by Jon Batson
Fade to Black tells the story of three unlikely heroes who struggle to stay alive in a hostile environment while plotting to retake their home planet, Earth. This character driven sci-fi saga takes the reader on a page-turning adventure that explores survival, interpersonal relationships, and quality of life when many of earth’s population are “displaced” elsewhere. Always riveting and often humorous, Fade to Black captivates the reader in an ever-evolving tale set on an inhospitable world.
Copyright © 2009 | Midnight Whistler Publishers
First in The Trasaron Chronicles series, Fade to Black tells the story of three unlikely heroes who struggle to stay alive in a hostile environment while plotting to retake their home planet, Earth.
This character driven sci-fi saga takes the reader on a page-turning adventure that explores survival, interpersonal relationships, and quality of life when many of earth’s population are “displaced” elsewhere. Always riveting and often humorous, Fade to Black captivates the reader in an ever-evolving tale set on an inhospitable world.
Hollywood in the Rain
Hollywood in the rain always looks like a bad movie.
Charles Macavoy liked the rain – even if it was how he found the leaks in his car top. Charles “Mack” Macavoy knew all about bad movies too – he made them.
It was Saturday and he was finished early, just as the rain began to fall. March was the rainy season. The rain would stop by June when filming would start. The timing was just right.
It took him 20 minutes to get the top up on the old Triumph Spitfire. If it had been a lighter rain, he wouldn’t have bothered, after all it wasn’t that far from the studio on Melrose to his hovel just above Hollywood Boulevard. But it was a hard rain and the traffic was typical for a Friday, worse because of the weather.
Los Angelinos don’t know how to drive in the rain, Mack reflected. The first sprinkle and there are accidents every few blocks. The streets get slick, cars hydroplane. People aren’t used to it.
The music on the radio seemed to be made for the day. Clement Haggerty and the Southern Comfort Reunion sang,
There’s one place with no problems,
Where worries all are gone
If you want to go there,
It’s down at Forest Lawn
If it’s too much trouble to ‘cross the Rubicon’
Lay your weary bones on Forest Lawn
The Southern Comfort Reunion had helped the country through two difficult decades and was now making a comeback tour. Their simple lyrics and solid rock rhythms carried people away and gave a soundtrack to their lives. Every movie that showed that era had to have Clement Haggerty’s songs playing in the background.
Home for Mack was on the second floor of an aging architectural mistake named The Hollywood Square; three tiers of apartments in a square encompassing a courtyard with a pool as its main feature. When new, it was quite the thing. Lately it was home for hopefuls on the way up and derelicts on the way down, hanging on to as much as they could as their descent quickened. The apartments were small and cheap, not made for living really, just for staying while you got your act together.
Mack made a dash for the stairwell and from there to the door of his apartment. He was soaked, but so what? Life was good – there was a bottle of Trader Joe’s French Market Merlot in the cupboard.
He opened the drawer and pulled out the corkscrew that had been with him since his 18th birthday, more than 30 years ago. It was a gift from his best friend and it had spent many a rainy night contributing to his cork collection.
Speaking of which, there were notes to be taken care of. On the wall at the counter was a box-frame holding a cross-hatch of corks he had liberated on rainy nights past, now in use to hold notes.
“Guns & Dames” said the first note, “find one more Tommy Gun and two gray Fedoras.”
“Candy’s Revenge II” said the second, “need another teenage room for Candy’s best friend, Trish.” He would have to see the set designer for that one.
The script bag was good for a day like this; it kept things dry, even two wet-behind-the-ears scripts like these. He took out a ragged day planner and added those items to his list of things to do on Monday.
Mack looked at the phone. Who would call at – well, it wasn’t that late but still, it was Saturday.
Mack ran over the list of people he had called that day and those he might have forgotten to call. He wished he had kept the service on, but it was costing a fortune.
He picked up the phone and answered, a little too loudly, “Yeah!”
“Good! Mack, you’re home. Listen, we gotta talk and I mean fast.”
It was Henry Stansbury, Hank to his friends, the producer for both Guns & Dames and Candy’s Revenge II. They had just spent six days together. They had spent most of the evenings as well, telling each other over drinks that there was a place in this world for “C” movies. After all, entertainment was entertainment and where were tomorrow’s stars going to come from if not from them? Yeah, they were very convincing.
“Hank, gee, I haven’t spoken with you since – gosh – yesterday!”
“Yeah, yeah! We gotta talk. If you got plans tonight, cancel ‘em, or just forget ‘em, believe me, nobody’ll care.” Hank was agitated.
“Look, Hank, if it’s about the room for Trish, I was about to make the calls now, and the Tommy gun is not a problem. I’m all over it.”
“Forget about them, they’re not important. Both those projects are off as of right now.”
“Off? Hey, Hank, listen, if it’s about that mix-up with the costumes, it’s not my fault. Western Costume sent over the wrong …”
“That’s not it. Forget all that. There’s no way you’re going to guess what’s in the wind, so don’t try. You still dressed?”
“Yeah, but …”
“Meet me at Hollywood-Broadway pronto. Don’t tell anyone. This is a bigger production than any you have ever taken on. Ever! Get here!”
“Right, Hank, but …”
Click! Hank hung up before Mack could think of something to ask.
Hollywood-Broadway, Hank’s production company, was a small office at the Bronson Stage. There were pieces from various productions, mostly things that had been stained or damaged and couldn’t be returned to the prop houses, or items that had to be bought rather than rented, and a few that had been given as promotional items. There was a five-foot beer bottle, a wooden Indian and a chair shaped like a human hand.
Mack sat in the hand chair and accepted a cold bottle of beer from Hank, who threw a leg over a chair and plopped down like a teenager.
Hank was Mack’s age and lied about it just as much. He had only a fringe of hair, still dark-blond. To make up for lack of hair on his head, he grew a luxurious mustache and beard. If he colored any of it he did a damned good job. Mack had given up on coloring his full mane years ago – it was almost completely white. Of late he had also sported a full goatee and mustache, hoping to cover a sagging chin.
“Jeet?” That was ‘Hank-istic’ for “Have you eaten?”
“No. It takes me longer than you think to look this good.”
Hank pushed a familiar white and green box across the table. Krispy Kreme donuts!
“Enjoy!” Hank stood up to gather his notes, taking seven yellow pads out of his script bag.
“Good-bye, diet!” said Mack, diving into the donuts, “Somethin’s gotta give. Today, it’s you.”
Hank paused mid-movement, turned and held the seven yellow pads to his chest.
“Remember, you once said,” Hank was taking on a serious tone, “you would like to do a project that would change the world, maybe even save it?”
“Sounds like me,” he said, chewing on a glazed donut.
“This is the one!” Hank waved the pads, three in the right hand, four in the left. All seven had notes on them, but one looked as if practically the whole pad had been turned over to write on the successive pages. That pad took the brunt of the planning.
Hank pulled up a metal chair, like out of an ice cream parlor. He pulled it up backwards and sat straddling it, leaning in close.
“Suppose there were no Hollywood!” His eyes were as wide as pie plates. “No Walk-of-Fame, no Chinese Theatre, no movie studios – nothing. Suppose you had the job of putting it all there.”
Hank paused to give him time to get the concept. Mack felt awkward, with a donut in one hand and beer in the other. Elliot Gould could have pulled it off better. Something important was being said, and he was eating and drinking. Hank continued.
“Suppose you had to choose the people whose names would be the ones to go down in history as the innovators, the ones who made it all happen?” He got up and made motions indicating a name on a movie marquee. “Your chosen people would have their names up in lights. You would put together the crews that make the Bogarts, the Harlows, the Valentinos famous. You would be the man behind the men behind the cameras, the man who makes the people who make the stars.”
He paused, looking up past the ceiling, arms outstretched. Without lowering his arms, Hank looked down at Mack.
“You have worked with me for – how long?”
Mack looked up, then into the air, opened his mouth to say, “Seven years,” but Hank cut in, abruptly.
“Seven years! Seven glamorous years! Do you know we have completed 22 productions together, not counting the two we were working on as of yesterday?”
Again, Mack opened his mouth but again Hank went on, pacing as he spoke.
“You have been the guy I counted on to get the people I counted on for the production. You got the lights, the sound, the camera, the sets, the scripts, the casting. You’re the one – the one I lean on, my right hand man, my vice-president.”
He stopped, posed in the air, as if the DVD had hit a scratch and all action just – halted – until the head had moved on past the scratch. Mack almost thought he would have to take the DVD out and clean it before reinserting it to find the scene and continue. But this was life, not a DVD.
“Yes, my vice-president! You are my vice-president and together we are going to create a Hollywood where there is none. We are going to make history! When students of film and stage open their books, it will be our photos on the first pages.”
Hank went on as Mack spaced. Mack admired him but wasn’t sure what Hank was talking about.
Mack always had thought that he didn’t really do anything. He found the people who did what was needed. Sometimes he just found the people who found the people who did the work. There might be four or five middlemen before an actor says a line or the actress shows cleavage. Hank was the guy who would say, “put a wall there.” And Mack would find the people to get the set built, the dressers in to dress it, prop people in to prop it, casting in to put an actor in front of it, the sound engineer to put a mic on it and the cameraman there to shoot it. If it wasn’t on a sound stage, he put a location scout there to find the place to put it. Actually, he was kind of bored with it all.
When he had said that to Hank, about doing something worthwhile and important, he had been more than a little in his cups. They were shooting in Mexico and tequila was involved. It was in the middle of Dangerous Dungeons III and life held few rewards for an aging go-between. It’s actually amazing he remembered it.
Mack thought Hank had decided against hiring him after that trip, but he called again for Dangerous Dungeons IV. DD-IV was essentially a lot of dark gray walls and cobwebs, everyone was a third-stringer. Most were glad to get the work. A few were in it just to pay off old bar tabs.
Mack took another sip of beer as he tuned in on Hank continuing with, “… it’ll look like 1950’s Miami, the glamour of the age that made movies like The Godfather. Remember the scenes in Miami when Michael went to see the …” Hank continued, as Mack drifted off again.
They were in the middle of two productions. Guns & Dames was just getting started and Mack was still working the phones, trying to find out who was in town. Candy’s Revenge II was in the final stages but if Hank wanted to overlap the two they couldn’t use the same people. Some of them’ll be pissed when they find out.
“Well, won’t it?” Hank was looking at Mack eagerly. He looking at Hank with his eyebrows raised, trying to seem interested.
“Well…” Mack stalled.
“No, you’re right! It would be too much, the sets have to be open, wild, free-standing. Look! I have drawings!”
Hank unrolled a map of a beach community. Four squares dotted one part of the map, numbered “#1”, “#2”, “#3” and “#4”. Another more rectangular was marked “#5 – Main”. A smaller building behind #5 was marked, “HQ”. There were streets sketched in and some smaller squares along the beach. The beach was drawn to be pulled back. Mack couldn’t recognize where it was. It didn’t look like the coastline near Malibu.
Up in the corner was a larger building, labeled, “WD”. Mack’s mind did a quick scan to try to imagine what WD could be. Hank was talking, “… and over here, along these streets, will be bungalows. The cabanas down here will be for use at the beach. I have a full spa and game room in mind here.”
“And here?” Mack indicated the HQ building.
“Where’ve you been? I said, that’s our offices. We have space for the most posh offices in the whole place. You and I are going to run this town! Hell, we’re gonna run the whole place.”
“The whole place?” Mack couldn’t think with it.
Hank looked at the map like it was a pastry cart. Mack could see – and smell – wheels turning. He hadn’t see him this excited since Swords of Vengeance. It was Hank’s first ‘big’ epic, he found out the leading man was gay and so Hank got to bed the leading lady.
“What about Candy’s Revenge II?” Mack was thinking of the bonus when it was done. “What about Guns & Dames?”
“Forget ‘em! Production stopped yesterday. Never gonna be released. Want your bonus? Here!” Hank opened a company checkbook, wrote a check and handed it over. “Bonus! Live it up!” It was a check for a million dollars. Mack looked at it blankly. “Now, happy?” asked Hank.
Mack looked at Hank just as blankly as he did at the check.
“What’s up, Hank? You go off the wagon? You aren’t … you know…” He put his hand to his nose and sniffed.
“No, No, I’m off that. That’s not what this is about. This is real. It’s so real that it friggin’ scares me. It’s the end of the world as we know it and the start of a whole new ball game.”
The wonder had left him. The blood drained from Hank’s face; he looked scared. Mack felt it too. There was something about this that he wasn’t going to totally like. He looked at the check.
“Uh, Hank, I’m a little short – could you…”
“Sure, here. Get what you need.” Hank opened a drawer and threw him a bunch of bills. There were four hundreds, three fifties and a bunch of twenties, before he mentioned the catch. “Spend ’em before Monday morning. That’s when we leave and those will be worthless.”
“Leave, Hank? For where?” Mack hadn’t hired anyone to scout locations.
“Call everyone, a complete crew. Tell ’em production meeting Sunday, we leave Monday morning – early. Pack light – one bag, no more. Got to travel light. Oh, shoot for single people – don’t want anyone missing their family. Maybe they better bring their wives and husbands along – boyfriends and girlfriends, too.” He was looking concerned over the plans. “Yeah, and tell ’em they want to be on this one. No, tell ’em it would be a mistake to miss it – a big mistake. Big! Huge! They don’t want to not be on this project.”
Hank looked up. Mack was holding several hundred dollars in one hand and half a warm beer in the other. Hank was done. Now what?
“Well? Get to it! We don’t have forever! Believe me, we don’t have forever! And listen…”
Mack stopped short and looked up at him.
“…anyone who doesn’t jump to it immediately, first time, 100%, gets left behind. And they don’t want to be left behind!”
A chill went up Mack’s back. This was not the time for hesitation. He nodded. “You are absolutely right. No time for negotiations, no time for prima donnas. You got it!”
“This is gonna be great, partner, and you and I are going to be right on top of it.” Hank put an arm around Mack’s shoulder and began walking to the door. “Keep your cell phone on. I want to be in constant communication. Constant communication!”
The door to Hollywood-Broadway closed and Mack stood there wondering what had just happened.
He got into the Spitfire, urged it to life and pulled into Melrose traffic. As he turned onto Gower at Paramount, he realized that, though he had no idea what Hank was talking about, life looked a little different.
Pulling the Spitfire over by the Hollywood Mortuary, he sat idling, watching. The world had a pink tinge, and was moving slowly, as if within a spun spool of cotton candy. People walked as if pre-programmed to do so. The conversations seemed scripted and bland, written by some hack who never left his bungalow at Fox. The costuming was all wrong and the lighting was terrible.
What the hell had Hank just said? “And they don’t want to be left behind!”
Mack stuck a hand in his pocket, just to make sure the money was still there. It was, as was Hank’s million-dollar check from the bank on Melrose. It was not a dream. Whether the check would cash or not wasn’t an issue, the check was real. Hank was for real.
Mack’s mind flitted to the scene in Terminator where the doctor says the patient thinks her fantasy is real. She thinks it is real and so the lie detector shows that she is telling the truth. Hank believed every word he was saying. Mack wondered if he believed it. Or was he working for someone who had just gone over the edge.
But he had been paid, cash in hand. And cash in hand is better than a million in the bank if the bank is closed.
“Too bad!” thought Mack, “I was really looking forward to Guns & Dames.” It was a ’30’s story and they were going to do it straight, real drama. Total unknowns, of course, so it had better be a good story. Part of him wanted to tell Hank to put this off just long enough to do the ’30’s flick.
Back at The Hollywood Square, he called everyone in his address book except those who were out of town on a shoot, those who were on vacation from the last shoot, those who were in prep for an upcoming shoot and those who wouldn’t work with him if it were the last production on Earth. He came up with a roster to handle every facet of production. Were they the best in the business? No, but they would be there Monday morning and that was what counted.
Finishing off the wine, Mack turned on the TV. The SciFi channel had a special on, a classic: War of the Worlds. “Not tonight,” he thought and moved on to the Turner Channel: The Day the Earth Stood Still, not one of his favorites. Trying the Comedy channel, they had Invasion from Mars. Mack turned the TV off in favor of the stereo. A Southern Comfort Reunion song was playing, it was on the final verse:
You can’t take the gold if you are sittin’ home aloneThey don’t hand our Oscars to a talent-less unknown
Where you are when your name’s called
Depends on where you been
‘Cuz in life you must be present to win
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