The Lost Reels
The Lost Reels
Behind the counter of the Video Shack, Dan battled with a stubborn gold key that refused to penetrate the lock at the base of the cash register when Andy burst through the front door. A humid, July wind followed him off the street. Andy’s white To Hell with The Devil-t-shirt clung to his body after the mile-and-a-half bike ride from his house on the edge of town.
Not even the jangle of the bells above the door could break Dan’s concentration from the rattling keys. Too much was at stake today, he refused to allow anything to break his concentration, he had to spring the drawer.
Andy rushed across the store and fell to his knees in front of the two rows of videocassettes closest to the floor with the labeled horror printed in bold black type on a narrow strip of white adhesive paper. The Video Shack was acutely named for its cramped quarters and long, narrow shelves that only allowed for the spines of the video sleeves to show. A small, dusty fan struggled to complete each rotation. A cheap plastic TV and VCR combo stood at the opposite end of the counter from where Dan stabbed each new key from an enormous ring of identical keys into the gnarled mouth of bittings that refused to surrender the contents.
Andy began waving around a display box that showed a woman with yellow eyes bulging from her head and a forked tongue sliding through comically white teeth. Her black latex jumpsuit had a zipper running down the front, half unfastened, threatening to spill the secrets hiding underneath. Andy called out to Dan from his crouched position on the floor, “You should have been at church last night, Dan. This guy who spoke, he killed me. He was on some kind of speaking circuit called Shock Rock. Apparently, rock music is shocking. I’m sure you want to know why it is so shocking. I know all the parents were there to learn how music was destroying their children. Man, did this guy deliver. This guy went for the gold. No holding back with him. He went right out and told a church full of moms and dads that the devil speaks to their children through rock music. The devil, Dan. El Diablo himself. Mr. Scratch. The father of lies. Satan. You know, pitchfork, horns, big nose. Can you imagine? I mean, this guy had all the parents eating out of his hand. Isn’t that a parent’s wet dream getting some ex-rock musician to come into church on a Monday night and tell them the reason their kids are so bad is that the devil is brainwashing them through their music. This guy is setting the table with all the fine China with this story. He has put together the four-course meal. The devil has left secret messages in music, movies, toys, and videogames--isn’t that what every parent has been waiting to hear?”
The next cover Andy yanked off the shelf showcased a woman spread-eagle on a pulpit with an upside-down crucifix between her legs. Her mouth contorts into a welcome-expression of deadly eroticism. Somehow her red mouth simultaneously lured the viewer while maintaining a constant threat of damnation.
Dan threw the keys down on the counter. The clammer echoed off the walls of the tiny shop. “This is nuts.”
“It was nuts,” Andy nodded his head up and down.
“Not that, Andy. I have run through half these keys and nothing is working. No matter what I do I can’t get this thing open.” Dan punched the machine with a closed fist.
“Can you imagine if this guy had brought a picture like this into church? After all the things he said, he shows the parents at the church this number, and they would board the door.” Andy turned the box over in his hand to examine the description on the back. There were two photo stills from the movie and a lengthy description of the plot. In one of the pictures a priest knelt before an altar while blood rained down on his head. There was a glowing, neon crucifix decorating the wall of the church. “This guy went after My Pretty Pony for crying out loud. He said the Smurfs were possessed by Satan. Just imagine looking for evil in a six-years-'olds toys where there is a movie with a woman sticking a cross up her ya-ya.”
“Do you even remember being at my house, Andy? Are you not even interested in asking me about what happened after you left? You left right in the middle. You took off for this church thing, you left me right in the middle, and you don’t even want to know about it? That was my first time, Andy. We were supposed to record it. You just took off. Then you bust in here going off on this guy who spoke at the church. You didn’t even think to ask me what happened after you left.”
“Are you telling me you kept going?”
“You think I was going to stop just like that. After everything, you told me. Listening to all your stories about it, you think I was just going to stop in the middle and not finish. This is what I mean about how sometimes you don’t know how to read a room, Andy.”
