Estimated reading time — 17 minutes
Even years later I can still remember that day. It was the first and last time I ever went out to the movies alone. The last time I went out to the movies ever. I don’t feel like I’m missing all that much really, the movies had never been a big part of my life. I vaguely recall going out to the theater a couple times with my Mom and Dad when I was little but, other than that, I had never really cared much about seeing movies in the theater.
That day, however, was different. I had seen the trailers for “Massacre at Willow-Peak” and, despite the somewhat cheesy title, it looked good. The trailers promised that it was more than just some cheesy slasher movie and several critics attested that the movie was the most legitimately frightening horror movie to come out of Hollywood in years. I’ve never been a huge movie-buff, but it looked good to me, and I didn’t want to wait for it to come out on DVD, so I decided I might as well go out to the theater. I could use a little outing anyway. Of course, first I’d actually have to find a way to get out to the theater.
Looking back it’s actually rather funny how adamantly my mother didn’t want me going out to the movies that day. It’s been years since then, and she still says that she ‘Had a bad feeling’ that day. That’s all rubbish of course, in reality it was just mom being her usual overprotective self. It just so happened that this time her paranoia was justified. You’d have a hard time telling her that though. Even today she still uses that day as a cautionary tale for why ‘Boy’s should listen to their mothers’.
When I first told my mother I wanted to go out she simply told me that my Dad was tired and wouldn’t be able to take me. I asked my Dad though, and he said it’d be fine, he needed to pick up some groceries anyway. My mother next said that it was too late, she only ever went to movies during the matinee hours. I said that I would pay for the movie myself though and, so she was forced to relent on that front. That was where things started getting nasty as they always did when my mother didn’t get her way.
“Who goes to the movies alone!” I remember she said “You’re supposed to go to the movies with friends or with family. You look like a freak when you go to the movies alone!”
I had no idea why she was being so adamant about it, but her attempts to stop me were only strengthening my resolve to go. I was a sixteen year-old boy for crying out loud, and it was a Friday night.
Luckily, Dad was on my side and, after a few more minutes of vain arguments, we were grabbing our coats and getting ready to go. Mom gave me a bottle of pepper-spray as I left which I reluctantly shoved into my pocket.
I pulled my coat around me a little as I stepped out of the car and into the cool autumn air. It had rained recently. Technically speaking it still was, but it was only a drizzle. The air was still humid and moist. Cold and humid was a combination I could do without, I hated the odd clammy feeling that it gave me, and so I said a passing goodbye to my Dad as he drove away and quickly made my way into the building.
I didn’t go so quickly though that I forgot to stop for a moment and take in the silhouette of the Golden Reel theater. The Golden Reel had a long history in the town and had been there nearly since it’s inception. It was sad that the theater had fallen on hard times recently, Netflix and the newer movie theater across town having taken away a significant portion of it’s clientele. That being said, it wasn’t in any serious state of disrepair. If it had been I probably wouldn’t have been going to it. It just had a few little problems. There were little cracks in the woodwork and the bricks were rough in places where the paint had fallen off. The giant sign that was supposed to read ‘Golden Reel’ in golden letters had lost some of it’s sheen and was fading day by day to a dull yellow.
Normally I wouldn’t mind such small imperfections, but the dim orange light of sunset seemed to exaggerate the buildings flaws, stifling it’s old-time charm and giving it an ominous feeling. I couldn’t help but think that this was the perfect place to see a horror movie since the place looked like it might very well be haunted. That feeling didn’t decrease in the slightest as I entered the building, having seen a sign at the ticket-booth reading ‘PLEASE PURCHASE TICKETS AT CONCESION STAND’.
I guessed that it was because of the clammy whether and didn’t think twice about it as I went inside. It did feel strange though, just walking past the deserted podium where they normally take your ticket.
When I got inside there was a single worker standing behind the concession stand. Our eyes met as I walked up to the counter. The manager must have gone home early.
