This month spooky short story winner is Summer Cushman.
Second Staff: by Summer Cushman
My fingers ache from the chill of the brisk winter air as I jiggle the key in the lock of the front door. The stupid thing has needed repairs for years. Finally, the lock turns and I make my way into the building. It’s warmth beacons me inside and a friendly atmosphere surrounds me. Setting my bag on the chairs spread out against the wall full of windows, I turn to the counter outlining the ticketing area. Mail has collected there waiting for its owners, but Cancun is a long distance from where it lies. With a loud crash, the ice machine in the blocked off bar breaks me from my thoughts. Crossing to the wall next to the bar, I turn all the lights on. Through the double doors to my left lies the entrance to the auditorium of the theater. Inside, I can hear the sound of foot steps echoing across the stage. The doors open silently as I walk through them and the floor is free of creaks as my feet travel down the hallway. Years of entering this way without the audience’s knowledge has trained my mind to follow a certain path.
The stage comes into view after traveling past the green curtains that line the entrance. I catch the culprit of the footsteps with his back to me. I can tell from the figure’s stature and heavy steps, that it’s Brody.
“Hi Brody, how are you today?”
The figure turns around to face me with a blank face. Brody doesn’t respond; he never does, but I can feel his relief wash over me. He towers over me, looking me up and down suspiciously like he doesn’t believe that I’ve taken care of myself while away. Our relationship is one of silent companionship; I’m his friend and he’s my protector. Turning away from me, Brody begins to work his way across the stage to return to his domain in the garage. However, as his presence fades the sense of security remains. If I need him Brody will return to my side with out hesitation.
Crossing the stage, I slip past the curtains that hide actors’ transformations into the parts they play. Behind the scenes lay dozens of props spread amongst pieces of sets. Some of the props have been there for years like scattered memories no one wishes to put away. Large pieces of sets remain from previous shows, some to heavy to move and others being reused in the future. From behind a thin, pink piece of the Legally Blonde set, a little girl peeks out.
“Hello Ms. Rosie,” she says body vibrating with the energy that only children can manage.
“Good morning Vivienne. How are you doing today?” I ask her. The eight-year-old girl runs up to me; her shiny black pigtails bouncing as she moves. The dress she wears is a pristine white with a ribbon tied around the center.
“I’m great! That Cindy lady came by this morning to clean the floors and pick up mail. She’s always so nice and she makes everything really neat,” Before I can get a word in about Cindy, she had already moved on to the next part of her day, “Now Toby and I are playing hide and seek. He said we should just stay in the auditorium to play, but it’s much more fun back here.”
“Vivienne, you know you have to play nice with Toby and let him make the rules sometimes.”
“But, his rules are so boring and I didn’t want to bother Brody while he waited for you on stage.” The little girl huffs.
Little pitter patters of foot steps run across the stage and a boy around the age of 6 barrels through the curtain. A newspaper boy hat hides his face, but I could feel his surprise at seeing me there with Vivienne.
“Good morning Toby,” I say softly, trying not to frighten the boy. Yet, my attempt goes unsuccessful as he backs away like a skittish cat. Vivienne moves next to him and takes his hand.
“Silly Toby, why are you always so afraid of Ms. Rosie?” Vivienne wonders aloud.
“It’s ok,” I state, trying to ease her confusion. “Sometimes people are just shy like Toby here. How about I leave you both to your game.”
When I turn to leave, a cold little hand grasps my wrist and pulls me back around. Vivienne has a pleading look on her face and I dread what she could be wanting.
“Yesterday when Toby and I were playing with my dolls, he threw one up into the light booth. Could you get it for me?” The girl suddenly looks very interested in the ribbon on her dress as she asked. I can sense her fear of the place in mention and her hesitation to ask. It has to be one of her favorite dolls.
“Of course, I’ll go get it for you kiddo.”
With that, the little kids run off to continue their game of hide and seek and I begin the walk back across the stage to the auditorium. My dread grows as I come up to the bright red ladder that takes me up a straight 10 feet into the light booth. The climb up into the small enclosed space is treacherous, but inside the little area seems calm and serene. I begin searching for the doll.
Finally, I see find it underneath the circular table that contains the graffitied name of every light technician. As I pick it up, a clang sounds from the ladder. More follow, one right after another until a black figure can be seen at the top. The smoky black figure crawls towards me as fear threatens to stop my breathing. Cigar smoke over whelms my senses causing me to gag. My head begins pounding to the fast pace drum that is my heart. An ice-cold force pushes me to the floor. A hand, burning with cold, grabs my ankle and begins to drag me towards the open door to the ladder. Struggling against the crawling creature becomes difficult as my fingers struggle to find anything to grab. Nearing the edge, I prepare myself for the inevitable fall.
Heavy foot steps make their way across the stage followed by two sets of pitter patters. I look down to see Brody standing at the bottom of the latter flanked by Vivienne and a terrified Toby. With one large hand, Brody stretches his large frame and grabs the figure around its middle. Throwing it to the ground, he places his giant foot on top of it.
“You can not have her,” Brody booms. His voice is a quiet, deep rumble. The thing crawls away and disappears through a wall.
“Ms. Rosie are you alright?” Vivienne asks, looking up to where I am still perched at the top of the red ladder.
I don’t trust my voice to answer so nodding will have to do. Turning around, I shakily make my way down. One of my knees threatens to give out on the second rung and I slightly slip until a pair of large cold hands grab my waist to assist me. When my feet are back on the ground, I lean against the wall still shaking in fear. Vivienne comes up to me and hugs me around my waist, squeezing it tight.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get your doll,” I whisper to her.
“It’s ok, I don’t want it anymore. The thing has made it all icky and evil,” She replies with disgust in her voice. Eyes lighting up as she looks at me with a small smile.
Toby has come up and grabbed one of my shaking hands. He rubs tiny circles on the back of it, trying to comfort me. I briefly wonder if that is something his mother used to do to when he was scared. I hope the memory of his mother is providing a similar comfort to the small boy.
Brody, always my protector, stands between me and the wall where the creature disappeared. His body is turned towards me but I can tell his guard is still up. I know I am the only companion he has. I hate to think what he would become if I were to ever leave him.
The bell on the front door rings signaling the entrance of a customer. My friends scatter back to the places they call home in the small theater. I spare a glance back up the ladder wondering what will become of the doll. With a shudder I turn away and bring up the smile of my customer service face. Maybe when my shift ends I will go pick up a new doll for Vivienne.