For several nights, Miki O’Ryan has snuck into the condemned Sullivan Theater to watch an enigmatic, shadowy group perform haunting routines that are part gymnastics, part dance, and part magic. When the director catches Miki spying one night, he invites her to join them.
The Theater of the Dead is a gothic troupe whose members all pretend to be vampires. Miki is thrilled to finally belong to a family, however odd it may be. When the gorgeous Davin is assigned to be her partner—and seems as if he may be interested in being more—Miki is ready to follow the Theater of the Dead anywhere.
But whenever Miki dances with them, she feels as if they are putting her under a spell with their sensuous movement and hypnotic eyes. Is it possible that these strange people are more than what they seem? Miki realizes she may be in danger of losing her life—and her soul—to the Theater of the Dead.
About the Author
Barbara Steiner (1934–2014) was an acclaimed author known for her books for children and young adults. Steiner authored over seventy titles, including picture books, early chapter books, mysteries, young adult thrillers, historical novels, and romances. In her lifetime, Steiner visited more than ninety-four countries and all seven continents, and many of her books were inspired by her travels. She lived in Boulder with her family until her death in January 2014.
Read an Excerpt
The Dark Chronicles
By Barbara Steiner
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Barbara Steiner
All rights reserved.
She crouched in the alley near the stage door, watching them arrive for the third night in a row. The smells around her made her want to hold her breath—dark, rotting garbage, the sour smell of tomcat spray, and the earthy, musty odor of homeless men and women who often slept under newspapers or, if they were lucky, in cardboard-box bedrooms dragged from the nearest furniture store.
This third night would have been the fourth if she hadn't been discouraged from staying away on Tuesday. That night she had finished her dance class and was ready to go watch them arrive when an ambulance had shrieked past. It stopped in front of the old Sullivan Theater, abandoned for almost a year now, then backed to the mouth of the alley. The alley had come alive with EMTs and police, all too late.
The stretcher sagged only slightly, barely burdened with the body of a street person who had given up on independent living. Drug overdoses, tuberculosis, pneumonia, lethargy, despair—the causes of death were varied and final. Perhaps in this case, death had been merciful.
Miki could have waited for the short time it took police to write the notes for yet another report, to try to identify the physical shell of the man who had died. But her mood had been spoiled. The feeling of expectancy and curiosity were gone, replaced by the reality of death's visit. So she'd missed Tuesday night and reluctantly caught the bus home.
Tonight, though, her curiosity grew as she dared to inch closer to the door to see better in the dim light of dusk. The risk paid off, the reward a delicious feast for her eyes. They were all dressed in black, as was she, but two of the men also wore sweeping, swirling capes lined with blood-red satin.
The girl she'd seen most often—the one with ink-black hair that billowed around her shoulders and fell to her waist—was wearing black jeans and a cloudy chiffon top of charcoal and cream that floated around her as she moved. She tipped her head back and laughed, her voice low and throaty, as one of the men—a slender, almost boyish male—pulled aside the boards and the condemned sign across the door and held it open for her to enter.
Miki was later than usual tonight, since her dance teacher, Ms. Lawton, had kept her to work on a difficult leap and drop pattern for their next recital. She was afraid she had missed seeing some of the dancers arrive. Her count had reached five when an eerie stillness filled the narrow passage between the two old stone buildings. She waited, huddled in a door across the way.
After a few minutes, she looked around, sensing that she wasn't alone. She saw no one. Nothing moved in the shadows or in the street's light at the mouth of the alley. She heard nothing.
Maybe she shouldn't wait any longer, but she hated for the night's show to be over. She thought there should be more in the troupe. Had she seen more than seven different people? Other nights, at a distance, she had tried to identify each of them.
She tried to recall each individual and the way he or she dressed, the way each acted. A couple of them were older, maybe a director and a stage manager. Some carried dance bags, and all walked with the grace and the loose, confidant step of dancers. She wished she could have stopped one of them and asked who they were and what they were doing here. But something had held her back. They all seemed so close, as if they had known each other for a long time.
