The air’s as cool as a fridge. The black, starless sky establishes a sense of isolation, which will only increase when I arrive at my destination. As I drive along a paved road, the streetlights become fewer in number. I turn down an unpaved backroad as a shortcut, with my patience already growing thin of this excursion.
The backroad continues for a good ten minutes, though it feels twice as long with my car jerking from a terrible, swerving road. By the end of the path, the headlights shine on a grimy, overgrown stone wall. This is where I stop, grasping my backpack and flashlight. I remove a cold, faded-silver revolver from the glove compartment. I check its wheel; six shots, still awaiting their use. As always, it goes in the right pocket.
There’s a brief walk around the wall before I reach the entrance to the structure. Along the way, the stone barrier is seen to be overgrown, claimed by the forest that surrounds it. Fallen leaves line the base of the structure, and continue to pile as I march along the fall night. When I turn a corner, I find myself at a clearing.
I walk away from the building to get a better view. I find a large, open lot, which now begins to sprout a series of bushes and patches of grass. When I find myself spaced away, I turn back to the structure, with my eyesight more adjusted to the darkness. A gray, symmetrical stone building stands before me, at least three floors high. I twitch with unease as I notice only two sets of windows line the front wall, which are both on the second floor. The walls appear to extend back for a good distance, half a football field, maybe. Its structure, material, and color suggest an older construction, but not one that’s ancient. I’m no architectural or historical expert, but a late 1800s age seems like a reasonable guess.
After taking in the sight, I approach the entrance: an arching, splintered, wooden door. It appears to have once been barred by a metal brace, but it’s been smashed to the ground. Above the doorframe is a few words, carved into stone. I shine the light on the text which reads “Winslow Theater and Performance Hall”. I can’t think of any other forsaken, abandoned building in the area, but I check my directions to make sure I’m not about to waste my time and sanity.
I open my phone, and view the bosses instructions:
“Winslow Theater, south of the old post office on south street. Pull down on Berrywood Lane, and just keep going until you reach a dirt road. Pull down that, as it’s quicker, and out of sight. After a bit longer, you’ll reach the place. Once there, head past the auditorium, and downstairs backstage. You’ll know where to go from there. If not, just follow the scent. If you can’t come back with a supply, then don’t bother coming back. If we catch you collecting, and not coming back to us, we’ll find you. We keep a count on the supply constantly.
Best of luck.
I place the phone back in my pocket and my eyes are overwhelmed by the returning dark in front of me. I blink for a minute, then enter through the wooden doors.
The box office is in the front lobby, its windows smashed, and its booth collecting nothing but dust. As I shine my light across the floor, I see it smeared with a collection of grass, leaves and darkened, brown mold color. The walls inside were once painted white, but are now stripped to a stone gray, just as the outside. I examine the room’s features for a brief minute before entering the main room.
When entering the auditorium, the room causes me to question my own perception. The space is far larger than I expected, with my light only shining a short distance before dimming away. Seats stretch as far as my flashlight can reach, all lined straight together, with their wood torn and scratched to disarray. I shine my light left and right, in which it reaches a wall on both sides. The darkness only stretches forward, with the space for an endless audience. There’s a single, clear lane for walking, bridging a gap for my walk. I’m reluctant, but I press on, knowing my desperation for this job.
As I walk the open lane, the empty seats stare back. Every chair is a set of eyes, ones that cut through the dark and witness my exposed state. My left hand keeps a firm grip on the flashlight, shining forward. My right hand remains against my right pocket, feeling the cold handle of my only defense. After passing at least thirty rows of seats, the light picks up the first view of the stage.
The stage, for the size of the room, is rather small. The arching floor of wood gives a feeling of confinement, a static prison in front of an invisible crowd. I traverse a small set of stairs offstage left, and walk towards the torn red curtain. A curious part of me wishes to turn, and see the stretch of darkness that I’ve traversed. The sane part of me, however, doesn’t want to witness the stare of black that lies behind. I delve through the curtains.
Backstage appears to be very simple: an empty, wooden-floored room, with doors on the left and right walls. Both doors lead to a stairway leading down, but I choose the right door, as it’s slightly closer to where I stand. Every step saved is cherished.