There was something haunting about the sight of an empty movie theater. A movie theater is supposed to be a bustling place full of people excited about the movie they were going to see or had just gone to see. Seeing it empty the way it was, devoid of a single soul other than the man at the concession stand and myself, was more than a little sad.
“It looks so hollow.” I said, more to myself than to the clerk at the counter.
“Empty House tonight.” Replied the man tapping out one last message on his cellphone before pocketing it. Those words, ‘Empty House’ I still remember them even now. The way he said them so nonchalantly completely apathetic to the sadness they contained.
“There’s nobody here at all?” I asked. He sighed, seemingly annoyed at the thought of actually having to deal with a customer.
“There’s like… two other people here.” he said and, after a moment, rolled his eyes at me and added “So I guess you want tickets, right?”
When I first walked into the theater, I thought I was the only one there. I was a bit early as I tended to be, and screen-vision was still on. I sat there, closing my eyes and reclining in the old yet comfortable seat. It was only after a few minutes that I detected something strange. I could hear an odd sound, a strange current underneath the inane chatter of screen-vision. At first I thought the sound was mechanical, a broken vent or something giving off the rhythmical breathy sound. It was low and I could just barely hear it, but it still worried me a bit. I looked around seeing if I could find the source and, as I looked behind me, I saw that I was not alone in the theater as I had originally thought. In the very back row, there was a man. I assumed he was homeless when I first saw him because of the way he was dressed. He was garbed in layers of tattered rags that looked like they had been worn to the point throwing away, on his outermost layer he had a thick black coat that looked like it had been made of nice leather at one point. His long and tangled black hair was for the most part covered by a large brown hat that he, somewhat rudely, was still wearing inside. His face was almost wholly obscured by the combination of a ratty old scarf and what looked like a medical mask.
It struck me as odd, a homeless man being in the theater. I wondered what he was doing spending what little money he had on a movie rather than food and shelter, but it quickly dawned on me that he most likely sneaked in. It wasn’t as if it would have been that difficult with one lone employee manning the concession stand. I don’t know why but, his presence disturbed me somehow. Maybe it was the fact that he seemed so out of place, or maybe it was the fact that I was alone in the theater with him, but I just didn’t feel right being near him. That, along with the strange sound that I had still yet to place was starting to make me a bit nervous. I wondered if maybe I just should have taken my Mom’s advice and stayed in.
I sat there for a few moments trying to regain my calm while waiting for the movie to start. It was a vain effort though as every breath I took only made me feel more anxious. After a bit, it dawned upon me that I had forgotten to buy snacks. Really it was just an excuse to get up and walk around but; nonetheless, I decided to go and get myself some popcorn from the concession stand. As I got up, I saw the man turn to look at me. Our eyes met, and I thought I heard him say something in the distance. It wasn’t a very large theater, but he was in the back row and I was near the front. Once more he attempted to say something and this time I was sure I heard him. I didn’t really want to, but he was obviously trying to say something to me and so, against my better judgment, I walked up the aisle towards the man.
As I got closer to him I started to notice several things. He was indeed wearing a medical mask, one that was splotched with some yellow stain, I preferred not to speculate about what it was. His entire body was covered in sweat. Most of his skin was hidden by clothing, but I could see the perspiration beading up on his face and there were dark stains forming on his chest even through the multiple sweaters he wore. What skin he did show was pale and ruddy. His eyes were jaundice and, despite having rather broad shoulders, he had a general look of sickliness about him. I assumed this was the reason for the medical mask. I’ve always been a bit of a germaphobe and so even being around this guy was starting to turn my stomach.
The most sickening thing about him though was his breathing. I’d originally thought that the sound was something mechanical and, listening to the eerie noise emanating from the man’s throat, I realized that no one could fault me for not recognizing the sound as being human in origin. It was a low, slow, wheeze that poured rhythmically from his throat, but there was also a wet gurgling sound underneath it. It was the type of wheeze you get when you have a lot of mucus in your throat, and I was briefly reminded of my aunt Valerie who’d had whooping cough. He wasn’t coughing though, just sort of… gurgling. The yellow stain on his mask suddenly made more sense.
