Dispatches from the Hinterlands

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Dispatches from the Hinterlands
By
Christopher Thomas Zimmerman
A Thesis Submitted in
Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of
Master of Arts
English
At
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
July, 2015
©2015
Dispatches from the Hinterlands
By
Christopher Thomas Zimmerman
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, 2015
Under the Supervision of Ms. Allyson Loomis
This thesis is a collection of short stories that delve into Marxism
and explore how identities are shaped by the capitalist society that the
characters (and we) live in. Furthermore, these works, through
psychoanalysis, look at how the influence of capitalism is so totalizing that
it even affects the characters’ subconscious minds.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page
I.
Introduction…………………………………………………………..………………1
II. The Unliving…………………………………………………………………………11
III. One Too Many Steves……………………………………………………………….25
IV. Insomnia Dreams.……………………………………………………………...…….31
V. Forget the Alamo………...…………………………………………………………..58
VI. Aileron……………………………………………………………………………….83
VII. Bibliography……………………………………………………………………….108
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Introduction
I have felt the urge to express myself through my writing as long as I can
remember. This is what drew me initially to the undergraduate creative writing program
at UW-Eau Claire. My writing has been an adventure that has been both good and bad,
but I feel confident in saying that my writing has improved and I always strive to keep
improving. I have never written a collection of works united by a common thread and
purpose, yet I notice there are commonalities in my fiction – I tend to write in a certain
style where humor is my most-used brush, my characters tend to be quirky, and the
environments of my stories are often a touch surreal in nature. Further reflecting on my
corpus of writing, I was surprised to discover just how much I work with Marxist themes
as well as concepts of identity and how, without necessarily intending to promote any
agenda in my fiction, my values are expressed through the characters and plots I have
written. As my writing developed during my university career, I can see that my Marxist
beliefs came through increasingly strongly. This certainly coincides with the evolution of
my coursework at the university.
One focus in my English studies during both my undergraduate and graduate
courses was theory (mostly under the direction of Stacy Thompson). Marxism and
psychoanalysis have been, and continue to be, my main interests in critical theory. At a
young age, I was predisposed to seeing disparity and exploitation in the world around me,
but my eyes were first formally opened up to Marxism in my undergraduate courses in
history. I became fascinated with the critical theory of Marxism and the historical and
material conditions that define the base and ideologies of reality itself and this interest
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enters into my creative writing much of the time. Psychoanalysis is also a useful tool for
creative writers since it allows both writers and readers to study the characters’
unconscious and their motivations, which drive the characters’ actions and helps form
their identities. After studying Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis with Stacy
Thompson, I have paid more attention to my characters’ psyches and identities. This
study has been beneficial for creating characters that are more lifelike in my fiction.
In my courses in history and English, there have been a number of Marxist
theorists (and practitioners) that I have studied; the individuals that have influenced me
the most are Vladimir Ilich Lenin, Che Guevara, Bertolt Brecht, Slavoj Žižek, Leon
Trotsky, Greg Sharzer, Friedrich Engels, and Karl Marx, of course. Their ideas and works
have affected me as a student, citizen, and writer. This collection of short stories
illuminates my own Marxist critique of capitalism. My stories are a space in which I can
explore this and draw attention to important social issues. The main characters in all of
the stories in this collection are all working class people who do not own the means of
production and who only have their labor to sell to those that do.
For my thesis, I fused my interests of creative writing and critical theory together
into a collection of short stories connected with a common Marxist/antiestablishment/anti-corporation thread and an exploration of how even one’s identity is
shaped by the system. While at first glance, it may seem that a marriage between creative
writing and Marxist critical theory and its surrounding themes is an unlikely pairing, that
is not necessarily the case. Authors such as George Saunders and Don Delillo stand out as
two contemporary writers that exemplify this. The niche of anti-capitalism humor and
critique is where I aim for my collection of stories to reside.
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George Saunders has had a profound impact on my writing. When Allyson
Loomis assigned his stories in her workshop, I finally found an author whose style was
similar to my own, whose work was similar to what I aspired to write. His characters
seemed quirky and were liberated by the kind of elevated fictional reality in which they
lived. Most excitingly, I found that Saunders’ wit and satirical humor thinly covered an
underlying message that lambasted capitalism and corporate America. Don Delillo works
in much the same way, critiquing the system, challenging the established authority, and
questioning consumerism. Delillo often turns his attention to pointing out the powers in
capitalist society that distract us from social issues. My writing, while not often as overt
as Delillo’s and Saunders’ blistering critique of late American capitalism, is often in the
same vein as their writing and, like them, I do enjoy mixing the surreal and unexpected
into my stories.
Being a writer means making a series of decisions – who the characters are, what
the setting is, what the plot consists of and what direction it takes, and what messages are
you trying to convey to the reader. I rarely sit down to write with the intention of
critiquing the system or plan on satirizing it; this usually happens organically. With the
collection of stories for my thesis, I focused more on a conscious effort to make choices
with the elements of each story that express my Marxist philosophies to the readers, but
in such a way that is not heavy-handed. For the crafting and re-crafting of these stories, I
often turned to symbols or motifs to help communicate my values and Marxist
sympathies. Symbols, when used properly, can convey subtle meanings much more
effectively than overt prose. Though capitalism is ultimately dehumanizing with its
ceaseless desires of the accumulation of more and more wealth, the characters in my
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stories resist that (with the notable exception of Steve in “One Too Many Steves”). I try
to create main characters who maintain (or fight to maintain) some spark of humanity,
still some hope that has not been corrupted or smothered by capitalism, and I contrast
these characters against others who are more willing parts of the system.
Writing about my own fiction makes me sound pretty deathly earnest (and I am!)
but my fiction, as you will see, is marked by comedy. Adding levity to topics that are
typically dark in nature has been inspired partly from Lorrie Moore, another writer whose
work Allyson introduced me to. Moore, with her distinct style of humor, can bring a
silver lining to any dark cloud, and conversely, a dark cloud to any silver lining. After
reading Lorrie Moore’s work, my writing has shifted to a mix of serious and humorous
within each story. This collection of stories is no exception and I use humor to entertain
the audience while still digging at deeper issues. Writing comedy is an effective strategy
for expressing anger at the system without alienating the reader or being too heavyhanded or preachy.
*
*
*
In the aforementioned “One Too Many Steves,” I follow a character who has let
capitalism define his life and his successes. So much of our identities are determined by
what we do for a living. It is a story about a character named Steve, a washed-up man
who used to hold a position of wealth and power at Apple in his younger days, trying to
impress his date with tales of his past. In this story, I aim to show how capitalism shapes
our identities and interpersonal relationships. In this story, Steve is a mouthpiece for
discussing marketing strategies and business practices that shape the technology industry.
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Certain technology giants’ policies are more far-ranging than just their own companies;
other companies look to the success of an industry juggernaut and copy their policies in
hopes of mimicking the success. Thus, ethically-questionable (“smart business”)
practices ripple outward; the larger the corporation, the more power they have and more
impact they have on the world. I specifically chose Apple as the corporate target for my
critique in this story, due to their strategies of planned obsolescence, aggressive
marketing campaigns, tax havens, and ethically-questionable practices at their factories
(e.g. – child workers, and nets around buildings to catch employees who were attempting
to commit suicide; apparently the working conditions were so bad that death was
preferable to working in a factory that manufactures products under contract for Apple). I
chose to draw attention to the powerful individuals in corporations who make these widesweeping decisions to maximize profits at any cost. In fact, in the story, my character
Steve is proud that it was partially his genius that inspired Apple’s business practices that
brought about the company’s success. I use Steve to show how someone could be pleased
with his capitalism-induced identity as a contrast to the other main characters in this
collection.
*
*
*
“Insomnia Dreams” is a story about a woman who plays the character of Sleeping
Beauty at Disney World. She yearns for a better life than working for the company, and
her unhappiness manifests itself in her dream sequences and in her waking life while on
the job. In this story, I have chosen to show the commodification of dreams and
ambitions as well as a company’s shaping of employees’ identities. No one commodifies
dreams better than Disney, a company with the apparent goal of monopolizing childhood
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and children’s dreams. On the surface, the company tells people (children are specifically
targeted) to “pursue their dreams,” but to the corporation, it is not about dreams at all; it
simply is about using people’s “dreams” to sell products, to make money for Disney. In
the idealized utopias of Disney Land and Disney World, the workers are forced to act as
salespeople, all selling the “dream” to help create loyal Disney consumers. Disney
imposes strict rules and regulations governing what the workers can and cannot do,
creating employees’ identities on the job. This employer-defined identity also seeps into
the workers’ personal lives beyond the workplace. This power over employee/character
identity is a form of censorship used to control anything that has the potential to hurt
Disney’s profits. The character’s dream sequences in this story reinforce how capitalism
affects our subconscious, and our unconscious identities. I chose to set part of the story in
the tunnels underneath Disney World. This serves the purpose of connecting what lies
under the surface to the subconscious. I also use this subsurface structure as an analogy to
show the darker purposes behind a corporation’s public identity and public message and
their supposedly pure intentions. Though it may seem like a small detail in this story, I
compare the tunnel network to the Viet Cong tunnels. This is a reference to America’s
imperialist war in Vietnam, a war against a competing ideology.
*
*
*
“Forget the Alamo” shows how quickly something that starts out with the
intention of “pure” art can become corrupted, commercialized, and commodified. In this
story, a writer must face the realities of the B-movie industry and the commercial
pressure to have his voice heard. In this struggle, he learns what it will cost him. As
writers, we all feel the desire to keep our work “pure” art, but can also feel the pressure of
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wanting our work proliferated. In this story, I examine the costs of selling out in an
industry that is looking for safe ways to make profit – by rehashing old stories, creating
an endless cycle of sequels and spinoffs, etc. that only reinforces the status quo.
*
*
*
“Aileron” is a story originally born out of a rebellion against Allyson Loomis’ “no
elves” rule. It is a matter of pride that I was able to create a story that has an elf in it (the
“elf” is actually a character in cosplay). This character sees the elf version of herself as a
way to try to retain her identity after cancer has destroyed her body and shaken how she
views herself, and also as a way to briefly escape the realities of the system. This story
touches on America’s healthcare industry and pressures working class people face. As
with “Insomnia Dreams,” I do dream work with the main character because it is a useful
tool for seeing a character’s unconscious manifest itself. I describe dreams that show how
the character unconsciously realizes how deeply unhappy she is with her identity. I have
the main character work as a clerk at a bank – a symbol of capitalism’s power, a literal
depository of capital, which represents money that is exploited from workers’ congealed
labor (since capitalism is a zero-sum, or near-zero-sum system). The accumulated money
also represents the latent power of the bank, which in a plutocratic society like ours,
means the ability to shape politics and create or remove legislation, or simply the ability
to buy all three branches of our government and hijack a democratic system. A single
detail of using the bank in this story as a symbol carries all of the weight of the banks’
power in the capitalist system with it.
*
*
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*
I stretch my boundaries more than I normally do in “The Unliving.” It is a
dystopian story about a world that was taken to the brink of destruction, but brought back
(with some glaring changes). The characters struggle with the traumas they faced during
the apocalypse, as well as a shifting of their identities before and after the return of
society. I add an element of science fiction to show a dystopian world that has zombie
citizens in it. As a writer, I made a decision to use tropes of science fiction to work
against the genre and to do the unexpected. I wanted to write science fiction for this piece
since it is a valuable tool to look at social issues of our country from different angles, in a
way that is not overt or painfully obvious. By deflecting the focus into a world that is not
exactly ours, I can address issues of race which white readers may be somewhat reluctant
to approach. Under the surface of this story is a mix of postcolonial, Marxist, and
feminist critique on late capitalist society.
The undead in this piece stand in for minorities in our own society as they are
underrepresented and exploited. The capitalist business owners in “The Unliving” are
quick to realize that they have an opportunity to give citizenship rights (and voting rights,
which in turn compels the zombies to keep voting for the party that legalized their
suffrage) to the undead in order to use them as cheap labor (an ideal labor source since
they can work long hours for little pay and they do not often question authority; it is a
capitalist’s dream come true).
This idea struck me after learning about Dr. Derrick Bell’s interest convergence
theory which posits that every time minority rights gain ground, it is only because it will
also further the interests of dominant society. The zombie citizen worker idea also came
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from the Marxist analysis of the economy that shows that capital always follows the
cheapest labor available.
With this story, I want to explore social topics that I learned about in a
postcolonial literature course on war and refugees taught by José Alvergue. My goal is to
show the pervasiveness of capitalism, as shown in a dystopia. I play off of our literature
that shows that we cannot imagine a future society that operates under a different system;
the base has ingrained itself so much in the superstructure that our own imaginations
struggle to picture a world without capitalism. It seems that the only way we can briefly
imagine such a world is during an apocalypse, but we usually still see the remnants and
the ideology remain in place, waiting to sprout capitalism’s ever-present seeds again. The
setting for this story is a post-post-apocalyptic world where capitalism has returned
reinvigorated after a short hiatus during a crisis. A question I pose to the reader in this
dystopia is: “What is dystopian about the society in this story?” To answer my own
question: the parts that most resemble our own, just taken further, or rather, progress
turned backwards in our own society. In this story, the main character faces a conflict of
her new identity in current society against the struggle for the return of identity from her
earlier during non-capitalist years.
*
*
*
For me, the significance of this project is both professional and personal. On a
personal level, writing is therapeutic to me. Often life feels hopeless and living in the
dehumanizing system that has its hooks in us from cradle to grave does not help matters.
I try to bring humor to my writing since being able to laugh is the main way I stay sane in
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this society. My writing simultaneously expresses my frustrations of living in a global
capitalist world, but also shows a flicker of hope that there is glimmer of humanity left in
people, no matter how totalizing capitalism’s affects are. Perhaps if I am able to polish
these stories enough and if I am fortunate, I can one day publish them and bring others
some humor, some levity, to help them through their day and have them realize we
should take a deep look at the system we live in. We should question it, and hopefully
one day change it.
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The Unliving
I had left the city with Ted from accounting and we made our way north to
Upstate New York in the early days of the outbreak. We had enough sense to leave
before it had gotten too bad, before Harlem had been nuked. Rioters and zombies alike
had been turned to ash in a flash of light. We had seen the blast on the horizon and felt
the shockwave from miles away as we trekked towards the rural landscape.
Ted from accounting was surprisingly good at the new life, knowing how to
forage and hunt and find clean water. It must have been all those weekends he spent
camping. He wasn’t as good as I was at killing the undead, even though he was over six
feet tall and had a chin that looked like it was chiseled out of stone. Maybe it was all
those video games I had played or half-remembered karate lessons from my youth.
Maybe it was all the rage I had pent up in my life since I had been an angst-riddled
teenage girl. Who knows? I do know that every zombie that made the mistake of crossing
my path ended up with a bullet/knife/tomahawk/crowbar/tree branch in the face and
regretted it. That one looked like an ex-boyfriend. The one next to him looked like an exgirlfriend. That one looked like my disappointed father. That one looked like the exfiancé. It was more than just survival. It was therapy. Ted from accounting was more
squeamish about fighting the undead and had to rely on me, his 5-foot-1 enforcer, to keep
him out of trouble. He said it was against his religion to kill. Pacifism only got people
killed, I thought, before and after the nightmare started. Zombies certainly didn’t care if
they created any martyrs.
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Ted from accounting never gave up his faith after the apocalypse happened. He
wondered if the world was being punished for everyone’s sins – all the hate and greed
and rapists and murderers and whores. “Are the zombies just a new type of leper and is it
a sign that Jesus is coming back?” he asked me once. I was proud of myself for not
laughing out loud. Then he was worried that Revelations was happening with the seas
and the grave giving up their dead and that we were left behind. I asked him what does
that say about us then, if we didn’t make the cut? It made for interesting campfire
discussions for me. I told him the outbreak had to be caused by a virus or bacteria or a
biological weapon or something. There had to be a logical, scientific reason. We looked
down our noses at each other, with neither of us able to prove the other was wrong. I still
think he’s wrong, because, well his notions are all bullshit. And I didn’t see no four
fucking horsemen anywhere. The undead and human depravity, sure. That was
everywhere.
But, we should have known better than to trust in crossing that clearing in broad
daylight across the bright snow. It was a stupid mistake, but one makes stupid mistakes
after being on the run for months, years. Zombies generally can’t see for shit, but they are
good at catching movement and their sense of smell is animal-like. Ted from accounting
and I had apparently wandered too close to Albany or Syracuse or maybe even Montreal.
You always stayed away from the cities and the hordes. Everyone knew that.
We had crossed about halfway through the clearing when we heard moans and the
occasional excited “braaains” coming from every direction. We had been seen. Before we
knew it, we were surrounded by walking corpses of various states of decay. I drew forth
my tomahawk I had found long ago at an abandoned museum, and became a whirlwind
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of death. I lost sight of Ted from accounting in my berserker rage as the battle went on. I
decapitated a zombie wearing an ugly sweater and matching winter cap and another
wearing a trucker hat and a wife beater shirt. The rest was a blur as I became death.
I heard a THUP THUP THUP sound from above me. An old Army Black Hawk
chopper hovered overhead. They sprayed the zombie crowd with round after round and
hauled up my survivor comrade and me to the safety of the chopper. They took us to a
makeshift Army base where we lived out the rest of the winter with other survivors.
In the spring, the Weiss cure was released and the world started returning to
normal.
