Patrick Evans could feel a hand of idleness reach over
his head and pull him down to sleep. It was taking him in and he
couldn't see or think or know anything else except that he knew
that he was about to start to dream. And as he lay there on the
cold floor, under the pool of blood accumulating from under
him-not understanding what was happening or where he was going,
his life flashed before him.
When your life flashes, it is not a fraction of time, but a moment where everything stops. Just moments before he was in all his glory. He was the center stage. He was living his dream. He never wanted that moment to change, when he was one with the stage. He never wanted to forget the joy he brought to his audience-to Todd, to his teacher Ms. Taye. He wanted to share that joy with his family, but they weren't here tonight to celebrate with him.
The words sang into the back of his mind, like a choir standing alone on stage-he wore his costume over his clothes in confidence. He spoke his lines with fluidity and never for a second did he falter or feel his knees begin to buckle beneath. He was invincible. But now as he stood there looking up at the little specs of light that shone down from way up high, he saw all of his friends, every one of them standing and staring out as if he wasn't even there. They were frozen like blocks of ice stuck in place, freezing the life where they used to be.
Patrick had everything he ever dreamed about. A perfect and loving family, a beautiful home. A chance to be educated in one of the best schools in his home town. Not everyone had these opportunities and that's what his father wanted him to understand. But they didn't have much money-and after school Patrick had to work to support his family who moved from Haiti years ago at the convenient store that his grandfather owned. Every little bit helped.
For Patrick Evans - theater was all he really loved.
* * *
Matthew Johnson always wanted to be an actor. It was hard work, but he loved doing it and he wanted it to make a career out of it. But his love for theatre was forbidden; it wasn't something that his father ever really understood or approved of.
After he finished medical school and was on his own, then he could do as anything that he damned well pleased but until then he had to do whatever he said.
But what was the point of going to that school for that degree if it wasn't what he wanted to do in his life?
Everyone at one time in their life, felt lost or trapped or afraid to just to go with the flow because of fear of the unknown or success. Children all want to have their parents to be proud of them for something they accomplished themselves.
He had the chance to be apart of the stage for 3 years when he attended Liberty High and His father never once shown up to see him perform.
If he was doing something that she loved, than it was more of an accomplishment. But he went on to that school his father demanded him to go, his father displayed his hard work on the living room wall as if it was his own accomplishments not Matt's.
4 years ago his girlfriend of 12 years packed up a suitcase-he watched her as she gathered the rest of her clothes and he stood back and let her leave. He tried to please her. He tried to please his father. He felt that all his life he was pleasing everyone else around him and not giving a chance to please his own heart.
"Your father was right about you. You are a fool to still dream about theater. And I hope when you find her, Mr. Smith-you forget all your lines and realize that you are the worst actor on the face of this earth."
"Rebecca, don't you think you are being a little bit ridiculous now? Isn't it up to me to discover myself? You are leaving because I am reinventing myself as an actor?"
"No. I am leaving because theater was your one true love and without it you feel that you have nothing."
It was the last he saw of her.
Suddenly a moment's image came back to him. Matt stood looking out of his window and realized that six feet didn't seem so far at all. For a split second he felt the wind as it pressed across his face and he fell to the ground, gasping for breath. In seconds he was flying, in moments he was gone. And all that lay before him was an open plane of silence, and a thick fog that enveloped all around him, like the emerald smoke of apathy circling in the air.
He could not even begin to grasp how lonely, scared, and helpless someone must feel in order to take their own life. He could not imagine what must be going through their head the minute before they do. Do they think about their mother? Their friends? Anyone? Are they even thinking about themselves, how many lives they'll change? or ruin?
When Matthew Johnson woke up, he was sitting amongst the red satin seats in Liberty's auditorium. The thorns he wore for the Shakespearean play were still on his head back in his freshman year of high school. He must have forgotten to take them off before he went to bed-but wait, how could that have been possible? That was almost 10 years ago.
The last thing he remembered was opening up his windows in his bedroom, taking a breath of the clean crisp air and standing there for a good solid 10 minutes just staring out at nothingness.
