Friday, October 31, 2014

There's a whole lotta shakin ' going on for my Halloween gif party!
















































Uncle Al's Halloween Hoedown Day Thirty-One: PRECIOUS MACHINE

Precious Machine

by

Al Bruno III


A rusted electric fence surrounds the walled facility and the facility itself is a series of squat single story buildings connected by hallways. Every window is barred, every door is bolted, every surface is gray or blue. In this way the Kaydeross Asylum keeps the murderous nightmares of its prisoners tucked away from the world of ordinary madness.

Orderlies move through the hallways and buildings like ants, jaded boredom has rendered them faceless and emotionless. They go through their routines but have long ago stopped seeing their charges as human beings. The physicians and psychiatrists assigned to this place are no better, any thoughts of rehabilitating their patients have long been ground away by the never-ending crush of State-required paperwork.

Only Dr. Annabelle Masters truly cared about what went on here. Despite being the director of the facility she still made it a point to oversee the progress of the women remanded to the Kaydeross Asylum. There is a framed photograph she kept on the wall of her office, it shows her standing within the center of a crowd of women wearing faded hospital gowns and slippers; she is smiling despite the fact she is standing with a group of convicted murderers.

As I went through Dr. Masters's office my gaze returned to the picture again and again. There was something about the patients that haunted me- despite their smiling faces their eyes seemed to be screaming.

I was just a temporary administrator sent in to replace Dr. Masters while the investigation into her disappearance moved forward. It was my job to restore some semblance of order to the facility but I already knew it would be no easy task.

A tall bookcase occupied one side of the room, some of the texts shelved there were the standards of our profession but others had fallen out of print after being dismissed as bald faced quackery.

After this I turned my attention to her desk. It was ugly, gray and metallic. It reminded me of the sort of desk a schoolteacher might have. I searched through the drawer and found one had been locked. It took some effort but I was able to break the lock and found seven files that were thick with handwritten notes and EEG readouts. 

Dr. Masters's notes were written on cheap onionskin paper, her handwriting script was cramped and strange, reading it was hard going. There was one folder for each of the Kaydeross Asylum's more infamous charges. She had been interviewing and treating these murderesses secretly. 

No it was more than that, she had been experimenting on them.

Even now I can recall some of her notes almost perfectly-

...the Precious Machine continues to perform better than expected on Leslie Knapp but she resists treatment. She claws at the air and calls the names of her children. The modified styluses titter and scratch at the paper, there is something beautiful about the patterns they make. When I playback the audio tapes it almost sounds like an animal is skittering in the background like a rat gone wild with the urge to gnaw...

A search of Dr. Masters's office revealed no audio tapes or electroencephalogram, and her notes were maddeningly vague as to what exactly she was trying to accomplish.

Exhaustion, confusion and the murky February afternoon conspired to make me drowsy. I sat down in Dr. Masters' leather-backed chair and leaned back. I meant only to rest my eyes but I was soon asleep.

The dream that came was at first very literal, I was sitting in the office with the cryptic files spread out before me. There was a hollow rapping at the door and I called for the visitor to enter not looking up from my work. Once the visitor stood on the opposite side of the desk I became gripped with a childlike terror. I did not want to look up but my head moved of its own volition and I found myself staring at a figure from my long-abandoned faith. I knew that frail, beatific gaze and those stigmatic hands. But the crown of thorns he wore was metallic and it sparked. My breath caught in my throat as the figure opened his mouth to speak but all that came out was a faint scraping sound like a record that had reached the end of its song.

I awoke then, choking and gasping like a nearly drowned man, but the scratching sound continued. Once the dream had faded away and I was calm, I realized where the strange noise was coming from.

Initially the orderlies balked at my request insisting that the moving of furniture was a job for maintenance but I insisted. Once the heavy mahogany bookcase had been moved a doorway was revealed.

We forced the door open and found what must have once been a storage closet. The so-called 'Precious Machine' was there and it was, as I had thought, a strangely modified EEG machine. A tangle of wires led to a web of sensors that resembled the crown I had seen in my dreams. The EEG had long run out of paper and the styluses scraped and scratched on the bare rollers.

