The Rialto Theater

The Rialto Theater

This story is a short piece I wrote several years ago for Halloween. As a horror author I firmly believe it is my duty to entertain you during this season. With that, every year I post a new horror story for your enjoyment. This year, leading up to the big day, I'll be posting past stories over the weeks.

Enjoy, and remember to always keep reading. 

     There's something about being single in your thirties that makes everyone want to hook you up with their desperately lonely friend, who is always “just perfect for you”. That's how I find myself on this double date with Annie and Derrick, and Derrick's cousin's best friend, or was it best friend's cousin?

     I've known Annie for about a decade and a half through a mutual friend, although we had lost touch for about five years, and I haven't heard wind from that mutual friend in about fourteen years. We reconnected just in time for me to attend her wedding, sans date, which has led to me meeting Dana roughly forty five minutes ago.

     In the past ten months that I've known Derrick, he and I became good friends in our own right, sharing similar interests in whiskey, cigars, and more 'refined' things like seedy dive bars. Another common interest are movies. We're not critics, we're not movie-philes, and we're not cinema snobs. We are just two adults that like all kinds of movies. This bond has brought the four of us to the Regal Theater in Ridgefield Park.

     The Regal has gone through many owners during my years in the area, none ever successful to any measurable degree. The last owner closed up shop roughly a year and a half ago, and the theater has sat vacant since. That is, at least, what we were led to believe.

     Last week Derrick received an anonymous letter in the mail with four invitations to a private one night only 'limited engagement' at the Regal. This matte black invitation with gold foil script didn't mention what movie would be playing or even why Derrick come to be on the list of invitees, all it contained was a date and time, to bring an appetite and stressed the importance of secrecy.

     Gathering at Annie and Derrick's house, the four of us arrived to the Regal at 7:50 for the eight o'clock start time. We were promptly greeted in the lobby by an impossibly tall gentleman, who must have broken the seven foot mark. He had striking features, vibrant blue eyes that were sunken into their sockets, a prominent nose with thin nostrils, and large ears that bent back as if they were slicked towards the rear of his head along with his oily black hair. This combination of features left him distinguishable yet neither handsome nor ugly.

     This anomaly of a man, took our tickets, and silently led us into the theater, making sure to duck as he entered the doors, and to our table. The building itself was gutted to accommodate a single theater, having only originally housing two theaters no great sacrifice was made. They had forgone with the traditional cinema style seats, and instead installed several rows of crescent booths. Standing at our booth in the rear I can count only five booths total set up like the dots on a dice, allowing the theater to only seat twenty attendees. “Limited engagement” indeed.

     Currently showing on the large screen is a live feed of the interior of the cinema. Were watching us, and all the others in the room, however the view point is from above the screen so no faces are distinguishable, which I'm thankful for. Although I don't quite know why.

     We sit at the booth with the females on the inside and Derrick and I on the outside. The semicircle table before us is bare save for a sole dollar store candle casting enough light to reach the edges of the table and no further.

     “So, Derrick tells me you're an author. Written anything I would have heard of?” Dana asks either to show a genuine interest in me, or simply to appease her duties for Derrick.

     Although Dana can be considered quite attractive, I find myself simply placating to Annie's desire of a nice double date. We'll enjoy a nice meal together, perhaps delight in a one of a kind showing, however part ways never to see each other again until Annie gives birth to an as of yet unplanned child, or to celebrate Derrick's fortieth birthday. In this briefest of moments to reflect, perhaps I've learned why I'm still single in my thirties. “That's right, although I doubt you would have come across anything of mine. Annie had mentioned you teach at NYU, a professor of psychology, if I remember correctly? “

     She nods once with a smug self satisfied smile, “Women's psychology, correct. And what is it you write exactly?” With no indication she's being anything but polite and courteous, I understand the waft of condensation in her question.

     Puffing out my chest, I answer proudly, “I am an author of speculative fiction.”

     “I'm sorry, an author of what?”

     And with that one question she deflates my chest. I look to Annie and Derrick for support, but they've turned to themselves, leaving us to our own devices. Typically, when I mention the speculative fiction, I prepare myself to explain it, however with an NYU professor, I expected a bit more intelligence. “I focus on horror and mysteries.”

