I do not own Ghost Hunt

50 years ago

The lights dimmed as the thick red velvet curtains rose. A hush fell over the audience as they eagerly awaited the new performance that had come to their small town. There hadn't been a production quite like this one in a very long time. It was supposed to be a one night show but the residents were hoping that it would stay on for a bit longer and provide some good natured entertainment they so desperately craved.

In the crowd of people sat ten-year-old Nagano Tatsu. She kicked her legs over the edge of her seat, waiting with undisguised excitement for the show that people had been talking about for a whole week. It had taken that long to get all the pieces ready, or so she had heard her mother tell her father. They sat on either side of her, smiling down at her childlike amusement.

The spotlight suddenly lit up the stage, illuminating a thick green forest and a little stone cottage in front of it. There was even smoke erupting from the little stone chimney. Tatsu clapped her hands in excitement. This was the first play she had ever seen and so far her ten-year-old mind was decidedly impressed.

Delicate singing started up from inside the cottage. The voice grew louder, sweeter, and the door opened slowly. A beautiful girl walked out rather stiffly, a striking contrast to the voice coming out of her. Her blond hair, unusual for a Japanese girl, shone like spun gold in the light. Tatsu commented on it without thinking.

"She's not Japanese," her mother said with a smile. "That's Magnolia Dawson, a very famous singer and Broadway actress back in America."

"Magnolia," Tatsu repeated in awe, admiring her beauty. "She's beautiful," she added in a small voice. "Do you think I will look like that when I'm older?"

Her father chuckled. "Of course, sweetheart. In fact, you will be even more beautiful."

Tatsu beamed and focused on Magnolia Dawson, taking in everything about her. The first sign that told her something wasn't right was the look in Magnolia's electric blue eyes. They looked blank, void of life. It was a look she knew well and she frowned. If this was what Magnolia did for a living she shouldn't be looking like her mind was in a different place.

"Okaasan," Tatsu whispered, tugging on her mother's sleeve. "She looks like one of my dolls."

Tatsu wiggled to the edge of her seat and stared intently into Magnolia's dead eyes. The light suddenly caught them, catching something disturbing in them, something Tatsu only saw when she looked at her dolls. She shivered and sat back in her seat, suddenly feeling very scared.

"I want to go home," she said quietly. "I don't want to be here."

"Tatsu," her mother said with a frown. "You wanted us to bring you here and we did. The show is only an hour. I'm sure you can manage for the next fifty-five minutes."

Tatsu quietened but she watched the show wearily. After Magnolia sang her song a raggedly old man came on stage from inside the cottage. He held a small knife with a slightly curved blade and approached her, gripping her arm and holding it out. He opened his mouth and out came a voice deeper and richer than what she would have expected from such an old man. He made the motions of scraping the knife over her arm yet he didn't actually touch her.

Tatsu frowned. "Why is he doing that?"

"Well, Magnolia appears to be a puppet he created. The makeup artists actually did a pretty good job of making her look like one," her mother commented lightly. "If I didn't know who she was I would have assumed it was an actual puppet in her place."

Tatsu watched Magnolia intently. She didn't look very happy. In fact she looked downright miserable. And yet her eyes still showed no hint of emotion. She turned her head slightly and the motion looked so forced Tatsu winced. Like the movement wasn't her own but that of someone else's. But that wasn't possible. Still, with every move Magnolia Dawson made after that it seemed as if she was doing something that wasn't her own.

Halfway through the show Tatsu caught sight of a razor thin string attached to Magnolia's arm. She would have missed such a quick sight if she hadn't been studying the young woman so intently. The spotlight glinted off the string again and Magnolia's arm shot out. Tatsu gasped when her head twisted to the side violently. Gasped again when she suddenly cartwheeled off the stage and into the side curtains, their billowing forms hiding her from view.

The old man was back on stage, dancing around a small campfire singing a song about loneliness and despair. Tatsu felt her eyes tear up at the sad words but she bit her lip when she saw another string attached to the old man. As she looked closer she saw many strings crisscrossing each other, each attached to a limb. As she watched, as she knew, the old man's movements became more mechanical to her as Magnolia's had been. They looked forced, unnatural. She glanced into his eyes and noticed the same glassy look Magnolia had sported.

