I checked my watch again and again. Midnight crept closer as I sat in the foyer, staring at the ticket in my hand.
I still had time to leave. It would be simple to just stand up, throw the ticket away and go home, but part of me wanted to go through with it.
It was a few minutes to twelve, and the foyer had emptied out. I could see Pumpkins holding the door of the screen open, one hand on the door, the other, clutching the pumpkin under his arm. He stared, and I stared back, knowing that there really wasn’t a choice.
I straightened out my shirt, with a resigned sigh, and walked towards the open door. He closed it swiftly behind us and ran into the empty screen.
I took a seat in the front row and waited, looking down at the sticky floor, and trying to summon the courage to leave. It never came.
“Don’t look.” His voice came from behind me, and I turned towards him. He was sat in the row behind me, his pumpkin on his lap.
A flash of lightning from behind us lit up his masked face, and his eyes glowed, never blinking, always the same indifferent stare. His lips poking through the bottom, almost smiling.
I stared back. I wouldn’t look at the screen, but I’d look at him instead. That wasn’t against the rules right? I stared, trying not to blink, as the projector above us stuttered into life. I kept my eyes low, fixed on Pumpkins, and at first, it was pretty easy. It was just normal background noise from the projector in the beginning, but then, I heard a voice I hadn’t heard in years. I hadn’t realised before, because I hadn’t let myself think about her, but my heart had ached to hear her voice.
“Martin.” It was Ella. My wife. The girl I’d gone to the end of the world for. The girl I had to rebuild the world without. The girl I lost. I hadn’t heard her voice in so long, trying to forget how meaningless it all felt without her.
I stared blankly at Pumpkins, a few tears rolling down my cheeks, gripping tight to the chair, to try and keep myself from turning to her.
“Martin, I know you can hear me.”
I liked this job, because I could just forget about my empty flat, and my empty soul. I could stare at all the people, stare at the screen and switch off, because if I thought too much, if I was too connected to the world around me, I’d think about her. I’d think about how my survival cost me everything.
“Martin, why did you leave me?” Pumpkins mouthed her words along with her, like he enjoyed watching me being tortured with the voice of my dead wife. I felt a hand on my shoulder and I clawed at the chair behind me, my eyes tightly shut, knowing it was her, wondering if it was her during her life, or the tangled, grey bastardisation of my beautiful girl that I shot, like a sick dog, as she stumbled from the barn towards me.
“I love you Martin Campbell.” Her last words. My eyes were open now, streaming with tears. I was sobbing loudly, punching the back of the chair, desperate for it to end. Her fingers were running through my hair, the lightning flickering wildly as Pumpkins stared intently, his sick smile unmoving.
“I’m starving.” This wasn’t my future. That was just a lie he told people, because it’s what people want to see. He was tempting me with my past. My greatest regret.
“I love you.” I wanted to tell her that I was sorry. I wanted to hold her in my arms, like I used to, when we’d argue over something stupid, just the two of us, before the virus came, before the end of the world, before I lost her, but I never could.
“I love you too.” It’s all I could say. “I love you too.” I repeated it, closing my eyes as her hands began to pull on my shoulders.
“Then come with me.” Her grip tightened, more hands joined, trying to drag me from the seat, but I wrapped my arms around the back and held on as tight as I could. “If you love me, you’ll come with me.”
“I can’t, Ella.” Suddenly, the brightness of the room stung my closed eyes, and she was gone. I didn’t dare to look for a moment, but as the projector fell silent and I began to hear crowds shuffling behind me, I slowly opened my eyes. Pumpkins was gone, and the screen was beginning to fill with customers. It was over.
I dried my eyes, standing from the seat and wandering towards the foyer, aimless. Had I survived? Probably, but again, I had gained nothing but a few more years on the planet by doing so. The only girl I’d ever loved was gone, and I was alone.
Even if she wasn’t real, and it was all just a trick, I wish I’d let him take me, because now I’ve got a taste for my girl again, and I’m starving, just like she was, when I let her go.