"THE LAST PICTURE SHOW" - Dorothy Davies
It mattered not that the curtains looked the worse for wear, the hem hanging down a little, the runners showing where the weight of the curtains had dragged holes over the years. The fact remained they were temporarily hiding the reason the building had an existence – the huge silver screen. Fly speckled, marked here and there, it mattered not. The anticipation from the audience in the auditorium was palpable, a hush of unspoken words, a withholding of the rustle of popcorn and other comestibles, that indescribable smell and atmosphere accumulated over many years: bodies' clothes, food, sighs, tears, cries, held breath, screams and laughter.
This was the last picture show. At the end of tonight’s performance the doors would close for the last time. In future, films would be shown in the new multi screen complex across town, bright, glittering place with chrome and fine flooring, with carpet and seats that tilted and did not move when you leaned back. Move as in their moorings had come adrift from the floor. It added something to the ambience of this old, much loved building.
I crept in quietly, almost on tiptoe, not wanting to disturb anyone’s breathless anticipation of the curtains gliding open and the screen being revealed in all its tarnished glory. I found empty seats, which I didn’t expect, and sat three in from the side aisle. It was not the best of positions but it would do. There was room for two others if they chose to come and share the rest of the row with me. On my other side someone grunted and shifted, but did not look round.
The music blared, the numbers began rolling, white on black and the pre-feature programme began. I allowed myself to submerge all thoughts in the magical moment, the losing of self in the actions on the screen. Someone crept in as quietly as I did and sat down next to me. We nodded to one another in the darkness, nothing said, eyes swiftly turning back to the screen. A sigh seemed to come from my new companion, one I echoed. Contentment. Filmgoers of the world unite!
All too soon the interval came and music blared out of ancient speakers. There was chatter and laughter, a sense of heightened emotion, anticipation, eagerness, a mixture of so much unclassified, indescribable. My companion, an elderly man I had seen many times before, nodded in time to the nonsensical piece of rhythm which ended and began again, same record. A few people laughed. It ended, it began again. This time whistles and shouts had erupted, there was stamping of feet and yells of laughter. By the time it began again, when it was obvious to all that the impending closure had left the cinema with just one record, the entire audience was in uproar, laughter shaking ancient dust from ancient carvings and light fittings. I smiled; the sense of the absurd was beyond belief and unbelievably funny. My companion was laughing so hard I feared for his heart.
It took a while for the audience to settle down after the nonsense with the record, but the main feature began and the theatre became silent. Clint Eastwood strutted his stuff across the screen many times larger than he actually is –or was – shooting all and sundry, fighting his way out of this battle and that. It was almost a shock when the film finally ended. The credits rolled and we were on our feet, some ready to slide out, others prepared to stand and show respect as the National Anthem was played.
It was then I smelled smoke.
It was then I realized three things, as I did at this point every Halloween. First, the theatre had caught fire, second, judging by the frantic screams and yells of trapped people, the fire doors would not open and third, recalling the local newspapers I had seen afterwards, not one of us survived.
Where we were is a block of flats, ugly, functional, utilitarian and dull. We died because some idiot, anticipating the closing of the cinema, locked the doors. This I knew, this I could accept, if only…
…We were not summoned back from our graves every Halloween.
I just wish that the dead could be allowed to sleep in peace.
Author's Note: The first part of this story actually happened, but not on the Isle of Wight where I now live. Here there was a very old cinema and someone who used to entertain the waiting audience with a glove puppet around the side of the curtain…
BIO: Dorothy Davies is a writer, medium and editor. She writes her strange stories, usually with the help of spirit authors. Dorothy is a full member of the Fictioneers, and editor and contributor to many Static Movement anthologies. She loves to write. You can read more from Dorothy here:www.oneinspecyal.com and here www.circle-of-light.co.uk