Undertone

SHORT STORY


A sceptical sound engineer assists a paranoid theatre manager who has summoned paranormal investigators to prove a long held belief that one particular seat within the auditorium holds a chilling secret. The haunting power of music and the crippling grip of fear will entwine with tragic results.

OPENING

Anya’s final sweep of the bow was as if she had delivered the coup de grâce in a sword duel. The last note reverberated around the empty theatre until only the white noise from the speakers remained, lapping back in like a gentle wave.

It was probably the most beautiful rendition I had heard her perform, but there was no applause; there was only silence.

I flicked my eyes across to Malcolm, the theatre director, but his gaze was transfixed on a particular seat. Even Anya, rigid and breathless with the violin at her side, was staring at that same seat.

Apart from the three of us from the theatre, the only others present were Ewan and his assistant, Zak, a pair of experts Malcolm had hired to investigate the issue. Milling around the aisles, they were interchangeable; they both spoke like presenters on a science show, but were dressed like students. Their eyes, along with all their equipment and cameras, were also focused on seat C3.

Anya was standing in the middle of the stage, as she felt uneasy about venturing into the darkness of the orchestra pit. Malcolm and I were sitting on the steps at opposite sides of the stage like bookends.

“Anya, can you give me the last two bars again?” asked Ewan.

The violin filled the hall once more and then fell silent.

Now even my eyes were on that same seat, occasionally straining at the tiny displays on the various motion sensors and infrared cameras dotted about to see if anything flickered in response to an unseen presence.

Above the ambient hum, I heard Malcolm’s inhaler puff into life to extinguish the rasping edges of his breathing. The scenery on the stage was doing little to calm his nerves; a hellish backdrop from a production of Don Giovanni loomed over us. Most of the lights were also switched off so as to limit any interference being picked up on the array of twitching gadgets.

“Cold spot over here,” announced Zak. “Anything under the floor, Vic?”

I sifted through plans and blueprints. My actual job was sound technician, but I knew enough to serve my purpose as a general technical reference.

“Every inch has got some sort of piping, wiring, or secret tunnel under it,” I answered, tracing my finger over the industrial spaghetti in front of me.

“What’s in that exact spot?” asked Ewan.

“It’s near a pipe. Water pipe.”

“How near?”

“Within two or three feet.”

“Well is it two or is it three?”

Armed with the map, I hopped down onto the floor and walked the route of the pipe right through Zak’s cold spot.

I returned to my perch on the steps. Zak tapped the instrument in his hand, and then exchanged this for another, which looked to be an ion detector.

“Are you getting anything up there?” Ewan asked vaguely at the stage.

Malcolm’s eyes darted about nervously.

“I felt something,” announced Anya softly.

“What do we still have running?” asked Ewan.

I sighed. “Heating’s off, most lights are off, aircon’s off. Just a few lights and the sound system.”

“Can we lock it all down?” asked Ewan.

“And stand in here, in the dark?” I queried.

“We have candles,” he answered.

“What about the sprinklers?”

“It’s an old system,” said Malcolm. “Not that sensitive. Probably needs replacing.”

“Anya, will the violin be audible without the amps?” asked Ewan.

“For the whole place or just to there?” she asked.

“Just to C3 will do.”

“It should be okay.”

She turned to me for my opinion.

“We can try it,” I said, shrugging.

I set about powering down the sound equipment while the two of them unpacked some very large cathedral-style candles. They constructed a circle of them around Anya.

“Do I have to have this around me?” she asked.

“It will help you see,” said Zak.

“And be seen,” added Ewan.

“It just feels a bit weird,” she said.

“It does look… ritualistic,” I agreed.

“They know what they’re doing,” said Malcolm. “Anya will be okay in there, won’t she?”

“Relax, everyone,” said Ewan. “This is not some freaky ceremony, it’s science. But, remember, even if weare focused on the seat, hisfocus will be on the stage.”

“I don’t mind, really,” said Anya. “But leave a gap, so I don’t burn my arse if I need to go pee.”

Once a few candles were lit, I switched off the last of the lights. There were candles encircling Anya, a row along the front of the stage and a line up each aisle. Ewan spent some time fussing over the location of the candle nearest seat C3, as he wanted to keep it visible, but not have too much light and heat affecting the infrared readings.

“Are we clear now?” asked Ewan.

“There’s still your electronics throwing out all manner of waves and signals,” I said.

“It’s all calibrated,” he said, turning away from me.

I thought my scoffing at this was inaudible, but Anya fired me a look in response.

“Anya, whenever you’re ready,” announced Ewan.

“The same piece again?” she asked, shrugging with the violin and bow in each hand.

Ewan paused. “Can we try something else… something… maybe a little less… ‘go-ey’?”

“Go-ey?” queried Anya.

“Slower, more sombre. Anything like that.”

“Anything but…” muttered Malcolm.

“Don’t worry, Malcolm,” she replied. “Anything but…”

Anything but Der Doppelgangerby Schubert is what they meant. Every other seat in the building has been replaced and refurbished several times, but C3 is a shabby antique with a faded ‘RESERVED’ label across it.

That last time that seat was occupied was also the last time that song was performed here.

PUBLISHED IN

  • Paperback: 162 pages
  • Publication Date: 27 Sept. 2011
  • Publisher: Momaya Press
  • ISBN-10: 061554066X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0615540665

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