90_Minutes_to_Live (5 page)

The cow is hurled suddenly—rather violently—inside the house. It bounces slightly upon impact. Black things, too tall and too slender to be human, emerge from the shadows. They can't be properly seen in such low light. But they are fast. In a flash, they have attached themselves to the corpse, stripping what's left of the flesh, tearing cartilage, sucking marrow, devouring her whole.

CUTS TO: UPSTAIRS ROOM. Five people are nailed to the wall: Two males, three females. Both sexes are bleeding, filthy, screaming for help. Someone has dressed them up in animal costumes. The clock is ticking. 08:30, 08:31, 08:32...

A voice calls out from behind the camera. “Time for roll call!” says the voice.

“Dog,” says a slender man, dressed in floppy ears and blood-caked fur. Over a dozen nails keep him plastered to the wall.

“Cat,” sobs the next victim, a girl, only a teenager, no older than sixteen. She is dressed in a cat costume, with her face painted black with whiskers. There is a hole in the costume, exposing her left breast. She tries to scream for help but the camera cuts quickly to the next person.

“Bird,” says the other male, a black man. He has a huge wound going down his side. Long peacock feathers of every color of the rainbow have been tarred to his arms and his exposed back. An extra layer of barbed wire is stretched across his bare chest, making certain he is nice and snug.

“Tiger,” says a blonde.

“Monkey,” a girl with glasses.

The camera cuts to a wide shot; shows all five writhing in pain, clinging to the wall. “ACTION!” shouts the voice behind the camera. All five, one by one, slowly, painfully, rip themselves free of the nails and the barbwire.


I turned my head during this scene. I admit...I was feeling pretty squeamish. Every few seconds I'd peek at the screen to check on their progress. Once they all got down from the wall, for a good five minutes, all they did was scream at each other. Finally, the man in the bird costume got them working together. They did their best to stop each other's bleeding. In a desperate attempt to make weapons, Dog began ripping floorboards.


Twenty minutes and counting...19:99, 20:00, 20:01....

Cautiously, they make their way outside the room into the hallway. Figures are stirring; encroaching ever closer. Peculiar shadows float above the ground, closing in from all directions. They are round as beach balls with water-hose arms scooting against the floor as they float past; long necks sprout up from their swollen torsos leading to an elongated cow-shaped head, with rotten flesh and exposed serrated teeth. They hiss at the people, spitting black tar. Dog and Bird swing their boards at the creatures but the brittle wood shatters against their bulbous, round hides. Monkey takes one good look at the hovering menaces and finds she can't move. An eruption of tar covers her legs and hips. Instantly, she hits the floor—face first—screaming, burning and fizzing. The skin around her leg is reduced to a flakey, gooey paste. Tiger runs to help her, pulls Monkey to her feet; but the skin peels off like a banana, revealing bone. She passes out in Tiger's arms.

They have no choice but to leave Monkey behind. Rubbery hands grope her clothing, ripping it to shreds. Their tongues unravel and roll across her body, coating her in a thick lacquer of saliva. Sometime around the 23:00 minute mark, they grow bored of her. A dozen hands pluck her from the ground and, with tremendous force, they slam her head into the wall. Her nose shatters, her glasses split in half; her skull cracks; and they leave her there, twitching, as blood pools over the floor's wooden slats.

“CUT!” says the off screen voice. Finally, the Director walks out from behind the camera. He stands over the body of Monkey, grinning a smile too big for a human face. The Director has dark eyes with hair the color of wheat, his facial features are simple, as if they were merely painted on; he wears a pinstriped suit, with brown penny loafers, complete with a tiny copper penny. He bends down, kisses her forehead at the exact spot of the gash. Methodically, building tension, the Director reaches
inside his coat pocket, produces a tiny pair of scissors and cuts a lock of her hair. He smells it. He kisses it. Then, he pins it to his shirt. He shows the camera. “Four to go!” he shouts, giddy.

31:19, 31:20, 31:21....


At this point, I'd had enough. Something seemed too realistic about it...it never felt like I was watching a movie. I asked for a drink of water but nobody moved. I got up, found the bathroom on my own, splashed water on my face, and gave my heart a minute to slow down. When I came back,
the cross between a praying mantis and a petrified, gnarled tree—carried the head of the man in the dog costume in his hands...and only the head! The body was left inside some bizarre torture device with spikes and wheels and bloody pieces of hemp rope. I was instantly glad I'd missed that part.

“You gonna puke, Scanlan?” Bernie asked me.


“So, howdoya think he did it? How were those effects possible? Computer graphics, you think?”

I shook my head, lost in thought.
How did they do this?
I wondered.
How was this movie even possible?
Did he super-impose these monsters? No, couldn't be.
I was almost a hundred percent certain it wasn't any kind of layer or a composite; I have a good eye for that kind of thing. And these monsters were seamless!
? I supposed it was possible but as far as I knew, there wasn't a computer on the planet that could generate something so realistic. It definitely wasn't p
or wirework of any kind. I mean, the monsters didn't even have a humanistic base...this was something else entirely.

“What if it's real?” I heard myself say. As soon as I said it, I wished I could take it back. However, surprisingly, no one laughed.

“You just gave the director the ultimate compliment Ronald,” said Pyramid Nose, his gruff voice echoed above the screams of the girl dressed as a tiger. She was being burned alive on some kind of gigantic oven; her hands bound, her feet dangling over an eye of a stove. The flames were so intense her costume melted and then her skin began to catch fire. A group of weasel-like atrocities sat around a picnic table, naked, save for plastic bibs; they beat forks and knives on the table like impatient children.

