Doing the illogical thing is often times a spark of your genius. It doesn’t make sense to others. Let your spark ignite your passion so that it becomes a roaring fire. -Intellectual Shaman
At 6:30, busy noise came from the street. Bernie motioned to Jeremy, “Possibly check and see if we might have our first customers.” Walking through the golden double doors, a flock of excited movie goers flooded the ticket booth. Locking himself inside, Jeremy sold tickets as fast as he could. He yelled for Max. “We need an admittance line in the lobby. Brandon must have gotten the word out because most of Madison Junior High is here.”
Tickets were handed out with corresponding seat numbers. Jeremy reached the end of his reel, noticing it was going to be sold-out. Several guests were unable to enter the building because of fire regulations.
Bernie left the lobby, walking up the staircase into the projector room.
It was risky to show a film he’d never seen before. Stringing the reels, Bernie prepared to pull the crimson curtains. Echoing shrieks of laughter filled the room as the theater doors opened and crowds took their seats.
Someone made popcorn in the lobby and the smell of boiling butter wafted into the movie room.
Laughs and cheers resounded inside the ancient walls, quickly replaced with quiet excitement. Bernie used the megaphone to announce the beginning of The Black and White Horror Show.
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I GIVE YOU A FILM UNEARTHED IN ANCIENT EGYPT AND DEDICATED TO THE FOUNDER OF THIS THEATER, IGNATIUS SPECTER.”
The crowd applauded as the curtains moved to the corners, revealing an ancient screen that crackled to life.
Expecting to see desert, Bernie was shocked to view an amusement park. The film was silent, except for circus tunes. A couple moved among the tents, watching magic acts and strange attractions. A fat man rolled down the street with three midgets running on his stomach. A slender woman in a poinsettia dress, wearing crimson makeup, and a red wig advertised a singing potion, turning the worst case of laryngitis into melodies. Anyone watching the couple would’ve known it was their first date. They neared a Ferris wheel where a bald man in his forties took their tickets.
The music quickened with foreboding tunes as the ride rotated faster and faster. An operator ran inside the control booth to turn off the power. The lever broke in his hands and the wheel picked up speed.
A boss dressed in a penguin tuxedo rushed toward the ride with his hands flailing. His large mustache wiggled as he barked orders to his obedient carnie trying to explain the malfunction. Circus goers walked toward the scene, hypnotized by a real show. Fear rooted them to the sawdust. They couldn’t look away, even if they had wanted to. Spinning faster and faster, the wheel shook. Puke rained on the crowd like rain. Slowly, a man lumbered toward them. He was over nine feet tall with a dull expression on his angular face. Pounding drums energized the show as the giant moved closer. He grabbed the rotating gears, slowing their maddening twist as the cogs sparked in protest. There was a sigh of relief from the crowd when the ride eventually stopped.
In the late afternoon, Jeremy took a bus back to the movie theater. His friends were already waiting for him. Max looked exhausted from pedaling and Brandon talked to two cheerleaders in the back of his Camaro.
“Has anyone knocked on the front door?” Jeremy asked.
“We’re waiting for you bro,” Brandon said.
“Let’s go inside and I’ll introduce you to Bernie.” The group walked through the golden double doors into the lobby. Bernie was nearly finished sweeping dust leftover from the sarcophagus.
“Hello Jeremy, I see you brought some of your friends,” he smiled.
“Everyone, this is Bernie. He’s the owner of The Pharaoh for at least one more day. We’re here to help you get your place ready for this evening.” Everyone exchanged introductions.
“Well, I need someone to greet patrons and handout tickets in the lobby. Maximilian, would you be in charge of public relations and donations? We have a multitier movie room that hasn’t been cleaned in twenty years. I’ll put you ladies in charge of cleaning the first floor.” Bernie pointed at the cheerleaders, reading their names off their jumpsuits. “Mindy and Stephanie, did you hear me?”
They were texting. “We’re sorry mister, but all we do is decorating.”
“Yeah, we have a flare for dazzle, but we can’t pick up trash. It’s like, so gross.”
Bernie raised his eyebrows.
“I’ll pick-up trash on the first floor,” volunteered Jeremy. “Brandon will take the second and we’ll have this place ready to go.”
“But what should we do?” complained Mindy and Stephanie. “I’ll put Sissy in charge of you,” replied Bernie. “I have a couple closets filled with costumes and decorations. They haven’t been used since The Pharaoh became a movie theater.”
Bernie handed the cheerleaders a brass skeleton key to unlock the costume closet. He pushed a small cart full of antique light bulbs and candles around the movie theater, changing the fixtures. Bernie knew lighting was important for a good show.
