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The Beginning of the End
“Remind me again why I’m doing this,” Dani said, clutching her thin jacket more tightly around her small frame. The slight breeze blew dark brown strands of hair into her face, and she moved them away irritably.
“Because you love us,” Leon replied. He smiled that special smile Dani now found herself seeing in her dreams.
Dani rolled her eyes and turned her attention to Bea, who was busy examining the building for possible entryways.
The three had returned to Bob’s Screen Shack, the shabbiest, oldest excuse for a movie theater in town. The building was large, but deteriorating rapidly. Its wood paneled walls were starting to fall apart, and there were spots squishy with mold on the carpet in the lobby. No one really bothered with the place anymore, what with the new jumbo-size cinema on the other side of town that boasted several IMAX theaters and a gift shop, though the fact remained that the gift shop was probably the most random addition to a movie theater anyone could ever have thought of. However, the Screen Shack did still have a few faithful customers that weren’t bothered by its near safety hazard status and showed up at 4 o’ clock sharp every Friday for the matinee.
Leon and his younger sister Bea had grown up practically across the street from Bob’s, and whenever their parents needed a break from chasing after the children, the siblings were sent to Bob’s for the afternoon. They knew the theater inside and out, knew which creaky floorboards to avoid if you got up to use the rest room during a movie, and knew to always bring your own snacks since Bob couldn’t cook to save his life. Bob ran the theater near single handedly, but recently he had hired a mysterious local kid to help him out.
Dani, having lived on the other side of the city for all her life, had never been to Bob’s before yesterday. Bea had all but dragged her to go see some new independent film she’d never heard of, and Dani had had her first taste of the wonder that was Bob’s Screen Shack. And she hated it. She hated the place with every fiber of her being, and would have gladly set it on fire if it hadn’t meant so much to Leon and Bea. Dani was determined never to step foot in there again, but Bea had called her this morning in hysterics, screeching about leaving her purse under the seat in Theater Two. Dani had contemplated faking an illness, but eventually, she agreed to go because she had nothing better to do. Oh, and because Leon was quite entertaining to look at.
“I can’t believe he locked the door! It’s Saturday; Bob’s usually inside making more of that popcorn no one ever eats,” Bea said angrily. She stopped trying to turn the knob on the back door and stood with her hands on her hips, which had the tendency to make her look like a fairy of some sort. Bea was short, shorter than anyone Dani had ever met in her life, and with her curly light pink hair—courtesy of a healthy daily dosage of highlighter ink—and sky blue eyes, she reminded Dani of some kind of mystical creature.
“Maybe he went on vacation,” Dani suggested. A permanent one, she added silently. Leon shook his head—his gorgeous, perfectly combed head. His golden curls were tossed about, and Dani resisted the strong urge to brush the hair out of his face, just to see what it felt like.
“Bob never goes on vacation. And if he did, he’d tell us. This isn’t right,” Leon said.
They stood in silence for a few minutes, staring at the building. Dani glanced at her watch and sighed loudly. She could have been home right now, watching TiVo’ed episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.
“There’s got to be another way in,” Bea said suddenly. She walked away from the door and into the back alley. Leon followed her, but Dani hesitated, with scenes from the thousands of horror movies she’d seen in her life flashing through her mind. She had seen enough to gather that walking through back alleys, even in daytime, was basically like strapping a sandwich board to your chest that read “Come and get me, serial killers!”
“Come on, Dani. It’s fine,” Leon said reassuringly. Dani snorted.
“Yeah, fine until we’re lying on the ground with our throats slit and our severed limbs strewn all over the place.”
Leon laughed and shook his head slightly. “You’re ridiculous.”
Dani smirked. “I try.” She was trying to muster up the courage to ask Leon if he had a girlfriend when a loud, bloodcurdling scream pierced the air.
“Bea!” Leon took off running, and this time, Dani followed. There certainly wasn’t any reason for Bea to be screaming, and now, Dani couldn’t help but imagine the worst.
They came to a halt somewhere in the middle of the alley, right underneath a window that it seemed Bea had been trying to climb through—several boxes were stacked on top of each other, reaching almost all the way to the window’s ledge about six feet from the ground. Bea was curled up in a ball against the opposite wall, sobbing.
“Bea, what happened?” Leon asked urgently. She shook her head and pointed to the window, which was ajar. Leon glanced at Dani, who walked the few steps to join him. Dani had to stand on her tiptoes to even get a glimpse of what was inside, while Leon merely stood at his normal height and looked easily into the room.
When Dani looked into the building, she saw a popcorn machine lined up against one wall, still churning out hot, freshly popped kernels. There was a huge mound of popcorn on the floor that was growing steadily as more and more landed on top. She heard Leon gasp next to her and turned to see him backing away quickly. Dani slowly glanced back into the room, and saw what she hadn’t seen before.
Bob lay in the middle of the floor, a large sword embedded in his chest. A pool of blood spread from his body outward.
Huh, Dani thought. So he didn’t go on vacation after all.
“Dani, c-come on. We have to go get the police, or something,” Leon said quietly from behind her. But Dani was too busy staring at the wall behind Bob, for a message was there. Written shakily in what looked like blood, were the words “This is only the beginning.”
Port Pirie, ZZ