A Video Rental Store Just Opened On My Block - Chap 5
It’s been a while, hasn’t it? It doesn’t feel like it. I thought only a few days had passed since my last entry. Two months? I guess I’ve just had other things on my mind.
Everything is moving quickly lately. I don’t know if it’s the isolation, the pandemic, the constant worry, the boredom. I just feel like I’m in a fugue state, like I’m on autopilot.
So, what have I been doing in this off time? Yeah, I’ve been watching more of those fucked up movies. I hardly even remember renting them anymore. Not since the dreams have gotten worse. The ones about the door. About the fingers reaching for me in the darkness. And it all feels so real, like I’m at the shop and actually touching the video displays, actually reaching for that doorknob. I can hear the murmurs around me like before. I can’t remember why I even hesitated to open the door in the first place…
I don’t know how long it’s been. I have three tapes that I just recently watched. I need to get back to the rental place, but I feel so sleepy and out of it.
The last film I watched was weird in a way the others haven’t been so far.
After I returned At the Hip and Our Summer, I do remember talking to Mr. Greenway about them a bit. He laughed when I pointed out how weird and disturbing they were. But he explained that they embodied an obscure art style called monologue intérieur, which is essentially “stream of consciousness.” He started going off about something called “auteur theory,” but I kind of spaced out as he rambled on.
Basically what I got from it was that the films considered perspectives and the complicated nature of the human psyche to be more important than the narrative of the story. I could definitely see that in the recent films. He encouraged me to be honest about anything I didn’t like, things that confused me. As a follow up to Our Summer, he sent me home with one called A Barren Plot and A Donkey. It was shorter than the other movies, which was good, because it was also pretty old. Like I said, I typically tune out anything before the ‘80s. I just can’t focus on the slow paces.
A Barren Plot wasn’t slowly paced, however. It was a pretty tragic story about a farmer who owned a once-thriving plantation that had died due to endless drought. His wife and children begin to starve as they tried to find a way to salvage their land. Normally in films like this, it would focus heavily on the drama throughout, showing us the family’s misery and misfortune, before they finally succumbed. I’d seen enough like it.
This one took an odd turn, though. In the first five minutes, some strangers came to stay at the farm. Travelers. The farmer offers what little he has, but clearly their rations are running out. One of the men offers to help ease the man’s burden. There are a few pleasantries, before the men select the farmer’s most plump child, lay him out on the table, then begin to butcher him.
It wasn’t graphic, but I still looked away. Somehow it was even worse than the butter knife fight, despite far less blood being shown. Maybe it was the screaming. The pleading from the farmer and his wife.
When the men had finished devouring the farmer’s child, they moved on, and the family was powerless to do anything to stop them. At one point, as the men were leaving, the camera focused on one of the murderers and lingers. The man stops, his head down, and it’s quickly clear that he’s crying.
The screen flickers, then goes dark, before a few words pop on the black background. “We hunger at any cost. Oh the price of tender flesh. Oh the the taste of precious life.”
Most of the following twenty minutes consists of the family grieving, but still going about their business on the dried up farm. I thought maybe it was a metaphor for what they were losing, as they stopped being able to care for their children. Creepy and horrific as it was, it may not have been as random as it initially seemed.
But in true fashion, at the half hour mark, the film changed as if someone had recorded over it. It looked like a VHS recording of an ‘80s infomercial, the kind of thing you’d see on late night cable if you stayed up long enough.
The quality was grainy, the smiles were cheesy, and the hair was massive. It cut in mid-way through some hokey, upbeat music, and several neon frames popped onto the screen as it zoomed in on a young woman and an older man. The man wore a suit, and he was very excited. The young woman seemed happy, but in that artificial way, like when they try to find real-looking people to help sell their product.
“Tell them how much it’s done for you!” the man said, gesturing at the woman, whose name pops up in the corner of the screen: Miranda Bentley, 24.
“You know I could talk your ear off about Rise Again, Bob,” she said, with that unchanging smile. The words were stilted, but not forced. “Before I found this miracle product, I thought for sure the bad thoughts would get me. But Rise Again knows what I did, and it let me know that all of that is okay! I’m not defined by my past, and you shouldn’t be either.”
An info-graphic popped onto the screen zooming in and out as manic music played. “Life Changing!” it read. “Act now!”
The shot changed to three older women, two of which were ecstatic, though one in the background looked incredibly uncomfortable despite her smile.
“Yes, there’s no doubt that no other product can deliver like Rise Again!” one of the women said, a grandmotherly like person with a long, hooked nose and smile lines along her mouth and eyes. “The doctors told me there was nothing they could do, but Rise Again saved my life!”
It went on like that for a moment, but it never actually explained what this Rise Again product was. It was nothing but vague testimonials, interspersed between shots of people laughing and dancing, drinking from plastic cups like at a party.
“It’s only been a week since I turned to Rise Again,” one man said. “I admit, I was a little skeptical at first. I think we all were. But with Rise Again, your dreams can come true. And at such a low price!”
