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    Mawgrim
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Hidden Secrets - 5. Seven of Cups

Don’t let yourself get caught up in flights of fancy.

'I've been thinking quite a lot about this,' said Cynthia. 'Firstly, why is the well so important? In terms of the past, I mean, not the problems it's causing today.’

'Maurice didn't want me to know about it. He was really bothered that he'd let it slip. But what stuck in my mind was his insistence someone else had told him to say nothing about it.’

'And is that it?’

'Well, yes. Everything else is supposition. The first time I walked down through the stalls I sensed there was something there. Turns out that's exactly where the well is.’

'You dowsed without instruments, you mean?’

‘Unlikely as it seems, yes. Except…'

'What?' she asked.

It was all right, I told myself. Cynthia understood. She wouldn't laugh at my hunches. 'When the rods crossed on that spot, my first thought was "Bingo! Water!" The more I thought about it, the more obvious it seemed. But what I felt there, from the first time I walked over the spot, was more like the feeling you get when there's a presence. Something watching, you know?’

She nodded. 'I know the feeling well. It's like a dog's hackles standing up.’

'I always associate it with places that are haunted. Not with water. Not with dowsing. That's something else entirely.’

'So what's your conclusion?’

I sighed. I was still reluctant to say it out loud to anyone else. 'That I dowsed for water, and found a ghost. Or... a body. And to be honest, I don't know if I can believe my own hunches, because of all the stuff I've been imagining. All the things we talked about last night, about the sort of objects people might want to hide under a cinema. Murder weapons, bodies…'

'You're too involved to see clearly. Is that what you mean?’

'That's it. And the other thing is, I feel as if I'm becoming obsessed with it.' I did, too. After only a few days of working at the cinema, my main concern was to find out about a possible murder thirty years ago. It was almost as if something external was driving me to it.

'So you're basically worried your imagination is conjuring rabbits out of thin air?’

'More or less. I need evidence. I need proof.' To me, that sounded exactly like the sort of thing Cliff would have said.

'Then we need to do some more searching.’

'I can help tomorrow. I’m not at work.’

That night, I dreamed about the cinema. I was backstage, running through the maze of corridors. Someone was chasing me. I couldn't see the man, but could hear him. He had a gun. Several times he fired shots, once close enough a piece of concrete chipped off the wall near to my head. I ran up a flight of stairs, climbing higher and higher, until finally I was up on the roof. Frantically, I closed the trapdoor I'd climbed through, fastening the bolt and looking for things to pile up on top of it to stop him getting through. I piled several film transit cases, a couple of spools and the comfy chair from the staffroom on top of it. Bullets whizzed through all of them. Pieces of film, stuffing from the chair and choking dust flew into the air. All of a sudden, I realised there was another way down; a fire escape ladder attached to the back wall of the building. It was old, rusty and rather rickety. I have always hated ladders of that type, but I knew I would have to use it to get away.

The ground seemed a long way down as I began to climb. Each time I put my foot on a rung, I felt it lurch and the supports pulled a little bit further out from the wall. I heard more shots from above and looked up to see a huge man silhouetted against the sky. He began shooting at me. Several bullets hit the ladder and it began to break away from its anchoring supports. I wondered when he would run out of bullets and sure enough, the next time he pulled the trigger there was only a click. Enraged, he threw the gun off the roof. Why do people always do that in films, I wondered? Even if they don't have any ammunition right now, that doesn't mean they'll never be able to use the gun again. It always seems a bit pointless, not to mention wasteful. I'm sure guns aren't cheap.

All of these thoughts passed through my mind in a second as I hung on to the ladder, not daring to move. I looked down at the ground. It seemed as far away as ever. The ladder gave a frightening lurch. Bits of rusty metal fell into my hair and face. The man stamped at the top rungs, trying to use his weight to make it give way. I knew any second he would succeed and I was going to fall.

