The Duchess By: Duke Raulston

Weird Tales

The Duchess

By:  Duke Raulston

 

     The Duchess Theater was a relic from a by-gone era.  In the day, it was the beating heart of Monterrey, Tennessee.  The finest Celluloid that Hollywood ever produced graced it’s screen.  Movies with the greatest stars of Hollywood’s heyday were played in this little theater.  Bogart, Gable, Garbo, Karloff, Monroe, Mansfield, you name them, their movies played at The Duchess.

     Back then, there was a big popcorn machine in the lobby.  You could smell it for three blocks (which was pretty much all of Monterrey).  The Marquee was lit up with “The Duchess” written across the top in electric blue Neon lights.  People would be lined up down mainstreet every Saturday night to get in and see whatever was playing.  That was in the good old days.  

     As time passed, it became harder and harder for The Duchess to compete.  First, it was the drive-in down in Winchester.  It could pack in more cars and, for the most part, ran cheaper “B” movies.  Then, the big corporate theaters came into Murfreesboro and Nashville, with multiple screens and fat contracts with the studios.  The Duchess eked out a living for a while, showing old reruns and “B” movies.  One chilly Halloween night back in eighty-three The Duchess ran “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for the last time.  The owner, a refugee from Iran, locked the doors, turned off the lights, climbed the stairs to the balcony, sat down in one of the tattered old chairs, put the barrel of a Smith and Wesson .357 into his mouth, and blew his brains out.  

    The Duchess sat vacant for many years. In fact, it sat there for more than a quarter of a century.  The carpets and seats that had been the finest available in 1933 when Duchess opened, but were tattered and stained when The Duchess closed in 1983, were left to rot.  The roof leaked; mold and mildew covered everything.  In fact, it was near collapse.  Monterrey came to the rescue.

     Committees were formed, money was raised and The Duchess was saved.  Well, sort of.  The roof was replaced.  The seats were replaced.  They laid new carpet and painted the place.  They bought a new projector and audio equipment.  No matter how much they cleaned, they could not get rid of the faint scent of decay.  They could not afford to restore the neon lights.  They could not find replacement letters for the marquee–it seems that no one manufactured them anymore. Worst of all, they could not restore The Duchess to the prestigious place that it once held in the community.  The days of small town theaters were done.  The Duchess survived, but the glamour was long gone.

      Monterrey’s answer was community theater.  They created  The Monterrey Shakespeare Company.  No one was getting rich, but they weren’t doing bad for a small town theater.  They put on three or four productions a year.  It brought some much needed tourism dollars to Monterrey.  The Monterrey Shakespeare Company also partnered with Tennessee Tech.  They offered internships to Theater students and in return they got some help from the Universities faculty when they needed it.  

     A blue Nissan pulled up in front of the theater with the latest batch of interns. Kara popped out of the passenger side.  She was a short, dark-haired girl in horn rimmed glasses.  She slung a backpack over her shoulder and looked at her watch.  

     “Do you think there will be anyone here?  We are over an hour early,  K-A-T-I-E.”  

      A tall, slender girl with long, dark hair got out of the car.

      “It’s not my fault, Kara.  Google said it would take an hour and a half.”

      “Google thought you were driving not flying”.

      “Well, Google doesn’t know me very well then does it.”  She said with a huff, “just try the door and  see if anyone is there.”  

 

      Kara tried the double doors.  They opened.  She looked back at Katie and shrugged her shoulders, as she entered. 

       Katie opened the door.  She could smell something a little off.  It wasn’t horrible.  It smelled faintly of deterioration.  

       “It doesn’t look like anyone is here,”  Kara said.

       “Do you smell that, Kara?”  

       “Yes, it smells moldy!”

        There was only one flickering fluorescent light on in the ticket booth.  It gave the granite lobby kind of a greyish-green cast.  It looked more like a sepulchre than a lobby.

        “You know Katie, didn’t we pass a coffee shop?”

        “Yeah, we did.”

        “Let’s go grab a cup of coffee and come back in an hour and see if we can catch somebody here.”

        “I could really go for a doughnut.  But surely there is somebody here, I mean they wouldn’t just leave the theater unlocked.  Would they?”

         “Katie, this feels really…off.  It is cold in here too.”  Kara said as she pulled her hoodie tight.

         “Yeah it does feel a little chilly in here, and it smells bad.  Let’s go grab a cup of coffee.” She turned on her heel and pushed the double door ever so slightly, just enough so a shaft of bright sunlight penetrated the sickly greyish-green of the dim lobby.

