Cinema of Shadows: A Preview of Coming Attractions

December 12, 1992

Harmony, Indiana

The world outside the old cinema’s ticket booth was dead, frozen beneath a shroud of glistening snow.  Shelly Wells watched the flakes blow and drift across the parking lot, her breath fogging the cold, curved glass. When the movie let out, the patrons would have to dig for their cars before they could leave.

Time in the cold might be just what these perverts need.

For the past year, the once grand Woodfield Movie Palace had been a porno house.

A national theater chain built a huge new multiplex just down the road.  Twelve auditoriums, the largest one wired with digital sound.  Of course, all the Hollywood studios now wanted their films to open in this state-of-the-art showplace, forcing the Woodfield’s single screen to take scraps.

The Woodfield’s owner and manager, Delbert King, tried booking art-house features, classic films, second run movies at cheaper prices, anything to attract an audience and put butts in the seats, but when those failed to pay the bills, he put the butts up on the screen.  Now they were just breaking even.

Shelly sighed.

Their affair had been her idea.  She’d been a student at Stanley University when it started, and thoughts of screwing an older, more experienced man had filled her with excited flutters.  She warmed Delbert to the idea with little comments on the lobby floor, double entendres, just to see him sweat.  When the summer of 1987 rolled around, she arrived early for work one day, well before opening, dressed in a short skirt with no underwear beneath.  She’d made herself wet thinking of what would happen when she asked Delbert to help her change into her uniform, and the reality had been even better.  He’d been able to bring her to orgasm several times, and when they finally emerged from his cramped office, they found the rest of the staff banging on the exit doors, waiting to be let in.

She smiled at the memory, but it faded quickly.

In 1988, Shelly graduated.  She moved up to Chicago, attempted to put her journalism degree to good use.  When that failed, she looked for anything that would buy groceries.  She returned home to beg from her parents, but they were of little help.  And then Delbert came into her life again, offering her a job and a place to live, and she was quick to agree.

Too quick.

The man lived on the verge of poverty, and there was no reason for it.  Sure, the Woodfield was a huge money pit, but he also owned the land on which it sat.  From time to time, developers approached him, offering huge sums of money for the property, enough for them to move away and start over, but Delbert would have none of it.  He told Shelly the land was worth far more than what they offered, but she could see that he simply had no interest in selling.

“This is a historic landmark,” he was always saying, pointing up to the auditorium’s huge silver screen.  “The original Frankenstein had its Indiana premiere right here.”

Her eyes narrowed.

Now Delbert had become Frankenstein.  This damned cinema was his monster, and he spent every waking moment here, trying to keep it alive.  Every morning, he cleaned the windows.  Every night, he polished the popcorn kettles until they shone.  In the spring, he landscaped the grounds and applied fresh paint to the outside walls.  In the winter, he shoveled every square inch of pavement.  And worse still, he spent cash they didn’t have to repair broken seats, fixtures, and equipment.

After three years, she’d finally had enough, enough of their fights about money, enough of Delbert’s excuses, enough of the perverted patrons they now attracted, and more than enough of the Godforsaken Woodfield Movie Palace.  When they closed for the night, Shelly was prepared to give the man an ultimatum: his precious theater or his lover.

His choice.

A rattle at the box office door, keys in the lock.  She knew it was Delbert and turned away.  She didn’t want another fight, and after sitting out here alone and stewing about their problems, she knew that’s what she would get if she looked at him.

“The snow’s getting worse,” Shelly said.

He closed the door behind him.  “Yeah.”

“What did you need?”

“I love you,” he told her.

She shook her head in disgust.  There was a time when that would have made everything better, but not now.  Shelly hated to admit it, but she didn’t even think it was true anymore.  “And …?”

“I know you want to leave.”  There was no emotion in his voice.

She felt an icy stream course down her back.  How could he know that?  They’d had their fights, but she’d never come right out and said what she was planning … or had she?  She must have.  How else could he know?

“I do,” she confessed, her eyes still on the snow.  It was easier to be honest when she wasn’t looking at him, easier to hurt him when she couldn’t see tears in his eyes.  “We never talk anymore.  We never spend any time together.”

“We’ll always be together.”

Something hard pushed against the back of Shelly’s head: the barrel of a shotgun.  The blast tore her skull into shrapnel and smashed through the glass in front of her.

Delbert King fell back against the door in tears.  Blood cascaded down the outer wall of the booth, carrying clumps of soft tissue over the TICKETS SOLD HERE sign.  He  shoved the bloodied barrel into his own mouth and blew his mind onto the ceiling.

The Woodfield was intimate with death, but it would be nineteen long years before it would taste real life.

 

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