“Okay, places, everyone!” yells the director.
The neon goo drive-in theater cannibal dude puts his phone away, nods at me and Ernie with a wink and a smile. “Y’all are doing great, kiddos. Let’s make ’em proud.” He returns to the car and shakes out his arms, wiggles his crotch, checks his half-eaten girlfriend—a latex dummy, I now realize—gives us a thumbs up.
“Lights! Camera! Action!”
The scene resumes.
The neon goo drive-in theater cannibal dude immediately transforms from man to monster.
And Ernie’s hugging me all over again.
I want to do the same, to hug him back and give in to the terror and utter confusion—to give the director exactly what he wants. But I know better. This is just a set, it’s always been just a set, and the neon goo drive-in theater cannibal dude is just an actor wearing makeup…and a giant plastic penis. Forget the penis, though. I don’t have to be afraid of him is the point. Because I know better. It’s like that dream where you’re still in the fourth grade even though you were promoted more than two years ago. You keep going back, you keep missing the bus or forgetting your locker combination or failing the big quiz, and you feel like this has been your whole life stuck and going nowhere over and over—and then one dream you catch yourself, you remember that you’ve already finished the fourth grade, you’re out, you’re done, you don’t have to keep going back to your old elementary school. I don’t have to keep coming back here, either. I’m not talking about the drive-in theater or the movie set scenario concocted by my uppity brain. What I mean is the place I’ve been coming back to that’s inside of me, but doesn’t need to be. The place where I worry and fret and shiver and shake, unable to control outcomes that are totally mine to control.
I’ve already been here.
I’ve already done this.
I don’t need to do it anymore.
One of the stagehands seems to be on my side, because he’s aiming an industrial fan in my direction, the breeze ruffling my loincloth, tousling my hair. I stand straight, unafraid as I unsheath my dagger and raise it above my head, in effect becoming a living art rendition of that Boris Vallejo movie poster for National Lampoon’s Vacation. Only instead of Beverly D’Angelo clinging to my leg, it’s poor Ernie—
“Cut—cut!” yells the director into his megaphone. He gets to his feet, kicks over his chair, jabs a knobby finger squarely in my direction. “Goddamnit, Carlton! What do you think you’re doing? That’s not the scene!”
I stand my ground. “It is now.”
“What did you just say to me?”
“I’m quitting,” I reply, and help Ernie get to his feet. “I’m done.” Together we start walking away.
The director’s livid. “Don’t you walk away from me! Get back here this instant! You walk out on me and I’ll send your country-fried ass back to raising barns and hauling bails of hay for the rest of your life! You’ll never work in this town again, you hear me, Carlton? RKO owns your ass!”
I hear him, but I’m not listening as I step from fake turf to regular old summer-warmed asphalt.
The stage lights dim.
The scene fades.
I’m back in reality—or maybe I never left.
“What the fuck was that?” Ernie breathes, finally letting go and fixing me with an incredulous, somewhat accusing stare.
I look over my shoulder, smiling. “Nothing to worry about.”
Back at the car, Dad’s already returned with replacement snacks, which he passes to us as we pile into the back seat. “Concessions apologized for the fake promotional goo and condiments, crossed our order with someone else’s. Decided to comp us. Where were you two, by the way?”
I exchange glances with Ernie.
Shrugging, I reply, “That carhop was right. It’s been a heck of a show.”
BRB. In the meantime,
why not read the archive?
Or check out my
shitty horror novel, DOOKIE?