This probably needs a little explanation.
Over Christmas, Casting Call Pro posted up a call on Twitter. Nothing unusual about that, no, not at all. But this one caught my eye for the sheer comic potential it presented.
Encouraged by the very lovely Alisdair Stuart, who is a bad influence in the first degree, I passed some facetious comment about it and was duly encouraged into writing a short story. It was Christmas. I was at the in-laws, being stupidly lazy, so I said I’d think about it.
So I did.
And… I did.
And here it is. In all its ridiculousness.
David Gendaro (nee Green, known to his immediate friends and family as ‘Stinky’) was an actor. That was perfectly acceptable and nothing at all to be ashamed of. He had recently completed a series of TV commercials in which he had repeatedly visited a petrol station to buy various things that were not petrol. Milk, bread, biscuits, nappies… the idea was to show that even in this busy day and age, even the most harassed New Parent could find the solution to all their emergency provision needs. Hooray for the all night garage! That was the message.
The campaign had achieved moderate success, although the last one had generated a certain amount of dissatisfaction amongst a sub-set of Internet types. They’d not liked David’s character buying the nappies as it finally gave the game away that he was a harassed New Parent and not, in fact, there to get into the pants of the girl who worked there. They’d heavily played off the coffee love affair trope and it had worked.
People had even written fanfic shipping them.
People, David thought as he browsed down his Twitter feed, were strange creatures indeed.
So the ad run was complete, and for now, at least, he was back on the treadmill of hunting for the next big job, which would undoubtedly be the one that launched him, like a rocket on November the Fifth, into the Big Time. In the meantime, however, there were bills that needed paying and food that needed buying.
‘Two aliens. London’.
The Tweet caught his eye simply because it seemed mildly amusing. Then he read it again and found himself curiously attracted to the concept of prosthetics and a disguise so heavy that even his own mum wouldn’t know it was him. Early in his career, he had donned a heavy, faintly vile-smelling body suit and a wig of iron-grey hair to play an old woman in a Fringe production. He’d enjoyed the experience, even if most nights he had acted the play out to an audience that largely consisted of six hateful theatre critics, three old ladies in the front row who repeatedly said ‘WHAT’S HE SAY’ and a man from the USA who had thought it was a comedy.
He’d had better runs than that. Worse runs, too, but dwelling on that sort of thing was a sure-fire way to completely mess with your head.
‘Two aliens. London.’
Ah, why not?
* * *
The interview was held in the tiniest theatre David had ever been in, and he’d performed in some strange places. Not to mention the even stranger places he’d acted from whilst on stage. A memory broke the surface and expelled itself through the blowhole of thought. That ‘progressive’ director who’d insisted David deliver Hamlet’s soliloquy whilst sitting on the toilet, with his hose round his ankles. It’s where I have all my most philosophical moments, had been the reasoning.
Nobody had appreciated the modernist take. Nobody had appreciated the ‘to pee or not to pee speech’. It was revolutionary. It was ground-breaking. Nobody had so much as applauded.
This particular venue was sited above an old warehouse in North London. It was straight out of the 1950s: all solid brick and external fire escapes. If ever someone wanted to stage an outdoor production of ‘West Side Story’, this was the ideal spot.
It was a particularly chilly December morning and David burrowed deeper into the snuggly warmth of his scarf and turned up the collar of his overcoat against the onslaught of the cold. He’d exited the Tube station and walked up the street without attracting any particular double-takes, although maybe in this part of town, people didn’t watch commercial television.
His upbringing had been strange. His father had refused to allow anything but BBC in the house. David had snuck round to a friend’s house after school once and had been introduced to the delights of commercials. Funny, insightful, creative, downright weird… he’d loved everything about it. ITV had the sort of decadence that he could not ever have imagined. He would dream of young ladies painting sunflowers in the rain whilst enjoying a bar of chocolate. That may, of course, have had more to do with teenage hormones than any particular excellence of advertising.
A sudden gust of wind took him by surprise, almost knocking him from his feet and he ducked gratefully into the shelter of a doorway. A dark shadow passed over the street; a rogue cloud, perhaps? He could not see from this angle. It was brief, however, and the light, grey and grainy as it was, returned swiftly. David resumed heading towards the building where the auditions were being held.
The woman on the reception desk seemed pleasant enough, even if she did stare at him a little strangely. She was a plump, smiley and motherly-looking soul who boldly eyed David up and down. He felt his ego puff up just a little. Looks of admiration, even from the older generation were good for his confidence.
She said nothing. Just continued to stare.
The sense of being admired passed into an uncomfortable and awkward silence and after a few moments longer, David felt the need to prompt her.
“Oh! Yes, sorry. Upstairs. I must say, that’s an extraordinary costume you’re wearing. Can’t even see the seams. Excellent.”
He wasn’t sure what to say to that. He settled on a vague noise of gratitude and headed up the stairs. He had settled, as he always did, on casual smart for his audition. He wasn’t wearing a ‘costume’.
