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By The Pricking of My Thumbs, Something Hammy This Way Comes

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As the reigning artistic director of the New Burbage Festival, Darren recognizes that he will have to do his fair share of elbow-rubbing and networking within the community. Yes, there are the dear actors he must encourage, the ingenues to discover, the hopefuls to inspire, and of course, there will always be the despondently hopeless. Standing on the steps of Geoffrey Tennant’s new theatre, there is little doubt in Darren’s mind which aspect of his job he is here to perform.

Still, he must! He must!

(It is, apparently, part of his contract and no matter how many times he’s asked legal, there is a clause that he must visit Geoffrey's new theatre to ensure that there is no intellectual property theft involved. There had been a great many lawyers present and if Darren didn’t know any better, he might suspect Richard of wanting cause to sue)

“Darren Nichols,” he informs the guard at the front desk, leaning with great ennui on his elbow, gesturing to the great ether of the world. “I’m sure he’s expecting me.”

The sound of pages flipping is hardly the warm welcome he’d been expecting. “Mikkel?”

Nichols,” he hisses, coughing to cover the sudden instinctual flare of hurt. It’s bad enough that he’s suffering through being in Quebec of all places.

Why couldn’t Geoffrey have decided to resurrect his theatre company somewhere far more pleasant? The guard continues to flip through the pages, frowning at the fruitless search. It’s despondently clear that Geoffrey has not forewarned anyone of his arrival.

“Very well, I shall make my own entrance!” he announces, stepping past the front desk to the sounds of the guard protesting.

There is no stopping him, mainly because he starts hustling apace, helping his great exeunt by throwing the coat rack down behind him. He bursts through the doors of the small theatre space (which he suspects may very well be a leather goods outlet store once a month) to find rehearsal in progress.

“These are the forgeries of jealousy, and never, since the middle summer’s spring, met we on hill, on dale, on, Jesus fucking Christ, Geoffrey, would you get them to move the spotlight out of my direct line of sight!”

Ellen is, as always, so very eloquent with the bard’s words.

Darren awaits Geoffrey, standing at the foot of the stage, staring at the actors and the blocking with a keen eye. “You know,” Darren comments, when Geoffrey pokes his head out from the side stages, “I would have given Oberon more of a crown.”

“Darren,” Geoffrey greets him tersely. “What are you doing here?”

“I sent you an email.”

Geoffrey gapes at him blankly.

“Geoffrey doesn’t check his emails,” Ellen sighs. “Take five, everyone!” she calls to the stage. She presses a kiss to Geoffrey’s cheek, patting him on the back. “Please try not to stab anyone,” she requests. “I want to get through my speech at least once before dress.”

“No promises,” Geoffrey says through gritted teeth.

Darren does not want to admit to it out loud, but he reflexively turns, a hand sliding to protect himself and the remaining scar. There’s hardly a mark left, but not a winter goes by without him feeling the harsh sting of old wounds against him.

Once Ellen has departed, Darren waits for Geoffrey to greet him, to tell him that he’s looking well, or perhaps to compliment his choices for the upcoming season. When none of that happens, Darren realizes that unless he wants to stand here awkwardly for the next hour or so, he’s going to have to be the one to speak.

It’s irritating and annoying, which means it’s perfectly on brand for Geoffrey.

“Midsummer Night's Dream,” Darren comments. “I wouldn’t have thought this would be your first play.”

“It’s an homage.”

“Oh? To who?”

“To me,” says the voice of a dead man, in Darren’s ear.

The ungodly shriek that Darren lets out is barely masked by the cough he layers on top of it, but it does the trick. Nervously glancing to his peripheral vision, it is not just a voice from beyond the grave, but an actual man as well.

No.

No, no, this is intolerable, this cannot happen. He is not Geoffrey Tennant, he is not insane, he is not seeing ghosts!

“It’s for Oliver, though I’m sure he’s miserable,” Geoffrey scoffs. “I didn’t listen to his notes about Bottom’s costume. I’m sure he’s in a snit.”

“I just don’t think that a production needs to be that subtle about the animalistic nature of his transformation,” Oliver Welles continues to complain, right there in front of Darren Nichols’ designer loafers and his excellent suede jacket. “We’re not speaking,” Oliver says crossly. “Tell him I think Ellen should be further downstage during this scene.”

“I will not!”

Geoffrey squints at Darren. “Are you all right?”

How quaint, for the insane man to be asking him if he’s all right. Darren obsessively flaps a hand in an attempt to block the sight of a ghost from view. “Yes, I’m fine. Absolutely! Fine. Fine!”

Geoffrey squints at him, opening and then closing his mouth. “Why are you here, Darren?”

