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.