The Empty Seat
Steve Mount

Chuck walked slowly into the theater. If there was one thing he loved to do in the whole entire world, it was watching movies. And not just movies. Movies where the people were packed in like sardines to see a movie so popular that it would be showing in the same theater two months later. And not the movie-houses where twelve movies were playing and the theaters were about as big as the back seat of a vintage Buick. No. The big ones, with lots of people.

As he walked down one aisle, he scouted the available seats. He had come a little late and had had to wait in line, but the manager had told the people that he wouldn't start the movie until everybody was in. He walked to the front, and turned, the big silver screen flanking him on his right side. Turning again he saw a nice seat.

Going to the movies alone was an advantage. There was no pressure to find two, three, or four seats together. Just one would do. The single seat he saw was in the perfect place to watch the film, in the middle of the theater. It was a little further to the left than he liked to be, but he'd live.

The three seats on the left were occupied by a small family; a father with thinning hair, dock-siders and an L.L. Bean jacket; a mother was dressed roughly the same; and the son, about thirteen, had blonde hair and wore a bright red sweater over a red Oxford. The movie was about kids the boy's age back in the 1950's after Korea, and the father probably wanted the kid to see how good it was back then.

"Is this seat taken?" Chuck asked of the father, who looked up and glanced quickly at Chuck.

"No, its not," he answered and went back to his conversation with his family. Chuck looked at the empty seat and at the occupants of those flanking it. The row had ten seats in it. Three were filled by the family, one was empty, and the last six were all occupied by girls of about the same age. The girls were talking among themselves, laughing about the awful taste of their jelly beans.

Chuck carefully moved to his seat, holding his Diet Sprite and Milk Duds high so as not to drop them on the Preppies heads. He stopped in front of the empty seat and paused. "Oh, gross!" the Girl in the next seat was saying. "Don't give me any more apple. Disgusting!"

The Girl's friend looked up at Chuck and he asked, "Is this seat taken?"

The Girl's friend shook her head no and gave the Girl a root beer jelly bean. "Try this one," she said.

Chuck sat and looked around. The crowd was getting a little restless waiting for all their fellow patrons to walk in. He looked at the Girl. She was about sixteen or seventeen, he figured, just a couple of years younger than he. She had short black hair which was tied up with a yellow cloth ribbon. She wore a blue and white striped blouse and a faded blue denim mini- skirt, not quite as short as some, but it went half-way up her thighs nonetheless. A similarly faded denim jacket was sitting crumpled in the seat. A gold necklace encircled her neck. As she moved in her seat, her foot, shrouded by a black boot, hit Chuck's. She looked back at him and quickly excused herself. She turned back before Chuck could respond and continued talking with her friend.

He sat back and took a sip of his soft drink, allowing himself to feel the cold liquid slide down his throat into his stomach. He listened to the conversations going on around him....

"....and I read the novella this is based on, you know, from Different Seasons? Stephen King is great, and I hear that he cute! I don't know what I'd do if he asked me out. I'd probably die right there on the there's this crash. Man, I tell ya, if the market keeps going like this it'll be hell to pay on Wall Street....and you know, fall's just around the corner and I don't know if the sweaters I have are still in style this year...."

Chuck smiled quietly to himself. I love the human race, he thought. What a puzzle!

The Girl beside him brushed his arm with hers as she sat back to take a break from talking. "Oh, jeez, I'm sorry," she said, sounding very sincere.

"It's alright," Chuck said, as he looked quickly into the Girl's eyes. Hers met his for a second, but then she looked away. Very pretty, Chuck thought to himself. They both sat quietly for a minute before she moved to get back into the conversation."I really hope this is worth seeing," a man with shoulder length hair called to an usher who was clearly very distraught. He was trying to locate empty seats for a few more people.

"The movie will start in a minute, sir," the usher answered politely, though shortly.

"That's what you said ten minutes ago," the man said.

The usher, fed-up, turned to the man and said, "You wouldn't be so sarcastic if you'd been at the back of the line, sir," loud enough for all the man's neighbors to hear.

"Customer's always right," the preppie father said from beside Chuck, with just enough volume for Chuck to hear.