And beneath that crown of sensors was a desiccated figure, she had only been missing for a little over a week but the flesh had an almost mummified look to it. We could only identify the body because of the name badge clipped to the lab coat, and by the eyes, the perfectly preserved eyes that stared back at us.

Oh how Dr. Masters's eyes screamed.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Uncle Al's Halloween Hoedown Day Thirty: THE TREVI COLLECTION

May 2nd …there are things no one ever expects to hear, and I don't care who you are or where you live, the term 'Brony Death Cult' has to be in your top ten.

But that's what the Albany PD’s Chief of Detectives believed caused the death of Chad Trevi. He even announced it in an impromptu press conference without the slightest trace of self awareness.

One of the first things wrong with their cockamamie theory was that Chad Trevi wasn’t into My Little Ponies, he was all about My Happy Horses. Now for those of you with lives and families please allow me to explain that My Happy Horses are the Go-Bots of the plastic equine world. In other words they were a cheaply made cash-in product created to flood the dollar stores for the holidays.

Of course as soon as Hasbro found out about My Happy Horses they rained hellfire and lawyers down upon the creatively challenged Tomlande Toys Inc and the My Happy Horses line was shut down before it had barely gotten off the ground. Hundreds of the toys were pulled from the shelves and sent away to be destroyed.

That meant the ones that had actually been sold or slipped through the cracks were very rare and very collectable. A complete set of the twelve different horses were very hard to find but Chad had them all, and then some.

Other toy collectors say he had gone to unethical lengths to get them but then again I have no idea what the ethics of toy collecting are.

It all began when Chad was entertaining Les Spencer, a much wealthier My Happy Horses obsessive. We don’t know what was said but friends knew Chad was eager to show off what he was sure would make his collection the envy of his peers.

The showing must not have gone over well. Neighbors reported shouts and a slammed door. A Denny’s waitress positively identified Les as the man drowning his sorrows in an epic stack of pancakes. Les told the police that he went home right after that but the police believe that he then doubled back on foot, somehow got back into Chad Trevi’s apartment and killed him with a blunt object they had yet to find.

The real story is far, far stranger than that…


THE NIGHT BLOGGER:
A Season In Hell
Episode Twenty-Seven
The Trevi Collection
by
Al Bruno III


another day, another intrusion into a crime scene. It was two days after Chad Trevi met his untimely and unlikely end. It's funny how inured I've become to police tape, I give it about as much passing thought as you give a clicking on a terms of service agreement.

These days however I am a little smarter in my trespasses. I own a jumpsuit just like the ones the guys at Remediation Crime Scene Clean Up use, so now if someone spots me creeping around the site of a violent death they can dismiss me as some working stiff burning the midnight oil. 

How should I describe Chad Trevi's apartment? There was a crappy couch, a filthy TV, a sink brimming with dishes and a bag of rank-smelling laundry near the door. Ordinarily fingerprint powder and chalk outlines would stand out like a grim reminder of our ultimate mortality but here they kind of tied the room together. 

I spent a few minutes examining the chalk outline. The boards from the section of floor where Chad’s head had been were pulled up. My sources told me that his skull had been stuck with such force that it had driven fragments of bone into the wood.

I’d seen pictures of the police’s main suspect and let me tell you Les Spencer does not look like the kind of guy that could break anything larger than a potato chip, and according to Les’s brother Tom the guy was so squeamish he’d faint at the sight of a rare steak.

That’s how I got involved in all this. Tom Spencer is a member of the FEAROFTRUTH forum. He posts under the name ‘CaptainTrekker’ and he asked me to try and prove his adopted brother was innocent. I warned Tom that any mysteries I stuck my nose into usually ended up having a body count roughly equal to the final act of Hamlet but ‘CaptainTrekker’ was most insistent.

I turned my attention to the second bedroom of Chad’s apartment, where he kept his collection. Now I have to admit my inner child thrilled a little at the sight of so many GI Joes, Micro Machines and Teenage Mutant Ninja figures displayed on glass paneled white oak shelves but it was obvious the true gem of his collection was the My Happy Horses.

