Movieland - Chapter 20
Waking up in Movieland.
Though he was yet to know it, Dante found himself in an eternal present.
It is two nights ago our time, but to Dante, it is now. He is trudging along in a white blizzard by a frozen lake, though he doesn’t know why or how. All he knows is it’s ruining his signature black sneakers. Blasts of wind rush pin-prick ice-flakes against his cheeks, and he must find shelter. Away from the night. He turns up the collar…
Dante turned up the collar of his leather jacket, which was too thin and smart to provide anything as down-market as warmth, and pulled up the hood of his hoodie, also thin, also smart, which the wind promptly knocked back. The night had become a mystery to him. He was confused was all, he told himself. He’d figure it out. He looked behind him but saw only blizzard and forest. How was it that he had left no tracks in the snow?
He must have taken a tumble, hit his head. Or maybe he was in a car crash. He had heard a loud boom. He remembered that, at least. He felt his head for sore spots. It was too cold to feel anything. He pulled the laces of the flimsy hoodie as tight as it would go, which being intended merely to create a fashion silhouette hugged his head without protecting it. His fingers ached from the cold, and he jammed his hands into his pockets.
Dante turned into the wind and soldiered on, following the line of the shore. As best as he could tell, he was in a snow-covered clearing hemmed in by black trees and a frozen lake. At least he knew his own name … it was … wait … he almost had it … Dante! That’s right, Dante Alessandro. A phrase came to him: “the Spring Break King.” For some reason, the sound of it depressed him. But there was more. It seemed he had something important to do, somewhere important to be, but at the moment he was too punchy to grab hold of it.
He came up now beside a wooden jetty that stretched like a rickety finger above the iced-over water. A faded sign creaked in the wind: “Fallen Moon Lake.”
Where the hell was that!
The patchy road turned off to the left at the sign, and as it was the only path the snow hadn’t completely erased, he took it. He hurried along through the whirling ice-flakes, alternately gripping his trim leather jacket to himself and then jamming his freezing hands into his pockets. He gazed up at the sky. It was the damnedest thing. The sky was full of stars and black night. But in such a blizzard shouldn’t the stars be blotted out, the sky heavy with woolen clouds? Where was the snow coming from? The night was as high and clear as if it were a velvet backdrop, with cut-outs for stars.
He went to adjust his glasses and found to his dismay he wasn’t wearing them. Yet the stars were sharp and in focus. Had the accident knocked something right in his head? Accident? Yes, now he was sure. He had been in some sort of car accident. He couldn’t think about that now. He just had to hurry along, find some place warm. He’d figure it out when his head was clear.
How stark the moon looked above the black stand of trees up ahead, how stark and marbled and enormous! Could that be real?
Soon he reached the edge of the woods and found he had come upon a narrow mountain road slanting steeply upward. It was slippery, but making his way on the iced-over pavement was quicker that trudging through the snow, which had soaked through his expensive, useless sneakers, ruining them but beautifully. His socks were wet, his toes were numb, his nose was losing feeling, and the road was ascending over a dangerous drop, sheer rock all the way down.
Through blowing snow, he saw a car up ahead, slanted awkwardly into the middle of the road. One of its rear tires hung over the drop. Someone had slammed on the brakes too fast and skidded recklessly close to the edge. He headed for the abandoned vehicle, and as he did, he recognized it as a sweet beat-up old Ford Fairlane from another era, with rocketship tailfins. It looked about the size of a studio apartment in Hollywood, he mused. Hollywood! That’s where he was from! That’s who he was! He made movies. He was the Spring Break King. Was this sorry heap the Spring Break King’s ride, for Chrissake! Was this his accident?
The car keys he found in his pocket did not slide into the lock. He rattled the car handle in frustration, banged on the window, tried to shake the door loose. How he would have liked to warm up on those two-tone, white-and-gray, deluxe tufted seats, spacious enough to fall asleep on. On top of everything else, he was dead tired. He noticed now a faint reflection dancing on the hood of the car and looked up. Behind the trees, white light was flickering. He could just about make out a “d” and a capital “C” flittering on and off through the swaying pines. He hurried toward the surreal floating letters, catching himself twice from slipping.
He soon came upon the driveway of a woodsy motel, as out of time as the tailfins on the stranded Ford. The neon motel sign was buzzing; its letters, were in the shape of logs, leaning against each other. Some were bright, some were dark, some were making feeble efforts to sizzle back on. As best as he could make out, the sign said “The Fireside Log Cabins” with the capital “C” completely spasming out. Dante hastened toward the office, where the lights were on.
Pressing the door buzzer produced neither sound nor stir. He went to the window and rapped forcefully upon it. Behind a counter was a line of hanging keys with diamond-shaped room tags and a wooly sweater drooped lopsidedly off a hook. As cold as he was, he felt a distinct chill as he realized everything inside was drained of color. Everything was shades of gray! Had the lucky accident that fixed his focus done so at the expense of his color vision!
