Friday, February 16, 2018

Terminator, Too by Stacey E. Bryan

Stacey E. Bryan parodies The Terminator in this tale, featuring a rakish Kyle Reese, a low-rent Sarah Connor, and - yes - Arnold Schwarzenegger.

SANTA MONICA, THE RECENT PAST, 2:45 A.M.

Lightning brighter than all of Los Angeles rent the dark night sky with a powerful sizzle and crackle. The mysterious birth of the full-grown man conducted itself secretly in the deserted Santa Monica parking lot. The man stepped down from a hole in the sky, fully formed and butt naked, as the snapping electrical currents gradually ceased.

Crickets filled the sudden silence with their song. The naked ex-action hero/ex-governor stood, aberrantly bulging muscles slick with sweat. He gazed around himself, taking in familiar landmarks while his genitals contracted softly in the cool beach air.

A group of 20-30 somethings turned the corner just then, a tumble of loud laughter, obviously drunk on brewed beer. When they spotted the naked, sweating man standing on the sidewalk, they stopped in their tracks and choked their laughter silent.

One girl fumbled in the pocket of her blue imitation leather jacket for the pepper spray she always carried. Her ex-boyfriend had gotten her into the habit, concerned for her safety due to late work hours. When he had stolen some of their rent money to go buy heroin out in the Valley, he had gotten an eyeful of the spray upon his return. She had never heard anyone scream so loud.

But before she could whip it out, one of her friends, realizing who it was, said, "Hey, man, what happened to YOU? Are you all right?" to which the giant, bulging man responded in his much-imitated Austrian accent, "Oh, jeez, guys, you wouldn't believe what happened to me..." Of course, he couldn't tell them what he was really here for. If they knew, they would run screaming into the night.

There was an excited flurry of activity and witty repartee on behalf of the 20-30 somethings, humorous and bashful humility on the part of the aging movie star; the girls blushed and tried hard not to look at the sweet spot, but that was impossible and they subsequently discovered, even in the misty cold that, yes: the rumors were true.

They offered him a ride. They had clothes at home.

Obviously, the clothes wouldn't fit. But they would do for now.



BEL AIR, LATER THAT NIGHT

Here the lightning was not an elegant partner of mother nature: here it was a shiny, gaudy stepchild lacking class and finesse. It was out of its league amongst the tasteful, muted lighting, the boastful yet understated displays of obscene wealth.

Lightning. How gauche.

As it crackled and sizzled here, finely-tuned "predator" lights shot on, bathing the newly arrived traveler in alarming illumination. Dogs bellowed, dreaming of blood. Sensitive car alarms bleated out their warning.

The well-dressed man leapt to his feet and tried to determine from which direction the speeding sirens were coming. Because, yes, they were already coming. And he was black. This was no mistake. They had set his coordinates here on purpose, as a joke.

Fine. At least he'd made it here, and he wasn't naked.

A moment later, his clothes dissolved off his body and evaporated without comment into the air. He could almost hear the laughter.



HOLLYWOOD, TRENDY RESTAURANT, NEXT NIGHT

Tara was exhausted, and there was still an hour to go. She balanced a huge tray of food on her spindly arms, arms that were meant for gesticulating and emoting then later tearfully cradling the Oscar. She gritted her teeth as her forearms cramped with agony. Apparently, spinning in the gym for over an hour did not translate to the arm muscles very well.

But you could light a match on her ass.

Glancing across the room, she noticed Ricky, her boyfriend, being seated at one of her tables with a woman. She wound her way through the murky light toward Ricky, digging her order pad out of her faux French maiden apron.

At the table, Ricky's face was mashed up against the face of a blonde with fearsome breasts that would go through 95% of their existence on earth never unignored. She had just been thinking about him, seeing the maryjane swirling, Big Beat pounding her brains into pulp while he drove in meaningless, nerve-wracking circles for half an hour in the Melrose district, searching for free parking.

Now Tara watched the two in front of her as their tongues lashed back and forth, swooping, plunging. Finally they came apart, both grinning lasciviously. Ricky glanced up, saw Tara, looked back at his date, did a double-take.

"Oh, my God, hi," he said, and laughed. He looked around at the restaurant, back at her. "Um... I left a voice mail. That I couldn't make it tonight."

"I can see that."

The blonde pressed her pinky to the corner of her mouth and removed some of Ricky's saliva with a genteel motion. Her breasts jutted forward petulantly, demanding attention.

"See what?" said Ricky.

"That you can't make it."

"Oh, yeah. Yeah."

He looked down at the table, around the restaurant again. The blonde examined her nails, her lips pursed. Ricky said with genuine bewilderment, "You work at this restaurant? I coulda sworn it was that place on La Cienega."

Tara sighed and flipped through her order pad. The Oscars may not be in her immediate future. A raise may not be around the corner. As of this moment, she didn't even have a boyfriend. But one thing was for sure: a huge glob of saliva was destined for Ricky's food.



Tara turned her used '03 Honda off of Sunset and pulled into the mini-mall where CRUNCH gym was located . She was surprised to find herself angry again as she thought of Ricky. But she knew it wasn't really Ricky. It was time. How much time had been wasted dating Ricky? She did quick, bitter calculations in her head.

