Theater Six

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📅 Published on May 19, 2017

"Theater Six"

Written by The Rick List

Estimated reading time — 7 minutes

During the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I had a job at the local cinema. I’m 26 years old now and well on my way to other, more important things in my life, but this is the first time I’ve told this story.

Mind you, the theater was very small since it was located in the small town where I grew up: North English, Iowa (population: just over 1,000). This made things easier for me since one of the jobs I had to do sometimes was clean up the theaters after each film was over. Unlike some cinemas in bigger areas that have upwards of 20 theaters, this one only had five.

The cinema was almost perfectly symmetrical. Once you give your ticket to the ticket-taker (another job I was given sometimes), the concession stand is in front of you. There is a hallway to the left (South Hallway) and another to the right (North Hallway).

The hallway to the left had three theaters. Once you walk down the hallway, Theater 1 is on your left, Theater 2 is on your right, and Theater 3 is straight ahead.

The hallway to the right, on the other hand, just had two theaters: Theater 4 (on your left) and Theater 5 (on your right). Instead of a third theater directly ahead like the South Hallway, there is nothing but a giant Pepsi advertisement poster stretching from the ceiling all the way to the floor.

The advertisement looked like it had hung there for quite some time. The blue and red colors had seemingly faded significantly and everything about it just kind of had that…older (for lack of a better word) look to it. It was a blue poster dominated by a huge image of a bottle of Pepsi. The word “Pepsi” was at the top and the bottom had a slogan that I had never seen anywhere else: “Nothing Else is a Pepsi”.

I never really thought much of it. It’s a small town and therefore there aren’t going to be a ton of movie-goers, so why deal with the upkeep costs of a sixth theater when it probably won’t turn any profit? I’m sure the owners of the theater had some economic reasoning behind their decision.

One slow day at work, I was staring aimlessly at the poster waiting for something to do when I noticed a small bulge on the right side of it. It was barely noticeable, something you almost had to be looking for in order to see, but for the first time since I started working at the theater, it crossed my mind that something other than just a blank wall may in fact be behind the poster.

I went over and felt the small indentation and, to my amazement, it felt like a doorknob. Not just any doorknob – the same type of doorknob on the doors to the other five theaters. I pulled back the poster to look behind it and, sure enough, there was a door.

Tons of questions raced through my mind, but I eventually concluded that neglecting to use the theater was probably just an economic-based decision. As I had figured, the door was locked, so I didn’t get to see the inside.

Still, my curiosity wouldn’t go away. Why had I never heard of this? Why was the door covered with a poster? Did the door even lead to a sixth theater?

I decided to ask the owner, Kevin. Kevin was 12 years older than me, about 30 at the time, and also worked at the cinema when he was in high school. His father used to own the cinema, but it had been passed down to Kevin once he graduated from college.

“Nothing, just the wall,” he responded hastily when I asked him what was behind the Pepsi poster.

“Kevin, I saw the door.”

He looked at me for a couple of seconds and let out a sigh.

“Okay, come over here,” he said as he led me away from a crowd of people. “You can never tell this story to any of our customers, got it?”

“Yeah, sure, just tell me what happened,” I said anxiously.

He proceeded to tell me of one particular night the weekend after Thanksgiving when he was a senior in high school. Toy Story had come out a few weeks earlier and it was being shown in Theater 6 that night.

Oddly enough, I had never seen Toy Story. I was five, almost six, when it came out and I’m pretty sure I’m the only person from my generation who never went to go see it. I was supposed to go one night with a group of friends from kindergarten and their parents, but I was sick with the flu and my parents wouldn’t let me go.

Anyway, something apparently went wrong that night. Kevin told me about how he remembered the faces of the kids when they came out of the theater, saying they appeared to be in somewhat of a “trance-like state” and were all “white as ghosts.”

He also said that he overheard some of the parents making comments like, “I thought this was supposed to be a kids movie,” and saying other things along those lines.

It was the last showing of the night in Theater 6, and good thing it was. Some of the kids and parents had torn all the cotton out of some of the seats and thrown things at the screen, damaging it.

They closed the theater for the next few days since there were a lot of repairs to be done for it to be suitable for another showing any time soon. However, they never got around to fixing it and decided to shut down the theater for good given what happened in North English soon after.

Over the next couple of weeks, Kevin told me, there was a rash of child disappearances throughout the area.

