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Movieland - Chapter 21
The Back of Beyond.
Eden refused to follow Pauline into the dark and reared back, pressing herself against the ropes in the wings.
“Show me! C’mon!”
Eden gripped one of the loose, droopy ropes tightly. It took all her resolve to resist the command.
“Where did you see Dante!” the woman demanded.
Shakily, Eden pointed. “In there … in the cave.”
“The cave? This is a movie screen. Are you out of your bleached blonde mind, girl!”
Pauline swatted away hanging backdrops as she went to the other side of the stage. She was now well into the darkness. She turned and eyed the pale White woman, who — God, she couldn’t believe it!— was cringing into the mass of limp ropes. Amazingly, the wintery blonde was well-lit, though everything around her was dim, but the porn star had had enough of this crazy, fragile bitch.
Dante was here somewhere. Hurt … or … — Pauline didn’t want to think about it. Fuming back toward the wings, determined to haul the maddeningly inarticulate blonde into the center of things and find out what the hell she was talking about, Pauline was knocking over props when her shoulder happened to brush against the screen in the lightest, most insensible way.
That’s all it took.
Tom was turning the dark glasses over in his hand when he heard the scream.
The candle blew out as he rushed, but he knew the way now, all the hidden doors, pushed aside. When he reached the auditorium, he found the dark glasses still gripped in his hand. He dropped them in his jacket pocket.
Up there on the stage, he saw Eden in the wings, pressed against the wall, terrified. “What!” he cried. “What is it?” But she was speechless. He reached her and asked again, “Eden?”
Then he saw what it was.
It was not she who had let out the full-throated scream.
Tangled up in ropes that were flying about, that she was grabbing hold of, the Black woman was dangling in the air, her long legs kicking as she tried to resist the whirlpool at her back, sucking her toward the screen. Except it wasn’t a screen anymore but an enormous, churning void — a maelstrom of spinning vapors where the screen was supposed to be!
The determined Pauline kept fighting her way out of the relentless drag, kicking like a channel swimmer plowing through a furious North Atlantic squall.
Tom couldn’t think; he could only act. He knotted a rope around his waist, then another, and was picked up off his feet by the gale winds as he approached the fighting Pauline. He could now see what she could not.
Her back was to it, but Tom was squinting directly into the eye of the rapidly whirling vapors. He put a hand in front of his glasses to cut the glare for there at the center was a spinning globe of gold, a sun with tongues of flame leaping off it. In its nimbus, metallic flecks twirled and glittered, gold flecks that were spilling out across the floor, into the very air he was breathing. The backstage was alive now with spinning light.
Pauline flew about, struggling right above him, and Tom caught hold of one of her lethal kicking legs. Adding his weight to hers brought them both down swiftly to the ground.
Together in a crouch, they fought their way across the golden stage, ropes whipping and snapping above them in the air.
All at once, the ropes fell limp, the sun went out. Tom turned in time to see the whirlpool swirling shut like the iris of a camera.
He stood in the sudden darkness, bringing Pauline up with him. Shaken, she was still fighting blindly, beating her fists against his chest. Tom guided her firmly around the shoulders out to the wings. In passing, he met Eden’s eye. She was breathless, tormented.
“Now,” she pleaded huskily, “now do you believe me?”
Preview: A rip in the air.