Marty dashed through the dusty room, his machine jogging on his back. He had gotten in through a window. The space was quite cramped, even for a storage area, with paint cans and tools piled everywhere, but to get where he wanted without being accosted it had seemed the best way. Even actors, begrimed with sweat and half-way through a performance, would instantly recognize a man not of the troop.
From directly overhead Marty could make out Old Marley’s chains dragging over the stage, bewailing his lot as he admonished his ex-partner, the cowering man presumably at stage right, to heed his ghostly admonition.
Through the layers of wood, plaster and deadening bric-a-brac, Marty could catch the occasional line, not too surprising from people whose life's work it was to project, to emote, and the words,
“Have sat beside you many and many a day,”
Came clear to his ear. The intervening clutter robbed the line of its higher notes, delivering Marley’s eerie statement in a Jovian boom which caused Marty almost as much pause as it had been supposed to do the stricken Scrooge.
Moving into the workroom proper he cleared his throat and whipped a hand over his hair. This room was deserted also, as he had known, or rather hoped, that it would be. Half of an oversized peach house lay propped behind raw pine boards. The balloon face of Monty Python's god, jaw akimbo, hung from the rafters and a strong smell of resin pervaded the air; glue and paint and something which might have been raw clay. Marty did not know if the Shakes possessed its own kiln for firing biscuit pottery or not.
Through this room and across the hall, through another door and the sound of the performance overhead became a continuous, unearthly voiceover. He was beneath the thrust stage now and here... there were people.
A slender man in striped pantaloons bounded in, the glow still on. He was snatching at his cravat as a girl, a drop dead gorgeous woman in flowing purple, twisted his collar.
“Mark’s given’ ‘em the business tonight,” enthused the man, the low, directional lights shining on his black skin.
“Shut the fuck up, John,” snapped the woman, her strong fingers running the lines of his costume like a plow correcting errant furrows.
“Easy on, Val,” admonished the lift operator. “I’m about to bring it down.”
He glanced automatically around, nudging an apple box further out of the taped zone, and spied Marty.
“Oi, who the fuck are you?” he hissed, and the attention of all three was, for the moment, directed at him.
“Press,” Marty whispered back, ratcheting the slide on his ancient camera. The two actors instantly averted their eyes, but there wasn’t time for anything else; the trap door had slid open and the lift was descending. A miniature bed sank into their midst.
As rapidly as a pit crew, John and the man in black slid it to one side, into a space exactly the size. John flashed a silent eye at the other man as the trap slid closed over their heads and the operator stabbed his finger towards a Victorian style desk. Wordlessly, the two whisked it into the vacated place on the lift.
“Val, did you hear?” hissed a girl, carefully swathed in beggar’s rags. She had whooshed in like a snow storm, the black makeup lines of her poverty ghoulishly terrifying in the intensely subdued light.
“Come on Ava, you shouldn’t be down here now; yes, yes you were wonderful,” said Val, snatching up the wet eyed girl's gloved hand and propelling her from the room.
“Break a leg,” hissed John, sotto voce.
“You get the fuck outta’ here too,” the lift operator snarled at Marty. “Follow them if you wanna’, take yer pics, but stay the fuck outta their way! You shouldn’t be here at all, not now! God-damn ridiculous….”
Maneuvering between the tightly placed set pieces, Marty ascended the narrow stairs and entered... into a madhouse.
“Here, you; get out the way,” hissed a man in a black t-shirt and headset, grabbing Marty’s arm and literally throwing him across the back of the stage. Tripping over an outlandishly oversized white ghost he stumbled into a man swathed about in a maroon greatcoat, vents riffling the sides.
“Gosh and begofrah mate,” chuckled the man, setting him upright then immediately pushing his head down as a, ‘Scrooge & Cratchit,’ sign whisked through the air.
“Tim, leave that idiot alone,” breathed Val, rustling by, her sweaty body giving off a strong scent of soap and heavy fabric.
“Scene change,” hissed a different t-shirted man, snapping his fingers.
Tim pulled Marty out of the way as the man mashed a button and a massive lazy susan, fifteen feet across, twirled two walls of the set away from them. Around the black curtain at the side Marty glimpsed tiers of dimmed faces, stretching away into the dark.
“Chorus; up!” snapped a third t-shirted man, this one holding a clipboard. “Val, go; Tim, left; Lizzy, Jan, Lani, on the right, and-”
Over Marty’s head a clear, beautiful voice began harking the herald angels.
“And who the hell are you?”
“Press,” said Marty, rather breathless, shrugging his camera back into view and ratcheting the slide one more time.
“Press? Press! Get the fuck off my set m-” began the man, but he was interrupted as a tall, mustachioed fellow whisked past, rubbing grease paint from his face with one hand as he shifted aside the great chains and cashboxes with which he was begirt with the other.
“Give us a hand,” he said quickly, turning inexplicably to Marty and bearing his encumbered chest. Marty, with no time to think- the chorus had swelled by an order of magnitude and the back of the stage was filled with sound- slung his mechanism around behind and began fumbling at the props. With a deft movement the man pulled a hidden pin and twirled away, leaving Marty holding not only the chains but the grave vestments as well.
“Who the hell's this guy, Jacob?” the now unencumbered man demanded of a young fellow, struggling into knickerbockers. He kicked a box open and began rummaging through it.