He was too cold to fret about it. He looked around for something heavy. The snow shovel leaning against the wall was amazingly convenient. Dante swung it against the window… again… again. The glass shattered. He reached through the jagged pieces, flipped the window latch, and pushed the window up. Glass loosened and smashed to the ground, glittering before him in the moonlight, large shards that looked entirely too sharp. Carefully he stepped over the glittering array and pulled himself up on the sill. With a bit of shimmying and a heave-ho, he fell into the lit office.
He stood and went directly for the gray sweater. Stretched out, shapeless, the sweater required he take off his jacket. He threw the sloppy sweater over his hoodie. Whomever it belonged to was taller and broader in the shoulder than trim, compact Dante. He squeezed back into his tailored jacket, which was never meant to be worn over such clumsy, bulky wool. Looking around, he went to read the corkboard with its homemade mimeograph sheets advertising “Nature Walks,” “Guided Tours,” “Rock Climbing,” each with separate summer dates “For Beginners,” “For Advanced.” The broken window, meanwhile, was taking its revenge. Behind the counter where Dante stood, absent the space heater which was on the blink in Cabin 6, the cold was turning arctic.
A far-away voice carried on the whining winds. “Raymond…?”
Dante stepped quickly to the door and came out under the snow-packed awning.
“Raymond, is that you?”
A blonde woman was gingerly negotiating her way down icy stone steps. Behind her, at the top of a hill, he now made out, almost invisible against the black woods, a tall, narrow house in total darkness. A moment later the woman spotted him.
“Oh no!” she moaned in an accusatory tone. “You’re not Raymond!”
The dizzy broad wasn’t even wearing a coat! And who was this Raymond he was supposed to be!
“Something’s happened up at the house,” she declared breathlessly when she reached him. “I’m so frightened. Please … hurry.”
Only moments ago, or so it seemed to Marti, she had been transfixed on the stairs in the house on the hill. She had been waiting on those steps, waiting, an eternity of waiting.
“Raymond?” she had called. “Raymond …?”
But the responses, the girlish whimpers, the creaking attic steps never occurred, couldn’t occur. Raymond had been swept out of the film as Dante was swept in. Twisted, a living mechanical world, was stuck in an eternal first second of the forty-seventh minute.
And Marti was stuck with it, stuck on the midway step as eternity spun around her — she, the stationary spindle of creation, the center of Twisted, waiting there with the expectation that something vaguely necessary was supposed to happen next.
Instead: glass shattered in the distance
Instead: her trance broke.
Abruptly the forceful narrative current that carried everything forward in a rush of irresistible power … ceased. Bewildered, Marti looked about.
But there it was again! Shattering glass! The crash was coming from outside the house.
She must go to it, the sound, the shattering. That would set the world spinning again.
“Raymond?” she cried, breaking free from the steps. “Raymond!”
Dante stood warming his hands by the fireplace. His jacket and the shapeless sweater had been shed on a nearby rocker, but not the hoodie. Outside the fire’s glow, clammy dampness lay upon the interior of the house. He rubbed his hands over the flames, not really listening to the blonde woman — he estimated she was closing in on 40, a bit used, but doable. She was going on about somebody in the attic.
Yes, he would check it out, he told her. Let him warm up first.
“No!” the dizzy dame cried. “Don’t go up those steps! Nobody can go up those stairs!”
Okay, he wouldn’t check it out.
“I have this…this bad feeling—”
Yeah, so did he, he said cutting her off. Did she mind if he knocked off for a while on the couch over there? The couch was very comfy looking, patterned in giant 1940s cabbage roses in various shades of gray. He’d give her whatever she wanted when he got up, whatever she needed, “full service” he said with a sleepy, douchey smile. The innuendo was lost on Marti. Anxious, scriptless, she looked to Dante permanently stunned, her eyes way too wide and starey. like a bee had stung her and set her face that way.
Dante picked up a Christmas tree cookie as he plopped down. For all its powdered sugar and sprinkle ornaments, the cookie was tasteless, as gray as it looked, barely any substance to it at all.
He lay his head on the side pillow of the couch, hoisting his feet up on the other end, mindless of the slushy sneakers. In a minute, he’d pull off his wet socks, but already sleep was moving in. There was something he had to do … something important … something tonight.
A fragment interrupted.
A strange vision: He was turning around at the sound of breathless, helpless giggling when there before him was a “radiant child” — the phrase seemed already implanted in his mind. A pudgy boy of about three. All gold, all gold. “Hey, kid, where’s your clothes!”
Dante was slipping away, floating drowsily off. He was falling off a … mountain? Thoughts faded too quickly to hold. For a moment he opened his eyes a slit, spying something carved into the leg of the coffee table. Crude, done with a pen-knife, as if by a schoolboy, it entered his dreams:
Two R’s back to back, fused at the spine.