     “Truly one would have to have to have psychological issues to create these twisted worlds.” Of course her interest in me piques when she sees me as a patient.

     I chuckle to show her I take no offense to her comment, not that I think she cares one way or the other. “Well all artists have to be a little dead in hear.” I say and point to my chest, “but I get it all out in my writing, allowing me to be charming in person.” Giving her an exaggerated smile, we're interrupted when a waiter serves food none of us recall ordering.

     He places a plate of steak and potatoes before Annie, Derrick and I. Of course Dana plays the role of the squeaky wheel, “Excuse me, I don't eat red...”

     She's cut off with a plate of salmon, and if my nose is correct an orange glaze.

     The moment this nondescript waiter silently turns to leave, another similar looking waiter arrives with whiskey for Derrick and I, and wine for the ladies. Red for Annie, and a white wine for Dana's fish.

     Although we hadn't discussed it, I simply assumed Annie and Derrick had ordered the food prior to our arrival. They begin eating, which is enough for me to follow suite.

     Moments later, the occupants from the front right booth are escorted behind the movie screen, and their faces are shown for the first time, all of whom appear to be confused and a little excited. They're led to a gray concrete room, that looks like an abandoned storage facility, with four metal folding chairs facing away from each other.

     The group is directed to sit down in each of the seats, and one of the cinema pages instructs them to relax with a motion of his hands. It's at this moment I realize that aside from Dana, Annie, and Derrick I haven't heard a single other voice since we entered The Regal. Even the music piping through the theater is instrumental.

     The screen changes, and to save on audio the theater employs tactics from the silent era, a caption is shown.


The Rialto Theater would like to ask each table of guests to join us backstage one at a time. While alone in the room they will concentrate on their greatest fantasies at this very moment. Whoever's desire is the strongest will appear on screen. Relax, enjoy, and remember it's just a movie.

     The camera shot on screen returns to the four individuals sitting in the chairs. They all still look confused, and a little less excited, replaced with nervousness. The camera is slowly panning around them in a circle, allowing us to get a clear image of each of their faces. They're three gentlemen in cheap business suits and a woman with hard features and her hair up in a tight bun, like a modern day Nurse Ratched. My guess; they're teachers.

     As the camera begins it's third rotation around the group and boredom begins to set in, the screen cuts to white noise, like a TV from the 80's with a loose antenna. Slowly a picture begins to fade in, fighting its way through the snow of static.

     Sitting tall the woman in layers of makeup and a more contemporary hairdo, although she looks no less unattractive. Initially the crowd murmurs, notifying me they can communicate audibly, and even I find myself intrigued how they made this computer image so quickly, but realize it isn't a computer generate image, but actually a filmed scene. It's obvious this group, or at least the woman was a plant in the show. They must have recorded this footage prior to the show and made a spectacle leading up to it as part of the event. The camera pans down from her face revealing she's wearing a skin tight black leather outfit with lace ties going up either side, and revealing an ample cleavage. A mask is placed over her face by hands of an unseen assistant, and shortly after a whipping crop is handed to her.

     In this video, or 'fantasy' as they would have us believe, she must be a dominatrix.

     “Sorry guys, this isn't what I was expecting.” Derrick apologizes. “Do you want to...”

     One of the page/waiters returns and holds a finger up to his lips. Silently telling Derrick to remain quiet. We stay seated.

     Slowly, the mistress is revealed to be seated atop a black throne carried by two of the teachers she arrived with. The third teacher is crawling at their side. All three male teachers are wearing thong bottoms with ball gags in their mouths. She takes turns whipping each in their exposed rear, bending low to strike the crawling submissive. Her crouch reveals more than just cleavage, and as it appears her breast may become exposed, the image disappears.

     The scene returns to the back room where the four are now sitting facing each other. The mistress' face has turned a bright red of embarrassment, not only at the fantasy revealed within her, but also that fact she's still dressed as the dominatrix. Two of the male teachers barely dressed look appalled at the whole thing. However, the last teacher sitting to her right sheepishly removes the ball gag from his mouth and places a hand on hers. She withdraws her hand in disgust, and leaves the room.

     I'll admit, even though the gimmick seems short sighted, the actors played their parts well enough when they were returned to the storage room. I begin to wonder how many more of the tables are a part of the show, and if we're the only one not an act.

