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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. 

This story is a nostalgic look at the British cinema industry from the 1960s to the big changes when cinema exhibition abandoned film and converted to digital in the years following 2010.

it follows the fortune of three characters, each of whom starts in the business during different eras and describes how they cope with an ever changing workplace.

Last Reels - 9. A Ghost from the Past



During her second week of training, something unexpected happened. It was early evening; a short break between houses. She had just sat down for a cup of tea and something to eat when the house phone rang. ‘Can you come downstairs, Cat. There’s someone here to see you.’

She wondered who it could be and wished they could have left it for another ten minutes so that she’d had a chance to rest her feet.

‘I won’t be long,’ she said to Alfie, and went down to the foyer.

She recognised him even before she walked through the inner doors. He was thinner than the last time she’d seen him and tanned, of course. ‘James!’ she called out. ‘When did you get back?’

He turned to meet her and grabbed her in a bear hug, whirling her round the foyer. It was a good job there weren’t any customers about; it was bad enough in front of Gina and Jimmy. ‘Put me down,’ she hissed in his ear. He took the hint.

‘Sorry. Just glad to see you again. My flight only landed at lunchtime. Your dad said you were working here now.’

‘So, how long are you back for?’ She led him through the doors to the foot of the circle stairs. At least they weren’t in full view there.

‘Well, that’s it…’ he paused. ‘I’m back to stay. I’ve had enough of travelling. I’ve decided to settle down and get a “proper job” as my parents would say.’

‘This isn’t the greatest time for that. The country’s in the middle of a recession. I got made redundant last year.’

‘Yeah. I was surprised to hear you were back in the cinema again.’

‘It’s a long story. I’ll tell you all about it some time, but I need to get back to work now. Give me a call tomorrow. I’m off then.’ She was all too aware of her congealing dinner and the need to lace up screen three fairly soon.

‘Um, well. I needed to ask you a favour.’

Typical James. ‘Oh yes, and what’s that?’

‘I need somewhere to stay. Just until I sort things out. A few days, maybe?’

‘What about your parents’ house?’

He shook his head. ‘They’re having an extension built. It’s a mess. There’s no room.’

‘Your brother’s?’

‘He’s just got a new girlfriend. He doesn’t want me there, getting in the way.’

‘So you want to stay at mine?’

He gave her a roguish smile. ‘You don’t mind, do you?’

‘There’s not much room. You’ll have to sleep on the sofa.’

He looked as if he was about to protest at that. Cat wondered if she was being cruel. But she didn’t want to sleep with him again and she hadn’t asked him to come back, so that was his problem, not hers.

After a few seconds he finally said. ‘Well, as long as I’ve got somewhere to put my head down I’ll be happy. You won’t even know I’m there.’

‘I will,’ she said. ‘You snore loud enough to wake the dead.’ She checked her watch again. ‘Just wait here and I’ll get the keys.’

Her mind was whirling as she raced back upstairs. What was she doing? Letting James back into her life would make things complicated. But she couldn’t leave him to sleep on the street, could she?

‘Everything all right?’ Alfie asked when she got back to the staff room.

‘Sort of. It’s an old friend. I just need to give him these.’ She waved the keys she’d dug out of her bag.

Alfie looked a bit puzzled.

‘He’s got nowhere to stay – just got back from travelling.’

‘Don’t forget screen three.’ The end sequence was already shrilling its insistent tone, audible even through the closed door. It would carry on until she got there and silenced it.

‘I won’t. I’m on the way now.’

Having given James the keys and pointed him in the right direction, she carried on with her work. On her way back upstairs, Jimmy stopped her.

‘Is that your boyfriend?’

‘He was once,’ she said. ‘We split up a few years ago.’

‘You looked happy enough to see him again.’ He grinned.

‘Well, I’ve worried about him. He’s been all over the place; Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam.’

‘Vietnam? In the war, like The Deerhunter?’

‘I think that finished about ten years ago. Anyway, got to go now.’ Being a projectionist meant you always had a good excuse to get away from Jimmy.

It wasn’t easy, having James staying at her flat. By the time she got home that night, he’d already taken over a large part of the living room. Her day off was wasted by having to clean out the filter on her washing machine when a load of his filthy clothing blocked it up. She also felt obliged to make him a meal after he mentioned how he’d longed for English home cooked food while he’d been sweating in the Tropics. As expected, he snored badly, keeping her awake. Going back to work seemed like a rest.

