The Silent Audience

By @SilverDragon
The Silent Audience

The Stanley Theatre of Utica, NY is said to be haunted. Many people claim to have seen ghosts sitting in seats during performances, walking behind the stage, or watching quietly from the balcony. I decided to give these ghosts a reason for being there. As one of the first short stories I ever wrote, it is by no means my best, but I hope I have done some justice to the spirit (pun intended) of the place.

Chapter 1

Police Suspect/Victim Medical Report – Utica Police Department          

           Patient: Charlie Carson

Reason for hospitalization: Multiple critical gunshot wounds; shock

Patient’s account of mass-murder at the Stanley Theatre of Utica, NY; Friday, August 6, 1965

Last statement of the patient:

The audience was dead silent.

The dim light from the bare bulb hanging from the ceiling reflected weakly on the waxed wooden stage. The lights ******* the platform cast a warm glow on the red curtains, making them look like a waterfall of blood.

The slightly musty smell of threadbare fabric permeated the air, filling the place with a sense of excitement.

But there would be no show, and only corpses to enjoy it had there been one.

And all because I opened the cursed valve.

Time seemed to have stopped as I wandered among the seats, breathing with some difficulty through the gas mask, removing anything of value from the corpses. I came to an old woman, her face oddly peaceful. My stomach twisted in anguish. If only I could go back and fix my mistakes…

“Get busy,” Damian, my colleague, said, his harsh whisper muffled through his mask. I reluctantly continued my search.

It all started with drug-running. I thought it was the only way I could support my family. What a joke that turned out to be.

I replayed the last hour in my mind, praying it was all a bad dream.

What is a man supposed to do, when threatened with the death of all his loved ones? Would you have let your family die?

As I stared down at the old woman’s corpse, I let my mind drift to the events that had climaxed with this decimation of human lives.

“Everything set?” Our boss had said, coming out of the dressing room all decked out in his finest. A barely suppressed grin played at the corners of his mouth.

“All set and ready sir,” Damian had said, rubbing his hands together in eagerness.

I stood apart from them, sickened by what we were going to do. The usual music began pouring through the crackly old speakers, and the murmurs of the audience wriggled through the thick curtain to our ears. My hands became clammy with sweat, my breathing labored. It felt like all the oxygen had left the room. I stumbled to a window and leaned out, but the foggy smog swirling outside did little to help. Rough hands grabbed my coat and dragged me backward, then pinned me to a wall. “You thinking of bailing on us Charlie?” Harding, the boss, growled behind me.

“No,” I said, “Just trying to clear my head.” I was lying through my teeth, and I could tell he knew it by the way he tightened his grip. “You know what happens to your family if you bail.”

I squeezed my eyes shut at his words, a tear forming at the corner of my eye. “I’ll do it.”

“Good boy,” he said, releasing my jacket. His footsteps receded. I shrugged my coat back into place and turned to face the room.

Marionettes lay everywhere in various stages of disassembly; heads, mouths agape, on tables; arms and legs protruding from fifty-gallon drums in grotesque bouquets; torsos tossed in unruly piles on the floor. It would be every little girl’s nightmare turned reality. My stomach twisted every time I looked on that scene. I walked to the curtain and peeked around the edge at the expectant audience.

Men, women, and children – children – sat in the rows of seats, all expecting a show, just like any other day. Mothers hushed their young ones while fathers passed around the popcorn. My stomach dropped down into my tattered boots.

With a heavy heart and leaden feet, I closed the curtain and walked back to the table. I pressed my palms against it, deserving every splinter that dug into my flesh. Tears came unbidden to my eyes as anger swelled up inside me.

My little girl, ten years old, had come into the kitchen that morning, just before I had gone out to make my illegal dealings.

“Daddy, you going to work already?”

“Yes, my darling,” I said, sitting down and lifting her onto my lap, “I have to go to the office to pick up some… packages.”

My wife came in then, and my thirteen-year-old son just after her.

“You two up already? How come I can’t get you up this early on school days?” She said, placing a kiss on each of our heads, then went about preparing breakfast.

“I’m afraid I can’t stay for breakfast,” I said, standing up and settling my daughter in the chair.

“Okay,” my darling wife sighed, then walked over, looked me in the eyes and said, “I love you, but nothing will save you if you’re late for dinner.” Then she smiled warmly and kissed me goodbye.

I had walked to the office, and that is when Harding told me the plan for that night. And that was why I stood over that table, repulsed by the thought of what we would do. I looked across the room where the telephone hung beside the crew’s coat rack, looking for all the world like a mocking raven on its perch. All I would have to do is make one quick call… I pushed the thought from my mind. My family’s’ fate rested solely on if I did this last job. He had promised to let them go, and leave us in peace. But then again, that’s what he said last time. I knew, though, that if I did not do this job, he would without a doubt leave my family in pieces. Literally.

I punched the rough wood of the table. I felt like the mannequins: helpless, no way to run, no escape. Trapped.

“It’s time,” said Harding, coming back into the room with a couple of gas masks. I reluctantly took one and looked at it as if it were the ugliest thing on earth. And, indeed, to me it was. It represented everything I hated: death, cruelty, and, even, hate itself.

I slipped it on. The cold plastic chilled my skin. I shivered.

“You can’t get out of this,” Harding said, grinning. “Go up to the balcony and open the valve as I and Damian ‘entertain’ the audience.”

I glared at him, unwilling to admit defeat. I ground my teeth and turned to walk down the hidden walkway to the balcony.

“Hold on.”

I turned around to see Harding holding up a wrench. “You’ll need this.” He tossed it to me, then walked to the powder room, laughing.

I jerked back from the old woman’s corpse, feeling my insides knot up at the thought of what I had done. A memory forever seared on my conscience.

“You still on that old lady?” Damian said, derailing my train of thought.