That was almost a decade ago. It’s hard to believe any of it happened. The post
apocalyptic world, or rather, post post apocalyptic world looked an awful lot like the pre
apocalyptic world – the main difference being that now there were zombies. The Weiss
cure rendered zombies harmless (as harmless as anyone living and breathing, I should
say) and unable to spread the disease further. It didn’t turn anyone back from being a
zombie, but the undead were now passive and calm. They were basically human again,
just much smellier. Most of them regained reasoning power and the ability to speak (if
they weren’t too far gone), though most of them spoke in a slow drawl. They held jobs
like people did and ate like people did (no more gorging on the living). They didn’t sleep,
though, and they often needed to be told to sleep indoors, the ones that didn’t live at their
places of employment. There were zombie refugee camps and zombie homeless shelters,
but they were overcrowded and underfunded, just like the jails.
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The ghettos overflowed with new zombie residents and looked even grimier than
they were before the apocalypse. On the other hand, most business districts and many
suburbs looked far better than they did before. Now-President Weiss had instituted
sweeping legislation to stimulate the economy and return things to normalcy in his first
week in office after his landslide victory. Who didn’t vote for him after his company had
singlehandedly cured the latest plague to strike the world? To answer my rhetorical
question, I guess a handful of people who whispered and wondered aloud if Weiss and
his company had somehow created the plague and thus the need for the cure based on
how the company’s profits had soared to “more money than God” levels. These people
were laughed at openly and condemned as conspiracy theorists or jaded Obama
supporters. Correction, Zombama supporters. No one was exactly sure when he had
turned after the outbreak. His makeup artist had covered up his rotting flesh and he
continued to be an eloquent speaker late into 2015 before he finally turned. But even his
eloquence couldn’t silence the comments about how the failure of ObamaCare was at
least partially to blame for the outbreak. Hell, even most of the zombies voted for Weiss.
Of course, it helped that he had chosen former actor, former human, Mark Wahlberg as
his VP.
I looked in the mirror and styled my hair into a business formal updo. I smoothed
my skirt and put on a pair of heels. I sighed. I had traded my heels for combat boots
during the apocalypse and traded back for heels afterwards. With a glance at the clock
and a curse, I left my apartment. The subway was still being repaired throughout much of
the city and buses were few and far between. I’d just hit the Don’t Walk sign as the
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perpendicular side of the intersection changed to Walk. I hailed a taxi since I didn’t have
time to wait the three minutes for it to change back. The zombie driver drove as though
he had no fear of death and I tipped him for his haste. I’d made it to work, only slightly
late. That didn’t stop Harvey Chase from chewing me out and telling me I should be
thankful to have my old job back or any job for that matter. My job as paralegal now
included, for no additional pay many of the tasks that the now deceased secretary had
handled. In fact, I was making far less than I was pre-apoc. Ted from accounting said he
was making about the same, though. He and Chase and Chase had assured me it would
correct itself in no time. The economy was in shambles after the apocalypse, but
President Weiss’s economic stimulus plan was already kicking in. There was talk of
someday being able to bring back a minimum wage, after the economy recovered
enough. Zombies especially cheered at the prospect.
“Chase, Chase, and Rrrnnngh provides you with a way to live, Kali. Even health
care! How many jobs these days do that? Show some appreciation,” Harvey told me. It
irked me to be reminded of the gratitude I should be showing, like the company was
taking such a risk by rehiring me, like the company wasn’t sitting on stacks of cash.
Chase, Chase, and Rrrnnngh, like many large companies, had been added to the “too big
to fail” list and received hefty tax breaks and incentives under President Weiss’s
legislation.
“A lot of people would kill to have a chance to get in at an establishment such as
ours. Think of the opportunities you have here,” Harvey said. “Remember, a zombie
could do a lot of the work you do, for a fraction of the cost.”
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“But, a zombie doesn’t have this pretty face,” I said, framing my face with a hand
gesture. “And no zombie can type as fast as I can.”
Harvey chuckled. “True, a zombie can’t type as fast as you can…per minute. But
most zombies are willing to work about twenty hours per day and they don’t sleep or take
long breaks. So, in other words, a zombie would end up typing more than you in a day,
over the long haul.”
My framing hands dropped from my face and my smile slipped a little.
“And don’t call Mr. Rrrnnngh ‘Mr. Stewart’ or ‘Mr. Zombie’ any more. He
prefers his name from his new identity.” I bit my lip and nodded. Looking over my
shoulder, I caught him looking at my butt as I walked away, but I decided not to fight that
futile battle today.
Mr. Rrrnnngh, in his normal black pinstripe suit and red satin tie, greeted me
when I walked past his office. His cologne was overpowering. He looked me up and
down. Most zombies had no carnal desires after they changed (much to the
disappointment of the necrophiliac community), but apparently Mr. Rrrnnngh was
different. I crossed my arms. The low cut blouse and pencil skirt had been a bad choice
today, I thought in retrospect, but I was trying to look professional. It was hard fighting
the urge to put on flannel or camo fatigues, and I was making an effort to put the past
behind me. He said he had heard I was asking about my wages and said he would look
into it, rest assured, and that it would please him for me to have all that I deserved. I
thanked him and quickly went into my office.
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I refilled my styrofoam cup at the water cooler. Cal Jenkins and Travis Hendricks
engaged in small talk with me around the cooler on an unofficial break. We talked about
the weather and how this winter seemed colder than when we were on the run from the
undead. Ted noticed us on the way to his office. He had taken to wearing three piece suits
the past week or so and seemed buddy-buddy with the Chases and zombie Stewart. Or
Rrrnnngh or whatever the fuck his name was now.
“Hey, guys. Having a meeting without me?” Ted said, standing awkwardly
between my colleagues and me. He seemed to be taking on the role of alpha male
whenever he was around me in the office. This is something he had started after we had
reached the Army base where we had spent the last winter of the war. I guess he thought
he felt he needed to protect me or some other misguided notion. He may have looked like
an imposing figure at first glance with his height which he used to bluff and attempt to
keep any threatening-looking person away from me if he thought it was necessary. Which
it wasn’t. Ever. I could take care of myself. I mean, I appreciated the thought, I guess. We
had fought side by side against zombie hordes for a few years. It seemed natural to keep
protecting each other.
“Well,” Ted said, glancing at his watch, “don’t you fellas think it’s about time to
get back at it?” Cal and Travis said goodbye and departed. Ah, Ted was scaring the rival
bucks off. Apparently, he was still interested in pursuing me. I knew that he wanted to
“ensure the survival of the human race” with me, but I had always brushed his advances
aside, usually falling back on my standard “if I get pregnant, I’ll die. Even zombies can
catch a pregnant woman” defense. Ted seemed to understand that and had always let it
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drop. He seemed to be getting bolder after normalcy returned and we went back to our
jobs in the city.
Still, I couldn’t help but wonder why Ted didn’t try to scare Laura off when she
and I were chatting at the Still Surviving meetings. Maybe Ted didn’t see her as a threat.
Maybe Ted was an idiot.
Ted cocked his head to the side, his eyes tracing from my head to my feet. He
chuckled. “You’re almost as tall as me with those heels you’ve got on today.”
“Not quite,” I said, not feeling like a conversation with him at the moment.
“Damn, they look uncomfortable. It makes me glad I was born with a pe…umm, I
mean I’m glad that I’m not a woman and have to wear them,” he said. “But, you look
good.”
“Thanks, Ted.”
“I mean it. You look great.”
I half-smiled and nodded. When I turned to leave, he put his hand on my arm.
“I was talking with the Chases and Rrrnnngh. We’re acquiring another company
soon and we’re going to create a new marketing department. I told them I knew someone
that might fit one of the positions we need. I bet I could get you in, if you’d like.”
I bit my lip. “Yeah, I might like that,” I said, momentarily picturing myself behind
a new desk as Head of Marketing in a corner office with large windows.
Ted smiled. “I’ll see what I can do, Kali. I want to make you happy.”
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I thanked Ted then rushed to Mr. Rrrnnngh’s office when I heard his gravelly
voice yelling my name. “Kali, where the hell are you? I need you to take down a letter.
Get in here. Now! What the hell do I pay you for? Looking pretty and gabbing, or
looking pretty and doing real work?”
A part of me wished I had run into him a couple of years ago out in the wilds. Just
him, me, and my tomahawk. My fingers moved as if they were caressing the edge of the
blade as my mind wandered. I banished the thought, but I told Ted and the rest of the Still
Surviving support group after work. He looked horrified at first when I revealed my
darker thoughts. The group nodded and added their sympathies. The woman sitting next
to me, Anita Silva, gave me a hug. It was rare to see a Hispanic these days after the
U.S.’s southern border was closed in the first days of the outbreak and had yet to reopen
despite Texas being annexed back into the Union and pressure from the Latina/o
communities.
Laura met me at the concession table after the meeting. She was an athletic
blonde woman with high cheek bones and a fiery temper, not to mention the cutest
dimples I’ve ever seen. Laura was a full time waitress, part time mechanic, and was still
wearing her waitress uniform from her shift earlier in the day. She confided in me after
the meeting over a cup of hot cocoa. “Sometimes I wish I could still hunt some of these
fuckers down,” she said with a giggle, “if it wasn’t illegal to kill the dead heads.” I shot a
glance at the direction of Ted and the group advisor. Laura followed my stare. “The
world changed and they act like nothing happened, forcing things back the way they
were. I’m not sure the world is done changing just yet.” I nodded, having a hard time
taking my eyes off of Laura’s lips as she talked.
19
Ted strolled over and inserted himself in the conversation. “Hey, ladies.”
“Hey, Ted. Kali and I were just discussing body counts during the war. How
many did you get? The living corpses, ya know? How many zombies did you put back in
the ground?”
“I,” he started and went a shade paler, “don’t want to talk about it. They’re
people, you know. If you’re not careful, Laura, people are going to think you’re a bigot.
‘Reanimated Americans’ is the preferred nomenclature.”
Laura pursed her lips. “Yeah, they’re people now. Maybe. They weren’t a few
years ago during the war. They were like rabid dogs. And rabid dogs need to be put
down.”
“It’s time to move on, though. Isn’t that what this group is about? We have to
accept that the world isn’t going to go back to the way it was. I, for one, am glad of that,”
he said. Laura said nothing. Ted looked at his cup and took a drink of coffee. He cleared
his throat. “Kali, I would be delighted if you want to stop by my place and join me for
dinner.”
“Sorry, Ted. I’m pretty tired after twelve hours of work today. I think I’m going
to go home and unwind.”
After Ted left, I went with Laura back to her place. It was a rundown apartment
building in Brooklyn near Staten Island of New New York. The walls had cracked plaster
and her apartment was small, but had a certain charm to it, with its plants and dilapidated
couch. Laura put on some music while she cooked us dinner. I stretched out on the couch
20
and listened to Otis Redding followed by Vera Lynn’s “The White Cliffs of Dover.” I
nearly fell asleep to the woman’s lilting voice.
“You know there aren’t any blue birds in England, right?”
“Mmm?”
“The song. She says there will be blue birds over the cliffs of Dover,” Laura said.
“Don’t you fall asleep on me, Kali. Our show is coming on soon.”
I sat upright on the couch and blinked. Laura had changed from her waitress
uniform into a dress with a wide, poofy skirt. She hated wearing dresses but she put it on
for me. I smiled at her and she served our dinner – linguine, hamburgers, and peas.
Hamburgers? Even hot dog meat was a rare treat these days after the economy collapsed.
It was best not to think about what was in hot dogs, especially since every zombie craved
them. Hamburger must have cost Laura a few days’ wages. Even though most people’s
wages were below pre-apoc levels, the cost of almost everything had gone up. Except for
Ramen. That stayed the same price, god bless Maruchan! Zombie food was relatively
inexpensive, but we did our best to avoid it. It made Taco Bell meat seem like filet
mignon.
After the meal, Laura and I sat next to each other on the couch. She flipped
through the channels looking for our show, Cops. It wasn’t so much the content of the
show, but the ritual that it had become for us. The first case in tonight’s episode featured
a shirtless zombie wearing a fantastic pair of khaki dress pants (tags still attached). The
officers responding to the scene were a burly white cop and a zombie cop (a “Sgt.
Smith”). It was unusual to see a zombie cop in real life due to how few zombies had kept
21
their pre-transformation speed and agility. Laura suspected that the zombie cops in the
show were actually just this Sgt. Smith as a recurring police officer, a sort of PR move.
Whatever the case was, when the shirtless zombie was confronted by officers outside of
Macy’s, he said he had bought the $300 pair of pants. They asked him where he worked.
Wal-Mart, he told them. And McDonald’s. The officers looked at each other and back at
the zombie’s milky eyes. He knew they didn’t believe him that he could afford the
purchase, so he made a break for it, which for most zombies was the speed of noninfected person powerwalking. The white cop yelled at the khaki zombie to freeze. The
zombie kept fleeing so the cop tackled him. The cameraman zoomed in as the two
officers restrained the zombie. Sgt. Smith read the zombie his rights as the white officer
stripped the khaki pants off of the thankfully-blurred zombie. It was one of those
moments, like most of the Cops show, that we weren’t sure if we should laugh or cry.
A commercial for Zomb-Aid, the self-proclaimed end-all, be-all zombie
nutritional supplement came on, followed by a commercial for Kim Kardashian’s ReAmerican Re-Essence perfume, and then finally Brain-O’s zombie cereal. They really
marketed to the zombie crowd for this show apparently.
“Don’t you miss it? The old days?” Laura asked me.
I reached over and moved back a strand of hair that escaped from her braid crown.
“Shh,” I said, putting a finger to her lips.
She brushed my finger away but held onto my hand. “I’m serious, Kali. Don’t you
want to be free again? Free of all the rules?”
22
“Maybe I do,” I said, nodding. “I don’t miss the ever-present danger, I guess, the
sleepless nights. The zombies were less of a threat than any guy with a gun. There were a
few too many alpha males who lived with the ‘might makes right’ mindset.”
“But things made more sense then than they do now.”
“We can’t just go back to how it was before, as much as we’d like to. Ted and the
rest of the group always say we need to make the most of it.”
“Ted.” Laura frowned at the name. “Can’t we go back? Well, no, not the same,
exactly. Maybe it would be better than before. I’m sure it would be. No more zombie
threat. I’ve heard there are quite a few people that went back to living off the grid since
the return of civilization. They just packed up their bags and went back into the
wilderness.”
I pulled my hand back. “We can’t just leave. We have homes. We have jobs.”
“Okay, Miss High Heels.”
“Hey, I don’t like wearing heels. They have their uses, though. They get me
noticed. In fact, Ted thinks I’m being promoted to a new marketing department. This
could be a step in the right direction. I’ve even come up with some marketing ideas and
promotional materials. I made a sweet Photoshopped picture of a zombie wearing a shirt
that says ‘I survived the Apocalypse and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.’ Probably throw
some hashtags on there, too, for social media. #apocalypse, #Chase, Chase, Rrrnnngh,
#CCR. You know, advertise the company and get the word out.”
23
Laura laughed, but it held little mirth. “Are you going to be the head of this new
marketing department?”
“Well, I don’t know. I don’t think so. Maybe. I guess I don’t know if I can just
pack up and leave it all, especially with things looking up for once. We have
responsibilities and rent and friends here. And my parents are finally getting back
together and are talking about moving to the city. I’d love to see them more. We lost
some good years during the apocalypse.”
“Fuck. I love you, Kali, but I hate this. I just hate this place and I hate how things
have somehow gotten worse. Fuck. Nothing makes sense to me anymore.”
“It’ll all be fine. Just get some sleep. I work a double tomorrow. David Chase
asked if I could. You know, the nicer Chase? But what if we took a road trip this
weekend or next? To get away for a little while.”
Laura went over to the window and looked across at the city, its grey buildings,
masses of living and undead people as far as she could see, and the dark skyline. After a
long while, she said, “I’m leaving. This weekend. Maybe north to the forests of Upstate
or keep going to Canada. I don’t know if I’m coming back.”
*
*
*
I had trouble sleeping after hearing all that she had said. The alarm woke me up at
4:30 AM. I brushed my teeth and styled my hair in an updo. I put on one heel, fighting
with the thin strap. I glanced at the tomahawk hanging on the wall as I slid my foot into
the other shoe.
24
One Too Many Steves
The blonde bombshell ran a finger along the edge of her hoop earring. She
yawned as the man sitting across the table from her told her another story. A patchy salt
and pepper beard occupied his chin and neck. His thinning hair was pulled back in a short
ponytail. Large smoked glasses sat on his nose.
“No, that’s a fact, true believers, I’ve actually been mistaken for a young Stan
Lee,” he said with his best Stan Lee impression. The woman nodded and put her palm in
front of her mouth to cover her yawn. This date was going well for one of them. Steve
flashed the blonde his most charming smile. The waiter at Dave Bahr’s Bar and Grill Pub
brought them their drinks.
The blonde watched the chiseled man who just walked in to the pub. Her eyes
jumped back to the ponytailed man when he cleared his throat. “You don’t look quite the
same as your profile pic,” she said. “You don’t look like you’re thirty-seven.” This
wasn’t the first time he had heard a woman say that. “More like 52.” She was the first to
guess that right, though. She’s clever. She might be a keeper.
Steve shrugged. “What can I say, it’s been a rough couple of years. It’s a difficult
life being an inventor and philanthropist.” The blonde’s phone rang to the sounds of Bon
Jovi and she answered it and engaged the person on the other end in conversation. Steve
opened his mouth to speak, but the blonde held a pointer finger up.