     Our drinks are replaced, again silently, as we continue to work on the food, which is cooked perfectly.

     “At least they had the decency to cut the scene before they showed anything more obscene.” Dana protested with a large drink from her glass. “Typical male beliefs. If a woman isn't as attractive as popular standards, she's reduced to a masked dominatrix role.”

     Sensing I've had my fill of the women's psychologist, Derrick plays the role of devil's advocate. “But Dana, they were just showing her fantasy. Is it the filmmaker's fault she has desires of dominance in the bedroom?”

     Letting out an exasperated sigh, Dana counters, “You and I and everyone else in this room know that whole scene was staged. There is no magical apparatus that will display one's inner desires.”

     “Agreed Dana, I will not argue that point. However, would you argue that a likely scenario is that they asked her what her fantasy was before hand, and put that display together accordingly?”

     Mercifully for Dana, the second act was about to begin, and the front left table was now whisked to the back. This group consisted of two females and two males. The gentlemen looked similar, with one being an older version of the other. I'd wager they were sixty five and forty respectively, likely making them father and son. The men were seated with their backs to each other, and the women similarly.

     The same message appears on screen, which I find to be lazy showmanship.


The Rialto Theater would like to ask each table of guests to join us backstage one at a time. While alone in the room they will concentrate on their greatest fantasies at this very moment. Whoever's desire is the strongest will appear on screen. Relax, enjoy, and remember it's just a movie.

     The matriarch of this group has clear reservations of what may be revealed, which makes me more intrigued on what her story would be, however if they stay true to form, someone with a stronger 'desire' will win out. From the look on the faces, my guess is the son. The static starts at roughly the same point in the rotation as the first go round.

     Through the crackle on the screen a large castle is revealed in the distance sitting against a sheer cliff to rocky waters. The camera zooms in from over the sea and heads towards a window high in the castle. Again, the scene is something that is clearly filmed and not a digital creation, which baffles me. How does a production like this not only afford a helicopter, but also acquire rights to film in a castle?

     The camera, from zooming over the water, somehow enters the castle seamlessly. There's no scene change, or film splicing, just a continuous motion from outside the castle to within. Once inside, we enter a large gathering hall with four thrones perched atop a small stage. Sitting in the center is the patriarch of the family as king, with his wife to his left. To his right sits his son, the Rialto prince. Missing from the picture is the other female of the group, and I can sense Derrick also question he absence.

     The seven foot usher emerges from the crowd before the Rialto family, dressed as a jester. Without any prompting begins his act, however trips over his own feet in the first bit. Failing to impress, the king signals a thumbs down, and the lanky giant is carried off by the similar looking page/waiters.

     Again, I must critique the laziness of this production. If we're to believe the scenario of this being random happenstance, they need to expand their roster.

     Uncharacteristically quiet for most of the night, Annie mirrors my thoughts, “They couldn't hire someone else to play the different roles?” She is silently shushed from an appearing page/waiter almost immediately.

     The page/waiter that just reprimanded Annie reappears on screen holding the bloody head of the jester. As the real waiter walks away from us, I notice his hand is dripping wet, but with the dim lights of the theater, can't quite make out what is on his hand.

     Similar to jester before her, the fourth member of the group makes her way through the gathered audience before the Rialto family. Dressed as a peasant, she does a curtsy before the king. He rises with joy on his face and embraces her shoulders in his giants paws, kissing her on each cheek. Turning, he motions for his son to join them. Doing so, the son lifts the peasant off her feet, kissing her passionately before the entire kingdom. Her clothes magically become those fit for a princess, and the white noise returns.

     The four family members are sitting facing each other in their new fancy Rialto garb, and the patriarch is smiling with tears in his eyes. They all rise, and embrace in family hug. The daughter-in-law has been accepted in the family. The emotions seem genuine, and I'm still intrigued how they pulled off the camera trickery of entering the narrow castle window from a helicopter. While I couldn't notice the details, it's clear they used computer manipulation to alter the princess' clothes. They seem to have blown the load on this segment's budget.

     Of course Dana found the sexist overtones the rest of us missed. “Typical. The lowly female has to elevate her status to be accepted into a male dominated society.”

     With the attempt at a double date long past, I hold no punches. “Do you hear yourself when you spew this rhetoric?”