The next morning, Alfie set her in front of a spool of old trailers at the bench. ‘Now it’s time to learn the art of rewinding. You’ll need to be able to check adverts and trailers on the bench, as well as the individual reels of film before they get put together and run on the cakestand. Hold the handle with your right hand, and put the fingers of your left hand on the edges of the film.’

She did as instructed. It felt strange.

‘Now, you need to start turning the handle, nice and slowly.’

As she did, the film jumped out from between her fingers and ended up in a messy pile on the bench before she managed to stop the winder. ‘What did I do wrong?’

‘You might have been holding it a bit too gently.’

She tried again. As she started to wind, the friction caused by the edges of the film burned her fingers. ‘Ow!’

Alfie laughed. ‘That’s better. The faster you go, the more it hurts until your fingers harden up, so keep it slow. And watch the spool you’re winding it on to. There shouldn’t be any proud edges if it’s done right.’

She carried on, concentrating hard.

‘So how’s your young man?’

That took her by surprise. She stopped again and ended up with another mess of film. ‘He’s not my “young man”. I’m just helping him out.’

‘Ah.’ Alfie helped her to sort out the film. ‘Jimmy’s been telling everyone you’re an item.’

‘Oh, great. I told him the other night that James wasn’t my boyfriend.’ She felt as if she should explain further. ‘We were together, briefly when we were both at college, but that’s long over.’ Could she ever explain to Alfie she didn’t want a boyfriend any more? Or that she never had, really.

‘You’d best have a word with him, then. He likes to spread gossip.’

‘Don’t worry, I will.’

‘Now, have another go.’

That morning, she wound and rewound until her right arm ached and her fingers felt as if they were about to spontaneously combust. She wondered if she’d end up with a muscly right arm and a puny left one from all the winding.

Two weeks passed and James still inhabited her living room. The flat no longer felt like home. Prior to his arrival, she’d been able to relax on her days off and even do a bit of painting, but there was no chance of that now. Because he didn’t have a car meant that she had to keep ferrying him around. Well, she didn’t have to, but he had a way of persuading her.

‘I need to go over to Mike’s today. Any chance of scrounging a lift?’

She hadn’t intended going out. ‘Where does he live?’

‘Just the other side of town.’

She sighed. ‘We do have buses in this country, James.’

‘Yeah, but they’re expensive. And I’m not earning anything yet. He’s going to see if he can get me a job with his dad’s firm.’

‘Oh well, I suppose so.’ The sooner he got a job, the sooner he might be able to rent a place of his own.

‘Cheers, Cat. I don’t know what I’d do without you.’

Over the next few weeks, Cat learned about not just film handling and presentation, but how to clean the pump filters, change drive belts on the air handling units and top up the secondary lighting batteries with distilled water. Alfie mended everything from ice cream trays and poster frames to the office kettle. Cat helped him to put up new shelves in the stockroom and climbed through ceiling voids unrolling cable for the soon to be installed computerised ticketing system. After one busy weekend, they spent most of Monday morning unblocking the drains. It wasn’t quite what she had expected, but it was varied and most of it (apart from the drain rodding) was enjoyable.

The job offer didn’t materialise, so James was still moping around the flat. Cat had managed to persuade him to go and sign on. At least he was getting the dole now and going to the Jobcentre a couple of times a week to look for work. The rest of the time, he seemed to spend entertaining friends.

It was after one hectic Thursday when they had a lot of film changes that she got home to find the flat stinking of dope. There was nothing left in the fridge for her to eat and greasy pizza boxes were scattered around the floor. She dumped her bag down and glared at the little group sprawled over her sofa.

‘That’s it,’ she said. ‘I’ve had enough.’

James and his friends exchanged glances. One of them started to giggle.

‘And you can shut up!’ she said. ‘This is my home. It looks like a pigsty. And it stinks in here. My neighbours will probably get high just climbing the stairs.’

‘Sorry, Cat,’ James said, giving her that ‘dejected little boy’ look that had worked for him in the past.

‘Are you? Are you really?’ She turned and slammed the kitchen door behind her, then cracked open a bottle of Shiraz. At least they hadn’t started on her wine. She took a drink and wondered if she was being unreasonable. Her tone of voice had reminded her horribly of her mother just then.

She heard voices and the sound of the front door closing. A few moments later, James opened the kitchen door.

‘They’ve gone,’ he said.

She sighed. ‘I didn’t mean to go on like that. I’ve had a hard day at work.’

‘I wish I could do something to help.’ He moved closer and put an arm around her.

She wanted to throw it off, but restrained herself. ‘You can, by finding somewhere else to live. This place is too small for two people.’

‘Maybe we could get somewhere bigger. Together.’ He pulled her closer.

