Saturday, February 7, 2009

In This Twilight: Celebrity Skin

IN THIS TWILIGHT
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.”


Friday, February 6, 2009

Wow. Talk about a pair of hardened criminals!

Vibrating condom, energy drink stolen
http://columbian.com/article/20090206/NEWS02/902069991



I shudder to think about the episode of CSI Miami this will inspire.


"All that's missing from the crime scene is an energy drink and a vibrating condom. What do we tell the press?"

"Tell them..." Horatio Caine put on his sunglasses, "...we've got it covered."

YEEEEEEEEEEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

Just a few notes...

For those of you that haven't heard yet the trailer for the new TORCHWOOD series is out. It look pretty darn good, then again I do have an affection for all things WHOvian.

the details and trailer are here... http://www.gallifreyone.com/cgi-bin/viewnews.cgi?id=EkFFllAVZlHJEIxLJH&tmpl=newsrss&style=feedstyle

I've mostly been writing quickies for the blog right now, short stories and little funny stories. In the meantime I have been trying to get a serial novel ready for you. It would be posted weekly and each chapter would be around 500-1000 words. I wanted the entire thing to be done before I started sharing it, because it seems whenever I set a deadline for myself something go wrong or I flake out. Thankful the first draft is done and I now have the first 18 chapters ready to go. Until I get this finished there will be a bit of a slowdown on the Price Breaks and Heart Breaks updates, unfortunately I just don't have enough hours in the day anymore. (Plus I have a Wii now...)

I hope tomorrow to have a funny story or a bit of flash fiction for you.

As always keep circulating the blog!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

February: The Month That’s Trying to Kill Me

February: The Month That’s Trying to Kill Me

Most people have adversaries in their daily lives, a snotty co-worker, a shiftless in-law or rude neighbor. I have a whole month that’s out to get me. For some February is the shortest month, for some it’s Black History month and for others it’s the month of Valentine’s Day.

But for me February is the Month That Dripped Blood.

Fact: I was working at Nice Shopper, and it was the coldest day that Albany had seen in a lifetime and a half. It was close to -20 with the wind chill, so naturally I was sent out to get carts. The wind had blown all the carts to the far end of the parking lot and I could only retrieve them in sets of three because anything more would get blown over. By the time I had finished my hair was swept back from my reddened face and I felt like a character from a Robert London story. There were lines at every cash register so I threw off my coat and set to work. It took my cold-addled mind a few moments realize that everyone one was staring at me. Finally one of the cuter cashiers said to me, “Al. Your nose.”

Visions of frostbite filling my head I grabbed for my face- and my fingers brushed the stalactite of frozen boogers dangling from my right nostril. Sure some of you out there might think that was pretty funny but it’s snot.

(…Auuuuugh yourself this is quality material here.)

That was the start of a long week.

Fact: It was my Junior year of high school, and I was trying to play the field, trying to romance both my beloved Lilly as well as a sophomore girl of dubious sanity but considerable cleavage. I figured my brother and father could do it, why not me? And besides if I was going to try and get my friends to call me ‘The Love Machine’ I damn well better be sure to back it up.

Of course I hadn’t actually told either girl that I was playing the field, I guess I was trying to be more or less the stealth bomber of love. It was the afternoon of Valentine’s Day that most of my friends started trying to beat me up. Now with my friends this wasn’t necessarily a rare occurrence but they had never been so organized before. Finally I confronted them, hoping to reassert my position as the Alpha Nerd with a combination of guts and memorized dialogue from Doctor Who. Then I saw each and every one of those sneaky bastards standing around Lily. Now this was too much. They were trying to move in on my main squeeze! I barged in the middle of them and asked what the Hell was going on.

That was when Lily confronted me with her Valentine’s card. Well, actually it wasn’t her Valentine’s Day card, it was the other girl’s but I had accidentally switched them.

Yeah, that the start of a long week.

Fact: My first bout with kidney stones came the same week that my beloved mother-in-law had a heart attack. (And that is no sarcasm, I do love her bunches.) I tried to stick it out, hoping the whole thing would literally pass but no luck there. So I had to have my wife drop me off at the emergency room so I could get better while she took care of our daughter, they were both exhausted by the ordeal.

To this day I am not sure what route my wife took to the Emergency Room but I can only assume somewhere she took a side trip to the Twilight Zone because that night was one of the strangest of my life. It began simply enough with lots of waiting then when they finally admitted me they had me dress in one of those drafty hospital gowns and left me sitting on a bed in the hallway.

