Some people would say this is a good thing. Of Blood and Popcorn perhaps goes no further than proving I can be as derivative as the next man. Then again, perhaps this is a parody (though the critics would argue that a parody is nothing more than an excuse for not coming up with something original). Sod the critics, say I. Unless they like the stuff.
The idea came from the title and my intention to write something based around films. This also happens to be the only time I ever wrote about Skippy the wallaby. Quite why I included him the first place though is still a mystery to me ...
No, no, stop! Take me back to Keyboard Graffiti!
Of Blood and Popcorn
Skippy sat amongst the aisles munching on the contents of the bucket of popcorn he held between his front paws. A ferocious beastie with flaming eyes and blood-stained teeth growled at him. Their respective snouts could have been no more than a few inches apart.
Then a shout and the creature turned. Shaun Tucker, of the Starship Century, fired a las-bazooka and caught the monster right between the eyes.
A whoop of joy and relief went up from Tucker's companions. There was Peeves, Tucker's short and balding co-pilot, then Doctor Schneider and finally Clara Papadopolus.
Skippy knew what would happen next. It would be exactly the same thing that had happened at the end of the previous six films in the Starship Century Saga. But this time he was wrong.
With an ominous groan and creaking of metal, the Holographic projection units at the front of the theatre crashed to the ground. Just as Clara had flung her grateful arms about Mr.Tucker, the picture broke up and disappeared altogether. The colourful image of an alien planet that had filled the cinema was replaced by a sparse cloud of dust.
Skippy paused in mid-munch, another pawful of popcorn halting its regular trip to his mouth.
"Sorry, Skippy," came an sincere voice from the back of the theatre.
An elderly gentleman wearing a brown overall tottered down the steps until he drew level with the wallaby's seat. With a sigh he surveyed the wreckage.
"Looks like I'll have to cancel tonight's feature," said the man wearily, scratching his head.
Skippy emitted a few disappointed squeaks.
"I know, but then again, you're the only one who comes anyway."
Skippy squeaked hopefully.
"Sorry Skippy, but they don't repair antique equipment like this any more - no parts. It looks like I'll have to stay up late tonight with my screwdriver."
They both looked forlornly at the remains of theatre one's projectors.
Skippy hopped sorrowfully along the back alley that lead back to Juggernaut Haulage.
The Empire Cinema sat squashed between two building yards, behind the offices of Hilda Juggernaut. Situated as it was in the middle of a heavily industrialised district, not many customers tried to brave the constant stream of heavy goods vehicles to get to its single ticket booth.
The plethora of multiplexes that had sprung up around the edges of the residential zones had taken away what little custom the Empire had. The pictures were better, there was more choice, the ushers wore skimpy bathing costumes. How could old Monty compete with that?
Skippy leaned against the chain-link fencing that closed off the shipyard behind Juggernaut Haulage. He watched Frederick Paris climb into his Spacehopper and ignite the engines as the ground crew ran for cover. With much flame and smoke, the craft rose steadily into the blue.
A tear fell from the wallaby's eye. Old Monty was going to show 'The Last Picture Show' that night as well.
"That was your last picture show Montgomery," sneered Maxwell Roberts, pointing a triumphant finger at the old man's chest. "The bank are going to repossess this place in seven days if you don't pay off your debts ..."
Monty listened meekly, the letter that had dropped onto the doormat this morning had said much the same thing.
"... and finally I shall be able to buy this rotting fleapit and turn it into the mechandise shop for my latest multi-plex."
"But why build a cinema in the middle of a industrial estate?" asked Monty, voicing the major short-coming of the Empire.
"A tiresome detail, Montgomery - I am a businessman, whereas you are a slave to the films you show. You love those flickering lights. Me? I just see empty seats and potential profit."
"You have no soul Maxwell," muttered Monty.
"How did you know about that?" shot back the ruthless developer, fingering the parchment in his pocket bearing his own bloody signature. "It doesn't matter now, Monty. Seven days and all this shall be mine."
"I'll save the Empire somehow," said Monty proudly, though not altogether convincingly.
"It's too late Monty. I've won."
The old man's life seemed to desert him as Maxwell Roberts strode past the box office. He leaned heavily on his equally old mop and shook his head.
Squeak, went Skippy, hopping out from his hiding place behind a withered potted plant.
"Yes, I couldn't tell you before Skippy. Maxwell Roberts will be the proud owner of the Empire Cinema in seven days time."
Skippy squeaked and held up a meaningful paw.
"What was that Skippy? You have an idea?"
