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Death Is Not The End

written by: Lorenzo Berardi

 

Alan Pecan had died twenty-seven times and counting. They had killed him with firearms, laser beams, bows, crossbows, stones, poisoned red wine, venomous Australian spiders, nail guns, icebreakers, even jackhammers. He had fallen to his death from skyscrapers, helicopters, biplanes, oil platforms, cranes, great towers and into ravines, trenches, parked cars, molten lava, the rolling North Sea. In four instances it had been a matter of taking his own life by immolation and committing seppuku or in less oriental fashion by swallowing a capsule of cyanide. Twice he had come back from the hereafter to be re-killed, while he had delivered his own epitaph in five occasions. Millions of people associated him with the famous average guy who was going to die on screen and only waited to see how and when. As far as he guessed, nobody had ever shed a tear for his multiple departures. And only a bunch of movie nerds scattered worldwide remembered his two juvenile roles where he survived to the final credits. Those were Alan's halcyon days.

“I understand your concern, buddy, but can I be completely frank with you?” a well known voice belonging to a bald, stocky man in a Gucci suit told Alan one morning.
“Sure. Go ahead.”
“Look: today there's no one in the industry who can die as well as you do. In fact, nobody even comes anywhere near to the way you play it. You're born for that role.”
“Born to die?”
“Precisely.”
“Dan, you've been my agent for a long time. I appreciate all that you've been doing for my career and you know how to get me well-paid jobs with top productions. However...”
“That's the least I can do. You're a great actor, buddy.”
“However – don't interrupt me – it's about twenty years I'm in the business and I believe it's time to move on. Dan, I'm sick and tired to read scripts where my character dies a pointless death. I want to land roles where Alan Pecan does something else other than passing away, movies where the audience will have something else to remember me by.”
“But buddy, we've found you a niche in the industry where you're the best. Why don't you want to cash more on this? Sure, I could get you some director, some Sundance Festival bright young thing, who'd be glad to script you for something different, but what next? It would be foolish to turn down all the roles they've been offering you in huge productions and wouldn't do any good to your career.”
“Looks like I'm bound to die forever, then.”
“I wouldn't put it this way, buddy, but your death pays damn good money.”

The thought of seeing his third wife for dinner, troubled Alan's short drive home along the Golden State Freeway. She would have served him a bad drink to wash his paleo diet meal with and asked for more of what she called “pocket money.” Jen was fifteen years his junior and an actress herself, although more lingerie model material than Tisch graduate. He had met her three summers earlier on the set of Kingly Gift, a fantasy pastiche directed by a German filmmaker and shot in Romania that he regarded as one of the lowest points in his acting career. In that lousy production, his wife-to-be played a scantily clad courtesan rescued by a beefy hero from some dungeons. Her only lines in the movie were the classic “What are we going to do now?” and a, part “I feel so dirty...fancy a bath with me?” but she compensated for this scarcity of quotes by displaying plenty of sideboobs.
Alan played the less decorative role of a wicked sorcerer wearing prosthetic ears and a terrible leathery outfit that scratched like hell around the crotch. He sought the source of eternal youth but died struck by lightning in what was a novelty in his demises at that time. He and Jen didn't share any screen time but soon got quite intimate in the backstage. In fact, so intimate that Alan would have ditched his second wife – a petite Instagram influencer named Clara – a few months later, installing her leggy replacement in his Los Feliz mansion.

“Who's this?” a hoarse voice called from upstairs as the key turned in the lock.
“It's me, Nightingale,” he answered, the echo in the lobby amplifying his voice. He dubbed her that – half affectionately half mockingly – after the Stravinsky opera of the same title. She called him “Al,” like everyone else did, and sometimes worse.
Jen Toujours (her actual surname was Spragg) descended the wide staircase of Carrara marble with the same purposeful gait she would have walked down the Spanish Steps in Rome. She wore a short lobster red cocktail dress with all the asymmetries and slits required by contemporary fashion. There was something very familiar in that stride and in that glamorous attire.
“Have you been drinking?” he asked her.
“Who? Me? None of your business,” she retorted, making a face.
“But you did,” he insisted.
She wouldn't lie, nor tell him the truth: “I did what I did. What have you been doing?”
“I was in Echo Park discussing job offers with Dan. There are a couple of interesting roles with major studios we're taking into consideration.”
“Good news. So, how will you be dying next?” she said, messing about at the liquor cabinet in the main living room.
“By hanging and by dismemberment,” he admitted, reluctantly.
“Splendid,” yawned Jen as she poured herself and him a double malt scotch, “and did you die that way before?”
“Once by hanging, but this time it would be from a bridge. As a banker. In London,” he said, kicking his shoes under one of the sofas.
“Aw, Al...I'm so envious! You're a fucking movie star. You always have been. And who am I? The only roles they offer me in the industry are those of dumb eye candies: strippers, models, ex pornstars. While you, you have so much...variety in your career,” she grumbled and handed him a tumbler full of booze.
He detected a pinch of irony in her words, but let it go: “Well, I'm a natural,” he said.

