Oscar was hunched over his desk. Heidi stood before him. He was focused on the contract the producers had emailed him a few days earlier. He looked up; a nervous chuckle replaced the nothing expression of his mind at work, “This is more money than I’ve ever made — combined!”
His manager’s job was to reassure him, to keep him on-track. “Those psychopaths you conjure have been a cash machine for that studio for years.” She nodded at the contract, “This is where you cash-in.”
He glanced at the enormous number on the contract, “What if I can’t live up to that? What if I can’t bring him to life?”
“You’ve got this, O! But, hey, only one schizo at a time, right? We’ve got to get this film out there first.” He nodded, understood. “Good!” she said. “I arranged for a car. It’ll be here in the morning at eight. Be ready!”
Oscar’s wife, Mandy, entered his office from the hall, stepped around Bruno the Golden Retriever, walked past her husband’s collection of Houston Astros memorabilia, including José Altuve’s game-winning bat from their 2017 World Series victory over the Yankees. She handed Oscar his mail, “It’s a light day. A funny post card, though: even looks a little like your handwriting, but with anything but your sentiment! I’ll listen for the ranting.” She stepped out of the room and Oscar found his way to the solid black postcard at the back of the stack. He turned it over, read its message, laughed; his wife was right.
“What’s so funny?” Heidi asked. He handed her the postcard. “What’s Event Horizon?”
Oscar was appalled, “You haven’t seen Event Horizon?” She stared at him with a blank expression. “Where a mysterious force from a black hole causes everybody on a spaceship to start hallucinating?” He waited. “Murder? Mayhem?”
“Sorry. No go.”
His expression turned grave, “You’re fired!”
She dismissed his melodramatic humor, “Nice try!”
“Rent it tonight. I’m not kidding! It’ll be the best two hours you’ve ever spent.”
“Yeah, that’s happening.” She nodded at the contract, “Sign on the dotted line, and then go pack your bags. We’ve got places to go.” Oscar signed the contract. She took it from his desk and turned for the door, “Eight A.M. Try not to be late this time. L.A. awaits!”
Heidi exited the room, and Oscar flipped the post card in his hand and checked the top for a return address. It said simply “Austin, Texas” and carried the local postmark. He read the card again: “Event Horizon sucks!” He laughed until the unease set in; how did some idiot from Twitter with whom he had a pointless tweet war over a twenty-five-year-old movie get his home address? Oscar entered his name and “address” into Google and clicked on the results. His info was everywhere, like everyone’s, including every address from his childhood home up through his and Mandy’s last house. But none of the links listed the home they purchased and moved into three months earlier. He tapped at his phone, sent a text to Mandy: “Have you given our home address to anyone other than the usual?” He quickly followed up: “No worries if you have. Just curious.”
Mandy replied: “No one!”
The following afternoon, Oscar stepped into a luxurious single at the Beverly Hotel in Los Angeles. A large California king bed filled the center of the space. Two comfortable chairs, a table, and a sleek desk sat next to a bank of windows. A bottle of champagne rested in a bucket of ice on the table, and next to it a post card. On the card was written “Event Horizon sucks!” He laughed, mumbled to himself, “Nicely played.”
Later that night, Oscar and Heidi were riding in the back of a Mercedes black car for their return to the hotel from the studio. The car was all but parked in rush hour traffic. “It’s only eight blocks up. You wanna get out and walk?” Oscar asked.
“Fair enough.” He took a sip of wine. “By the way, thanks for playing! I got your postcard.”
“The one you sent with the champagne. Event Horizon.”
She was baffled, “That movie?”
“That wasn’t you?”
“Do I look like I give a shit about some old movie?”
Traffic finally started moving.
Oscar entered his room and stepped immediately into the shower. He was drying himself as he stepped to the window of the fifth floor room. He loved third through fifth floor rooms. They were high enough to see as far as his middle-aged eyes could still see but low enough to catch the details on the ground below. It was the perfect analogy for that place where writers needed to reside. (He thought he might write that down and keep it for later. It was good!) He stepped away from the window, tossed the towel, grabbed some underwear. Despite the inspiration and connections these business trips offered, he missed his home, and he missed Mandy; he had been away so much the past few years that home was starting to feel like a foreign world. Success had a price. He glanced again at the postcard on the table, picked it up, studied the solid black front that was just like the last one, reread its simple message. It gave him a brief chill, the kind that came from the inside — one of those Stephen King moments that made the world a dark and magical place — as he read “Austin, Texas” across the top of the card. Yes, he admitted, it was 3×5 inches of weird, but the most it could do to him was give him a paper cut. He set it down. He had to get some sleep. They had an early flight out.
