Short story by award-winning author Lori Soard. This little tale has a paranormal twist. It’s an odd story, but Lori hopes her readers will enjoy it.
Occasionally, I get inspired to write a short story or two. These stories are almost always a bit odd and don’t fit any particular genre. I’ve always just written them for my own enjoyment. Sometimes they touch on difficult issues, like this one does, but the end of this one becomes light and happy. I hope you enjoy this unusual little tale that is nothing like my books.
The dark shadows of the theater hid her split lip and blackened eyes. Tess Harris slouched down in her seat. Her body ached from bruises hidden under her clothing. Elvis’ timeless image flickered across the screen as he crooned a song to Ann-Margret. Tess sighed. There were only three hours remaining in the all day Elvis Presley Movie Festival. Three hours left before she’d be forced to find a new hiding place.
“I can’t go home,” she whispered to the near empty cinema. A lone couple sat in the front of the room, exchanging kisses from time to time. What did it feel like to be loved? To experience affection instead of abuse? She sure wouldn’t know.
Yesterday evening she’d thought she could end their marriage. She’d packed Vince’s bags and braced herself for his arrival. She’d thought she could make him leave, until he’d walked in the front door of the small ranch house her parents left her when they died.
“I ain’t going nowhere.” His voice took on the low rumble of an angry bear and his eyes flickered with the veil of anger she’d come to expect from him.
“Just go, Vince.” Her voice caught and she made the mistake of showing weakness. She stammered. “I-I d-don’t love you anymore.”
“You think you can get rid of me that easy?” He took a step closer. “You are stuck with me until the day you die. How long you live is up to you.”
She took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. There was now more at stake than the bruises she’d suffered for over a year. A child grew within her and she refused to let Vince continue to beat her and probably the child. No. It was over.
“I’ll kill you and that little brat you’re carrying if you try to leave.” Vince’s hand rose. His lips twisted into a crooked snarl when she flinched. The backhanded blow forced her head to the side. She ran her tongue over her lip, feeling the metallic tang of blood. It was a familiar friend.
Fear coiled through her as he swung his arm back, his gaze fixed on her midriff. Oh, God, he’s going to kill my baby. Please help me. She dropped to her knees and the blow landed between her eyes.
“I didn’t mean it, Vince. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Please don’t hurt our baby. Please.” She bowed her head, knowing that to look at him would invite more blows. How she hated to stoop before his cruelty. But she wanted this child. Needed this child. Longed for someone to love and nurture.
He brought his fist down on the top of her bent head. Tears sprang to her eyes. She bit her tender lip to keep from crying out and smelled the scent of her own blood mixed with fear.
“Unpack my bags,” Vince said.
She nodded and unpacked his bags, knowing the second he passed out she’d leave her childhood home and never return.
Elvis’ velvety voice brought Tess back to the now deserted theater. If only she could find a man like the fictional Lucky Jackson on the screen.
“If only,” she whispered to the faded drapes of the century old building.
The sound faded out for a moment and then came back louder than before. She rubbed her ears. The clickity clack of the movie projector seemed amplified as the sound faded out again. She turned and stared at the flickering light in the box high above her head. Perhaps it was overheated from the many hours of use.
“Hello?” she called as the image on the screen flickered.
“Hello.” The voice came from the front of the theatre.
She whipped around, her heart pounding in her chest. She couldn’t see anyone.
No one answered. She stood and edged her way to the aisle, keeping her back against the half wall at the side of the upper section, she crept toward the exit. Was it Vince? Perhaps he’d found her. Should she scream? She cleared her throat. She couldn’t let him harm their baby.
“Is someone there?” Elvis’ image wavered on the screen and then moved closer as though he peered through a telescope.
Tess shook her head. She’d finally lost it. The blow that Vince had dealt to the top of her head must have knocked her brain loose because Elvis could NOT be looking through a movie screen at her. Could he? Of course he couldn’t!
Deep, hypnotic eyes peered down at her. A slow, cocky smile tilted the corners of his mouth and he reached a hand forward and out into the theatre. She took a few steps closer to the screen, watching out of the corner of her eye, expecting Vince to pounce at any moment. Her hand protected her stomach.
“Well, Tess, you’ve finally lost it. You won’t have to worry about where to go because you’ll have a permanent bed at the funny farm.”
“This is insane,” the character Lucky said.
