I'm a cinema usher. We have some strange rules [4/4]
Rules #10, #11, and #12
My name is Shaun. I've been a cinema usher for three years now. My cinema has rules that you should never, ever break, not if you want to live.
If you're confused, you should probably start at the beginning.
Walking to work yesterday was the hardest thing I've ever done. Anticipation and fear mixed within me in equal measure. David's recommendation to rest and sleep had proven to be impossible to obey, and I had spent the whole night dreading what would come in the morning.
When I came to work, I found the cinema empty. A sign at the entrance announced: "Closed temporarily due to equipment malfunction."
David was already there. He sat in his unlit office, staring at the wall in silence. I walked in, and stood at the door. I didn't have the courage to interrupt his thought.
Eventually, he looked up.
"Shaun." he said, his voice hollow. "I'm sorry, my mind was somewhere else." He got up and walked over to me.
"You said we were going to break rules today." I said.
"Yes. Rules #10 and #11."
Rule #10: If you find a book bound in black leather on the premises, do not open it.
Rule #10. The Black Book, as we liked to call it. You'd see it at pretty much every shift, and overcoming the need to open it was one of the first thing you learned to do on this job. No one knew what was inside it's yellowed, ancient pages.
It moved and shifted mysteriously. You'd see it in the corner of the garbage room, propped up invitingly in the corner. You'd walk over to a room or to the office, only to see it first on the ground in the lobby, and then in the office itself, lying on David's table as if it had always been there.
We'd never seen even David open it.
It seemed I was going to see so now.
It took us an unusually long time to find the book. Searching first the office and the lobby and the rooms, we then returned in defeat, only to find it sitting on one of David's filing cabinets.
He snorted derisively, and went to pick it up.
It's ancient - looking pages, yellowed by time, crackled as he opened it cautiously. From where I was standing, I couldn't see the words within, and moved to look at them over his shoulder.
David slammed the covers closed.
"Not yet, Shaun. Soon."
My temper flared. "David, I don't know anything about what's going on. I don't know what we're here to do today, or why we're breaking two of our rules. I don't expect you to tell me everything, but you have to give me something."
My anger receded as quickly as it had risen. I realized this was, despite everything, my employer.
David smiled wryly. There was a second's silence.
"You're right, Shaun. You deserve to know something. I'm sorry. After fifteen years in this job, you begin to get used to... Not telling anyone more than they need to know.
Thirteen years ago, I made a mistake, Shaun... Room 3 tricked me, by using my affection for someone close to me. I opened the Room, and almost brought disaster on us all. It's ironic. Only the sacrifice of the person I thought I was saving helped delay disaster.
"Yes, Shaun. We borrowed time. Yesterday, that time ran out. Unless we act, Room 3 won't even need anyone to open it anymore. It will escape by itself. And I can't allow that."
"And the book? What is it?"
"I guess you could call it a manual, of sorts. The rules of this cinema are all in here."
He looked down onto the pages again. I could tell this impromptu informational talk was over. I could be happy for even the little I had gotten.
David turned some pages, scanning their contents, before pointing at a piece of the page and smiling to himself.
"Shaun, I'm going to have to ask you to leave the room for a while. Just for a while, this shouldn't take long."
I hesitated, but obeyed. Standing in front of the room, I could see David's shadow on the drawn blinds of his office window as he moved around.
Suddenly, another shadow sprang up from behind him. It walked around, until they stood face to face. Another joined it, and then another.
Muted voices reached me. David's sounded resolute and determined. The answering voices, many talking over each other at one time, were sharp but barely - heard whispers, like the drawing of a knife across skin.
The shadows gathered around David. He stood unmoving, his hands falling to his sides.
The shadows leapt.
They slid, merging with David's.
Not waiting for a command, I ran into the office. I crashed through the door. David stood at his table, leaning on it tiredly and gasping for air. But he was unharmed.
"What the hell just happened?" I asked. "What the hell were those things?" David chuckled to himself.
"I guess you could call them messengers. Or taskmasters."
"Could you please not talk in riddles for once, David?" I said, exasperated that even now I was being kept on a need - to - know basis.
"I called out to something that shouldn't be called, Shaun. But this is a trying day, and desperate times call for desperate measures. Let's go. It should be arriving soon enough, and I'd hate to keep it waiting."