She had brought it on herself.

She had met him in her agency's office, reading for the same commercial she was auditioning for. She was an odd Mexican and Chinese mix with flamboyant eyes and black knotty hair. He was a tall blond surfer guy who'd gotten more work in the past year than she had in the past five. He had been sitting in the chair opposite her, thumbing casually through a Highlights magazine, smiling furtively to himself.

Ricky had asked her out after the reading. So she dove in and resurfaced two months later, empty-handed. The only thing she'd gleaned from knowing him was how porn stars made up their screen names sometimes, combining the name of their childhood street and childhood pet. Tara's combo was Oak Bob. Ricky's Wylde Dickie. Even in the underworld of porn, Ricky was already ahead by at least 20 points.

Once inside CRUNCH, she made a beeline for the changing room but immediately diverted to the refreshment counter when she realized she hadn't eaten in hours. She ordered a glass of grapefruit juice, absently fantasizing about Doritos. She received her juice from the toned young woman behind the counter, giving herself mental kudos for putting a positive spin on all the things that would have driven a lesser person into despair and compulsive over-eating.

Someone shoved her roughly. The juice, in all its seedless glory, first covered her imitation lizard skin bordello jacket then rained onto the floor. Tara followed suit. She struck the hard wood and looked up, enraged. A man, a very handsome black man dressed in some kind of knockoff lumberjack attire with a cigarette hanging from his lip, looked down at her. She focused on the cigarette, aghast. There was no smoking in here!

Sexy, slitty black eyes regarded her, Clint Eastwood-like, delivering a look of warning, a look that momentarily froze her. "Stay still if you want to live!" he hissed at her and, somehow, under the thumping Electronica, she heard him.

Stay still if she wanted to live? She struggled in the pool of grapefruit juice and swore disjointedly in Chinese. When she ran out of dirty words there, she switched to Spanish - then she saw him. He was heading across the room. He was huge, monstrous. He was well-dressed. A crowd of people had gathered and he grinned and shook hands and plowed through them. People fell aside like wheat.

"Tara Honor!" a god-like voice boomed across the room, dwarfing the music, dwarfing the gym, diminishing the city.

Tara looked up past the shuffling microfiber-polyestered shins of those above her. Clint had placed himself between her and the escalating pandemonium in a protective stance, like a shield. But a shield from what: Arnold? He was here, in CRUNCH, calling her name! It must be some kind of contest, and here she was trapped by this psycho, unable to claim her glory!

From across the room a female voice trilled out, "Yes?" and Arnold abruptly changed direction and charged toward the woman. Immediately, Clint reached down and jerked Tara to her feet. "Come on." He held her elbow invasively. "Let's go."

"What? Are you fucking NUTS? I'm not going anywhere with you, freak!" Tara jerked her arm out of his grasp.

Clint turned, puzzled. She pressed her advantage.

"Cops'll be here in seconds, asshole! They'll do a Rodney on you and nobody here'll try to stop 'em!"

"It's imperative that you come with me, Tara," he said softly, and she heard him, very clearly, saying the name she'd never told him, and it wasn't the earnestness or the seriousness with which he spoke that got her to go; it was the word imperative, the fact that he had successfully used a many-syllabled word correctly in a sentence that got her to go. A word that Ricky had never said and would never say, even if a gun was pointed at his head.

Frazzled, she strode forward through the gym, through the toiling bodies, the triumphs and defeats of the lifelong battle against gravity and time. At least outside, away from the crowd, she would find out what was going on. But once outside, Tara began to get angry again. The shock and confusion of the inside scene was already fading away, losing power. And what word had it been? Indiscernible, inappropriate? She couldn't even remember now.

At the bottom of the escalator, she grappled inside her jacket for her bowie knife. She didn't pull it free but showed him the handle.

"You can kill me," he said calmly, "but he won't die."

"What?" She huffed, exasperated. "Everybody dies, psycho."

She swiveled her head around, looking for an escape route.

"His old self, yes," the psycho intoned. "But his future self is immortal. And that's who's after you, Tara. Haven't you been watching the news?"

She was annoyed with his accusing tone. "I don't have time to sit around watching the news all day." She let go of the knife and crossed her arms defensively. Clint was scrutinizing her in a way that was irritating but at the same time oddly electrifying.

"My name's Peace," he abruptly informed her.

Tara huffed. "What?" Who was this guy? "Piece? Peas?"

"My parents named me after their dearest desire for Los Angles. Peace. Come on," he continued, "let's get your car."

Tara glared at Peace icily, her best look for when losers tried to buy her drinks in clubs. Oblivious, he urged her toward the elevator. He made a sweeping arm movement like a butler inviting her into the foyer.

"Listen," he said when she didn't move, "that woman in there pretended she was Tara Honor. She just wanted to talk to Arnold. But he doesn't want to talk to her. He wants you."

"Me? For a part?" She automatically blocked out the rest, something about the future, yadda, yadda, yadda. "Oh, my God, it's for a part. It's for a part. It's gotta be for a movie. They want me for some movie -"

"Tara!" Peace yelled, throwing out his arm. Pushing her aside. Falling. She was falling again.