A crash of thunder took her by surprise. She leaped to her feet and ran, then leaned against the brick wall beside the steps to the stage door. Soft, gentle rain would have been welcome, relieving the heat and humidity that had oppressed the city all week. But the sudden downpour sent her scurrying for the first doorway available—the one she had been watching for days.
The boards across the door, attached only by one nail, swung loose. She glanced briefly at the sign stating that the structure was condemned and scheduled to be torn down. Looking both ways, she stepped inside the old building, grateful for the silent door hinges and the thick velvet darkness that hid her trespass.
"Thank you," she whispered to the fates which had given her this opportunity, this excuse to enter and explore.
As soon as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she felt her way down the narrow hallway toward strains of music and the chatter of voices.
Brushing against soft draperies, she almost sneezed when her nostrils filled with ancient dust, ghosts of grease paint, the spicy smoke of cloves, and the musk of recent perfumes.
She guessed at the layout and hugged the wall to her left. Twice she glanced around, still having that distinct feeling that she wasn't alone. But no one caught up with her, and no one came from the other direction.
Several curtained-off corridors tempted her, but she was afraid they'd lead onto the stage. She wanted to hide for as long as possible.
Just as she'd thought, she came into the auditorium on the far aisle of a section of theater seats. One of the older men sprawled in a seat near the stage, his legs draped over seats in front of him. A director? Producer? Backer? The dance master?
Slipping along the back, she tiptoed down one center aisle to mid-seating, then slid into a worn plush cushion and sank down to watch. Once more, however, she glanced around to make sure no one was behind her. No one had followed her in. No, she was alone in the audience.
The lights on stage were uniformly dim, casting long shadows, but soon she could make out what little decor made up the set. Across the back hung a net of large ropes, but unlike a fishing net, which would have drooped, this net was fastened tightly to the wall like a series of rope ladders or a huge spider web.
Downstage left a rather wide swing—no, a trapeze bar—rocked gently. The ropes coming from the ceiling were covered with wine-red velvet, as was the seat. Miki watched as a female dancer entered, grabbed the bar, which was about four feet from the floor, and somersaulted onto the seat. Her suspended legs pumped to start the swing swaying.
Opposite, but slightly upstage, hung another trapeze wrapped in black velvet. The seat of the black swing was higher, perhaps six feet off the floor. Several smaller trapeze-swings floated further upstage.
"Kyle, take Davin's part for now," the seated man called.
A tall, thin man slipped onto the stage and spun onto the second swing. Instead of remaining seated, he leaped to his feet and pumped the swing while standing. Once the ropes reached full extension, he sat, locked his knees over the bar and dangled head down, fingertips almost brushing the stage floor.
What fun, Miki thought. She watched with fascination. The velvet ropes were not like circus trapezes, since they weren't that high, nor were they close enough to leap and twist from one to the other. They were like children's dreams of the perfect swing, one that would fly them to the tree tops, then return them to earth with long sweeping glides.
Miki watched, and soon the sensation of flying captured her imagination. She pretended that she was the dancer who leaped onto the stage, onto the red velvet swing.
The seated dancer, Miki realized, was the slight girl with the waist-long ebony hair. As she leaned back and flew forward, her silky tresses floated behind her like thick, dark seaweed in an ocean of air. She laughed out loud, her voice deep and melodic.
Soon other dancers ran onto the stage and leaped onto the other swings, or climbed and clung to the ropes on the back wall. The music that swelled and swirled around Miki—coming from a perfect sound system in the auditorium, surely belonging to the dancers—seemed to melt her insides.
Her head and heart filled with longing. Not just to dance but to live life fuller, to yearn, to love to a level of heated passion that she had never experienced, maybe never dreamed she'd experience.
She remembered, and mourned for the street person who had died last night, all his hopes and dreams cut short.