“Their names and pictures were in the paper, and I just about lost my lunch when I saw who they were,” explained Kevin.

“I recognized pretty much every kid’s face,” he said. “They were the ones to come out of the theater that night.”

According to Kevin, none of the kids were ever found, dead or alive.

“Nice story, bro,” I chuckled. “Now tell me what really happened.”

“Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you,” said Kevin. “But come take a look at this.”

He proceeded to take me to his office and pull up a webpage on his computer. He showed me a picture of a young blonde girl with dark brown eyes, about upper-elementary age.

Under the picture, the page read:

Karen Wilson
DOB: August 11, 1985
Hometown: North English, Iowa
Last seen: November 29, 1995
Status: Still missing

“This is a database I found online that tracks missing kids,” Kevin told me as he showed me how he filtered the results on the site: North English for the town, 1995 for the year.

He clicked the “next” button to reveal a picture of another blonde-haired girl, this one a little bit younger.

Leah Hollinger
DOB: February 1, 1988
Hometown: North English, Iowa
Last seen: November 29, 1995
Status: Still missing

When Kevin clicked the “next” button again, I froze. This face, I recognized.

Kyle Shealy
DOB: March 18, 1990
Hometown: North English, Iowa
Last seen: November 30, 1995
Status: Still missing

Kyle was one of the friends I was planning on seeing Toy Story with. My parents told me he had to move schools and, as a kindergartner at the time, I never second-guessed anything they said.

Then, my stomach dropped. It finally hit me.

Jeff, Justin, and Aaron – the other three kids who went to see Toy Story that night – had also “moved away”.

As Kevin scrolled through the other missing kids – twelve in total – there they were.

Jeffrey Bates
DOB: October 5, 1989
Hometown: North English, Iowa
Last seen: December 2, 1995
Status: Still missing

Justin Webber
DOB: June 13, 1990
Hometown: North English, Iowa
Last seen: December 7, 1995
Status: Still missing

Aaron McPhee
DOB: April 3, 1990
Hometown: North English, Iowa
Last seen: December 8, 1995
Status: Still missing

Panic set in. Everything inside me felt cold, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and I ran to the bathroom certain that I was about to get sick.

I ended up being able to calm myself down, but I didn’t sleep much the next few nights.

About a week later, I still couldn’t get it out of my mind. It was a busy night at work as it was the opening weekend for the fifth Harry Potter movie, and I decided that I was going to do it.

I was going to enter Theater 6.

They had a few extra workers staffed to clean up the theater after the last Harry Potter showing was over, but about five minutes into the cleanup, I told them to all go home and that I’d take care of the rest. They all thanked me, packed up, and went home for the night.

My night, however, was just beginning.

Once I finished cleaning up Theater 2, where Harry Potter was being shown, I headed over toward the North Hallway and stared down the Pepsi poster.

After checking to make sure nobody else was in sight, I reached into my pocket to grab the paperclip I brought to pick the lock.

Picking locks wasn’t anything new to me. When you grow up in a small town like North English, you and your buddies are always looking to something to do and, well, I guess that’s a story for a different time.

After some finagling around, it worked. I took a deep breath, turned the knob, and opened the door.

Other than getting hit with a gust of cold air, the first thing I noticed was the smell. Instead of smelling like a weird mixture of popcorn and lemon-scented cleaner like the other theaters, this one had, as you would expect, a damp, musty smell.

Mice and rats had clearly been in the theater based on the smell, which kind of grossed me out since people just across the hall watched movies, ate popcorn, and drank soda every night…and I was one of the people in charge of keeping the place clean.

I turned on my flashlight and, sure enough, the theater was a mess. The screen was still cracked from having assorted objects thrown at it that night, just like Kevin had told me.

As far as the seats, they were still torn up; however, I couldn’t tell if the majority of them were destroyed by those moviegoers or by the mice and rats.

I still had goosebumps and was a little freaked out, but after some inspection of the theater, I didn’t find anything overly terrifying.

I decided to walk up to the top of the steps and check out the control booth. It looked just like the other five control booths; clearly we hadn’t made any renovations to any of them since the mid-90’s or before. I always thought the technology seemed a little outdated in the theater and this pretty much confirmed it.

After looking around the cobweb-riddled sound and light controls, I noticed, to my horror, a roll of film labeled “Toy Story”.

Another roll of film, this one unmarked, was on the reel.

Credit: The Rick List

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