“W-Where are you going?” he asked. I suddenly snapped to attention, realizing that I had been staring at the man.
“To the concession stand.” I replied automatically. It never even occurred to me that it was none of his business.
“C-Can you g-go for me too…?” the man asked. It took me a few seconds to realize that he wanted me to go to the concession stand for him. There was something off about the way he spoke. His voice was rather high-pitched and soft, he never seemed to speak above a whisper. That wasn’t the most peculiar thing about it though. No, the most off-putting thing about his voice was the pain it seemed to cause him. As if it hurt him just to speak. It almost reminded me of the time when I was young and had strep-throat. I remember, back then it hurt even just to swallow something as simple as water, let alone speak. The pained expression in his yellowing eyes combined with his rather severe stutter made me feel bad for the man, it didn’t ease my apprehension though.
“I have m-money.” he said, apparently seeing the look of uncertainty on my face. He began digging around in his trouser pockets but seemed to be having some trouble. I noticed that he seemed to be wearing more than one pair of pants and that the outer layer seemed to be straining at the seams. After a bit of struggling he finally stood up in order to allow himself easier access to his pockets. I hadn’t realized before now just how large this man was. I noticed his rather broad shoulders, but I hadn’t anticipated just how tall he’d be. As he stood there digging in his pockets I estimated that he must have been at least 6’7, but I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if he was over 7 foot. He found his money and then, much to my dismay, began walking over towards me. He seemed to get taller with every lumbering step he took in my direction.
I looked up at him, and he held out a large hand with a few dollar bills in them. Without thinking, I reached out and took the bills from him. His hand was thick and calloused all over. He seemed to have sores on his palm, and the tips of his fingers were crusted with what looked to be some sort of rash. I took the money from his hand never even thinking about the fact that I had never actually agreed to go to the concession stand for him. At that point, with his massive form towering over me, I probably would have agreed to anything.
“Um, what do you want?” I asked him. He looked down at me. For a moment, there was silence. I looked into his jaundice eyes as the abnormal sound of his breathing spread throughout the theater.
“T-Two large lemonades… and… a c-c-chocolate b-bar.” he said eventually. I nodded in reply. Now that he was standing so close to me I was beginning to pick up a rancid scent coming from the man. It was slight, but it was there, it smelled almost like spoiled milk. Like everything else about the man though, it was layered. Underneath the spoiled smell, there was something else. It was familiar, but I couldn’t quite place what it was. I honestly just wanted to get away from the man as quickly as possible.
“Th-Thank you.” he said.
“You’re welcome.” I replied, smiling as best as I could manage. With that, I turned and did my best to maintain a normal walking pace as I walked down the stairs and out of the theater.
A huge wave of relief came over me as I walked out into the lobby. I looked down at the money that the man had given me. It was darkened and soggy with what I couldn’t only hope was sweat. Not only that but it looked like he had only given me about four dollars, not nearly enough for the snacks he wanted. As I walked up to the concession stand I considered what to do. Honestly if I had a car I probably would’ve just dumped the money in the garbage, driven home, and washed my hands about a thousand times over. I didn’t have a car though. If I wanted to go home I would have to call my father and ask him to come get me.
Normally that would be no big deal, but my dad wasn’t at home at the moment, he was at the grocery store and that was in the opposite direction from the theater. If I was lucky, assuming he just dropped everything and came immediately… He might get there in about forty-five minutes if the lights were with him, an hour if they weren’t. It wasn’t so much the wait that bothered me so much as it was the fact that an hour would be more than enough time for the large man in the theater to get irritated and come looking for his snacks. He might even think that I’d run off with the money he’d given me. I did not want to make than man angry.
As I walked up to the concession stand the man at the counter gave me yet another disdainful look, clearly upset at having to actually do his job. His expression changed though when I put the damp money down on the counter along with some of my own.