They say that if you fall in a dream and actually hit the ground, you will die in your sleep. I don't know if it's true or not, because I woke up just as the ladder began to swing outwards from the wall into empty air. My arms and legs were all tied up in the duvet, which had become tangled around me. My heart was racing as hard as if I'd actually been running and climbing. It had been so real I didn't want to start thinking about it, or analysing what it had meant.

Cliff never had bad dreams, or if he did, he never admitted to them. The few times I had a nightmare when we were living together, he was always baffled.

'You've been eating too much cheese,' he'd say. Or, 'It must have been that awful film you watched before you came to bed.' Cliff always had to find an explanation. Nothing happened by chance in his world.

I set off for the library in the morning, feeling oddly relieved not to be going to the cinema. While I was still keen to find out as much as I could, I was free of that overwhelming obsession now I had been away from the building for a while.

There was no computer at Cynthia's house. She refused to buy one as she was afraid the temptation of being able to go online whenever she felt like it would turn her into an Internet addict. 'A couple of times a week in the library is all that I need,' she said. 'And let's face it, a computer is just another complicated and expensive piece of technology to go wrong.’

Not for the first time, I considered trading in my old Nokia 3310 for a smartphone. It would be useful to be able to look things up online. I supposed I could get my own laptop too. I’d always used Cliff’s in the past and since the accident, I’d done without. Maybe in a couple of months, when I had some more money in the bank, I’d think about it.

The local library was a heavy Victorian edifice of red brick and small windows. It had the smell I associated with the library of my childhood; a dusty, dry combination of age and accumulated knowledge.

Cynthia was right; there was an extensive local history section, but it was all much too general to be of any use to me. I waited my turn on one of the computers and unfolded the paper on which I had made notes beforehand.

Firstly I searched for the cinema and town name. As expected, the first ten entries on the page were mostly listing what was on this week, where to find the cinema and film reviews.

I added '1975' to the line. Most of those search results were links to sites about the bands who had played in that year, presumably before the tripling took place. I already knew about the Beatles, but I was surprised to read some of the other names who had once performed on that stage; Dr Feelgood, Status Quo, Hawkwind and Bob Marley. All interesting stuff, but not relevant to my own search, so I deleted '1975' and put in ‘managers'.

All that brought up were a few entries on conference facilities in the town, plus a reference to English Heritage and the cinema listing process. Not a lot of use.

For a couple of minutes I sat and stared at the screen, as if doing so might suddenly bring the answer to me. Search engines are a useful tool, but you have to know exactly what you are searching for. 'Tripling' brought up nothing at all. 'Murder' brought a link to a rant in which a fan of the old super cinemas complained that corporate greed led to the deliberate murder of his darlings, with some wonderful descriptions of what he termed 'butchery of the highest order’.

I had now spent a fruitless half an hour and was very conscious my time online was running out. What on earth could I try next? Well, it was the past I wanted to find out about, and the past is history, so that was a possibility. I left the cinema name, and added ‘history’ to the search box.

The very first entry, right at the top of the page, led to the kind of site that is an absolute gem. Created by a cinema enthusiast, it carried the history of about thirty cinemas in the Midlands, with pictures and links to other sites. It gave me all the information Cynthia had found previously, confirming when the building was tripled. It also provided details of every band who had ever played, every pantomime staged there and the names of actors who had starred in the performances. There were a couple of superb pictures of the Regal in its former glory, with both daylight and night-time exterior shots. I printed them both off.

I glanced at the clock. I'd spent nearly ten minutes on the site and while I now had some lovely pictures of the cinema, I had nothing of what I'd come here for.

I skimmed the rest of the page, scrolling down through the continuing list of stars and events. Right at the end I found something useful; information about the Regal was provided by former chief projectionist George Whitaker. There was also an email address to contact the owner of the site. I quickly rattled off an email to him asking if he could put me in touch with George, stating that I was very interested in talking to him about the history of the Regal. After that, I found I had just over five minutes left. The girl who obviously had the next booking was hovering as close as she dared without seeming to be reading over my shoulder. There's a certain etiquette in library surfing; everyone pretends to be uninterested in what everyone else is looking at, even if they really are.