       “Can I help you?”

       Both girls spun around. The door shut and plunged them back into the gloom of the dimly lit vault.  There was a young man standing in the middle of the lobby.  He was wearing an usher’s uniform, but he wore his hair in a pompadour and he had sideburns.  He looked like a fifties biker that would have been more comfortable in a leather jacket and blue jeans, instead of the red usher’s uniform.  

     “My name is Paul Taylor.  All the cats call me Edge.  You chicks ain’t supposed to be here for another hour!”  He said.

     Kara rolled her eyes at Katie.

     “We got here a little early,”  Katie answered.

     “Cool, you want the tour?”  

     “Sure, hey does everyone wear an usher’s uniform?”  Kara asked.

     “I know, kind of square, ain’t it? But Management insists.  Follow me.”

      Katie started patting Kara on the shoulder rapidly, “He’s an actor!”  she mouthed.

      “OOOH!  Haunted theater!”  Kara whispered.

      “Haunted?”  Edge said, “Look, you chicks seem pretty cool, right?”

      “Right,”  Kara answered.

      “Management don’t want me to tell you none of this, if you say anything…”

      “You’ll get fired right?”  Katie asked.

      “Fired?  Oh yeah, you could say that, baby.  Hey, you chicks keep cool and Edge will give you the whole story.”  He motioned them into the theater. “Haunted Theater.  Yeah, baby, it’s haunted.  Management hates it when we say that.  It ain’t good for public relations.  But this is the most haunted place that you have ever seen.  It’s always been haunted.  A while back some kids snuck a Ouija board into the joint.  They didn’t mean no harm.  They heard about the spirits, and they were just curious really.”

         “What happened, Edge?”  Kara asked.

        “They raised some spirits.  They asked the kind of things that kids ask.  Does Kelly like Edge?  She did,”  he said, winking at the girls. “That sort of thing.  Yeah, ole Edge was one of those kids.  Edge was worried.  He had heard that The Duchess was in trouble.  He asked the spirits for help cause he loved this old theater.”

 

    …Edge set the Ouija board in one of the seats next to him.  Johnny Gamble was on the other side.  A cute blonde, Kelly Barnett, was leaned over the back of Edge’s seat. Kathy Farris was leaned over the back of Johnny’s seat.  The girls were watching Mrs.  Hunter, the Drama teacher. She had her back turned to the class.  They had met at the theater for last period all year, working on the senior play, Macbeth.  The play was over, and the class was just killing time, waiting on graduation.  Mrs. Hunter was pretty cool, as long as they didn’t burn the joint down.  Edge was pretty sure that a Ouija board would be pushing even Mrs. Hunter’s limits.  That was okay; Edge liked pushing the limits.  

    Kelly was still blushing from Edge’s last question.  Edge was giving her the eye.  “Ask it another question, Edge!”  Johnny whispered impatiently.

    “All right man, don’t have a cow!”  Edge paused for a minute. The Ouija had told him Kelly liked him.  That was really all he wanted to know.  His old man had said that The Duchess was in financial trouble and he ought to know; he ran the biggest bank in town.  Edge really loved the old theater.  It is where he took his first date.  It was the first place he ever made out.  It was the one thing that made this little town cool.  He didn’t want it to close.

     “Edge wants to ask the spirits to do whatever it takes to keep this cool, old theater open!”  

     “That isn’t a question, Edge.  I don’t think it will work!”  Kelly said.

     “Have a little faith baby,” Edge replied, just as the pointer started to slide, first to “M”.  Crash!  A seven foot folding table that was leaned against the stage suddenly fell over!  Mrs. Hunter screamed.  The pointer glided to “A”  and stopped.  A steno pad flew off the stage.  The pointer moved again, this time to “N”.  Books and papers that had been set on the stage were sliding back and forth across it.  Mrs. Hunter turned to the auditorium full of screaming teenagers, “Class line up at the doors of the lobby.  Now!”  The pointer slid once more and came to rest over the “A” again.  Johnny and the girls took their hands off of the pointer.

     “Wait, NO!  It’s not finished.  What does Mana mean?”  It was too late; they were all headed for the doors in the lobby…

 

     Kara asked, “What year was that?”

     “Class of fifty-eight, baby!”

     “That would make you seventy-nine or eighty right?”  she asked, smirking.

     “Edge might have got held back a year, his talents did not lie in the academic world!”  he said with a mile wide grin.  

