The birds woke Aderes up.
Not the tuneful twittering of early morning songbirds. These were seagulls, screeching in an unholy chorus as they descended on some poor tourist who had been foolish enough to toss them a crust of bread. Aderes groaned and rolled over, honey coloured strands of hair left strewn over the pillow. Jesus, she moulted like a dog in summer sometimes. She clambered to her feet and stretched, feeling her muscles contract after a full eight hours of being motionless. She smiled- it had been a good night.
The clock read seven am, so she jumped briefly into the tiny shower and pulled on a pair of shorts afterwards, adding a tank top as an afterthought to avoid giving her elderly neighbours a heart attack. The bedsit barely gave her enough room to move around in, but the owner had done their best to make it feel homely. Her feet sank into the patterned rug and antique ornaments stared down from the high shelves, strange dark blots against the white walls. Aderes had hidden the most disturbing of them behind the bed, except for when the landlord came to visit. Although it had been seven years since she had moved in, there was very little to mark the place as her own. A couple of battered books were piled on the table, and a small set of clothes hung neatly in the closet. Perhaps she should decorate, she mused as she pulled on her trainers. It looked likely that she wouldn’t be leaving for at least another seven years, after all.
The sun beat down on her as she ran, feet slapping against the gravel as she settled into a steady rhythm. Cornwall in the morning was never crowded, but it was pleasant; the quiet surrounded her, barely broken by the lap of waves as she neared the coast. The holiday season was well underway in June but the only person she saw on her route was Carl, exiting his store with a heavy armful of newspapers. He saw her and waved, dropping half the papers in the process, and she laughed and carried on along the road as he scrabbled for them. Aderes knew he’d berate her for not helping him later, but she also knew that he would have forgotten the entire episode by lunchtime. Carl wasn’t the type to hold a grudge.
The next couple of hours passed uneventfully, as Aderes repeated the tasks she had done every day for the last few years. Home, shower again, more appropriate clothing- jeans and a faded band T-shirt today-, feed Sandy, a quick breakfast, walk to work. She liked the fixed routine, and everyone else knew it. Carl had interrupted her run once to force her to try a series of increasingly disgusting cereal bars he was considering stocking, and the glower on Aderes’ face kept the majority of the locals at a safe distance for the remainder of the day.
The heat was even worse by now, and she felt the sweat gathering at her hairline as the theatre drew into sight. The first tourists had emerged, blinking in the bright light, and she grinned as Daisy’s ice cream truck trundled casually up to the nearest kerb. She could see Daisy leaning out of the window, wearing an unmistakeably smug look as the children began tugging on their parents’ sleeves and pointing at the menu, and threw her a wave before heading down an alley to avoid the growing mob of seagulls by the beach.
Yes, Aderes thought to herself. Today was a good day. Today was hopefully one of the few enjoyable days, when she wouldn’t end up dwelling on the things that had led her here. She hummed a few bars of a song as she walked, arms swinging. Five minutes until she reached work. Ten minutes before she was supposed to clock in. Her watch steadily filed the time away with military precision, and Aderes marched.
The Trinity Theatre had originally established in the 1920s by a Christian couple named Hartfield, with the intention of putting on biblical plays for the local children. But then the owners fell into debt, and the site had fallen with them into decay over the years. It hadn’t been until thirty years ago that anyone had remembered the place, when one of the richer locals decided to restore it to life. Now the Trinity attracted larger crowds than it could support every time a show opened, and a yearly Nativity production still paid homage to its roots.
It loomed in front of Aderes now, a great stone building with posters plastered all over the outside walls. The high domed roof had been used to its full advantage inside; the tall curtains shrank up into darkness, and rows upon rows of seats faced the sloping stage. Aderes ducked in quickly, and was instantly met with a wave of chaos. Actors and backstage workers alike weaved in and out, checking the lights, applying makeup, securing the backdrop and a dozen smaller tasks. She spotted Mariah, the lighting director, shouting orders on the left of the stage and made her way over, picking over spare cables and props.
Mariah paused mid-yell and turned to smile at her, only slightly out of breath. “Aderes! Right on time, as always.” Mariah was a stocky, enthusiastic woman of forty-six, and was never seen without her trademark red lipstick and bright clothes. Now she began to describe her latest problems with the lighting to Aderes in great detail, her voice carrying across half the theatre.
“So you see, there’s an issue with the blue spotlight so we cannot use it, but Lily’s monologue apparently absolutely has to have this ‘atmosphere’ that she can’t achieve with the usual lights, so the technicians think…”
Aderes let her ramble, nodding along. She thought the blue light could be fixed easily enough, but it was always better to avoid interrupting Mariah.
