THE FUNNY THING about Luke and I being at prom the night of the sixteenth was that we’d never even talked about going until a few weeks before.
We were at the Beth watching Cannibal Creek Massacre for the hundred millionth time. It was the capper to this weeklong horror fest I’d talked my boss into putting on instead of the subtitled weepies and black-and-white American classics he usually played. I’d chosen some seriously brutal shit. Adolf Bonhoffer’s Needles Beneath My Skin. Cho Sun Pak’s Scream, My Beloved. Aguilar’s Black Suitcase, of course. I’ll be the first to admit that it was not exactly a rip-roaring success. The only person besides Luke to buy a ticket was Mr. Stahlberg, a Beth diehard ever since his wife passed away the previous spring. I was supposed to be working the concession stand, but Mr. Stahlberg always smuggled in his own snacks, so I took a seat with Luke down front.
It had just gotten to my favorite part (Michael St. Vincent getting that arrow through his throat), but I couldn’t seem to enjoy it. I was stuck on how, when the two of us had walked into school that morning, the hallways had been draped, entrance to exit, with a candy-colored spew of prom-aganda.
I elbowed Luke in the side. “I mean, how is prom even still a thing? We’re halfway through the twenty-first century and people are still getting all torqued up about prom? Seriously?”
Luke shushed me.
He pointed up at the screen. I turned around. Mr. Stahlberg was eight rows back and fast asleep. I scrunched down in my seat and pressed on, sotto voce.
“All I’m saying is these people are telling themselves they’re going to have this deep, meaningful experience, when the truth is any marrow prom ever had in its bones was sucked dry over a hundred years ago. The only reason people go now is because it’s a thing you do. Their parents did it, their grandparents did it . . .”
Luke opened his mouth, but I knew what he was going to say.
“And don’t come at me with rites of passage and shared rituals. Calling this low-rent gropefest a ritual is an insult to good rituals.”
Luke slid down until we were cheek to cheek. His breath was fruity and sweet from the Mike and Ikes I’d embezzled from the concession stand.
“So?” he asked. “What would you prefer?”
“Old-school bacchanalia. Everybody gets naked in the light of the full moon and they drink wine and dance until they completely lose their minds.”
“Please. You hate parties. Remember Connor Albright’s birthday? We weren’t there ten minutes before you said we had to leave because his taste in music was giving you chlamydia.”
“I’m not talking about a party. I’m talking about a transformative, communal experience. One that’s so intense you actually, like, leave your body and become one with God.”
“This also might be a good time for me to remind you that you’re an atheist.”
I grabbed the box of Mike and Ikes. “Well, maybe I wouldn’t have to be if we lived back before communing with God meant going to some megachurch nightmare like your mom and dad do. Seriously, Luke, it’s got its own McDonald’s franchise!”
He snatched his candy back. “Hey, that McDonald’s is the best part of my Sunday. Oh! I love this scene.”
One of the camp counselors grabbed a flashlight and headed out into a rainstorm alone. Instantly, the theater filled with the whispery chanting of the unseen cannibal tribe. I dug my fingers into Luke’s bicep, resisting the urge to shut my eyes. See, the thing everybody gets wrong about people who love horror is the idea that we don’t get scared. Not true. Movies I’d seen a thousand times still scared the hell out of me. In fact, sometimes it was even better when I knew what was coming. Sure, the jump scares might not have worked anymore, but jump scares weren’t horror. Seeing an awful thing coming from a thousand miles away and being utterly powerless to stop it? That was horror.
We watched the rest of the movie straight through, huddled together, the crowns of our knees kissing. By the time sweet, virginal Alice ended up running through the jungle—clothes torn and covered in the blood of her fellow campers—I was breathless and lightheaded and my heart was going buh-duh-bump buh-duh-bump buh-duh-bump buh-duh-bump. And then, BAM! Just when you think Alice is about to reach the rescue helicopter, the cannibal king explodes out of the jungle and drags her, screaming, back into the trees. The camera stays on the shaking branches as they go still, like nothing happened, like Alice was never even there. As the credits rolled, the fist that had been squeezing my heart released, leaving me a boneless puddle in my seat.
Most people would leave then, but Luke and I always stayed. We figured that since all those gaffers and best boys worked so hard, the least we could do was read their names. When the screen went to black and the lights came up, Luke yawned and stretched, then turned to me, eyebrows raised, ready to go.
“At the original Bacchanalia in Rome,” I said, “they used to go so insane for Bacchus that they’d tear live bulls apart with their bare hands and drink their blood.”
“So you’re saying you’d be okay with prom if it involved the slaughtering of livestock?”
Luke smiled, which made his eyes go all twinkly. He kissed me; then we rolled out of our seats and headed up the aisle. Mr. Stahlberg was slumped over, snoring gently. I nudged his shoulder.
“Hey. Mr. Stahlberg. Movie’s over.”
His snowy brows twitched and then his eyes slowly opened. He looked like a little kid for a second, fresh from a nap. He sat up and rubbed at his stubbly face.
“I take it that movie was your doing, Lucy?”
“Pretty, awesome, right?”
“It was terrible.”
“How do you know? You slept through the whole thing!”
“I saw enough.” He wagged his finger at me. “Amanda would have given you a piece of her mind if she’d been here. She would have instructed you on the classics.”
I was pretty sure he was right, given that instructing me on the classics was exactly what Amanda Stahlberg had done the last time I’d...