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Part 1

by D.S.Carlin

Tossing a feather boa over her left shoulder the young woman strode confidently through the doorway and equally confidently ventured her opinion on the room beyond.

‘This place has all the character and charm of a depressed kamikaze pilot. Are you sure that this is the right place?’

A man came through the doorway behind her, trying to adjust a peaked cap that was evidently too large for his head, ‘This is definitely the place, Miss Alice. I followed the directions to the letter and the address matches. This is your summer cottage.’

Alice shuddered, ‘Its simply ghastly, Andrew - I think we should have your second cousin shot. Imagine charging us fifteen pounds a week for this place. Look at these windows,’ she gestured around her, ‘Its all right now while the sun is shining, but what if it rains, what if a cold wind blows? I came here for a rest, instead I may end up dying from pneumonia.’

Andrew was about to say something when the cap slipped down over his eyes causing both of them to laugh. Removing the cap he placed it under his arm and tried his best to retain a straight face, ‘Perhaps, Miss Alice, you could spend such days in the company of Colonel Finlay. I hear that he has many tales of daring do. What better way to pass the evening than...’

Alice rolled her eyes making it harder for Andrew to keep a straight face. He gritted his teeth but the overall impression served to plunge Alice into fits of laughter which consequently affected Andrew. The two of them did their best to stand still as they laughed. Finally a voice cut through their laughter, ‘I hope that this will not happen on opening night?’

Alice managed to stop laughing but Andrew continued in helpless mirth. They both turned to face the large man who was climbing up onto the stage. Whereas the theatre, with its faded backdrops and a tatty curtain all held in place by frayed ropes, was in desperate need of refurbishment the man who now approached them wore a gold filigree waistcoat which beamed from behind an elegant burgundy smoking jacket. The ensemble also boasted a rather flamboyant yellow polka dot purple handkerchief spilling forth from the breast pocket. His rotund, almost jocular figure prevented the jacket from surrounding his frame - all in all he seemed to be the embodiment of the stereotypical showman.

‘I’m sorry, Mister Tanner. Give us a few minutes to calm down and we’ll continue,’ Alice nudged her companion, ‘Andrew - you should have tried the hat on before we started.’

Tanner stared at the young couple, giving Andrew an admonishing glance, ‘Five minutes, you say? Very well, but I have no time to waste. This theatre will open on time and it will only succeed with the right people. Five minutes,’ mumbling to himself he descended from the stage, returning to the darkened auditorium of the theatre.

Alice reached across and snatched the hat from Andrew, ‘Get rid of that for a start. Really Andrew, this is our chance to make our theatre debut!’

A serious expression crossed Andrew’s face, ‘This place is a dive in the middle of nowhere. You really think that some talent scout is going to come here? Face it, Alice, this is a bad idea.’

Reluctant as she was to admit that she had made a mistake Alice preferred to regard it as a gambit that looked increasingly unlikely to pay off. On the other hand there was no telling when or where success would appear.

‘Look at it this way, Andrew. This is our chance to show what we can do. If it doesn’t work out then we can head back to Harding’s.’

‘If they’ll take us back.’

Alice touched Andrew on the arm and moved towards the door which led off stage. Once they were backstage Alice tossed the peaked cap onto a costume basket. ‘Is there any reason why we can’t go back to Harding’s? They’re hardly one of the world’s foremost repertory companies. They are nothing more than an amateur outfit with grand ideas.’

‘And what are we? Couldn’t you describe us as a couple of amateurs with grand ideas? Today we are struggling actors, tomorrow we will be sipping champagne and giving interviews to Entertainment Magazine,’ his tone was neutral but there was no mistaking the tarnished idealism, his eyes flashing with controlled sarcasm, ‘We shouldn’t have come here.’

‘No, you shouldn’t have.’

Both turned to see who had spoken. The source was a man of average height and build and he was dressed in a grey blue suit. His frame seemed to emanate vitality and a quiet strength and determination.

‘Go home,’ and he walked past them, clasping the previously discarded cap, out onto the stage. Wordlessly the young couple followed him, both uncertain of how to react to his directive.

