Travel often yields great insights. With multiple trips scheduled back-to-back, I expected I would find inspiration for a worthy piece of writing to submit for my next Midwest Voices column.
A visit to rural Nebraska provides a combination of sweeping landscapes and reunited friendships. Yet when faced with pen and paper, the words cower under the pressure to be important and meaningful.
No worries, I tell myself. A trip to New York will surely encourage good writing. As suspected, the bustling atmosphere ignites numerous journal entries about the cultural differences between New York and the Midwest. My draft, however, comes out flat, disorganized, overly philosophical.
Now I am worried; my deadline is one week away and a business trip to Chicago will occupy my time. The shame of having to submit a dud for publication weighs heavily on my flailing psyche.
After my final business meeting ends early, I walk to a nearby Megaplex to see “A Walk in the Woods.” Maybe a couple hours with author Bill Bryson (played by Robert Redford) will motivate my writing.
Not so. The movie is sweet but fails to spark my imagination. In the absence of creative inspiration, I am struck by an idea: summon my inner teen and sneak into another movie! I peek down the empty hallway and scan several titles. I notice “Sinister 2.” With Halloween just around the corner, a horror film seems an appropriate way to kill more time not writing.
Hoping to avoid notice, I pull on my hoody and slide into the screening. The theater is empty. What will I do if caught? Feign confusion? Pretend I’m hiding from a stalker? Hand over another $4 and beg forgiveness? The thought of calling my boss to bail me out of jail for sneaking into a horror flick heightens my anxiety. I’m too old for this, I decide, turning to leave. Just then the movie begins. What the heck, why should they waste the screening on an empty room? In the last row I slink into a seat.
If viewed during a busier show time surrounded by honest ticket-buyers, the opening sequence of clothes rustling around inside a little boy’s closet might have seemed trite and laughable; hiding out in the last row of an empty theater, the scene fills my heart with terror. For the next 30 minutes I am enthralled, occasionally glancing around the theater for signs of supernatural activity. Suspense is building with the appearance of several childlike apparitions inside an old church.
When a demon face flashes onto the screen, my entire body jerks violently. Suddenly the screen and all lights abruptly go out. I’m alone against the back wall of a pitch black theater, tracers of a demon fading to darkness. I’ll never sneak into a movie again!
With my heart thumping out of my mouth, I grope my way to the handrail and run for my life, not stopping until I’ve safely exited the building. Once I catch my breath, I discover that the beautiful Chicago sunshine that preceded the screenings has become an aggressive thunderstorm.
Lightning pierces the sky, the likely culprit to the power outage. I can’t re-enter the Megaplex, nor do I wish to ask a stranger for a ride, so I hike back to the hotel in the raging downpour, accepting the karmic punishment for my movie misdeed.
Back in time for a glass of Malbec at the hotel bar, I sit drenched to the bone, laughing at myself for having a near panic attack during a partial screening of a horror film sequel. Though neither particularly important nor steeped in meaning, the moral of my silly tale is this: Sometimes we have to take inspiration where and when it strikes — at the Corporate Megaplex on the final day of a Midwestern business trip.
Brooke Palmer of Kansas City is an editor for a publishing company and freelance writer on music and nightlife. Reach her at email@example.com.