For 2022, I’ve been wanting to write more ‘creature features’ and generally improve my short story writing. My partner got me a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual for my birthday so I came up with the idea of writing a story every week based on a different creature from that – All There in the (Monster) Manual. Hope you enjoy!
This Week’s Inspiration: Lich
Fishpeople protests, outpourings of grief for the King of Pop (and Atlantis), and raising the dead to sell fast food. It’s just another day in Hollywood.
“I thought Chris Hemsworth already had, like, two fully developed brothers?” Grady replied.
“You know there really is a third Hemsworth brother. It’s a twin Chris didn’t finish absorbing in the womb or whatever. Mostly just a big chunk of skin and teeth with one eyeball sticking out of his right shoulder. They CGI him out of all of Chris’ shirtless scenes and no one talks about it.”
“Fourth brother then, I don’t know. His name’s David, David Hemsworth, really nice guy, really genuine. Telepathic, so, you know, you can have a conversation with him.”
Top down, Levi steered his gleaming red convertible down the snaking road from the Hollywood Hills. He drove one-handed, other arm draped over his door. Both Levi and Grady were lean, handsome, in their late thirties. Levi dressed in a suit and sunglasses while Grady’s style was more casual, albeit a little dated.
“How are you meeting Chris Hemsworth and his brother, David, anyway?” Grady asked.
“They got me to see if one of my clients could separate the two of them. I’m like, who do you think I represent, surgeons? I don’t know, man.”
“This fucking town.”
“You want to take the Boulevard?”
“Yeah, why not?”
Levi made a couple of turns and stopped at a set of lights. He waved off an aspiring television writer with a tight five on racial inclusivity in Disney movies who tried to clean their windshield with a dirty rag. The light turned green and Levi steered them onto Hollywood Boulevard. A lot of places remained shuttered during the daytime and were too cool for proper signage so they simply looked abandoned. Stars glittered along both sidewalks. Lesser famous people were relegated to both ends, mostly live theatre and radio. Tourist mobs thickened more and more the closer Levi and Grady got to the central hub of Manchu’s Chinese Theatre. Restaurants, clothing stores, and gift shops filled with ranks of plastic Oscars, the modern answer to the golden calf, gathered momentum as well.
Some kind of protest flooded the famous forecourt outside the Chinese Theatre. Stampeding over famous handprints and footprints and hoofprints and whorls of tentacles immortalised in concrete. The costumed characters that usually held the sidewalk out in front had been driven back to its edges. Levi spotted Spider-Man, at least two Captain Jacks, a Joker, Supergirl, and an incredibly mangy, off-brand Bart Simpson costume housing a Macedonian serial killer. Tourists circled the protest taking photos as if it were just another piece of performance art put on for their entertainment. Some threw money. Levi caught glimpses of fins, scales, and greenish skin amongst the protestors.
“What’s that about?” Grady asked.
“Deep Ones, protesting the new Christian Bale flick.” Levi jerked his head toward a billboard across the street from the theatre.
“Creature from the Dark Lagoon,” Grady read aloud.
“Calling it the ‘Black’ Lagoon was decided to be too political. Plus it’s appropriate, the flick is meant to be the first film in Universal’s fourth attempt to reboot their Dark Universe idea. Bale had the fins and gills surgically implanted so he could play the creature.”
“Dedication to the craft.”
“Of course, but there are some in the Deep One community who believe the role should have gone to a genuine fish person. They’re calling it fishface.”
“They’re calling him fishface?”
“No, they’re calling what he’s doing fishface. Studio’s wondering whether they can take the heat. They’re thinking of doing reshoots, or maybe scrapping the whole thing and going for a fifth reboot.”
“This fucking town.” Grady shook his head. “Still, maybe there’s something in that for one of your guys, you know? Reshoots.”
“I don’t represent actors, you know that.”