The display was a four-tiered pyramid-shaped shelving structure with the plastic toys arranged in ascending order from the most common, relatively speaking, to the rarest. The space at the top of the pyramid was reserved for his pride and joy - Lil’ Blucifer.

The legend of Lil’ Blucifer is an obscure one, and considering the legend is attached to an obscure toy line, I had to go all the way to the second page of my Google search to learn about it. Lil’ Blucifer was designed to be an antagonist for the Happy Horses, an equine antagonist if you will. The design of the toy had been based on the 32 foot tall, garish Blue Mustang statue that marks the entrance to the Denver International Airport. Before being completed the statue fell on his sculptor and killed him. From there things went downhill, it was linked to deaths, madness and the Blue Kachina Prophecy of the Hopi Indians.

A strange idea for a cheap knockoff toy manufacturer. I guess someone was trying to be clever. 

Trust me, clever people and hipsters will be the death of this world.

My theory was that somehow, the curse of Big Blucifer passed on to his plastic effigies. Somehow that cheap, hard to find toy had called up a supernatural force that pulverized Chad Trevi with a single strike of its hooves. It was the kind of supernatural force that could only be stopped by clever application of that most blasphemous and blessed sigil, the Sign of Ninazu.

A great theory, but the problem was that the toy wasn’t where it belonged, the top of the display was empty. My sources told me the police hadn’t taken any of Chad’s collection into evidence yet. Had some sticky-fingered cop stolen it? It made no sense to me, suddenly none of this made any sense.

I decided a top to bottom search of the apartment was in order. First I checked beneath the couch, I found a remote control, several empty bags of potato chips and one sock of disturbing stiffness. The bedroom and kitchen were no less disgusting and toy free. All I found in the hall closet was a pair of coats, an umbrella, and an indigo-colored stallion of clydesdale-esque proportions. Blazing red eyes glared down at me as I slowly and carefully closed the closet door.

I got clear of the door just as it exploded into splinters. The daemon horse strode out of the closet, the closet that was too small to hold a bicycle much less a horse from Hell, or Denver.

The world seemed to slow down in it’s proximity, the ticking of the clock, the pace of my terrified breathing, the sound of the traffic outside. The whole world had slowed down except for Blucifer.

Did I mention the damn thing was between me in the exit?

It reared up on it’s hind legs, bloodied hooves cut the air. It’s head passed through the ceiling, the solid plaster rippled like the surface of a pond.

With nowhere else to go I ran into the bathroom and in a gesture of hopeless optimism locked the door behind me. I dropped to my knees and dug the charcoal pen from my pocket.

My hand sketched out the lines, crosses and curves of that most blasphemous and blessed sigil with practiced ease. Jasper was the one that had made me practice it again and again. I silently thanked him as I drew and silently cursed him for leaving on a fools errand to Syria without so much as a goodbye argument.

There. I thought as I finished, Fastest Ninazu in the Northeast.

It brought the bathroom door crashing down with a single blow from its hooves. One foot came down on the toilet, shattering the porcelain like it was fine china.

The other foot came down dead center in the sign of Ninanzu…

*

…what else is there to say? If you’ve seen one satanic horse go down like the Wicked Witch of the West you’ve seen them all. The real kicker is what the shattered toilet revealed to me.

A lump of melted plastic that was a very bright shade of blue.

All the pieces fell into place then. 

You see Les did go home after he’d had a bite to eat, he’d gone home to his own Lil’ Blucifer. He’d always assumed his was the only remaining one.

You might wonder why, unlike Chad, he didn’t brag about his amazing acquisition. It’s because he understood what the thing really was, and what it could do.

Les Spencer wasn’t the kind of man to make enemies, but over the last two years some people he didn’t like had died unexpectedly.

An ex-girlfriend, a co-worker and now a rival toy collector all dead from one kind of blunt trauma or another.

Yes, I tried to tell the police.

No, they didn’t believe any of it.

Hell, you probably don’t believe me.