The man stood silently on the stage looking out into the darkness. If he was aware that the young couple were watching him, waiting for some kind of explanation he gave no sign. Whether it was a case of his mind being on other matters or he simply did not regard their presence as relevant it irked both Andrew and Alice. They exchanged annoyed glances with one another. Alice squeezed Andrew’s arm in a universal gesture to signal that he would have to confront the man.

‘Who are you and what do you want here?’

The man turned to look at them, his eyes seemed to bore straight through Andrew. It was not a malevolent gaze, instead it shone with a vitality and an intensity that brooked no argument, `I thought I told the two of you to go home? Go. Now. Before anything happens to you.’

This was outrageous! How dare this man appear from nowhere and tell them what to do. Then it struck Andrew that perhaps the man was some sort of rival. The question was did the man intend to oust them altogether in order to claim the exalted "highlight of the evening" or was this some sort of improvisational test? Deciding that either possibility was best dealt with in the same manner, Andrew riposted, ‘We have no intention of leaving, sir. This theatre is our investment. Everything that will transpire on opening night is due entirely to us,’ he squeezed Alice’s arm, hoping that she would interpret that as the other universal signal for "say nothing, just go along with me".

The man strode straight towards Andrew, his gait unwavering and almost juggernaut like. For a second Andrew thought that the man would walk right over him and then he halted within inches of his face. Those eyes bored straight into Andrew’s.

‘You are responsible for this? For all of this?’

Much as he wanted to turn to Alice, seeking both inspiration and comfort from her gaze, Andrew found himself quite unable to tear his eyes away from those of the strange man. His vocal chords were frozen and slowly he became aware that he was utterly paralysed. The man then looked away, with neither a sign of satisfaction nor of disgust, as if he had simply looked at Andrew and not indulged in some contest of wills.

Trembling he finally looked at Alice. She looked at him sternly at first, then he saw the anxiety in her face.

‘Are you alright?’

Nodding, Andrew began to feel a little foolish now, ‘I thought...I thought he might actually hit me or something.’

Alice smiled, ‘Don’t worry about it. Mister Tanner will sort it out - I’m sure that its nothing to worry about.’

Andrew wasn’t so sure. Now that he regained control of himself he turned to look back at the man who was now standing at the stage edge gazing out into the darkened auditorium.


While Tanner scrabbled through a pile of papers on his desk a tall woman, immaculately dressed turned her head slightly, listening to some distant voice.

Sapphire, you had better come here. There are two young people - they say they are behind all of this. I doubt it but I need you to check.

‘Here we are,’ Tanner grasped a sheet of paper and looked up at the woman.

I’ll be with you shortly, Steel. I have a few things to ask Tanner.

‘Thank you, Mister Tanner,’ and she took the offered sheet of paper. It was a flyer for the theatre, declaring that its grand opening night was "coming soon".

‘There’s no mention of who will be appearing on opening night’

Tanner arose from his desk, ‘Ah, but this is just the teaser. The taster comes next, once the acts start coming. Mister Willis and myself have advertisements in most reputable variety magazines across the country. Who knows, he might even find some novelty act out in the Middle East - some of the best magicians learnt their trade there, you know.’

Sapphire smiled at him pleasantly, ‘How many acts do you have so far?’

Tanner became defensive , ‘Why are you so interested? You wouldn’t be an agent from another company?’

‘My colleague and I are agents, yes.’

‘Your colleague? You’re not alone?’

Sapphire handed the flyer back to Tanner, ‘My colleague, Mister Steel is having a look around your theatre. Its such a charming place.’

Tanner’s discomfort seemed to increase, ‘He’s looking around? You’re not health and safety experts? I can say, with hand on my heart, that everything has been checked to the highest of standards...’

‘No, we’re not from the health and safety office. Mister Steel is very interested in the place.’

‘Its not for sale!’ Tanner blurted before he could help himself. Returning to his seat he searched through the desk and found himself a small bottle of alcohol. Holding it in front of himself he hesitatingly grasped the lid but did not twist it off. For a few seconds he held the bottle and then he replaced it on a small shelf within the desk.