Los Angeles, you couldn’t throw a dead cat without hitting two actors, a screenwriter, and a brand ambassador / influencer / aspiring vocal coach. The guy serving you coffee invariably kept a stack of headshots under the counter with the biodegradable cup sleeves. The gal walking your dog had a few hundred thousand Instagram followers and believed that entitled her to make the jump from internet fame to the real thing. That pale, lipless face you glimpsed staring at you from an unused subway tunnel for just that split-second one evening on the train had an idea for a thirteen-part miniseries on Netflix. And everywhere you looked there were a million beautiful people willing to act, sing, pose, sell, fuck, strum, sob, dance, or murder their way to fame.
Every single one of those hungry and gorgeous monsters, tortured artists, and diamonds in the rough wanted an agent, which put folk like Levi Salts in high demand for reasons of his cultural background alone. But agents had their own hierarchy as well, requiring just as much luck and hustle to climb it. Some attached themselves to the right shooting star and rocketed right up to the A-List, or were picked up by the right major agency. But some were better off sticking to latte art and dog walking. Ten years ago, however, Levi recognised a gap in the market. Instead of representing actors or musicians or, the real bottom of the barrel, writers, Levi formed his own agency for individuals with truly unique talents. Talents that were becoming more and more in demand in today’s world.
Need a shaman to negotiate with the spirits of the Native American burial ground your production just disturbed? Levi knew a guy. Need to ensure your high risk lead actor stays on the straight and narrow during the press tour? Levi had a priestess who could do that voodoo that she do do so well, and all alcohol would turn to goat blood in the actor’s mouth. Someone to adequately explain the cultural sensitivities of your average Venusian for the increasingly important Venusian market, but who wouldn’t melt your face off with their acid breath? Cakewalk. A little bit of necromancy? Well, that was exactly why Levi was headed where he was headed right now.
A few paces along from the protest at Manchu’s Chinese Theatre, Michael Jackson’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was buried beneath candles and flowers, and someone was slaughtering a lamb. It was approaching the anniversary of the King of Pop and Also Atlantis’ death, Levi remembered. There’d be similar scenes outside the giant marble pyramid they’d interred him inside where Neverland previously sat. Jackson had been mummified and entombed with many of his worldly possessions, his platinum records, his monkey, a mountain of prescription drugs to aid him in the afterlife, and four twelve-year-olds he’d shared deeply personal, platonic friendships with. Their families had been well compensated. People said for years afterward you could hear fingernails scratching at the stones the builders used to seal the pyramid’s exit. They’d presumably eaten the monkey. This fucking town.
Once they were free of the traffic on Hollywood Boulevard, the rest of Levi and Grady’s journey was relatively smooth for Los Angeles. Levi pulled through the wrought iron gates of Hollywood Meadows Cemetery. Anyone who was anyone who was dead rested here, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Vincent Price, a few had themselves buried preemptively just to secure their plots and, by extension, their place amongst Hollywood royalty. It looked exactly as Levi believed a cemetery should look. Green, rolling hills dotted with ranks of understated granite slabs, interrupted by the occasional angel or crucifix or appropriately baroque sculpture, shaded by a few gnarled trees. Levi purred the convertible along the drive and pulled off where he could see the production company setting up.
Levi and Grady got out and plodded up the hill. One of the security guards, a bulky guy with a script that was a combination of Robocop and Tess of the d’Urbervilles, tried to stop them until Levi showed his credentials. It was easier to set up near the grave of the desired star and raise them here than it was to move the corpse so the production crew were creating a set to one side of the grassy slope. A mountain of dirt lay beside the grave. Two men with coveralls and a juggling-slash-stripping act they were trying to get off the ground huffed over their shovels.
“Gavin, hey, how are you doing, man?” Levi hurried over to his client. “They taking care of you? You feeling good? Feeling strong?”
Gavin was in his late twenties but somehow still in the Hot Topic demographic. Almost a full head taller than Levi, with broad shoulders and blunted features, and long, lank hair, he sweated through layers of black clothing and a heavy trench coat covered in chains. Expectations were important. Gavin looked how he thought a necromancer should look, just like the cemetery looked like a cemetery should look.
