Queen of the Movies is the story inspired by the winning idea in the Candy’s Monsters Vampire Real Estate Contest…
Queen of the Movies
Her eyes fluttered open. Waking slowly, as always, there was a moment when she caught herself listening for her mother’s voice in the kitchen or for the thumps and clattering chaos of her brothers dressing in the room next door. But then the world would come into focus and Fannie would rise from the plush velvet cushions and listen — just listen — to the world outside and inside her palace.
The hum of motors outside, something that now passed as music blared and then faded, the foundation of the palace settled (ever so slightly and quietly), mice scurried across the basement floor and two voices were engaged in a conversation in the projection room.
“The structure is sound.” The woman said. “Great reviews from the engineers and marvelous architectural details — even better than the Loew’s Paradise on the Grand Concourse.”
“Looked at it,” the man mumbled his reply.
“This location is better.”
“Yes. I guess so.”
“Queens is the up and coming borough. Lonely Planet just listed Queens as a top tourist destination. Prices like Brooklyn twenty years ago. People from all over the world, restaurants, nightlife picking up and…”
“You can lose the sales pitch. I can see that the bones are good, but the place is trash. She needs more than a million just in decorative and…”
A blues riff, played on some kind of mechanical instrument, interrupted the man in mid-speech. He switched to another language. Fannie wasn’t sure what it was. It could have been Spanish. She listened. They left by the side entrance and Fannie relaxed.
Alan arrived a short while later, bringing breakfast and some neighborhood news.
“First things first,” Fannie said as she sunk her fangs into the sleepwalker. The blood tasted of stale beer and fried potatoes.
“Found her at a bar by the EL.”
“Be sure to leave her someplace more comfortable.”
“Will do,” Alan nodded. “Tomorrow I’ll go by that Spanish place. Argentina is playing Colombia. I’ll get you someone well-fed and excited.”
“I like excited blood. This woman is too sad. I couldn’t drain her even if I wanted to, too flat. Sad blood is sour with disappointment. She reeks of it.”
Alan was a good servant and completely in Fannie’s thrall, but he often left procuring fresh blood sources until the last minute. All too many sunsets Fannie woke to second-rate refreshment. Still, it was preferable to hunting. The streets around the Palace had changed radically over the years. The cacophony of sounds and the disturbing mix of aromas, amplified by her extraordinary senses, made a post-sunset walk an overwhelming experience.
Later in the night, in the hours just before dawn, when the bars were closing and the traffic at the all-night convenience store on the corner slowed to a trickle, Fannie would prowl for her main meal. She never ventured further than the elevated subway station. She didn’t like the clattering on the tracks as the trains rolled over her head. She didn’t like it when she was alive, either. But now, it was that much more intense.
Alan called it agoraphobia and, perhaps, he was right. She was the Queen of the shuttered, old movie palace and she could troll the streets in its immediate vicinity, but she couldn’t even venture as far as the building where she’d lived as a live girl so many decades ago. It was twenty blocks away.
All those years ago, when she was the nineteen-year-old girl living in a crowded apartment over her family’s candy store, Fannie would escape to the movies. She loved Claudette Colbert’s luxurious clothes, Gary Grant’s seductive voice, Boris Karloff’s frightening stare, Mae West’s raucous laugh, Charlie Chaplin’s ludicrous walk and she loved to watch dancers in action — Ruby Keeler, Ray Bolger and Fred Astaire, best of all. She loved romantic comedies, pirate adventure films, biblical epics, domestic dramas, heroic war sagas, westerns, and crime stories.
Fannie worked after school behind the candy store counter and as soon as she graduated it became her full time job. But her father continued to pay her a pittance and no matter how much she argued or pleaded, her wages remained mere “pocket money” barely enough to go to the movies a few times a week.
“It’s so unfair!”
“Life is unfair,” her father would reply.
Death was too; she’d discovered. But death was that much longer, so much longer than nineteen tiny years. The old vampire, her master, didn’t explain all the implications of immortality. Vladimir’s undead life was one adventure after another — seductions under the stars during transatlantic cruises on luxury liners, romantic waltzes in gilded palaces in Vienna, teaching Valentino to dance a Tango on a movie set, doing the Castle Walk at a party hosted by President Taft in the White House, moonlit strolls through Paris, and so much more. Her master was a Russian ballet dancer in his first life and a bon vivant gentleman vampire in his second. Vladimir was brave and bold as a man and he became braver and bolder in death. But Fannie had yet to find her way. Her first ten years at the Palace were lovely. She watched movies every night and fed on the happy blood of theater patrons. She thought her undead life would be one endless Hollywood dream.
The Great Depression ended, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the Nazis marched into Paris, the American Dream rose and fell and rose and fell again and again. It was all too much for Fannie. The world was changing rapidly and the movies changed with the times. They became bigger and brighter and louder and cruder but rarely better than her favorites.
Still she watched and made the theater her home, roaming her corner of Queens, dining on the residents and enthralling a few servants as needed. It was a quiet life/death, punctuated by brief — and invigorating — moments of violence. She killed, on occasion, and subjugated many to her will; feeding on the blood that pumped through their beating hearts and deliciously ran through veins and arteries.
For a while the Palace was an art house showing foreign films and then it was a porn theater. The patrons’ blood was foul and sour. That was terrible. Not as terrible as when a revivalist preacher signed a lease and filled the palace with his desperate congregants. The preacher healed the lame, cured the blind and spoke in tongues. His followers sang praises and passed a hat until the preacher turned out to be a con man and left the faithful still lame, blind and deep in debt.
