By R.W. Goldsmith

(From CHM #6 December 2020)

“Don’t you just love horror?”

Caught off guard, I nearly dropped my popcorn. As close as the girl’s voice was to my ear, she had to be speaking to me. I turned to the seat beside me and gazed into the greenest eyes I’d ever seen. The rest of her wasn’t too bad either. Strange how I hadn’t noticed her before. Only seconds ago, I’d glanced down the aisle from my favorite center seat to see I had the back row to myself. There’d been plenty of light. The coming attractions hadn’t even started yet.

But as my mom likes to tell me, when opportunity knocks, answer the door. “Fava beans and liver, I didn’t know they even made eyes that green.”

“They’re freakish, I know.”

Freakishly awesome, I thought. “They’re not so bad. I could probably get used to them.”

“You’d be the first. But you haven’t answered my question.”

“What question?” I was sure I’d heard her say something before I saw those eyes, but skin me if I remembered what.

“Don’t you just love horror?”

No wonder I hadn’t remembered. That had to be the stupidest question I’d ever heard. Everyone in this theater was here for the midnight showing of the ‘80s Italian cult classic, Cannibal Vampire Zombies from the Comet of Blood. Who would be here who didn’t love horror? Not that I was foolish enough to say so. “Love it? Are you kidding? I live for horror.”

“Oh, me too. You could almost say I…” She paused and gave me a mischievous grin. “Want to hear something funny?”

 That wasn’t the answer I’d hoped for. With her freckles and her long strawberry-blonde hair and her Macy’s young-miss style clothing, she had that innocent girl-next-door look I so enjoyed. Nothing compared to the white-picket-fence girls who cringed and shrieked and clung at every creeping shadow and surprise knock at the door before the first drop of blood even splashed onto the screen. But those weren’t the girls who typically loved horror. Still, could be she was lying to impress me. She wouldn’t be the first nice girl to come to a midnight horror showing for a late-night taste of how the wild side lived. After all, she was the only movie-goer in the room not wearing the theater’s special-edition Comet of Blood t-shirt. “Sure, tell me.”

She leaned in, cupped her mouth, and said in a secretive voice, “There are people who’d tell you I am horror.” She leaned away and smirked as though daring me to believe her.

I am horror. Good one. First chance that came up, I’d use it myself. She was a lot cooler than I initially gave her credit for. “That’s pretty okay, I guess, but I’ve watched, like, every horror movie ever made. No one knows horror like I do. I have Comet of Blood on DVD. I’ve watched it a zillion times.”

“Really? You’ve seen every one there is? Why, that must make you the King of Horror.”

“The King of Horror.” I liked the sound of that. “Yeah, I guess maybe I am.”

“That’s perfect. A premiere like this needs a king. When I first saw you, I just knew it would be you.”

“You know, you’re all right. I’ll bet you’ve seen a lot of horror flicks too.”

“Me? Geez, I’m practically a virgin compared to you. But then, neither of us has seen what’s premiering here tonight.”

I tried to keep the irritation out of my voice. “I just told you I’ve watched it a zillion times.”

“The old version. Not this one.”

“Uh—I’m pretty sure there’s just the one version.”

“You don’t know? What we’re watching tonight has a brand-new ending. I got the inside scoop. Trust me. You’re going to love it.”

A new ending and I hadn’t heard about it? Impossible. “If you say so.” What did I care if the girl was nuts? As far as I was concerned, they all were. It was just a matter of degree.

The lights dimmed, and the screen brightened with coming attractions for future midnight shows. A large portion of the audience—mostly kids, no doubt—whooped and whistled. Me, I was way to cool for that. I’d wait for the feature to begin.

I ignored the girl beside me through the preview of another ‘80s classic, Bikini Bake Sale Massacre. I thought it best to pretend I was only moderately interested in her, to play it cool.

Midway through the trailer for Attack of the Invisible Brain,I leaned toward her. Time to get the obligatory name business over with before the movie started. She wriggled toward me, close enough that by peeking down I could see the subtle curve of her breasts through the open neck of her blouse.