But the Girl had another opinion, and she voiced it loud enough for all her friends to hear. The impatient man was also within earshot. "What does this guy expect him to do?" The man looked back at the Girl. She ignored him.

The Girl sat back and hit Chuck with her arm softly. She looked at him remorsefully and said, "I'm sorry. I've been doing that to you all night."

"It's alright, really," Chuck said smiling.

The smile reassured her, but she said, "Sure?"


Again his smile, and then he looked away.

"I don't get it," the Girl whispered to her friend. The character on the screen had just drunk a full bottle of castor oil and downed a raw egg. "What is he doing?" she asked her friend. Chuck heard an "I don't know" from the friend. The Girl turned her head to Chuck and asked him what the character had drunk.

Chuck was surprised that the Girl was asking him a question, but he sat up a bit to try to explain. He was no expert on castor oil, as it was way out of his generation, but he did the best he could. "Castor oil was what mothers used to give to kids, kinda like a vitamin. It tasted awful. And I guess the egg will react with it in his stomach."

The narrator had been talking about Lard-Ass's revenge at the pie eating contest. The Girl put two and two together. "He's going to puke. Oh, gross." And indeed he did.

Afterwards, the Girl's arm moved next to his on the arm rest. He didn't move his arm and she didn't move hers. And she didn't apologize. A small smile appeared on Chuck's face.

The boys in the story reached their objective, the crossing of the railroad and Back Harlow Road, and somewhere in the vicinity was a dead body. The Girl had her head in her hand, and was apparently looking up, her eyes at such an angle that looking down is just a matter of easing the optical muscles. She didn't want to see the body.

The boys spotted the body and walked down a steep slope to it. It was in the woods, under some brush, and in ninety degree weather. It had been there three days. The Girl probably didn't want to see how well the make-up people had done to make it look like a real dead body. The brush was lifted up off of the body's head and she gasped. One of her hands came down on the arm rest, down on Chuck's arm.

Her hand gripped his arm for a half-second before she realized what she had done and let go of him. She looked over to him to apologize, but a shake of his head said "No problem," and she closed her mouth. She smiled in the dark and slowly looked back at the screen.

The credits rolled by and the crowd rose irregularly, some going straight for the aisles, some stretching first, some still sitting, trying to catch the name of the actor who played their favorite character. The Girl stood with her friends and began to file out of the row. Chuck went out in front of the family who remained sitting. As he looked back, he saw the Girl looking at him. She looked away, but that was all the incentive he needed.

He pulled a pen from his pocket. He opened his wallet and pulled out a business card. It said Chess King, something he had picked up at the local man's store of the same name. He wrote, "Chuck 862-4525 5-7pm," on the back.

He held the card in his hand and watched the Girl as the two lines met at the exit. He began to smile to himself as he calculated that he and the Girl would meet again very soon. He ended up behind her, but, as he watched after her, he saw one of her group break off and enter the ladies room. The Girl and her friends stopped to wait. As Chuck passed the Girl, he looked directly at her and placed the card into the open breast pocket of her Levi jacket. She looked puzzled, but Chuck just kept walking. When he walked out the exit door, he looked back to see the Girl showing the card to one of her friends. She was smiling. Chuck smiled too."Hi, this is the girl from the theater."

Chuck looked at the telephone and smiled. Her voice sounded great over the phone. "Hi. What's your name?"


"Media?" he asked.

"Uh-huh. I know. My parents were sort of nuts when I was born."

"I see," Chuck said. He had heard stranger names. "So, Media, when I saw you in that theater, I just knew I had to meet you in better circumstances. Are you free tonight?"

A small laugh came through over the receiver. "You get right to the point, don't you?"

"Yeah. So what do you say?"

"Um, well, sure. It's a Saturday night. What did you have in mind?"

"A movie. I insist."

"Well, if you insist. Which one?"

Another smile came over Chuck's face. He had her. "Its a surprise."

"I like surprises. You'll pick me up?"

"Yeah. What's your address?

Chuck could hear Media talking to someone in the background. "You shouldn't, Media," the faint voice said. "But he's cute," came back the muted voice of Media. Chuck waited. "Sorry, Chuck."

