User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active

Stories take shape in the shadows.

They start as ideas, tiny seeds in the depths of human minds, quietly being written while life happens. Most of these stories mature with time, a string of moments repeated and passed on like a child’s game of telephone, powered by the voices who share them. As such, sometimes these stories get turned around, rewritten by every lip they pass through.

And maybe that’s how this one started.

In 1935, Martin Elwood, a well-known actor in the Boston theatre scene, died unexpectedly after a performance of Six Characters in Search of an Author. The stage manager found him unresponsive, slouched forward in his chair and still dressed in his suit and fedora. The brim rested just over his eyes, as if he were taking a nap.

After an extensive investigation, Elwood’s death was ruled to be caused by something that surprised many. Martin Elwood died from an underlying heart condition, you see, one that Martin had kept secret from his burgeoning legion of fans. A devastated public mourned the loss of the up-and-coming star and what was destined to be an excellent career.

The tragedy of Martin Elwood has persisted for decades, taking on a life of its own, the myth of the man and what could have been. His story transformed the history of the theatre he resided in, with many believing his soul still roamed the halls. However, other, more anonymous, spirits also called this place their home, although Martin’s name was the only one ever uttered by the living.

A strange presence. A sudden breeze. A disembodied voice. But the thing is, no one ever sees them.

Except her.

Anyone else might have called Luz a floor lamp, frankly, but actors, like Martin, knew better. She was a ghost light, and when the stars winked hello she truly lived up to her name. However, during the day, Luz was the one who offered safe passageway through the crossovers, the narrow spaces actors traversed to reach their places as the curtain rose. Their footsteps were recollections of every other time they’ve followed her light to the other side of the stage. Once safely across, they’d thank her, like she was just as crucial to their performance.

Tonight, as the last bits of applause die on the air, Martin watches from his perch in the catwalks as someone sets Luz centerstage. Her long, brass stand poses proudly while her tail trails along the floor and they plug her in. Her light, seemingly sacred, is guarded by a brass cage to keep her bulb from shattering should she ever be accidentally toppled.

Luz flickers to life, but then all at once, when the final breath leaves the building. The light an open sign for the guests who come at night. And, as if on cue, a few shades step through the walls, eager to enjoy the solitude of the space.

Martin trails his fingers along the metal railing of the catwalk and skirts around the auditorium, striding along the walls, before finally stepping onto the stage, his large feet creaking the floor as he walks around. He’s dressed in a suit and tie, a gray fedora pressed tightly against his chest.

Leading with his heels, Martin paces around Luz, and asks if she could help him. She listens quietly, readying herself to support him in his evening endeavors. He reaches forward, and his fingers phase through her bulb. Luz flickers delicately at his touch, her gentle glow intensifying ever so slightly. He smiles, nodding in approval.

Martin stops in his tracks and centers himself. He bows his head, the fedora dangling precariously between his fingertips, as he quietly mumbles under his breath. His words are for himself, memories from a distant past, but Luz recognizes his mutterings as lines from his final show. This one she’s heard on several occasions. He mentions being someone who remains unrealized.

Martin rolls his shoulders and lifts his head. He exhales slowly. A handful of spirits lower themselves into seats expectantly, having felt a chill sweep over the room. They know what’s about to happen and every time it’s decadent, a treat for their souls.

Slowly, methodically, he lifts the fedora and sets it atop his head. A beat. Then, with long, focused strides, he thrusts himself downstage and begins. Martin’s voice dances in a melodic cadence, just as entrancing as it was in life. It booms for those beyond the shadows.

The air is still as if someone’s holding their breath. His presence is impressive.

Suddenly, a door opens somewhere in the depths of the theatre. Martin freezes mid sentence. He frowns, his stomach dropping like an elevator shaft. Again. Unfinished.

Martin turns to look, his mask betraying the disappointment that bubbled underneath. He glances at Luz, her light dimming somewhat when she feels the shift in Martin’s demeanor. Some spirits follow his gaze curiously while others dissipate into a grainy haze. Soon a light floods the room and reveals the silhouette of a young stagehand.

With lifted shoulders and a trembling hand, the stagehand clicks on a flashlight and shines it over the velvet rows of seats. He blinks, a sense of unease settling into his bones, as if he’s being watched. Unbeknownst to him, he was, but of course he couldn’t see them. To him, the theatre was empty, save for Luz’s firefly glow.

He sets foot on the stage, the wood wincing beneath his heel. He flinches, and his eyes thoroughly scan the stage. As the man’s gaze passes through him, Martin realizes he recognizes this particular individual. This was the new kid. Just the other day, the other stagehands were informing him about how the theatre was haunted. About how he, Martin Elwood, still frequented its halls. The kid hadn’t believed them.

Maybe tonight he would.

Martin, who has shrunk back into the wings of the stage, waits, holding his breath as the man walks by. He’s careful to move or breathe for fear of spooking him. Elwood may have been a ghost himself, but he didn’t take simple pleasure in troubling souls. He much preferred to enlighten others about his existence through more artistic means, so to speak.

