[Void Galaxia] Chapter 40: Nostalgia In A Bucket

+++

‘…after the double strike of Post Office and Dead Bitch On Pluto, an ageing Stahl abandoned LA and moved out permanently to the Ray Chandler lakes, lighting a match on his career comeback just as it was about to fizzle out anyway.

In the years since, there have been sightings, rumours and little else. E-mails are sent and not replied to. Phone calls are unanswered. Agents have even gone so far as to visit his new housse, but are always left sweating on the doorstep, waiting on a disheveled mess that never materialises.

Some people say he’s taking a rest. Others claim, more realistically considering the history of H-wood, that he’s had a nervous breakdown. Stephanie Clattenburg, his close friend and former director, believes he’s just sitting at home, learning French, watching old episodes of Stargate.

It might be true.

After all, actors are rich enough to do that and nothing else, and Stahl did miss his entire childhood.

But, for most of the movie industry, the question still remains: just what the Bōlian hell has happened to Nick Stahl?’

The star that extinguished itself, Ho-Watch online, August, 2035

+++

Things were cold yet comfortable on the ski lift, though Lexi was only covered by her Tenebrae t-shirt

and I was in shorts

but it was better than Juana, who was still crawling up the slope

in that yellow jumpsuit

and every time we tried to shout encouragement down at her

Ryu would pop up on the second tier of the lift and tell us to stop cos

‘it’s only real help if you get off and carry her

and neither of you is that good.’

He was right.

so right that as soon as he said it, I was off the lift and on the slope

crawling next to the Mexican psychopath

and when I told her to get on my back, she laughed

held up a spoon and

dug it deep into my calf and

Lexi

Lexi help, she’s

+++

My leg spasmed, connecting with something hard.

Half a second later, a ski-lift smashed on concrete.

I rolled over on my side and, instead of the bottom part of a snow-coated mountain, or a broken Mexican cannibal, I was met with an upwards-facing driveway and no-one.

‘Wah…’ I managed, sitting up, rubbing the side of my head.

There was a slight sense of grogginess, but no real pain. Or maybe the novelty of the environment was blocking it.

A driveway?

Not a mountain, not a basement, not Stahl laughing Bobby Peru style right in my face.

A driveway.

Empty.

Switching from rubbing to general stretching, I scanned the rest of my new surroundings. Huge multi-colour garden, ridiculously beautiful [and possible matte painting] lake in the near distance, mauve stucco wall with crease-streaks, oval windows reflecting used-up sunlight. Some kind of bird above making a waka waka sound.

I got up, honing in on the windows.

Apparently, I’d fallen asleep on someone’s porch – a rich someone as the room I was peering into was huge, about two metres between each couch – yet I couldn’t remember any part or clip of how I physically got there. The last thing in my head was the basement, Stahl knocking out Lexi, showing me my own blood, dropping the psychotic monster who was about to open up my brain, and beyond that…nothing.

Some kind of journey, or transportation, must’ve taken place at some point, but…when? In what vehicle? How?

Double-checking the driveway for hidden toy-sized cars, I walked left down the porch and round the corner…to more porch.

Wow, this place was grand.

And so were the other housses nearby. I could make out some of the roofs sticking up over the tops of the trees, and a few art-deco complexes on the shore opposite.

Was this the place where celebrities lived? Palm Springs?

It was definitely possible.

Celebrities and bankers. Adventurist tech bros. Gangsters. Oligarchs who’d sold off chunks of Kazakhstan in the 20’s. VR pioneers. Their agents. Holo-models.

Another bird let out a waka waka, but was quickly drowned out by a deeeeeeen noise overhead. I looked up just in time to see a hawk-drone skim past. Hopefully not one that dropped payloads on Afghan weddings.

The hawk-drone kept going and the deeeeeeeen faded out.

Thank the tech gods…

Breathing in crisp lake air, I turned and checked more ground floor windows. There was still no sign of anyone relaxing inside. Perhaps it was early and they were asleep upstairs? My hand instinctively reached for the phone in my jacket pocket, and instantly failed on two levels; no phone, no jacket.