The people went back to chatting and laughing in the background as an announcer continued. “Still unsure about the benefits of Rise Again? You still have time to try it for free! Think about it. Really think about it. Is it worth letting this opportunity pass you by? Do you really have that luxury? Just how well are you coping? Does it haunt you, the things that you’ve done? Do you really—”
The screen jerked and warped, then it was back to the farm movie. I felt on the edge of my seat and I couldn’t identify why. The surviving family was sitting in a row of chairs, facing the camera. They were smiling, but it didn’t reach their eyes.
Behind them, an animal was approaching in the distance. Perhaps the titular donkey. It was mostly obscured, but it moved steadily forward.
“Yes, I understand,” the farmer said. The others seemed unfazed, until one of the younger girls suddenly broke character and began to sob.
“It isn’t fair!” she screamed. “It’s not fair! Please!”
As she cried and begged, the rest of the family began to laugh, their eyes straight forward, dead smiles unchanging. It was quiet laughter at first, then uproarious, and still, the girl wailed.
I could see the donkey better now. Not a donkey, but what appeared to be two men in an old, moth-eaten donkey suit. It had one, dangling button eye, but no other distinct features. And it was tall. Taller than you’d expect. Like the men inside were on their tiptoes.
The girl’s voice suddenly became higher, more panicked.
Then the scene shifted to the family around their dinner table, saying their prayers. At the center of the table was a baked goose, with mashed potatoes and other fixings in containers spread across the tablecloth.
It was then that I heard something behind me, like someone sliding against the living room wall. I whipped around, but no one was there.
“Sh, it’s okay,” the farmer whispered on the television. “We’re all scared at first, but it feels better after. If you let yourself be healed, let yourself start over, you’ll find that pain is obsolete.”
I turned back to the screen, half-expecting the farmer to be looking at me, but instead, he was leaning over a young man in a chair. The guy couldn’t have been older than 20, and his head hung low as he mumbled something over and over. The farmer stroked his hair almost lovingly, like a father to a child.
“I’m bored now,” a young voice said off screen. “I don’t want to wait anymore.”
Then the image cut abruptly to the family feasting, sloppily shoving meat and vegetables into their mouths. There was no music, just the sound of them chewing and licking their lips. I gagged at the noises, which were almost as bad as the close ups of them chewing. Mashing teeth, quickly cutting between them so that each person’s mouth got a good amount of focus. It went on for far too long. I thought about just turning it off.
But finally, the setting changed once more. The farmer stood alone in a dark field, all chewing sounds gone. He held his head down, a shovel in his hand. It was silent for a long while. Then, “I just wanted…” The farmer’s voice was raspy and tense, like each word was a struggle.
“You’re a sinner,” a woman’s voice said off screen. “But we embrace you. We forgive you.”
The farmer burst into tears, bringing one hand to his face as he cried. “I’m not like the rest. I was trying to do the right thing for my family.”
“Shh,” the woman cooed. “Of course you did. You’re a great father. There is only happiness from here on out. In the end, you deserve this more than anyone else. Don’t forget that.”
Again, the farmer was quiet for a long time, then suddenly, he threw down the shovel and faced the woman for the first time. “I want to go through the door.”
The video cut to more dancing and laughing, but it was much louder now. The tone had changed completely to something nightmarish. The speech was drowned out in the laughter and warped music, but I could tell they were speaking very quickly, and backwards.
“Don’t be a grumpy gus!” a deep voice said over the chaos. “You’ve made it this far. Stop living in the past!”
The music continued to rise in volume, and in the background the party seemed to take a strange turn, with cups falling over and punch spilling. People began vomiting, convulsing, but still they danced. Still they laughed. Like it was all they could do.
Then just like that, the video went black, no credits or anything. It stayed like that for a few seconds, then a voice whispered, “Look behind you,” and the tape shut off.
I have never turned around so fucking fast in my life. My stomach was already halfway up my esophagus when I spun back, expecting something to be staring at me.
But it was just my kitchen. Just the living room walls. Just the calendar that hadn’t been changed since June. The broccoli and onions I’d bought at the store at some point, but were now rotting on the counter. The buzz of fruit flies, zipping around my ears.
When was the last time I called my parents? When was the last time I really talked to anyone?
I wanted to burn the tape. I wanted to throw it out the window. It was a sickening feeling, like knowing something violent was near. Something dangerous. But being unable to identify it.
Regardless, I ended up back at the rental place. Did I talk to Mr. Greenway about the strange intercuts? The infomercial? The lack of resolution? I can’t even remember. I only know that I came home with three more movies, and two days ago, I finally watched them all. Well, almost all. I still haven’t finished the third one. I don’t know if I can. Jesus Christ, I feel like I’ve opened myself to something I shouldn’t have. But the longer I go between viewing, the more I crave another video. What the hell is wrong with me? Where is everyone? Why is my neighborhood so dark and quiet?
I…don’t know what’s going on, but I feel like I can’t stop.
…This post is getting long. I’ll write about the most recent videos soon. I’m sorry this has taken so much time. I’ll get the next installment out ASAP. Or will another month pass? God, I hope not. This place is starting to feel like the last life line I have left.