Countdown 1

An extract from a story that was never published but got a distinction in my MA… it uses in places film script for the narrator’s own life and later film treatment so it’s experimental. This is just a taster…

 

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Director’s Cut

Arnold Pepper makes his way slowly across the lot, a black trilby perched on an angle, tapping out time with a hickory walking cane. At the corner he stops, feels for the edges of the sealed manila envelope in his breast pocket. It beats like a second pulse. He checks the time on a watch that stopped fifty years ago, runs his fingers along the inscription and thinks about endings.

“Nothing lasts forever, Arnie,” he hears. He teases a tissue from his pocket and catches the memory.

Connie holding his hand.

Connie looking into his eyes.

Connie walking away.

He drags his thoughts back to the fate of Christian Black. His greatest creation: the revered hero of Millennium Pictures.

One question buzzes on peoples’ lips, weaves through speculating minds and folds itself into the LA smog: will they do it? Will they kill Christian Black? And the answer to that is in Arnold Pepper’s pocket.

Arnold looks at the line of perfect trees planted in a world of rubber bricks and hollow facades. Everything that happened, happened right here. Moments captured in frames, the counter starts at 00:00:00:00. He sees it at the corner of everything.

The Arnold Pepper story: a cast of writers, producers, editors, key grips, even stars before they twinkled. His unwitting family. Now most are nameless faces. But not Jimmy Olson, the man with big dreams. Two rookies, two stories, two endings.

The light changes. Aerial shot. Arnold looks at the sun with its cerulean backdrop. Shapes float past like ghosts painting scars on white walls. Hard to capture.

He’s aware of people around him; sound bytes snapping off. A girl laughing, someone yelling, maybe even a dog barking. He tightens his grip on his cane remembering his appointment with destiny: the fate of Christian Black.

Christian Black lived the life he never did. A life told in storyboards. One common purpose: tell the story the audience wants to hear. Love, hope, passion, drama. All the gloss with none of the in between.

He wonders if he could, would he go back and rework his own life the same way, but there are some scripts no one wants to read.

“Hey Mr P, how ya doin’ Sir?”

It’s Jazz, the guy that fetches the mail, lips glossed into a Marilyn Monroe pout, as if he’s kissing air.

“The end of an era,” Jazz says. “So how does it feel?”

Arnold leans both hands on his cane and looks right at him. “You know I started in the mail room,” he says, “did I tell you that, Kid?” He squints, studying the features of Jazz’s face, wondering how he gets his bleached hair to stand up like quills.

“Maybe once or twice. The mail boy in like 1857 or somethin’ right?”

Arnold looks at the AIDS pin Jazz wears on his T-shirt. He wants to ask him if his friend is out of the hospital. He says nothing, deletes the scene in his head.

Jazz speaks. “I suppose you’re gonna remind me how you knew them all? Like Bernard G, THE director of all time.” He smiles in wide angle. “Apart from you, of course, Mr P.”

But Arnold’s distracted by group of young actors. They’re talking about his movie. About Christian Black. Every girl’s lover. Every guy’s best friend.

“They filmed two endings,” the girl says.

“Hey, you bored with the mail guy now?”

When he looks back Jazz is standing with his hands rested on his hips. “A lot of memories- huh?”

Too many memories, folded into rolls of film. Curled like sleeping cats.

Arnold remembers the wager he made with himself – he’d give it one day. The job was a favour for his uncle, who was doing a favour for his mother. Now the counter reads sixty years and twenty-six semi-decent movies. So much for wagers.

But everything has an ending.

When he looks back he sees that Jazz is still watching him” No anecdotes about the GREAT Bernard Golden today?” he says, “How you didn’t even know who he was?”

 

FLASHBACK TO: MAY 1951

EXT. FILM STUDIOS – MORNING

SEVENTEEN YEAR OLD GEEK MAIL BOY gets lost on his first day at Millennium Pictures.

BERNARD GOLDEN – handsome dark looks, grey suit, cigarette propped between his lips – watches the MAIL BOY CROSSING THE LOT

BERNARD G

Hey Kid. Come ‘ere

Don’t you know this is a restricted area?

ARNOLD PEPPER – THE MAIL BOY

(looking around nervously)

No Sir. I was just looking for Bernard Golden

BERNARD G

(smirking)

You mean that know it all, arrogant A-hole? You better watch him, Kiddo. He bites.

 

Arnold walks towards the office block, thinks about those that have gone before, but some endings can’t be scripted – like a car taking a bend too fast.

“There’s a hundred ways to tell a story, Kiddo,” Bernie G told him. “But what they’ll remember is how it ended.”

Inadvertently Arnold taps the envelope sat next to his heart.

“It’s what lives in their heads when the popcorn’s rotted.”

“Hey Arnie, you thinking about the good ol’ days?” Jazz’s voice. “You lived the American dream, man.”

The phrase jars, like film despooling.

“The thing about dreams,” Bernie G said, “is if you hold ‘em in your hands too long they burn.”

 

©Debz Hobbs-Wyatt

 

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