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Horror: “Cattle Call” by Elizabeth. J. Musgrave

Cattle Call

One by one the girls filed into the room. Blonde. Blue-eyed. Built. C-cups. Beauty queens from small, midwestern towns who came to Hollywood in search of glamour and glitz. Hoping to be the next Lana Turner discovered in Schwab’s Drug Store. How their dear hearts would break when they found out there was no longer a Schwab’s and that they weren’t the only pretty 4-H Fair Queen to come to Tinseltown with a dream. A dream to make it big on the silver screen. To be the next Marilyn Monroe. Julia Roberts. Angelina Jolie. Hell, Tara Reid.

Each wannabe flashed Max Fisher a veneered smile and flipped her bleached tresses, telling him how she had read the script and how much she really, really wanted the part of “The Girl” for which he was casting. Max, knee deep in head shots, peered over the rims of his glasses to do the obligatory once-over of the naif standing before him. He noticed her nipples jutting from the halter top she’d most likely purchased for that day’s audition. Clearly, she was wearing no bra. Then again, none of them were.

“What makes you think you’re The Girl?” he asked, fighting back a yawn.

“Because I can scream.” And she belted out a blood curdling squeal that would make Scream Queen Barbara Steele proud.

Max pushed the glasses further up on his nose. If it were under different circumstances, no doubt he would offer her the part based on her girl next door looks and eager disposition. She had promise; however, she was run of the mill when he actually considered the dozens of others he’d already seen and prodded on. He would know “The Girl” when he saw her. The problem was he hadn’t. And time was running out.

“Thank you,” said Max, forcing a smile. “That will be all, ladies.”

The remaining girls scanned each other – confused – since they hadn’t the opportunity to show off their ass, er, assets. While two or three stormed out in a huff, a few still lingered, hoping for their one last chance to impress.

“You heard Max, girls, that’s it for the day,” said Justin, herding the hopefuls to the door and crushing their dreams on the way out. Not that he was a bad guy. He was just on a tight schedule. It was Saturday, nearing five o’clock. He had places to go, people to see. A premiere or opening somewhere. He didn’t have time to dillydally in a twenty-five seat theater that smelled like piss. Even if there had been a bevy of beauties paraded in front of him all day, auditions were over now. It was time they get on home and not waste his time. Although he was known to make exceptions.

As he took the name and phone number of the vacillating blonde, Justin gave her a wink and told her he’d put in a good word to the director. Even without her auditioning, he could tell just by looking at her that she had talent. After all, he had been an assistant casting director for two years. He knew these things. Of course, she giggled and twirled her flaxen hair around her finger, insisting she show him, that night, her audition monologue for a recurring role on Gossip Girl. All he had to bring was the wine. He put her number in his phone.

“Red or white?” he asked.

“Red,” she smiled coyly, shutting the door behind her.

Justin plopped down in the seat next to Max. “What can I say?  I’m a shit,” grinned Justin as he pulled out his iPhone to text his high school girlfriend back home in Oklahoma.

To be young again, thought Max.  Although Max was only forty, in Hollywood terms he was over the hill. And he had yet to make his first feature. Sure, he had a couple of award winning shorts to his name, but that didn’t mean squat in a town where a middle schooler could make a feature on video, cut on Final Pro, then post it on YouTube to become an internet sensation and land a three picture studio deal.  Filmmaking was no longer an art, Max told himself. Why even bother?

To many, just the idea of still harboring a childhood dream at his age would be enough to drive them into another, more practical, career lane. Not Max. This only fueled his desire more, especially these last few years. So when he finally swallowed all that was left of his pride but the pill of bitterness stayed lodged in his throat, he did what any poor, vanquished soul in his predicament would do: he went to a Black Mass.

“So you found her?” inquired Justin.

Max paused. “Who?”

“The Girl, man,” Justin said insistently.

“No.” Max gathered the headshots, handing them back to Justin. “Here. I never know what to do with these.”