She smiled. The green of her eyes seemed almost to glow in the trailer’s faint light. For a moment, I wondered just who was working whom.

“By the way, I’m Tim.”

“Hello, Tim. I’m Morticia.”

“Yeah, sure you are.” First, she’d fed me that nonsense about a new ending to the movie, and now she’d moved on to making up names. I just wished I’d thought of it, myself. I’d probably have gone with Ash. So much cooler than Tim.

She pouted her lower lip like no one named Morticia would. “You don’t like it?”

“Love it. Only there’s no way that’s your name.”

“All right, how about Medusa?”

“Nope.”

“Maleficent?”

“Get real.”

“Then I suppose Bellatrix is out too?”

“Uh—yeah.”

She held up her hand and extended her slender fingers in succession. “Circe? Lilith? Morrigan? Kali? Sekhmet?”

“Wait. Back up. Does Morrigan have red hair?”

“She can if you want.”

“No, wait. I think I have it.” The perfect name for her had been staring me in the face. Strange I hadn’t noticed before. With her pale almond-shaped face and reddish-blonde locks, this girl could pass for the Blood Comet Queen Depravia herself, if she were only twenty-years older. “Depravia. You’re definitely a Depravia.”

She clapped her hands in front of her beaming face. “Oh, I am most definitely Depravia.”

So what if she was weird?

“Nice to meet you, Depravia.” I raised my drink and shook my popcorn tub in front of her. “Coke? Popcorn?” Mom always said the best way to a woman’s heart was through her stomach—or something like that.

“Thank you,” she said, lowering her voice and adding a thick Lugosi accent, “but I have already dined, and I never drink… soda. Muhahaha.”

“What did my mom know anyway?

The theater went dark. The screen brightened upon a window looking out on a sunny Mediterranean coastline. The silence broke with a woman’s scream. A splash of blood splattered the panes. The camera panned in until the white letters of the film’s title oozed from a field of red amid a blast of discordant horn notes.

My young Depravia reached over the armrest and squeezed my wrist. “Will you hold my hand, so I don’t get too scared?”

Sure, she was putting on an act. So what? There’s a process to everything. If this was how she wanted to play the game, why would I object? All I had to do was play along, and she’d be mine.

I set the tub on my lap and took her hand in mine. “How can I say no to you?”

“You can’t, of course. The King of Horror lives only to please his Queen of Blood. You will never deny me.”

“As you command,” I said, quoting the Queen’s army of Earth-invading zombies. I knew the entire movie by heart. Why was that the only line I could remember?

She tapped the tip of my nose with her finger. “Good. This is going to be so much fun. Sit up and put your arm around me. Treat me like I’m your special girl.”

“As you command.” I sat up straight, draped my arm across her shoulders, and pulled her close. My popcorn fell to the floor. Didn’t matter. I actually had my arm around a girl!

The Queen made her first appearance on screen. Her black-robed minister of war raised his arms and screeched, “All hail the Queen of the Comet of Blood.

Some guy near the stage called out, “More like, ‘All hail the dried-up porno queen.’” Much of the audience rewarded the jerk with laughter.

Sure, the Queen’s fiery-red latex clothes barely restrained her large breasts, but since when did guys make fun of that? Not me. Not ever.

Seated as I was at the back of the theater I could speak without the jerk hearing. “I’d teach that guy some manners, but I can’t on account of my hands being registered as lethal weapons.” It was a much better story than the one where I sit at the back of the theater to avoid guys like that.

“You’re the king of Horror. He is nothing. Stay here with me. I am what matters.”

“As you command.”

Why did I keep saying that? And when had she changed her clothes? Not that I minded how her own large breasts pressed against the red latex top she now wore. In fact, she didn’t just remind me of Depravia, she was Depravia. A greater interpretation even than the actress. Only a blind man could mistake the woman under my arm with the hag on the screen.

The movie played on. I tried to reposition my arm across her shoulders, but my arm wouldn’t budge. It must have fallen asleep, though it didn’t feel that way.

She peered up at me with her emerald eyes. “The ending is almost here. It’s a special showing, restricted to all but the Blood Queen and her King of Horror. Promise me you won’t look away.”