Andy could feel the beads of sweat popping out on the back of his neck. He rubbed his hands together. “No. I didn’t do it with anyone when I did it the first time. That’s why I knew we should have a camera. If we had the camera we would know for sure it worked.”
“Are you telling me now you don’t know for sure it worked when you did it? Are you saying without a camera you don’t know for sure?”
“What happened, Dan? What did you do?”
“I did exactly what you told me to do, Andy. You’re the one who told me what to do. You’re the one who told me how to do it. I wouldn’t have even known how to do it if you hadn’t told me what to do. I did what you said I should do.”
“You’re freaking me out, Dan.”
“I’m freaking you out.” Dan had both of his hands on the counter that separated him from his friend. His fingers were arched as though at any moment he might pounce over the counter and throttle his friend. “My freaking mom walked in on me, man.”
“Wait...Your mom walked in on you? She walked into the middle of what you were doing?”
“She walked right in the room, Andy.”
“I don’t understand?”
“If you had been there, Andy, she would never have walked into the room. Do you understand what I am telling you?”
Andy’s eyes were wide as though he had just come upon an accident in the middle of the road and couldn’t turn away. “You’re telling me it worked. You have to be, right, otherwise it wouldn’t matter that your mother walked in?”
“Andy, you’re making me nervous. When you say it like that you make me really nervous. You make it seem like you were lying to me before.”
“I didn’t lie to you, Dan. It wasn’t like that at all. I was alone. Nobody saw it. I was pretty confident, but nobody else saw it.”
“My mom was carrying a load of laundry when she walked in. Her hands were piled high with clothes, towel, my underwear, Andy. She was holding my underwear.”
Andy suppressed a laugh that was building under his breath. He could feel it in his throat. But he knew it would only make things worse if he laughed.
“When she came through the door, Andy, my face was practically touching the ceiling. My nose was practically on the ceiling.”
“Your mom saw that.”
“She threw all the laundry into the air, Andy. I mean, the scream. You can’t even imagine the sound she made when she screamed. I will hear the sound on my deathbed.”
“You mom caught you levitating?” As soon as the words left Andy’s mouth he covered his lips with both hands. He didn’t know what sound might follow those words. He was afraid of himself. He was afraid of how his friend might take it if he made the wrong sound. “You were levitating off your bed, and your mom walked in.”
“Andy, you swore to me you did this before. You showed me how to do it. If you hadn’t done it I never would have tried. You seem like you don’t believe it actually happened?”
“When I did it my eyes were closed. I was alone in my room. I could feel it. I could feel what was happening to my body. But I didn’t see anything. It’s not like I turned around to see how far I had floated off my bed.”
“It was exactly how you described it, Andy. It was like for three whole minutes I felt perfect peace. My mind was a complete blank. Like every thought left my head at the same instant. And my body felt like it had no weight to it. As though I was emptied out.”
“Then your mom walked in?”
“My eyes popped open. For a split second, I could see the ceiling right in front of my nose.”
“You saw what happened?”
“Then my mom screamed and it was like all the lights that had been turned off inside me suddenly went on all at the same time. It was like all the stuff I washed away, and the peace that I was filled with fled. And I came crashing down.”
“No figuratively, Andy,” Dan said. “I literally fell back down to my bed. I can’t believe it didn’t break. I fell like ten feet. If it wasn’t that I was worried my mother was having a heart attack I might have been in pain. But the adrenaline took all the pain away. My mother’s not a healthy woman, Andy. I could have killed my mom.”
“She could have had a heart attack, man.”
“I just said that, Andy. You don’t think I know that. That could have been the nail in her coffin.”