Justin stared at the stack of pictures in his hands. “Out of all these girls, you can’t find one?  Dude, it’s not even a speaking role. What the hell?” Justin shook his head.  “What a wasted day. I could’ve slept in.”  It didn’t even occur to Justin it was because of Max he got the phone  number of tonight’s lay. Stupid kid, Max couldn’t help but think, he doesn’t have a clue.

Max certainly didn’t have one either prior to his initiation into the Black Mass. He had scoffed at the idea of a devilish exchange between the dark lord and a desperate individual in need of vindication for all his earthly toil. To Max, it was the stuff of scary movies, the folklore behind Robert Johnson, the Rolling Stones, Jayne Mansfield. It was all garbage in his opinion. But that mindset changed once he experienced what many refer to as the dark night of the soul.

It was his fortieth birthday, which happened to be Halloween, when he stumbled home drunk and then shoved a loaded gun in his mouth. He was done, finished with this town. He had nothing to show for his talent that even the suits at the studios said he had. Nothing to show for his sweat, perseverance, and sacrifice. Nothing, nothing, nothing. But a scrap heap of rejection and self-deprecation. He was, in his mind, an abject failure.

That night, as dark as it was, he managed to pull the gun from of his mouth. Not so much out of divine intervention as it was earthly tomfoolery. As his finger pulsed on the trigger and he bit down on the pistol, he imagined the scene he would leave behind. Blackened blood and brain matter splattered against the wall, George A. Romero style. But before he could execute his plan, his attention diverted to an annoying cackle outside his apartment. It was so irritating, in fact, that it broke his concentration and caused him to go to the window. There, cloaked in shadows under the dim streetlight, Max saw what looked to be a hoofed, horned figure. In his drunken haze, Max squinted to focus his bloodshot eyes. On closer examination, the thing looked to have claws and a hunchback, pointed ears. A hideous aura surrounding it that seemed only to captivate Max.

All of a sudden, the creature turned, locking eyes with Max.  It was beastly looking. Its eyes like burning embers, its skin covered in pustules.  Although the joker-like smile on its face remained frozen, the hysterical laughter it spewed forth seemed to echo throughout the neighborhood, sending shivers down Max’s spine.  He gasped in horror, running—though more like staggering— to his bed for cover.

Although Max failed to see the trick-or-treat bag at the monster’s side, he saw this vision as a sign. And in the next few days, everything seemed to be a sign. Like the screening of  Rosemary’s Baby at the NuArt, hearing that Kanye West admitted to selling his soul to the devil, stumbling across Anton LaVey’s tome The Satanic Bible at Counterpoint Records and Books.  Max may have bought the book out of curiosity, but he devoured the pages in one night’s sitting. Why not, a little satanic dealmaking?  Besides, he’d already endured an auditing session at the Celebrity Scientology Center. It was worth a shot.

Gradually, his determination and tenacity reignited. He vowed never to give up. He was going to make his movie, dammit.  To hell with everybody . . . Literally.

“Coffee,” Max requested to the hipster waitress with a bad-ass swagger and an even badder ass devil tattoo on her forearm. Another minion, he thought. He glanced at his watch—8:30—then scratched his two day old scruff and leaned back in the booth. What had he agreed to? A virgin in L.A.?  Impossible. This was a town made up of whores, himself included.

Since he was still new to the black arts, the council sent him on a mission to see if he was truly serious about giving himself over. His mission was to bring them a virgin. Guidelines:  1) She had to be in L.A. 2) She had to be an aspiring actress  3) He had one week to find her. A mighty tall order, indeed. In return, he would be given a $10 million budget to make his film. (One of the high priests was a producer and had connections to Slamdance. Max’s film would be sure to get in, just like all the other compliant first-time directors’ films before his did). He felt in his bones she was out there, and she would be his ticket inside.

Suddenly, sniffles and stifled cries came from the booth behind him. Max craned his neck to see a young woman, no more than twenty, blowing her nose in a hankie. She was wearing a pastel, floral printed dress; her hair tied back in a bow.  There was a freshness to her that he forgot still existed. She was pretty. Slender.  Her skin almost translucent, as if she had never been out in the sun. She bent over, rummaging through a bag at her feet. He couldn’t help but watch her slightest move. She must have felt his eyes on her because she caught his gaze.