“As you command.” The immovable weight of my arm had spread throughout my body. My head alone could move. It didn’t matter, not as long as she was near.

“You’re going to love it. I just know you will.”

The music swelled, and Depravia’s army of cannibal vampire zombies descended upon a beach full of Italian Riviera sunbathers. Topless hotties and hairy men in speedos ran for their lives as the ravenous horde soaked the sands red with blood.

Professor Hellsinger, the hero, arrived with his band of cannibal-vampire-zombie hunters, and the carnage ramped up to the bloodiest scene in cinema history, with enough severed body parts to fill the Colosseum.

Screams came from the front of the theater, and young Depravia giggled with glee and shouted, “Action!”

Several people in the audience shot from their seats and mimicked the victims on screen by screaming, dodging, and ducking as they bolted for the exits. I laughed at the antics along with my queen. This had to be what she’d been so excited about. A flashmob was acting out the end of the film for a sense of realism beyond anything current filmmakers could accomplish with all their CGI chicanery.

Something thudded against the wall behind my head and landed in my lap. I laughed at the severed arm lying there. The torn flesh with its seeping blood and the protruding head of a humerus bone was crafted with such a high degree of detail I could almost believe the silicone prop was real. The cell phone clenched in the hand made the perfect finishing touch.

People continued to scream and wail as they ran and scrambled about, many of them spurting blood from stumps left by missing limbs. I laughed until my sides ached. Old-style special effects were the absolute best, no matter how fake they looked. And these actors, they were amazing, especially the ones screeching, “There’s no way out!” I could almost believe there wasn’t.

Depravia flipped the arm over on my lap so the phone faced up. She tittered with delight at the sight of Comet of Blood playing upon its tiny screen. But this wasn’t the version of the movie I knew, not with its dozens of running, screaming victims wearing Comet of Blood t-shirts. It was pure cinema magic. This had to be the most elaborate flashmob production of all time!

Young Depravia squealed with excitement and pointed to the phone. “Oh look, what’s that?”

As I looked, the camera zoomed into an image of Depravia and me sitting in our theater seats on the movie-set beach amid the ongoing carnage. Beside me, Depravia waved as though to the phone. The tiny Depravia on the screen smiled at us and waved back.

And it hit me. No flashmob on Earth could’ve pull this off. I doubted even Hollywood could. Something was seriously wrong. I wanted to go home.

“Don’t you just love it?” Depravia said between giggly shrieks of horror.

I scrunched my eyes closed against a sudden blaze of bright warm light. Prying them open, I squinted against the glare of a sweltering sun upon the sands of a beach. Nothing of the theater remained but for Depravia’s seat and mine. The world had gone mad. Everywhere I looked, groaning cannibal vampire zombies munched on topless beauties, speedo creepies, and people in Comet of Blood t-shirts. Missiles of anything and everything detachable from a human body soared through the air. The Blood Comet invaders swarmed over Professor Hellsinger’s forces like locusts through a salad bar. Everywhere I looked, screaming people raced aimlessly around a beach that extended beneath the flamingo pink foam of breaking waves. Body parts littered the sands. So vast was the slaughter, blood rained from the sky. I tried to stand, but my muscles refused. I wanted to turn away, to close my eyes to the horror. But I couldn’t. Depravia had seen to that. All I could do was sit there and watch.

“I can see it in your face.” She smiled and snuggled her head against my chest. “You do love it. I knew you would.”

I discovered then I could do more than sit and watch. I screamed and screamed and screamed.

#

“Yeah, that’s right, everything. All my movies, posters, collectables, everything that has to do with horror, it’s yours if you want them.” Seated at a bus-stop bench, I kept my gaze fixed to my cell phone, ready to smash it on the pavement and run should anything strange appear on the screen. “Just come over and take them.”

“Of course I want them,” Carl said. “So… uh, I guess it really did a number on your head, what happened to you and all, huh?”

“Yeah, my shrink says that watching a hundred-plus people get butchered and thinking you’re next has a way of doing that to a person.” I’d stopped hanging out with Carl when he and his parents moved across town after we graduated from high school. Lucky for me Carl was still as obsessed with horror.