“Your mother actually witnessed you levitate?” Andy could barely move from the spot where he stood. The story froze him in place. Shock seized his nervous system. Dan’s mother had actually witnessed her son levitate. This was better than capturing it on videotape. Even if they filmed it that wouldn’t be more concrete proof than the eye-witness account of Dan’s mother. A videotape can be manipulated. There was trick photography like Hollywood movies utilized. But a mother’s confession, especially about something of this nature, that couldn’t be faked. Dan’s mother was a nurse, a cub scout leader, and a Catholic. She wasn’t about to fabricate a story about her son and his friend practicing the dark arts. She would sooner have the two boys committed to Danvers State Hospital than lie about what she witnessed.
“My mother is probably still in shock at this moment. She probably still hasn’t uttered one sentence since the incident. This might have actually driven her out of her mind. Do you know how many times my mom said I was going to drive her out of her mind? You want to know how many times? Now, I might have actually done it. Before work this morning, I come down to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal. She was already there. No like waiting for me or anything. She’s just sitting there. She could have been sitting there all night. Sitting at the table, staring at the wall. I pour the cereal. I pour the milk. She hasn’t said a word to me, Andy. Not one word. I double she’s even looked at me. I’m standing in the middle of the kitchen. I’m eating. That’s when I see it. I can’t take my eyes off it. Andy, I’m watching this fly crawl across my mother’s face. She’s just sitting there like a mute staring at the wall. This black fly lands on her cheek. Not so much as a flinch. I’m mesmerized. I watch this fly crawl across her cheek over her nose and down to her chin. She never blinks. She never twitches.”
Andy jumped at the sound of someone moving behind him. The front door of the Video Shack hadn’t opened since he arrived, so there was no reason he should have expected anyone else to be in the store. At the far back of the room two swinging saloon doors hung with a sign that commanded: No One Under 21 Permitted. When Andy spun around on his heels the doors still swayed on their hinges. A man in slacks and a three-button shirt with the collar turned-up slunk from the dark recess of the store carrying a small sliver of paper between his fingers. The man must have been in the adult’s only section the entire time the two boys discussed the previous evening’s events.
The stranger paused in front of Andy without looking directly at his face. He leaned sideways at the counter in order to confide with the teller. The man wanted to keep his business limited. Andy watched the man slide the corner of yellow paper across the counter. Andy could make out numbers scribbled haphazardly across the fragment. Dan examined the numbers for several seconds. Then he vanished under the counter. There was only the sound of plastic VHS boxes rattling together. After several seconds, which actually felt like minutes, Dan popped up from behind the counter with three VHS cases in his hands.
When Dan appeared at the counter again he noticed the man had already laid a twenty-dollar bill near the cash register.
Dan considered the money dumbly for a moment. The way his eyes roved over the greenback one might think the poor boy had just arrived on earth from a distant planet.
Dan glanced up at the man. The stranger didn’t like having a boy of Dan’s age looking at him during this type of transaction.
Dan explained how sorry he was but the cash drawer wasn’t functioning properly so he didn’t have any change available. A flush climbed the man’s neck and colored his cheeks. He didn’t move for a minute as if the fabric of the universe was tethered to this simple transaction.
“I have a credit card reader?” Dan explained.
The man let loose a sound that had a primordial intonation that tied the collective languages of all human history to a single notion. He turned his back on the money and fled the store with the plastic, clamshell cases tucked under his arm.
“Christ,” Andy said.
“We get all types,” Dan admitted.
“I didn’t know people went in there.” Since Dan took the job at the Video Shack at the beginning of summer Andy rode his bike over every day to watch movies. Most afternoons they had a full run of the place. Video stores were a new concept and many of the people they knew in town didn’t even own a VCR. The store rented cassette players at $20 a week. Customers arrived sporadically, which left the clerk to his own devices most of the day. So Dan and Andy had carte blanche to pick out any movie from the shelves during the long afternoons. However, Andy was the movie lover of the pair. The only problem was that Andy’s father wasn’t a friend of Caleb Baxter who opened the video store this past spring. Caleb had been buying up real estate all over town since the factory closed and most men were out looking for work. Dan and Tom got lucky because their dads brought them down to the Park and Ride on Wednesday nights to race R.C. Cars with a group of men and their sons. Caleb Baxter knew Dan and Tom’s father and inquired one Wednesday night if either of the boys needed work for the summer. Caleb needed someone he could pay four-dollars-and-twenty-five-cents an hour. These kids were the perfect pair.
