Popcorn.

WARNING: This is not about Brazil.

This is a short story I started writing on April 1st 2010, and never finished.  I just ran across it when I remembered I had an account at 750Words.com and was poking around in there to see what I was writing about back then.  I didn’t even remember I’d started it, but I liked it so much I decided to take a crack at finishing it.  Hope you like it.

Popcorn
“But I don’t have any cash,” the boy mumbled.
“You don’t need any cash. Just follow me, and do what I do. Ok?” said the older one.
“But,” the younger boy whispered, “isn’t it illegal?”
“You wanna see it, don’t you? You came down here with me and said you wanted to see it. You’re not chickening out now, are you? Are you some chicken little baby now? You know, I don’t like hanging around with babies. Want me to take you home, baby?” The older boy glared at the younger one, derision dripping from his words like venom from a cobra. The masterful barrage of mockery worked perfectly. Just as expected, the answer: “Fuck you, Evan. I’m not a stupid baby. Quit sayin I’m a baby!”

“Well alright then! Way to man up, Jakob!” replied Evan, smiling through slitted eyes and slapping the younger boy on the back heartily. “Let’s go. Just remember, stay quiet, look like you belong there and follow along.”

Jakob watched as Evan peered around the corner of the brick wall. They’d been hanging out at the soda shop down the street for a few hours, staring at girls and imagining what it would be like to kiss them, when Evan had cracked this plan. Jakob had just mentioned that he wanted to see one, and wouldn’t it be great if they could, not really thinking that it would ever happen. His family didn’t have the money for that kind of thing. They weren’t that poor, but his parents sure had to cut out all but the strictest of necessities. They said it was for the war effort, but Jakob didn’t know anything about that.  And extravagances like these, he’d dreamed of it, lying in his room late at night, gazing out his bedroom window and pretending he was there. He would lie in his bed and watch the hazy dream images of his young imagination dance before him, but he’d never had the guts to try and go by himself. And he certainly couldn’t come up with the money to pay for it; his parents didn’t allow him to work because of the asthma. So when he mentioned it, when Evan had gotten the look in his eye, and was so sure of the plan and its success, he’d gotten carried away in the hope that this would work. And he had Evan to give him the courage to try.

He followed Evan around the corner and down the alley. There was a single green dumpster, and a metal door hiding next to it with a sign that said “Employees Only”. The dumpster smelled of rancid butter, and there was an odd colored liquid dripping from one corner. It ribboned down the alley a few feet, shiny and multicolored, before disappearing into a drain in the center of the way. It smelled like caramel, sugary sweet, but mixed with the cloying stench of rot and piss.  Real life stink, thought Jakob. He tried breathing through his mouth, but the smell still crept into his unguarded nostrils. Evan was frantically whispering at him and waving him over. “Come here you little pipsqueak, you’ll get us caught!” he whispered loudly in Jakob’s direction.  Jakob crept up to him, and Evan grabbed his shoulders.  His grip was tight. “I told you to follow me and do as I say, or I’m leavin!”  He thought he could feel the sweat from Evan’s hands seeping into his shirt, the tension and fear transmitting like an electrical current from the older boy. He was shaking Jakob by the shoulders and glaring at him, waiting for a sign that Jakob was back on the payroll and ready to follow wherever Evan lead.  Jakob nodded, his own fear starting to crawl up his insides and claw at his heart, his intestines.

Evan whispered again, quieter. “Ok. I’m gonna open the door and poke my head in first. If the coast is clear, I’ll wave you in behind me. When we go in you gotta act like you belong there, ok? Anyone thinks we look suspicious, they’ll start askin questions and we’ll be hauled out on our asses for sure. Got it?” Jakob nodded again. Evan stared into his face hard for another second, and then nodded back. “Alright. Let’s do this.”

And it all happened just like that.  Well, at first.  Evan slowly cracked open the door just enough to get an eyeball into the interior, then slowly opened it up a little more.  Jakob was holding his breath, trying to ignore the boiling fear that was cooking his bowels into a frothing stew. He could feel his lungs starting to revolt.  No, no nonononono not now! he thought in desperation, but the tightening in his chest could only mean that his lungs were staging a mutiny on this adventure, his medicine left on his bureau at home.  He’d thought he would only be gone for a few minutes.  He closed his eyes and forced himself to breath slowly, evenly, despite the increasing tension in his chest and the rising panic in his throat. Slowly, the tension eased, and he sighed with relief.  He opened his eyes, and saw Evan just turning to wave him in, the door ajar a scant few inches.