Not that it matters, the Spencer family’s high priced lawyer got all charges dropped this morning. Tom and his parents are going to be bringing him home this afternoon. No one’s told Les yet that some lunatic broke into his apartment and left five heat lamps there all going full blast. His beloved toys have been reduced to goop.

Every single one.

I plan to be there when he finds out. Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Uncle Al's Halloween Hoedown Day Twenty-Nine: THE MAN THAT ATE NEWBORNS

The Man That Ate Newborns
by
Al Bruno III

Don't squirm so much my wee one. Don’t struggle. Let me hold you close while I work up my nerve. Only a day old and you're fighting to live, well so am I. Isn't that what we all want in the end? Life, a warm place to sleep and a full belly. Well, that's what you've got and what do I have? Nothing I'm just a middle aged man, used up and waiting to die.

Just like you, not that you realize what's coming next of course.
Then again maybe you do understand, you may be blind and confused but maybe you do know somehow. Is that why you keep trying to get free?

This is all because of Eve. We had known each other since college. She was already halfway towards becoming a lawyer and I was a well respected graduate student. You should have seen her. She was so damn beautiful with creamy skin- just like yours. I first saw her in the college library, I was so smitten that I followed her home. Just to see if she was married or living with a boyfriend or something like that. I spent the next few days tracking her, learning whatever I could and once I was sure I knew enough to pass for her soulmate I made my move.
I played my cards just right and won her heart. It was a whirlwind romance, the kind of thing you'll never know my wee one. Maybe that's just as well, maybe if you could you'd thank me for sparing you the heartbreak.

Even now I don't know what went wrong. Was I too agreeable? Too clingy? It doesn't matter. She found someone else. The breakup was an ugly thing, uglier than you my wee one.

She tried to be gentle, she told me we could still be friends. I was so angry, I said terrible things but in the end I took her up on the offer of friendship and hoped she might come to her senses.

I'll never understand women. They're called the fairer sex but everything they do is unfair. How is it time and time again they're drawn to the wrong men? Why couldn't she see that her new boyfriend was all wrong for her? And why for God's sake did she marry him.

Now don't get me wrong, I tried to move on. There were other towns, other girls and no matter how much I learned about them before I made my move I never got as far as I had with Eve.

Was that why I kept coming back to my home town? Was that why I stayed her friend even though the sight of that ring on her finger left my skull pounding with rage?

Calm down now my wee one. I might drop you if you keep struggling so. Is that what you want?

I stayed her friend, I prayed for her to divorce but then it got worse. They were tears of joy in her eyes when she told me she was pregnant. I smiled at the news but in the back of my mind I was calling her a bitch. She never cried for me but she had a fountain of tears for a baby that wasn't even born yet. A baby that at this point was just a lump of cells no better than a tumor.

Some say life begins at conception but I don’t think it begins until you have your first real thought. Until then your just a thing that eats and crawls mindlessly.

It was during her final trimester that I decided something radical needed to be done. I would steal her little baby and I would keep it away until she promised to leave her husband and love me forever.

We would raise the child together. Even though it was another man's I would raise it as my own.

Thanks to things like email and her husband's Facebook page I knew when Eve started to go into labor. I waited about twenty-four hours, and then made my move.

As always I had done my homework, I knew the hospital's routine. I went at night, wearing stolen scrubs and an official-looking ID badge.

I made my way to the nursery convinced that no suspicious eyes would turn my way. I suppose love blinded me in that respect. I barely had the baby in my arms before someone raised an alarm. Escape wasn't easy but I managed to get out of the building. Then I found myself in the middle of a car chase. I knew I could evade the police if I made it to the state park and drove with my headlights off.

The crash was a directionless blur, I thought I was running parallel to the ravine but I ended up careening right into it.

Now here I am, pinned in my car with broken bones poking through the flesh of my legs. I had dared everything and I came away empty handed. Doubtlessly Eve and her husband are cooing over their baby and cursing me for what I had tried to do.

I'm not sure why no one has found me yet, I mean they must be looking but it's been two days and I'm still waiting alone.

Well, I was waiting alone until you came along. The flies must have laid you while I was drifting in and out of consciousness but now my wounded legs are crawling with maggots.