There were limited cinematic opportunities for a movie fan like Andy in a small town. The closest theater was twenty miles away and cost four dollars and fifty cents for a matinee. Until this summer when he got a job washing dishes at Captain’s Quarters that kind of money was tough to come by and he needed a parent who was willing to drive him. The opening of the Video Shack was a godsend.
Dan scooped up the mass of keys off the counter. He spun the ring around his finger as he pulled it out of a holster. He had lost his place in the system of keys so he was going to have to work his way through the bundle from the start again.
“What’s going on with that?” Andy pointed to Dan’s hand. “You’ve been fiddling with that since I walked through the door.”
“It’s a real mess,” Dan said. “Tom is supposed to get here any minute. Seems like one of us lost a hundred dollars yesterday.”
“A hundred dollars?”
Andy glanced around the floor and walls as though he thought a bill might be on the carpet. He couldn’t imagine enough customers renting ninety-nine cent videos to account for a hundred dollars.
“Between the money and the whole business with my mom, I’m a little distracted this morning. Whatever it was you were talking about with the devil or I don’t know what? I really didn’t get any of that.”
“Who spends a hundred dollars to rent a ninety-nine cent video?”
“I don’t remember anybody ever dropping that kind of cash yesterday,” Dan said, still scrolling through the keys. “That’s why Tom is on the way. We don’t usually split the day. You know that. Of course, the one time we do, something crazy happens.”
“You won’t get fired or anything?”
Dan shrugged. He didn’t want to vocalize his anxieties.
The night Dan’s father came home with the news about the job at the video, he put Dan up against the wall. It wasn’t the first time his dad knocked him around to make sure he understood what was at stake. Andy could remember the night Dan told his dad he wasn’t going to be an A student no matter how many times he hit him. The snow was falling outside on the law. Dan’s dad opened the back door of the house and kicked Dan over the porch rail in the fresh powder. His father had inventive ways to express how a job with a good wage wasn’t a thing to trifle with. The way a man’s son handles himself on the job reflects on his father. Nobody will come to me and say my boy is a slouch was how the old man put it.
Dan knew his dad thought Caleb might find him a job at one of his businesses if his son made good. After the factory closed his old man had been waiting tables at a steakhouse on the outskirts of Boston. Caleb was his chance to find the kind of work he would be proud to accomplish. He wasn’t about to have his son screw it up for him.
When Andy looked at Dan’s face scrutinizing the identical keys on the rings he could hear Dan’s voice trembling as he recounted the story before his first day at the Video Store.
The front door swung open and Andy jumped again.
Tom careened off the street. His eyes shielded from the blazing sun by a pair of Wayfair sunglasses he bought off a spinning rack along the boardwalk at Salisbury Beach. Someone told Tom once he looked like Tom Cruise and he dedicated himself from that moment forward to be a completist. Most days Andy visited Tom when he was behind the counter of the Video Shack Tom had Days of Thunder or Top Gun or Cocktail playing on a loop.
Tom reached the edge of the counter and dropped his sunglasses down the end of his nose as though he were emphasizing a point nobody recalled him making.
“This is the only day I can go surfing, so let’s make this quick,” Tom said.
Andy interrupted the search for the lost money by asking, “You going to the Line?”
“That’s the plan.”
“That would be sweet,” Andy said. Then he paused. “Oh, man. My board is at home.”
“I don’t mind stopping. I go right by it on the way to the highway.”
“There’s no way I’m chancing a trip back over to my place. My house is a minefield today.”
“What do you mean?” Dan asked.
“That’s what I was trying to tell you when I got here. It’s all this business with that stuff at the church.”
“You mean, the thing you bailed on me for?”