But now he was looking at an empty stage. Maybe this was it. Maybe the last thing he thought before he died was to be here. He jumped up and climbed onto the stage and was in awe of the surroundings all around him
"I'm back! I'm back!"
This was amazing. He would spend an eternity in the place that he loved.
"Maybe I can put on a play right now. Yes. I'll look for a script I could read from." He ran towards Ms. Taye's class and thumbed through all the scripts she had.
He sat down in the middle of the stage surrounding with a stack of manuscripts highlighting scenes that he thought he would be particularly good at, and thought how amazing it was to be able to live this dream for an eternity. He thought about that Twilight Zone episode-where the man that was denied to read-on his last days on earth there was no one left except for him, he found himself at the public library and he had every book he could possibly imagine.
As Matt pulled looked through more scripts, it dawned on him-that at the last minute the man's glasses fell off and broke and he could not see.
Matt walked back to the empty stage and looked at all the empty seats. He watched them and they stared back blankly, distant and cold from what he used to know like ice forming on the railing of a house in the dead of winter, affecting us more than any words we could ever hear or say or know-he saw his father standing there on the edge, watching him. He hoped to find that by showing up here he might have been the teeniest proud of him, and maybe he finally understood what he has been trying to tell him for so many years, but all he found was dark empty staring eyes staring straight into his soul, cutting like glass.
He was struck with this profound thought:
"What was the point of acting if no one could see you perform?"
A day or two came and went.
A girl in a white lace gown ran down empty streets; tears streaming down her face-she sobbed and wiped the tears. As she approached the theater hall, she looked around at all the unfamiliar surroundings. With one hand she grabbed the ribbons of her gown -with the other she clutched the end of the stage and pulled herself up-crawling into a fetal position and lay there as she was slipping in and out of consciousness.
Matt had walked in from the Green room and was bemused upon noticing her.
Patrick climbed down the cat walk and looked down at Matt as he lowered himself to the girl and looked down at her sleeping face. She was dreaming and afraid and shaking.
"Please …. Don't." She spoke out. "I'm so scared. Why are you doing this to me? Why? It's so cold now. So cold."
Matt touched her shoulder and she woke up and looked up at him.
"Why are you crying?" He asked her.
She moved away from him and clutched herself tightly.
"What am I doing here?" She asked him. "And who are you?" Before Matt could give her a response another voice entered the stage from above.
"What are any of us doing here?"
Patrick lowered himself down onto the stage. "This is the place we go when we die."
"Who are you?" Matt asked him. "I thought I was the only one here."
"You thought wrong."
"This is the place we go when we die? So we are all dead?" The girl questioned.
"Afraid so." Patrick explained. "They say when you die; you are granted what you desired most. I loved the theater. I always have. I have been here for years actually. This is my home. I am Patrick Evans."
Matt thought a moment:
"Patrick Evans? The Patrick Evans?"
"I like the ring of that." Patrick smiled. "But yes I am."
"You were the ghost that resided in Liberty before I became an actor. The kids used to swear they heard noises when they were on stage or saw your spirit walk across the cat walk."
"I am the phantom alright. When I was tragically killed during a robbing attempt at the convenient store that I worked at, my soul was granted the chance to regain my dream of being attached to theater for an eternity. It has resided there for years. I was a legend among other graduates of Liberty High and they swore to see me or hear my laugher in the corner of the stage whenever someone botched up a line or the time Alicia Cummings fell down the stairs they built for one of the plays. I made her trip by the way."
"I remember Alicia Cummings tripping. I was in the play." Matt pointed out. He was stricken with nostalgia. "Wow-it's great to remember those times."
"I'm sorry to bust your bubble of nostalgia, but I never liked theater. I never like acting. What am I doing here?" She asked. "This must be a mistake."
"God doesn't make mistakes." Patrick told her.
"Yeah but he likes to play cruel jokes." She said.
"What's your name?" Matt asked her.
"Joanna … I think."
"Joanna, you think? Don't you know?"
"Yes … it's Joanna."
"Do you remember what happened to you? Do you remember how you died?" Patrick asked her.
