They'd left LA simply
hours ago, and the sun was getting low; they hadn't seen a thing for
miles. Soon, it would be dark. Darkness in the desert. Not her idea
of a good time. She didn't think it was even possible to have
a good time in a desert. As soon as they got to a phone, she was calling
her agent and raising hell about this audition.
Spitefully, she pulled
down her sunglasses and turned to the man. "Are we there yet?"
It wasn't a total lie;
he didn't know where they were going, exactly. He'd rented the
Lexus with unlimited mileage, so it didn't matter much. But he thought
he'd rehearse the story he'd told her again, in case she asked any more
They'd met at a tiny
indie festival in Oxnard a week ago. Her latest film, Layover in
Paris, was playing to indifferent audiences; most likely the
market could bear only just so many vixen-stewardess pictures. But she'd
looked good up there, with that flame-colored hair and those giant assets,
and he wanted a piece. So he made a point of finding her after the screening.
I'm an independent
producer, he said.
I'm a big fan of yours,
She shrugged and started
to walk away.
I've got a project
in development that's perfect for you, he said.
She turned on her six-inch
drinkshe'd spun out his tale. This picture was a killer. Couldn't
miss. Guaranteed box office. It would make her as big a star in America
as she already was in the Balkans.
She was listening.
Money? Sure, he had the
money. A big investor group in Europe had practically begged him to
let them finance it. Why, the first draw-down amount was due the first
of next month.
Distribution? Sure, he
had distribution. They were fighting over it at Fine Line and Miramax
right now; his rep thought he could get an even bigger deal at Warner.
What's it called?
He ordered another round
while he thought about it. Hell's Motel, he finally said. Killer
concept. This French guy and this Swedish broad are lost in the desert
at night, see, and they find this motel. But it's haunted, see. By a
ghost with a chainsaw.
She chewed on the end
of her paper umbrella for a while, looking almost like she was thinking.
Sex scenes? she asked.
A few, he said.
Tasteful as hell, though. They're just there to advance the story.
And you're paying
me how much again?
He checked the cocktail
napkin on which he'd written the initial figure. Surreptitiously, he
added one more zero before he shoved it back over to her.
I'll call my agent,
He'd had a week to have
business cards printed and a couple of script pages written. Then he
called her agent. Could she audition for him? Yes, of course she already
had the part, but the investors wanted some guarantees that she could
handle the sex scenes. They'd just go to the motel where they'd be filming
and run a few lines so he could conceptualize it on location. It would
be just him and herno crew yet. Didn't want to inhibit her performance.
Her agent advised her
against it. But she said what the hell; she'd never had a part she hadn't
slept for yet.
So he'd picked her up
that afternoon, and they'd been driving ever since. He hoped there really
was a motel out this way.
Finally, a half-hour
past all reasonable hope, when the sun was only a smudge behind the
mountains, they saw the bright lights ahead.
TWILIGHT ZONE MOTEL,
the big sign said. Below it, small red neon letters flashed V CAN Y.
"We're here, baby," he
He couldn't believe his
beady eyes. This place was a freaking time capsule, straight out of
the '50s, all pink and turquoise down to the kidney-shaped pool. He
half-expected to find Studebakers and T-birds parked in the lot. There
weren't, of course. In fact, there weren't any other cars of any kind.
But it didn't matter.
Besides, he could go for a little privacy tonight. He had a hunch that
this broad was a screamer.
She waited in the Lexus
while he went in the motel office. For lack of anything else to do,
she scanned the sides again.
Gawd. Well, maybe Pierre
would be cute.
The desk clerk, busy
reading the evening paper, didn't look up when he walked in.
"Got a room with a king
bed?" he asked.
The clerk kept on reading.
"Got fifty bucks?"
Sold. Fifty bucks, and
he didn't even have to buy dinner. Was this a great country or what?
The clerk took his money,
counted it several times, and lifted a key off the pegboard on the wall.
It was just as antique as the place itself, consisting of a Yale key
chained to a gilded wooden tag. He could barely make out the faded TWILIGHT
ZONE MOTEL, ROOM 22 stamped into the tag.