Embarrassed, Max raised his hand feigning a wave then quickly turned back around in his seat.  He’d been caught. He tried to shake off the encounter and reroute his gaze elsewhere: to the fork on the table, the couple at the counter.  Until he heard her blubbering again.

Max glanced back. No one was coming to comfort her. She must be alone, he thought. Reluctantly, he got up and slid next to her in the booth.

“Are you okay?” Max inquired.

By now, she was crying so hard she could barely catch her breath.

“Would you like some hot tea?” Max asked.

“No.  I’m, I’m, I’m okay,”  she heaved between sobs.

Max couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. She was a mess. Poor girl. “Do you want to talk about it? I mean, I know we don’t know each other, but sometimes that’s best.”

She swallowed hard. Then paused.  “There is no Schwabs.”  Again, she burst into a puddle of tears.

He knew it was callous, but it was hard not to chuckle. He persisted further, breaking more bad news. “There is no Cocoanut Grove either.”

She was agape. Dumbfounded.  But this time she didn’t cry. Instead, she sat there, shell shocked from what had been told to her. She took a sip of water then blew her nose.

“Next you’ll tell me there’s no Brown Derby,” she sniffed.

Max didn’t have the heart to tell her there wasn’t. Was she really that outdated?  Naïve? Or was she just that stupid?  Max hadn’t decided.

“You should probably be more up to date on L.A. I’ll write down a few tourist attractions for you” said Max, pulling out a pen and grabbing a napkin. He felt obliged to point her to a few landmarks, but what he really wanted to do was wipe the green off her brow before someone really took advantage of her.

“I just got off the bus. I’m new to the city. In case you’re wondering,”  she said, bowing her head.

Max lifted his eyes and then quickly found himself studying her. There was something about her that he couldn’t put his finger on. Something unique. He was intrigued. “Where are you from?” and he was genuinely interested.

“Nebraska.” She poked around in her purse, pulling out a compact. “Oh, dear. I look terrible. This mascara was supposed to be waterproof,” she whimpered. She wetted a napkin, wiping away the mascara that had run down her cheeks.

The hipster waitress came over to the table with Max’s coffee. “So you’ll be sitting over here?” she asked Max. He glanced over at the newbie, fishing for her consent. He didn’t want to assume that she wanted him there. Over the years, he learned not to assume anything.

“I, uh, I –“ Max suddenly was at a loss for words.

“Would you? Sit with me?” she timidly asked.

Max mustered a smile. “Sure.” As the waitress set down the cup of coffee, Miss Nebraska observed the devil tattoo on her arm. The new transplant sneered in disgust as the waitress walked away. She elbowed Max.

“Did you see that?  A tattoo of the. . . “ quietly spelling it out “. . . D-E-V-I-L.” Church lady shook her head, appalled.  What a breath of fresh air, thought Max.

“What’s your name?” asked Max.

“Daisy.” Of course it was. She had to be a Daisy. Or a Rose. Some fragile flower.

“I’m Max,” he told her.

Daisy’s eyes darted over the customers in the diner. Suddenly, she leaned into Max. Excitedly, she whispered, “Celebrity sighting. John Stamos from Full House.

“Oh, he’s always here. You mean he was on that show with the Olsen twins?”  Max was oblivious.

“Duh. Like he was only Uncle Jesse. He was my first crush. Shhh.” She was almost child-like in her enthusiasm as she jotted John Stamos’ name down in a diary she extracted from her bag.  “I’m keeping a diary of all the stars I see. How exciting. My first one.  I can’t wait to tell Maryann. She is going to be so jealous,” she giggled.

Max supped his coffee, quite taken with Daisy’s simple charm. “So what brings you to L.A.?” he asked.

“Movies. I want to be an actress,” she smiled.

Of course she does. Daisy. From Nebraska. This town will eat her alive, he thought. She couldn’t get on the bus back home soon enough, as far as he was concerned. “There are a lot of actresses out here, Daisy. What makes you stand out?” asked Max.