***

“Hello, Mr. Pecan and welcome on board! I'm the executive producer of the series. The name's Finch, Daniel Finch. Let me just say I'm so glad to work with you. It's just too cool to be true! You know, I basically grew up watching all of your movies.”
“The pleasure is mine, Danny. Please, call me Al.”
With his ten years of experience working for Netflix and HBO, Finch couldn't be any younger than twenty-eight. And yet, he looked, moved, talked and dressed up like an outgrown teenager visiting L.A. upon leaving Missouri for the first time. The only feature that gave his actual age away was eye-bags which were deep and dark as though a lick of shoe polish had been spread on them.

Things were looking up for Alan Pecan's career. The series was his first and bore the tentative title of Legends Return. The idea behind it was that a bunch of historical characters came back from the afterlife blessed with superpowers to smash international terrorism. There was Mahatma Gandhi and Malcolm X, John Lennon and Joan of Arc, Marie Curie, and Charlemagne, plus others. Alan was going to play one of these badass chaps, even though which of the lot had yet to be decided. He yearned for Van Gogh to whom he resembled a bit, ginger hair and all, but Dan believed he would have been a great Dante instead. Either way, great news was that in the series he won't have died another time as Finch had made clear.

“Awful! Awful! Let's have another take!”
Working with Erik Gavorkian was a pain in the ass and shooting the first episode of Legends in stifling Morocco had turned out to be a nightmare. The man was a perfectionist of the worst sort and indulged in excessive takes as if he were Kubrick. On top of this, Gavorkian was a control freak and his appetite for micromanaging so ginormous that put to shame most of the directors Alan had worked with. He had died for notoriously eccentric movie makers such as Michael Mann, Terrence Malick, and Oliver Stone, but this Gavorkian was nutso.
“Erik, I'll have a leak before the next take,” he said, for his bladder was bursting.
“A leak?” the director hissed from below the Bedouin canopy where he sat on a foldable throne ruling over a crew of fifty people.
“Yeah, well...I need to urinate.”
“Urinate? You must be joking.”
“Nope. It won't take longer than a minute.”
“A minute?! We don't have time for your leaks, Mr. Pecan. Where do you think you are? We're shooting big and on a tight schedule here, in case you haven't noticed. If you can't hold your leak, just piss in your costume and be done with it.”
Alan was playing Julius Caesar – upon reading in the script that no Brutus was cast – and all he wore was a red toga draped over a golden armour breastplate and clipped on his right shoulder with a safety pin. The suggestion of relieving himself on the spot was ludicrous, to say the least, and that's what he told Gavorkian.
As he heard that, the Armenian-American maestro went blue in the face and lashed out at him: “Stop whining! I'm in charge here. This is my episode, not yours. You...you're just an expandable typecast the production engaged out of pity. Now shut your trap. Listen up, people! Get ready for take thirty-one!”
It took ten more takes of the scene to satisfy Gavorkian and let him call it a day.

“An expandable typecast,” Alan repeated to Daniel Finch two hours later as they queued for their catered dinner.
“Yes, I heard it. And I'm sorry for that. Obviously, Erik didn't mean it. I hope there are no hard feelings,” the executive producer replied. He looked at ease with himself. The merciless sun roasting the Moroccan desert had worked wonders on his skin which bore the same colour of his eye-bags, concealing them better than make up.
“Well, it's hard not to take it personally.”
“Al, I don't need to tell you that you're one of the stars in our series. We've got five seasons of Legends to make and stay assured that your JC dude will kick asses in all of them. As for Erik, he's only expected to direct up to two episodes each season so bear with him for the greater good,” Finch had a way with words.
“Fair enough, Danny. I'll endure this. But that man is a bloody dictator.”
“As well as one of the best young filmmakers around.”
“I hope so. I must admit I'm not familiar with his stuff.”
“He's been making top-notch shit, Al. You should definitely check it out. The camera movements and jump cut editing in The Leprechaun's Pit are mindblowing!”

They filmed in Morocco under Gavorkian's yoke for three more weeks that seemed to last forever. Then the whole crew, except the tyrannic director, moved on to Croatia, Oman, Vietnam for the producers of Legends spared no expenses on locations. Upon four months prepping, rehearsing and shooting the ten episodes of the first season were ready for post-production. Back in Los Feliz, Jen kept Alan up to date on the financial side of the venture as the pay-checks poured into their joint account at City National. He earned 100,000 bucks per episode, but once Dan's 20 percent commission and 35 percent taxes on the remaining gross were detracted, he was left with about half a million dollar. This might have looked like a huge amount to bank in, but he had some debts to pay back and Jen's “pocket money” to ladle out. He needed the series to be a blast and his “JC dude” to hunt down fanatical terrorists, white supremacist lunatics, and Colombian drug lords in its remaining four seasons.