The child had no opinion and shrugged without turning up his head.
“Who knows Mark; press?” spat the man with the clipboard.
“Notoriety at last…” chortled a short black woman, sweeping in from the wings. She wore a dress so large that she had to hold it in on both sides to maneuver between the props and sets and rushing actors.
“Roberta, my darling, you’ve always been notorious,” growled Mark, heaving free a pair of suspenders as Val charged down the stairs. Somehow she had switched outfits and now looked stunning in a pale yellow.
“Out the way, out the way!” she hissed, and was gone below.
The trap door slid open and a boy the size of a pepperoni stick, who could only be Tiny Tim, insinuated himself between Marty’s legs.
“Hot crowd tonight,” whispered John, spinning into the space from some hidden alcove and now looking at least as beggarly as the little girl below stairs had done, fingerless gloves, holes in his sleeves and shoes from another age.
A snap, a hiss and the man pressed the button again. The floor rotated and another scene spun away from Marty.
He remembered to pick up his machine and push the shutter button two or three times, backing as far into a corner as he could.
“Past coming up... now,” said t-shirt number two.
“You; zip,” snapped Roberta, thrusting her muscular back into Marty’s corner. He zipped and she was gone. The light around the curtain changed to purple and Marty heard the elevator hum.
“Your reclamation, then. Take heed!” an invisible voice declaimed, a moment later.
Marty scuttled and scooched, he clicked his camera and shifted props, was kicked up and down and swore at as scene followed scene. Costumes were snatched off- new ones just as rapidly thrown back on- carol succeeded carol, ghost replaced ghost and the lazy susan spun and spun and spun; props being unearthed and moved into location from the most unlikely places. The great white ghost, over which Marty had stumbled, was tipped upright and strapped to the man who, a dozen personas ago, had been wearing the much vented great coat.
“Got this, Tim?” said Val, holding an outlandishly long arm as a by now familiar stagehand ratcheted the frame to the man’s person.
“Just a walk-on,” replied the now invisibly shrouded actor.
“Keep an eye on that break,” panted a sweating young man, his long glistening hair restrained in a band, now that his character of young Scrooge had passed middle age.
“No worries, Carlos,” chuckled the invisible Tim, trying out the controlling rods which actuated his ghostly arms.
“Five seconds,” hissed a man in black, and all three hustled Tim backwards to the center of the lazy susan, holding him silently until the button was pushed and he rotated away from them, the head of his apparition rising well above the set walls. A great gasp rose from the audience and Marty shared a quick grin with John, once more in the striped pantaloons, before the man dashed away, skipping nimbly over Ebeneezer's headstone, lying now to hand, ducking beneath an oversized, crystal topped staff and weaving around a robust man in purple toga who was fixedly removing a grey beard.
“Good on ya, E.” he hissed, and was gone.
“John, John, John,” chuckled E. bemusedly, dropping the toga to the floor and skipping nimbly free as it was whisked away. Everyone ducked, including Marty, as the ‘Scrooge & Crachit sign’ came sailing back the other way. Val and Roberta popped up as if by magic and each grabbed a side.
“Out the way, my darling,” sang Mark, as loud as he pleased- which was still not very- as the cello boomed over their heads and Scrooge, in a fine, ringing voice, carried on both sides of his final sepulchral conversation. Taking her end away from Roberta he hoisted it a clear foot over her upraised arms.
“My hero,” she whispered, knocking him with a well padded, Victorian hip.
“Fuck over here,” hissed Val, and Marty, perceiving that she meant him, wove his way to her side. Their hands touched as he took her end and, together, he and Mark held it for the first man in black to affix.
Suddenly, it was a new scene, and,
“We won’t go until we get some, we won’t go until we get some we won’t…” cried the cast, all on stage now, the house lights up, and Marty stood, shoulder to shoulder with the sweating hoard of black t-shirted men, his camera hanging forgotten at his back, eyes glistening. He had made it. He had done it.
Then quickly down the stairs, past laughing actors rushing back left and right, through the room and into the other room and through the door and out and across and through the window and Marvin was free, in the night air, running across the parking lot to the cement sculptures before even the forerunners of the evenings crowd had left the Shakes by the front doors.
And then they came. In a rush. Masks torn off, shrugging into rustling coats, digging from pants pockets a jingle jangle of shining keys, faces alive and voices high, an air of drunken hilarity spilling along with them, a rolling, cresting gush of life and excitement, of color and noise and the joy of redemption shared, a common wonder like electricity crackling from head to strangers head, with a turning and a nodding and eyes touching which would never meet again; blue, brown, green and indigo violet, a shared and an infectious wonder.
“I loved the scene where-”
“Did you get the-”
“And the ghost yet to come, how-”
“I didn’t remember any words except-”
“I didn’t remember-”
“Can you imagine the sets-”
“Forgot hasty pudding until-”
“That dress, my god-”
“I know, right-”
“Want that coat so much-”
And Marty sat, the empty, antique camera useless at his side, as the crackle of magic fizzled slowly from his soul.
Soon, the Shakes building was black and empty, the parking lot a deserted sea.
The night stretched out, cold and beautiful.
Like tiny, miniature spotlights.
The stars glistened.