“Well, I’ve got a really good memory,” Daisy went on. “I mean, like, I can memorize pages.  I don‘t mean to brag and all, but my grandma says I’ve got potential if I had the right training. And she does community theater.” Daisy sat back in her seat proudly.

Max was thoroughly amused. And then it dawned on him. This could very well be “The Girl.” Except how would he know if she were a virgin. He couldn’t just come out and ask her. That wasn’t Daisy’s style. Daisy was prim. Proper.

“You’re a long way from home. No boyfriend you left behind?” Max asked.

Daisy dropped her head. “We broke up,” and a stray tear slid down cheek.

Max knew there was a story there, and he wanted to pry, but he also didn’t want to come on too strong. “Sorry to hear. Break-ups are tough,” Max commiserated.

“And how. We were high school sweethearts. Homecoming King and Queen. We talked about getting married, having a family. You know, stuff like that.”

“What happened?” he asked.

Daisy hesitated, only to begin shredding a napkin at the table. “He changed,” Daisy replied.

“How so?” he inquired further.

“He wanted things,” she winced. Obviously, she was uncomfortable with the subject matter.

“Things?” Max was intrigued.

“You know,” then in a whisper she spelled out the word she seemed to revile. “S-E-X.”  She shuddered.

Max nudged her more. “You mean, you haven’t?  I mean, you didn’t?”

And that’s when it all started to come together. When Max was fairly certain he had found the girl. Daisy did something that no female since his sixth grade girlfriend Kelly Russell had done: Daisy blushed.

She folded her hands in her lap as if she were protecting her sacred spot. “I’m saving myself for marriage. I know it’s old fashioned. But then I have morals. Unlike some with questionable values” she said, glaring over at the hipster waitress.

Yes!  Ding. Ding. Ding. We have a winner, folks. Daisy. The virginal startlet. Right off the bus from Nebraska.  Max felt like the luckiest man on earth to have discovered such an exquisite find.  He would phone the council members as soon as he got home.

Max smiled, reaching in his pocket to give her a business card that he created on his PC. It was plain and to the point: “Max Fisher –Filmmaker.”

“You’re a filmmaker? Like movies?” said Daisy, her eyes lighting up.

Max shifted in his seat, a new-found confidence in his posture. “Yes. I’m a director.”

Daisy’s eyes widened. “Oh, my gosh. I can’t believe it. What have you directed? Anything with Ashley Judd?  Because I just love Ashley Judd. I’ve seen all her movies.”

“No. Nothing with Ashley Judd. But I am making a movie. And I’m casting for a role.”

“Are you serious?” Daisy beamed. She bit her tongue, trying hard to hold back what she really wanted to say, until she could no longer contain herself. She blurted out, “I know it’s forward of me, but is there any way I could audition?”

Max slid in closer to her. “That’s just it. You don’t need to audition. You’re perfect for the part. It’s yours if you want it,” Max grinned devilishly.

“Mine? The role’s mine? Oh, good golly.  Of course, I want it. I can’t believe you’re even asking me. Wow. This is—like, so—Lana Turner. Wait till I call home,” said Daisy, thrilled with the offer.

Max suddenly became very serious in his tone. “Look, I know you’re excited, but this has to be under wraps for now. We’re still in contract negotiations. Not even all the actors have signed on. This has got to be hush-hush.”

Daisy nodded. “Got it. Tick a lock,” she said, gesturing her lips were zipped.

Max watched Daisy. He almost pitied her naïvete. She was so easy to dupe. She never even asked what the part was. Or what the script was about. She was so trusting, so willing. He was ashamed of himself. It was wrong what he was doing, but he couldn’t think about it right now. He had a movie to make.

“Where are you staying?” asked Max.

“At the hotel next door,” Daisy replied.

“Tell you what. Call me first thing tomorrow morning. I’m going to start filming as soon as possible. Everything’s been on hold because I’ve been waiting for The Girl.  That girl is you, Daisy.” And it was true.

Daisy squealed out, wrapping her arms around his neck. “Thank you,” she cried into his shoulder. “Thank you.”

