Writing Prompts - Day 162
The theatre hall at Winter’s Bend was state-of-the-art with spectacular lighting, opera house seating and a backstage that doubled as an acting classroom. As if that weren’t good enough, the acoustics rocked and were amplified by a sound system that made film nights in the theatre feel like premiere night. Every term the drama club, not all performance students were admitted into the highly-skilled crew that made up the complete cast and crew, put on an original play that was always well-attended. On occasion the pieces were even sold to troupes around the world for more money than tuition for a lifetime would cost. This year, though, there was a severe lack of interest in performing, which none of the faculty seemed to have anticipated; that’s the only reason I was sitting in the squeaky chairs in the first row at six in the evening on the first day of classes.
I was interested in every faction of the arts, so my first term was devoted to theatre and studying classical playwrights, which fit in perfectly with the lack of enthusiasm from the student body this term. When I arrived at the open auditions, a first time there were any official auditions planned, I skipped right up to the stage, almost giggling with glee. Of course, I had my shy roommate, Karla, in tow so I did attempt to keep the excitement out of my step, unsuccessfully.
We both got to the university on the last ferry before the semester began, so there wasn’t much chatting before both of us nestled into the lumpy beds in our dorm room. Though I had a fitful sleep dreaming about the worst-case scenarios my peers were fretting about, Karla was having horrid nightmares involving her voice being gone and having to sing in front of the entire school. Waking up to her quiet whimpering with the alarm clock shining into the still, dark night, I carefully crossed the uneven carpeting on tiptoes until I was hovering just beside her twitching arm. Her skin was pale and glistening with sweat, making her look sickly and weak lying in the darkness.
Taking her wrist lightly between practised fingers, I’d held her rapid pulse in my mind and gently nudged the negative ideas and dreams that plagued her, replacing them with peaceful, dreamless sleep. When she was quiet and still, I returned to my comforters and curled up in a ball to fend off my own mind from unwelcome thoughts like bees to a particularly tantalizing flower. It was no good; I couldn’t rid myself of them, but I could smile at Karla’s peaceful snoring.
That was where I got the idea to drag her into the auditions tonight; I knew what she wanted more than anything, but wouldn’t admit to herself. Even though she fought me kicking and screaming, to the applause of some students on their way to the auditions, Karla’s voice faded away when we arrived in the magnificent room. The theatre opened up around us as a cavernous and echoing room with intricate woodcarving rounding the upper balconies and along the curved stage. Heavy satin curtains hung from two storeys up to brush lightly against the hardwood flooring and appeared infinitely solid in the bright lighting. There was a strange, old odour that hung in the still air, not unlike a library whose books have survived for decades without the gentle caress of fingers.
We nervously took seats in the front row next to a couple of chattering girls with their long, blond hair tied up in childish pigtails that hung past their shoulders. Glancing around, I watched the students we’d passed in the hall sauntering in a tight cluster down the aisle with their voices low and loud. When they’d taken their seats a few rows back, to bring our number to nine strong, the audio system crackled and spluttered, along with the stage and overhead lights dying suddenly. Someone screamed a high, terrified note into the still air as a friendly voice came on through a small speaker on the stage, “Hello and welcome to the first ever open audition for the Winter Performance Club! We’ve got a great treat for you this term with the addition of music into the play, which is an original crafted by a WPC alum, Sarah Goodlake.” Tinkling laughter faded away as the lights were revived one-by-one until the stage was full of shivering coloured lights. A hooded figure swept across from the left with the pale blue fabric fluttering about as though in an unseen breeze, creating a sudden commotion among the interested parties. When she removed the hood, I was vaguely able to place her feminine face from somewhere, but being able to see other people’s dreams often brought random faces into my own nightmares, so I couldn’t be certain. mismatched bridesmaid dresses
“This is a tale as old as time; a love story, of course, full of malice and mayhem and deep-rooted adoration!” the woman called through a microphone before hitting a button to set the lighting and audio back to normal. Laughing under her breath, she spoke in a non-dramatic tone, “Hi everyone, I’m Elsa. You’ll likely see me around often because I help new students to adjust to our fine institution here, but I’m also on the committee for any and all activities that happen in the theatre room.” Elsa shrugged the cloak from her shoulders to reveal the tastefully tattered dress beneath it and stepped toward the edge of the stage, daintily sitting with her delicate legs hanging off the edge. “Alright, on to the auditions!” she shouted without the augmentation and clapped her hands excitedly.
As though we’d signed up, Elsa seemed to know everyone’s names, which was mildly concerning, but her strange demeanor as she called on the first actor made me forget my nervousness completely. Brennan was a tall, dark-haired jock-type with a prickly expression and frowning lips; he didn’t seem at all the drama sort, but I figured that was why Elsa looked so stoic as he cleared his throat. Having taken up the first available seat beside me, she’d fixed a gentle, yet oddly intense stare through the jock’s performance.