She saw, through the hair swinging in her face, Arnold come rushing out of CRUNCH gym with a small entourage of people on his heels. He ran straight for the railing and then - she found herself blinking to clear her eyes - leaped over it and plummeted an entire story down to the patio level where they stood.

People screamed and applauded and didn't know what was going on. Then he was charging toward them, sprinting across the patio like a Pumping Iron nightmare, and out into the night came his booming voice, rolling along through the air as if from every direction, as if James Cameron himself were calling out through a bullhorn: "TARA? TARA HONOR?"

And then, to her horror, Peace was pulling a gun out of his pants, aiming it, firing it. He stood there on the patio between Buzz Coffee and Puck's Deli and emptied his gun into the large target of Arnold's massive chest. Arnold went down in a spray of bullets.

Pandemonium erupted and Tara found herself scrabbling backwards on her butt to get away from the madman with the gun, the murderer of one of Hollywood's most beloved action heroes! Her back came in contact with solid matter, halting her progress. The elevator. Oh, God! She reached up and jabbed the button.

Peace turned around, spotted Tara. She whimpered, her brand new red Keds slipping on the concrete. Suddenly the elevator doors opened. Peace shoved Tara roughly inside. The crowd calmed down and milled about, waiting for the film crew to yell cut and do another take. After all, that gunfight hadn't looked very convincing.

Down in the parking lot, Peace said, "Where's your car?"

In a fugue state, she led him there. He patted her down, located the car keys. He found her knife and removed it from her person. It disappeared inside his off-the-rack lumberjack shirt. He shoved her inside and got in after her. He started the car.

Tara cursed Ricky in her mind for breaking their date. She could have been safely immersed in the liquid noise of the Palladian, bored to death as she sipped at her Bailey's. But no, she was here, encased inside what would surely become her coffin with the maniac who had killed the world's most famous bodybuilder.

"Tara listen," Crazy Clint - Peas - Peace was saying. "That is a future Arnold up there, and he's immortal. He's come back in time to kill you. He won't stop until he finds you! Nothing can stop him! And he will find you, and he will kill you - unless you do what I say!"

Tara slapped her hands over her ears, preparing to let out the mother of all screams. A tremendous explosion in front of her face punctured her eardrums and caused stars to do a jig along the dashboard. She watched them, fascinated.

A hand suddenly grabbed her shirt, tearing it, jerking her forward. The hand was strong, like the hand of an unimaginable being, or an irresponsible person on PCP. Only after Peace had removed the cigarette from his mouth and burned the assaulting hand did Tara realize it was Arnold's. Arnold's hand jerked and retreated.

Peace shifted, punched the gas, and the car shot backwards, sending the body builder flying. Obviously it was Arnold's stunt double who'd taken the shots upstairs, otherwise he wouldn't be here now, whirling off the hood of her car. Thankfully, Tara's mind stuttered and closed down briefly, and the silence in her head was filled with the "thinking" music from Final Jeopardy! She sat quietly clutching her torn T-shirt closed as Peace did an impression of the Indy 500, spinning out of the parking structure and into the street.

It seemed like only seconds later when the Final Jeopardy! music finally started to wind down, but according to her watch five minutes had gone by. She looked over. Peace was still speeding down the dark streets, still steely-eyed, still smoking.

"You okay?"

"Um..." She thought for a moment. "No." She let the sarcasm drip and didn't bother to wipe it up.

Peace drove the car like a maniac. Soon Tara saw UCLA flying by on their left side. They were heading west down Sunset at a bazillion miles an hour.

"Where are you going?" she screamed, clutching at her T-shirt.

"I'm from the future," said Peace. This was not an acceptable answer to her question. "It's a place you wouldn't even recognize. It's an LA you might see in a David Lynch movie. Very beautiful and perfect on top. Decayed and ruined underneath."

Tara gaped at him.

"You're from the future?" She scoffed. "Um, when, like five minutes from now?"

"Hold it." He held up one hand. He rocketed the car down Sunset, screeching around tight turns. "You don't understand..."

How had it begun? He remembered the stories Johan had told him, the stories Johan had gotten from his mother, about old Los Angeles. He shook his head sadly, searching for the words. How had it begun?

But Arnold, chasing them in the Beemer he had borrowed from one of the 20-30 somethings, knew how it had begun. It began with getting older and having some of your guts malfunction inside you and having all your movies bomb one after another. It began with the geometric nightmare of your wife's jaws that sent you out into the smoggy Los Angeles air in search of roundness.

It began with behaving badly in your marriage and your bizarrely conservative/liberal governorship. Jumping back into movies had garnered little or no public response. It began with losing something, losing something...

But then a few years later, suddenly, apocalyptically, everything would blow up at once. You were hanging on by the tips of your fingers when the Big One hit. It was over an eight on the Richter scale and you were ashamed to be almost relieved when the earth grumbled beneath your feet like a drunken old man on Hollywood Boulevard. Except louder. Much louder!