The Queens Palace Theater with its marble entrance way, grand staircase, ornate gold banisters, brass fixtures, crystal chandeliers, plush velvet seats and trompe l’oeil murals of Greek gods and exotic vistas, existed in Fannie’s mind’s eye, right along side the Queen in her current state of disarray. The balcony and projection room, stripped of all adornments, were what the engineers called “structurally sound” but featherweight Fannie was reluctant to spend much time in them. Each tiny creak in the floor sent shivers through her dead bones, telling her she could fall through the floor and drop into the now empty orchestra.
The current owner, a tech company millionaire in 2008 with rock ‘n roll dreams of a concert venue that never came to fruition, was now falling behind on his mortgage. He wanted to unload the Queen as soon as possible. Alan, at the real estate agency, had already foiled two deals that would have converted the Queen into luxury condominiums. Fannie was very pleased with her prescience in having selected such a useful servant. He was talking again and she forced herself to listen to him.
“I don’t think we have to worry about the guy who came in today. He’s not really interested.”
“So I should cancel my plans to haunt him?”
“Yes. And no need to leave a bloody corpse in the projection booth — not this time.”
Alan was a little squeamish about the occasional dead bodies Fannie had left in or near the Queen. The upside, that no one would buy a place with a ripe dead body, was often outweighed by the downside — cops and forensic teams combing over every inch of the theater. The body in the booth had made her undead life very difficult for weeks.
“What have we here?”
Fannie remembered waking on her velvet sofa to find a crime scene investigator leaning down at her cold, pale face. She’d quickly scrambled to hypnotize him — not an easy feat before breakfast — and he had a particularly stubborn will. Scientists are difficult to sway, much more than salesmen and teachers and the rest. It’s about a belief in magic — even a tiny sliver of belief is enough. Without it, the challenge is almost too much. Fannie burrowed into the crime scene man’s scientific mind, scattering logic, observations, proofs and double blind studies as she dug deeper and deeper until she reached a thread of fantasy. Then she pulled at that particular thread. The crime scene tech was a science fiction fan. He read every story and saw every movie.
Fannie fed the spec of dust in the man’s logical mind. The one tiny bit of dreamt desire to fly to Mars and encounter a superior species, or perhaps, the deity he could never bring himself to worship or entirely ignore. Magical thinking was always her entering point. It was the tender and beautiful thing that brought her to the movies.
Alan waved a bag of O-positive in front of Fannie’s face.
“You disappeared on me. Are you hungry?”
“No, sorry. I was just daydreaming. You were saying?”
“Yes, I was just getting to the good part. This new prospect — I think he’s the one! Young guy… spent the last ten years bopping around Europe involved in all sorts of entertainment and hospitality businesses. A huge movie fan, too!”
The word awakened Fannie’s imagination. The faded mural Paris was her favorite.
“Prague, Rome, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Berlin…”
“Berlin?” Fannie’s eyes widened. She thought of the young men from her early childhood who never came back from the Great War and the Nazis in newsreels, between the features once the Palace became her world.
“Remember, Fannie, the Kaiser and Hitler are long gone. The Germans are our friends now.”
“Yes, yes… it can be so confusing. Tell me about this young man, this European wanderer.”
“He wants to buy the Queen and restore her. He’s got this great idea.”
“Yes, and not just movies — old movies, the ones you like.”
Fannie resented his characterization of her movies as “old.” As far as she was concerned her movies were just movies. Old, new, movies were movies. He knew this, but he stubbornly clung on to his conviction that Fannie’s films were “vintage.” Her mind was wandering again. She took the bag of blood and downed it quickly. It’s hard to concentrate when you’re feeling peckish.
“His name is Mortimer and when he was living in Berlin he used to go to a bar that showed old movies. He said the front room was a lounge — with big sofas and comfy chairs and a big, old-fashioned bar. The back room was filled with rows of chairs and tables from old classrooms, even those desks that are attached to a desk. They screened old movies in the back room. Sometimes even silent movies with a piano player doing the score.”
“Valentino,” Fannie sighed.
“Yes, Valentino and Buster Keaton… it sounds like lots of fun. He wants to take the Queen and turn her into an amazing club. He’ll turn the projection room and balcony into a screening room with plush seats and continuous features. Downstairs, a dance club and bar with great films playing on multiple screens every night. You can party downstairs and then go upstairs into a soundproofed screening room and enjoy a film. Great idea, right?”
Fannie nodded. She wasn’t convinced about the dance floor with movies running. Not unless it was “Singing in the Rain” or “Flying Down to Rio.”
“I can live with a movie fan. He’ll do.”
“Hell yes, he’ll do!” Alan replied. “I’m going to meet with him tomorrow morning. He arrived a few hours ago. We’ve been talking for weeks, sending photos of the Queen today and in her glory and…”
Alan rambled on. The moon was rising and so was her hunger.
“Alan, make it happen.”
And he did.
A year later, The Queen of the Movies opened and Fannie mingled with the dancing and drinking patrons downstairs for a few minutes before retreating to her favorite seat in the screening room. Mortimer enjoyed having a resident vampire “on staff” and, although he paid her a pittance by 2015 standards, it was a great deal more than the meager wages her father paid her back in the candy store.
He fixed up her private quarters, soundproofing the walls of her sleeping chamber to buffer the intrusions of the world outside. She consulted on the movie selections and, dressed in vintage silk gowns suitable for Claudette Colbert’s wardrobe, she greeted guests on special occasions. Once in a great while she dispatched one of Mortimer’s competitors and she kept the city inspectors in her thrall in order to avoid unnecessary fines and taxes.
Once again, Fannie was the Queens of the Movies.