“The devil's in the details my friend,” he winked at me, twice. Wink, wink. He led us into his home, humming the tune from
under his breath.
Sunlight drenched the opening foyer in rich, beams of light. Production equipment of all shapes and sizes filled the room, leaving no wall untouched. Halogen lights, cameras, tracks, dollies, even a makeshift crane for the high shots. “I use all my own equipment,” he boasted proudly. His wild eyes rolled like marbles in his skull, a sling of saliva foamed at the corners of his mouth. He clapped his hands together happily. “Wonderful! The full cast is here now, absolutely, positivity wonderful!”
“Cast?” Bernie asked.
“Yeah, that's what I said silly, cast. The other three are upstairs...waiting. Some have been waiting a while. Waiting for you two silly-willies. This time around we'll go bigger. More monsters, more carnage! Yes! Moviegoers do love their carnage. At least, I sure do.”
Steadily, I moved back for the door. Bernie didn't seem to understand what was about to happen. “Sorry? I'm confused?”
“A sequel dear boy!” he shouted; his words filled the vast, open room. “I'm making a sequel.”
The front door slammed shut. A wave of shadows swallowed the light, leaving the room in total darkness. Bernie turned on the balls of his feet and launched himself at the front door, using his shoulder as a battering ram. When the door didn't give, Bernie switched strategies; he kicked it, once, twice, three times, swearing, screaming and muttering a prayer in Hebrew. I, on the other hand, froze in place; my bladder let go.
“Places, people! Places!” The Director clapped his hands again. Sparks ignited each time his palm found its counterpart. Then, abruptly, the production lights switched on, popping
in unbridled harmony.
A dozen oblong shapes—forms—materialized out of thin air. Colorless, pale to the verge of translucence, their flesh drooped from their bones, wilting like the skin of warm fried chicken; a glob of wrinkles amassed under their eye sockets which contained the reddest, deadest eyes I'd ever witnessed; they blazed with an inferno of bioluminescence, assessing me, assessing Bernie, waiting for permission to strike. A yawning black maw existed where a mouth should have been, filled with pink, soft tissue and jagged teeth. The only thing comparable would be the underbelly of a squid.
“Okay, first on the agenda for you lot....” he turned to us. “We've got to get you to makeup and wardrobe.” The Director snapped his fingers at a pair of the monsters. “Take the talent upstairs to meet the others. No talking,” he wagged his finger at Bernie and me. “Stay professional. I want to get things rolling in, oh....” he looked at his wrist, at a nonexistent watch, “Let's say ten minutes, shall we? Then, I'll start the clock.
“And both of you know what that means...don't worry friends. Same rules apply. Ninety minutes of pure elation—well, elation for me, certain death for you—but, hey, chin up! I'll wager you silly-willies will fare better than the last two boys who were in my movie.” A glass of wine suddenly appeared in his hand—at least I hoped it was wine. He toasted us. “Cheers, here's to the Jew-boy and Mr. Pee-Pee-Pants-Man! Wink, wink.”
* * *
Everything in life was a lie. From the day I was born, to this day—the day I will surely die—it has all been a lie. But that was the biggest lie of them all, the whopper of all whoppers: Death. Death does not exist. Neither do I.
I opened my eyes.
Gradually, things came into focus. A nail protruded out of both my wrists, rope held my body upright. I felt no pain, because pain was a lie.
I couldn't remember how I got here—on this wall—or why I was dressed in a dog costume. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why a blinking, digital clock was connected to the costume, tied around my wrist. Numbers flashed at me: 09:04, 0:9:05, 09:06....
I looked to my left. A girl in a monkey suit thrashed inside a tomb of barbed wire. To my right, another girl, this one covered in glued feathers, had just freed her arms from the nails. She fell to the floor.
“Ronald!” I heard Bernie scream at me from below.
that can't be Bernie, because Bernie is a lie.
He was dressed as a tiger. “We're gonna get you outta there Ronald!”
Reality came back in a rush. The pain hit me like a sucker punch. I felt the nail inside my skin. I felt it tearing me, ripping my eighty-year-old skin. I screamed.
