by Harding McFadden
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Shameless Pimping for Pennies Part 2
by Harding McFadden
Hello there, fine and good folks! If you’d be so kind, and I feel you will be as you’re all, to a person, kind, wonderful folks, I’m sure, I’d like to bother you with an unapologetic bit of pure opportunism.
Y’see, in the coming weeks, I’ve got not one but two little tomes coming out. The first, Opinion as Fact, which should be available as you read this, is a collection of my writings for The Libertarian Enterprise from 2018-20. It‘is a nice little slice of life look at what was ticking me off at any given moment over a two year period.
The second, which I’m pimping right here and now, is a collection of short fiction, being published under the title Making Monsters. As a way to hopefully sway you toward picking up one or both of these wonderful little books, I’d like to present to you now a piece of short fiction from said second collection, entitled “Resurrection Night.” It’s a heartwarming little romp about a movie theatre and reclaiming the joys of youth. I do sincerely hope that you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it, and I’d be very interested in knowing if anyone reading it knows what movie the protagonists of the yarn are watching. So, until next time, be good to each other, and enjoy!
“Resurrection Night” at The Golden Bough was something years in the making. So when Mr. Bradbury, sole proprietor and general manager of the completely refurbished golden age movie house, walked down the red carpeted isles of the building’s single theater, taking in the smells of nostalgia, history, and buttered popcorn, it was with a sense of accomplishment, and not a little pride. His knees ached, his neck was stiff, and every other malady that could assault a 90-year-old man assaulted him, but still he stood with back straight, head held high, not so much a master of all he surveyed, but rather as a caretaker, holding things together until his heroes made their awe-inspiring entry.
He remembered, in the dim prepubescent fogs of his sharp old mind the first time he’d walked this isle. He could see himself, hardly more than a child, looking up at his mother as she gently led him by the hand to their seats. His eighth birthday. Shy and awkward, with no friends to speak of, outside his books and comics. Knowing his obsession with stories that blasted bug-eyed beasties on their covers, his mother had seen the name of the picture boldly blazing on the marquee outside The Golden, and knew what a time her son would have.
He’d looked up into that flickering silver screen and felt himself pulled, as if by gravity or God, into worlds beyond his imagining. Suddenly he wasn’t alone anymore. His friends had been the lovely Margaret Sheridan, the stern, heroic Kenneth Tobey, rocket pack-wearing daredevils and misunderstood monsters. His world had been alien and fantastic, filled with wonders and not a few horrors, though always with a sense that things would work out for the best. The villains would always be vanquished, and the hero would always get the girl.
He’d continued to circle the event horizon of the picture show, even when things had begun to change. The heroes had become darker, sometimes hardly heroes at all, but rather just monsters only slightly better than the ones they fought. The words from their mouths had become increasingly vulgar, while the world that they inhabited became slimier and darker by the flickering moment. In the end, his love for it had been outweighed by his sadness at the depths that it’d plunged, and he’d walked away, like a mourner from the grave of an old friend that hadn’t really been one in a long time.
Stretching out a thin wrist, he looked at the face of his Mickey Mouse watch, at the white-gloved hands making their circuit of the egg-white face. Only minutes now. With a sigh, he meandered back up the isle, looking down each pristine row of seats, searching for something, anything out of place. Try as he might, he could find nothing. Not so much as a flowing thread in the soft carpeting. He’d only been able to hire two employees, a brother and sister, each hardly more than sixteen years old, who’d showed a love for the pictures that he hadn’t seen since his own misspent youth. And they were good.
Walking down the aisle to meet him, Velma was deceptively severe, her hair tight against her head, her bellboy’s uniform trim and lovely. Her smile was infectious and luminous. Her cheeks were flush, as excited as he was. Through black, thick-rimmed glasses she looked at him.
“Almost time, Mr. Bradbury,” she giggled. For an instant her smile faltered, and she reached out a tentative hand toward him. “Is everything alright?” she asked.
He politely waved off the hand, and nodded. “Fine, fine,” he answered, ignoring the tightness in his thin chest. Just the excitement, he told himself. This night was a long time coming, after all. It’d be odd if he was feeling anything but anxious. He patted her on the shoulder, and said it again.
Moving up the aisle beside him, arms clasped behind her back, she asked, “Exciting, isn’t it?”
He nodded. “Very much.” His fingers softly caressed the curtained walls as they walked, overjoyed at the softness of them, the deep copper color. It was like exiting a time machine, into a better when.
They walked past concessions, where Velma’s brother Bill stood, as prim and proper in his place as his sister was in her’s. The younger man smiled broadly over at them. He was loving this.