Opening the closet, costumes and spiders cascaded over the cheerleaders. They couldn’t discern fake webs from the real thing. There were guerilla costumes, Chinese dragons, African masks, and props used for magic acts. A rusted saw hung in the corner with a bloodied blade. The sight of magic gone wrong chilled them to the bone. They pulled silver candelabras from the shadows, not daring to venture further in.
Soon the theater had a cozy appeal in the stairwells and hallways. Jeremy found an ancient Hoover vacuum and began to clean the carpets. It was exciting to discover hidden places inside the century old entertainment house. Everyone lost track of time.
The busyness stopped when an unfamiliar dong resounded in the lobby. Bernie had repaired the foyer clock.
Max finished hauling broken ceiling tiles from the theater seats. He mopped up a puddle of water on the floor. Immediately, the room felt less damp. It was nearly 90 degrees outside. Everything inside and out had a warm sense of mystery.
A little suffering
A word processor
A quiet room
And a rebellious spirit
Writing must have power behind it
Does your writing command attention?
Like a voice
these words must be read
Without this power
readers should stop reading
Power is everything
If you can give power to words
like a magician
Suddenly, your success
or a lack of it
does not matter
Readers are hypnotized by words
unable to look away
You have power over them
You are a writer
is like courting a woman
You cannot force
Writers must have ambition
but it cannot drive them to write
Once you start thinking
about word counts,
Inspiration will leave you
Like a woman
When you date for
She will sense your insincerity
and pull away
You must give your attention
to the craft of writing
Like a good seduction
will get you in bed
with words and women
I am committed
like a mental patient
to the ease of living
It takes work
not to work
It takes balls
to be a man
The people who write self-help books
are the worst
And the readers of them
cannot find their own way
and they will pay the price
for trying to follow advice
A man must live by his own will
The challenge of wisdom
People are too impatient
Their most ugly emotion
They need constant entertainment
But moving through boredom and past it
allows a man to reach nirvana
where all the right answers are available
There is more than one thing to do
Swing a golf club
Love a woman
Never hold the dice.
We all need to escape
in times of stress
Escape is more difficult
to obtain than one might think
We go on vacation to get away
But the airlines lose our luggage
We get hassled by hotel staff
or an impossible itinerary
We leave the 9 to 5
to get relief
at the local watering hole
Only to be made to wait…
for our food
We hear enthusiastic
talking about how much they want to work
How can we escape people
having uninspired conversations?
The dreams most people have are nightmares
I understand why people climb the ladder
But do they get to the top
and hate the view?
Loving is a way to escape
but few people do it
is a permanent holiday
Trying to figure out how to be with others
Always staying ahead of the curve
So that you don’t drop off
And wanting to feel secure
the only security is to keep running
We are so alone
and surrounding ourselves with noise
is no way to cure the feeling
We just feel more alone
Sharing a conversation
With someone who has nothing to say
or a person who has everything to say
but says NOTHING!
Some people speak with so much force
You feel as if you are being socially violated
or fawned upon
Causes a person to become socially sick
There are so many nuances to communication
and we adapt
or go inside ourselves
because the words that are said
Scramble our brains
After a long day of listening
We feel like an egg
Frying in a pan
Bernie knew it was common for filmmakers to document their own productions, but he still didn’t understand how dozens of people could fit inside such a small tent. He wondered why no one came out. Convinced the actual film might address his questions, he decided to watch it. Changing the reels, he went downstairs to retrieve The Black and White Horror Show, removing it from its case. A silver card fluttered to the ground. The sight of something inside the documentary made him shudder. It read Eternal Strength to the Victorious. Bernie flipped the film reel in his hands, noticing feint writing scratched on the metal. It read only show in financial emergency. Being one day away from bankruptcy, Bernie felt it was the right time. He went back to his projector room, changed the reels, nearly starting the picture when he heard knocking at the front door. It was the worst timing. He was ready to kill his creditors. Flinging the door open, Bernie prepared to rant, but it wasn’t a lawyer, creditor, or building inspector.
A skinny teenager covered in acne spoke in a shaking voice. “Can I have a job?”
Bernie felt sorry for him. “I wish I could give you one son, but I need to close my theater tomorrow. No one wants to watch black and white films anymore.”
“I’ll work for free if you’ll teach me something about the silver screen,” the teenager suggested with less fear now and more eagerness in his eyes.
Bernie couldn’t refuse. In a way, he needed to tell someone his story. “I’m about to play an unusual film. I’ve never seen it before. Today will be the last showing at The Pharaoh and I would like to have an audience. Will you tell your friends and family I’ll be showing a scary movie at seven o’clock? Admissions will be free, but donations are welcome.”
