It's been way too long! I hope you can make it out to the set tomorrow. The directions are written below and your visitor pass is waiting with the gate guard. I'll see you when you get here and plan for a big lunch! The catering is freakin' amazing and if I recall correctly, you can definitely put the food away.
'Put the food away'. For a fancy pants movie star, Christopher Tam did not know how to talk to a lady. He might as well have told me my ass and spandex were mortal enemies. Oh well. I hadn't seen him in over six months, long enough to start wondering if our time together had been a bizarre dream...albeit one with bloodsucking monsters and psychotic peers.
I sat in the back of an Uber cab, watching Hollywood blur by out the window. No one invited me to a movie studio before and I thought I didn't care. When Chris's email came, my excitement annoyed me. Had I become like every other American, ready to swoon at the prospect of brushing elbows with celebrities? Yeah, kinda. Most of my life went against the grain of normalcy. A chance to see something other people only dreamed of made me feel special. Maybe I was lame, but I didn't care. I got a free cab ride, free lunch and a tour of a movie studio where they filmed some of my favorite work.
I decided to leave cynicism at home and just enjoy the experience.
My phone rang as we drove, a boring classical waltz playing to announce the caller as Markus Winestone, my medias, or connection to those who paid the bills. I groaned and half considered letting it go to voicemail. Whatever he had to say carried the potential to ruin my awesome day.
Curiosity got the better of me and I picked up.
"What's up, Markus? Know that I'm riding Uber right now."
"Good to know," Markus replied. "I'll keep this brief. You need to get down here as soon as you can. I've got something for you."
"Is it free money? Cause I'm totally down for that."
"Not free, no. When can you be here?"
"I don't know. I'm on my way to see Christopher at the movie set."
"Interesting..." Markus hummed.
"Just...the timing. You haven't seen him for a while, have you?"
I hesitated, wondering where he was going with the question. "Been about six months."
"And you're just seeing him today?"
"Dude, didn't I just say what I'm up to? He's giving me a tour of the set. They're about to wrap or something so they're a lot more casual about the rules." I sighed. "Can you get to the point?"
"I'll explain when you arrive. It would be great if you brought Christopher with you. I'd...I'd like to see him again."
"Yeah, I'm sure that was exactly what you meant." I rolled my eyes. "I can't make any promises, Markus."
"You can't expect me to believe you don't need the money."
"Maybe I don’t," I replied. "The work's been steady enough that I'm doing fine."
"Nevertheless, they asked for you by name."
My brows raised. "I'm intrigued now."
"Good. Get here."
"But now you've got me curious. Did they ask for Chris too?"
"I'm...not at liberty to discuss that over the phone. After all, you're in a stranger's car. Remember?"
I hated it when he used my words against him. My driver seemed off in his own world, ear buds sticking out of his head like a couple of tiny, white darts. I doubted he'd be able to hear a semi-truck barreling down on us at seventy let alone my chat with Markus but I did set the scene. I just didn't feel like paying the price.
"Whatever, Markus. I'll get there when I can with Chris if he can break away."
"Perfect. See you soon." He hung up before I could protest and I shook my head, staring at the phone. Unbelievable!
After my last big case, I became a sought after resource by the supernatural community. They requested my presence several times, mostly on delicate matters, which cracked me up considering my overall lack of subtlety. I met Chris at an anger management course after I went off on a judge over an assault charge.
Sensitivity did not exist in my bag of tricks.
The positive: I didn't have to worry about how to make rent. The SNs paid well for these special favors and boy did they call them in. Markus enjoyed elevated status for his part in the cases, which meant easier access to better tools. Stuff we used to scrounge for suddenly showed up as regular deliveries whenever we needed them.
The negative: the SNs tended to be impatient when they wanted something. I found myself stuck on twenty-four seven on call. A text message meant walking out of a movie or leaving a cart full of groceries behind on more than one occasion. Luckily, I didn't have any family members or 'normal' friends so at least I never had to explain. This time, they gave me an excuse not to drop my plans. They wanted something with Chris so boom. I still get to see the cool ass movie set while doing my job. Win freakin' win.
"We're here, lady." The Uber driver didn't bother to look back but had parked just outside the entry gate for the film lot. I muttered my thanks and got out, slinging my bag over my shoulder before approaching.
The weather proved on the middle side of hot for Hollywood, pushing eighty degrees. I wore a pair of jeans, tennis shoes and a tee shirt. Walking toward the gate made me think I should've gone with shorts. A sheen of sweat broke on the back of my neck and I hoped wherever we ended up had some serious AC.
I waved at the guard, adopting my best friendly smile. It must've been crap because the uniformed guy didn't return it. His eyes shot to the front of my hair, the bangs a fresh shade of teal with the rest my standard black. I'm on the liberal coast where movie stars use their craft to go off on conservative types all the time but my hair is worth your disdain? Get a life, seriously.
Somewhere along the way, I learned to keep such thoughts in my head instead of blurting them out. Markus called it diplomacy and I appreciated his kindness. Telling people off never got me very far and I lived in a constant state of seething. I wanted to believe I knew better than everyone because of my experience with supernatural monsters.
More likely, I just adopted a mean attitude and a false sense of superiority. It took me a long time to admit such a thing so really, as I got close enough to talk, I kept up the smile and held my tongue. After all, this dude was just doing his job. He didn't need any guff from some chick trying to get into his lot. Wow, that came out WAY wrong.
"Hi! I'm Cecile Trudeau here to see Christopher Tam." I pulled out my ID. "He said I had some kind of pass waiting for me."
"Let's see the ID." He took it from me and scrutinized the picture. "You changed your hair color."
"Frequently. Last month I tried for pink. Didn't work so well." Luckily, I had a potion to wash it out. I'd hoped for a statement look, a screaming hot pink telling people she's fierce! Instead, I got a sort of drab orange, a color straight out of a crappy diner in Arizona. It basically said she doesn't know shit about color theory. Or dye.
"I see." The guard didn't seem fascinated by my comment but he did hand the ID back and slide a clipboard over to me. "Sign at the bottom. I'll page Mister Tam."
"Thanks..." I didn't bother to read the form and just signed at the bottom. He spoke low into a radio with his back to me but I still heard his comment.
"Mister Tam's guest is here and she's weird. Can you have him or his assistant come get her?" A pause. "Thanks, I'll let her know." He turned back to me. "Someone's on their way to bring you through. I need to check your bag for weapons."
Lucky for me, I didn't bring a gun that day. Normally, I didn't travel without some protection. I opened the purse and revealed my wallet, a bottle of water, some lip balm and a lump of keys. Not exactly the hot find of the week and he seemed disappointed he didn't see anything he'd consider contraband.
"Thanks for your cooperation." He handed me the visitor's pass with my name on it. "Wear that on your...well...somewhere people can see."
I shrugged, clipping it to the hem of my tee shirt. "Gotta do what we gotta do, huh?"
A golf cart drove up with a frazzled looking woman behind the wheel. She wore khaki slacks, a button down shirt and enough makeup to let the Phantom of the Opera wander around without the mask. I noted her dark eyes and brows contrasting her dyed blond hair. It had been kept up recently but still didn't look remotely natural.
"Miss Trudeau?" She called out in a high pitch voice, the kind I thought people reserved for children's cartoons. "Hello there! My name is Martha, Mister Tam's assistant. Please, hop in. I'll get you over to the set right away."
I'd hoped Chris would get me but he must've been busy. I joined her, holding my bag in my lap. Martha turned the cart around and we headed back into the depths of the film lot. I looked around, hoping to spot something cool but the place looked like every warehouse district or storage facility. Sure, the buildings were bigger but each one looked like the last. The creativity must happen inside.
"How do you know Mister Tam?" Martha asked.
"We met at...at a class," I replied. "We're just friends."
"Oh, are you an actress too?"