What am I doing here? I should be in my little apartment, ordering the nurse to fetch me another doughnut.
In panicked struggle, I whipped and flailed my legs, which only made things worse. Bernie shouted at me to stop moving but the pain had taken over my sense of hearing.
I thought of the family I'd never see again: my son, my daughter and my four grandkids. It made me sick to think about all the time I wasted sitting on my piss-yellow couch, wishing I were dead, when I should have been living!
What a fool I am. What a selfish fucking idiot. I suppose I deserved to die. Well, I'd soon get my chance...
Then, once again, I passed out.
I woke up with my head in Bernie's lap. He smiled when he saw my eyes flutter open. I saw his gold tooth and I wished that were a lie. But it wasn't. This was all real: the nails, the pain, the blood and the monsters...every last fucking detail.
-And the devil’s in the details-
Monkey and Bird helped me to my feet while Cat checked me for any more cuts. My wounds had been wrapped with various strands of cloth. Some of it came from the polo shirt I had worn here. That's when I realized, I was completely naked under this damned dog outfit. It smelled of piss and bile; I had a suspicion this was the same outfit worn in the first film, which made me want to vomit. So I did. I puked up all the crackers and beer I'd had on the plane.
18:59, 19:00, 19:01....
“Where is the Director?” I asked, scanning the room for any sign of him. I knew he was there somewhere, I knew he was filming us that very moment.
He appeared, magically, only a few yards away from us. He hid behind a large camera on a tripod. “Cut! The fourth wall, Dog! Don't break the fourth wall!”
Then, he disappeared back into the shadows.
* * *
We did our best to bring the three girls—Cat, Bird and Monkey—up to speed. We told them as much as we could about
we prepared them for the bloated, long-tongued monsters that could be waiting for us right outside that door. However, we soon discovered
was going to be very different from the original.
Bernie kicked opened the door. We stepped into a circular dungeon made of ancient, mismatched bricks; bones of all shapes and sizes littered the floor, clumped together in tidy heaps; to our right was a strange, ornamental limestone archway, with decorations depicting the story of Satan falling from Heaven. At the far end of the room, several yards away, a winding staircase coiled into an abyss of absolute darkness.
A pair of fawns, colossal in scale and mass, emerged from the archway. Their beards were afire—turbulent fingers of bright, orange flame blazed under their chins—in their hands, they clutched two mighty maces, barbed and spiked, which they wielded effortlessly, as if they were feather pillows. With weapons raised, they charged us; their human upper-halves scraped against the ceiling, their hooves shook the ground.
Whatever plan of teamwork we might have had before the fawns appeared was quickly lost in the chaos. We dispersed in every direction, every costumed animal for themselves. I was the last to move. For a heartbeat or two, I didn't see a point in running. One fawn chased after Bernie and the girls, the other spotted me. It must have singled me out as the weakest. It attacked quickly, slammed down the mace as hard as it could. The tsunami of wind blew back my floppy dog ears.
Then, suddenly, my feet moved before my brain could catch up.
The spiked, metal meteorite pounded the ground—inches behind me—leaving behind a crater in its wake. The beast roared in anger; I ran; my hip was on the verge of breaking. Any second now, it would snap...I could feel it. The second fawn spotted me. It pivoted on cloven hoofs and again, brought its mace down upon me. This time it landed ahead of me. I tried to slow down but at my speed, halting suddenly would have been against the laws of physics. I slammed into the mace at full force, splitting open my mouth.
The pain kept me awake, kept me alive. I spit out a mouthful of blood and teeth, pushed off the mace and kept the stairs in my sights. The others were already making their way down. Only Bernie slowed to see if I lived or died. I could feel the heat of both fawns. The ground quaked violently beneath my feet; I could barely stand. So, the only thing I could think to do—was jump. For a good couple of seconds I tumbled down the stairs, until, quite literally, I fell on top of the others. I slammed into Bird, knocking her off her feet. Bernie tripped over her and fell too. We scrambled, all of us clawing, shoving, pushing. Powerful hands held me against the ground. Someone else stepped on my face. Fighting back, I reached up and grabbed Cat by the hair, and yanked her to the ground.
