Like I’ve said during my Friday posts: I’ve been busy at work planning for Summer Reading. What does that mean? It means I don’t have a lot of time to write–at least, not write chapters in my current stories that I think are up to the quality they should be. And yet it is story day on the schedule, so… quite a dilemma. But then I thought it might be fun to try my hand at some “flash fiction.” It would be a good writing exercise for me and still (hopefully) provide an enjoyable read. So I found a prompt and challenged myself to write that story in only 500 words or less.
Prompt: A nighttime walk. Where is the destination? And why is your character goin there?
This was the route: through Ridgeview Cemetery, behind the houses on Ross Avenue, and then a sharp left on Buckcreek Road. That brought Nate right to the Ascher Theater. The houses on Buckcreek Road were perfect. (All small towns have at least ONE street with perfect houses.) Nate’s house certainly wasn’t perfect, so he didn’t live on Buckcreek Road. He lived on Dahlia Drive, with the Ridgeview Cemetery directly behind his house. Most people wouldn’t have liked the location, but Nate thought it was perfect.
There were a few things everyone knew about Nate. First, he was weird. Second, he was the Chief of Police’s son. Third, he was in the running for valedictorian. A part from that, however, people didn’t really know Nate. They didn’t know his favorite color, or biggest fear, or pet peeve (which was, coincidentally, people saying “like” all the time). And no one–NO ONE–knew Nate’s secret, though people wouldn’t have been surprised that he had one. Nate was the type of guy who was meant for secrets.
He was also the type of guy who liked cemeteries. Not that he hung around tombstones every day after school, but graveyards had never scared him. The Ridgeview Cemetery had always been his backyard: perfect for hide-and-seek or some quiet thinking. But now that he was older, Nate viewed the cemetery differently: It was also his shortcut to the Ascher Theater.
Nate came to the crumbling stone wall that separated his house from the Ridgeview, hoisted himself over it, and landed squarely in the grass. His backpack jangled as he hit the ground, and he adjusted it, advancing quickly through the graves. He didn’t stop to look at any of them. He’d been in the cemetery enough times to know that none of the tombstones were very interesting; all the epitaphs were the similar: Loving Mother, Daughter, and Friend. Boring.
Nate stopped suddenly, remembering that he may have forgotten his tape recorder at home. He checked his backpack, relieved to find it was there, nestled next to his flashlight and notepad. Satisfied, he continued on his way, pausing only long enough to smirk at his favorite grave: Philo McDermott. (He was described as being a Loving Father, Brother, and Friend.) Nate only shook his head: epitaphs tended to simplify everyone six feet below. He thought Philo’s marker should at least read something more descriptive: Maybe he was a farmer? Or a teacher? Anything to make Philo seem like he had once been a real person.
Nate already knew what he wanted on his grave. (Not that he thought about it much. He was only eighteen; the worst thing he had to worry about was the ACT.) His ideal epitaph would read: Nathaneal J. Brenner, Fun Friend, Eccentric Personality, and Curious Scientist.
The last was especially true on Thursday nights.
And tonight was Thursday.
It was little wonder that someone who grew up next to a graveyard would take up ghost-hunting as a hobby. And the Ascher Theater was one of his favorite spots.
The Ascher Theater was to Ellery, Ohio what the Coliseum was to Rome: It was a landmark, a monument. It was old, decrepit, and falling apart, but no one dared to tear it down. It was doomed to sit and rot… until Nate’s uncle bought it. Manny Brenner was a theater professor in a college twenty miles from Ellery. He’d bought the theater as a personal project, and for the past six months, he’d allowed Nate to ghost-hunt.
Needless to say, Manny was Nate’s favorite uncle.
Nate came to the edge of the cemetery, jumped over the other wall, and found himself on Ross Avenue. It was bright night, the full moon turned everything blue. Orange streetlights sent odd shadows across the sidewalk. In any other town, the effect would have been eerie. But not in Ellery.
He eventually made it to the theater and reached into his pocket for the key. He opened the door only wide enough for him to slip inside; he could smell the renovations: sawdust and paint. He closed the door behind him with a click, revealing his flashlight like a Samurai brandishing a sword. The feeble light strayed across newly plastered walls, rolled up rugs, and abandoned tool boxes. There was an old mirror that was turning black around the edges. Nate caught his reflection: In the dim light, he looked like a ghost.
He laughed at the irony, then made his way into the main house. Nate thought he had a decent imagination–not a great one, of course, but it was alright–and he tried to picture what it must have been like to walk these aisles in their prime. It would have been an experience: The seats were made of velvet, the stage was huge and draped with thick, crimson curtains. Golden cherubs adorned the stage, all staring sweetly at the audience. The balconies were small and rounded, all painted with intricate designs.
Nate settled into the front row. He’d been coming to the theater every Thursday for the past six months, and he still got a rush at the start of every excursion. After a moment, he reached into his backpack for his tape recorder. His favorite ghost-hunting method was EVP: Electronic Voice Phenomena. The idea was that if he spoke out loud, a ghost would answer him. He wouldn’t be able to hear it with his own ears, but the ghost’s voice could come through on a recording. He hadn’t heard anything yet, but he was persistent–sometimes to the point of being foolish.
In a few moments, he had everything set up. He turned on the recorder and settled into a chair.
“They say that ghost lights were put up in theaters to keep the ghosts at bay,” he started. “This theater hasn’t had one in decades. So…” He paused. “Ghosts, come on out.”
Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021
Note: I’m really bad at keeping stories at 500 words. (It’s so few!) But this was a lot of fun to write, and it was inspired by a time I was able to go ghost-hunting in a nearby theater in college. I feel like there’s a lot more I could write with this, just with my experience alone!