The teenager immediately liked him. “I’ll find as many people as I can. It might be difficult on a Friday.”
“Do you have a name?”
“My friends call me Jeremy.”
The theater owner waved goodbye to the pimple-faced teenager who ran to tell everyone he knew about the strange man.
Jeremy went home to design a flyer and call his friends. The sign advertised an exclusive movie playing in a historical landmark on closing night. Everyone changed their plans when they heard his story.
Max rode to Jeremy’s house on his bicycle to pick-up the first batch of promotional newsletters. “Hey Jeremy, how do you know the theater will be ready in time to show the movie? It’s probably a wreck inside.” Max was shorter than most boys his age and wore a Metallica tee-shirt. He liked to brag he was in a band. His skinny jeans made him look even skinnier and his black hair was a mess.
Jeremy knew his friend was right. “We’ll pass out flyers for a couple hours and spend the last three cleaning the theater.”
Max took off with a large gunnysack full of promotional newsletters. He had a paper route for a little extra cash during junior high school and was extremely fast at sticking flyers to car windshields, barbershop doors, beauty salons, actor’s studios, and nearly every telephone pole in town.
Brandon swung by in his classic 1969 Camaro with electric blue paint and white racing stripes. “Max told me about the old movie theater. How can I help?” The muscular jock was friends with Jeremy since first grade.
“Can you call the cheerleaders and Sissy Prince? We need them to contact every student at Madison Junior High.” Sissy was the events coordinator at school. She wore large pink framed glasses, had blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, and often dressed in sweat outfits stretched to the seams.
In two hours, half of Old Hollywood heard about The Pharaoh.
After removing a set of 35 mm film reels, Bernie found another pair without any labels. It was strange to find two films in the same case. He wondered if they belonged to Ignatius Specter. He decided to watch the unmarked film, hoisting the reels out of the sarcophagus.
Once in the projector room, Bernie realized Dracula 1931 was still playing. The rotating cylinders overheated, smoking dangerously. He flipped the switch, turning off the machine. He carefully changed the films, taking a deep breath, and turned on the projector.
An anonymous movie rolled. Desert extended in every direction while a man in a white turban walked a few paces in front of the camera. He glanced at his map, checking the orientation of the sun, referring to a compass. The archeologist was tall, had fair skin, and wore a trimmed beard. Suddenly, he stopped. Ignatius signaled his staff for assistance. Two figures in black garb approached.
Bernie couldn’t figure-out what they were doing. They tied two ropes together, securing one end to an anchor.
Suddenly, the camera switched frames. It was difficult to see the walls at the bottom of the well. Torches burned behind the camera, flashing evil silhouettes on the interior. Ignatius lit his lantern, reading a chart. He pointed at the wall, demanding his men to dig. The clay was chipped away, revealing a hidden chamber. Something looked familiar. Bernie realized it was the Egyptian Sarcophagus in his own movie theater. It took three men to open the lid. No bones were found, only dust.
Again, the film cut to a dark workshop where Ignatius was no longer dressed in desert clothes, but in a laboratory suit. Canvas bags rested on the table where he was working. Periodically, he reached into one of them for a handful of dust. As Ignatius sprinkled it into a film tray, green gas evaporated. Rather than holding his breath, the scientist inhaled the fumes. He hadn’t spoken to anyone in over three months. Absorbed in his work in the year 1899, Ignatius created an unusual film.
The production was in its final days of shooting. It was a silent film intended to quietly horrify audiences. The director wanted his spectators to be so afraid they wouldn’t be able to scream. The last day was tomorrow and Ignatius had a plan to live forever with a captured audience.
The documentary cut to an amusement park with a Ferris wheel, Carousel, circus, clown show, several curiosity tents, and a main attraction. Bernie couldn’t explain why he felt nervous. He loved films, but as he followed the camera past a peanut dispenser and juggling act, he felt uncomfortable.
A line began next to The Immortal Game, stretching around the tent to the opening. Each person had a silver ticket they had won. The rules were easy enough for a child to understand and several children stood in line. A familiar sarcophagus lay on a golden table. A regular wooden chair was set next to a velvet pad. Each person sat in the chair, placing their elbow on the emerald cushion. Their arm’s weight triggered a mechanism inside the coffin and a skeletal arm emerged. Each person had to wrestle the dead for eternal glory. The game was easy, fun, and created lots of laughs when the skeleton taunted its opponents with phrases like “My strength will never die” or “You fight like a girl” until it groaned “I quit.” The winner received a silver ticket when the skeletal hand touched the pillow. A card shot out of the coffin reading Eternal Strength to the Victorious in gold lettering.