In a narrow back alley, far from the sight of curious passers-by, Maxwell Roberts stood next to his expensive flyer and wringed his hands nervously.
The wind whistled down between the buildings and Maxwell Roberts pulled his genuine fur coat closer about his grand figure. From his birth thirty-eight years ago, Roberts had been fed caviar on a silver shovel. He was a man used to the luxuries life had to offer. These kind of luxuries were in short supply in a dark and lonely alley.
The ruthless property developed had to shield his eyes from the sudden brightness of headlights swinging into the alley.
The driver of the car appeared oblivious to his discomfort and the headlights remained on full beam as the vehicle stopped a few feet short of Roberts' flyer.
There was the clunk of a car door being opened. Roberts could make out a shadowy figure standing by the front wing of the automobile.
Blindly, Maxwell Roberts delved into his pocket and retrieved the document he had been carrying close to his heart ever since he decided to pun bloody pen to paper. If it was indeed paper. Maxwell was no expert on such matters, but he might have guessed the parchment was made from dried human skin.
Of course, thinking those kind of thoughts put Maxwell Roberts off the whole idea. So he didn't. It was just recycled paper, that was all.
A gust of wind caught the document and tore it from Maxwell's hand. It fluttered peacefully in the light and then fell into the silhouette's hand.
The dark shape checked everything was in order, then nodded.
"The Boss will be pleased."
With those words the stranger climbed back into the car which reversed rapidly and disappeared onto the adjoining street.
The soulless Maxwell Roberts breathed a sigh of relief.
Old Monty stretched and tottered down the steps in his slippers. He lived in a small room above theatre one. It was a sparse affair, housing a bed, a sink and various pieces of cinema equipment in various states of repair. On the single shelf above his desk was a hologram of his wife, hidden behind an antique 120mm lens.
The flap on the letterbox swung and four thin parcels fell onto the doormat.
With increased pace, Monty rushed down to the back door of the cinema and grabbed up one of the packages. Tearing off the brown paper wrapping he stood and stared for a moment at the digital film in his hands.
"The adventures of Rocky McCulhoon, parts one to six. Running time six times twenty minutes," read Monty aloud. "Skippy, what did you order these for?"
The wallaby squeaked through the letterbox in reply.
"Yes, but ... look come in and you can explain it to me properly."
Skippy had brought with him a pile of posters. In clear and precise wallabalese, he explained to Monty his cunning plan. For his part Monty, nodded and uhm'ed and ah'ed as was required until a light bulb over his head lit up and he nodded even more vigorously.
"Yes Skippy, it might just work."
The rest of the morning saw Monty rush to finish fixing the projection units, while Skippy hopped his way around the surrounding premises and plastered the posters over every available wall.
To those versed in Wallabalese Skippy related the big news about the Empire Cinema and to those who weren't he expertly mimed the relevant information.
At dinnertime Skippy and Monty looked down on the seats of Theatre one from the disused projection booth.
"Twelve, thirteen, fourteen ... fifteen people. Yes, I admit it's a record Skippy, but it's hardly enough to save the Empire."
Skippy raised his meaningful paw and smiled to himself in the way wallabies do. Silently he was telling Monty to wait and see.
The next day Monty counted thirty-five people in the theatre, avidly watching the second part of the adventures of Rocky McCulhoon. With excitement he saw every customer on the edge of their seats as Rocky's car plummeted over the edge of the cliff.
The one o'clock presentation drew in almost as many people - all workers from the surrounding factories and shipping yards on their lunch break.
"Skippy," admitted Monty, "you're a wallabia genius."
Four days after they started showing the serial the theatre was packed to capacity. The patrons munched on their packed lunches as Rocky McCulhoon faced his mortal enemy, Doctor Abaneitzer, and got thrown to the villain's deadly piranhas.
On the seventh day, Monty and Skippy were waiting in the foyer with cheerful grins wide on their faces.
The man from the bank walked in, flanked by two heavies, just in case things got nasty. Hiding behind them and rubbing his hands in glee was the ruthless property developer Maxwell Roberts.
"Mr.Sellers," said the man from the bank solemnly, reading off a hand-viewer, "you have debts owing to the Westman and Eastberg Bank totalling seventy-two thousand, four hundred and fifty-six Unicash. If you cannot pay forthwith, I am legally empowered to repossess this establishment in payment."
"I would be glad to," replied Monty, picking up a briefcase from behind a well-watered and healthy potted plant.
The moment was made so much more exquisite for the old man by seeing the stunned look on Roberts face. The developer shoved past the heavies and glared at Monty.
