When I was seven, I was introduced to music. Okay, so technically it wasn’t actually the first time I had heard music, but it was the first time I had heard music that made me feel. You see, my mother had died from a heart attack when I was sixth months old, and a few months after I had just turned seven, my dad died in a massive car accident on his way home from work. Because of this, I was put into the custody of my Uncle Eric and Aunt Helen, who lived a few states over in Massachusetts. Since they lived a bit far, I never exactly saw them much. I can only recall one birthday party they came to. The first day I arrived, I don’t think I said one word to them. Ever since the funeral my mood was indifferent about everything, and I barley talked to anyone anymore. Still my Aunt and Uncle were pleasant, understanding, and did their best to make me feel at home at least. Aunt Helen kept saying over and over how she was happy to have another girl in the house. I soon realized how obsessed they were with music. My Uncle was a Speech/Theatre professor at the college, Aunt Helen was a piano/voice teacher, and my cousin played every instrument under the sun. I felt out of place, I did nothing and had no inspiration to listen to music or anything like that. I loved listening to their music, the way it could make me feel so at ease or at home. Unfortunately, I had no musical talent what-so-ever, in fact I came to realize my talents resided in art, or designing, eventually growing into building. So when I went to see Harrison in his sixth grade musical, I was far more fascinated in the backdrop and the set pieces.
That didn’t mean I didn’t still love music or musicals! In fact, I sang all the time when I would paint or build, even during rehearsals I would sing along with the cast. My Uncle was director of the College musical too so I was allowed to help there as well, only when I was in high school though. They taught me electrical wiring and basically nearly everything I’d need to know about building set pieces, including making Maria’s apartment bedroom for ‘West Side Story’. I learned a lot from the older kids, and I found myself content again. Content with who I was for once in my life.
When I was finishing my senior year of High School my Uncle came home from the College looking pissed off. I had never seen him so angry, and I remember when my Aunt tried to comfort him he threw himself in a fit of rage.
“Can you believe it? They’re condemning the damn place!” He shouted, and my Aunt looked at me and Cousin Harrison, who was a year younger than me. She quickly brought my Uncle into the study and shut the door, leaving Harrison and I alone. We could still hear him shouting and wanted to know what had him so upset. After a few words, such as ‘Hill’ and ‘Street’ and ‘Thrown away!’ picked up, Harrison’s mouth popped open in a small ‘O’ of realization.
“I get it now,” He said, and I shot him an even more confused look. “Dad’s angry because the High Hill Theatre on Locust St. is being condemned.” I thought about it for a moment, and then realized he was probably right. The theatre had been closed since 2004 for reasons unknown to me and I guess they were finally tearing it down. My Uncle always sighed whenever we would drive or walk by, saying how he missed watching the shows the college could put on in there. To be honest, the destruction of the old place made me kind of happy. I had to ride by it every day when I rode my bike home from school. It was a really nice building, but because it hadn’t been tended for in about ten years, it was grimy, gritty, and pretty grim looking. Plus, when I would ride by, it just felt like the house was sending out…I don’t know how to explain it. It felt as though some negative energy was pushing against me, weighing down on me.
“That old place? Thank God,” I said to him, “It gives me the chills.” I shuddered, honestly just the thought of the place made me shiver.
“Tell me about it,” Harrison snorted in agreement, “It’s such a creepy old place, and it’s weird that it took them this long to knock the fucking place down. I’ve always wondered what exactly happened there,” Harrison shot a look down the hallway, before turning back to me.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, ah, back in 2004 when the college still would rehearse and put on their shows up in High Hill, my dad wasn’t the director, obviously. Some guy, I think his name was like, Beaumont or something I’m not sure, he was directing and the show they were doing that year was ‘Sweeney Todd’. There was one girl there who was a freshman in college, I um… don’t know her name though, I guess she was a shy kid, didn’t talk much, someone told me she had no living relatives, and apparently didn’t have many friends. She got the role of Johanna and a lot of the upperclassmen weren’t happy. There was even a rumor that Beaumont only gave her the role because he thought she was attractive. People who knew about him back then say he was kind of creepy. Well I guess opening night after Johanna sang her solo the girl ran off the stage, and after that no one could find her. Days later, Beaumont, and two other cast members disappeared. The place has been shut down ever since.”
