He knew that absolute terror waited for him in the Gauntlet, but he also knew undreamed treasures lay beyond the nightmares. He would make his way through this time. He had to. He had to.
“All right, you can get one,” Mom said. She grabbed his shoulder before he ran off. “PG-13, okay?”
He nodded and rounded the corner of the front counter; Gauntlet Video lay out before him. New Releases and Video Games were up front. New Releases didn’t interest him, and SNES and Genesis cartridges would be useless to him until Christmas, at least. Going down a straight corridor, the rest of the store’s inventory was divided into sections. First came “Classics”—or as the hanging sign read, “classix”—holding movies like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which Mom found hilarious, but he knew was boring. Any movie that needed two VHS tapes was too long, if you asked him.
Beyond that lay Comedy, although the sign in that section read “HA HA HA” in a style that reminded him of The Joker. Children’s beyond that, although he wouldn’t be caught dead rooting around that garbage pile. Going further down the row was Science Fiction, which didn’t need a sign at all, and instead was protected by a large robot built of silver spray-painted shipping boxes, with a tape rewinder for a head.
Beyond that… His throat went dry. He couldn’t think about that now.
Then there was Action, his true goal. There was nothing to be afraid of with guns and explosions. After that, the store stopped for him. He had always assumed that the beaded curtain going beyond led to a janitorial closet. Once he saw some older kids daring each other to breach the crimson passageway, but he assumed they were just really interested in mops.
He jogged—one must never run inside the video store—through Horror. He gritted his teeth, as if that would keep the monsters at bay. The man with the pale white mask watched over him, pale black eyes betraying nothing approaching human sympathy. Other titles looked like Picasso paintings, except they depicted a man with knives for hands. The one that really unnerved him was the one that depicted what looked like a knock-off of a My Buddy Doll, maniacally wielding a knife. He had insisted his own My Buddy go to Goodwill after the first time he saw that poster. And the hockey masks… My god, the hockey masks.
He whispered prayers he learned in Sunday School as he took each tentative step through the darkness. As he passed through the gallery of ghouls and murderers, his brain flashed once again to possibilities he hadn’t considered before. What if the video boxes held their monsters inside? What if they wanted to break out from their 7x4x1 prison and wreak havoc on unsuspecting kids who merely wanted to watch Conan the Destroyer for the twelfth time?
He kept moving, trying to remember each and every time a teacher or Mom had admonished his overactive imagination for disrupting class, Cousin Bingo’s christening, or Olive Garden. Only a baby would think that horror movies are out to get him. And babies rent from the kid’s section.
He nearly jumped straight to the stratosphere and left a him-shaped hole in the ceiling of Gauntlet. It was nothing. It was nothing.
He looked back. Had he not wasted his time this way, he could have made it to the Action section and back a dozen times by now. One of the videos had fallen to the ground. Nothing. Nothing. He approached the box and flipped it over. A man strapped to an electric chair, in the middle of his last moment on Earth stared back at him, and—oh God—he was smiling. Why was he smiling?
He tossed the video towards the wall, swearing he felt a little jolt in his hand as it flew.
He wished he hadn’t. All the videos were off the shelf now, moving towards him. The Picasso Man shifted and re-shifted in shape, the knife hand remaining the only constant. The blank-faced man blinked his horrible, coal shaped eyes. An army of hockey masks moved in on him.
And then, there was the doll, with his terrible blade giving him terrible ideas.
“Why’d you give me away, buuuuuuuuuudy?” the doll asked.
He tried to move back. A foul looking clown with the razor sharp teeth lunged to take a big bite out of his ankle.
A needle-like, almost numb feeling filled his leg as he grasped frantically into the next section. Conan would have to wait. He pulled the closest title toward him, and in a whoosh that left him cold, all of the videos went back to their spot. Holding his selection forward like a shield, he marched back to the front of the store.
“What did you get?” Mom asked when he returned. He finally felt safe enough to unhand the video. “Capricorn One? Really? O.J. Simpson? I didn’t think you were into sports.”
He would never forget the name of the man who saved him from the loathsome hoards of the Gauntlet’s horror section: O.J. Simpson. His hero.
Then, something else caught his eyes. Mom had picked a movie, too. A New Release. He couldn’t read much, but he knew the bright red sticker that read “HORROR.”
“Oh, don’t you mind that one. It’s for later, after you go to bed.”
He saw the face of a woman staring back at him with red eyes. A moth covered her mouth—how could she breathe like that?—and the moth appeared to have a human skull protruding from its body.
The woman on the box winked at him. The boy offered a weak plea to O.J., but knew it wouldn’t be enough.