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Steve Butchen was an ordinary man, leading an ordinary life. He, his loving wife Nora, and their young children were happy and well taken care of, and almost oblivious to anything out of the ordinary life that they lead.
As the rain gently fell on the low window one morning, a bird, presumably distressed, cawed loudly. The determination of its distress was so vacuous, it could have come from a human, thought Steve. The stupidity of the animal does not stop the call’s audible ring that our character and his lover can hear. Steve lets out the yawn of beast, whilst his Nora covers the back of her head with a pillow and groans. Nora is not a morning person and doesn’t have to go into work for another three and a half hours. Steve looked at the clock, 6:37 a.m.; he wouldn’t be late if he huffed it.
The drive to work was average. Steve bobbed his head while listening to Red Hot Chile Pepper’s “Californiacation”, and was cheerful about hitting very little traffic.
Steve Butchen worked at a small movie store. Many co-workers and wanderers around the store found this different for a conventional family man. Most would expect a more businessman type job for a smart gentleman, nearing his thirties, like Stephen Butchen.
The passers by, however, did not know the passionate love that Butchen had for movies and anything film related. He would proudly confess that he adored films, and brag to anyone, willing or forced to listen, that if they said any, any movie every made, Steve had seen it or at least heard of it.
Some would name a few obscure ones,
“The Night of the Hunter?”
“Seen it.”, Butchen always replied.
Some would name terrible ones,
“Mac and Me?”
“Son of the Mask?”
“The Pick-up Artist?”
“Ugh, Seen it.”
Some would even name foreign films.
“Umberto D. ?”
“The 400 Blows?”
These “chats” could last for 30 minutes. If these were true movie buffs he was arguing with, it could last for several hours. His wife and friends would smile and roll their eyes, but Nora could also get very annoyed or embarrassed if it carried out too long. Steve’s free time was mostly spent at the theater seeing the latest film. He would kill to see a movie he had never seen before. In short, Steve was a true cinephile.
Today was not a different day of work for Steve. He would type in all purchases into his computer, gladly answer any petty questions customers would ask, stack some movies on the shelves, then return home.
It was right about closing time. Steve had already put away all of the returned movies and new releases, and was just shutting down his computer. The tuneful chime the computer made as it was logging off was interrupted by the chime of the bell above the door. Steve sighed, realizing it was another customer. As he turned around, he noticed the unusualness of this stranger.
It was a man, slightly older, early forties. He looked as if he just woke up from a 3 day long nap. A scruffy shadow of a beard on his face, stringy black hair that was pulled tight under a gray seaman’s cap, a green army jacket and brown boots, tattered jeans,and a rank odor that matched his dirty, homeless look. The man’s eyes were bloodshot and glassy, which made Steve assume he was on drugs. He wondered if this hobo was armed. About to call the authorities, Steve hesitated when he saw what the man was wearing. A Clockwork Orange t-shirt. One of, if not, Steve’s favorite movie. He immediately lost all fear of the gentleman. He stammered to ask,
“C-can I help you, s-sir?”
The man had a long blink and replied, “Actually, I’m just looking for directions to highway 40-1.”
Steve gave him directions the best he could, the stranger thanked him, and Steve interrupted his departure with,
“Excuse me sir, I couldn’t help noticing, but your shirt is so awesome.”
The man looked confused, but accepted the complement.
“You into Kubrick?”, asked Steve.
“Yeah, he’s one of my favorite directors.”
“Same here!” Steve was thinking he could have a new movie buddy to talk endlessly with.
“I especially like that unfinished project he had made with that unknown director.” said the stranger.
Steve looked very puzzled. He had seen all Kubrick movies, all special features, documentaries, extensive research, he had never heard of this project.
“What are talking about?” he questioned.
The stranger answered, “Well, Kubrick is said to have made a special short film that went before Spartacus. It’s simply called “Blank”. Any TRUE Kubrick fan would know that.”
His mocking tone offended Steve. In all of Stephen Butchen’s years of film study, he’d never, ever, heard of this so called “Blank”.
“That’s impossible! This ‘short film’ probably doesn’t even exist-”
“I assure you, there is a short film. I bet if you turn on your computer and look it up, you could find it.” said the stranger, smiling. Steve Butchen noticed the strange man’s tone sounded stern, like it would be necessary if the film was looked up.
