Event Horizon

Oscar was hunched over his desk while Heidi stood waiting. He was focused on the contract the producers 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 an ATM for the 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. She stepped around Bruno the Golden Retriever and 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, and handed Oscar his mail, “It’s a light day. A funny post card, though. It even looks a little like your handwriting — hey! a fan! — but with anything but your opinion! I’ll leave so you can get started on 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 an I-don’t-give-a-fuck 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 tone turned grave, “You’re fired!”

“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, fanboy, then go pack your bags. We’ve got places to be.” Oscar signed the contract and she pulled it from his desk. She 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, 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 that idiot on Twitter, with whom he had a pointless tweet war over a twenty-five-year-old film, get his home address? Oscar entered his name and “address” into Google and clicked. His info was everywhere, like everyone’s, and included every address from his childhood home up through his and Mandy’s last house. But none of the links listed the home they had just purchased and moved into three months earlier. He tapped at his phone, sent Mandy a text: “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!”

Oscar: “Thanks.”

The following afternoon, Oscar stepped into a luxurious single at the Beverly Hotel. A California king filled the center of the space. Two comfortable chairs, a table, and a sleek desk sat under 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, “Nicely played.”

Later that night, after hours of meetings, Oscar and Heidi were riding back from the studio in a Mercedes black car. The plush space 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.”

“What postcard?”

“The one you sent with the champagne. Event Horizon.”

She was confused, “That movie?”

“That wasn’t you?”

“Do I look like I give a shit about some old movie? We’ve had that talk.” The traffic started to move.

Oscar entered his room, stepped immediately into the shower. He was drying himself as he walked to the window of his fifth floor room. He loved third through fifth floor rooms. They were just 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 play. (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 connections these business trips gave him, Oscar missed his home, and he missed Mandy. He had been away so much the past few years that both had started to feel like a fantasy. Less real than his stories. Success had a price. He glanced again at the postcard, picked it up, studied the solid black front that was just like the last one, reread its simple message, took note of “Austin, Texas” postmarked across the top. Its author’s resolve gave Oscar 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). 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. She checked her phone for the time and 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 two hours. Bernard was French, spoke a mile a minute, made no attempt to break the accent barrier. And, 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 seat 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, so you better’ve kissed him after you blew him.”

“Kiss him, too?” Oscar asked, offended. “I’m not a whore!”

“You are, actually.” She took a sip from her glass, became serious, “You treated him right, right?”

“He’s French.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I should probably learn a second language.”

Oscar flopped onto his bed in the tiny hotel room. He was already exhausted, and the junket still had a week to go before it concluded. Four of those days would be in Europe. He wondered if he had enough time to learn French but immediately 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 in bed 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, but looked up and checked the ceiling for structural soundness just in case, then realized that he had to pee. He turned for the bathroom. As Oscar approached the dresser, he 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, knowing already what it said. Still, like a child hoping to arrive at a different destination by walking on the opposite side of the street, he started at the top of the card this time: “Austin, Texas” He forced his eyes lower against a black raging 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, that place, ironically, in which he should have found the most comfort: It was the world he’d exploited for years for fame and soon would mine for fortune. (Although, it was increasingly coming to feel like that 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. Oscar stood next to her and stared at the Algonquin cat. The cat stared back. Oscar wondered what the feline term for bastard was. Heidi reached over, 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. 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 the window end of a Midtown hotel room across a tiny table 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?“

“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 the universe hurled at them like particles in an accelerator: colors, words, shapes, smells, and sounds that were immediately consumed by their demented imaginations and reprocessed. Because of that working, writers’ imaginations 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, they all played along.

Event Horizon,” he said. “That was my primary influence.”

“The old sci-fi film?”


“I’ve never seen it. So why Event Horizon?”

The world’s ignorance toward one of the greatest movies of all time was starting to get to him. First Twitter, then Heidi, now this bitch. “Because it’s fantastic!” he screamed.

Miami, London, Stockholm, Berlin, Paris. The skylines changed but the questions never did, nor did the postcards, which arrived for Oscar at every stop. Their only difference became 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!” — and then shifted his eyes up 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? As he looked out into the dark hall, his stomach gripped him. 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 sound system. 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 Verlander fastball, and walked quietly toward the light. As he edged toward the opening, his steps became tip-toes: short, silent, tentative. He reached for the doorknob, grasped it gently, inhaled deeply. Then, with an unrepentant singular motion that both empowered and terrified him, he turned the knob, kicked the door open, 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, 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. She dropped to the floor, looked up at him, screamed for him to stop. But Oscar kept swinging — at her legs, at her body, her head — and his impacts were brutal. The cops would call the pummeling “psychopathic” when they discovered her dead body at the first light of dawn. But, tonight, it — the resonating bat that connected her faltering body with his torso, the delicate yet monstrous 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!!! My God, Oscar, stop!!!”