“Ready, William?” Bradbury asked.
“Born that way, sir,” he replied, straightening even more.
Bradbury smiled and nodded, pushing open the double doors to the right of the concessions stand, and moving into the downward sloping lobby. The wooden floor was smooth and good as the day The Golden had first opened, decades earlier. At the end of the lobby were more glass doors, centered by the box office, original and complete with vintage cash register that he’d picked up for a song from a lover of the past who’d wanted nothing more than to see tonight happen. Bradbury couldn’t help but wonder if she’d be here tonight?
Through the wide glass front doors, out in the dark, he could make out mulling legions. It may have been his fancy betraying him, but he’d have sworn that there were close to two hundred faces out there in the night, waiting for him to let them in. Peeking at the mouse again, he looked over his shoulder and called, “Ready, folks?”
“Ready!” called Velma, expectant.
“Ready!” called Bill, excited.
Straightening, Mr. Bradbury threw the bolts locking the wide glass doors, and taking his place inside the box office, said to the first person in line, “Welcome to The Golden Bough. How many?”
By final tally there were more than two hundred souls, each as happy to be there as he was to have them. Each took their yellow paper tickets and smirked through the window at him like happy children. He’d expected more people his own age, or a bit younger, but was happy to see kids there, too, teenagers and younger, not merely drug along by nostalgic parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, but here of their own accord, ready to get lost in black and white glory for a little while.
At five past, the last of the customers through the doors, he clicked off the box office’s light, and made his slow way through the lobby. Concessions was doing good business, Bill working like a whirlwind, handing over popcorn and candy and drinks with an ear-to-ear smile and a glint in his eye. Down the isles, Velma ushered patrons looking for seats, making it easier for families to sit together. Every so often, the siblings would look at their boss, and the joy that filled them was palpable. He understood.
When he’d been a child, he’d looked at the pictures as an escape. The world had been a cold and harsh place for someone who didn’t fit in. Late bloomers, and bookworms, and tomboys, and all the others who were alone together against the mulling sheeple of society. In the light of day they’d be harassed and assaulted and called horrible things too cruel to remember, but too harsh to forget.
But in the movie house it was different. Once you were in your seat, with your treats and goodies, and the lights dimmed and that wonderful flickering light started, you were king of the world. It didn’t matter what was happening outside those doors, in the eternal night of reality. In here you were one of the heroes, along for the ride with folks who moved mountains, blasted off to new worlds, and stood toe-to-toe against monstrous things from another world. Here, there was hope.
His eyes misting over, Bradbury stood at the back of the room as Velma made her way through the theatre to the thin staircase leading up to the tomb-like splendor of the projection room. His only concession to modern convenience, it played pictures digitally, no flicker of the films starting up. He sighed, disappointed but understanding. It’d been a hard choice, but one who’s financial benefits had in the end been the difference between opening tonight, and opening next year.
The ancient fanfare that blared out through the theatre from dozens of meticulously placed speakers was like the heartbeat of the world. The seventy year old cartoon that followed was an invitation to your inner child, bidding it welcome, let go of whatever’s bothering you outside of here, embrace the here and now, let yourself be young again.
Leaning against the wall, Bradbury allowed himself a chuckle at the antics of the always hilarious anthropomorphized animals as they brilliantly made their was through situations and pratfalls scripted and established to do nothing more than entertain and breed laughter. He smiled at the innocence of it, absentmindedly rubbing the still tight muscles in his chest.
To his right he could see Bill, making more popcorn while sipping his soda and laughing unapologetically at the animated insanity. The old man could imagine Velma doing much the same up in her coffin. Warmth radiated through him. Warmth and contentedness.
When the cartoon ended the crowd let out with applause and cheers, louder than the show deserved. It was with a sense of release that everyone joined in, an innocent, pure ecstasy, simple joy, a thing all too infrequent in their everyday lives.
For a moment the theatre was pure dark, the side lights dimmed to near blackness, the back doors closed silently by Bradbury. Each voice was quieted, breath held, heartbeats held in check. When at long last, after an eternity of anticipatory nothingness, the early, crying woman wails of the theremin began, followed by the burning text of the opening credits, every seat erupted. There were cheers and applause and whistles, emotional sacrifices let loose to a God who was forgiving and hopeful and optimistic. This was a place of order and love, no matter how many horrors must be strode through; there was no home for nihilism here.
Like strolling through a dream, Bradbury made his way down the left isle, looking briefly back at concessions, at Bill, who was so engulfed in the picture that he may as well have been a part of it. High up, Velma’s silhouette could just be made out behind the glow of the digital projector, as lost in the light as was her brother. To his left and right, before him and behind, Bradbury could see the enraptured faces of the crowd, their wide eyes and ceaseless smiles perpetual, too enthralled to notice a thin old man strolling between them.