Here was something - something big - bigger than you, bigger than them - those that had tossed you aside like last year's leftovers. And so strong! A drunken old man couldn't tear buildings in half and snap freeways and send water mains gushing and start blazing, vicious fires as if Beelzebub himself had punched his way out of the earth. And who knows...maybe he had.

The survivors extracted themselves from the smoking ruins, amazed to be alive.

That's how it began.

It would become New Los Angeles, sometimes Wayanville when people were feeling whimsical. It was never really known and verged on urban myth (the same way everybody knew but didn't know about Sylvester Stallone's immortality pill) that the Wayan brothers had been behind a lot of the changes.

Who had organized and deployed groups of ordinary citizens to keep the liquor stores and 7-Elevens from gouging their prices on booze and water, respectively? When shadowy figures from the Aryan Nation had tried to reinstate their dominance in Burbank, who had been there to defeat them?

People said it was just people, ordinary citizens. Others insisted the Wayans had been the mysterious brains and brawn behind this and many other acts of heroism and bravery. Their legend, like New Los Angeles, began to grow.

There were no more police in New Los Angeles. Helpers and Assistants were there to keep order, but in a kinder, gentler manner.

Though isolated pockets of ethnic people no longer made up neighborhoods like Compton or East LA and everyone sort of intermingled together, many Angelinos also enjoyed getting together at least twice a month to swap things like recipes and dance moves during Cultural Exchange Day.

In New Los Angeles, the arch you drove under as you entered Hollywood from the Valley asked profoundly in bold letters: Can't we all just get along?

A charming bronze statue of Rodney King stood nearby. Replaced was the gang of angry, battering men in black with a circle of frolicking children of every race. Hope and optimism seemed to exude from the very seams of their frozen bronze clothing.

That was how it had begun. Arnold remembered it all. Here he was in the past, chasing this young woman and his nemesis through old LA, but his mind was its own time machine, skipping forward to New LA His face cracked with a lopsided grin as he thought of the new life that had appeared at just the right moment to pluck him from where he hung, swinging over the abyss of inconsequence.

It was a great place with grand new ideas: things were "encouraged," like Volvos and electric vehicles. The Red Line was reinstated. Other things were "frowned upon" like smoking and plastic surgery. "Frumpy is fun," and "wizen wisely and gracefully," were some of the mottos of the burgeoning city, touting its newfound respect for "advancing" (no one said "aging" anymore) and just being yourself.

As time had rolled over the burnt-out ruins of the City of Dreams, so had it rolled past Arnold, scooping him up in its forgiving arms, trundling him along toward his new destiny...

Tara gazed at Peace unblinkingly, willing him to laugh. Everything would be so simple if he burst into laughter right now. But all there was was the speeding car, the smoke from Peace's cigarette, the black night pouring in through the shattered windshield. They were on the Pacific Coast Highway now and the ocean sat on their left, a flat dark sheet.

Tara was fuming. "That's crazy." How absurd! "If he's immortal, he doesn't need to bother coming back here. And why is he so vain? What happened to 'frumpy is good' and all that?"

"Tara listen," he answered, flicking ashes. "Celebrities are entertainers and still allowed their vanities. And the Sylvester Stallone immortality pill is weak. You have to take one every five years. Arnold needs the new pill."

Tara nodded calmly and glanced at the odometer; jumping was out of the question. She couldn't put her teeth at risk. She didn't have the money for implants.

Peace tossed the ciggie out the window. "Arnold has to come back. In the future, he's got a new film career. He's very popular when he plays distinguished German scientists or forgetful college professors. See, in new LA, movies with gratuitous sex and violence, even action movies, are -"

"Don't tell me. 'Frowned upon.'"

"Yeah." His teeth flashed, "People have gravitated toward Jane Campion-type films. Notice how I said 'films.' Arnold's been in several. He wears a beard and a cummerbund sometimes."

The Jeopardy! thinking music began tinkling in the background. Tara banished it away with a force of will and grasped the door handle surreptitiously. Fuck my teeth, she thought.

"The Michael Claytons and the Edward Scissorhands are still acceptable," he continued, "but say good-bye to Robocop and Soul Plane." He clicked his tongue. "Movies like Boogie Nights are marginally accepted for the cautionary element. But no one ever, ever pulls their penis out of their pants anymore. It just isn't done."

"Robocop had a cautionary element." Tara frowned, confused.

"And," he continued, imperviously, "he has to kill you..." He turned her way with heartfelt sadness, not the phony kind she was used to seeing in acting class, "to keep your son from being born, because your son is the one who saves LA."

Tara made a scoffing sound, her only defense. "A son, huh?" She snorted. "Boy, have you got the wrong person!"

She couldn't even imagine putting on 30 or 40 pounds during a pregnancy. There would be months and months when she couldn't do any new head shots.

"Hold on," Peace said, and stomped on the gas. Tara whirled around, saw headlights quickly approaching. "Just remember something. He's not just Arnold anymore. He's your dire enemy, Tara. He's not just an ex-megastar governor from the future. He's a killer who wants to terminate you. He's a terminator, too."

The other car was closing ground fast. It looked like a Beemer. Tara had always wanted a Beemer. Facing forward, she gripped the arm rest and squeezed her eyes closed. She waited for the impact. The Honda zoomed forward, the crash never came. She opened her eyes to Peace glaring steely-eyed into the rearview. She turned around.