"No..." I needed to spin our meeting. Media outlets plastered Chris's name on the internet and in print about his anger management incident. After threatening a guy during an audition, he got in his fancy car and hauled ass back home. The cops didn't even catch him, they just ran the plate and met him at his place.
Martha might be aware of the incident but she didn't need to know he hobnobbed with another out of control person who later became his buddy. I did feel a naughty urge to tell her the truth, about how I saved Chris from a vampire one night and indoctrinated him into the supernatural world. I imagined telling her he was a Savant and that we fought monsters.
Instead, I went with boring. "It was...well...I shouldn't really say. Chris might not be comfortable with me talking about his activities outside, ya know? It wasn't dirty, multi-level marketing related or any sort of alcohol or drug abuse stuff."
"Were you guys trying to get one of those cruises?"
Martha patted my knee. "You know what I'm talking about. You get a call that says you've won an all expense paid cruise and all you have to do is show up to listen to a quick seven hour seminar to collect your prize? They want the chance to sell you something then you can go to a tropical place on their dime?"
"No...but...do those actually work?"
"Not yet, but I've tried four times so far!"
"How do they not give you the prize?"
"Oh, they're very clever!" Martha shook her head. "I've even bought what they wanted and STILL didn't get to go to Jamaica."
"I'm pretty sure that's not legal," I replied. "Like...I don't know the law or anything but how can they lure you in with a promise then not fulfill it?"
"I don't know, hon but I can tell you this tan is all California." Check, you’re a big dumb bunny. But cute, I guess, in that fake I'm a clone of every Hollywood chick ever kinda way.
"That's too bad." My out loud voice knew how to be nice. My inside remained catty as a pissed off grandmother sitting at the DMV. I felt a little protective of this idiot though and had to refrain from asking more about the places that kept screwing her out of her hard won prize. I hoped she exaggerated the quick seven hour seminar thing.
I probably would've bought what they were selling too just to end the torture.
"Speaking of marketing," Martha started off on another topic, "do you wear leggings?"
"You know, patterned leggings? My cousin, she sells-"
"Whoa there, no. I know what you're talking about now and no, I don't really buy them. But thanks. I appreciate the thought."
Some lady in my apartment complex became one of those legging ladies and they were selling like meth. People came and went all the time and she invited me to attend these crazy internet promotions where you hit refresh eighty-thousand times hoping to be one of the first people to place an order. I'd done that for my phone once but never for clothes.
Especially not something with cute patterns. I leaned more toward punk than cuddly.
"If you change your mind," because the likelihood of that happening grew exponentially with every high pitch syllable, "here's her contact info!" Martha handed me a pink card with black letters on it. I just crammed it in my bag.
"Thanks, when and if I'm in the market to look like someone stamped my legs with Muppet propaganda, I'll be sure to give her a call."
"She's available at all hours..."
"I get it." I held up my hand to stop the conversation and let out a sigh of relief when she slowed down at an open door. A crowd of voices competed with one another inside and I saw people carrying equipment about, big ass cameras and crates filled with cords. Martha led me inside and looked around, standing on her tip toes.
"Hm." She muttered something under her breath I missed then directed me to follow her under some makeshift scaffolding. I couldn't see anything cool over the barriers in the doorway and she took us into darkness with no light in sight. Martha must've known where she was going because she fared better than me. I tripped three times on the uneven ground. This must be a safety violation!
We emerged into the light and I blinked a couple times to let my eyes adjust. Martha waved her hand over head but kept quiet. Her brow lifted, eyes taking on a desperate sheen and I half believed she needed to have a tinkle. I opened my mouth to ask if she wanted to have a private moment when she spun on me, finger pressed to her lips.
Leaning close, she whispered in my ear, "they might be filming something so we have to be quiet." She can't be serious. I weighed my words carefully, basing my opinion on the myriad of voices booming around us and all the racket acting as accompaniment. If they were filming a scene, then it had to be on par with a comic book movie's climactic ending where Miami faced total obliteration.
"Um...with all this noise?" I whispered back. "Are you sure?"
"You never know! One time, I walked into a scene to hand an actor their coffee and the director picked up their wet noodle and-"
"Cecile!" Chris's voice interrupted the fascinating and likely inappropriate story. He stepped in front of Martha and pulled me into a hug, lifting me up for half a moment. I didn't expect the sudden affection and managed to cling to him only briefly before he set me down. "You made it! I wondered if this might be too short of notice."
"Nope! I'm boring as ever!" I smiled uneasily, rubbing the back of my head. "You know how my work goes. A lot of it happens at night."
Chris looked fabulous, especially with Hollywood enhancing his good parts. They spiked up his dark hair, contoured his cheeks a little and dressed him in some weird vest with tails hanging down to his knees. Black leather pants hugged his legs and polished boots went up to the knees.
I had no idea what kind of movie he was making but the clothes intrigued me.
“You aren’t some sort of escort, are you?” Martha asked. She turned to Chris. “She’s not an escort, is she? Because we really can’t have ladies like her on this set. You know, there are kids around and stuff. Just imagine what the parents might say or…think of the children!”
I nearly burst out laughing with the last line. It made up for the fact she just called me a hooker.
Chris smirked. “I can take it from here, Martha. Thanks for bringing her back.”
"No problem,” Martha didn’t seem okay with his brush off but she seemed to let it go. “I'll check back with you in an hour or so."
"Sounds good." Chris touched my back and gestured toward the middle of the room. "Sorry about that. Let me give you the grand tour really fast then we can talk over lunch. The caterers are setting up and should be ready by the time we're done."
"And it's really cool for me to eat here? Like...seriously?"
"Of course! This is like one of those spend tons of money on an auction to hang with a celebrity but you didn't have to bid." Chris grinned, leaning close to speak quieter. "And I think you'll love the concept of this movie. When I show you some of the props and sets they've built...it's pretty exciting."
"I can't wait."
The tour proved to be overwhelming. We went by a green screen area taking up five stories of the building. Wire rigs dangled there with five foot pads occupying the floor beneath them. Cameras and lights were positioned perfectly to illuminate the space and a couple people labored over a control panel to the left.
He took me through a door nearby into a room filled with steel gray surfaces and black panels dotting the walls. Lights flashed here and there, giving it a sci-fi vibe. One of the tables had a mirrored surface and Chris paused there, explaining how it would be a holographic projector in the actual film.
The prop department came next. Fake guns lined the tables, each one far more organic and rounded than their real world counterparts. Swords rounded out the armory but they looked like reinforced box cutter blades with a handle. Apparently, they had lights on them as well which glowed when they struck one another.
Tablet computers made to look high tech, crazy gloves with wires coming out of them and belts covered in gadgets finished the room off. Chris let me handle one of the firearms and I couldn't believe how heavy it was. Weighing it in my hand, I aimed down the sites and noted it would be impossible to get a good shot off.
Whoever built it didn't ensure the reticles lined up. Oh well, it looks neat.
"Um...can you tell me what the movie is about?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah. It's based on a young adult book series called Shadow Scouts. Have you ever heard of it?"
"No, but they sound like they'd be shaking their fists at the Power Rangers for foiling their plans...or maybe Sailor Moon's crew." I shrugged. "Anyway, there are way too many young adult books for me to keep track of. And they seem to pump them out as movies faster than the writers can fill in their template."
"Unkind," Chris said, "but also sort of accurate. I'd never heard of it before the audition and I read the first book when I got the part. Basically, think of it as a cross between The Matrix, Star Trek, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Aliens, Jurassic Park, Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy and Starship Troopers."
"You forgot Firefly," I replied. "And Battlestar Galactica."
Chris tilted his head. "Guardians of the Galaxy covers Firefly I think...but it's nothing like BSG."
"Dude!" My eyes nearly bulged from my head. "You just named every major science fiction thing since nineteen-seventy! How does a comparison of everything tell me what this is like?" I shook my head. "Just...give me the synopsis."
"Sure! So it's about these kids who are essentially boy and girl scouts only they call them Shadow Scouts."