     “That is a pretty good story, Edge,”  Katie said, grinning knowingly at Kara

     “Oh, that is just the beginning baby!  You see, the spirits still had wisdom to impart.  That last message, it didn’t quite come through.  Edge tried to tell the other cats. They just wouldn’t listen.  Weird things started happening.  Johnny had a forty-nine Mercury that he had turned into a hot rod.  He wrecked it, baby.  Said somebody ran out in front of him, but there wasn’t anybody there.  Kathy said that her house went nuts.  Totally haunted, it was so bad that her family decided to sell it.  Me and Kelly heard and saw some strange things too, but we were so into each other that we didn’t care.  

     Edge knew things couldn’t go on like this.  So, the Saturday before graduation, Edge took Kelly to see a Hitchcock flick–Vertigo.  When Mrs. Henderson wasn’t paying attention, Edge palmed the key, baby.  

 

    “Man, you guys know all this crazy stuff is happening because we didn’t get the whole message that the spirits were sending us,”  Edge was telling the others.

    “I wish that you would stop calling yourself Edge,”  Kathy said.

    “That’s the name, babe.”  Edge responded.

    “I think it is cool!”  Kelly said.

    “You would!”  Kathy snipped

    “Look, this is pretty freaky.  I hate to admit it, but I think Edge has a point.  Something is not right. We gotta go back.  How are we going to get in?”

Edge reached into his pocket and pulled out the keys, with a smile.

     “Is that the key to the theater?”  Kathy asked.

     “That’s right, baby.”

     “How?!”  Johnny asked.

    “Edge moves in mysterious ways!”

    “When do you want to do this?”  Kathy asked with resignation.

    “Saturday night after graduation.”  Kelly said, “The theater is closed Saturday for graduation, we will go down late that night.  The cops will be out in the county busting graduation parties.”

    “You guys have thought this through, haven’t you?!”  Johnny asked.

    “That’s right, Daddy-O.  No loose ends.  We go in at Midnight, The Witching Hour.”

  

      Edge looked at Kara and Katie.  “Let’s go up on stage and cop a squat.”  

     “Sure,”  Kara responded.  Edge walked backstage with the two girls following.  It was pitch black.  There was a click and a weak flickering light came on onstage.  It had the same pale, green cast as the others.  Kara thought to herself, “Somebody has done a helluva job with lighting.  This whole theater looks like something out of a slasher flick.  I will have to ask some questions later.”  There was a beat up folding table on stage with some tan, metal, folding chairs set up around it.

     “Have a seat,”  Edge said.

     The girls sat down.  

     “We got here a quarter to twelve on Graduation night.  We parked the car a couple of blocks away, so nobody would be suspicious.  It was warm that night, full moon, the Wysteria was blooming. The whole town smelled like Lilacs.  Kelly and I were walking hand in hand.  Man, I wanted that night to go on forever.  

     We opened up the back door and walked right in.  Turned on that one light on stage, like I just did, and sat down at the very table where you cats are sitting….

 

     “It’s midnight,”  Johnny said.

     “You cats know the drill. Put your hands on the pointer.  Lightly!”

They all put their hands on the pointer.  When they did, it started to slide.   There was a rustle, as some papers that had been left on stage started to gently move across stage, as if they were blown by a light wind.  

     “No matter what, don’t let go!”  

     “We get it, Edge!”  Kathy responded

The pointer slid over a “G”.  The papers flew across the stage, and the pointer moved quickly to “E”.  The papers started circling the stage, as if they were caught in a dust devil.  The pointer moved quickly to “M”, then “E” followed by “N” and, finally, a “T”.  The papers fell to the stage.  

      “Management!”  Johnny screamed and stood up!  “We broke into a theater, on graduation night, so the spirits could tell us that it needed better management!  I could have told you that!”  

     “Calm down, Johnny!”  Kelly said standing up.

     “Yeah, Daddy-O.  Maybe that ain’t all the spirits have to say.  You don’t want to tick them off!”  

There was a dagger stage left.  It was a prop from MacBeth.  It was not sharp, but it had a wicked point.  It scraped across the boards and flew towards Johnny.  Johnny saw it and ducked, just as it flew past and buried to the hilt in Kelly’s eye.  She screamed, as she fell.  Edge screamed and knocked the table out of the way to catch her.  She crumpled in his arms.  Dead.  He shook her and screamed her name, but there was no response.  He laid her gently on the ground.  He looked calmly at Johnny,  “That blade was meant for you man.”  