Oscar and Heidi were trudging through San Francisco International Airport with their bags in tow when she checked her phone for the time. She sped her stride, “Pick it up, stumpy! We’ve got an hour to get to the presser.” They sprinted to their Uber.
Oscar was sitting in front of Jack Bernard, a European film critique. It was Oscar’s sixth interview in less than two hours. Bernard was French, spoke a mile a minute, made no attempt to break the accent barrier. If he wasn’t going to make the effort, neither was Oscar; he answered “Yes” to every question the Frenchman posed. (Like anyone was going to pay attention to this Parisian Bozo, anyway!)
That evening, Oscar and Heidi were again in the back of a big black Mercedes. And, again, they were drinking. “I hate the French,” he said.
“I’ve got no opinion on the country, but Bernard’s a big shot, can make or break us in France and will set the tone for the rest of Europe, and so you better’ve kissed him after you blew him.”
“Kiss him, too?” Oscar asked, offended. “I’m not a whore!”
“But you treated him right, right?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I should probably learn a second language.”
Oscar flopped onto his bed in his dark hotel room. He was already exhausted, and they still had a week to go before the junket concluded. Four of those days would be in Europe. He wondered if he had enough time to learn French, but dismissed the concern; he’d already blown up France; it was toast. Germany! He needed to learn German! Achtung! Ya. Nein. Yeah, that was good enough.
Oscar laid there for hours staring at the ceiling. He couldn’t sleep. Missed Mandy. He sat up in bed, stepped to the window, looked out on the city, hoped there wouldn’t be a massive earthquake while he was sleeping, checked the ceiling for structural soundness, realized he had to pee. He turned for the bathroom, approached the dresser, noticed a white reflection in the night’s gray light: a postcard. “Where did this come…?” A chill ran down his spine as he looked slowly, almost imperceptibly, around the room, searching for the card’s courier. No one was there, yet it felt like they were, somehow, even if in some other form. He picked up the card to read it, was already certain what it said. Still, like a child hoping to arrive at a different destination by walking on the opposite side of the street, he began at the top of the card this time: “Austin, Texas” He forced his eyes lower against a current of fear. “Event Horizon sucks!” He placed the card back on the dresser, stepped to the door, slipped the chain in the slot, turned the knob to check the lock, and asked himself what he was scared of. He didn’t have an answer. He was just afraid, for no reason, hemmed within that void where gods and insanity were born. It was, ironically, the place in which he should have found the most comfort: that world he’d exploited for years for fame and would, soon, mine for fortune. (Although, it was increasingly coming to feel like the place was exploiting him, and not the other way around. A career of retrieving psychopaths from the darkness was taking a toll.) He looked back across the room at the postcard. How did it get in the room? He turned and studied the space, stepped into the bathroom, checked behind the shower curtain, behind the door, walked back into the room. “Who’s here?” he yelled. But nobody appeared.
Oscar crawled back into bed, began humming the Full House theme, tried to forget about the card, tried to sleep.
Heidi was signing them in at the front desk of the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. From behind her, Oscar stared at the Algonquin cat. From behind the desk, the cat stared back. Oscar was wondering what the feline term for bastard was when Heidi reached back, handed him a postcard, “This was waiting.” He took it, noticed the gloss black front, inhaled a deep calming breath that wasn’t calming at all, flipped the card, read it. “Austin, Texas” “Event Horizon sucks!” He laughed darkly. Helplessly. What else were you supposed to do? Call the cops? “What’s so funny?” Heidi asked as she handed him his key.
Oscar tossed the card into a trash can, looked at her, “You need to rent Event Horizon.”
“Third floor,” she said as she walked away uninterested.
“I’m not kidding!” he called out. “It’s terrific!” She pressed the Up arrow on the elevator without a word or a glance. “Seriously!”