I scrolled back up the page again, in case I had missed anything - I hadn’t - then clicked on links, just in case anything further was to be found there. As soon as the page began to load I knew I would have to come back another time; there were so many potentially interesting sites to be checked out. I was so taken by many of them, I almost missed what turned out to be the jackpot of the day. With three minutes of my precious hour left, I found a link to cinema hauntings, and although the Regal wasn't mentioned by name, a hunch made me click on it.

The page that opened was in sombre shades of grey and black, with a grainy picture of an old cinema foyer in the top right hand corner. A misty shadow that might be a ghost, but was more likely the result of a few minutes editing in Photoshop, hovered on the dark stairway leading off to one side of the foyer. I quickly scanned the text in the left hand column.

Ask anyone who works in a cinema - even the newest, shiniest multiplex - and they will almost certainly tell you that the place is haunted. Why should this be? Here's one theory:

In a cinema auditorium, laughter or tears are evoked as the on-screen story weaves its spell over the audience. So what happens to all these emotions? It has been suggested they are absorbed by the bricks and mortar of the building, in the same way that heat is retained by a storage radiator. And given the right circumstances they may be released; experienced by the susceptible as uncanny sensations, strange noises or visions, half-glimpsed through shadow. Any cinema, whether old or new, contains a sense of vastness. I defy anyone to stand alone in a darkened auditorium, and not be awed by the towering height of the ceiling far above. Then they might notice that peculiar optical illusion of the screen becoming endlessly larger, and jump when the inevitable little cracks and creaks begin. And although we tell ourselves it's just the building settling down; the ordinary contraction of cooling materials and pipework, why does it feel as if someone - something - is there with us? Maybe because under normal conditions, a cinema is full of people, and this unnatural emptiness calls out for our minds to fill it.

Explanations given for cinema hauntings fall into various categories:

The cinema was built on land that used to be:

  1. A graveyard
  2. A plague pit during the Middle Ages
  3. Occupied by a big, creepy house with a reputation for hauntings and tragedy

The land has since been disturbed by:

  1. Further building work
  2. Fire, flood or other natural disaster

Someone died:

  1. During the building of the cinema
  2. Since it has opened - probably in some kind of traumatic accident
  3. Both

The supernatural phenomena started/have become worse since:

  1. Someone fooled around with a Ouija board in the staffroom
  2. The screening of a notorious horror movie (eg. The Exorcist)
  3. Someone sensitive or susceptible has been employed

How true, I thought. Many of the author's theories could apply in the case of the Regal. The big old house, rumoured to be haunted; the building work disturbing the ground. A death; one known, one supposed. As for someone sensitive or susceptible, well, I suppose I would have to put myself into that category.

The girl behind me gave a little cough, just to make sure I knew she was there. I glanced over my shoulder and gave her a quick smile. 'I'm almost done.’

She began to unpack her notes and pens, putting them down beside mine, thereby asserting her right to the computer.

That was when I saw the link I needed. Hauntings in the Midlands. Lo and behold, the Regal was listed as one of the cinemas with a story. As soon as the page had finished loading I hit print, then moved from the chair. 'It's all yours now.’

She glanced at the screen. I wondered if she would be disappointed or intrigued by the content.

'I'm studying cinema hauntings,' I said, by way of explanation. However, she wasn't at all interested in me now that her own hour had begun. Giving it up as a bad job, I collected my printouts, paid for them and went to sit down in a corner to peruse the story about the Regal.

TIME SLIPS IN CINEMAS

There have been a few incidents which could come under this heading, but one of the strangest was this one, recounted by assistant manager Trevor Godfrey and reported in the Mercury, dated March 21st 1975.

Mr Godfrey, who had been employed by the company for three years, lived in one of the cinema flats, situated above the stage. The other flat was empty and had been so for some time. In light of what he was about to experience, it is not difficult to imagine why that might have been the case.

