Sunday, November 27, 2022


That feeling, man, that feeling of sitting in the cinema waiting to see something great, there's nothing that ever beats that. It was true when I was five and it was true when I was 27 and wrote this nonsense and it's true now.



    He’s eighteen… 

    The entrance is near, and there’s just one last obstacle. He so close he can feel the air currents shift as they swirl through the doors, but he can’t relax yet. He needs to concentrate; he needs to deal with it. Jacob Skin needs to give his ticket to the usher, or she won’t let him into the movie theatre.

    Momentary mind scream as he can’t find his ticket, quickly stifled when he realizes Kay’s got them, and she hasn’t come back from the toilet yet. She’s only been gone ten minutes. Skin’s known her his entire life. He knows where her priorities are. He knows he needs to sit down and wait; she’s going to be a while yet.

    No hurry, as he slumps down into a nearby seat, hiding back behind the large pot plant the cinema had been kind enough to place there. It won’t start for another fifteen minutes and Kay’s never late. Best to just chill out and watch the people wander past. With the faint smell of hot butter lingering in the air, he watches two men peer at a beautifully designed poster for a coming attraction, the taller one leaning in closer to read the credits written in thin, pale lettering.

    Skin scans the lobby of the cinema. It’s one of the older theatres, long ago built to hide a depression that didn’t really exist. Nearly fifty and the ornate decorations are starting to show their age, but the plush crimson carpet has been recently replaced, and the sense of history & nostalgia that coats the building covers over any other flaws.

    There’s nearly a hundred people scattered about, with all the stereotypes on display. An earnest young woman with short red hair frowns as she reads the Camus book she never leaves home without. A group of children, their show over, waiting for their ride, unreliable parents always later than they think, waiting for the inevitable questions, already chewing up the imagery in their heads, already trying to make sense of it all. Three men in cheap jeans and expensive tee shirts, tossing back the popcorn, still half-pissed from the night before.

     “Jacob?” says Kay, stepping right into his field of vision, blocking the flow of imagery with an incredible smile that wipes out Skin’s heart for the ninth time today. “You ready?”

     “Sure,” shrugs Skin, glancing at his watch and unsurprised to find he’s been zoned out for longer than he’d realized. After all, Skin wasn’t entirely sure what day it was.

     “What day is it, anyway?” he mumbles, standing up on unsteady legs as Kay leads him toward the entrance. “Monday?”

     “Idiot,” says Kay, not looking back as she passes their tickets over to the usher, who waves them both through with true courtesy.

     Skin follows her, stepping into the darkness of the theatre. He stumbles forward, desperately trying to blink away the gloom. Glancing over to his right as they make their way toward the screen, he can just make out figures sitting in the dark, but he can’t tell how many there are.

     He has no idea how many are staring at him.

     “Oi, Jacob,” hisses Kay. “Over here, dickhead.”

     Her caustic tones dampen his paranoia a little, but not enough to wonder why he’s walking with inordinately long steps. Breathing deeply, he stumbles down between empty seats and crashes down on the seat next to Kay, already taking her coat off and settling down. Third row, somewhere in the middle. Same as always.

     Silent exaltation as he closes his eyes and thanks the Gods. He’s made it. Never mind the bollocks at the door. It had been too long since he’d heard about this film. It’d been so long to wait. Teenage desolation left him convinced he’d be dead long before the premiere, but he’d made it, against all odds. Now he was here.

     He leans over to tell Kay of his triumph, but decides against it at the last moment and sits back, ignoring her curious stare. Leaning back, he concentrates on the blank screen directly in front of them; it’s ashen surface glowing faintly in the dark. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Kay about to say something, but she pulls back.

     Scratching the back of his neck, Skin tries to make out what the voice inside his head is saying. It’s been whispering away since early this morning, but he hasn’t been able to make out the words. But now, sitting in the expectant hush of the theatre, the pop music being piped in through the cinema’s speakers too dull to acknowledge, the voice is coming through loud and proud. And it’s insulting him.

     You stupid fuck, it says to him in a harsh whisper which seems to be coming from just in front of his right ear. Too young to know anything. You haven’t been through the Bone Gate and been hyper-realized. You don’t know what the end of time smells like. You haven’t played the Engram Game. Christ, you don’t even know what happens to Kay on her nineteenth birthday.

     “Fuck you,” snarls Skin automatically, ignoring the strange glance Kay is giving him again. The voice cuts out straight away, and Skin slumps further into the seat, trying to hide inside his own clothes.

     “Are you okay?” asks Kay, rubbing his shoulder.

     Smiling weakly, Skin nods. “I’m fine. Not enough sleep last night, you know?”

