A metro bus pulled to the corner of Specter Street and Jeremy got out. Bernie was impressed by the young man’s punctuality. “You’re five minutes early and I see you’ve come dressed to work.
Jeremy wore an old t-shirt and faded jeans. “I have some questions about The Black and White Horror Show; I was hoping you might have some answers.”
“Well, what’s on your mind?” Bernie asked.
“I wasn’t able to tell if the events in the film were real or fiction.”
“The same idea occurred to me.” Bernie was also puzzled by the sinister nature of the film. “Jeremy, I have a theory. Where was Cassandra’s boyfriend sitting when he disappeared?”
“He was in the first row; seat 13 I think.”
“There can only be two possibilities; either the boy ditched his girlfriend, or something extraordinary happened. When I changed the reels, a flash followed; then Cassandra screamed. We know phantoms emerged from the movie when Ignatius burned their photographs. I’ve been thinking, what if The Black and White Horror Show captured a member of our audience? I remember changing the reels when I saw the cigarette burns. At that moment, Ignatius snapped a picture of the couple who vanished. What if a member of our audience disappeared too?”
“If you’re right, wouldn’t we see Cassandra’s boyfriend trapped in The Black and White Horror Show?” Jeremy asked.
“There’s only one way to find out. We need to show a matinee. I’ll teach you how to run the reels while I sit in seat 13. If I disappear, we’ll know for sure.”
“If you’re correct, you’ll vanish!” Jeremy said with alarm.
“Better me than someone who has their whole life ahead of him. In fact, I may be able to live forever in black and white film. I wonder if Ignatius had the same idea.”
Jeremy was taken aback by Bernie’s flippant attitude, but he knew he couldn’t persuade him to change his mind.
They walked up the metal stairs to the projector room where Jeremy noticed a cot hanging in the corner. He wondered if Bernie was lonely. Jeremy could relate to feeling alone. Even when his foster parents were home, it was like they weren’t there. At least Bernie owned The Pharaoh.
Jeremy watched Bernie change the reels a couple times; then he had a go. In no time, the procedure was automatic.
“Ok Jeremy, I’m going to sit in seat 13. Don’t stop the film, no matter what happens. Remember to change the reels precisely on time when you see the cigarette burns.”
Jeremy nodded and cranked the reels over. The film began to play as the owner sat in the first row. In the movie, Jeremy noticed a giant whipping two elegant horses from an enormous chariot. It was the same giant who rescued everyone at the Ferris wheel.
Jeremy realized he was viewing the film from a different perspective this time.
None of the cinematic effects disturbed Bernie who sat patiently.
Jeremy didn’t understand why the old man wanted to vanish. He decided not to change the reels, walking down the circular corridor to the lobby, nearly entering the theater room when he heard knocking. Opening the door, Jeremy saw a strange man. He was bald, dressed in a business suite, with no pity on his pink face. The creditor coughed a couple times, addressing him with furrowed eyebrows.
“I’m a representative of Better Banks. I’ve come to speak with the owner. You’re obviously not him.”
Jeremy knew Bernie’s creditors were after him. The owner wasn’t willing to sacrifice his passion to settle outstanding debts. “I’m afraid my boss is editing a film and can’t be disturbed.”
He was instantly pushed aside. “My name’s Morton. Now, where’s your boss?” Morton made a career of collecting and overcompensated for his smallness by being twice as tough. Entering the quiet lobby, he smelled stale popcorn. “I thought your boss was editing a film?” Morton asked incredulously.
“It’s a silent movie.” Jeremy stammered. He wasn’t sure if Morton had the right to enter The Pharaoh without permission. Morton pushed his way through the double doors into the theater room. Jeremy couldn’t stop him.
Bernie hardly noticed either of them when they entered. He was engrossed in The Black and White Horror Show.
“Bernie, your creditor is here.” Jeremy had to raise his voice to get his attention.
Bernie slowly turned his head. There was a strange look on his face. His eyes were colder, the curves of his lips mysterious.
Morton wasn’t fazed by the odd expression. He was used to dealing with unusual people. “You’re lucky we haven’t bulldozed this place to the ground. You own us nearly five thousand dollars in interest. I need the money or the keys to this establishment now!”
“Bernie nodded, calmly letting the creditor know he’d heard every word. “Why don’t you enjoy my seat while I fetch the building keys? This show might captivate you.” He smiled wickedly.
“But sir, we have the M-O-N…” Jeremy never finished.
“Not another word young man. We must respect Mr. Morton’s wishes.
Morton looked pleased to be in charge as he twiddled his thumbs, relaxing in Bernie’s chair.
Jeremy didn’t want to think about the reels changing. He knew they couldn’t unless he switched them. Ignatius was preparing to take the couple’s photograph in the film. Jeremy went ridged, staring at the screen, his palms sweaty, waiting for it to turn black. He wondered why his boss was suddenly willing to give up The Pharaoh. Maybe Bernie left, never intending to pay.
Apparently, Morton had the same idea. “Say, your boss is reliable, isn’t he? I mean, he wouldn’t lie to me and skip town?”
Jeremy honestly didn’t know, shrugging his shoulders. “I’m sure he’ll be back,” he lied. He noticed cigarette burns in the corner of the screen. Ignatius had his camera ready, focused on seat 13.
Jeremy couldn’t take the suspense any longer. “MORTON, GET OUT OF YOUR SEAT!”
Before the creditor could react, a blinding flash of light shot out of the silver screen.
Moments later, Bernie opened the lobby door chuckling. “We got him!” he laughed, apparently pleased by his treachery.
Jeremy was speechless. His boss must’ve changed the reels in the projector room, rather than collecting his keys. “Bernie, I don’t know what to say; you planned this?”
“To the detail young man; I suspected Morton would make a call today and I was right. I feel he got what he deserved, don’t you?” Bernie’s eyebrows came together. Jeremy knew he’d seen those eyes before. Glancing at the silver screen, he watched Ignatius burning photographs with a gold cigarette lighter.