[CHAPTER SIX]: Walls and Windows
What they ended up doing involved sneaking back to the practice rooms to see Eastling. According to Eve, the old pianist had been the one to point out their status as murder victims, or at least captive souls. Evidently he had been in the company a very long time…a fact which didn’t speak too highly of their chances of escape. Aidan was beginning to worry about that—not whether or not they would be able to escape, but where he would go if they did. What would be the point? Would he find some place to haunt? Was that what the dead did when they weren’t being put to work? Would he go back to his grave and just lie there, awake and bored for all eternity? It was awful to dwell on, and so he was thankful when they at last reached the pianist’s little room.
There was nothing in it except a piano and bench. It was positioned so that Eastling could see out of the one tiny window he had, but other than that he was completely cut off. It was miserable and stifling, which wasn’t helped by the grey, faded walls. Eastling made room for Eve on the bench and left Aidan to stand there awkwardly.
“So,” he said to Aidan. “Are you up to speed?” He smiled grimly when Aidan nodded. “Good. Did Eve tell you what we’re trying to do?”
“Other than get out?”
“We need to get under the stage, first,” he explained. “That’s what Hathaway, the last artist, was trying to do. Well, he succeed,” Eastling sighed. “He just never got to tell us what he saw or how to get to it. He was a pretty private person. Didn’t even trust us all that much.”
“He was smart,” Eve added.
Aidan wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but Eastling waved a hand dismissively. “Whatever he found under there, we have to hope it’s enough to make everyone wake up. Maybe even Peter. If we can get him on our side, we’re as good as free. That’s where you come in, Mr. Lawrence. Peter will never trust either of us. Especially not Eve. But you’re new enough. You’re a blank slate. Once we have access to whatever’s under the stage, it will be your job to convince Peter to go and look at it.”
“Assuming it’s anything useful,” Aidan said, suddenly feeling rather pressured. Eve rolled her eyes.
“If it wasn’t, Sir Hugo wouldn’t have disposed of Hathaway so quickly after he found it.”
“…okay, fair point. But why in the world would Peter listen to me?”
“That will be up to you.”
“Listen.” Eastling leaned forward until his shirt button were brushing the piano keys. Beneath the wrinkles and creases, his eyes were keen and unrelenting. “No amount of practicing or performing will ever make me, or Eve, or any of us forget that we are prisoners. You’ll never forget it, either, now that you know. You’ll never be able to lose yourself in your art again. Imagine that, and then imagine being stuck with that knowledge forever. Decades, centuries of forcing yourself to create art. Time enough for all of your hope to die, until it becomes acceptable again, and you lose yourself for good. Look at Alexandre.”
“The dancer? But he-”
“He seems content, doesn’t he?” Eastling nodded. “Mr. Lawrence, that man has been here longer than I have, which is saying something. Who knows how old he is, or how long it took him to become all right with being here. But there was one day….” Eastling sat back, rubbing at his knuckles as if they pained him.
“My piano faces the window for a reason,” he sighed. “This room is directly between the dressing rooms and the offices; Peter always has to pass this way. So does anyone who tries to leave through the foyer. I can see all of it. One day, I saw Alexandre try to leave. I saw his face when they dragged him back, sobbing and screaming. Every so often, we break. Every so often, one of us who has been here too long will remember what most of us fear, deep down, and we’ll shatter into madness. When that happens…the only way back out of it is to force yourself to be all right. To forget again. In short, to deny until you believe. I promised myself that would never happen to me,” he added, a note of ferocity creeping into his voice. “I promised myself that I would never become complacent with this atrocity. Even if I can’t get out, I’ve passed on what I know. I’ve told Eve, she’s told you…we’ll keep each other aware and reminded for as long as we can.”
He was silent for a moment, and Aidan wondered if he should speak. But then the pianist cleared his throat and went on. “If there is even the smallest chance we can do this, we must. We have a duty not only to ourselves, but to the others. To the ones like Alexandre who are too far gone most of the time to care. Do you understand me?”
Aidan nodded. Unfortunately, he did. Unfortunately, the delicious thought of cowardice was turning bitter in his mouth. “I’ll do what I can,” he said in a small voice.
Both Eve and Eastling seemed to visibly relax. “Thank you,” the pianist said. “You’re a good man, Aidan Lawrence.”
(TCOS will return next Monday evening! In the meantime, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter @companyofsouls!)