Steve was about to say okay, until he realized what time it was.
“No, no it’s late. The wife and kids are probably wondering where I am.”
“Oh,” said the stranger dryly. “That’s much more important.”
“What do you mean?” Steve blinked slowly and turned his head. He was prone to adult tantrums due to his short anger fuse. He didn’t even hear the ring of the bell as the stranger left.
Now alone with the sun going down , he decided to not let what that creep said bother him. Steve packed up and left the store. Nora is just about finished with supper, Steve thought.
Steve came home close to six, kissed Nora on the cheek, ate his dinner, balanced the checkbook, gave the children baths, played peek-a-boo, said goodnight, and found himself laying alone in his bedroom. Nora, in full sleepwear, walked in to find her husband in their dark room looking at the ceiling. She knew that before he went to bed, and long after she went to bed, Steve would do extensive research on IMDB online, read about Alfred Hitchcock or Francois Truffaut, or just watch a few out of his thousands of movies. She knew something was up.
“Steve, you O.K.?”
“Yeah babe,” Steve said with a sigh. “It was just a long day. Some freak came in saying that their was this short film Stan made before Spartacus.”
“Oh, you love that movie.”
“I know, but I was wondering if I should really get up and do research to see if it really exists or not. I still want to check the deleted scenes in Psycho,” Steve paused for a moment to look into his pretty wife’s emerald eyes that showed some, but not too much concern. “You know what, I’ll worry about it some other time. Goodnight honey.”
Nora smiled and kissed his bearded face, “Night Steve.”
Steve didn’t keep his own word for long. He woke about three in the morning, feeling like he was only napped, and crept downstairs to lie out on the couch. Rubbing both hands on his face, he felt his elbow touch something cold; his laptop. That was it for Butchen. He typed up the short film title and clicked onto every link it lead to. Steve found himself skimming through obscure websites, many choppy and unprofessionally fan made, that he was for sure he would give his computer viruses. Steve thought he was only on for about thirty minutes until he looked at the digital clock on his laptop. Seven o’ clock sharp; Steve was going to be very late. After having his boss lecture him as soon as he walked in, he grumbled something rude and went over to his post.
Who should Steve’s first customer be on this fine sunny morning than a man remarkably like the strange man he saw last night? As a matter of fact, it is the man Steve saw last night. Steve didn’t know why but seeing the man made him livid. He was diving his hands through the used movie bin when his eyes wondered to a grumpy Steve. The man waltz up to him, grinning wide, and said rather nonchalantly, “You look tired, friend.”
“I’m not your friend,” Steve said though gritted teeth. “But yes, I am tired. I looked up that crappy movie. No money.”
“Oh Stephen.” The man now sounded sad. Sad like something tragic happened.
“ ‘Oh Stephen’ what, you little - wait… I don’t have my nametag on. How did you know my-”
The man left briskly. Steve felt a little uneasy, but shook it off. Business went on as usual until closing time. When Steve arrived home, Nora was panicking.
“Oh Steve!” Nora cried “I can’t find the cat anywhere. I asked our neighbors and everyone in the neighborhood if they’ve seen him. Nothing!”
“Nora,” Steve said soothingly, “I know how close you two are, and he has a collar with a bell, you know he wouldn’t go far.”
“Steve baby, he never goes out for long. What’s even weirder is that I didn’t let him out. It’s as if someone came and took him.”
Steve thought long and hard about what she just said. Could it be? No, he is weird, but not insane. Steve promised Nora that he would print out some filers ASAP. He did, but only so they wouldn’t get in the way of his research on the movie. This film still consumed him. Any normal person would have stopped there if some other problem was in the way, but Steve was sticking to his true cinephilic attitude and continued with late nights on the laptop, many pages through film books and Kubrick biographies read and re-read, and six servings of coffee. All this didn’t stop him passing out from exhaustion close to dawn.
Steve was woken by his ringing phone well after sun rise. A familiar voice was on the other line: “Hey Stephen, how was your rest? Did you find the film?”
“What?” Steve got very irate very quickly, “Listen you old homeless idiot, I don’t know how you keep finding me, but watch your back. I can call the police faster than you can finish a sentence! Furthermore, THAT SHORT FILM DOESNT EXIST!”
