ewhightower

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Three

In Theatre, Writing on August 10, 2017 at 11:52 am

(If you are confused, start here.)

Day Three: Thursday, 20 July 2017

When I returned to Woodminster from the Trevarno District of Livermore, Admiral Judy called me into her office. It’s just off the main office backstage, near the stage door. She said, “Here’s your paycheck, Ed. Don’t lose it on the slippery slope of curiosity.” She waved her hand in the general direction of stage left, the men’s dressing room … and the slope. Her eyes came to rest, I remember, on an old newspaper clipping pinned to the bulletin board behind me.

“Some people like to look for mysteries where there are none, Ed. When they do, they write conversations that never happened. Look: this conversation, right now, never happened. You’re making it up. And that’s exactly what I’ll tell anyone who asks. You’re a talented writer. Not an investigative reporter. Go. No. Further.” With each of those last three words, Judy thumped her index finger on the yellowed, faded article. Then she stared at me, silent, for a full ten seconds before leaving the office.

I took a picture; the article is transcribed below:

July 6, 1952
Montclair, CA

Local Girls Missing
by Ginger Trancas

A missing persons report has been filed for Louise Archer and Bess Tremaine, both Sophomores at Piedmont High. They were last seen on Castle Drive in Montclair on the evening of July 4, wearing shorts and sneakers and matching blue gingham tops. Anyone with information should call Officer Bill Whiting with the Piedmont Police Detectives [faded to a smudge here]

It is not known at this time whether sightings of a lone figure among the trees of Joaquin Miller Park are in any way related to the girls’ disappearance. Most residents in the neighborhood attribute these sightings to high school pranksters, but local florist Betsy Hillebrandt tells another story. “I saw it clear as day,” says Hillebrandt. “I was gathering eucalyptus for my arrangements. [faded into a smudge here, too] about fifteen yards away from me. Just watching. Gave me the chills.” When asked what it looked like, the flighty florist fumbles. “Well, it was tall,” she says. “Its face looked pale, but I couldn’t see clearly. It was almost dark. But it was holding some[faded, smudged]

“Nothing to be concerned about,” says Officer Whiting. “Mysterious figures in the trees could be shadows, could be hobos. There’s no definitive proof that the girls went anywhere near any ‘mysterious [faded, smudged] saw what Mrs. Hillebrandt describes, wouldn’t they just run away and holler at the top of their lungs?”

That’s one thing everybody who lives near the park can agree upon: for the first time in years, Joaquin Miller Park was silent on the 4th of July. “Not a single firecracker,” says Ed Proust, whose backyard is separated from the park by a low picket fence. First time I haven’t [smudged] hose ready for a fire in a decade. If those girls were screaming in there, we’d have heard them.”

“The girls could be at a friend’s house, and they both have cousins in Reno. There’s no knowing what they might get up to,” says Officer Whiting. “Speculation only fans the flames. We expect them home any time now.”

For the sake of the friends and families of Louise Archer and Bess Tremaine, we hope it’s sooner than later.

Setting aside the rampant editorializing and somewhat egregious alliteration, it was an informative article. A little too informative, in fact. I began to suspect I was being pranked. So convenient, this article — just sitting there, coincidentally tacked to the bulletin board in her office. I went in search of Judy, but every time I got close to her, she was called – or simply went – away.

Call me paranoid. I started watching everyone very closely. Did I see a hint of mischief behind Linnea’s smile? Was Joel intentionally not looking in my direction because he might laugh if we made eye contact? Was Johann laughing at me, or at something Bryan said? That seems unlikely – Bryan’s what we call, “destined for hammers.”

Retreating into my work, I doubled down on memorization. We ran what we’d staged, then continued staging the show to just after I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair – the only song in the R&H canon dedicated to cum.

I allowed my questions about the figure, the doll – and now, the disappearing girls – to be subsumed by the need to master my lines. By the end of the night, I’d concluded that it was all an ornate hazing ritual. This is my third year at Woodminster, perhaps this is how they test us at the end of a probationary period. Frankly, that’s what I would do if I had a theatre company. Which is why it’s probably better that I don’t.

With a lighter heart and a far less suspicious cloud hovering at the edges of my vision, I left rehearsal that night determined to get them all back. Something really clever, but simple. I chatted with Amanda for a bit before getting into my car, then sat listening to NPR and waiting for my phone to recharge enough to listen to Aaron Mahnke’s LORE podcast on the way home.

Charging my dead phone to 5% takes about five minutes. Someone back at the stage door was laughing. Occasional cars would pass my spot – the last on the right in the lower lot, if you’re looking at the lot from the stage door – as the remaining actors and staff went home. The laughter at the stage door continued intermittently – like someone was going, “Ha-Aa! Aaaaaahhhh,” every thirty seconds or so.

I saw the lights turn off, and Judy left about one minute afterward. My phone was at 4%.

There were still people laughing back at the stage door, so I decided I’d drive over there in a second to mock them for their late-night caterwauling. There was a pause on the radio, and in that silence, the laughter came again.

It sounded wrong. Like someone in pain.

I glanced back through the hatchback on my Prius, but the glass is tinted – it’s hard to see details that far away.

I rolled down both front windows to see my driver and passenger rear view mirrors better, putting the car in reverse, which starts it beeping. The radio was still on.

The laughter was much closer to my car now.

I turned the radio down, put the car in drive to stop the beeping, and turned to look back at the stage door, rolling down my back windows, too. I could see the stage door clearly now.

It was locked. There was nobody over there.

From the trees on the dark slope in front of my car came, “Ma-ma! Ma-MA! Ahhhahhhhhhhghhhhhssssss …”

I froze. I didn’t want to look.

“Ma-MA! Ma-MA! Ahhhahhaaahhhhhghlllllhhhhssssss …”

It was louder.

Closer.

I turned front.

It stood in the shadows, just down the slope from the front of my car, baby doll held out into the glow of the streetlights, tilting side to side.

My windows are down.

It took a step forward. More of its arm was exposed. Pale white flesh. I did not turn my headlights on. I didn’t want to see.

Throwing the car into reverse, I tried to speed backward. My emergency brake was still on. I slammed my foot into it – unlocking and re-locking the brake three times before it released.

Another step forward.

I zipped backward, braking to avoid slamming into the curb separating the lot from the slope. The figure turned toward me.

I tried to roll up the windows. They wouldn’t move. I looked at the control panel. I’d engaged the driver lock. In my car, it stops even me from rolling the windows up or down. Also, the cruise control has stopped working. Unrelated. Moving on:

I’d like to say I tossed a few witty bon mots before I got the windows up. Something like, “How’s this for a glass ceiling?” Or, “You know what they say, when the Lord closes a window …” Too wordy. Maybe, “Glass half full me once, shame on you!” Or maybe, “Listen, Precious, I don’t have the ring.

What I think I said was, “Holy fuck FUCK! Get the fuck, get the FUCK, GET THE FUCK –”

Giving up on the windows, I threw the car into drive and hit the gas, slamming into every pothole on the road out. I think Oakland Parks and Rec is aiming for a record. There are more holes in that road than in my plots. And that’s saying something.

I remembered to turn on my headlights as I was passing the Ranger Station at the top of the hill. I wondered if the rangers know anything about Dolly Lurker. Regardless, I didn’t get much sleep that night, my thoughts returning to the same image for hours:

I could be wrong. It was dark. I never turned on my headlights while it was in front of me.

I thought the figure was wearing blue gingham.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: