Tuesday, March 27, 2012

REEL MONSTER (the novel) - pages 41-50

To read the preceding ten pages, see the previous blog post...

EIGHT

The rain-slicked parking lot was usually pretty dark at this hour, but it was much more illuminated tonight because of the...well, because the fire inside the video store that was getting angrier and angrier by the second.

Brian and Mikey came bursting out of the video store entrance, ran as deep into the lot as they possibly could and then tried to catch their breath, which was difficult because their lungs were filled with smoke.

The outer facade of the video store was being completely engulfed in flames. All the marquis lights were popping from the intense heat. And all the movie posters on the windows were melting like they were wax. The store was literally being consumed by a wrathful inferno.

Where Mikey was more concerned about the destruction of the video store, Brian seemed more concerned about the well-being of his two prized commodities: Johnny and the magic VCR. Yes, the two keys to him becoming popular and getting laid were on the verge of destruction.

He cupped his hands over his mouth and yelled: “Johnny! Johnny!!!” But there was no response and no sign of the Internationally renown movie star.

Mikey watched the video store burning and he couldn’t help but weep.

“Oh, God, I can’t believe this is happening. Video Palace is completely destroyed now and it’s all my fault!”

"C’mon, Mikey, you said yourself Mr. Ross never cared about the place. Maybe it’s better off this way. Maybe it’s what Mr. Craven would have wanted.”

“Oh, God, I don’t know!”

“But we got bigger problems! It’s Johnny we should be concerned about now.” Brian cupped his hands over his mouth again. “Johnny! Johnny! Johnny!!!”

Again, there was no response or sign of the famous movie star.

“That’s it, I’m goin’ in!” yelled Brian.

“No!” yelled Mikey, trying to stop his friend from making a fatal mistake. “I already lost the video store tonight. I don’t wanna lose my best friend!”

“Johnny’s gonna DIE, Mikey!”

“But if you go in there, you will, too!”

“But...”

But that was the last of their ‘Buts’. There wasn’t any more time for Brian to argue with his best friend in the whole wide world. There was suddenly a huge KA-BOOM!!! - a great explosion - and the video store turned into nothing but a ginormous ball of fire.

“AAAAAggggggghhhhhhhh!!!” Brian and Mikey dove down to the pavement and shielded themselves from the flying debris. Pieces of metal shelves, glass, wood, brick, concrete, nuts, screws and bolts - Brian and Mikey got showered with it all.

When the last of the debris stopped falling, Mikey poked his head up from the ground and took a look at what remained of the video store (i.e. nothing). “Oh, oh shit,” he muttered to himself with a little weep. The video store was no longer, that was for sure.

Brian, however, was weeping for different reasons. Not only was his favorite movie star burnt to a crisp, but all chances of him becoming big man on high school campus was now lost...forever.

Or were they???

His eyes were irritated from all the smoke and dust, but he was pretty sure he could see the silhouette of a man emerge from the remaining flames. It was Johnny! He made it out alive!!! And he was carrying something in his arms. Nope, it wasn't a baby or damsel that he had saved. It was the Magic VCR!

“He made it!” yelled Brian.

Looking almost as though he were in slow-motion, Johnny walked away from the ruins of the video store. Yes, he looked like a great action hero at the end of some movie as he met up with the boys on the other side of the lot.

“Here,” said the movie star, handing the VCR to Brian.

“Gees, Johnny,” said Brian taking hold of the magic machine. “You didn’t have to do that.” He cradled the VCR in his arms and gave it a great big hug against his chest, like it was his baby that had just been saved from the fire.

Johnny didn’t say anything in response. All he did was give Brian a nod and a wink. But, suddenly, his ears pricked up when he started to hear sirens in the distance.

“We gotta get outta here,” said the movie star. “There’s not much time.”

He looked around the parking lot, saw an empty red convertible that seemed to have his name written all over it, and then made a run for it. Brian started to follow him, but Mikey wasn’t going anywhere so fast.

“Wait! Brian, hold on!!! Don’t you think we outta stay here and tell the police what happened?”

“They’ll never believe us, Mikey. Come on, we gotta split.”

Johnny hopped into the convertible and started hot-wiring the heck out of it. After only a second of fiddling with some wires, the engine started and he peeled the car all over the parking lot, for no particular reason, although it certainly looked really cool. After about ten seconds of fishtailing all over the place, he eeeeeeeerched the car to a stop in front of Brian and Mikey.

“You comin’ or not?!” he shouted to the boys.

Brian didn’t have to think twice before he tossed the VCR in the backseat and then hopped in the vehicle himself. But Mikey was still hesitant about everything.

“Wait, Brian, we can’t steal that car!”

Brian heard the sirens getting louder. He could even see some flashing red and blue lights in the not-too-far-distance. And the lights were getting brighter and brighter by the moment. They really didn't have much time left.

“Come on, Mikey! There’s no time to argue here!!!”

Mikey reluctantly leaped into the car and Johnny revved the engine. Rooom! Roooooom! Rooooooooooooom!!!

“Ladies and gentlemen!” Johnny shouted to his backseat passengers. “Fasten your seatbelts!”

And with those words, he slammed his foot down on the gas pedal and peeled the crap out of the parking lot.


NINE

The convertible sped down the rain-slicked street going about eighty miles per hour. Johnny was driving like a mad man, for no apparent reason, as the police never even saw them leave the video store parking lot. It’s not like he was trying to lose anybody or anything.

Brian and Mikey crouched low in the backseat, praying to the Lord Almighty that Johnny wouldn’t lose control of the vehicle.

“Jesus, Brian, why’s he going so fast?!”

“How should I know?”

“Well, don’t ya think you should tell him to slow down?”

“He’s Johnny Cruise, Mikey! He does what he wants!”

Johnny revved the engine some more and pushed even harder on the gas pedal. Mikey poked his head over the passenger seat, took a peek at the speedometer and saw that it was creeping up towards the ninety area.

“Jesus, Brian, this is ridiculous! He’s pushing ninety now!”

“Then YOU say something!”

“Fine!” Mikey popped his head up between the driver and passenger seats. “Um, Johnny...don’t you think we outta slow down a little bit? I don’t think anybody’s following us.”

Johnny, however, paid no attention to Mikey’s suggestion.

“They were gaining on me and I needed to pick up speed,” he said.

“Thanks,” said Mikey with a fake smile and he pulled his head back into the backseat.

“You try,” he said to Brian.

“No.”

“Come on, Brian. You may get through to him better than me.”

Brian reluctantly agreed and poked his head between the front seats.

“Um, Johnny...”

“Quick, get up here and take the wheel!” commanded the movie star.

“What?!”

“Take the wheel!”

Brian scurried into the passenger seat and did what he was told: he took the wheel and prayed to the Almighty that he wouldn't crash the car. With his hands now free, Johnny reached beneath his seat, pulled out an AK47, got up to his feet and started unloading rounds and rounds of bullets at a car that wasn’t behind them.

Mikey, of course, was freaking out in the backseat, ducking as low to the floor as he could, trying not to get caught in the crossfire.

“Jesus, what is he shooting at?!”

“I don’t know!” shouted Brian, who was trying to keep the car on the road. “Hey, Johnny!”

Johnny ignored him and kept shooting the gun at a car that didn't exist.

“Johnny!” Brian shouted again. “It’s OK! Nobody’s there!”

Johnny sprayed a few more bullets and then got back down into his seat. He took the wheel back into his control and started driving a little more safely.

“What the hell was that all about?!” shouted Mikey from the floor of the backseat.

Brian tried to get his head together. He was just as confused as Mikey was. “Hey, Johnny, I don’t mean any disrespect. Me and Mikey are big fans of your work. Just want you to know that. But you gotta chill out, man.”

“Fans of my work?” asked Johnny, keeping his eyes on the road in front of him. “What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but in here - in reality - you’re a movie star. You’re famous as hell!”

