Updated: 4 days ago
Given that it's in the middle of the most haunted city in America, it was weird that the Savannah movie theatre wasn't said to be haunted. The Savannah Theater, one of the oldest still-used theatres in the country, was super haunted, but Heidi had never heard a single story about the movie theatre where they held the film festival.
And it wasn't that movie theatres were too young to be haunted. The idea that all ghosts date from hundreds of years ago was nonsense. The Mercer House, just a few blocks from where Heidi stood now, was haunted by ghosts from the eighties, and the Fox movie theatre in Atlanta was haunted by multiple ghosts, including a bunch of psychopathic nuns.
As far as Heidi was concerned, you couldn't grow up in Savannah without experiencing weird shit. You came to accept it as a part of life. It wasn't as though she was obsessed or anything. Yes, she had been on several overnight ghost hunts, but mainly because the weirdos who did that kind of thing were her people.
The one thing she liked about the stuck-up high school the sperm donor sent her to was the fact it was haunted as fuck. She was already going to be treated as a reject and an outsider. Why not go full-on freak and tell everyone her friend group included a Revolutionary War soldier and a flapper who was shot by her bootlegging boyfriend? Obviously, she was lying. Like everybody else at that school, they mostly ignored her.
Even though it was late October and the city was draped in cheesy Halloween decorations, they were having a heatwave. It felt like August, which did nothing for Heidi's happy-go-lucky persona. Sweat trickled between her shoulder blades, and she fanned herself impatiently. She thought they were done with the ass-crack-sweat portion of the year.
She finished her coffee as she considered the movie theatre from across the street. They were setting it up for the festival, which started tomorrow, rolling a red carpet halfway down the block. A bunch of workers scurried around, fixing lights and barriers, but she couldn't see a specific person who was in charge.
Heidi wore the Savannah Film Festival lanyard she got as a volunteer a few years earlier. The date wasn't too conspicuous — or at least, she thought it was printed small enough to be worth a try. She crossed the road quickly and strode to the door, ignoring everyone in her path. Nobody questioned her. She opened the door, breathing a sigh of relief as sweet AC hit her —
'Excuse me, can I help you?'
In an instant, she sized up the woman blocking her path. She was in her twenties, with a dark, blunt bob framing sharp features. She wore one of those Bluetooth headsets that said she meant business. Heidi gave her a winning smile. She didn't flinch.
'Okay, I know there is zero chance you will say yes.'
Headset Girl's expression was impassive. 'Nobody famous is here yet.'
'Oh my god, I know.' Heidi made her eyes go wide and apologetic. 'I'm not a fan, I swear. It's just that a short film my good friend worked on is premiering tomorrow, and she's in the hospital. You probably heard about her, Casey, umm, Corn.' Why the hell did she have to think about Candy Corn right now? The concession stand was right in her eyeline. She didn't even like Candy Corn.
Headset Girl didn't look impressed but wasn't shoving Heidi out the door yet.
'Anyway, I couldn't get a ticket for the screening, but I wanted to send her some photos of the theatre. Everybody is getting ready right now, and she's feeling left out — I'll be two seconds. I don't want to get in anyone's way. It's so fine if you say no, obviously.'
Headset Girl hesitated. 'Literally two seconds.'
'Maybe even less.'
'If anybody else sees you, I didn't.'
'No problem, thank you so much.'
Heidi scuttled for the main auditorium before Headset Girl changed her mind. It was deserted, dark and blessedly cool, lit only by safety lights marking the aisles. Keeping to the shadows of the far wall, Heidi made her way quickly to the front, listening keenly for footsteps or doors opening.
The front row was already marked for the stars and execs in charge of the festival's main premiere. Heidi was sent a review copy of the movie a few weeks ago. Elise Shearer played a recovering alcoholic who took a job as a school bus driver to get to know her estranged son's daughter. As the movie progressed, the audience learned some of the horrible things she did while drinking. It was a complex exploration of addiction, redemption and forgiveness, the kind of movie they don't make enough of any more. Heidi predicted it was going to be one of those pseudo-indie surprise hits.
Pseudo-indie, because to read the media pack you'd think that the filmmaker financed the whole thing himself. In fact, he crowdfunded a low-budget short film version of it, which was then picked up at Toronto by none other than one of the biggest and oldest studios in Hollywood, Players Incorporated. They were staying in the background because an obsessive filmmaker's labour of love made a better story, but no movie got the distribution and marketing support without serious coinage behind it. That kind of smoke-and-mirrors bullshit happened a lot in the industry, and Players had it down to a fine art.
Heidi whipped out her phone to photograph each of the seats in the front row. She recognised most of the exec's names from her research, but a couple were unfamiliar. She noted a few bigwigs that were conspicuously absent.
Pulling out her notebook, she started scribbling when the emergency exit opened, and she was busted.
A tall, well-built guy was silhouetted by the hallway light behind him. He stepped into the auditorium, and Heidi felt the littlest shiver. Chiselled jaw, chocolate eyes, broad shoulders, and chestnut Afro twists suggested an intriguing heritage. He wore a long-sleeved T-shirt that clung to well-defined pecs, and jeans she could see from here were beaten up and soft.
'I was sent to set out the place cards on the seats,' Heidi blurted with an irritated sigh, trying to inject a touch of film-industry-wannabe nerves into my voice. 'But it's been done already. It's not like I could have been doing anything else with this time, but whatever, I guess.'
'Who sent you?' He had the teeniest hint of an accent. She couldn't quite place it, but it wasn't helping her concentrate.
'I beg your pardon?' She asked with as much dignity as she could muster.
'Who sent you to set out the place cards?'
'Amanda,' she chanced. There was always an Amanda working at film festivals. There was an Amanda everywhere.
'Amanda.' He nodded slowly, and Heidi couldn't tell if he believed her. 'I wonder why she thought it needed to be done?'
'I guess — she has a lot on her plate.' There was a pause, and a part of Heidi wanted to spin and sprint away like a cartoon character. Instead, she made a show of looking at the time on her phone. 'I need to get back to the office, but I — I'll catch you later.'
'I hope so.' Humour flashed in his dark brown eyes.
He followed her up the aisle and held the door for her. The hallway to the lobby was narrow, and Heidi was uncomfortably aware of him close behind her.
'Are you coming to the office right now?' This could get awkward. 'You're not — needed here?'
'I'm not needed here.'
Voices approached ahead of them, and Heidi's heart leapt into her mouth. She been seen by too many people, and this was bad news. Before she could even think of what to do, the guy grabbed her arm and yanked her through a door.