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My story, like so many others, starts on the internet. This story, specifically, begins in the latter part of 2009. It's taken me all this time to speak up, because I was afraid there might be consequences for breaking my silence. I realize now, there aren't. The people I fear are above all consequences my actions could bring, and so they are indifferent to what I do during this time. There is nothing I can do to win either their favor, and little I can do to win their ire.
I'm a film buff. I always have been. I love Horror, specifically. Not just the ripping apart of bodies, or the gleeful spraying of blood, although those are certainly fun in their own way. No, I love films that truly bring me chills. Movies that know how to tap into the most primal parts of my mind to make me quiver. The Exorcist, The Fly, The Night of the Hunter, and Psycho are among my favorites.
My options for community on the internet were always limited. While the horror forums and chats were plentiful, most were devoted to blood-soaked cheap-thrills, and the type of “horror” that was little more than morbid humor. But, I kept looking, and in time found a few sites catering to my niche.
Over the months and years I spent frequenting these sites, I began to notice one name being dropped again and again: Peter Dawson. It seemed to be assumed that we all knew the name, and it was only with reluctance that I was able to bring myself to ask the other forumgoers who this man was. They answered with good humor.
Peter Dawson, as it turned out, was likely an Americanized version of some other name, although no one knew for sure. He had apparently immigrated at a very young age from Europe, sometime after the First World War. His exact age was unknown, as his birth records had (presumably) been destroyed in the war, but his youth at the time of immigration could be taken for granted simply by the fact that he was still alive.
In 1930 he made his first film, All That Falls, privately financed, shown in a single showing. This began a truly baffling tradition. Dawson apparently made exactly one film every ten years. Each film was given only one showing, of one hundred and forty-four people. With each showing, one hundred and eight people from the previous showing were invited back, with a mere thirty-six new viewers allowed in the screening. A few alternates were invited, in case someone didn't show up. Of the scant few known to have seen a Peter Dawson film, it was universal met with praise as the most terrifying thing they had ever witnessed.
His website gave little information. Just a list of titles, linking to a page listing the cast of each film.
1930 – All That Falls
1940 – Death, Be My Keeper
1950 – A Time for Witches
1960 – Sacrifice
1970 – Blood for Michael
1980 – Not Chosen
1990 – Ashes and Dust
2000 – Reborn
2010 – In the Circle (forthcoming)
The films weren't listed on IMDB, so there was no way to confirm the cast, but if they were as listed each and every actor had gone onto have a successful career. Not all A-listers (although there were a few of those), but the most unsuccessful one I could find averaged a guest appearance on a TV show every other month. This certainly spoke to Dawson's ability to select talented unknowns.
I believe it was sometime in mid-November of 2009 when the announcement finally came out: the drawing for the new tickets had begun accepting applicants. By this time I wasn't paying much attention to the website, and saw the announcement through the boards. The link was simple on his website. Just click, enter a name, and an email address. So I did so, not bearing much hope for success.
The contest had faded from my mind again the following February when I got the email: I'd won. I wasn't even an alternate, I was in. I'd been sent a printable ticket, and an address, and told to come September 20th.
I'd like to say that I decided to go without a second thought, but it was a lot more complicated than that. I was surprised to see that the ticket said I'd be given a hotel room for the night, following the screening. This made me wonder just how rich and crazy Dawson actually was. Even so, it was a very long drive. I'd have to cross roughly half the country.
That said, it was too much of an adventure to turn down. I put in my request for time-off in March, early enough that I could be reasonably certain I'd get it. I printed out my ticket, and kept it in my glove compartment for all the subsequent months. I knew I could print out another copy any time I wanted from the e-mail, but something about having it in there for so long made the prospect so much more exciting.
Finally, the day came. I'll spare you the details of my road trip, as they're hardly pertinent. But, I arrived at the address, and found myself approaching a large hotel, with a huge, but mostly empty parking lot. I was asked to show my ticket at the entrance to the parking lot. At the desk, when I inquired about the small number of cars, I was informed that Dawson had booked the entire hotel, well over a decade in advance, specifically for this occasion. Given the lavishness of the hotel, and the fact that this unquestionably left most of the rooms empty, this level of conspicuous consumption was beyond my comprehension.
I was also told that everything was paid for, so before heading to the conference room I stashed my few things in my room, and ordered a bottle of champagne to my room. Dawson might be crazy, but I wasn't going to miss out on a chance to enjoy myself. I drank several glasses. My ticket said the movie would begin a few hours later in the conference room.
I arrived in the conference room about half an hour in advance, and everyone was sorted into groups. The one hundred and eight, the thirty-six, and the alternates. Of the thirty-six it appeared only three or four had failed to show up. They were quickly replaced with alternates, and the remaining alternates were hurried out of the room by the large men in black t-shirts Dawson had apparently hired to keep us orderly. I was somewhat surprised that none of the one hundred and eight had failed to appear. While I supposed any unfortunate enough to die in the intervening years would simply have not been invited, I would have expected at least a few to lose interest.