When Butchen finished his statement, the only sound heard was his own voice screaming profanity. He took a deep breath and decided he needed to cool down. It was Sunday. This meant Steve could go get a hot breakfast from his wife, than go right back to sleep. He knew Nora forgot to get the mail yesterday, Steve put on some sandals and lumbered outside with a glass of milk. It was nice morning, Steve thought it would be a good day to take the family out to the park. Butchen, taking a gulp of milk, didn’t make it all the way down the driveway until he looked up and noticed what was hanging from a tree.
The orange tomcat, Nora had loved, was slaughtered. Its once beautiful yellow coat was now bloody and reeked like it had been there a while. It’s intestines and organs were either dangling out of its wide open stomach, or wrapped around its neck like a Christmas bow. A small rope held the dangling feline by it’s tail. The cat’s mouth was opened like it was meowing for help. Steve dropped his beverage, and threw up some in his mouth. Nora was inconsolable. She even wanted the local police officer to step in.
“Sir, do you know anyone who would do this?” asked the policeman.
“Well,” Steve thought about the most understandable words to say. “There’s been this strange man that seems to be following me around.” Steve then gave him the description.
The officer with the other policeman interrupted saying that they had found no evidence around the crime, or on Steve’s phone, that they could trace back to, and that the slaughterer must have been extremely crafty. The policeman than said that they can’t do very much about it, but that Steve should keep in touch in case something like that happens again. The rest of that afternoon was quiet. Steve didn’t search for the lost short film, he napped and watch a few David Lynch films. Steve wasn’t long into Eraserhead when Nora called for him to come into the nursery.
“Kylie’s been complaining about her tummy hurting, the boys both got sick, and all of them are burning up.”
“Between 102-105 degrees.”
“Good Lord, when did this all happen?”
“A while after lunch, I don’t get it though. What did you make for them anyhow?”
Steve looked at his wife as if she was transformed into another person, “ I was in the den almost all afternoon watching movies, I didn’t make them lunch!”
“Well, I heard somebody in the kitchen with them from our room! If not you, than who
The coincidence of Steve researching the short film and the recent incidents connected in Steve’s mind like how an electric chord connects with an outlet. He knew that this wasn’t just bad luck. He also knew it wasn’t anything paranormal; but man-made. Whatever it was, it was definitely premeditated. Butchen didn’t trust the police. They couldn’t even find a cat murderer, what would posses him to think they could handle a surreal situation such as this? It was as if someone was on a mission, no, an assignment, to have Steve’s cat mangled and his children ill. Suspect number one was as clear as day: the strange man at the movie store.
“Honey, maybe I should take off tomorrow.” said Steve.
Nora shook her head, “No baby, I’ll call the pediatrician tonight. Nothing’s happening at the office. I‘ll stay home.”
“Nora, I REALLY think I should stay home.”
“Steve, that’s very sweet of you, but-”
Steve and Nora argued on and on, feeling almost infinite on Steve‘s part. It ended with them sleeping in separate places, furious at each other. Steve went to work in the morning. He tried not to let his emotions get the better of him. He hated the fact that he was sensitive, almost as much as he hated that Nora won every argument. “Who goes to a movie store at 7:00 in the morning?” Steve asked himself every Monday. His boss was probably sleeping in his concealed office in the back of the store. Steve spent the first few minutes looking at the scores of the hockey games last night online, then decided to tap around on his phone just to alleviate his boredom. He found an unheard message made late last night.
“Stephen, oh Stephen. You didn’t even TRY to research today. Well, be it as it may, hopefully you’ll be home tomorrow.”
Steve jumped up and rushed home as soon as the message ended.
Not thinking twice, he ran in through the front door and straight upstairs to check on the children. The nursery was locked. Struggling to break in, Steve was sobbing as he rammed himself into the door multiple times. Success finally came as the door collapsed onto the multicolored carpet. Steve’s relief of seeing the children safe in their cribs was short lived when he heard Nora utter a piercing, pain-filled scream. Steve didn’t remember running, so much as flying to the garage at top speed. Kicking down the cheaply made garage door, Steve found his wife tied helpless to a wooden chair, and the strange movie store man about to apply another red hot cigarette burn to her shoulder.
