Always Take a Survival Kit

by Ashley Arnold

Jamahl launched another Jaffa into the gloom. It rolled lazily down the aisle and disappeared, a miniature orange world swallowed by the darkness, coming to rest who knew where. (Most likely at the bottom of the aisle, below the movie screen).

The lights had dimmed a few minutes ago, but the movie hadn’t started yet.

“Do you think something’s gone wrong?” Shelly whispered.

They were the only people in the theatre. Jamahl couldn’t have asked for a better scenario. “Maybe the projectionist is a serial killer, and he’s sneaking towards us right now.”

Shelly’s flicked around to look behind them. She punched him in the arm. “You idiot. They probably don’t even have projectionists anymore. It’s all automated.”

“Maybe the guy on the front desk then.” Jamahl flicked another Jaffa down the aisle. “He looked pretty serial killer-ish.”

“You’re not scaring me.”

The screen flashed into life, and Shelly grabbed Jamahl by the arm. In the image, a monstrous Earth slid out of view, followed by the moon rushing overhead.

“Oh my god, this isn’t a Star Trek movie, is it?”

The image of Mars swung past on the screen, and then Jupiter with a couple of its moons.

“I don’t think so.”

The star field in the background began to move as well. Accelerating, Jamahl thought.

“I can’t do anything if it’s not a romantic movie.” Shelly looked at him meaningfully.

Jamahl hadn’t really paid attention when he’d bought the tickets, or to which theatre number they’d entered. “Maybe we’re in the wrong one.” He wasn’t about to leave though — a cinema all to themselves was too good an opportunity to pass up.

On the screen, stars skidded past with dizzying rapidity.

Shelly, it seemed, wanted to actually watch a movie, and a journey through space wasn’t what she had in mind. She jumped out of her seat, looked at the back wall and inhaled through clenched teeth. “Jamahl.”

He glanced up at her. Shelly’s eyes were fixed on the back wall. She’s trying to trick me, he thought. I’m not going to look, there’s no one there.

“Where’s the movie coming from?”

Despite his best intentions he turned around in his seat. Instead of the regular openings out of which the image would be projected, he saw only a solid wall.

Jamahl looked back at the screen — still showing stars zipping past — and again to the wall. No trail of mote-flecked light was visible. There was no evidence of a projection system at all.

“I don’t get it.” Shelly’s voice quivered.

“Maybe it’s a new kind of really big screen TV. Really big.”

Shelly ran up the steps to the exit. “The door won’t open.”

Jamahl tramped up the steps, the box of Jaffas still in his hand. The outline of the door remained visible, but he could see no handle on this side. Shelly clawed at the cracks to no effect.

“They’ve locked us in. Did you set this up?”

Jamahl raised his hands. “Me? No way.”

“Then what’s going on here?”

Jamahl looked back at the screen. A single planet had replaced the star field. It hung below them, as if viewed from a high orbit. The planet looked a little like Earth, with layers of white cloud, ocean and land. Except that the blues were too purple, the greens too yellow, the browns too ochre to be Earth.

“Maybe it’s ‘where is here going on?’”

Shelly followed his gaze to the screen. From her facial expressions he could see her mind clicking over, coming to same conclusion he had. In the end she shook her head. “It’s a trick. Someone’s playing with us.”

The planet swelled until it took up the entire screen. Blotches and swirls manifested into mountains and plains. They fell closer and closer to the surface. The scene began to race beneath them. A vast purple ocean appeared in the distance.

The surface rushed up to meet them, and they moved faster and faster over it.

The whole theatre jolted, throwing Jamahl over the back row of seats. He picked himself up. Shelly lay crumpled near the door.

“Are you all right?”

“I think so,” she said.

Jamahl helped her to her feet. The screen showed a forest, except the “trees” looked more like mushrooms draped with seaweed. As he watched, the “seaweed” pulsated and resolved into millions of interlocking creatures that crawled over each other. Shelly slipped her hand in his.

He stooped and picked up the box of Jaffas from the floor. He wished he’d bought something more substantial before the movie.

Behind him the door opened.

Copyright © 2009 Ashley Arnold.
First published in our Infinitas Newsletter, August 2009.

This page last updated 10th August 2009.