"If you don't want to do this, it's okay. I'd understand. You don't know anything about me," Chuck said in his best voice. Soothing.

"No. I know enough. I live in Queen City Park. 8 Cedar Court. I'll leave the front light on."

"Great. I'll be there at eight, alright?"

"Yeah. Bye."

"Good bye, Media," Chuck said as he hung up the phone. He looked at his watch. Six thirty. He had some things to do before he left, things he had to get ready.

"Nice car," Media said.


They drove out of Queen City Park in silence. The roads were dark save for the faint light offered by the headlights of Chuck's car and the glow of the low-voltage street lamps. Chuck turned onto Shelburne Road and drove onto the Interstate Connector. While driving, he broke the silence.

"In the theater last night, the one thing that I wish I had done was to have taken your hand."

"Why didn't you?" Media asked. She was looking at him in the combined light of the full moon and of the car's instrument panel. She was beginning to like him. A lot.

"What would you have done?"

"Don't answer my question with a question, Chuck."

"Alright, I didn't hold your hand because I didn't know how you would have reacted and I didn't want to get you angry with me."

There was a moment of silence. Then Media said, "I would have liked it if you had held my hand." She rolled her eyes in the darkness, as she realized that what she had just said was really corny. And she couldn't believe she had said it because, like Chuck had said earlier, she really didn't know him. At all. But she'd meant it. Talk about happening fast!

Chuck reached the end of the Connector and got off onto Kennedy Drive. At the first turn, he pulled in and stopped. He looked at Media in the very low light and smiled. He slowly took her hand and held it for a second. He moved his head towards hers and gently kissed her lips. Full and soft, they received his kiss calmly. He kissed her again, a little harder this time, and she responded in kind.

Media pulled away quickly, seemed about to say something, but thought better of it and kissed him. Soon Media parted her lips to his, and their tongues danced in the wet environment of their mouths.

As the passion rose and the kisses became longer and harder, Chuck slowly reached into the pocket of his jacket and wrapped his hand around a long metal object. Slowly, his hand pulled out of his pocket, wrapped around and concealing the metal object. With his other hand, Chuck reached up and caressed Media's soft, supple cheek. So pretty, he thought.

He moved his free hand to her neck. She softly moaned as she placed one hand on his chest. Chuck moved his free hand to hold the nape of Media's neck, pulling her lips harder to his. As he did, he exposed the long metal object: a steak knife.

Quickly, like a flash of lightning, he shoved the steak knife deep into Media's chest, just below her left breast. Chuck felt the warm, wet blood trickle onto his hand as he held Media's mouth to his. She bit down hard, just missing his tongue. She was in great pain, but could do nothing about it as Chuck plunged the knife into her again, into her gut, blood seeping through her white blouse and red sweater. Her eyes rolled back into her head as she tried to scream, but Chuck's hand held her face to his, unrelenting. Presently, the struggling subsided and Media's body went limp. He smiled as he pulled her head away from his. He kissed her lips again and nudged the car to the nearby brush. He took the body from the car and carried it ten feet in. He set her down gently, as a groom would set his new bride onto their first bed as husband and wife. He leaned down and kissed her lifeless lips one last time, and turned to walk to his car.

He read the paper as he waited. GIRL MISSING, POLICE SEARCH FOR MYSTERIOUS CHUCK read the headline. It seems the number the killer gave the girl was a pay phone in a mall and no one had seen anything. The business card had given the police no leads either. Too bad, he thought.

"One for Aliens, please," he said to the cashier. The theater was packed, but there were a few seats scattered here and there. He saw one that struck his fancy and walked to it. "Is this seat taken?" he asked of the group of unescorted girls sitting adjacent to the empty seat. "No," came the reply from one of them and he smiled a thank you and excused himself as he worked his way over to it. He sat, and smiled at the Girl next to him. He looked away, opened his Milk Duds and read his paper as the pretty Girl next to him resumed talking to her friends.

Chuck smiled to himself in the half-light of the theater. He looked over at the Girl and ate a Milk Dud. Very pretty, he thought to himself, as he smiled some more.

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Last Modified: 10 Mar 1999

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