“Chthonic Cinema” by Gregory Rapp (September Web Feature)

I know you’re busy with studying and jerkin’ off to the stuff you found on 4Chan, but I’ve got somethin’ for you, bro. It’s a real sweet place few people know about. I’m tellin’ you because you’re a friend. That’s what friends’re for. You interested? Of course you are, so hear me out.

It’s about the closest thing to entertainment in this little town on the Llano Estacado. I heard about it from a guy I know. He was in my British lit class I took last summer. The guy wasn’t much of a reader, but he knew a thing or two about film. He’s a film major—I guess that explains things. Put a camera in his hand and watch ‘im make goddamn magic.

Anyways, it’s the talk of the campus but only a few people know where it’s located. True cinephiles know that it’s located in the basement of the Rough Rider Student Success Center (formerly the Rough Rider Library). Don’t believe me? Fine. But I’ve seen it. How would you know? You’re too busy jerkin’ off. It’s a goddamn beaut, man.

The person who runs the place is a forty-something grad student who refuses to graduate before she comes up with a unifying, all-encompassing theory of film. Ain’t that shit crazy? Anyways, she calls it the Chthonic Cinema. No one else calls it that. I don’t think half of the people on campus can say, “Chthonic.” Apparently the “Ch” is silent. Who knew? Everyone I know calls it the Basement Theater, the Underground Cinema, or the Place. Call it what you like. It doesn’t really matter to me—or to anyone, for that matter.

I know you’re not much for the old brick-n-mortar analog libraries. I don’t blame ya. I’m all for the almighty Cloud when it comes to books and whatnot. Anyways, the library isn’t too hard to find. Just follow the bird shit. The library is home to a horde of mutated pigeons that have a genetic disposition to shit all over the place. I’m talkin’ full-scale, bird feces carpet bombing. It’s ain’t pretty or sanitary. Best be sure to clean your shoes before headin’ back to the dorms, man. Where was I goin’ with this? That’s right…

You’ll need to walk past the L-shaped circulation desk. It’s easy to spot. You can’t miss it. The circulation desk is manned by student workers who spend most of their time checking Facebook and fondling cellphones hidden between their crotches—oh, and you can always look out for the big blue sign that says, “CIRCULATION,” if you get lost.

Since you haven’t been in the library, you’ll probably notice the smell right away. Old books and mildew to be exact—no fuckin’ joke, bro. It’s awful. Puts the dorm to shame. To make matters worse, the bipolar weather of the Llano Estacado keeps the library’s heating and A/C system on its toes, too. It’s best to dress appropriately. On cold days, it’s like a goddamned furnace. I’m talkin’ equatorial heat. Not exactly pleasant. The old-school A/C kicks on when the warmer days hit, and it feels like you’ve entered one of those walk-in freezers, looking for chunks of bovine carcasses.

If you go to the Chthonic Cinema during the regular school year, you’ll be surprised to hear a loud murmur of hushed conversations. It’s not the dead spirits of trees haunting the librarians. Apparently people still prefer analogue libraries—I don’t understand it either, man. Ours is not to question why, my friend. Anyways, you’ll fit right in. It’s mostly students and some professors in there working on various projects, listening to music, or shooting the shit before the next class.

The library is quiet during the summers, and the only thing you can hear is the library’s water fountain. But don’t worry, you won’t need to have a cover to be there. Most of the librarians go on vacay in the summer. During the regular semester, they’re taking shifts doing god-knows-what. That means they’re too busy to check into any debauchery or irregularities.

There is reference librarian, a guy named Pete, who is pretty dope. He’ll shoot the shit with you before going to fill up on free coffee in the staff lounge. I suggest you read up on current events, conspiracy theories, or the newest sci-fi shows. He’s always jabberin’ those things. It helps that you can carry on a convo with ‘im before heading over to Chthonic Cinema. It’s a courtesy. The guy’s pretty cool, too.

Once you’ve made it past the circulation desk, make a bee-line for the periodicals at the back of the library. Don’t know what periodicals are? Geez, man. You should consider takin’ a tour of the library. You’ll see a big blue sign that says, “PERIODICALS.” You can’t miss it. You’ll want to look for those shelves in Periodicals that are closest to the Media Services librarian office. That’s Walter’s office. He’s nice enough, but Walter’s eyes don’t leave his computer’s monitor much. He probably won’t notice you. If he does, just stand still for a few moments. He’ll shake his head and go back to looking at whatever is on his computer screen.