     Trying to diffuse the situation before it gains steam, Annie asks, “Why is it wrong for a daughter-in-law to seek approval for the family she's married into?”

     “What about the son-in-law seeking approval from her family? Why is it a one way street in service of the male?”

     Derrick chuckles, before suggesting, “Maybe it's because it's his family that's here.”

     Our drinks are once again replenished, thankfully, but this time I notice the page/waiter's white sleeve is covered in red, not the red of wine either.

     The center table is now selected to enter the backstage area. They walk between the two front booths, and Annie points out that not only have the Rialto family not taken their seats, the teachers are still missing.


The Rialto Theater would like to ask each table of guests to join us backstage one at a time. While alone in the room they will concentrate on their greatest fantasies at this very moment. Whoever's desire is the strongest will appear on screen. Relax, enjoy, and remember it's just a movie.


     The center table consists of three attractive ladies and a single guy. The man and one of the females are holding hands, while the other two females are walking with their arms locked together. They all sit tin their chairs, the guy next to his girl. Interestingly enough, the female next to her, looks to be nearly identical, clearly making them sisters. And the fourth member must obviously be the sister's partner.

     Before the camera begins to pan around this group, I reconsider the notion that all four tables are a part of the act meant just for us.

     “Now this has the potential to be educational for all those sexist perverts from the previous sketches.” Dana says to no one in particular, though she's clearly referring to the gay couple.

     The camera begins the trip around the group, and after the fourth circle it becomes apparent the director of this little play is trying to build suspense. Who has the stronger will? Who's desire will be revealed? Finally during the fifth rotation the static starts.

     Slowly the image of a female begins to appear, but it takes a moment to be able to distinguish her as the partner. She's attractive, even more so in the movie makeup of this scene. The camera pulls away, and she's shown to be naked on a bed, this time they're not shying away from the 'obscene' as Dana would phrase it.

     Soon she's joined by her lover, the sister. They begin an intimate act, that is at once both erotic and uncomfortable. Watching porn in a group should be a comedy setting, not something meant to stimulate. Surprisingly enough, Dana is watching intently with a smile on her face. I would think this is the biggest display of male testosterone yet, but apparently she approves.

     However, the bed begins to become crowded as the other sister adds to the uncomfortableness of the situation. The sisters begin performing with each other in a way that I'm pretty sure is still illegal in every state of America. Dana is no longer impressed , even less so when the man enters the scene.

     On cue, all three women begin pleasuring him with acts straight out of the raunchiest porn. They do things that I'm not entirely certain would feel good but are none-the-less supposed to be considered sexy according to the porn industry.

     Thankfully the segment climaxes before he does, and we see the four facing each other, naked as the day they were born. The girlfriend has tears streaking her face, and delivers a right cross to his jaw that would make Muhammad Ali proud. That's followed up by a swift kick to his crotch that would please Mike Tyson. The other two females join in, literally kicking him while he's down.

     Trying to break the uncomfortable silence that follows, I turn to Dana, “Yea, I can see how that was 'educational for all those sexist perverts'. She was not amused, and truthfully neither was I. The uncomfortableness of the scene just hangs in the air, until our next round of drinks arrive. Unfortunately, they come with a new sense of dread. A note is placed with a bloody hand from the page/waiter, that reads.


     You're up next. Last act of the night, impress us.


     The table next to us rises and is lead to the back, and I'm fairly certain none of us at this table can concentrate on what's about to happen.


The Rialto Theater would like to ask each table of guests to join us backstage one at a time. While alone in the room they will concentrate on their greatest fantasies at this very moment. Whoever's desire is the strongest will appear on screen. Relax, enjoy, and remember it's just a movie.


     Four gentlemen sit in the backwards facing chairs. All wearing nice haircuts and even nicer suits. These men are businessmen; lawyers or accountants, something that supports a wealthy lifestyle. One of these men, slightly older than the rest, carries himself just a hair taller in stature, not height, and I peg him as their boss. All four look at ease, and even happy, apparently oblivious to what just transpired. They must be lawyers.