The man looks around for anything out of place. A strange presence. A sudden breeze. A disembodied voice.

Wordlessly, Martin glances at Luz, a knowing twinkle in his eye. She winks at him.

The young man freezes when the ghost light flickers within the darkened theatre. Licking his lips, he lifts the flashlight in her direction and shines it upon her already generous light. While he’s distracted, Martin moves through the curtain, the subtle movement fanning the fabric like a whisper. A sudden thud echoes, breaking the silence.

With a panicked hand, the stagehand scrambles for his dropped flashlight. He clutches it to his chest, his heart thundering in his ears. Martin walks purposefully along the edge of the stage. Heel to toe, heel to toe. The wood enunciates a groan with each stride. The stagehand gasps as the groans grow louder upon Martin’s approach.

With one final heel to toe, he stops, inches from the man. Martin takes a deep, steadying inhale, seemingly siphoning the air nearby. A chill sweeps over the man. He shivers. His neck hairs hiss like a cat. The fear carries him back over the edge of the stage and into one of the front row seats.

Unfinished. Again. If it was going to be that way, then he was at least going to get his finale and give this kid one hell of a story to tell.

Martin releases the breath he was holding, his body shaking with anticipation, and hits his mark centerstage. His back is against Luz. He faces the audience.

For a moment, nothing. And then suddenly, everything. He throws his head back, opens his mouth wide, and releases the monologue from the beginning once more, the words cascading like a rushing faucet. He beats his chest, exclaiming the pivotal dialogue of the scene.

If air could fill his ghostly lungs it would have as his voice carries over the deadened room. His movements are simple yet sharp in execution. The room feels electric. It buzzes with life. Martin’s hold is tight, a white-knuckled fist wrapping around his enraptured audience. Even Luz is compelled to lean in, to give him a little more light than she usually offered her evening clientele.

And as Martin performs, the boy’s eyes widen and his breath lodges in his throat. Maybe it was a trick of the eye, but he could have sworn he saw the faint silhouette of a man against the backdrop of Luz’s glow, his large body enveloped in an embrace of light. The silhouette appeared motionless, but every so often it’d move, a startling reminder that maybe it was all real.

For you see, a shadow is an absence of light, and, although he was a part of them, Martin Elwood was no longer tethered to those darkened corners of existence. For a moment, one star-shattering moment, he was freed of them.

Elwood made it impossible to look away. Power filled his body; passion engulfed him. And for a moment, the world stopped. And the moment was about him. The eyes were on him. The breathlessness was about him. He mattered. He would get his moment, the one that death took away and, although he was never a literary man he recognized the irony, the one that death gave back.

As Martin reaches the end of the scene, his voice dips in that self-assured yet self-deprecating way he was known for. To the audience members beyond the earthly realm, their ears echo with awe, having bared witness to something extraordinary. To the one tied to a living soul, his ears echo with a paragraph of whispers, words having overlapped each other until it was a cacophony.

The man’s throat has since gone dry, and he rises from his seat, the flashlight falling from his grasp and the cushion squeaking as it folds shut. He flinches and backs away down the aisle, his eyes transfixed on the ghost light. His eyes water, but he refuses to blink, uncertain of what could await him when he opens them again. Swallowing the dry lump in his throat, the man draws his gaze away and leaves without another glance. The flashlight sits forgotten on the floor.

As the door locks, Luz dims her light to her usual firefly glow, having rather enjoyed how the evening unfolded. It was always a thrill getting the chance to play a supporting role in an actor’s performance. It tickled her filaments.

Martin slowly places the fedora on his head and turns towards Luz with a ghost of a smile. It was like they had been scene partners working in tandem, like shared dialogue as they evoked a deep-seeded emotion from the beating heart.

The memory pulses through his veins, searing itself on his soul. He sighs deeply.

Martin nods once and inclines his hat towards her. “Thank you, Luz,” he says, his voice low and whispery. Luz flushes, her glow reminiscent of a blush, as she acknowledges the compliment.

“Some other day then?” He winks. She winks back.

They both knew the young man would return. Or if not him, someone else like him would come, intrigued by the notion of a haunted theatre, only to leave with a ghost of an idea. A tickle in the back of their mind.

This idea that would weave itself into a story, a story matching some but not all that have been previously told. Tales compounded onto the next. Yet there was one thing withstanding, the cornerstone that held each individual story together until it became a tapestry.

The stories were true. 

Martin Elwood was alive and well.


Jaimee Alonso-Lundheim is a Filipino-Spanish American teacher and writer. She is currently a kindergarten teacher in the Seattle area and moonlights as a writer in the evenings. Jaimee currently has a couple of short stories published with Sad Girl Diaries and Wingless Dreamer Publisher. One of her poems was recently deemed a contest finalist in Wingless Dreamer Publisher's most recent anthology. You can find Jaimee on Instagram at: jaimee.alonso where she shares her love for life, her dogs, and nerdy things.


Donate a little?

Use PayPal to support our efforts:


Genre Poll

Your Favorite Genre?

Sign Up for info from Short-Story.Me!

Stories Tips And Advice