He’s glad they’re back to the topic so Darren can be appropriately annoyed, ignoring the fact that he hears the steady breathing of a dead man by his ear. “I’ve been sent by the board to ensure you aren’t taking anything proprietary from Burbage to use in your new productions. Costumes, sets, or anything that might compete with our season. I’m here to observe for a few days and report back.”

Geoffrey bares his teeth in what Darren thinks is supposed to be a smile. He huffs out a breath that sounds like laughter, even as he shakes his head. “Good fucking god, I don’t miss the bureaucracy,” he says, slapping Darren on the shoulder, the force of which sends Darren lurching forward. “Have at it,” he encourages. “As usual, Ellen has a meltdown on schedule around ten before we take a break so she can caffeinate, and you’ll probably run into people speaking French to insult me. I don’t understand the words, but I recognize the tone. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”

He gestures to a group of young actors, to which Darren waves him off. He’s rattled in the very worst of ways, and turning around to see Oliver staring at him with a serene smile on his lips isn’t helping.

“This is no empty chair,” Darren recites to himself, shaking his head as he lifts his scarf to ignore Oliver, walking with determined strides towards the exit. “You are not here!”

He retreats to the lobby, but it’s not safe there either.

There stands Oliver in his cream-coloured suit (he died in that, didn’t he, how gauche), looking thoroughly displeased. “You were flattened by ham,” Darren accuses, pointing a finger at him as though he can banish away wayward-pork-fuelled-spirits. “I will not be haunted by the ghost of a director past his prime!”

“That’s very hurtful, you know. I only want you to communicate to Geoffrey for me. And,” Oliver confesses with a mischievous smirk, “I do enjoy seeing you so riled. It’s a little touch of karma that a ghost needs in his life between the thrills of attempting to get back in touch with one’s life.”

Darren feels insulted.

“I am not dead nor dying,” he sniffs. “I’m the artistic director.”

“True,” Oliver concedes. “Only because Richard has never had a pair of balls and knows he can make you do whatever it is he likes for profit.” He says it like a dirty word. “Maybe it’s your soul that’s dying,” he theorizes.

That’s it. Darren did not come here to be insulted by a ghost.

He does not have to stand for this.

“I am leaving,” he hisses, feeling heated and determined to clear his mind of this insane hallucination. Whatever has brought this on (drugs? He doesn’t remember taking anything, but would he, if he’s hallucinating a dead man?) “I am leaving!” he says, a little louder.

The usher at the door gapes at him.

“....cool?” he replies.

In a huff, Darren lifts his nose. “I’m not talking to you,” he snips, shooting Oliver a warning sign before he does exactly as he’s warned, leaving a ghost behind him.

Luckily, when he arrives at the hotel, there are soft pillows with thin mints. There is an incredible mattress that he is genuinely thinking about stealing. There is room service and over a hundred channels.

Best of all, there are no ghosts.

That doesn’t mean Oliver doesn’t haunt his dreams. He’s there, wearing a ham-suit, doing a dreadful rendition of King Lear. Startling awake, Darren hugs one of the plush pillows to his chest, breathing raggedly and deciding that maybe he doesn’t need to investigate too deeply into any suspected copyright concerns.

After all, he only has one more day before he’s on a train home. No one would even notice if he spent the bulk of it hiding here, at the hotel.

He will tell Richard there is nothing improper going on, and he will certainly not confess that he is seeing dead men. It will keep him safe. It will keep him protected. It will, hopefully, keep him sane.

His plans are foiled by, ridiculously enough, kindness via a text from Geoffrey asking if he’ll come to the theatre.

Dreading another visitation, Darren debates running away. It’s not that he’s worried about Geoffrey thinking he’s a coward (he is), but there’s something drawing him back.

Perhaps there’s a curiosity to see what it is Geoffrey has to say.

Besides, the alarming fact remains -- Geoffrey Tennant texted him. That alone is a strange behaviour that bears investigating. Darren, thus, packs his bags and makes his way to the theatre with the intention of going to the VIA station immediately after.

Cautiously, Darren tiptoes his way into the theatre, as though if he sneaks in quietly enough, Oliver won’t find him. The usher from yesterday sighs heavily when he sees who it is, gesturing towards the theatre.

“You’re expected,” he says, in a tone that suggests this is akin to screws being put to his thumbs.

“Shh!” Darren hisses at him, frantically searching around to see if Oliver heard him.

There’s no one there. He’s still safe.

“I fucking hate this job,” the usher mutters as he walks off.

Darren heads back inside, finding no rehearsal taking place upon the stage, but he’s cautiously optimistic because while he sees Geoffrey on stage, there’s no ghost.