This isn't cruelty, it's just that I'm so hungry and you’re all I have. I'm going to eat you first and then once I’ve gotten the taste for it your brothers and sisters will be joining you by the handful.

I'm going to live through this, and somehow I'm going to get my Eve back.
Somehow. Somehow I'll do it.

Just don't squirm so much my wee one. Don't struggle.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Anthony Vincent of Ten Second Songs is at it again! And this song is a real THRILLER.

From BLOODY DISGUSTING

Uncle Al's Halloween Hoedown Day Twenty-Eight: LIVING DEAD NERD

LIVING DEAD NERD
by
Al Bruno III

I can’t really blame what happened on some kind of horror movie outbreak or evil spell. I just woke up one morning and I was dead.
Dead, totally dead but walking around, no pulse but a head still full of Star Trek trivia. I was 16 years old and it looked like I wasn’t going to be getting any older. So weird. I’m still not sure what I am really. Am I some kind of a zombie or vampire or something? Has this ever happened to anyone else? Even Wikipedia couldn’t tell me, maybe when I’m done here I’ll make an entry.
My complexion had always been pale and my parents never listened to me really so the whole I can’t go to school because I’m only breathing out of habit. excuse didn’t fly so I still had to shamble on out to catch the bus for school.
The ride to Allen Palmer High School was always rough, insults and blunt objects get thrown at me not matter how close I sit to the bus driver. That day was no different, so I guess we can add dead people to the things that metalhead stoners have no respect for.
Sometimes the shit they pulled would make me get angry or even cry but that day none of it bugged me. Of course it made the shop class rejects even madder when I didn’t react to them. Finally a textbook hit me in the back of the head and I turned in my seat to glare at them.
Except I wasn’t really glaring on purpose, I thought I looked surprised because I was trying to figure why in the Hell one of those idiots would have a calculus textbook. Still it shut them up for the rest of the bus ride and they left me alone from then on.
School wasn’t much of anything, I kind of just went through the motions but that’s sophomore year for you isn’t it? It’s like the middle film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, not good, not bad just kinda killing time until the ending.
I wasn’t sure what my ending was going to be now though, was I going to rot away and fall apart? I didn’t know, I still don’t but it doesn’t bug me much. After you’re dead what’s the worst that could happen?
The next week went on like nothing had happened, it was school, home and then World of Warcraft.
Of course now I didn’t have to worry about bathroom breaks messing up my raids.
Occasionally I would get hungry- not the kind of hungry you know. It was like my bones were aching, like I could feel them going soft. It was a hunger that fish sticks and fries couldn’t touch. Thankfully my neighborhood is full of cats, some of the stupidest cats you’ve ever seen.
And plump too, like those little chickens they serve at weddings.
By the second week of my new ‘life’ things started to change, I smelled a little but it was nothing that my Dad’s Hi Karate couldn’t hide. People started treating me differently, even when I smiled I had this look that weirded people out. I told the gym teacher I wasn’t going to play dodgeball, I was going to the library and he just let me. Amazing!
My skin cleared up but my grades stayed the same. You jocks even stopped calling me ‘Timmy the Tard’ not that I cared anymore. One guy did pick a fight with me, some seven foot tall freshman. He punched me a few times, it didn’t much hurt and for once I hit back. One smack and he was crying on the floor. Didn’t know my own strength. I sure as Hell got called into the principal’s office for that but after he realized I was staring at his carotid artery and licking my lips he cut his speech about responsibility and citizenship short and just suspended me for the a week.
Not that I cared. My Mom hit the roof when she found out, my Dad actually seemed kind of proud of me for once. One of the neighbor’s dogs went missing that night, I felt like celebrating.
Since I was suspended my mom gave me punishment chores to keep me busy while she and Dad were at work. That was ok by me. I liked the physical activity it kept me from just sitting around the house because when you’re dead that’s what you do- just sit around a lot. You don’t get bored, you don’t think, you just are. You kind of let things happen to you.
What was it my Aunt said? Let go and let God.
Not that God was something I worried about much either anymore. I do wonder sometimes if Jesus was just a nerd like me, if he was just someone that kept having to swallow abuse and insults until he just choked on it.
Of course he got cool powers out of the deal. All I got was this thousand yard stare.
And I got laid too.