Her longing deepened and tears slid to linger at the corner of her mouth, then pool on her lips. She ran her tongue over the swell of her bottom lip and welcomed the salt, imagining the taste as just one of the bitter disappointments of her short life.
A father. Gone. A stranger should she meet him today.
Her mother. Distant. Often disapproving. Always working too hard to be there for companionship.
A true love. So far, nonexistent, or only a romantic dream. Perhaps she would never find him.
Surely she would have started to sob had she not been startled out of all the deep feelings the music and the scene before her had wrung.
A full white spot swung from those near the stage. The light, like silver moon rays, pinned her to the seat, trapping her with the sharp pain of icy daggers.
From the dark seats on either side of her two strong hands closed over each of her arms, taking her prisoner.
"Hello," said a voice on her left. Warm, silken breath caressed her ear.
"What an unexpected pleasure." Another voice, a clove-smelling whisper, filled her right ear. "Who invited you to our party? Will you stay?"
She stared as the director stood and swept toward her, a frown on his face.
"Who are you?" he asked, his voice as icy as the spotlight. "What are you doing here?"CHAPTER 2
Miki felt her entire body shrink with fear, unreasonable fear. After all, there was no harm in her watching, was there? She wasn't bothering anyone. She had kept very quiet, but obviously not quiet enough. Someone had seen or heard her. But unless their act was a secret, she didn't think she was in any real trouble. Except maybe for trespassing, but something told her this troupe was also trespassing. The Sullivan Theater was condemned. No one was supposed to be in here. So they couldn't accuse her of breaking any laws. The bottom line, though, was that the director's face and tone of voice said he didn't want her there.
She gripped the seat arms on either side of her tighter. No one knew where she was. She had kept it from Paige that she was coming here every night. Kept it secret for several reasons, some she wasn't even sure of. Paige was part of a large family. She could never understand Miki's need to belong to someone, something, not to feel so alone.
"Lovely," the silken voice on her left said.
"So young, so beautiful." A similar voice on her right whispered in her ear, his breath setting her neck afire.
The fire spread down her throat, seared her chest and landed in the pit of her stomach, spinning and twisting out of control. As soft and silken as the voices were, there was an obvious threat woven into the flattering words. They—they wouldn't hurt her, would they? She hadn't done anything wrong.
Their leader continued to stare at her now that the spotlight dissolved and house lights came up. His eyes were the greenest emeralds she had ever seen. Eyes with fire, icy fire.
His face was pale, as if he had never been in the sun. But he was handsome in a polished way. Elegant was the word that came to mind, almost beautiful, like no male she had ever seen before. He smiled, helping her relax enough to speak.
"I—I'm a dancer. It—it started to rain, to pour. I ducked into the theater so I wouldn't get soaked. Then, when I realized you were dancers, I stayed to watch."
"Yes, we are dancers." The man was dressed all in black. Black tights and top, covered with a rather long silk shirt, the material dark and shiny as a crow's wing.
"What were you doing in the alley with a storm threatening?" The man on her left released her arm. She dared look at him. He was young, perhaps her age, seventeen—surely no more than eighteen or nineteen. Black hair tumbled around his pale face. Did they have on makeup? He brushed his hair out of his eyes.
"And this isn't a very good part of town. You weren't safe out there." Were they twins? The other boy—young man—released her.
She might as well tell the truth. "I watched you enter the theater. I wondered what—who—This building has been condemned, hasn't it? I thought—" She wondered if she should tell them about the old Lafayette Theater that had burned last year. These old buildings were dangerous.
"We've bought it and have had the utilities turned on. We needed a place to perform."
"Who are you?" the man on her left asked again.
"My name is Miki—actually Michaela O'Ryan. My friends call me Miki." Maybe if she acted normal, acted friendly. "I take dance lessons in that building on the corner. Modern dance. I hope to be a professional some day. With Nancy Spanier or—or—" Now she was babbling.
