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The Nights We Almost Met

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“Sadie!,” hissed Lucy, hooking her arm around her sister’s and hauling her back. “Mother’s harping on about introducing you to some English second cousin who’s also a baron. Do take care of yourself, won’t you? There’s sneaking off, and then there’s defying Mother and never getting to sneak off again.”

Sadie felt a slight twinge of guilt at being told off. Even though there were only two years between her and Lucy, somehow when she was scolded she felt like she was a silly child. And, like a child, she attempted to justify herself.

“I wasn’t attempting to avoid Mother and her matchmaking—though Lord knows I’d like to—“

“Well, what was it? Because the bar is on this side of the foyer.” Lucy gestured elegantly with a wave of her fingers. “And I know you wouldn’t like to stray too far from the booze, sister of mine.”

“Thank you for understanding,” Sadie replied, equally as graciously and with a shade more bite in her tone than she’d planned for. “I just thought I saw something. Through there.”

Her older sister looked to where she’d indicated. “That’s just the entrance to the backstage area. Down those stairs, I mean. You probably just saw a stagehand with an unwieldy prop. Now come, won’t you? Mother and the baron await. If you try sarcasm, he’ll make some crack about liking them feisty, so if you don’t want to vomit tonight just nod and smile and be very dull indeed.” In a swish of lavender, her sister was gone, leaving Sadie to contemplate the stairs again.

It hadn’t been just a stagehand. It had been a broad flash of dirty white, like a dull glow around an old churchyard. And she’d turned just in time to see something in black go haring after it. Not a demon chasing a ghost, no; this apparition appeared strangely human. Unless demons wore tattered black tie and tails.

“…and this is my youngest, Sadie.” She turned to see her mother and a barrel-chested man advancing on her. “Sadie’s quite taken with Italian operas, aren’t you, cherie?”

“Mmm,” Sadie replied enthusiastically, as she wondered if the ghost had been the reason the soprano had seemed ill at ease throughout the third act. That, or the fact it was opening night, or that her costume had to have been digging into sensitive places. Whatever it was, it had been dull enough that she went to refill her drink midway through. “Marvellous. Yes.”

“So cultured!” her mother cooed, and as the second cousin opened his mouth to say something, all the lights went down and several people shrieked to make the commotion seem dangerous.


 

If there was one thing Frank Doyle hated, it was being out of liquor, and if there were two, it would be doing anything strenuous whilst out of liquor. Halfway to sober, Frank hit the deserted stage with a bang where the poltergeist had thrown him.

He’d not been watching the show, exactly, more watching the soprano who swore a deranged fan was after her. Frank, having heard opera before, didn’t think it likely. And in the third act, his suspicions had been proved correct. One, that the soprano had little to no knowledge of where to breathe in a fast aria, and two, that it was a ghost and not a fan who was after her.

It didn’t even look like the poltergeist was after her, not really. It drifted lazily about the stalls, reflecting off necklaces and cufflinks that were polished or set with stones. Frank, from his position in the nosebleed section, scowled down at it. It was showing particular interest in a box underneath him, but he couldn’t see what was happening in it or tell them to watch out.

And then the opera had finished and the poltergeist had zipped away, and he’d given chase and lost his hat somewhere in the wings, and now he was being thrown about the stage like a wooden toy. If he wasn’t careful, one of his tails would be torn off and then there’d be nothing left to do but to convert this entire getup to a morning suit.

The poltergeist appeared above him and Frank desperately scrawled a sigil on the wooden boards of the stage. He’d hadn’t quite closed the loop, he realised, when the poltergeist got sucked down into it; there was enough oomph in his banishment that made all the lights go out.

He got up calmly, retrieved his hat, and set off from the theatre as the lights flickered back. Disaster narrowly averted.