From the author: It's time for your film club to meet, and you're already running late. It's supposed to be a special film tonight, but you don't know this. This film will change you. But not in the way you expect...
It takes you a minute to find your Freddy Krueger shirt, but it’s important you wear it. It’s the first Thursday of the month, which means, as it always does, that The EFC is having their meeting tonight. Your apartment is dirty, so it's hard to find it. Jenn was usually the one that cleaned it, but, since she isn’t around anymore, it’s not getting done. That’s the way these things work. But you already know that.
You find ole’ Freddy stuffed beneath some khakis that don’t fit you anymore. You pull it out, grimacing at how wrinkled it looks. You put it on anyway, cursing yourself for being so careless. Your fellow club members care about this sort of thing. The alarm on your phone goes off. 7:25! It’s time to get moving. You hurry through your dirty apartment, flicking off the lights and checking the windows. You don’t live in the best neighborhood. And, though you don’t have a ton of valuables (unless your future burglar has a love of 1970 era Giallo VHS tapes), you wouldn’t want anything to get stolen. You consider grabbing the newest Sutter Kane paperback off your bedside table (to read on the bus?) but decide against it. No time.
By the time you trample down the stairs and hit the street, you’re winded. And, even worse, a little sweaty. You could stand to lose a few pounds. Ole’ Freddy is a Large that is starting to get a bit tight about your mid-section and armpits, which, as any chubby guy can tell you, makes you feel about as attractive as Hellraiser’s Butterball.
The street is packed. The summer heat has finally laid off, following the sun back over the horizon. As you walk to the bus stop, you think about your weekend to come. Stuck up in your apartment, your window AC unit struggling to keep the place livable. Re-watching some old horror classics. Maybe polishing off some Ramen noodles. Or, in concordance with your almost too tight tee-shirt, a salad or something. You cast your eyes across the street, taking in the slums that comprise your neighborhood. A group of teenagers hanging on their stoop, getting high. Overgrown grass pushing at the foundations of the buildings. The air reeks of industrial fumes and exhaust.
The bus roars to a stop ahead of you, a big graffiti tagged monster. You join the line to file on, a little impatient to get across town. You don’t need to check your phone to know that you’re running behind. But you do it anyway.
You cram yourself into a seat and dive into social media. The news stories that you find on Facebook and Twitter all look the same. Genocides in Africa. Another famous scientist gone missing. The United States government, in all their grand stupidity, are pushing the nation ever closer to a war that we could never possibly win. The man beside you is breathing heavily. His breathe is hot and rancid. It stinks of storm drains and maggoty meat. You want to punch him in the face. Break his nose. Pull his teeth from his jaw with pliers. His fat knee is pressed into yours. The bus rocks and screeches. The man’s breath is getting louder beside you. His heaving gasps seem vaguely familiar. Have you met this disgusting freak before? You resist the urge to look at him. To see his face. You scroll and scroll, passing pictures of celebrities and your old high school crushes. Scrolling. Scrolling…
You get off one stop to early. The walk is going to take you a few minutes, but that’s okay. Anything is better than being crammed into that bus. You feel hot and harried. Your shirt is sticking to your gut, sticking to your chest. You tear at it, keeping your pace brisk. This neighborhood, north of Bellamy Street, is much nicer than the one you live in. Houses with lawn to mow. Trees blowing lightly in the summer wind. Lights on every front porch. You follow them, your eyes drawn upwards. There, splitting the sky, is The Province.
The Province is a luxury hotel, catering to the rich and even richer. The president of The Eldritch Film Club, Gregory Patrick, has a reserved room on the 23rd floor. You have no idea how much he pays for it, but you have to imagine it’s ungodly. The breeze picks up. Clouds creep into the darkening sky, threatening rain and fury. From behind you, far off, a car alarm sounds. You quicken your pace.
By the time you reach the front doors of The Province, you are once again soaked with sweat. You hate yourself and everyone you’ve ever met. Your mind drifts 23 floors up. You can imagine it all now. All of Gregory’s rich friends, laughing at the fat guy that’s stretching out his sweaty tee-shirt. You lean into the lobby doors when a doorman suddenly swings them open. You nearly fall, catching yourself on the slick obsidian wall beside you. The doorman takes you in with one sweep of his dark eyes.
“Welcome to The Province, sir.”
You mumble a reply and stroll past him, embarrassment coloring your cheeks. You hazard a look around the lobby. Red carpets. Great pillars, branded with The Province logo. A roaring fireplace and a tall, slender figure in front it. He turns slowly, turning his gaze to you just as you reach the elevator. You reach out and mash the up button repeatedly. That same uneasy feeling of familiarity hits you again. Something about the way the man is standing. His suit. His hair. If only you’d seen his face…
The elevator door opens with a pleasant ding. You step inside, not turning around until the doors close. You resist the urge to sigh in relief. You’re here. You might be a second late, but at least you made it. You watch the analog display above the doors as it rapidly ticks through the numbers before settling on 23. You snap your fingers impatiently while you wait for the doors to open. When they do, you practically sprint out.
