A Story in Progress: Darkness Falls on Endurance, Parts One and Two

Part Three will be published this week.

Dorothy Faye Owen stood under the marquee of the Rex Theater and looked at her wristwatch. It was 7:12 and they’d missed the newsreel and half the previews. If she doesn’t show up in the next three minutes, Dorothy Faye thought, I’m going inside and taking my seat. She glanced up and down the street, absentmindedly eating the popcorn she’d purchased already. It was harvest time and the influx of cotton buyers and workers had caused Endurance’s ranks to swell considerably. The place was bustling with folks headed to one of the dining establishments or to the traveling tent show on the edge of town. Dorothy Faye spotted many familiar faces in the crowd but not one of them belonged to her best friend.

“Dorothy Faye,” Velma Banks called from inside the ticket booth, “you’d better get inside. It’s about to start. Leave Lorraine’s ticket with me and I’ll give it to her when she gets here. Trust me, you don’t want to miss a minute of this one. But I’m warning you–you won’t sleep a wink tonight!”

Dorothy Faye sighed. “You’re right, Velma. I don’t want to miss any of the movie.” She pushed the ticket under the glass to Velma. “Everyone at the drugstore has been talking about how suspenseful it is.” A frown crossed her face. “Lorraine was so excited to see it; she loves thrillers and scary movies more than anyone I know. I can’t believe she wasn’t the first one in line tonight.” She smiled at Velma. “Well, tell her I’ll be in our usual spot. I’ve already saved our seats.”

Velma and the crowd at the drugstore had been right about the movie; Shadow of a Doubt was eerie and chilling. As soon as the lights came up, Dorothy Faye looked around but there was still no sign of her friend. She picked up the cardigan she’d draped over the seat next to hers and exited with the rest of the crowd. Since it was Friday night, there was one more showing of the movie, so Velma was still working the booth. Dorothy Faye waved and got the ticket seller’s attention. Velma shook her head and shrugged her shoulders, indicating she hadn’t seen Lorraine.

Instead of going home, Dorothy Faye headed two blocks north to Mimosa Street. Once there, she turned right and walked toward Miss Meacham’s Boarding House. Lorraine had lived at Miss Meacham’s ever since moving out of her parent’s house. Lorraine’s corner room on the second floor was dark, which told Dorothy Faye she wasn’t home. Miss Meacham and her sister, Helen Schrift–a retired nurse from Temple and another boarding house resident–were sitting on the front porch. Perhaps they could shed some light on Lorraine’s whereabouts.

“Hello, Miss Meacham,” Dorothy Faye said as she approached the porch. “Hello, Mrs. Schrift.”

“Evening, Dorothy Faye,” Miss Meacham hollered, a little too loudly. Miss Meacham’s hearing wasn’t what it once was and she spoke as if everyone else had the same affliction. “Did you and Lorraine enjoy the movie?” she asked.

Dorothy Faye walked up the porch steps and addressed the older woman loudly. “Well, that’s why I’m here. Lorraine didn’t show up at the movie. I thought she might be home.”

“No, dear,” Miss Meacham responded, looking bewildered. “We haven’t seen her since she left this morning.” She turned to her rocking companion. “Isn’t that right, Helen?”

“That’s right, Dorothy Faye,” Helen Schrift agreed. “She told us at breakfast not to expect her until late. She said the two of you were seeing a movie and maybe having a bite to eat afterward at Shorty’s Cafe or The Mexican Inn.”

“Well, that was the plan.” Dorothy Faye said, looking anxiously toward the street, hoping to see some sign of her friend. Dorothy Faye wasn’t the sort to panic but something felt off. Perhaps she was overreacting because of the nature of the movie she’d just seen, but she didn’t think so.

“She was at work today, wasn’t she?” Helen asked. “She left here at the normal time.”

“She was,” Dorothy Faye confirmed, “but Fridays are her half day, so she left at 1:00. I assumed she came back here.”

“I believe she usually does,” Helen Schrift said, worry creeping into her voice.

Miss Meacham sat forward in her chair and looked at the Dorothy Faye and Helen with alarm. “Friday’s are her half day,” she shouted, unaware the subject had already been discussed. “She always comes back here, now that I think about it. Helps me with the ironing, most weeks. But not today.” The older woman shook her head. “Lorraine’s a good girl. Reliable. This sort of behavior isn’t like her.” She lowered her voice to a normal level and fixed the other two women with a significant look. “Mark my words, there’s something peculiar going on. Something’s not right.”