I was intrigued by the story I guess you can say, and the fact that there were so many missing pieces of the puzzle only made me curious to know more. Instead of asking more questions, I just let Harrison drop the subject so he could go play guitar.
The next day my Uncle asked me if I wanted to go downtown with him, that he had some business to attend to and that I could go get coffee or walk to the library or something. I gladly went with him, this meant I could maybe research High Hill Theatre a little bit, maybe try and find something out. But surprisingly there was nothing. I mean yes, there were newspaper articles online, but it was strange. The first one I found was a report taken during one of the rehearsals. It included an interview with the director, Alfred Beaumont, and a few students, including the one who played Todd and the one who played Anthony Hope. Their names were blacked out, as if we weren’t supposed to know. The two students said how it’s a “Touching musical, which is dark, heartbreaking, and even a little bit funny.” Beaumont talked about how he was so proud of the students, but none more than the girl. I say ‘The girl’ because her name also wasn’t there. It had been blacked out, as if they didn’t want anyone to read her name. I knew it was the girl from Harrison’s story, because Beaumont said in his interview that, “I’m very proud of ______ for she has brought the character Johanna to life, I think she really relates to Johanna in a way. Her voice is beautiful, and when she sings I always remind her that she’s like my little songbird. In fact, a nickname has evolved out of that, we all call her Birdy now.” I winced, the way that I read that sentence made me feel uncomfortable. How could nobody tell this man was a creep? I rolled my eyes, and scrolled down to find the interview with Birdy. Most of it was blacked out, like her name, and there was only a small bit.
‘We asked _______ how she felt about her role as Johanna and how she connects with the character. All she told us was, “I too know what it’s like to feel trapped, like a bird in a cage.” We watched ________ perform the song ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’ and all we can say is that when the audience hears it, they will be able to sense the feeling of being caged, just like Johanna.’
All the other articles were the same, except more and more were blacked out. By the time I got to the finals paper, which must have been about her disappearance, everything was blacked out. The obituaries, the date, even the small ads were blacked out. I gave up, and read until my Uncle texted me that he was at the car. When we got home, I learned what business he actually had to take care of downtown. He had protested against the destruction of the Theatre, and ended up requesting for ownership of it. After arguing for an hour, they finally sold him the place for a reasonable price. In fact, it was better than reasonable; it was only about $800 for him to buy it. That was less than a car for God’s sakes.
“They won’t even make him pay what it’s really worth because everyone wants to tear it down,” Harrison had whispered to me and I had to cover my mouth so I wouldn’t laugh. That’s when Uncle Eric turned, still smiling, and plopped himself in between the two of us on the couch. He slung an arm over each of our shoulders and pulled us closer.
“So, do you two wanna help clean it up this summer? I’ll pay you,” He said with a wink, fully knowing that I’d be happy to help just to have something to do, while Harrison needed bribery. I was actually looking forward to starting, because like I said before I loved building things, and since I learned electrical wiring earlier I’d be able to help out with that as well. The only issue was that on the first day, when we arrived and stood outside of the theatre, I could feel that negative energy once again. It was stronger though, and it gave me the slightest headache. Uncle Eric pulled the keys out of his pocket, jingling as he stuck the right one in the keyhole, unlocking it.
Immediately I noticed the air was stale and thick, and when I would breathe I could taste the dust in the air. The place wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, the lobby itself still had small tables with lamps set aside, playbooks left, and the marquee was tilted, nearly falling off its stand. The only real issue was how dirty everything was. It was the same with the auditorium, it was perfectly intact. The whole theatre, every room and everything in it was intact; just covered in dust and grime. Yet that heavy, negative energy was looming in every room.
My Uncle told us what needed to be done and that in a few days his friend, an electrician by the name of Vernon, would be coming to help out and that I could help him. For today we were going to look around and clean up as much as we could.