Seriously. It was the girl next door. Well, across the street.
You don’t have anything to say about that? Well, anyway, she’s this gothy chick named Stephanie but she wants everyone to call her ‘Serpentina’. She doesn’t go to school anymore. They expelled her for spraying the tampon dispenser in the girls’ room with lighter fluid and setting it on fire. I had been taking out the trash and I had just kind of zoned out. I didn’t even notice when it started raining. Stephanie- I mean Serpentina- came over and started talking to me, talking about how much she liked standing in the rain too and how I sure had changed. That never happened before.
She invited me in to talk but the next thing I knew we were making out on her parent’s couch. They were at work too. I was already hard, mostly because I had died with one of those piss erections I guess. She starts taking off her clothes, showing me all the places she’s going to get tattooed and pierced as soon as she’s eighteen.
Girl’s gonna be busy.

Now it didn’t feel like I expected, mostly because I was dead but I got off in other ways. She was so warm, I didn’t realize how cold I was until I had her on top of me. I let her do the driving, she kissed me and moved my hands to wherever she wanted to be touched. Then she guided me into her.
So warm. And since we’re both guys here let me tell you that I was doing the full on zombie groan if you know what I mean. You know what I mean? Serpentina was going crazy too, she kept complimenting me on my staying power. I think we could have still been at it if I hadn’t faked and orgasm and told her I’d call her later.
Bet you thought I was gonna kill her and eat her or something right?
Well are you out of your mind? She’s crazy about me, and she told me she wanted to introduce me to this girlfriend of hers named Umbra. And it was the way she said girlfriend that has me thinking. I may be dead but I’m not stupid.
Of course all that exertion has me tired out and that’s where you come in you big broad shouldered jock you. I knew you couldn’t resist the chance to follow me here to ‘teach me a lesson’ after what I did to that mongoloid brother of yours. The dogs and the cats went neck first but since you pulled down my shorts in gym class 
I’m going to start with your guts.
Scream all you want. No one is gonna hear you.
Man, I always wanted to say that.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Uncle Al's Halloween Hoedown Day Twenty-Seven: CELEBRITY SKIN

Celebrity Skin
By
Al Bruno III 


When she wore sheer dresses and short skirts the tabloids insinuated she was a whore, when she dressed demurely and elegantly they wondered what she was trying to hide. When she was out with a man, even if that man was simply a co-worker or a friend all the shows dedicated to the pursuit of the famous immediately assumed they were fucking. If she was out with one of her female friends or co-workers, the blogs and internet gossip sites would start hoping she was a lesbian. If she put on a few pounds they said she was losing her looks, if she lost weight she was anorexic.

But the worst part, the worst part was that they were all starting to call her a has-been. A has-been and she wasn’t even thirty yet.

That was what had brought Gwen Seymour to the offices of the Ternion Agency aka the last stop of the falling star- they had resurrected dozens of careers from scandal, poverty and, worst of all, irrelevance.

When she had arrived the receptionist had directed her to the security guard and the security guard had escorted her to the elevator. There were no buttons on the inside of the car; apparently visitors to the Ternion Agency offices only went where the Ternion Agency wanted them to.

The doors of the elevator were mirrored and highly polished, Gwen took a moment to examine her reflection for any flaws. She still had healthy looking skin and a great figure, her distinctive red hair had lost none of its luster and her eyes- well her eyes were always the first thing anyone noticed. They sparkled like emeralds.

The Greed Eyed Monster- that was what the first article about her in People magazine had called her when she had become the new breakout starlet of the horror film Johnny Nightshade. Even now Gwen wasn’t sure what it was that made her stand out from the other eager young actors in the ensemble. Was it the realism she brought to her performance? Was it the something the camera found alluring about her? Or was it that she was the only girl in the cast that kept her clothes on?

