They all come to the midnight screening to see him. One by one. Every night. I always watch them, watching him, but I’d never have the guts to go and see him for myself. I never look at the screen.
That’s the mistake they all make. They look at the screen.
The funny thing about people is that they have no patience. They always want to know the ending before they’re even half way through.
They call him Pumpkins. It sounds weird, because it is. Nobody ever found out his name, and he wears a mask, so nobody knows his face, just his piercing, eerie orange eyes. Everybody just calls him Pumpkins, because he always has a pumpkin with him. Nobody knows why. He doesn’t carve it. He doesn’t eat it. He just carries it around. Like I said, it sounds weird, because it is.
When I first started working at the cinema, someone told me about him, and I thought it was a joke, but the first time I worked the midnight showing, he was waiting in the projection room. I didn’t know whether to laugh or run away screaming, but he just pointed to the empty seat next to him and waited in silence. I stared for a little but then I sat beside him. That sounds like a stupid thing to do, but everything I knew about him so far was that he wouldn’t hurt you if you did as you were told, so it seemed the only option.
Everybody who worked in the cinema knew about him, it turned out, and everyone just seemed to accept it. You’d go to start the midnight show, and you’d put on something for Pumpkins first, instead of the trailers. The ticket holder he’d selected would watch, and then the screen would fill up for the actual film. Pumpkins would be gone, until the next night, and you said nothing about it to anyone on the outside.
It’s messed up, but at first, it made me feel cool (once I’d got over the fright), because we were all in this secret little club, sharing this experience, never telling another soul, but I can’t pretend that it’s fun anymore.
Something really bad is happening, and talking about it is my only hope of keeping people alive.
He was always there, when I went to the projection room for the midnight show. It didn’t matter what film was supposed to be showing, one of his movies would be on first, always unadvertised, and always a screening for one person. He’d hand me the reel, and I’d put it on without question. I didn’t know what would happen if I didn’t, but I didn’t think it would be something enjoyable, so I just played along.
He only ever said one thing as I set up the movie.
I heard that the movies would give people a glimpse into their futures, and I guess that was the appeal, so the instruction not to look was confusing at first, but as time went on, I began to understand.
People always looked, no matter how much I’d ask them not to. Pumpkins would tell them once. Only once, but I would be in the aisles, begging, pleading, trying to push their faces away from the screen. It never made a difference. They always looked. I guess their curiosity got the better of them.
You might wonder why I was so insistent, or why I cared at all, and the answer is simple (to me, I guess), but you might not believe me. I’ll tell you anyway, you just have to promise not to look, when Pumpkins finds you, and gives you your ticket. He will, by the way. He’s working his way through and one day, it will be your turn.
I didn’t notice anything strange at first, because I shut my eyes, really tight, the second he told me not to look. As the projector whirred into life, there was the sound of distant thunder, followed by nothing but the faint, busy melody of the projector. That was all I heard as his film played. It didn’t seem to last long, just a minute or two, and then the lights flickered into life and the projector fell silent. The bright ceiling lights poked through my eyelids, and I opened them, staring around the now empty projector room.
He was gone. The reel was gone too. There was no trace of Pumpkins, and the screen below was beginning to fill up with customers, so I tried to focus on my work.
It wasn’t until the fifth time that I dared to open my eyes a little early. I could still hear the projector beside me, and I figured it did no harm to take a little peek, as long as I didn’t look at the screen. I took my hands down from my eyes and gazed down to the front row, where the lucky ticket holder was sat. That was when I knew something was wrong.
They were levitating from the seat. Crazy, I know, but there they were, high above the seat, a blanket of orange light surrounding their lifeless body, and Pumpkins stood beneath them, his arms in the air, pointing to the fire exit, like he was signalling an aeroplane. There was blood all around the ticket holder, and their skin was pale and ghostly. The blood seemed to float in the air, dancing around them in a circle, and their mouth looked like it was trying, so desperately to scream, but nothing was coming out.
Lightning suddenly flashed, high above their body, and that’s when I saw them. Little creatures in the corner of the screen, right by the fire exit. They had bright orange eyes, long straggly hair, and masks just like Pumpkins. In their hands were little pumpkins, carved and lit up, horrifying little jack-o’-lantern’s, with that same orange light within them.
I locked eyes with one of them and it held the lantern high above it’s head, pointing a finger in my direction. I ducked behind the desk and covered my eyes, hoping that nobody else had noticed, and within seconds, the ceiling lights were back on and the room was silent.
I sat for a moment, trying to figure out if it was safe to come out, or to even open my eyes. There was a hand on my shoulder, and I jumped, my eyes opening.
“Don’t look.” It was Pumpkins. I stared up at him, unable to speak. He snatched the reel from the projector and with a snap of his fingers, he was gone.
I heard once that you’re never supposed to know the future, because it drives you mad, and at first, I thought that was the reason for telling people not to look, but as time went on, I realised that the films were just bait. Pumpkins wanted to draw people in, show them what was possible, and then snatch it away. Maybe it was a test? Maybe it was a game? The films might not even be their futures, just what people wanted to see, just enough to lure them in, and make them go quietly. Go where? I still don’t know.
Every night since, when he tells them not to look, I join in the calls, never looking at the screen, never looking at the fire exit where those… things wait, but nobody ever listens. Everybody looks.
Not me though, I never look, and I never will. I don’t know where Pumpkins takes them, or what those creatures want, but I’ve been given a ticket for tonight’s show. I won’t look, because I don’t want to know.
Hopefully, I’ll see you on the other side.
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.