I immediately went backstage and was shocked to see just how much was left behind. There were still props such as a few tables, with mugs still on top of them, backdrops of a city, and what seemed to be a carriage. But the one that really caught my eye was a barber’s chair, the one from Sweeney Todd. A cold chill ran up my spine as I looked at it, and I froze. I could picture someone sitting in there as Todd pulled out his razor, singing before he slit their throat. Blood, so much blood would decorate the floor before the body was disposed of and then turned into a meat pie.
Shaking off the dark thoughts I decided to keep looking around, out of curiosity, before I had to clean up. I approached the black box and picked up a small piece of plywood, looking at it.
“There’s still so much wood to be used for-” BANG! I suddenly heard a loud jumbled sound of piano keys, and dropped the piece of wood at my feet. It was as if someone had just slammed their hands down on it. Whipping my head around, I squinted into the dark as I started for the stage. There was another pounding on the keys; soon it was one after and another, pound after pound. As I walked onto the stage, I could make out someone sitting at the piano, smashing their hands on the keys.
“Harrison you scared the shit out of me!” I started to yell, storming closer. The pounding suddenly stopped and before I could yell again a bright light was shining on me. I turned, and saw the light getting closer, bouncing as Harrison jogged down the aisle of the seats, staring at me.
“What the hell are you yelling for?” He asked, shooting me a confused look. My eyes turned to look at the piano, and I saw that there was nobody there. I looked back at Harrison with my jaw slightly dropping; another chill danced its way up my spine. As much as I didn’t want to, I asked Harrison if he heard the piano. He just looked at me before laughing, telling me that a joke as cliché as that wasn’t going to work. Since I didn’t feel like arguing about it, I laughed and told him I was trying to scare him. But in reality, I was scared. Was someone really playing the piano, and managed to sneak away before I could see them leave? Or was I simply seeing and hearing things?
The next couple of days nothing like that happened, we simply cleaned the lobby, the auditorium seats, and most of the halls. On the fifth day, my Uncle assigned Harrison the job of cleaning the bathrooms and checking to see if he could get the water running. I was assigned to organize, clean backstage, disposing of anything we didn’t need. I didn’t want to be alone back there, but what would my excuse be? That I have the heebie-jeebies? I scoffed; yeah of course I’d sound so stupid saying that. So despite feeling uncomfortable I just put in my headphones and proceeded to go backstage to start cleaning.
I started to throw things like pieces of wood that we wouldn’t be able to use into the trash, and would dust off the counters they were left on. While I was sweeping up wood dust, I started to hum just to keep myself entertained. The humming kept me relaxed for a little while, and after I finished sweeping and all the wood was in a trash, I pulled out the headphones and stopped humming to look around at my work. However, the humming didn’t stop. Somebody was still humming and although it was muffled I could hear that it was definitely the same song I had just been humming. Quickly I turned on the flashlight and slowly moved around the room, listening as the humming got closer. In the back of the room, shrouded in darkness was a door, one I hadn’t noticed before. With the light on, I could see the words ‘My Way In’ written on it in white paint. The humming was coming from inside the room, someone was inside that room. Goosebumps formed on my arms as I reached a hand to the door knob. Abruptly the humming stopped, my fingertips barely brushing the doorknob. Mustering all my courage I twisted it, and let out a sigh of relief when I noticed it was locked. And yet curiosity was still bubbling inside me, egging me on to get that door open and see who- or what- was inside.
“Harrison will have the key for it,” I muttered as I backed away slowly. However when I asked him and he followed me back, not a single key worked. He explained that maybe they needed to make a new key, or could break down the door some other time. Hesitantly, I told him about the humming, and he said that there was probably some animal trapped inside, but not to worry because the door was locked. It put me at ease, knowing that the door was locked, but whenever I worked near the black box or backstage, I could still hear the humming. Sometimes it would sound as though they were humming directly in my ear and I would feel cold air dancing across my neck and upper back. Of course when I’d turn around, petrified, nothing was there. I started to hate going, and when Vernon came I told him to get the lights working as soon as he could.
