Journal of Writing & Environment

Extra-large coke in one hand, he tucks the striped paper bucket of fresh-buttered popcorn to his chest, and reaches for the dull gray handle that was once painted gold on the diamond-patterned, red-padded door. He can’t see anything at first, only the string of dots lining the aisle. There’s a soft bloop! and a grainy black field appears at the front, squiggly lines and microbe-like specks swimming through it. Anxious violins and menacing drums accompany the jagged letters of the opening credits as each name hurtles out of the darkness, hovers, and dissolves like mist.

The theater isn’t crowded, as he expected it would be on this overcast Sunday afternoon. Now that his eyes are adjusting, he sees plenty of seats. Three heads are jerking side to side down front: kids in the first row goofing on the soundtrack. Past the knot of teenage girls whispering too loud, the scattered single silhouettes and pairs in the middle rows, he stops to wedge himself into a seat that he realizes is off-kilter, the padding partly collapsed on one side. He’s already deposited his coke in the beverage holder and—at last—his hands are free to scoop up a mouthful of that buttery popcorn that’s been under his nose since the concession stand.

The frantic score reaches its crescendo, the trio up front keeping pace, the chunky kid in the middle rhythmically waving his arms, his little brother with the same end-of-school buzz cut on one side and his buddy with slicked-back hair on the other joining in like bleacher bums. In the middle of the middle row, where they always sit, two spiky-haired girls are holding hands. They’ve come to see this classic on the big screen in the old downtown theater with its faux balconies and Aladdin lamp fixtures, where it must have played over fifty years ago when it was first released. Another couple sitting two rows back saw it then, and have been scanning the credits for the names of actors they know. That night, he walked her home after the movie and they kissed for the first time, a real kiss charged with a lingering sense of danger. She reaches for her sweater, feeling goose bumps up her arms.

On the screen a black behemoth of a car heads out of town on a gray strip of highway. Down a dirt road into the woods, it glides to a halt. The boy behind the wheel turns his body towards the girl sitting next to him. She looks out the corner of her eye as he slides his arm along the back of the seat. The relentless theme played during the credits is back now, an ominous undercurrent as the camera approaches the car. Framed by the windshield, the boy is in profile, the girl looking down.

“It’s in black and white,” says one of the high school girls, voicing their shared disbelief. Their soccer practice was cancelled because of the weather and instead of going to the mall, the four of them decided it would be fun to see When the Insects Take Over.

“What was that?” says the girl on the screen, peering out her window at the gray trees and black underbrush that surround them.

“What?” says the boy. “I didn’t hear….”

“Shhh,” she says, shrinking back from her door. They both hear it now: the snap of branches as something big lumbers toward them. The boy turns the key and throws the car into gear. A tire spins in the dirt, then lurches free. They tear out of the woods, their headlights glinting off the windshield of a grey sedan hidden behind a tangle of leaves.

In this car, the boy and girl are locked in a passionate embrace. Nothing reaches them, not the straining soundtrack, nor the rustling underbrush, until too late. They break apart, their faces, seconds ago suffused with pleasure, now taut with fear. There in the moonlight, a creature tilts its anvil-shaped head, its monstrous eyes staring down at them. The long, sectioned body rears up, its horrible legs waving. The girl screams.


“Ah,” whispers the balding man to his wife, who is now leaning against him. “It’s just how I remembered it.”

A sheriff guides a slight, disheveled man down a short corridor, brick wall on one side, bars on the other. “Time for you to lay off the sauce, Harris,” he says, opening the door of a cell.

“But that ain’t it. I tell you, I saw it,” says Harris.

“Well,” says the sheriff, gruff, but sympathetic. “You’ll be safe here.” A raw-boned man with thick dark hair, he jerks his head for Harris to get in the cell, and walks back into the office, pours himself a cup of coffee and shakes his head. Harris yells to him, “I saw it. Big as three of these cells put together.”

The gangly young deputy enters with a bag of sandwiches. He hands one to the sheriff and sits down at his desk.

Harris calls out, Huge, I tell you.”

The deputy, unwrapping his sandwich, says, “What’s eating him?”


“That’s how his head is going to feel in the morning,” says the sheriff.

One of the girls in the middle row feels something nick her arm. It’s not the first time. She finds the dime-sized chunk of plaster in her lap, nudges her sweetheart, and points up at the ceiling.