“Really?”

“It’s true, Johnny!” shouted Mikey from the backseat.

“Did I believe him?” Johnny asked aloud to himself. “Of course not. But I didn’t wanna call his bluff. I knew he could be packing.”

“Ah...yeah, right,” said Brian in confusion. “Look, Johnny, I don’t think you understand what’s going on. You’re not in a movie anymore. Nobody’s after you. Nobody wants to kill you. Nobody’s even packing. You can just relax and be yourself.”

“Myself, huh?”

“Yeah.”

Johnny turned to Brian and gave him a warm smile.

“OK. I can do that.” Then he went back to watching the road. “I can do that,” he repeated.

But, then, without warning - eeeeeeeeeeeerch - Johnny banged a quick left and drove into the parking lot of a bar called “The Chickenbone.”

“I needed to find the nearest bar and get myself a drink."


TEN

The Chickenbone was a small dive bar that smelled like vodka and bleach. Every once in a while, one would also get a whiff of fish mixed with the odor of cheap urinal cakes from when somebody went into the men’s restroom. The place was divided in two parts by an old pine bar, faded and splintering in parts. On one half of the room there were about three or four tables and on the other half there was a pool table and jukebox. As far as the clientele went, there was a trucker or two, some bikers, a couple burnt-out cougars who had been married two or three times each, and then a Chickenbone-regular people called Toothless Joe. 'Toothless' was a burnt-out bar-fly who cackled like a witch and whose breath smelled like forty-years-worth of stale Marlboro cigarettes.

Guarding the door was a big bouncer named Eddie, whose big belly stuck out of his black T-shirt that said ‘Staff’. He weighed about three-hundred-fifty pounds, had Elvis-like sideburns and ever-visible buck-teeth that looked like a cross between a smile and the look a constipated man makes when he’s squeezing out a growler.

Usually, Eddie's nights were pretty much on the boring side. If there was any action in the bar, it usually just consisted of Toothless Joe getting too drunk and making a scene. Maybe he would have to break up a fight or two, or make a statement to the police about such-and-such. But other than that, nights - especially during the week - were pretty mundane.

Tonight, however, was going to be the exception.

When Internationally known movie star Johnny Cruise appeared at the bar’s entrance, Eddie couldn’t believe his eyes. It was his favorite movie star! In the flesh! At The Chickenbone, of all places!

“Finally, my prayers have been answered! Johnny Cruise! How are ya, Johnny?!”

Johnny looked the bouncer square in the eye and said:

“The place was a dive and reeked like stale liquor. But I didn’t care. As long as they had some whiskey I’d be a happy man.”

“Hey, Johnny, I loved you in that movie WITCH RING. That movie scared the hell outta me.”

But Johnny didn’t seem to acknowledge anything this man was saying to him. He walked right past Eddie and headed for the bar.

“Johnny Cruise! All right. Awesome.”

Meanwhile, Brian and Mikey poked their heads into the bar and tried to nonchalantly walk past Eddie.

“Hey, whoa there,” said Eddie, holding back the boys with his salami-sized arms. “You fellas 21???”

“Um...uh...” Brian didn’t know what to say. “Yeah, we’re 21.”

“Bull-friggin’ shit. All right, pimple-faces! Take a hike!!!”

He started pushing the two teens back outside, but - suddenly - an arm wrapped itself around Eddie's neck and another arm stuffed a rag up his nostrils. Whatever it was that was on the rag, it knocked Eddie out in about a second-flat and the bouncer collapsed to the floor like a sack of potatoes.

“Come on!” Johnny shouted. “Hurry up!” He waved Brian and Mikey into the bar and the two teens - not knowing what else to do - scooted their way inside.

“You kill that guy?” Mikey asked Johnny.

“Relax, he’ll be fine in a cupla minutes.”

“Are you sure?”

“Look, I said he’d be fine. What more do you want from me?!”

Mikey was taken aback by Johnny’s sudden shift in temperament. His reactions didn’t seem to be normal or the least bit appropriate. It was like he was functioning on a different frequency from Brian and Mikey.