By the end of the second week, we finally had working lights. Vernon said that they should be working fine, since not much needed to be fixed and only a few had been frayed. And yet whenever I would walk into a room, a hall, especially backstage, they’d flicker. Sometimes they’d shut off completely for a minute or two before coming back on, and it was only when I was alone. I asked Vernon and Harrison if that happened to them, but they both said no. I started to feel uneasy, as if someone was watching everything I did and that no matter where I went in that place they followed me. The last day I was there, I had painted every single wall in the place except for the ones in the black box. Hauling my two cans of paint, my tarps and my roller, I slowly walked into the room. No flickering lights, no humming, and the feeling of being watched was suddenly gone. That negative energy I had felt this whole time vanished.
I should have been relieved, but something about everything going away so fast only worried me more. But, nevertheless I continued painting, until all the cracks and worn out paint was covered in fresh black paint. I stepped back to take a look, and opened my mouth to tell myself how good of a job I did when I heard a clang. Looking down at my feet, I saw black paint pooling around my sneakers, the can knocked over.
“Harrison?” I asked, even though I knew it wasn’t him. A sudden strong scent, metallic and thick, hit my nose causing me to gag. That’s when I heard it, the humming, someone was humming again. I fully turned to look at the door, and dropped my brush when I saw the door was wide open. My eyes moved about, trying to think of reasonable explanations as to how it opened without me hearing it or seeing it, but at this point I felt so paranoid that it didn’t matter how it opened... From what I could see, it was a costume closet. Carefully I made my way over to it, my mind was screaming at me to just turn away and get Vernon or Harrison and have them check it out. But my body had other plans.
With a single flick I turned on the lights, and peeked inside. The smell was even stronger in here, making my stomach churn, but I couldn’t see anything that would make it smell this bad. As I slowly stepped inside, the door swung shut behind me with a loud bang and I heard a click. Before I could react the lights shut off and I reached for my flash light but froze. A sound echoed through the room, it sounded almost like a bird was flying around, desperately looking for an exit. My head was spinning, and the darkness was slowly replaced with blinding bright lights, until all I could see was white…
I was standing on a stage, looking out at an almost empty auditorium. There was on person sitting front and center, and I had just finished singing. In my shaking hands was a piece of paper, the sheet music for ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’. As I made my way off the stage, I saw people standing by, glaring at me. Some even looked disgusted to see me, moving away so they wouldn’t have to touch me as I walked by.
Every rehearsal I can hear what they say about me. Every. Single. Word.
“She’s so creepy, all she does is stare at people unless she’s singing...”
“She only got the part because she fucked him.”
“What a slut!”
“Her roommate says she never talks, and always sits up there alone.”
“I heard that she’s like, a witch or something.”
“What a loser.”
“A cheap, no talent, slut of a freshman.”
They left me there on the stage that night, a single light above me as I cried, blocking my ears as best as I could to try and shut out their words. But they echoed through my head over and over. A shadow loomed over me, and I curled up tighter, whimpering loudly.
“Shh shh, it’s okay Birdy,” I heard a voice whisper to me and I nearly jumped in fright. I looked up and saw Beaumont smiling down at me. He held out a hand, and when I didn’t take it he stomped his foot angrily. Immediately I stood up, my eyes wide with fear. No, no not again please, no more. “I’ll take care of you, pet.” Hands, his dirty, filthy hands were touching me. They ran up and down my body, and I knew it was going to happen again. “Sing for me, Birdy.” I closed my eyes…
And waited for it to end.
There’s a crowd now, I’m no longer just singing in front of Beaumont and the cast I’ve grown to despise. I sit on a small window bench, looking out of the window at the fake street, pretending to sew. My eye keep darting to the cage beside me, where a real Linnet flutters around, staring at me. I too wish to be free, little bird. Free from the hate I get here, free from Beaumont, free from my loneliness. Where is my way out of my cage?