Kuso…’

No phone meant no way of checking on Lexi. She could still be knocked out on the floor of that psycho’s basement, the next brain on the menu. Unless she hadn’t actually been hypnotized when she was leading me down to the…

I played back the scene, initially enhancing the degree of flashback-Lexi’s zombification, then reducing it.

No, too bleak…she wouldn’t do that to me.

I’d slept at her place, in her bed.

She’d clung to my back.

Asked me to stay in Fresno.

Liked Japanese.

Got drugged by the wine…by Juana…and was forced to do all that shit to-

I stopped, looking up as the hawk-drone flew overhead again.

Okay, two options, I thought, walking back round to the front of the housse. Knock on the door and see what’s what or start walking back to Fresno.

The second one seemed a bit nebulous – I had no idea where I was or how quickly the cops would shoot – so I decided to try my luck with the housse owner. Who, based on my last discernible memory, could very well be my old, weird friend…and basement interventionist…Nick Stahl.

Was that good or bad?

I had no idea.

Technically, he did save me from having my brain eaten. And hopefully pulled Lexi out too. But then, he’d also nearly strangled a guy to death on the plane. And somehow projected himself as a Japanese guy…Ryu…tormenting me…making me believe that he was really-

No, cut. Veto. Stop.

Do not think about that part, I warned myself as another waka waka came from the trees. Or any other part.

Not here.

+++

      By luck or Stahlian design, the door of the housse was ajar.

      It was unclear if it had been that way when I walked past originally – I’d been too busy looking at the hawk-drone – but it was definitely that way now.

      No noises from inside though.

      I looked for a bell around the frame of the door and found a small plaque with NO LINGERING, NO FANS, NO IRISH stamped on it. Remembering the lunacy of Nevadan gun commercials online, I instinctively took a step back and checked the surrounding area for the fifth time.

      No one on the driveway or the lawn, no binoculars peeking out from the bushes…though that particular area did look a bit suspicious; maybe there was an AH-bot with a sniper rifle in there, aiming at my forehead, or a local pervert with his pants down. Or maybe there was nobody at all.

      ‘Hello,’ I shouted, into the housse. ‘I just woke up on your porch.’

      No answer.

      ‘Not sure if you put me there or…’

      Still nothing.

      ‘Mr. Stahl?’

       A faint waka waka from outside.

      ‘Lexi?’

      Nothing again.

       I took a step back, thinking of the driveway and how long it might take to walk around the lake to the nearest bus stop. Blew out sick air. Then put my hand back on the door and pushed it all the way forward.

      A little too forceful it turned out as the edge slammed against the inside wall. Luckily, no one sprang out with a shotgun, so I took it as providence and moved inwards.

      Oddly, the kitchen was the first room visible. At the end of the narrow hallway, slightly to the left. I walked in, looking wall to wall to cupboards to side door to patio to football-pitch-sized garden outside. Ku-fucking-so. Was this a kitchen or an entire flat? Place looked gigantic. About six times the size of my house back in Liverpool.

      And no decorations either. No posters or Monet paintings on the wall. No doodles on the fridge.

      Maybe they didn’t cook much?

      Or eat food.

      ‘Hello?’ I tried again, taking a second door out of the kitchen and entering what I assumed was the living room. Or Living Room one of twelve given the size of the housse. Again, it was fairly blank, almost to the level of a showroom.

      Maybe that’s what it was?

      And the agent had left the door open when they’d left.

      I searched the floor for piles of clothes or food remains, anything that would tell me someone was actually living there…but not in a zealous, obsessive fan kind of way. I was too tired for that. Or too lazy perhaps.

      Finally, I collapsed on the couch and grabbed one of the tube cushions nearby, throwing it up in the air and catching it.

      ‘Are you here, Mr. Stahl?’ I asked, staring forward at a screen embedded in the wall.