When darkness falls, when the ground threatens to collapse out from under you, we're all beasts, cloven hooves or not.
Cat fought back. Suddenly the stairs were gone. The air sucked itself from my lungs. She had kicked me off the side of the stairs and I was falling; falling into an abyss, into ultimate darkness. I closed my eyes expecting my skull to crack open on a floor of bricks. To my relief, it wasn't bricks waiting for me at the bottom...it was water. However, water was just as brutal as bricks; the only difference being instead of bouncing when I landed, I was engulfed. My hip shattered upon impact.
I resurfaced gasping for breath. A high-pitched wail echoed in all directions. I figured it was the fawns about to pounce on me from above but then, as my mind cleared, I realized it was my own screams making all the racket.
“I got you, I'm coming Ronald. Hold on!” Bernie splashed into the lake from above, he wrapped his arm around me—my own personal life preserver—and we swam to where the water wasn't so deep. “Can you stand?”
I knew I couldn't. I tried to speak but all that came out were anguish-soaked yelps.
“He's dead!” said Cat. She hovered over me, shaking her head. She refused to look me in the eyes, only looking at Bernie. “Sorry, man, I know he's your friend but-”
“Fuck you!” Bernie yelled. Ah, Bernie...what a guy. I wanted to give him a bloody, toothless kiss but resisted.
“All he's gonna do is slow us down!” shouted Cat, angrily. “We can't take him with us.” Water geysered outward; a worm, the color of dirt, exploded from the inky depths. Before Cat had time to scream, the eel attached itself to her, tearing out her throat. Blood sprayed everywhere, showering both Bernie and me. Quick on his feet, Bernie scooped me up just as the eel swiveled in our direction; fresh Cat blood oozed from crooked daggers inside its mouth.
Suddenly, production lights flashed all around us. Ozone filled my nostrils. My eyes were used to the darkness and the sudden intrusiveness stung. The Director stood in the exact spot where Cat had been slaughtered. He siphoned through the water until he brought up her corpse. The laceration in her neck ran so deep, her head limped backwards, dangling just shy of her butt. It swung back and forth like a pendulum. The Director stopped it from swaying, scissored out a chunk of her slick, brown hair, then pinned it—where else?—to his coat.
With me in tow, Bernie forced his way through the shallows, hobbling clumsily through the waves. Bernie asked me for a time check. Red numbers flashed down the seconds from the stopwatch tied to my wrist.
30:02, 30:03, 30:04....
“Time's a-flying past, boys and girls! Tick, tick!”
* * *
Bernie held me in his arms like I was his bride. The pain in my hip shot up my spinal cord every time he took a step. But how could I complain? I was alive, thanks to this man, this hero, this larger-than-life Hollywood executive.
It turned out, two heads are better than one after all. Every new room we entered, we would split the room in half, he'd scan right and I'd scan left, looking for any inkling of the next door that would take us deeper into the Director's twisted maze. We tried our best to keep the girls with us—honestly, we tried. But they entered each room in a kamikaze death run—it's a wonder they made it as far as they did.
A few rooms later, we came to a well-lit dining room where the walls were bleeding; a slow, steady congealment of blood seeped from the crown molding. A large banquet table spread out before us, filled with a smorgasbord of food ranging from decadent, to more decadent, to extremely, scrumptiously decadent. The beef tips and lobster tails tempted me the most. Although...the salmon-wrapped sea scallops, I must confess, made me salivate like a dog begging for scraps.
Four chairs sat around the table. One for each of us. As we got closer, we realized the chairs were already occupied...with us. At least different versions of us, completely oblivious of our presence. I can't relate the dizziness I felt seeing myself sitting next to a different Bernie, sharing a plate of crab cakes.
What happened next was hard to explain. None of us saw Monkey disappear. We were all too busy watching ourselves stuff our faces. We don't know how she ended up on the table; it just happened. One second she was standing next to us, the next...she was on the menu.