Whatever the reason, her life became a roller coaster of guest spots on TV shows, supporting roles in movies and then before she was twenty, three staring vehicles each one doing successively better at the box office until the smash hit Sour Girl.

She had even been nominated for a Golden Globe.

The elevator doors opened and she found herself staring into a spacious, empty office. “Hello?” Gwen called as she cautiously stepped out onto the luxurious shag carpet. A wide picture window gave her a panoramic view of LA, “Is anyone here?”

Wide leather chairs faced away from the window forcing the person seated in them to stare into the oversize fish tank at the far end of the room. The water was a smoky shade of blue and thick with shadowy shapes.

“Please have a seat Miss Belcher,” a voice said.

Gwen turned to see a slender woman in a prim looking suit standing by the window. She was a little unnerved to have been snuck up on but she put on her most pleasant smile, “You must be Ms. Franchini.”

“Yes,” She sat down and motioned for Gwen to join her, “I hope you don’t think it was too forward of me to use your real name.”

“No. No. It’s just that I haven’t heard it for a while.”

“I can imagine,” Ms. Franchini said, “Brooke Belcher doesn’t have quite the same ring does it? Was it your decision to change your name?”

Gwen nodded, she hadn’t been Brooke Belcher for almost a decade now, she hadn’t even thought of herself as that plain girl from upstate New York. She’d never been home once since she left, she didn’t even wonder if her old friends or her brother recognized her when they saw her on television or on the video store shelves.

“Good,” Ms. Franchini nodded, “I think a willingness to reinvent yourself will help considerably.”

Gwen nodded again, not sure why she felt so put off by this woman. She had survived the Hollywood system of audition and exploitation with her dignity intact, what terrors could a talent agency hold for her?

Was it because both women knew this was Gwen Seymour’s last chance before she found herself in that downward spiral of best friend roles and direct to video productions?

And she wasn’t even thirty yet.

“Now I have to ask, before I can discuss our career plan for you,” Ms. Franchini leaned back in her seat, her hands folded across her lap, her cool demeanor made her features seem almost doll-like, “are there any further scandals percolating in the background? It is better we know now and prepare in advance.”

“Well my production company is still under investigation…”

“Your tax issues aren’t really an immediate concern, accountants and lawyers can deal with such matters. Our concern is things like secret marriages or illnesses. Are you pregnant?”

“Well I don’t think that being pregnant is the same thing as being sick but there’s nothing else going on in my life beyond what the whole world seems to know,” thoughts of DWI’s, public disgraces and sudden outbreaks of box-office poison, made Gwen’s professional demeanor slip. She looked to the fish tank again trying to identify the shapes swimming lazily this way and that. They weren’t guppies or betas, that was for damn sure; she imagined that the Ternion Agency had some kind of weird or endangered fish on display just to impress and awe their clients.

Well it wasn’t working, all it did was make her feel queasy somehow, that strange tightening of the stomach she felt whenever she passed a long dead animal on the road or had to endure a hug from Ryan Seacrest.

“Of course,” Ms. Franchini said. “No offense was meant by my turn of phrase.”

Gwen wasn’t so sure about that.

“Now as I said before, we have a plan to revive your career, to restore its luster,” Ms. Franchini said, “some of it will be turning the tabloids and legitimate press back in your favor, some of it will be aiding you to make wiser career choices but some of it will be a re-imagining of your persona.”

“Re-imagining?” That word always made Gwen uncomfortable; it usually meant someone trying to resurrect an old property with CGI that was completed before the script.

“Call it a makeover,” Ms. Franchini said. “But this makeover is one that begins from the inside.”

“It sounds like you’re trying to get me to join a religion.”

She laughed politely, “I assure you that what you do with your soul is your own business, all we care about is your career.”

“Where do we start?” Gwen asked before she could second guess the decision, “Do I need to sign anything?”

Both women stood, “Our people will be in contact with you soon enough but for now I’ll think we’ll wrap things up with a handshake.”

And with that Gwen was led back to the elevator. The twin doors were open, waiting for her, Gwen wondered if they had ever closed. “I really appreciate this,” she said, “I know how exclusive you guys are.”