The deputy sets down his sandwich to answer the phone. “What time was she supposed to be home?” He wipes his mouth with the side of his hand. “Maybe they had a flat tire or…Yes, ma’am. I’ll go out right now and look for them.”

He hangs up and tells the sheriff, “The Wilsons. Their daughter’s out with that Curtis boy and isn’t home yet.” Another two bites and he crumples up the wrapper. Back out he goes.

Harris is grumbling. “…think I don’t know what I seen with my own eyes.”

The sheriff sighs. “It’s going to be a long night.”

In the thin light of dawn, a squad car pulls off the highway onto the familiar dirt road. The headlights pierce the underbrush, finding the deputy’s car. The sheriff parks beside it.

“Over here,” a voice calls out.

The deputy shines a flashlight on the gray sedan partially hidden by branches. The beam of light sweeps over the hood and stops above the windshield, where a flap of roof has been torn open.

“Like a sardine can,” says the deputy, circling around to shine the beam through the passenger window across the empty seat. The sheriff tries the door.

“Car’s locked,” says the deputy. The beam glides across the dash. The keys are there in the ignition.

“What’s that?” says the sheriff.

“What’s that?” echoes the chunky boy in the front row, mimicking the feel of something crawling by drumming his fingers across his brother’s chest.

“Cut it out.”

The sheriff and deputy move in closer, neither of them touching the car. In the patch of light on the front seat is a baton or a stick, tapered at one end and fuzzy.

“It’s an antenna,” whispers the boy with slicked-back hair.

The sheriff takes a few steps and pauses uncertainly. “I’ll put in a call and get someone out here from the lab.”

A wide view of Main Street in the early morning shows a dark sedan with a tarp covering its roof being pulled by a tow truck around the corner behind the sheriff’s office.

He’s inside, on the phone. “Yes, we found the Curtis car. No, there’s no sign of either one of them.” The deputy stands at the window, his thumbs hitched in his belt.

“I’ll let you know immediately,” the sheriff says before he hangs up. A stocky man with a crew cut wearing a gray suit enters. He sets down a thick square case on the sheriff’s desk and sticks out his hand to introduce himself. “Fuller, from the state lab.”

“Didn’t expect to see you so quick,” says the sheriff, rising from his chair to shake hands. “What do you make of it?”

Fuller rubs his palm over the bristly top of his head. “Never seen anything like it.”

“Animal, vegetable, or mineral?” says the sheriff.

“Not vegetable or mineral.”

The deputy says, “What kind of animal…?”

The phone rings. “That might be for me,” says Fuller. The sheriff answers and holds the phone out to him. Fuller takes the receiver and says to them, “An entomologist I know in Chicago.” The sheriff and deputy exchange a wondering look.

A woman sitting at a switchboard says into her headset, “Mr. Fuller, I have that call for you to Dr. Philip Myers. Hold on, I’ll connect you.” She plugs one of the pegged wires into the board in front of her.

“Dr. Myers?” Fuller says into the phone.

“When am I gonna get out of here?” yells a voice from the cellblock.

“Harris,” says the sheriff. “I forgot all about him.” He tosses the keys to the deputy.

“You got the telegram. Good,” says Fuller. He turns and cups his mouth to the phone as Harris is ushered in.

“Try and warn people and see where it gets you,” blusters Harris, shaking off the deputy’s hand.

“Yes, that’s right,” Fuller says into the phone.

Harris empties the packet of personal belongings the sheriff hands him on the desk and gives the odds and ends a quick inspection before he shoves them into his pockets. “I saw what I saw,” he says, and stalks out.

The extra-large man in the crooked seat tries to shift his weight, but it’s no good. He transfers his beverage into the cup holder on the adjacent seat and hauls himself up with one arm, the other clutching the bucket of popcorn to his chest. An evenly supported cushion underneath, he sighs and sips his coke.

“That’s why we need you, Dr. Myers,” says Fuller. “As soon as possible…. Right. Goodbye.” To the sheriff he says, “There’s an old student of his he wants me to call.” Back on the phone, he says, “Jeannie, it’s me again. I need to talk to Dr. Ward at the university. Biology Department.”

“Dr. Paul Ward?” says the sheriff.

Fuller, shifts the receiver to his other ear. “Yeah, you know him?”

“Can’t say that I do. All I know is he’s got a place on the edge of town. Matter of fact, I’m headed out that way. Just got a call about some missing sheep nearby.”

