Walking out the double doors, Jeremy pushed a trolley cart, breathing in the warm evening air. Turning a street corner, he noticed his friends. “I was wondering when you guys would show up. I’m headed for Sally’s Drug Store if you want to help me load supplies.”
They walked in silence for some time until they neared the store. “We need to buy a lighter so we can burn the black and white photograph,” Jeremy whispered.
Sally eyed them suspiciously after they bought her entire stock of candy bars and soda; not to mention a package of lighters. “You boys don’t smoke, do you?” she asked.
“No; most of the lighting in The Pharaoh is at least a century old. We have another showing this evening and many more candles to light.”
Sally seemed satisfied, but hesitated when handing lighters to three teenage boys.
After leaving the store, they pushed their mound of groceries up the sidewalk. It took every ounce of their strength to do it. Turning a corner, they saw a crowd. Excited movie goers ignoring crosswalks, flooding across Specter Street.
Bernie cued The Black and White Horror Show in the projector room and soon the teenagers were selling tickets and concessions in the lobby. Sissy wrapped caution tape around Seat 13 and left a Spill Sign in plain sight.
Bernie tripped the reels and The Black and White Horror Show rolled. Immediately, the old man realized something was wrong. The screen went blank. I wonder if the film was erased, he pondered. Then he heard a feint sound; circus tunes invaded his mind. A procession walked down the center aisle of the theater, emerging on the silver screen. The audience gasped as a lion, giant, and a Ferris wheel cascaded through them, joining the other characters in the film. Foreboding tunes grew louder when the giant stopped the Ferris wheel from falling-apart once again.
Jeremy held the black and white photograph in his sweaty palm, waiting for Ignatius to take center stage. His other hand grasped the lighter, his fingers pressed down on the striker.
Suddenly the theater flashed with light, like a night club during disco hour. The strobe clicked faster and faster as sections of the audience disappeared.
Jeremy knew Ignatius was in the audience, but he couldn’t see him. All he saw were empty seats where people had been.
Turning around, he looked at the projector room, noticing Bernie holding the flash camera close to his face.
HE WAS THE ONE TAKING PICTURES, Jeremy realized.
He pulled out his pocket lighter, grinding the flint, igniting a flame, but the photograph wouldn’t burn.
The screaming diminished as most of the crowd was captured in black and white film.
The teenagers pressed themselves against the wall, hiding between the curtains.
Leaping for the door, Detective Straitface moved up the hall, entering a circular corridor. He was as silent as a cat, preparing to pounce.
Straitface needed protection from the camera. Walking to the projector door, he noticed his reflection in a mirror; He carefully removed it, brandishing it like a shield. Turning the knob, Straitface entered the room.
Bernie was camera crazy with an itchy trigger finger.
The detective held the mirror in front of his body, charging forward.
It shattered, shooting shards in every direction. Black and white photos flew across the floor with captured audience members staring into oblivion.
Bernie was knocked out, spread eagle on the floor.
The detective grabbed the camera, holding it like a bomb. He fumbled with the dial, zooming the lenses. Looking through the peephole, Straitface pinpointed his target. “What kind of evil is this,” he whispered. Hearing footsteps on the stairs, he swiveled around, focusing the instrument on four teenagers. “State your business!” he demanded.
“We know Bernie…” said Jeremy in a shaky voice.
“I’m afraid he’s unconscious and won’t be returning to reality for some time—knocked him out, you see…not intentionally, but he was trying to capture me in black and white film.”
“We need Bernie’s cigarette lighter. Will you search his pockets?” whispered Sissy.
“That would be illegal. Why do you need it anyway?” asked Straitface.
“It may be the only tool capable of stopping the madness. Forget detaining him; if we have his lighter, we can destroy the black and white photographs, releasing the spirits inside.” Sissy said practically.
“How do you know you won’t destroy their souls, along with the photographs?” the detective asked—considering the implication of hellfire and burnt plastic.
“We know it’s risky, but it must be done; empty his pockets before he regains consciousness,” whispered Jeremy.
“Being an officer of the law, I will decide when and how a suspect will be searched. Bernie will be questioned at the police station and read his rights when he wakes up. I’ll confiscate his camera and lock it in the evidence room. It’ll be properly marked and handled as a dangerous object. Today’s events will make The Pharaoh infamous, but it’s doubtful anyone other than the audience will believe what happened here.” Straitface handcuffed Bernie. “I can hear a panic outside, which means the media has already arrived. Is there a rear exit?”
“Behind the stage,” suggested Jeremy.
“Excellent! This may be the first and only chance you get to drive a police car. He handed his keys to the wide-eyed teenager. “My Charger is parked out front. You can bring it around back.”
Exiting the lobby was like entering a new dimension. TV cameras pointed at the mob, fueling unrest. Parents called for their children as reporters interviewed one terror stricken child after another, pushing recorders at them, hoping to drain a good story.
The feeding frenzy was more disturbing than The Black and White Horror Show. Jeremy spotted a police car at the opposite end of the street.
His friends tried to blend into the edges of the crowd—shuffling to the side, doing their best to avoid the cameras.
Eventually they made it to the car without attracting reporters or television news anchors.
