I run the brush over my lips, the cold tickling me as my lipstick turns my pale lips a shocking shade of red. I kiss the mirror in front of me for luck, a superstition I do before every show and knock back the sherry in front of me to calm my nerves and steady my hands before pinning my hair back and continuing with my make-up.
A loud crash in the hallway makes me jump involuntarily. The mascara wand jolting into my eye and causing it to fill with water. Grabbing a tissue from my dresser, I hold it to my eye whilst listening to the panicked men who have now gathered in the hallway. Mumbled, unclear speech seeps through the walls and I can only make out a few words; ‘lighting’ ‘stage’ and ‘electrical fault’. Taking another sip of sherry, I count to ten before the knocking at the door begins.
“Come in” I call in my softest voice before the timid stage hand enters
“Sorry Miss Martin” he wavers, his voice barely audible. Good job I’ve heard this all before.
“Call me Virginia, please” I try to calm the poor boy, his looking like he’ll pass out but the prospect of calling me by my first name flusters him even more
“Sorry. V…Virginia. Right. Umm, it’s going to be a little while before you go on. The lighting, well it fell, and we’re working on it but it’s going to take some time.
The rising noise in the grand hall tells me that the crowd are growing impatient, restless in their wait for me. There’s nothing worse than 200 soldiers becoming bored in an enclosed space where alcohol is flowing freely. I spin my chair, years of practice make it flawless, and walk towards the stage hand, swinging the hips that have made me a household name. I won’t make it to the hall, I never do. So I have to get my fun somewhere. Dropping my robe, I smile as his mouth drops, “Well, best not keep them waiting. Maybe one of them will buy me a drink”
Closing the door behind me, I wait for it, the whooshing sound followed by the screams. A loud bang leaves a high pitch ringing in my ears. The screams drowned out only by the growing roar of a fire out of control. The stagehand runs past me and towards the noise, I am now completely alone. This had better work. I know there is nothing I can do but I can’t stop my panic rising as thick black smoke blankets the entrance to the grand hall and plunges the bright corridor into darkness. My throat burns as I inhale the acrid smoke, I get down on all fours, my continuous coughing burning my lungs. I try to think logically, to plan my escape but nothing comes. Confused and light headed, I try to see through the darkness. In front of my, the faint green glow of the fire exit brings a fleeting smile to my face – a chance. I crawl towards the light, my body screaming as my muscles are forced to pull my weight. With my last ounce of strength, I stand and throw my body weight at the door. As expected it’s sealed and with it my fate. Defeated, I fall to the floor and watch the fire rage towards me. It’s over. Flames lick at my skin, combining the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh with the already harmful smoke. I only have time to let out a silent scream before darkness descends.
I awaken and sit bolt upright in bed, a soaked silhouette imprint on the sheets showing the final position of my restless sleep. I try to breathe slowly, to tell myself I am in my room and not in the burning hall, but it felt real. It always does but something about this was different. My skin stings to the touch like I’ve burned it, I check for blisters but there are none. Chastising myself for being crazy, I look towards the alarm clock despite already knowing the time. It’s the same every night, 12.14am. I knew it was real, that this had happened, but without any knowledge of era, location or date, searching was futile. Instead, I’m forced to relive the same agonising death nightly. Sliding off the bed, I shakily walk to the bathroom and run the shower in the hope that the cold water will ease my aching body and let me rest. Undressing I use the mirror to check for blisters. My pulse quickens when I spot it, the black mark on my cheek. It couldn’t be, could it? I push my face close enough to the mirror that my nose touches it. Transferring the mark onto my finger I run them under my nose, the smell of smoke flooding my senses. I scrub my face until it is red raw before sinking onto the nearby toilet, trying to come up with a logical solution to this impossible situation. I fail miserably; there is no reason for ash to be on my face.
A banging at the door rouses me from my thoughts and the groggy sound of my halfasleep mum calls through “Georgia, whys the door locked? I’m dying for a wee”. I stand and waddle towards the bathroom door, the effects of hours sat still making my leg dead. Plastering a smile on my face, I let my mum into the bathroom and I head straight for my room. There’s no point telling mum, she’d only panic, besides what could I say? I didn’t understand it myself. Instead I’ll do what every young adult does when they are scared. Ignore it and continue with my day which means work. It doesn’t take me long to get ready, pinning my hair up in a bun and putting just
enough make up on to stop the living dead look I have going for me. I think about her, about how glamourous she looked and a pang of jealousy hits me. I’ve always wanted to look like that but who has the time for that much grooming. I run down the stairs and straight out of the door, the sound of my mum calling my name being silenced with the slam of it behind me.
The drive to work calms me. The hotel was built in the 1920s and still held its grandeur. The introduction of Wi-Fi, TV and phones had done nothing to ruin the atmosphere of the rooms. I say hello to Elena as I pass the reception desk, picking up the clipboard for my daily inspections.
“I can do that if you want to grab a coffee, you look tired?” Elena asked, optimistic as always. I wonder if the bags under my eyes were apparent even through the makeup.
