Mousetrap

Extreme improvisation challenge.

  1. Set a field of live mousetraps on a stage.
  2. Demonstrate to the audience, preferably with a carrot as an example, the startling and yet hilarious results which occur when the trap goes off. You're building tension here.
  3. Blindfold two or more improvisers.
  4. Set two other players or stagehands to watch the sidelines and to physically intervene should one of the blindfolded players wander off the stage.
  5. Have the blindfolded improvisers remove their shoes.
  6. Start the improv. Anything. Get a suggestion of where two people might meet. Or not. It really doesn't matter what the scene is about, because the audience won't be paying any attention to the narrative, or the emotional truth, or for that matter any clever jokes the improvisers might be making. The audience will be laughing like mad and screaming for blood.

Although familiar to many improv audiences from the live shows of Brad Sherwood and Colin Mochrie, who play an Alphabet Scene in a field of 100 live mousetraps, Sherwood credits TheatreSports with the game.

Sherwood, a former member of Los Angeles TheatreSports, likely learned the game from Dave Bushnell and Dan O'Connor. O'Connor saw the Three Canadians play the game as part of their busking at the Orlando Fringe Festival in 1994. At the same time, Paul Killam brought the game to San Francisco to Bay Area TheatreSports, where he and Bushnell introduced it to audiences (Killam had asked Derek Flores of the Canadians for permission to "steal" the game). Killam describes how it went over: "They howl and scream like NOTHING you've ever heard at an improv show... The audience reaction is NOT howls and screams of laughter. It is more akin to a roller coaster." Bushnell and O'Connor had played it in L.A. by 1996. O'Connor introduced the game to Ireland, and from San Francisco, Sean Hill brought the game to Austin, Texas's TheatreSports.

It's entirely possible, however, that the game is not a Canadian import at all, but something that Eric Amber picked up from other buskers in New Zealand and added to The Three Canadians repertoire.

Notes for improvisers:

  1. The hindbrain exerts a powerful force. It will recoil from entering into situations which may cause physical pain, and makes it very difficult to perform a scene. You will have to will yourself to move out on that stage without your sight.
  2. Speak first. Tell the other actor, "Come here. I need to see you."
  3. If the other actor beats you to it, reply "Yes, sir, you're ready for your skipping practice, aren't you."
  4. No, you can't lose a toe from this game.
  5. Yes, it hurts like a motherfucker.
  6. Walk with your toes up.
  7. You're a jaguar. A kangaroo rat. A tightly wound spring. If something so much as breathes on your foot, jump straight up. And if you do get snapped, milk it. The audience will scream more. Bushnell would use the adrenaline rush of the pain to become more animated, and stomp around the stage, setting off more traps and more audience screams.
  8. Move light and fast, but not too far too fast. You don't want to outwit the safety techs and walk off the stage.
  9. It makes a great fundraiser for your troupe, if you start with a dozen mousetraps and then say, "for every dollar you contribute, we'll place another one on the stage."
  10. This is common sense, but you don't open a show or come back from intermission with this scene. You've got to have the audience on your side already. You can't save a dying show with this gimmick. It is possible for this scene to come across as gratuitous and boring at the same time, when what you're aiming for is gratuitous and exciting.
  11. Don't play it often. It loses its value seen too many times.
  12. Oh, and if you actually were to avoid setting off any mousetraps, and be perfectly safe... your audience would be sorely disappointed.

Sources:
Tim Ereneta, Paul Killiam, Chris Vose, Barbara Scott, et al. "Mousetrap! (Three Canadians)" alt.comedy.improvisation. April 30, 1997.
Paul Killam. "Moustrap Game." alt.comedy.improvisation. January 20, 1999.
Dan O'Connor. "Mousetrap/Copyrights/Hero's Journey." alt.comedy.improvisation. January 19, 1999.
Brad Sherwood. Interview with Ben Kharakh. One Trick Pony. <http://onetrickpony.ws/brad_sherwood> (8 November 2005)

The last thing Lola remembered she'd been screaming at that stupid waitress in that new bar on Fifth, who'd brought her the wrong drink. "Dumbfuck whore" she'd called that ditzy little bitch, before hurling her glass against the bar. They kicked her out -- that was a joke, fine with her, because the man who'd been buying the drinks was ready for fun. Into the next alley over they'd gone, laughing, and oh yes, he'd done her good up against the wall, dress hitched up, one leg wrapped around him. She picked his pocket as they climaxed together, then they stumbled their different ways, and as she'd made her way down familiar backstreets, darkness had engulfed her.