“You’re seeing a shrink? Wow, that’s nuts. Is that the reason you’re getting rid of everything?”

Somehow, it felt good to talk about things with someone other than my shrink, exactly as my shrink said it would. “Partially. Mostly it’s because I can’t stand the sight of blood anymore. I saw everything that happened that night. It was like being strapped in a chair and undergoing the Ludivico Technique. The trauma left me with what’s called hemophobia, which basically means I’m afraid of blood. All my horror stuff’s in my room down in my mom’s basement, and I can’t even force myself to go there now. I’ve moved back upstairs to my old room.”

“Scared of blood? Man, that sucks.”

“There’s an upside, though. I’m losing weight, and I’ve started working out, and it turns out people aren’t as bad as I thought. As soon as the Feds reported I’d been the victim of a biological terrorist attack, people I’d never met began offering to help me get back on my feet. Right now, I’m on my way home from accepting a sweet job as a cashier in one of those upscale coffee shops. After a couple of months, I should have enough money saved to move out of my mom’s house and get my own apartment. Terrible as it was what happened to all those people in the theater, my life feels like it’s made a turn for the better. I just have to stay away from blood.”

“They said on the news it was some kind of psycho gas that made those people kill anything that moved, including themselves. They said you escaped because you had a different reaction to the gas, that it paralyzed you instead. Is that really what happened?”

My bus pulled up to the stop. I remembered feeling as though my entire body had been asleep with that girl under my arm. “Yeah, pretty much. Listen, I have to go. Come over on Saturday, and we’ll talk price.”

The bus was nearly empty. I walked toward the rear where a few of the seats faced each other with their backs to the windows. Before sitting, I glanced outside. An advertisement for In The Night Of Day, a new horror movie about a flesh-consuming plague, glared from the backrest of the bench on which I’d been sitting. Thanks, but no thanks. I’d been awaiting the movie’s release for months, but I couldn’t watch it now if you held a gun to my head. Instead, I’d save my money and put it toward buying myself a car. Life was looking up. I turned my back to the window and sat.

A boney, saggy-skinned woman in a shapeless brown dress boarded the bus and hobbled down the aisle. Wrapped in a loose-knit shawl, she sat across from me. I would’ve smiled at her, but the graying black-haired woman didn’t look up from a blanketed and partially concealed bundle she clutched to her chest. Nevertheless, it felt good just knowing that I was willing to smile at a stranger on a bus. The old me would have been buried in a social media horror page and would never have noticed the woman. I’d wasted so many years with my macabre obsession, missing out on what life was really about. I swore I was done with horror forever.

The old woman coughed. I hoped she didn’t have a cold. I didn’t want to be out sick on my first day of work.

The woman released her shawl and pulled the blanket from the bundle to reveal a naked infant cradled to her wrinkled breast. My gut reaction was to look away, but instead I stared. Something was off with what I was seeing, and it wasn’t me.

The woman sucked in a phlegmy breath and blew upon the child. The infant twisted around and faced me. The pink skin sprouted black pustules, then darkened to a purplish-gray and sagged loose as the flesh beneath withered away. The eyes darkened, shrank in their sockets, and shriveled to deflated husks. Blood leaked from the ears, nose, and empty eye sockets.

“Run! Get away!” screamed the voice in my head, but the sight of the blood lashed me to my seat.

The baby’s desiccated arm broke free from the body, fell to the woman’s lap, and crumbled into a purplish-gray dust. The rest of the child followed suit.

Unable to move, I sat there as the bus braked at the next stop. The door folded open. People exited and entered. I screamed a warning, but my voice made no sound.

The old woman inhaled once again and blew upon her lap. With a force far beyond the strength of her breath, the powdery remains swirled into the air, snaked throughout the bus, and out the door.

Across from me, the woman’s brown dress swelled with voluptuous curves. Her skin grew taut and shone with youth. As she raised her head, her raven-black hair parted to reveal her face.

“Don’t you just love horror?” she said, and with eyes of a terribly familiar shade of green, she winked at me.

End.

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