Oscar sat at one end of a Midtown hotel room across from a reporter from The New Yorker magazine. She smiled, “I read an interview you gave to the French magazine Oi where you said that the musical group Yes had been your biggest artistic influence when you first started writing. That’s an unusual muse for a young writer. Can you elaborate?“
Oscar smiled, “I think there might have been a language barrier.”
She laughed, “Then I’ll ask the same question in fluent English. What artist or artistic creation most influenced you?” Questions like this were bullshit, of course. Writers weren’t influenced by any one particular thing. They were influenced by the exquisite imperfections that were hurled at them like particles in an accelerator: colors, words, shapes, and sounds that were immediately consumed by their demented imaginations, imaginations which were different today than they were yesterday, and would be different tomorrow than they were today. A writer’s influence was everything, but most of all unknowable. Yet, during these interviews, the products of which would be sandwiched between advertisements for foot cream and mascara, writers all played along.
“Event Horizon,” he said. “That was my primary influence.”
“The old sci-fi film?”
“Why Event Horizon?”
“Because it’s fantastic!”
Miami, London, Stockholm, Berlin, Paris. The skylines changed but the questions never did, nor did the postcards, which arrived for him at every stop, their only difference their postmarks.
It had been a week since Oscar had been home. It was late in the evening when he slipped quietly into his office and slid to the floor beneath his Astros collection. His suitcase and Bruno rested at his side.
Oscar petted the dog as he flipped through his latest screenplay for the first time in a week. He was excited by the prospect; time away helped you find the glitches. But nothing was registering tonight. He was spent. He closed the script and rose to his feet and stepped to his desk. Mandy had stacked his mail in front of his chair. He sat, began going through it. At the bottom, another black card. He laughed, wondered when these missives would end. He flipped it over, read it — “Event Horizon sucks!” — then shifted his eyes to the postmark. That’s when he saw that this card was different from the others. It was a small change, only two words: the sender’s address, “Austin, Texas,” had been replaced by “Oscar’s Den.” He read it again. What the hell? He looked out into the dark hall. His stomach gripped him tight. This was a gag, right? Or was somebody in his house? And where was Mandy? Was she safe? He stared at the card as he built up his courage. He rose from his chair.
Oscar stepped to the door, retrieved José Altuve’s bat from the wall, looked down at Bruno, spoke in a whisper, “Come with me, boy.” They walked into the hall.
At the far end of the hall, last door on the right, was the den. It was a former bedroom that Oscar and Mandy had converted into an audio-video room with four comfortable recliners, a big screen TV, and a kick ass stereo that he swore inspired him. Flashes of blue light from the television flashed beneath its door. Oscar raised the bat up over his shoulder like he was preparing to swing at a Justin Verlander fastball as he walked silently toward the light. As he edged to the opening, his steps became tip-toes: short, quiet, tentative. He reached for the doorknob, grasped it gently, silently, and he inhaled deeply. Then, with an unrepentant singular motion that both empowered and terrified him, he turned the knob, pushed open the door, and prepared to swing. A woman was sitting in one of the recliners a dozen feet away. “Well, hi,” the stranger said. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
The woman in the chair was unfamiliar, menacing, with something about her face that said “sane when she has to be, crazy in her off-time.” She rose to her feet and stepped toward Oscar without a word: twelve feet, ten feet, eight feet, six, five, four… That’s when Oscar made his move, swung José’s bat like the Series depended on it. The first hit took out the woman’s left knee, the second took out her right, and she dropped to the floor, where she screamed for him to stop. But Oscar kept swinging — at her legs, at her body, and then at her head — his impacts brutal. The cops would even call the pummeling “psychopathic” when they discovered her body at the first dawn of light. But, tonight, it — the resonating bat that connected her faltering body with Oscar’s torso, the delicate yet vicious sound of him shattering her bones — was primeval in its allure, as beautiful as it was real as the stranger cried out his name, “What are you doing, Oscar? Stop!!! Oscar!!!”
But Oscar didn’t stop swinging, he just screamed in reply, “Event Horizon is a great fucking movie!” as Mandy curled into a ball and begged for her husband to stop.