Sunday, March 25, 2012

REEL MONSTER (the novel) - pages 21-30


Continued from previous blog...

SIX
“Video Palace” hadn’t changed much since the Mr. Craven days. The red rugs were still the same, except a little more faded and stained. The popcorn smells were still the same, except maybe a little more stale. And the marquis lights were still in full effect, although there was often a bulb or two that needed to be changed. The only main difference about the store was the employee (Mikey) and the ownership of the place, which had since been taken over by the “Ross family”. The Ross' owned a bunch of franchises around the town - including a McDonald's and a Dunkin' Donuts - and they eventually intended to franchise Video Palace itself. Yes, they didn’t exactly purchase the place because they loved movies. It was more of just a wise business decision on their part and it showed in the way they ran the place (Craven, for example, never would have left a light-bulb unchanged).

As for the former owner of the video store, nobody ever knew what happened to the eccentric Mr. Craven; he seemed to have just disappeared into thin air. There were a lot of rumors of spontaneous combustion and even alien abduction, but those were dismissed by the police as horseradish. Detectives launched a semi-thorough investigation, although no definitive conclusions were ever made regarding the wacky video store owner’s disappearance. They assumed that he was either kidnapped or that he just got the hell out of Dodge for whatever reason, although they knew how much he loved the video store and they couldn’t understand how he would just up and leave the place. It’s not like he was having any financial problems (at least none that the investigators could uncover) and they were pretty sure nobody was out to kill him. Several years went by and they never found one lead that could shed any light on the disappearance. Eventually, the detectives moved onto some more pressing investigations and they deemed the Craven disappearance a “cold case”.

Once the case became cold, ownership of Video Palace got handed over to Craven's bank and the bank subsequently auctioned the store off to the highest bidder. The prominent Ross family ended up getting Video Palace for a price that was a steal for them but too expensive for anybody else who was interested.

Flash-forward a few years later and Mikey became old enough to get himself a part-time job. Seeing that he loved movies, it only made sense that he would try to gain employment at the town's biggest video store. Mr. Ross (the patriarch of the Ross family) hired Mikey on the spot because the boy seemed uptight and ‘anal’ and, overall, looked like he'd be a loyal employee. Ross also thought he could trust Mikey to close the place himself on various nights during the week when it wasn’t worth paying two employees at a time.

Tonight was one of those nights.

Yes, Mikey was alone behind the store's front counter watching a Johnny Cruise “Rom-Com” called TWIN FLAMES. Johnny plays an idiot savant who takes a road trip across America to find his long-lost high school crush. Mikey was near the end of the movie where Johnny finally finds his crush and is on the verge of making love to her on a bed. What bugged Mikey was how there was hardly anything awkward about the verbal exchange leading up to the lovemaking, even though Johnny was an idiot savant with the social skills of a five-year-old.

“If only it were that easy,” muttered Mikey under his breath. Everything in the movies was ALWAYS so easy. Heck, if Johnny Cruise as an idiot savant could get the girl of his dreams, then why couldn’t HE get the girl of his dreams? What was wrong with him? If he were in a movie, he would undoubtedly get Lindsay Myers - there was no doubt about that. But, alas, he wasn’t in a movie. He was in reality. And reality friggin’ stunk!

“Excuse me,” said a customer who had suddenly made his presence known. He looked like a plumber who had just recently fixed his last toilet of the day. “Do you guys have the new Johnny Cruise movie? I heard it came out today and I better not have heard wrong.”

“Um, yes, right this way, Sir.”

Mikey led the customer to the waaaaay back of the store where the “Johnny Cruise section” was still in full effect from the days of Mr. Craven. It hadn’t moved, not even an inch. Actually, the only difference was that it was a tad bigger. Johnny, of course, had done several more movies since the days of Mr. Craven. In fact, he was bigger than ever, probably the most A-list of all A-list movie stars. The highest paid actor in Hollywood. Internationally recognized. Super-famous. The biggest of Big-cheeses.

“Here it is,” said Mikey, grabbing a copy of SPEED HARD 2 from off the shelf and handing it to the plumber.

“Thanks,” said the customer. He was about to head back to the front when something caught his eye. “Whoa, you guys actually carry STOP! OR THE NUN WILL SHOOT!?”

“Yep. You want that too?” asked Mikey, half-joking.

“Ha! No way! I saw that movie when it came out in theaters and I barfed up the tuna fish I had for lunch. By far Johnny Cruise’s worst movie!”

“Yeah, well, nobody’s rented it for as long as I’ve been here.”

“That a fact?”

Suddenly, there was a noise coming from the Adult Closet followed by a whispered “shit”. It sounded like some videotapes had fallen onto the floor.

The plumber heard the noise and a grin curled up the right side of his face.

“Somebody’s gonna have a good night later tonight...” said the plumber, giving Mikey a little nudge and a wink.