----

Lola woke in darkness. Hard surface, dark and wet, funky smell. Not the first time for that. She groped for her purse, found her little flashlight, turned it on. Ugh, looked like an underground tunnel. Like a sewer system. She wasn't sure what sewer, or how she'd gotten into one, and she didn't much care. She was immediately pissed and confused and wanted to get out. Tried her phone. No connection.

She dug into her bag -- the slick black wallet she'd purloined was still there. He'd've taken it back if he was the one who dumped her here. That was all she remembered. Maybe it was the whore waitress, or that bouncer she might've kicked on the way out. Maybe it was some other guy she'd-- but then she heard a noise, like a sudden, harsh whisper. She turned her flashlight to make the beam chase it down the tunnel. "Somebody? Hello, anybody? Can you hear me?" She heard another noise in the distance, high pitched, voicelike. "HEY!! Somebody'd better get me the FUCK outta here. NOW Goddamnit!!" Only her own echo returned to her. Okay, she was underground somewhere. Walk around enough, she'd find a way out. Then she'd raise some holy hell.

The corner of her eye caught movement, somebody ducking down into a tunnel, almost looked like a kid in a hoodie. She dug a can of mace out of her purse and followed, stalking purposefully along the ledge abutting the stream of filth that ran through the tunnel, building up a head of anger to pitch out at them when she finally caught the son of a bitch. There was light from an opening in the wall up ahead. Not sunlight. Maybe a flashlight. She turned through the opening and into a space, seeing more clearly that the light came from a passageway beyond the space. Sounds and shadows moved there.

"Hey, fucker!!" she shouted, stepping into the passageway. She found herself facing a mouse. For a moment she felt completely disoriented, because the mouse looked at the same time right in front of her face, and yet several feet away. Then she realized this feeling of distorted perspective was because of the size of the thing. It had to be four, maybe five feet long. It sat up, staring right into her eyes. It jumped. Lola's screams filled the tunnel as she stumbled backwards, running into something soft and fur-covered, tripping, falling. Not simply a giant mouse, a nest. A big, writhing mess under and now over and all around her body. She kicked and screamed, push her way back from the descending wall of massive claws and eyes and teeth.

The can of mace was still in her hand. She pushed the button, and horrible hisses and screeches erupted around her, deafeningly. Something swatted the can away from her. Claws or teeth, she didn't know what, gripped her wrists, her thighs, her neck. She let out one last horrified scream, sure the mice were out for blood, that now they'd tear her limb from limb, bite into her face, eat her brain through her skull. Or worse, they'd save that for last, first tearing her belly open to eat her guts. But they didn't do any of those things. They simply held her there for a time, until she could no longer struggle. Then a group of them, seven or eight, lifted her up, and several others crawled beneath her, and the whole group began to move as a procession, carrying her, making their way through one tunnel after another. Her throat was raw from screaming, and exhausted, she felt the blood rushing to her head, extinguishing her consciousness.

----

Lola woke on the floor of The Chamber. It was a fairly spacious room, a semicircle maybe thirty feet along the straight back wall. The floor was smooth and clean cement, and she noticed immediately that there was, most unusually, a surprisingly fancy looking four-post canopy bed at the center of that back wall, with a night table next to it and an elegantly curved metal floorlamp next to that. A few fluorescent light bulbs were strung along the high ceiling at odd angles to each other. The smell of the sewer did not pervade this place, but it felt.... deep, as though she'd been brought further underground than she was before.

All around the walls were dotted with openings, at least two dozen. One at each end was like a regular hallway, high enough for a person to walk through standing up straight. The rest were holes three or four feet around. Occasionally those gigantic mice darted in and out, taking no notice of her, going from one hole to another as if they were messengers carrying out their assignments. But then she saw that others were indeed taking notice. Two of them were sitting a few feet away, looking at her. One of the mice ran to the far corner, stopping halfway to look back at her and motion with its head for her to follow. And she saw that there was something of a bathroom set up -- a sink and toilet, a showerhead set in the wall.