Why you might ask? Because it was another cold February and all the local homeless people were checking themselves in for phantom ailments so they could stay warm. The place was packed; it was standing room only, or in my case trying to sleep in the hallway with your ass hanging out room only. The hobo sitting on a bed closest to me decided to strike up a conversation, and if I hadn’t been so tired and miserable I might have asked him what Tom Waits song he had escaped from to torment me.

Instead I just listened to his tale of travel, of his Native American wife he only got to see twice a year or so because she lived in Canada.

And by the way, Canadian women? Between this and all the nerds who say that have girlfriends up there I have to say get some standards for heavens sake.

Apparently my hobo friend took my bleary eyed indifference as a sign of friendship so he tried to give me one of his less filthy hats as a present but that was when the doctor showed up to get me the medical care I so desperately needed. I was never so happy for a painful and invasive prostate exam and yes that includes the one at the Eden Studios Christmas party.

With a prescription in hand I called a cab to take me home and wouldn’t you know it of all the cabbies I could have ended up with I got the one who wanted to try and get me to invest in the television pilot he was trying to film in Vermont. This was not what I needed because I can honestly say as that as a wannabe writer that loves to talk up his latest hopeless project there is nothing more annoying than a wannabe writer trying to talk up his latest hopeless project.

The cab ride ended before he could get into the intricacies of his series bible but when you’ve heard the pitch for one series that combines elements from Lovejoy and GI JOE you’ve heard them all.

So I got home and unlocked the front door, only to find my wife had put the door chain on as well. I chuckled over this and knocked on the door about ten minutes later I remember my wife mentioning that she wanted nothing more than to take a sleeping pill and turn in. After another ten minutes of homeless knocking I started walking to the local 24 hour diner so I could use the payphone and wake my missus up.

It was going to be a long walk.

So, where does that leave us today? First things off I woke up feeling profoundly squishy inside and I spent most of my shift trying not to erupt into a series of farts that would sound like an AMC Hornet drag racing with a tank full of bad gas. Then I had a training seminar in the afternoon, I believe it was focused on budgeting our time more effectively to improve shareholder value… well at least that’s what I think it was about. I fell asleep ten minutes in because I had been up all night writing blog entries.

Somehow I made it through my shift without skidmarking my underwear so I headed home, but first ironically enough, I had to stop for gas. I’d been putting off refueling because it had been so darn cold out the last few days but there was no putting it off any longer. I got to the gas station, popped open the tank and then realized I was on the wrong side of the pump so I spent a few moments dodging other cars and getting my car lined up correctly. Then I went in and bought twenty dollars worth of gas. And I started pumping.

But there was something wrong with all the pumps on that side of the station, and it was pumping gas at about the speed of a penny a second. As I stood there shivering, watching my twenty dollars of gas move like twenty dollars of molasses I thought to myself- it’s gonna be another long February.

But aren’t they all?






Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sweet Nothings

Sweet Nothings
by
Al Bruno III

The hotel desk clerk’s baggy eyes widened at the mere mention of the number. “732? You don’t want that room.”

Every year the same thing, a different clerk with the same questions. Ordinarily I endured the interminable excuses but this year’s pilgrimage had been particularly unpleasant. The car had coughed, sputtered and threatened to die at every rest stop; the clouds had been bloated and full of rain.

Rainy days were always the hardest.

So, I nipped the discussion in the bud. With an offhand gesture I tossed a wad of bills on the counter and spoke again, “Room 732 please.”

“You don’t- ”

“Give me room 732 for the night, and you can keep the change.”

The expression on the desk clerk’s face was almost comical, he swept the bills out of sight and slipped me the key. Turning away from the counter I headed down the familiar maze of hallways. The desk clerk’s unspoken questions burned at my back, Why that room? Haven’t you heard the stories? Aren’t you afraid?

I made sure I was out of sight before he decided to ask any of them.

When I had first come here-

No, not I. We.

When we had first come here, this was a four star establishment, with brightly lit hallways, working elevators, even room service. The elevator had stopped working three years ago, and when the bulbs in the hallways burnt out no one bothered to replace them. I pushed the door to the stairwell open; figures crouched in the murk, grunting half-heartedly. Bypassing them I headed up the stairs, debris crunching underfoot.

