Moving feast of fantasy and friction

OUTSIDE the rain was falling hard, but the cinema foyer was warm and dark. Everything about the Mercury was old. The carpets. The wallpaper. The movies. The popcorn. The damp-damaged pictures of mulleted movie stars behind the snack bar. Above the photos was a giant plastic ice-cream that whined and pulsed with light when I switched it on.

I liked working at the Mercury. It smelled of my childhood.

Ami was leaning against the snack bar, watching as I set up for the evening. ''Mirrored eyes?'' she said. ''Are you sure?''

I wiped down the sign announcing our latest attraction. Gremlins. Part of that year's Retro Horror Film Fest. Toby was waiting for mum on his usual stool at the end of the counter, face glowing green from the laptop in front of him.

I began wiping the counter. I was regretting telling Ami about Miranda's eyes. It sounded stupid now.

''Maybe Miranda's some kind of alien,'' Ami mused. ''Here to take over the world, starting with the bustling suburb of Jubilee Park.''

The projectionist's door opened and Noah appeared. He strolled over to the snack bar, openly checking me out. ''Hey! How's my favourite employee going? Love your get-up - you look even more luscious than usual.''

I ignored that last bit, even though I was kind of proud of my outfit. I'd put it together myself for the film-fest, including a bloodied axe-on-a-headband for full effect.

I began refilling the straw dispenser. ''Technically, your dad employs me,'' I pointed out. ''You know, that guy who owns this place? Works upstairs in the projectionist's booth. The one who'd probably be pretty interested if I told him you were harassing me. Again.''

Noah chuckled. ''I like your fire.''

He was like a cockroach, Noah. Small. Slick. Hard to squash.

I plugged my iPod into the stereo and turned up the music. Instantly Noah frowned. ''What's this?'' he said. ''Not the official Mercury music, that's for sure.''

I showed him the album artwork I'd made in Photoshop.

''Who's that guy?'' he asked, pointing to the beauteous face on the screen.

''That,'' I said, ''is Dallas Kaye.''

Even saying his name made me feel good.

Noah put the iPod down. ''I suppose you think that guy's hot,'' he said. ''But he's a total fake.''

I snorted. ''Right, and you're a hotness expert?''

''I know it takes more than what that guy's got,'' Noah said. ''It's got to be … genuine.'' Then he looked at me through the filter of his lashes. ''You're hot.''

''That would be flattering,'' I said, ''if you didn't think every girl you met was hot.''

''I'm just being honest,'' said Noah. ''You are hot. I've always had a thing for … unusual girls.''

''Have you actually seen what I'm wearing tonight?'' I said, gesturing at my axe.

''I did wonder if you'd overdone the blood a little,'' said Noah. ''But that's the thing. You still look amazing.'' He sat up suddenly. ''Hey! Tomorrow we're showing An American Werewolf in London. You could dress like a wolf. A sexy one.''

''Ew!'' I said, piffing cups at him. ''Piss off, Noah. Go back into your little booth and learn to project something other than your creepy fantasies.''

The cups clattered to the ground. ''I need a beverage first,'' Noah said. ''Only that and the image of your sweet face will see me through the long evening alone.''

''With your dad,'' I pointed out. ''The projectionist.''

''With my dad,'' agreed Noah. ''But otherwise totally alone. Is your - ''

There was a muffled thud as something hit the front window. Through the blackness I could just make out the shape of an old woman, struggling with an inside-out umbrella. As I watched, the wind flung Loony Oona's umbrella against the window again and then sent it whirling down the street.

It was a moment before I noticed the other person beside her. Someone who was also in danger of being inverted by the wind. Her face was in darkness but I knew at once who it had to be.

I slid off my seat. ''I'm going out there.''

Do something that scares you every day, Dr Richter told me once. Do it because it scares you.

Ami shook her head. ''Don't,'' she said. ''It'll look so weird.''

''I'm just delivering this,'' I said, grabbing an umbrella. ''Oona's has blown inside out.''

Ami sighed. ''Hang on. I'll come, too. If she turns out to be some freaky laser-eyed alien, you'll need back-up.''

I grinned and held open the door for her.

''Who is going to sell snacks?'' demanded Noah.

''I was thinking you,'' I said, as the door swung shut behind me.


The rain was even heavier than before. The wind was strong, too. The broken umbrella blew in circles on the footpath behind Oona, scratching against the concrete. Miranda was leaning against the Mercury's wall, still as a poster. Her eyes were closed.

''Oh dear,'' Oona said, twisting the fingers of her gloves. ''When will it stop?''

Edited extract of Shift by Em Bailey, published by Hardie Grant Egmont. This book won the Gold Inky at the 2012 Inky Awards. Run by the Centre for Youth Literature at the State Library, the winning titles are voted for by young readers.

This story Moving feast of fantasy and friction first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.