To the movies

The mall complex was just as I remembered it. Sure, all the shops were unfamiliar brands, but the structure of the place hadn’t changed. I never paid much attention to the shops here anyway. Well, with the exception of the movie theater.

The giant, twelve-screen theater was right where I remembered it, surrounded by a sea of parking. It towered over me as I rode my bike up to the empty bike rack and locked it up.

I was a bit nervous about leaving the bike there. I’d just got the thing, after all. I shook that off. I had a decent lock and the fact that the bike wasn’t expensive made me think it would be fine. I left it there and headed for the front doors.

That early on a Saturday morning, the place wasn’t packed. I’d been one of those Saturday morning people back in LA. In my opinion, the best time to go to a new movie was first thing Saturday. There’d be less people, and generally it would be a better experience.

The inside was different than I remembered. The automated ticket machines were completely gone, of course. Instead, there was a long line of old school ticket booths manned by actual humans. Back in LA, only the old people would use the ticket booths. Everyone else either bought online or from one of the machines.

One wall was covered in movie posters and underneath each one was the theater it was showing in and the show times. The movies seemed to be about half sequels, but I didn’t recognize anything—none of the titles or even any of the actors.

A large digital clock on the wall showed the current time, and I found a movie starting soon. The poster looked good, with two identical, burly men carrying guns. The title was “The Two Brothers Saga: Origins.”

I bought a ticket and was somewhat surprised that I couldn’t choose my seat. The ticket was general admission, just like in the old days. It wasn’t any cheaper, however. That part was thoroughly 2020.

I spent another small fortune on a drink, a bag of chocolate peanuts and a popcorn. A few minutes later I was sitting in the mostly empty theater, munching on the buttery popcorn. It felt great to be in a comfortable, air-conditioned space for the first time in what seemed like forever. I shifted in my seat until the gun wasn’t digging painfully into my back and sat back to enjoy the show.

The movie was insane. I’d seen a lot of movies back in LA. Who hadn’t? I’d never seen anything like The Two Brothers Saga. It was clearly a big-budget film, but the plot was really out there and hard to follow.

The brothers were mercenaries or vigilantes or something. There was a cartoonishly evil real estate developer, a convent full of nuns with guns and a lot of explosions.

Seriously, it was insane. The action and plot twists got more and more over the top until finally I was completely lost. Even so, it didn’t fail to be entertaining. I was smiling through most of the movie, either at the sheer ridiculousness of what I was watching or the great action sequences.

Two hours passed in a flash, and I was back in the lobby of the movie theater. The place had filled up since I’d first arrived, with more groups buying tickets and refreshments and going to their movies. I went back to the wall of posters, looking for my second movie. It was at least another four hours before I thought it would be worth going back to the park. I wouldn’t mind killing that time watching crazy movies.

The groups of teens around me gave me wary glances but didn’t bother me.

One guy looked at me a little too long, and I met his gaze. He was a small, skinny man, with a pointed face and a nervous air. He had short brown hair and a hairline that was starting to recede. Without thinking, I IDed him.

“Rozzo”

I was surprised to see that he was in shadow as literally no one else here was. He looked away as I met his eyes.

I looked back at the wall of posters, but my view was almost immediately blocked by a large man in a light blue security uniform. He was well over six feet and built like a linebacker. His face was broad, with close-cropped hair and a decidedly unfriendly expression.

Carl Jansen, Mall Cop (F1)

“There’ll be no smoking in this building, you understand? No selling, either,” Carl said.

I had almost forgotten that I was wearing my weed clown outfit.

I smiled at him, trying to be disarming. “I’m just here to watch movies.”

“That better be true. I’ll be watching you, and if we catch you selling anything in here, or smoking up, were not going to just kick you out. We will call the police, got it?”

“Is this because I’m in the shadows? What’s with the prejudice? I’m just expressing my First Amendment rights, man.”

“I bet. Enjoy the movie,” Carl said and walked off.

I hadn’t planned to sell in the theater anyway, and having Carl get in my face was a good reminder of why.

I looked up at the ceiling and saw at least two security cameras pointed my way. They were big and bulky, looking like artifacts from the past. My world’s past, anyway. Long, beige boxes with a big black lens and a red light at one end, mounted on the ceiling.

Somewhere in this monstrous building there was a roomful of monitors, and rent-a-cops watching them. They had obviously spotted me and had sent Carl to warn me. Either that, or he had just taken it upon himself to do so.

I found the next movie I wanted to watch without any issues. A period piece with women in hoop skirts and men in dowdy suits, hats, and canes. Back in LA, Colin Firth would have been one of the stars. I’d always been a fan of that kind of movie. It was called “The Long Summer.”

I got a refill of my drink—not free of course—and made my way to the cinema that was showing the next movie. A crowd of people were waiting outside the closed doors, blocked by a sign explaining that the theater was being cleaned.

The waiting crowd was mostly women, with a good sprinkling of them being my age, and attractive. One group in particular caught my eye, and I stood nearby, sipping my drink.