He walked past me, still carrying the black book. After a second, I followed in mute frustration.
Opening the door to the office, I saw what he had been talking about.
Rule #11. The lady in black.
Rule #11: If a woman in a black dress offers you a drink, do not accept.
A woman stood before us. She was tall, taller than either of us, and her pale face contrasted with her deep dark hair. She wore a flowing, midnight black dress. In her hands was a carved wooden goblet.
I had encountered the lady in black before. She - or it - walked around the cinema often, stopping ushers every now and then to offer them a drink from her goblet.
The liquid within was translucent, and looked for all purposes like clear water. Somehow, I always doubted it was anything that harmless.
Thankfully, she never forces a drink on us, making her one of the least dangerous things you could encounter here. When you refused, she would nod silently, understandingly, and move on.
Now she was here.
"Will you accept my chalice?" she said, almost whispering. Her voice was faint, and unfathomably sad.
I made to refuse. It was almost muscle memory at that point, honed by dozens of encounters with her. But my words stuck in my throat when I realized she wasn't looking at me.
She was talking to David.
He was quiet for a second. "I will." he answered finally.
"David, what are you -" I began in confusion and panic. He cut me off.
"This has to be done, Shaun. There's no other way we can stop what's coming."
He turned back to the lady in black.
"It has been so long." she smiled faintly, and passed him the cup. "Drink".
David took the chalice. He hesitated for a moment, wavering. His face hardened suddenly. He drank the cup in one quick draught.
Then he gasped, stumbled and dropped it to the ground with a thud. He leant on me heavily, and I almost fell over under his sudden weight.
His face was a sickly pale. He coughed, and specks of red fell to the floor.
"You have paid the price." the lady whispered.
"I have," David replied, shaking with more bloody coughs. "Now for your side of the bargain."
"Indeed. What is it you seek?" she smiled sadly.
"I seek... I seek a way to halt Room 3 from breaking free." David was choosing his words carefully. He only had one shot at this, I realized.
The lady frowned. "You will not like the answer, child." she whispered. "Are you sure this is what you wish to know?"
"I am sure, damn you." David whispered through clenched teeth. A thin red trail ran down from the corner of his mouth. "Tell me."
The lady leant forward to his ear. She whispered to him, words I hope I never have to hear. Then she straightened her back again.
"The bargain is complete. Farewell, David."
She turned, and walked away from us as if nothing had happened. She rounded a corner. Somehow I knew she would not be there if I looked.
David turned to me. Blood was now dripping from the corner of his eyes, too. The black book fell from his fingers.
"David, what did you do? What's happening?" I stammered. "What did she tell you?"
I had to lean forward to hear his reply, his voice weakening with every word. "Go... Go t - to the projection booth, Shaun. Turn on all the projectors. Do it now, quick."
The command in his tone was absolute. I ran for the projection booth.
I swiftly flipped every switch, moving from projector to projector. The whirr of machinery filled the air. Empty though it was, there was now a show in every room of the cinema.
I realized what David was doing. Too late, I realized.
I sprinted back for the lobby, taking the stairs from the booth three at a time. I had to be in time, I had to.
He was not in front of the office anymore. The black book lay, open from when it had fallen to the ground, the only indicator he had ever even stood there. I ran over to it and looked around the lobby.
David stood before Room 3. His hand was on the handle. He looked back at me, blood in his eyes.
"David, don't!" I screamed.
"Thirteen years, Shaun. Use them well." he called out to me. He smiled. Then he opened the door.
The darkness on the other side was absolute, all light stopping the second it hit the doorframe. David didn't hesitate. He stepped forward, and closed the door behind him.
I stood, frozen. He was gone.
There was a rumble, and the earth shook. The door to Room 3 rattled in it's frame, as whatever was inside strained at the walls, eager to escape.
But it struggled in vain. Whatever David had done, whatever his sacrifice had achieved, it had robbed Room 3, bound it again, bought more time.
The rumbling subsided. The door stopped shaking. There was silence.
A rustle of pages below drew my gaze. I looked down at the book at my feet. It was open on the last page. There was only one sentence on it, written in black ink.
Rule #12: There must always be a manager.