You’ll have to maneuver through the old oak study tables and chairs—they’re a holdover from the “good ol’ days” or when the university was some Podunk junior college—to get to there. Try to avoid needless chitchat with your fellow students. You don’t want to be late. But make sure you show up early. You might run into Pete. His hours are a bit sporadic. Pete needs at least a half-hour of convo before getting his coffee. He won’t leave until he’s had his fill. Trust me. The guy takes it as an insult if you can’t give ‘im at least thirty minutes. Propitiating Pete with some senseless convo will save you down the road. If you’re talkin’ with Pete, other librarians will assume that you belong there. He won’t tell interested parties otherwise—unless you don’t talk to him.

Near the Walter’s office you’ll find a wooden door. It’s made of a yellow wood and the laminate is peeling off in long strips. You’ll see the LIBRARIANS ONLY sign with a blue background and white lettering bolted to the door. On the other side you’ll find a small hallway.

It’s imperative that you act like you belong there. Act like a librarian or some new guy who’s been asked to bring something to the librarians in the back. If those ruses fail, always consider playing the dumb college student who doesn’t realize he’s in the library and ask about some kickass keger. You might mention a workshop on Existential Philosophy, Internet Age Sexual Fetishes, or Cultural Production in the Post-Print Era. Those sound pretty legit. Keep it simple, though. That’ll make it easier on you. Can’t have your cover falling apart.

You cannot mention the Chthonic Cinema. If you do, you’ll be met with blank stares or wild states of confusion, which could result in pointed questions from librarians and campus police officers. Only a handful of people know and truly understand the Place—the Chthonic Cinema. It’s important that you keep it a secret. If speech fails you, consider avoiding eye contact and performing a series of confusing zigzag-like evasive maneuvers. I’ve heard that works on some of the librarians. They’ll ignore you and keep going about their business.

You’ll want to take a right at the newspaper storage cabinets. The cabinets are where the library keeps copies of old newspapers—in case you were wondering. To your right you’ll notice an old elevator. It looks older than the brick-n-mortar library that houses it. The door to the elevator is white with large chips and cracks in the paint. It’s the only one there. Press the button next to the door.

The elevator will open with a jerking motion, letting out a clang-bang number as the metal door opens. Don’t let this noise scare you or shake your dedication. I promise it’s not the subterranean gods coming to collect your mortal soul. On the occasion that I’m wrong, you might consider bringing a magic talisman or whatever to ward off such things. You never know. When in doubt, my friend. When in doubt.

You’ll notice the elevator’s control panel immediately. It’s a reminder of a humbler, less complicated time when elevators had few yet reliable functions in society. There are two buttons with arrows etched on their chrome faces. One arrow points up or toward the library’s second story. The second arrow points downward or toward an isolated section of the library’s basement. A shutoff switch points downward. That means it’s in the off-position. Don’t touch that switch. It sounds an alarm. You’ll definitely have to answer questions if you flip that switch.

Press the downward arrow. The elevator’s door will do another clang-bang number as it closes. The elevator’s car will then lurch downward toward your destination. It takes a second for the elevator to reach the basement. You need to remember that this is an old elevator. It’ll take about five seconds for the door to open. If you hear the grating sound of metal on metal, don’t worry about it. Again, it’s an old elevator and not some demonic entity coming to devour your soul. I promise.

When the elevator’s door opens, you’ll notice that it is dark in the basement. The smell of wet dirt and mold will be the second thing you notice. You might also experience feelings of despair or horror, but you shouldn’t let these feelings stop you. It’s only your imagination playing tricks on you.

To get the lights on, just flip the light switch next to the elevator. It’s on the right side as you come out of the elevator. Wait for a few minutes. The bulbs need some time to heat up.

With the lights on, you’ll notice that you’re in a run-of-the-mill basement. To the elevator’s right, piles of boxes and crates are stacked like leaning towers of misshapen Alphabet blocks. Those boxes and crates reach up toward the basement’s rafters. The library’s vinyl collection is stored in the corner next to those boxes and crates. I’ll have to show you the collection sometime—it’s pretty impressive. In front of the elevator, you’ll notice a gray cinder block wall. The hissing and rattling you hear down there comes from the pipes lining the edge of that wall. To top it off, the wiring in the basement is ancient. The school hasn’t brought it up to code. The wiring makes this distinctive electric humming sound. Reminds me of the cicadas back home. It’s quite pleasant to listen to. Don’t worry. You’re plenty safe. I’m sure of it.