"Haven't seen room keys
like this in years," he remarked.
The clerk didn't answer.
"What's checkout time?"
For the first time, the
clerk made eye contact. "Checkout?"
"Yeah, checkout. The
time we have to be out of here in the morning. Checkout."
He didn't see anything
particularly funny about the question. But the clerk was still laughing
when he went back out to the car.
The audition was a great
success, and much later, they slept. So did the desert. No other car
pulled into the motel that night; no traffic passed on the highway.
In the lobby, the desk
clerk was still reading the newspaper. There was nothing odd about that
in itself, but there was something odd about the dateline. Had the man
not been in such a rush to audition the woman out in the car, he might
have noticed the year on the front page: 1959.
He might also have noticed
the other man, who'd been standing outside the lobby.
Now that man, dapper
in a dark suit, thin tie, and slicked-back hair, strolled past their
room. He paused for a moment to listen; then he continued on to the
pool. He leaned against the rail facing their door and lit a cigarette.
Half in shadow, half in reflected aqua light from the pool, he stood
there smoking, waiting.
They got up early. He
had to get the Lexus back to the rental place by noon, and she had to
get home before her primary boyfriend got back into town. Neither of
them admitted those reasons, of course; they'd just spoken vaguely of
urgent business in the city.
"I think that went well,"
he said, knotting his tie. "I'm satisfied with your performance. I'm
sure the investors will be, too, when I make my report."
She didn't say anything.
She'd known since 3 a.m. that there were no investors and that there
was no project, because she'd gone through his wallet and his pockets
while he snored like a pig in the bed. Still, the evening had been kind
of fun, in a way. And you never knew. If this guy ever did turn
into a real producer, she'd given him reason to remember her.
Misreading her expression,
he grinned and pulled her to him. "Let's have one for the road, baby."
With patience born of
experience with real producers, she let him have his fun for a minute
or two. Then she reached down to administer a sharp mood-altering honk.
He yelped. "What was
"It's almost 8. We've
got to get going."
Well, he was ruined for
the next few minutes anyhow. "OK, OK. Let me open these curtains, and
then we'll go."
She watched him cross
the room and fumble with the curtain pull, which seemed to be stuck.
Idly, she wondered how often this room got cleaned.
Neither of them noticed
the sticky white liquid that had just started oozing out of the baseboards.
Finally, he got the curtain
open and started to move toward the door. But for some reason, his foot
was stuck. "Goddamn cheap motels. Carpet's as sticky as a movie-theater
She shrugged. She'd auditioned
in worse places.
"I ought to make that
lousy clerk give me a refund forhey! What's that white shit?"
"What white shit?" she
"On the carpet." He tried
to pull up his other foot, but it was stuck too. "Come here and help
me, would you?"
She checked her watch
again. Quarter past 8. Damn him, if Ricky got home before she did...
Well, she'd help this jerk out, and then she'd call a cab if she had
to. So she started across the room.
Three steps later, she
was stuck herself. And the white goo was spreading all over the carpet,
running toward the center of the room.
"Let's take our shoes
off," she suggested.
They tried that. Then,
nwisely, they tried walking
again. Now their actual feet were stuck.
"Fucking motel," he growled.
"Can you reach the phone?"
She tried. But she lost
her balance and fell into the goo, which promptly glued her in place,
facing away from the window.
For her sake, it was
just as well; she didn't see the shadow that blocked the light from
the window, and she didn't understand why he screamed.
"What's the matter with
you?" she screamed back.
He couldn't draw breath
to answer right away. He was staring at what was outside staring in
Six giant cockroaches,
antennae twitching, scaly legs tapping the window glass gently.
"Oh, my God," he whispered.
"Oh my God what?!?"
Too bad about what happened
after that. It would've made a great picture.
(c) 2002, K. Simpson
Notes: I don't know whether
there's really a film festival in Oxnard; I just like the name. ///
"The Twilight Zone" was in its first season in 1959hence, the
date on the newspaper the clerk is reading.
to the Academy