A Distant Goodnight
The stage was empty, the curtains closed and the props neatly stacked. All but the dressing room and the back stairs were in darkness and shadows. Most of the actors and stage hands had left soon after taking off costumes and tidying sets.
Betty, just back from a week’s holiday and just in time for the tonight’s show, having missed the 2 ‘o’ clock train from Leeds, thought that it was probably lack of rehearsal time that had sullied her performance tonight, either that or the mysterious disappearance of her lucky black tap shoes.
There was a strong smell of stale tobacco smoke and the air was cooling quickly. Old pipes groaned, floorboards creaked and windows rattled. West Wyke Little Theatre wasn’t a place to be alone, at night, if your sense of proportion was prone to distortion or your belief in the unnatural was anything but absent.
As Betty hurried to get changed she could hear Harry shuffling down the back stairs as he made his nightly rounds making sure doors and windows were locked and gas heaters were turned off. According to Harry, acting types had no common sense and were likely to leave cigarette butts smouldering away in ashtrays and flimsy costumes too near heaters. “Goodnight Harry” shouted Betty from the top of the stairwell; “I think I’m the last so I’ll drop the latch on the stage door.”
She heard a distant “Goodnight Betty” as she closed the door behind her.
Hurrying along Chapel Street, Betty clutched her scarf and collar tightly around her neck. The clippity-clop of her heels echoed around the terraced street. The echo accompanied by one, then several dogs howling and two cats wailing into the chilled, night air. She had arranged to meet Stan at the Old Nag’s Head around 10.15 pm for a drink before closing. Still annoyed that Stan didn’t offer to come and pick her up after the show, Betty wasn’t best pleased either that she had forgotten to pick up her cigarette case and lighter from the dressing room table before leaving. All things considered it had not been the most convivial of evenings so far.
The bar was quiet for a Saturday night with only a few regulars playing dominoes and righting the wrongs of the world at large. Betty spotted Stan at the far end of the bar huddled in conversation with a slim and grey looking fellow. “Stanley Brown you can buy me a large Gin and it after the night I’ve had,” grumbled Betty “who’s your friend?”
“Just a mate Betty love” replied Stan as his ‘mate’ scurried off towards the door giving only a cursory nod of his head as he pulled the brim of his Trilby down to cover his sunken grey eyes. Stanley ordered a couple of drinks.
“Well, aren’t you going to ask me?…” enquired Betty. “Stanley Duggan, I could swing for you at times, I’ve been away all week and you can’t even be bothered to ask me if I’ve had a nice time”.
“Have you had a nice time Betty love?” asked Stan.
“Ooo! You drive me crazy at times Stanley, now pass me my drink and give me a cigarette,” said Betty.
Stan passed Betty his cigarettes and reached behind the bar for a largish box wrapped in brown paper and tied loosely with string. “Here you are Betty, you say I never give you anything,” said Stan.
Betty was just lighting her cigarette and gasped with surprise making her eyes water and eyelids screw up tight. “What is it Stan,” asked Betty as the smoke cleared and a large grin grew across her face.
“Open it and see,” said Stan.
Betty tore at the string and paper with gusto and opened the box to find a new pair of silver satin tap shoes. “Oh Stan,” exclaimed Betty. “That’s where my shoes went, isn’t it?”
Stan went on to explain that he didn’t know what size shoe she took or what sort they were so whilst she’s been away he’d borrowed her tap shoes to get her some new ones. Betty was over the moon with her surprise present and stared star-struck into Stan’s eyes as he went on to tell her the trouble he’d gone to making sure that he was buying the right type and that his friend Bill had just dropped off the new ones as Betty came in the pub.
“Time gentlemen please” shouted the landlord. Betty and Stan drank the last dregs of their drinks and buttoned up their coats in readiness to face the chilled night air. “Why don’t we call for some fish and chips on the way home and whilst we’re at it I can drop these shoes off at the theatre and get my cigarettes,” said Betty.
“The theatre will be locked and I’ve got plenty of tobacco” replied Stan.