Dorothy Faye started shivering despite the warmth of the Indian summer evening. She put on her cardigan but the chill remained, along with the echo of Miss Meacham’s pronouncement. The old woman was correct–something wasn’t right.

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Earlier that week…

Corabelle Sills stood offstage and watched her father deliver his opening night speech. Where were they this week? She glanced at the poster tacked to one of the wooden posts holding up the curtain. Endurance. Corabelle sighed. “Well, that’s perfect,” she muttered.

“What’s perfect?” Andy Sills stood behind his sister, also watching his father and waiting for their cue. Amos introduced his kids at the top of every show, theorizing that folks liked to spend their hard-earned money on a family venture. And Amos Sills’s Traveling Tent Show was, most certainly, a family venture. Even the mystifying Omar the Great, Seer of the East, was his brother-in-law, Cyrus. And the farthest east he’d ever been was Galveston.

Corabelle nodded toward the poster. “Endurance. That’s what this whole thing feels like–one long, insufferable test of endurance.” She watched her father command the crowd with his imposing personality and booming voice. “I hate him, you know,” she said.

“I know,” her brother said. “So do I. Has he picked one out yet?”

“Sure,” she replied. “You know how fast he works; fourth row, fourth seat left of center–the blonde with the shy smile. The rest of the crowd doesn’t realize he’s playing directly to her.”

Andy craned his neck to get a glimpse of the girl. “Funny how they always look like Mother. But thirty years younger.”

“Yeah,” Corabelle replied, as she watched her father’s charm work its magic on the girl. “Downright hilarious.”

***

It’s going to be a good week, thought Amos Sills as his eyes came to rest on a young woman in the fourth row. Amos turned his full attention to the girl and shot her a dazzling smile. It was a smile that, truthfully, would have been at right at home in a Pepsodent advertisement. The girl blushed, as they always did. Yes, thought Amos again, with even more confidence, a very good week, indeed. Amos would approach her as she exited tonight and present her with one of his signature boxes of chocolates, plus a week’s worth of free passes. Hopefully, she’d return to the show every night–preferably without her male companion–and he’d get a chance to know her better. The male companion eyed him suspiciously. I’ll have to tread carefully there. That guy could be trouble–she may not know what I’m up to yet, but he does.

Still, with all these thoughts and plans formulating in his head, Amos never missed a beat of his presentation. And why should he? He did it every night of the week, forty weeks of the year. It was pure gold and he had it down pat, or so he thought until he stumbled during his description of Omar’s act. Just as he started the tale of Omar’s apprenticeship under one of the great mystics of the Orient, another face in the crowd caught his attention. His heart started racing again, but not in such a good way this time. It was several seconds before Amos realized he had stopped speaking. He quickly picked right back up where he’d left off and the audience soon forgot the momentary hiccup. After he finished his speech he searched the audience for that face, but it was gone. Maybe I imagined it, he thought. Well, he certainly hoped so.

***

“What just happened?” Andy asked his sister.

“I’m not sure,” Corabelle answered. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say our dear father just saw a ghost.”

***

After a few shots of whiskey, Amos convinced himself he’d imagined the entire incident. It wasn’t possible, end of story. He grabbed a box of chocolates and stationed himself at the exit, just as the show let out. As the young woman and her companion from the fourth row approached, Amos stepped in front of them.

“Excuse me, Miss–it is miss, isn’t it?” Amos asked.

The woman blushed again. “Yes,” she stammered, as the man to her left pulled her closer to him.

“Miss,” Amos continued, “if I’m not mistaken, you were sitting in seat 4G tonight, were you not?”

“Yes. I think so,” she answered.

With a flourish, Amos produced a card from his pocket with 4G printed on it in bold, black lettering. “Well, tonight is your lucky night. We just had a drawing backstage and you won! May I present you with a signature Amos Sills box of chocolates and passes to the show for the entire week? Please return as our guest. Every night, if you wish.”

She accepted both the candy and the passes from Amos Sills and smiled, ear to ear. What a night! Lorraine Anderson couldn’t believe her good fortune.

(to be continued)



Categories: Story in Progress

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