Four rows back from the front, Bradbury stopped and slumped himself down in an aisle seat. His legs shook, until they didn’t. He looked up into that silver screen and felt himself pulled, as if by gravity or God, into worlds beyond his imagining. Suddenly he wasn’t alone anymore.
With a soft whispered voice, the woman next to him said, “Popcorn?” holding out a thin paper cup filled with buttery goodness. With a smile, he gratefully accepted, reaching out his gnarled old hand for a single piece, which he gratefully popped into his mouth.
For more than an hour he sat there, utterly engrossed by the picture, shivering over the terrors, inwardly cheering at the successes. All over again he fell in love with the beautiful Margaret Sheridan; in the sickly gawky teenaged cells of his mind he wished he could be the stern, heroic Kenneth Tobey. He imagined himself a rocket pack-wearing daredevil, and strode through harsh countrysides as a grim, misunderstood monster. His world was alien and fantastic, filled with wonders and not a few horrors, always with a sense that things would work out for the best. The villains would always be vanquished, and the hero would always get the girl.
Reluctantly his eyelids drooped, the world dimmed, and he was a child again, sitting enraptured in these seats, next to his mother. There was never a creature so scary that he’d asked to leave; no lady ever so lovely that he didn’t imagine marrying her. In his mind’s eye he was a giant, taking long strides over eternal battlefields to save the day. He was a hero, someone worth knowing, surrounded by likeminded madmen, ready to push back the darkness for the betterment of all mankind.
It was only a few years later that his mother had been lost to him, the super science of his youthful adventures no match for the crushing reality of the world as it was. He’d sat there at her bedside, his father a wreck but unsure of how to handle it. When she’d passed, a light had gone dim in the forefront of Bradbury’s mind, and things were never quite so bright again.
His father’d lived for another 30 years, but in many ways he’d died on that bed right next to his late wife. He’d loved his son, Bradbury was certain of that, but never so much as he’d loved her. When he’d died, it was with something like joy and happiness. No matter how dramatic his life, he’d been a true believer, his faith in a loving God never wavering, and he’d gone to his rewards with a feeling of anticipation, sure in the knowledge that he’d be met on the other side by the open arms of his only love.
Life had been good, if lonely for Bradbury. It was his own fault, and he didn’t bemoan it. He’d had a few lovers, but never one that lasted. When their relationships had ended, all concerned parties had left them behind without regret, but without longing either. He’d been a stepping stone on the way to better things, and they’d been dams, holding back the engulfing waters of loneliness.
A part of him lamented the passing of youthful innocence. He supposed that everyone felt that way, at least a bit. But life needed to be lived, and so that simpler world needed to be left behind, if only to get through today. Though for him, it never quite shunted its way into the forgotten yesterday. It had stayed with him, if only as the ghost of a memory.
When the chance to resurrect The Golden had presented itself, he’d leapt at it. If only briefly, if only for tonight, he’d have this moment of innocence, of purity. If for only a fleeting second, it was worth it…
With reluctance, he forced his eyes open, only to see the few moments of credits scrolling by on the screen. With a stretch and a yawn, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked around the dark theatre. Silently, people were exiting their seats, collecting their trash, and emerging into the accumulated night. For a moment Bradbury panicked, feeling alone, unsure of just what was happening. He calmed when he heard the voice.
“Ready to go, honey?”
He reached out a hand, let it be engulfed in hers. Nodding, he answered, “Yes, Mama.”
She led him up the aisle, past the smiling concessions worker, and the happy usher. Out the doors, into a surprisingly bright and dazzling morning. The air was warm and comforting, the birds chirping, a tune that he hadn’t heard in half a century playing on a radio somewhere out there in the distance.
Walking up the street toward them, his father waved and smiled. He was a big man, full of happiness, not a mean bone in his body. He gave his wife a short hip-to-hip hug, sneaking a peck on her cheek. Ruffling his son’s hair, he asked, “How was the picture, kid?”
Bradbury smiled up at his father. “Good. Monsters and army men and space ships. You’d’a liked it, I think.”
His father chuckled.
“Maybe next time,” the man said. “I hear there’s a new mummy picture coming here in another two-three weeks. We’ll make a day of it, long as there’s a cartoon first.”
Bradbury smiled, beaming. He stuck out his child’s hand and shook with his father. “Deal,” he declared.
Hand in hand the three of them walked down the street, embracing the day, each other, and the endless joys to be found in it all.
“Come on, then,” his mother declared. “Let’s get home.”
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