This story is by Tammy Berry and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
As a child Ivy’s parents took her to see Cats on stage and ever since she fantasized about being both an actress and stage crew. Dressing in the beautiful costumes, creating and pretending to be a part of another world that is safe from everything real. So after completing high school she enrolled in college as a theater major.
It was a relatively small school built in nineteen-thirteen, the theater was one of the original buildings, complete with marble columns and decoratively trimmed juniper bushes planted across the front. The interior was designed in a classical style with plush velvet, large chandelier, and beautiful balcony seating overlooking a proscenium style stage complete with apron and wings.
There had been rumors that the building was haunted which peaked Ivy’s personal interest in the unexplained, to hear about the possibility of a haunting her mind started creating a list of questions that she would she would search for the answers to.
She auditioned and got a part in the winter play, A Christmas Carol. The first rehearsal started out as any other, the tech crew working on constructing scenes, gathering props, and setting sound and lighting. The talent going through their lines, discussing and negotiating where to stand and walk, and the many other aspects of a rehearsal.
Until there was a loud crashing just off stage in the left wing causing the Ghost of Christmas Past to scream causing Mr. Scrooge to jump back, trip over the corner of the bed and fall down. The rest of the cast and crew including Ivy ran over to see what caused the noise. Some of the old props had fallen over scattering them across the floor. As she started picking up a table lamp and shade one of the side curtains moved slightly. “Hello?” Looking around she saw no movement or sign that anyone was around.
A week or so later during rehearsals Ivy was in the scene shop looking for a fan or something to move the curtains to cue the entrance for one of the ghosts. While she was digging through piles of dusty old props she started smelling a campfire which left a chemical taste in her mouth.
After morning classes the next day she went to the school library looking through the archives to see what she could find about the theater building and its past. After several hours of searching she slammed the latest book shut and stacked in onto the top of the tower of books she had created in her search.
“I am not finding anything, there has to be some old stories about this place.” Convinced there was something.
While rehearsing her scene that night she kept forgetting her lines and missing cues. There was something just off from where she could see. Sometimes it was just past the lights as she looked into the audience while other times there seemed to be something looking around the curtains at her.
Over the next couple of weeks she had no time to continue her search between her job and classes. When the chance came to get back to her search Ivy went to the city library in order to look through old newspaper articles for anything to do with the college or the theater in particular. After breakfast Saturday morning Ivy headed to the library, all she’ll have to do is run a few key word searches.
“How far back do you want to look?
“How old is the paper, and how far back do the records go?”
“On computer we have only back to the twenties, everything before that is on microfiche.”
Her eyes opened wide and with a concerned tone asked that a microfiche was. The old man laughed at her in a kind tone and walked toward the computer room pointing to a funny looking monitor.
“This is going to take a lot longer than I expected.”
Ivy felt like her eyes were going to melt out of her head and her brain was going to ooze out of her ears. “I feel like I’ve been in the most intensive cram session of my life.” looking out the window for the first time she saw deep reds and oranges fading into purples. Gathering up her notes she left to get something to eat before heading to work, so she stopped by the cafeteria to grab a salad and headed to a quiet, seldom occupied spot under a large oak tree at the edge of campus where she could look back through her notes.
“I thought I’d find you here. What are you studying?”questioned the young man playing Mr. Scrooge walking up to her with his own salad.
“I’ve been trying to figure out what is going on during our rehearsals.”
“Do you really think that the building is haunted?”
“I have always been curious about why people stay in places that do not make them happy. Isn’t that why ghosts hang around?”
“I guess so, but why do you care?”
“I have always wanted to live somewhere else, someplace that makes me feel happy and free. Not stuck in the city full of people rushing around not caring about each other.”
Ivy had started her search in nineteen-ten and worked forward to try to find articles about the college from the beginning. She learned there was a scandal about how much it had cost to build the school, and the ribbon cutting ceremony with the college president, board of trustees and the mayor. Ivy laughed at the picture because the group looked happy yet awkward. She made a list of names of people mentioned in the articles and how they were connected to the school in case she wanted to follow up on them further.
It was getting close to the end of the semester, which meant that Ivy needed to focus on studying for finals and the play. The last few rehearsals were in full costume and makeup focusing on fine tuning and perfecting every detail of the production. Opening night had finally come and there hadn’t been anything strange going on for a past couple of weeks. Tonight everyone was nervous and jumpy including Ivy, every little noise made her jump or spin around hoping to catch a glimpse of the ghost. During the closing curtains and the final bow she saw something or someone off to the side but as soon as she tried to focus her eyes, it was gone.
“During the school break I’ll have more time.” She didn’t have any plans to visit family this year so she spent all of her time at the library continuing to scour through newspaper articles for some hint of what happened at the school and finally she found something.
In nineteen thirty-two there was in a fire in the scene shop. A second year named Billy Thompson who was part of the stage crew was down in the green room while the rest were working on sets and props for an upcoming play. A piece of scenery caught fire when a stage light was being tested and short circuited catching some of the set pieces on fire. Billy was busy looking for props in the back of the storage and from the accounts of the survivors either did not hear them yelling about the fire or could not get out in time.
Ivy now had an explanation to who was haunting the theater. She went to the theater building the next day not sure what she was going to do or how to contact him or if he would even show.
“Billy, I know what happened to you.” nothing, so she she sat and waited.
“How can I help you or are you trying to help me? What are you trying to tell me?” This time she saw something, a shadow coming out from the wing toward her. “What are you trying to tell me?”
He pointed to the lighting board, she walked over to it and looked around the top and sides, but saw nothing unusual. “I don’t see anything.” Billy reappeared just past the board to the actual theater wall and pointed to a small cabinet door that Ivy had never noticed before. Lifting the latch she opened the door, to what she expected to be a storage closet or secret room inside the theater.
It was a doorway to another place, a forest filled with tall trees reaching as far as she could see with a carpet of green and brightly colored flowers of all shapes and sizes. In the distance she could see a small village of stone and thatched roof houses. “Where is this place? Is it safe for me to go there?” Billy smiled raised his arm and pointed into the distance. As she stepped through the door it closed behind her and they were gone.