Somewhere a phone is ringing on a desk in an office. Fuller waits, but no one answers. He hangs up and walks out with the sheriff to the squad car and they drive off. The road cuts through rocky hills, patches of scrub and scraggly trees. They pull up in front of a modern split-level, the only house in sight. Fuller rings the bell. No one answers.

“Maybe he’s around back,” says the sheriff.

Crouched between the staked rows of a garden, a man with wavy black hair raises his head at their approach and stands. He looks more like a fitness expert than a scientist, except for the heavy, black-framed glasses.

“He looks like Jeff Goldblum,” says one of the girls in the middle row.

“Excuse me a moment,” says Dr. Ward, squatting back down to examine a bug he’s spotted. “Every year hundreds of acres of crops are lost to drought and insects. All insects have their natural predator, and if you supply the correct species in sufficient numbers you can eliminate the pest.” He has a funny way of holding his head as he talks, tilting it slightly to one side as though it’s gotten too heavy for him. “And, if you can prevent reproduction by….”

Losing patience, Fuller rubs his bristly head and interrupts. “We’re here to see you because I spoke to Dr. Philip Myers and he….”

“Dr. Myers?” Dr. Ward rises up from the plants.

“He’s flying in tomorrow. He asked me to contact you to make arrangements with your department at the university, so he and his assistant will have a place to work.” Fuller holds up his travel case. “He suggested I show this to you. It’s something we found in the woods.”

Dr. Ward’s gaze shifts out and back. “Let’s have a look,” he says, leading them from the garden to the sliding glass door into a small laboratory.

“You’ve got quite a set-up here,” says the sheriff, eyeing the counter cluttered with test tubes and assorted odd contraptions.

“Well, nothing like at the university. Here I work on a few projects of my own,” he says, closing the notebook on the counter.

Fuller opens his case. “I’ve prepared a slide.” He hands the thin strip of glass to Dr. Ward. Soft, eerie music plays as Dr. Ward bends over his microscope. A circle of fuzzy lines and dots fills the screen.

“But….this can’t be,” he says.

In the third row, over on the right side of the theater, two heads have been pressed together at the lips since the lights went down. They’d have the whole section to themselves if it weren’t for the man eating Jujubes a couple rows back. He shakes out another handful, pops some into his mouth, then, with a demented grin, lobs one at the lovebirds he’s been trying to ignore. The boy feels a tap on his neck, but instead of turning around, he glances up at the ceiling.

“Dr. Myers hopes to arrive tomorrow afternoon,” says Fuller. “We’d appreciate whatever help you can give us.”

Dr. Ward adjusts his glasses, his face rigid. “I’ll do everything I can.”

The scene shifts to a moon-lit farm. A gate creaks. The barn door taps in the wind. Tree branches cast their undulating shadows on a bedroom wall. A middle-aged woman sits up in bed, her long hair falling onto her nightgown.

“John,” she whispers, reaching down to nudge her husband’s shoulder. “Listen.”

“Mmm?” He rolls onto his back, hears the tapping, and reaches a thick arm out for his pants on the chair.

“Be careful,” she says.

The older woman presses against her husband again, pretending to be frightened. Up on the screen, John makes his way down the stairs, through the kitchen. Once he’s out the door the soundtrack jumps a notch.

Trees wave, patterned moonlight sweeps the ground. Against the side of the barn, the farmer’s shadow advances, shotgun in hand. A soft rhythmic screeching rises and falls as the tips of two antennae appear.

The wife pulls on her robe bustling down the hall. On her way through the kitchen she hears a gunshot. “John!” She bursts out the door, her loose hair unfurling.

John is standing behind the barn, staring out across the field, too stunned to answer her cries of “What was it?”

Silent and tense in their seats, the high school girls have forgotten about the movie being in black and white and are now mystified by a small object moving slowly across the brightly lit screen. A low hum is getting louder. It’s a plane.

Dr. Ward and the sheriff are standing next to the squad car on the edge of the airstrip watching it come in for a landing, the loud drone replaced by clattering propellers as the plane rolls to a stop. They cross the tarmac to meet a short, gray-haired man in a gray suit accompanied by a svelte young woman wearing a white blouse, a slim, below-the-knee skirt, dark glasses, and a chiffon scarf on her head.

One of the girls in the middle row nudges the other. Two rows back, the man says sotto voice to his wife, “The doctor and his assistant.”

“Paul,” says Dr. Myers. “Good to see you after all these years. This is my assistant, Helen Worth.”

She takes off her sunglasses to shake hands. “Pleased to meet you.”

