It was barely audible over the whirring projector – for a moment, he thought he’d imagined it. But the cold sweat creeping down the nape of his neck said otherwise. He knew that voice.
“What are you doing here?” Hunched over, he spoke into the crook of his arm, as if hoping that his words would be lost in the folds of his wool blazer. It was so heavy, so hot. He’d paid far too much for it.
“You know why I’m here, Tyler.” The voice, he noticed, was not coming from the same corner of the room as before. It was louder now, floating out of the impenetrable dark.
He remained silent, focusing on the damp heat his heavy breath had infused in the wool. It was still clinging resiliently to the fabric, despite the fact that he had (he was sure) not drawn a breath in the last sixty seconds. The projector whirred on, refusing to let him have just a moment’s silence.
He knew that he had run out of time, that it would not wait patiently for him to respond. Slowly, he raised his head.
A scene flickered on the wall in front of him. Children playing, men and women laughing under a gazebo. Food was being passed around. A picnic, he thought. So wonderful and full of memories.
A shadow crossed the merry faces on the wall. They had seen something. He wanted to warn them, wanted to tell them to run, but it was too late. It was upon them, all bulk and terror. Not quite man, not quite woman. Not quite human.
He watched in captivated horror as pies were smashed, fruit salads were overturned, and people were sat on.
“Admire your handiwork, Tyler. You’ve done it again.”
It was coming from right beside him. He could feel its heart beating irregularly as it pressed against his back. “No time to rest,” it rasped. “We have work to do.”
Every muscle in his body tensed to conceal the violent convulsions threatening to overtake him. “But -” he stammered, gesturing weakly at the wall. “This isn’t even out yet.”
An unearthly giggle erupted in his ear. “We have work to do.” It repeated.
“No,” he shook his head. “No, I – ” he closed his eyes. “I can’t.”
Then, as he eased one eyelid open, his heart jumped into his mouth. It was towering before him – the massive shape blotting out the light from the projector. He could just barely make out the iron curls place clumsily on the top of its head, the dead eyes magnified by thick lenses. He wanted to flee, but his legs were no longer working. The real thing was a thousand times more terrifying than the monster wreaking havoc in the scene on the wall.
“What’s the matter, Tyler?” It teased. “Gone soft?” His mouth was clamped shut so tightly that his jaw began to ache as its face inched towards his. “What about the money, Tyler? What about the fame?”
“They’ve had enough!” He was shaking, from anger or fear he didn’t know. “Can’t you see they’ve had enough?”
A grisly smile played across its lips as it shook its massive head. “Not enough,” it said softly. “Never enough.”
“I can’t do this anymore.” He could feel tears streaking down his face in fits and starts as they fought against the beads of sweat already clinging there.
“You have to.”
“I – just leave me alone. Please.”
The end of his sentence was drowned out by another round of demonic laughter – it lashed at him like a pack of rabid dogs.
“You don’t understand, Tyler.” It spoke even as the laughter continued. “Or perhaps you do.”
Something evil was rising in his chest, vulgar and hellbent on clawing its way out. He was helpless as it broke into his mind and nested there – he could not ignore it.
The laughter was growing ever louder, so close that it seemed, for a moment, to be coming from him.
“Ah,” it said. “You understand.” It gazed deep into his eyes, and he could not look away. He was overwhelmed by a sudden urge to vomit, but he was empty. And as its gaze bored deep into his mind, something broke.
He was tired.
Nothing felt like enough anymore. There was nothing for him to hold onto, no reason to fight back.
He slumped back into his chair, numb to the world around him. He was no longer aware of the film playing out before him, or of the room, suddenly empty and dark once again.
He was alone.
An idea had sparked in his mind, and it grew feverishly as he snatched a pencil and paper from the table beside him and began to write. It was as if he couldn’t control his own hand – the loosely scrawled letters appearing on the page before him could have come from a child.
He stayed there long after the projector’s whirring ceased and the room went completely dark, writing. When at last he had finished, his hand moved to the top of the first page and etched four words in block letters:
MADEA GOES TO JAIL
He sat back and smiled absently. As he admired his work, there was a moment where he swore there was a whisper in his ear. He frowned.
He was left with the words already on his lips. And he felt as though he were only repeating them as he spoke.
“This one will be good.”