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May 6, 2012

I Hraet You (3)

Beat 3: Let’s Make a Star Out of You!

Lloyd blinked rapidly.  “Well, this is new.”
Once more, he’d ended up in some new territory.  Maybe he’d hit his head harder than he thought; last he checked, he wore a hospital gown, not his regular clothes.  And last he checked the world had other colors besides black and white.
He clutched his head.  He never knew he’d see the world in black and white so literally; not a single shade of gray stood before him.  It looked as if everything around him had been outlined on blank paper.  And more to the point, those black lines wobbled like the goo of a lava lamp.
So where was he exactly?  He couldn’t say he’d ever been to a place made of lines, but he could at least make out the area’s purpose.  He sat in a director’s chair behind a long desk; a stage lay several feet before him, with colorless curtains hanging on its left and right.  Wires trailed from Lloyd’s side of the room onto and past the stage, allowing each light to -- theoretically -- shine on.  Tall studio lamps stood behind him, balancing on needle-thin tripods; dozens of spotlights hung from the rails above, as well.  A white screen had been propped up in the stage’s center, and far behind it Lloyd spotted a few props -- chairs and cameras, planks and paint cans, even the occasional boulder and tree.
Lloyd stroked his chin, more amused than afraid.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this stage was going to be used for an audition.  But that would be silly.  He pressed a hand against the table, hoping that he could push right through to its underside.  Rats.  For a second, I thought I was a ghost.