That night when Max got home he called the council members to tell them he’d found the girl. They told him to bring her to their Hollywood address at midnight the next night. They would conduct the sacrifice then.

Sacrifice? Daisy?  Although Max had agreed to find them a virgin, he never imagined they were looking for a sacrifice. Honestly, Max just never thought. He was too wrapped up in his own vain interests to think of intention. They were committing murder. Max pondered this. All night he was racked with guilt. He was an accomplice in something heinous. Criminal. Unforgivable. And for what?

Ten million reasons, that’s for what. He couldn’t give in to his moral conscience at this point. He was far too close. The deal was done. Daisy was to be sacrificed. And he was going to make his movie, dammit. Max thrust the pillow over his head to smother any scruples burrowing their way into his psyche.

Max picked Daisy up at 11:30 the next night. He told her he was doing a night shoot first. She didn’t ask any questions, not even anything about the character. She was just so excited to begin her first day of shooting.

When Daisy got in the car, the first thing Max noticed was her smell. She smelled clean. Pure.  Although Daisy wore another floral printed dress, this time she had her hair down. It hung past her shoulders and the ends were curled. Max imagined how many hours she must’ve painstakingly prepared. Not one strand of hair out of place.

“We don’t have to do this, if you don’t want to,” said Max, the car idling in front of the ominous building where Daisy was to be sacrificed.

“You’re joking, right? You don’t understand, I’ve been waiting my whole life for this. A way to get out of Nebraska and off that dairy farm.  This is a dream come true. I’m more than ready for my close-up,” she smiled.

Max felt a twinge in his stomach, feeling slightly nauseated. He thought about leaning his head out the window and vomiting. He swallowed some water instead. “Let’s go. We’ve got a movie to make,” as he held the car door open for her and made their way inside.

Max was told to go to the top floor where he would be greeted by the council members. It would be the high priest Mortimer (not his real name) who would lead the ceremony. Max would give himself over that night following the sacrifice.

As they got off the elevator, Max and Daisy slowly crept down a darkened hall. He wanted to turn back, renege on his promise, but he knew it was too late. He was already met by a council member donning a hooded, black cape who escorted them silently to the room at the end of the hall.

The shrouded council member opened the heavy, metal door and led Max and Daisy inside. A small circle of cloaked figures chanted in the center of the room. An altar was at the opposite end where incense and black candles burned.

“So it’s a horror movie?” whispered Daisy to Max.

“Yeah. I should’ve told you. I’m sorry.” Max was deeply sorry. He never considered who the girl might be and what was to happen to her. Poor Daisy. His heart weighed heavy in his chest. The atmosphere was boding evil, so much so that Max was shaking in his shoes.

Daisy surveyed the room. “Where’s the camera?” she questioned.

Max nodded in the direction of the goat’s head hanging above the altar. “Right there. It’s hidden,” he murmured. Daisy squeezed his arm tightly. More out of excitement rather than terror.

The high priest Mortimer soon entered the circle. He, too, wore a vestment, except on his was embroidered an inverted crucifix. A pentagram dangled from his neck. Max had never seen Mortimer’s face because he was always masked. He’d only spoken to him on the phone, but he recognized his voice.

“Council, we are gathered here tonight in order to pay tribute to him who gives joy unto us. Our name is the name of the infernal lord who reigns on earth. Thine is the earth Lord Satan.” Mortimer continued as the other members chanted in what sounded like perverted Latin. Max glanced over at Daisy, wondering if he should hold onto her in case she was frightened.  Max quickly stepped back. Daisy’s once taut skin appeared to ripple. Her lustrous hair, now dry and brittle and falling out by the handfuls.  She released a foul odor that smelled like something rotting.

The stench immediately made Max sick to his stomach. He gagged, looking about the room for a way out only to find none. He blotted his brow, for the room started to boil. He was dripping in sweat, and at that point everything started to spin.

Max placed his hand on the chair arm to maintain his balance, while Mortimer raised an ornate, golden chalice above his head and carried on with the ritual: “We hold this sacrificial ceremony in its honor, the one we have invoked to bring us earthly riches and power.”