Or was it Elvis? Did she care? Could she escape into the movie screen? If only…
Did she want to? She glanced behind her. The light flickered eerily from the projection room. It wasn’t as if she had anything to lose. They lived in a small town and Vince would find her eventually if she didn’t leave. He’d managed to tie up all her money. She couldn’t even scrape enough together to purchase a bus ticket. She’d looked for women’s shelters in the phone book but hadn’t found any listed. If they’d lived in a big city, she probably could have found help. Henryville sat on the edge of sleepy burb where men didn’t beat there wives and if they did the residents didn’t want to know anything about it.
“I must be dreaming.”
“Me too.” Lucky stretched his hand out.
If she was dreaming, she might as well make it a good dream. She placed her hand in his. His palm felt warm and slightly damp. She started to pull away, shocked at how real he felt. She could smell the tang of citrus cologne and his eyes drowned her.
“Tess!” Vince’s voice shouted as though at the end of a long tunnel.
She glanced over her shoulder and saw him running toward her, rage and confusion etched on his handsome face. Elvis/Lucky stared at him and then pulled her into the screen. Oh, yes. This was some dream. She only hoped she dreamed Vince too because what he’d do to her and the baby froze her blood.
“Who was that man?”
Lucky took a step back and Tess immediately felt a chill in the air where warmth had been.
“How did I get here?” Any moment she’d wake up. She glanced around and found she was in the same theatre. She hoped her baby didn’t inherit her insane gene. The faded drapes were now a brilliant, deep red.
“You were in the movie.” Lucky pointed to the screen. “And you looked at me and held your hand out. It was the strangest…”
“Dream?” But it didn’t feel like a dream. It felt all too real. She clasped her arms around her midriff. Too real. Where would she go? She faced the same problem except maybe she wouldn’t have to deal with Vince. She’d be safe. The baby’d be safe. How could two people have the same dream? Of course she was dreaming Lucky so maybe he hadn’t dreamt at all. Confusion fogged her brain.
“You aren’t Elvis?”
Oh now, c’mon. She knew it was a dream now. EVERYONE knew who Elvis was.
Unless..unless she’d been transported into a strange new world where Elvis didn’t exist? Didn’t sound like much of a world to her.
“Is this a movie festival?” she asked.
“Sure. I was watching a Jesse Presley film. Viva Indy 500.”
Tess laughed. She couldn’t help it. She’d finally gone insane, so she was allowed to laugh like a hysterical maniac. In her pretend world, things were apparently turned upside down. Elvis’ twin had his fame and the movies were different than in her world. Yes, she’d finally gone off the deep end. But perhaps she’d be better off. Crazy people didn’t worry about where they would live, they went to the asylum.
“Hey, are you okay?” Lucky gave her shoulder a gentle shake. Amazing how real a hallucination could feel.
She took a step back and stubbed her toe against the edge of a seat. Ouch! She didn’t remember ever feeling such intense pain in a dream before. Because it wasn’t a dream. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t a hallucination. Did people feel pain when they had delusions? She didn’t think so. But she could be wrong. What if this were real? What if she had truly stepped into another world? Her pulse skipped giddily at the thought.
“Tess!” The sound in the theatre surrounded them.
Vince’s snarling features stared at her from the movie screen. He stared upwards, his forehead knitted into a frown. But he wasn’t looking directly at them. He apparently couldn’t see them.
“He looks mean.”
“He is mean.” She shivered. “I can’t go back.” Whether it was back to sanity or back to another world, she didn’t care. She couldn’t go back and face Vince and his anger. He was a dangerous man.
“Then you won’t.” Lucky held out his hand. “Lucky Jackson. You may have heard of me? I’m a race car driver.”
“Yes, I know. I mean, I have heard of you.” As a fictional character. A fictional character who felt blazingly real.
“Tess.” Vince’s voice grew weaker.
She smiled as the image flickered and faded into a movie starring a Jesse Presley who looked identical to Elvis. The clear perfection of his voice rang out across the theater as he sang “Viva Indy 500.”
“I have a feeling I just escaped my boyfriend.”
“I have a feeling we’d better not tell people exactly how we met or we’ll both wind up in the mad house.” He leaned forward and his breath brushed across her temple.
She closed her eyes. How she wanted to believe there could be a happily ever after for her and the baby. The baby!
“I’m pregnant,” she blurted.
His dark eyes widened and then he smiled. “I can’t have children but want a family.”
“Aren’t we the perfect couple? It’s almost as though we’re in a fairy tale.” Or a movie.
They left the theatre arm in arm. The sunset disappeared upwards into the sky and the crickets croaked instead of singing but Tess didn’t care. She and Lucky already had their lives scripted out and their ending would always be happy.