‘I’m sorry. Mister Willis and myself have invested a lot of time, effort and capital in this place. You must understand that we have hopes.’

She touched him on the shoulder and this seemed to charge him with a new strength, ‘Don’t worry, Mister Tanner, we’re not buying the theatre. My colleague is just looking around - out of curiosity.’

If this was meant to reassure Tanner it did not succeed, instead he seemed to sag even further, ‘There must be some reason why he’s looking around. If its not for safety or for buying purposes. That young couple? They’re not in some sort of trouble are they? I don’t know anything about them. They only turned up yesterday.’

‘Mister Tanner. Let me assure you, Mister Steel and I intend no harm to anyone. We are simply interested in your theatre. I would appreciate a little look around. Would you show me? That way you can see for yourself that my colleague isn’t doing anything you need worry about.’

His face lightened a little as he considered her offer, then he smiled, ‘Never let it be said that Horace Tanner doesn’t know how to evince himself. If you want to have a look around my theatre then have a look round you shall!’

With the vigour he had displayed when Sapphire had first entered his office, Tanner sprung out of his chair over to the door. Opening it he held it open and beckoned for Sapphire to proceed first. She smiled and strode through the doorway. Tanner followed and then took the lead. From the manager’s office to the auditorium was uneventful, simply a short corridor before entering the doors at the back of the theatre and then they were standing in the darkened aisles staring at the stage. Upon the stage could be seen three figures - two men and one woman. One of the men stood at the very edge of the stage and he stared in their direction. Tanner offered his arm to Sapphire, ‘If you would do me the honour?’

Obligingly, she put her arm through his and the two of them began to walk along the aisle towards the stage.

The man stared out into the darkness, saying nothing. Andrew and Alice watched him, unnerved at both his rigidity and silence. Within seconds Tanner appeared from the darkness, his arm locked around the arm of a tallish woman in a blue dress. Her long blond hair and her deep blue eyes conveyed both elegance, charm and a vitality that echoed that of the strange man.

Tanner disengaged himself from the woman, ‘You must be Mister Steel, sir? Your charming companion was telling me all about you.’

The man, Steel, said nothing as he looked around him, ‘And you are?’

‘Horace Tanner, sir, the proud partner of the company which owns this theatre. It may not seem like much now but it is our intention to re-open soon and restore the theatre to its former glory. During the war people flocked here every night.’

Steel turned away, ‘Mister Tanner, have you had any problems with this theatre? Any disturbances?’

Tanner looked to the woman in confusion, ‘Miss Sapphire, I thought you said that you and your partner were theatrical agents?’

‘Yes - but we represent other people who are interested in your theatre. Tell me, how old is the theatre?’

‘Well, I, uh, look - if you aren’t theatrical agents...?’

Sapphire smiled at Tanner, ‘Please, Mister Tanner, how old?’

It was impossible not to be charmed by her smile and Tanner returned the favour, a broad grin crossing his face. Watching all this, Alice recalled how weary Tanner tended to look, but now he seemed more energetic. It was difficult to decide how much of his new found verve could be attributed to asking him about the theatre or to the attentions of this woman. A glance at Andrew answered her question and she nudged him, painfully, with her elbow. His sour glance at her she met with a frosty look.

‘Well, it was opened in 1936 by Albert Dobson. It was quite a project, after all this is only a small town - even then. Of course, it was located near what was, at the time, a main thoroughfare. He had a presence and was able to convince people to perform in his theatre, locals with a thespian touch, that sort of thing. Not to mention his own patter, he could convince people to come from miles around. During the war, this was a place where people could come to escape their misery for a time.

‘It began to run down after the war and by the late 60s a new road was opened...’ There was no need to say anything further.

‘Is this the original theatre? Has anything been changed?’

Tanner paused and mulled over the question, ‘Well, the theatre was fire bombed just prior to the war so it had to be extensively rebuilt. Again it was a labour of love on the part of the locals. I think there was another fire during the fifties - and it was rebuilt again. The basic layout is the same, although the materials are new. When my partner and I took over this place we had a few repairs done.’