'I'd been out visiting a friend,' Mr Godfrey recounted to the reporter. 'And no, we hadn't been drinking anything stronger than coffee. I let myself in through the backstage door of the cinema at about eleven thirty in the evening. All the performances had finished about an hour beforehand and I knew everyone would have gone home.

'Imagine my surprise when I heard noises from the auditorium. I could see a light flickering through the curtains. I wasn't sure quite what to do at first. I thought someone might have broken in and be up to no good. I was a bit worried about confronting them in case I was outnumbered. But I didn't know what else to do. The phone was in the office, at the other end of the cinema and I'd have to go through the auditorium to get to it anyway, so that was no use. The nearest public call box I knew of was a quarter of a mile away and I didn't want to leave the building in case the burglars ran off while I was gone. So I took a deep breath, picked up an old fire extinguisher to use as a weapon and stepped out onto the stage.

'There was someone there, all right. The entire auditorium was packed with people, both in the circle and the stalls. They were all looking in the direction of the screen and they didn't seem to notice me at all. For a moment I wondered if I'd been mistaken about the time, then I looked up at the screen and saw the film was in black and white. I knew we were showing a colour film that week. And then I noticed that all the people were wearing really old fashioned clothes and hats too. I could see the backs of the seats through their bodies.

That's when I realised I was looking at an auditorium full of ghosts. Let me tell you, I dropped the fire extinguisher and ran as fast as I could up to my flat. I locked and bolted the door, and didn't set foot outside until the next morning.’

Did Trevor Godfrey really see 'an auditorium full of ghosts'? Or did he have a glimpse through to another time; a time in which he might have been taken as a ghost himself?

I read through it a second time, putting myself in the hapless assistant's place. Nowadays, of course, he would simply have called the police on his mobile. On reflection, it was probably a good job for his sake mobile phones hadn't been invented back in the seventies. Imagine the embarrassment of having to explain all that to a couple of sceptical policemen. I also wondered if he'd found other accommodation following his experience. I had only briefly seen inside the two flats during the tour with Colin and they had been a depressing sight, with peeling wallpaper and begrimed mirrors. No one could have lived in them for years.

After finding out such exciting stuff, I wanted to surf again. There might be other reports of hauntings, either on the same site or another. I found it interesting that the witness had also been in the vicinity of the stage end, although not exactly on the spot where I always sensed something weird. And the witness himself was an important discovery. Assuming his supernatural adventure hadn't convinced him to look for other employment, Trevor Godfrey might well have been working at the Regal while the cinema was tripled.

Then there was George Whitaker, who had provided the information for the history page. He must have been the next chief following the unpleasant Jack. Again, talking to - or emailing - him might clear up a few details. I could hardly wait.

When I arrived back at the house I heard low voices coming from Cynthia's study, so went straight to the kitchen. Nipper was sitting in his basket, the very image of a sad, abandoned dog. He even gave a little whine as I came in and his left ear pricked up quizzically.

'No, you're not getting any food,' I told him. 'Cynthia would kill me.’

He gave a doggy sigh and sank back down onto his front paws. His brown eyes shone wetly, following me around as I made a mug of tea and raided the biscuit barrel. By the time Cynthia came in, he had given me up as a bad job and long since fallen asleep.

'Did you find anything interesting?' she asked.

I passed the printout to her, watching as she scanned it.

'Goodness,' she said. 'Quite a tale. I wonder if it's true?’

'What do you mean?’

'Seeing one or two ghosts I can believe. Even hearing strange noises. But a whole auditorium full of them? I mean, it's not as if the cinema burned down with them all inside, is it?’

Cynthia ascribed to the theory that a traumatic incident was necessary to cause sufficient psychic energy for a haunting. 'You think he's exaggerating?’

‘Undoubtedly.'

'Unless it was a time slip, as the paper said.’

She perused the page again. 'There's something about this that doesn't quite ring true with me.’

'No trauma?’

