The Baron stood before the room. He stood in full regalia, military dress blues accented by a golden sash bandoliered across his shoulders and a white mask across his eyes.
Through that white mask, he tried to quiet the room with a glare.
“Take off the sash!” a woman in the crowd yelled for the third or fourth time.
“I told you before,” he said, gesturing to his face. “Ugly.”
The duel was about to begin.
The Ink and Blood Dueling Society is not a thing that exists, so it’s better that you stop asking questions about it.
It’s not a secret society of writers who compete in head-to-head matches to create short fiction in front of a live audience, based on audience suggestions.
It’s not led by the masked military Baron Waldorf Astoria, the masked pirate-suited Capt. Jim Blood and a masked medieval Lord C. Byron Taylor.
And they most certainly didn’t have their two-year anniversary show on Saturday at the flagship location of the literacy nonprofit Open Books at 651 W Lake St.
Masks are encouraged among the audience at Ink and Blood, but only worn by a smattering among the backroom crowd at Open Books. A man in the back wore steampunk goggles perched on his head. Others wore top hats, harlequin masks, a handmade plaster of Paris skull face. One woman wore tights and a tutu.
Others, the bulk by far, just wore clothes. Jeans. Sweatshirts. Baseball caps.
In front of this crowd of harlequinade and Cubbie blue, there was a screen with two Google Docs open. The writer/duelists never appeared before the crowd. They were just words appearing live on the screen.
With Baron Astoria riling the crowd and a guest guitarist and guest juggler filling the dead zones, the crowd (fueled by a generous donation from New Holland Brewing, if’n you get my drift) shouted and screamed at the appearing words. They gave direction, suggestions, pop culture references to see if the hidden writers could find a way to work them in.
The first match, a bout about Beyoncé, resulted in two stories: a pretty funny take on Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s secret werewolf lifestyle and a slightly meandering look at Bey’s murder cult.
Beyo-wolf (not my joke, an audience member’s) won that match as determined by audience vote.
It was pure democracy. Shouting, screaming, voting, yelling. And democracy is great for society, but there’s a reason it’s not used more in the arts, Komar and Melamid aside.
I was quite taken with one of the stories based on the suggestion “rutabaga.” Within 10 minutes the hidden writer had crafted a compelling vignette about a beggar girl stealing produce from a far-flung Eastern market. It had grit, depth, an arc and a stern, shocking ending, all within the time it takes to hard boil an egg.
It lost to an audience-pleasing psychedelic sex romp that managed to cram in all the pop culture references the crowd shouted out. Ah well.
But without the night, without Capt. Blood, Baron Astoria and the cape-wearing Lord C. Byron Taylor, I wouldn’t have had a chance to see the beggar girl story at all. I got to witness the live birth of a piece of art that I really liked.
I mean, I would have. If the secret Ink and Blood Dueling Society actually existed. Which it doesn’t. So shut up.