Alice interrupted, ‘Excuse me, Mister Tanner, do you still want to see Andrew and myself?’

Sapphire smiled, ‘Would it be all right if I had a look round, Mister Tanner? It really is a lovely theatre - full of character.’

Sapphire’s question threw Tanner slightly and he looked between the two women in confusion, ‘ would like to see the theatre - now?’

‘You can watch these two delightful young people perform while my colleague and I have a look round. If that is all right with you?’

Alice smiled at Tanner, doing her best to show that she could be elegant and charming too. Besides which she would actually be contributing to his dream while this other woman and her colleague were merely wandering about. Her smile became friendlier and more genuine when Tanner nodded, ‘Yes, you may have a look around, Miss Sapphire - I do hope that we can continue this discussion at a later time.’

‘Certainly, I am very interested in hearing everything about this theatre,’ and with that she disappeared back stage. Tanner turned to Andrew and Alice, ‘I trust that you have had ample time to calm yourselves down?’

Alice glanced at Andrew who nodded. Smiling, Tanner began to descend into the auditorium again, ‘Excellent, then let the show begin.’

Sapphire cautiously touched some of the frayed ropes. Allowing her hands to linger on each one for a few seconds she then looked around her. While the stage seemed to be in a reasonable state of repair, with only the backdrops and the stage curtain in any real need of attention, the backstage was stuffy and poorly lit. The few lights that there were either flickered weakly from under dusty lampshades or were glaring nakedly down at anyone who cared to notice.

Her hands shifted to a large costume basket and as she touched it she became aware that Steel had also appeared at her side.

Just residual energy - this has been handled by people, real people.

Flipping the lid open Steel reached in and lifted up a gorilla costume.
It suits you Sapphire smiled and then touched it. Again her senses informed her that there was nothing unusual. There was nothing else in the basket for her to examine so Steel flung the costume back in.

‘This is the place?’

Nodding Sapphire looked around her, ‘The Grand Royale, now owned by Mister Tanner and a sleeping partner.’

‘Who is?’

‘So far, Mister Tanner has not ventured that information - although he did mention a Mister Willis.’

There was a small booth just beside the left hand stage entrance, Steel strode over to it, ‘Could Tanner be involved?’

‘I don’t know - he seems human enough. Steel - do you think we should get those young people out of here?’

Steel knocked on the wood of the booth, ‘Try this, it looks old.’

The young people, Steel?

Their eyes met, but it was not a contest of wills. Instead, Sapphire was simply searching for some indication that Steel genuinely hadn’t heard the question. It was possible, she knew, since Steel tended to ponder on various ideas all at the same time, scanning them as if he was nothing more than a machine. It took her more "emotional" ideals to coerce him into considering a more human approach to whatever situations they found themselves in. Complying with his request she came over to his side and touched the booth - nothing.

The young people?

‘This couldn’t be one of Lead’s foolish ideas? His notions on relaxation are sometimes unorthodox, and a waste of time. My time.’

Did you check the young people? How do we know that they aren’t why we are here?

There was no comment from Sapphire, she had wandered over to a large tapestry which she had only now noticed. It had been hiding in the shadows and was draped over a stand. As she reached out to touch it a voice stopped her, ‘Please - don’t touch that! It belongs to my partner - he thought that this would be the best place to store it until he finds a more secure location.’

Sapphire withdrew her hand, ‘I’m sorry, Mister Tanner - it looks valuable.’

Nodding Tanner took her arm and steered her away from the tapestry. Steel glanced at it but it looked ordinary enough. Although it was not his talent he decided that it was harmless enough, he certainly couldn’t sense anything emanating from it. Nevertheless he wanted to make sure that the only reason why Tanner didn’t want Sapphire touching it was because it did belong to the mysterious partner.

‘Yes, it is. My partner, Mister Willis, acquired it out in the Middle East - all the best carpets come from there, you know. He told me that its the only valuable thing he possesses - and it is his sincere hope that once this theatre is up and running that it will be of some value.’

‘Where is your partner? Shouldn’t he be here too, supervising the re-opening?’