     Johnny crumpled to the ground crying. Kathy wrapped her arms around him, trying in vain to offer some comfort.  Edge looked at the wall, stage left.  There was an old fire axe that hung on the wall.  He walked over calmly and lifted it from the wall.  Kathy and Johnny were too distraught to even notice what he was doing.  

    Edge swung the axe down on Johnny’s head like he was trying to split an Oak log.  He didn’t even scream.  Kathy did.  She screamed bloody murder.  She fell over on her back trying to get away from Edge.  It was hopeless.  Edge slammed the axe into her skull and the screaming stopped.  Edge heard a voice that sounded like Thunder rumbling.  “Your friends have joined the team, Edge…How about you?”

     “Joined the team, man they are dead!”  he responded angrily.

     “That’s right,”  the thunderous voice answered, “I represent Management, and we want you on the team.  You know what to do, Edge.”  

      The blade made a squishing sound, as he pulled it from Kelly’s eye.  He found a spot between his ribs and over his heart, and drove the blade home.

       

 

      A young man’s voice came from the seats, “Nobody ever called you Edge until you picked up that axe, Paul.  You always tell it that way!”  

       “Hey man, it’s my story.  Edge will spin the the tale however he wants to.”

       “It’s our story too!”  a female voice responded

       “Maybe I should introduce you guys.”  Edge went off stage, and they heard a switch click.  More sickly green light illuminated the audience.  There was another teenage boy and two teenage girls sitting in the audience.  They all wore usher’s uniforms.

       “Look!  There are the other actors,”  Kara whispered leaning over Katie.  

      “Actors?  I don’t know about that; these are the folks that I was telling you about.  That’s Johnny,” he said, motioning to the boy. “The blonde chick is Kelly; the brunette is Kathy.”  The kids waved at Kara and Katie.

       “Welcome to The Duchess!”  Kelly said.

       “Thank you.  We are excited to be here.”  Katie said.

       The group fell silent.  

        “Hey!” Edge exclaimed, “you guys want to see the axe?”

        “Oh, no.  That’s not necessary!”  Katie said.

        “It’s just right here, still stage left…it is real gone man!” He ran off stage and came back a few seconds later with an ancient axe.  The handle was so old that it had turned dark brown.  The head was rusted and pitted…but Kara noticed the edge had been recently sharpened; it was bright and shiny.  

         “I think that we need to get out of here!”  Kara told Katie.  

         “Leave?  Not yet.  Edge has got something he needs to talk to you about.”  

         “You chicks don’t want to split yet…you are going to love this. Edge is going to make you a real sweet deal,”  Kelly said.

         “The management has always done it’s best to keep the whole haunted thing under wraps.  When we died, they cleaned it up.  Hey Isa, come on down here.  Isa used to own the theater; he killed himself upstairs and management tried to clean that up too but they couldn’t.  He’s not coming down. He doesn’t like to leave the balcony.  Anyhow, we have all been real happy, right cats?”  

     “Yeah, just ecstatic!”  Kathy snipped.

     “Don’t mind Kathy, she has always been like that.  Anyhow, like I said, we all been real happy.  There was about twenty or twenty-five years that nobody came around much, but we made it.  Management has been on a roll lately with this whole Shakespeare thing.  I don’t know, man, it’s just kind of square.  So, we been talking.  We convinced ‘em to look at this whole paranormal thing.  You know bring in investigators, show horror movies, ghost stories, that kind of thing.  Management didn’t want to buy in at first.  We kept at.  Now, they’re sold.  So, here is the groovy part,”  he said, as he inched closer to the girls,  “Management feels like they need some new blood.  That’s where you guys come in.”

     “Well, that is nice,”  Kara answered, “but horror and paranormal really aren’t our thing!’

     “That’s, true.  I have always been more of a Hallmark movie fan, myself.”  Katie said.

      “Management has been watching the two of you.  They like what they see.  They want you!  We want you to join the team!”  

       A thunderous voice echoed through the theater.  “Welcome to the team, Ladies.  Edge, you know what to do!”  

       Edge slammed the axe into Katie’s head.  Kara jumped up, screaming.  She ran for the door.  Edge hurled the axe, and it stuck between Kara’s shoulder blades.  The impact knocked her to the ground.  Edge pulled the dagger from underneath his Usher’s jacket.  He grabbed her by the hair and cut her throat.  He stood up, wiped a blood spatter from his nose, and looked at the other ushers.  “I think that they will be a good fit, a nice addition to the team.  Let’s get this place cleaned up.  We got two more interns coming in for an interview at three!”

 

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