Arnold's car was gone. Instead, they were being followed by four or five police cars, the road pulsating with strobing lights. They pulled up alongside, and one drove ahead to cut them off. They leaped from cars with weapons pulled, and the air popped with Heat energy.

Peace reached for his gun, and Tara found herself stopping him. She put her hand on his arm and said, "And they'll kill you. No kidding. Don't do it." She took the gun from him and, in a moment of inspiration, found her bowie knife and shoved all of it into her glove compartment. She would wait till later to wonder why.



LOST HILLS SHERIFF'S STATION - 2:00 A.M.

The sheriff's station in Malibu was pretty small and Tara ignored the Captain when he told her she'd be safe there. Safe was a relative word, depending on one's point of view.

She sat in a chair sipping some brandy and looking through the one-way glass at Peace in the next room where he was earnestly spewing out craziness in a steady, unstoppable stream. He seemed pathetic and as she watched, an unfamiliar sensation bloomed within her which, moments later, she successfully identified as pity.

The detective who had brought the glass of brandy stood cross-armed in front of the window, chortling under his breath as Peace said, "No, you don't understand. Fabio created the new immortality pill, among other things. In the future, Fabio has changed. He's not the same anymore."

The interrogating officer thrummed his fingers along the table, irritated. "Fabio." He checked his notes. "You mean... I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Fabio? That Fabio?" 


"Yes." Peace folded his hands together. "It happened after the earthquake."

In the future, the linchpin was Fabio. Something stupendous had happened to him during the 8.0. He had struck his head and gone into a light coma for two days, and when he had awakened, he had transformed into an unmitigated super-genius. Perhaps the super-genius had been in there all along, buried, waiting to be uncovered. No one knew.

But Fabio was behind all the creative inventions, and everyone wanted him on their side. He was neutral, however, the Switzerland of former hulking blond models, partial toward no one in particular, engaging in his activities simply for the intellectual challenge.

First he took Stallone's immortality pill and reinvented it. He added steroids, an ingredient from Cher's eye cream, and a mystery substance, thus plumping up the anorexic 5-year product into a revitalized 20-year product enriched with regenerative components.

Fabio had been sipping iced tea and daydreaming when the concept of the weather machine entered his mind. That was how seasons had come to LA During a quiet moment in which he had been whittling animal figures out of wood, he had invented time travel.

The interrogating officer smiled and tapped his pen on the table and seemed to shift mental gears. "So..."

Peace gazed back at him, stone-faced.

"Time travel. That's a biggie. How'd he come up with that? Musta been drinkin' Coke that day."

Peace sighed. "Obviously, no one really knows, but evidently he started with a principle. He just thought back to how LA traffic used to be. How you'd be going somewhere in your car but actually wouldn't be moving at all. And that was his premise: traveling without moving. After that, it was a simple matter of applying some mathematical equations, and that cinched it. He said it was a no-brainer."

The detective in the room with Tara snorted. He looked at her. "He tell you all this shit?" he asked. He was about 45 and had attractive gray streaks at his temples that didn't quite look real.

"Not about Fabio."

"It's incredible," he said. "He's got it all worked out." He tapped the side of his head. "It sounds like paradise, this future, you know? Did he tell you the Oscars are free and take place in a park?"

She shook her head.

"I mean, what about the Kodak Theater, for God's sake? That was just built!" He seemed extremely angry about the Oscars. He didn't even mention the weather machine, which Tara was still trying to absorb, imagining herself driving down the 405 during a raging snowstorm.

Suddenly an ear-splitting racket jarred them both. Men were yelling outside in the hallway. But the voices were low and excited, not screaming hoarsely in terror, and there was no gunfire. So Tara relaxed again and slurped contentedly at her glass.

The detective headed for the door. "Stay here," he instructed her sternly, and slipped out.

Suddenly nervous, she glanced into the interrogation room. Peace was gone. Someone touched her shoulder. She screamed and dropped her brandy. Peace slapped his hand over her mouth, smothering a stream of Chinese profanity. Tara peered in despair down at the wasted umber liquid.

Peace said, "Arnold's here. We really should leave." He removed his hand from her mouth.

Tara stood up and crossed her arms.

"You know, I don't know why I saved you from those cops. I must be losing my mind."

"No, you're not. You know deep down this is all real."

He grabbed her by the arm in that invasive way of his.

"You know," she announced in her icy Club Voice, shoving the pity from earlier roughly to the floor like an unloved orphan, "I think you're more dangerous than Arnold is. Let go of my arm. Right now."

She tried to wrench it free.

"Don't you get it?" he almost pleaded. "It doesn't matter what he does. He can walk in here and wring your neck, and no one'll think he did it! He'll tell them it was me, he saw me, the black guy, running out the back door!"

Tara didn't think she was much better off with her ethnicity, but she was a woman, and she was beautiful, and they hadn't even blinked an eye when she told them the unregistered gun was hers.

Still...

"Okay, okay," he said, losing patience. He thought for a minute. Outside the door, loud male voices burst into a chorus of booming laughter. He looked up.