“…so what’s your opinion?”
Aderes blinked and focused on Mariah’s anxious face. “Um, why not let me have a look at it? If we can get it working, then we don’t have to worry about the alternative options.”
Mariah beamed. “Great! Off you go then, and try to be quick about it. The final performance is tonight, so they’re going to announce the next production sometime today.”
She smiled back and strode away, heading for the ladder at the edge of the room. Aderes was tall and strong, and she swung herself onto the upper rigging with an ease that came from years of practice. This was her favourite place, so far above the stage that the people below were just barely identifiable. She moved across to the spotlights, noting the position and settings of each. The blue light was in the centre, and a single glance told her that this problem would take a while to resolve. But yes, it was resolvable. Mariah would be thrilled.
Aderes pulled her toolkit out of the bag slung over her shoulder, and got to work.
It was hours later that she reluctantly descended, hopping to the ground and immediately bumping into Lewis, one of the newer set designers.
Lewis smiled down at her, green eyes lighting up. He was the same age as her, but looked years younger- if several inches taller. “No problem. Hey, did you get that light fixed?”
Aderes shrugged, her stance relaxing. “Yeah, ages ago. I just wanted to stay up for a little bit longer, check the others.”
“Ah, good. By the way, are you free for lunch tomorrow?”
She looked up at him in surprise, thrown off by the nervous undercurrent in his voice. “Uh, sure. You want to grab a sandwich or something?”
Lewis’s small smile split into a full-on grin, the worry in his face vanishing. “Sounds good to me! One o’clock, by the Cornish Café?”
Aderes was nodding back when she heard a voice call her name, shortly followed by Edward, another lighting technician. She didn’t like him much, but forced herself to look friendly as he approached.
“You, get back to the scenery,” he started, jabbing his index finger in Lewis’s direction. The latter shrugged and walked off, glancing back to give Aderes a parting wave.
“And you, get to the backstage now. Everyone else is there.” He scowled at her and moved away towards the curtains, indicating that she should follow him.
Edward turned back, annoyance written all over his face. “They’re telling us what the new production is. Obviously. Are you coming or not?”
Aderes sighed and walked after him, vaguely wondering what the punishment would be for aiming a screwdriver at a co-worker’s head.
The backstage was crowded already, all the people having seemingly migrated from the front stage. Liz stood in the centre of the space, arms thrown wide, a loose curl escaping from her bun. Theatre people, Aderes thought fondly. They never ceased to be dramatic.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” The chatter continued. “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!” The noise faded away, as dozens of faces turned to Liz in expectation. She cleared her throat and stood straighter, revelling in the attention. Beside her, Aderes heard Edward make a tiny sound of irritation.
“As the proud owner of this establishment, I am overjoyed at the response to our latest production of Romeo and Juliet.” Liz enunciated her words clearly; she had probably spent most of last night preparing this speech. “The credit for this success mainly lies with you- you who have spent months working your fingers to the bone, day and night. And for this, I would like to thank you.” This prompted a little round of applause, and the smatterings of a cheer. Liz beamed, before remembering that she hadn’t finished.
“Our last performance is tonight, and I’m sure that it will be better than all the rest put together! However,” she paused, “we at the Trinity never really stop, and this is no different. A new play has already been decided upon, and auditions will begin next month. This is more of an announcement in advance, so you can prepare yourselves for the work to come. So, are you ready to hear?”
“YES!” was the overwhelming reply. Aderes giggled at the pure cheesiness of it, but joined in. She knew that Liz loved this moment, more than anything else she had to do in her management of the theatre.
“The production is…” Somebody began a drumroll on the side of the wall.
Aderes froze. Around her, people were celebrating and hugging each other. “I want to be Wendy!” Lily was declaring. The designers were already huddling together, debating the scenery they would have to construct. All of it was far away from her, a faint roaring in her ears.
“Hey. Hey. Aderes.” Edward was poking her arm, something that looked almost like concern concealed behind a glare. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m not feeling well.” The words came out clipped and cold. “I’m going home. Can you tell Mariah, please?”
He frowned and opened his mouth but she was already pushing past him, slipping out the back door and breathing in handfuls of the fresh, sharp air.
She jogged all the way back to the apartment, resisting the temptation to break into a sprint. Her routine had already been disturbed enough today.
