I'm a cinema usher. We have some strange rules [2/4]
Rules #4, #5, and #6
My name is Shaun. I've been a cinema usher for three years now. My cinema has rules that you never, ever break, no matter how strange or downright insane they sound.
If you're confused, you should probably start at the beginning.
Some rules are harder to follow than others, and some come up more often. Rule 4 is one of the rarer ones, and I thank God for that.
Rule #4: If the lights go out while you're cleaning a room, take a seat. A movie will play. You have to watch till the end. Don't look away from the screen, no matter what you see or hear.
This is the rule that gave me the most anxiety when I read it. Having already had a run - in with Rules 1 and 2, I knew just how serious following our commandments - or failing to do so - could be.
My experience with Rule #4 happened when I was cleaning out Room 1 after a movie. Without a warning, it happened, the thing I'd been dreading for months at that point - the lights went out. There wasn't a pop, like a lightbulb going off.
One second, I was in a well - lit room, the next I was standing in pitch blackness.
I froze. Even though I'd been mentally preparing myself for this for weeks, I froze.
Take a seat. Damn you, take a seat!
Finally, my limbs obeyed my mind. I leapt for where I hoped the nearest row was, and rammed myself down into a place. Just in time. The screen lit up, filling with static, before resolving into the image of a dark, dank cellar.
The image quality was ancient, like some Super 8mm film from the '90s. Through the grainy screen I could make out that there was a single chair in the centre of the room.
Tied to it was a young man.
He was struggling against his bonds, and I could tell he was injured. Narrow streams of blood streamed down his face from an injury above his brow, and his arms were rubbed raw from the ropes.
There was something terribly familiar about the prisoner. Not his face, I had never seen that in my life. But his clothes...
I froze as I heard something move behind me. It was the creak of a cinema chair. My back crawled.
Someone - something - had just sat down behind me.
It took all my willpower not to swivel around, or to jump from my seat and make a break for the entrance. I fixed my eyes on the screen, praying for this to be over soon.
The man on the screen had stopped struggling. He was looking at something behind the camera. It took me a second to realize he had to be watching the cameraman.
I almost jumped from my seat as a voice whispered behind me.
"What an actor, huh?"
The voice was low, a practically inaudible whisper. It sounded human. Almost. But I knew immediately it was anything but. I can't explain precisely how. It was something about the cadence of the thing's speech. Almost as if it's throat wasn't quite made for human language, and it just did it's best at mimicking what it had heard.
Even worse, the voice was coming from slightly above me, not directly behind. Whatever was in the chair behind me, it had to be absolutely massive when standing up.
Should I answer? Should I just keep watching?
The rules hadn't told me about that.
I remained silent, gripping the armrests to stop myself from shaking, eyes fixed forward towards the screen.
The camera was moving, as the person carrying it approached his prisoner. The man in the chair was trying desperately to recoil, but his binds were too tight for anything but the slightest movement.
And as the camera got closer, I recognised what was so horribly familiar about him.
He was wearing a cinema uniform.
My cinema's uniform.
"Where do you think they got the costumes?" whispered the thing sitting behind me. Sadistic irony dripped from every word. It was playing with me.
I didn't answer.
The "movie" went on for about half an hour. I won't tell you exactly what I saw. I don't want to think about it more than I have to. I'm not sure that stuff would be allowed on this site, not even in description.
Suffice to say, I wouldn't wish such a fate upon my worst enemy.
At one point, I wretched and vomited over myself and the floor. As my stomach convulsed, I almost took my eyes off the screen.
And at that moment I felt the thing's hot, stinking breath on my back. It wanted me to look away. It wanted me to give in.
I looked up, again fixing my eyes on the gruesome scene playing out onscreen.
The thing behind me spoke only once more, before the lights came on as abruptly as they had turned off. It sounded frustrated, angry, even.
"You know the saying, Shaun. Rules are made to be broken. Or at least that guy thought so."
I wish I could end the story there. But unfortunately, there's just a bit more to it.
Because the guy on the screen had been a worker here.
Because he had died for breaking a rule.
Because David hadn't told us everything, instead keeping us on some sort of bullshit "need - to - know" basis.
Someone had suffered a fate worse than death because of his secrecy. And I would have him explain himself.
Still covered in my own sick and cold sweat, I stormed through the lobby, ignoring the disgusted looks of the customers there. I slammed into the office. David looked up calmly.
"Rule #4 or #11?"
"Good? GOOD? You knew what the risk was. You KNEW what could happen, but you didn't tell anyone. That guy I saw - the things that it did to him... You could've stopped that."
David sighed tiredly. "It's better this way, Shaun."
"WHAT? How can it-"
"Let me explain something to you." David said, getting up to stand eye - to - eye with me. There was a hint of steel in his voice now, and a flash of suppressed anger in his look. I shut up.
"Some things can be avoided if you know about them. Room 3 is like that - if you know what it wants and how it will try to get it, it's easier not to fall for it. But some things, Shaun... Some things only get stronger the more you know about them.
You can avoid breaking Rule #4 with what you know right now. You just need to keep watching. But the more you know about it, the more... direct the thing in that room can be, in its attempt to get you to look away."
"And the last guy? The one I saw on screen?"
"He knew too much - even more than you do now. It was a mistake I will never repeat, and a lesson I will not forget. There's a threshold, Shaun, that I can't allow anyone to cross. If you know too much... No amount of willpower or strength will keep your eyes on that screen."
Rule #5: If you encounter a room where all customers are looking directly at you and smiling, inform the manager immediately.
Rule #5 is the one which has raised the most questions in my mind about this cinema and my work. My encounter with it occured about a year and a half into my time here.