“Oh, that’s hilarious. Yes. Cats are so adorable. Send me the links. Yes, now,” she
said. He told her about his last trip to the Bahamas as she watched a series of videos on
25
YouTube. She put the phone back in her purse with a sigh and dug around, looking for
something that appeared to elude her. He knew he was going to have to try his gambit.
“Did I tell you that I invented the international symbol for ‘power on /off’ while I
was working at GE? It’s regarded as the most universal symbol of such things in the
world. It’s even more universal than the sign for ‘Danger – Landmines!’”
She paused halfway through digging. “What did you say your name was again?
Dave? Dave Bahr or something like that?”
“No. Steve. Steve Walnuts.”
She frowned. “My last ex-boyfriend’s name was Steve. There are just too many
Steves in this world for my taste.”
He knew then that he should have played his “I invented the iPod” card and led
with that. But, then again, no one ever believed it. Well, maybe it wasn’t too late to say it
and see if he could salvage this date. “I used to work for Apple.”
“You worked for Apple.” It wasn’t a question; it was sarcasm.
“I didn’t just work for them. I’m more like one of the Founding Fathers of
Apple.”
She crossed her arms. “Do tell.”
He did his best to ignore her smirk. “It’s true. No one believes me when I tell
them that I was the true genius of Apple. The best Steve. No one seems to have heard of
me or remembers me. No, everyone always thinks of that fuck, Steve Jobs. Or sometimes
Steve Wozniak. Woz was ok, though. That man never saw a party he didn’t like. And I
26
can respect that. Together Woz and I probably inhaled a metric ton of cocaine. Jobs
probably did that much coke on his own and he never, ever supplied any to the party. No,
Jobs was a taker. And he never said thank you. No, never. No ‘thanks for all the coke and
thanks for the iPod and the billions it brought Apple.’ That’s all I ever wanted to hear. Or
even a ‘Thanks for the brilliant idea of planned obsolescence, Steve. And god damn
you’re a cool guy, if I may say so. Apple owes you its everlasting gratitude for helping us
be the cool company. Shit, we can market that. Steve, you’re a goddamned genius!’ No,
of course I don’t get a thank you for anything.”
His mind wandered back to the early 2000s to when he was called into Jobs’
office and told that there were “One too many Steves at this company.” Steve had agreed
and said, “You’re right. Why don’t we let go of Steve Hammond from accounting? He’s
an asshole.” He remembered seeing the frown etch its way across Jobs’ stone face. An
hour later, the only thing Steve had been able to take home from his office was his “Hang
in there” cat poster after he had attempted to start a fire. The Apple security guards with
their golden Apple badges threw him literally kicking and screaming from the premises.
Blinking back to his surroundings, he decided to leave that part of the story out.
The blonde laughed a little. “That’s quite a story.”
Well, at least she didn’t leave after his rant. That must be a good sign. Steve
flagged the waiter over, ordered another beer. The blonde ordered a pair of martinis for
herself. They sat in silence as they drank. A local punk band called “The Screaming
Mimes” played in their usual white makeup, berets, and striped shirts on the stage. The
blonde was examining her nails. He decided to appeal to the MBA candidate’s
professional sensibilities. “I’m rich.” Well, that was not true. He had blown his money on
27
blow and bad investments and failed technologies. At one time, he was a high roller. He
had dinners with the Vanderbilts and the Forbes. He was invited to all of Donald Trump’s
parties – that is, until he had hit on Donald’s supermodel girlfriend. How was he
supposed to know that Donald was cheating on his wife with that girl? Pretentious,
cheating, greedy bastard. His hair looked even worse in person. Steve had told him so as
the Trump Tower security guard grabbed him by the collar. The strong, silent goon then
threw him headlong into the trashcans.
“I’m rich,” he repeated, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice. The
blonde raised a delicately arched eyebrow. He licked his dry lips. “Well, I mean, I don’t
live with my mom.” When she frowned, Steve knew then he shouldn’t have listed his
income at $100,000+ on the dating website.
“Didn’t I see you get out of, what are those ugly car-slash-pickup trucks called?”
“An El Camino?” Steve said helpfully.
“Yes, that’s it. Not quite a Porsche, is it?”
“Well, what can I say? You drive one Porsche, you’ve driven them all. And it’s in
the shop. They’re finicky and that one is a bit of a clunker, to be honest. Now, the El
Camino – that is reliable, just like me.” Steve made a mental note to take down the
picture with said vehicle or park farther away from the restaurant next time.
“I should get going, Dave,” she said.
Time to play his one remaining card. He grabbed her arm as she got up to leave.
“Wait, how about we go back to your place? Put a little smooth jazz on, have a couple of
28
glasses of wine, and see where the night takes us? Maybe you’ll get lucky and end up on
your back.”
“What’s the international symbol for ‘fuck you’?” she said and threw a martini in
his face.
“I believe that would be the middle finger.” Steve licked the martini as it dripped
over his lips. He let out a long breath and pulled up a stool at the bar. The bartender
tossed him a towel to wipe his face.
“Steve, Steve, Steve. I think I’ve seen you strike out as much as Reggie Jackson.”
Steve wiped the rest of the drink off his face. “Comparing me to a Hall of Famer?
Thanks!”
“You know what I meant, man.”
“Oh well, she was a bitch,” he said to the bartender, who nodded and ran a towel
over a shot glass. “Probably a lesbian,” Steve added. The bartender nodded silently.
“Speaking of lesbians, maybe I’ll head over to the Gilded Dildo. Well, I guess they’re not
all lesbians there.” Strictly speaking, the Gilded Dildo was not a gay bar – it was selfproclaimed as New York’s premiere gentlewoman’s club and generally speaking, hailed
as such by its customers. Despite this reputation, men were not expressly prohibited from
entering the premises, but in all the years of going there, Steve had never seen another
male there. Not even any of the bouncers were males, and he was acquainted with all of
them.
29
His El Camino’s muffler grumbled loudly on the drive to the next bar. Steve
ignored the usual scowl from the bartender and ordered Scotch and left no tip as he
moved to mingle. He inserted himself in conversations and wandered from spot to spot as
the patrons didn’t chat with him much or simply turned their backs as he approached. A
red-haired woman seated by herself caught his eye. She touched the screen of her iPad
with slender fingers.
Steve pulled up a stool next to her. “Hi, name’s Steve.” He tilted his head towards
her iPad and said, “Wonderful little invention, isn’t it? I used to work for Apple….”
30
Insomnia Dreams
Tulip knew she was dreaming but she didn’t care, mostly because she was glad to
finally be sleeping and not wide awake with anxiety. Everything seemed like a normal
dream, just another “still at work” dream except that Disney World was empty. She
walked around the park, not really looking for anyone or anything. Just wandering.
And then the meteor storm hit. At first, she thought they were fireworks going off
in the sky over Cinderella Castle, then she realized the flaming objects were coming
down at an angle and from the sky. It was beautiful and she was not afraid of what looked
almost like raindrops of fire. They left orange and yellow streaks in the sky. The lines
stayed in the sky and she marveled at this.
Meteors of increasing size streamed down, leaving fiery pockmarks across the
park the size of golf balls. She could feel the heat on her sweating skin as the fire spread
from building to building.
A loud, low howl came from overhead and she turned to see what was making the
sound. A large meteor the size of a building, trailing a river of flame struck the tallest
spire of the castle and it fragmented in shards of brick and molten rock. The castle fell in
on itself and into the crater made from the blast. Chunks of heated rock pelted her skin,
starting her hair and clothes on fire.
She woke.
Tulip took in several deep breaths, situating herself back in reality. Normally her
work-related dreams involved working unpaid overtime or seeing the park filled with so
31
many people it looked like an ocean of human beings. Though, once she did have a
dream that a giant was playing golf and hit Epcot Center with an enormous golf club. She
remembered the giant cursing and breaking his club over his knee when Epcot landed in
the ocean. Sometimes recreational anesthetics helped provide the most entertaining
dreams. Unfortunately, she was running low. The empty bottle made her frown. Had she
really taken all the rest last night? She was going to need to talk to Maleficent about
getting more.
She ran her fingers through her pixie-length strawberry blonde hair. Her skin was
slick with sweat yet she shivered on the hot Orlando morning. After her shower, she put
on an undershirt, covering part of the canvas of tattoos she had on her body – wings,
skulls, flowers, kanji for “luck” and “fire”, lightning bolts, koi, Celtic knots, birds, Norse
runes, and a smiling Harley Quinn. Her arms and legs had their own assortment of
designs, but there was still room for more. She made a mental note to invite Shelby, who
played Maleficent, to go get inked with her again soon.
Tulip made a light breakfast of toast and orange juice. She ate while she checked
her messages on her phone. How had she missed a call from her mother at 9:09 pm last
night? Right – the rum. Her mother probably wanted to gossip about the neighbor ladies
or try to set her up with a “perfect gentleman” from who-knows-wherever she kept
finding possible suitors. Mother didn’t seem to understand that she was happily dating
Aric from work. Well, maybe not exactly “happily” and maybe not exactly dating, since
they were off and on, like a handful of the other Disney princes she had dated briefly over
the span of the last couple of years. Aric, who played Prince Eric, was handsome, if a bit
airy and ambitionless. He often scoffed at her dreams of being an actress, saying that she
32
was on the wrong side of the States and the wrong side of twenty-five. He seemed
flabbergasted that she wouldn’t want to stay at Disney forever.
“Morning, Tulip,” said Monica, entering the kitchen. She had been Tulip’s
roommate for a short time, so Tulip would still be a little forgiving for calling her by that
name, despite the multiple warnings. Tulip hated the name her mother had given her and
was still deciding on just the right name for herself. Currently Athena, Callista, Freya,
and Nova were the leading candidates – powerful and perhaps just enough of Hollywood
in them to get her noticed. Much better than Tulip. Fuck, what a name! You know what,
I’m not going to let it slide today.
“Don’t call me that. I’ve told you like twenty times, betch. Don’t start out my
Monday like that, please,” she said with a half smile.
Monica yawned. “What am I supposed to call you? I forget what name you want
at the moment. Or should I just say ‘hey, you’? And it’s Tuesday, by the way.”
“’Hey You’ is better than Tulip,” she said. Monica agreed.
“Have you picked up an application for me, yet?”
“No, Monica. You’re way too short to land the role of Snow White. I know.
Disney shits on dreams too. I wanted to play Alice and I’m way too tall at 5’4”.”
“You mean, after you told the interviewers you wanted to play the part of
Anastasia,” Monica said, laughing.
“Yeah, yeah.” Tulip had, in fact, asked if she could play that role and had to
quickly “admit” she was joking about that since as it turned out, Anastasia was not a
33
Disney property. The interviewers all had a good laugh that day and then decided she
would be Princess Aurora, aka Sleeping Beauty, mainly since they would need to put her
in a dress that would cover her tattoos. Tulip thought that would be acceptable, despite
the big pink-colored dress, since she thought she would get to sleep for large portions of
her shift. That proved to be untrue. She protested that her hair was the wrong color for
Aurora, but they said it didn’t matter and plopped a wig on her.
Sure, being a Disney princess had its days – she enjoyed seeing little girls beam
upon meeting a “real life” Disney princess. She smiled in all the photos and while she
was signing autographs, she told every girl who said she wanted to be a princess when
she grew up that any dream can come true as long as you believe it. But, she was torn and
also wanted to tell every girl to wake up, that it was all illusions and lies, that dreams
don’t just magically come true, that there were no happily ever afters, and that maybe
they should study biology or learn how to play the stock market. At least the older ones.
The younger ones could be allowed to dream awhile longer.
Disney had draconian laws, particularly for the people in costume, and the
princess pay wasn’t great. Much higher than what the vendor and janitor schlubs were
making, but not enough to save up and move out to the West Coast and start a new life
there. Two years after starting work at Disney, Tulip was still not much closer to
Hollywood than before, other than having a little extra money and having been a part of a
few minor amateur play productions and her role as Cute Girl #2 in a local car dealership
commercial. She had asked if she could transfer to DisneyLand, but was told things
didn’t exactly work that way and there would need to be an opening to fill in the first
place.
34
Tulip frowned at the clock and left for work. She was greeted by a wall of hot air
as she left her air conditioned apartment. It felt in about the upper 90s range. She jumped
in her Toyota Tercel and cranked the AC. With the window rolled up, she had to fight the
need to smoke a cigarette or a blunt. Poor form before work and the smell lingered. The
thought of disappointed children curbed her urge. She should be able to wait until 5:30.
She sang and drummed along on the steering wheel to Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” as
she pulled into the employee parking lot. Singing was a key component to being a Disney
princess and she made sure to practice.
It wasn’t the most widely-known thing, but beneath Disney World was an
underground network of tunnels that rivaled the intricacy of the Viet Cong tunnel
network. The shafts weren’t earthen and were much taller and wider, but the network was
so extensive that there were rumors of unused and sealed tunnels and people even getting
lost underground. Like the Viet Cong tunnels, there were actually explosives stored there,
piled in secured munitions depots, guarded by men in beetle black helmets – Disney
required copious amounts of fireworks for their nightly celebrations and was second only
to the United States military in purchasing of explosives. They didn’t exactly tell you that
on the Disney tours, but you learned things as you worked for the Mouse.
With these underground passageways, Disney could ensure that characters could
seamlessly enter and leave the park while never breaking the illusion of the fantasy to the
public. Some of the buildings were fake (well, they were all fake, really) and not open to
the public, where employees could take breaks or use the bathrooms. You simply
couldn’t have a maskless Goofy walking around with his plush head tucked under his arm
or Cinderella taking a dump in a public bathroom. Ticket and movie and merchandise
35
sales would take a downturn. Tulip understood this all very well and enjoyed the dangers
of flirting with breaking Disney Law from time to time.
She entered the cool, underground tunnel network and made her way to the
princesses’ dressing room. She zipped up the back of her dress as she sat down to do her
makeup and fix her wig. Through the corner of her eye, she could see Tinker Bell
watching her. Tulip didn’t know this particular Tinker Bell’s name since she was a new
arrival. She was petite, like all Tinker Bells, and had short blonde hair, also like all
Tinker Bells, but she wasn’t wearing a wig. Tink kept sneaking looks at her. When Tulip
turned around to face the faerie, Tink’s face turned red and she flittered off.
Tulip’s shift as Aurora started off normal. She posed for pictures and talked with
children. A little girl and her even littler brother came up to her and talked in a flurry.
Their excitement was palpable. Tulip smiled at them. It was going to be one of the good
days today. The girl asked her mainly about what it’s like to be a princess and also talked
a lot about her pet dog, Francis.
The little boy said she was pretty. He tilted his head to the side. “Do you know
Bugs Bunny?” he asked. Tulip of course knew who he was, but it was against Disney
policy to discuss other proprietary figures, or really anything that existed outside of the
realm of Disney.
“No, I am afraid not,” she said, hating to lie to children.
“Haha! How do you not know Bugs Bunny? Everybody knows who he is. He’s
grey and white and has big ears, you know?”
“Sorry.”
36
“Well, do you know Princess Peach? You look just like her.”
“No, sorry, never heard of her,” Tulip said, trying not to think about how she
always picked her on Mario Kart and finally understanding why she subconsciously
chose that character.
“R2-D2! Do you know him at least? Or Chewbacca?” Tulip had to shake her head
no at both of those. She fanned herself. The sun was starting to scorch her as the
temperature climbed closer to a hundred.
The little girl chimed in. “How about Beast? Pluto? Flounder?”
“Yes, yes, yes. I know all of them!”
“How is that possible? You were in a different story,” the boy asked.
“Yeah, and how do you know Flounder? He’s a fish and lives in the water. How
could you have met him?” his sister asked.
Tulip’s eye twitched at the girl’s inescapable logic. “Excuse me, I need to talk to
Prince Phillip. You two kids have an enchanted day,” she said, turning her back and
taking her cell phone out. She dialed Brad’s (Prince Phillip’s) number as she walked
away.
His voice came through in a strained whisper. “Are you out of your mind? Why
are you using a phone? Aren’t you making your rounds for meet and greet right now?”
Tulip made her way inside of the Seven Dwarves’ house and sat down in an
undersized chair. “Calm down. I’m in the Dwarf house, getting some cool air so I don’t
37
pass out from heat stroke. Why are you answering the phone? You’re not even supposed
to carry a phone, Phil.”
“I thought it was an emergency. Dammit, Tulip. There are people nearby. I gotta
go. I’ll see you in like 30 for parade.”
Tulip propped her feet up and struck a match on the table and lit up one of the two
cigarettes she had smuggled in her crown. After her break, she met up with Prince Phillip
for the Princes and Princesses parade. The couples all walked side by side down the
meticulously cleaned street, smiling and waving to the eager crowds lined up behind the
security fences. Ariel and Prince Eric seemed to be getting closer lately and even held
hands and shared kisses when not “required” to for their roles. Perhaps her off and on
“relationship” with Aric was even more off than she thought.
Tulip laughed when kids cheered on Mickey and Minnie, getting them to kiss
with their big, awkward masks. She groaned inwardly when the kids egged on Prince
Phillip to kiss her, but she kept her smile plastered on her face. Prince Phillip moved
closer to her and she tilted her head back, closed her eyes, and puckered up. She let out a
small cry when she felt herself falling backwards as Phillip pulled her shoulders back and
dipped her, but the sound was muffled by his lips. The girls “oohed!” and the boys
“ewwed!” as the kiss lasted what seemed like half a minute. When he finally raised her
back up, she flashed a smile at the crowd. She was a professional.
“Don’t dip me. You know I fucking hate that,” she said through her grinning
teeth, speaking under her breath to Phillip. He nodded and waved to the crowd, matching
her smile.