"Seventy-two thousand, four hundred and fifty-six credits, in Unicash," said Monty, opening the case to display the stated amount. "I believe it is all here."
The man from the bank glanced over the money, using his innate gift for rapid numerology to check everything was in order.
"That will do nicely, sir," said the bank's smartly dressed man, accepting the case gratefully.
"But how?" stuttered Roberts, dumbfounded. "That ... the ... he got that money through illegal means, I'll bet my life on it. Don't take that money, it's blood money, it's the money of illicit dealings."
"It's money Mr.Maxwell," responded the man from the bank, "and that is all any bank wants."
"No!" whined the ruthless property developer.
"Yes!" said Monty. "And if you'll just step to one side gentlemen, I believe it is time for the twelve o'clock matinee."
Obediently, they all shuffled up against the wall as Monty opened the door to the ticket booth and sat himself inside.
The hands on the old clock over the doors swung so they both pointed to the twelve.
Everything was quiet.
The man from the bank looked at a Maxwell Roberts in shock and then at the small wallaby grinning at him from beside his kneecap. This was indeed a bizarre place.
Then there was a low rumbling, in the distance. It grew steadily louder, closer.
Eager shouts and frantic talking suddenly had mouths as a crowd swarmed up the steps and in through the doors of the Empire Cinema.
With the form perfected through years of experience, Monty deposited the change that was pushed under the window and handed out tickets in return. The customers barely seemed to be aware of this formality, instead they were far too busy discussing how Rocky McCulhoon could possibly escape from the clutches of Doctor Abaneitzer's monstrous robot creation.
Only a few minutes had passed and the crowd was safely through the doors and waiting for the presentation to begin.
Skippy looked up at the man from the bank and could tell he was impressed.
"We're thinking of starting additional features in the evening and the early hours for the night shifts," announced Monty, joining them after locking the taking's up safely in the cinema's safe. "Another couple of weeks and we should be able to re-open our second theatre."
"A most impressive show, Mr.Sellers," said the man from the bank. "We at Eastman and Westberg are always on the look out for promising investment opportunities - perhaps we could arrange a meeting sometime."
Monty looked at his business partner and Skippy gave the nod.
"It would be a pleasure," replied Monty.
The man from the bank departed, then returned to look for his missing heavies. They were found lurking at the back of the theatre, sneaking a peek at the latest installment of Rocky McCulhoon's adventures. Everyone (except Maxwell Roberts) found this most amusing and there was much laughing after the heavies had handed over the cost of the ticket.
This did not go down well with the patrons, who turned around as one and ssh'ed them before getting back to watching the feature.
This caused more chuckles - quiet chuckles this time.
"Where have you been?" demanded Hilda Juggernaut as Skippy attempting to slip back into the office.
The wallaby looked sheepish.
"Sneaking around to watch escapist nonsense at that cinema again, no doubt," stated Miss.Juggernaut, towering over the poor creature of Australian origin.
Squeak, replied Skippy.
"Thought so and I suppose it's your fault all my pilots bugger off over there come twelve o'clock?"
Skippy hung his head.
"Yes, well I suppose you've saved one of our local places of historic interest and that's worth something," muttered Hilda. "I've got some letters that need posting, the stamps are on my desk."
Skippy nodded happily, he'd got off lightly. Jug was in a good mood today. Hopping on his cute, little back legs, Skippy took the stamps and began his task of licking and sticking.
Maxwell Roberts had never been to the Den before. On reflection he considered that this was probably a good thing.
He had been left alone in a darkened room after being lead along corridors peopled with criminals, psychopaths and cutthroats. Had it not been for the blades they had been waving he might have thought he was back at the stock exchange.
"Maxwell," said a deep voice from the shadows.
"Did you, or did you not manage to acquire that little establishment known to us all as the Empire Cinema?"
"Well, err, regrettably, Mr.Sellers managed to find the money within the allotted time and so, to put it simply ..."
"Err, yes. No."
"Dear oh dear. You are a very stupid, stupid man. Had you succeeded, and I'm sure you would have done had you used a little imagination, Juggernaut Haulage Incorporated would be on my doorstep and I could finally extract my revenge."
"But I thought ..."
"Yes, well, as I said, you are a very, stupid, stupid man. Kill him boys."
The boys stepped forth from the darkness. They were big boys, not one shorter than seven foot, nor less than three hundred pounds and not lacking in sharp and pointy death-inducing instruments.
"Oh no," shrieked Maxwell Roberts, far more calmly than might have been expected.