"You used to joke with Johan, your son, that he came very close to his father being a pothead loser you used to date. You said he was constantly smoking grass and you'd get a contact high and end up having unprotected sex -

Tara coughed. "Uh - ahem - that's... true." How embarrassing! And then: Johan? Am I going to move to Germany? Her mind raced. Had she told him that? And then when he said the next thing, everything changed.

"You loathed this guy, even 20, 30 years later. You would only refer to him by his 'porn' name. Wylde Dickie."

Tara gulped, cartoon-like. Nope. Hadn't told him that.

Fuck.



BEVERLY HILLS HOTEL, 5:00 A.M.

After retrieving a limitless Visa card from a drop spot (a designated location in the LA "river"; as usual, bone dry except for a tiny trickle down its center) Peace procured a bungalow for $560 a night at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Prices throughout the rest of the hotel ranged upwards past $3,000, but Peace didn't want to call attention to themselves; thus the lesser accommodations.

They lay exhausted on the queen-size bed, sharing a bottle of Cuervos. They had slipped out the window and into Tara's car while the clamoring officers received tips on squats and lateral extensions from the unopposed master on the subject.

"How long do we stay here?" She asked.

Tequila dribbled out of the side of her mouth. She was plastered.

"I don't know." Peace was smoking. His world was complete now that he had cigarettes again.

Tara was playing back the interrogation room interview in her mind.

"Fabio and the weather machine," she muttered. She struggled to roll over. "Let me ask you something," she said, drunkenly serious. "This future LA sounds really nice. What the hell are we fighting for, exactly? I mean, what's wrong with having the Red Line back and free Oscars in the park?"

Peace swung himself off the bed, stood up and shook out his pants, flexed his legs. There was a lot going on beneath those non-brand name jeans. Not the gigantic, bunched-up muscles of the determined movie star, but nice, firm things happening under there.

Peace caught her staring and smiled faintly. She was too drunk to be embarrassed and just shrugged, her head lolling sideways. Peace finished stretching and lay back down, slightly closer.

"Your son was an affluent plastic surgeon by his mid-30s," he said.

He gazed into the suave interior d├ęcor of the bungalow, seeing the future.

"By his 40s, he was out of business. We were all out of business."

He exhaled smoke. It swirled away.

"Why?" She signaled for the bottle, but he ignored her.

"Do you know how much business was lost since half of Hollywood and most of the regular population decided to 'be themselves'? My family was thriving in UV protection. The weather machine destroyed our lives. We tried to segue into snow plows and mittens, but too late. The market was saturated and we couldn't make a dent."

Tara leaned over his thighs sloppily and grabbed the bottle. He held onto it and they engaged in a brief wrestling match.

"Come on, you've had enough," he told her.

She let go, exhausted, and fell back.

"I don't know," she said wearily. "It still doesn't sound bad. Are we part of a group or something? Is it all the plastic surgeons in the city, or what?"

"Some say the Baldwin brothers are indirectly connected to the growing spirit of rebellion."

He swigged the Cuervos.

"If only Fabio hadn't hit his head," he said softly, "everything would probably be all right."

"The Baldwins are the nemesessess of the Wayans?" she slurred. Her mind boggled. She shivered and hugged herself.

"You know what the point is, Tara?" he suggested quietly. "The point is, yes, some things are better in the future. But you know what? The road to hell is paved by good intentions."

It was a lot. A lot teetering on her shoulders, a bunch of craziness in a pile on her lap, all of it marginally recognized as reality due only to the tiniest bit of information involving an ex-boyfriend's would-be porn name. It was a lot. A lot to accept on such thin proof.

"You know," Peace said, turning his head on the pillow to look at her. "I didn't expect you to be this way. So foul-mouthed and self-centered."

"Huh?" She struggled to sit up. "How could you picture me at all?" she slurred excitedly. "We live in two different time zones. Hello! You've never met me. Earth to Peace! You haven't been born yet!"

"I had a picture of you," he said quietly. "Johan gave it to me. I memorized every line, every curve."

He removed it from somewhere inside his clothes, an old instamatic photo, and there she was sitting behind the wheel of a car she didn't recognize. How weird. Who the hell used an instamatic anymore? The photo disappeared back inside his clothes. She reached out and sank her hands into the craziness pile on her lap.

She looked at him. "Sorry to disappoint."

He flicked his ciggie away haphazardly toward the marble floor of the kitchenette. He frowned slightly.

"I'm not disappointed."

Their faces were a foot apart.

"It was a good thing. You have spunk. You'll need it, you know."

Tara scooted closer. The hinges squeaked. Their thighs touched.

"Let me see that wound of yours," she said huskily. "Is it still all wrapped up tight?"

She reached for his hand and studied it carefully as if monitoring a dangerous infection or multiple suture points. She adjusted the band-aid pressed over the spot where he had accidentally burned himself with his cigarette.

"Hey..." he said softly, "are you really trilingual?"

She smiled.

"No. I only know the bad words."

"What bad words?" he murmured.

"Peace..." she exhaled. "come here."

