Image by Sara Robertson via Creative Commons
The mother and daughter approached the ticket counter, hand in hand, passing a forest of life-sized cutouts of movies that wouldn’t premiere for several months. Glossy cardboard actors clutched each other in passionate embraces. Murderers wielded weapons still dripping of mayhem. Action stars posed, armed to the teeth. And then there was the lone poster of an animated pig.
The girl tugged at her mother’s arm. Fat, black braids on either side of the child’s head swung like pendulums weighted from the red plastic barrettes securing the ends. A tiny finger pointed toward the refreshment stand. The mother yanked back as the gimongous leather handbag housing contraband candy at reasonable prices slid down her arm.
At the register, the mother drummed her manicured nails on the black Formica counter. “Two for Vampire Paradise in 3D, please.”
The ticket agent raised a pierced eyebrow. The overly penciled-in black leeches added another touch of goth to her pristine white uniform. A brief grimace masked the teen’s usual scowl that, every Friday and Saturday night, read: God, don’t let anyone I know see me here. She cracked her bubble gum between her molars and eyed the smiling child. The agent forced another pained grin. “Muppets Forever is playing right next to that one.”
“So?” The mother didn’t even look up. Just fumbled around in her purse until she heard the total damage for a movie in which 3D probably added no value to the experience whatsoever.
“So? Maybe she’d have more fun seeing that one.” The ticket agent cracked her gum again, this time with her teeth bared.
With head still lowered, the mother raised her eyes until they seemed to meet the deep part in the middle of her black mane. “We’re here to see Vampire Paradise.”
“But it’s rated R.”
“But I don’t care.”
“Couldn’t get a sitter, huh?”
“Nothing.” The ticket agent shrugged her shoulders. She gnawed on her bottom lip to keep the genuine glint of satisfaction from crawling over her face. “I gotta get the manager’s approval.”
The mother raised her palm as if a silver platter rested upon it. “For what?”
The ticket agent disappeared into the tiny office just behind the register. Inside, the manager sat before four small video screens, each one trained on corresponding registers. On the control dashboard, a walkie-talkie crackled and hissed between short bursts of conversations. “We got one.”
The manager nodded. “I saw. We’re already setting up. Have her escorted to Theatre Four.”
The ticket agent saluted. “Will do.” She returned to the mother who posed with hand on hip. Bleeps and bloops from arcade games had called the little girl away.
The mother clucked her tongue. “Can we get our tickets, please? We’re gonna miss the previews.”
Once the lights went down in the theatre, the child shouldn’t notice a thing. They usually didn’t. Last week, a pimply-faced movie operator had let the agent inside the projector room to glimpse the theatre’s new covert policy at work. She’d spit out a mouthful of eye-watering-spicy jalapeño cheese nachos to keep from choking when some parents showed up with five children. Five! Who wants to sit next to a Romper Room field trip during a movie? An adult movie, at that. Those children, ranging from walking to carried, screamed and cried, and the parents spent more time herding the traumatized brood back and forth to the bathroom than in their seats. The agent wasn’t an advocate of bootlegged films. But if somebody gotta to see a movie that bad…
Two tickets snaked out of a chrome slit in the Formica. The agent snatched them out and presented them to the mother. “Here you go. Enjoy.”
The mother gave a snort and half a smile at the agent’s curt words before summoning her daughter to her. Hot dogs and pretzels with salt the size of a half-carat diamond in hand, mother and daughter gave their tickets to the gatekeeper. The man’s stomach was not only bursting from the white company shirt, his girth didn’t allow anyone to pass between him and the red velvet line rope until he’d allowed them to. His stoic face studied the pair. Then their tickets. “Theatre Four, huh?” He waved for an usher. Together, they checked the stubs again, then exchanged a knowing glance.
The usher scooped an armful of air. “This way.”
The mother and daughter followed behind their escort into the theatre. The lights were dim, but not to the point that the dark stains on the red-upholstered seats weren’t visible. The rubber soles of their shoes smacked against the sticky black floor as they navigated a minefield of empty popcorn containers and ripped candy wrappers. Ads and reminders to shut off cell phones flashed against the two-story high screen. The usher used his flashlight to guide mother and daughter to a pair of seats reserved with blue and white handicapped placards.
“I think we’ll sit up there,” The mother said as she proceeded up the darkened aisle.
“These would be better,” the usher offered. “In case you need to step out during the film. It’s pretty scary.” His shaft of light slid against the seats, then the floor, then the exit to the main corridor. “Easy access. Just in case.” He returned the beam to the assigned seat closest to the aisle. “Parents find this one more comfortable.”
