Authors: Katerina Martinez
An Ashwood Novel
Half-Lich Series, Book 1
By Lee Dignam & Katerina Martinez
An Ashwood Novel
Half-Lich Series, Book 1
Copyright © 2016 by Lee Dignam & Katerina Martinez. All rights reserved. Cover uses images © 2016 Shutterstock.
Published by Supernal Publishing
Cover Art by Rebecca Frank Art
Editing by Stacia Williams
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, events or locales is purely coincidental.
Reproduction in whole or in part of this publication without express written consent is strictly prohibited. I greatly appreciate you taking the time to read my work. Please consider leaving a review wherever you bought the book, or tell your friends about this serial to help spread the word!
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On a windy night in October, long after the last patrons of the Cinema Royale had shuffled out of its front doors for the last time, something happened to Emily Page which would change the trajectory of her existence forever.
Maggie Davenport, owner and manager of the Cinema Royale, had taken off as soon as the end credits to
The Big Sleep
rolled. Freddie, her son and the Royale’s line manager, followed like a babe, closely and obediently, leaving Emily and the only other working employee—Nathan Wyatt—to clean up and close the theater.
This wasn’t a particularly odd thing to happen, that the care of the entire theater should be left to two employees. There was no love left for this place, no love for the old girl, as Bogart might have said. This much Emily had been sure of for a while. The theater had been going downhill for as long as she had been in its employ, manning the ticket booth and lending a hand to clean up when the once-grand doors closed for the night. Someone was always off sick or had to babysit, and the theater didn’t have much in the way of employees to begin with. There hadn’t been a full crew in over twenty years.
It didn’t help that moviegoers on this side of town were, at the best of times, as messy as over privileged children with way too many toys. At the worst of times, Emily had found things in the space between rows she wouldn’t touch with a dead man’s hand. Tonight, however, the theater was spotless. Everyone, it seemed, had taken a moment and gone slightly out of their way after the movie ended to throw their garbage in the trash, like mourners at a funeral dropping flowers on top of a casket.
“Lost something in there?” Nate asked.
“Look at this, Nate,” she said, tilting the waste basket toward him.
“Isn’t that where trash
“In a normal movie theater, sure, but it’s like the people who come here don’t know how to be tidy.”
“Not tonight,” he said, scratching his chin in agreement. “Maybe they’re paying respects?”
“Maybe if people did that more often we wouldn’t be closing tomorrow.”
“Easy night, then. Guess this means you’re free?”
Emily sighed and said “Nate…”
“I know,” he said, his arms going up in a gesture of surrender, “Can’t blame a guy for trying… again.”
“I’m sorry, okay?”
“Don’t be. I know what you’re going through. I just thought you may have wanted some company.”
She came up to him, placed her hand on his shoulder, and smiled. He was easy on the eyes, tall, and liked to wear blazers over his t-shirts. A little on the skinny side he might have been, but he was also full of personality and he had his head screwed on straight. In other words, Nate was exactly the kind of guy her mom had
wanted her to meet; a nice boy with ambition and a good head on his shoulders. Maybe if she had met him two years ago, her parents would think better of her taste in men. But she hadn’t met him. Instead she had met Jason, and had made one of the worst mistakes of her life.
“Tell you what,” he said, and he handed her a ring of keys, isolating one key in particular. “This one’s the key to the projection room.”
“Take it. It’s yours.”
“Get out of town,” she said, eyes wide. “You’re not seriously going to let me go up there.”
“Why not? Tonight was our last screening anyway.”
Emily carefully plucked the key ring out of Nate’s hand and stared at the one marked ‘Projection Rm’ like it was some kind of alien artifact. The manager had put out strict instructions barring any and all staff from entering the Projection Room—anyone except for Nate. The film-maker she wasn’t had always wanted to lay eyes on the projector upstairs. Nate had told her it was an old 35 millimeter player, a rare beauty, but no matter how hard she tried, Nate had always been a stickler for the rules.
She narrowed her eyes, pursed her lips, and said “Wait a second… is this some kind of ploy? Are you bribing me?”