But instead of his hand phasing through the table, sheets of paper slid atop it.  And unlike the rest of the audition room, they had a bit of a blue hue to them; they compensated, of course, by having their words scribbled in dull gray.  Scribbled, quite literally -- Lloyd couldn’t read a word of it, no matter how much he squinted.
Frustrated, he shuffled the pages about on the table, spreading them until each one lay even.  Still unreadable, of course.  They looked like the work of a drunk who called himself Rembrandt. 
This world doesn’t seem particularly useful, Lloyd mused.  But there’s no sign of a door anywhere.  So I guess I’m stuck here?  Maybe I should try checking backstage?  Or maybe I’ll have to break out of here on my own?
But before he could throw himself at the nearest wall, Lloyd looked back at the stage.  Footsteps -- from a light body, but treading heavily nonetheless -- echoed into his ear.  “Is someone there?” he called out.
“Y-yeah, it’s me.  Yer ready down there, aren’t ya?”
Lloyd reared back a bit.  That voice -- that southern accent…it had to be her.  But why here?  Why now?
“Did ya hear me?  I said are ya ready?”
“Um…yeah.  You can come out anytime you like.”  He waved for her to come out. 
A sigh drifted from behind the curtain.  Seconds later, she emerged -- Lloyd’s blonde savior, Trixie.  “Sorry about that.  I’m a little nervous, ya know,” she admitted.  She scratched at her head with her free hand, and pressed the other -- one clutching a handful of blue sheets -- against her hip.  “It’s not like I’ve ever done this before.”
“And what exactly is ‘this’ supposed to be?”
Trixie leaned forward.  “What’s that supposed to mean?  Yer the one who called me here!”
“I am?”
“Yeah!  Ya don’t remember?  Ya said ya wanted me to audition, so here I am!”
Lloyd tilted his head and smiled wearily.  I don’t remember that at all, actually…but I’d better not tell her that right now.  Maybe it’s for the best if I play along; she seems like the type of person who’ll resort to violence if things don’t go her way.  At least, if her threats of death by surfboard are to be believed.
Trixie let out a sigh and scratched at her head again.  “Sorry.  I shouldn’t be lashing out at ya like that.”
“Don’t worry.  I’ve taken much greater abuse from women in the past.”
“That doesn’t sound too fun.”
“It is when they’re chasing you.  But that’s enough of that.”  Lloyd covered his mouth in contemplation.  “If you’re here for an ‘audition,’ then let’s see what you can do.  Entertain me, my dear.”
Trixie nodded jerkily.  “Uh, okay, right.  So, first…”  Her eyes darted about the room before focusing on Lloyd -- and even then, she couldn’t make eye contact.  “Uh, I should introduce myself first, shouldn’t I?”
Didn’t we already do that?  Wait -- does she not remember?  Or could it be that this Trixie and the one back in that hospital room are different people?  He leaned forward expectantly.  There’s no sense in trying to guess; I’ll just have to follow this trail wherever it may lead.  “Go ahead, sweetheart.  Tell all.”
“Gotcha.  So…um…I’m Trixie Walters, and I’m here for the audition.  I-I know I’m kinda looking like a moron up here, but I hope I’m good enough to win ya over.”  Finding a bit of nerve, she nodded bravely at Lloyd.  “I’m counting on ya.  Make me a star!”
A ball of blue gas emerged from Trixie’s chest -- and with it came a fish-shaped mask.  While the average flounder could probably give Lloyd nightmares, the mask looked downright cuddly; it stared back at him with a cartoonish, dimple-faced grin.  Its skin was little more than a solid yellow canvas, made out of some dull plastic material.  Past its fins, he spotted plenty of white ribbons extending from its edges, and wrapping themselves around the gas ball.
“Whoa!  That’s a little disturbing!” Lloyd blurted, pulling his hands over his face.
“What is?”  But before she could get an answer, Trixie hung her head.  “Crap.  Don’t tell me yer gonna boot me off stage.  Did I screw up already?  Aw, dammit -- I knew this wasn’t gonna work…”  As she spoke, a quartet of stars started hovering around the masked ball.  Only one of them shone brightly -- and even then just its left half.  The other three, dimmed, merely orbited about. 
“U-uh, nothing!  Never you mind, my dear!” Lloyd practically shouted.  While Trixie tried to find even a shred of courage, he turned aside and covered his mouth.  So it looks like she can’t see those things hanging over her chest.  And on top of that, she’s acting like this is the first time we’ve met.  Plus she seems rather willing to put me in a seat of power.  He looked at his chair.  It looks like under the circumstances, I am.  But what to do with that power…?
He stared at the half-filled star.  Just looking at it made him uneasy; it blinked on and off, on and off like hazard lights.  Not that the other stars made him feel any more comfortable.  Their motion seemed to drag the more they spun, and at times they almost looked ready to wobble out of line and fall to the ground.  Even that mask changed; its sunny smile gave way to a frown more fretful than anything Lloyd could ever make.
I’m pretty sure I don’t want to see what happens when all those stars go dim.  Is there any way for me to boost them?  Come on, Lloyd -- put that purple head of yours to good use!
“Uh, are ya okay down there?”
Lloyd turned back toward Trixie and waved rapidly (hoping that she didn’t notice he’d started sweating).  “Fine and dandy, thank you Mandy!” he sang.  “E-even though…you know, you’re name’s not Mandy.”
“Uh, right.  So does that mean ya still want me to try out?”
“Try out…?  O-oh, yes, of course!  Don’t even think about leaving that stage until you’ve made your stand!  A woman as passionate as you has GOT to be able to move me!”
“Ya think so?”
Lloyd shot her a thumb-up.  “Probably!”
“Uh, I guess that’s the best I should hope for.  But anyway, thanks.  I feel a little bit better now.”
But he didn’t need her to tell him that.  The half-filled star shook, and suddenly brightened in full.  The mask shifted as well; its fretful frown turned into a…well, not a smile, but it didn’t look as likely to have a heart attack.  Lloyd pumped a fist into the air.  Success!  I managed to avert a -- hopefully hypothetical -- disaster!
“You’re sure you’re okay?” Trixie asked.
“Feeling fine, milady.”  In spite of Trixie’s skeptical gaze (with a raised eyebrow for added suspicion!) Lloyd stroked his chin and nodded.  I see.  So the better she feels, the greater her star ranking.  In which case, all I have to do is compliment her, and she’ll be better off -- but what would happen if I boosted the count to four stars?  He looked down at the papers on the table.  And just what might these do?  Well, I suppose I should start with what I can do, and improvise from there.
“Trixie.  Your voice is delightful!” Lloyd exclaimed.  “Such volume!  Such clarity!  And there’s something arguably erotic about your accent!”
“I-is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“You mean it doesn’t?”
“Well…I…I dunno!  Sorta!  Maybe a little!”  Trixie turned aside, her face reddening.  “Nobody ever really says I got a good voice or anything like that, so…it’s just weird, hearing it from someone I never met.  So…I guess I’m trying to say that I appreciate it.”  She turned back to him and glared furiously.  “But who the hell goes around saying people have an erotic voice?  Yer brain broken or something, pal?”
That is probably the case, Lloyd thought.  But he cut his pondering short; he’d managed to fill in another half-star, and the fish mask went from slightly worried to a stoic stare.  Looks like I’ve managed another step forward.  Now then, if I can just keep up this pace -- presumably, without any sudden outside influences throttling me out of this theologically complex experience -- then I --