Jeremy clicked the electronic key and the Charger roared to life. “Everyone, get inside!” Suddenly the mob noticed them. Before they were surrounded, Jeremy gunned the accelerator, parting the crowd like the Red Sea. They got away just in time as the hysteria only got worse.
“YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND,” someone shouted. “HE TOOK MY FRIEND’S PICTURE AND SHE VANISHED.”
The streets were congested, like an artery waiting to burst.
“I wonder what the crowd would do if they realized we have their suspect in custody,” commented Max.
“They’d probably trample us,” replied Brandon half-seriously. “The vanishing audience can only be explained by magic and people are afraid of what they don’t understand.”
Everyone jumped out and walked inside The Pharaoh. It was like reentering a tomb.
The atmosphere was dark. Ideas flashed across Jeremy’s mind. He wasn’t even sure he should burn the black and white photos or destroy the film. What if he unwittingly harmed the people inside? He didn’t have much time to think. Straitface and Bernie were missing. “Where could they have gone?” He threw up his hands. “We were supposed to bring the car around.” He realized something was wrong. A horrible feeling in his stomach ruptured as he ran up to the projector room.
THE FILM WAS GONE.
Straitface had the gold lighter, The Black and White Horror Show, and the silver camera.
Jeremy knew he had to find them fast. Lost in thought, he bumbled his way into the lobby. “I’m afraid The Black and White Horror Show is gone.”
“That’s not the only thing that’s been stolen,” replied Sissy. “The Sarcophagus is missing.”
Jeremy couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed the faded yellow wallpaper where the Sarcophagus usually stood. The outline glowed in stark contrast with the emerald paper on the walls. “How can we possibly find them; we haven’t any idea which direction they’ve gone.”
“Actually, we do.” Brandon said.
“How do you know?” asked Max. His black hair stretched even taller; his follicles were like extensions of his brain trying to reach the answer.
“Every street is blocked except the rear entrance. We might still be able to catch them.”
“How would you like to test the governor on the police car?” Jeremy asked.
Brandon was behind the wheel before he could finish his sentence. Inserting the ignition key, the V8 engine roared to life. Soon they ripped across the backstreets of Old Hollywood, moving down the interstate.
“GPS says there isn’t an exit for 25 miles,” yelled Max over the engine. The police car picked up speed, breaking 100 miles per hour. Reaching the first freeway turnoff, everyone checked to see if there was any dust.
“We need to keep going, encouraged Sissy. “There’s a traffic jam ahead; any ideas?”
Brandon reached over the dashboard, flipping a red switch, and a siren howled like a banshee. A wave of metal flashed into view. A semi-truck was horizontal across the roadway. There wasn’t enough time to slow down. Brandon controlled the car like an Indi driver, aiming for the high spot in the truck’s suspension.
The police cruiser became a convertible.
“Is everyone alright?” Jeremy asked.
Then Brandon slammed on the breaks, skidding to a halt.
“DUST…” he whispered.
It wasn’t an exit or even a dirt road, but an old cattle trail. Brandon steered into the tumbleweeds.
The detective had Bernie gagged and bound in the passenger seat of a rusty pickup truck he’d hotwired. The sun set over a sunken volcanic crater. It was sultry inside the cab. Bernie wanted to pass out. He was not in his right mind when he turned the camera on his audience, but now he was returning back to normal. It felt strange being under the influence of the film. He wondered why it affected him so much.
Bernie tried to contort his body to get another look at Straitface. He wasn’t sure if it was the bumpy road or his imagination, but something odd was happening to the detective. His face was melting.
Straitface reached with a finger to scratch an itch on his crooked chin, clawing at his flesh. His face looked like a distorted mask, dripping wax onto his uniform.
If Bernie wasn’t gagged, he would’ve screamed. He realized the heat in the cab wasn’t coming from outside, but from his kidnapper.
The sun set behind the desert dunes of Old Hollywood. Bernie could see their silhouette on the horizon.
Suddenly, Straitface slammed on the brakes, grinding the pickup to a complete stop. He wrenched open the door.
The driver’s seat was soaked in wax. Terror did not come close to describing how Bernie felt. When Straitface walked in front of the headlights, Bernie felt his heart jump. The detective was missing his skin and his new flesh looked familiar. It was Ignatius Specter. Bernie’s fear intensified, along with his bewilderment. Ignatius vanished in the Black and White Horror Show. How could he possibly be alive? His door opened and a pair of hands grabbed him by the collar, pulling him out of the truck.
Bernie landed in the sand and didn’t have time to rest as Straitface dragged him to the back of the pickup truck. He could only hear what was going on. His hands and feet were tied. It was getting difficult to breathe and he started to lose consciousness.
Bernie worried that Ignatius planned to do experiments on him. Seemingly, Ignatius read his mind, pulling a sarcophagus from underneath a tarp and setting it on a medical gurney. The torso was missing and something shiny occupied its insides. It was the flash camera.
Ignatius’ uniform was soaked in wax, steaming like a hot oven. Bernie knew he was in the presence of evil, but he cast his worries aside and thought of a way to escape.
Ignatius looked at Bernie with piercing eyes. “It’s at least thirty miles to the nearest interstate. I’m the only one who can keep you alive.” He said this while burning the ropes holding Bernie’s feet together. “Stand up and walk!” Bernie didn’t dare disobey.