     That’s good enough for Kay, and slipping her hand into his, she sits back and watches the screen, waiting for the first flicker of action. Squeezing her hand tightly, Skin’s mind races as he tries to think of a way of telling her how much she means to him, but there are no words.

     So he sits back and waits in silence.

     Nine rows back, Kyle turns to Max and tries to steal some of his popcorn. “So what does happen to Kay on her nineteenth birthday anyway?”

     “It’s really simple,” answers Max, scowling as he slaps away Kyle’s hand. “She makes a deal with a minor anthrologicalectoplasmic entity to stay young, but it all goes horribly wrong. She ends up stuck in a time fluke every year on her birthday, at five fifty five in the morning. When she’s in the fluke time appears to stop for her, and doesn’t start up again for nearly a thousand years. She can’t interact with anybody or anything when she’s in this state. It’s just like Mon-El, only on an annual basis. By the time she turns twenty-seven she’s really over nine thousand years old, the vast majority of the time without any kind of contact whatsoever, and she has to keep ditching inessential memories or she’ll lose her mind completely. In the end, she can only remember her love for Skin, and everything else is irrelevant. That’s why she keeps changing her name. She can’t remember it. She knows it starts with a ‘K’, but she can’t remember it.”

     “Who’s Mon-El?” asked Kyle.

     “It’s ‘Legion Of Super Heroes’, you arsehole.”

     “Oh. Yeah, but wouldn’t Skin notice?”

     “No,” sighs Max. “He’s thick as pig shit. He doesn’t find out for many, many years. He just thinks she changes her name to be kinky.”

     “Jesus. That’s pretty fucked up.”

     “I know,” says Max, suddenly sick of his popcorn and offering it to Kyle. “But you try getting all that crap into this story.”

     “Huh… Don’t you think you’re taking this fourth wall thing a bit far?”

     “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

     Fighting the strange, sudden urge to turn around, Skin covers his head with his hands and breathes deeply in through his fingers. Anticipation is building by the second, and all he has to do is sit here and take it. The first adverts kick in, but Skin isn’t listening, the sound of his own breath deafening in his ears.

    He’d had to smoke a fat one out in the car park on his own, with Kay on her current Straight Edge vibe, and it was really starting to kick in now. After a day of heavy lifting, his muscles were finally starting to relax, tiny aches unknotting and fading away. His head felt bigger, and now, sitting in the dark, he feels safe and secure.

     Safe behind the wall of ultra-rays bursting out of his head, his brain takes another step up and his thoughts start to come apart like snowflakes on a hot summer’s day. The simplest sentence is deconstructed before it gets any further than the frontal lobes, and the simple running commentary of his actions falls apart, the narrative descending into stream of consciousness, just like all the cool kids do.

     His thoughts might be smeared across his mind like cheap butter, but he’s still hanging out for the film. Still waiting, still waiting. Charged up, waiting to feel something, anything. Hoping for one of those moments, hoping for a spark of the beautiful, hoping against hope for a touch of the divine.

     Coming on in the unlikeliest of places, in the strangest of stories, but welcomed all the same. Offered to the viewer, a point where it all comes together, when deeper emotions are touched by the simplest of gestures, touched by the little things.

     An act of honor, a sight unseen, an act of rebellion, a gesture of defiance. A piece of music that scars the soul, a camera shot that shows us the world. The unexpected twist, the sudden revelation. A silent stare, a rousing speech. Events that carry extra weight with the easiest of triggers. Hope, loyalty, willpower, love, forgiveness, all the usual suspects.

     “Am I making any sense?” snaps Skin, turning to the camera and spitting into the lens. “It’s another one of those feelings, one of those things you just can’t put into words. A feeling that’s bigger than everything, and just as hard to articulate. A base emotion, a glimpse into what it’s all about. Hope for the future, man. Do you know what I mean?”

     “Did you say something?” says Kay, tapping Skin lightly on the shoulder and waking him up out of his trance. Blinking furiously, Skin wipes away the mess in his mind and starts over.

     Smiling sedately, his eyelids barely open, he answers. “I didn’t say anything.”

     Kay smiles, her face fading as the lights dim before the start of the film. She leans over and gently kisses him on the cheek before leaning back and staring up at the screen.

     Skin wants to follow her gaze, wants to look up. But he can’t. He knows he’s blown his wad too early, and his expectations for the film he’s about to watch have turned on themselves and self-destructed. Hype and love for the source material has pushed him as far as he’s going to go, and he doesn’t want to go over the edge. The film has no power over him, he has no interest.

     The movie is about to start, but Skin is already staring at the exit.

The End


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