"Cause...they have to get a ninja merit badge?"
"No, because they've ascended to the final stage of their training. Dawn, Dusk, Shadow. That's the order of progression. Basically, Shadow Scouts are allowed to go into space to conduct their training and, in this story, their final entails going to an ancient planet where they have to conduct research and survive."
"And let me guess...that ancient planet is Earth, huh?"
"How'd you know?"
"I..." I bit my lip. "I know things...I suppose... Go on."
"Okay, so they get there and shit goes down wrong. The ship crashes and their mentor dies. We lose radio contact with them and that's where I come in."
"You're their intergalactic nanny?"
"No! I trained them before they left so I feel responsible. I organize a rescue party while they discover that people are still living on Earth, trying to survive in the wastes. And they're cannibals."
"Exactly! It's creepy, right? These people are straight chowing on flesh when the kids find them and it turns into a cat and mouse game where superior technology and training goes against raw animal instinct."
A voice over a loud speaker announced lunch time.
"There's still plenty to see," Chris said, "but let's get some food and chat before we go on."
"Good thing I'm not sensitive about gross talk because I'm starving." I rubbed my stomach.
Chris grinned. "Good thing it's a buffet, huh?"
"You know, I've been meaning to talk to you about that!" I smacked him on the arm with the backs of my fingers. He jumped. "I can't believe you wrote that bit about me putting the food away!"
"Ha! You can! I've seen you really pack it in!"
"Yeah, after we basically exhausted every nutrient in our bodies! Come on! You made it sound like I'm a real horker."
"What the hell is a horker?"
"Big walrus looking monster from Skyrim?" Chris continued staring at me with wide eyes. "You know, the video game? Elder Scrolls? Fantasy? Fun? Entertainment?"
"I've never played it."
"Obviously! But never heard of it?" I shook my head. "That seems crazy. They had commercials on regular TV for this one."
"So horkers eat a lot of food?"
"I'd guess so considering they're fat and bloated looking things. Probably devour hundreds of fish a day or something."
"I'm pretty sure they'd be committing seafood genocide at that point."
"Wow, you know what I mean!" My cheeks flushed. "Anyways! Where is this food? How far do we have to travel to 'put it away'?"
The spread looked like it came straight out of a fancy wedding. They served prime rib and all the fixings. My stomach growled at the thought. While my financial situation didn't mean I went a day or two without eating anymore, I certainly never indulged myself like this. Even on my birthday, I only managed to get something free at a local restaurant.
Which did not compare with these guys.
Chris and I loaded up a couple plates and took them outside, heading over to a trailer located amongst several others. He popped the door and let me in first. The place proved Spartan with only a refrigerator, built in couch, small table, bathroom and a twin bed on the opposite side.
"I guess you don't spend much time in here," I said. "Especially since you can probably just go home when you're off."
"We've put in some long hours." Chris grabbed two bottles of water and brought them over. "I've had the misfortune of sleeping on that lumpy mattress back there a couple times but you're right. Most nights, I sleep in my own bed."
I dug into the food, trying to go slow so I could savor it. The taste blew me away. My parents never bought anything like it either, not even on the holidays. Thanksgiving occasionally brought out fancier dishes but prime rib seemed mythical. Every bite proved it. There are people who eat like this all the time. Maybe I should budget in some personal pampering.
"Hey," I muttered between bites. "Back to my previous question, how'd you get this role? You had some crazy audition right at the end of our case then boom, here you are almost done. Isn't that quick?"
"Turned out they were doing a last minute replacement. Someone already had the role and backed out." Chris shrugged. "It happens sometimes but they were really screwed. My character hadn't shown up yet but they were already into the shooting schedule. To be totally honest, they called me because they were certain I'd be available."
"Oh..." I swallowed hard, taking a sip of water. "So...not because you're awesome."
"I'd like to believe that awesome helped." Chris grinned but it faded quickly. "But likely, no. I'm not focusing on the negative. They've been happy with my work and I have to say, it's been good to do it again. However..." He drew a deep breath, turning to the window. "I...you said some things when we were working together...I think you were right about."
