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Posts Tagged ‘creepy dolls’

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.

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Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Two

In Theatre on August 9, 2017 at 11:56 am

(If you don’t know what happened, start here.)

Day Two: Wednesday, 19 July 2017

I’m always astonished when a Bay Area native says, “Woodminster? Where is that? I never heard of Woodminster.” Believe me, actors, singers and dancers know all about it. The shows we’ve done there attain a burnished glow in the memories of those bold souls who braved the cold, foggy summer nights to see us perform. There’s something special about Woodminster.

My first direct experience of Woodminster was seeing Ken Ross as Mayor Shinn in The Music Man sometime in the early 90’s – probably summer of 1993. Ken was one of my instructors at Las Positas College in Livermore, and had directed me in my first musical (Into The Woods, 1993, I was Cinderella’s Prince), so seeing him onstage was a treat. Things that stood out for me in that production: Ken, tall to begin with, looked even taller from the back of a 2,000 seat amphitheatre. There was a live pony or horse pulling the Wells Fargo Wagon, and it seemed to be disturbed – perhaps by the loud music – and had to be removed, kicking and screaming, from the stage. The third thing that stood out to me was the girl who played Zaneeta, Mayor Shinn’s daughter. There was something disturbing about her eyes, even from the back of the house. She smiled and stuff, but there was a strangeness to her. Little did I know how that strangeness would come to affect me.

The second time I saw a show at Woodminster was years later, after attaining my BFA at The Boston Conservatory and stumbling into a teaching job in Dublin, California – just down the road from Livermore. One of my students ended up in a production of Annie at Woodminster, and I went to see it. Veronica and I sat in sleeping bags on the hard plastic seats, we ate cheese and crackers and meats, we drank a few bottles of wine. The cold did not affect us, and the show was lovely.

I missed the auditions for Les Mis in 2014 because I was in a state of deep mental and emotional distress, teetering on the brink of self-destruction. I would have aimed for Javert or Valjean. I suspect I might have been a contender for Thenardier.

It’s always fascinating to experience the stage of a theatre where you’ve seen big shows. In this case, the warped boards of the stage itself, the occasional coffee can light hanging from what appears to be a cloth-wrapped wire with a single incandescent bulb glowing inside. The logo of the can is barely discernible beneath decades of rust. But it works. So it stays. Not unlike Woodminster itself.

This, our second night of rehearsal, consisted of reviewing the blocking of the previous night and continuing from where we’d left off. I’m obsessively early, so I arrived around 6 pm to find Josh Marx about to work on his music for the show in the men’s dressing room – which is where Daniel holds all of his small or individual music rehearsals. They roll a small piano into and then back out of the dressing room for this purpose. When we’re running the show, this piano is rolled to the stage. During the day, Daniel gets a large umbrella over him. Now that the orchestra has been moved to the stage, it seems we will need to keep large umbrellas on hand at night as well, for the freak thunderstorms that plague the occasional opening weekend.

When I saw Josh Marx, I demanded to know where Engels was. He got the joke, and I dropped my stuff on a couch before heading back up to the terrace above the men’s dressing room. I stood in the same spot and peered out at the thicket where I’d seen the mask. It was a hot day, barely a breeze. The branches didn’t move at all. I saw a trail running up the slope, right next to the theatre. Two ways to get there: down to the stage door entrance and down around the fountains on the back of the theatre, then up the slope – or up the steps to the top of the seats where the audience makes their entrance. I headed up because it looked easier.

Two tall, barbed-wire topped chain link gates stood between me and the trail beyond. I walked closer to see if perhaps the locks on the gates were not fully fastened, but – perhaps luckily for all of us – there was no way through.

I was about to head back down to the stage and take the long way when I saw something up the trail, almost out of sight around the corner. In a patch of deep shadow beneath tall trees stood a lone figure. Its exact features and shape were indistinct, as it was clad in a color which blended well with the inky blue of hot evening shade. It appeared to be tall, of that I felt certain. I wouldn’t have noticed it at all were it not for the object it held in its left hand, thrust out of shadow into bright golden sunlight.

It was a baby doll.

It had a cloth body and realistic plastic head, arms and legs. From that distance there appeared to be markings on its face. I wished I’d had my backpack with me, as I keep a pair of birding binoculars handy. The eyes of the doll appeared to be missing, and the cloth body was stained a deep rust brown. As though it had been doused with chocolate milk.

Or blood.

The hand holding the doll tilted it from side to side. A sound came from the figure, panting – only more rhythmic. I realized it was singing – or keening – a chant. I caught these words:

“Mister Place, Mister Place, [something something] get your face.

Mister guts, spilled in ruts, [something something something] butts …”

I reached for my phone to zoom in and get video.

From behind me a voice: “Edward?”

I damn near jumped out of my skin, whirling and fumbling for my phone before catching it.

It was a member of the build crew. He seemed amused at my jumpiness. “Judy’s looking for you. She’s got a note about props.”

I pointed back through the gates. “Do you see anything over there?”

We both peered at the darkness beneath the trees.

The figure was gone.

I fully intended to head down around the fountains and up the trail to that spot, but social and theatrical necessities took my attention. The next time I thought about it was well after dark. We were nearing a break, the ideal time to explore the darkened hillside. Several ensemble men had just bolted to the stage, late for their entrance on a second run of Bloody Mary. I was the only one in the men’s dressing room.

A noise came from outside the window in the wall farthest from the door. The window, frosted wire mesh glass, was open a crack. The noise sounded like a dying, asthmatic calf. I moved closer and listened. The noise came again, something familiar in its rhythm.

I tried to crank the window open further, but it wouldn’t budge.

The noise came again and I recognized it: a broken, distorted toy voice box was saying, “Ma-ma, Ma-ma …,” trailing off into a wheezing moan.

I leaned close to the window to see if there was anything discernible in the darkness below.

Something slammed against the glass. I leapt back, knocking over chairs and falling over an old leather couch. Struggling to my feet, I saw it through the frosted glass: the baby doll, its face stitched like a crazy quilt baseball.

From the darkness beyond came the same rhythmic keening I’d heard from the trees up the trail. In spite of the evening’s heat – it was 72 degrees outside – I was chilled to the bone.

I left the dressing room. Better to be near people – even if they were onstage and I was just off, just out of the light, trying to drown in music the memory of the keening voice and the wheezing baby doll.

We were released at 9:35. I walked straight to my car and turned on the heater. Loud jazz all the way home.

I’m not so sure I want to explore that slope anymore.