“Darren, good, you came,” Geoffrey says, summoning him closer. “Oliver appeared to me again last night and I’d worry about sounding insane to you if it weren’t for what he told me,” Geoffrey informs him, waving around his copy of the play to gesticulate to the empty stage. “Apparently, in his little snit, he decided to try and appear to you. I thought he was just being his usual dramatic self, but he tells me that you saw him. How?”

Darren bristles at the thought that somehow he can control this.

“I’m not crazy,” he feels it important to make clear.

Geoffrey squints at him, gesturing for him to go on and answer the question.

“I don’t know why or how, but I did see him,” Darren finally confesses, anticipating a cart to the insane asylum any moment now. He leans in so that his audience is only Geoffrey. “How on earth do you deal with him?”

Geoffrey laughs, derisive and scornful and gleeful at once. “If only you’d seen him sooner,” he says wryly. “I could’ve used an ally, you know.”

Darren stops short of declaring that he could have dealt with it better.

“He’s not here right now, is he?”

“Nope,” Geoffrey confirms, staring at Darren curiously. “You really saw him?”

What does Geoffrey want? Darren rolls his eyes, nearly about to debate lying to him solely to get out of this conversation. “Cream suit, annoying opinions, ham smell and all, I saw Oliver Welles,” he confirms his path towards insanity, flapping his hands about like a disgruntled flamingo about to totter off its one leg. “I’m not telling anyone else this,” he warns. “Don’t go thinking this is ammunition against me!”

“Darren,” Geoffrey cuts him off, laughing in a way Darren hasn’t heard since they were teenagers, “I’m happy here. Okay? Sure, I don’t understand half of what the tech team is saying when they bitch about me and I miss the funding, but I finally have control in a way that doesn’t make me suffer at the hands of Richard Smith-Jones,” he says darkly.

Darren reminds himself that he’s not going to suffer the same fate as Geoffrey. After all, he’s not so married to bad ideas for the sake of art and principle.

“Just...if you need someone to talk to…”

Oh, god. “Geoffrey, please,” Darren cuts him off. “If this is some form of pity…”

“It’s not pity,” Geoffrey interrupts him curtly, which is very annoying given that he’s the one treating Darren with kid gloves. “Look, I mean it. I’ve been where you are. So, you know. If you ever need someone to rant to, I can’t promise I won’t hang up after five minutes, but you’ve got my number now. You should use it.”

He smacks the furled-up play against his palm a few times, nodding decisively like he’s said all it is he needs to say, turning on his heel to exeunt, left, pursued by...nothing at all.

It leaves Darren alone in the theatre, with no evidence at all about infringed copyright, a lifeline of support, and a fear that Oliver might pop up and shout ‘boo’ at any time. Gripping his bag a little tighter, Darren decides that it’s well past time for him to say adieu to Montreal.

Besides, he doesn’t dare stick around any longer to see what other dreadful ghosts haunt Geoffrey.

One overbearing director is more than enough to contend with.


One blissfully quiet train ride later with no one bothering him, Darren arrives home.

Home.

Darren is home; he is home to his beautiful festival, where he is artistic director. True, he no longer has the beautiful hotel, but he is happy to trade it all for the safety and security of being back. He makes a quick stop at his house to drop off his bags before heading to the theatre so he can stand upon the stage and bask in the glory that is his dominion of the New Burbage Festival.

Unfortunately, it seems that he’s not the only one of a mind to grasp at reminders of their glory.

“Oh, good, you’re here,” Oliver says cheerfully from centre stage, a spotlight illuminating his presence on the main stage like the dreadful spectre he is. “Geoffrey tells me that you’re putting on Merchant of Venice this year. I have some thoughts about the blocking of the scene where…”

Darren collapses in a heap in his chair, awaiting the arrival of his actors.

“I thought I left you behind in Montreal,” Darren says wearily, interrupting Oliver’s thoughts on Shylock’s costuming.

“I thought so too, but Geoffrey was right.”

“Oh?”

What, in heaven’s name, has Geoffrey done now?

“He may have resigned, but that’s no reason why New Burbage can’t retain its soul. That’s where I come in.”

That’s where Oliver comes in.

Darren pinches the bridge of his nose as he listens to Oliver natter on about staging, props, and costumes. Slumping deeper down into his seat, he begins to wonder if it had truly been worth it to sign on to become artistic director of this cursed ground.

This bodes to be a terrifying, truly, and tremendously awful partnership, Darren thinks. What, oh, what has a man like him done to deserve this haunting?

There is but one truth that Darren decides is the cause of all his troubles -- life is absolutely not fair to an innocent artistic visionary such as him.