Tentatively, Lola walked to the sink and turned the knob. Fresh water flowed out -- smelled okay. Tasted clean. Really clean, like not even tap water but fresh spring water. She drank deeply, splashed her face. She looked back for a moment. Three giant mice were standing, staring attentively, almost expectantly. She realized that they didn't look all quite the same. The one who'd pointed her towards the bathroom setup was brown with a patch of black on the center of his back. He was a bit bigger, and stood a bit farther forward than the others. She decided he must be in charge. The other two were a dark gray, one ever so slightly more so. One of them was pink at the tip of its nose. She eyed them warily for a moment, but then shrugged off momentary thoughts of fear and embarrassment. If they were going to hurt her, they would have already. And, hell, they were just mice, probably didn't know titties from tails.

She began taking off her clothes, tattered and soiled dress first, then her bra and panties, exposing her handful of cutesy tattoos usually obscured by clothes. Naked before their silent, seemingly unblinking observation, she peed, then showered. As warm water ran over her body, she saw the brown one gesture to the pink snouted, who ran over to a basket against the curved wall. It dug in for a second and came out with something. It ran over to her, dropped its find outside of the splash of the water, then scurried back to its previous post to watch her again. The something was a new bar of soap. She washed. They brought her a towel, a big soft pink one, smelling flowery. Okay, somebody must have trained them, she thought. A circus freak? Or some kind of mad scientist? Who lived down here, deep below the sewers and bred giant mice to fetch him beautiful women?

The towel was followed by a soft, white robe. And then the brown giant -- Fred, she'd decided to call him, after an old lover his coloring reminded her of -- reappeared from a tunnel (she hadn't realized he'd gone) and laid a picnic basket at her feet. She tentatively poked open the basket. There was food in it. Real food, nothing disgusting, not looking like it was plucked out of the trash somewhere. Apples and pears. Fresh lettuce, plump ripe tomatoes, carrots and radishes and sticks of celery. A tin of oatmeal cookies.

She glanced up at Fred. For a moment she couldn't muster the will to speak at all, but she cleared her throat and the words came out. "Can I get a knife?"

Fred stared back, blankly. She rolled her eyes for a moment. "Knife?" she tried again, this time holding a tomato and making a cutting motion. Fred's nose tilted down ever so slightly and then, then he shook his head. Was he answering her question? Or was it simply some instinctive movement.

"I'm going to call you Fred, okay?" Fred cocked his head to the side. "So Fred, do you-- do you understand me? You understand English?"

He continued to stare unmoving for a moment. And then, unquestionably, he nodded. "Holy shit," she murmured -- he understood. Then, suddenly, he turned and darted out one of the tunnels, leaving her to be watched by the two gray mice -- Pinky, she decided, for the pink-nosed fellow, and Jack for the other, since it was the first thing she could think of. She sat on the edge of the bed, eating a makeshift salad of bits of vegetables wrapped in a lettuce leaf, then a pear and a few pieces of a cookie. Then, overcome, she slept.

She awoke the next morning to breakfast in bed. A tray with pancakes topped with butter and syrup, strawberries and orange slices, next to scrambled eggs, and a thermos of orange juice. Now she was restless. Metal thermos because they didn't want her having glass, nothing she could make a weapon of. Lola had never been in prison, but she'd spent a night here and there in jail and had learned some things talking to those who'd been.

She realized that the clothes she'd worn yesterday were nowhere in sight. Presently, Fred returned. With her purse, to her surprise. She took it, poured it out on the bed. Some things were gone, the mace, naturally, and her taser, and a switchblade knife she kept for real pinches. Her money was there, for what good it would do, and that guy's wallet, now equally useless to her. Her cellphone -- she immediately flipped it open and tried to make a call, though she was completely unsurprised at the lack of a signal. No lighter, no matches, no cigarettes, none of her little airplane bottles of Jack Daniels for when she could really use a drink. Just money and makeup and hairbrushes and other trivial bullshit. Breathing a heavy sigh, she scooped her things back into her purse and tossed on the night table.