38
“I should be the one complaining, Cigarette Breath. And did I detect a hint of
rum? Do you have some stashed somewhere in the park? Are you unsure if you’re
Sleeping Beauty or a Pirate of the Caribbean? Can you at least chew some gum?”
“No, I can’t. It’s against regs,” she said.
“You’re such a good girl. A true model citizen and a pillar of the Disney
community,” he said. They continued to wave at the adoring fans. More kids cheered
them on. “Kiss her again!”
“Don’t kiss her again,” she said to Phillip, in a low warning.
“We have to keep the fans happy,” Phillip said, dipping her again and kissing her,
but thankfully not as long this time.
“I swear to Christ if you dip me one more time…”
“Go ahead. Finish that sentence. I want to know what you’d do,” Phillip said with
a Cheshire grin.
“Let’s just say that you won’t die of old age and leave it at that. Why did I ever
date you?”
“The amazing sex, probably.”
She wasn’t able to stop her eye roll reaction. “Amazing for one of us,” she said.
He wiped the beads of sweat that had gathered on his brow, but said nothing. “No pithy
remark? I’m disappointed. I’ll give you a hint – the ‘one of us’ isn’t me. You sure you’re
not one of the Seven Dwarves?”
39
“You’d know. I heard you slept with all of them. Maybe that’s why Eric is
banging Ariel now.” Before Tulip had a chance to proclaim her innocence or respond to
his jeer about her maybe-not-so-much-after-all boyfriend, Phillip dipped her and moved
in slowly for another kiss.
Tulip lifted her planted foot off the ground and pulled Phillip in, causing them
both to fall to the ground. The crowd roared in laughter. “Don’t. Fuck. With. Me,” she
said, smiling.
After work, she decided to wind down the rest of her day with a mini marathon of
Audrey Hepburn movies and a box of wine. Her sister, Anna, called her in the evening,
halfway through Breakfast at Tiffany’s. They chatted about their respective jobs,
conversations they had with their parents, and the weather.
“I’m thinking about getting another tattoo soon. Want to come with me?” she
asked Anna.
“I might. What are you getting this time? A Princess Aurora tattoo?”
“Eww. No. Maybe a valkyrie or Bettie Page.”
“With all your body artwork, you could probably be a Suicide Girl if you wanted.
Maybe that could help launch your Hollywood career.”
“Maybe. Keep me posted if your real estate agency does another commercial. I
know I nailed the ‘new satisfied homeowner’ role last time.”
“Sure thing, Tul’. You’ve got smiles for miles.”
40
“All that training from Disney. If we don’t smile just right, we’re publicly
flogged.”
Anna chuckled. “Oh, come on. It can’t be that bad working at The Happiest Place
on Earth. Why else would you keep punching in?”
“Could you hear my eye roll? You should have been able to. There’s a reason
why the employees call it Mouseschwitz or Duckau.”
“Lizzy tells me all the time she wants to be a real princess just like you and live in
a castle at Disney when she grows up.”
“Lizzy’s six,” Tulip said. “I guess we still have some time to convince her to do
something meaningful with her life, like be an astronaut or a doctor or a bus driver.”
“Let her dream awhile longer,” Anna said. “She loves her aunt so much. I caught
her drawing tattoos on her arms with markers again the other day. You have quite the
influence on her, you know. Hey, might you happen to have some more tickets? It means
the world to Lizzy. She wants to come see her ‘Aunt Aurora’ soon.” Tulip did have a
large number of tickets that Disney provided her as a benefit for the job. Lizzy got 99%
of them.
“Of course. I’ll send a stack your way for Little Lizard.”
“Thanks, Tul’. You’re the best sister ever.”
“I know.”
41
The weather the next day was just as hot and she had had even more trouble
sleeping the night before. Her shift drug on and Tulip’s eyelids only got heavier. Even
her lips felt heavier and it was harder to form smiles for the children. She made her way
to the Castle and to the room that was made to look like Sleeping Beauty’s room with the
elaborate bed. It was strictly used for photo opportunities and promotions and was
cordoned off with a red velvet rope. She bit her lip in thought as she paused, but was
unable to resist the call of sleep any more today. She unhooked a rope and stepped
through, replacing the cordon. Patrons around her looked in surprise. Tulip plucked the
rose off of the bed and pulled back the covers. The bed was softer than she remembered.
She fanned her hair out on the pillow and clutched the rose to her chest. People came and
went and took pictures and commented on how nice it was to see a scene “re-enacted”
from a show, but she didn’t hear them for long as she drifted to sleep.
Her dream was vague and fog-like. She walked through fields of wilting flowers
as snow began to fall from the sky. Tulip had never seen snow in person, so she twirled in
it, enjoying how it fell around her in big flakes. After awhile the pristine white
snowflakes turned grey and she realized the snow had turned to ashes. It clung to her
dress and her hair and filled her lungs. Panic gripped her as she struggled to breathe.
Tulip woke when she heard someone clear their throat. She cautiously opened
one eye. It was Fred Winters, her manager. She closed her eye.
“I see you’re awake now, princess. Quite the performance,” he said, clapping
slowly. “I would write you up for this, but as it turns out, people were loving it. They
especially loved your ‘comedic snoring’.” Tulip’s face flushed at that. “Just don’t make
these impromptu Disney scene re-creations a regular thing,” Fred said, “or we can always
42
find someone else to play the part. Someone who doesn’t need warnings about how to do
her job and what is ok and what is not. People can be replaced.”
Shit. She was going to need to do more “To Infinity and Beyond” community
service to help sweep some of the warnings under the carpet with Mickey’s Amnesty
Program or she would accumulate too many warnings and be dismissed. The thought
made California seem further away.
After their shifts were over, Tulip and Maleficent made plans for the evening.
Maleficent wanted to go to the beach, which Tulip could not completely understand due
to the heat and the fact that Maleficent didn’t usually go in the water and was strangely
pale. At first, Tulip thought that Maleficent put on white makeup for her role, but as it
turned out, her skin was naturally milky and she never seemed to tan or burn despite the
fact that she spent a large amount of time outside.
Tulip yawned and said she wanted a quiet night. Maleficent relented on her push
to the beach and they went to a laid back bar for drinks. They discussed their days.
Maleficent clinked glasses with Tulip after she heard the story about Phillip.
“So when are you getting out of Disney?” Maleficent asked.
Tulip choked on the wine and swallowed hard upon hearing the question come
out of the blue. “I don’t know. I need to save up more and still pay off my credit cards.
Soon I hope. Maybe next year.”
43
“Next year? Don’t get me wrong, honey, I love spending time with you and
working with you, but you don’t seem to be going anywhere.”
Tulip’s face flushed in embarrassment and a little bit of anger. “I know. I’m
trying. Like I said, hopefully next year I’ll be out of Disney and in Hollywood.”
Maleficent nodded. “Good. I’m rooting for you. If you stay here much longer,
you’re going to lose your princess tiara and become a wicked stepsister.” That struck ice
in Tulip’s heart. That was a fear of every Disney princess – that someday you got too old
and had to “be put out to pasture” and lose your crown. It was a sign that age had grabbed
you and wouldn’t let go. Many a princess had unwillingly become a wicked stepsister, or
worse yet, wicked stepmother, if she stayed too long. It wasn’t unheard of for these
former princesses to leave the realm of Disney or even commit suicide not long after
switching roles.
“Or you’ll become a villain like me!” Maleficent laughed a sinister laugh. “Or
maybe you’ll become the next Abigail.”
Tulip shuddered. Abigail now played the role of the evil Queen from Snow White
– not the younger version, but the old witch who gives the apple to Snow White. Abigail
had been around Disney World since the park opened when she originally played Snow
White.
Tulip tilted her head back and chugged the rest of her wine.
44
Lying awake in her bed, Tulip tossed and turned. 12:04, her clock told her. It was
quiet except for the hum of the AC. The conversation with Maleficent played over in her
mind. She thought about her bank account and did mental math about her paychecks and
credit card debt. She thought about calling or texting Aric then changed her mind.
2:14 the digital red letters of the clock said. She groaned, thinking of the
approaching morning alarm.
She rolled over and grabbed her pill bottle. Empty. For fuck’s sake. She had
forgotten to ask Maleficent to hook her up with her connection.
Her roommate’s snores carried down the hallway. Tulip sighed and rolled back
over.
Finally, sleep found her.
She was high in the skyline of Los Angeles on the rooftop of a skyscraper. She
lounged in a beach chair near a pristine blue pool. Tulip turned her head at the sound of
conversation and laughter. Jennifer Lawrence, Mila Kunis, and Anne Hathaway lounged
in beach chairs next to her. They all looked at her and smiled. They talked about
Hollywood gossip and asked what Tulip thought of who was dating who and who her
favorite and least favorite directors were. Brad Pitt swam laps in the pool. Tulip watched
him from time to time as she chatted with the actresses.
Jennifer Lawrence stood up and walked to the railing. Tulip’s eyes strayed to how
her body filled out the bathing suit she was wearing. Leaning on the rail, Jennifer
beckoned Tulip over to her.
45
“There’s something I want to show you.”
“What is it?” Tulip asked.
Jennifer giggled. “Don’t you know?” She asked, dimples forming on her cheeks.
Tulip shook her head. She waited for an answer, but Jennifer only grinned. Tulip
breathed in the warm air and scanned the landscape, admiring the hills and the elaborate
houses. The Hollywood letters made her smile. She had made it! Finally.
Anne Hathaway and Mila Kunis joined them at the railing. Conversation
continued as they all drank the fanciest wines that Tulip’s mind could come up with.
Tulip leaned on the railing, chatting with Anne Hathaway. Small vibrations
reached her back. At first she thought she was imagining it, then the vibrations grew
larger. The wine sloshed in her long-stemmed glass before she lost her grip on it and
dropped it to the ground. There was a spray of shards. No one else seemed to notice this
or what was happening around them.
The ground continued to moan and shake. In the distance, rifts opened up and
swallowed whole buildings and roads and cars. The other actresses continued to giggle
and converse. Tulip looked wide-eyed around her in a panic. The building she was on
swayed. She grabbed the rail in a death grip. The Hollywood sign sank into the earth,
leaving only the last two letters standing alone on a rocky peak. She felt the tingle of
weightlessness in her stomach as the skyscraper pitched forward slowly but inexorably
toward the earth below.
46
She screamed a soundless scream and jolted awake. Work was less than two
hours away. It was going to be another day of functioning on three hours of sleep.
Despite her sleep-deprived brain and the ever-present heat, Tulip was still feeling
a bit smug yet from yesterday’s victory over Prince Phillip. The cast members were
broken up into different groups at this week’s staff meeting. Tulip’s group was mainly
princesses, a couple of princes (thankfully not Phillip), Tinker Bell, and Maleficent. Due
to the number of princesses in it, Tulip called manager Fred Winters “The Princess
Pimp,” a title he said he didn’t care a whole lot for. Tinker Bell looked up at her when
she entered the room and gave a shy smile. Tulip sat between her and Maleficent.
“I like your tattoos,” Tink said.
“Which ones?”
“All the ones I could see,” Tink said. “That sounded creepy. Sorry. Umm. I like
your wings.”
“Thanks. I like yours, too,” Tulip said, looking at the diaphanous wings on Tink’s
back. They exchanged in small talk together and with Maleficent.
“Quiet down, everyone,” Fred said. “First of all, let’s all give a warm welcome to
our newest Tinker Bell, Skye Anders.”
Skye smiled bashfully and looked down while everyone said hello. Tulip
wondered how long the introverted woman would be able to survive at this job.
47
“Down to business. Folks, I know it’s hot out there, but we have to stay
professional. Keep the smiles coming and keep them wide. Tulip, I’m looking at you. The
number of smiles is down so far today and a couple of frowns were spotted.”
“Fuck, really? And don’t call me Tulip.”
“Watch the swearing or I’m going to write you up again, Aurora. And it’s 95 out,
for the record, with a nice breeze.”
Tulip scoffed at the written warning threat. She collected written warnings and
posted them on her fridge as trophies. “It’s a hundred fucking degrees out and you’re
complaining about me not smiling enough? You try wearing this thing. I bet you
wouldn’t last fifteen minutes in it, out there in the trenches.”
“I don’t have to prove it to you. I’ve served my time. You want to talk hot
costumes? Fine. It’s go time. Let me tell you about how I was Pluto for eight years before
I was promoted to this position.”
“Eight years?” Tulip mouthed.
“Yeah,” Fred said. “Hotter than wearing chemical protective gear in Desert
Storm. Anyway, other things on the agenda: remember that Snoopy is not a Disney
property, Snow White, and also that Star Wars characters now are, everyone. We can
now discuss Star Wars with patrons. Fair game. Moving on, let’s remember to make sure
we don’t accidentally keep our cell phones on us, not saying any names,” Fred said,
looking directly at Tulip.
“Who, me? I don’t even have any pockets.” She shrugged.
48
“Mmm true, but I didn’t say anything about pockets.”
“If you think I have a phone,” Tulip crossed her arms. “Go ahead. Take it from
me.”
Fred sighed and scratched the back of his head. “No, I don’t think so.” He
grabbed his “ticket book,” as he liked to call it, and wrote out a warning for Tulip and
handed it to her. “Keep it up and you’ll be swabbing the decks of the Pearl instead of
complaining about having to be a princess.”
Tulip decided not to respond. She was starting to feel a migraine come on. This
wouldn’t help her insomnia either. She was really going to have to talk to Maleficent
about hooking her up with more medicine and maybe some vicodin. After the meeting
wound down, Tinker Bell brushed Tulip’s hand as she was walking past. It was so light
that Tulip wondered if it was an accident or if it was entirely imagined and then if she just
imagined that Tink winked at her or if that was just a blink as she was leaving the room.
She returned Tink’s coy smile nonetheless.
Maleficent saw the whole exchange. “Well?” she asked Tulip. “Is something
going on here, my innocent little princess?”
“What? No. I mean, I have no idea.”
“Why don’t you ask her out?” Maleficent said in a purr. “Find out what you’ve
been missing so far. She’s cuuute.”
“Yes, well, I don’t know. I mean well she obviously is cute, she’s Tink,” Tulip
said, flustered, especially seeing the grin on her friend’s face. “Hey, I’m going to need
49
more medication. I could really use something numbing. Plus it helps fight my insomnia
as a bonus. It’s getting worse again.”
“I can tell. You’ve got some serious bags under your eyes,” Maleficent said. “I
have to rush out of here today to meet some friends at the beach, but I’ll get in touch with
my hookup – The Don. I’ll text you info on where to meet him.”
“But I don’t have any pockets,” Tulip said, doing her best to look innocent.
“Yeah, whatever.”
Near the end of Tulip’s shift, two texts reached her. One was Aric saying that he
couldn’t have dinner with her tonight since he was going to Ariel’s place. The second text
was Maleficent’s message regarding The Don. “Meet The Don in the easternmost tunnels
near the loading docks at 5:45 sharp. Don’t be late. That pisses him off and you REALLY
don’t want to see him angry.” The Don was something of a local legend at Disney World
and regarded as Disney’s kingpin. He was rumored to have connections for just about
anything you needed – from drugs to firearms to prostitutes. Some even said he ran a
fight club in some hidden tunnels under Disney World. Tulip was a bit nervous about
meeting him, but she told herself she needed to face those fears.
Tulip finished her shift and got out of her wardrobe. She made her way to the
tunnels where she was to meet The Don. The easternmost tunnels were strangely darker
than the other tunnels under the complex and apparently not as populated. There had not
been a soul in sight since she had been waiting for the past ten minutes, checking her cell
50
phone for the time every minute. Finally, she heard some shuffling footsteps. Her pulse
quickened.
Donald Duck in his blue and white sailor suit waddled towards her. Fuck. She
really didn’t want him around while she was meeting her contact. He might even scare
him off. Instead of walking on past her, he walked right up to her. He stood there and
stared with his large plastic eyes. He said nothing.
“Can I help you?” she asked, irritated. He remained silent. “Okay then, how about
you piss off then, Duck?”
“I’m going to let that one slide since I’m a nice guy. Maleficent said you need
some tranquilizers,” Donald said in his quacking Donald Duck voice.
“You’re The Don?!” Tulip exclaimed.
He said something in his duck voice but she couldn’t understand it so she had to
ask him to repeat it a couple of times. “I said, keep it down unless you want to get us both
caught.”
“But why the voice?” she asked
“We have to stay in character at all times, don’t we?” Donald said and let out a
long duckish chuckle. “Well, I can’t take any chances in my line of work. And you
wouldn’t want me to know that you know my real voice. We simply couldn’t have that,
could we, pretty little princess? You don’t know who to trust these days and I’m tired of
having to dump bodies in the ocean. There’s only so much room in there. You’re not
planning on ratting me out to the Mouse, are you?”
51
Tulip fought a mixture of fear and the desire to break out in laughter. She
assumed he was talking a big game, but decided to be safe. “No, I swear.”
“Good. Money first,” he said, extending a white-gloved hand-wing. She gave him
a roll of money and he gave her a bottle filled with large pills.
“Need anything else? MJ? Morphine? Crack? Unregistered firearm? A plane
ticket to California? Or maybe you want Winters or Prince Phillip or Prince Eric to
disappear?”
Her jaw dropped. “What? No. How did you? No,” she said, turning to leave. She
spun back around on her heel. “Well, maybe some MJ if it’s any good.”