      It was large, forty-six inches maybe, but not as large as I’d expected. He was in the movies, surely he’d have a private cinema screen or something. Not something the same size as my one back home.

      Maybe this really wasn’t his place.

      Which meant…I was trespassing…in a stranger’s mansion.

      There was a noise by the window; sounded like a stone smacking against the glass.

      I got up and peeked outside. No one there. I opened up and looked out at the porch to the side. Nothing. Glorious lakeside scenery. That was it.

      Leaving the window, I walked over to the wall TV. There was an old-style DVD player beside it, with a remote and a small collection of DVDs. No sign of a second remote for GENTE+.

      ‘Nostalgia guy…’

      Making an abortive whistling sound, I bent down and picked up some of them.

      The Fearless Vampire Killers, Klute, Don’t Look Now. They all had the same actress on the cover, one I knew…Sharon something…red-head, ex-wife of Polanski, died of a drug overdose in the 90’s, the day after April Fool’s Day.

       Kuso…

       Sharon Tate, that was it.

      I looked at the back of The Fearless Vampire Killers, the shot of Tate in a bathtub, and little Polanski next to her. I could see why the guy would keep this one; Tate was beautiful…back in her day. Though why he didn’t just install her character in a VR game like Nightmare Castle…on a private server…I had no idea.

      Probably a purist, another side of my brain answered.

      Yeah, perhaps.

      Nick Stahl the sexual ascetic.

      Or maybe not.

      What else?

      I put down the first batch of cases and looked at the ones piled up on top of the DVD player.

      Post Office. Dead Bitch On Pluto. Terminator: Autobahn. Sentient Koala Farm.

      Wah, they were all his…Nick Stahl’s filmns.

      I laughed and sat back down on the sofa, keeping hold of Post Office. One of the reviews on the back said it played like a cross between The Big No and Midnight Cowboy, with Stahl as a transcendent acting force playing repressed aggression at the same level as James Caan in Acrobat Man.

      ‘Repressed aggression?’ I said out loud, remembering the plane incident.

      There was another noise,  a stone hitting the same window.

      I turned, annoyed, mouthing fucking kids to no one. Then looked back at the wall screen. A reflection of Japanese Mark stared back, glued to the mirrror sofa.

      Okay, you’re still in someone else’s housse, I told myself, giving up on the DVDs and walking out to another, larger hallway. Maybe check upstairs quickly and then get out. Find the nearest bus stop, get back to Fresno, make sure Lexi’s okay. If she’s not been zombified by Juana again.

      Something crashed against the ceiling…or the floor above.

      I froze.

      Then tilted my head, listening for a follow-up.

      Nothing.

      Was someone up there?

      Someone who was neither a property agent nor Nick Stahl?

      Wah…Juana…

      I looked down at my hands, suddenly feeling quite vulnerable.

      Maybe grab a weapon, just in case.

      Something with range.

      Concurring with myself, I hurried back into the kitchen and picked up a knife. I looked at the blade, both the tip and the edge, and then put it down. No matter how threatened I felt, I’d never be able to stab someone. It was too close, too intimate.

      Spotting a rolling pin by the sink, I grabbed it and tapped the end lightly against my arm. It didn’t hurt, obviously, but I knew it would break something if swung hard enough.

      ‘Right, upstairs…’

      I walked back through the living room, rolling pin primed and ready, and out into a clearing with a curved staircase running up god knows which wall outside.

      Making my way slowly up, I killed nerves by examining the paintings pinned up at the side. They were spaced out evenly, one every metre or so, each one possessing a variation on the same image: a huge structure that looked like a futuristic version of Laputa floating in the sky, the edges glowing with some kind of purple fire. The only real difference between each painting was the angle of the structure.

      Did the housse owner like science fiction then? Or Steampunk?

      Or maybe it was his own art?

      I glanced at the brushwork on the last painting and quickly decided I didn’t have a clue what I was looking for – I was a writer, not a painter – so I left the artwork and concentrated on the stairs again.

+++

      On the first floor, I stood with rolling pin in both hands, looking at the doors ahead.