“Harry will be still there,” said Betty, “As I dropped the catch I could hear him shuffling along in his over-long trousers with his pockets stuffed with keys and screwdrivers, you know he never leaves until late”.
“You can’t have done,” said Stan, “don’t you know, haven’t you heard? They found Harry last Sunday at the bottom of the back stairs as dead as a doornail and as cold as ice”.
Betty shuddered as they stepped into the cool night air, dogs howled and cats wailed as Betty, quietly, retraced her steps of the evening’s events. A distant “goodnight Betty” sent a sharp, cold, chill down Betty’s spine, making her cling tightly with both hands to Stan’s arm as they made their way into the night.
Ghosts: A monologue from a disturbed mind
I was always haunted by ghosts. They came in many forms, some young, some old, some ageless, some weaker than others but most were powerful. They berated me, beat me, bullied me and bruised my young defenceless self. I could never work out why they came for me, why they haunted me, why they occupied my soul, and why they buried their evilness in every living cell in my body. They became part of me. They shaped my very existence, they are the ones to blame for what I am about to do.
It is the plan.
There are ghosts of past adventures teasing me with moments of joy, fun and anticipation, gone too soon. Fleeting and fading memories of lost innocence. Ghosts of a childhood pained with a loveless legacy. Past regrets taunting me with moments of shame, ongoing guilt and the never-ending cycle of asking why I let myself do the things I did? Ghosts of past love, hurting me with rejection, ridicule and regret, never knowing the true touch of love or feeling the rush as it envelops my brain and body. I have never felt love. I believe it only exists in the wishes of desperate fools and the weak. My mind is troubled by ghosts of things said and left unsaid, words or thoughts that were left festering deep inside a teenager who felt like a child inside but acted like a misguided, mixed-up and angry adult. So angry.
They deserve what is coming.
The trouble with ghosts is that they appear when you least want them. They poke and prod you, push and pull you. Ghosts are mean and rarely kind. I have always tried to dismiss them, ignore their harsh words, drown out their voices in my head. I scream inside to block them out, I joke on the outside to trivialise their presence, but they are intense and persistent. My words became gradually more acerbic, cruel and intended to harm. I cast off my filter and deliberately fail to protect those around me. If they want to be with me, then they have to accept my ghosts come along too. That is how it is. My ghosts accompany me and encourage me.
They know what I have to do.
It was only with my calculated wisdom and the passing years that I have realised; the more I become powerful, the less power my ghost can bear down on me. The stronger I become, the more resilience I show, the quieter my ghosts. They fade into the recesses of my mind. The times between liberation and incarceration lengthen, I am no longer tied and bound by my ghosts, my freedom beckons. I have become the ghost.
I will become your ghost…
As I search for you, you better watch out. I have experience of intense and knowledgable mentors, I know my craft, I know how best to become your ghost. Fear me, but never, ever ignore me. I will come for you.
I will find you…
- Footnote – In 1975, I went to work in a large Psychiatric hospital that had over 1750 patients. Many of them were long-stay, very damaged individuals and some were detained in forensic psychiatric secured facilities due to the nature of their illness, crime, their unpredictability and the unlikelihood they would ever be able to function in society again. Ghosts is inspired by some of those truly memorable but damaged individuals.
Ghouls – There’s a really creepy feeling in our house on a night
There’s a really creepy feeling in our house on a night, the sort that makes you shudder as you’re turning off the light. There are creaks and groans, and noises, sending tingles through your hair and it always makes you wonder what’ll get you on the stairs.
And have you ever had that feeling as you are getting into bed that a hairy arm might grab you around your ankle or your leg? So you dive into bed like lightning as your bedroom is icy cold but you never leave your foot out, in case anything grabs hold.
You lie there rigid and silent analysing every sound and you misinterpret shadows as you take a look around but after a while you relax and smile and you think “you big soft fool, you’re a grown adult not twelve and a half you shouldn’t be scared of ghosts and ghouls”.
Now don’t tell me you’ve never felt this way because you’re older, wise and strong because being scared is only natural and there’s nothing really wrong. So to those who believe there is only dust and fluff lurking beneath their bed, go on, tonight I dare you…
dangle out your leg.