He looked at her, fingering the Cuervos bottle between his thighs. He reached out and yanked her across the bed and she smiled saucily. She didn't mind the rough stuff.

"It's my picture, isn't it?" she said softly. "You had it all these years. You fell in love with it. With me."

She saw time travel and guns and the simple need for a nice, hot shower reflected in his eyes, and she waited for his response, his undeniable Yes, of course, it was you, only you all along. But it never came. So she would never know for sure if it was true love or just Cuervos and emotional strain that sent them rolling around together on the stiff bungalow bedspread.

But that was okay. In her life, she was no stranger to that question and hadn't been expecting any kind of answer tonight.



LATER THAT DAY, BUNGALOW

Tara sat on the bed filing her toenails while Peace took a shower. Earlier when she'd inquired about "the plan," his only response had been: "Maybe the two Arnolds will meet and blow themselves up. You can't really be near, much less touch, your past or future self when you're in the past or future."

Tara rolled her eyes now, remembering this. There was a knock at the door and she hurried over, eager for the fresh pot of coffee and rugelach she'd ordered. But when she swung the door wide on a beautiful LA morning, the last thing she expected to see was Arnold standing there, his fist raised as if to knock again.

It had been such a small knock, unobtrusive, not a sound that would have called him to mind, therefore she stood frozen, caught in a paradox of fruitless reason. So what if it didn't sound like him? screamed her brain somewhere under a sheet of dumb animal terror. It's still him! RUN!

She twitched and stumbled backwards as Arnold slowly lowered his arm, and it seemed that expressions of pathos and benevolence battled those of hesitant victorious conquest.

He moved forward, reaching out with one humongous arm, all she could see was the arm which filled her vision, filled the world. She heard the shower in the other room beating down on Peace, whom she would never ever ever see again. Even though he had the worst name in the world and ironically was the least peaceful person she knew, she would miss him.

And then a funny thing happened. Someone else appeared in the doorway beside Arnold. It was Arnold! The Arnold from today. Although Future Arnold looked somewhat older, Fabio's immortality pill had indeed worked wonders. Today Arnold faced Future Arnold and they stood for a moment, one aghast, one uncomprehending, the past and the future facing off in a mute emotional confrontation.

Then Today Arnold, woefully ignorant of Time Cop and unschooled in time travel etiquette in general, reached out, his mouth opening to voice his dissent, to voice his triumph in finally tracking down the doppelganger that had been causing so much trouble. His fingertip brushed Future Arnold's arm as F.A. wheeled back in horror, and in a flash of white light and electricity and a millisecond of time standing still, they both disappeared without a sound.



LATER THAT DAY

Peace was in a fine mood as he powered the cheap little car the limitless fake Visa had procured them several days ago. He had been not quite surprised but plenty happy upon hearing the news of the Arnolds. After chastising Tara a little for opening the door without him there, he had pulled her to him and held her for a long, long time.

Now he whistled, hung his arm out the window and slapped the side of the car as they flew down the 210 freeway, speeding toward Pasadena. In his time, the Gamble House had been converted into a Zen meditation haven for blocked screenwriters, and he wanted to see it in its original form before it had became host to the pretentious, brooding masses.

Peace would stay with Tara until she met the father of her child, the father of the future, and then he'd fade out of the picture. She liked the way he seemed hurt, though, whenever they had to talk about that part. Ah... maybe it hadn't been the Cuervos after all...

They never made it to Pasadena that day, though. A highway patrolman followed them for quite a while then signaled for them to pull over. As Peace stared tensely into the rearview mirror, watching the overweight police officer disengage his meaty thighs from his hog and re-adjust his gun and baton, a moment of clairvoyance came over Tara.

Peace was going to shove her out of the car and take off, leading the police after him and away from her. She would have to melt away into the background, stay out of the spotlight. Peace knew, by now, the surround-beat-kick tactics of the LA police and understood that he didn't stand a chance. Not here. This was a place without Rodney King's bronze statue and its entourage of gay, frolicking, multi-racial children.

"Peace?" Tara said, and he turned, calm now, and slowly lit a cigarette. "What was it like to go through time?" she asked him quietly.

His expression became tender. The sun lit up the smoke. It billowed softly, yellow and gray.

"It was painful. It was bright." He spoke quietly, too. He didn't look in the rearview mirror as doom approached.

"It was like sliding down a water slide naked but with no water, just old wood, so your skin had thousands of splinters in it by the time you reached the end."

The cop passed the rear bumper. "It was like falling into a whirlpool infested with piranhas that had been trained to only attack your eyes and genitals." The cop's footsteps crunched on loose gravel. "It was like stepping off a cliff during an electrical storm when you -"

"Peace," she interrupted gently, "I get the picture." She opened her door. He smiled at her. He shoved her out. She rolled along the pavement and gravel imbedded itself into her palms and chin.

Peace punched the gas and the tires skidded, spewing little rocks that flew at her like millions of tiny bullets. That stung and bruised and hurt. Hurt like traveling through time. But not as much as her heart. She never saw him again.



THREE MONTHS LATER

Tara tooled her way down Pico Boulevard in yet another used car purchased with the magically limitless Visa. She wasn't supposed to buy anything ostentatious. She had to keep prying eyes away.