The downstairs halls are narrow, and are littered with tight corners. My breaths grow deeper, and cold sweat dampens the shirt beneath my jacket. Doors start to appear across the halls, but none appear to be the spot I’m looking for. I start to wonder if I’m just walking in circles, as I’ve turned in each direction at least twice. My left hand shakes as it holds the flashlight, and my right hand strains as it grips the revolver. The six shots are my best friends.
I turn a corner and a strong, piercing odor claims my sense of smell. The scent is chemical, with hints of tobacco, sulfur, and a surrounding aroma of smoke. There’s a windowed door at the end of the hall, and the smells grow as I approach. Despite me being close, my paranoia reaches overdrive. My ears sense occasional whispers. Patches of cold flash about my skin, while my heart beats to the point of pain.
“Shit,” I think to myself. They recommend that I wear a respirator when I enter the storage room, but in the midst of directions I have to remember, I forgot to get one for the trip. My walk into the room would have to be quick, for the sake of my lungs. The unnatural air in the storage room is preferable to the haunting halls, though.
I enter through the windowed door, and my senses are stunned for a split moment. I’m stopped in my step from the intense barrage of substances. The air feels much more cool and dense, to where it resembled the touch of fog. The door is rather heavy, in which it shuts behind me as I step into the center of the small room. The wooden walls are painted green, with a series of benches and chairs against them. There’s a chalkboard to my left as I turn from the door, one that’s covered in a think layer of dust.
Scattered about the room, on benches, chairs, and the floor, are white crates. None are labelled, and all are shut without any lock or seal. Many of them have their own scents, but the mixed odor of the entire room is too much for me to sense details. I take a deep breath for preparation, but an ache shoots off in my chest from the action. I rush to work.
The crates contain some of what I expected, but also materials that I’ve never witnessed before. First, I find the typical bags of cocaine, sheets and bottles of pills, and series of full-grown marijuana plants. As I continue to sift through, however, I come across substances that puzzle me; strange, almost alien-like plants, racks of needles filled with green fluid, vials of vibrantly colored liquids, and a few crates containing a black gel inside glass cubes. If my curiosity wasn’t outweighed by my fear, I could explore the containers for hours. I feel bad for whoever has the job of testing all this shit.
After loading my backpack with some medicine bottles, plant leaves, and a few needles, I turn back to the door. I’m left stunned with a sight: though the window, a light is on in the hallway.
I’m sure that electricity is impossible for this ruined, neglected theater. Yet, the light floods from the window, exposing the green walls of the room. I’m clutching the gun even tighter. I dart around for another escape, but the door I came through is the only exit.
As the light begins to fade, I move towards the door, with my gun drawn forward. I’m slowed by the sounds of footsteps above the room, stomping about in, what I guess is, the theater. S.W.A.T teams, I think to myself. I’m fucked, for sure. My only idea is to go through the halls, and find an exit about the other doors. If they lead nowhere, at least they can serve as a hiding place.
When the light is gone from the window, I press though the door. I’m prepared to fire when I see a figure stand, but I’m left still as my eyes fixate on it. A pale, dark-haired, frail woman appears at the end of the hall. Her naked self reveals an array of smooth, milk colored skin. She turns to me when my light shines, revealing a cold, expressionless face. I’m first shocked, but as she drifts closer to me, I find myself grow calm, entranced. She stares at me with glowing pearl eyes, ones that caress my consciousness. She stands no more than a few feet from me. I lower my gun.
“Hello,” she says, almost whispering. The voice is soft, yet it echoes throughout the hall, filling the space with an unfamiliar life. Rather than respond, I stand awe struck, staring. The woman, disregarding my silence, outstretches a hand to me.
“Will you perform with me?” she asks.
I’m still left speechless, but her voice causes me to act without reason, overwhelmed with curiosity. I place the gun in my pocket, and connect my hand with hers. A chill pulses through my arm at the touch, but not one that unsettles me. The sense feels more gentle and welcoming than fear. She leads me throughout the halls, looking forward. She begins to pick up her pace, in which I follow. She almost starts to run, until we encounter a stairway, one that’s lit from the room above. I shut my flashlight off, and the woman releases my hand. She turns back to me, smiles, and makes her way up the stairs. I follow, and my caution starts to rise. At the top of the stairs, with the light turning her figure into a silhouette, the woman speaks down to me.
“Break a leg,” she says before entering the room.