But before they were allowed to dig in, the same man with blonde curly locks stepped out from behind the camera, yielding a very familiar pair of scissors. Again, the Director clipped out a chunk of her charred, well-done hair, then pinned the clump next to the first one. He was getting quite the collection.

44:58, 44:59, 45:00....

“Should I be impressed? Or should I be horrified?” I asked.

“Show him the letter,” barked the corpulent man in the front row.

Bernie did as he was told. He handed me a letter, handwritten, on thick yellowed paper.

Dear Sirs,

I am pleased you have taken an interest in my films. And, I am told, you have taken quite the interest in me as well. This is understandable considering my mysterious nature. Please, allow me to explain: movies to me, are more than moving, talking pictures. They are a gateway into the human soul. No matter how perverse or how graphic, anything you see on the screen lives within all of our hearts.

A director is a god of his own universe. Just as the God above our heads needs no recognition, neither do I. All I want to do is tell a story. A story of death, of survival and of fear. Humanity at its most naked.

After reading these words, if you still wish to meet with me, I'd be honored for you to visit my home in Bouldergreen, Kentucky. Address is on the envelope. I do not have a phone but you can call the local grocery store and leave a message with the grocer if you plan on making a visit. Sorry in advance for any inconvenience but I will never step foot in Hollywood. You must come to me.

Wink, wink.

-The Director-

I looked up from the letter, baffled. “He's just some nutter living in the woods of Kentucky?”

“So it would seem.”

“Impossible. How'd he get the money to do this?” I pointed at the screen. At the moment, the black man in the bird costume was being pecked to death by a murder of carrion crows. How ironic. Blood dripped from their beaks, splashing on the lens of the camera. 71:40, 71:41, 71:42....

“That's one of the questions I'm going to ask him.”

“Bernie, no. You can't. This guy...he's a creeper. I mean, who in their right mind closes their letters with
wink, wink

We watched the rest of the movie in relative silence, save for the nervous patter of tapping feet and the occasional awkward cough. At the climax, somewhere around the 82:00 minute mark, the house had completely melted away, revealing to the audience they were, in fact, in Hell. The only human left alive was Cat. She waited by a large iron gate guarded by a beast with three heads. The Director emerged from the shadows, four fresh locks of hair dangled from his lapel. He handed Cat something—some odd package. I asked Bernie what was in the package but he didn’t have a clue. It was another one of things that's never explained or even mentioned again.


“Run, now, Kitty.” says the Director. The gates open. Through walls of bleeding, burning souls, she runs; through brimstone and ruin; past reaching hands, beyond cackling, faceless demons; ever onward she runs, faster, faster. 89:58, 89:59....

Then...Hell vanishes. Cat is alone in a field of dandelions with the house to her back. She runs. FADE TO BLACK.


I looked at Bernie unsure of what to say. His gold tooth winked at me. “The studio is letting me use their private plane. There's plenty of room for you, Ronald.” He called me Ronald. That's how I knew he was serious. “Whoever this freak-show turns out to be, just look what he has done for cinema. He's just pushed film forward twenty years! This is the equivalent of seeing
King Kong
for the first time! I've gotta know how he did it; I could
use your expertise.”

“Bernie, I'm too....”

“Old?” he rolled his eyes. “Yeah, you're right. Maybe I should just take you back to assisted living, so you can veg out on your couch and watch low-budget porno movies on your VCR until you eventually die.”

I opened my mouth to argue but nothing came out. The little shit had a point. A damned good point. Somewhere down the hall, people cheered. I was offended. I thought,
what in the hell is worth cheering about?
Then I remembered. The election. Reagan must have won. I'd completely forgotten.


*   *   *


I hated flying. Or rather, my stomach hated flying. So did my hip. It throbbed, humming relentlessly, harmonizing with the roar of the plane's tiny engines. This was the first time I hadn't flown commercial. Hell, I'd never even flown first class before; now here I was, reclining in a posh leather seat, drinking a very expensive bottle of wine, in a studio-provided jet. I looked out my window at the cotton candy clouds and wondered what would happen if I died at 35,000 feet. Would Death still find me? Would He still bring flowers?

Bernie talked nonstop throughout the flight, only pausing to sip his mimosa. He was one of those pinky-straight-out kind of sippers. At one point he lit up a bloated joint of marijuana, puffed. breathed in, and then handed it to me. It was tempting but I declined. He called me a pussy and made squishy noises with his mouth.

We landed about thirty miles east of Fort Knox, on a strip of land once a storing ground for decommissioned train carts. We took a taxi out of the city; civilization disappeared like the tide.

The town of Bouldergreen seemed frozen in time, as if they hadn't heard everyone else in the world had moved on. We met the grocer—the man mentioned in the Director's letter—and he gave us directions to the address on the envelope.

Trees and grassland stretched the entire panorama; there were no buildings, no water towers and no smoke in the air. The only inkling of human interference was a small gravel road, dissecting the hill in half. Bernie swore the house wasn't too far. He also swore if my hip broke, he'd carry me the rest of the way.

We saw it for the first time when we came over the ridge: The house—the same house from the movie. I don't know what we were expecting. We should have known. Maybe we did know on some uncharted level of our subconscious. Then we saw him—the Director—sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch, fanning away the southern heat, dressed in the same pinstriped suit as he wore in the film. The sun reflected off his golden hair; he waved to us, beckoning us closer.

“So, dreams do come true,” he shouted to us. “Hollywood actually does come a-knock'n.”

“We do when we see a film like
said Bernie, trying to match the Director's wide grin.

His handshake surprised me: limp, lightweight, harmless. “What do we call you?” I asked. “What is your name?”

“The Director.”

“I hope you'll not be this mysterious when it comes to the tricks of your trade,” I said, exuding my excitement. “Can't wait to see how you achieved these effects! Really quite mind-boggling!”

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