The mother smiled. “Thank you!” With her knee, she urged her daughter toward the second seat. “Seems like we’re the first ones here.”
“Might be the only ones,” the usher said. “These 3D movies can be quite expensive.”
“Don’t I know it!” Cell phone in hand, her blue and white Twitter page glowed on the palm-sized screen. “With this kind of service, I’m gonna have to give you all five stars!”
“You do that,” the usher mumbled out of earshot. “Enjoy the show.” He bowed then walked toward the exit.
Twenty minutes, six trailers and two warnings later about cell phones that would most likely go unheeded, the theatre faded to black. The mother placed an arm about her daughter, ready to block out any inappropriate images flashing on the screen. Hopefully, this movie will live up to the previews. Horror movies usually didn’t; all the good parts having already been advertised. And sex scenes right in the middle of an escape was ludicrous. Everybody knew that. She should write a screenplay for a horror movie. Make it more realistic with less CG effects. There’d be no one falling during the chase, no dialogue or hesitation to kill when the prey was captured.
The requisite “Life Before” scenes passed, action began. The main protagonist of the film, accompanied by, presumably, the first unnamed victim, discovered something amiss with one of the other characters. Enter creepy, suspenseful music. The mother readied her hand, remembering not to poke her daughter in the eye this time. She jumped when the male lead became a vampire-zombie hybrid and tore out his love interest’s throat. Forgetting her daughter, she gripped both armrests on either side of her. But something cool and hard snapped across her wrists and her chest. Then there came the sensation of falling through the floor.
Had she fainted? Her chair landed upright on the ground below with a thud, jolting her forward like a rag doll. Her head bent nearly to her back, she saw only the manic flicker of light from the movie above. She screamed for the usher, someone, anyone. Or had a character screamed? Each time she opened her mouth, a crash or a shriek enveloped her words, pushing them back into this cavernous void. Then she heard concrete scraping against concrete. Her chair zoomed forward through an air of blackness.
“What the—!” She couldn’t hear her voice, but vocal chords vibrated in her throat nonetheless. Attempts to free herself failed.
A strobe light confused her bearings. Veins of electric white crackled against the void in time to the shocks biting her exposed ankles. Night vision-green claws snatched at the air inches from her body. A withered face contorted in deep, angry pain flashed in front of her, then disappeared within the frenzied light. Each time, the creature’s teeth grew longer until the stalactites rested on the sides of its angular chin. The creature! That thing on the screen was here, down here, in wherever this hole was. Real-life 4D. Her child… Something sharp struck her neck. Wetness trailed to her collarbone. Then warmth pooled in the seat of her pants.
“S-s-scared?” a disembodied voice hissed too close to her ear. Its breath, first floral-scented like a heavily perfumed mortuary, filled her nostrils then finished with the metallic sharpness of blood.
The mother couldn’t answer. She knew she should, and probably was, based on the rawness grating in her throat. Whatever was with her must have heard her affirmative reply, for the momentum finally stopped, thrusting her face almost to her knees. She doubled over forward as the chair made a return path backward. Then it stopped as if it had hit a brick wall.
“GET…OUT!” the voice rasped.
Then whoosh! Gravity pressed the mother’s body into her cushioned seat. Her daughter was beside her again. The extra-large box of popcorn quivered in the child’s hands, blocking her view of the screen. The protagonist was now tumbling through a wooded area, clutching her neck and screaming for help that usually never come. The mother searched left, right, down around her. How long had she been…where? She smacked the popcorn carton away from her daughter, grabbed the girl’s hand and yanked her from the seat. Another collective scream from the actors faded behind her as she fled the theatre and into the safety of sunlight.
The ticket agent pressed the side of her watch. She smiled. Thirty minutes. Open palm extended toward the manager, she crowed, “Told ya.”
“Uh-huh,” the manager protested. She folded a ten-dollar bill and tucked it back into her shirt pocket. “She was the only one in there with a kid.”
“So, eight families just bought tickets. If they’re all out of there in under ten minutes, I’ll pay you double.”
“Twenty dollars?” The ticket agent tapped a finger against her lips. Gas money. Maybe this night could be salvaged after all. “You’re on.”
“But you have to quit warning them. If they don’t know better, they don’t know better.”
The teen shrugged and wiped down her Formica station. The report of her gum snapped between her teeth. “They will, eventually.”