What a very strange thing to say.
* * *
All the years he had been in ‘the biz’ had never diminished the thrill David got at auditions. The sense of camaraderie that permeated the underlying and primal scent of job-seeking actors prepared to hack one another’s limbs off for a shot at a part. He’d always liked the waiting. In business, it was called networking. In acting, it wasn’t so very different.
He headed up the narrow staircase from the reception and pushed open the door. He stepped through.
He looked at what he found there.
As the door opened, several heads raised and looked in his direction.
In at least one case, several of those heads were attached to the same body.
David’s first thought was that he had really not put any real thought into this audition at all.
His second thought was that he must be in some sort of reality TV show. He half-expected someone, some minor celeb or other, to pop out from behind a pillar and laugh uproariously.
No popping occurred.
His third thought was that he hoped again that he was in a reality TV show. He hoped this most fervently and with every possible fibre of being.
David’s eyes roamed around the assembled masses waiting to be seen. He felt the most incredible urge to laugh loudly and hysterically. But no sound would come.
He saw an open fire escape door that led out onto a metal walkway. A fug of smoke drifted in through the open orifice and David felt a sudden and fervent desire to take up smoking. He made his way through the crowd, feeling uncomfortable, anxious and decidedly lacking in the extra limb department.
The fire escape was presently occupied by one other person. Person?
A silence descended as he considered whether or not to turn round and run, as fast as his legs could take him. It wasn’t in David’s nature to judge others on their appearance, but there was something so…
…about this person. David felt positively tiny. Before he could make a choice, however, his unexpected companion turned to him, deadlocks swinging with the motion.
“Do you have a light?”
It was a cultured voice; the voice of someone who had received an excellent education. Someone who had been granted many of the advantages denied to those with less wealth.
David stared. Finally, his voice found its way out through his lips.
“No, sorry. I… quit.”
“Good for you. I probably should. You here for the auditions?”
“Yes. Look, I’m really sorry and you must get this all the time… but I’ve seen you in films. Right? I mean, you’re like, really famous and stuff?” The mandibles on his companion’s face twisted in what might have been a smile.
“No need to apologise, I get that all the time.”
David felt embarrassed. “Why… are you auditioning? Surely you must be in demand?”
“Naw, Hollywood lost interest when CGI got better. Not much work for me after that. Not realistic enough, apparently. And as to why I’m auditioning… I need to prove I can do more than say ‘you want some candy’?” The Predator’s mandibles clacked in a vaguely disgusting manner. It reminded him of Gran, how she used to suck her teeth. Only this particular noise-maker was much taller, much stabbier and much more terrifying.
Well, a little more terrifying.
The Predator turned away and looked out into the grey afternoon. “I want to play Prospero, some day. That’s my dream. Or maybe King Lear. Blow winds and crack…”
“Sorry, I need to pop to the bathroom,” said David hurriedly and darted back into the waiting room.
It was no better there. Since he had gone out onto the balcony, more oddities had arrived. Here, there was something he recognised as a Dalek. In person, they were ridiculously clumsy, clattering around the uneven floor like a Mothercare buggy with a wonky wheel. He passed the pepperpot tyrant who was muttering its rehearsed speech under its breath and reminding itself, with true… Dalekness what it had to do when auditioning..
This was too much. David decided there and then that perhaps the whole ‘Two Aliens’ thing was most assuredly not a gig he was suited for. His decision to run for the hills was compounded when he was confronted by the smallest of aliens, darting about like a mad thing, only to be scooped up by the biggest, most terrifying thing he had ever seen in his life. It was all gleaming, onyx skin and Olympic cycling helmet shaped head.
With a surfeit of razor-sharp teeth.
It scooped up the little alien and wiped at its slime with a handkerchief.
“Muuuuuuuuuum! You’re EMBARRASSING me!”
The Predator came in from the balcony at this point and its eyes met those of the doting mother.
Wisely, David quietly stepped out of the room and closed the door a millisecond before all hell broke loose. He could hear sounds of alien shrieking and snarling, and picked up his pace down the stairs. He burst out of the side door into the street, only to be overtaken by a Dalek which had clearly found its stair-wheels and raced past him.
When even a despotic Dalek didn’t want to stick around for the show, you knew you’d made the right decision.
A noise above his head made him look up. Above his head on this dingy little back street, he was mesmerised as the base of the enormous alien spacecraft that had darkened the street earlier opened up, its metal construction unfolding like some bizarre space lilly.
He stared into the light.
The light stared back. It shifted and pulsated, light gathering in the corners of the vast chasm that had opened up. There was a sudden, intense heat and David closed his eyes, waiting for the inevitable Independence Day moment.
So this is it, he thought, channelling, in a random moment, that most non-alien of science-fiction heroes. We’re going to die.
And definitely not the gig.
– END –