Something you should know about the work of a cinema usher - we need to check that every movie is running smoothly, with working subtitles and so on. We are only obliged to do so at the beginning of each projection, but if we have some free time during our shift, we like to check in at random to make sure everything is alright.
Unfortunately, it's exactly because of this that I entered Room 5 one day, only to almost have a heart attack as I realized that every single person inside was looking me dead in the eye, smiling eerily.
Taking care not to even blink, I slowly backed out of the room. The customers never broke eye contact, not even to blink.
The second I was in the relative safety of the lobby, I ran over to David, who was talking with a customer at our small bar.
"Rule #5!" I said once I reached him.
David went pale. The customer, a young, attractive woman, looked over at him in confusion.
"Excuse me," David muttered in her direction, before turning to me. "Which room?"
We ran over to the room. Once inside, David gestured for me to remain at the bottom of the rows of seats.
He didn't need to tell me twice.
The room full of customers was deadly quiet, every head silently turning to follow David as he walked in front of the screen and stopped in the middle of the room.
"What do you want?" he said, to the room at large.
Every person in the room opened their mouth in unison, and said, in a perfect chorus:
"Hello, manager. Long time."
"Cut the crap." growled David. "I know your game. What do you want this time?"
The room laughed in chilling synchrony.
"Always so direct. I always liked you. More than your predecessor, you know."
David's jaw clenched. His hands were rolled into fists. I had never seen him so angry.
"Just... Tell me what you want." he hissed through his teeth. "Tell me what you want, and then let these people go."
"Ah, so impatient. So eager to get it over with," the crowd answered.
"I want you... To open Room 3. Right now."
David went pale. "No. Ask something else. There are lines I will not cross. There are rules."
The things behind the eyes of the crowd laughed as one.
"Ah yes, your precious rules. You think they can stop anything? They stop nothing, David. They only delay it."
"Giving me information for free?" David said sarcastically. "You've changed since last we talked."
"I only tell you what you already know. And my price does not change. You will open Room 3. Again."
For the first time, David hesitated. Only for a second, but the things noticed, and laughed cruelly at him.
"I've already told you. I won't do it. That rule is never broken." he said finally.
"Do you forget your history after a mere thirteen years?" the crowd sneered.
"The fate of these people is in your hands, David. You know what happens to them when my price is not paid. Do you seek to atone, with this meaningless resistance, for the sacrifice that was made because of your mistake?"
"I don't atone." David hissed. "And I made no mistake."
"Would the one who you miss so dearly agree? I think not." the things intoned.
There was a charged silence. Then the crowd spoke again.
"The price has been paid. These people are safe."
David blinked in confusion. "What? What price?"
"Room 3 was never the price. The anguish of your remembrance, as well as the unanswered questions that will now plague this servant of yours, were the price."
"You fucking bastard." David whispered. "You fucking..."
"Till next we meet, manager."
David stormed out of the room without another word. The crowd followed him with their gaze, and then fixed it upon me. A smile. A nod. Then the crowd looked up as one...
And shed their identical behaviour. A hidden tension was released.
They were free.
Rule #6: If a customer hears noises in the air ducts, assure them you will look into it. Take one of the packages marked "R6" from behind the bar, enter the air ducts through the garbage room, and place the contents of the package at least 10 metres away from the entrance. Leave the air ducts as fast as possible.
This is one of the easiest rules to follow, although the time limit is worrying at first. It's also one of the most commonly employed, usually coming up about once a week. Thankfully, I've never seen anyone fail to uphold it.
The first time I had to feed the thing in the air ducts was a very busy shift. We had premiered The Rise of Skywalker a few days before, and we were still being swamped by crowds of customers.
I was cleaning up the lobby from the ever - present spilled popcorn, when an angry - looking young man wearing a Star Wars shirt stormed over to me.
"Good day, sir. How may I he-" I began.
"Yeah man, whatever," he cut me off immediately. "Could you fix your damn air con, dude? There's something banging around in there, near the grille in our room. I didn't pay for this kinda shit!"
I clenched my teeth to control my temper at the man's manners, but managed to remain calm. "Yes sir, of course. Sorry for the inconvenience."
David will probably forgive you for letting a room of people die at the hands of God - knows - what, but he won't allow you to be rude to customers. He's just like that.
After the customer had stalked off again, I got one of the marked packages from behind the bar. It was strangely heavy, and I could feel moisture seeping out from inside it.
Doing my best to ignore it, I crossed over to the garbage room, and opened the grille covering the air ducts.
I could hear whatever the customer had been complaining about. A fast, tip - tap sound, like fingers drumming endlessly against the side of the duct. My skin crawled.
It was uncomfortably too close to the sound of dozens of long, thin legs.
I took a deep breath, and crawled into the chute.
The air inside was cold and draughty. The passage was tight, and I was forced to go prone, propelling myself forward on my elbows and knees. Crawling forward, I could see by the dim light that there was a pile of something up ahead, around the ten metre mark.
As I reached it, I groaned under my breath.
In the chute before me lay a pile of gnawed animal bones.
With shaking fingers, I undid the wrapping on my package, and dropped a whole chicken onto the top of the pile of remains.
The sounds in the chute stopped. I held my breath.
Then it returned, faster, tip-tap-tip-tap, louder than before, a frantic, hungry staccato rhythm.
Terror and adrenaline flooding my brain, I scooted back downwards to the mouth of the passage. How long had I been there? How long did I have left?
Thirty seconds? Twenty?
The clattering of legs was mixed now with a scraping sound, as something chitinous and heavy dragged itself down the corridor towards the food - and towards me.
And finally, my legs met the end of the duct.
Kicking frantically, I dropped down to the floor of the garbage room, and slammed the grille shut. The clattering inside had stopped.
Listening carefully, I could make out the sound of tearing flesh.
And this is one of the easiest rules.
Episode 2 comes out 1/22/2021