To the elevator’s left, you’ll notice a door to a custodial closet. The closet is larger than you think—trust me. The school built it after the library was opened. It used to house a full-time boiler technician and the necessary tools and spare parts for the library’s boiler. He was later laid off when the school switched over to a more efficient, centralized heating and cooling system. Don’t feel bad for him. I hear that he got a settlement from a class-action lawsuit a while back. Something about the hiring practices at BoxMart. Anyways, that doesn’t concern you.

The closet door is a gun metal gray. A red horizontal slat sits at chest-level. Above the slat you’ll find a sign that reads, “CUSTODIANS ONLY.” It’s a dark blue sign with white lettering. You can’t miss it. It’s the only thing like it down there.

Knock on the door. Don’t pussyfoot around about it either. Give the door three hard knocks. That’s how the grad student will know you’re looking for the Chthonic Cinema.

The slat sounds like nails on a chalkboard when it opens. Don’t let this shake your resolve. You’ll see a pair of gray eyes looking back at you, and you’ll know you’ve come to the right place. Gray Eyes will ask you to make a deposit to her CineCoin wallet. CineCoin’s like Bitcoin for movie junkies, but it’s only used to buy, sell, and trade film. CineCoin gurus use it to purchase rare film and go and sell said film on the Interwebs for a profit. Don’t ask me why or how it works. I don’t question those things. It’s kinda like asking how sausage is made. I don’t want to know. As long as it works, I’m cool with it.

A night at Chthonic Cinema will run about three- or four-hundred CineCoin. You’ll need to know the wallet address before you leave. The grad student who runs the place doesn’t divulge this information to newbies. The wallet address is 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. If you can’t remember the wallet address, consider saving it on your smartphone or tablet before heading off to the library.

When you hear the Gray Eyes removing chains and sliding bolts to let you in, you know your transfer has been confirmed. Don’t be afraid to wait there. It can take a few minutes, especially if she’s locked up everything good and tight. She’s paranoid someone will steal her research. I can’t blame her. She seems to be onto something—I don’t know what exactly but it seems pretty legit.

The custodial closet’s layout is as simple as it gets. It has four walls covered in an egg-shell white paint. Shelves line the walls on your left, right, and the wall in front of you. The wall adjacent to the door has a plywood workbench bolted into the cinder block. The workbench has been repurposed to hold stacks of film and random filming equipment. To your right, you’ll notice an old projector screen. It was probably stolen from Media Services. Anyhow, it is zip-tied to the shelves. Don’t let the tear in the upper-right-hand corner bother you. It doesn’t affect the picture quality any. On the left you’ll find that some of the shelves have been cleared to make room for projectors and the Chthonic Cinema’s computer tower. It’s a pretty sweet setup. Gray Eyes probably stole most of it from the University Computer Center—and I would bet money on that. The seating arrangements at Chthonic Cinema are fairly straightforward. There are a half-dozen or so folding chairs of various colors and sizes situated in the center of the large closet. The chairs are comfortable, but the whole setup is a bit claustrophobic. These chairs have been lifted from the University Baptist Center—check the backs of the chairs if you don’t believe me. Gray Eyes usually keeps a white, hundred-quart Igloo cooler underneath the workbench. Sometimes the cooler has cold beer, a six-pack or two of Dr. Pepper, or even the occasional bottled Horchata or Chai Latte. The Chthonic Cinema also features a small microwave oven for popping popcorn or heating whatever food you manage to sneak in. Be sure to use the microwave before the movies start. Gray Eyes doesn’t like hearing it while the movies are playing.

I suggest that you consider taking a seat in the back row. You’ll be closer to the speakers and have a better viewing experience overall. You shouldn’t leave after the movies start. Gray Eyes will force you to dish out more CineCoin to get back into the theater. It’s a win-win proposition for her. She needs to fund her graduate education at Llano State. For you, it might be best that you limit yourself to two or three drinks for the night. The movies will play until three or four in the morning. Be sure to come up with a cover story that you can rehash to roommates, campus police officers, or nosy RAs.

What do you say, wanna go tonight? It’ll be my treat, bro.

Published by

El Portal

Eastern New Mexico University’s literary magazine, El Portal, offers a venue for the work of writers, artists and photographers. ENMU students, national, and international writers are welcome to submit their original, previously unpublished short stories, plays, poetry and photography. No entry fees are charged. Cash prizes are awarded to first-, second- and third-place winners in each category (only ENMU students qualify). El Portal is published each semester at Eastern thanks to Dr. Jack Williamson, a world-renowned science fiction writer and professor emeritus at ENMU who underwrote the publication. El Portal has been published since 1939.