What was going on?

Suddenly Magnolia cartwheeled back onto stage and began to dance with the old man in a twisted symphony of dips and turns. It looked horribly painful and yet Tatsu couldn't keep her eyes off the stage, ensnared by something she didn't quite understand. Her heart had picked up its pace, slamming against her chest and still she couldn't look away, had to keep watching the disturbing dance unfolding before her.

"Tatsu, maybe you shouldn't be watching this," her father murmured. "This looks painfully scary. I thought there wasn't an age restriction on this show."

"There wasn't," her mother muttered, reaching out and squeezing Tatsu's hand.

"No," Tatsu said softly. "I have to keep watching."

Magnolia and the old man were twisting on the stage, turning dangerously fast and yet still keeping their balance. Magnolia's head bent back far enough that looked like she might snap her neck and Tatsu whimpered, afraid for the beautiful dancer. Her heart increased its speed until the only thing she heard was the sound of her blood rushing through her veins.

Magnolia suddenly halted, her eyes staring into the crowd. Tatsu thought she was looking straight at her. Straight through her. It frightened her at how emotionless the girl was. A person shouldn't be like that, no matter how good an actress she was. There was something wrong with the way she looked. Tatsu noticed that now. Noticed how her skin gleamed like porcelain in the spotlight, how her shoes seemed like they were painted on.

Magnolia opened her mouth and Tatsu expected her to sing again but instead an agonized plea was ripped from her throat, a plea so raw and vulnerable she felt goose bumps rise up on her arms and legs.

"Help me, please."

Suddenly she jerked back and began dancing again, following the old man's moves. Her eyes still looked unnaturally blank and her face was still emotionless. She had sounded scared but she didn't look like she cared. Nothing was making sense to Tatsu. Was Magnolia's scared statement part of the show? If not, then what?

"Please!"

The word ripped through the small theatre, striking Tatsu in her heart. Magnolia had again cried for help but no one was doing anything. Tatsu stared at the crowd. They were all enthralled by the spell Magnolia Dawson had unknowingly cast upon them. Some were clapping at such a dedicated performance and others were whistling, shouting for more.

The show was nearing its end. Tatsu could tell by the way the atmosphere in the theatre began to change. The song Magnolia and the old man were singing began to get darker, more twisted. They sang of putting life into soulless beings, creatures carved by darkness and anger, formed in the dead of night when only the dead walked the earth. Tatsu shivered and shrank back in her seat, not wanting to watch the change coming over the two people on stage but unable to remove her gaze.

The old man suddenly grabbed Magnolia and stabbed his knife deep into her arm, wrenching it down. Tatsu screamed, her eyes wide with horror yet still glued to the stage. She expected blood to be running down the young woman's arms, coating the stage in a red carpet, but nothing erupted from the slice in her arm. Tatsu stared in confusion, knowing she had seen the old man stab her in the arm.

"Look at that," her mother whispered in awe. "Magnolia Dawson is a puppet. Amazing."

A puppet? Tatsu didn't understand. That was no puppet on stage. It was Magnolia Dawson. And yet at the same time it wasn't. She looked as real as Tatsu and yet she had the features of a doll. She didn't understand. It was too much for her ten-year-old mind to grasp.

"Help me," Magnolia whispered again in a tortured voice. "Save me from him."

Tatsu felt an overwhelming urge to do just that, to run up on stage and get her away from the old man, but Magnolia jerked back again. This time the strings holding the old man tangled with hers and they crashed together and crumbled to the stage in a heap. Magnolia's head faced the crowd, her gaze blank and Tatsu had never felt more helpless.

The velvet curtains slowly dropped back into place and after a stunned moment of silence applause started up. It wasn't very enthusiastic, was instead unsure as if no one knew what had happened. Tatsu still stared on stage, not sure what had just happened herself. She was unaware of her parents ushering her out of the theatre, unaware of them talking in hushed tones at her catatonic reaction to the events that had taken place.

Tatsu only knew two things for certain. One, the show was something she would never ever forget. And two, she knew without a doubt, with a certain degree of conviction not seen in children her age, that the puppet that had been made to look like Magnolia Dawson had, indeed, been Magnolia Dawson.