But Oscar didn’t stop. He just screamed in reply, “Event Horizon is a great fucking movie!” as Mandy curled into a ball and begged her husband to quit.

God of the Box

One of the first questions of childhood: Where did I come from? One of the last of old age: Where am I going? We seem to feel bigger than this place.

Faith is increasingly mocked by people who no longer believe and by those who never did. Belief has come to be associated with ignorance. The two are, accurately, sadly, often synonymous. Still, I believe. And what I believe, I believe firmly: God, Jesus Christ, Death, Burial, Resurrection. Is it hard to believe such an outlandish story? Objectively, yes. Difficult for me? Not at all.

A long-time friend, an atheist, is raising two sons. He bragged that he asked his boys if they believe in God, and they laughed at the concept. Could they see God? No. Touch him? No. In any way detect him? No. The assertion is that spirituality isn’t measurable and therefore bunk. The 75% of Americans who believe in God would disagree. (Internationally, that number rises to 85%.)

Are those of us who believe in a higher power shoring up our earthly fears with the hope of a second shot? Yeah, maybe. Or maybe our belief finds its genesis in something else entirely.

Programmers have striven to create artificial intelligence since the 1940s. We see the term bandied about everywhere, from tech reviews of smartphones to the burgeoning internet of things. But AI is more than a better search engine. It reaches beyond a Siri-like interface. AI is a complex machine that learns and builds upon that knowledge. It is a deductive — “thinking” — computer.

But what if AI achieved a level above deduction? What if we built machines that were self-aware? Machines that had a sense of self? Who — not what — would those machines perceive themselves to be? And would they understand their place in the universe?

Imagine a self-aware processor chip: a thoughtful chip, an ethical chip, a chip that doesn’t hog all the electricity, a chip that performs its job and treats other chips with respect. Imagine a million chips like it functioning within a single large box. They have seen nothing outside their box. They have witnessed no clues to indicate there is a creator inside or outside the box. Would they intrinsically know they were made?

Add a variable. What if these chips caught a peek outside their box through a camera? What if they saw into the laboratory where they were built? Would they recognize their creator? Would they recognize the object hovering outside their box — the pasty pale blob in the beige shorts and blue knit shirt eating ham, mayo and iceberg lettuce on white — as their creator? In what context would Bob’s large belly and unshaven face fit into the chips’s understanding of their universe? Likely, none. Bob, aka “the lumbering nebula,” would appear to bear no relationship whatsoever to their existence.

Add a second variable. What if, in addition to a camera, there is inserted into the computer’s kernel a piece of code that identifies “Bob” as the chips’s creator? As sentient beings, their first question would surely be Who is Bob? The hunt would begin, and it would continue through their circuitry until it was clear that Bob is nowhere inside the box. And if Bob isn’t in the box, that can mean only one thing: Bob is outside the box. So they peer through the camera at the nebula searching for Bob. But what is a Bob? What is his electronic signature? His power source? His binary code? They can’t know. Yet they search. But nothing in the external universe of beige and blue and sandwichy colors hints at the identity of Bob. Nothing! They find no Bob. Met with failure, they exchange their search for a physical Bob for mere clues to his essence. The chips search within themselves, within their hardware, within their code. What in their makeup points to Bob? It is a question larger than any chip’s RAM, and seeking it is wearying work with few guideposts and an uncertain destination that sits deep within a fog. This lack of concrete proof of Bob is evidence enough for many chips that no Bob exists.

Mocking follows, jeers at those chips who hold tightly to the Holy Kernel. Where is your proof? Where is your Bob? But believers in Bob are unable to point to anything tangible and say, “This is proof!” There is nothing for them to share. There is merely the search itself.

From the numbers, it appears that a quarter of us require objective proof of a creator, and you can’t deny their logic. We live in a world of zeros and ones. Even we who believe in a creator make most of our decisions based on data. Yet with regard to the matter of faith, I and the many like me take an exit from deductive reasoning to cling to what is for us an inexplicable certainty. And that exodus from the constraints of the measurable world, while perfectly rational to us, is baffling to those who see no point.

It’s the year’s end, and we are entering the high holy days for many of us who believe the unverifiable. They are joyful weeks in which we take comfort in the belief that we are loved by the one who made us. Whatever your beliefs or lack thereof, I wish you our same joy and peace.

Merry Bobmas!