“I’m glad you could make it on such short notice,” says the sheriff. “I got a call about something prowling around a farm on the outskirts of town.” He politely takes the assistant’s suitcase as they walk to the car. “I’d like to go there directly if that’s all right.”

Helen in the front seat, Dr. Myers with his former student in back, all business, they drive off.

The scene changes to a janitor pushing a broom down a corridor of doors with frosted glass panels. Inside one of these rooms, Dr. Myers stands at a counter pouring liquid from a beaker into a test tube. Helen sits on a stool beside him making notations on a pad.

“I’d say we’re dealing with Pterygota or Orthoptera,” says Dr. Myers. “Mostly on the evidence of an extremely forceful mandible.”

“Not Hymenoptera?” says Helen.

Neither of them notice the shadow of someone lurking in the hall outside the slightly open door.

“I haven’t ruled that out.”

The door opens and Dr. Ward steps in.

“Perhaps Orthoptera,” says Dr. Myers. “What do you think, Paul?”

Dr. Ward tilts his head, considering. “It fits with what the farmer thought he saw.”

“It’s all so fantastic,” says Helen, rubbing her temples.

“You’re tired,” says Dr. Myers, waving his hand. “Go get some sleep. I have a few more tests I’d like to make.”

“Well, alright,” she says, taking her sweater off her chair, draping it around her shoulders.

“Paul, could you walk Helen to the guest residence?”

“Yes, of course.”

Helen and Paul come down the front steps, onto a path through the quad. Out from one of the buildings comes the spritely notes of a piano playing a waltz. Helen stops by the open window to listen but Dr. Ward keeps walking. A few steps later, he looks around and waits for her to catch up.

They come to a curved bridge over a small pond ringed with willows. There’s a splash below and Helen stops. “I was always attracted to the natural world for its beauty,” she says, leaning on the railing, looking down at the lily pads.

“Yes,” says Dr. Ward. “Beautiful order and design. Our world is so chaotic.” He starts walking again and she follows, listening to him say, “We’re an advanced species, yet we can’t manage to effectively allocate resources to meet our basic necessities.”

They are walking on the edge of the campus; the lights of the town in the distance. “Our lives are certainly more complicated,” she says, glancing shyly at him. The scene flutters up and down between frames, the film not lining up with the sprockets. People turn to stare up at the projectionist’s booth, but can’t really see what’s happening in there. The fluttering stops, the image on the screen steadied. “You think of the discoveries you might make,” says Dr. Ward. “Sometimes the results are unexpected.”

The two of them are caught in the sweep of headlights. The sheriff pulls up to the curb with Dr. Myers in the front seat. “We just got a call from the Webster place,” says the sheriff. “We thought you’d like to come along.”

Across the street, a familiar figure stumbles out of an alleyway. It’s Harris, clutching a bottle sheathed in a paper bag. He raises it in a toast at the taillights and, takes a swig.

The car speeds along the gray highway onto a winding road up a hill, down a long drive that ends at a farmhouse. A strikingly handsome young man in a T-shirt and jeans dashes up to the sheriff’s window, breathless.

“Tom,” says the sheriff.

“I saw it,” says Tom, pointing past the barn. Dr. Ward and Helen are out of the car, running in that direction, but there’s nothing they can see. Tom jumps in the truck parked alongside the house.

“I’ll go with you,” says Helen.

The deputy pulls up and Dr. Ward rides with him.

Again the film stutters and the kids in the front row bounce in their seats as if stuck in the same kinetic snag. The couple whose lips have been inseparable break apart, startled by the shouts of “Hey, up there!”

If it weren’t for the noisy machinery, those toward the back would hear the projectionist’s savage cursing. Soon he won’t have to deal anymore with this shit. Not because the manager is finally getting the thing fixed or buying a new projector. No, it’s because the building has been sold to some developer and the theater will be shutting down.

“Look,” says Helen, up on the screen. The film’s rolling again. Tom, next to her at the wheel sees what she’s pointing at and slams on the brakes. There in the moonlight, just before it disappears into the side of a hill, is a monstrous insect the size of the truck they’re riding in.

Mrs. Webster runs to her son, as he and Helen pull up in front of the house.

A close-up of Tom prompts the woman to tap her husband’s hand and whisper, “You know who that is.”

He nods, having seen the singer’s name in the opening credits.

The teen idol has not lost his charm; the girls sitting further back are whispering, glad they didn’t go to the mall.

Dr. Myers helps Helen down from the truck. “You saw it,” he says.

