The Video Shack

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All Film Burns at the Same Temperature

Chapter 5

All Film Burns at the Same Temperature

“Most of it burned,” Kit said.

Meredith was the one who found the room. She spotted the decapitated mannequin on the floor only a few feet inside the door frame. It wasn’t until the rest of them followed Meredith into the room that they discovered the lights and the camera equipment standing at attention as though the film crew recently stepped away for a cigarette break. It was the dress the mannequin wore that caught her attention. The style was known as “flapper.” It was made famous in the 1920s, and the only reason she knew all this was her mother dressed her up in one of these numbers for a Halloween party when she was nine. The dress her mother put her in was green. The mannequin had been dolled-up in a red and black outfit with a sequined fringe. The white moonlight that leaked through the windows sparkled in the sequences.When Petra knelt down to see the mannequin better she noticed the silver tape masking the eyes, as though the person running the camera didn’t want the mannequin to see what was being filmed.

Meredith grabbed the sleeve of Jay’s shirt and dragged him down on the floor with her so he could see what she was seeing.

Kit couldn’t take his eyes off the camera. “Most of the movies that were made during the silent period are gone forever. Back then the film stock was super temperamental. It had a tendency to explode.” His fingers traced the silver housing and the mahogany cranks on the side of the machine. “Sometimes it would just burst into flame in the projector or wherever it was being stored. Nitrate film was extremely combustible and the majority of the movies from that period burned up. Most people didn’t know how to store the film properly. The chemical process was so unstable the film canisters became almost like bombs.”

Kit didn’t care how neither Jay nor Meredith was interested in his film history lecture. Meredith couldn’t take her hands off the dress while Jay was obsessed with the head of the human-size doll. The simple art of placing two black Xs over the eyes with tape was somehow terrifying.

“This must have been some kind of prop?” Meredith said.

“Were they filming something here?” Jay asked.

“This is a silent movie camera,” Kit explained. “Nobody was using this kind of equipment during the years Halloran lived here.”

“You're the one who said he made silent movies?”

“Sure, when he was still working in Hollywood he made silent pictures. But it was dying even then, even during the time he was still working, before he was black-balled from the industry. By the time he had built this house and moved in the talkies were in full swing. The use of sound in movies was all the rage by the time Halloran moved into this house. Silent movies had had their chance by the time Halloran moved in.”

“Do you think this was some prop?” Jay said out loud even though he wasn’t looking for an answer. “Maybe they were just using it for the costumes?”

“It has to be a costume, right?” Meredith asked. “You said so yourself, Kit, he wasn’t here in the 1920s.”

“A massive part of film history was lost forever,” Kit continued. He was still talking about the films that were burned up during the early days of a cinema. The words the other two in the room said didn’t even phase him. Kit was lost in the intricacies of the camera.

Jay was the first one to notice. He said, “Hey, did anybody see what happened to my brother? My brother and Magdalena vanished. Did they get lost or what?”

“I thought they were right behind us,” Meredith said.

Meredith hopped to her feet and scrabbled for the door that led out of the room.

“Do you see them?” Jay asked.

“It’s so dark out there.”

“Where the heck did they go? Why would they just take off like that?”

“What did you guys say?” Kit broke his attention from the camera he was so entranced by. “I’m sorry I’ve just never seen a camera like that one before. I’ve only read about this period of film. I don’t think I ever believed I would see one in the real world, not unless I went to some museum somewhere. There are a few really amazing film history museums, but they are in places I never thought I would get to visit. It’s not like I rake in the big bucks at Palace Video. I might know a lot about movies, but that and a token will get me on the subway.”

Meredith continued to peer down the dingy corridor where no light could penetrate. Perhaps if something moved she could catch a glimpse of it as it disturbed the air and space that constituted the hallway.

“We were talking about this mannequin over here on the floor,” Jay pointed even though the gesture was meaningless to Kit who was too far across the room to make out a hand slicing through the blackness. “Somebody put black tape over its eyes.”

“What do you mean black tape?”

“I don’t know. Tape. What else does tape mean? You know, like electrical tape or something. Almost like the kind of tape you would use to seal a leak in a hose in the engine of your car.”

“I don’t know what that is. I’ve never fixed a car.”

“It doesn’t matter what it is. Come see.”

“It’s kind of freaky,” Meredith said as she turned from her occupation at the door.

Kit stood over the mannequin on the floor. He covered his hand with his mouth the way a TV detective might when they come upon a particularly brutalized body in an alleyway. The other two people in the room could hear the breath sucking in and exhaling out of his nose as he continued to study the object on the floor.

“I’ve seen this before,” Kit said.

“What do you mean, seen this before?” Jay said.

“You’ve seen this before?” Meredith added as though it were some kind of answer.

“There was this scene in a Russian movie I watched once. It must have been made in the 1920s sometime. Could have been the 30s, sometimes it is hard to tell. But these aristocrats gathered on an estate that lay on the Black Sea. They were satanists, or some such thing, maybe in Russia they don’t call it satan. But they wanted to raise the spirit of a dead monk because the city where they ruled was in danger of falling prey to the peasants. This dead monk had protected their province from the growing political unrest. The family of aristocrats made a doll eerily similar to this mannequin in order to use it in their ceremony. There was a lot of black magic in these old Eastern European films. Film in this part of the world had grown out of an obsession with spirit photography. Many people after the invention of photography believed they could take a picture of the soul before it left the body. Once motion pictures came along many people, especially in the old world believed they could use the technology to commune with the dead. I don’t know a lot about this stuff. But I have watched a lot of old German, Hungarian, and Russian films that experimented with this black magic and the occult. Like I was saying before, a lot of this old film stock burned up for a variety of reasons. The chemical process was super dangerous and combustible. Because of that so many of these movies were lost. Even the ones that remained they only remained as a few reels. So it was very hard to understand the logic of the story because you a fraction of the film escaped the fire. It was hard to know what the intention of some of this occult worship was about in the films. Many of the stories no longer existed. Just the reels that showed the images of priests raising spirits from the dead. I don’t remember how much of this Russian film remained. It could have been sliced together with other films that shared similar themes for as much as I can remember. However, I do recall this image. It is burned into my brain.”