“Um, yeah...” said Mikey with a nervous giggle. Of course, he knew full-well who this ‘somebody' was but he surely didn’t want his customer to find out. All he needed was the plumber to alert the owner Mr. Ross that there were underage teenagers perusing through the adult videos at his store. This would certainly result in his prompt termination as Video Palace employee, never mind ruin his chances of getting employee of the month.

He escorted the plumber back to the front of the store and checked out his movie as quickly as possible. Then he watched the customer off and marched back to the area of the adult video closet.

“Come on, Brian!” he shouted. “You gotta get out of there. Time’s up. You’re gonna get me in trouble!”

There was some noise inside the closet. It sounded like Brian was re-shelving several of the videos that he was perusing. Then the door to the closet opened and Brian emerged looking a little flushed, frazzled and sweaty.

“I don’t get it, Mikey. There’s so much sex going on out there. And we’re missing out on all of it.”

“Come on, Brian,” said Mikey as he shooed Brian all the way out of the closet. “You’re not eighteen yet. Get out.”

“How many people are in this world, Mikey?”

“Huh? What kind of question is that?”

“What’s the population? How many people?”

“I dunno...there’s billions. Possibly trillions.”

“And how’d they all get here?”

“What do you mean how’d they all get here? They...they...”

“Sex, Mikey. They all got here because some lucky guy out there got laid. Everybody’s getting laid, like, every second of the day. Right now - as I speak - there’s at least a couple thousand people getting action. Now, that’s a FACT, Mikey.”

Brian drooped his head down to the red carpet and looked like the personification of despair. Mikey knew his best friend in the whole wide world needed some cheering up.

“Hey, Brian...you’re only sixteen years old. You’ll have lots of sex some day.”

“You think so?”

“I know so.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re right.”

“Come on, let’s go pop in SPEED HARD 2.”

Mikey ran over to the Johnny Cruise shelf and grabbed a copy of the SPEED HARD 2 VHS. But before he could even get it off the shelf, Brian grabbed his friend’s hand and pulled it away.

“Ouch. What are you doing?” asked Mikey.

“I dunno...I’m not really in the mood for SPEED HARD 2.”

“What are you talking about? You’ve been waiting months for this movie to come out on video.”

“I know, but I’m not in the mood for an actiony movie. I’m too depressed. I need a good laugh.”

“Well, what then?”

Mikey scanned the various titles of Johnny Cruise movies.

“DRIVING MR. BERNIE?”

“Nah.”

“How about EDWARD TERRESTRIAL?”

“Nope, no good.”

“How about a feel-good movie. Like THE MIGHTY RUDY or something along those lines?”

“No, no, no. You’re way off.”

Brian perused the other titles of movies. For some reason, he was drawn to one particular video and he didn’t know why. It seemed to be emitting some sort of seductive frequency that was calling for his attention. But it didn’t make any sense.

“STOP! OR THE NUN WILL SHOOT!” he shouted, almost involuntarily.

Needless to say, Mikey thought he had wax build-up in his ears and didn’t hear his friend correctly.

“What? Have you lost your mind, Brian? I’d rather watch a pile of dog crap steam for ninety minutes.”

“STOP! OR THE NUN WILL SHOOT!” Brian repeated.

“You’ve lost it. You’ve really lost it, Brian.”

“Come on, Mikey, it’ll be fun. We can make fun of it while we watch. You know, like they do on Mystery Science theater 3000.”

Brian grabbed the tape from the rack and - whooooa - did a double-take when he saw what was behind it. Yes, it was the old red lever that said “Pull me".

“What the???”

Mikey also did a double-take.

“Huh...that’s weird.”

“You never knew this was here?”

“Um, no, don’t think so. That tape hasn’t been moved in years.”

“What is it?”

“Maybe it’s the fire alarm or something.”

“Yeah, OK, they’re gonna put the fire alarm behind STOP! OR THE NUN WILL SHOOT! I’m pretty sure that’s the first place somebody’s gonna be looking for a fire alarm.”

“Well, then, I don’t know what it’s for.”

“Only one way to find out.”

Brian reached for the lever, but Mikey panicked and grabbed his arm.

“Wait, Brian, we don’t know what it does. Maybe I should call my supervisor.”

“Maybe we could do that...or maybe I could just...”

Before Mikey had any time to react, Brian took his free hand and - quick as lighting - pulled the lever. There was a loud CLANG, like something had been snapped out of place. Then the ground rumbled a bit and the wall of videos started rotating ninety degrees. Whatever axis the wall was moving along must have needed some oil because it squeaked like a banshee. Then again, what could be expected of a secret passage that hadn’t been used in several years?

Needless to say, both Brian and Mikey were completely shocked by what they saw taking place before their eyes. Their jaws were dropping so low to the red carpet that they looked like pelicans.