I hear many voices as she leaves. Shouting, cheering, and applause sound down the stairway. I start clutching the gun again. After scaling the stairs, I realize I’ve backtracked; I’m back at the stage.
The stage is illuminated by a series of unknown lights, spanning from the ceiling. On the stage now lies a wooden pole, lined with colorful ribbons and flowers. Two masked men wearing black clothing stand near the woman, who’s now center stage.
Being as quiet as I can, I move closer towards the open curtain, and peer out into the seats. I’m close to fainting when I see there’s an audience. A full audience. Every chair is occupied by formal dressed, wealthy-looking individuals. They stand, applauding as the woman poses on stage. It’s difficult for me to make out faces, but their ages span from as young as early twenties, to as much as seventy. All of their faces however, are as white as the woman’s, and they possess the same striking, pearl eyes. As far as I can tell, I’m unnoticed.
The crowd sits as the woman steps back to the pole. She lowers her arms down, standing straight against the wood. The two masked men approach her, and tie her arms against the pole. The woman remains smiling. I’m left both confused and concerned when one of the men leaves and returns with a jar, before pouring a clear liquid across the woman’s body. The crowd remains shushed.
At last, the other man returns with a torch. I’m about to gasp, but I hold a hand to my mouth to keep hidden. The woman pays no mind to the flame, audience, or myself. She keeps her eyes closed, sporting a smile as the flame touches her stomach. She ignites in a mere second. As the fire spreads about, darkening and stripping her bare skin, she screams. The crowd begins to follow with cheers, turning to a stand ovation. I don’t want to move, but one of the masked men looks to me. He stares, in which I start for my escape.
I move around the curtain, feeling a warmth as I pass the burning flames. I leap off the stage, sprinting down the lanes of seats. I forget about my gun, flashlight, and the woman altogether. The crowd continues to cheer to insanity as I dash by, not giving a cent of mind to my escape. The woman’s screams continue to sound away until I reach the auditorium doors. Her voice is gone as soon as I grasp the door handle.
The woman’s and crowd’s silence is relieving. I’m bent on leaving the cursed place, but I’m confident in my experience being a spontaneous hallucination. I suspect that being exposed to the substances and chemicals could do almost anything. Who knows what kind of a trip could be forced? I turn for one last glance at the theater, suspecting my illusions to end.
Everyone in the audience, both old and young, is staring at me. The stage has gone dark, and at least a hundred sets of eyes are fixated on my petrified form. Their faces hold no life, no reaction, no care.
In a single moment, I find the senses to burst through the doors, and through the theater entrance as well. I stumble numerous times, as I’ve lost my flashlight, but I manage to make my way out to the open lot, where I first began. I wander about the open space as my eyes adjust to the darkness, and my mind adjusts to a safe reality.
As I catch my breath I’m reluctant to go back towards the stone walls, to my car. I stick as far away from the building as possible as I move.
I check the back seat, of course. I toss my bag to the passengers seat, start the engine, and pull out with a swerve. I lost my gun in my sprint, but unlike my skin and sanity, that’s replaceable.
I drive fast, but not to where it’s hazardous. The sight of paved roads ease my shaking a bit, but I’m left partially blind with the sharp memories scarred upon me. I focus on the relief of home, growing closer with every mile. I almost swerve off the road when a vibration hits my leg. I slam the breaks, bringing the car to an abrupt and dangerous halt. My phone’s going off, in which I take a much needed sigh of relief.
"H-Hello?” I say with short breath.
“Alec,” a deep, serious voice says, “Are you safe?”
I keep quiet for a few seconds, questioning the exact definition of "safe".
"Yeah.", I reply. "I think so."
"Alright then. Get back to the warehouse ASAP. How much did you grab?"
"Enough to fill my backpack, which is an average size."
"That will do, for your first. Leave it in there. Don't even bother touching the bag until you get back. We'll take it into our hands once it arrives. Depending on what you grabbed, there's shit in there that will twist your mind to pieces. Try not to be too curious, or you'll end up like one of our last initiates."
I want to at least attempt to lighten the situation, so I curtail to my curiosity.
"What happened to him?", I ask.
A long pause takes over the line, before the voice responds.
"He went back."
The line goes dead. I focus on the road, and begin to drive. As the road becomes less rural with every mile, I glance at the backpack, eager to rid myself of the madness inside.
Written by Emeryy