Some time before, on a night when I was bored, I had done the math. I estimated that if thirty-six people were removed at random from each group, an average of ten would be left from All That Falls. I found it unlikely that there were any survivors other than Dawson himself, though. Still, some of the 108 seemed quite elderly. It was bizarre, seeing old people lined up to watch a horror movie, but I supposed someone had to have been watching when Bela Lugosi skinned Boris Karloff in The Black Cat.
As the alternates were being led from the room, one broke rank and tried to charge into the theatre, only to be dragged out. As he was forced back, I could hear him screaming, “I have cancer! I have fucking cancer! This is my only chance!”
I felt a bit sad, and briefly considered offering up my seat for him. But, I decided against it pretty quickly. I mean, it was just a movie. No matter how strongly he felt about it, if he was sick, this wasn't going to change shit. People died having never seen a Dawson movie all the time.
Finally, we were allowed to enter. We were carefully guided into two sections, with the 36 sitting behind the 108, before a large screen. The number of seats was exactly correct, and I couldn't shake the feeling that they had literally refurbished this entire room just for the showing.
Then, the movie began. I'm sure, reading this, you're expecting some story of a haunted film. Something like John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns. (Yeah, there's the horror nerd in me, coming out again.) But the truth is that the film itself seemed quite normal, while I was watching it. I don't even remember a whole lot.
I picked up on enough cues to figure out that this was a sequel to some or all of his previous films. Or maybe just set in the same universe. The main character was a girl who'd been initiated as a witch. There was a scene where she met an old man who sat in a rocking chair the whole conversation. I gathered he was the eponymous character from Blood for Michael. The girl was being chased by her brother, who thought she was evil. I was never even clear on whether or not she was. I think between the two of them they racked up a pretty high body count.
That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the movie. At the time I did. I think if seeing that film had been my only experience that night, I'd probably have much better memories of it. Hell, I'd probably be posting my fiftieth analysis of what it meant, based on half-remembered details, instead of this story.
When the movie ended, I tried to get up, but was surprised to find out that I was unable to move. My legs wouldn't cooperate, and my arms felt like they were glued to the armrests. It was a creepy sensation, certainly. I'm not sure why I didn't call out. Perhaps I somehow realized that everyone else in the theatre was experiencing the same thing. Or maybe I just sensed that screaming would have made no difference.
A few moments later some of the men who had guided us into the theatre were walking down the rows, with small bowls in their hands. They stopped briefly at each guest, and that guest would extend a hand, and take something from the bowl. I waited, anxiously, for them to get to me.
Finally, a bowl was in front of me. I hadn't seen it coming, as I was unable to turn my head, but I now saw that the bowl contained a number of pieces of delicious-looking hard candy. I felt my right arm suddenly freed, and realized that I was being allowed to choose. So, I extended my momentarily free hand, and chose a green one that looked especially appetizing. My arm returned to the armrest, my hand clutching the candy so hard that my fingers hurt. The candy never even began to melt from the heat or pressure of my hand, though.
At some point, I can only presume after all the candies had been given out, a man walked to the front of the room. My heart was pounding. I would like to transcribe what he said, but I find that to be quite impossible. I'm completely uncertain of what he said, what I gleaned from other hints, and what my wild imagination made up for itself.
The one thing I do know is that this was Peter Dawson. He had greying hair, and a thick moustache. He was aged impeccably, looking not a day over his early sixties. I recall him saying a few witty words, but by now I knew this was no common send-off for his audience.
Then, in perfect sync, all of our arms moved to place our candies in our mouths. Then, people around me started dropping. They slouched over in their seats, and the men in black t-shirts began carrying the bodies out. I'm assuming that I got the number thirty-six from Dawson, simply because I had no way of looking behind me, and I doubt I even counted the number in front of me.
I was told, or figured out, that thirty-six people, one quarter of our number, had been sacrificed. The rest of us were to return in ten years. If we did not, we would be part of the sacrifice by default. If we did, we'd have another three-out-of-four chance of extending our lives by another ten years.
There are three additional things I do know that I did not leave there knowing. The first is that I have no control over my own death. Jumping off bridges, slitting wrists, bullets in the skull. I've tried it all. For the next ten years, I don't get to end this.
The second is that there's a reason all the returning guests were so well dressed. No matter how much I goof off at work, I've gotten promotion after promotion. And while my winnings have never been enough to attract media attention, somehow I can buy a handful of lottery scratchofffs and consistently turn a profit (one day I did the math and found out I was getting $3 back for every $1 invested).
The final thing I learned is that there's nothing the police can do. I've called them dozens of times, reporting a mass murder. Every time, they have no record of my previous calls.
So, I'm stuck. I got a letter in the mail last week, asking if I'd like to make a “donation” towards Dawson's next film... somehow I think I'm going to be donating. Guess that's the final mystery solved.
Written by WatcherAzazel