Marty McGihon and Carl Rauscher
Painted using Carl Rauscher’s story (below) as inspiration
By Carl Rauscher
“It’s time,” said Mr. Patrick as he descended the projection room steps, wiping his hands with a greasy rag. He was good at fixing things, which is why I suppose the government sent him from city to city fixing phone lines so that people could talk back and forth like they used to. I think he was glad when I showed my father and him the abandoned theater one morning, even though he complained about how cold the equipment would be and stomped his feet a lot. It gave him something to work on instead of sitting around our house waiting for it to warm up enough to leave.
Father checked his pocket watch and peered outside one last time. “Do you want the honors?”
“Naw,” he replied in that curious southern drawl. “Let Becky do it. This is all because of her in the first place…”
I shrieked and ran to the switch behind the concession stand. My hand paused until I saw my father’s smile and slight nod. One flick and marquee lights sprang to life above the entrance to announce the Imperial Theater’s first showing since the world died.
At least that is how Mr. Patrick described the day of the Pulse and he should know. He was there in DC when the President gave the order to kill all the computers. I was too young to remember, but others said he had to do it after the computers got sick. No one realized just how much they would lose when he shut them all down. No more television, or cell phones, or music players; no more ATMs to give money and banks forgot how much money people had. Like Ms. Thompson said in class, everyone had to start over.
Starting over must have been hard for a lot of people. They had to learn new ways of living and didn’t have time for things like an old theater. I used to look at the faded posters in the windows on my way home from school and wonder what it was like back then. Now I was inside that theater and filling bags with freshly popped corn for our customers.
Mr. and Mrs. Alphern were first to arrive. He looked funny, dressed in a dark suit instead of his butcher’s apron and paper hat. Father greeted both with a warm handshake and thanked them for coming as he took their coats. Mr. Alphern hesitated with his wallet in hand, unsure of what to do next.
“Put that thing away, Richard,” Father said and handed him two tickets. “The management humbly offers these complimentary passes and hopes that everything is to your satisfaction.”
That last part was Mr. Patrick’s idea. He said that if we gave the tickets away, they would be worthless but everyone around town probably had earned a complimentary pass after all that they had endured. I didn’t get it until I saw the looks on people’s faces that evening as I handed out cups of warm cider while they waited for the movie to begin.
Mother arrived shortly after dark. She always worked late at the power plant this time of year, when people were turning up their heaters to hold off the bitter weather. She took over for me behind the counter still wearing her coveralls under a red theater jacket and gave me a peck on the forehead before sending me off to help Mr. Patrick finish getting ready.
The room at the top of the stairs still frightened me a little, even though Mr. Patrick had fixed it up. I found him hunched over, making last minute adjustments to the projector with his little screwdriver. My gaze wandered over to the giant platters holding the film and traced its winding path through the projector and back out again. Father tried to explain once how the little pictures flickered on a screen so fast that they made images seem to move like my shadow in the candlelight on the bedroom wall at night. I thought he was joking until Mr. Patrick told me the same thing one day as he scrubbed rust off of one of the many tiny pieces that made up the projector.
“Are you ready, Becky?”
“Yes, sir!” I answered, climbing into my seat near the viewing window and leaned forward like a sprinter in a starting block. He toggled the theater lights three times to signal that the picture would begin and I leaned out to watch townspeople take their places while chatting about various things they had forgotten until now. The excitement in the room rivaled my own.
“Lights…,” said a voice behind me and the theater went dark.
“Camera…,” he whispered as the great platters starting rolling flat strips towards the hungry machine with a loud ‘tick – tick – tick – tick’. A bright flash of light erupted and colors splashed on the great white screen. I held my breath.
Life Isn’t Always Easy
Acrylic, collage, caran d’ache, and graphite
Inspiration piece provided to Carl Rauscher
The La Fey Sisters;
or Eyewitness to a Sorcerous Showdown
as told to C. Rauscher
Chapter 1: High Magic on the High Plains
I reckoned I’d seen my share of strangeness in that terrible war between the states, but I never imagined the things I’d witness in my journeys out west. Steam locomotives racing along endless steel tracks may make travel faster from one destination to another, dear reader, but true adventure still lies in the empty expanse between.
One time I met a sorceress on the number 4 coach heading west from St Louis along the Oregon trail to Fort Laramie. Circumstances had left me in need of a hasty departure and I chose not to ask too many questions on the nature of my benefactor, a supposed woman of means traveling alone.
There were four of us crammed into the narrow carriage when it finally departed, with the last minute addition of two coarse looking men. One was an oversized fellow with mean eyes and sour disposition; the other, a slim unshaven man who nervously laughed at odd moments. The driver signaled us by slapping the side of the coach and we barely had time to brace ourselves as we lurched forward with a crack of a whip.