I was out of breath by the time I reached the seventh floor, no surprise there really. I’m not a young man anymore. Sometimes I wondered to myself why the hotel had fallen out of favor so quickly. It couldn’t just be the fact that someone had died here, after all, people died in their hotel rooms all the time. Maybe it was the way she died, maybe the horror of her final moments was so profound that it permeated every floor and hallway. Maybe the slumbering business travelers and vacationing families would wake at exactly 1:49 AM, their hearts beating wildly and their sheets drenched with sweat. Maybe it was nothing more than new, more conveniently located-off ramp that cut this whole section of the city out of the tourist trade.

The sound of the seventh floor stairwell opening was high and shrill like a woman’s scream. Frowning, I trudged down the hallway, listening to the pat-pat-patter of the leaky ceiling. I found the familiar suite and slipped the key into the lock. The door resisted for a heartbeat then swung open. For a moment I stood there staring into the shadowed, empty room, torn between the instinct to run and the vows I had made. This, like the bickering with the desk clerk, is a ritual for me.

The lights stayed off, I knew the geography here all too well. Closing the door behind me, I crossed the room and sat on the musty bed. It was funny in a way, after almost a decade I still trembled at this moment. For a time I stared into the gloom, watching the darkness churn, then I closed my eyes and replayed visions of broken locks, police tape and dried blood over and over in my mind.

A shudder worked its way up my spine. I could almost imagine her kneeling on the bed behind me, her slender arms wrapping around my back.

“I miss you.” My voice was reverent, uncertain, of all the rituals I observed on this terrible anniversary this was the most important, “I wish I had come back sooner. I wish I had been here. I wish-.”

From out of the darkness her voice is at my ear, “I know.”

Monday, February 2, 2009

Roadside Burials

Roadside Burials
by
Al Bruno III


Knox saw them twice every day; once on drive to work, once on the way back. Gravestones, pale weathered gravestones sitting just a few feet off from the side of the road surrounded on each side by a worn looking fence. It seemed like each day he forgot about them until he passed them and his mind set to wondering. Had they run the interstate through an entire cemetery? Or worse yet over one? And how old were those pitiful headstones? What names and dates might each one hold.

One day on the way back from work Knox decided to find out. He pulled his car well off the soft shoulder, set the hazard lights blinking and made his way to the object of his fascination. The day was overcast, the air heavy with the promise of a downpour. The roadside was thick with litter and the scraps of old tires that blown out and come apart. The old fence was waist high with posts that sagged this way and that. Seen up close the headstones were blunted and the color of ivory; they jutted out of the earth like a mouthful of rotten teeth.

Eager for a closer look Knox hopped the fence- after taking a cautious look around. None of the cars zooming past in their rush hour frenzy noticed. The ground was brittle and dusty beneath his feet, it cracked and crunched with every footstep. He knelt before one of the headstones, erosion had rendered the names unreadable and the angels faceless but he could just make out the dates.

1793? He smiled to himself and ran his hand over the stone, how many other drivers out there knew that they passed a sliver of history every day? Knox vowed to return here with some wax paper and some charcoal. He wondered how such a thing might look framed on a wall. Would guests take it as archeological keepsake or a morbid conversation piece? Was there really a difference?

Such plans however were for a different day. Knox started to stand up only to have a strange bone-deep weariness wash over him. He waited for it to pass but he just knelt there listening to the blood roar in his ears. He laughed to himself thinking he might have stood up to fast or that he might be coming down with something. Knox tried to raise himself up again, his legs wobbled beneath him and he pitched face first into the dirt. He tried to raise himself up only to find the weakness spreading to his arms. His panicked breaths spat and inhaled dust. This was no ordinary paralysis, he could feel it starting to rain, thick cold drops pelting him everywhere. He tried to move again but he barely had the strength to move his fingers and all they could do was trace pathetic patterns in the dust.

He wondered what was wrong with him, was it a stroke or some other strange illness? The rainfall grew heaver, the wind driving the precipitation in wave after bruising wave. With nothing else to do Knox wondered grimly how long it would be before a police officer spied his car and came to investigate. Not long surely.

The rain turned the ground into a mud, he felt it congealing around him, drawing him down. It sucked greedily at him like quicksand. Again he tried to move, hoping fear might give him strength but what little movement he made just made him sink faster. He didn't even dare cry out for fear of choking on a mouthful of mud. His face began to sink below the surface, half his head was swallowed up in a matter of moments.

And in those last moments before he was lost forever Knox realized that while the bodies been buried here so long ago might have turned to dust these graves were still hungry.

So very hungry...