Empty, they say. Abandoned. Unsafe. It’s been that way for so long no-one remembers when The House was last in use.
That’s the only name I’ve heard for the old theatre. I’ve checked town records. The library, newspapers – even the chatter of the internet is silent on the subject.
I, too, am empty and unsafe. Soon I will crumble – although no-one can see it.
The whiskered, whiskyed gents outside the pub are flattered to speak to the retired performer who’s come to live in their town. But they become silent on mention of The House.
“You don’t want to go worrying about that place,” Jim says. “It’s been that way for years. Fall down soon, I shouldn’t wonder. Wouldn’t be safe, lady like you poking around there.” Jim is the most garrulous of the pub gents, but this is all I get out of him.
“I like to learn the history of any place I live in.” My gents stay stubbornly silent.
“Was it once The Playhouse?” I ask.
“It still is,” one of the other men mutters.
Jim shushes him, and points his pipe at me. “You leave well alone. Just ghosts in there. You don’t want to go joining them, do you?”
I take no notice, drawn there. I squint at the edifice; the boarded up windows, the stonework in need of repair. It’s just an empty theatre. The upper windows still swathed in tattered velvet. I picture the interior: front of house with grand stairway, cloakroom and bars. The back, wider, deeper, housing the auditorium and stage. Haven’t I performed in places just like this?
I discover a window where the chipboard has rotted away, and climb through.
Summer is left behind as goosebumps rise on my skin. I inhale; hairspray, alcohol, sweat. I expect the auditorium doors to creak as I push them open. Instead, I glide inside.
I’m unsurprised by the figure in the orchestra pit. No theatre is ever truly empty.
“Ah, Madeline,” The Conductor says. “We’ve been waiting for you. Are you ready?”
“I am”. I mount the steps to the stage.
I nod to The Conductor. He smiles, although with lips rotted away it’s a grimace, showing skull as well as teeth. The baton is raised, its wood as decayed as the fingers holding it. I hear the death rattle of the audience’s expectant sigh.
I take my last breath, and sing.