“I think you can agree this would make a wonderful theater for your play.”
Two men stood on a large wooden stage. Stretched out before them were rows of plush red seats and even a wide balcony. A pair of box seats hung on either side of the auditorium.
The speaker was a short, bespectacled man with thinning brown hair and a round face. He wore a suit that was a little tight on his round form, and black shoes that were scuffed.
The other man, a tall, thin fellow with a cigarette in his mouth, paced the stage. He was on the good side of middle-age and wore a crisp gray business suit that suited his slim physique. The visitor paused every few steps to tap his foot against the boards. “Seems sturdy.”
“It is, Mr. List,” the other man insisted. “I can assure you your client will be pleased with everything we have to offer, and it would be our pleasure to feature Mr. Lupe in his first theatrical role in quite some time.”
Al's cigarette drooped a little. “It’s only been five years.”
The other man coughed into his hand. “I see. My apologies.”
Al raised his eyes to the balcony and nodded at them. “Are those things safe?”
His guide nodded his head like a bobble doll. “Of course. Perfectly so. In fact, they were just inspected by the city building code manager just last week.”
Al turned to him and studied the bespectacled man. “All right, ‘fess up, Mr. Hulda. What’s the problem here?”
“Why’s the rent so cheap for this place?” Al bluntly questioned him.
Mr. Hulda clasped his hands together and slapped a tense smile on his face. “Well, you see, the Imago Theatrum has seen better days, and I’m afraid I’ve had to drop the price just to attract customers. That is, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the theater, only that theater itself isn’t as popular as it once was.”
Al removed his cigarette and blew out a ring of smoke. “Didn’t I hear once about this place being haunted.”
Mr. Hulda chortled. “Of course not. What a silly thing to say!”
“So you’re not at all superstitious?” Al asked him.
“This is the twenty-first century, Mr. List.”
“So I could go up here-” Al mused as he walked to center stage, “-and mention a certain Scottish play-”
“Mr. List!” Hulda scolded him.
Al turned to him with a grin. “I thought you said you weren’t superstitious.”
Hulda straightened and pressed out the nonexistent creases in his tight suit coat. “I’m not, but there are just some things that shouldn’t be done.”
Al laughed. “All right, I won’t tempt fate. Is there anything else you need to show me?”
“Only the bathrooms, and if you’d like to inspect the balconies,” Hulda suggested.
Al tapped the floor. “Shouldn’t there be an orchestra dump down here or something?”
“It’s called a ‘pit,’ sir, and yes, there was, but the access to it has been sealed off since the days when my father owned it,” Hulda told him.
“So there’s no mold or anything down there? My client’s a little sensitive to smells,” Al warned the proprietor.
Hulda shook his head. “None at all, now would you care to see the balcony?”
Al stuck the cigarette back in his mouth and stuffed his hands in his pocket. “I think I’ll pass. How about we go sign some papers and get this party started?”
Hulda smiled and bowed his head. “Of course, of course, this way.” The pair walked off stage left and disappeared into the wings. Hulda paused beside a large electrical box with a dozen switches. “Let me shut off the lights. The electricity is rather expensive and these Fresnel lights can get rather hot.”
He flipped a large switch and the stage was plunged into darkness. The dim backstage lights guided them to the back offices that made up the rear of the large theater. That left the stage deserted.
Or did it?
A soft foot tapped against the stage boards like Al had done, but there was no visible person to make those noises. The noises moved back and forth across the stage as though pacing. Each step grew louder and louder until it sounded like heavy banging.
“I hear something, I tell ya!” Al insisted as the sounds of their feet hurried to the back of the stage.
The noises on stage were silenced just as Al appeared from the wings. He paused and strained his ears. Mr. Hulda switched on the lights and revealed an empty stage except for Al.
Hulda swept his arm over the deserted area. “See, Mr. List? Nothing at all.”
Al pursed his lips. “I swore I heard somebody marching along here.”
“Perhaps it was Mr. Hickey,” Hulda suggested. “He’s our repairman and he works odd hours depending on what needs to be fixed.”
“Perhaps,” Al half-heartedly agreed as he turned away from the stage.
Al walked over to Hulda who switched off the lights. They returned to the back offices, and the stage once more was a darkened silence. From that deep darkness, however, came a low, gravely voice. Its hissing words were filled with malice.
“Not here. Not ever.”