A fat raindrop struck the windshield, then another. The breeze picked up. Tara smiled wryly, picturing the rain turning into sleet, the sleet into snow, snow into a blizzard. Snow in Los Angeles. Nuh-uh. Not a good idea.

Well, it wouldn't last for long. She smiled to herself, the smug, intractable grin of the self-righteous. She saw a gas station up ahead, pulled in.

She hadn't been overly surprised two months ago to discover she was one month pregnant. For a panicked moment she did think Ricky was the father but then remembered they'd stopped being intimate long ago from a general mutual loss of interest.

So that only left one person. And he had disappeared, leaving her alone in a swirl of dust, sucking down a gravel sandwich that had been none too tasty.

A boy walked out of the gas station while Tara sat waiting in her car, admiring her fingernails. He tapped on her window, and she rolled it down.

"It's self-service, lady," said the boy.

"Oh?" She held up her nails distractedly. She had just had them done. "Could you?" she reached into her pocket and handed him the Fake Visa Card. "Fill it up," she called.

She laid a hand across her belly and sighed. No one had told her she would be all alone in this. That fact had been conveniently not mentioned. Sons of bitches. She shrugged to herself. Oh, well. Maybe they hadn't known either.

Peace, Peace. She thought of him fondly, tenderly. Now the little pile of craziness from her lap had neatly transferred itself into her womb. My little pile of craziness. Craziness that would grow up, change the world. Well, change LA. Change the changed LA back to what it was, what it should be. Wasn't Peace right, after all? If the road to hell was paved by good intentions, then wasn't the future LA a hellish feel-good zombieland masquerading as a peaceful get-along paradise? No, wait a minute. It was that way now, wasn't it? Uh... wait a minute...

She stopped, confused, and pressed her fingers over her eyes.

Well, it didn't really matter which one it was. What mattered was it was happening. She already couldn't quite fit into her Le Skinny de Jeanne jeans. This isn't an ordinary pregnancy, she told herself. Her son had to be born, had to live. If Los Angeles was a mosaic, her Chinese and Mexican and Black son Johan was its epitome.

He was obviously the one who had to help LA reinvent its rightful mediocrity, its world renowned superficiality. Humongous gas-guzzling vehicles had once roamed the streets. They would roam again. Smog had obscured vision and blackened lungs and the sun had baked down and down, yes. But did a freakish IQ born of catastrophe give Fabio the right to change the vector of the sun, the very air? Tara thought not. The weather machine had to be destroyed.

LA had its own personality, its own charm. It wasn't meant to be any other way. We were not all meant to get along, she thought. Otherwise, wouldn't we? She felt a certain sadness in having to betray the mythical Wayan brothers' good deeds, a certain excitement in having the sexy, slitty-eyed Baldwins by her side. Maybe it would all work out somehow.

A light flashed. The boy was standing at her window again, holding one of those old instamatic cameras. He held the picture out to her, smiling. They both watched as it developed, and Tara made a face. "Not very flattering," she told him. She gestured to the sky. "I don't look great under cloud cover."

"$5?" he said, ignoring her remark.

She chuckled amusedly and said, "What? That's a little steep, kiddo." She gave him a motherly look, feeling motherly herself. This could be her, in just a few years, talking to little Johan!

"How about $2?"

"Okay." He took the money, stopped the gas, gave her back her fake credit card. Poor, sweet little kid. He just had no idea how many shoes she could buy with that thing.

"Thank you, lady." He looked up at the moving clouds.

She looked up with him. "Seasons are coming," she whispered.

She smiled tensely, then drove off, speeding toward the Beverly Center for the shoe sale she'd seen advertised in the paper that morning. An always-empty credit card and new shoes. Who said war was so terrible?

The Big One wasn’t due for 30 years, but she still couldn’t even imagine the Beverly Center destroyed, collapsed into a pile of glass and twisted pipes. It would be a horrible loss. She cranked her window closed, heading east up Pico away from the storm, heading toward her destiny, toward new shoes, toward the hot LA sun, still brightly shining.

8 comments:

  1. Though the pretentious world of Hollywood (and the lost to reality world of entertainers) holds little interest to me, you have done an excellent job of presenting it here, and your writing is truly top notch. I would think this would find an audience with those who follow the LA scene. Once again you are an excellent writer.
    Jim

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  2. Thank you, Jim. I definitely have a love/hate relationship with this town--leaning toward the hate side--and it helps me psychologically to vent. I appreciate your comments and hoped you laughed a little!
    Stacey

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  3. A well written parody with lots of humour to carry the story forwards,
    Thanks,
    Ceinwen

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  4. Thanks, Ceinwen. Definitely a harder sell L.A.-culture wise for you guys across the pond, so I'm glad the humor is still relatable!

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  5. This is light years better than TERMINATOR 2 in 3D.
    At close to 8000 expertly chosen words, the word 'epic' definitely comes to mind. This is truly a masterclass in parody.

    Well done Stacey!

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  6. You've lit up my morning with your light years compliment, Glen! Thank you. I'm so happy you made it through...and enjoyed it too!
    Stacey

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