“We just have to win this game, okay, team!?” he thundered around the auditorium without a microphone, ignoring the singular fact that the play was a musical, and continued on like that for several lines before he noticed he had an audience. The moment his eyes focused on us beyond the glare of the lights, his strong voice faltered and a furious blush burned across his cheek. After a couple awkward minutes of muttering under his breath, his eyes blazed like onyx chips had caught fire and stamped down the side steps. Above the stage, a tiny stormy cloud materialized, catching the attention of everyone in the hall; Elsa was trembling with seething anger, but she simply hopped out of her chair and pointed at the next contestant with a quivering finger.
Diana had been muttering with her twin sister about how wonderful her singing voice was, but when it was her turn, she froze in place. After a few murmured threats from her sister, Diana slowly stood and stalked stiffly up to the stage, clambering up the steps and paced to the center of the stage. Breathing in shallow breaths, she started to sing something vaguely familiar, which got incrementally louder as she gained confidence. As her voice reverberated pleasantly around the room, I studiously ignored her, preferring to focus on the furious Brennan instead.
After his failure, he took a seat behind me and was punching his phone with meaty fingers as though it had forced him into humiliating himself. Up close he was even more handsome than he appeared on stage, so I cleared my throat quietly and stuck out a hand in a friendly gesture. “Hey, I’m Sophia,” I muttered, watching him grip the phone with one hand so tightly the plastic case cracked in a couple spots. But he took my hand gently, glancing up after a minute before his eyes shut soundly. Closing my own eyelids, I concentrated on his mind, pushing aside all the crap about wanting to be an actor and being on stage; that wasn’t what he wanted, anyone could tell. As I prodded his subconscious, though, I kept hitting block walls of cloudy bricks and brilliant yellow mortar. It only took me a few minutes to realize that whatever that cloud had been, and whether it had anything to do with the real reason he was here, wasn’t that easily accessible and I let his hand fall heavily in his lap.
By the time I was fully awake in my own mind, Diana was strutting pompously down the steps to a violent round of applause from her sister. When she’d taken her seat, Elsa commented, “Diana, that was wonderful dear. Jessica, can you do as well as your sister?” The second twin huffed as she headed for the stairs; she was pissed and hopefully a little put-off by the offhand comment. After that moment I had more respect for Elsa, but, to my great annoyance, Jessica turned out to be just as good as her twin. When she paraded past after her performance, Diana got to her feet, and they both headed out the door. “Alright, well, Grace?”
One member of the cluster disengaged from the rest and made her way up to the stage with her piercings gleaming in the spotlights, but she didn’t speak or sing when she arrived. Standing there like a goth statuette, she breathed deeply before reaching for her phone and held it in her pale fingers. When she began typing away at the keys the lights around the room began to flutter, changing colours and brightness, as she held her tongue between her teeth. Though I wanted to watch the light show, I couldn’t take my mind from the sparks flying about her in a shower of stardust. Even the electronic curtains weren’t safe from her trickery as she fiddled with every device in the room. I swear she even got into my cell phone.
Grace took her seat without a single clap and Elsa moved on to Karla, who looked about ready to die of embarrassment. Nudging her in the rib with my elbow, I nodded and smiled encouragingly; this was her dream and she was going to be amazing. When she rose from the ancient seat, she swayed minutely before taking unsteady steps to the stage. Even though the lights were dimmer thanks to Grace’s demonstration, I could already see sweat shining on my roommate’s forehead. “Go Karla!” I shouted into the silence and was greeted with laughter from the remaining audience.
When her voice started to shiver in the air, carrying with it a strange lullaby in a tongue I didn’t recognize, Karla closed her eyes and became one with the song. Her body waved naturally with the pull of the music, sending goosebumps all over my body and setting my heart aflutter. In the perfectly-designed theatre the song sounded as though a thousand voices were all singing in perfect harmony along with every magical musical instrument you could imagine. It could have gone on for hours or days as time froze, but I would wager it was a couple of minutes before the silence overtook the vibrations again. One single word fluttered through my mind of its own volition: siren.
But I was too busy taking my own turn stuttering on stage to focus on my magickal roommate. Having not been fully prepared to perform, I hummed the first couple lines of a hymn my mother loved to sing when I was little before cutting myself off and belting out the first half of a rock song I couldn’t name. Head hung in shame, I hopped off the stage and covered my burning face with my hands. “Hey, that wasn’t bad, Sophia,” Karla cooed, passing me a letter with a red seal before shoving her own into her backpack.