"No I don't." Her eyes started to water up. She stood up and started to cry in the corner of the stage.
"Look what you did?" Matt slapped his shoulder and got up and sat by her. "Are you alright?"
Patrick stood up and walked over. "I'm sorry for bringing up a painful subject for you Joanna. I won't bring it up again if you don't want me to. Something awful happened to all of us and it's hard for some people to confront that. Sometimes we chose to forget things that we had no power to change or hurt too much. When you are ready to talk about what happened or when you are ready to remember, I will be here for you."
"Ok so both of us were granted an eternity of acting." Matt said
to Patrick. "That's all well and good, but I thought I was alone,
so I guess one of us has to go."
"Yeah you." Patrick chuckled.
"Do you think god expects us to make a decision based on how much either of us sacrificed? You may have been here first but you were given a chance to act and your family loved you for it. I was shunned for wanting to do what I dreamed of doing. I was forced into medical school and belittled by a girlfriend who only cared about what I could offer her in ways of a paycheck."
"That's not my problem."
"So you are going to kick the both of us out?"
"The girl can stay." Patrick told Matt.
"But why, she doesn't even like acting."
"She obviously needs someone to look after her. She doesn't even know how she died and when she finally does remember she is not going to want to be alone."
"I can look after her." Matt said. "You leave."
"Like I hell I will."
Joanna regained herself: "Neither one of you is any better than the other. You both love acting, so why can't the both of you enjoy it? I mean seriously what's the point of acting if neither one of you have someone to see you perform? It might not be much but at least you have an audience now."
Patrick realized the truth in her words and sat down at the edge of the stage by himself.
* * *
An hour later passed. Matt walked into the costume hall.
"I've been looking for you. Where have you been?"
"I found a box of old costumes." She said cheerfully. "I wanted to try some of them on."
"How are you feeling? Do you remember anything?" He asked her.
"I still don't. It's like I have amnesia or something. I just can't put my finger on any of it. I guess Patrick was right that sometimes we forget, because it's too hard to face."
"Amnesia is still only temporary, Joanna." Matt told her. "But when you do remember, we will be here for you."
"Thank you." She told him. "That means a lot."
Patrick came into the room now.
"Look at what Joanna found." Matt told him.
"Wow." Patrick said looking through it. "Here are some of my old costumes. I have been looking for these for years. Its funny how sometimes we can't find something and then when we give up looking it just shows up."
"I love these princess dresses. I want to try one of them on." Joanna said.
"We definitely can use some of these while putting on a show." Matt said. "The possibilities are limitless. Look at these French costumes. Amazing."
As he pulled more out of the box. Joanna blurted something out in French:
"Mais oui! La Tour Eiffel, comme c'est jolie!" She thought a moment. Patrick and Matt look at her, puzzled.
"Oh my goodness. I speak French! It just came out. Do I know what I said? Yes, I do. Where did I learn French? I must have learned that in class."
"Perhaps." Matt said.
"Well I'm going to try on these dresses." She grabbed a few and went to the dressing room. "See you in a few."
"It's starts out slowly like that." Patrick warned him when Joanna was out of hear site.
"What does?" Matt asked.
"The memories. They start out small and then they get bigger until they are so big they cannot be contained."
Joanna yelled out to them from the dressing room.
"Don't you dare laugh; I'm coming out."
She walked back into the room in a gorgeous Victorian burgundy gown but suddenly felt uncomfortable at how Matt and Patrick were looking at her. Her eyes fluttered nervously around the room.
"I don't know. The shoes don't go with it." She lifted the bottom of the dress up. "I suppose."
"Nobody will be looking at your feet." Patrick joked. Matt sensed Joanna's discomfort and he walked up to her; she wouldn't look into his eyes. He lifted her face up and made sure they were making eye contact.
"If you're going to be a princess......you must play the part. Never look down to anyone."
"I am just a girl in a nice dress." She reminded him.
"Come. We have to do something with that hair." Patrick grabbed her hand and brought her back into the dressing room.