Steve turned into a man-eating lion, lunging at his wife’s torturer. He toppled over the strange man and they rolled on the cement floor. Steve, eyes filled with tears, finally got the large psycho pinned on the floor and swung blindly at him. He hit him more times than he missed. The brute began to beg for mercy.
“Please! Stop! Stop! I can explain! Please stop!”
“You son of a b****. I hope you burn in hell!”
“Wait, please Steve!”
If the man didn’t kick Steve off of him, and catapult him into the firewood pile in the corner, Steve would have beat him to death. Steve felt discombobulated, defeated. Too dizzy and disoriented from being flung at such a force, he lay there as vulnerable and broken as the stone-like firewood he crashed into. Nora felt the physical and mental anguish as well, forced to watch the cruelty of man toward another, but the only sound she could manage to make was short, quiet sobs. This pain gave the evil man a chance to find his own strength after being beaten, and to explain himself as best he could.
“Stephen, listen before you try to kill me again, I want you to hear the whole truth of my story. I was told about his short film from another man. I was looking for it as well. I believed him as well. There can’t be any short film. There isn’t.”
“Please,” Steve interrupted. “Please just go away! I don’t know what your talking about, but I -”
“My parents were killed because I couldn’t find the film.”
Steve now listened. He didn’t want to listen. If he had any power over himself, he’d go back inside, force himself to go to sleep, and pray that it was all a dream and he’d wake up with everything back to normal. Normal? What is normal? No! I’m not going insane!
“My father died because I couldn’t find the film. Do you know who killed him? Me. Do you know who told me to kill him? The man who was following me around like I’m following you around. I exploded like you did. Steve please listen, it’s so important you know this. I was then told that I had to carry on the chain. I said ‘What chain?’. Then the man told me about the chain. The chain of the man who started the killings and tortures on good people like you and your wife. He was a HUGE fan of Kubrick. Worshiped him. Around the time Kubrick was making Spartacus, he made the short film Blank. He had try to contact Kubrick or one of his agents to see if Kubrick could see it himself. Fat chance. He ended up giving the reels of film to a guy who said he knew Kubrick. Who knows what the guy did with the reels? The chain starter refused to believe that the guy he gave the reels to threw them away. The dude got so frustrated with waiting, he snapped. He told this person to look for his film. Then, he would start tormenting and killing all people that his victim knew and loved if he failed at finding it. Make his victims go crazy and they‘d pass it on like a cold. Somehow the chain wondered down to me when I was working at Suncoast. I looked for the movie since I was a film buff, and had strange occurrences like pets dying. Then I walked into my parents room, and I saw this man who had just stabbed my mother. He told me to finish the job off. I don’t know what happened still. I looked at the knife, than my father tied to the bed. It just seemed like the right thing to do. So I stabbed him until he was beyond dead. Then I felt the need to continue this ‘chain’. So yeah. I kidnapped your cat and killed it after your first time not finding it. Second time, I broke into your house and fed your kids raw meat so they’d get food poisoning. Third time, this.”
The strange man touched his bleeding lip. His eyes were also welling up. He let out a forced chuckle, “I don’t believe it though. Stupidest crap. It’s absurd that would happen to someone… right?”
The man clutched his bloody, swelling eye. He was crying. It was low. It surprised Steve that this man showed emotion. This was an extremely funny joke he just told. It couldn’t have been true. The man’s low cry of shame turned into hysterical laughter; like a switch was flipped. Steve found his strength to get up. He could barely stand up due to his own uncontrollable, disturbing laughter. It was just so hilarious though! The man moved his hand away from his face and placed it on Butchen’s shoulder. Both were now producing uproarious laughs.
Nora wasn’t sure what to think. Although, when that large piece of firewood that Steve wielded came down on her skull, smashing it, she couldn’t help not thinking much. On that action, Steve and the strange man nearly fell on top each other in a heap of psychotic giggles.
During the winter of that year, Steve approached a movie store going out of business. It was a shame that all of the good stores selling good movies were now being replaced by Redboxes. Nevertheless, Steve walked right in and came up to a smiling, young man at the cash register. He saw pleasant family photos plastered on his computer. The young worker commented happily on Steve’s A Clockwork Orange t-shirt.
“Thanks,” said Steve with equal joy, “I got it from a friend of mine.”