I tilted my head. "Like what?"
Chris poked at his food. "It's hard to pretend to be normal. Much more difficult than I imagined." He shook his head, chuckling. "I really thought you were exaggerating but I've seen them. A vampire came to the set the other night, eyeing someone."
"Was it the script girl?" I asked, my eyes wide.
"What? No...I don't think so."
I sighed and turned my attention back to the food. "Such a wasted opportunity."
"What? I liked Shadow of the Vampire. Anyway, the civilized ones don't just chow on people so I can make jokes. Remember that Piotr dude? Can you imagine him doing something that wasn't classy?"
"No, I guess not."
"There you go. Anyway, what else?"
"I saw a werewolf too, cleaning up the lobby at the main building. It was pretty late at night. I...I couldn't help but stare for a moment and I think he saw I was a Savant."
"I'm sure he did." I went back to eating. I warned him about trying to live a normal life. He thought taking care of the vampire nest who came after him would settle things, allowing him to get back to his acting career. After dealing with something far worse, he understood leaving wouldn't be so simple.
We had downtime and could step away from the crazy for a while but it always revisited. No matter what we tried to do, eventually we were expected to get back in the ring. Whether we became tinkers or took to the streets like me, one way or another, we were involved in the supernatural world.
"So I'm not sure how to handle it. I've got some more work to do on this movie. I mean, I'm not the lead but there's a press side too. It's not for a while...but..." Chris sighed. "I worked hard to get to this point in my life and I don't want to let it go completely. I feel like there must be a way to balance things."
"Are you asking me for advice on how to do it?" I leaned back, brows raised. "Because if we're being honest, I'm not exactly the most normal cat in the colony. My world is watching movies, playing video games, occasionally streaming the latter on the internet and hunting horrifying monsters. That's what I do. No regular job, no normal friends, not in person at least.
"Remember, I told you I tried to ignore it all and it didn't work. Once I embraced being a Savant, it became easier. Like...somehow the world knew I wasn't denying my nature so it stopped putting weird stuff in my path. Or maybe I just accepted it better. Regardless, the only way you'll feel 'normal' is to do what you were chosen to do."
Chris frowned. "I thought you didn't believe in the whole chosen fate thing."
"I've had a change of heart." I shrugged. "Is this why you brought me here? To talk about this?"
"Partially, yes. I had four reasons, actually."
"And they were?"
"Show you around the set because I thought you'd think it was cool. Have lunch and catch up. Ask for your advice about being normal. Mention something about these dreams I keep having. And discuss that guy who ruined my career."
"That's five," I said.
"Five things. You said you had four reasons but I count five."
"Okay, I tacked on the last one as I remembered it."
"I see." I hummed. "You're not done with number one because I want to see the rest of this circus and the lunch is awesome. We established I have no advice for you but the dreams part...those sound scary. What's going on?"
"I had these insane dreams when we first started. Hands grabbing me, some vision of what I could only describe as hell." Chris rubbed his eyes. "I stopped having them after we finished with Elizabeth."
"Yeah, Savants all have crazy ass dreams when they first start. I'm not sure they're all the same, but they're pretty scary."
"What do they mean?"
I shrugged. "I talked to a few people about them. Markus gathered descriptions for a while. Ultimately, we think it's just a way to compel us to do the job. Like...some kind of warning maybe. Do what you're tasked with or the world will end up bad. I don't know for sure. They go away pretty fast so it kinda doesn't matter."
"Except I've started having mine again."
I leaned forward. "Wait, what? What do you mean?" I thought he'd talk about anxiety type dreams, like seeing a werewolf wink at him at a movie theater or having a vampire chew on him while he tried to recite some Shakespeare. "Why do you think they're the same? When did they start?"
"They started again four days ago. I woke up in a panic, covered in sweat. They leave me feeling the same as when we started working together but there's some sense of urgency to them, a pressure in my chest to do something. You know, like when you're late for something? I think they're getting worse, Cecile and I'm not sure what to do.