“What? Oh, yes, she’s got quite a bit of jewelry on her.”

Damian grunted. “I can’t wait to see this on the news: ‘Mysterious Terrorist Group Strikes Again’. We’ll be the most infamous group on either side of the pond.”

I nodded absentmindedly as I removed a string of brass charms from the woman’s wrist. I had the start of a plan. There was a slight possibility I could-

I stopped and stared in utter horror at three corpses in the back row.

My wife, son, and daughter, dressed in their best attire, sat in the worn red seats, sleepy smiles on their beautiful faces.

Dead.

A rage born of agony and sorrow boiled up in my soul at the sight. Harding broke his word. He had betrayed me.

He killed my family.

I lashed out with a fist, catching Damian off guard and sending him down on his back. I pulled my pistol from its holster and placed the sights on his head.

“Why?” I screamed, all the anger and hatred boiling over in an unmaintainable flood of pure sorrow. “Why did you kill my family?”

He looked at me, and I could see the fear in his eyes.

“It was Harding. He invited them for this, Honest! I only gave them the tickets.” The rage condensed, morphing into something different. I felt a great power come over me, washing away all sympathy, leaving only a cold void. “I have nothing left to live for,” I said.

I lowered the barrel.

The gun jumped in my hands when I pulled the trigger.

I turned from the corpse and stalked back to the stage, intent on finding Harding. I would make him pay for what he did, or die trying.

I went to the phone, called the police, and then ripped it from the wall. I walked slowly and deliberately to the door of the powder room. I kicked it in. Harding stood in the corner, in the act of throwing a rope out the window. “Going somewhere?” I asked in a low, calm voice.

“Harding, seemingly unfazed by my entrance, set the rope down and walked toward me. “Why, whatever is the matter, Charlie?” He said. I placed the sights on his head. Between those evil eyes of his. “Oh come now, Charlie. No need to be so upset.”

I saw him draw the gun just before a bullet tore through my shoulder. And yet, I felt no pain. I tried grabbing his coat, but he slipped past me. As he jumped over the wreckage of the door, I lifted my gun and shot at him but missed. I followed in hot pursuit up a flight of stairs, following close behind, and received another shot, this time to the thigh. We came out on the molding above the stage, a three-foot wide space running the length of the stage, with a two foot carved railing.

“You can’t run,” I said, stepping closer, gun raised.

“I suppose not, though you can’t either it seems,” he replied, looking over the edge. I could hear sirens wailing mournfully in the near-distance, and knew I had to finish this. I raised the pistol with difficulty. The shoulder had already begun to stiffen.

“Charlie, did know that if you do this, you will become just like me? You will be no better than I. Hatred will rule you forever. Or, at least, till your execution.” He smiled, a sneer twisting his face. He raised his revolver. I shot his hand, and he dropped it. He grunted in pain, cradling the useless limb, yet still had that infuriating smile on his face.

“If was fun, you know, watching your family die,” he said, “They sat there expectantly, having been told that you were in a company theatrical sketch. They slowly started to nod off due to the poisonous gas, not knowing they would never wake again.”

I pointed the gun at his head, between the eyes, those eyes that held a glint of enjoyment. He delighted in watching me suffer. I then realized what he was doing. He wanted to die.

I lowered the gun and shot him in the leg. He dropped to his knees with a groan as I approached him.

“Yes Charlie, finish me,” he said, still smiling, “Do it. You know you want to.”

I looked into his eyes, put my gun in its holster, and said, “No.”

“What?” He said, and I saw the delight leave his eyes, replaced by a flicker of fear. “I said no,” I repeated, “I think a lifetime of prison would suit you much better.” I reached down and picked up the Revolver. He tried taking it from me with his good hand, but I yanked it away, dropped out the cylinder, and threw both parts over the edge.

“No, no Charlie, you can’t do this to me,” he said, looking at me, fear now showing on his face, his usually smooth voice now broken up with coughs.

“Why not?” I asked, kneeling in front of him, “You took everything from me. Now, I am taking from you the very. Thing. You. Want.”

I stood, turned, and limped toward the staircase, not looking back.

I realized my gun was missing from my waist a second before a hole appeared in my chest. The force sent me tumbling down the stairs.

I lay on the floor in a daze, the dimly lit room swirling. I became dimly aware of movement and groaned in pain as someone lifted me. I saw seats pass me by, and jerked back to full consciousness. “Don’t worry sir, we’re getting you to the hospital now.”

“The man- above us on the molding?” I choked out through the blood pooling in my mouth.

“He’s in custody.”

I drew a shuddering breath of relief at this. My head rolled to the side, and I focused on my family. They sat in peaceful slumber, and I could rest knowing that I had avenged them. I looked out over the crowd of corpses, wishing life could be re-lived- mistakes changed- lives saved.

As the medics carried me down the aisle, the people of the audience sat still as statues, seeming to be only sound asleep, blissfully dreaming. But I knew their true fate.

I killed them.

Time of Death: 11:59 pm, Saturday, August 7, 1965

UPD final case statement:

An investigation of the Stanley Theatre premises was undertaken, and no trace of the two allegedly involved persons could be found. We can only conclude that the murder of everyone in the Theatre (staff, crew, and audience) was undertaken by this single man (he has a record of mental instability), and the wounds self-inflicted. However, an autopsy showed that the bullet did indeed enter through his back, and at an angle that shows the wound could not be self-inflicted. The gun mentioned was found at the back of the ledge, and he himself at the bottom of the stairs. Moreover, the medics responsible for taking him to the hospital have no recollection of him asking them anything, let alone replying in the affirmative. The exact details of how he was shot, and how he single-handedly pulled off the largest mass murder in American history (a total of 2,500 individuals) is, sadly, to remain a mystery.

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