Green finch, Linnet Bird, Nightingale and Blackbird;
How is it you sing?
How can you jubilate in cages?
Never taking wing?
I can feel all their eyes on me, every last one of them staring at me. Wanting me to entrain them like the songbird they think I am. Not. Any. More.
My scene has ended, and I am terrified. I clutch the birdcage in my arms and run backstage, and to my surprise no one is there. Everyone is probably watching from the sides, no one cares where Johanna goes, where Birdy goes. I release the Linnet bird, and watch as it flies about, nearly flying into my head. Startled I bump into a small can of paint, the white pooling down and around my old fashioned boots. I dip my shaking hands in and scrawl on the door of the costume closet. I close it as I walk in, and look around until I see the box I had hidden so carefully.
Inside the box, wrapped in silk, is a real razor.
It ends now.
If I cannot fly, let me sing.
With a final bright flash I find myself lost in the darkness again, shaking uncontrollably. What….what did I just see? The sound of wings flapping brought my attention back to my situation. Suddenly not wanting to stick around anymore, I fumbled for my flashlight, desperately trying to turn it back on. As soon as the light came on, I wished it hadn’t. It suddenly wasn’t just one bird, flying around. It was at least a dozen, and it seemed as though more were appearing every few seconds. Before I could do anything they swarmed around me, pecking and singing their little songs at the top of their lungs, their tiny talons leaving bloody marks on my arms. Pressing myself against the door, in between the perfect clutter of wings and beady little eyes, I could see the wall ahead of me.
The words ‘My Way Out’ were written in a mix of white paint and blood.
And… entwined in the walls… were three bodies…
Their eyes were gouged out and their jaws nearly falling off, as a few bird perched on their broken jaws, pecking at the missing eyes. It looked as though the walls had tried to swallow the bodies; mangling them and making them part of the construction. One face I recognized as Beaumont’s.
Those…faces…those permanent screams…
I… need… to… get… out
As I let out a horrified scream, and…that’s when I can see her…standing in front of the bodies and in the middle of the mess of birds. Her light blonde hair was almost floating around her, her skin pale and her eyes sunken, the blue in her eyes seemed cold, unforgiving. Her skin seemed cracked and her blue Victorian style dress was stained with blood almost as black as her boots. There are a few cuts on her wrists, and one long red line going down her throat vertically.
She holds up her hands, and quietly whispers, “Larks never sing, you know, when they’re captive. This was my way out…” With that she grabs at the red line and slowly began to tear open her throat. Blood, all this black blood, began to trickle down her pale neck and staining the dress with bloody patterns. When it had been completely torn in half, she reached inside her throat, and with a vicious tug she yanked at something. More blood poured from her mouth, dripping down onto her chest as she held something in her hand. Her bloody, ripped vocal chords… dangling in her hand…
The door suddenly flew open behind me and I fell onto my back, scampering away and still screaming. Hands grabbed me and I nearly swatted them off, but it was just Harrison and Vernon. Before they could ask what happened I pointed to the closet, but when I looked… it was all gone…
The birds were gone…
The bodies were gone…
Birdy was gone….
All that was left were the words… ‘My Way Out’….
Now, a week later… I… I can’t help but feel trapped. Everywhere I go I can feel eyes, all these eyes on me… I just… I can’t take it anymore! Sometimes I start to go crazy; I can feel dozens of tiny beaks pecking at my skin. It itches so I scratch it, sometimes I scratch too hard and I start to bleed.
I can’t leave home anymore, but even there…I’m being watched. My cage has many rooms, but now I’m confined to one. They keep me locked up here, saying that they’re “worried” for me, that they “care.” No one cares. Why should they? I’m not their daughter. I’m alone in this world, I have no one.
There’s a bird outside my window…a Linnet Bird…
A beautiful…Linnet Bird….
And it’s singing…it’s singing to me.
“…Outside the sky waits… beckoning… beckoning… just beyond the bars…”
I can hear someone singing along with it…her voice is so beautiful… and it’s telling me... “The window, the window.”
She’s telling me my way out….