“Holy shit,” Mikey gasped, immediately covering his mouth because of the cuss.

“You don’t know anything about this?” asked Brian.

“No. No way.”

Brian peered inside the passage, but he couldn’t really see anything other than darkness. Then he gave Mikey a look. There was an adventurous gleam in his eyes.

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“Shall we?”

“I don’t think we should be going in there, Brian.”

“Oh, come on, Mikey, stop being such a wuss. Let’s check it out!”

Brian took a step inside the passage and Mikey reluctantly followed.

“Maybe it’s just an old storage room, or something,” said Mikey, trying to quell his worries. “Or a break room I never knew about.”

“Yeah, I’m sure that’s what it is,” Brian said sarcastically.

They moved further into the passage and found themselves in what-appeared-to-be a cave-like tunnel, although it was difficult to know for sure what it was. They could hear watery echo drips and there were even visible stalactites - you know, those icicle thingys you would find on the roof of a cave.

“This is incredible!!!” yelled Brian, his voice reverberating off the cave’s walls.

Mikey, however, was less enthusiastic. He was slipping all over the place and concerned that he might twist an ankle. Also, he was hearing some shuffling under his feet, along with a squeaky noise here and there. He knew what this meant. Mice! Or, even worse...RATS!!!

“Brian, where are you?! I can’t see!”

“Just follow my voice! I’m starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel here.”

Indeed, it was true. There was an orangey glow and it wasn’t very far from where they were right now. Brian kept forging closer to it, even though he was starting to hear new noises now - flapping wings, along with some squeaks. They were above his head.

“Bats! Lookout!"

And that’s all Mikey had to hear. “I’m turning around, Brian! Bats carry rabies!”

“Come on, we’re almost there, Mikey. It would be stupid to turn around now!”

The warm, orangey light grew closer and closer to them and they gradually realized that they were, indeed, in some weird tunnel that must have been underground, maybe even several feet below the video store. The light was actually coming from an entrance to a room. Brian crept up to the entrance, clawed his hand through a thin sheet of cobwebs and poked his head inside.

“Holy shit!”

If things weren’t already weird enough - the weirdness had just gotten weirder. There Brian was standing at the entrance to Mr. Craven’s secret laboratory, which was exactly how the wacky video store owner left it before he met his fateful demise. The test-tubes and beakers were a tad more dusty but still steaming with potions and liquid compounds. Even the candles - for some mysterious reason - were still lit. It was like the ghost of Mr. Craven was still in there doing his thing.

Mikey’s head appeared above Brian’s in totem-pole-like fashion.

“Oh...my...God.”

“Mikey, it’s a secret laboratory!”

Mikey was just as impressed as Brian, but his attention was immediately drawn to a little something on the floor.

“Oh, God! Look, Brian! On the floor!”

It was a corpse! Well, more like a skeleton.

“Holy shit!” Brian shouted as he saw what his buddy was looking at.

“All right, Brian, that’s all I had to see. I’m calling the police.”

Mikey started to head back in the direction of the video store, but Brian grabbed him by the arm and refused to let him go.

“Wait, Mikey! Calm down. It’s all right.”

“What do you mean it’s all right? There’s a dead guy in here!”

“Exactly, he’s dead. He’s not gonna hurt us. Come on, let’s check this place out.”

Brian coaxed his buddy into the room and they crept their way closer to the skeleton. Mikey was hesitant, but he didn’t resist Brian. Before he knew it, he was hovering right above the dead-man’s skeleton and he had to pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming any of this up.

“Look, Mikey!”

Brian had just noticed that there was another (smaller) skeleton right next to the big one. Indeed, it was the bones of a bird.

“Sick, Brian. This is so sick.”

Brian knelt beside the skeleton and carefully removed some of the dusty lab coat from the ribs.

“Look! He’s wearing the same uniform you are!”

Indeed, it was true: the Video Palace usher uniform was the same - black pants, bow-tie, cummerbund et al. There was also a plastic name-tag on the skeleton's white shirt. Brian rubbed the dirt and grime off it and read the name:

“Mr. Craven?”

Mikey's eyes lit up and bulged out of their sockets. "What did you say?"

"Mr. Craven," Brian repeated.

“Oh, Jesus! I know who this guy is!”

“Who?”

“Mr. Craven! The guy who opened this place! He mysteriously disappeared many, many years ago. Nobody ever knew what happened to him. They figured he was dead.”

“Well, looks like they figured right.”

Mikey took a look around the laboratory.

“What the heck was he doing back here?”

Brian focused his attention on the rectangular observation table smack-dab in the middle of the laboratory. It was dusty and cob-webby like everything else, but he would have been blind if he didn’t see the mysterious machine on top of the table.

“Hey, look, Mikey!”

“What IS that?”

