We waited in silence, not daring to speak. After several minutes with our breathing the only sound, I whispered, “They just… disappeared.”
“So it seems,” Hemlock replied, barely loud enough for me to hear. “And there’s something very familiar about that voice... But I can’t put my finger on it. Frustrating.” There were some more rustling noises, and Hemlock pushed passed me. “Come on, then.”
“Are you mad? What if they see us? In fact, how will we see?” I asked, still whispering.
“They’re long gone I think, Eddie. It’s not that dark in here really. There’s a little light still coming from the stage. Sadly, we don’t have a clever electrical light contraption like he does. I wonder where he found such a thing? Anyway, we’ll just have to make do. Follow me.” She rose and walked back to the aisle.
Tentatively, I followed. We moved slowly to the aisle and down the gentle slope towards the stage steps. Hemlock slowly climbed. She was right; the young man’s lantern must have been nearby, shedding just enough light to make out the shadows of the steps. As I followed her up them, I could feel that the spring had been leached out of the steps by the heat.
Hemlock stepped on to the stage.
“Hemlock?” I whispered.
She leaned back over the steps. “What?”
“Just checking you’re still here.”
“Of course I’m still here. Come on.”
I hurried up and on to the stage.
I immediately felt the size of the space I was standing in. I could barely see my hand in front of my face but, somehow, I could sense that I was surrounded in all directions by nothing but air for some distance.
Hemlock took my hand. “This is the way they went.”
I was aware that my hand was hot and clammy next to Hemlock’s cool, calm, surprisingly soft skin. I almost pulled it away to wipe dry on my trouser leg, but it was clear that the demystifier had no intention of slowing or waiting for me.
Together, we began creeping towards the back of the stage. The boards moved slightly underfoot, suggesting that they, unlike the rest of the theatre, had either escaped the fire or been replaced after the event.
Two steps forward and already I was feeling a little vertiginous, unsure about where I was putting my feet.
I shouldn’t have been worried about my feet.
Three paces across the stage and my face collided with something cold and heavy.
I clutched my nose and yelped in pain.
“Shh!” Hemlock hissed.
“By dose!” I groaned.
“Never mind your nose!” Hemlock must have reached for my mouth in the dark to stifle me once again. She missed and her hand connected solidly with my already put-upon nose. My glasses flew off and landed with a clatter and the tinkle of breaking glass somewhere off to my right.
“By dose! By glah-did!”
Hemlock managed to find my mouth and covered it with her hand.
“Edward, shut up,” she whispered in my ear. “Shut up, or they’ll know we’re here.”
I made a clearly indignant questioning noise.
“They’ll kill us,” she replied, matter-of-factly.
That quietened me. I continued to clutch my nose, dabbing at it with a finger before rubbing the finger against a thumb to check for blood. Hemlock stood close behind me.
She let me go again. “They must be pretty far away. I don’t think they heard us.”
“Whad did I hid?”
Hemlock struck a match and sudden light bloomed in front of us.
Something was illuminated, just for a moment.
Hovering in the air before us was a dreadful apparition. A ghost with great, black wings. Pointing.
The match died. But the ghost glowed brighter, bearing down upon us.
I cried out in inarticulate terror.
Hemlock grabbed me by the collar and heaved once. I didn’t need further encouragement. Without glasses, still blinded by the match and rendered near insensate by fear, I leapt from the stage to the floor.
I landed awkwardly, tumbling over myself.
Hemlock landed on top of me, tangling herself up in my cane.
“Get off! Get off!” I shouted.
Hemlock pushed herself off me, an elbow jamming me in the ribs, a heavy boot stamping on my leg.
“Get up!” Hemlock whispered harshly, pulling me to my feet. Together, we started running away from the stage, the solid blackness of it, and the terrifying angelic spectre.
The glow behind us vanished.
We were plunged into darkness.
I skidded to a halt. I could hear Hemlock next to me. I reached out for her, finding her arm. She yelped and her fist connected solidly with my midriff, blasting the air out of me with an ‘ooof.’
“Damn it Eddie!” She shouted, before dropping her voice back to a whisper. “What are you doing?” I staggered and breathed heavily, trying to force air back into my body to avoid an embarrassing moment of unconsciousness.
“You can feel the floor rising. Keep going up.”
“The ghost,” I huffed.
“I don’t know.”
“It’s watching us,” I whispered.
“Something is, absolutely.”
“We’re going to die.”
Then we heard a squeak.
A rasping noise. Like the heavy, laboured breathing of the huge figure. It was horribly close, or must have been for us to hear it so clearly.
I spread my arms out and waved them, searching for Hemlock. I found her coat and tugged on it.
“Hemlock? It’s me. Don’t hit me.”
She resisted my tug, so I moved closer to her. “Should we keep moving?”
There was another sudden flare of matchstick light. I stared at Hemlock, a couple of feet ahead of me up the aisle. She was staring back at me.
“What is it?” I hissed. The match flame flickered and wavered. I looked at Hemlock, standing several paces from me and shook the fabric in my hand. “What is...” I realized that something didn’t make sense. I looked to one side, to the clothes I was holding.
I was clutching the giant.
He wore some sort of toga that wound around him and covered his head, forming a hood. I couldn’t see a face under that hood, not in that light without my glasses, but I could hear the dry, rasping noise. His breathing was heavy and slow. Regular as clockwork.
Slowly, I released my tight grip. I smoothed out the fabric and gently patted the huge figure on his chest. It was solid, but also unpleasantly fleshy.
“Terribly sorry about that, old chap.” I attempted to sound chipper.
Then I bolted.
I thought I’d be past Hemlock, but she spun and dashed with me just as the match went out. Again, in darkness, we ran.
I could hear the huge man behind us. He had an oddly regular lumbering gait. His feet landed heavily on the ground behind us as he gave chase.
I realised then that the large dents in the carpet I had seen earlier must have been his footprints. I figured he weighed half a tonne at least. Despite my inability to see, I redoubled my efforts to escape and kept pace with Hemlock, hat and cane clutched tightly in one hand.
Hemlock pulled up. I stopped as well. I could just about make out the fuzzy shape of the wooden door frames. Glass crunched underfoot. Hemlock yanked open a door and pushed me through.
“Hemlock? Which way?”
“But the door, you locked it!” I yelled even as I pelted forward, arms outstretched in the hopes of stopping short of running into a wall.
“Don’t” Hemlock panted next to me, “be dense!”
The darkness of a wall or door loomed up before me. The heavy footsteps of the figure not far behind.
Hemlock didn’t stop. She shot past me, skidding at the front doors. She pushed against one and reached through with one arm. There was an audible click and Hemlock withdrew her hand, clutching the lock. She threw open one of the large, wooden doors to the theatre and light flooded the theatre atrium.
I followed Hemlock into daylight.
Hemlock was bent at the waist, hands resting on her knees as she breathed deeply.
“Do you think,” I panted, “he’ll follow?”
There was the crunch of glass. The sound of hobnails on stone, and that too-loud rasping breath.
“He hasn’t given up,” Hemlock said, straightening.
“What’s the plan?” I said, replacing my hat on my head and taking my cane in two hands. “You distract him and I’ll wallop him? Hemlock?” I looked around. Hemlock was halfway down the street, skirts flying.
“Hemlock!” I shouted.
“Run, Eddie! Run!” She yelled back as she turned a corner and disappeared from sight.Cursing, I held my hat in place with one hand and dashed after Hemlock Jones.