Each day he grows more ghastly. His eyes recede deeper into his skull. He used to be handsome in a soap opera kind of way. It never got him laid, though. He was too poor, too unknown. Things are so much better now…..”
by j.d. riso
Stalking. Seducing. Engulfing. That’s how Richard likes to spend his evenings. As the music pulses in the smoke-choked haunt, he slithers through a forest of lost souls, leaving a trail of swooning females in his wake.
“City of Angels,” he laughs. And when he laughs that way his eyes glow like the dying embers of a funeral pyre.
It’s a fine end to a particularly fruitful day. Richard has the perfect job. He’s a casting agent. For extras. It’s a very important job, filling in the dark matter behind the stars. It doesn’t matter how high up on the ladder he is to most of the lovelies, any rung will do for them. Every day they arrive like refugees from an emotional famine. The hollow look of love starvation in their eyes is concealed by the bright light of innocence. They hold their arms out, beseeching: please love me. Richard can see through all that enthusiastic shit, though it no longer irritates him. He finds it quite amusing.
Today it was the standard blonde with big tits and scuffed heels. She cracked her grape gum and tossed her hair, while her cute but forgettable friend stared at the floor. Silently he read over the applications and, with a few furtive glances up, studied the unflattering snapshots. He never tells the hopefuls that the agency takes on just about anybody.
The blonde really got on his nerves with her gum cracking. It made him want to see her flinch. “You’re absolutely perfect” he gushed, waiting until her eyes lit up to add, “except for that bump on your nose. Have you ever thought about a nose job?” Just a little jab, enough to give the annoying bitch a complex.
Her face froze and tears welled up. She tossed her hair and blurted out, “No.”
A small, smug smile brightened her little friend’s face.
Turning to her he said, “You have a cute look…”
She leaned forward in her seat expectantly. Please love me.
Stifling a snicker, he continued, “I envision you in a fast food or candy commercial. You’ve got that spunky look.” She looked so relieved he wanted to puke. It was all so tiresome.
He told them the standard, “We’ll let you know.” As soon as the door closed behind them, he tossed their files into the wastebasket.
And so: Richard stalks. Nonchalantly, of course. Oh sure, he could go “easy early”, but tonight he’s in the mood for a challenge. Richard isn’t a vampire in the Bram Stoker, Vlad the Impaler sense of the word. He’s a man who once had idealistic aspirations. Then he hit the real world.
He catches sight of himself in the dance floor mirrors. Each day he grows more ghastly. His eyes recede deeper into his skull. He used to be handsome in a soap opera kind of way. It never got him laid, though. He was too poor, too unknown. Things are so much better now. He leans against the black lacquered bar and assesses the possibilities. The glitterati of yesteryear weave through the crowd with wannabes trailing along like feeder fish in a shark’s wake. It’s a symbiotic relationship: the unknowns have the hope of being noticed and the aging celebrity feels like he still has an entourage. Leering, polyester-clad corpses paw silicone-chested, dead-eyed beauties. Once, the beauties had been luminous, confident that they were special. They all succumb when they see the truth.
Does Richard feel guilty? No. He’s just teaching them what they’re all going to find out anyway. They should be grateful that he’s not the same hideous monster that did him in. At this flash of memory, of his old, mortal self, Richard feels a strange pang. But he brushes it aside. He’s much more powerful than that now. Really, the old lizard did him a favor. Where would he be otherwise? Still struggling, still infused with hope, the ultimate lie.
He drains his glass and smacks it down on the bar. All the fresh blood is taken. He should just call it a night. Then he sees her: a pale, wispy blond with a plastered smile and clenched hands. She’s sporting clothes from a department store that specializes in power tools and appliances. Richard knows her kind: the tortured artist. A frigid glow warms his heart.
She stiffens as she catches Richard’s leer. She turns away and begins to talk to a man at her table. Donny! How convenient that Richard just so happens to (sort of) know the man she’s talking to. Donny is leaning back against the booth, arms behind his head, surrounded by pretty parasites looking for a free drink. He gloats, seemingly impressed by his own generosity.
As Richard swaggers up to their table, the woman slips away to the bathroom with her friend, a perfectly manicured brunette with red-rimmed nostrils and eyes like bottomless voids. By the time they come back he’s engaged in a meaningless conversation with his new best friend.
“Holly is a newcomer,” says Donny with a conspiratorial wink at Richard. “We’re showing her around.”
“Welcome to Hollywood, Holly,” Richard says as he kisses her hand.
She cringes and pulls her hand away.
The others laugh; a sound like the rustling of dead leaves. They slink away, leaving Richard alone with her. They are enjoying this as much as he is. They’ve all long since crossed over. Next to them Holly shimmers with the sensuality that all artists innately possess. How fun it will be to extinguish it, to choke the last of her golden spirit from her defiant body! He wants to feel her swoon as he consumes it, and then discards the hollow shell that will be her remains. Of course, fucking her won’t be bad either.
Holly smiles at him. It seems she’s decided to be pleasant. The frankness in her eyes, the pure idealism, transports Richard down the mournful corridors of his past. God, he was tired of fending off the various cadavers who invariably swooped in on his innocence. How long did he trudge to each hopeless audition only to be treated like the rest of the talentless, banal idiots shooting for the Bigtime? He was pushed aside for the bimbos that cozied up to any vaguely important asshole. Who would stoop to such a level?
“But maybe once wouldn’t hurt if it got you through the right doors,” he had begun to whisper to himself.
It had seemed like his big chance. True, the man looked like a bad Las Vegas lounge act, but Richard chose not to see those qualities. He saw the man as an alchemist capable of turning his fate to gold.
“But there is a price,” whispered the wizard as he held out his clammy, skeletal hand.
The words echoed ghostly in Richard’s soul. Bowing his head in resignation he allowed himself to be led to the sacred casting couch. He sighed and braced himself as he felt the energy of those who had gone before him. The orange and brown plaid wool upholstery chafed his cheek. He closed his eyes as he was taken, with excruciating finality, from the world. He collapsed on the wretched couch empty, lifeless, dead.
“No. Undead,” Richard says, as he shakes off his pointless reverie. It’s too late for regrets. He is what he is. He may as well revel in it. “Immortal,” he says to Holly. “I can make you immortal.”
She doesn’t acknowledge him. Instead, stares into her glass. Out of habit, Richard almost dangles the keys to his Porsche in front of her, but then catches himself. She isn’t lame enough to fall for that. He flashes his phony business cards: Werner Brothers, William Marris. It’s rare that they look close enough to realize that the spelling is off. He drops names. “You know, I’m on the lookout for new talent for an upcoming Spike Jonze/Ben Affleck vehicle. You’ve got that gamine look. A combination of Michelle Pfeiffer and Audrey Tatou. ”
“Gamine,” she snorts. “That’s original, I’ll give you that.”
When was the last time he met someone so resolute?
“Don’t you know who I am?” he finally asks with a sniff. When all the other lines fail, this one is a sure winner.
She leans towards him and asks, “Do you know who you are?”
This stops him cold. What is it with this chick?
She swills the ice in her drink. “You know, your kind are nothing but specimens to me. And not very interesting ones at that.” Her eyes are anxious as she searches out her friends, but they have melded into the swarming mass on the dance floor. She sighs and empties her glass. “You don’t have to be the way you are,” she says. Her eyes are full of pity.
Richard can’t believe it. She wants to save him!
“I’d rather be the way I am than a frigid, frustrated Pollyanna,” he sneers.
She flinches. He finally hit her weak spot.
“When was the last time you got laid, baby? I bet you can’t even remember, can you?”
Feeding on her frustration, Richard taunts her as she heads for the door. She holds her head up in defiance as she waits in vain for her friends to join her. A car full of generic starlets lingers at the curb.
“So ladies, is it all over for tonight?” he asks with that glow in his eyes.
The one on the end smiles at him and winks. “It’s never over in LA,” she slurs. And making the obligatory dramatic exit as all true starlets must, she flicks her cigarette on the ground as the convertible pulls away.
“It never is over…is it,” Holly says to herself. “I don’t belong here. I’m going home.” Shaking her head and laughing bitterly she walks away. Head and shoulders slumped. Her friends abandoned inside.
“That’s it, go home. Your kind isn’t wanted here,” Richard sneers as he watches her recede into the lights of Sunset Boulevard. Not the slightest bit deflated he returns inside where true life awaits.
(illustrations: troy dockins)
J.D. Riso was last seen in the South Pacific. Her writing has appeared in over a dozen publications, including AntiMuse, Chick Flicks, and Opium Magazine. One of her short stories was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Visit her website: www.jdriso.com.