“Of course it’s good!” he quacked and held his hand-wing out to her and flicked it
towards himself impatiently a couple of times. She handed him more money and he gave
her a bag.
“See you around, Princess,” Donald said, waddling away.
Around midnight, Tulip shook out a few pills and swallowed them. She dreamt
she was at Disney World, wondering aimlessly around. The park wasn’t entirely empty in
the dream tonight. She saw a man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask pushing a wheelbarrow
carrying a cask of explosives. He tipped his hat to her when we hurried past and made his
way to the tunnels. She could hear Donald Duck’s voice quacking from underground,
omni-present and hollow-sounding – threatening at times, funny at other times. She could
52
somehow see the ocean from where she was. It was filled with Disney characters bobbing
up and down in the water like stiff boards.
She heard a fluttering noise coming from the western side of the sky. Tinker Bell,
not tiny Tinker Bell, but the Skye Anders one, descended to her and gave her a peck on
the cheek. Tink giggled. “I don’t like your new tattoo though,” she said, wrinkling her
nose and lowering her eyes to Tulip’s chest.
Tulip looked down. There, in thick black ink, was the curving, looping Disney
logo, complete with copyright symbol emblazoned on her chest.
She woke up. “What. The fuck?” She had trouble falling back asleep, trying not to
think about work in the morning.
The fever that was affecting Florida still had not broken yet the next day. Much of
the day passed in a dreamlike state. Tulip had to keep dabbing her face with her kerchief
and she took more breaks than normal, even with Fred Winters sternly warning her about
wasting company time, not to mention wasting the dime of visitors who paid good money
to see the dream.
Today, it felt like the crowd threatened to close in around her and suffocate her. It
was too hot to even smoke, which made her mood even worse. She hoped that she would
not pass out from the heat and be hauled off behind the scenes to have CPR performed on
her, like that poor bastard Tigger earlier in the day. His replacement joyfully bounced
back out on the street to assure everyone that “he” was fine and “100% Tiggerific!” The
53
crowd cheered the mysterious, “miraculous” recovery, and did not question it. She hoped
the faceless man was all right.
The heat made her envy Jasmine and Tulip told her so. “Yeah, the outfit has its
perks,” Jasmine said. “If I had to wear your dress, I’d probably have resting bitch face
going on as bad as you do. Well, more than you normally do. Err, that came out wrong.
Let me start over. I mean it’s not just the color of the dress, it looks like it’s sweltering in
there and you’re sweating like a pig. No, I mean you look like you’re melting. Hey, is
that Aladdin beckoning me over? Well, gotta go, Tulip,” Jasmine said, giving her a brief
hug that was marginally returned.
Tulip rehydrated and set off to sign more autographs and get pictures taken with
patrons. Prince Phillip groaned audibly when she approached him. “I thought Rachel was
working today.”
“Nope, I picked up her shift. You get stuck with me instead, Phil.”
“Your words, and I don’t disagree with them.”
“Going to be one of those days, eh, Phil?” It turned out to definitely be one of
those days. She and Phil exchanged barbs as the shift went on.
Tulip fanned herself with a brochure. She felt she was clever about it since she
had at least folded to look like a pleated fan. Phillip proclaimed that he was an ironman
and did not need such a tool for the weak. He also pointed out that her fan was actually
expressly forbidden in the Cast Member handbook.
54
“Do I look like I care?” she told him. “I’m going to literally melt if I don’t take
drastic measures like this fan. What will our adoring public think if you’re seen with a
puddle of goo in a pink dress?” She lifted up a sleeve of her dress and flapped it to get
some air circulating on her arm.
“Jesus. How many tattoos do you have?” Phillip asked her.
“I dunno. Let’s check.” She pushed up both of her sleeves, exposing motifs on
each arm. Some nearby fans’ eyes widened in shock. A number of patrons expressed
compliments.
A little girl that looked quite a bit like her niece, Lizzy, told Tulip she liked her
tiger stripes and waves and flowers and wanted her picture taken with the tattooed
princess.
“Aww, thank you, honey. See, Phillip? Don’t be such a prude. Come squeeze in.”
Phillip hesitated a moment before joining the photo opportunity.
“Did you get all your tattoos while in prison?” Phillip asked her with a smirk
when the little girl had left.
“Don’t push me, Phil. Not today,” she warned quietly. Tulip didn’t like the glint
in Phillip’s eyes.
“Under the Disney Charter, article 8, subsection 13, I am using my authority to
institute a Cast Member arrest. Do not resist,” Phillip said in a low voice to her.
55
He then cleared his throat and used his projecting voice. “What’s that? You need
a nap? Sleeping Beauty didn’t get enough sleep and she’s cranky?” Some people in the
crowd let out a long “Whoooooa!” She heard a lot of men laughing at that.
“Maybe she just needs a magic kiss to calm her down and then we’ll send her off
to bed for some sleep,” Phillip said. “What do you say, folks?” Some people in the crowd
cheered him on, others looked unsure as to what was going on. Phones were being held
out to capture the moment.
Phillip stepped closer to her. Tulip could tell that he was angling to dip her and
humiliate her as much as possible. Phillip moved in to dip her and kiss her. She slammed
her knee into his groin and he toppled to the ground in a heap at her feet.
Tulip stood like Muhammad Ali towering over the moaning Phillip, who was
writhing slowly on the ground. The crowd roared in delight and laughter.
Tulip held her arms high in a victory pose and waved to the crowd as they
cheered.
She felt a strong hand grip her upper arm, leading her away. It was a Disney
Secret Service agent, complete with suit, black sunglasses, and ear piece. He spoke into
his lapel. “We have a Code Donald, repeat, Code Donald. The package is in hand and I
am extracting it. Situation under control and contained. Contamination minimal.” The
burly agent led her to the nearest fake building with a tunnel entrance, with Tulip smiling
and waving to the crowd the whole way with her free hand.
Fred Winters was waiting in the dressing room, his face already red with anger as
he furiously paced the floor. “What in fucking Fantasia did you think you were doing?
56
This time you’ve gone way too far. You are hereby officially de-frocked and banned for
eternity from all Disney and Disney affiliate premises. You are to –” the rest blurred into
the background as Tulip tuned him out. She unzipped her dress and let it fall to the
ground. She took her crown and wig off and tossed them to the woman who was
apparently busily getting ready to be her replacement. The woman’s dull eyes took in the
multitude of tattoos on Tulip’s body, then glistened as they ratcheted on the princess
crown. Fred’s face was a mix of shock and anger, but Tulip paid him no mind.
She closed her eyes for a moment, breathed in deeply and noticed how amazing
the air felt on her exposed skin as she stood in her underwear. Tulip ran her fingers
through her short hair and smiled to herself. She gathered her things from her locker and
went to her car in the employee parking lot. She sat on the hood and looked at the distant
sun setting in the west.
57
Forget the Alamo
James leaned around the corner. He watched the boxy security camera swivel
back to face the far end of the hallway. He dashed out and then spun around the middle of
the T-intersection. There were three doors on the left, just as the intel had said. The third
door had a sign with Computer Room in bold red letters. James strode in. A panel of
monitors displayed a green wireframe map of the world, a rocket with Union Jack
markings, and the White House. Sitting in the metal swivel chair, he squinted at the
nearest screen that had a series of numbers in a seemingly random order streaming by.
“Let’s see how much you like your precious rocket when it lands on Big Ben,” he said,
pulling a small computer disk out of his pocket and inserting it into the mainframe.
The keyboard clacked as he hacked his way into the computer. A “loading” status
bar slowly filled. James drew a 9mm pistol from the inside of his sports jacket. He
checked the clip for ammo and pulled back the slide. The loading bar continued to fill
while he kept a vigilant watch on the door.
“Loading complete. New targeting parameters uploaded!” prompted the screen.
Red lights flashed on overhead and alarms blared. “Looks like I wore out my welcome.”
James grabbed the disk and bolted out of the computer room. He sprinted back to the Tintersection. A guard dressed in all black military gear rounded the corner but before he
could raise his gun, James pistol whipped him. The guard crumpled to the ground. James
grinned but this moment was short lived as another guard wearing all black appeared at
the far end of the hall. The guard yelled “Halt, Yank!” at the intruder. The fleeing James
was pursued by the guard, his boots clomping on the shiny tiles. The chase took them
58
down nondescript hallways, up four flights of stairs to the roof. James ran along the edge
of the roof. Seeing there was no way down and no other roof within jumping distance, he
doubled back to the stairs. The guard was waiting for him.
They fought at close range, exchanging a flurry of kicks and punches. During the
fight, both combatants’ pistols flew from their hands. The guard grabbed ahold of James’
sports jacket and flung him to the ground. He retrieved his weapon and aimed it at James.
He pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. The guard fumbled with the safety while
James rolled to his own pistol. James aimed at the guard’s face and pulled the trigger.
Blood exploded from the guard’s chest. He dropped slowly to his knees, a bewildered
expression on his face.
The image of the dying guard froze on the screen. “Did he just fire at his head?
Rewind it,” the director, Alexandros said. Stewman rewound the scene and paused the
playback on James pointing the pistol directly at the guard’s head. “Son of a bitch!”
Alexandros lifted his blue-tinted rectangular glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Does Randall not read the script? He’s literate, right?” Stewman shrugged. “We’ll have
to reshoot that scene after lunch. His contract should say that all these retakes have to
come out of his cut. Fucking A. I bet Tarantino doesn’t have to put up with this bullshit.”
Stewman found the last part a bit odd since Alexandros saw himself more as a mix
between Francis Ford Coppola, David Lynch, and Ingmar Bergman, but “more
accessible.”
*
*
59
*
It was a drier than normal day in northeastern California’s “Other Hollywood” as
the city liked to refer to itself. While lacking the prestige of actual Hollywood, Other
Hollywood tried to assure tourists and production companies alike that Other Hollywood
lacked none of the amenities of real Hollywood. Though, that was sadly not the case. The
city had a handful of grocery stores and a couple of bars. One tourism reviewer summed
up the night life of Other Hollywood as “intolerable.” Few would have disagreed with
that assessment, and many would have applied it to the day life of Other Hollywood, too.
Nevertheless, Other Hollywood did draw a number of B movie production companies to
the city, due to the amount of available space and filming locations, as well as other
incentives.
Daniel Quellin left his room at The Rundown Hotel, which lured in excited
visitors who assumed the hotel was somehow associated with the filming of that movie.
As it turned out, it was actually a sterling case of truth in advertising. Daniel read over
the latest script changes on the bus ride over to the Other Hollywood lot. He was glad, yet
surprised the city had a bus line, considering how sparse, and well, shitty, the city felt
compared to Portland. He furrowed his brow. He wondered how his intelligent spy
thriller was turning into a James Bond knockoff, and a bad one at that. His main character
was originally named Olivia Turnbull and was based on the Russian spy Anna Chapman,
but now that character had fallen to the wayside and become the love interest for Randall
Starr, of all people. Alexandros had listened with steepled fingers to his objections about
this and said, “Let me put it to you this way – he’s cheap. He’s known in some circles, so
he’ll bring in some much needed star power. Single ‘r’. That’s not a pun. Listen, I know
you have your qualms about Randall and trust me, so do I! We’ll keep a tight leash on
60
him, kid, and he won’t be able to mess with our script.” Daniel never understood why
Alexandros called him “kid” when they were about the same age. The mention of “our
script” rankled Daniel. At first it was “Daniel’s script” and then it started becoming “our
script.” Sometimes it was “my script” as Alexandros mentioned in passing. Daniel
regretted not looking over the contract more thoroughly when Alexandros quietly
mentioned something about creative liberties and the needs of the production company.
Worse yet, now Randall was suggesting script changes. This was Daniel’s first official
script that was getting the “Hollywood” treatment and he wanted to do it right and also to
keep as much control on it as he could to keep his script as pure as possible.
Daniel scanned the pages for additional script edits. “Zombies?!” The portly man
sitting next to him jumped, startled from his sleep. “I should have listened to Mother and
enlisted in the Army.” The portly man nodded and drifted back to sleep.
Upon arriving at the lot, Daniel decided to start the work day out by grabbing
some food. He was glad the company had provided food at least; he thought he would
probably starve to death trying to find some food in this city, not to mention the fact that
he had very little money and the company wasn’t technically paying him to be on set, but
he wanted to be pro-active and show his interest and burgeoning professionalism.
“Do you work here?” the unibrowed caterer asked Daniel. “You’re not in
costume.”
“I’m the screenwriter. I don’t have a costume.”
“I thought Alexandros was writing this script.”
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“Pretty much. Please just scoop me up some food,” Daniel said, weariness already
settling in early in his voice. He took his tray and wandered to the eating area. The sight
of zombies and ninjas made him shake his head. Then, he saw her. Kayla Angelos. The
sun seemed to shine only on her. She tucked several long strands of her shining red hair
behind her ear in a graceful motion. Daniel remembered to close his jaw and made his
way over to where she was sitting.
“H-hi, Kayla,” he said. She glanced up and said hello and looked back down at
her smartphone. He didn’t know what to say as he stood in place.
“Do I know you? What did you say your name was?” Kayla asked him.
“Daniel. Daniel Quellin.” Noticing her blank stare, he added, “I’m the
screenwriter.”
“Oh!” Kayla beamed. “David, yes. So nice to meet you!” He was so excited by
this that he didn’t even correct her and say that they had met previously at a few table
reads. Her eyes lit up and she flashed him a coy smile. “I have some ideas that I’m
hoping you will incorporate into our script.”
He blushed. It was then he noticed that there was an elaborately-dressed woman
wearing layer upon layer of a period-specific Elizabethan gown sitting across from
Kayla. The woman was casting a baleful look at him.
“Oh, you must be the Queen. Hi. Nice to meet you,” he said, extending his hand.
“I guess that sort of explains the fancy dress. Sort of,” Daniel said, trailing off, and
making a mental note to talk to Alexandros about the addition of this character.
62
The Queen lowered her eyes but kept her head erect to stare at his outstretched
hand for a couple of moments before returning her icy stare to his face. “I wouldn’t go
that far, but I didn’t write the bloody script, now did I?” she said in a British accent. “And
this dress weighs a ton. So, I have you to thank for the privilege of being stuck in this
beast every day?” she said, shaking her long skirts at him. “I know that I will surely
perish from heatstroke and be mourned for all of eternity by my adoring subjects,” she
said. “And maybe all of Iowa, too.” Before Daniel could even figure out how to respond,
the Queen started in again. “Do you even know which Queen Elizabeth currently sits on
the throne of England? The second. Not the bloody first Elizabeth. By all the gods, this
script! I swear it is quite possibly the single worst piece of literature, if I can even call it
that, I have ever had the misfortune of reading. How are you a writer? How do you sleep
at night?”
Kayla laughed. “Oh, stop giving the poor boy such a hard time. Just be glad you
didn’t have to act in Forget the Alamo.”
Before Daniel could protest his innocence and explain how Alexandros and others
were corrupting his artwork, he noticed Randall stride onto the lot as though he owned it.
He sighed. It had not taken long for him to take a disliking to that man.
The warm noon sun helped put Randall in a good mood as he walked across the
movie lot to the catering area. He was a ruggedly handsome man with a hero’s jaw. It
was the kind of handsome that helped him attain more success as an actor than most
people who have to rely on their wits or hard work and discipline could hope for. He
whistled to himself and heaped a third scoop of mashed potatoes on his plate. The caterer
muttered something about fair portions for everyone but Randall ignored him. He
63
scanned the lot, looking for a bench that was not either completely full or completely
empty. He circled around the table with an assortment of male guards with Union Jack
patches on their shoulders, female commandos wearing camo and berets, and a handful of
zombies in various states of decay. “Hey, Randall, why don’t you come sit with us?” said
the guard who had been brutally shot in the face or chest earlier in the day. Randall
nodded and sat next to a commando. Conversation ranged from the food to how extras
are grossly underappreciated. Randall half-listened while he surveyed the other tables,
hoping for a glimpse of Kayla Angelo, the love interest of James in the movie.
“Well, well, well. Sitting at the kids table, Randall?” said Vincent St. Roscoe over
the voiced objections of the people at the table. Vincent was a tall, lean man with a gaunt
face. He had a rigid, formal way of walking, holding himself proudly erect with every
step. It was hard to say if Vincent was in character all the time or if he was a certified
asshole in real life. Whatever the case was, the director was ecstatic to have him on board
to play the role of the lead villain, Dr. Yes. Randall had worked with him before in a
previous film and he had played the main villain in that, too. Vincent was trailed as usual
by his second in command in the movie, Lieutenant Colonel Tobias “Chainsaw” Jackson.
Tobias, or Chainsaw as most people called him, was a large, greying man of simple tastes
and intellect. According to the script, he had earned the nickname of “Chainsaw” due to
his weapon of choice in World War II. Randall couldn’t remember the actor’s real name
and didn’t bother to wrack his brain attempting to recover the memory.
“Show a little respect, Vince, these are the faceless minions of your army,”
Randall said.
64
“Mmm,” Vincent said in a purr. “Your hair looks wonderful, by the way,
Randall.” Randall quickly covered up the look of surprise on his face. He wondered if
Vincent knew about the Pert Plus commercial and how much digging Vincent had done
on him. “What shampoo do you use?” Vincent asked, the very edge of his lip curling
upward.
“Only the high end stuff for these locks. Heroes have to have nice hair. Swiss and
French shampoos. I’m sure you’ve never heard of them before,” Randall said. “They’re
expensive.”