Finished with her hair done and make up; neither Patrick nor Matt could stop looking or stop telling her how beautiful she was.
"Stop it guys, you're making me blush."
"I don't know why you wouldn't want to be an actress. You would have been perfect for any part." He said next. "My father didn't understand why I wanted to do it-he would never understand."
Joanna looked at how dirty her nails were and grimaced. She
started to wipe them off with a towel. "Funny they weren't like
this before. I must have touched some dust or dirt while digging
through the costumes."
"Acting is not for everyone." Patrick said. "It's like passion. It has different meanings. Just because someone was passionate about something, didn't automatically make them good at it-it just meant they really enjoyed doing it."
"You were great though, Patrick." Matt reminded him. "Don't forget that."
The next morning Joanna stretched yawned and walked on the stage where Matt and Patrick were reading over some other scripts.
"There are other people here." Joanna told them. "I saw them before."
"More ghosts?" Matt wondered.
"No … not ghosts. They aren't dead." Patrick told him. "School is in session. Be prepared to hate human existence."
"Well dead or not, they are not kicking me out of my home." Joanna said.
She looked up and noticed the curtains closing by themselves.
"Matt … what is going on?"
A set suddenly appeared on the stage and people were acting. A girl not seeing that Joanna was standing next to her bumped her off the stage. Patrick grabbed Joanna's hand and helped her climb to the cat walk above. Matt was behind them.
"This is why I always stayed up here when the brats came in. It was much easier to stay out of the way up here."
"These people are ruining our happy home." Joanna sulked. "No wonder ghosts haunt."
"Things get quieter after three, when they all go home. But I still have to listen to another person claim they saw me up here or heard my voice. It gets kind of old after a while, especially when the noises they hear are just the school settling. It's true that most situations can be debunked."
Months passed and the three of them were inseparable. They were like peas in a pod. They made a home out of their current situation and it was everything they ever dream of.
Sometimes Joanna would watch them perform and sometimes she'd help out with scenes that Matt was dead set on her playing and he'd tell her just how amazing she was.
Patrick put a blind fold across Joanna's eyes.
"What are you doing?"
"It's a surprise." Matt told her.
"Oh I love surprises. What is it?"
"We can't tell you it won't be a surprise." Matt told her.
They brought her up the stairs.
"We're almost there." Patrick told her.
He took the blind fold off.
It was a room just made for her with a canopy bed and porcelain dolls all around it.
"Oh my goodness." She jumped for a joy. "This is so incredible. It's perfect."
"We thought that a girl should have her own private little place for herself." Patrick said. Matt found all the dolls. It must have been a prop for a play or something.
"I love them. I always wanted a canopy bed."
"Go and try it out." Matt told her.
"I feel like a princess."
"You are a princess." They told her.
A week past.
"My hands are bleeding again. And I don't know why." She said.
"Look, my fingers are all sliced up."
Matt wrapped them up for her. She lay down in her bed. He noticed bruises forming on her back and along the underside of her arms. "I don't feel very good." She told him.
"It's really peculiar." He told Patrick. "She looks like she is getting beat up. It is getting worse every day."
"She coughed up blood the other day." Patrick said. "It's a sign; something is bound to come about. Something bad. It happens to all of us. She is reliving her death."
"I feel powerless." Matt said. "I want to help her but I can't."
Suddenly they heard a scream come from the stage. Matt and Patrick ran down to see Joanna throwing things across it. A glass vase came crashing towards a wall. Before she could destroy any more of the stage, Matt grabbed her as she was in hysterics.
"NO! No No!" She cried out. "Let me go!"
"Joanna." He tried to comfort her. She pushed him away. "NO!" She flung herself on the ground. "Joanna!"
"Joanna! Please!" Matt grabbed her again and she cried in his arms. He lifted her body up and placed her down on a bed prop on the stage.
"NO, NO. He killed ….. me. He killed me eeeeee. No. No. … why?"
Matt saw that she was bleeding from on her temple and he quickly wiped the blood away and wrapped her up securely in the bed sheets.
Patrick came in with some tea; He sat by her.
"How are you feeling now?"