It took the series three or four episodes to hit home, but eventually, it gained its millions of followers. The reviews were generally good with a score of 79 on Rotten Tomatoes and the performance of Alan Pecan praised by critics and Youtube stars. An article published by Premiere listing the ten most popular characters of the first season of Legends placed Julius Caesar in the sixth place, between Confucius and Mother Teresa. Top of the rankings was John Lennon played by a sleazy fellow who had become a teen idol. Right after him came Marilyn Monroe portrayed by a curvaceous blonde who – Alan had to admit – looked even saucier than the original. Julius Caesar at number six wasn't too bad as neither Van Gogh nor Dante had made it into the list. His was a character who would have grown on the fandom.

“Al, do you have a minute?”
“Sure I do, Danny.”
They stood in the semicircular cavern behind the majestic Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland and were having a break during the shooting of season two episode three. It was late November and freezing cold, so much so that the pool of water at their feet was half frozen. The wasteland created by the mighty glacial floods following the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 stretched flat and white beyond the cascade as far as the eye could see. The filming crew had only three hours of light a day to work in that period of the year so up north and every single minute was precious. Luckily the director of the instalment, a Mexican chap called Jaime Mendoza, was chilled out and a pleasure to work with. Underneath his Roman garments, Alan wore a full body pantyhose that would have been deleted in digital editing. It was supposed to protect him from the frigid temperatures but didn't do the trick well. Besides, the icy droplets falling onto his toga from the cataract had soaked it so wet that it weighed a ton. He sneezed and Finch blessed him.

“Al, there's something important I ought to tell you,” the executive producer shouted to win over the roar of the waterfall, “This is going to be your penultimate episode.”
“What are you talking about?!”
“There won't be any more JC in Legends.”
“Are you kidding me? Is this a joke?”
Finch drew closer. He looked serious, too serious: “Let me tell you something. There's been a lot of speculations going on social networks and forums on what's going to happen this season. This is, of course, fantastic promotion for us, but...”
“I don't get where you're heading at, Danny.”
“...Al, the hashtag #WhenPecanDies has been top 5 trending on Twitter for two weeks in a row and even bookmakers accept bets on your death now. They want JC to kick the bucket. That's what the public asks for. And this is what we'll show them.”
“But why so early?” was all that Alan could ask.
“Nobody expects JC to die on episode four. The bookies quote it eighteen to one odds. Imagine that! That's why your death would make for a nice unexpected twist in the season. Something that would please and shock people at the same time.”
“I see. I'm an expandable typecast,” Alan murmured.
“On the contrary. Your death will be one of the key moments of this series. We'll make it spectacular, unforgettable, a cliffhanger! And that's where we need you, Al. For you're the one guy in the industry who definitely knows how to die and you can help us to finding a road not taken.”
“How about keeping me alive, for a start?” Alan said.
“I'm afraid this is out of the discussion: your JC must die.”

Alan thought his own agent would have fought for Julius Caesar's right to survive season two episode four, but he was mistaken.
“Finch is damn right. Let's have this guy killed,” Dan said on an intercontinental phone call from Bali where he was holidaying with his estranged children.
“Why you're so keen on backing this idea? The main reason why we had accepted this role is that my character would have not died in the series.”
“Hold on, buddy. That was your main reason. Shall I remind you there's that huge Michael Bay's project sitting on your desk?”
Alan didn't need to be reminded of that accursed script. They wanted to cast him as a Nazi-made cyborg in the umpteenth Transformers movie. Upon reading the manuscript, it still escaped him what nazis hardware had to do with that franchise.
“The role is tailor-made for you, buddy,” Dan insisted.
“Wait a minute. Are we talking about the same thing? You mean, the role of a CGI animated cyborg with a toothbrush moustache pulverized by a talking tank truck?”
“Precisely. Kids will love it.”

Alan Pecan died again while filming season two episode four in Shanghai International Port. An eleven tonnes container fell on Julius Caesar from atop while he was chasing Chinese mobsters involved in human trafficking. It was Alan's twenty-eighth death on screen and the last one of his remarkable career. He would have not passed away another time, as Dan broke the news to the press. One year later, Jen Toujours landed the much coveted role of Mata Hari in the third season of Legends. She dyed her hair black and seduced John Lennon to Finch's delight. When Alan Pecan received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he couldn't be there to attend the ceremony. “It was a privilege working with such a gifted actor. He was born to live forever,” Erik Gavorkian said, interviewed by Time Out.

Lorenzo Berardi

Lorenzo Berardi

Lorenzo Berardi is a thirty something fellow hailing from Italy and living in Poland. He works as a freelance journalist and as a copywriter. His English written poems and short stories have been published in American, British, Canadian, and Polish print and online magazines.
Lorenzo Berardi

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