“Relax, Johnny,” said Brian, trying to quell the situation. “You just gotta understand there’s consequences to doing stuff like that in reality. People actually get hurt. Okay?”

Johnny took a seat at the bar. Mikey sat next to him and Brian sat next to Mikey.

“Look, Mikey,” said Johnny, sounding much more relaxed. “I just wanna say I’m sorry for barking at you back there. I was outta line.”

“It’s all right, Johnny. Don’t worry about it.”

“It’s just this whole reality thing. It’s really hard for me.”

“I know what you mean. Boy, I know what you mean.”

The Chickenbone bartender was a woman named Rhonda wearing a black tank top and frosty dungarees. She held her hair back in a greasy ponytail and had an Anaconda tattooed on her right shoulder, which was her favorite snake in the snake kingdom. By the look of the sags under her eyes, it was apparent that this woman had seen it all and been through much.

Rhonda was busy throwing some dirty glasses into the dishwasher beneath the bar counter, but then she stood up, saw her new customers and had to blink twice to make sure she wasn’t hallucinating.

“Wow! Johnny Cruise!”

Johnny gave her a blank look.

“Hey, I loved JURASSIC KIDS,” she said with a smile that revealed a dead, black tooth.

JURASSIC KIDS was a movie where Johnny plays a wacky inventor who makes a time machine in the attic of his home. His children and their neighborhood friends play with the machine one day when their dad isn't around and they mistakenly get sent back in time to the prehistoric ages. Johnny eventually figures out what happened to them and he has to go back in time to protect the children from dinosaurs.

Johnny, however, didn’t know what the heck the bartender was talking about.

“Huh?”

Mikey leaned over to Johnny and whispered in his ear. “Just say ‘thank you’, Johnny.”

“Thank you?”

“Oh, you’re welcome, Johnny,” said the bartender. “What can I get for ya, honey?”

“Wild Turkey. Shaken, not stirred. Straight up, on the rocks.”

“Uh...OK...comin’ right up.”

The bartender grabbed a glass and filled it with the Wild Turkey.

Johnny took out a wad of cash and counted out five ones. Brian eyeballed the cash and noticed that there was something a little strange about it - mainly, it wasn’t green. It was pale-white, like what you would see in a movie.

Johnny tossed the money on the counter and said, “Keep the change.”

The bartender eyeballed the money and looked a little confused. “What’s this?”

“Oh, um, Johnny,” said Brian, taking the money away. “This money’s no good here.”

“What do you mean that money’s no good here?”

“It’s movie money, Johnny. It’s a prop. You need cold, hard, green cash in this world.”

Johnny didn’t seem to understand a word that was coming out of Brian’s mouth.

“That’s all right,” said the bartender. “It’s on the house, Johnny.” Then, she turned to the boys. “What are you kids drinkin’?”

The question caught both Brian and Mikey off guard. They had never ordered a drink at a bar before. Heck, they never even had a drink before, except for a couple sips of their dad’s beers at barbecues.

Mikey cleared his throat and tried to deepen his voice.

“Um...yes, I will take a Scotch and Soda, please.”

The bartender raised her eyebrows but still went to fetch the drink. Brian covered his face in embarrassment and tried to sit a few inches further away from his friend.

“Scotch and Soda? What are you, an old man?”

“Huh? What are you talking bout?”

“We get into a bar, there’s tons of babes around...”

Mikey took a look around the bar and saw that the only ‘babes’ in his vicinity were a couple of burnt-out cougars wearing leather vests and shaking their saggy bosoms to a Robert Palmer song.

“...and you order a Scotch and Soda? That’s something my grandfather would order. Come on, Mikey, you gotta play it cool.”

The bartender came back with the drink and then turned to Brian.

“And for you?” she asked him.

Brian also cleared his throat and deepened his voice as low as it could go.

“Um...yes, I’ll take a Strawberry Daiquiri, please.”

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

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