This time, she did move away. ‘Look James, we aren’t in a relationship any more. I don’t want to live with you. I’m quite content on my own at the moment.’ She took a breath and steadied her voice, aware she was becoming angry again. ‘I was happy to help you out when you got back, but it’s been almost a month now.’

‘I can give you some money towards the bills, if that’s what this is about.’

‘No, it’s not. I just want my home back.’ Perhaps his friends could put him up, she wanted to add, but didn’t.

‘Okay, okay. I’ll see what I can do.’

As her experience increased, Alfie left her to run the mini screens alone. Paul had booked a week’s holiday, so there would be a couple of days when she’d have to work with a relief projectionist. ‘Just carry on the way you’ve been going and you’ll have no problems.’

On the following Tuesday, she arrived early to meet the relief. He was a fat little man with a combover hairstyle covering his bald patch. ‘I’ll look after screen one if you can manage the minis,’ he said, before making his way into the staff room. She put her bag in its usual place and tried to start a conversation. ‘It must be interesting going around to all the different cinemas.’

He sat down heavily in the only comfy chair. ‘It pays well.’ He took a magazine out of his bag. ‘You’d best get downstairs and open up, hadn’t you?’

She checked her watch. ‘There’s plenty of time.’ She had been going to have a brew before she started. That was the usual routine, but it was clear she wasn’t wanted up here so she left him to it.

She got the projectors cleaned and laced up, replaced a few lamps in the foyer and toilets and still had twenty minutes to go before the doors were due to open. By then she was gasping for a cup of tea and something to eat. There was nothing for it but to go back upstairs.

He was still sitting in the same chair, filling in a crossword puzzle. The floor was speckled with biscuit crumbs. A film transit case propped the door open. She saw from the label it contained Mona Lisa which needed to be made up.

He looked up briefly. ‘Capital of Chile. Do you know it?’


‘Four across. Eight letters. Capital of Chile.’

‘Er... Santiago I think.’

‘That’ll fit.’ He filled it in, his pencil scratching the page.

She made her tea, and got the Tupperware box out of her rucksack. Normally, she’d eat up here, where there was some daylight and fresh air. Downstairs in the mini box, it was stuffy and there was only a plastic chair to sit on. The silence deepened. She was obviously not welcome, unless he got stuck again. She ate her sandwiches on one of the Lloyd loom sofas in the upper foyer, feeling as if she had been banished from her natural environment.

When she came back five hours later for dinner, he was in the same place. So was the film. ‘Shall I make that up?’ she asked.

‘If you want,’ he muttered. ‘No hurry, is there? It’s not playing until Friday.’

‘We usually make up films as soon as they come in, so we can run them through and check them.’

He sighed heavily and folded his paper. ‘No one cares any more. Not the manager, not the company, no one. You’ll realise that in a few years’ time, but by then it’ll be too late.’

‘Too late?’

‘Once you’ve been in this trade a while, you’re stuck. Cinema is all you know.’

‘I like it,’ she protested.

‘That’s not much help if they shut the place, is it? I give it ten years, tops. It might see me out, and Alfie too, but don’t count on having a job for life.’

She took the film downstairs and made it up anyway.

Having survived two days with the relief (to whom she had given the name Mr Doom and Gloom), it was good when things went back to normal again. Alfie started to let her run all three screens alone, as this was the best way of getting her ready for the day she went on shift.

She still had the safety net of knowing he was on site, but had to deal with any problems that arose. The most common and easy to fix were film breaks. The tape joins between adverts occasionally failed, even though they were checked on the bench when the new week’s adverts came in. Despite the pressure to get the show back on, you had to be careful to cut and splice the film correctly so it was the right way round when it went back on screen.

Things were slightly better at home now. James had made an effort to keep the place tidy and if he invited friends around, they were always gone by the time she got back from work. He was also taking his job search more seriously and had some interviews lined up. Hopefully, he’d charm his way into one of them and would soon be in a position to move out.

Copyright © 2022 Mawgrim; All Rights Reserved.
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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. 

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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An ex as a houseguest is not a good idea for anyone.  It's difficult having friends crash for a night, but long term guests that impose and create chaos are the worst.  I do feel sorry for Cat, but she should have set some rules and maximum length of stay from their first day sharing her house.  Hope the idiot is gone very soon.  Dejected little boy eyes should only work for the young and innocent!  I'm glad Cat was pissed off enough to call James on his actions.

Edited by raven1
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James needs to move. Perhaps it is time for Cat to come out. 1986 was a different Era though. I remember grappling with my own sexuality just having finished high school then. 

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