Ignatius collected the silver tickets at the entrance to the pavilion. People continued to enter, but never came out. Bernie couldn’t understand where the film crew and extras had gone. Flashes of light illuminated the tent when Ignatius took their photographs. Bernie noticed an innocuous sign, written in fine print above the pavilion. It read The Black and White Horror Show. Suddenly, the film went blank.
Bernie locked the doors of his dilapidated movie theater, slowly walking home to his apartment. He had no choice but to declare bankruptcy. No one watched the silver screen anymore and The Pharaoh was in immediate need of renovations. Aching pain filled his arthritic bones as he slouched into bed, knowing he would lose everything he loved.
The next morning, Bernie scanned the Hollywood Times for interesting stories; none leapt off the page. He dressed in his finest clothes to attend his last showing. He couldn’t decide which friend he would celebrate it with. It would either be Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff. His black suit and bow tie alienated him from the bums lying on the cracked sidewalk as he strolled past overflowing dumpsters smelling of three-day-old trash. Bernie might’ve been going to a funeral, and in a way, he was.
Reaching the ticket booth, he pretended to collect two tickets, one for himself and his wife. She’d been dead nearly ten years, but it comforted him to pretend she was still there.
“I’ll hold our tickets,” he said graciously, opening the door like a gentleman.
A broken chandelier hung from the ceiling in the dim lobby. It smelled of must and stale oil. Walking to the concession stand, Bernie found a bucket of butter and some kernels under the red counter. He filled the kettle dispenser and turned the switch. Memories flooded his mind as the kernels popped. He remembered when The Pharaoh opened in 1929; he’d worked as a night custodian, falling in love with the silver screen, bringing his girlfriend to see her first movie.
Bernie reached into the kettle to fill his red and white popcorn bag. He admired the Egyptian Sarcophagus standing against the wall ready to greet patrons into the theater.
The Pharaoh got its name from the sarcophagus left behind when the previous owner disappeared. Ignatius Specter built the theater to entertain crowds. No one knew where he amassed an incredible fortune, but everyone knew his magic act was second to none. Arriving in San Francisco Bay by steamer charted from Yokohama Harbor, Ignatius carried nothing with him but an ancient sarcophagus. Rumors grew that he unearthed it in Egypt, learning black magic from the book of the dead. Likely, all of the stories were created by his promoter and yet, Ignatius never revealed his secrets.
Bernie walked through the golden double doors into the movie room. Rain pounded against the roof, trickling through the cracks, absorbed by the checkered carpet. Wallpaper dangled from the roof, littering theater seats with speckled paint.
“An inconvenient mess for my creditors,” Bernie chuckled. He walked through a side door, entering a staircase, leading to the projector room. It was illegal for him to own nitrate film because it was extremely flammable, but he never believed in regulations. He secretly wished he might collect on his fire insurance one day. Bernie looked for his favorite movie, Dracula 1931 with Bela Lugosi.
“There it is,” he said out loud, reaching for the reel. He checked the bulb in the projector and strung the film. It took him a while to remember how to change the reels, but eventually old habits returned. Bernie heard an echo in the lobby. He knew it was dangerous to leave the film unattended, but he chose to anyway.
There was feint knocking on the front entrance. A vampire was at the lobby door nailing his last eviction notice. The shadow left as quickly as it came. It had more work to do. Last week a representative from Better Banks told Bernie his property would sell quickly. The thought of losing The Pharaoh made him feel helpless.
Sighing, he rested his hand on the sarcophagus. If it was a twist of fate or traces of mischief, he didn’t know; it crashed to the floor. A cloud of sparkling grey and gold dust billowed into the air causing him to cough. It was impossible to see for several seconds. No one in the last century knew its contents until now.
Strangely, inhaling the dust made him feel younger. Immediately, his body quit aching. Bernie felt strong for the first time in twenty years. Until that moment, he never thought he could move the sarcophagus. Stooping to the floor, he flipped it as if it was made of cardboard instead of stone. He had read enough horror stories to know he should never reach into a gaping hole without a light. Bernie pulled out his gold cigarette lighter, flicking the flint, igniting a flame. His wife cured him of smoking several years ago, but he couldn’t part with it.
In the sarcophagus was an oddly shaped mound of dust. Bernie went for a broom near the concession stand, using the handle to poke inside. Nothing happened.
“As of late, I’ve been cursed by misfortune; things can’t get any worse,” Bernie said. He reached inside, disturbing the remains. Expecting to touch dried papyrus, he was shocked to feel cold metal. He brushed away the dust, revealing a large metallic case. It housed a silent film with a release date scratched into the plating, 1899. Bernie was an expert on film, but he had never heard of The Black and White Horror Show.