'Well, there's that. But... aha!' She prodded the offending sentence. 'There it is. He could see the seats through their bodies. If it really was a time slip, then surely they'd be as solid as he was. And they should be able to see him, too.’

'I can see your point. But whether we're talking time slips or hauntings, aren't we deep into the realms of theory and supposition anyway? Who's to say he wasn't telling the truth, as he remembered it. You know how people embellish a story after a few tellings and I'm sure the paper didn't get wind of it right away. They might even have added some details to sex it up for their readers.’

Cynthia gave me what could only be described as a pained look. 'Must you use that dreadful expression?’

'Sorry. It's just everyone seems to be saying it at the moment.’

'Popularity is no excuse. I can't abide all of these worn out and unoriginal phrases people use. "At the end of the day", “thinking outside of the box.”’

'Okay, then. The paper tried to make the story more interesting. I mean, they're always making things up, aren't they?’

'Yes, but generally it's about the royal family or some minor celebrity. Even better if they can connect the two, preferably in something scandalous.’

'Did papers do that back in the nineteen-seventies? Local papers, I mean?’

'Newspapers have always done it. And of course, he may have been drinking.’

'He said he hadn't had anything stronger than coffee.’

Cynthia sniffed. 'In the words of another minor celebrity, "He would, wouldn't he?”'

'So you don't think this is very good evidence then?' I was a bit disappointed at her reaction.

'No, I didn't say that at all. It's not very good evidence as an account of an alleged haunting, but it tells you that someone was living in the cinema just before it was tripled and gives his name. Those facts are unlikely to be wrong.’

'I wonder if he was still there when the work began? I'll have to ask around.’

'Would he have stayed after such a frightening experience?’

'He might have given up the flat, I suppose. But if this area was as expensive then as it is now, maybe he couldn't afford anywhere else. Assistant managers have never been well paid, you know.’

Cynthia said nothing for a moment, then looked at me with a serious expression. 'Have you considered where this is going to end? I mean, if you can prove there’s a body under the cinema, never mind how it got there, then the authorities will have to be told. The police.’

I hadn't really thought that far ahead. 'I just need to find out, that's all. I need to do something.’

She nodded. 'I understand. I just wanted to be sure you knew what you were getting into. Because if there was a murder and the murderer got away with it, he won't want it dragged up now.’

'He may be thousands of miles away. He may be dead himself.’

'And he may be living just a few streets away. Just bear that in mind.’

Copyright © 2022 Mawgrim; All Rights Reserved.
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This story will update every Monday

Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Story Discussion Topic

It is with great sadness I must announce the death of Mawgrim, Promising Author on GA. He had been in declining health for some time and passed away on Christmas Day. Mawgrim worked for decades as a cinema projectionist before his retirement and was able to use this breadth of knowledge to his stories set in cinemas. He also gave us stories with his take on the World of Pern with its dragon riders. He will be greatly missed and our condolences go out to his friends, family, and his husband.
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Chapter Comments

Terry's dream is obviously important, either as a premonition of what will happen, or a more general warning that he will be in some sort of danger. 

Also, Cynthia is my new favorite character all because of this quote:

"Popularity is no excuse. I can't abide all of these worn out and unoriginal phrases people use." 

So true! 

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Terry hit the jackpot with his last search. I have to wonder if Trevor is still around.

If we are after a perp, they would have to be at least in their fifties by now or older.

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41 minutes ago, drpaladin said:

Terry hit the jackpot with his last search. I have to wonder if Trevor is still around.

If we are after a perp, they would have to be at least in their fifties by now or older.

Most of the people who worked front of house in the cinema back then would have been in their teens or twenties, so yes, they'd now be in their 50's or 60's. You'll find out more about Trevor in later chapters.

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More threads to a mystery that might lead Terry into a dangerous spot.  I love how the suspense is building. Research has only led to more things to research.

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1 hour ago, raven1 said:

Research has only led to more things to research.

That's so often the way!

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