“What?” he said, “Me? No. I swear. I mean, I would never—”
“Relax! It was a joke.” She couldn’t help but smile at the way his face flushed bright red, or at his sudden nervous scramble for words.
“A bad joke.”
“Whatever. Anyway, I shouldn’t go in there,” she said, but her feet were already carrying her up the long line of stairs leading out of the auditorium. “What if I break something?”
Nate kept the pace with her and shrugged. “I don’t think anyone’s going to care. Do you think whoever buys this place will keep any of that machinery?”
“You’re probably right,” she said when they got to the top of the stairs, “But just in case, I’d like it if you came with me.”
“Me?” he asked, “I’m giving you a free pass to dig into that room so you can fondle all the old film reels we keep instore and you want supervision?”
“Not supervision… company.”
Nate checked his watch. “I don’t—”
“Before you act like you don’t have the time,” she said, interrupting him, “Allow me take you back to the moment when you asked me out. Unless you’ve made plans with someone telepathically in the last couple of minutes, you don’t have anywhere to be right now.”
A grin spread across his face. “Yeah,” he said, “You got me.”
Emily matched his expression, but her stomach went cold with regret. “If you would rather leave, I’ll understand,” she said, backpedaling out of the commitment she had wrangled him into.
“No, it’s okay. I’ll stay. You’re right, I don’t have anywhere I need to be, so…”
“So it’s off to the projection room we go!”
Emily turned, pushed past the creaky double doors, and started up the half-spiral stairs with the wobbly handrail.
Along a patchy, burgundy colored wall, old movie posters hung in veneration of the great classics and cult flicks the Royale often played. This wasn’t a place for superheroes or girls in love with vampires. The Royale had hosted many film festivals in its time; horror, noir, sci-fi. Some old spaghetti westerns had made it onto its giant screen, too. But novelties wear off after a while, and as the Royale stubbornly, and with righteous zeal, clung to the fading glory of old film, with time it started to look like the Royale would become a martyr for its cause.
The floor beneath Emily’s foot creaked as the last step gave way to wooden floorboards. She stood before the red door labelled ‘Projector’, staring at it as if it were a portal to a different world. Then she glanced a look at Nate, almost as if seeking permission. Nate nodded. She unlocked the door and stepped inside with a held breath, her skin alight with excitement.
This wasn’t a large room, nor was it a very well ventilated room judging by the wall of heat she seemed to have penetrated, but it was full of cozy charm and smelled of old cinema.
Hollywood, baby; this is where the magic happens, ch’yeah.
“So this is where you work,” she said to Nate, who had walked in behind her.
“Yep. This is where the magic happens.”
Emily, stunned for a moment at their random telepathic moment, shook the weirdness off and cocked an eyebrow at him. “Really?”
“Sorry, that was lame.”
“Little bit,” she said, omitting what she had thought only seconds before.
“This, uh, this is the projector,” Nate said, wading through the awkwardness. “Pretty cool, huh?”
“I’ve never seen one up close,” she said, eyeing the mammoth machine which seemed to fill the room.
This beast of metal squares and circles looked like some kind of mechanical monster. At one point the black paint job would have been pristine and shiny, but time leaves its mark on everything. The knobs and buttons were faded, some metallic parts were brown with rust, and its cable connectors looked like they had seen better days. This was the wild cat of projectors; a feral animal that cared for nothing and no one except for its own survival.
Emily let her fingers lightly brush the metal casing. The projector had to be at least thirty years old, maybe older. It was like touching something out of time. How many people had cared for this machine, how many movie reels had it eaten, and how many more would it eat after tonight?
“I can’t believe you get to play with this thing every night,” she said.
“It’s alright. Maintaining it is tough, though.”
“I bet,” she said, separating from the projector and exhaling her excitement. “You wanna show me the closet with all the old movies?”
“Sure, it’s right here.”
Nate crossed the tiny projection room and stuck one of the keys from his key ring into the lock on a door so heavily covered in posters of old movies you would have thought it was a wall. He pulled the door open, tugged on a string overhead, and a single bulb buzzed to life, its dim orange light revealing shelves and boxes filled with round metal cases.