“I’m good, Levi, good, I’m fine,” Gavin said.
“This is a big one but don’t worry, he’s done it before. He knows the score, he’s a pro. You wake him up, he’ll do his bit and go right back to sleep.”
“Okay, sure, okay.”
Grady hung back on the slope. The set to one side of the open grave swarmed with people. Everyone had assistants, even the assistants. No one knew who was supposed to get anyone coffee so they were all thirsty and irritable. The necromancer, however, was a functionary and safely ignored, even though without him none of this would be happening. Levi felt assured that as long as he made his client feel seen by him at least he stayed in business.
“You’re going to do great.” Levi clapped the necromancer on one beefy shoulder.
Levi retreated to let Gavin get his knick knacks in order, little skulls and animal bones, a horn-handled knife and a ceremonial bowl. He returned to Grady, standing a short distance down the hill. A doe-eyed assistant approached, talking only to Levi. As he was an outsider, she could safely offer her services without the risk of upsetting the delicate hierarchy on set. She had 1.2 million followers on TikTok and a clipboard, and wanted to work with animal stars except for chimpanzees as they freaked her out and she thought they should all be gassed.
“Can I get you anything, a coffee? Anything, Mr Salts?” She asked.
“That’d be great, thanks,” Levi said.
“What am I? Chopped liver?” Grady said as the assistant walked out of earshot, back to the catering table.
“You? You’re a tourist, you might as well be invisible.”
The assistant returned with Levi’s coffee, and he and Grady stood back to watch. Once the set and production crew were ready, Gavin was called to do his thing before they wasted any more daylight. Standing by a folding table next to the grave, he began to chant. A glow ignited behind Gavin’s eyes. Thunderheads began to swell in the previously cloudless sky. Knife in one hand, Gavin cut a slit in the meat of his other hand’s thumb and let the blood dribble into his ceremonial bowl.
A blast came from the open grave, making some of the assistants’ assistants jump. A dignified thumping quickly escalated into frenzied and irritable banging. Gavin was hustled off to one side as a couple of teamsters entered the grave with crowbars. The coffin lid gave way with a fracturing sound. The teamsters helped a large, bloated man with blue-grey skin and a stringy beard out of the ground. A zombie, his eyes were milky white and a gory hole with two slits sat in the middle of his face where his nose had rotted off. In spite of his obvious ailments, the zombie had a rich and sonorous voice that carried across the graveyard.
“Damn it all to hell, what is it this time?” The zombie complained.
“Orson Welles?” Grady said.
“Yeah, families hire out the likenesses of dead celebs, Gavin raises them, and then they go back in the ground when they’ve done the job. You know Marvel thought about hiring Gavin to raise Chadwick Boseman but they figured it would be in bad taste.”
The ponytailed director explained what they needed but Levi and Grady were too far away to overhear. Only Welles’ voice carried far enough to be audible. The zombie let out a theatrical sigh.
“Wearying, very wearying. Unrewarding, but very well, let’s get it over with.”
Welles was steered to the set a short distance from the grave, which recreated the interior of a Billy Bones seafood restaurant. A perfectly crafted fish sandwich, toothpicked and glued until it was utterly and dangerously inedible, rested on a table in front of him. Gavin hovered off to one side, eyes glowing purple, but Orson and the crew ignored him. The director hurried to get everything into position and pointed Welles to his cue cards beside the camera.
“We know a certain fjord in Norway, near where the cod gather in great numbers,” Welles intoned gravely, raising the fish sandwich in both decaying hands.
“Resurrecting an all-time great to sell fish sandwiches,” Grady said. “This fucking town.”
“To be honest, I think the plan is to push him and push him until he blows,” Levi said. “They want something that’ll go viral, it’s all viral marketing these days.”
