Aliza had heard the stories of the old theatre.

Needless to say, she did not believe in them. They were but flights of fancy, created by the boredom-dulled minds of children in desperate need of some kind of adventure, of thrills, as children seem to so often require, and without anything to occupy their time, it seemed only natural that they would turn to swapping tall tales over a can of beer and a joint. Aliza scoffed at their juvenile stupidity and laughed at their pathetic stories, for she considered herself a woman of science, of cold facts and hard evidence. Not for her were the childish fables, the baseless beliefs.

And yet, here she was. Stood in front of the very building from which all of the tales stemmed, much to her amusement. It was a worthless waste of brick and mortar, council money poured into a failed attempt to ‘bring culture to the town’, instead of putting it into what Aliza considered more productive areas. It was, in her eyes, an abomination, the once gaudy paint now blackened to a sickly pallor which was pocked with red brick here and there, the overly lavish decorations crumbling and falling to the pavement below in a fine ash. The windows covered in filth, both of the literal and metaphorical kind, a contemptuous huff the only noise she made as she surveyed the posters that somehow still hung there, defying the very element that had forced the closure.

As was to be expected, there was no light inside, save for the glow of her torch and the faint reminiscence of sunlight that forced itself between the cracks in the door. She did her best to ignore the way her feet seemed to stick to the carpet, crunching down amidst discarded cigarettes, empty beer cans and Lord knows what other disease-ridden refuse lurked amongst the stained debris. Her light danced across empty ticket booths, sending shadows dancing across the walls like the shades of long-passed customers, come to partake of the fine arts. Finally, the beam of luminescence fell upon the doors, blackened wood inlaid with gold, ajar just enough for the light to disappear into the deep gloom that lurked beyond them, the gloom that was her destination.

For beyond those doors lay the dance hall. Such a vast room, so vast that her house could snugly sit inside and there would still remain ample room for more. Pride of place was the stage, at least six feet from the main floor if her inability to see above it was an accurate enough measure, the ghosts of curtains hanging down on either side. Beneath her feet, the floor still retained some of its former glory, for it still managed to reflect her light even with the layer of black that covered it in areas, and on either side were rows of tables, each set as if ignorant of the theatre’s tragedy, just waiting for another night of revelry and merriment.

A night that would never come.

She could not prevent the sigh escaping her lips as she flung her bag down on one of the tables, contents protesting her rough handling with a sharp rustle and a clink, nose itching from the smell that still lingered after so many years. It was only for a few hours, Aliza told herself, then she could return to the warmth of her bed.

That was the thought running through her head as she sunk into the chair and buried her face in her bag, eyes drooping from the apathy that coursed through her mind. Just a few hours…

It was not the noise that stirred her from her sleep, no. It was the sudden influx of light, so bright and intrusive that her mind reeled from the shock of having been waken so sharply, hand held up to protect her eyes as they adjusted to the unexpected change. When they had adapted, the realisation sent her mind for another spin, denying what was in front of her now. The lights of the stage were lit, pointing directly at her for the longest of moments before swinging away and back to the stage, a crossed beam of impossibility. How could the lights be on when the power was gone, lost with the closing of the theatre?

Then her mind grasped onto an idea: this was a prank. It could be nothing else. Her so-called friends playing a game on her, that was all. If so, then they must have lured in someone with a special talent for cinematic effects, for the shadows that now seemed to fill every chair were of a particularly high quality, so that they seemed almost substantial, like if she reached out then she would find her hand meeting cloth and flesh.

The gentle tap-tap-tap drew her attention from the shadows and unto the stage, the spectacle before her eliciting an involuntary gasp, for now the stage was occupied. A lone figure claimed the spotlight, and it was the appearance of this new arrival that had caused her exclamation. They did not seem of this world, so elegant and graceful were the movements of that lithe form, hair so pale as to be nearly white cascading down around the silken robes, and though the light made it difficult to see the figure’s face, she could tell that it was looking directly at her.

Slowly, it brought that which it held up to its shoulder, and the first notes of the violin sang out across the room, bringing with them an instantaneous ripple through the crowd of black, shadows taking to their feet and making their way to the floor. As the melody continued, Aliza could only watch in dumbfounded disbelief as the stories, stories of the shadowed congregation who danced by moonlight to the songs of an angel, came to life before her very eyes, the shadows waltzing and swaying to the beauty of the music as it flowed all around them.

Even as she felt her own feet begin to tap expectantly, as if trying to draw her into the dance, her mind drew her back, back to that tragic night, how the fire had reached so high up into the night sky that even she had seen it, from her home on the other end of town, only learning the next day that it was not just the theatre that the fire had claimed, the days of pain and sorrow that wracked the town for so long after. Something, some distant part of her, knew that if she gave in, she would join the shadows that now danced before her, even as the rest of her mind screamed that it was not real, could not possibly be real.

Aliza barely felt herself begin to move, first slowly, but gaining momentum with every step as she flew for the door, the music still pouring out around her, enticing her to join the dance with either beat of her heart, every pull of the bow over strings. The impact, then the sharp crash as the charred wood gave way before her, threw her to the floor, and that was where she stayed, gasping for air in the silence. It was several agonizing seconds before she dared to look back, half-expecting the shadows to be crowded around her, ready to claim her for themselves.

But the hall was empty.

Slowly, painfully, she pushed herself to her feet, eyes never leaving the door as she crept back to the main entrance, all thoughts turned only to getting out of there as quickly as possible. She did not even realise until she had already collided with the figure that she was not as alone as she had thought, and the abrupt stop caused her to turn, eyes going wide as she registered what was before her.

The pale figure made no sound as it–he? She? Aliza could not tell–gazed at her, eyes of green looking out from the halo of pale gold. Slowly it reached up, and Aliza flinched away, eyes closed in fearful acceptance, only for her to feel her hand gently opened, before something was pushed into her palm and her fingers naturally closed around the strap of her bag. She looked back as the figure put a finger to its smile in a universal gesture, then glided past her and back into the hall, doors creaking shut behind it.

When the next day came and her friends confronted her about her night, all they received in return was silence.

Rebecca Robinson

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