“Do you think they were trying to recreate this scene with the camera and everything?” Meredith proposed.

“Could be,” Kit wondered aloud as he knelt close to the life-sized doll on the floor. “But they also could have been attempting the experiment the film showed.”

“You think they raised a spirit in this place,” Meredith gasped.

“It is pretty eerily similar like I said. I find it hard to believe that it was a coincidence. It was a pretty startling image in the film, especially since it has stuck with me all these years. I wouldn’t have even thought I’d remember it if I hadn’t seen this mannequin.”

“What if they did raise a spirit in this house?” Meredith could feel sweat trickle down the back of her neck.

That was when the figure burst through the door.

It rushed into the room. The fabric of the black hooded cape fluttered as it rushed across the room. Its opaque shade matched the grim darkness of the room and it was hard to differentiate the outline from the shadows that enveloped it.

Kit fell to the floor and grasped his chest with both hands.

Meredith screamed in the instant before she lunged at Jay and wrapped her body around his.

The two bodies shifted as one moving across the room to avoid the creature that careened and stuttered-stepped into the center of the room. They gaped as the tattered rags that shroud the beast fluttered and swept through the indefinable abyss of gloom. It was not one creature but two. But the next vision to rush into the room was cast in white. Somehow the texture of the apparition appeared to glow at a dim hue, as though a light followed it into the room from some unknown source.

Jay thought he could make out wings on the back of the glowing figure that swept across the room almost as though it wasn’t touching the floor.

Meredith pressed her lips to Jay’s ear and whispered, “Make for the door.”

Jay couldn’t move. His legs wobbled under his weight. He felt a numbness rush up from his toes through his calves, over his knees, and along his thighs. He didn’t know how he was still standing. He didn’t know where the power came from that kept him from crumbling to the floor in a mass of cartilage and melted bone. He glanced over at Kit. Even in the dim cast of night, he could make out his fists pressed against the cage that held his heart in place.

Kit labored to breathe. He gasped and the air he managed to pull in his mouth ground in the mucus that lodged in his esophagus. He coughed in the air.

Jay could hear the sound of Kit’s fight with death. He was convinced the man’s heart was about to explode. However, he was blocked in his passage across the room by the two creatures that seemed to float in the sea of darkness.

“What the hell is going on?” Meredith cried in a garish hush through grinding teeth.

That was when Jay heard the laughter.

It started as a small chuckle. As though someone was fighting back the urge to cackle like when someone makes an off-color joke in church and nobody wants to break the reverent silence.

But then the sound increased. Soon a hysterical madness ensued as the laugh exploded through the room.

Jay’s head was so clouded by the fear he didn’t understand how to transition when he heard the sound. He knew what he was listening to but he didn’t know how to unwind the terror that gripped his spirit. He didn’t know if he had breathed for a full minute. His eyes watered. Through the moisture that blurred his vision he could not make out the faces when the robe fell to the floor and the white tunic fluttered through the air like the wings of a baby bird desperately fluttered to the ground.

“What the hell is happening?” Meredith murmured in his ear. Her voice was controlled. Her tongue escaped her lips for only an instant and Jay felt the moisture of her tongue as it flittered through the crevice of his ear.

He had never felt the rush of eroticism, and he didn’t know how to exist in two plains at the same instant. He didn’t know how to contain horror and sexual longing in the same brain without unwinding his conscious mind.

Kit gasped and sputtered. He had collapsed onto his back. His legs flailed and kicked involuntarily as the pressure in his chest constricted.

“It’s just us,” Tom said.

The costume lay in a heap on the floor. Both he and Magdalena transformed from laughter to anxiety in less than a moment once it occurred to them what might be happening to Kit on the floor.

“Kit!” Tom called.

The two kids rushed across the room and fell to the floor. Tom unbuttoned the collar of Kit’s pale blue polo shirt with the logo for Palace Video embroidered on the breast pocket.

“It’s okay, Kit,” Tom said.

“We were just joking around,” Magdalena said.

Jay dragged himself across the floor with Meredith close behind. His legs were still numb. The tingle of blood-flow began in his toes. It hurt as the nerves of his body came back to life.

“Is he having a heart attack?” Meredith said.

Kit’s cheeks were clammy with perspiration. His breath was raspy.

“Does anyone know CPR?” Magdalena said.

Tom put his face close to Kit’s face so he could see his eyes even in the gloom. “It’s just me, Kit.”

He gasped, “You bastard.”

Jay said, “Did I hear that?”

“You’re okay, Kit,” Tom said.

His fists loosened against his body. His breath slowed.

“Are you out of your mind, Tom,” Jay said.

“We thought it was funny,” Tom explained.

“There was this room full of costumes,” Magdalena said.

“There are like a thousand costumes in there, Jay. You would have done the same thing if you had found it.”

Jay couldn’t argue with his brother’s logic. He would have done worse if he had had the chance he realized.

“We didn’t even know where you went,” Meredith said.

Kit was sitting up now. He had flipped his shirt up to use the inside layer of fabric to wipe the sheen from his face. His hair was matted with sweat and it stuck in long threads against his forehead.

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