The curtains parted and the cinema lights dimmed as a huge cheer drowned out the dramatic music.
Horse hooves kicked up dust, six-shooters blasted, lassos pulled bad-guys from their horses, and Randolph Scott smiled reassuringly into the camera.
The audience settled down after a fashion, booing and cheering at appropriate moments as the story unfolded. There were no surprises in the story, of course. At the first viewing maybe a somewhat slow eight year old might have been surprised when the traitor revealed himself, or when the heroine turned out to be quite capable of using a Winchester in time of need, but this audience had seen this movie before, many, many times.
They had seen everything that the projectionist had in stock more times than they could count, they knew the dialogue word for word, which was good because there were places where the sound became faint through over use and the film sometimes jumped a few seconds because the old celluloid had been repaired so many times. But none of this diluted the excitement displayed by the audience, they continued to cheer and boo their way through the story.
The door opened and a torch-wielding usherette strode in. Those who noticed suddenly summoned even more enthusiasm for the old, worn movie, some throwing popcorn at the screen as a cowboy wearing a black hat appeared.
The usherette did not seem to notice, but strode intently to the eighth row and shone her torch along until the beam stopped on one of the faces.
For a moment the face remained fixed, staring yet unseeing, at the screen. Then it reacted and a look of horror crossed it, as it turned to look directly into the torchlight.
The face was old. Incredibly old. And it was tired beyond tiredness.
The usherette wiggled her torch slightly.
“You! Out! Time to leave.”
Tears sprang into the tired eyes.
The others in the row struggled to stand, making way for the unfortunate one. No one looked at him as he shuffled along the row and the down towards the exit.
As he went his tears of fear became tears of relief. He could now rest. The movies would end. He would not have to pretend to enjoy those tired old stories any more. A small smile tweaked the corners of his old mouth as he pushed at the heavy door marked EXIT and stepped into the black void beyond.