Heartbeat relatively steady, paranoia tempered. In fact, the only thing really worrying me was the thought of finding nothing at all, as then I’d be dealing with a poltergeist.

      Actually, that wasn’t true.

      Juana would’ve been pretty terrifying. Her and that spoon…the creepy spiral trap…the calmness…

      I blinked, de-blurring the corridor.

      Seven doors.

      No Mexican cannibal.

      Go.

      Switching the rolling pin to my striking hand, I took a quick breath and, without that voice, pushed open the first door on the left.

      ‘Fantastic…’ I muttered, looking into a featureless void.

      Just like the living room and the kitchen, there was nothing on the walls. In fact, there was nothing anywhere. Apart from an incongruous plastic desk in the corner…on which there was no paper, no pens and no casino blueprints.

      ‘It’s a fucking holiday home,’ I told the rolling pin, already backed out and moving on to the next door.

      The room beyond that was pretty much empty too.

      Completely without decoration.

      As was the one beyond that.

      And the one beyond that.

      The fifth room had a single bed…with no sheets, pillows or duvet.

      The sixth went back to being void-empty.

      ‘Jesus Template Fuck…’

      I came back out, fake swinging the rolling pin at nitrogen particles and poltergeist muons and whatever else was in the corridor air.

      Okay.

      One more door left.

      Had to be the one that the crashing sound had come-…

      Right on cue, another noise, this time a steady knocking pattern.

      Walking up to the final door, I pressed the rolling pin against the wood and pushed.

      Thank fuck was the first thing that hit me.

      Followed by what the fuck as I took in the décor. Black walls, bed with black sheets, dirty white blanket bunched up in a mess on the floor…drawn curtains blocking out the sun, giving a definite serial killer vampire pervert vibe.

      Then there were the scribblings on the wall, in kiddie red crayon.

      ‘No point no point no point no point no point no point no point no point no point no point no point no point no point no point no point no point no point no point NO POINT NO POINT NO POINT POINT GA NAI.’

     I read it a few times, checking for differences in spelling, and almost forgot about the knocking sound completely until it started up again.

      It seemed to be coming from the corner of the room.

      ‘Okay, hero-man…’

      I took a few steps forward, circling the bed, the rolling pin raised an inch above my shoulder.

      There was a closet, with three door panels…and someone knocking from inside of it.

      ‘Hello?’

      More knocking.

      ‘Mr. Stahl…’

      More knocking.

      ‘Lexi?’

      More knocking.

      I moved closer, thankful that the rolling pin was made of wood as otherwise it’d be slipping out of my hand.

      ‘Nick?’

      The knocking stopped.

      Kuso…

      Conjuring up a few pics of peace signs and Vulcan Jesus shirts inside my head, I reached forward with one hand and pulled open the door.

      As predicted, it was a closet.

      With two people inside.

      One, a very tired-looking Juana, bound and gagged, both arms disappearing into the shadowed space behind her back.

      The other…Nick Stahl…slumped naked in a huge tub of ice, the skin on his torso, his face bluer than Lavinia the Goddess of Death.

      ‘Varo-esque, desu ne?’

      I nodded as a reflex…yes, Varo, definitely…then spun fast when I realized it was an actual voice projected from somewhere behind.

      Too late, too slow, too late, too slow, too late, too

      Whoever had put Juana and Stahl in there already had the jump on me, but I raised the rolling pin anyway, aiming at the rough outline of a figure I could see that couldn’t be what I thought it was cos that guy was in the ice tub, blue as Lavinia GoD, not standing in front of me, grinning like a pub magician.

      ‘Woah, dude,’ the Stahl clone said, catching my rolling pin with his left hand.

      ‘You’re…’

      ‘Swinging at me, in my own fucking housse.’

      I didn’t have anything beyond you’re, so I released my share of the rolling pin and just stared…into the two swirling blotches of purple that should’ve been eyes…but weren’t.

      ‘Lucky for you, I’m a forgiving guy. Ne?’

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