Fred was still there, watching, along with two new mice, one a lighter brown and the other tan and white. "So what's the deal Fred? Am I gonna get out of here?" Fred's response was to hold forth a paw. Something shiny dangled from it -- a thick gold necklace with a jeweled pendant hanging from it. Looked real. More than real, it looked priceless, like something from a pirate's treasure chest. Lola wasn't sure, but she thought this might be intended as something in the way of compensation for her imprisonment. Fred turned towards one of the tunnels and made some noises -- puppylike, almost -- and several mice came out of the tunnel, pulling something. It was a rolling TV stand, with a television set on it. The moved it to the middle of the room, facing the bed. A coil of wire dropped from the ceiling -- Lola noticed for the first time that there were a few tunnels going into the roof of the room as well -- and one of the mice busied himself with attaching things to the TV. Fred brought her a remote control. The TV worked fine. Basic cable, she guessed. The networks, news channels, cooking shows, the usual sort of thing. Fucking giant mice had cable. How did they pay the bill? No, probably they were stealing it.

Fiddling with the control, she came upon a menu for movies. She'd seen this kind of setup before, with a TV connected to a computer, where the films were stored. So somewhere on the other end of that cable coming down from the ceiling was a computer. Maybe, despite the constant watching for three or four pairs of eyes, maybe she could get to it. Would it be connected to the Internet? Could she send a message to somebody, an email? What would she write? "Send help, giant mice have me trapped somewhere under the city?"

The offerings continued. Sparkling jewels, delicious food. Then, a few days later, Fred entered carrying something shiny and round and golden in his mouth. Lola tilted her head a bit trying to make out the shape-- a big piece of jewelry, and roundish, or was it a bowl? No it was -- Fred placed the object on the end of the bed and then he and the other mice there bowed before her, so deeply that their noses touched the ground -- it was a crown!! The mice were bringing her a crown!! At last she understood everything, the food the gifts: they'd brought her the to reign over them, to be their mouse Queen. While the rest of the mice remained bowing, Fred and another mouse placed the crown on her head. The crown was followed by a bottle of wine -- Lola was no wine freak, but she could tell it was pretty good stuff, and the first alcohol she'd had in weeks. They supplied a glass as well, and she poured and drank. For a brief moment, perhaps halfway through the bottle, it occurred to her that this was the first time they'd brought her anything glass -- a wine bottle and something to drink it from, too.

Suddenly, as she was finishing the last sips of the bottle, a dozen or more mice scurried in and formed two rows along either side of the largest of the round holes, one directly across from the bed. They bowed their heads towards the corridor. And then he came out. A mouse larger than any she'd yet seen, easily six feet long from toes to nose, and half that again with his tail stretched out behind him. A crown sat atop his head as well, matching the one she now wore, but even without it there would have been something.... regal.... about him. She heard a rustling behind her and glanced to see Fred and Gilbert, patting down the pillows on the bed, smoothing the surface of the comforter. She gulped. Hard. She knew what was to come, but even if she hadn't it would have become immediately apparent. The King reared up on his hind legs; with one paw, sweepingly gestured towards the bed. She was now their Queen; and she had a purpose to fulfill.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, Lola found herself overcome with a strange sense of wonderment. She was only a little bit afraid, but not disgusted by the prospect; indeed, she could not help experiencing an tingling of excitement. She was the mouse Queen, and her King was to have her!!

Wordlessly, she slid her robe from her body and lay on the bed. The King climbed over her, gently nudging the side of his head along her body as he did. She touched him. His fur was soft, and he had a musky scent, almost sweet. She felt the paws of other mice gently parting her legs. She offered no resistance at all. She was already moist with arousal. And then the King entered her, slowly, gently. The size was just right -- bigger than most men she'd been with, and in whom she'd often felt a bit of disappointment, but not so big that it hurt, something she'd experienced once or twice before as well. Indeed, she felt filled up, almost perfectly so, by the thickness and the length of his sexual organ.

She closed her eyes and felt her breath catch involuntarily as he thrust into her. For fuck's sake, what was she thinking? Here she was getting off on getting fucked by a giant mouse? Wasn't this crazy, ought she not to be screaming in horror, rather then grabbing his haunches and guiding his thrusts, as they now came faster and faster and deeper and-- Oh!! Her loins were aflame with pleasure, his movements were so perfect; and then the force of her orgasm made her laugh aloud with the absurdity of it all. And then she felt the King shudder as his seed pumped into her; and then it stopped and was still, and for a few minutes she held him, held her King, stroked his fur as she would for a friendly kitten sharing her bed. And then he was gone, back down the tunnel, presumably to return to the task of commanding his kingdom.

