Editor's note: In a related story and video, we give you a behind-the-scenes look at the progress of the Tosa East Players’ production of “Phantom of the Opera.” In the process of reporting the story, we learned that East High School has a phantom of its own – one nearly as hard to please. Since this ghost “belongs” to the theater students, we decided to ask one of them to tell his story. While we did not expect a purely journalistic account, we were surprised by the literary masterpiece we received from senior and “Phantom” cast member Lauren McElroy: a ghost story told exactly as she might tell it to a trembling, frightened freshman deep in the dark recesses of the basement beneath East’s Dale K. Hidde Theatre.
By Lauren McElroy
This is the Fitz-Will. It is my duty, my responsibility, to deliver the Fitz-Will to you as I depart. And you should listen well, for you must respect the Fitz-Will all your days as a Tosa Player, and pass it on, as I m doing, when you, too, depart these hallowed halls.
Fitz – Fitzsimmons, he is also called – was a boy. We know little of who he was in life, but he lived in Wauwatosa, he went to this school – and he died in this school, on this very spot.
It was before this auditorium was built. Then, this space was for sports. It was the night of the Big Game, and the gymnasium was packed. The din of shouting fans was deafening.
Fitz fell beneath the bleachers. No one will ever know why or how he fell, but he was hurt and could not get out. But we can guess the rest from the way he was found.
The cheering drowns out any distressed screams that emanate upward. Below the bleachers lies helpless Fitz, trapped and exhausted from the relentless cheering of the throng. He pleads for redemption beneath the excited, stomping students rousing themselves for the homecoming game.
Fitz's arm is cracked and throbbing; he holds it close to his chest, cradling it and wishing the agony would subside. The pain is unparalleled; his frail body collapses! He faints in his anguish, an unconscious surrender to subdue his torture.
Fitz is awakened to the last sound he will hear with his earthly body. It is the great screeching of the bleachers as they slide inward, crushing him between great scissor-like claws. The metal gives a tremendous shriek as it mangles Fitz's fragile frame. His eyes can only weep in horror as the grand steps drive in upon him, splaying his unwilling limbs, wreaking carnage between heavy sheets of unforgiving steel.
His soul lingers above his ruined body, peering down at what he used to be, now unrecognizable. Fitz stares in awe at his distorted limbs; he can smell the blood pooling beneath his fractured head – but he can feel no more pain. He can remember only those who must have given him that fateful shove, who failed to miss him, who never heard his terrified pleas.
For years, Fitz just watches the place where he last lay in life. Watches as the bleachers are taken down, as a theatre is constructed and carpet placed over the stain of his spilled blood. Fitz watches the very first performance in the newly built theatre, delighting and laughing – still hovering over his little claim to the Earth.
At first, Fitz is pleased just studying the theatre, observing the players with an ever more critical eye. But soon he grows restless, longing to be recognized, thirsting for something more – a powerful desire persuading him that he must to appear to a student to educate her about his legacy. So, proclaiming himself the Theatre Ghost, he makes a mad cameo appearance to a livid and shaking pigtailed young girl.
"Tell my story, keep my spirit roaming this sacred place!" – these are final words he speaks to her.
Seemingly pleased with himself, Fitz retreats back into the walls, but he shadows and slinks after unsuspecting students, waiting for them to relay his legend in awe-stricken voices. One by one, faces turn pale as the story spreads among them like an old wives’ tale. Each child in turn fearfully and faithfully swears to respect the memory of the Theatre Ghost.
Through the coming years, each curious creak, each unexpected crash, each sudden, half-seen movement in the dark corners of the theatre is presumed to be Fitz. We all tread lightly, careful not to disturb him – never would we dare to upset him!
The consequences may be only rumor, yet no one would test the boundaries of a realm to which we can't belong. No one wants to find out what may happen if his simple requests are not met.
As long as his legend continues to be passed from one player’s generation to the next, Fitz's legacy is respected – and everything moves as smoothly as expected. So do not for a moment doubt, do not ever forget, and whatever you do, do not slack, for Fitz does not forgive those who do not give their all.
As long as Fitz's presence is acknowledged, and as long as the show goes on, he will surely float above his untimely grave… forever waiting, forever watching.