Thankfully, Gregory’s apartment is right beside the elevator. From the second you step out into the hallway, you can hear the murmur of conversation through the walls. You walk over to the door and attempt to smooth out your shirt. A light behind you flickers. As you raise your hand to knock on the door, it suddenly swings open. Standing in the doorframe is Robert Fines. He grins wildly and snatches up your hand in a vigorous shake.
“Hey! You’re here!”
He pulls you inside. Gregory’s apartment is packed. Every inch of the living room is overcrowded with people of all different ages, some you recognize, some you don’t. Some techno-trash music thumps through the crowd, pumping out the open door behind you. Robert, who is probably 20 years older than anyone else in the room, takes a swing out of an oversized martini glass. His eyes are glossy and his teeth are red.
“You’re looking for Gregory right?”
Robert scans over the crowd. You do the same, gaping at all the people. The Eldritch Film Club was usually five or six people gathered around Gregory’s massive TV, watching Dagon or Into the Mouth of Madness for the thousandth time. This is a party.
“There he is! There he is!”
Robert shoves you, hard, and you bump into a gaggle of teenagers crowded in front of you. You apologize as you right yourself, looking to see where Robert had pointed. Gregory, tall, blonde, and well-dressed, has already spotted you. The teenagers’ part for him and your old friend suddenly has his arm around your shoulder.
“Good! You made it!”
You shrug him off. You can’t help but feel ticked off. The EFC was for serious horror fans. Not for all these strangers.
“What’s with all these people, Gregory?”
The room's enormous television set blinks to life, bathing the orgy of people on the floor in blue light. They cheer and raise their beers.
“Robert brought them!”
“Yeah. Fine. But who are they?”
“All these kids! The ones smoking pot right over there!”
Gregory is grinning, though his eyes are heavy. Something is wrong. You know that now.
“Most of them are Robert’s students. I think.”
That answer checks out. Robert was a professor at some local university, though you can’t remember which one.
“What happened to keeping the Club small? To avoid letting douchebag fanboys in?”
Gregory is nodding but you can tell he isn’t listening.
“Yeah. Yeah! I get ya’. I do. But this is good! Robert has a special movie tonight.”
Gregory opens his mouth to respond but the crowd behind you is screaming again. You spin, ready to scream right back at them. Robert is in front of the crowd, by the TV, grinning. His lips are stained. His hands raise up toward the ceiling, fingers spread wide.
The movie has begun.
There is no menu. No titles. Only images. They flash on the massive screen. You think, as the screen changes, that this must be some kind of experimental thing. Shot on the cheap by one of Robert’s film students, real avant-garde. The lights have dimmed around you. The rowdy crowd has gone funeral silent. You try and make sense of the imagery. You try and attach meaning to it all. A woman in a white room, her skin pale. The corners of the room go taunt. She turns and blinks at you, her eyes speeding up, faster and faster. A cleaver lurches into a skull, the victim’s head jolting with the force. A man behind a mirror, a man that looks like you, reaches through the silvery surface, his fingers dripping obsidian. Winds howl past a dead tree. The man on the bus licks at your throat. A blackened ocean writhes. Writhes. Words are being chanted through the swollen air, hanging to the sharp sky. The nonsense syllables rise in volume, guttural spits of an alien language that descends from stars far beyond these. Something is breaking the water’s surface. Something massive. A shape. Rising. Folds upon folds rise toward a moonless night, spreading wide.
The crowd is pressing in around you. Every person is as still as the stars. You hear screams, but they’re coming from within, from the part of your soul that is still hanging on. The film cuts to the lobby of The Province, to that same fireplace. A girl with too many heads crawls out of the flames, howling. The audio is deafening. The carpet pulls itself from the floor, designs morphing into nightmarish visages before your very eyes. The lights of beyond flicker. The man in the suit turns his head. A woman’s severed head screams from a surgical tray. Music is playing somewhere. Flutes. The sound is maddening. The film has become your life. It’s being dissected, one cut at a time. This time, when the man turns to look at you, you see his face.
11: 59 P.M.
The film doesn’t end. Not in any real sense. The seconds roll into eons. You feel yourself change with the scenes, flickering further and further away from where you’d stood all that time ago.
When the screen does cut to black and that maddening flute music ends, everyone in the room is different. Except for you. You’re not different. But, none of this surprises you.
After all. You’ve seen all of this before.
Welcome to The Eldritch Film Club.