"Better." She told him. "I'm sorry I was crashing everything and acting like a crazy person. I just had a flood of images come to me and I couldn't help myself."
Matt touched her shoulder. "What happened?"
"I know how I died. My father killed me. He was abusive to me and my mother for years. I finally stood up to him. And now I am here. Who would have thought that my short life would have ended like that? He hit me and in my last few moments of my life I fell down the stairs - and the fall broke my neck."
"Jesus." Matt knelt by her. "I have no words to say other than I am sorry."
"I remembered a girl - she looked a lot like you." Patrick said. "She obviously was abused at home. She always came in here at different hours of the night. She would lay down on the stage and just cry. I didn't have the heart to scare her away. So I'd showed myself as a regular guy. She was a freshman and wasn't aware of the legend of Patrick Evans, so she wasn't scared. I would talk to her and tell her that she would be alright."
"That girl was me." Joanna said. "I told a group of drama girls that I met a young man named Patrick that worked in the auditorium at night. And they told me that he was a ghost. I didn't believe them at the time-they weren't very nice to me. But they pulled out a year book and showed me your picture and the article of your death. At least I know I wasn't nuts."
"So you did go here." Matt said.
"How did you die?" She asked him.
Matt admitted. "If I could not be an actor, than I didn't want to do anything. I would have been just a nuisance to my father or anyone else anyway. I could not live up to his expectations so I did him a favor."
"By doing what?" Joanna was confused.
"Killing yourself wasn't an option." Patrick realized what Matt had meant.
"Yeah well I'm sure there are some exceptions to that rule." He walked away from the both of them.
Joanna spoke now.
"Matt, you cannot believe that your death didn't mean anything to your family or friends, do you? I don't believe that not for one bit. There was no reason to feel you had no way out." Joanna told him. "You were passionate about theater. I can't say that I like it, but I understand how hard it is to love something so much and not be able to have it. I have seen the joy acting brought you and your friends. And that should have been enough. Theater was your one true love and she was denied to you. So you felt that you had to take your own life because without her you felt you had no more meaning."
Matt looked questionably at her. "You saw the joy it brought me? But …. How?"
Joanna realized she admitted something she wasn't ready to say -flustered she turned away from him. She moved to the center of the stage. She wiped the tears from her eyes. He followed her.
"You remember something else, don't you?" He grabbed her arm and turned her around to face him.
"Let her remember for herself." Patrick told him.
Joanna was standing in a room suddenly; freshman year. It was theater. She saw herself sitting a desk; Matt was sitting in the first row, three columns away from her. They kept looking back at each other. She smiled at him; he returned it.
"I remember. I had theater in my freshman year. You were in my class." Joanna said.
"Joanna? Joanna Gibson?" Matt said her name. He remembered her.
"You remember me?" She looked surprised.
"Of course. How could I forget? You were so beautiful. And you still are." He told her. "But you hated acting. You took the class to get over your fear, but never wanted to pursue it. There was always been something preventing you from getting what you want. And you kept this wall of insecurity up."
"My father kept me from doing what I wanted. And you always pushed me to be better or tried to." She said. "But after graduating I discovered that I was a better writer than I was an actor. You were right. I hid away from something, but now something brought me here. If my desire wasn't acting, then it must have been to be with you. But I never told you, because I didn't think there was a chance and I left. And now it's too late."
After realizing this she apologized; "I'm sorry."
"Don't be." He walked up to her and took her hands in his. "I should have given you a reason to stay." He took her face in his hands and kissed her.
All three of them walked towards the end of the stage and sat there together.
"I got so used to being alone. But in the beginning, I was so distraught over loosing my life-I thought god was playing a cruel joke on me. And for a brief moment I was so happy that I was here, until I realized that I had no one to see me perform. And then you guys came and everything that was once upside down in life is now turned back around."
"We are all here for a reason." Matt put an arm around his shoulder. He held Joanna's hand in the other. "I guess now, we just have to make the best of it."
Joanna then rested her head on Matt's shoulder.
"I'm bored. Let's go scare those drama kids away." She suggested.