This month’s Sunday School is just like last month’s. All the kiddies pile into the cloth-covered seats, small bags of buttered popcorn in their tiny hands. They stare at the blank wall excitedly.
When is Miss Marie gonna start the movie? I’m sure that’s what they’re thinking; that’s what I would’ve been wondering, if I were their age.
I bet Marie’s fumbling over the newfangled projector right now. She’s not as young as she used to be; with shaky hands, troublesome joints, and little knowledge about modern technology, I bet she’s gonna need help. The children lose their interest in the movie and start popcorn fights as I walk to the projection room to help Marie get the movie running properly. The projection room door opens with an eerie creak. Strange, the door’s never made any noise before. Better let Pastor Tim know about those hinges later.
“Marie? You gettin’ started in here?” I call.
“No need to shout,” Marie answers sourly. The old bird frowns at me from underneath her bright red hat and pats at her curly gray hair. Sorry to say, but a little bit of grooming won’t help all the split ends and frizz. “It’s gettin’ goin’, slowly but surely.” She turns back to the projector and tries to get the film to start.
“Let me help you, Marie,” I offer cautiously. If I say too much, she’s likely to chew into me like the tiger she is.
“Don’t need any,” she replies curtly and continues to turn the handle on the shiny black projector.
“Please, for the sake of the pews.” I look out the room’s window. The Sunday School teachers are trying to calm down the cute little young-ins, who have just finished sprinkling the front half of the room with a blanket of white popcorn.
Marie pauses, sees the calamity in the other room, and nods. “Fine. I swear, if you break a single thing, I will-”
“Ring my neck with your mama’s prize hankerchief. I know, I know.”
“You’ve been taught well, Miss Madison.” I can feel Marie beaming at me like a proud mama as I bend over the projector.
No matter what I do, the movie won’t run. I’m confused because I’m almost a pro when it comes to figuring things like this out, and I know I’ve done everything right. “What in the world is wrong with this thing?” I mutter.
“Maybe it needs a tune-up,” a smooth voice replies. I jump at the sound of it; there’s no one in this church who has a voice like that.
“Who’re you?” I spot a tall, looming figure in the shadows. I can’t see his face, but I know he’s staring at me.
“No need to be alarmed, doll.” He laughs at my expression. “See, I’m new here.”
“New? Well, welcome. But don’t worry about this thing.” I frown and tap the projector lightly. “Everything’s Jake.”
“Don’t look that way, doll,” the stranger says. “Maybe I can help.”
“Nah, it’s all good. Right, Marie?” I turn to face Marie, but she’s vanished, bright red Sunday best and all. “Where’d Marie go?”
“She’s around.” The man kicks something on his side of the projector’s stand and waggles one finger at me. Come look.
I look around the corner curiously and immediately wish I hadn’t. Marie is lying on the green carpet, blue eyes wide in fear. Her wrinkled hands are thrust forward, as if she was trying to stop someone from reaching her. A stomach-churning smell reaches me, and I wonder why I didn’t notice it before. I put my hand over my mouth to keep from upchucking, and I see the smell’s source: a ruby-colored line stretching perfectly across Marie’s throat, curving up at the ends like the Cheshire’s smile.
Oh my god oh my god oh my god--she’s dead she’s dead she’s dead she’s dead she’s dead--he killed her he killed her. I scream as loud as I can and run for one of the doors. I’ve gotta get out, gotta let someone know. Gotta get the cops. Gotta get help.
“No, you don’t, doll.” The stranger reaches out and grips my arm tightly, his thin gloved fingers creating an immovable vice, and I scream and struggle and punch and kick to no avail, he laughs and keeps coming toward me with a look in his eye that tells me he’s off his nuts and a chill runs up my spine and I scream even louder when he pulls out his red-stained knife but he just chuckles again and wraps one arm around my throat and I claw at his arm but he doesn’t care and he pokes my throat with the shiny knife and then moves his arm quick and---warmth. An icky, unwelcome warmth.
Then nothing. Or so it seems.
Eastland Times, June 15, 1925
DOUBLE HOMICIDE AT LOCAL CHURCH EVENT
Marie Elliot and Beverly Madison, ages 65 and 22, found dead last night in Midland Theater on East Baptist Church’s second monthly ‘Popcorn Sunday.’
© Copyright 2016 Micki Patricia. All rights reserved.