whoa. TD fantasizes that item number three could be within his reach. But then Lonnie gives him the bad news: This is Purgatory Playhouse, aka Theater of the Darned. In two weeks—if they’re lucky and can successfully mount a musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream—the company will return to Limbo after the curtain falls. If they’re not lucky?
Remember that part about hell?
Purgatory Playhouse is part of the multi-author Magic Emporium Series. Each book stands alone, but each one features an appearance by Marden’s Magic Emporium, a shop that can appear anywhere, but only once and only when someone’s in dire need. This book contains a theater techie who’s one couch surf away from homeless, a production assistant who’s sort of, um, not alive, Greek gods behaving very badly indeed, and a guaranteed HEA.
Lonnie Coleridge took a deep breath—something he could actually do now that he’d phased out of Limbo and into Purgatory’s more physical dimension—and faced the people perched nervously on the three shabby green room sofas. Most of those present were, like Lonnie, the more recent additions to the company, but several of the ancient Greek contingent were present too.
Man, I could really use a drink. But considering the vending machines against the wall in the barren kitchenette held nothing but Necco Wafers and store brand cola—warm decaf diet store brand cola—he may as well hope for a stairway to heaven.
He wiped his damp palms on the bell-bottomed jeans he’d worn since 1968 and attempted a reassuring smile. Judging by the way everyone’s tension level ratcheted up, he wasn’t particularly successful. “So. I suppose you’re all wondering—”
“Is it true, Lonnie?” Tovah, the petite seamstress squeezed between Wilson, a massive Black pit singer, and Kiku, the master electrician, leaned forward, her hands clasped as though she were praying for a miracle. “Everything’sgone? The sets? The lights? The…” She swallowed, tears glistening in her big brown eyes. “The costumes?”
“I’m afraid so.” Lonnie gave up on reassurance, because frankly, this was a disaster of…well…mythic proportions.
“But how?” Fred, the stocky set construction foreman, sounded bewildered, as well he might. The sets, costumes, even the lighting instruments were corporeal enough—barely—in Limbo for the company to prepare for each year’s production. But they couldn’t actually be destroyed in Limbo, any more than any of the souls consigned there could move on. “Everything was ready for the load-in. We triple-checked. Every blasted Doric column phased out of Limbo yesterday without a hitch.”
Kiku nodded. “Even the lights and the light board made the transition perfectly. At least…” She tugged at the chopstick that held her messy black bun in place. “It looked perfect from our side of the Veil.”
“The costumes, too. Racks and all.” Arachne—in her human form, thank goodness—anxiously fingered her spider-silk shawl. “We didn’t— Lonnie, I swear we didn’t do anything wrong,” she wailed.
Daphne glared at Lonnie as she patted Arachne’s shoulder. “We didn’t. The gods could have had absolutely noobjections.”
“No objections,” Echo repeated, wrapping a comforting arm around Arachne’s back.
Lonnie held up his hands, palms out. “Nobody’s accusing you of error. You all did beautiful work, and we should have been ready for tech week starting tomorrow. Except…” Lonnie cleared his throat and glanced sidelong at the corner where a very sulky Hermes slumped against the wall, his normally golden skin slightly green except when it was bathed in red from the sporadic flicker of the soda machine. “It appears that the monthly Cards Against Humanity game between Hermes, Loki, Anansi, and Coyote got a little more…spirited than usual.” He tamped down an inappropriate laugh, because this really wasn’t funny. “There may have been copious amounts of nectar involved.”
“And peyote,” Hermes muttered. He massaged his temples. “Don’t suppose you’ve got any aspirin?”
Lonnie dismissed Hermes’s grumbles. He was one of the twelve ranking Olympians, for Pete’s sake. He ought to be capable of finding his own headache remedies. Although after the shambles he and his trickster god friends had made of the theater, Lonnie was ready to recommend the same ax that cured Zeus’s headache by way of Athena’s birth.
On the other hand, one Athena was more than enough, thank you very much.
Hermes belched and pushed away from the wall, towering over all the ex-humans. “I gotta pee.” He lifted into the air on his winged sandals and aimed himself toward the hallway, his flight path erratic at best.
The group was quiet until he vanished in a flutter of white linen, his exomie chiton short enough to flirt with his butt cheeks.
“Do you suppose the pantheon will be okay with, a, you know, minimalist production this year?” Tovah asked. “One without sets or costumes?”
“In the dark?” Kiku muttered.
“Are you kidding?” Daphne said in a revolted tone. She was still bitter about the fate that befell her while escaping Apollo’s unwanted advances. At least in Purgatory she was human and not a tree, although the skin on her arms sometimes had a distinctly bark-like cast. “Since when do the Olympians make do with anything less than wretched excess?”
“Wretched excess,” Echo parroted. Then again, she couldn’t do much else.
“But if we can’t mount the show with the production values they expect, will we all…you know…” Kiku made a sound like a fizzling outlet.
Lonnie wanted to deny it, if only to calm everyone down. However, she’d voiced their mutual fear. They—the souls consigned to Limbo because they weren’t either bad enough to damn or good enough to ascend—had one chance each year to earn redemption. That chance depended on producing a musical extravaganza that pleased the Olympians and their guests from other pantheons.
One night, one performance, and one of them would be awarded sufficient grace to…move on. Whatever that meant.
E.J. Russell–grace, mother of three, recovering actor–writes romance in a rainbow of flavors. Count on high snark, low angst and happy endings.
Reality? Eh, not so much.
She’s married to Curmudgeonly Husband, a man who cares even less about sports than she does. Luckily, C.H. also loves to cook, or all three of their children (Lovely Daughter and Darling Sons A and B) would have survived on nothing but Cheerios, beef jerky, and Satsuma mandarins (the extent of E.J.’s culinary skill set).
E.J. lives in rural Oregon, enjoys visits from her wonderful adult children, and indulges in good books, red wine, and the occasional hyperbole.