A look of uncertainty crossed Tanner’s face, ‘I can’t quite recall - he may have gone to find a suitable museum or he may have returned to the Middle East...I don’t seem to remember. I’ll go and check in my diary - I’m bound to have written it down.’

As he dashed away Tanner removed the handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his forehead. Looking after him Sapphire began to move towards the stage.

I sensed confusion in his mind. He genuinely doesn’t know where Willis has gone.

And Willis - is he real?

Sapphire stared ahead into the darkness, Steel at her shoulder. Yes, Willis seems to be real. I had an image - a tall, thin man, about fifty years old.

Moving forward, Sapphire began to descend the steps. Steel followed her until she came to an aisle seat ten rows from the front.

‘This is where Tanner was sitting - just before we arrived.’

Steel nodded, ‘In theory Willis would have had to be sitting here or nearby. Try the chairs, find an image of Willis - make sure that he is real.’

It was as if Sapphire had turned to stone. Standing still she stared into nowhere. The darkness of the theatre churned and distorted and the aisle seat was no longer unoccupied. An image of Tanner directed his gaze towards the stage. The image held for a few seconds and then it faded.

Around them space seemed to distort further and slowly another image of Tanner formed. The seat beside him seemed to distort too and Steel glanced at Sapphire, The seat next to Tanner’s - focus on that one.

Tanner’s image vanished and the next seat began to distort as another image tried to form.

More, I need to see more!

A rather tired and exasperated Sapphire communicated to Steel that she was trying, There is very little of his presence left to focus on. Willis hasn’t been here for some time.

Try, insisted Steel and he looked at the seat. A blank shape had solidified into being, slowly features began to form and a man finally appeared.

Is this Willis? Is this the image you saw in Tanner’s mind?

The image faded and Sapphire grasped the back of a seat, ‘Yes, that was Willis - he’s quite human.’

A sudden scream from the stage snapped them both around. At first there was nothing to see and then the girl appeared, running, evidently frightened. Steel paced towards her while Sapphire gathered her energies again and slowly followed. Grabbing the girl Steel looked into her eyes - he saw only terror.

‘What happened?’

Shaking, the girl looked all around her. Panic was evident in her face along with some overriding urge to run, to flee.

Handing the girl over to Sapphire, Steel then headed up onto the stage. He looked to his right and to his left - nothing. Above him all he could see were the lights. Barely visible in the darkness beyond was the upper gallery with a few rope loops hanging down around the lights.

Moving towards the nearest stage exit he braced himself for action. Backstage he could see nothing. The stairs that led towards the dressing rooms were empty.

‘Hello!’ but there was no reply from there. His ears reported no furtive noises and so he concluded that there was no-one there. Away from the stairs he looked around. The door to the booth was open, indicating its emptiness. A ladder led up towards the gallery above the stage. It was so dark up there though that he couldn’t make out anyone who might be there.

Sapphire - has the girl said anything yet?

Another set of stairs at the other side led to the toilets, some other room and an another exit. Steel stood at the top of the stairs and called down again. Still nothing.

Something has scared her Steel, she won’t say anything.

Can you come back here?

His gaze turned to the tapestry hiding in the shadows. Previously he had had little chance to observe it. Now there was nothing to stop him. Approaching it he observed the various patterns, although the poor lighting again only served to obscure the detail. Looking around he spotted an inspection lamp. Picking it up Steel checked to see if it was connected to any power supply. He wasn’t surprised to find that it wasn’t. Concentrating he energised it slightly and the bulb flickered into life.

The girl won’t come back with me.

Then leave her, Steel stared at the tapestry, trying his best to interpret the patterns.


The patterns were faces, all distorted into strange paroxysms of humanity. They were arranged in a pattern like spokes radiating from a central face. The central face was twisted, and under the light it seemed to seethe.



Except some trick of the light gave the impression of the tapestry twisting away from its frame. Steel took a step backwards but a wave of darkness reached out for him. The inspection light crashed to the ground, the bulb shattering in the fall.

To be continued...

Sapphire and Steel © P.J.Hammond 1979
Story © D.S.Carlin 1996
Steel image and background © Patrick Herron 1998

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