Evan whispered harshly “Get in get in quick! I’m right behind you!” and shoved Jakob through the open door.

Jakob stumbled into the hallway.  He fell to his hands and knees for a moment, the feel of thick carpet cushioning the fall.  For a split moment, his hands gloried in the luxurious feel of the floor, before he rose to his feet again.  He glanced behind him and saw Evan slipping through the doorway like a shadow, the dim light barely glinting in his eyes, which were all upon him.  He turned and faced the hallway.  It was full of people, adults and children, their hands gripped tightly in those of their parents; yet it was strangely muted, the low voices of people speaking in murmurs, the soft carpeting and thick walls soaking up the sounds.  It’s like being underwater, Jakob thought.  As he gazed at the scene, Evan came up behind and shoved him forward again.  ”Quit gawking, dammit!” he whispered harshly in his ear.  Evan stumbled again, and the motion caught the eye of a man in a strange sort of uniform, red with gold trimming.  Jakob thought he was a soldier, but he’d never seen any of the other soldiers wearing a uniform like that.  The man walked over to them, a dark look in his eye.  Evan was whispering “fuck fuck fuck!” and glancing to left and right in panic.  Jakob felt the fear and panic rise from his belly again, gripping his throat and squeezing his chest.  Like he really was underwater, and the water was rushing into his lungs with the force of a tidal wave, forcing out his air with a rush.  He grasped at his throat and fell to his knees, gasping for breath.  Help, he whispered…or maybe he only thought it?  Help me…  He thought he heard the sounds of a woman’s voice nearby.

“My goodness what’s wrong with this boy! Mr. Chichester, did you see what happened?”

“I’m sure I didn’t, Mrs. Katz.  I thought they may have been sneaking in to watch one of the films, and I…”

“And you scared the poor boy to death!  Does he look like a hoodlum from the streets?  I’m sure his parents are here somewhere.  Please, do go look for them.”

“Eh, certainly, madam.  Come, boy.  Let’s see if your parents are here as well, shall we?” Jakob heard the sounds of Evan protesting. “I shall return shortly.”

Lying on that soft plush carpeting, he heard the woman’s now soothing voice saying “Just lie and rest for a moment, my dear.  There, look, your color’s coming back now, isn’t it?  There’s a good boy.”  Jakob felt the tightness gradually leave his chest once more.  Why did he ever leave the house without his medicine?  He gasped out “Th-thank you miss.  I’ve got the asthma, see, and I left home without…” She tutted at him.  ”Shhh, the attack has passed now, hasn’t it?  Just lie here a few moments more.  This theatre belongs to my husband, you see, although he’s off helping with the war effort, of course.”  Her eyes grew far off, for a moment.  ”He’s in Africa, last I heard.  The stories he tells! But then, he always did love a good story.”  She smiled down at him.  ”I, uh, think I can stand now, miss.”  He slowly rose to his feet.  Her smile grew wider.  ”Lovely!  Now, tell me the truth dear.  Did you sneak into the theatre without paying, or are you parents here with you?”  Jakob took in a deep breath.  She was so kind.  Would she call the police, have him arrested if he told the truth?  His whisper was barely audible.  ”I snuck in, miss.”  He looked up at her again. “But…I’ve never seen a movie, not ever.  I dream of going to the theatre every night!  I mean…everything always turns out right in the end, in the movies.  Don’t they?”  He paused, feeling ashamed, feeling desperate to have come so close, to end up here.  ”I just wanted to see if my dreams are real.  Are you….are you going to arrest me?”  He dropped his gaze to the floor, afraid of the answer.

The woman was silent for a few moments.  Jakob closed his eyes, and sighed, his head dropping even lower.  ”My husband always loved a good story, did I mention?”, the woman said finally.  ”When he was a boy, he used to sneak in to the theatre to watch the westerns.  That’s how we met, you know.”  Jakob gaze rose to meet hers, her eyes twinkling with laughter.