There were three of them, two fit blondes in the inimitable California style, and a pale, black haired beauty. It felt really weird to be able to know their names without them telling me, but I did it anyway. The blondes were Jane and Jennifer and the raven-haired girl was Lyra. The two blondes were students, but Lyra was the one that stood out.

Lyra Sullivan, Aesthetician (E2)

They were quietly talking among themselves, and I decided to barrel in. I’d been feeling more and more confident in myself, for some reason. Was this what happened when you became a drug dealer? Did you get irrationally confident and then eventually get killed because of your hubris? I put that thought aside and opened my mouth instead.

“Hey, you guys waiting for The Long Summer?”

As soon as I spoke, I realized how idiotic that had been. Of course, they were waiting for the movie. They weren’t just loitering in the hallway outside.

All three of them turned to me, the two blondes taking in my outfit and immediately dismissing me to return to their conversation.

Lyra was the only one to reply, her face assuming a polite, neutral expression. “Yes, we are. You’re going to see it?”

“Sure. I’ve got some time to kill, and I’m a big fan of these Jane Austen type movies. This one looks interesting.”

She looked puzzled. “Jane Austen? Who’s that?”

I’d stepped in it. Of course, she didn’t know who Jane Austen was. This world might not have had a Jane Austen. Still, I knew how to wing this one.

“Oh, you probably haven’t heard of her. She’s this obscure 18th-century author that wrote a lot of great books about the period.”

I felt a bit ashamed of myself for using the “you probably haven’t heard of them” gambit, but she bit.

“Oh, what books?”

The two blondes glanced over, but continued speaking to each other in low voices, not interrupting our conversation.

“I’d say her best was Pride and Prejudice, but she also wrote Sense and Sensibility and five others. They’re all great books. You should give them a read.”

She turned to face me, turning away from her two friends. She opened her mouth, but Jane, one of the blondes, spoke first.

“Lyra, why are you talking to this loser? Look at the way he’s dressed. He’s probably some kind of drug dealer.”

“Yeah, and he’s in shadows. What’s your name, stoner?” the other blonde asked.

“I’m Mack,” I replied. “Nice to meet you three.”

Jane made a dismissive clicking sound with her mouth and the two girls turned away again.

“Sorry about my friends. Why are you dressed like that?” Lyra asked, looking a bit embarrassed.

I didn’t have a good answer for her. It wasn’t like I could tell her the truth.

“It’s a long story, but I lost a bet.”

She smiled with genuine good humor and it transformed her from attractive to a truly beautiful young woman. I couldn’t help but smile back, looking into her eyes. They were a deep, dark blue—nearly violet. I felt lost in them for a long moment.

“Lyra, let’s go,” Jane said and the moment passed.

A young woman wearing the uniform of the movie theater emerged from the cinema she had been cleaning, clicking the door into the open position and pulling the “Closed For Cleaning” sign out of the way. With that done, she simply walked away and the crowd of people waiting in front started to filter in.

“Mack, come and sit with us. You can tell me about Jane Austen,” Lyra said.

“Sure, I’d love to.”

Jane looked a little annoyed, but neither of the blondes said anything. I couldn’t help but think that back in LA this would’ve gone differently.

I followed the girls lead as they as Jane and Jennifer went directly for the dead center of the theater, without discussion. That was fine by me, although I generally preferred to sit a little closer.

The next ten minutes was the best time I’d had that I could remember. I actually did know quite a lot about Jane Austen, and was happy to talk to Lyra about her, and the period Austen had lived in.

Lyra knew her stuff as well, but unfortunately the authors she knew I’d never heard of. It made finding common references difficult, but even without that the conversation was flowing nicely. There’s just something energizing about being in the company of someone you found so incredibly attractive and having them return your interest. It didn’t last for long.

The house lights dropped, and the trailers began to play. Like the Saga of Two Brothers, the movies they teased seemed crazy. They were in a style that Hollywood in my world had simply never entertained. Honestly, it made me want to watch all of them. Just the sheer divergence from what I thought of as normal was compelling.

People were still filtering in and finding seats. Small groups of two, three and more holding their oversized drinks and popcorn. Usually this was a peaceful, quiet process. That’s why looked back when I heard a loud curse and the sound of an exploding drink container hitting the hard floor.

“God damnit, you walked right into me. You’re going to pay for my dry cleaning!”

A slightly built man that looked to be in his mid-thirties was soaked nearly head to foot in soda. I could even see the drops pattering down. Directly opposite him was a much larger guy, silhouetted against the light of the open door behind them both. Something about him looked familiar, and I IDed him.

“Zeke”

“Shit,” I muttered.

“What is it?” Lyra asked and looked back. “Oh, that poor man.”

Staying low in my seat, I looked around the rest of the theater but didn’t see any other Hip. Was Zeke being there just a coincidence? It didn’t matter if it was because as soon as he saw me, it would be on.

“Get the fuck out of my way,” Zeke said and shoved the soaked man who toppled over backward.

The unfortunate guy sprawled out on the floor and Zeke stepped over him. There was a bit of muttering in the theater, but as Zeke was a big man and walking in shadow, no one stood up to confront him. He continued to walk down the aisle, scanning back and forth.

I was pretty sure he was looking for me.