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The Man in the Projection Booth

By RAR

In my first story concerning the ghosts at the Mounds Theatre I introduced two of our three famous entities. The first one was the little girl who plays ball on the stage. In that particular story I also gave you a glimpse into the man who inhabits the projection booth. He is the only one that we feel could possibly harm us. He hasn't as yet, but one never knows.

On one chilly October day, four of us decided to see for ourselves who the "man in the projection booth" was and why he always appeared to be in such a "huff". We entered the building just as the sun was going down. Again, the first order of business was to find the light switch in the ticket office and turn off the silent alarm. After accomplishing this, we stood in the lobby for a few minutes gathering up our courage and then silently made our way up the left stairwell that led to the balcony. At the top of the stairs we eased our way over to the existing railing that overlooked the main auditorium.

We peered out into the darkness, listening for any sounds that might appear to be out of the ordinary. Today there were none, just the normal clanking of the pipes that we had learned to identify in our numerous visits to the old theatre. After getting ourselves used to the musty smells and the eerie lighting in the theatre, we made our way to the projection booth. This was a place that nobody usually entered unless another person accompanied them and sometimes even then nobody wanted to cross the threshold. I myself reached gingerly into the room to turn on the lights. After flicking the switch, two or three times I found that there was no lighting whatsoever in the booth. The one light bulb that usually illuminated the room in a ghastly glow had burned out. The question now was, should we turn back and mount our investigation another day? It was decided that we should press on.

My stomach was churning and my mind leaped back in time to recall my encounter with the little girl on stage that I had been introduced to on a previous visit to the theater. That day was unsettling to me, but the apparition of the young women posed no real threat. She appeared happy but very lonely. With this in mind I pressed the button on my small flashlight and crossed the threshold behind the other three. The heavy metal door to the projection booth slammed shut behind me, leaving our group in total darkness. Once inside the room the flashlights cast an ominous glow on the old arc projectors, which had stood guard over the projection booth for over 70 years. They were large black machines that appeared to gaze out over the main auditorium through small glass portholes, remembering a previous era when the now tattered movie screen was whole and the audience was made up of the living.

Moving around the room we examined the outdated remnants of days gone by. On one wall a large metal case with small doors appeared to have held movie reels. We opened each door in succession to see if possibly any films had been left behind...we found nothing. On yet another wall, an old metal film rewinder lay dormant, along with assorted movie handbills that contained the time and movie that was playing on a particular day. In a small room that held the electrical boxes for the theater, we noticed a small, flat object laying face down on the floor. We knelt down to further examine it, wiping away the dust that had accumulated on its surface over the past 30 or 40 years. In the first sweep of a hand we could see that what we were holding was a Ouija board. This was not just an ordinary Ouija board made by Mattel or Parker Brothers. Rather, the label revealed that it had been made in Salem, Massachusetts. In unison, our minds traveled back to the Salem Witch Trials and we immediately dropped the board, stepped back and closed the door.

It was then I remembered researching Ouija boards. It was said that they could be used to summon up the spirits of the dead so they might walk among us again in the world of the living. I said a small prayer and rejoined my group. We then moved across the room to the far west wall where a metal partition had been placed. Expecting to find a dead body or two we peered around the corner only to be greeted by an ancient porcelain toilet that had been overturned on the floor and an old sink, hanging loosely on the wall. At this point there appeared to be nothing to worry about. So we gathered our chairs, settled in for the night and extinguished our flashlights. Without the benefit of any light source the room was extremely black.

In the inky darkness the room slowly began closing in on me. My senses heightened, offsetting the fact that I could not see, not even the person sitting next to me. The stale air floated into my nostrils and the temperature in the room seemed to drop 20 degrees. Even though the room had taken on an icy chill, I was sweating profusely. My hair was now damp and I was wiping the sweat out of my eyes; my palms were clammy. For what seemed to be an eternity we sat there silently in the dark, pondering what secrets this room had or still held. All at once the four of us heard a noise emanating from behind the metal partition that we had previously examined. The noise appeared to be a man crying. In between the sobbing we could hear him cursing in a most vile manner. I peered through the darkness and in a swirling cloud of mist my eyes fell on a man slumped in the corner behind the partition.

At this point his sobbing seemed to cease. He slowly lifted his head from off his knees that he had been tightly clutching, raised his head and stared directly into my eyes. A fear came over me that shook the foundation of my soul. His eyes were black, glittering in their swollen sockets. I could feel his anger welling up inside of him and I knew I was not welcome in the projection booth, nor were the rest of the people sitting beside me. It was obvious now that others in the room had also seen the same apparition, as I was aware that people were now shifting nervously in their chairs. They too were experiencing the coldness that had set into the room and were aware of the ghostly presence that now was slowing moving towards us. We needed to end this session now before it was too late. I grabbed for my flashlight only to have it fall from my lap and roll across the floor away from my grasp.

Suddenly I heard the click of a button and the room was again illuminated in a pale, yellowish light. I now saw the people who had been sitting inches away from me in the dark. I looked into their eyes and immediately knew that they had heard and felt something that was not of this world. We all silently arose from our chairs and moved towards the door, closing it behind us as we descended the stairs to the lower level. Without so much as uttering a word we went directly to the box office, flipped off the light, set the alarm and rapidly exited the building. Outside we all exhaled a sigh of relief and proceeded to share with one another the experiences of our time in the projection booth. Oddly enough, we all had seen and felt the same thing, some to a greater degree than others.

After this experience none of us ever wandered into the projection booth alone, or at all for that matter. Sometimes I can stand in the main auditorium facing the projection booth and still see the form of a slender man staring down at me, his shoulders slumped to his sides. His eyes are still swollen and glittering in the dark as they were on my last visit. I can only imagine what events led up to his being here. Does he even know that he is dead, or has he committed such heinous crimes that he has been forced to walk in the shadows of the theatre forever to atone for his unthinkable acts?

We will probably never know the truth.

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