The director reached for her hand. "I'm pleased to meet you, Michaela O'Ryan. Irish, I suppose, with your red-gold hair. You're supposed to have green eyes. Are those contacts?"
Miki started to breathe again. He was flirting. She could handle flirting. "No, my father had blue eyes. I know it's unusual."
The boy on the left spoke. "I like the way you look. I like you. My name is Romney."
"Kyle." The boy on the right introduced himself.
"Are you twins?" Miki asked.
Romney giggled. "You could say that. Are we twins, Kyle?"
"Twins," Kyle agreed, as if that was a new idea to him. "Yes, we're twins. And this is Barron." Kyle gave Miki the director's name.
"Primavera." The small girl with long black hair had joined them. She lay her hand open to her right and pulled another young woman up to meet Miki. "Rima."
"Why do you all—well, except for Kyle—" She smiled at him. "Why do you have such unusual names?" Miki asked, hoping that wasn't a rude question. But she looked at Barron as if to show she was no longer afraid, and, after all, he'd asked a direct question. "Are they real? I mean, are they your birth names?"
Barron smiled. "I'm afraid so. Somewhat old fashioned, perhaps, but we like them."
"We have two choices," Primavera said, looking at Miki, but directing her voice at Barron, "but we need another dancer."
Barron stared at Miki again. "Stand up."
Miki hoped her legs would support her. She didn't dare disobey the order. And it was an order.
She pushed against the worn plush cushion and stood, trying not to wobble. "I don't know." The idea of dancing with this group was both exciting and frightening. She hadn't had time to think about it. She liked to think about things. She didn't make decisions quickly.
"You probably wouldn't have time for your classes." Barron reached out and turned her around slowly. "Come up on the stage."
"I'm still in school—a senior." Miki followed Romney into the center aisle.
"No problem," Kyle said from behind her. "We never start rehearsals until about five or later. We're like most performers. We stay up late and sleep through the day." He laughed and the others joined in. The group seemed so close—like family.
"What are you called?" Miki paused before she climbed the steps to the stage.
Primavera looked at Barron, who nodded. "We call ourselves The Theater of the Dead. We're pretending to be vampires."
"Oh." Miki laughed. "I remember, Paris once had a Theater of Vampires. But shouldn't you be called Undead, Theater of the Undead?"
Primavera laughed. "Perhaps." The rest of the troupe joined in the laughter.
Miki was glad they all seemed to have a sense of humor about what they were doing. And being vampires explained the fact that everyone wore black; that their hair was black or dyed black; and that their faces were made up to look so pale.
"We work on the trapezes." Rima pushed the red velvet swing so the bar came closer and closer to Miki. "Have you ever done that?" There was a challenge in Rima's eyes. If Miki wasn't mistaken, it was a challenge Rima hoped she either wouldn't take or wouldn't win. She could see that Rima didn't want her to join the troupe.
"No, but it looks like fun. May I try?" Miki accepted the open challenge from Rima and perhaps from the whole troupe. She'd be working with a real troupe. How could she not make a decision like that in a split second? Of course, she wanted to be a part of a real dance troupe. It was what she'd worked her whole life to achieve.
"Of course." Barron shaded his eyes and looked toward the small room in the balcony that housed the light boards. "Elah, some stage lights again," he called.
A tall man walked onto the stage from the wings. He seemed older than the rest of the troupe. His face was long and lean, and his dark blue eyes were smudged underneath as if mascara—no more like ashes had been rubbed around them. His mouth was a thin slash of crimson.
The director stared at him. "Elah, why aren't you on lights?"
"Davin is on lights. I was having some problems, and he's helped me figure them out. I don't like this idea. She won't work out." The man studied Miki and frowned. He had been listening to their conversation and now he had voted before he watched her dance.
Excerpted from The Calling by Barbara Steiner. Copyright © 1995 Barbara Steiner. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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