“Mmmmm, yes, I’ll be sure to look for coupons in this Sunday’s paper,” Vincent
said. “I heard about the latest…misinterpretation of the script. Alexandros wants to speak
to you, by the way. Good day, Randall,” Vincent said striding off, Tobias in tow.
The extras exchanged glances, but Randall said nothing, filling his mouth with
mashed potatoes and baked beans. He stopped mid-bite on a hotdog when he noticed
Kayla sitting on a wooden bench on the other side of the lot. Her long red hair seemed to
have its own glow and bounce in slow motion with each movement of her head. Randall
wasted no time excusing himself from the table and heading towards Kayla. She was
alternately using her smartphone and talking with the Queen and a thin young man who
stood holding his tray and looking stricken by what the Queen was railing about.
Randall sat down next to the Queen, directly across from Kayla. He introduced
himself to the women while only looking at Kayla.
65
Daniel backed away when he noticed no one was looking at him anymore. He
sighed and sat down next to a lonely-looking ninja at a table on the far side of the lot. He
sighed again.
The Queen started to say something but Randall cut her off. “Kayla, I can see
why you are the leading lady. You have a certain gravitas about you,” Randall said,
trying his best not to look at her cleavage and being overly proud of himself for this.
Kayla was amused that he apparently believed that he was suave. “So is your last
name really ‘Starr’? Did you change it to that?”
He glanced down at her silver smartphone and leaned forward. “It’s really Starr.
Funny story – they asked me the same question when I won a Noscar.”
Kayla was surprised by this, especially since word travelling around the cast and
crew was that Randall was past his prime and more than a little washed up. It was said
that he preferred working in B-movies since he wouldn’t be compared to A-list actors.
“You won an Oscar?” She asked, raising an eyebrow.
“And he said that with a straight face,” the Queen said, chuckling.
“Err, no. A ‘Noscar’. It’s an award, a prestigious award for underprivileged
actors and actresses starring in movies with budgets of less than $100,000. It’s named
after Noscar Cambridge, the most underappreciated actor of the early 1940s low budget
cinema scene.”
“Why didn’t they call it the Cambridge Award?” the Queen asked. “That’s more
prestigious-sounding. Or maybe Cambridge Award for Junior Achiever Actors?”
66
Randall turned back to Kayla. “I see we have a kiss in the middle of the movie.
We should probably practice that ahead of time so we’re sure to really nail it for the
camera. Our audience deserves only the best. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”
Kayla smiled and coyly lowered her lashes. Being an opportunist, she could see
opportunity when it looked her right in the face with its dull, vacant, overly confident
eyes. She wondered for a moment just how much she could fleece out of this one; he was
already spellbound and she had not used an ounce of her wit or charm yet. She turned to
the Queen. “So, where are you from, Anne?”
“Iowa.”
“What part of Iowa are you from? The flat part or some other flat part?” Randall
asked. The Queen dropped her fork with a clatter.
“That is a common misconception! Iowa is not flat as you so rudely put it. Iowa
has beautiful hilly terrain, especially in the Loess Hills region as well as breathtaking
valleys across the state,” she said. Stunned silence hung in the air as the Queen breathed
heavily, trying to collect Herself.
“I guess I’ll plan my next vacation to Mount Des Moines then,” Randall said with
a crocodile grin. The withering glare of the Queen was interrupted when a ninja standing
behind Kayla cleared his throat. No one had seen the director’s nephew/intern/ninja #2
approach.
“Excuse me, Mum, Ms. Angelo. Uncle Alexandros requests you in his office,
Randall,” he said, gesturing toward the trailers.
67
Randall knocked on the trailer door marked “Director Alexandros Phillip R.
Rosenthal, Esquire” in glittery gold letters encircling a large gold star.
“Come in,” Alexandros’ voice came from the other side. He was seated in a
gigantic black leather-backed chair, talking with Stewman and shaking his head. “Albert
Broccoli’s estate is personally investigating us? I bet Ron Howard or Stanley Kubrick
never had to deal with anything like that. Sit down, Randall. Legal is saying there are all
kinds of red flags with my movie. Apparently, ‘Agent Double Oh Seven’, ‘W-7’, and
even ‘Zero Zero Seven’ would land us in hot water so we need a new title. Worse yet,
MGM isn’t buying that ‘James Bon’ is French and totally different from James Bond.
‘Offensively and crudely similar’ they said. My feelers say that they’re not going to buy
that ‘James Bahn’ is uniquely German either. We may have to change your character
name entirely to, I don’t know, Andre McAwesome or we won’t actually say your name
out loud. I’ll get the team of writers, aka – me – working on it. Well, Daniel maybe could
help, too. Agh, I never had these issues with Triassic Park!” Alexandros massaged his
temples. Rumor had it that he did in fact have those exact same problems with Triassic
Park but he had kowtowed to Steven Spielberg, saying that the unofficial prequel was an
homage piece and he was Mr. Spielberg’s greatest fan. A hefty bribe and a grudgingly
signed check to Spielberg’s favorite charity made him see Alexandros’ point of view.
“I’m sure you’ll get it figured out,” Randall said. Stewman nodded his agreement.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” Randall asked, not waiting for an answer to light up.
Alexandros waved his hand at the smoke. “First of all, contrary to popular belief,
blanks are not free. You need to curb that behavior of yours.” Randall shrugged. “And
did I mention we’re behind schedule in no small part due to all the retakes?” Randall
68
didn’t respond. “By that, I mean mostly yours. Just please just go over the script and
think! It all makes perfect sense if you just think about it. If you have any questions, ask
someone.”
“I do have a question.”
“You do? Good,” Alexandros said, struggling to hide his surprise.
“I was paging through the script and I noticed a shortage of love scenes.
Audiences eat that right up. We need more of that. Kayla and I already have great
chemistry. I even have some ideas for a different ending I want to run by you.”
“Oh, really. Hey, if you want to fund $23,000 of this film by yourself like I did,
then you can make script edits.”
Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” started playing from the direction of Randall’s
pocket. Everyone looked surprised, including Randall. It continued to play. Randall made
no move, hoping the sound would stop itself.
“Your phone, I presume, Randall?” Alexandros asked.
“Nope,” he said, pulling back his sleeve and raising his wrist phone.
“But the ringing?” Alexandros asked. Randall pulled a silver smartphone out of
his pocket. “Mother Dearest calling” read the screen.
“It’s not my phone.”
“You know what, Randall? Not going to ask. I don’t even want to know,”
Alexandros said and gestured for Randall to leave as though shooing a small child.
Alexandros turned to Stewman as Randall exited. “Where were we? Oh, as I was saying
69
earlier, a live crocodile is actually more cost effective than an animatronic one. Just need
to catch one and transport it, really. See if Stunts can wrangle one up.” Stewman
scribbled this on his notepad.
Randall put the phone back in his pocket and grinned. He made his way over to
Kayla’s trailer. She was leaning against the trailer and chatting with the Queen. “Come to
tell us you forgot to mention about how you won a Nacademy Award?” the Queen asked.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Randall said. “I found Kayla’s phone and wanted to return
it to her.”
“Oh, I must have dropped it,” Kayla said. Randall leaned in and handed her the
phone. “Err, thank you,” she said, tilting her head down, screening him with a veil of red
hair as she put the phone in her purse.
“What can I say? I am the hero after all.” He didn’t see the Queen’s legendary eye
roll. “Kayla, how about you and I go to the Kevin Bacon Ranch tomorrow night? We can
discuss parts of the script while enjoying a tasty meal and a night of dancing? I’ll pick
you up at seven?”
“Sounds…interesting. Oh, why the hell not?” she said, despite the Queen
mouthing “No, don’t!” to her.
He tipped an imaginary brim of a hat to the two women and headed towards his
trailer, humming all the while.
70
“Visiting with Ms. Kayla Angelo, I see?” said Vincent St. Roscoe’s voice from
behind him. Randall didn’t feel like spoiling his mood by playing this game with Vincent
right now.
“Yes. Sorry, Vince, I really need to go over my lines for tomorrow. If you’ll
excuse me,” Randall said, opening the door of his trailer.
“Of course, I won’t keep you from your work. You two seem to have really hit it
off. I just wanted to congratulate you,” Vincent said. “And to say how very open-minded
it is of you.” Randall narrowed his eyes. “Kayla Angelo used to be Kyle Angelo. But
everyone knows that. I am happy for you both. Good day,” Vincent said and left a
frowning Randall to his thoughts.
*
*
*
The camera zoomed in on Randall’s face. “Does it seem like he has more stubble
than usual?” Alexandros asked Stewman, who squinted to look closer. “Well, whatever.
And action!”
After several seconds, the actors on set – Tobias, Vincent, and Kayla – all looked
at Randall. He stared blankly ahead, directly at the camera. Alexandros whispered to
Stewman, “What is he doing?” A few more seconds passed. “Cut! Cut! Randall, what’s
the problem?”
Randall blinked back to the world around him. “I. I thought this called for a
dramatic pause. This scene could really use it.”
71
“It’s a knife fight in a warehouse, Randall. We don’t really need a dramatic
pause.”
Randall nodded. The actors reset themselves. Randall kept glancing at Kayla,
scrutinizing her curves and her leopard skin bikini for any lumps. Kayla gave a coy smile
at Randall when she caught him looking in her direction. Vincent smiled a wide, toothy
grin.
At the shout of “Action!” the actors ran along the prescribed route in this chase
scene and everything went as scripted this time. “Wow. Perfect? Thank Jesus, Mary, the
saints, and all the angels,” Alexandros said. “Wait, the boom mike was in the shot. Shit.”
Randall pulled a prop pistol out of his jacket and fired two quick shots at the
boom mike operator’s head. “Real funny, Randall,” he said.
“Where did you get the pistol, Randall? You’re not even supposed to have that in
this scene,” Alexandros said. “Well, whatever. From the top, people.”
“Action!” This time in the middle of the knife vs. chainsaw fight, Randall pulled
his pistol and shot Tobias. “Cut! Dammit! Hand it over,” Alexandros said, wrenching the
pistol from Randall. “Also, not in the face. How many times do we need to tell you?”
“Loosen up. It can be a little something extra for the outtakes. Some DVD bonus
features. People love that stuff,” Randall said. “I heard that bonus features increase DVD
sales by 85%.”
“Action!” The next take went as bad as the previous had, with Tobias “Chainsaw”
Jackson purposely revving his chainsaw every time Randall tried to speak his lines.
72
“Why me?” Alexandros said, running his hand across his forehead. “Ok, we’re
done for the day. Take the rest of the day off and we’ll hit it fresh tomorrow.”
Kayla sighed. This stepping stone to A budget movies was going even worse than
anticipated.
Daniel sighed, fearing that this movie would only lead him to a life of being a
waiter and/or pizza delivery driver and/or used cars salesman and/or male prostitute.
Probably all four of those, if he was going to somehow repay his mountain of college
debt and its ever-capitalizing interest. And he’d probably have unfurl the white flag and
move back home.
*
*
*
Daniel decided to call his older sister; he didn’t need another I-told-you-so not-sogentle ribbing from his father about the merits of an English degree vs a business degree
when he was already in a bad mood. He wondered if Abby had had to deal with a similar
argument with Dad since she was a teacher.
“Hey Danny, how’s the big time life in Hollywood treating you?” Abby said.
“Not so great. And it’s Other Hollywood and even that name is too generous.”
“Hey, you’re pursuing your dreams and getting paid for it. Good for you!”
“Yeah, well, kinda. I mean I got a modest amount for the initial script and then a
miniscule amount for residuals. I don’t get a retainer fee,” Daniel said.
“But, it’s your script, your work,” Abby said, “Be proud of that.”
73
“Ah, well it’s more of the director’s script now and it’s basically unrecognizable
now. It’s shit.”
“Did they at least get Julianne Moore to play the main character like you were so
hoping?”
“No. The smart, chic spy was entirely rewritten and now played by Randall
Fucking Starr. They thought his bravado would be more appealing to audiences than
subtle nuances. And, most importantly, Randall is in their budget. I think the worst part is
that the actors’ personalities in real life mirror their screen personas so they are
essentially just playing themselves on camera, not my characters, or the gross perversions
of my characters, actually. And try to have a normal conversation with these people? Not
possible.”
“I’m still proud of you, little brother, even if you’re a sellout,” Abby said,
laughing, trying to lighten the mood. Daniel didn’t laugh, but got back on the bus to head
back towards the lot.
*
*
*
Randall swung by Kayla’s trailer at 7:10. She greeted him with a practiced smile
as she opened the door, after tucking her taser into her purse. She was an opportunist, but
she was a careful one; Randall was on the awkward side and her first impression of him
was less than stellar, so she was going to be safe just in case he was a genuine creep.
Kayla was wearing a clingy black satin dress and heels, and her red hair was
styled in a fancy updo. “You’re late. I didn’t think you were coming. You’re still in
costume from today? Are you going to be in character, too?” she asked with a laugh. “We
74
could both be in character. It might be fun.” Kayla was actually torn as to if it would be
fun or not, especially since she was curious to see more of Randall’s real personality, or
lack thereof.
“Shall we go?” Randall said blandly, leading her to his 1989 Trans Am. There
was not much small talk on the drive to the Kevin Bacon Ranch. The notorious Kevin
Bacon Ranch was more of a large cabin with a disco ball in the middle than it was a
ranch, but in all the years of its existence there wasn’t a single complaint about the
misnomer. In fact, there was rarely ever a complaint at this establishment, partially due to
the bottomless baskets of bacon that came with any order. Even the creepy wax statue of
Kevin Bacon drew little ire.
The waitress led the couple to a table near a window. Randall picked at the bacon
and barely ate any of his T-bone steak. He cocked his head to the side, trying to look past
Kayla’s diamond or cubic zirconia choker and see if there were any lines or shadows
from an Adam’s apple he hadn’t noticed earlier. She sipped her wine and smiled at him.
She asked him about the movies he had worked on and with what directors. She filled the
spaces in the conversation by drinking wine.
Kayla finished the house special, the Kevin Bacon Ranch Burger, and stood up. A
belch escaped her. “Excuse me! That wasn’t very ladylike at all, was it?” Randall’s eyes
widened, but he said nothing. “Shall we dance?” she said, holding out her hand to him.
He slid out of the booth and joined her. While they slow danced, she kept stepping on his
feet. “Sorry. I guess I’m not very graceful after I’ve had a few glasses of wine.” Randall
agreed in a grumble.
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“Why are you so moody today? You’re a different person than you were
yesterday. You were like a love-smitten schoolboy but today you’re carved from stone,”
Kayla said. “What’s this all about?” Randall took a deep breath and explained what
Vincent had told him the day before.
Kayla threw her head back and laughed. “That son of a bitch. You believed him?
But why would it matter? Hmmmmm?” She pondered toying with Randall to keep him
guessing if she was a transwoman or not. Not only would it be almost guaranteed to be a
lot of fun, it would put an exit strategy in place for after filming was done. “Vincent and I
dated briefly when we were starring in Forget the Alamo. I mean briefly, too. He’s a selfrighteous, pompous ass. I mistook that for confidence at first. Or maybe I’m just drawn to
those types.” She laughed. “Why don’t we start this date over?” Randall smiled and
twirled her.
They danced for much of the night and ended the evening with a slow dance.
“I’m glad Vincent was just being a villain about you being a, you know,” Randall
said, gazing into Kayla’s eyes.
“Hmm, you do know that you wouldn’t be able to tell anyway, right?” Kayla said,
giggling.
*
*
*
The rapid pounding on the metal trailer door startled Alexandros and made him
spill part of his whiskey tumbler. He bit back a curse and said, “Enter!” A red-faced
Daniel Quellin approached his desk.
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“Danny Boy, what can I do for you?”
“Can we talk?”
“Of course, of course, kid. Have a seat.” Daniel did so, out of breath.
“I want a bigger part in this film. I want to contribute more and be heard.”
“You mean like being an extra? Sure. Or we could always use another grip.”
“No, I mean I want more control over the script.”
“Ah,” Alexandros said, leaning back in his leather chair. “What suggestions do
you have in mind? I can’t promise anything, but I’ll always listen,”
Daniel collected his thoughts before speaking. “Can we remove the zombies from
the script?”
“No.”
“Less villain monologues?”
“And throw away our ace we have in Vincent? No.”
“Less Randall Starr?”
“Would if we could. No.”
“More female empowerment?”
“No, that goes against the company’s aggressive marketing plan.”
“Less violence?”
“No, same reason as the last one.”
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“Reinsert my elements of the script that showed how Nietzsche’s concept of ‘will
to power’ manifest itself in the characters, as well as the commentary on the
overreaching, corrupting power of the Church and how it has shaped the politics of the
Western world throughout history?” Daniel said.
Alexandros tapped a finger to his lips. “Taut Hollywood action you’re describing
there, but no. Listen, kid, I understand where you’re coming from and what you’re going
through, I truly do. I see me in you – a dreamer, an artist! I used to be young and naïve,
too. Don’t worry, you’ll change; you’ll learn how to swim with the sharks or you’ll be
eaten, much like Faceless Henchman #8 was in our filming today.”
“But, it’s all so ridiculous, so fake!” Daniel said.
“Kid, of course it’s all fake. This is Hollywood! No one is going to see our movie
hoping to get Schindler’s List or a Jean Luc Goddard piece. They want cheap thrills and
we’ll give it to them. Company markets this to the lowest common denominator, and they
ultimately have the final say about anything in this movie. Even I get overruled all the
time. And Hollywood is all about sequels and remakes. That’s where the money is and
Hollywood follows that. And we’re going to try to get this movie a sequel or set of
sequels if we can do it right and we’ll ride the sequel train all the way to the bank. Hell, if
I’m bored, I’ll start penning the remake over the weekend,” he said, chuckling.
