Ten Stories About Something – ‘A Night At The Movies’ – by Anthony Self

A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES

by

Anthony Self

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The queue for the popcorn was making Travis feel nauseous. His temple oozed sweat. An elderly couple in front of them were taking their time to decide what type of sweets they wanted. The cashier was smiling and nodding to their inane ambivalence, but Travis noted the indiscernible tapping of the cashier’s fingers on the counter, the clenched jawline concealed underneath the smile. And then there was the Manager, lurking at the ticket kiosk with his shark-like eyes surveying all.

A stabbing pain coursed through his left arm. At first he thought he was going into spasms, but was relieved to find that Kelly had just tightened her grip around him.

“Hun, you’re going to squeeze me to death before we see the film,” he said.

Kelley looked up at him. Those saturated blue-green eyes of hers looked longingly at him. Once those eyes had held a particular sparkle; wide and convivial. Now there was a yellow-tinted jaundice look emanating from them. She was about to say something, but instead started coughing violently. Travis pulled her head towards his chest, to muffle the sounds. He glanced across to the ticket kiosk and the manager had already locked on to the source of the noise. He was staring at Kelley with undetermined countenance, as if he was making up his mind about something. Travis likened the look to someone deciding whether to pull the legs off an ant. When Kelley’s shoulders finally stopped shuddering, she pulled away and rubbed her hand harshly across her lips. She pulled a skull and crossbones bandanna from her back pocket and blew her nose with a decisive blast. Travis noted the red blotches on the bandanna and the palm of her hand.

The elderly couple had finally decided on a packet of Minstrels and waddled off to the ticket kiosk. The cashier beckoned Travis and Kelley forward with an adept wave of the hand.

“Large sweet popcorn and a coke, please.” Travis said. The cashier jerked her thumb towards the large billboard poster behind the soda machine. “You want to go extra-large for a pound fifty more?” she said automatically, as if she’d uttered the line a thousand times that evening. Travis shook his head. He vibrated with fever, barbed wire flossing his stomach. He’d be surprised if he kept the regular variety down. The cashier went about her business, and he felt Kelley tugging at his shoulder.

“I want to leave,” she whispered into his ear. He nodded again. He wished it could be that simple. He wanted nothing more than to grab Kelley and run for the nearest exit, but he knew what that meant. He knew the consequences of those actions. Instead, he pecked her on the cheek and slipped a small cylindrical container into her hand.

“Take it,” he softly said, caressing her cheek. The previous week he’d had a tube replace the white blood cells in his body, and had taken the appropriate antibiotics. The paramedics had assured him that he had inhaled very little fallout, but yesterday he felt like marbles were lodged in his throat and he couldn’t keep anything down. Kelley was worse, and he knew that they didn’t have much time. Kelley slipped the container into her pocket.

“You’re too good to me,” she sighed.

Overhead, a crackling noise interrupted the muzak currently reverberating throughout the lobby area from the speakers attached to the wall. “Attention,” proclaimed a deep voice, “The next film will start in approximately five minutes. Please be seated immediately once tickets have been purchased. Business as Usual.”

The cashier returned with the large popcorn and coke. She tapped a few buttons on the register and was halfway explaining how much they owed before she stopped mid-sentence, turned and threw up vehemently on the floor.

There were a few exasperated groans and tut-tuttings from behind them. Travis turned and was surprised to see the queue leading out into the street. He also saw the government men in their haz-mat suits surveying the crowd from outside.

“Ohmurgod,” the cashier retched, wiping her chin with her hand. She stared at the floor for a second, now spattered with clotted vomit, all shades of red, green and brown. She blinked rapidly for a few seconds before turning back to Travis. “Would you like 3-D glasses with your purchase?”

****

The bold, immense red letters on the white screen read ‘BUSINESS AS USUAL’. The darkened viewing room was packed.  Travis had found two unoccupied seats towards the back of the room, and had instructed Kelley to take some of the meds he’d slipped her earlier whist they were concealed by the darkness. She promptly did so, and he could almost feel her body relax as the pills did their work. He wondered if she’d remember any of the film at all.

The manager had eyed them up suspiciously when he had purchased the tickets. Travis had simply smiled and carried Kelley towards the screening door. There were many people wheezing and coughing in the gloomy theatre. Travis wondered how many people simply sitting in this room had radiation sickness. Probably most of them. There was an audible click as the doors to the theatre shut.

The red lettering faded out and a news-cast informed them of the on-going war. Footage of troops running amongst dilapidated buildings, jolted editing of death and violence mixed with grinning politicians kissing babies and making speeches. Travis glanced to his right. The elderly couple in front of them at the condiment bar were nestled together, watching the reel. He noticed the man’s hand reverently cupping his wife’s. He also noted his hand was covered with painful, blotchy looking sores.

He turned to Kelley. She seemed to be calmer. He put his arm around her, and she fell into him. The war reel finally finished, leaving a white screen. The red letters appeared again. BUSINESS AS USUAL.

Sitting near the back, Travis was one of the first people to hear hissing. He looked at the projector window, wondering when the film was about to begin. The marbles in his throat seemed to grow in size, as he found breathing now to be quite difficult.

Someone down at the front started shouting something about starting the film. A moment later, his eyes started to feel heavy. A wave of panic suddenly hit Travis. Vents throughout the theatre suddenly seemed to close up. People were noticing this too. A few more shouts echoed throughout the blackened room.  Travis turned to his right. The elderly couple seemed to be swallowing something. An instant later their heads both drooped forward simultaneously, as if they were falling asleep together.

Travis shook Kelley. She was serenely staring at the white screen, unaware of anything around her. People were starting to rise from their seats now, panting and gasping for air. Children were wailing.

“Kelley?” Travis croaked. She turned slowly, looking at him with half-open eyes. He struggled to stand up. The air was filled with panic and despair. The first dozen or so people on their feet clawed pathetically at the doors – banging and shouting to be let out. A young boy tried to leap over the seats towards the exit, staggered and fell into the aisle. A man in a suit trampled over him, crushing his skull in the process. Kelley muttered something under her breath and slumped back into her seat. Travis looked down at her. Her eyes were glazed over, her mouth hung open with some dark drool tricking down to her chin. He realised with a sickening dread that she was dead.

Travis fell back into his seat. The people scrambling about in front, howling and sobbing to be let out became black shadows as his own eyes started to close. He gasped for one final lungful of air before the darkness consumed him.

A minute later they were all dead.

In the foyer a buzzing noise interrupted the muzak playing. “Attention,” proclaimed a deep voice, “The next film will start in approximately five minutes. Please be seated immediately once tickets have been purchased. Business as Usual.”

The manager at the ticket kiosk sighed. Checked his watch. Another shift logged. The majority of his staff was sick now, and he knew he wouldn’t have many people left to take away the bodies once the gas had dissipated from each viewing theatre room. He wiped his brow with the back of his hand. The paramedic had said he’d only received a small dose of radiation poisoning. Nothing to be concerned about. Captain Phillips had promised a complete evaluation once they had reached their target of seven hundred and fifty screenings. Keep them calm and sound proof the rooms, he had said. Remember, its business as usual once we’re done.

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