“So, I guess you met him.” said the concession worker, a knowing look in his eye. He seemed to get a bit nervous at mentioning the man.
“Man, that guy came in here earlier and paid for his ticket with a bunch of soggy money. I would’ve turned it down if the guy wasn’t the size of a house.” I nodded as I ordered the man’s concessions. I wasn’t feeling very hungry, and so I just ordered a water for myself.
“I mean did you see the guy! He’s wearing all these clothes that look like they came out of a trash-can somewhere and he’s got all those sores. It’s like he was deformed, like he was a leper or something. And did you smell him? Guy smells like fish! Like rotting old fish! Seriously! All the years I’ve been working here, and I never seen a freak like that.”
The concession worker continued on as he went about preparing my order. It was hard to make out his tone. He seemed both amused and nervous at the same time. This was clearly the most novel thing that had happened to him the entire evening, but at the same time it seemed like the man scared him a little in the same way that he scared me. I personally couldn’t help but think about his choice of words. ‘deformed… like a leper’ I started to think about the man’s circumstances. Maybe he couldn’t help the way he looked? Maybe he had a genetic disorder or something? If that was the truth then what right did we have treating him the way we were? He had just as much right to enjoy the movies as anyone else did.
I took the concessions when the worker gave them to me and began to make my way back to the theater. I still couldn’t help but feel nervous as I walked back into the now darkened theater. There was just something about the man, a sort of aura of uneasiness that he gave off. I walked up the stairs and realized that the man was sitting a few rows closer than he had been before. I tried to shrug this off as nothing but my mind wouldn’t let me.
I noticed the smell again as I got closer to him. He had stripped off his large leather jacket which seemed to unleash the smell. Just as the concession worker said I could indeed smell the unique aroma of fish. It wasn’t quite as bad as he had made it out to be, but it was definitely there. I also noticed the way his shirts were pulled tight around his thick arms. Now that the jacket was gone I could clearly make out his massive shoulders and barrel chest moving rhythmically with his obscene gurgling breaths. He had removed his scarf as well, and I could see that the same red rash that was on his fingers was also covering his neck giving it an almost scaly appearance.
Summoning up my courage I walked over to the man and handed him his food. He thanked me in his pained whisper of a voice. I then went back to my seat making sure that it was decently far away from the man. I tried not to think about the man, tried to concentrate on the movie-trailers that were flashing across the screen. It was useless though, putting him out of sight only seemed to set him more firmly in my mind. All I could think about was him sitting there behind me. I couldn’t see him, couldn’t see what he was doing. For all, I knew while I was watching the screen he could be watching me.
My hands were starting to sweat, and I realized that they still felt sticky and odd from handling the money the man had given me earlier. I remembered the crusted rash that had been on his fingers and decided that I desperately needed to wash my hands. Using this as an excuse to myself I got up and walked out of the theater, this time not even trying to hide the speed with which I did so. As I turned to leave I looked back and, perhaps it was just my imagination, but I could’ve sworn that the man was sitting a row or two closer to me than he had been when I sat down.
I washed my hands as thoroughly as possible when I got to the bathroom. I made the water as hot as I could without scalding myself and used a liberal amount of soap. By the time I was done my fingers were starting to prune up. I splashed some water on my face and grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser. For a few minutes, I just stared down at my cellphone, wondering what to do. Dad would probably still be at the grocery store at this point. I felt nervous but also childish. I had made such a big deal about coming here, and now I was going to call my Dad to come and pick me up because I couldn’t deal with a stranger. I sighed to myself and thought about what to do.
When I walked back into the theater I realized that the man had moved again. He was sitting in my row. I had no idea why, but I knew it was my row because he was sitting just a couple of seats away from where I had left my drink. I thought briefly about what to do. I couldn’t sit in a different row. If I did it would be obvious that I was just doing it to avoid him, especially since my drink was still in that row indicating where I had been. This guy was about three times my size and I really didn’t want to make him angry. Reluctantly I went back to my seat and sat down. The man said nothing although I could see through the corner of my eye that he turned in my direction. I kept my eyes firmly pointed at the screen.