Alexandros leaned forward and set his glasses on his desk and rubbed his eyes.
“Do you think I enjoy being a B movie Baron? No, no I don’t. I hate it, to be honest.
Maybe, just maybe if the turds I help this company shit out can make me enough money,
I’ll be able to actually direct and write what I want to, just like you want to. We’re
78
purists, you and I. I can tell. I want to make something I’m actually proud of. In the
meantime, I have to do what I do to pay the bills and I try to make the most of it. If you
want my advice, swallow any pride you have, bury your dreams deep down, and learn
how to adapt.”
Daniel pondered all this on the way back to the hotel. He shivered at the thought
of turning into Alexandros.
*
*
*
Alexandros greeted the cast at the start of the day. “Change of plans, people.
Couldn’t get permission to film at the castle. The casino is also out. I know, I know,
you’re all disappointed. I am too. Way too many guards and professional ones, at that.
So, instead we’re going to shoot at the museum. It’s a public place so it should be ok, but
umm, everyone keep your eyes peeled for police or security.”
“Why don’t we film the climactic battle between good and evil at the public
library?” Randall said. Even Vincent laughed at that, but that didn’t stop Randall from
shooting him a glare.
“Funny. Anyway, at the museum we’re just going with one camera and can redub
lines later if we need to. We need to be in and out. We’ll add the special effects in later.
No retakes. That means you especially, Randall. Stick. To. The. Script. So, in review –
epic battle, hero kills Chainsaw but the lovely Kayla is killed by Vincent, hero shoots
villain in the leg, and villain escapes for the sequel. Money in the bank. Oh, and
Chainsaw, we’re not going to be able to sneak your chainsaw into the museum. Just tuck
this hatchet in your belt and keep it under your coat. Maybe Lieutenant Colonel Tobias
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Jackson was a lumberjack before he went to fight in the war.” The cast nodded in
agreement at the feasibility of this. Only Daniel raised an eyebrow. They piled in the
director’s van and set off for the museum.
The museum staff gave the troupe odd looks when they entered. “Ok, I may have
told them we were journalists so we’re going to need to work fast,” Alexandros told the
actors. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. He was simultaneously nervous and
excited that he was going to get a chance to do some real guerrilla filmmaking like
Robert Rodriguez. “Stewman, Daniel, try to keep the other museum patrons out of the
shots. If you can’t, well I guess it just adds some realism.”
They filmed parts of the last scenes relatively flawlessly in the museum – Vincent
(Dr. Maybe, as he was recently renamed) performed his entire monologue to the hero
without a single mistake. The escape from the villain’s lair, aka – the museum – went
equally well. When a tour guide gave the actors an odd look and the word “security” was
overheard, Alexandros decided they had gotten enough footage from the inside of the
museum so they moved to the less risky outside of the museum for the last scenes.
“This might just be epic after all,” Alexandros said to Stewman, indicating the tall
white Doric columns of the museum and the pair of twin marble lions. In the filming of
the duel between Tobias and Randall, Tobias swung his hatchet with too much
enthusiasm that a lion’s face exploded into chunks of stone and a powder of dust.
Alexandros was pleased with the intensity of the action, but decided to hurry them all
along, wasting no time in positioning the actors for the final scene. Tobias was near
Randall in their continued fist/knife/hatchet fight and Vincent stood near the top of the
steps with his pistol aimed at Kayla, who was prone on the cement stairs.
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Alexandros cupped his hands and yelled, “Action!” Randall hesitated, winked at
Kayla. Randall had decided to improvise, Alexandros’ ulcer told him. “Aww fuck no,” he
whispered in a hiss, but there was no stopping what was set in motion.
Randall dashed between Vincent and Kayla while drawing his pistol out from
inside his jacket. He took aim and fired a shot at Vincent’s face. The villain spun
backwards, landing on the steps. Tobias raised his hatchet to throw it at the hero. Randall
emptied the clip into Tobias. He jerked with each shot and rolled down the steps. Randall
helped Kayla to her feet and pulled her in close. They shared a long kiss as their bodies
pressed together.
“What the fuck?” said a security guard who had wandered outside and noticed the
ruins of the lion and the “bodies” on the museum stairs.
“Ok, that’s a wrap! Time to go. Get in the van!” Alexandros said. Tobias and
Vincent scrambled to their feet. Everyone dove in the van and peeled away. They all
laughed as the guard chased futilely after them on foot.
Even Alexandros had to admit the last minute changes to the script would look
amazing in slow motion. Randall nodded to Vincent. “Thank you for what you did back
there, Vince.”
“Don’t thank me. I didn’t do it for you. I’m a professional.”
None of this was heard by Daniel, since in their haste to flee the scene, they had
forgotten about him and he had been left behind. He watched the van speeding off into
the distance. He sighed and started walking down the sun-scorched road. Randall mucked
everything up again. He got to be the hero, get the girl, defeat the villain, and ride off into
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the sunset, none of which were in the script. To make matters worse, he had jeopardized
the sequels. Daniel stumbled a step when that thought occurred to him. He glared at the
orange orb of the sun, setting in the West.
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Aileron
Cheryl could feel the wind picking up. It rustled the leaves of the nearby trees and
tousled her long red hair. The buildings of Little Rock were drenched in an eerie green
light with the approaching storm. The sky was darkening from greenish blue to dark grey.
In the distance, a low-hanging cloud unfurled a tail that grew larger as it swirled its way
into the city. Trees bent, then uprooted. Cars and trucks ascended to join the debris that
pockmarked the sides of buildings and shattered windows. One tall building vanished
inside of the funnel cloud and then another as the storm seemed to be feeding on the city.
Rows of houses were ripped apart in a spray of boards and bricks. Over half of the city
had been reduced to rubble beneath the tornado. She turned and ran.
The wind roared behind her as she ran. She tripped over a fallen branch and
landed on her stomach. Her hair whipped across her face and the air was sucked from her
lungs. She grabbed at the grass, digging her fingers into the soil, trying to hang on.
Cheryl was lifted into the air towards the monstrous tornado. Her screams were lost as
she was enveloped in the whirling darkness.
“Fuck!” she said, jolting awake. Her frantic breathing slowed along with her
heartbeat. She ran her palm across her bald head which was slick with sweat. Cheryl
squinted at the window. The sun was rising, bathing the suburbs of the city in a pale
yellow glow.
Her morning shower was longer than usual as she tried to shake the lingering
feeling of the dream, letting the water stream onto her scalp. It sounded and felt like
warm rain, and rain always brought about a feeling of serenity for her.
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She adjusted her mastectomy bra and put on her work-approved clothes: blouse,
knee length skirt, a matching head scarf, and a pair of dress shoes. A light breakfast was
on the agenda due to her upset stomach. Her phone rang but she silenced it, partially to
keep it from waking up her roommate, and partially because she did not feel like
speaking to her mother. She did feel somewhat guilty about it, since her parents were
helping her pay rent and insisting she take some money for groceries now and then
because her bills were “so gosh darn high” as her mother put it. At the moment, she
didn’t feel like hearing another conversation about how she should move back to
Phoenix, so that she could relax and recover, and there was no shame in that. “A lot of
twenty-five-year-olds move back home with their folks these days.”
Mitch, her roommate, was asleep on their ‘70s plaid couch, his hand still in the
bag of Cheetos. Flecks of orange debris littered his full beard and the undersized t-shirt
that let his belly sneak out the bottom. She couldn’t help but smile. He could make her
laugh even in his sleep. He continued his snoring as she left the apartment.
Standing at the front counter of the local branch of J.P. Morgan Chase, Cheryl’s
mind wandered to her favorite fantasy anime, Oakenwood. She seemed to daydream more
about it during the shittier days at the bank, when she wanted to be somewhere else. More
than she normally did, that is. She wondered what it would be like to be an elf and only
have to worry about archery and fighting orcs, and not paying bills and working at
boring, soul-crushing jobs or fighting a relentless, unseen enemy that destroys your body.
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Her shift today was mundane as always until a particularly bad bout of nausea snuck up
on her and she had to run to the bathroom in the middle of a customer’s transaction. The
middle-aged man with a paunch gaped as she left the counter.
Seconds stretched into minutes. Though it was beginning to pass, she still
clutched the sides of her head. Her sides and stomach hurt from the ordeal. The cold,
white tile floor offered no sympathy to her, nor did the woman in the stall next to her.
Recovering, she wiped her tears away and swallowed some medicine for her headaches,
and left the bathroom. A pair of elderly customers shook their heads at her.
“Cheryl. Office. Now,” Phil Flanners, the bank manager, said from the hallway.
Her breath caught in her throat, but she obeyed.
“What the hell happened?” he asked, his face red.
“I had to throw up and I thought Stacy would cover for me.”
“She did, but that’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking about the F-bombs you were
yelling. Everyone in the lobby could hear it. This is a bank, not a back alley game of
dice.”
She hadn’t realized she had been swearing between bouts of vomiting. She
apologized in a quiet voice and Phil nodded. The color of his face returned to normal
after a few moments and he let out a long breath.
“I know what you’re going through can’t be easy to deal with. Why don’t you
take the rest of the day off?”
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“I can finish the rest of the shift. I’ve only been here a couple of hours and could
use the money.”
“It’s not a suggestion. Go home and take it easy. You’ve looked really tired lately.
We’ll manage without you.”
It was true that she felt a little more tired than usual. She worked part time to keep
her mind distracted and to provide her a source of income to pay off her student loans
after she dropped out of college a couple of semesters ago, not to mention her persistent
hospital bills that her insurance didn’t fully cover, and her need to feed her anime
addiction. She didn’t have the energy to work full time. Too bad stripping wasn’t an
option; she could have paid off those loans in less than a month or two working at Nips
and Pins, the local strip-club-slash-bowling-alley.
She decided not to put up a fight with Phil. “Okay. Thanks.” She grabbed her light
jacket from the employee break room. Stacy gave her a quick hug and wished her well.
Walking home, Cheryl dialed Jeff’s number. He was rarely around to pick up the
phone since he was a pilot for a commercial airline and spent more time in the air than he
did on the ground. She was surprised when he picked up. “Jeff? Hi.”
“I read you, Cheryl,” Jeff said in his pilot voice.
“Where are you?”
“I’m at an altitude of 550 feet above sea level in the city of Seattle,” he said, still
using the pilot voice.
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She laughed politely, but still asked him to drop the pilot speak.
“That’s a negative.”
“No, that’s an affirmative, you twat,” she said.
“Roger that. Ok, ok. I’ll stop,” he said, sensing her irritation that was growing by
the second. “Is everything all right? You sound distant today.”
“Eh, work. And I’ve been having bad dreams again.”
“Is it that dream again where the bank building came to life and swallowed you
whole?” Cheryl didn’t say anything for a few moments. “Want to talk about it?”
“No,” she said, “not really. What are you doing in Seattle?”
“Flying through the streets at the moment. Can you hang on? I need to bank the
plane to turn the corner.”
“Sure thing, Mav.” She knew he loved that nickname; Top Gun was his favorite
movie and apparently it had had a profound impact on his life. She enjoyed the movie
because of the volleyball scene. Jeff shit on her dreams when he told her that not all pilots
get oiled up and play beach volleyball in their spare time.
“Goose, are you still with me?” he asked.
“Umm, it might be bad luck to call me that,” she said. “But, what are you doing in
Seattle? I thought your flight was to Portland. Did you overshoot the runway?”
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“Labor talks. We’re trying to get the company to pay us a fair wage for the
amount of responsibility we have and the hours we have to work. More time off and even
decent breaks would be nice.”
“Breaks? How would that work? Just jam a broom handle against the stick and let
it fly itself while you catch some Z’s?” she said, flicking off the driver of the car who’d
just honked at her for crossing the street in front of him.
“Not quite. The copilot and I usually just use the autopilot while we hang out in
the back with the stews and eat peanuts and drink wine for a few hours,” he said. “Did
you get the…did you get anything in the mail?”
“What? Oh, my boots? Yeah they came yesterday. I love them.”
“Ah, not…wait, boots? Sexy. Are they hooker boots? You going to wear them for
me when I get back?”
She frowned. “They’re my elf boots,” she said. Silence hung in the air. “You
forgot about the convention, didn’t you? Or is it that you don’t want to go?”
“No. No, of course not, lady. You’ll be the hottest elf queen there.”
“I’m not a queen. I’m Evelyn, the ranger, which you know, of course,” she said
sarcastically and more snappily than she intended. This was one of those moments she
was disappointed in Jeff, where he fell a little short of Brent, her last boyfriend. Brent had
watched every episode of Three Fox, Two Mama and shared her love of poorly translated
anime shows. It had taken them six episodes of watching that series before they realized
the translation was so bad that the third fox was not ever going to show up, but only a
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lazy translation. Brent had been supportive when she lost her breasts and for the first
couple of months of chemo treatments when the cancer came back. He had rented or
bought every anime he could get his hands on to watch with her. She could sometimes
feel his hand on her back when she’d retch. Brent was there when her hair fell out, but
when they were unable to have sex any more, he left, saying that it was all getting too
much for him to handle.
Cheryl did feel fortunate she had met Jeff a short time later at Jester’s bar – the
bar in the south side of town that had a piano, though it sounded like a drunken man
wailing. Jeff had played “Great Balls of Fire” and Cheryl sat down next to him and sang
along. He bought her a drink after that and they talked for hours.
“Did you find that axe you needed to complete your Fidelaris costume?” she
asked. “A barbarian is nothing without his axe. Everybody knows that.”
“Nah, I think I’m just going to wear my normal clothes. You can dress up. You’ll
look so amazing,” Jeff said, “you won’t even need me to be in costume.”
Jeff had resisted the idea of going in costume with her as Evelyn’s beau, Fidelaris.
She hadn’t thought that he would completely back out of it, though.
“You’ve already got one bow, you don’t need another.” He chuckled, trying to
lighten the mood. Jeff was playing Russian roulette when he said a pun around Cheryl.
He had found that out early when they had started dating a few months ago.
“I’m hanging up,” Cheryl said, not in the mood for puns.
“Aw, Cheryl, don’t be like that.”
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She sighed. “You’re going to be back in Little Rock before the big event this
weekend, right?”
Jeff paused before answering. “Well. I should be, yeah. Is Mitch going?”
“I think so,” she said.
“Ah.”
“Don’t you like Mitch? You guys used to get along so well. Is somebody
jealous?”
“Jealous of Mitch? Ha! Ha!”
“You’re not still mad about your Flight 705, are you?” Cheryl asked. She sat
down on a bench. Maybe she should have driven to work today.
Jeff gave a noncommittal answer and changed the subject. Their conversation
trailed off.
Mitch was stirring to life when Cheryl got home. He moaned when she opened
the curtain to let light flood in.
“You look like shit,” she said.
“You look like shit.”
“You always know how to charm a lady,” she said. “Did you work a graveyard
shift at Fairview last night?” she said with a self-satisfied grin.
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Mitch worked as a caretaker at Fairview Cemetery while he was currently earning
a wildlife biology degree. He had been working on that degree the same time she was, but
he still hadn’t finished either even though he had been at it for seven years. “Dammit,
Cheryl. I just woke up. Can you not?” he said, trying to shake the sleep and her joke out
of his head. “I was up late studying last night, for your information.”
“Oh, yeah?” she asked, looking at the books on the coffee table which included
Jaguars Ripped My Flesh and Pecked to Death by Ducks. She held up A Wolverine Is
Eating My Leg. “Ah, a classic,” she said. “These should all help to keep you safe in the
field. I would have finished my degree if I had known these were the upper division
textbooks. Do the professors not reveal these until later so they don’t scare all the
freshmen away?”
“Hey, I got these from the library.” He had, in fact, gotten them from the library
and had enjoyed them so much that he forgot to return them and was subsequently billed,
so they were now his books. “I don’t rip on your anime or comic books.”
“That’s because you read them.”
“Whatever. Aren’t you supposed to be at work?” he asked.
“I got sick and Phil said I looked tired. I guess I am,” she said, yawning. “Aren’t
you supposed to be in class?”
“No, not for awhile yet.” He looked his watch.
“Don’t forget about Little Rock-i-con.” Little Rock-i-con was the biggest and
arguably best anime/sci-fi/fantasy/cosplay convention in the hexa-state area. Cheryl
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wouldn’t let anything stop her from going, especially with how much her doctors stressed
she needed to keep her spirits up.
“I might sit this one out and give you and Jeff some alone time since you don’t
get to see him all that much.”
Cheryl made an exaggerated pout. “Nonsense. The more the merrier. He doesn’t
appreciate ‘nerd stuff’ like you do and he’s been dragging his heels about it. We need
you.”
Mitch scratched his head. “Maybe. We’ll see. I don’t think Jeff likes me.”
“Why would you say that?”
He shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe it’s because he is flying from one side of the
country to the next from day to day. I’m around Little Rock and get to see you all the
time. Maybe he thinks this Adonis is a rival for some reason,” Mitch said, puffing up his
chest.
Cheryl put a finger to her lips, pondering. “Possibly. I think Flight 705 is still
fresh in his mind.”
“That trip we all took to Colorado Springs and he flew us? He’s not still mad
about that, is he?”
On the flight, Mitch had had more than his fair share of the complimentary wine
and kept getting louder the more he drank.
“What was it you kept yelling? Oh, right, ‘There’s something on the wing!’”
“But that’s funny,” he said, his voice rising in pitch.