It was eight fourteen p.m., and Aderes had eaten a
hasty dinner, washed up and watched two episodes of The Office on the fuzzy TV
in the corner. Mariah had rung earlier, expressing concern for her health, and
Aderes had supplied a story of a migraine and a promise to be in bright and
early tomorrow. She had intended to go and watch the last performance tonight,
but she couldn’t manage it. Mariah had tutted understandingly and offered to
drive her to the nearest doctors, but she politely refused and ended the call.
Aderes slumped on the sofa now, exhausted despite barely moving for the past few hours. She had let Sandy out of her cage for a little bit, and now watched the chinchilla barrelling around the small room with unbridled joy at this unexpected freedom.
Her mobile rang and she groaned, rolling from her comfortable spot and slouching towards the kitchen. The caller ID read ‘Jason’, and she hesitated before picking up.
“Hello? Yes, it’s me…yeah, hi.” She leaned against the counter, phone cradled loosely in her hand.
“Tomorrow night? What about Tony- oh yeah, I forgot that he’s in Portugal. Sure, I can cover a few shifts. I need the money anyway, the show finishes tonight…yeah, yeah. I’ll pick up the keys at two. See you then.” She hung up, starting when a ball of fur suddenly crashed into her heels. So fast it was almost a blur she ducked down and scooped up Sandy, who immediately began struggling to get away.
“No, you’re going back in now. I don’t care how old you are, you’re not allowed to stay out all night,” she muttered as she carried her pet back to the cage and secured the lock. Sandy looked up at her, wearing an expression that could be described as reproachful, if she wasn’t a chinchilla. Aderes bent down to see her.
“Look, I have a job tomorrow anyway. Do you want Daisy to babysit you?” She could have sworn that Sandy’s ears perked up at the mention of Daisy’s name. “Yeah, I know you like her. And I need to earn enough to keep both of us eating, so I won’t be home tomorrow night.” She blew her a kiss and headed to the bedroom, pulling a tattered sci-fi book off the shelf along the way. She hoped that her neighbours couldn’t hear the regular conversations she had with Sandy, but what could she say? Chinchillas were good listeners.
She read for a little while, but could feel her eyes drooping. She set the alarm for six a.m. and settled down, feeling herself falling into sleep. Peter Pan, was her last coherent thought. It had to be fucking Peter Pan.
The theatre was full to bursting, adults and children alike packed into every seat available. Aderes watched her father walk out onto the stage, smiling modestly and giving that little half-bow of his. “Ladies and gentlemen…” he began, but she was distracted by a tug on her sleeve.
Cari was standing beside her, eyes wide and fearful. She was dressed in a simple nightdress, face holding only a hint of makeup. Her curly dark hair bounced around her face; the hairdresser had given up on doing anything fancy with it. She looked younger than eleven, especially like this.
“What is it?” She turned to face her, noticing the tremble in her clasped hands.
“I’m scared.” Cari’s confession was quiet and timid, her voice only audible to Aderes. “What if I forget my lines, or can’t sing? What if they hate me? Or-”
Aderes grabbed her shoulders, making sure she met her gaze. “You have nothing to be worried about! I’ve seen you rehearse this hundreds of times. You’re going to be incredible.” She got a small smile in return, and it made her heart lift. Cari still didn’t look entirely reassured, however.
“Listen, if something goes wrong then I’m right here, OK? I’m always at the side of the stage. Just look at me, and I’ll help you out.”
Her best friend’s tense expression relaxed a little, and she pulled Aderes into a hug. Aderes held her back, feeling the shaking cease slightly.
“And now I present to you…PETER PAN!” she heard her father announce from the stage, to thundering applause.
“Go, go, go!” she hissed, nudging Cari onwards as the curtain rose. “You’ll be amazing. You’re the best Wendy I’ve ever seen.”
Cari stood alone in the centre of the stage, somehow seeming much smaller and more fragile than usual. She turned to give Aderes one last grin, and then the music began.
Aderes bolted upright, breathing heavily. That had been a good memory, though. Wasn’t it? But the others weren’t…the others that followed…
The window in her room was open, streaks of moonlight falling across her bed. The curtains blew slowly, rippling the way the theatre ones had in her dream. There was total silence. She couldn’t even hear Sandy, who usually picked night-time to exercise.
The shadows were everywhere. They cast her wardrobe into darkness, shaped silhouettes on the walls in solid black. The tree outside spattered images of long twisted branches across the bedroom, leaves rustling. Aderes sat and waited, still attempting to catch her breath.
And then the nearest shadow reached out, and gently trailed its long black claws down her arm.