“Not well.” She pushes back her hair, shaken, but trying to appear calm. “Cleoptera, I think Polyphaga. We saw it run into its burrow.”

“Hm.” Dr. Myers considers this. “We won’t be seeing it during the day then, if that’s the case.”

The sheriff, who has been watching him closely, says, “Why’s that?”

“Strictly nocturnal,” says Dr. Ward.

A gray blur fills the screen. The man hugging his popcorn opens his mouth to yell “Focus!” but lets out only a faint “Ffff.” He and the rest of the audience realize they are looking through a microscope. The hand of Dr. Myers adjusts the lens. In the background are the curtains and wallpaper of the Websters’ parlor. Helen is seated next to Dr. Myers at a table cluttered with laboratory equipment. Shadows lengthen as late afternoon wears on.

She stands to stretch her legs and sees the deputy pulling up in front.

“Miss,” he says, tipping his hat as he comes in the door.

Mrs. Webster in her apron brings out a casserole dish to set on the table in the adjoining dining room.

“Evening, Ma’am. Everything all right?”

“So far haven’t seen hide nor hair. Join us for dinner?”

“Sure smells good. Save me some, if you would.” He goes out the back door to take his post keeping watch.

Helen, Dr. Myers, Tom, and his mother sit down to eat. Mrs. Webster folds her hands and bows her head. They join her in silent prayer. She looks up and waves a fly away.

The three kids in the front row are restless. “I’m hungry,” says the youngest.

“Pass the potatoes,” says the older brother. He and his friend pretend they’re serving themselves from the dishes of food going around the table.

Extra-large man takes a small sip of his coke—he wants it to last—and gauges the level of popcorn in the bucket. He better slow down, or it’ll run out before the movie’s over.

The deputy sits on a rocky ledge; behind him in middle distance is the hill where the giant insect disappeared. He cradles his rifle on his lap. Over by the barn, Fuller smokes a cigarette and paces.

While they eat, safe and silent around the table, the windows darken. From the outside, the house is a black shape with four rectangles of light. Dr. Myers can be seen returning to work in the parlor. He hears a knock and goes to answer the door. “Paul,” he says as Dr. Ward enters.

“Let me fix you a plate,” says Mrs. Webster.

“I’ve had dinner, thanks.”

“All quiet so far,” says Dr. Myers. “The deputy and Sam are on the first shift.”

“I was just about to take them coffee,” says Helen.

Tom says, “I’ll give you a hand.”

They step out the back door, cross the yard to the ledge, Tom holding the flashlight.

The deputy sets his rifle aside. “Thanks, miss,” he says taking his cup.

“The only thing bothering me are these darn mosquitoes,” says Fuller, over by the barn.

Helen and Tom stop to watch a lightning bug behind the house. “When I was a little girl, I used to catch fireflies and keep them in a jar overnight.” She makes a face. “I once kept a caterpillar thinking it would be a butterfly the next day. I thought it turned it into an ugly brown lump because I trapped it in a jar.”

Tom smiles and says, “You didn’t know that first it had to make its cocoon.”

“I found out.”

Back at the ledge, the deputy stands and turns. The nervous music plays as he walks a few feet and stops to listen.

Helen and Tom linger on the porch watching the tiny, floating flashes of light.

A shot rings out, then another.

The sight of the giant insect looming up over the ledge draws laughs from audience members accustomed to modern special effects, laughs that are cut short by an intake of breath as the monster leans down to clamp the deputy in its mouth. He drops his rifle, struggling to free himself.

The sheriff has just driven up. He takes aim and fires his pistol. Unfazed by the bullets, the insect lifts the deputy. Helen covers her eyes.

The amorous couple are distracted; this time by the shouts of the characters in the movie. The girl pushes back her hair, shocked by the violent spectacle on the screen.

Fuller lights a torch and tosses it. Antennae furiously waving, the insect reels back, partly opening its mouth. The deputy’s lifeless form drops to the ground.

Dr. Myers desperately pulls on the jammed trigger of the dart gun, unaware of the monster arching towards him.

“Look out,” yells Helen.

He falls to one knee and fires off a dart, hitting the insect, piercing its shell, and it backs away.

Fuller helps the doctor to his feet. The sheriff checks the deputy for a pulse and bitterly shakes his head. Below in the meadow, Tom waves at them. “It’s headed for the hill.” He and Dr. Ward chase after it.

