by Christopher Cornell
When the bell tolls she will come to me. Bare feet on cold soil, oblivious to stones and nettles in the rough path to the mausoleum. Without a word she’ll loll her head and expose that ivory skin, iridescent under a swollen moon. She’ll wait patiently as I savor the moment, cries of her pursuers echoing in the distance. Too far, too late. I will drink, and we’ll be one.
Instead the fog machine shifts into overdrive and obscures her vision. She stubs her toe on a plywood headstone and topples forward, taking a row of grave markers with her. I lose sight of her for a moment as dry ice billows between us, filling my sinuses with that noxious musk I’ve come to despise. Then she appears again, hair sailing through ersatz fog. She hops in circles and utters several words I blush to recognize.
“Cut.” Martin’s nasal whine above the piped in church bells, a sound loop that lurches to a halt soon after. “Reset. You’re killing me, people.”
“Uh, no.” She chimes in from nearby, slowing her impromptu dance. “Whoever cranked up the fog is killing me, or trying to.”
“Shut that thing off and get a fan over there. This is a cemetery, not a damned riot scene. Fifteen minutes, talent.”
“Goddamn. This is not what I signed up for.”
I find her vaping on the backlot, puffing strawberry steam as I strike up an old-fashioned cigarette of my own. She seems content to hold up both ends of the conversation, so long as she has a sounding board.
“He has the nerve to blame all these takes on me, while he gives fuck all for directions. Who does he think he’s dealing with? This may be my first feature, but I know what I’m doing. Cal Arts MFA, hello.”
I think perhaps ‘feature’ is a kind word to use for a basic cable movie of the week. No point in sharing that opinion.
“Fear for your life, he says. You’re in a trance, he says. Well, which is it?” She eyes me between plumes; pretty, in the nondescript manner of most actors. “What do you use for motivation?”
I smile, feeling every year of my age. “Rent is a good one.”
Our eyes lock, as they soon will for eternity. A hint of resistance creases her brow and then vanishes. I nuzzle her pale skin, preparing for my first taste. My lips descend to bare shoulder as she cries out, a pathetic warble that dissolves into peals of laughter.
“Cut. You’re costing me money, baby girl.”
She withdraws from me and faces Martin, hands on hips. “Don’t call me that. Meryl Streep requires up to twenty five takes on her pictures. ”
Martin looks ready to throw her to the wolves. “I’m guessing Meryl Streep doesn’t have to strike the set by sunup for another crew to move in.”
“So ghetto,” she mutters. “Fine, fine. I’m trying to find my motivation.”
Martin waves in her direction while peering at a monitor. “Didn’t you ever have a pet die on you or anything?”
“Well, sure.” She turns to face me again, adjusting the silk straps of her nightgown. “But we’re not doing sad, right? You told me fear. While in a trance.” She shrugs up at me and wrinkles her nose, looking for confirmation that Martin is insane.
“Just pretend you’re Lindsay Lohan,” I say, touching her shoulders. “You’re being offered a choice between community service or a Herbie sequel.”
She blinks. “The horror.”
“Seriously, just relax.”
She closes her eyes, breathes deep, smiles as she reopens them. “You’re all right, man,” she said. “How is it you’re still on the Movie of the Week circuit?”
“For me, it’s a pastime,” I say, shrugging. “Limelight doesn’t suit me.”
She chuckles. “Bullshit. Every actor wants fame.”
“Pardon me for interrupting, but are we through the existential crisis yet? The clock is ticking,” Martin says, pointing at an invisible watch on his wrist.
Another take, another tepid squeal that tapers into giggles. Then a real shriek, better this time, but she stands board stiff and awaits my embrace. Martin is beside himself, and he isn’t alone. I can feel tension rising throughout the gathered crew, thicker than the dry ice fog. Tears form in her eyes, threatening to overwhelm her bravado. She verges on losing it but good, and that will mean a wrap for the whole operation. Time to quit phoning it in and step up for a struggling fellow actor.
“All right,” I say. “Take a deep breath. You trust me?”
“Just let it all go. Forget the bargain basement tombstones, forget Martin, forget the dead puppies. Clear your mind, and just live the moment. Follow my lead.”
She squints, dubious, then nods again. “You got it,” she whispers, closing her eyes.
I nod to Martin, who motions toward the camera without calling for action. An LED flares to life and we are rolling. I step forward, scooping her into my arms. Reach for her chin and tip her face toward mine. Her eyes resist, then open with caution into my own. I gaze deep, allowing her into my soul. Her lips come to life, twitching as she witnesses a century of waiting, longing. She pushes against me, then into me. A whimper rises from her gullet to her lips, soft but deafening. I feel the eyes around us, all of them, as they watch in silence. A tilt of her head and she invites me, soft flesh exposed. My eyeteeth descend, a Pavlovian response as my lips reach her jugular. She wails as I feed, a song worthy of an Emmy.
Or at least an MTV Awards nomination.