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“I know it is. Jeff didn’t see it that way. He said it reflected poorly on his flight
crew and his professionalism. I believe that flight set the record number of complaints for
a single flight at the company.”
Mitch seemed impressed, not embarrassed.
Cheryl was feeling drained so she went to her room. A nap was definitely in
order. She couldn’t decide if she wanted to relax to the soothing vocals of Sam Beam of
Iron & Wine or if she wanted to watch Samurai Champloo, so she decided to do both by
turning the volume of the show down and putting a vinyl on. She curled up on the bed
and drifted away.
Cheryl lifted the skirt of her sun dress to her knees and waded into the calf-high
water at the edge of the river. The Salt River near Phoenix had been one of her favorite
places when she was growing up and it still was. The sun was rising over the trees in the
west side of the hills. She enjoyed how the sunlight warmed her breasts in her low-cut
dress and how the breeze teased her hair. She closed her eyes and smiled, listening to the
sound of the river.
The river quieted and she opened her eyes. The water level at her calves dropped
to her ankles and then vanished below her feet, leaving a dry riverbed of sand.
A low sound, like the sound of rushing water in the distance reverberated through
the hills and was getting louder. She climbed to the top of a hill to see what the noise was
and where it was coming from.
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A giant wave, an impossibly tall wave at least 500 feet high was closing in on the
distant city. There was nothing but water and sky beyond the crest of the wave. It covered
Phoenix as it drew inexorably towards her. She trembled, but could not move. Her
stomach swirled. The wave was deafening as it gained height and loomed higher and
higher, blocking out the sun. The mountain of water crashed onto her and she awoke with
a kick. She sat upright and tried to collect herself. She ran to the bathroom and vomited.
The rest of the week passed by slowly for Cheryl. She was looking forward to
seeing Jeff and going to Little Rock-i-con and she was also feeling too fatigued to work
so she called in sick on Thursday and Friday.
After she crawled out of bed on Friday afternoon, she decided she should return
one of her mother’s calls. Their conversation was a mix of the usual – what the noisy
neighbors were doing, how her dad’s latest idea for an invention – this time a garden
gnome that was also a bug zapper – was generating some interest and sure to get some
extra money coming in, and also some local church news.
“I was talking to Janice in church last week. You remember Janice. Anyway, her
son, Hugh, came with her. Such a handsome man.”
Cheryl rolled her eyes. She knew where this was going.
“He manages a real estate company. And he’s single, too. You wouldn’t even
need to work. You could rest up and get feeling better.”
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“Mmm. Did you show him my picture?” Cheryl said, knowing how her mother
played this game.
“Yes I did. He says you’re beautiful. Beautiful and gorgeous. He said both of
those words.”
“A recent picture, Mom?”
Her mother hesitated a moment. “Well, no, but I’m sure that wouldn’t change
anything.”
“You don’t think things are going to last with Jeff? Or is it that you don’t like
him?”
“Well, honey, who can say if things are meant to last?” she said. “Don’t you think
that Jeff seems a bit too good to be true?”
“Jeff? Too good to be true? You haven’t heard this man eat soup. Good god.”
“Honey, you know what I mean. He sounds like he has a savior complex or he’s
just using you. You know that I just want you to be safe and that there are options like
Hugh.”
“Jeff using me? For what?” Cheryl asked, her voice rising. “His older sister and
mother both had cancer. He’s understanding and compassionate.”
“Ok, honey. I didn’t know that. Just be careful. You know I just want you to be
safe,” her mother said and cleared her throat, anxious to change the subject. “Do you
need a little extra money? You know your father worries about your growing debt and
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how difficult it is going to be to work enough hours or find another job that will pay
enough.”
“I’m fine. I’ll probably be dead before I have to pay it back.”
“Cheryl Marie! Don’t talk like that!”
“I’m joking, Mom. Lighten up.”
“That’s not funny. You’re going to beat this. Your doctors are optimistic, aren’t
they? They said so, right? Unless you were fibbing to me. Cheryl, tell me you weren’t
lying about that.”
“Mom, calm down. Yes, they seemed optimistic. On Monday I go in and find out
if they’re going to put me on a maintenance program or not.”
“Oh, I hope so, honey.”
“You and me both, Mom,” she said, rubbing the back of her head. “Give Dad my
love.” She hung up and zoned out, looking out the window for a little while before
deciding to call her sister, Emma. Talking to her mom always made her miss Emma.
Emma was younger than Cheryl by two years and also shared some of the same interests,
including anime.
“Em, you should come out to Little Rock and see me and go to the convention!
It’ll be so much fun and I’m sure Neil would freak out if he got to see Darth Vader and
some Jedi in person.” Her nephew, Neil, was nine and was not only a Star Wars
enthusiast, but probably one of the world’s leading experts of the lore.
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“I’d love to, but I just can’t. Not right now. Things are so busy with work lately,
which is a good thing to have all these clients, I’m not complaining. But, I have to use the
weekends to get caught up.” Emma co-owned a web design company with her husband in
Tucson.
“So, have you thought about what exactly you’re going to do after?” Emma
asked her.
“Maybe go to a bar or two after with Jeff. Going in costume should be
entertaining.”
“No, I mean after you beat cancer. With a second lease on life. Are you going to
go back to school and finish your degree or are you thinking about looking around for
another job? I can tell the bank makes you miserable.”
“I guess I don’t know,” Cheryl said, the question taking her off guard. “I’ll
probably spend the rest of my life paying off medical bills and eating ramen noodles
three meals a day. Or there’s the option to fake my own death and start a new life. Maybe
vanish to a nice little island somewhere in the Pacific. Yeah, that would probably be my
best bet.”
“Well, at least you have some options,” Emma said.
Finally, it was Saturday. Cheryl had a difficult time waiting, so she got out of her
leggings and t-shirt early, even though Little Rock-i-con wasn’t for hours. She took her
costume out of the closet and laid it out on her bed. She dug out one of her old bras and
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put it on. She bit her lip, noticing how the bra hung off her chest. A handful of socks
filled it out. She tilted her head, noticing her breasts were lopsided. She fumbled with the
socks until they looked right.
“Better,” she said, checking the firmness with her hands. She flipped the long
blonde wig onto her head. It was a tangled mess. Looking in the mirror, she paused in
mid-stroke as she brushed it out. She blinked upon seeing herself in the reflection.
She finished brushing the tangles out the wig and then tried out different styles.
She smiled at her handiwork when she styled her hair a way she liked.
Cheryl finished putting on the rest of her costume with a giddy look on her face.
The short green and gold dress was tight, but felt good. She spun in front of her full
length mirror, pleased with how the dress clung to her curves.
She picked up her bow and pulled a rubber-tipped arrow out of the quiver and
nocked it. Taking long strides out toward the more spacious living room, she passed
Mitch’s door but decided not to wake him by sticking him with an arrow, though the
thought made her giggle. Stalking into the living room, she drew back her bowstring to
her cheek. She concentrated on her target, holding her breath and letting it out slowly,
evenly. She released and the arrow flew true to the mark and Mitch’s Old Style beer can
flew back in a metallic clink.
“Yes!” she said in a hissed whisper. She retrieved her arrow then set about
preparing the rest of her costume.
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Cheryl ran a finger along the tip of her pointed ear. She checked her bowstring
and made sure the arrows in her quiver were all there, fletchings of greens and yellows,
matching her cloak and provocatively short dress. She ran her fingers through her long
golden hair and considered if she should braid it. She added a pair of extra socks to her
bra and enjoyed her new shape in the mirror. An elf of Oakenwood needed to look
perfect.
Cheryl batted her false eyelashes at reflection and smiled as they fluttered like
black butterflies. Once more she adjusted her hair. She got out an eyebrow pencil and
drew a high arching eyebrow that looked both elvish and feminine. She was glad that not
having any eyebrows actually had the one benefit of letting her have creative options
there. At least she wasn’t nauseous or feeling too achy today. She hoped it would stay
that way; she had been looking forward to this convention for a long time.
Her cell phone rang and it was Jeff.
“Hey, Cheryl. How’s it going?”
“Great! I just need to put on my boots and I’ll be all ready,” she asked as she
tugged on a heeled boot.
Jeff drew in a deep breath. “Listen, Cheryl. I’m not going to be able to make it.
There have been all kinds of delays and cancellations because most of the pilots and
engineers are on strike after the labor talks went south. I’m currently stuck in Minot.
Trust me, I’d much rather be with you than here. Fucking Minot,” he said with a groan.
“But you make sure you go today. Enjoy yourself. You don’t need me there to have a
good time.”
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“Fucking Minot,” Cheryl said, frowning. “You couldn’t have started your little
Marxist revolution a week later?”
Jeff laughed. “I tried to convince everyone to wait a few days because of Little
Rock-i-con, but they wouldn’t listen. Did the mail come yet?”
“I’ll talk to you later. My head is pounding,” she said, turning off her phone. She
tossed her bow on the couch and sat down next to it. Strands of blonde hair fell across her
eyes and she flicked them away in annoyance. She spun her phone on the coffee table.
The hair fell over her eyes again and she flung the wig off then went back to spinning her
phone, trying to decide if she felt like going to the convention or not.
The doorbell rang around 3:00. The mailman jerked back when she opened the
door.
“Sorry, sir! You surprised me,” he said, picking up the package he dropped.
“Sir? I’m wearing a dress. Do I really look like a sir to you?” she asked, opening
the door fully. She put her hands on her hips and angled her foot to emphasize her heeled
boots and legs.
The mailman looked her up and down. “Sorry, your hair, your head, I mean –”
“Just shut up and give me the package.”
He scanned the package and read his handheld computer. As he waited for it to
beep confirmation of delivery for him, he raised his eyebrow and tried to look
100
meaningfully at Cheryl. He cleared his throat when she didn’t take the hint. “Umm, your
eyebrow.”
“What about it?”
“Errm, you only have one. Just trying to help. Sorry, again. Have a nice day,
ma’am,” he said, handing her the package and tipping his hat. She hoped her glare
worked, but was afraid it didn’t have the intended affect since it was raised in a semipermanent arch.
“Cheryl isn’t a guy’s name, asshole,” she said as she read the address. She was
disappointed the mailman was out of earshot and thought about going back to the door to
yell it at him. She pulled a plastic dagger out of her boot and tried to open the package
with it. After it wouldn’t cut through the tape, she tossed the package on the couch then
stomped into the kitchen to grab a knife. She froze, seeing a dark shape in Mitch’s
doorway.
It was a gorilla standing there, looking at her with its all-too-human eyes. Her jaw
dropped.
“What do you think?” it asked her in a muffled voice that matched Mitch’s.
“Jesus, Mitch. You could have warned me. It’s a good thing I didn’t have my bow
or you would have been a pincushion. What the fuck are you doing?”
“I’m Chewbacca. We’re going to the convention,” he said, taking off the gorilla
mask. “I just need to put my bandolier together and I’ll be ready.” He grabbed the
bandolier and filled the open slots with cigarette packs.
101
“I don’t know if I’m feeling it now. Jeff –”
“Just called me and said to make sure that you go today,” Mitch said.
“He did?” Cheryl asked, the corner of her lip curling upward.
“Yes, he did. Let’s go. Don’t forget to bring your other eyebrow.”
She drew on a matching eyebrow and fixed her makeup and her wig, deciding to
go with braids after all.
“You look amazing, Cheryl. Nice elven adventuring outfit,” Mitch said. He had
not seen her this happy or excited in a long time.
“The heels make an elf even more dangerous because her feet are weapons if she
runs out of arrows and the short skirt keeps your legs cool if you have to run.”
Mitch nodded at this utilitarian assessment and put his gorilla mask and bandolier
on. He was probably the fattest Wookiee in Little Rock, possibly all of Arkansas.
Little Rock-i-con, though it had started hours ago, was still going strong, with
masses of people flocking to their favorite attractions at the various areas – be it anime
shows, Star Wars, Firefly, video games, Star Trek, and other sci-fi and fantasy series.
Many fans were in costume, some attending cosplay contests. Cheryl enjoyed seeing the
array of characters and the work people put into their costumes. An eclectic assortment of
aliens, ninjas, superheroes, elves, orcs, lolitas, and other creatures wandered the halls of
the convention center. She wondered why each person chose the particular costume they
102
did. Cheryl received a plethora of compliments on her costume; Mitch received a plethora
of odd looks, but a handful of high fives over the boxes of smokes on his bandolier.
Cheryl only had to take an emergency bathroom detour once, but she wouldn’t let
it dampen her spirits. After she rinsed her mouth, she took her makeup out of a pouch on
her belt and carefully fixed her elf face. She noticed a young woman at the sink next to
her glancing at her in the mirror.
“You’re the best Evelyn I’ve ever seen. You look beautiful,” the woman said.
“Thank you. You make a lovely elf yourself,” Cheryl said, noticing that the
woman was in costume as a fellow elf of Oakenwood, the priestess Lumina. She wore a
long, flowing dress of light blue and white and her platinum blonde hair was styled in a
high ponytail to reveal her pointed ears.
The woman introduced herself as Allie. They talked about their favorite
characters of Oakenwood, why they each chose to be the characters they did, and how
they went about making their outfits. They were talking for such a long time that Mitch
yelled through the door asking if Cheryl was doing ok. She assured him she was fine then
went back to chatting with her new friend.
“This is such a great event with interesting people. I think next time I’ll go as a
ranger. Are you going next year, too?
“I hope so. Maybe I’ll see you there, Allie.”
Cheryl found Mitch having an argument with a group of six kids who were
between the ages of eight and twelve.
103
“No way, the prequels are sooooo much better,” said the youngest boy. The other
children agreed with him.
“Kids, haven’t you ever heard it’s not wise to upset a Wookiee?” Mitch said,
crossing his arms.
“A Wookiee? You’re a gorilla! The Planet of the Apes room is way down at the
end of the hall.”
Cheryl moved beside Mitch. “Maybe we should move along before things turn
ugly,” she said. “There are only two of us and six of them. I don’t know if I have enough
arrows.”
“Aren’t you a little short for a Wookiee?” asked the little girl with the pug nose,
noting that Mitch was a few inches shorter than Cheryl in her boots.
Mitch growled. The kids laughed and scampered off.
“Those fucking kids don’t know anything,” Mitch said.
Cheryl yawned and nodded. “This gal is getting tired. Shall we leave soon?”
“Sure. Let’s swing by the Star Trek ballroom for just a minute,” Mitch said. “We
can tell Jeff about it; didn’t you say that Star Trek is pretty much the only sci-fi he cares
about?”
“Yeah, he likes zero fantasy or anime. I can send him some pics on my phone.”
The Star Trek ballroom was closed when they got there. No further details were
posted on the Closed sign on the door. Convention-goers in a variety of costumes
exchanged theories with what looked like the cast of Big Bang Theory.
104
“Could it have been a tribble outbreak?” said a ponytailed Vulcan. People
chuckled. Other people who did not know what tribbles were stared blankly or laughed
along politely.
“I heard the fans had too much bloodwine and the bat’leth tournament got out of
hand, and the EMTs had to treat a bunch of lacerations and stab wounds,” said the man
who looked like Sheldon. A Klingon in a “Today is a GOOD day to die” shirt nodded his
agreement.
A lolita in a frilly pink dress said, “No, I heard that there were a couple of
scientists here with a supposedly functional transporter. The ballroom had to be closed
down due to some accident.”
“Some kid must have gotten sick on the ride,” said Sheldon.
“Ah, I’m not sure how much of a ride it was. I heard they took the one scientist
guy out in a bucket,” said Malcolm Reynolds.
Cheryl yawned then nudged Mitch in the ribs with her elbow. “Shall we see
Oakenwood one last time before we go home?” She walked through the area of the event
dedicated to Oakenwood, complete with an assortment of trees and ferns and even a tiny
river that ran through the forest. At this late hour, she walked alone on the paths through
the trees. She closed her eyes and listened to the soothing sounds of the flowing water,
letting her mind drift on the winds of consciousness.
105
When they got back home, Cheryl gave Mitch a big hug and thanked him again
for the fun evening. Cheryl sat on the couch, weary, but satisfied. She took her boots off
and stretched her toes. Next to her was the package she had forgotten all about. She slit
open the box with a key and flung packing peanuts around until she found the contents –
a folded letter and a blu-ray of collector’s edition of Akira with a note taped to it that said
“XOXOXO Fidelaris (Jeff).” She couldn’t help but grin. She hated Akira, but this was a
start. This was a good start. Cheryl opened the letter and read it, smiling the whole time.
After sitting for a long while in quiet satisfaction, Cheryl went to the bathroom to
get ready for bed. She took out her makeup remover but stopped and stared at her
reflection in the mirror. Smiling, she decided to put her makeup remover away. She
teased her hair back to perfection, with the pointed tips of her ears poking through her
hair.
She put Akira in the blu-ray player and curled up on the couch.
Thunder rolled in the distance. Cheryl pulled back the curtain. Dark clouds were
forming across the skyline.
“Cheryl, come back,” Jeff said.
She glanced out the window again then let the curtain fall back into place.
“It’s about to begin,” Jeff said, tilting his head toward the TV. An anime she
wasn’t familiar with was on the screen.
“Come on, Red,” Jeff said, patting the couch cushion next to him.
106
“Don’t call me that,” she said, holding a frown as long as she could before her
curving lip betrayed her.
“Bah, you like it, don’t you, Red?”
She punched him playfully on the arm and sat next to him. He put his arm around
her and rubbed her fuzzy head. She smiled and cuddled up to him.
107
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