“No thanks Elena; this is my favourite part of the day. Is everything set for the Darnell wedding party this afternoon?” I ask trying not to sound annoyed at the girl’s unintentional insult.
“Yep. We’re just waiting for the catering to come later this morning” Elena piped back before turning her full attention to a customer who had just walked through the door. Satisfied that everything is under control, I head down the long corridor to start my daily inspection of the uninhabited rooms. An hour later, my choice to wear heels is coming back to haunt me but I quicken my pace in my excitement to get to the final room.
Opening the large double doors, I stand and take it all in. The floor to ceiling stained glass windows flood the room with rich autumn colours. The sun bounces off of the five chandeliers, making it seem like flames are dancing on the walls. A feeling of unease crawls up my spine marring the beauty of the room. A wave of nausea hits me as I become very warm, the feeling of dizziness growing. Becoming increasingly agitated that the windows don’t open I make my way over to the air con and turn it up a little. The room needs to be cooled down before the food arrives or it’ll ruin before the wedding party arrives.
Walking around the room, I do a mental check. Fully decorated Christmas tree? Check. Baubles and Sharpies at every setting? Check. Turning the power on, I stop and smile as thousands of fairy lights illuminate the hall and show the true detail of the architecture. The wires of the net lights are hidden by the intricate painting on the ceiling, making it seem like you are under the night sky rather than in a hotel room. The varied first floor balconies, each located over a fireplace that would be roaring by tonight, have lights hung over the edge of ornate balustrades and the 12ft Christmas tree in the corner had been decorated to go with the brides colour scheme of blue and silver. One last sweep of the room to ensure that even the smallest details had been seen to and I’m satisfied. I leave the large ballroom the same way as I always do, with a dramatic closing of both doors, the sound echoing down the long corridors either side. It really was my favourite room.
As soon as the latch clicks shut I hear it; the sound of live music drifting through the doors; trombones, trumpets and saxophones all combining to play music that would cheer up even the most depressed of people. That song. It sounds so familiar? I physically jolt as the answer hits me like a ton of bricks. My heart pumps in my chest matching the pace of the song now playing, blood pumps in my ears and my vision blurs. My dream! It was playing when I was putting my make up on. Forcing myself to take slow, deep breaths I place my hands on the door handles all the while mentally arguing with myself. Silencing the logical part of me I take a big step forward and push. The doors swing open and I stand open mouthed at the scene in front of me, not that my legs would have let me move anyway. All around me people are dancing with such energy that the atmosphere feels charged with electricity. Heels, skirts, trilbies and uniform all confirm what the music had suggested. It was the 1940s and, if the endless smiles on the dancing soldiers were anything to go by, it was post war. I know I should be scared, every fibre of my being should tell me to run but something about it seems so friendly, so inviting that all fear leaves me. I walk to the bar and order a dry martini before taking a seat to simply take it all in.
A soldier named Charlie introduces himself, commenting on my “weird clothes” and asks me to dance. I eagerly agree and take his hand. By the time the song is over I am drenched with sweat, no wonder women were thin in this era! Charlie regales me with stories from his four years in battle and, at first, he has my full attention but then
I see it. The poster on the wall introducing tonight’s act. It’s her, the face that has stared back at me nightly for a month. Charlie continues to talk oblivious to the fact that not a word was getting through to me as the room blurs around the image as panic sets in again. This is the hall that she never got to play in. The atmosphere that seemed so lively a second ago is now so overwhelming that it threatens to choke me. The rest of the room comes back into view, Charlie is looking at me expectantly, waiting for an answer to a question I hadn’t heard. Flustered and embarrassed, I excuse myself to the bathroom and walk across the ballroom floor leaving a confused Charlie looking in my direction. A tinge of sadness overwhelms me as I realise he will die tonight unless I help him. I can’t tell him the truth; he’d think I was crazy. Heck I thought I was crazy. Instead I double back on myself and kiss him on the cheek before bring my mouth to his ear and whispering “Leave now. Don’t ask why, just go” I don’t wait to see if he believes me, I don’t have time, instead I walk towards the stage and where I hope the hallway would be.
I see her and my heart stops. There she was, Virginia, the doppelganger from my dream. A mixture of relief that I’m not crazy and panic that I was now going to die in a horrific way grips me. She spots me in the mirror and turns to face me, shock and happiness on her face.
“It worked? She started, never blinking as she circled me “I knew you’d look similar to me but it’s like looking in a mirror”
I don’t have time for questions now, they could be asked when we got out. If we got out. I grab her, the continuous circling making me dizzy. “You’ve got to listen to me.
We’ve got to get everyone out of here, there is going to be a…”
“Fire?” she explains further, my dumbfounded expression encouraging her. “I know about it. I’ve relived it for years but you, you, are here to stop that. For me at least.”
I remained silent, a feeling of unease growing. “You’ve heard of reincarnation? The idea that a soul lives a thousand lives before you and will go on to live a thousand after your body dies. When you die before your time; murdered or in a fire that wasn’t destined to start, your soul splits. Most of it continues onto the next life but a small part of it is forced to relive your death time and time again.”