“Hey, what happened?  Are ya dead?”
Lloyd rubbed his head; no, he wasn’t dead, but for a moment he wished he was.  His brain felt like it had an axe lodged inside it.  Was it because he’d imagined that audition room?  A delayed reaction to his injury?  Or --
“Sorry about that,” said Trixie.  “But ya were giving me this weird stare, and ya weren’t saying a thing, so I thought ya froze up on me.  And, uh, I kinda hit ya in the head.  Sorry ‘bout that, pal.”
Lloyd shook his head.  “Think nothing of it,” he said (though his pounding skull said otherwise).  “By the way, I don’t suppose you saw…well, any of that just now, did you?”
“Any of what?”
“Oh, nothing.  I suppose I should save the explanation for another time.”

“Yer not making much sense, pal.”

Lloyd shook his head, hoping to set the matter aside for now.  “At any rate, you must have hit me harder than you thought.  Why, judging by your height and strength, I’d wager you’re more Amazon than southern belle!”
Trixie furrowed her brow.  “I don’t have to take that from some perverted dandy,” she argued.  She turned her back on Lloyd.  “Jeez.  And to think I was worried about ya.  Had me all riled up…”  She folded her arms.  “I even lied and said I was family just to stay past visiting hours!  Ya know how much trouble I could get in ‘cause o’ that, pal?”
Normally, Lloyd would have fired off some hammy bit of dialogue or a nonsensical quip.  But something in his gut told him to hold off; he could feel an air about -- in the room, coming from Trixie, and even around himself -- that he’d never sensed before.  Was it the first sign of his splitting brain?  No, it couldn’t be.  His slapstick-induced attack had stopped hurting ages ago; this sensation felt more pleasant than painful.
In spite of her anger, Trixie turned an eye over her shoulder to Lloyd.  “But I guess it was worth it.  Somehow, talking to ya makes me feel a little better.”
“Is that right?”
“Yeah.  Don’t ask me why, though.”  She looked at the door, and then at the window.  “Well, guess I’d better get outta here.  As long as yer okay, I can sleep tonight.”
Lloyd stifled a laugh.  Apparently she only snored that loudly during her little catnaps. 
“Crap, how am I gonna get outta here without making a scene?  I really don’t wanna crawl out the window -- then I’ll really look suspicious.”  She let loose a groan of defeat.  “Guess I got no choice.  Ya mind if I sleep in here tonight?”
“I’ve no objections.”
“Seriously, do ya always talk like that?”
“Do you?”
“…Touché.”  Trixie flopped in the chair opposite Lloyd once more; he could already see her eyelids starting to droop.  “Man, what a day.  Never woulda guessed I’d be saving a life today.”
Lloyd leaned against the headboard, letting the pillow massage his back.  “I never would have guessed I’d be saved.”
Trixie nodded.  “Lloyd?”
“What is it?”
“I’m glad yer all right.”
“I suppose I’m just lucky to have a guardian angel like you.”  He pressed a finger to his chin.  “Although if God was really looking out for me, I doubt a Ferris wheel would have fallen on me in the first pla-”
He stared at Trixie.  Apparently, she’d fallen asleep again. 
“Oh, you’re not listening to me rant.  That’s kind of depressing,” Lloyd mumbled to himself, hoping that a tear hadn’t formed in his eye.  But he shook that thought out of his mind, and replaced it with memories of that audition room. 
For a moment he thought about wondering what it was exactly, but quickly stuffed it.  No, he had a bigger focus -- namely, on the effects it had on the real world.  Not on himself, of course.  Trixie -- or some version of her -- appeared in that room.  And then, the real Trixie seemed to change soon after.  The woman he’d thought of as quick-tempered but generally decent showed him an unusually kind gaze, and her voice had softened a few degrees (compared to when they’d first met, at least).  Was it just relief in seeing him alive and well?  Showing a bit of her true self?  Pity for the purple-haired prince? 
As all of those and more ran through his head, Lloyd shut them down one by one.  I have a sneaking suspicion that none of those have any impact.  He covered his mouth as his mind picked up speed.  “Somehow, talking to ya makes me feel a little better.”  I don’t think there’s anything I said beforehand that could have comforted her.  I only had one chance to do that -- and that was in the audition room.
What was it?  But again, he realized that wasn’t the question he needed to ask.  Little by little, he formed a better inquiry -- and as he did, a sly smile stretched across his face.  Or better yet, how do I use it to my advantage?     


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