This October, be careful what movies you watch...
Death horror was lost on her. Gore was meaningless, suspense predictable, ghosts pathetic, tense violins just a numbing agent. The face-huggers were laughable, the blood-spurts desperate. Her name was Gloria, and she wore black lipstick.
As for everyday garb, it was concert tees, docs, boxy black denim and a single barrett. The coif was short-cropped, but no bob… more a cyberpunk cut with defiant strands here and there, pitch-white, with an off-center part she had no say to sway. The glasses were real, far-sighted basics, plastic frames from some other decade. She had left fingerless gloves behind years ago, in her Slipknot phase. Now the fingers were host to a set of black silicone wedding rings. Tattoos, yes, but in naughty places. The final garment was a look of utterly unimpressed-ness. It was a variety of RBF only familiar to the true connoisseur.
With all this in tow, she sat with friends, staring off into a heating lamp. Dry leaves cluttered her space, it was a windless October night, so the leaves remained still, like amber cobwebs or rusted sea-foam at her feet. German pilsners lay long-gone across the table. There was a clutter of mugs in candlelight, but the moon had not yet risen.
“Ok. You just look- a little mad-”
“That’s just my face.”
“Want to come over for a movie?”
“Tate has something special. VHS.”
“That came out ages ago.”
“Not the movie. I mean… the movie but not the movie VHS… this movie is on VHS.”
“So… blurry, bad sound, Virginia Madsen, John Carpenter arpeggios?”
“Ok. One stop on the way though?”
Two more mugs, too much talk later and Gloria gave the signal to go. Sam nodded, went with her, texting all the way. The street was wet, but no rain. October. He noticed she was a little wobbly, but nothing she couldn’t handle. She had a nasty drunk demon like anyone, but it didn’t like to be called by name. Two blocks up, demolished cake shop, Sully’s, then the Pit Stop: a buy-one-cigarette spot everyone in the neighborhood used for hangover sandwiches and late-night fixes.
“I’ll be right out,” Gloria announced, reminding Sam he could wait right there.
Inside, she went for a Topo Chico and a Kit-Kat. Essentials. Up to the counter for Spirit Yellows. As she fumbled for the cash, though, always grumpy with her wallet decisions, it happened.
“Finally! YOU! It’s finally you!” For a beat, she ignored it. City life. You learn to ignore crazy. “You!” Her back straightened, weight in her fat-tread heels, and in sub-bass slow motion her head turned to the sound.
There, blocking the entrance to Pit Stop, leaning sloppily against the Lotto cabinet, dry as the grave, filthy with streets, fingers like spider’s legs, jeans that had seen Cropsey terrors, stains from a dozen deaths, pine beetles where teeth should be, black holes where eyes once were, and one wrist broken like a fireplace twig… he stood, shouting at her. “You!”
“Get out, Merl! I told you not to come back here!”
“I don’t want no smokes, Trisha! Don’t want smokes! She’s the one, Trish! It’s her! HER!”
“Merl, get the fuck out or I’m on 911.”
Merl, the ghoul in the doorway, relented, slinking backward, heading for the air compressor.
The next hour passed uneventfully. Tate’s place was a cozy rowhouse on 11th. Good couch. He spared no delay to set up the dusty VCR, no bravado to present the tape.
“Real horror,” he pronounced, googly-eyed.
“Real horror,” Sam mocked, leaning back, finishing a joint.
“Nowadays, we’re re-sensitized. The numbness of the 80’s is gone, and the high concept Wes Craven stuff is a joke. We live in a world of real horror, so our appetite for the dark dreams of brighter days is all but lost.”
Gloria listened absently, immovable, still thinking about Merl. She should've forgotten him, wanted to forget him -it- but the image wouldn't budge. His ripped hoodie with a black hole... was it a cluster of sticks in that hole? Worms?
“Is this pre-written material?”
“It is!” Tate gyrated, “Where was I?”
“Ah yes.. All but lost! This, though, this little gem… it predates desensitization and resensitization. It predates Chainsaw, Jason, even the Exorcist! A relic from an unfiltered time!”
“So- it’s old?”
“Ye of little faith,” Tate stabbed, turning with a devilish grin, pressing the tape with mechanical satisfaction into the machine. “No more introduction is offered. You guys want another beer?”
“Yep. Empty,” Sam confirmed.
What happened next is what Gloria had hoped for: a real encounter with fear.
Maybe it was her hospitalization in grade school, or her father’s violent death, or her brother’s cruelty, or her best friend’s betrayal, or a terrible second album, or a car that wouldn’t start. Who can say, but her appetites were dark and unsatisfied. She craved a test, the underlying truth, or both. When such appetites are slaked, they are seldom what we hope for, seldom what we expect… more often, they are windows into Hell itself, if there is such a thing.
Static, inevitable tracking lines, a too-short logo with too-bassy sound. Then a pause. No establishing shot, no slow crane camera over a Massachusetts town, no motionless house or hangman’s tree, no blob-fonted credits. The camera saw a sidewalk, then pivoted up- a convenience store. Smokes behind the counter, drinks beyond, tattered jeans in blurred foreground… then a girl. Not a girl, Gloria, entered the shot. She was unimpressed, impatient but kind. The camera settled on her, slowly zooming with a whir on her colorless lipstick. The sound blurred into squealing. The red separated from the green. The screen seemed to bend as they watched, transfixed by the impossible. It was her.
“What the fuck, Tate?” Gloria barked, but the words were muffled, distant, silent. Sam was in suspended animation. Tate was a translucent sheet of flesh and veins. The walls slid away, the floor was goo and sop. A single tendril of smoke was frozen in mid-flow, a strand of grey string frozen in time.
“You!” pierced through the slowing video. “It’s YOU!” came that gravelly, dead voice again. Gloria was locked on the screen, sinking into the couch, sliding away and toward at once, the walls dead with gray, the coffee table light years from her feet. Then she felt a pulling. A tug at her jeans, a yanking, an insistent, invisible force at her tee shirt. On-screen, the other Gloria looked with disdain at the camera, chopping frame by frame with extreme slow motion. The pull intensified, the image degraded.
A chill of terror crept up her back, raising the hairs, turning her to alabaster. Her teeth caught the screen-light. She couldn’t take her eyes from the image, could feel the TV bending backward, could feel the bones in her feet drawn out, cracking, breaking. Every nail splintering, straining in the sock.
Against her will, she screamed.
Then, bone by bone, vein by vein, sinew by sinew, tendons like kite strings in a too-strong wind, guts like jello shots on a speed boat, brains through nostrils, eyes like golfballs being washed in bleach, fingers like lightning... Gloria was torn to pieces. Against her will, against all her jaded strength, all she had earned, all her appetites never asked for, all her dark curiosity made by an uncaring world, against all she had hoped to know but feared to see, she screamed.
The scream decayed. It was torn apart as she was, bit by bit, frequency by frequency, descending and becoming a crashing static, grinding at the foundations of that fear that haunts our spines, shearing away the hairs that stand on end. The scream decayed, and crumbled, and became nothing.
Then it was gone. She was gone.
“What is this?” Sam asked, bored.
“I don’t- I don’t get it-” Tate answered, sitting on the floor, “the guy told me it was epic.”
“You got robbed, dude. This is phone footage of a beer run.”
Baffled, the two of them watched the old VHS tape. It was a bobbing, empty shot of the Pit Stop. Every now and then a grimy hand reached out to ponder Twinkies, or claim a Gatorade. Worse than home video. Simple nothingness.
“Lame!” Tate announced, hitting the eject button.
“Hey wasn’t someone else coming over?”
“Nah man, just us chickens.”