This is the piece of writing I brought to the initial gathering. It arose from a prompt my writing group did together: write about three people in a theatre.
It took some doing to reduce the original to 500 words!
A door slammed, jolting Ben awake. Dang it. He’d survived the night, but now he’d have to get past Maurice to collect on his bet with Remus.
He started to rise, but Jimmy’s voice stopped him. You made it this far. Don’t blow it all with a foolhardy rush to the front.
Ben dropped back down behind the concession counter, just as Maurice limped into the lobby. He barely breathed as the old man wrestled cleaning supplies from the cupboard and clomped into the theatre.
If you’d let Maurice in on this you wouldn’t be skulking around like a spy in enemy territory.
Sometimes Jimmy’s constant reminders to do the right thing were a real pain in the butt, but he’d come through for Ben so many times, including last night—especially last night—that Ben let it go. Today, he’d be welcomed into Remus’ gang and he couldn’t have done it without Jimmy.
As expected, Maurice was cleaning the left side of the theatre. Ben tried to melt into the shadows as he crab-walked down the aisle to the first row and scuttled along the front seats to the right wall.
I still think you should’ve let Maurice in on it. After all, he is your friend.
Ben shook his head. If a guy was ever going to make friends in the real world, he couldn’t keep spilling his guts to old men. Sure, Maurice told great stories and Ben was grateful for the coins the old man let him keep when he helped clean the theatre, but that didn’t mean Ben owed him his life.
If Maurice hadn’t told you there was no ghost, you wouldn’t’ve had the guts to take Remus up on his dare.
Yeah? So what?
Besides, Maurice would understand. He knew what it was like to live in a war zone. Ben watched the veteran limp out of the theatre for his coffee break.
There’s still time to make it right.
You’re right, Jimmy. There’s plenty of time.
Maurice would linger over his Dr. Pepper, bum leg resting on an upended bucket, his mind replaying Vimy Ridge. Ben lunged for the exit door, imagining the admiration in Remus’ eyes as he stepped, unscathed, from the haunted theatre. He didn’t look back until his hands touched the cool, metal handle.
The theatre was empty.
For as long as Ben could remember, Jimmy had been an invisible ally in a friendless world. He couldn’t just abandon his only friend. Every instinct screamed retreat, but Ben was frozen in the trench between forward and back, immobilized by the conflicting orders in his head.
Then, from a hidden foxhole in his memory, came Maurice’s gravelly voice. War changes you, son. Parts of you have to die so the rest of you can get back home.
Ben pushed open the door. He squinted into the harsh glare of the morning sun and marched, his fallen comrade pushing him forward to claim this hard won piece of ground.
Here is the painting Gwen created in response to my story -- Ben stepping out of the 'haunted' movie theatre into the blinding light of a new day. I love how she captured his look of determined trepidation. Will this successful mission bring the belonging he so longs for? Will it have been worth walking away from his only companions -- a war veteran and a long-time imaginary friend?