The movie began quietly and so it was easy for me to hear the crinkling of the man unwrapping his chocolate bar. I’m really not sure why but somehow curiosity got the better of me, and I found myself slowly turning my head to look at the man. He had taken his medical mask down in order to eat, and I saw, much to my disgust, that the same rash that covered his fingers and neck had also spread to his mouth. His lips were dark like a lifetime smoker’s, and his nose seemed hang awkwardly on his face as if it had been broken at one point and healed improperly. None of these things are what made me leave the theater though. What made me leave the theater was the fact that, as he leaned in to take a bite of the chocolate bar, I saw inside his mouth a row of sharp pointed teeth.
Without hesitation, I instantly got out of my seat and headed for the door, not even bothering to grab my drink. As I left I saw the man putting his mask and jacket back on. I felt a pang of guilt go through me as I thought that I might have made him feel bad about his appearance, but my fear overcame my guilt and I walked out of the theater, out of the building, and to the far end of the parking lot without further delay. There, I called my father and asked him to come pick me up.
When my Dad asked me why I wanted to leave I told him that it was because I felt really sick, something that wasn’t entirely a lie. I didn’t really notice it until I got out into the open air but being stuck in that theater with that man had been making me steadily more and more nauseous. I didn’t know whether it was the sight or the smell of the man that had done it, but I knew that, had anything been in my stomach, it most likely would have been splattered all over the pavement at that point.
My father made good time and got there in about thirty minutes, I never asked him, but I’ve always had the feeling that he drove a bit faster having heard the fear in my voice on the phone. I didn’t tell him about the man straight away. I still felt childish for even calling him to get me. A sheltered little brat that couldn’t deal with a stranger. I honestly hoped that I could just go to bed and forget the entire incident. That maybe someday I would look back on it and laugh. That didn’t happen.
Two days later the police showed up on my doorstep. They brought me in for questioning and asked me to tell them everything about my night at the movies. I wondered why they cared or how they even knew I had been at the movies, but told them everything I knew regardless. I told them about the man. About his rotting smell, about his deformities, about his whispering voice, and about how it made me physically ill just to be around him. They didn’t believe me at first, but a similar looking man showed up on the movie theaters security cameras, the few that actually worked.
Eventually, they told me that they were investigating several disappearances that occurred that night. Specifically all twelve of the assorted staff and patrons that had been at the movies that night had gone missing with the exception of the clerk that had been working the counter. He was found mauled as if some animal had torn him apart. He was still in critical condition at the hospital and in no state to answer questions.
It was the first time anything like this had ever happened in our small town. The public ate up the mystery, and the demand for information made me into somewhat of a local celebrity much to my disdain. People were constantly asking me for interviews and every time I told the story I started to wish more and more that I could just forget it. I kept hoping that something else would happen that would grab people’s attention that the story would just quietly fade away so that I could go back to my normal life.
Two years later I moved out of state for college. I was always intending for it to be a temporary situation, I thought I’d move back home once things quieted down a little bit. But they didn’t. Quite the opposite actually, the story of that night grew into sort of an urban legend among the youth of the town.
I still go home sometimes for holidays and such to visit my family. I visited the clerk in the hospital once. He was better, but he seemed to have contracted some strange disease. He had developed a strange rash on the tips of his fingers and around his mouth. He didn’t talk much either because, according to the doctors he’d developed painful sores in his throat and mouth that oozed a strange yellow pus. The doctors were baffled. I didn’t visit him after that.
For the most part, I’m happy where I am, nice and far away from the coastline. I’ve managed to build a good life here away from the rumors and the talk. I’ve got a decent car, a good job, and some average friends. A nice normal life. The only odd thing is, whenever my friends ask me out to the movies I always decline. I’ve never told them why and I don’t intend to anytime soon. Whenever they ask me I just look off into the distance and tell them, “I’ll catch it on DVD.”
Credit To – Kitt Novem