“What big deal at your house?” Tom wanted to know. He took off his sunglasses and carefully placed them on the counter.
“My folks are on a tear. When I left this morning they were ransacking my little sister’s room throwing away all her toys.”
“What do you mean by throwing away her toys?” Dan couldn’t help but laugh imagining a kitchen trash bag full of Barbie Dolls, Smurfs, and stuffed animals.
“It was the thing I went to last night. This guy I was telling you about warned all the parents how satan was in the toys, the music, and even the board games. The devil was trying to infiltrate our community through their children’s stuff. When I escaped out of the basement door I could hear my little sister balling through her bedroom window because my parents were taking away her My Pretty Pony.”
Tom sneered, “That’s ludicrous.”
“I know your parents have some weird notions, but My Pretty Pony, really?” Dan added.
“The guy who spoke last night, he didn’t stop with the toys, he said if you played Stairway to Heaven backward there was a message on there from the devil.”
“The most dangerous thing about Stairway to Heaven is who you get stuck dancing with. That song is like fifteen minutes long,” Tom said.
“I got a boner once after I asked Heather Mulroony to dance to it and I had to move my body in all these weird ways so it wouldn’t rub against her leg. She kept asking if everything was okay. It was the longest twelve minutes of my life.”
“I would love to go surfing. But what I really want to do is go to Palace Video.”
“You’re at a video store right now,” Tom said.
Andy explained, “The guy last night was talking about this cult movie that nobody has ever seen. He was talking about this movie and this girl, Jasmine Carmichael. I guess she was in a few cult movies during the 70s and 80s. But she made this one movie that nobody ever saw that supposedly the devil appeared in. The people who made the movie conjured the devil and captured it on film.”
“You don’t even believe in God, Andy,” Tom said.
“I believe in God,” Andy said, “I just don’t believe in the same God my parents do.”
“We need to get this drawer open,” Dan reminded Tom.
“You think Palace Video will have it?” Tom said.
“That friend of yours over there, Kit, he seems to know everything when it comes to movies.”
“If there’s one person who might know who this girl is it would probably be him.”
“You guys seem to be forgetting something pretty important,” Dan interrupted. “If Caleb stops by for this money we’re both out of a job if we can’t get this drawer open.”
“Where did you find all those keys, anyhow?” Tom wanted to know.
“They look like they are the right size. I found them in one of the cabinets in the porno closet.”
“I never go in there.”
“Don’t you guys have to clean it. Aren’t the floors all sticky?”
“It’s a disaster in there,” Tom admitted.
“We’re underage,” Dan explained. “Caleb brings in a cleaning crew at night. He just has them vacuum and clean the whole place. He doesn’t bother us with that.”
“You know what I don’t understand, Dan doesn’t the cash register have a button that opens the drawer?” Andy inquired.
Tom interjected, “Problem is, every time you use that button it is recorded when you “Z” out the register. So Caleb counts all those times we open the drawer. It’s a way of checking if we are stealing.”
“I’m pretty sure the key is on this ring.” Dan shook the keys for good measure.
“Are you hoping the money is somehow in the drawer?” Andy wanted to know.
“We know it’s not there,” Tom clarified.
“We want to put the money in the drawer,” Dan said.
“I’m missing something.”
“Caleb said the drawer was short. He wants to know what happened to one hundred dollars. We figure he is planning to fire us both.”
“So we are going to put a hundred dollars back in the drawer,” Dan added.
“That way when he does the count tonight he’ll find the money and he’ll figure he screwed up somehow last night.”
“Where the hell did you get a hundred dollars?”
Tom looked at Dan across the counter. His face contorted when yet another key refused to turn the lock. “My dad keeps cash in his sock drawer,” Dan explained. “That’s where he stashes his tip money.”
“We’re going to pay it back out of our check.”
“That could take a while?”
“However long it takes, it’s better than getting fired,” Dan admitted. “Can you imagine what my dad will do if I get fired?”