There were two things that Brian and Mikey immediately noticed about the machine: that there was a clear, see-through window on its surface that looked like the lid to some sort of tape deck. And then on the front there were some dials, knobs, and buttons that said ‘Play’, ‘Stop’, ‘Fast Forward’ and 'Rewind'. In fact, it looked a lot like the early 1980s models of VCRs, when the decks were on top and they popped out like a cassette player. But there was a futuristic-looking upgrade to it.

“It appears to be a VCR,” Brian concluded.

“A strange-looking VCR,” added Mikey. “What the heck was he doing with it?”

“Beats me.”

Brian began searching around the laboratory for clues. He mainly focused his attention on the bookshelves, hoping to find some literature that may shed some light on the situation. He ran his finger along the row of books and noticed that there was one leather-bound book that was pushed out from the shelf a bit, making it stand out from the others. Brian immediately felt drawn to this book - like there was an invisible energy pulling him in its direction - and then he read what was written on its spine:

“'My journal'...hey, look, Mikey!”

Brian took the fat, dusty book off the shelf and showed it to his best friend.

“What is it?” asked Mikey.

“I guess it's a journal.”

Brian started flipping through the pages, coughing from all the dust that was getting into his lungs. He figured the wisest thing would be to find the most recent entry, which would perhaps provide the most clues.

He turned the pages, but - before he knew it - he suddenly stumbled upon what-appeared-to-be a blueprint-like sketch, and the sketch looked a whole lot like the strange VCR machine that was sitting atop the observation table. He turned to the next page and he found exactly what he was looking for. There was a journal entry hand-written in scribbly cursive with black ink. And it was this journal-entry that possessed all the answers:

“Ever since I was a young boy...” Brian read from the journal, “I fantasized about being friends with my favorite movie characters. Imagine what it would be like hanging out with William Powell as The Thin Man, or Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine or Lon Chaney, Robert Mitchum, Vincent Price or John Wayne. I wanted to somehow pull these movie stars out of the movies and into my real life...”

Brian licked his finger, turned the page and continued reading.

“...and now I have finally...finally found a way. While I was washing my hair in the shower today, I had a vision. Of a machine. But not just any machine. A VCR. A...”

Brian looked up from the journal and peered deep into Mikey’s eyes. For a brief moment, there was a look in his face that was strikingly reminiscent of the late Mr. Craven. It was almost as though he were momentarily possessed by the ghost of the wacky video store owner, or at least channeling the man’s spirit.

“...a MAGIC VCR.”

Brian slammed the journal shut. “Mikey! Do you realize what we’ve found?!”

“A Magic VCR?”

“Yeah, that’s what it looks like.”

“Come on, Brian, that’s a lotta hooey. Are we really supposed to believe this VCR has the power to pull movie stars out of the movies?”

“That’s what it says here.”

“I don’t believe it. This is rubbish.”

“Well, there’s only one way to find out.”

Mikey saw the look in Brian’s eyes and knew exactly what his best friend was thinking.

“No, Brian. No-no, Brian. We’re leaving everything here just as we found it.” He started to make a bee-line out of the laboratory. “I’m calling my supervisor.”

But before Mikey could take one step out of the room, Brian darted over to the exit and blocked his friend’s way out.

Mikey stopped dead in his tracks. “Outta my way, Brian.”

“Come on, Mikey...think about this for a minute.” He slithered his arm around Mikey’s shoulders and started walking him slowly around the lab, sweet-talking him like a used car-salesman. “If this thing does what it’s supposed to do...think about what could happen. How many kids in our school would die to be friends with a movie star?”

“Um...probably everyone, I guess.”

“Exactly. So what do you think’s gonna happen if
we’re friends with a movie star?”

“Um...I guess we’d be pretty cool.”

“Instant popularity, Mikey. Like...” he snapped his fingers in the air. "THAT!”

“Yeah, but...”

“Mikey, my pal, if we’re friends with a movie star, everyone’s gonna love us. Girls, Mikey. All the girls in the world will love us. Especially girls by the name of..."

He leaned his lips into his best friend's ear and whispered the name...

"Lindsay Myers.”

All Brian had to say was the name Lindsay Myers and Mikey was instantly under Brian's spell. The little school boy in love started fantasizing about all the wonderful possibilities that this alleged magic VCR had to offer. He saw himself back in the wedding reception hall, only this time he was slow-dancing with Lindsay to the song "Don't know much, but I know I love you". All the guests were circled around him, gawking at the cute couple with adoration. Yes, maybe Brian was onto something here. Maybe this machine COULD do wonderful things for them.

“But who would we...”

Brian’s eyebrows started wiggling up and down. He already knew exactly what his friend was going to ask.

“...pull out?”

“Come on, Mikey. Do you REALLY have to ask that question???”

Stay tuned for the next ten pages of REEL MONSTER...

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