“So, all those people are going to die? Can’t we stop it? Save them” My idea seems to anger her.
“Do you not think I’ve tried?! That I haven’t acted out each scenario in my head, they all end the same way. With me burning! But not today” The door to the dressing room opened and four nameless soldiers file through and surround me. “That necklace around your neck can change it all” The soldiers grab me, my attempts to fight futile against the trained experts. Virginia grabs the necklace from my neck and places it around hers.
“My necklace? I found it in a box of junk at my grandma’s house that was being thrown out. You can have it, You don’t need to do this.”
“It’s hard to explain, I don’t really understand it myself, but this necklace will save me. It’s my new chance at life. A future that I should have had” Virginias face becomes firm, determined.
“Ok. Well you have it now so you can just do whatever you did and send me back” Even as I say it, I know it won’t happen.
“Unfortunately not. You see, if we both escape, no soul survives. If no soul survives then our line doesn’t continue”. The lighting rig falls making Virginia jump. “It’s almost time. Go and get us a table, I want to be comfortable for the journey” The soldiers leave, allowing me to drop to the floor in the process, leaving Virginia and I alone in a room. Turning to the mirror one last time, Virginia hesitates “It’s scary how quickly they believed me that they’d survive” She opens the door and with one last glance, gives her final blow “Still, who am I to destroy a dying man’s hope. Thank you Georgia, for your sacrifice”.
The whooshing sound I’ve become accustom to signifies that I have mere minutes before the fire comes down the hallway, sealing my fate. I run down the corridor to the grand hallway scanning the room for any possible exits. Logically the double doors to the hall would be the obvious choice but they’re blocked by the fallen lighting rig and, if the group of people pulling at it is anything to go by, it was jammed fast. The fire exit at the end of the backstage corridor is blocked, that much I know, but that can’t be the only choices in a large room like this. Soldiers stood fast at each window, blocking any chance of breaking them. Virginia stands at the highest balcony watching me fight for my life. When I catch her eye, she simply raised a glass to me and mouths “thank you”.
The fire is getting closer, forcing me back towards the corridor where I know I will burn, I have just one chance at survival, and the odds of it working are bleak, but I have to try. Charging up the stairs, I run in Virginia’s direction, unsure if the burning in my lungs is from the smoke or my consistent absence from the gym. The soldiers, struggling to contain their fear at the growing flames and knowing I can’t escape, have retreated to higher ground leaving Virgina my path unblocked. Virginia turns to me, the over confident smile turning to shock, as I charge at her sending us both over the balconies edge. Time slows as we battle through our fall, both our hands on the necklace I have now ripped from her neck in a fight to the death. As the flames surround me, my skin screams as I begin to cook. Darkness envelopes the corner of my eyes as my blood begins to boil. I don’t have long. With all the strength I can
muster, I pull at the necklace chain and hope it’s enough.
“Georgia…Georgia…Georgia” The shrill tones of a panicked female pierces through the peaceful silence. Irritated, I open my eyes to the face of a blonde staring down at me. Her anxious face softens in relief that I am awake before the worry returns. “Stay still, the ambulance is on its way”. I groan, the woman’s been talking for just five minutes and she’s annoying me already. I ignore the burning in my throat and plaster a smile on my face
“No ambulances. I’m fine, really. I just haven’t eaten and felt lightheaded is all” I start to get up to reinforce my statement.
“Are you sure? You were found passed out by a guest! She couldn’t get you to come too”
A sheepish looking woman steps out from the gathering crowd, a sandwich in hand. I eat it, making all the right noises of gratitude and answering the incessant line of questioning until the crowd starts to disperse. Tired and eager to get to stop people talking at me I excuse myself to the bathroom, first asking the mouthy blonde for her make-up bag.
“Sure?” she looks at me like I’ve gone mad. “Are you sure you’re feeling alright?” I roll my eyes, now irritated at the repetition.
“Once again, I’m fine. I just want to freshen up, the whole passing out thing took it out of me and I don’t want to scare the guests” I grab her make-up bag before she can ask any more questions and head for the bathroom.
Emptying the bag onto the counter, I begin to search feeling more alive than I have in a long time. I find what I am looking for almost immediately, its gold casing reflecting the bathroom light and shining like a gift from the gods. I reach out to it, my trembling hand becoming steadier as I pull off the lid. My lips tingle at the familiar memory as I turn my lips a luscious red. I stand in front of the mirror, admiring my reflection when the blonde opens the door
“Georgia, your mums here to pick you up…” she stops mid-sentence, taking a breath before starting again “wow. You look great, different, but great!”
Unsure what to make of me, and possibly incensed by my lack of gratitude the blonde leaves, never losing eye contact as she does.
One last check in the mirror and I am good to go. I pull open the door before I remember. How could I forget? Returning to the mirror, I kiss it, leaving a perfect replica of my lips on the glass. “Just for luck” I say out loud before making my way out of the bathroom.