Welles approached the subpar material with the plodding professionalism of a revenant who wanted nothing more than to return to the eternal rest of the grave. It wasn’t long, however, before the director’s notes caused him to start spluttering. Already grey and bloated, he swelled even more in his chair, milky eyes wide with outrage.
“You can write this shit but you can’t damn well say it! It’s not conversationally written! It’s a-, it’s a wearying one, this one, very unpleasant. Tough on the ear.” Welles took his left ear by the lobe and gave it a tug, accidentally tearing it off the side of his head.
“I don’t think I can watch any more of this,” Grady said. “I’ll wait with the car.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m just going to check on Gavin one more time and then we can get out of here,” Levi said.
“Good, graveyards give me the creeps.”
Grady turned and started back to the convertible. Levi waited out another attempt to get through a take for Billy Bones’ Coconut Shrimp Poppers and went to check on Gavin. He was intercepted by the assistant with the Bambi eyes who’d gotten him his coffee.
“Are you leaving? I was just wondering-,”
“You know I don’t represent actors, right?” Levi said.
“No, it’s not that, I just wondered who you were talking to over there?”
“Grady, Grady Finn.”
The young woman’s eyes widened even further than Levi would have thought possible. “Grady Finn the actor? But, he’s been dead for ten years!”
“Well I know that obviously, why don’t you try telling him?”
“How did I get here anyway?” Welles bellowed from the set. “I’m pretty sure I was cremated! Explain how that makes any sense, will you? Explain that and I’ll go down on you!”
Levi checked in with Gavin and returned to the car, slipping on his sunglasses. The thunderclouds only gathered over the Billy Bones set and grave, the rest of the cemetery was bathed in California sunshine. Grady slid into the passenger seat.
“Where do you want to head now?” Levi asked.
“How about the beach?” Grady suggested.
“All the way across town? Alright, alright, we got time.”
Levi purred through the Hollywood Meadows Cemetery, past gravestones and boxy tombs dedicated to the stars of yesteryear. A call came through on his cellphone and he punched it onto speaker.
“Hey, Levi! It’s Artie over at Touchstone, listen, you still repping that kid possessed by the six thousand year old Sumerian warrior?”
“Mollee McCulloch, absolutely! Sweet kid,” Levi said.
“Mel Gibson’s new film is set in ancient Sumer. He wanted the kid on set to help add that pop of authenticity!”
“How racist is it going to be?”
“Oh, super racist! Really, deeply problematic, the guy should absolutely not have a career. That going to be a problem?”
“No, no, the ghost is crazy racist. Like, against stuff you’ve never even heard of.”
“Great, I’ll get my people to tell his people to call your people about her people.”
“The luckiest people in the world, talk soon, Artie!”
Grady grinned, watching Los Angeles pass by outside the car. “This fucking town.”
Sean: Obviously I write about a lot of different characters with backgrounds and personality traits and opinions that in no way represent my own. That’s just the nature of being a writer. But I absolutely agree with the assistant who gets Levi the coffee that all chimpanzees should be killed. I don’t even want to say hunted, because that implies a process where there’s some sort of contest between the hunter and their target. Massacred, eliminated. You seen Jordan Peele’s ‘Nope’ yet? Opening freaked me right out. I’ve been saying this for years, hate them.
I have no idea if people actually swamp Michael Jackson’s star on the Walk of Fame around the anniversary of his death but I was in Mexico when the King of Pop passed and flew to Los Angeles a few days later. The huge shrines built around his star and outside Neverland were two images that have always stuck with me. The Macedonian serial killer in the Bart Simpson costume also came from that trip, as my mate and I first spotted this extremely off-brand Bart at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, made a few jokes among ourselves, not directed at the person themselves, but then we found them following us… I’m sure we were all just headed in the same direction but we walked for several blocks off Hollywood Boulevard with this really dirty, knockoff Bart Simpson behind us.
Next Week’s Inspiration: Barlgura