     Before the camera can even make a full rotation around the snow starts, and the strongest desire is being revealed. Sitting at the head of a long, empty, board room table is the boss. He's smoking an unhealthily large looking cigar. Suddenly the table disappears and his hands are bound to the chair. The cigar in his mouth becomes a gag tied around his head. Then two of the other businessmen appear next to the boss, similarly bound and gagged. Finally, the last businessman, the smallest of the group, walks into the room, although in this scene he's over six feet tall and bulging with muscles I'm sure he never knew existed. He walks to the boss and punches him square in the chest, knocking the chair over. Before he continues, the big man sets the boss back upright to watch what happens next.

     He turns his focus to the businessman to his right, an Asian man with a coif of black hair. The bruiser smiles devilishly as his left hand morphs into a long blade. Starting with practice slashes, monster man cuts the Asian on his arms and legs. He tries to scream in pain, but his efforts are muffled. Apparently tired of toying around, monster man stabs his prey through the chest. His arm goes elbow deep, with the tip of the blade protruding from the back. Withdrawing his blade arm with a slopping sound like a turkey being stuffed in reverse. For an exclamation point, he effortlessly chops his first victim's head off.

     Monster man, once again punches over the boss only to set him up again to watch what happens to their red haired Irish coworker. The left hand of death returns to a normal looking human hand, however now his right hand has grown in size. Roughly the size of a football and metal looking, monster man once again begins with the limbs. He smashes the legs like dried timber, and the Irishman's screams make it through the cloth gag. Even worse are the cried of pain when monster man rips his arms out of their sockets like pulling the cap off of a pen. Certainly dead from the excruciating pain and loss of blood, however monster man delivers the coupe de grace, by crushing the red head's head with his bare hand.

     Returning his focus to his sure to be former boss, monster man returns to his original smaller self. He proceeds to expose himself and urinates all over the feet and legs of the elder. Disgusted, I turn away to see that Annie and Dana have covered their eyes, possibly long before urination. Derrick locks desperate eyes with mine and shrugs his shoulders. We both return our attention to the screen.

     Monster man produces a match from a pocket and lights it with a flick of his thumb. Apparently, his urine was of the flammable variety, as boss man's legs are immediately engulfed in flames. Monster man, removes the gag to better hear the screams he clearly earned. From the same pocket he pulled the match from, he withdraws a full sized baseball bat. Mimicking Babe Ruth, monster man calls his shot by pointing the bat at boss man's head. Before he swings, he calmly says “No more” and proceeds to bash the man's head in. Hit after hit, he's unrelenting as the fire from the legs reaches upwards, apparently immune to the affects of the flames.

     With a final 'thunk' the snow falls and we're returned to the back room. Monster man is sitting with his eyes closed, afraid of the repercussions awaiting him. When he isn't immediately pummeled, he slowly opens one eye, and is greeted with the horror we witnessed already. All three of his coworkers are missing their heads, and have been inflicted with all the wounds from the fantasy scene. Upon realization at what he's done, monster man begins vomiting uncontrollably as he crawls out of the room.

     The four of us sit silently at our booth, praying for the reveal that this is all a work, and the entire sixteen person cast, plus the two page/waiters and the usher/jester are all alive and well, and take their bow. Instead, we're led by the page/waiter with the bloody hand to the backroom where we find the mess has already been cleared. We hesitantly take our seats back to back to one another, unable to see anyone's face. Before us, are monitors showing what is happening on the large screen.

     For the first time in my life I wish I weren't a horror author.


The Rialto Theater would like to ask each table of guests to join us backstage one at a time. While alone in the room they will concentrate on their greatest fantasies at this very moment. Whoever's desire is the strongest will appear on screen. Relax, enjoy, and remember it's just a movie.

Let me begin by saying that generally, I'm not a fan of open endings, however I always planned on ending this with a second story detailing who's will was stronger and what their fantasy was. I may still get to it, but as is stands I like the multiple choices left before you.

The story came about from a few factors. Neil Gaiman had written a piece about performance art that I read shortly after writing "Kinetic Art" for the alphabet project (check that out here). While they have nothing to do with one another, there was something about the two that gestated into the story you just read.

If it wasn't clear by the nature of the main character, I was painfully single at the time of the writing, and the majority of my conversations were about someone else who is perfect for me. It's pretty ironic how many perfect girls were on the perimeter of my social circles, and yet despite our perfectness for each other it never worked out. While Derrick and Annie are very much influenced by real friends, Dana, on the other hand, is very much a fabrication of the worst of many situations I've been in. 

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