Hulk Hogan is sitting next to us in the theater, oiled and primed. He breathes like he’s getting ready to hold Andre the Giant over his head in a match.
The screen is showing Gremlins II, until it isn’t. It goes white. The stench of burnt film hangs in the air. A commotion in the projector room erupts, gremlin shadows and sharp laughter replacing the movie.
Hulk Hogan stands. He makes his threats to the creatures, his skin glistening in the projector light until they back down and the film continues. We share a quiet moment together when he sits again, his shirt torn open.
His rage eases.
“Are you a fan, kid?” he asks.
I shake my head. “No, sir.” I’m not allowed to watch wrestling.
“It’s just as well,” he says, slumping in his seat, a look of dread sinking his blonde face. “That was the best life is ever going to get, and I wish I cherished the moment more.”
I eat a fistful of popcorn to break eye contact.
I am the only one to stand when the credits roll and the lights lift, the popcorn gathered in my lap tumbling to the sticky floor. I squeeze by Hulk Hogan, who is still seated and staring vacantly ahead. I approach the door. It moves like a taut, heavy curtain when I touch it.
The Hulkster cries. His guttural sobs resound through the theater and drown out the credits.
And I remember what we are, suddenly, dragging my hands along the billowing door—the silver screen on which we dance as nothing but light through image. Scene within scene—a hairline fracture in the fourth wall. If I press my face against our prison, I see them watching, filtered through another showing of the movie—through images of Gizmo and Billy, together again.
I sulk back to my seat and place a hand on Hulk Hogan’s slick back. He is inconsolable and, soon enough, so am I. In the projector room, the gremlins thrive. Their puppet minds never forget who and what they are, content in their purpose. The Hulkster and I envy them together, on and on until our film degrades.
Nick Perilli is a writer and librarian living in Philadelphia with loved ones and a Netflix DVD plan. His debut novel, Cul-de-sac, is forthcoming from Montag Press in early 2022. His chapbook ‘Child Lucia and Other Library Fabula’ will be released by Ethel Press in November 2021. Short work of his can be found in Parhelion, Milk Candy Review, and elsewhere. He’s on Twitter @nicoloperilli and spared no expense on his cheap website nickperilli.com.