A short story I wrote for my wife for Christmas last year
Friday the 13th at Slash-In Theater is the worst.
What’s the Slash-in, you ask? Well, it’s the only movie theater/bar combo that caters exclusively to my kind of people: horror fans. I like working here. At least, I like working here every other night of the year but tonight. Nightmare on Elm Street marathon, no problem. I even volunteered for Black Christmas on Christmas Eve. But Friday the 13th sucks. There are just too damn many of them! Friday the 13th movies, that is. I mean, I liked the first one. But the sheer quantity of hours spent at a bar/movie theater for a marathon of this kind means that there is just too much of these three things: fake blood, popcorn, and beer. Oh, and we can’t forget the pseudo-intellectual frat boys whose idea of flirting is to man-splain Final Girl theory, then stare at my ass while I refill their greasy bags of popcorn for the umpteenth time.
For whatever reason, Cal—the owner—refuses to split the marathon across two days. I tell him repeatedly that he’d make more money if he did. But he says he’s too old school, that he doesn’t give a fuck about the money. “Clearly,” I say back. What I don’t say is that calling yourself “old school” just makes you sound like a tool. Because I know that the real reason he doesn’t give a shit about the money is that sweet endowment from the historical preservation society for the building we’re in.
And so, inevitably, at the end of this shit show, I will end up mopping up puke and beer and popcorn off the floor at six in the morning. And the bleary eyed slasher fiends will wander drunk into the street like the walking dead. And let me tell you, with the way they smell, they might as well be.
My only consolation is Doctor Satan.
Who is Doctor Satan, you ask? Well, he is a geriatric, ginger longhair cat that wanders the neighborhood. But always, without fail, and only on Friday the 13th, he hangs out exclusively in alley right next to the theater. I used to wonder if it was the cocktail of horrific aromas that somehow hit the sweet spot of delectable and disgusting for a trash cat like him. But, after much deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that he is actually the very spirit of horror movie trash. And each year he comes to accept the sacrifice, the energy of the willing, of those who subject themselves to the twenty four hour shit show that is Friday the 13th.
But this year, so far, I haven’t seen him.
After the fourth film, sometime around two in the morning, he’s still a no-show. There’s a window just above the soda machine that looks out into the alley, toward the fire escape where he usually hangs. If he comes, I can catch his red shape out of the corner of my eye, flitting his tail, or pacing back and forth. So far, nothing.
“Jerry, I’m going on break,” I shout.
Jerry, my sixteen year old coworker, pops his head out from behind the trash like a scared dog, pockmarked and innocent, his wide eyes bulging from behind his greasy, brown mop of curls.
“Uh—alright,” he stammers. “You want me to man the desk?”
But I’m already halfway out the door. There are few real joys to be had at the Slash-In, especially on Friday the 13th, but imagining Jerry standing behind the concession stand with his broom, stammering through his explanation to one of the patrons that he’s sixteen and isn’t legally allowed to serve the beer, is one of them.
Why do I take such pleasure in poor Jerry's discomfort, you ask? I don’t know. Misery loves company, I guess.
Down the alley, past the fire escape, I look around the dumpster—no sign of him. I walk out to the sidewalk—nothing. Across the street, a few people are milling outside the college bar, Heathcliff’s, but otherwise the street is empty. The Heathcliff and Slash-In, the only two bastions of culture in this podunk town. New Hampshire is weird, but predictable.
I’m about to turn back when I hear a little squeaking whine:
I freeze, waiting for it to come again. Someone at Heathcliff’s howls with laughter, followed by the echo of a group of girls chittering and preening in response. Behind me, the muffled gurgling of another teenage girl being disemboweled by Jason vibrates from behind brick and glass. I strain my ears, focus my attention, trying to block out all else.
He’s on the roof.
And by the sound of him, not feeling great about it. I look at my watch.
“Shit,” I mutter. There’s about twenty minutes left in Number Four.
I hurry back to the theater and stick my head through the doorway. Jerry spins around from behind the concession stand, dropping his broom with a clatter.
“I’ll be back,” I say. “Emergency on the roof.”
I barely hear Jerry’s stammering pleas for me to stay as I close the door again, heading for the fire escape. The ladder is permanently pulled down because Cal regularly has to go up there to fiddle with the A.C. unit—not that he actually knows what he’s doing. But even with the endowment, he’s cheap and stubborn.
I climb up the rusty, paint-chipped ladder, careful not to move too fast. I tell myself it’s because I don’t want to spook the cat, but the truth is, I can feel the fire escape shift ever so slightly with each step.
Right, squeak, wiggle.
I reach the platform and can literally hear the screws loosen from the bricks of the theater wall.
It’s closer now, maybe ten feet away.
Just up the ramped stairs and over the lip of the roof and I’m free. But now I actually have to stop myself, have to squash the urge to run up the steps and leap over the edge. Because I don’t want to spook the cat. So I take it one step at a time. And as my eye line reaches over the edge, I see him: little Doctor Satan, crouched up against the A.C. unit.
He locks eyes with me and lets out a hiss, but doesn’t move.
That’s when I realize what’s happened. His tail is stuck underneath that hunk of rusted metal.
“Oh my God,” I whisper. “Little guy, it’s okay.”
I tip-toe my way toward him. He hisses, pressing himself against the A.C. unit.
“It’s okay,” I say again. “It’s okay.”
I look closer, at the point where the cat’s leg is stuck. It looks like the support nubs that held the A.C. unit off the tar roof had been replaced with bunches of wine corks.
Cal, you fucking asshole.
The cat must’ve gone under there looking for a mouse, or something, and knocked over the delicate, bullshit, balance beam system that Cal had implemented (probably drunk).
I press my full body weight against the unit and slowly feel it lift. I feel the scurry of weight underneath my feet, then hear something flop behind me. I drop the metal box hard.
Peee-oowwww-wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh. Wuh. Wuh.
The A.C. unit rattles and slowly, unceremoniously, dies.
I look behind me, and Doctor Satan is still lying on the ground, his leg sprawled out in an awkward direction. I look at my watch. They’ll be coming out of the movie any minute. And without the A.C. unit…
Without the A.C….
…No. More. Marathon.
I look down at Doctor Satan and smile.
Slowly, gingerly, I approach. He hisses again, but this time he doesn’t have his heart in it. Or he’s just tired. I don’t know.
He lets me scoop him up in my arms with minimal protest. I hope he doesn't scratch me.
“It’s alright,” I say.
We take our time down the fire escape. We’re not in any rush anymore.
People are already filing out of the movie by the time I reach the alley. And I can see Jerry sweating through the window. I poke my head in through the door. The panicked look in Jerry’s eyes as he begs me to take over makes me smile.
“Jerry,” I say, “just sack up and pretend you’re twenty one,” then add, “I believe in you, bitch.”
Jerry looks at me like I just kissed him on the tip of his dick and nods, then turns to the first asshole that wants a beer and a fourth popcorn and says, “w—what can I get you?”
Meanwhile, I scurry into Cal’s office with the cat. I place him on the ratty couch while I use the ancient PC to print out signs to tape to the doors.
I’ll make an announcement before the next movie starts, but I need the signs to prevent the non-hardcore ones from coming to just the late-night shows.
A.C. KILLED BY SATAN, it reads. COME BACK NEXT FRIDAY…THE 13th.
I hit print and, after what feels like twenty minutes later, grab the first copy, blow on the ink, and show it to Doctor Satan.
“What do you think?” I ask.
He doesn’t reply. But he doesn’t have to. It only occurs to me then why Doctor Satan really hangs around the theater on this day, of all days.
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