Max’s heart beat so fast that he felt it might burst through his chest. He had to get out of there. Suddenly, he turned for the door to make a run for it. Two robed members came up behind him, grabbing hold of his arms. Max wriggled to release from their grip. “What are you doing? Let go of me,” Max pleaded to no avail. “Daisy, run!” Max screamed.

Alas, poor Daisy was gone. In her place, a demon whose skin seethed, eyes blazed, and claws ripped at what was left of the floral printed dress on its back. A revolting creature straight from the bowels of hell.

After Mortimer sipped from the chalice, he spoke what were to be the last words to fall on Max’s ears. “Tonight we provide an offering. And we celebrate. For tonight it feasts.”

Max shrieked out, fully understanding his doom was imminent. The demon lunged for Max, tearing right into his flesh. Blood sputtered out, and Max wailed in anguish. It dug its jagged fangs in deeper, chewing into Max’s intestines, internal organs, and bones until there were no more gurglings heard. Only the smacking sounds of the demon’s putrid lips, gnawing on what was left of Max’s femur.

Mortimer walked over to it, pulling back the hood of his robe then stroking the thing’s head. “There, there, “ said Mortimer as the demon licked its claw-like, bloodied fingers. “Foolish filmmakers.  They fall for the virgin every time. Like they say, this town will eat you alive.  If you let it.”

And then Mortimer released a shrill, maniacal laugh that was heard all over Hollywood. Even in the Valley.


“Cattle Call” © 2015 Elizabeth J. Musgrave. All rights reserved.

Elizabeth J. Musgrave  Bio:

Elizabeth J. Musgrave is a working writer who has turned her screenplay Farmhouse into a graphic novel illustrated by Szymon Kudranski (Spawn) and has contributed to a recent issue of Heavy Metal Magazine. Her short story cattle call was featured in the horror anthology Hell Comes to Hollywood. She has more than 10 produced plays to her credit. Darwin’s Pâté, a southern Gothic tale of secrets betrayal and revenge, ran for nine weeks at the Pan Andreas Theater in Hollywood.  In 2004 her short play, “The Soundman,” was part of the 10-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL (Lone Star Ensemble) performed at The Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center in North Hollywood.  For her screenplays, she was a quarter-finalist and semi-finalist in the Chesterfield Writers Film Project, Writers’ Script Network and Fade-In competitions. She received her MFA from The University of Georgia.

Aly Fell Bio:

A painter of prodigious talent and sly wit, Aly Fell has managed to make the tricky crossover from commercial work in television and gaming into the world of fantasy illustration. From his base in the UK, Aly has gained both notoriety and a growing fan base via his paperback covers and web-comic work. His new book, Dark Rising: The Art of Aly Fell, has assembled for the first time his favorite pieces reflecting his favorite subject – the female form. From vampire punks to steampunk cuties – Aly Fell can do it all!

http://www.darkrising.co.ukhttp://alyfell.blogspot.com

HELL COMES TO HOLLYWOOD

Cattle Call was originally featured in the horror anthology Hell Comes to Hollywood,  edited by Eric Miller and published by Big Time Books.

HELL COMES TO HOLLYWOOD, the Bram Stoker Award nominated horror anthology about psychotic killers, ghosts, demons, vampires, and other horrifying creatures stalking the entertainment capital of the world. Featuring 20 original tales written by Movie and TV professionals.

A screenwriter pays a ghastly price for inspiration–and begs for more… A director looking for fresh-faced talent finds more than he bargained for… A legendary diva will sacrifice anything for fame and glory… A TV personality discovers the twisted truth behind his co-star’s impossible celebrity scoops… A bizarre film by an unknown writer brings bloody chaos to everyone who screens it… A mail-room clerk finds out just what kind of guts it takes to become a top talent agent…

Vampiric producers, ghostly actors, psychotic limousine drivers, murderous stunt men and more haunt the streets and back lots of Hollywood in twenty original horror and suspense stories set in the heart of show business, and written by veteran movie and television professionals who went through Hell and back to bring you these tales.

http://bigtimebooks.com


 

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