A serial killer is confronted by his own horrible deeds
Noah Barker tossed a kernel of popcorn into his mouth and reclined his head back in the theater chair. He squirmed his hips, trying to get comfortable. The bag of popcorn on his groin rocked this way and that as he failed to find a satisfactory position. The salty snack helped tame the bitter aftertaste of beer that invited nausea. His head was pounding with the consequence of too many cheap ones. The darkened cinema helped soothe his bloodshot eyes, which were strained from having stared at the mounted TV in the bar for too long.
There had been a very pretty blonde girl in a black halter dress sitting with a group of friends across the smoke-filled room, and he supposed that he may have been staring at her young, silk-smooth legs for too long as well.
The film being shown in the theater wasn’t exactly helping to take the edge off his hangover. It was a movie called Deadly Assailant. It was about the unsolved Highway-34 murders that had held Kansas City in stark terror a decade ago. Of course, it was all done up in typical Hollywood fashion and was mostly bullshit. Noah Barker had the best evidence for this conviction, for he was the Highway-34 murderer.
He hadn’t necessarily intended to stagger into this specific showing tonight. In fact, he hadn’t really intended to see the film at all. It felt oddly intrusive in a way. Each killing had been a very intimate moment to him. Now here they were, blown-up and exaggerated for dull, thrill-seeking moviegoers to consume like pigs at a trough. Young guys laughing at the scary parts. Young girls screaming and giggling and scooting closer to their dates. The killer was being played by handsome character actor Michael Shannon. A generous juxtaposition to the fat, balding, middle-aged schlub sitting in row six, seat thirteen.
On-screen, victim number three had just escaped her attacker by smashing him across the head with the tire iron he had used to overpower her. That never happened. Oh, she had gotten away alright. Stupid bitch! The ropes binding her wrists must not have been as tight as he thought. When he turned his back on the supposedly helpless female for a moment to take a leak, she jumped to her feet and bolted out into the middle of the street. Noah had pursued her for a few yards but stopped at the sight of approaching headlights.
She hadn’t beaten him over the head with his own tire iron! To even suggest that he would allow such a thing to happen wasn’t just insulting.
It was goddamned emasculating.
Some people in the theater laughed. Noah looked daggers at a crowd of giggling young girls sitting two rows up. He imagined strangling each and every one of them, their eyes wild with fear. He visualized what he'd do afterward to their bodies.
The theater was only sparsely filled. The group of giggling girls who seemed prone to laugh at anything that happened, funny or not. A guy and his date in the very first row who had long ago ceased paying attention to the movie. They were sucking face on first base and seemed likely to move to second. A single elderly man sitting two seats across from Noah wearing a long black overcoat and a black pork pie hat that he didn’t remove. He’d been sitting there when Noah came in, sleeping with his head drooped so low against his chest that, at first, Noah thought he was dead. However, when he shuffled past to get to his seat the man had stirred. Just a lonely retired guy, Noah figured, drowsing the evening away.
The climax of the film featured a riveting game of cat and mouse between the killer and the policewoman who had spent the entire movie tracking him down. None of that happened either. Sure, Noah had sent some anonymous taunting letters to the police, and security camera footage of him depositing one in a post office box did give them their first good lead. But there hadn’t been a gripping high-speed chase down the freeway.
During that scene, the group of giggling girls laughed harder still.
Such shrill, piercing laughter! The ridiculing sound echoed horribly in his ears. Their mocking faces swam in his head like a Greek chorus.
When the movie was over some people clapped. Noah did not. He scowled up at the closing credits, arms crossed defiantly over his chest. The group of lively girls stood up bouncing and stretching. The sight of their shapely, feminine breasts combined with the awful taunting laughter that still resounded made Noah’s face flush with rage. The returning studio lights caught the guy and girl in the first row engaged in some sexual foreplay. He glanced around abashedly while she rebuttoned her shirt.
Wanting to remove himself from the sight of those nefarious pixies, those beckoning sirens who drew him back to dark temptations and urges that he hadn’t acted upon in more than a decade, Noah stood to leave. The forgotten bag of popcorn fell from his lap and spilled onto the ground by the sleeping old man’s black loafers.
“What did you think of the picture?”
The old man asked this abrupt question without lifting his head. From his standing position, Noah couldn’t make out a single feature on the speaker's face. His chin was flush against his sternum, his nose deeply buried in the folds of his coat.
Noah made a sound like a fart and twisted his hands into two big thumbs down. “I’ve seen pornos better than that crap.”
The old man didn’t budge. “Aren’t you going to catch the next showing?”
Noah scoffed. “Pft! Yeah right! I’d rather stick my dick in an electric socket.” He started leaving but something interrupted his efforts. “What the-”
He glanced down to see what held him in tight restraint. A thick iron shackle gripped his left ankle. A long chain extended to the bottom of the theater seat, which it was fastened to in big convoluted coils. Noah kicked and lashed at the chain but it didn’t relinquish its hold. He gazed stupidly up at the old man sitting patiently beside him.
Two dark, empty sockets met his own eyes, which grew large with fright. The mouth of the skull beneath the pork pie hat dropped open in a wide chuckling grin.
“Just wait until you see the sequel,” it said.
The lights dimmed. As the film started playing over again from the very beginning, the group of girls giggled, the couple in the first row continued their lovemaking, the grinning skeleton two seats over laughed hysterically.
And Noah? He gazed up at the flickering screen where his own despicable deeds confronted him without remorse and screamed.