Ms. Franchini smiled as the doors whispered back to a close, “It’s not a matter of exclusivity as it is resources.”

Alone in the elevator Gwen slumped against the wall and tried to calm the butterflies in her stomach. Her career was as good as saved, she’s seen this agency get starlets with sex tapes cast in family films and athletes with criminal records endorsement deals.

Of course she was going to be signing away a sizable portion of her current and future fortune but it was worth it all if she went back to being America’s sweetheart.

The elevator doors opened on a wide, busy looking room full of people wearing white lab coats and serious expressions. The lighting was cool and diffused, one of the men looked up from his clipboard, “May I help you?”

Gwen stayed in the elevator, “I was… I think this is the wrong floor. I was leaving.”

“You need the exit?” He walked over to her. There was something familiar about him. His name tag read ALAN GRANT.

“Yes,” she nodded, “This was supposed to… Where am I?”

“Just a few floors from the exit,” he said, “why don’t you come on out while I call reception?”

“I don’t think-”

Alan Grant gently pulled her from the elevator, “Nonsense. Besides if that thing is acting up you could be going from one floor to the next all night. I’ll call reception, and in the meantime you can have a cup of coffee. Trust me, I can fix this.”

The room looked like an unimaginative set designer’s vision of a high tech laboratory, all sharp angles and clean surfaces. Gwen couldn’t see a coffee machine anywhere.

“What do you do here?”

“Work mostly,” Alan said.

There were prosthetics, tangles of plastic tubing and pale gray armatures on every table. It was all high class stuff, some of it even looked like it had been stolen from a hospital. What was all this for? Gwen wondered of perhaps the Ternion Agency wasn’t as flush with cash as their press releases said. Otherwise why would they be renting out an entire floor of their building to a special effects team?

“I’m sorry but you look familiar,” he said.

“I’m an actress,” Gwen answered. No one else looked up from their work as she was led past them.

“Oh that’s right. You were in Three Ghosts and a Baby.”

She groaned, “Not one of my better ones.”

“Hey. They don’t pay you not to act,” he flashed a dazzling grin; Gwen had never been one to go for older guys but this one…

“You know,” she said, “you look kind of familiar too.”

“I was an actor once, not a big time one but it was fun while it lasted.”

Of course, Gwen realized. He was in an episode of the Love Boat wasn’t he?

She asked, “So what are you doing here?”

“Keeping busy,” he said, “Now, why don’t you relax in here until we can get you sorted out?”

He ushered her into another wide room, but this one was dimly lit…

…and awfully cold.

…actually it was freezing.

By the time she turned around she saw that Alan Grant had slammed the metal door closed, trapping her. “Hey!” Gwen yelled, “What the fuck are you doing?”

When she banged on the door the cold of the metal left her hands stinging. She drew in her arms to try and keep warm. It almost hurt to breathe in the air.

“People know where I am!” she shouted and then instantly hated herself for it. Her character in Johnny Nightshade had yelled the same thing.

That made Gwen pause, after all her character had also been the only one to get away in the end.

“All right,” she started looking around, “all right.”

She was in some kind of freezer, with no windows and one locked door but there had to be something. There were plastic bins stacked high against the wall. Was there anything behind them like one of those convenient air shafts that action heroes seemed so adept at finding?

There was only one way to be sure, she started to pull a stack away from the wall. They were surprisingly light and easy to move, which is why they topped over spilling their contents all over the floor.

The sight of those contents made Gwen forget about escape plans and the cold that had her shivering uncontrollably.

Skins.

Dozens of them, eyeless, pressed flat and sealed in plastic.

She told herself this was just more special effects equipment but some of these reminded her of people she knew.

These were faces she saw on the big and small screen, sometimes in new predictions- others only in reruns.

The door opened, the light from the other room cast Gwen’s shadow over the plastic bins and their contents. She thought of all those prosthetics, plastic tubing and armatures she had seen out there, just waiting to have the right flesh draped over them. When she heard the sound of the bone saw Gwen fell to her knees with resignation.

Ms. Franchini’s words came back to her, “…this makeover is one that begins from the inside.”