We sat in silence for hours on end, bouncing around so much that my backside ached despite the thin padding my jacket afforded from the hard wooden seat. I took stock of our solitary lady traveler with a dark green cloak wrapped protectively around her lovely frame and long scarlet tresses, the color of a fine wine in candlelight, loosely braided down the back. She noticed my gaze and smiled back.
“Dost thou wish to ask something of me, Mr. …?
“Lucian, Ma’am. Begging your forgiveness, but I find myself at a loss as to what manner of business could force a lady of your stature to risk traveling alone through untamed country such as this. Some one ahead in California called for you, a husband perhaps?”
She laughed behind a lace gloved hand, her eyes mocking me. “Not I, of a surety. ‘Tis far too much effort to properly educate one and I fear my business will wait not. And what of ye, Mr. Lucian? Would ye be riding to or from your destiny?”
I glanced at our companions, who despite the rough terrain we traveled, managed to nap. “A bit of both, I reckon. Behind us is the war, or what’s left of it; and ahead of us, who but the almighty can say?”
“My, my, Mr. Lucian. Long time ‘ere such clever words I’ve heard. Pray gift me more.”
My cheeks grew warm and I turned away from her emerald eyes. “I must beg your leave, ma’am. Words seem to have escaped me for the moment.”
“Pity,” she sighed and produced a delicate fan with a flourish from within the folds of her cape. I continued to stare out at the oceans of prairie from the coach’s tiny window, desperately trying to think of something else to say to this captivating beauty and before long found myself drifting asleep to the sound of her fan flapping like the wings of a songbird against the bars of its cage.
Our journey westward was punctuated by the occasional stop to water the animals or tend to more personal matters. During these respites, our coach driver took aim at the local wildlife while his spindly assistant stood ready to retrieve the fallen game for our evening meal.
The two ruffians entertained themselves by wagering on the driver’s marksmanship, with the Lady and myself declining to join. This proved to be a wise choice, since the sack of fresh kill proved too meager to stave off our hunger when we finally stopped to make camp for the night. Tempers flared as complaints turned to accusations and I stepped in to broker peace among the party members to no avail.
“Bí i do thost, glórach páistí,” cried a voice from within the coach. The lady emerged and clapped her hands sharply together. Whether from the shock of her appearance or the commanding tone, everyone grew silent.
“’Tis better,” she announced and stepped down from the coach with a sigh. I couldn’t be sure if she was referring to the quiet or the feel of earth beneath her bare feet.
“Mr. Fisher. When first I approached ye and procured your guarantee for safe passage, ‘twas with the understanding that ye might take on other passengers, only inconvenience me not. I trust that ye still desire to honor yon agreement?”
“Of course, Madame,” the driver hastily answered while clutching his dusty hat nervously in both hands. “And my aim with this here rifle is true enough, but for my shoulder’s aching bad lately on account of that Injun arrowhead still lodged in there…”
He rubbed the troublesome spot for effect, but she dismissed him with a wave of her hand.
“I bid ye halt your words. To keep civil tongues, I shall fetch some thing of substance for our meal.” She picked up a stray branch as the others gathered around and began to trace an intricate pattern onto a bare patch of dirt nearby.
“Oh, this is swell,” said the louder of our two companions, who pushed aside the smaller man to confront the driver. “Are we all gonna stand around and watch the funny talkin’ dame scribble some purty pictures? If so, then I’m a taking a couple of those squirrels for my supper and the rest of you can fend for yourselves.”
The driver hesitated and then tossed the burlap sack down at the man’s feet. “Watch yer tongue, Clay. You’ve got no clew what you’re dealing with here.”
“L.l.l..look!” said the young assistant, pointing towards a patch of trees not too far away. From out of the shadows came a solitary hesitant figure. A fair sized doe walked towards us as if it were set to beg for dinner scraps like a hound. I reckon it had never seen the likes of us before and decided we were harmless; a foolhardy choice it would not live to regret.
All present, the driver included, stood in amazement as the creature continued right up to the woman and her strange drawing. Had it not been so bizarre a vision, I’m sure one of us, the driver perhaps, would have taken up arms and shot the beast.
The deer sniffed her hand, ears twitching this way and that with nary a trace of fear. She bent down and whispered to the deer, who I swear nodded back. Then without warning, the creature’s eyes rolled back and it fell to the ground, as dead as my aunt Nelly.
“Gather wood and prepare this noble sacrifice, Mr. Fisher. Fresh water lies off to ye right. I’ll take my leave of ye until nightfall.
Then the lady walked towards the woods where the deer first appeared, her dress flowing smoothly around her like a cloud of smoke with nary a tangle in the tall grasses.
“You heard Madame La Fey,” the driver barked. “Let’s get this animal dressed and cooking before she returns, and only those that help will get a share, I’ll promise you that.”
“Where d’ya think she’s off ta?” the short one asked. Clay swung the sack at the man’s chest and pulled a wicked looking blade from his belt. “Don’t just stand there flapping your jaws, Bill. Looks like we’ll be dining on juicy venison steaks tonight!”
Chapter 2: Campfire Confessions
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