After that, much the same ritual was repeated, to her delight, every three to four days. Once or twice in between she even found herself masturbating to the thought of his sleek, furry body above her, his perfect penetration of her. After several encounters, she thought to try something new; getting on her hands and knees, spreading herself open and offering herself to him from this different position. He accepted, mounting her from behind and filling her every bit as pleasurably. And another time, as her King thrust from above her, she whispered in his ear, "can I-- can I be on top?" With a grunt of assent, he rolled onto his back, carrying her upwards. And then she was in control, then she was the Queen, doing the fucking for her King, pleasuring him with thrusts of her hips which carried both of them to ecstasy.

----

Lola woke in The Chamber, feeling quite nauseous. Pregnant, she knew it right away. Not the first time, but the one before had been quickly fixed at the abortion clinic. This time, there was no such option. The Queen would bear the child of her King. A royal heir, she thought with sparkling visions, she was to give birth to the heir to the throne!! She laughed, and found herself unable to stop laughing, but didn't care, for she was their Queen and to be the mother of their Prince, and she was Lola, Queen of the Mice....

----

As months had gone by, Lola's belly had swelled with pregnancy, and she didn't much get out of bed anymore. The King came infrequently, stealing moments from his assuredly busy schedule to see to her progress, but irregular as his visits were, he always nuzzled and stroked her hair, or held her hand in one strong and regal paw while with the other he touched her belly, to feel their baby kick -- and what an active baby it had gotten to be!! She took care to be pleasant to her King, naturally. But she there was no need to express such affection to any of his-- of their-- subjects (except for Fred, who seemed to have an instinct for avoiding her displeasure). On this day, as with those preceding, she wanted pistachio ice cream. Oh, it wasn't always ice cream, sometimes Lola found herself wanting pickles, or salmon, or hot meatballs, needed her feet rubbed and her hair brushed, desired to have this movie or that added to her selection.

Pinky, who had been the first mouse to happen by when she was in her demanding mood, rushed back with her ice cream, but it wasn't fast enough. The ice cream was half melted. Lola scowled and hurled her thermos at Pinky, then her brush, her food, her plate. She had, after all obtained royal status amongst the mice, and they'd damn well better treat her as befits their Queen!! Pinky fled to try again while lesser mice cleaned up the mess. Finally Pinky returned with ice cream still frozen. "Well?" Lola cried, "feed it to me!! Do you expect me to do everything around here myself." Pinky obeyed while Lola watched episodes of I Love Lucy until at alast her eyes fluttered shut.

Lola awoke one morning to the groggy realization that no mouse was there. No one was watching her. In fact, none of the mice were anywhere to be seen, not scurrying through the tunnels or even casting distant shadows. "Fred?" she asked aloud, then hollered several times to no avail. She awkwardly pushed her heavily-laden form out of bed, put on a pair of slippers, and relieved her bladder before deciding to trudge towards the hole in the center of the round wall, the one from which her King always emerged. Nobody, not a sound. It was dark there, she needed a light. Her flashlight was long gone, but she remembered her cellphone still sat in her purse, unused for many months. She turned it on, and found power enough to cast a faint light. As she began to make her way down this new corridor, she heard a noise, far ahead. I sounded almost like the cry of a baby. She continued to walk, the light of the Chamber fading and becoming a distant dot. This tunnel seemed to go on without end, but then Lola saw an opening off to the right.

Inside was a round room. There was something there. It was a corpse, not more than a few weeks dead. A woman, her wrists manacled to the wall. As the glow of her cellphone rolled down the body, Lola realized between short, sharp breaths that the woman's belly had been distended in pregnancy, like her own now was. But at the center of that belly was an uneven gaping hole. A hole with marks along its edges and within, a hole which had been chewed, from the inside out. And below that, many sets of small footprints leading away from the body. Lola's hand instantly dropped to her belly. And she knew, it was not a baby kicking which she felt; it was a dozen. A writhing mass within her awaited their time to come out.

Overcome, Lola screamed and screamed, clawing at her belly, her fingernails leaving bloody gashes, even as she stumbled away from the corpse. She took no more than a few steps. Strong mouse paws appeared, grabbed her from all sides, lifting, dragging her back to the wall to which the corpse was chained, seating her right alongside it. Manacles bolted to the wall were clamped to her wrists, and others from the floor to her ankles. Her screams subsided into sobs, which then grew again into screams, all to no effect. And there sat Fred, and Pinky, and a half dozen other mice around her in a semicircle. Waiting.


----


For The Nodegel from Yuggoth: The 2011 Halloween Horrorquest

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