The insect slows and stumbles to a halt, its legs buckling several yards short of its burrow. Tom holds a stick in front him as he and Dr. Ward approach. He pokes to make sure it’s out cold. Dr. Myers and Helen run up behind them.

Fuller circles around. “Did you ever see such a thing? Doc, how long before that dart wears off?”

“I had to guess about the dosage. Possibly three hours. I really can’t say with any certainty.”

Helen stares at the head with its terrifying jaw.

“Sheriff! Sheriff, wait!” says Dr. Ward.

The sheriff strides forward carrying a container of gasoline. Dr. Ward tries to stop him. “You can’t destroy it like that. No!”

The sheriff douses the length of the insect. “Stand back,” he yells and tosses a match. The flames leap up. Dr. Ward’s face glows with frustration.

The sheriff points at the hill. “What if there are more of ’em in there?”

“That’s what we need to find out,” says Dr. Myers. He puts a hand on Dr. Ward’s shoulder to calm him.

Fuller anxiously rubs the top of his head.

The sheriff says, “I’m headed back into town for more gasoline.”

“But sheriff,” says Dr. Ward.

“Either we call in the Army or we do it my way. All right then. We’ll need some more of whatever you put in those darts, Dr. Myers. In the meantime, it’s your turn to keep watch.” He hands the deputy’s rifle to Dr. Ward.

The sheriff and Fuller start towards the house, Helen and Tom behind them. They come to the ledge where the deputy was killed. His body is gone.

The boy and girl sitting off to the side are both facing the screen, so engrossed in the movie neither of them is conscious of his hand still down her blouse.

“Look,” says Fuller. The porch and back wall of the house have been torn off; part of the roof hangs over what’s left of the kitchen.

“Ma, Ma!” Tom yells, rushing inside. His voice travels through the house, changing in volume and tone, each call more anguished while all that appears on the screen is her apron hanging on the back of the door.

Dr. Myers and Tom are in the dining room nailing boards over the doorway to the kitchen. Tom lowers his hammer and wipes his face with his sleeve. The coffee pot is on the table with the lab equipment, keeping warm over a Bunsen burner.

Helen pours a cup. “I’m going to take this out to Dr. Ward.”

“Be careful,” says Dr. Myers.

Tom gives her a mournful look, as if he’d go with her if he could summon the will.

Dr. Ward isn’t on the ledge. Helen looks in all directions. There is just enough light to make out several moving shapes on the horizon.

The film jumps, the frames bouncing wildly.

Up in the booth, the projectionist can’t make it stop.

“I’ve had it.” He starts for the door, turns and yanks the vintage poster for Them! off the wall, rolls it up and sticks it under his arm. The manager happens to be in his office down the hall; he’s going through a divorce, spending a lot of time at the theater. The projectionist stops in the doorway to tell him, “I quit.”

“Very funny,” says the manager.

“For real. Good luck. Maybe you can fix it.”

Down the steps into to the lobby, he waves goodbye to the girl at the concession stand, strides across the worn red carpeting and comes to a stop at the heavy glass doors. His watch says four o’clock, yet it’s dark as evening after the sun has just set. The flag over the post office is rippling frantically. The door flies open at the touch of his hand and he steps out, stumbling to the side, the air pulling at him as if it’s alive. Over the roar he hears the garbage can rolling down the deserted street, the locked bicycles rattling in the metal rack, the dangling Old English-style sign banging against the front of the bakery. He runs, hoping to make it home.

The audience isn’t leaving. Some of them stay in their seats, staring straight ahead, waiting. Others are on their feet, loudly hurling complaints at the empty booth. In a fit of pique, extra-large man is launched out of his seat, upending the bucket, the rest of the popcorn spilling out. Heartbroken would not overdramatize his distress. Years ago he was watching the movie late at night on TV but fell asleep during a commercial. He starts yelling, “Hey, hey, up there!” at the top of his lungs and follows with a string of curses, swearing like nothing the three boys in the front row have ever heard. They are open-mouthed, staring at him.

Those who have already seen the ending want to see it again. The rest of them are desperate to know the solution, whether it’s the Army or the Air Force to the rescue. Maybe Dr. Myers or the sheriff and Fuller will come up with a brilliant, far-fetched plan. None of them can leave until they have witnessed the dramatic scene where a high voltage bolt of electricity or a strategically dropped bomb puts an end to the menace. They need to see things set right, so that normal life can go on as before.

But up on the screen, the image wavers like a flame, then slips away, and there is only a blank square of white light staring back at them.